10 games into the West Virginia basketball season and the Mountaineers are sitting at 9-1 with an upset victory over then-No. 15 UConn. On paper it might appear that things look great and the Mountaineers are easily headed for another NCAA tournament appearance, – but digging deeper there is a major issue that needs to be addressed before the murderers row of conference play starts.
The Mountaineers average 70 points per game and Taz Sherman and Sean Mcneil combine for 35 of those. Half of West Virginia’s point production comes from two players, and that is something that is not sustainable when conference play begins.
Taz Sherman is currently 6th in the nation in scoring at 21.8 points per game, Sean Mcneil averages 13.2 points per game, while the third leading scorer is Jalen Bridges who only averages 7.4 points per game.
One of the problems facing the Mountaineers offense is a lack of an inside scorer. Most of the big men on the team are defensive minded players and Huggins likes to have a post-up player who he can go to get a bucket.
I think JB (Bridges) will be it,” Huggins said. “But we need somebody else to score. We really need somebody to score it close. If you think back, for the most part, we’ve had a guy like that. We had Derek (Culver) for three years who was a guy when we really had to stop the bleeding so to speak, we could throw it close. We don’t have anybody to throw it close to.”
Bridges, a freshman last season, played an important role late in the season, and was expected to take the leap this season but has been passive, only taking six shots per game.
The positive news is that he is the Mountaineers leader in three-point percentage at nearly 37%. Bridges is going to need to be more aggressive in looking for his shot and driving to the rim if the Mountaineers want to have sustained success this season..
“Sometimes, you can be too good a guy,” Huggins said of Bridges. “He wants to do the right thing. Sometimes you can want to do the right thing too much.He doesn’t want to take bad shots. He doesn’t want to force shots. He is a really good guy, a fantastic teammate”
Another guy who was expected to be a big contributor this year is Isaiah Cottrell. Cottrell is a former top 100 recruit who as a 6-foot-9 big man has the ability to stretch the floor. After tearing his achilles early in the season last year, there were high hopes he could come back this year and provide the Mountaineers offense with spacing and inside scoring, but he has yet to look comfortable.
“He’s not as physical as you need to be at this level yet,” Huggins said on Cottrell. “He will be. I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that he will be. And he wants to be.”
Guard Malik Curry was brought in this season by Huggins as a one year transfer. Curry was brought in for ability on the offensive side of the ball. Curry has shown the ability to get downhill to the bucket,but has struggled for stretches in some games. He could be a spark plug off the bench for when Sherman or Mcneil need a rest. If Curry can find consistency in his offensive game he can be a dangerous piece for West Virginia in conference play.
There are still opportunities before conference play starts, but they are dwindling down and the Mountaineers are desperately need someone to step up.