MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Mountaineer men’s basketball team theoretically could have returned every member for the 2021-22 season, but attrition has already greatly affected that roster and may affect it even more before the next campaign begins.
Here is where West Virginia’s ‘21-‘22 squad currently stands:
Returning – Isaiah Cottrell (6-10, Fr.), Seny Ndiaye (6-10, Fr.), Gabe Osabuohien (6-7, Sr.)
Newcomers – Pauly Paulicap (6-8, Sr.), Dimon Carrigan (6-9, Sr.)
Departing – Derek Culver (6-10, Jr.), Oscar Tshiebwe (6-10, Soph.)
The decision by Derek Culver, a first-team all-Big 12 selection this past season, to forgo his remaining college eligibility and take his shot at professional basketball will greatly impact the Mountaineers’ post play next year.
While Culver announced his decision on April 27, WVU head coach Bob Huggins had been preparing for this move for a while, as he collected commitments from a pair of grad transfer post players last month with an obvious eye at replacing Culver.
Pauly Paulicap from DePaul and Dimon Carrigan from Florida International come to West Virginia with the specific chore of helping on the defensive end for a Mountaineer team that wasn’t very good at protecting the rim this past season. Culver averaged 0.83 blocked shots per game in 2020-21, which was twice as many as anyone else on the squad. Paulicap averaged 1.3 blocks per game last season at DePaul, and Carrigan averaged 2.5 at FIU. Neither equaled Culver’s scoring (14.3 points per game) or rebounding (9.4 per game), but the hope is that combined they can make up for those lost numbers. Carrigan averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Panthers last year, while Paulicap averaged 7.2 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Blue Demons in ‘20-‘21.
West Virginia isn’t likely to get a whole lot of point production out of its returning bigs, Gabe Osabuohien or Seny Ndiaye, either.
Obviously Osabuohien has a great deal of value, as he was second on the Mountaineers last year in rebounds (128), steals (41) and assists (62), but scoring, where he averaged just 1.7 points per game, is not the Canadian’s strong suit. How much will that change for the fifth-year senior?
Ndiaye has some premium physical and athletic skills, but the native of Dakar, Senegal, has only participated in organized basketball for a few years and he remains very much in the developmental stage.
The best offensive hope for the Mountaineer front court is Isaiah Cottrell, but unfortunately he’s still rehabbing from a torn Achilles he suffered last December. It remains unclear if he’ll be 100% when the 2021-22 season begins next November. If healthy, the freshman from Las Vegas gives WVU scoring ability from both inside and outside that none of its other current big men possess.
Returning – Jalen Bridges (6-7, RFr.), Taj Thweatt (6-4, Fr.)
Newcomers – none
Departing – Emmitt Matthews (6-7, Jr.)
The transfer of Emmitt Matthews to Washington takes 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds out of the Mountaineer lineup.
Jalen Bridges, who averaged 5.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season as a redshirt freshman, appears ready to take a step forward, becoming one of the key cogs at WVU for the next several seasons.
Last year Bridges and Matthews usually started together at the two forward positions. Taj Thweatt, who totaled just four points and grabbed seven rebounds while playing in nine games last season, will have to make a giant leap if he’s going to become a major factor for West Virginia this coming year.
Huggins will have a couple of choices when it comes to his two forward positions. Either he can use Cottrell at the power forward with Bridges at the small forward, or he can go with a three-guard lineup, as he often did last season, with Bridges manning the four spot along with a rotation at center. It’s likely Huggs will employ both versions, sometimes guard-heavy and sometimes with a pair of bigs. Thus Bridges will probably see time at both the small forward and power forward.
Returning – Kedrian Johnson (6-3, Jr.), Spencer Macke (5-11, Soph.), Jay Moore (6-3, Fr.)
Newcomers – Seth Wilson (6-3, Fr.), Kobe Johnson (6-4, Fr.), Malik Curry (6-1, Sr.)
Departing – Jordan McCabe (6-0, Jr.)
Status TBD – Deuce McBride (6-2, Soph.), Taz Sherman (6-4, Sr.), Sean McNeil (6-3, Jr.)
Though the post position has definite questions for the Mountaineers, there is no unit with more uncertainty than their guards.
WVU’s top three guards from last season – Deuce McBride, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil – each is testing the NBA Draft waters right now, and to this point none has publicly announced his final intention in terms of moving ahead with his pro career this year or returning to college for another season.
Those decisions will be huge in terms of West Virginia’s future, with McBride’s choice being the most impactful. WVU’s leader in scoring (15.9 per game), assists (4.8 per game), steals (1.9 per game) and 3-point shooting (41.4%), the 6-foot-2 sophomore was the catalyst who drove the Mountaineers to a 19-10 record.
With him, West Virginia has the makings of another good backcourt. Without him, who knows? Rated as a late first-round or early second-round pick by most of the recent NBA mock draft sites, McBride has a tough choice to make, and his choice also will figure greatly into WVU’s fortunes.
Sherman and McNeil are not likely to be NBA Draft selections this year, but they can still decide to seek a paycheck playing pro basketball somewhere rather than playing for a college scholarship, so what direction they go is also uncertain. But as West Virginia’s third (Sherman, 13.4 points per game) and fourth (McNeil, 12.2 points per game) leading scorers, the Mountaineers would certainly benefit by the return of one or both.
Huggins has some backcourt replacements ready if any or all three depart.
Malik Curry, a second-team all-Conference USA guard for Old Dominion last season when he averaged 15.7 points per game to go along with 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals, could definitely fill the backup point guard role vacated when Jordan McCabe transferred to UNLV. Besides backing up McBride, if Deuce returns to WVU, the two could also play in combination with McBride sliding to a shooting guard spot while Curry handles the point.
Kedrian Johnson was a role player for West Virginia this past season, averaging 1.3 points and 1.0 assists per game when he worked mainly as WVU’s third point guard behind McBride and McCabe. Johnson’s role could increase this year, despite the addition of Curry, if McBride does not return to WVU.
Incoming freshmen Seth Wilson and Kobe Johnson, the reigning Ohio Division I Player of the Year, will also likely get minutes this season, though whether those minutes are substantial or light probably depends on the stay-or-go decisions of McBride, McNeil and Sherman.
Other options – The biggest positive that comes with the departure of Culver is it provides West Virginia with another open scholarship.
Huggins has already added three grad transfers. Would he take another? Would he rather have a multi-year transfer, a junior college product, a high schooler? A big, a wing, a guard? Any are possible.