The West Virginia Mountaineers
2018-19 Record: 15-21 (4-14)
2018-19 Big 12 Conference Finish: 10th
The West Virginia Mountaineers ended the 2018-19 basketball season as one of college basketball’s biggest disappointments.
The Mountaineers ranked No. 13 in the nation at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. In addition to their high preseason rank, many viewed the team as the second-best in the Big 12 Conference, right behind the Kansas Jayhawks.
As last season went along, however, injuries, in-season dismissals, and a lack of experience from the team’s talented freshmen got the best of the Mountaineers.
Players to Watch
1.) Derek Culver:
Derek Culver is a 6’10”, 255-pound sophomore forward. He only started in 14-games last season, due to an academic suspension during the first half of the year.
When he came back, though, the big man took the Big 12 Conference by storm. Culver averaged 11.5-points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He grabbed 258-rebounds, finishing third-best among all players in the Big 12.
Culver was selected for the All-Big 12 Second Team and the Big 12 All-Freshman team. If he would’ve played the entire season, there’s a good chance Culver would have won the Big 12’s Freshman of the Year award.
2.) Emmitt Matthews Jr.:
Emmitt Matthews Jr. is a 6’7″, 195-pound sophomore forward. Matthews Jr. only averaged a mere 5.4-points per game during his freshman season, but, as the season went along, he showed much promise and potential.
The sophomore from Tacoma, Washington led the Mountaineers in their upset victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the second round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament. In that win, Matthews Jr. led WVU with 28-points, eight rebounds, and two made three-pointers.
Since the beginning of this off-season, Matthews Jr. has grown a little over an inch and gained just over ten pounds. With his length, athleticism, and grit, the forward will be a player to watch during his sophomore campaign.
3.) Jordan McCabe:
Jordan McCabe is 6′, 183-pound sophomore point guard. Similar to Matthews Jr., McCabe’s freshman season served as a learning experience. He started slowly, but, as the season went on, the sophomore guard picked up the pace and filled the stat sheets.
In just his second game as the starting point guard, McCabe racked up a total of 25-points and 11-assists against TCU. In the next two games to follow, McCabe scored 18.
McCabe is a solid point guard. He has a good handle with the ball and a smooth jump shot. McCabe can set-up his teammates with his unselfish play, but he can also drain a three-point shot when you need him to do so.
1.) Sagaba Konate:
Although Sagaba Konate’s early entrance into the NBA draft was expected, it also happened to be a critical blow to the program. Konate served as one of college basketball’s premier rim protectors. He played a vital role in “Press Virginia,” and expectations were set high for him as he entered his junior season.
Before Konate injured his right knee, in just eight games played during the 2018-19 season, he scored a total of 109-points, 64-rebounds, and recorded 22-blocked shots.
Fortunately, Konate’s role will get replaced by the five-star freshman big man, Oscar Tshiebwe.
1.) Oscar Tshiebwe:
Oscar Tshiebwe is a 6’9″, 245-pound freshman big man. The freshman ranked number 26 nationally, and number four at his position during his senior year of high school, according to Rivals. Tshiebwe is a five-star prospect and dominated down low during the McDonald’s All-American game. The team is setting the bar high for Tshiebwe, as he and Culver look to dominate the paint during the 2019-20 season.
2.) Miles “Deuce” McBride:
Miles “Deuce” McBride is a 6’2″, 185-pound freshman point guard. McBride is an athletic, strong guard, and he’s very talented on the defensive end. Along with his superb defensive skills, the freshman is smart with the ball in his hands, can get to the rim, and has a decent jump shot. McBride will serve as a crucial sixth man this upcoming season for the Mountaineers.
3.) Sean McNeil:
Sean McNeil is a 6’3″, 200-pound sophomore shooting guard. McNeil is a product of Sinclair Community College. He can shoot the ball from beyond the arc very well and has the athleticism to help the Mountaineers defensively. McNeil will serve as a vital player off the bench during the 2019-20 season, and he’ll help drop three-point jump shots when the team needs them the most.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins has yet to have back-to-back losing seasons; he’s bound for the college basketball hall of fame for a reason.
Expect WVU to change their system and style of play. With Culver and Tshiebwe down low, the Mountaineers most likely will regain their status as the best rebounding team in the Big 12 Conference. With Matthews Jr., McCabe, McNeil, McBride, Jermaine Haley, and others in the backcourt, the Mountaineers will pose as a threat to their opponent beyond the perimeter. Huggins most likely will encourage his unit to rebound, push the ball in transition, and get to the foul line.
Don’t count this young squad out, as they very well could contend for a Big 12 Conference Championship.
Cover Photo Credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS