MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Last season was so bad for West Virginia basketball that they up and changed the whole court to erase any evidence that it happened.
OK, so maybe the redesign of the WVU Coliseum floor doesn’t actually have any correlation with the fact the Mountaineers are coming off just the third losing season in Bob Huggins’ 38 years as a head coach.
But when West Virginia tips off the 2019-20 season against Akron on Friday night, the new look will underscore the feeling that last year’s last-place finish in the Big 12 feels like it’s in the very distant past.
“We can’t have a season like we did last year,” said senior guard Jermaine Haley. “Not only for us and the coaches, but for the fans and all of West Virginia. I think everybody’s pretty pumped up.”
If you had Oscar Tshiebwe, you’d be pumped up too.
The five-star recruit is quite possibly the most highly touted signee in West Virginia basketball history. (As they only had nine restaurants at the time, there were no McDonald’s All-Americans when Jerry West graduated from high school.)
Though the 6-foot-9, 253-pound Big 12 preseason freshman of the year is West Virginia’s most talented player, he is also the most raw. A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo who relocated to Pennsylvania in high school, Tshiebwe has only been playing basketball for five years.
Sophomore Derek Culver will join him to give the Mountaineers a formidable post tandem that few in the Big 12 will be able to match. Culver nearly averaged a double-double last season (11.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and was named an all-Big 12 second teamer.
“We ought to be a very, very good rebounding team at both ends of the floor,” Huggins said. “Not just good.”
It may take some time for the tandem to get into offensive sync, though. Neither player has had to share the post with a comparable talent in their basketball careers.
“Blocking out, getting to the mid-line, finding your man, talking on defense — all those things are going to make a difference if you’re going to make it far,” Culver said. “Once I get him on board with doing all of those things while being super-active on defense, we’re going to work really well together.”
With their interior strength, it stands to reason that the Mountaineers will be seeing plenty of zone defense from opponents. That’s why Huggins wants his own defense active enough to get points in transition.
“We can get some runs, because we can play transition and shoot the three-ball,” Huggins said.
A pair of junior college sharpshooters, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil, should bolster an offense that ranked 302nd nationally in three-point shooting a year ago.
The offense will also be helped by the literal growth of sophomore small forward Emmitt Matthews, who has grown more than an inch and gained a shoe size since last season. Matthews showed his potential with a career-high 28 points to lead West Virginia to an upset win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 tourney. The Red Raiders wouldn’t lose again until they were nipped by Virginia in the national championship game.
As is the case in any basketball season, point guard play will also be critical. The Mountaineers were one of the most careless teams in the country, ranking 348th in the percentage of possessions in which opponents had a steal.
After starting the final 10 games of last season, sophomore Jordan McCabe will try to make sure that won’t be an issue this year. He’ll have some help from freshman Miles McBride, who Huggins is willing to use either as a backup to McCabe or alongside him in a three-guard offense.
Unlike last season, when WVU’s bench was non-existent by the end of the year due to injuries, suspensions and defections, Huggins will need the non-conference schedule to figure out how to use all his depth.
“It’s great to have a lot of depth,” Huggins said. “but it’s not great to have a lot of depth. Because now you’re subbing guys out and you don’t have five guys out there comfortable playing with each other.”
Meet the Mountaineers
Derek Culver • 6-10, 255 • Sophomore • Youngstown, Ohio
An all-Big 12 second team selection as a freshman who led the Big 12 in rebounding in conference games only. Last year’s 22-point, 21-rebound game against TCU was the first 20-20 game for a Mountaineer since 1977.
Oscar Tshiebwe • 6-9, 258 • Freshman • Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo
The first McDonald’s All-American to sign with West Virginia since 1986. He has the attention of Big 12 coaches, who named him the league’s preseason freshman of the year.
Logan Routt • 6-11, 250 • Senior • Cameron, W.Va.
The first year on scholarship for the former walk-on after appearing in 76 games. He’ll be counted on when one of the other big men is in foul trouble or in need of a breather.
Emmitt Matthews • 6-7, 210 • Sophomore • Tacoma, Wash.
The one true small forward likely to play this season. Matthews averaged 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last year, but exploded for 28 points in an upset of eventual national runner-up Texas Tech in the Big 12 tourney.
Gabe Osabuohein • 6-7, 235 • Junior • Toronto, Canada
A transfer from Arkansas. Osabuohein still hasn’t heard back from the NCAA on a waiver request to play this season, which makes it likely he won’t contribute until next season.
Jalen Bridges • 6-7, 210 • Freshman • Fairmont, W.Va.
West Virginia’s Mr. Basketball led Fairmont Senior to four straight state championship game appearances. He will redshirt this season.
Brandon Knapper • 6-0, 185 • Sophomore • South Charleston, W.Va.
Averaged 5 points per game as a redshirt freshman with a career-high 25 against Oklahoma.
Miles “Deuce” McBride • 6-2, 196 • Freshman • Cincinnati, Ohio
A two-sport star at one of Cincinnati’s most storied athletic programs, Archbishop Moeller. McBride will push for playing time at point guard as well as the other two guard spots. Huggins calls him the team’s most versatile guard.
