Oscar Tshiebwe Has Cemented himself as one of the Nation's Elite Players

Zach Campbell

West Virginia let one get away from them (again) on Saturday against Kansas and grabbed a redemptive-yet-ugly win Monday night against a gritty Oklahoma State squad. Not a bad way to open Big 12 play. Not great but, again, not bad. What is undeniably great, however, is the play of freshman forward Oscar Thsiebwe. I wrote several weeks ago about how we were watching the native of Congo ascend and that it would be a matter of time before he really, truly arrived. I think we've now reached that point. 

It's not just his absurd line of 17 points and 17 rebounds (his sixth double-double on the season) against the Jayhawks or the fact that he looked every bit the equal to Kansas' star big man Udoka Azubuike. It's not even about the envy-inducing athletic ability that he flaunts while leading a fast break and catching a cylinder-rattling alley-oop to dot the 'i'. Rather, it's the absurd rate at which all the individual facets of his game are coalescing and forming a cohesive whole. You reach an impasse in basketball when the person you're attempting to guard cannot be moved and cannot be outrun. That is to say, he's looking like a complete player that even the bluest-bloods in the game don't have an answer for. Both Azubuike and coach Bill Self were just short of incredulous after first encountering Tshiebwe with Self-describing him as a "monster" and Azubuike asserting that he's "never played against someone like that". Even Fran Fraschilla, who covered last night's game in Stillwater, dumped adulation on the freshman at every turn. How's that for validation?

That Tshiebwe is producing an All-American-type season just two games into Big 12 play in this his first year as a college athlete is unprecedented in West Virginia program history. With now three Big 12 Newcomer of the Week accolades in his pocket and a nation's third-best offensive rebound percentage (19.4) along with per-game averages of 12.2 points and 9.3 rebounds and a 61.3 field goal percentage, West Virginia possesses an essential tool in realizing its quest towards a Big 12 title: a dominant force in the paint that can run the floor. 

Which is all the more perfect for this re-branded West Virginia team, anyway. Gone is Press Virginia and chaos-as-living-art that made the Mountaineers a power the last few years. Now, it's the half-court defense that swarms and Huggins' opting for a platoon approach, marching out set after set and player after player to incapacitate and confuse opponents. At the core of it all is arguably the best frontcourt tandem in the country in Tshiebwe and fellow tower Derek Culver. They're indispensable, and given that neither has played their best basketball yet, it stands to reason that the Mountaineers hopes for a Big 12 title and beyond live and die in large part on the mountain-wide shoulders of the kid in the no. 34 shirt. 

We no longer have to wait to see if Tshiebwe, a relative newcomer to the sport, is worthy of being mentioned alongside the likes of Azuibuke, Austin Wiley or Kaleb Wesson- he's there. He's arrived. His secret is out and he's firmly in the radar of everyone left on West Virginia's loaded schedule and beyond. 

Here's hoping that Tshiebwe's enthusiasm and megawatt smile endure. Here's hoping he learns to avoid stupid fouls and further develops a post-game that is already multiple. Here's hoping that simply, genuinely, he continues to be Oscar. As he gets better, so will West Virginia. At the rate he's going, March will be a fun month for Mountaineers far and wide.