Facing WVU’s Mobile Big No Treat For Foes
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — All season long, we of the media have bombarded the public with what it is like to have two players like Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe on your side, two athletic big men who can do so many things.
We’ve brought you comments from Bob Huggins, the man who created this two-headed monster, and from Culver’s and Tshiebwe’s appreciative teammates.
And, yes, along the way we have tried to dig into the mentalities of both Culver and Tshiebwe, to see how they have grown over the year as college players and as people.
But, alas, we have been somewhat remiss in approaching the other angle on Culver and Tshiebwe, one that envelops West Virginia’s opponents, who have to find a way to stop them offensively, keep them off the boards and minimize their defensive skills.
They must do this, for the most part, with smaller, less athletic competitors, and let it be said this is a difficult proposition for any coach.
On Saturday it was Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin’s problem … and one he couldn’t solve as West Virginia turned it all loose in the second half to win 74-51.
What is it like to have to deal with West Virginia’s Double Jeopardy tandem of inside players?
“Now what I do remember from this standpoint is that we are down three and Culver misses the free throw,” Martin said. “Culver gets an offensive rebound and they get (a three to go up) six, and I think they probably went on a run from there. Those types of plays can’t happen against a physical, talented team at home. (T here was) great atmosphere. It just can’t happen. It hurts you. Again, it was enough for those guys to get their heads up, make plays and turn the game (around).
“I’m not sure if there is another team, thinking off the top of my head, that functions like that in the country,” Martin said, almost wistfully. “(They) have two guys, not only that, but they’re able to score the ball.”
Oddly, in this game, Culver wasn’t much of a factor in scoring, going 2-10 from the floor and a a dismal 0-6 from the free throw line for four points.
Tshiebwe, on the other hand, had 14 points on 5-9 shooting with four of six free throws.
But scoring is only part of their game.
You might even say it’s just small part of their game.
“They get angles. They’re physical. They’re strong,” Martin stressed. “If they miss the ball, they use their feet to continue to block them out. It’s impressive for those guys as a freshman and sophomore to be able to do that and get the ball down the side.
“It really puts a lot of pressure on (their opponent), and if their guards consistently make 3-point shots, they’ll be a tough team to beat, especially at home.”
The thing is, they are not alone in Huggins’ arsenal. He is deep, playing 12 guys on his roster. Some are shooters, some ballhanders, some defenders, some rebounders.
Some combine any number of those skills like Gabe Osabuohien, Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler and a budding star in Deuce McBride.
But a coach cannot overlook or back away from Culver or Tshiebwe if he hopes to beat WVU. He must make the others beat him, if he can.
“Even with such a talented team, we understood that they are talented. Our focus was on the two big guys,” Martin said. “You have to limit their production because I think their team goes based on what they bring to the table.
“You have to send a double, you have to scrape the post. All of a sudden, the perimeter guys are getting shots and getting put-backs from rebounding. We are trying to put two guys in to block them out.
“It’s really impressive to see their relentlessness, and their pursuit of getting balls without getting fouls. They do a good job, even watching them on film, they don’t foul a whole lot, like coming over your back. They know how to move you with their lower bodies, they have tremendous lower body strength and move you getting offensive rebounds, but even posting up, they do a great job getting angles without fouling.”
All of this, of course, is high praise from a coach that won’t have to see them again this year.
But what of the coach who sees them every day, Bob Huggins?
What did he think of their performance?
Not all that much.
“I thought they were average. I didn’t think they were … you know, you kind of become accustomed, when they’re playing high-low, to get the ball to each other and the guy going away from pressure like you’re supposed to,” Huggins said.
“We have missed more one-footers today than we have for a long time. They were one-footers, now. You know, there was some contact and stuff, but I mean, you’re going to get that. We are going to get more contact than that as we go along.
“They were average at best, I thought, for them, and you know, we set their standards a little higher.”
The thing about the two is that set those same kind of standards for themselves and instead of thinking that they are really good, they view themselves as works in progress, eager to accept coaching.
“Huggs is the best. I played for a lot of coaches … high school, AAU, but he is the best. He’s professional. If you listen to him, he is going to change your game. He is going to change the rest of your life,” Tshiebwe said.
“He gives you motivation, he is going to make you work harder and that will help you the rest of your life.”
And in the process, make it difficult for opponents.