Jordan McCabe • 6-0, 188 • Sophomore • Kaukauna, Wis.
Started as West Virginia’s point guard for the final 15 games last season, averaging 5.8 points and 2.5 assists per game.
Jermaine Haley • 6-7, 215 • Senior • Vancouver, Canada
Haley got hot down the stretch, averaging 16.5 points per game in West Virginia’s final 10 games last season.
Taz Sherman • 6-4, 185 • Junior • Fort Bend, Texas
A second team NJCAA All-American who averaged 25.9 points per game at Collin (Texas) Junior College. Expect to see the 87.5-percent free-throw shooter on the floor late in games.
Chase Harler • 6-3, 210 • Senior • Moundsville, W.Va.
Veteran who has appeared in 85 career games, including 17 starts last season. He averaged 5.4 points per game last year.
Sean McNeil • 6-3, 207 • Sophomore • Union, Ky.
A dead-red shooter who averaged 29.7 points and 4.3 three-pointers per game in his lone season at Sinclair (Ohio) Community College.
Spencer Macke • 5-11, 170 • Freshman • Fort Thomas, Ky.
A walk-on who averaged 35 points per game as a high school senior. If he doesn’t redshirt this season, he’ll be the guy the student section chants for at the end of blowouts.
2019-20 WVU Men’s Basketball Schedule
Day Date Opponent Location TV Time
Fri Nov. 8 Akron Morgantown AT&T SportsNet 7 p.m.
Fri Nov. 15 at Pitt Pittsburgh, Pa. ESPNU 7 p.m.
Mon Nov. 18 Northern Colorado % Morgantown AT&T SportsNet 7 p.m.
Fri Nov. 22 Boston University % Morgantown Nexstar 7 p.m.
Tues Nov. 26 vs. Northern Iowa + Riviera Maya, Mexico CBS Sports Network 8:30 p.m.
Wed Nov. 27 vs. South Carolina or Wichita State + Riviera Maya, Mexico CBS Sports Network 6/8:30 p.m.
Sun Dec. 1 Rhode Island Morgantown AT&T SportsNet 2 p.m.
Sat Dec. 7 at St. John’s ^ New York, N.Y. FS1 Noon
Thurs Dec. 12 Austin Peay Morgantown Nexstar 7 p.m.
Sat Dec. 14 Nicholls Morgantown AT&T SportsNet 2 p.m.
Sat Dec. 21 vs. Youngstown State $ Youngstown, Ohio No TV 1 p.m.
Sun Dec. 29 vs. Ohio State ! Cleveland, Ohio FS1 Noon
Sat Jan. 4 at Kansas * Lawrence, Kan. Big 12 Now/ESPN+ 4 or 8 p.m.
Mon Jan. 6 at Oklahoma State * Stillwater, Okla. ESPN2 9 p.m.
Sat Jan. 11 Texas Tech * Morgantown ESPN/2/U 6 p.m.
Tues Jan. 14 TCU * Morgantown ESPNU 9 p.m.
Sat Jan. 18 at Kansas State * Manhattan, Kan. ESPNU 2 p.m.
Mon Jan. 20 Texas * Morgantown ESPNU 7 p.m.
Sat Jan. 25 Missouri # Morgantown ESPN/2/U Noon
Wed Jan. 29 at Texas Tech * Lubbock, Texas Big 12 Now/ESPN+ TBD
Sat Feb. 1 Kansas State * Morgantown ESPN/2/U 2 p.m.
Wed Feb. 5 Iowa State * Morgantown ESPN2/U 7 p.m.
Sat Feb. 8 at Oklahoma * Norman, Okla. ESPNU 2 p.m.
Wed Feb. 12 Kansas * Morgantown Big 12 Now/ESPN+ 7 p.m.
Sat Feb. 15 at Baylor * Waco, Texas Big 12 Now/ESPN+ 4 p.m.
Tues Feb. 18 Oklahoma State * Morgantown ESPN/2/U 7 p.m.
Sat Feb. 22 at TCU * Fort Worth, Texas ESPN/2/U 2 p.m.
Mon Feb. 24 at Texas * Austin, Texas ESPNU 7 p.m.
Sat Feb. 29 Oklahoma * Morgantown ESPN2/U 4 p.m.
Tues Mar. 3 at Iowa State * Ames, Iowa ESPN2/U 9 p.m.
Sat Mar. 7 Baylor * Morgantown Big 12 Now/ESPN+ 1 p.m.
Wed-Sat Mar. 11-14 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Kansas City, Mo. ESPN/2/U TBD
% Cancun Challenge, Morgantown, W.Va.
+ Cancun Challenge, Riviera Maya, Mexico
^ Big 12/BIG EAST Scheduling Alliance at Madison Square Garden
$ Covelli Centre, Youngstown, Ohio
! Cleveland Classic at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland, Ohio
# Big 12/SEC Challenge
* Big 12 Conference Game
– ALL DATES AND TIMES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE FOR TELEVISION
– All Times Eastern