The West Virginia Mountaineers have the talent to make a deep run in March in 2021-22, but can they?
As of mind-May, there's no telling what this team will look like come November. Derek Culver has already signed with an agent and is off to the professional ranks while Emmitt Matthews Jr. decided to transfer back home to Washington and Jordan McCabe hit the portal and landed at UNLV. Miles McBride, Taz Sherman, and Sean McNeil have each entered the 2021 NBA Draft but are leaving open the option to return to school.
With the departures of Culver, Matthews Jr., and McCabe, Huggins filled those spots through the transfer portal with G Malik Curry (Old Dominion), F Pauly Paulicap (DePaul), and F Dimon Carrigan (Florida International). Curry led the Monarchs in scoring in each of the past two seasons and will be an offensive upgrade over McCabe. He can handle the ball which means if Miles McBride decides to come back, he can now play off the ball. Carrigan and Paulicap are very similar players that make their presence felt on the defensive end by blocking/altering shots and rebounding the ball. Derek Culver was considered the best big man in the Big 12 this past season but did not bring much defense to the game. Having those two now on the roster to help protect the rim will improve the Mountaineers' interior defense tremendously.
Making shots was not the problem for Huggins' squad in 2020-21, it was the defense oddly enough. Now that they have two defensive-minded players added to the mix, it all comes back to the decisions of McBride, Sherman, and McNeil. Having all three return isn't impossible but seems unlikely. Huggins would be extremely happy to get at least two of those three to come back. Sherman and McNeil have a similar impact on the game so one of those guys plus McBride would be the best-case scenario in which just two return.
McBride is considered to be an early 2nd round draft pick that could have a chance to sneak into the back end of the 1st round. NBA scouts were drooling over him prior to the start of this past season and after how he carried the team on multiple occasions throughout the course of the year, they likely fell in love with his game even more. He has the most potential of the three to be drafted so the feedback he receives from the NBA evaluators is going to play a major factor in his decision. If he has a chance to go in the 1st round, it's hard to blame him for wanting to remain in the draft.
In my opinion, West Virginia needs McBride to have a chance to reach a Final Four. Yes, Jalen Bridges, Isaiah Cottrell, and others are going to have a big part in that as well but you have to have elite guard play to even have a chance to make a run. He's the guy that can deliver in the clutch, hit game-winners, and carry the load offensively when the team needs to climb out of a double-digit deficit. Having McBride paired along with Curry and/or Sherman/McNeil gives West Virginia an explosive backcourt and a chance to do something special.
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