West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver make up one of, if not the, best frontcourt duos in all of college basketball.
The two towering Mountaineers powered WVU to a 21-10 record in 2019-20, combining to average 21.6 points and 17.9 rebounds per game. It was not all good for the Mountaineers, however, as Tshibwe and Culver, not accustomed to playing with another low post player of their caliber, often got in each others’ way last season.
During the season, Tshiebwe and Culver admitted that they were not always completely comfortable playing together and after the season, WVU coach Bob Huggins said he wished the two would have played further apart.
The thought of not playing the two on the floor at the same time has risen among some WVU fans this offseason. The play instead would be to keep one on the bench and the other on the floor and rotate the two in and out. WVU point guard Jordan McCabe, however, does not put much stock into the idea.
“Theoretically, that’s a great idea but if you’re [Huggins], which potential lottery pick are you going to tell you’re going to bring them off the bench?” McCabe asked last week. “It’s just not an easy scenario to deal with and you’ve got to kind of let them learn how to play with each other and we’re doing that a lot in practice.”
McCabe said that Tshiebwe and Culver have come a long way in terms of playing together over this offseason and specifically during the team’s preseason practices.
“These are times for them to really get more of a feel because it’s controlled in practice,” McCabe explained. “We’re doing live 5-on-5 drills but when we’re really just let go for 40 minutes [in scrimmages]… that’s when Derek and Oscar can really continue to develop how to play high-to-low, block-to-block with each other. It’s not easy, I’ve watched it for two years now and it’s something I’m glad I don’t have to deal with. There’s advantages to being 5-10, you don’t take up that much space.”
As for the troubles of last season, Culver, a junior this year, said he and Tshiebwe were limited in what sets they could run together.
“Me, personally, I kind of struggled last year because [Oscar] didn’t really know anything other than playing down low and I had to play high post,” Culver said. “He’s not really comfortable playing in the high post if the roles were reversed, so I just had to take one on the chin.
“We’re gelling a lot better this year,” Culver continued. “He’s worked on his passing and his high post game, he’s a lot more fluent so it’s able to transition both ways, I’ll be able to get him the ball, he’ll be able to get me the ball. We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with because we’re both bigs but we bring two different types of game to the table so it’s really going to be hard to be able to guard us.”
Tshiebwe, a sophomore this year, gave credit to WVU’s coaching staff, teaching him and Culver how to play off of one another.
“The coaches have done a great job of creating space for me and him,” Tshiebwe said. “If I see him post up, I cannot go down, I have to stay in the high-low. I think that [coaching] really helped us and right now we’re getting better. We’re getting better at doing that every single day.”
When asked what problems the two might have this season, Huggins said he does not expect there to be that many.
“Them running into each other trying to get the same rebound at times,” Huggins said. “Their understanding of [spacing] has become pretty good I think.”
In the end, McCabe said the mismatches that other teams have to deal with when playing against both Culver and Tshiebwe are too good for West Virginia to pass up, even if there are hiccups at times.
“They have so many different attributes to their games and skillsets that are different,” McCabe said. “They complement each other when they’re both locked in and ready to play and in the majority of practices we’ve had this year they’ve been that way.”