WVU Has Opportunity For Top 25 Run As It Faces St. John’s

WVU Has Opportunity For Top 25 Run As It Faces St. John’s

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins was in a New York state of mind of Thursday when was talking about Saturday’s Big 12 – Big East Challenge game that pits West Virginia against St. John’s, reaching back into the old Sinatra lyric from “New York, New York” that went “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere … New York, New York.”

West Virginia forward Oscar Tshiebwe sends a jump hook over Rhode Island's Cyril Langevine (10)
West Virginia forward Oscar Tshiebwe sends a jump hook over Rhode Island’s Cyril Langevine (10)

It was fitting for this game is his prize recruit Oscar Tshiebwe’s introduction to The Big Apple against a quality 7-2 team that will try to use its high pressure defense and race horse offense to counteract the inside game that Tshiebwe and Derek Culver give WVU.

It’s a big game and Huggins knows it, not because it is being played in the basketball citadel that is Madison Square Garden and not only because it is on national TV as the Mountaineers try to earn respect.

“If we win it means we’d be 8-0 and coming home for two games before going into Youngstown,” Huggins said. “To me, it’s a huge opportunity.”

WVU had a similar opportunity at the Garden around this time last year when they went into the Garden to play Florida and were wiped out 66-56.

“I hope the players are like me and don’t even remember it,” Huggins said. I don’t remember what happened. Let’s go play. We’re playing St. John’s, let’s go play.”

Certainly neither Tshiebwe nor Culver remember it because Tshiebwe was still in high school and Culver was sitting a suspension that lasted 12 games into the season.

When Tshiebwe’s talent has come forward, he has looked unstoppable but he has been wildly inconsistent to date, having one good game, one bad game over and over. Part of it is we tend to forget that he has only played organized basketball for a short time.

As such he is a unique developmental challenge for Huggins, for he comes in with raw skills that have not been developed.

“He’s had two years of organized basketball and he’s been bigger, stronger and, quite frankly, better than everyone he has played against before,” Huggins said. “This is all new to him. He hasn’t played against a guy like Derek, who he plays against in practice every day, or like Logan Routt.

“He’s been ‘the guy.’ He has picked up some bad habits, but he was always so athletically superior to who he played that it didn’t matter.”

That explains, in part, the inconsistencies, although Huggins says it goes deeper than that.

By that, Huggins means that teams begin doubling on Culver in some games when he gets going good, which gives Tshiebwe single coverage. It has to do with the offense, for if Culver is hot they will feed him while Tshiebwe has to get his points more off his rebounding.

But both players are getting better day by day and learning how to feed off each other, which will make WVU a better team, especially when the talented outside shooters start heating up.

Huggins prefers playing both Culver and Tshiebwe together, one in the high post and the other down low.

“Derek is better in the high post because he’s been here longer, but we’ve played Oscar in the high post, too. He’s worked hard on improving his shooting and his free throws,” Huggins said.

St. John’s likes to play a fast, pressing, uptempo game, much as Huggins did when he was featuring “Press Virginia”, but that may not be as effective as it is on teams that play two bigs normally for both Culver and Tshiebwe like to run the floor.

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