10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

New leaders aim to make WVU ‘the hardest-playing team in America’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —  Mount St. Mary’s features not only the same mascot as No. 20 West Virginia, but also a similar pressing style.

The mid-major program forced 17.3 turnovers last season, right behind West Virginia’s 17.8, representing the second- and third-most in Division I.

“Should be an interesting game,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said in advance of Friday night’s season opener. “It will be fun to watch as long as we’re winning.”

Along with replacing Devin Williams and Jaysean Paige — who combined for 27 points and 13 rebounds per game — West Virginia must find a new frontman for the full-court press after Jonathan Holton’s departure. That job falls to Morgantown High product Nathan Adrian, a 6-9 senior whose lateral quickness will surprise opponents.

“I’m not as long as Jon but I make up for it by knowing where to be,” Adrian said Thursday. “We try to be the hardest-playing team in America, and if we do that we’ll be successful.”

Nearly a 50-percent 3-point shooter last season, Adrian may take a higher volume of shots this time around and increase his 4.5 points-per-game average. The stretch four has posted big scoring outputs in the preseason.

“I thought he was one of our better players at the end of last year and he’s gotten even better now,” Huggins said. “He’s gotten so much more consistent.”

Matchup: No. 20 West Virginia (0-0) hosting Mount St. Mary’s (0-0)

Tipoff: Friday 7 p.m., WVU Coliseum in Morgantown (Root Sports)

The opposition: Mount St. Mary’s, picked fourth in the Northeast Conference, returns three starters from last season’s 14-19 team. That includes 5-foot-5 guard Junior Robinson — the shortest player in Division I this season — who earned second-team all-conference honors while averaging 12.2 points and 3.1 assists. … The Mount is 1-25 all-time against ranked teams and has dropped seven consecutive season openers against a string of power programs that includes Maryland, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Dayton, Oklahoma and West Virginia in 2013.

Scouting WVU: Small forward Esa Ahmad (4.9 points, 2.7 rebounds) started 34 games as a freshman yet typically was only a fourth option offensively. An improved jump-shot figures to complement his explosion attacking the basket. … Junior power forward Elijah Macon (4.5 points, 3.0 rebounds) must deliver long-awaited production in the absence of Williams. … The guard trio of Tarik Philip (9.3 points, 2.5 rebounds), Jevon Carter (9.5 points, 1.6 steals) and Daxter Miles (9.4 points, 1.4 steals), among the grittiest in all of college basketball, could really flourish by trimming turnovers. Huggins hasn’t seen as much progress in that area as he’d like: “It’s frustrating when you work as hard as we work to steal it and then we give it right back to them.” … West Virginia’s deep rotation introduces two redshirt freshmen — Beetle Bolden and Lamonte West — along with new recruits Sagaba Konate, Maciej Bender and Wheeling’s Chase Harler.

Prediction: West Virginia 89-65





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