It was a brief, yet exciting two-year career at West Virginia for Miles McBride but now he is off to the NBA as he announced at the end of last week. Had McBride elected to return to school for one more season, the Mountaineers would have been one of the favorites to win the Big 12 Conference and be labeled a legitimate contender to reach the Final Four.
With McBride now out of the picture, can the Mountaineers still be an elite team in 2021-22?
I won't say it's impossible but it is going to be very challenging for WVU to make a deep run into the tournament when you lose a player the caliber of McBride. Fortunately, the Mountaineers did receive some good news as guards Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil will return for next season. The two combined for 25.6 points, four rebounds, 2.2 assists per game, and both shot north of 36% from three-point range. With those two returning, it gives West Virginia fans hope that something special can still happen.
Filling in the void left behind by McBride will almost certainly be Old Dominion transfer, Malik Curry. Curry led Old Dominion in scoring, assists, and steals in each of the past two seasons and earned Second Team All-Conference USA honors as a junior. Last season, Curry averaged 15.7 points, 3.6 assists, and 1.9 steals per game.
"He's really good at attacking the rim,” Huggins said of Curry. “We needed somebody who can put pressure on the rim. Taz and Sean can both score but they're really not great at attacking the rim. Malik can really attack the rim. I think he's a guy who can get other guys' shots because of his ability to penetrate. I really liked what I saw."
As far as the backcourt is concerned, the Mountaineers seem to be in pretty good shape despite losing a potential 1st round pick. The one area that seems to draw the most concern is underneath the basket. Derek Culver unexpectedly decided to forgo his senior season at WVU to enter the 2021 NBA Draft. Replacing Culver won't be easy and it may be done by committee. Bob Huggins went out and plucked Dimon Carrigan (Florida International) and Pauly Paulicap (DePaul) out of the transfer portal which gives the Mountaineers more options in the frontcourt. Both Carrigan and Paulicap are massive upgrades on the defensive end of the floor which is one area that Culver struggled. However, neither of them has the same skill set offensively that Culver brought to the table. This is where redshirt freshman Isaiah Cottrell must step up and be productive given that he is fully healthy.
Last season, Cottrell tore his Achilles in a non-conference game against North Texas and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. Huggins said that his injury hurt the team more than Oscar Tshiewbe's decision to transfer mid-season simply due to the way Cottrell can spread the floor whereas Tshiwebe and Culver clogged up too much space inside. Last Tuesday, Huggins provided an update on Cottrell's progress and so far, he appears to be ahead of schedule.
"We're thinking he's going to be full go. He looks good. They haven't turned him loose yet but he looks good. He's doing all of the shooting drills and all of those kinds of things. It's just a matter of running and stopping and starting and cutting that they haven't turned him loose to do just yet."
With Culver and McBride gone, that's a lot of minutes that are out there for the taking. Typically having a bunch of newcomers in big roles could spell trouble for a team but Huggins doesn't seem to be overly concerned about it. He has a ton of confidence that the transition will be rather smooth for Curry, Carrigan, and Paulicap.
"I don't think it'll be that hard. I mean, for instance, Deuce [McBride], Sean [McNeil], and Taz [Sherman] all came in the same year and it didn't take them very long. We played Ohio State early in Cleveland and I thought we played well. I don't think anybody knew Deuce was that good. So, I don't think it's as hard as what one would think maybe it would be. We've got guys in that program that will certainly continue to get better. I think we're fine."
Even if the newcomers play up to expectations, I still believe it's going to be very difficult for West Virginia to make a Final Four. The Mountaineers haven't advanced past the Sweet Sixteen since 2010. Over the past five to six years, Huggins has had better teams than the one we will see in 2021-22 but as we all know, it will simply come down to how the path is laid out.
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