After a disappointing end to last season, the West Virginia men’s basketball team will have a mix of old and new faces, as they look to get back to being one of the better teams in the Big 12.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins is entering his 40th season as a Division I basketball coach, and his 15th at West Virginia. Last season, West Virginia made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018, which was Huggins’ 10thtournament appearance at West Virginia. Huggins currently sits at 900 career wins, and will look to win his first Big 12 Championship this season.
This year’s West Virginia team is bound to look different than what it looked like in its final game against Syracuse last season. In their final game against the Orange, the Mountaineers starting five consisted of Jalen Bridges, Emmitt Matthews, Derek Culver, Sean McNeil and Miles McBride.
This season, only two of those five will be returning, with Matthews transferring, McBride getting drafted, and Culver leaving for the draft, but not getting drafted.
The West Virginia bench, however, will look very similar to what it did last season. The Mountaineers had four bench players play in their game against Syracuse, and three of them are returning. Jordan McCabe is the only player not returning, as he transferred to UNLV.
This season in West Virginia’s only public scrimmage versus Akron, the starting five included all returning players from last year’s roster. The lineup included Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil, Isaiah Cottrell, Jalen Bridges and Kedrian Johnson.
The two biggest question marks in this lineup is between Cottrell and Johnson. Last season, Cottrell tore his achilles late in December and Johnson was McBride’s backup a year ago, appearing in 26 games, averaging 7.4 minutes per game.
West Virginia found success last season with their ability to rebound. Culver led the Big 12 with 9.4 rebounds per game, as well as West Virginia led the league with 13.7 offensive rebounds per game, but was sixth in the league with 24.2 defensive rebounds per game.
The Mountaineers are hoping to address the loss of Culver with a pair of transfers. Pauly Paulicap transferred from DePaul, and in his previous four seasons between Manhattan College and DePaul, he averaged 9.4 points, and 6.3 rebounds in 91 career games, while also blocking 148 shots. Another big shot blocker is transfer Dimon Carrigan. Carrigan, a transfer from Florida International, averaged 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.
West Virginia will also rely on sophomore forward Seny N’diaye. Last season, N’diaye appeared in 14 games, but averaged just 2.6 minutes per game. Cottrell will almost certainly have an impact also, as he can spread the floor offensively, with his ability to shoot the ball from three-point range.
West Virginia’s conference schedule is lighter than most years, however they do have an early season tournament and they do have two rivals they will play host to. West Virginia opens the season on Nov. 9 against Oakland, before hosting Pitt in the Backyard Brawl on Nov. 12.
The following week, West Virginia travels to Charleston, South Carolina, to take part in the Charleston Classic with notable teams like Marquette, Ole Miss and St. Bonaventure.
In December, West Virginia will host former Big East rival, and current No. 24 UConn on Dec. 8 in the Big 12/Big East Challenge.
West Virginia’s non-conference schedule features only two true road games and that is on Dec. 18, when West Virginia travels to face UAB, and then West Virginia’s last non-conference game, which will happen on Jan. 29, as West Virginia travels to play No. 16 Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Now onto the Big 12 portion of the schedule.
Last season, the Mountaineers finished tied with Texas for third in the conference, behind Kansas and Baylor. That Baylor team finished the year 28-2, capping off its historic year with a National Championship as they beat Gonzaga 86-70.
Baylor being the defending champion is just one of the many storylines in the Big 12, but before looking at the schedule, let’s look at all the changes that have happened within the conference.
Currently, three Big 12 teams are ranked inside the top-25. No. 3 Kansas, No. 5 Texas, and No. 8 Baylor.
In addition to the talent in the Big 12, there have been a few coaching changes as well. Former Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard left the Red Raiders to go to Texas. Texas Tech replaced Beard with one of his former assistant’s Mark Adams. Former Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger retired and was replaced by Porter Moser. Moser, the former coach at Loyola Chicago, had six NCAA Tournament wins since 2018, including a Final Four run that season, and a run to the Sweet Sixteen this past season. Iowa State also underwent a coaching change, with former UNLV head coach T.J. Otzelberger being set to lead the Cyclones this year.
West Virginia will open conference play on the road. On New Year’s Day, the Mountaineers travel to Texas, then travelling to TCU that following Monday, Jan. 3.
West Virginia faces a tough three game stretch right after that as they host Oklahoma State, travel to Kansas, then come back home to face Baylor, all within a seven day span.
West Virginia will travel from Morgantown to the state of Texas and back three times, with two of them having the return trip come on a weekday. (Just what Huggins likes)
West Virginia’s conference schedule will conclude in early March. West Virginia has two of its final three games at home, including Texas, and TCU.
Last season, West Virginia’s three-point field goal percentage ranked second best in the conference. According to KenPom, the Mountaineers were 12th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions).
One of the bigger problems for West Virginia will be finding someone who can control the game. McBride did it for the past two seasons, but now that he is gone, who is the guy that can take over. Old Dominion transfer Malik Curry was supposed to be that guy, and it will be interesting to see how he develops with this team.
Projected Starting Five:
I think the Mountaineers will start the season with the same rotation Huggins started the Akron scrimmage with.
G- Taz Sherman
G- Sean McNeil
G- Kedrian Johnson
F- Jalen Bridges
F- Isaiah Cottrell
Despite this being the starting lineup, expect a combination of Gabe Osabuohien, Carrigan, Paulicap, and Curry to also see a good number of minutes.
Two freshman that will hear their name called a good amount this season are Jamel King and Kobe Johnson. King, is a freshman forward from Arizona, who averaged 23 points per game and six rebounds per game in his senior season in high school. Johnson, a guard out of Ohio, averaged 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a senior. In the scrimmage, Johnson saw the floor for 23 minutes, and finished with eight points. Freshman guard Seth Wilson is also set to be able to see the floor this season.
This year’s team will look a lot like last year’s team at times, but also completely different at other times. Expect West Virginia to shoot a lot of three-pointers and also expect them to struggle at defense at times early. When Sherman, McNeil and Bridges are in the game, this team will be at its best. Also expect it to be a steady rotation inside, with Huggins going with whoever is playing the best for each game.
This team is capable of being one of the better offensive teams in the conference. With two veteran guards that have been in the conference for two years now, no venue should intimidate this team. This team should finish within the top half of the conference, and more than likely get a NCAA Tournament bid.
Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography