West Virginia basketball will go as far as its big men take it in 2020-21.
The frontcourt combination of forwards Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe is the Mountaineers’ greatest weapon both offensively and defensively this season. Few, if any, teams in the country are able to match WVU’s size inside, leading to plenty of chances for Culver and Tshiebwe to dominate in the paint. The towering duo powered WVU to be the top rebounding team in the Big 12 last season and a top-10 rebounding team nationally.
Add in defensive specialist bench player Gabe Osabuohien and promising newcomer Isaiah Cottrell, and WVU coach Bob Huggins might have an embarrassment of riches in his frontcourt this year.
Returners (2019-20 Stats):
So. Oscar Tshiebwe (23.1 mpg, 11.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg)
Tshiebwe was WVU’s breakout star last year. He led the team in both scoring (11.1) and rebounding (9.3) as a true freshman out of Kennedy Catholic High School in Pennsylvania.
Tshiebwe’s biggest weakness last season was that he was restricted to just playing in the paint. In an effort to fix that, Tshiebwe worked on developing a jump shot this offseason, according to Huggins.
“I think the biggest thing he’s done is he’s worked on his shot, he’s become a pretty consistent 15, 17-foot jump shooter,” Huggins said. “Which we really needed, because with him and Derek, they had a tendency to just sit in there. The one that was playing closer to the basket generally got double-teamed because they really didn’t pay much attention to either one of them making jump shots. I think that’s changed for both of them, but probably more for Oscar.”
Tshiebwe has been piling up honors in the lead-up to the start of the 2020-21 season. He was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 team and to the watch lists for the Karl Malone Award and the Naismith Trophy.
Jr. Derek Culver (24.6 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
Even with Tshiebwe bursting onto the scene last season, Culver did not take a backseat in terms of production. Playing in a new role to accommodate Tshiebwe, Culver finished second on the team in both scoring (10.4) and rebounding (8.6).
After a season of getting comfortable playing with Tshiebwe, Huggins thinks Culver is primed for a dominant junior campaign.
“I think the person who dominates practice is Derek,” Huggins said. “Derek’s team wins all the time and Derek gets the majority of the rebounds and they’ve looked to throw it in to Derek quite a bit, especially when it’s a close situation.”
Sr. Gabe Osabuohien (18.5 mpg, 3.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
At 6-foot-8, Osabuohien does not have the size of Tshiebwe (6-foot-9) or Culver (6-foot-10) but he has a different skill set that is a near-perfect complement to that those two do inside.
Osabuohien’s game is focused around on-ball defense and passing, aspects missing from Tshiebwe and Culver’s toolboxes.
“I think in a lot of ways Gabe’s our best passing big guy,” Huggins said. “He’s a better ball-handler than any of our other bigs, he’s a better straight-line driver than any of our other bigs, and, believe it or not, he’s been making some free throws now.”
Fr. Isaiah Cottrell (6-foot-10, 240 pounds)
Cottrell joins WVU from in-state Huntington Prep. Despite being a four-star rated prospect, with the three big men in front of Cottrell the Mountaineers will not have to rely on him much as a true freshman.
“I think the biggest thing is physicality,” Huggins said of Cottrell. “It’s a huge difference from playing in high school and playing at this level. And then it’s an even bigger challenge when you’re playing against two guys like Derek and Oscar, but he’s learning. He’s getting more physical, he’s become much, much better as a rebounder. The great thing about Isaiah is he can step out and make shots.”
Fr. Seny Ndiaye (6-foot-10, 235 pounds)
Another Huntington prep product, Ndiaye will likely not see a lot of playing time in WVU’s crowded frontcourt this year.
“We decided to bring him in here so he could play against those guys every day,” Huggins said. “He’s gotten better and better. When you take a look at what could happen, this year’s a free year. We could conceivably redshirt him next, providing that Derek and Oscar are still around, and then he’s still got four more. So he could be a six-year guy.”
Logan Routt – Graduation, Signed Overseas