The West Virginia Mountaineers fell off the map a bit last season. After four straight NCAA tournament berths and three sweet sixteens in four years WVU entered the 2018-2019 slate ranked 13th in the country. An opening loss to Buffalo sent the Mountaineers into a season long spiral, finishing 15-21, and last place in the Big 12. Bob Huggins has his hands full this offseason fixing some of the issues that plagued last years squad. Here are some key questions entering the offseason and our best answers to this point.
Does the team have a leader?
Last year West Virginia had no Jevon Carter and it showed. Huggins dismissed Esa Ahmad, the teams lone senior, and junior forward Wesley Harris. Five more Mountaineers entered the transfer portal at some point between the season and now. Huggins recently made it very clear that he wasn’t happy with the leadership last year. The sense is Jordan McCabe was doing all he could but was shut down multiple times by someone in the locker room.
This year, I see no reason why McCabe isn’t the guy. The locker room has changed it’s dynamic and the Sophomore trio of McCabe, Emmitt Matthews, and Derek Culver should have a bigger role. Their leadership was on display in the Big 12 tournament last season. I think leadership won’t be a issue moving forward.
What will be the Mountaineers strength?
Rebounding. Huggins also eluded to it in his press conference. Pair Culver and Freshman Oscar Tshiebwe, and you have a front court that can rebound the ball with ease. Culver averaged 9.9 a game last season and Tshiebwe is viewed as the best rebounding center in the 2019 class. The Mountaineers need offensive rebounds in order to score, the second chances can hopefully make up for the teams lack of dangerous shooters.
Are there any big concerns heading into the season?
WVU will struggle in a few places next year, but I think front court depth could potentially be an issue. The Mountaineers have three players who can naturally play the Power Forward and Center position. Culver, Tshiebwe, and former walk on Logan Routt. JUCO transfer Ethan Richardson still hasn’t enrolled and every day his chances get more bleak. Jermaine Haley has the size to maybe play a little point forward, and Matthews can play a stretch four but will still be very undersized when guarding other forwards. Huggins will have to get creative when it comes to his big men.
How are the offseason additions going to look?
The Mountaineers only return seven players who were on the roster last year and only six scholarships. Routt was a returning player who was placed on scholarship this offseason so Huggins had a max of six left to hand out.
Tshiebwe is a highly coveted recruit and was a huge get for Huggins who will most likely start right away. Miles McBride is a point guard who can add some depth behind McCabe and Haley. Huggins only brought in two high school commitments, so he turned to the Junior College route. Taz Sherman was a highly recruited JUCO guard who had offers from Purdue and Big 12 foes Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State. The last addition was Sean McNeil, another JUCO guard with high D1 offers including Texas Tech, Oregon, and Pittsburgh.
McNeil is key because he adds some shooting to a Mountaineer backcourt that doesn’t really have any dangerous threats in that department. McNeil shot 49.5% from behind the ark last year. West Virginia’s leading three point shooter last season was Sagaba Konate at 39%. The best returning three point shooter is Jordan McCabe who shot 33%.
Huggins looked to add a 12th or 13th scholarship but couldn’t land a commitment. Devin Cambridge was a target who looked like a WVU lock but a late push by Auburn after his Peach Jam performance landed the forward in Auburn, Alabama. Another target, Otis Frazier, announced he is attending prep school for a year at Mt. Zion Prep in Maryland. Ethan Richardson is a possible 12th scholarship but his eligibility isn’t something I would bet on.
This trip to Spain is an opportunity for WVU
This trip and these games allows Huggins to provide answers to some of these questions. He can see how Culver and Tshiebwe will work together on the court. It’s concerning having two players who play under the basket so much, it can hurt the floor spacing. Huggins can also look for a leader, someone to take charge, something West Virginia lacked much of last season. This trip will be a great little prep for whats sure to be a vigorous 2019-2020 basketball season for a team hoping to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.