West Virginia's season didn't end the way they wanted it to as they dropped three of their last four games heading into the NCAA Tournament, where they were bounced in the 2nd round by No. 11 seed Syracuse. There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the year, but looking back it was a wonderful coaching job by Bob Huggins of adjusting on the fly after losing Oscar Tshiebwe to the transfer portal and Isaiah Cottrell to injury.
Next year's team will already have a different look to it and it could look REALLY different pending the decisions of Gabe Osabuohien, Taz Sherman, and Sean McNeil. Today, we will look at what WVU's roster may look like at the start of the 2021-22 season not including the possibility of additional players being added to the roster aside from the two freshmen who have already signed with the Mountaineers.
Miles McBride - 15.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.8 APG, 43% FG, 41% 3P
"Duece" was easily the most improved player from the 2019-20 season to this season. He went from being a solid freshman getting his feet wet to becoming a DUDE in just one offseason. McBride is going to be the heart and soul of this team's future success and could have a similar impact that Jevon Carter had on the program. Obviously, Carter and McBride are two completely different styles of players but the importance of having them on the floor and playing well is crucial. McBride showed that he had the ability to take over games in clutch moments, especially at the end of games. I mean heck, ESPN's Fran Fraschilla called him "the best closer in college basketball".
Kedrian Johnson - 1.3 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, 36% FG, 40% 3P
Johnson was the 4th leading scorer in all of junior college basketball last season averaging 25.5 points per game. Huggins has a knack for landing JUCO scoring guards but it usually takes them a year to really make an impact on the offensive end. Jaysean Paige, Sean McNeil, and Taz Sherman are all perfect examples. Although he only averaged a little over seven minutes per game, I would expect Johnson to have a major role in 2021-22. Aside from McBride, he could be the only returning guard with experience if McNeil and Sherman decide to move on.
Taj Thweatt 0.4 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.2 APG, 28% FG, 0% 3P
There wasn't much of a path for playing time this year for Thweatt with Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jalen Bridges in front of him. Once Oscar Tshiebwe left the program, Bridges slid to the four, and West Virginia went to more of a three-guard lineup which still kept Thweatt on the bench except for a few minutes here and there. He appeared in only nine games averaging just two minutes per contest. With Matthews Jr. entering the transfer portal, it will be crucial for Thweatt to have a great offseason so that he is ready to contribute in some capacity as a sophomore. As a senior at Wildwood Catholic High School in New Jersey, Thweatt averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. His film showed an extremely explosive player with a lot of bounce and I think he can get back to that and have a pretty solid career once he gets settled in and comfortable with his role.
Jalen Bridges - 5.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.3 APG, 49% FG, 40% 3P
At the end of last season, head coach Bob Huggins praised Bridges for being one of the team's best rebounders at practice during his redshirt year. He loved how active he was on the glass, kept balls alive, and was finally able to show that once he was inserted into the starting lineup. McBride and Culver are the two huge pieces that Huggins will build around but you could also include Bridges in that group as well. He has all the tools of becoming a major star in the Big 12 and could turn into the team's best pro prospect down the line. Bridges can rebound and shoot the ball at a very high level but at times, passed up some shots. I look for him to be more aggressive as a sophomore and also improve his ability to put the ball on the deck and finish around the rim.
Derek Culver - 14.3 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, 46% FG
As expected, Derek Culver was a double-double machine this past season. In fact, he recorded a double-double in 11 of the team's 29 games. One could make the argument that Culver was the best big man in the entire Big 12 Conference and in my opinion, it's not even close. As good as Culver is, the one thing he needs to work on heading into his senior year is becoming more consistent. There were several games this year where Culver would get off to a hot start and then go completely silent in the 2nd half. Then there were some games where he wouldn't get going until the 2nd half, so playing at a high level throughout the duration of the game is something he must do moving forward. With that said, with a healthy Isaiah Cottrell and a possible return of Gabe Osabuohien, Culver won't have to worry as much about getting in foul trouble and can play a little more freely, just not too freely.
