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Nespor: Draft Decisions Will Determine WVU Basketball’s Outlook for 2021-22

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: West Virginia takes on Morehead St. in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“There are some questions in Morgantown.”

That was the final line about the West Virginia men’s basketball team in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25, released late last night. The Mountaineers’ just snuck into the rankings, taking the final spot at No. 25, and while the Way-Too-Early rankings hold little significance on how good teams will actually be next year, ESPN’s analysis of WVU highlights the biggest issue the team will face this offseason, the fact that there are indeed some questions in Morgantown.

The biggest, and most important, question surrounding the team this summer will be who, exactly, will be coming back for the 2021-21 season. As things sit right now, there is a possibility that six of WVU’s top seven scorers might not be on the team then next season tips off.

This is the main point that ESPN makes for ranking WVU as low as they did. We already know that Emmitt Matthews Jr. (7.7 ppg) and Jordan McCabe (2.2 ppg) will not be back as they have entered the NCAA transfer portal. Add to that Miles “Deuce” McBride (15.9 ppg), Taz Sherman (13.4 ppg) and Sean McNeil (12.2 ppg) are all testing the NBA waters. On Citynet Statewide Sportsline last night, WVU coach Bob Huggins said there are four players checking out the draft. It is a safe bet the fourth player is First Team All-Big 12 forward Derek Culver (14.3 ppg).

ESPN uses its own NBA draft rankings to predict which players will leave for the draft and they also assume a lot of seniors will not use their extra year of eligibility. With that, ESPN has McBride off to the NBA and Sherman no coming back with McNeil and Culver returning for next season.

Their projected starting five is:

  • Kedrian Johnson
  • Sean McNeil
  • Jalen Bridges
  • Gabe Osabuohien
  • Derek Culver

With how chaotic this offseason is shaping up to be, Johnson, Bridges and Osabuohien are the only players whose name I would use a pen to write on next year’s roster right now. However, there is one player WVU should have back next season that ESPN forgot to mention, sophomore forward Isaiah Cottrell. Cottrell played sparingly before suffering a season-ending injury at the beginning of January, but the 6-10 underclassman should be a big factor in WVU’s success next season. If Cottrell can come back healthy and play like the skilled big man Huggins says he is, he would help to offset a lot of the scoring lost by whichever ones of McBride/Sherman/McNeil/Culver do not come back.

Add in FIU grad transfer Dimon Carrigan, a year of development for depth players like Seny Ndaiye and Taj Thweatt as well as incoming freshmen guards Kobe Johnson and Seth Wilson, and we’re starting to find answers to some of those questions. Of course, the ideal outcome for WVU is that McBride, Sherman, McNeil and Culver all return and try to take advantage of what could be a potentially down year for the Big 12, with four new coaches and teams like Baylor and Texas set to lose a bunch of talent to the NBA.

The decisions that a handful of players make over the next couple of months will determine if this offseason is one of reloading for another shot at a deep tournament run or if this offseason will be all about rebuilding and searching for answers. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is July 19. That is the date we will more or less know what WVU will look like next season.

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Cody spent the last two years getting his master's degree in journalism from WVU. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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