One of West Virginia’s biggest weaknesses last season was the overall youth and inexperience of the team.
For the 2019-20 season, the Mountaineers had very few returners from the previous season and seven newcomers. In contrast, for the 2020-21 season, WVU will return 10 players, nine of whom averaged at least 13 minutes per game.
Despite this, head coach Bob Huggins said Thursday afternoon that his veteran players have really taken ownership of the team.
“I have no complaints whatsoever, I think they’ve played hard, they’ve retained things,” Huggins said of his returners. “Our older guys are trying to help our younger guys not just on the floor, but later, at home, watching film together.”
When Huggins talks about his “older guys” he does not necessarily mean upperclassmen.
“We say veteran and Deuce McBride is a sophomore, Oscar [Tshiebwe] is a sophomore,” Huggins said. “It’s great to see them work with the younger guys. We’ve got some talented younger guys.”
As true freshmen last season, Tshiebwe, a forward, and McBride, a guard, finished first and third in scoring for the Mountaineers. Tshiebwe averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds, McBride averaged 9.5 points on 40.2% shooting.
Other players Huggins made sure to single out were junior wing Emmitt Matthews and junior forward Derek Culver. Matthews and Culver and are WVU’s most experienced players this season, each entering their third years with the team.
“Emmitt Matthews has been terrific in trying to help,” Huggins said. “He’s trying to help [redshirt-freshman Jalen Bridges], he’s really trying to show people. It’s not often that you say a junior is your most experienced guy, but I think he and Derek are our most experienced guys in terms of playing time.”
Matthews struggled through a bit of a sophomore slump last season, averaging just 6.3 points but played the fifth-most minutes on the team because he was WVU’s only wing player. Bridges, who redshirted last season, figures to be able to take some of that load off of Matthews this year.
Culver played more of a role on the perimeter and finished as WVU’s second-leading scorer with 10.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
“They’re committed, they’ve done a really good job,” Huggins said of his team’s preparation. “To be as committed as they’ve been and to be able to get as much done as they’ve been able to get done in these times, it’s admirable.”
Huggins continued to say that this year’s team is as close-knit as any team he’s coached.
“Their attitudes are great. This group gets along better, roots for each other as well as any group that we’ve had here in a long time, maybe since 2010. I think we’re talented. I think we’ve got some guys who know how to play.”
WVU finished the 2019-20 season with a 21-10 record, 9-9 in the Big 12, but finished the season losing six of their final nine games.
“A lot of those guys got a lot of experience a year ago, they don’t want to go through what they went through a year ago,” Huggins said. “I’m excited, I think we’ve got a chance.”