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WVU Opens the 2021-22 Season vs. Oakland

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins is still searching for answers as the Mountaineers prepare to tip off the season.

The 2021-22 edition of the West Virginia University Mountaineer men's basketball team opens the season Tuesday at 7:00 pm EST and streaming on ESPN+, against the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies.

The Mountaineers aim to build off a Round of 32 appearance in the NCAA tournament last season but will have to do it without two of their leading scorers from a season ago. Starting point guard and leading scorer Miles "Deuce" McBride (15.8 ppg) departed for the NBA and was selected in the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. The team's leading rebounder, Derek Culver, also departed early for a shot at the NBA but received little interest during the offseason process.

West Virginia does return senior guards Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil. Sherman, a Preseason All-Big 12 Conference Honorable Mention selection, averaged 13.4 ppg, with four out of his five 20-plus performances coming in the final month of the regular season. In the exhibition game against Akron, he went for a team-high 29 points on 10-14 shooting from the field, including 3-5 from three-point range and 6-7 from the free throw line. Meanwhile, McNeil caught the attention of the conference following with a 20-point first half performance against the Kansas Jayhawks before producing three additional 21-plus performances during the regular season. In postseason tournament play, McNeil averaged 15.3 ppg and shot 45.5% from the outside.

Head coach Bob Huggins has not hidden the team's deficiencies during preseason camp, and they were evident during the exhibition game versus Akron. Outside of Sherman's 10 field goals, the rest of the team was just 16-44 from the field. The hope going into the season is sophomore forward Jalen Bridges, redshirt freshman Isaiah Cottrell can shoot at a consistent level.

"I was hoping Taz, Sean, JB, Isaiah shot it very consistently because then I thought we could really spread people, and then we could get some easy ones – we could get it to the basket – not have the lane so congested," said Huggins. "My hope was that, because those guys put a lot of time in this summer, I was hoping that they would be very consistent at making shots, but as you saw in the Akron game, we were not very consistent at making shots."

Cottrell is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury he suffered early last season and upped his timeline to be 100% at the start of the season. Jalen Bridges, the West Virginia native, has had big expectations since his arrival in Morgantown and appears poised to have a breakout season after 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

West Virginia brought in seven new faces for the 2021-22 season. Transfer forwards Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap and guard Malik Curry look to bring an immediate impact this season. Freshman guard Kobe Johnson has surprised the staff and with his play, is making his case to be on the floor. Huggins hoped he would know what he had in his Mountaineer squad following a scrimmage and an exhibition game, but Huggs and the staff are unsure what this team's full potential is.

"That was kind of what we tried to do with the scrimmage, and we were really bad. I think we're better against Akron, but we didn't sustain anything," said Huggins. That message, I think, has came across to them loud and clear. We're doing a better job of finishing practices. Generally, the way you practice is the way you play, and we've started out pretty good in practice, and it's tailed off, and it's got worse as the time went on, and that's kind of what happened in the Akron Game. What did we score, four field goals in 15 minutes? It's hard to win like that."

Huggins noted some of the issues might be due to the staff throwing a lot of different scenarios at the players during preseason camp.

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"We've been very inconsistent, and a lot of that is my fault because I've thrown a lot of things at them because I want to see what they can do and what we can't do," he said. "So, we've thrown a lot of variety of defenses to try and see how they reacted to those. We've changed some things offensively to see how they react to those, but that inconsistency may have led to their inconsistency. But I think as time goes on, I think they'll be more accustomed to what we're trying to do, and hopefully, we'll be capable of doing more than just a couple of things."

According to Huggins, West Virginia's season opener versus Oakland should be a unique challenge for the Mountaineers.

"They run some unconventional things that are really different looks, and I thought it was really important to learn where they're coming from. And then, we're trying to continue to get better at what we do," he said.

"They're probably, I don't know if they'll do it against us, but against the teams they've played against to this point, they've ISO'd a lot. I don't think it's one particular guy. I think it's more whoever they feel like they can take advantage of," he continued.

The Golden Grizzlies return the team's leading scorer from a year ago in guard Jalen Moore. He averaged 17.9 ppg.

The Mountaineers are 2-0 all-time versus Oakland.

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