The fourth edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge will see No. 18 West Virginia host Texas A&M. Gator fans will remember last year’s challenge in which Florida upset the, at the time, No. 10 Mountaineers 88-71 in Mike White’s first marquee win. Texas A&M, meanwhile, knocked off Iowa State in last year’s edition.
The Mountaineers enter this match-up with a 16-4 record, going 11-1 at home. They’re coming off of a huge 85-69 upset of No.2 Kansas, and have an impressive resume with wins over Baylor when they were the top ranked team, and over Virginia when they were ranked sixth.
West Virginia becomes the first team since Indiana in 2011-12 to beat No. 1 and No. 2 in the same season. pic.twitter.com/tUM7JnSxpE
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 25, 2017
For West Virginia and their head coach Bob Huggins, it all starts with their bread and butter full court press defense.
They lead the country in steals and forced turnovers, stealing the ball almost 12 times a game while averaging 22.7 forced turnovers per game, over three more than Fordham who is second in the category. The main defensive ball-hawk is guard Jevon Carter, who ranks fifth in the country with just over threes steals per game. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said that style of defense is going to cause his team trouble, as that strength matches up with his team’s struggles in ball-handling.
That disruptive defense leads the Mountaineers to have plenty of easy scoring opportunities in transition and on the fast break. They have the seventh highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 88.1 points per game. They carry a balanced offensive attack, with four players averaging double digit points. Esa Ahmad leads the team with 12.1 points per game, while Nathan Adrian is a presence in the low post, averaging over 10 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The Aggies enter this contest in 9th place in the SEC, with an 11-8 record. Even more worrisome for them, they enter Morgantown with a 1-3 road record.
While this team may not be as strong as the team that entered last year’s NCAA Tournament as a three seed, this team still poses major problems because of their size. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins says this may be the tallest team he’s ever faced, and he’s not exaggerating.
A&M features three players 6’10” and over, while having eight players that are at least 6’4″. That sort of length provides a big advantage to the Aggies in terms of being able to see and pass over the notorious West Virginia press.
On offense, they’re led by their big man Tyler Davis. The 6’10” center averages 13.7 points per game to go along with 6.8 rebounds. Admon Gilder directs the offense, as the 6’4″ point guard leads the team in assists with 4.1 dimes per game.
The Aggies also come in with some momentum, having knocked off Georgia and Ole Miss in back-to-back games.
They and West Virginia will look to keep their confidence riding high in this match-up of opposing strengths and weaknesses.