As basketball has changed and evolved, one of the big movements over the past decade or so has come in the morphing and meshing of positions. Traditional point guards and centers have given way to those filling multiple roles, with the “positionless player” the next step in hoops evolution.
One of the criticisms of West Virginia teams in recent years has been the absence of the classic distributor and playmaker who sets the offense, but in reality those sorts of one-dimensional performers have been on the wane across the basketball landscape for some time.
“I think I’d have a hard time naming true point guards,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “What’s the difference between Deuce (McBride) and Truck (Bryant)? Truck scored what, almost 1600 points? Wanny was different.”
No one would classify Bryant as a Bob Cousy type. And in today’s game, it’s imperative for those starting the offense to be able to drive and score, not just drive and dish. Handling pressure and setting up others remain important items, but those are just part of the portfolio for those handling the ball these days.
“I don’t know who does have them. There’s not a lot of John Stocktons running around out there, not a lot of Nick Van Exels running around,” Huggins observed. “I think everybody wants to score and everybody works on scoring and shooting.
“Look at all the teams in the country,” he continued, offering up a Big 12 foe to support his statement. “Kansas is playing a 6-foot-7 guy at point guard, who really was a power forward last year. I don’t think it really matters as long as they do what you need them to do.”
The two players filling the point role for WVU so far this year, McBride and Jordan McCabe, have been ok so far in not turning the ball over, but still have some improvement to do in handling pressure that has stifled the offense at times. They have a combined 17-7 assist-to-turnover ratio, and are averaging one turnover for every 22.7 minutes of floor time.
Huggins isn’t resting on those numbers, though.
“We missed so many open guys, and I’m not talking just cutters. I’m talking about guys standing wide open in the corner or on the wing,” he said not just of the McBride and McCabe, but of everyone on the squad. “Our floor vision has got to improve.”
While Derek Culver has made almost 53% of his shots this year, frontcourt mate Oscar Tshiebwe has struggled at 47.4%. There have been a couple of occasions where Tshiebwe might have dunked the ball rather than laying it up, but head coach Bob Huggins sees another reason as the root cause for his increased miss rate..
“He hasn’t finished around the rim the way he finished around the rim a year ago. It’s a matter of keeping his head on the rim. That’s a common problem with bigs. They look everywhere but the rim. How do you miss a one-footer? You don’t look where you are shooting.”
Tshiebwe was very good in the lane as a freshman, making 55.2% of his tries. Further evidence that he can shoot it well came from his performance at the free throw line in 2019-20, when he canned 70.8% of his freebies.
Another item to consider is the progress of Culver, who often rushed his inside attempts in previous seasons. This year, playing with more measured pace, he has found the bucket more frequently.
There are many more factors to consider in addition to just the shooting of the ball. Those catching the ball on the blocks or in the lane have to check the defender, identify potential doubleteams, then decide whether to attack the basket or pass it out — all while the clock is ticking. Put all those things together, and it’s a growth process for most big men.
There has also been a back-and-forth aspect to the play of Culver and Tshiebwe. Last year, Culver was the more experienced and proven returnee, while Tshiebwe, despite the recruiting hype, wasn’t as high on the scouting reports of some foes. This year, that script might have flipped a bit, with Tshiebwe getting extra attention. The important consideration, though, is looking at the combined output of the pair. There aren’t many teams in the nation that would turn thei noses up at a combined 68 points and 56 rebounds through three games.
And as for the dunks?
“It’s hard to dunk the ball over people,” noted the veteran coach. “It depends on who’s around you. When you had (VCU center Charles) Bassey there it’s kind of hard to dunk it over him. You have to use the rim as a shield.”
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Huggins has experienced his share of travel snafus over the years. One a few seasons back came on a trip to an NCAA tournament site, and might have contributed to a moribund Mountaineer performance in a loss. His team had some delays on its recent trip to South Dakota, but fortunately those came upon departure, not arrival.
“Our deal of getting out of South Dakota was a travesty,” said Huggins, who is definitely not the patient type. “It was not the airport people, but the people that sent the plane. When they tell you they are ready to go and you get there and sit on the bus for an hour and ten minutes, and they send one person to [check] 35 people, it wasn’t good.”
Economic downturn in the travel and charter industries have resulted in fewer planes and companies available for travel, so there might not be an option to look for as a replacement.