Last season, West Virginia was one of the deepest basketball teams in the country.
10 Players averaged at least 13 minutes per game in 2019-20 and no one averaged more than 25. Through the first three games of 2020-21, however, WVU coach Bob Huggins used a shorter rotation.
In a 3-0 week at the Crossover Classic, seven Mountaineers averaged more than 18 minutes and three averaged more than 29. Starters Sean McNeil (34.3 minutes per game), Miles ‘Deuce’ McBride (32) and Derek Culver (29.3) led the team in minutes in the tournament. Fellow starters Oscar Tshiebwe (20) and Emmitt Matthews (21.7) also played a lot.
WVU’s top players off the bench were its two seniors, guard Taz Sherman (22.7) and forward Gabe Osabuohien (18.3). If Huggins does go with a smaller rotation this season, Sherman and Osabuohien should end up being important players coming off the bench.
Sherman was the team’s fourth-leading scorer in the Crossover Classic, averaging 11.7 points over the three games. He was also the team’s best shooter, going 13-24 (54.2%) from the floor and 7-11 (63.6%) from three.
“Taz is a much better all-around player than what he was given credit for,” Huggins said Friday. “He passes the ball well, he’s a much, much better defender than advertised and he’s been, probably, our most consistent shooter. Sean’s has his moments, Deuce has had his moments, but I think the most consistent guy, and the guy who made a couple of huge shots again tonight was Taz.”
Sherman scored 14 points and made four three-pointers in the team’s opener against South Dakota State on Wednesday. After the game, he said success this season will be a matter of confidence for him.
“It was mainly just confidence and finding your niche within a system,” Sherman said. “When Huggs was recruiting me he knew what kind of player I was and he keeps reiterating to me ‘just be me, keep playing my game, when you’re open shoot the ball’.”
While Sherman provides offense off the bench, Osabuohien brings nearly everything else.
“He’s a Swiss Army knife, he can do anything,” junior forward Derek Culver said of Osabuohien. “He’s a glue guy, he’s going to work hard, he’s going to be the first one off the floor. He does all the little dirty work. He’ll screen, he’ll box out, all the little things. He’s a guy that a lot of stuff might not pop up on the stat sheet but you know that Gabe is doing it.”
Osabuohien only scored 12 points in the tournament, but he finished third on the team in rebounds (22), first in steals (four) and tied for second in assists (seven) and blocks (two).
“Gabe came in and makes great hustle plays,” Huggins said Friday. “He’s a great off the ball defender and took a couple of big, big charges for us when we were making our comeback. He has rebounded better than he did a year ago and obviously has shot it better than he did a year ago.”
As a senior, Osabuohien is also one of WVU’s most experienced players, with 85 career games played including his time at Arkansas prior to his arrival in Morgantown before last season.
“Gabe brings a lot of things to the table for us and a lot of it is experience,” Huggins said. “Gabe’s the guys who’s helping the younger guys out on the floor the most.”
The Mountaineers’ next game will be against the top team in the country, No. 1 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic in Indianapolis on Wednesday.