MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Mountaineer men’s basketball roster has undergone significant changes in the past few months.
Deuce McBride and Derek Culver each decided to forgo their remaining college eligibility and will attempt to earn a spot in the professional basketball world. Also, Emmitt Matthews and Jordan McCabe have transferred to Washington and UNLV respectively.
In order to offset those losses, West Virginia has brought in three transfers – Dimon Carrigan, Malik Curry and Pauly Paulicap – and three freshmen – Kobe Johnson, Jamel King and Seth Wilson.
Even WVU’s head coach isn’t certain what to expect from this revamped roster in the season ahead.
“I think it’s too early to tell,” said Bob Huggins when asked about the coming campaign. “We do need to be able to do something defensively that is different than what we did last year, be it a zone or a half-court or something that is different.
“If you look to when we were really good, we did things to keep people off balance. Go back to the Kentucky game (in the 2010 Elite Eight). We tried to guard them man-to-man, and we had no chance. Thank goodness we had been playing that 1-3-1 some. We hadn’t been playing it a lot that season, but we had been playing it some. That saved us. It also saved us both Villanova games (that season). We trapped them out of the 1-3-1. The Louisville games, we trapped them out of the 1-3-1. So, we had used it some and pulled it out against Kentucky, and it saved us.
“We have to be able to do something different this season,” continued the veteran coach who is preparing for his 15th season at the helm of his alma mater. “We tried to do some things last year, but we were really bad at it, so we didn’t do it. Hopefully this year we’ll be able to do some things like that – play some 1-1-3 or maybe press a little bit, just to change the tempo of the game, which we didn’t do last year.”
In terms of personnel, West Virginia will now attempt to mesh the six newcomers with the eight returning scholarship players.
“We felt we needed three big considering everybody we lost, plus the uncertainty of Isaiah (Cottrell, who is battling back from an Achilles injury),” noted Huggins. “If we knew Isaiah was going to be healthy and 100%, I don’t know if we would have gone to the extreme we went to.
“Our other guys are getting better and better, but they’re not there yet. The best thing we did for J.B. (Jalen Bridges) was redshirting him a year,” explained WVU’s coach, whose club was 19-10 last season. “Instead of going to a prep school and playing against high school kids, he was here and practiced against grown men (in 2019-20).
“I think that helped him tremendously. That’s probably going to be what we do with the freshmen we brought in. Let’s bring them in and let them grow up and play against grown men as they grow up. I think that will help them tremendously. Think about it. J.B. came as (a redshirt freshman) and didn’t miss a beat last year, even though he hadn’t played in a college game before. I think that’s a terrific thing to do.”
As for Bridges, the 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman is expected to play an even more significant role this season than he did last when he averaged 5.9 points per game. The only returnees who scored more for West Virginia were Taz Sherman (13.4 ppg) and Sean McNeil (12.2 ppg).
“I think he’ll attack the rim more. J.B. will probably be a three or a four,” Huggins said of the Fairmont, West Virginia, native. “When he’s a four, he’ll be facing a guy who is a lot bigger but hopefully a lot slower than what he is. He’s worked at it. He can drive it to the goal and put pressure on the rim.
“We have to drive it better. We didn’t put a lot of pressure on the rim last year. We all want Sean and Taz shooting the ball, but at the same time, we’ve got to be able to put pressure on the rim.”
West Virginia is certainly not the only Big 12 men’s basketball program that has experienced significant turnover, be it within the coaching staff, the playing roster or both.
Baylor (28-2 in 2020-21) will have to replace four significant pieces from last year’s national championship team – Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Macio Teague and Mark Vital. Mitchell (No. 8 in CBSsports.com’s top 100 draft-eligible players this year), Butler (No. 14), and Teague (No. 81) are all potential NBA draft picks this year, as are WVU’s McBride (No. 16), the Texas quartet of Kai Jones (No. 24), Greg Brown (No. 40), Jerico Sims (No. 57) and Matt Coleman (No. 80), Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham (No. 1), Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves (No. 42) and Kansas’ Marcus Garrett (No. 60).
The Big 12 also saw significant talent leave via transfer – Oklahoma’s Brady Manek to North Carolina, Iowa State’s Rasir Bolton to Gonzaga, Oklahoma’s De’Vion Harmon to Oregon, Texas Tech’s Nimari Burnett to Alabama and Texas Tech’s Kyler Edwards to Houston – but then the league also welcomed plenty of incoming transfers as well, including Arizona State’s Remy Martin, Drake’s Joseph Yesufu and Iowa State’s Jalen Coleman-Lands to Kansas, Utah’s Timmy Allen, UMass’s Tre Mitchell, Creighton’s Christian Bishop and Vanderbilt’s Dylan Disu to Texas, Arizona’s James Akinjo and Fairmont State’s Dale Bonner to Baylor, Hampton’s Davion Warren to Texas Tech, Eastern Washington’s Tanner Groves and Duke’s Jordan Goldwire to Oklahoma, Texas Tech’s Micah Peavy and Texas A&M’s Emanuel Miller to TCU, and Kansas’ Bryce Thompson to Oklahoma State.
In addition, there has been a good bit of coaching turnover in the Big 12 this offseason. Texas replaced Shaka Smart, who is now at Marquette, with former Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard. The Red Raiders promoted assistant coach Mark Adams to take Beard’s place. After the retirement of Lon Kruger at Oklahoma, the Sooners hired Porter Moser, who had achieved significant success at Loyola of Chicago. After Iowa State let Steve Prohm go, the Cyclones hired T.J. Otzelberger from UNLV.
“It’s always different,” Huggins said of the Big 12 in 2021-22. “You’re going to have different personnel and different coaches.
“It’s difficult to coach in a league this hard,” he stated. “If you lose, you’re going to get fired, and somebody is going to lose in this league. That’s the way it is. I’m just trying to make sure it isn’t me. It’s a hard league; it’s a really hard league.”