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Huggins: Tshiebwe and Culver Played ‘Too Far Apart’ Last Season

Cody Nespor

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In sports, there can be no such thing as having too much talent on one team. Certainly, every coach at every level of competition would prefer to have more talent on their team rather than less.

The problem that can arise, however, is if all the team’s top talent is in the same area as was kind of the case with WVU basketball this past season.

Without a doubt, the Mountaineers’ top returner for this last season was sophomore forward Derek Culver. The 6-foot-10, 255-pound big man made a name for himself his first season with the Mountaineers in 2018-19 as an inside force, leading the Big 12 in rebounding during conference play as a true freshman.

Joining Culver in the West Virginia frontcourt for the this most recent season was McDonald’s All-American freshman Oscar Tshiebwe who, like Culver, excelled playing inside and grabbing rebounds.

With the 6-foot-9, 258-pound Tshiebwe joining Culver, many thought the pair would allow West Virginia to be able to dominate its opponents inside, both scoring and rebounding the ball.

While WVU did finish as the best rebounding team in the Big 12 (40.5 rebounds per game), Tshiebwe and Culver initially got off to a rough start playing together, as neither one understood how to compliment someone who had the same strengths as they did.

“The biggest problem we had in spacing was not getting those two guys too far apart, but them getting themselves too far apart,” WVU coach Bob Huggins told Tony Caridi in their most recent United Bank Playbook. “There’s a huge difference in catching the ball at the top of the key and feeding your partner in the post then there is catching it at the foul line and feeding your partner in the post.”

Huggins said the duo’s tendency to try and get out of one another’s way ultimately hurt them spacing-wise.

“Seven to eight feet makes a difference when you’re talking about playing some of the best athletes in the country that really close on the ball very quickly,” Huggins said. “It makes a huge difference of getting the ball there when it needs to get there, getting it there as quickly as it needs to get there and then getting it there in the right positions.”

When on the floor together this season, Huggins generally allowed Tshiebwe play under the basket and had Culver move around more and even guard on the perimeter.

With it confirmed that both will be back for next season, Huggins said one of the biggest things Tshiebwe could improve on for next season is becoming a more complete player so he is not confined to just that under-the-basket role.

“I want him to be able to pass it better, I want him to be able to shoot it from the perimeter better, I want him to be able to switch and guard smaller guys a little bit better,” Huggins explained. “Obviously he can rebond it, he runs like crazy, he’s gotten pretty good at scoring it with his back to the basket, I think he’s got to work at scoring it a little bit better over size.”

Given Tshiebwe’s work ethic, Huggins said he is sure he will improve for next season.

“He’s going to work,” Huggins said. “That’s the great thing about Oscar, he’s going to put time in and he wants to be good. And that can be said for the majority of our guys.”

As for Culver, Huggins said the main issue is keeping him consistent heading into next year.

“We’ve got to get Derek to be consistent in his work ethic,” Huggins said. “If he’s consistent in his work ethic then he’ll have a heck of a year as well.”

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Cody is currently a second-year graduate student at West Virginia University studying journalism. His graduate research focuses on the effects newspaper closures have on local communities. 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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