Wednesday afternoon, West Virginia picked up former DePaul big man Pauly Paulicap via the transfer portal. He became the third player to transfer to West Virginia this offseason joining guard Malik Curry (Old Dominion) and forward Dimon Carrigan (Florida International).
With Taz Sherman, Miles McBride, and Sean McNeil having entered their names into the 2021 NBA Draft, the WVU roster is already starting to look a little different. Those three have left open the option to return to WVU and if at least two of them return, it could put the Mountaineers in great shape as a contender for the Big 12 title.
All that being said, there is still one question that no one has the answer to: Will Derek Culver return for his senior year? He is the only player on West Virginia's roster that has not publicly stated his future intentions and in a recent interview with Bob Hertzel of WVNews, head coach Bob Huggins said, “I’m not sure Derek knows what he’s going to do."
The last day for players to declare for the 2021 NBA Draft is May 30th so although it seems like Culver is way behind on making his decision, he's taking his time with the process given that he still has a little over a month left to choose what he wants to do.
Earlier this offseason, Gabe Osabuohien announced that he would be exercising his extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA and return to WVU for the 2021-22 season. Osabuohien returning doesn't necessarily affect Derek Culver because they weren't on the floor at the same time for the majority of the season. Once Oscar Tshiebwe transferred to Kentucky and Isaiah Cottrell tore his Achilles, Osabuohien was the only experienced big left on the roster. This meant that Osabuohien would be the first guy into the game to give Culver a break or to relieve him from getting into further foul trouble.
What raised the eyebrows of some folks is Huggins bringing in two additional bigs in Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap. West Virginia had all sorts of trouble defending the paint this past season and some of that could be due to trying to stay out of foul trouble with the lack of depth in the frontcourt. Regardless, you knew Huggins and his staff were going to go out and find some help to protect the rim. They did so initially by landing Carrigan out of FIU who blocked 60 shots this past season, averaging over 2.5 blocks per game. WVU, as a team, blocked 82 shots on the season. By bringing in Carrigan, it seemed like the Mountaineers solved their issues in protecting the paint but not so fast as Lee Corso would say. WVU stayed on Paulicap and secured his commitment as well, meaning the Mountaineers now have two shot-blocking bigs to go alongside Osabuohien, Isaiah Cottrell, Seny N'diaye, and Derek Culver.
That's six bigs that could be rotated into the game and each of them has a different set of skills. Could doubling up on bigs in the portal be a safety blanket in case West Virginia does lose Culver? Possibly. Then again, I don't think Huggins is thinking of it that way. N'diaye is still a work in progress and Isaiah Cottrell is coming off a pretty nasty injury so you don't truly know what to expect out of either of those guys next season. Paulicap and Carrigan are interchangeable and can afford to be aggressive on the defensive end of the floor because the other can sub into the game without any sort of drop-off defensively. More importantly, if Culver returns, this now allows him to be more aggressive on the defensive end as well - something he couldn't do this past season.
The only thing a surplus of bigs could do to make matters worse is on the offensive end. Huggins tried to play Culver and Tshiebwe together and it just clogged up too much space in the middle of the lane and didn't allow either one of them enough room to operate. Once they transitioned to the four out, one in offense they became much more effective. It stretched the floor, allowed the guards to penetrate, and gave Culver the room he needed.
A lot of how West Virginia will play next season will come down to the decisions made by Sherman, McBride, McNeil, and Culver. Huggins will adapt to the personnel that he has and play the style that best suits that roster. The additions through the portal were likely going to happen regardless of what the aforementioned four chose to do. WVU needed another guard that can handle the point to replace Jordan McCabe and had no choice but to go get a rim protector. Instead of getting one, they landed two shot-blockers and feel much better about that problem heading into next season.
Culver may opt to forgo his senior season at WVU but the recent additions to the roster won't be the deciding factor.
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