MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Without preseason games or a closed scrimmage against an outside opponent, the Mountaineers have spent the entire preseason going up against the same guys on a daily basis. Bob Huggins says Derek Culver has clearly had an edge on the rest of his teammates so far.
“The person who dominates in practice is Derek,” Huggins said. “Derek’s team generally wins all the time. Derek gets the majority of the rebounds and they look to throw it inside to Derek quite a bit, particularly when it is a close situation in practice.”
Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe combine to form the Big 12’s most formidable frontcourt duo but Huggins is challenging Culver to expand his game and his range further from the hoop.
“I am accustomed to playing on the block,” Culver said. “But I am talking about playing on the wing and catching the ball, one dribble or two dribbles to the rack, being able to attack or dish the ball out to my teammates, just being able to play outside of my comfort zone.”
While Culver and Tshiebwe are firmly entrenched in starting spots, freshman Seny Ndiaye is gaining valuable experience ahead of schedule. The 6-foot-10 forward graduated from Huntington Prep last spring and was added to WVU’s recruiting class over the summer.
“The original idea was to put him in Beckley Prep and let him get another year of prep,” Huggins said. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought we would just redshirt him and he would get a lot more playing against Derek (Culver) and Oscar (Tshiebwe) and Isaiah (Cottrell) than he would against 6-foot-3 guys.
“He has gotten better and better and better. When you take a look at what could happen, this year is a free year. We could conceivably redshirt him next year providing that Derek and Oscar are still around. Then he still has four more.”
Backcourt options are in good supply for Huggins. Jordan McCabe made 29 starts last season at the point. Competition for time at the shooting guard spot continues.
“Sean (McNeil) has played really well. Taz (Sherman) has played exceptionally well. I think there’s a lot of guys. We could conceivably have Deuce (McBride) there if we played Jordan (McCabe) and Deuce together. That’s a position we feel pretty secure at,” Huggins said.
“Jordan shot it poorly, for Jordan last year. He did a great job this summer. He sent me videos of his shot to try to talk him through some of the things that I thought would help him. He is going to work on what he needs to work on.”
Sherman was West Virginia’s top three-point shooter last winter at 33%. He averaged 5.3 points per game while playing 13 minutes a contest in his first season in Morgantown.
“This season I was really trying to get into what professionals really work on, using off screens and using down screens, on-ball screens and reading how the defense is going to play you,” Sherman said. “Movement shooting, like Jerry West drills, going up wing to corner, wing to top and working on pump fakes, mid-ranges, post-ups just in case.”
When the season begins on Thanksgiving weekend, WVU students will scatter and not return to campus until mid-January. The Mountaineers are preaching off-court discipline to help their on-court ambitions.
“The team that wins the national championship this year may not be the most skilled, the most talented or even the best team, but the one that stays completely intact, healthy and with a full roster,” McCabe said. “Focused and disciplined are two things we need to continue to be. We have been up to this point.”
“You have kids that don’t really care,” said WVU junior Emmitt Matthews. “Then you have kids that do care. There’s kids that go out all the time, you see that on their Snapchat and Instagram stories. They are all having that fun time but it is just one of those sacrifices we have to make. At the end of the day, we all have a goal and that is to win a national championship.”