As November begins to wind down and Thanksgiving is right around the corner, basketball season is finally ready to return after an extra-long offseason due to COVID-19.
After last season's success, the West Virginia men's basketball team just wanted an opportunity to play. This may be one of the deepest teams that head coach Bob Huggins has assembled since taking over in 2007 as each position on the floor has at least two players that could receive significant playing time.
At the point guard position, junior Jordan McCabe and sophomore Deuce McBride are expected to carry a majority of the load. McBride made a name for himself last year, bursting onto the scene when he scored 21 points in an upset victory over then-No. 2 Ohio State. McCabe is coming off a down year where he struggled to shoot the ball, but Huggins said that he has been working hard to get back to his usual self.
“In all honesty, Jordan shot it poorly for Jordan last year. He did a great job this summer,” Huggins said. “He’s shooting the ball really well [in practice]. He’s just not shooting it a lot, but he’s shooting it really well.”
At the guard positions, there are two junior college transfers that are ready to step up in their second season in the program with the likes of senior Taz Sherman and junior Sean McNeil. They each led the team in three-point shooting last season at 33%. Another transfer, Kedrian Johnson, will look to get some minutes as a defensive stopper and one of the best scorers coming out of junior college this season.
Junior Emmitt Matthews Jr. and redshirt freshman Jalen Bridges will likely receive a bulk of the minutes at the wing position. Matthews had an up and down season last year but will look to become more of a leader in his third year in the program. In the last game of the season, the Mountaineers knocked off No. 4 Baylor behind Matthews scoring a season-high 18 points. Freshman Taj Thweatt could chip in a few minutes as an athletic wing player out of New Jersey.
To finish out the roster, there are four big men that will rotate the four and five positions on the floor. Junior Derek Culver and sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe have been on the national radar for being one of the most feared frontcourts in the nation. They combined for 21.6 points and 17.9 rebounds per game last year. Huggins has said that Culver has been the most productive player in practice so far.
“I think the person who dominates practice is Derek,” Huggins said. “Derek’s team generally wins all the time, and Derek gets the majority of the rebounds and they look to throw it inside to Derek quite a bit, particularly when it’s a close situation.”
Coming in to relieve Culver and Tshiebwe will be defensive stopper Gabe Osabuohien and top-100 recruit Isaiah Cottrell. Osabuohien was known best for his all-out hustle and energy that earned him quality minutes in key situations. Cottrell has shown a lot of potential to stretch the defense and has a lot of skill to tap into.
The season is set to begin on Nov. 25 when the Mountaineers take on Northern Iowa after Texas A&M decided to withdraw from the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic. The game is set to tip off at 2 p.m. and will be nationally televised on ESPN.