MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After all the hullaballoo over West Virginia altering its starting lineup against Oklahoma State, it feels fairly important to note that you may never see that exact starting five — Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Taz Sherman, Jermaine Haley and Oscar Tshiebwe — again.
Bob Huggins intoned as much immediately following the game.
“It didn’t seem like it helped us much,” Huggins said. “[Oklahoma State] was very well-prepared. They took away everything we wanted to do, and we didn’t handle it very well. You’re talking about a bunch of upperclassmen and seniors, and they overpowered our younger guys.
“We went in at halftime and said ‘We can’t do that anymore.'”
So what will the starting lineup look like moving forward?
The unit that took the floor to open the second half looms as a likely candidate. Haley moved from power forward to small forward, displacing Matthews as Derek Culver resumed his usual role in the post. The Mountaineers opened the half on a 20-4 run, with subs Gabe Osabuohien and Sean McNeil also contributing to that stretch.
Even if Matthews and Jordan McCabe are ultimately the ones displaced from the starting lineup, they will still have key roles to play for the Mountaineers.
McBride himself believes that McCabe is far more assertive running the offense. The person who pointed that out to him?
Matthews, who pulled the freshman apart from the rest of the huddle during the final media timeout of the first half as West Virginia’s offense looked stuck in neutral.
“He’s just telling me one thing Jordan does great is that he sets everything up really quick, really fast,” McBride recalled. “That’s one thing I’ve got to get better at. Before the ball is put in, I have to call something to make sure everybody knows what we’re going to be before we get in our offense.”
In the first half of his first career start, McBride took too long putting things in motion.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting us into our offense,” McBride said. “We were stagnant a little bit, and with the shot clock running down those are tough shots to make. I have to do a better job of getting us into that, then we’re going to do better.”
If he doesn’t, McCabe will likely be ready for another shot, and McBride knows it.
Should Matthews draws the short straw if Culver is back in the starting lineup, Tuesday’s game showed he is still capable of providing instant offense when asked.
Matthews was the initial focal point against the Cowboys, scoring four of West Virginia’s eight points. He finished with six points on 3 of 4 shooting from the field. You’ll take that boost in the arm from a player coming off the bench any game.
As for Sherman staying in the starting lineup, he did a fairly good job of answering questions about his defensive prowess against Oklahoma State. Sherman isn’t going to be Jevon Carter as an on-ball defender, but he did a savvy job of picking off a couple Cowboy passes to start fastbreaks.
“A lot of people in general don’t know about [my defense] yet because they focus on the scoring. It’s an underrated part of my game,” Sherman said. “I think my basketball IQ helps me see things other people can’t sometimes. Someone turns their back and drives to the baseline, they can only throw it to the corner. I can jump those passes. Or I kind of bait people like I can’t get there and use my speed to jump it.”
McNeil is another player who earned more time following Tuesday’s performance. His 11 points, three rebounds and two assists showed there is more to his game than catch-and-shoot.
West Virginia’s success the rest of the season is more about the lineup combinations Huggins can put on the floor than who starts the game, though the optimal starting lineup does set the table for the right combinations to follow. Against Oklahoma State, at least, the Mountaineers showed they can still have some versatility in that regard.