New-look WVU hoops opens practice Tuesday

WVU Basketball

Huggins: Guard-heavy squad may miss former All-Big 12 forward

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A new season of college hoops is quickly approaching. 

Head coach Bob Huggins will hold his first practice of the 2021-22 season Tuesday, as he continues to prepare for the future with a roster that features seven newcomers and eight returners. 

During a preseason video conference Monday, the winner of 900 career contests joked about his excitement level on the eve of the team’s return to practice. The coach with a self-described “effervescent personality” is also a realist, admitting that there are a lot of unknowns surrounding this team.

“It’s gonna be a challenge,” Huggins said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of guys that really don’t understand what’s about to happen to them.” 

The biggest question facing the Mountaineers is how they’ll compete without two of their stars from the previous season. Both NBA Draft selection Deuce McBride and former All-Big 12 First Team forward Derek Culver have moved on after leading the roster in scoring, combining for 30.2 points per game. 

Based on the way their roster is constructed, Huggins thinks the Mountaineers might miss one of players more than the other. 

“We’ve got guards. We’re gonna miss Derek more than we’re gonna miss Deuce,” Huggins said. “Derek could get hard rebounds. Derek was big and strong, and people couldn’t move him. He could move whoever he wanted to move. He got clutch rebounds and big rebounds at the end of games. Not that we won’t miss Deuce, we will, but we don’t have a 6-foot-10, big, strong guy anymore.” 

Two of West Virginia’s key returners are guards. Both Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil are back for another go after averaging double digits in scoring last season. 

The Mountaineers do return experience at forward, but no player can compare to Culver’s output. Senior Gabe Osabuohien is a defensive specialist, sophomore Jalen Bridges is more of a perimeter threat on offense and 6’10” redshirt freshman Isaiah Cottrell is coming off an achilles injury. The good news on Cottrell, though, is that he hasn’t faced a setback since he was cleared to return to action, according to Huggins. 

West Virginia added two forwards via the transfer portal for this season in Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap. Both players were effective rebounders and scorers at their previous stops, and Carrigan was one of the tops shot blockers in the country last season, but neither player matches the statistical profile of Culver, who was a few rebounds shy of averaging a double-double last season. 

Huggins expects to spread the floor on offense until one or more of his big men can prove they’re capable of scoring inside consistently. 

“We’re gonna probably end up playing four-out,” Huggins said. “We’re just trying to spend a good deal of time with those bigs to see if we can get one of them that can score some in there. They rebound it and they block shots. I think with some more work, we can get them to score it around the goal.” 

West Virginia opens the regular season Nov. 9 against Oakland. The team will play a charity exhibition Oct. 29 against Akron, with all proceeds benefitting the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment Fund. 

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