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West Virginia basketball looks for improvement

West Virginia Mountaineers basketball big man Tshiebwe returns for his sophomore season.
West Virginia Mountaineers basketball big man Tshiebwe returns for his sophomore season.

Bob Huggins believes his team had adapted as well as they could over this ordeal.

The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have been obvious, but in a way, it’s allowed his West Virginia team to become closer on some fronts and further ahead than they typically would be. It isn’t what Huggins would have picked for his club, but what choice did they really have?

A big reason for that development is the leadership from the experienced players on the roster, many of which are still young themselves. It’s a continuation of what the experienced coach was able to see out of his team last year as they genuinely seemed to get along and enjoy each other’s company.

“It’s great to see them work with the younger guys,” Huggins said.

Junior Emmitt Matthews has developed into one of the leaders of the club by showing people how to go about doing things the right way and Huggins to date has no complaints whatsoever. That hasn’t just extended to the basketball floor either as players have helped off the court as well.

“They’re trying to help them by watching film with them. They’re committed. To be as committed as them and get as much done as they’ve been able to get done in these times is admirable,” Huggins said.

The Mountaineers return a bulk of the 21-10 team from a season ago led by the two post-options in junior Derek Culver and sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe. The two combined to average 21.6 points and 17.9 rebounds per game, both narrowly missing averaging double-doubles. Those two will need to learn how to mesh better on the floor together, but they present a formidable challenge for any opponent.

Freshman Isaiah Cottrell has gotten a taste of that going against them. The versatile freshman is a skilled big that can pass, shoot and handle the ball well but has learnt that the college game is different.

“You’re playing against men. It’s not high school anymore,” Huggins said.

The third big on the team is Arkansas transfer Gabe Osabuohien and, in many ways, he is the most talented of the three when it comes to passing the ball. He will be used in pick and roll situations as the passer and he also can put pressure on the rim as a straight-line driver.

“Believe it or not, he’s a better free throw shooter,” Huggins quipped.

Huggins believes that the two transfer guards from last season Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil are both playing with much more confidence than at any point last year. Now, the pair aren’t trying to play and think what they’re supposed to do at the same time which has led to better results.

“They’re very comfortable with their role in what they’re doing and they’re both shooting the ball extremely well. They’re not shooting it good; they’re shooting it really good. If that continues with those two guys on the floor that makes us really hard to guard because obviously people have to be concerned with those two bigs inside,” Huggins said.

Both shot around 33-percent from deep during their time on the floor last season and an improvement there, as well as with what Huggins has seen out of point guard Miles McBride and Jordan McCabe in the shooting department could go a long way for the offensive end of the floor as a whole.

“Our point guards came back shooting the ball way better too,” he said.

McBride, who is the best on the team at creating his own shot, has been the one player on the roster that Huggins has received the most calls about when it comes to the next level. That speaks to his continued development.

There will be several new faces in addition to Cottrell such as freshman Taj Thweatt and junior college prospect Kedrian Johnson, but one player that Huggins is excited to how Jalen Bridges has developed on the court after a redshirt season. The Fairmont native progressed in the weight room and has gotten stronger and provides a challenge for defenses.

“He’s a 6-foot-7 guy that can make shots and stretch the defense,” Huggins said.

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