Two weeks ago, the future was as bright as can be for West Virginia’s frontcourt.
There were reports that the Mountaineers would be returning both of their star big men, Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver. Both legitimate NBA prospects, the possibility that Tshiebwe, Culver or both wold leave WVU for the professional ranks after this season was very real.
On his Twitter Wednesday, Tshiebwe announced that he had entered his name into consideration for the NBA draft. While this does not mean Tshiebwe will for certain turn pro, it re-opens the possibility. It also means that the Mountaineers must start preparing for the possibility of not having the 6-foot-9 big man next season.
The Mountaineers’ biggest strength in 2019-20 was their frontcourt, anchored by Tshiebwe and Culver, and supplemented by Gabe Osbouhien, Logan Routt and, at times, Jermaine Haley.
From the beginning of the season, WVU head coach Bob Huggins wanted to run two big men on the court at all times. That pairing was usually Tshiebwe and Culver, although Osabuohien had his minutes increase as the season went on. With two big on the court at all times, West Virginia’s frontcourt dominated opponents on the glass this year.
The Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in rebounding with 1254 total rebounds, 40.5 per game. They also held the best rebounding margin in the conference (8.1 per game). This was due to the duo of Tshiebwe and Culver. Tshiebwe (287, 9.3) and Culver (267, 8.6) finished second and fifth in individual rebounding in the Big 12. No other teammate pair finished near as high, with the next closet being Kevin Samuel (268, 8.4) and Desmond Bane (204, 6.4) from TCU at six and 10.
Tshiebwe led the conference in offensive rebounds (128) and led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage.
It wasn’t just on the boards where WVU’s size made a difference. The Mountaineers’ two leading scorers this season were Tshiebwe (11.2) and Culver (10.4). Tshiebwe shot 55.2% from the floor throughout the year, Culver shot 45.7%.
If Tshiebwe were to leave, Huggins would still have the possibility of playing two bigs next season. Assuming both Culver and Osabuohien return, WVU is also adding four-star, in-state big man Isaiah Cottrell. Cottrell (6-foot-9, 210 lbs.) averaged 18.9 points and 9.3 rebounds at Hungtinton Prep this season.
With the addition of Tshiebwe to the roster for this season, Culver played more on the perimeter than he did in 2018-19. If Tshiebwe leaves, Culver could possibly play inside, pair with the defense-minded Osabuohien, or outside depending on how Huggins plans to use Cottrell.
How Cottrell plays would be a big factor in how big of a loss Tshiebwe would be for the Mountaineers. On defense, Osabuohien has proven that he is as good as anyone on the team, but it is unlikely Osabuohien could pick up Tshiebwe’s scoring. A productive Cottrell could help to close that gap.
If Tshiebwe were to leave, Huggins would also most likely look to add a fourth big man for next year’s team. It would open up an additional scholarship for the team to go along with the one available due to Brandon Knapper transferring.
Huggins has already been on the market for at least on transfer, throwing his hat into the ring for Radford’s Carlick Jones recently.