MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – (January 2, 2021) — As the clock ticked to midnight on New Year’s Eve, Mountaineer fans were still celebrating a Liberty Bowl victory over Army. Then, all of a sudden, a bombshell hit the basketball program.
Late on New Year’s Eve rumors started to circle about Oscar Tshiebwe leaving the WVU basketball program. Tshiebwe took himself off of social media, deleting his Instagram pictures and deactivating his Twitter account.
Yeah right? Why would the “Big O” just leave the team in the middle of a potentially great season?
Well on Friday morning, WVU coach Bob Huggins confirmed that Tshiebwe was in-fact leaving the program. Not only just for a break but for the rest of the season at the worst.
“Did it catch me by surprise? No. What are we going to do moving forward? Win more games,” Huggins said.
As much as losing Tshiebwe hurts West Virginia, coach Huggins is looking for the potential positives it can give his team.
“I think this gives us an opportunity to be able to spread the floor a little bit more. Guys like JB (Jalen Bridges) will be able to spread the floor, make shots,” Huggins explained.
“It’ll give Derek (Culver) a lot more room to work down there,” Huggins added.
Who’s going to have to step up to replace Tshiebwe?
It would’ve been freshman Isaiah Cottrell, but now Cottrell is out for the season after tearing his Achilles during Tuesday’s game.
The first option would be Gabe Osabuohien, who has been out there when the games are on the line. Osabuohien would play the four alongside Culver at the five.
Another option would be Jalen Bridges. Bridges isn’t getting too much playing time so far, but he can be a reliable player for the Mountaineers. In his average of six minutes per game, the Fairmont native averages 1.4 points and 1.2 rebounds.
Other options that are probably unlikely are freshmen Taj Thweatt and Seny Ndiaye getting quality minutes if Culver and Osabuohien are in foul trouble.
Despite Tshiebwe leaving the program, the No. 9-ranked Mountaineers (8-2, 1-1 Big 12) will travel to Norman, Oklahoma and take on the Sooners (5-2, 1-1 Big 12).
OU has notably defeated Texas Christian (82-78) and lost to Xavier (99-77) and Texas Tech (69-67).
Seniors Austin Reaves and Brady Manek are once again Oklahoma’s heart-and-soul of the program this season.
Reaves leads the Sooners in points with 15.9 per game. The former Wichita State Shocker is shooting 46% from the field.
The seemingly ageless Manek averages his own share of points with 14.6 per game.
Oklahoma’s one-two punch of Reaves and Manek will be countered by WVU’s Derek Culver and Deuce McBride.
Culver has been a double-double machine for West Virginia, recording five this season. The 6’10” forward pulls down 9.9 rebounds per game. Now with Tshiebwe gone, expect Culver to have even more rebounds.
McBride leads the Mountaineers with 14.8 points per game with 4.1 assists. The sophomore from Cincinnati is shooting 37% from downtown.
Coach Huggins commented on problems that may arise playing Oklahoma.
“I think the biggest problem is they have a heck of a coach. He’s (Lon Kruger) got a great imagination for seeing things that you don’t really have to be on the floor to see,” Huggins said.
West Virginia and Oklahoma will tip-off today at 4 p.m. in Norman. Coverage will be on ESPN2.