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Season preview: Mountaineers enter season with elevated expectations

— by Taylor Kennedy

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The upcoming college basketball will be one that will require a lot of patience. There have already been teams suspending activities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The West Virginia men’s basketball team is coming into this season with high expectations. Mountaineer head basketball coach Bob Huggins compared this year’s team to the 2010 Final Four team. That is a high ceiling. 

As WVU’s first regular season game approaches, let’s take a look at the team as a whole then break down the players.

Team

In the Big 12 preseason rankings, out of all 10 teams, the Mountaineers come in preseason ranked third in the league. They are behind preseason favorite Baylor and Kansas at second.

This is the highest preseason rank since the 2018-19 season. WVU was preseason ranked third, and the Mountaineers finished that season 15-21.

Since the 2016-17 season, WVU has been preseason ranked in the top-three in the Big 12 four times. The only time the Mountaineers were not preseason ranked in the top three came last season when they were fifth.

Speaking of preseason rankings, the Associated Press (AP) poll came out a few weeks ago. West Virginia cracked the list at No. 15. This is the fifth time in the Bob Huggins era that his team has been in the preseason AP Top 25.

In the history of Mountaineer men’s basketball, they have been in the preseason rankings seven times in school history. The first came back in the 1962-63 season under George King. The leading scorer that season was WVU legend Rod Thorn.

New Faces

There will be five new players on this year’s Mountaineer roster. Three of those are hopeful to see the floor significant time this season.

Isaiah Cottrell is one of three players listed as 6-foot-10. The other two are Derek Culver and Seny Ndiaye (newcomer). Cottrell comes into WVU having spent his prep career in the southern part of West Virginia at Huntington Prep. He was listed as a four-star recruit by ESPN, and he was ranked 75th on the ESPN top 100 high school recruits. He averaged 19 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks last season with Huntington Prep.

Taj Thweatt will become the fourth player from the state of New Jersey to play under Bob Huggins. Thweatt signed with the Mountaineers back in November 2019. He spent his high school basketball career at Wildwood Catholic High School. There, Thweatt averaged 18 points and seven rebounds as a senior. He was a two-time Boys Player of the Year according to The Press of Atlantic City. Thweatt finished his career with the Crusaders with over 1,700 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Kedrian Johnson is the only junior college (JUCO) transfer in this season’s recruiting class. Johnson is a JUCO transfer from Temple College in Temple, Texas. According to 247Sports.com, Johnson was listed as a three-star recruit and ranked the 17th best JUCO prospect in this season’s recruiting rankings. He finished his sophomore season ranked fourth in the country in points per game with 26 points.

Seny Ndiaye is the second prospect on WVU’s roster to come from Huntington Prep. At Huntington Prep, Ndiaye averaged five points, six rebounds, and three blocks. He signed with the Mountaineers in July 2020.

The last newcomer is Jay Moore. Moore spent his high school career with Greater Beckley Christian. He tallied over 1,800 career points with the Crusaders. Moore announced he was coming to West Virginia earlier in the year.

Second-Year Guys

There are six second-year guys that are projected to have big years with the Mountaineers. 

Gabe Osabuohien, Arkansas transfer, made his impact immediately on the defensive end for Huggins. Osabuohien led WVU in deflections (148) and charges (23). He also recorded 34 steals and nine blocks.

Miles McBride is coming off an impressive freshman season. McBride was named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team a season ago. He played in all 31 games averaging 10 points per game. He finished second on the team in double-figure performances with 16. One of his best performances came against Ohio State where he scored 21 points, and gave a Jordan shrug after a circus shot.

West Virginia Mountaineers guard Miles McBride (4) dunks the ball during the second half against the Baylor Bears at WVU Coliseum. (Photo by Ben Queen/USA Today)

Taz Sherman was one of two new JUCO transfers on last season’s team. Sherman started in four games, and he was one of the more reliable free throw shooters. He led the team in free throw percentage shooting 86%.

Sean McNeil was the other new JUCO transfer last season. McNeil played in 28 of the 31 total games last year. McNeil led the team in made three-pointers with 29. He scored 13 points twice last season. The first came against St. John at Madison Square Garden, and the other came on the road at Texas.

Jalen Bridges is the lone West Virginia native on this year’s roster. Bridges is a Fairmont native. He was redshirted last season, and he did not appear in a game. In high school, he led the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears to two state championships. Bridges also won the Bill Evans Award, which is the state player of the year award in West Virginia.

Fairmont Senior graduate Jalen Bridges (Photo by Eddie Ferrari)

Oscar Tshiebwe shined in his first season in the old gold and blue. Tshiebwe was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team, and he was an unanimous selection for the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and Newcomer Team. He finished his freshman season leading the team points per game (11), rebounds per game (9), and total offensive rebounds (128). Tshiebwe was named to the 2020 preseason All-Big 12 team.

The veterans

There are only three remaining players from the 2018-2019 team. Think about that, out of all 15 players on that team only three remain. Those players are Derek Culver, Jordan McCabe, and Emmitt Matthews Jr.

Derek Culver is coming off an impressive sophomore season at WVU. He was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. He started in 25 of the 31 games last season, and he averaged 10 points and nine rebounds. Culver finished second on the team in double-figure performances with 15. He recorded six double-doubles last season.

West Virginia Mountaineers forward Derek Culver (1) grabs a rebound (Photo by Ben Queen-USA Today Sports)

Jordan McCabe started in 29 of 31 games last season while averaging 14 minutes per game. He reached double figures twice, both coming in conference play against Kansas and Texas. He finished fourth on the team in free-throw percentage shooting 76%.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. started in all but one game last season. Matthews record eight double-figure performances. He posted a season-high 18 points in WVU’s season finale against fourth-rated Baylor. Matthews finished his sophomore season averaging six points and four rebounds.

West Virginia’s first game is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. against South Dakota State. It will be the first ever meeting between the two. The game will be televised on ESPN2.





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