With the start of the 2020-21 West Virginia men’s basketball season less than two weeks away, the makeup of the team is starting to shake out.
A season ago, the team ran rotations that usually kept forwards Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver separate due to how similar their playstyles are. This year, both Culver and Tshiebwe are preseason award watch list nominees with Culver named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list and Tshiebwe named to the Karl Malone Award watch list.
The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award is given to the nation’s best center while the Karl Malone award is given to the best power forward in the nation. Each watch list has been narrowed down to the preseason top 20 players per position in men’s college basketball.
Tshiebwe does not see being named to the watch list as an accomplishment. instead he sees it as a new challenge to prove himself.
“That kind of motivation made me try to work harder to be the best I can be to help this team the best I can,” Tshiebwe said.
This year, we can expect to see more rotations with both bigs on the floor at the same time. According to head coach Bob Huggins, Tshiebwe and Culver have started to play better together in practice.
“I think they have been a lot more comfortable because they play together in practice. Those guys are generally on the same team; they play against our other bigs,” Huggins said. “I think it's good for them because they are not pounding on each other every day, and offensively they are working together.”
Last season, Culver played more minutes than anyone on the team and averaged 10.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Culver also shot more free throws than anyone else on the team with 176 attempts. Unfortunately for WVU, he was only able to make a little over half of his free throws at 51.7%.
On the other side of the paint will be Tshiebwe, who averaged 11.2 game and 9.3 rebounds per game. Tshiebwe, however, made more free throws on fewer attempts than Culver, shooting at an impressive 70% mark.
Last season many believed that Culver and Tshiebwe’s biggest problem was their inability to create spacing with both on the court at the same time, but this season Huggins believes that it will not be a problem for them.
“I don’t think [spacing is] the problem. I mean, them running into each other trying to both get the same rebound at times is, but no, their understanding of that has become pretty good,” Huggins said.
Huggins also believes that his other big men will be able to step up and play well while Tshiebwe and Culver are on the bench getting rest.
“I think it's a win-win just having those other bigs,” Huggins said. “You generally have two guys like that and your next guy is 6-foot-3 and skinny, so having the additional bigs gives us some depth there, and they bring some things to the table as well.”
Additional depth to the forward position includes senior Gabe Osabuohien and freshman Isaiah Cottrell. Cottrell, who was graded as a four-star recruit by 247Sports and ESPN, is in his first season with the Mountaineers, and expectations surrounding him are high.