McNeil, Sherman adjusting to speed and style of play at West Virginia
The 2019-2020 season has started out promising for West Virginia with the Mountaineers currently sitting at a 7-1 overall record.
But what’s been surprising so far is the team not getting consistent production from a pair of newcomers who became focal points in recruiting during the offseason after a forgettable 15-21 season last year.
West Virginia shot a Big 12-worst 41.3 percent from the field last season which prompted head coach Bob Huggins to recruit and sign junior college guards Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman, who each averaged over 25 points per game at the JUCO level.
Through eight games though, the Mountaineers are shooting 42.7 percent from the floor as a team which ranks 230th in the country. They’re also shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, putting them at 227th in the nation in that category.
“We haven’t made shots all year,” Huggins said. “We made a conscious effort to go out and recruit guys that we thought could make shots and made shots where they were and I think they will make shots, but they haven’t made shots yet. We’ve won games because we rebounded the ball really well.”
It’s not exactly uncommon for junior college players to have to take some time to get adjusted to the NCAA Division 1 basketball level even though they have some experience under their belt.
According to Huggins, that was the case for two junior college players he coached at Cincinnati in Ruben Patterson and Erik Martin (current West Virginia assistant coach).
“Ruben didn’t really hit (his) stride until his second year,” Huggins said. “Erik Martin was 10 times the player his senior year as he was his junior year.”
Huggins also believes that access to the gym in junior college may have something to do with those players having to adjust with JUCO facilities generally being shared amongst other sports and recreation programs.
“Most of those guys don’t practice more than an hour,” Huggins said. “Your window to get in the gym is much smaller than what it is when you have the facilities we have now.”
Both McNeil and Sherman have had their ups and downs this season.
McNeil drained three shots from behind-the-arc in a road win over Pitt, but that game was sandwiched in between two games in which he didn’t even attempt a three-pointer and played just 10 total minutes.
After going 0-for-4 from three-point range against Boston, McNeil has made three-pointers in four straight games.
He’s coming off arguably his best game of the season during the team’s loss to St. John’s inside Madison Square Garden, scoring a season-high 13 points and going 4-of-7 from three-point range. McNeil is currently tied for the most made three-pointers on the team with fellow sophomore Emmitt Matthews
For McNeil, adjusting to the style and speed of the game at a power five school like West Virginia have been the biggest parts of the transition and it all took some time getting used to.
“I’ve just kind of settled down,” McNeil said. “I’ve just relaxed a little bit--kind of let the game come to me. The first couple games I was pressing and kind of forcing things. I just relaxed and realized it’s another game of basketball. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life so I just become more comfortable in that sense.”
Sherman on the other hand has had a tougher start to his first season in Morgantown.
The Missouri City, Texas native has made shots from downtown in just two games this season, but one of those games was the loss to St. John’s in which he was 2-for-2 from three-point range. Overall, he’s just 4-of-14 from behind-the-arc so far this year.
According to Huggins, Sherman has been “banged up” which could be playing a factor in his inability to become a factor in games so far this year. But like McNeil, it may take Sherman having to settle down some to become an impact player.
“Taz has a tremendous ability to score the ball,” McNeil said. “Taz is super quick, super athletic. He’s not just a shooter. He’s got the ability to bounce a little bit, but I think just me and him kind of have the same issue--I think I’ve kinda just relaxed a little bit, but once Taz just settles down and just does what he does, he’ll skyrocket.”
West Virginia’s offensive production overall would skyrocket if Sherman, McNeil and Chase Harler all hit their stride when it comes to making outside shots. That would also open up more opportunities for big men Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe in the paint, according to Huggins.
Things are still a work in progress for these two former junior college guards and team as a whole, but if it all comes together, West Virginia could be onto something special.
“When we just relax as a team, I think that we’re just kind of stressing that,” McNeil said. “But once we just relax and do what we do, play as a unit, we’re all just going to go through the roof.”
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