Isaiah Cottrell - 1.6 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, 33% FG
The Mountaineers' biggest loss wasn't Tshiebwe to Kentucky, it was Isaiah Cottrell lost to injury early in the season. Cottrell has a very high ceiling and has the potential to slide into Culver's role as one of the best bigs in the Big 12 in a couple of years. He is a terrific rebounding big that is skilled with the basketball. Unlike Sags Konate, Devin Williams, Derek Culver, or any other big man Huggs has had lately, Cottrell can stretch the floor and shoot the three-ball. This will force opposing bigs to come out and guard on the perimeter, where they don't feel comfortable. If he is back to full health by the start of next season which is expected, Cottrell will see a ton of playing time and will have a major role.
Seny N'diaye - 0.1 PPG, 0.4 RPG, 0.1 APG, 50% FG
Seny hasn't played organized basketball for all that long, which is why Huggins referred to him as a baby giraffe. He's a tall, lanky big man that hasn't quite filled out his frame and at the same time, is still learning where to be on the floor, what to do with the ball when he gets it, and so on. N'diaye doesn't have the potential that Cottrell possesses but once the game slows down for him, he'll be a nice role player for the Mountaineers.
During the first two years of his high school career, he attended St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron and registered the second-most points as a freshman in the history of the program, trailing only 16X NBA All-Star and 4X NBA champion, LeBron James.
Analysis from Huggins: "Seth is an outstanding shooter who comes from a high school with great basketball tradition that has produced many high-level Division I players. He gives us great versatility and can play at point guard or move to the wing with his shooting ability. Seth will be a great asset to our backcourt."
The 6-4 combo guard averaged 18.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game during his junior season, and he was the only junior named to the Division I All-Ohio First Team by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association.
Analysis from Huggins: "Kobe comes from one of the storied programs in Ohio," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins in a release by West Virginia University. "He is an outstanding defender with exceptional quickness and length. Kobe is well-coached by Andy Vlajkovich, who also coached at Warren G. Harding High. Kobe will be an outstanding contributor to our perimeter play."
Considering Returning/Going Pro
Sean McNeil - 12.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 40% FG, 38% 3P
After a stellar junior campaign, Sean McNeil entered his name into the 2021 NBA Draft but is leaving open the option to return for his senior year. McNeil is widely viewed as a three-point specialist and rightfully so but he also proved that he can drive the ball, finish at the rim, and hit contested mid-range jumpers. Defense is one area where McNeil will need to improve and if he does, he will be one of the most complete players on the WVU roster not named Miles McBride. McNeil returning would be huge for the Mountaineers.
Taz Sherman - 13.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 41% FG, 35% 3P
Some eyebrows may have been raised when I noted McBride as the most improved player instead of Sherman but the reality is, Sherman played at a high level a year ago, he just didn't receive the playing time to show the type of impact he can have on a game. Had the pandemic never been a thing, Sherman would be preparing himself for pro ball but with the NCAA giving players an extra year of eligibility, he has the opportunity to return for one more season and raise his stock even more. Sherman can really fill it up and had five 20-point games while coming off the bench. Should WVU see the return of McNeil AND Sherman....whew...that'd be a huge W for Bob Huggins.
Gabe Osabuohien -1.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 34% FG
Cam Thoroughman is that you? Gabe Osabuohien may not be much of an offensive threat but the energy he brings off the bench on the defensive end of the floor is unmatched. He's a vintage Bob Huggins type of player that rebounds the ball, defends extremely well on and off the ball, racks up deflections, dives for loose balls, takes charges, and just uglies the game up. West Virginia's defense inside the paint was horrendous this year but if it weren't for Osabuohien, it would have been even worse. Of course, it would be nice to see all three of these guys return but if Huggins can get Osabuohien and one of the shooters (Sherman/McNeil) to return, it would still be a successful offseason.
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