The 2019-2020 West Virginia University men’s basketball team had its fair share of youth and inexperience to overcome, and despite some rough stretches at times, there was plenty on display to make fans optimistic about the state of the program in the immediate future.
West Virginia loses three seniors — Chase Harler, Logan Routt and starter Jermaine Haley. Then one day after the college basketball season was suddenly wiped out due to national COVID-19 concerns, WVU lost sophomore guard Brandon Knapper, a former South Charleston High standout, to the transfer portral.
Of those four, Haley’s departure represents the biggest loss in terms of playing time and production. What is left of the WVU roster, as it currently stands, should return a wealth of experience and the bulk of the talent present this past season. Let’s take a look at who is slated to return for the Mountaineers next season:
GuardsWest Virginia’s guard play, especially on the offensive end of the floor, was inconsistent at best this season. Knapper’s departure hurts the depth some, but WVU has five guards on the roster set to be back next season — four of whom played quite a bit this season.
Freshman Miles “Deuce” McBride appeared in 31 games in his debut collegiate season and was the most productive of the Mountaineers’ returning guards. McBride can play point guard or shooting guard, but spent a lot of time at the point as a freshman. He averaged 9.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 40.2 percent from the field.
Jordan McCabe’s sophomore season was a frustrating one, but despite his personal struggles on the court, McCabe always appeared to be an engaged and encouraging teammate, which counts for something. McCabe was the primary starter at point guard this season but played just 13.5 minutes per game. The former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball award winner had a poor season in the shooting department as well, hitting 21 percent of his 3-point attempts and making 31 percent of his shots from the field.
Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman came to Morgantown last season as junior college transfers who were brought in by Bob Huggins to be 3-point specialists and give the Mountaineers players they could trust to hit open shots. Though there were certainly bumps in the road and dry spells along the way, that is mostly what McNeil, a sophomore, and Sherman, a junior, did for Huggins and WVU. Sherman led the team with a 33.3 3-point percentage, closely followed by McNeil at an even 33 percent.
The fifth guard due back is freshman Spencer Macke, who played sparingly in blowouts this season. Macke appeared in seven games and made two of 12 field goal attempts.
ForwardsWest Virginia’s formidable front court should only improve next season with another year of experience under the belts of a young but no doubt talented core.
Oscar Tshiebwe was one of the best forwards in the Big 12 and landed on both the coaches and media postseason all-conference teams as a freshman. Tshiebwe was WVU’s leading scorer at 11.2 points per game and leading rebounder at 9.3 per game. “Big O” won’t be sneaking up on anyone as a sophomore, but his talent is undeniable.
Derek Culver’s sophomore season was inconsistent at its worst but very hard to stop at its best. Culver, listed at 6-foot-10, averaged 10.4 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game and showed the polish on his passing game with 1.7 assists per game.
Sophomore Emmitt Matthews, listed at 6-7, appeared in 31 games and started 30 of those on the wing for the Mountaineers, but his play was one of the biggest disappointments and head-scratchers of the season. Matthews shined early in non-conference play but struggled to do much of anything through most of Big 12 play — though it is worth noting he was at his best in the upset win of then No. 4 Baylor in what turned out to be the final game of the season.
Gabe Osabuohien came to WVU as a transfer from Arkansas and after getting a waiver for immediate eligibility and serving a brief NCAA mandated suspension became a fan-favorite at the WVU Coliseum. Osabuohien, a junior, did not fill up a statistics sheet — averaging 3.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while playing an average of 18.5 minutes per game — but won over the Mountaineer faithful with a hard-nosed defensive attitude and an uncanny ability to take charges.
A wildcard among the returning forwards is freshman Jalen Bridges, who redshirted this season. Bridges was a prized recruit from Fairmont Senior High and skipped out on a year at prep school just in time to make the short move north on Interstate 79 from Fairmont to Morgantown. Listed at 6-7, Bridges will likely play on the wing for West Virginia with four years of eligibility remaining after sitting out 2019-2020.
West Virginia University Director of Athletics Shane Lyons has announced the 2020-21 men’s basketball non-conference schedule.
The non-conference schedule will feature eight games at the WVU Coliseum and five games away from home, including three in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas, and the Hall of Fame Invitational against Purdue in Brooklyn, New York.
WVU will open the regular season with four consecutive games at the WVU Coliseum. The regular season opener will be on Tuesday, Nov. 10 against Fairleigh Dickinson. The Knights and Mountaineers will meet for just the second time in school history with the other being at the Coliseum in 1977.
Three days later, the Mountaineers will play host to Pitt in the Backyard Brawl on Friday, Nov. 13. The two teams will meet for the 188th time with WVU winning the last four meetings.
Stony Brook and West Virginia will meet for the first time in school history on Nov. 17 at the Coliseum. WVU and Bowling Green will meet for the first time since 2000 on Nov. 20 and the first time in Morgantown since the 1997 NIT.
West Virginia will have three games in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving. The brackets have not been announced, but the field features West Virginia, Duke, Ohio State, Creighton, Wichita State, Utah, Texas A&M and Memphis.
WVU will play a Big East team on either Dec. 5 or 6 in the second Big East-Big 12 Battle with the opponent and location to be announced at a later date.
WVU and Robert Morris will meet for the first time in 10 years and the 22nd time in school history on Dec. 9 in Morgantown.
On Dec. 13, the Mountaineers will face Purdue in a neutral-court battle in Brooklyn, New York, in the Hall of Fame Invitational.
WVU will finish December with the third meeting in as many years against Youngstown State on Dec. 22 at the Coliseum, followed by the third all-time meeting against Miami University on Dec. 29 at home.
The Mountaineers will close non-conference play on Saturday, Jan. 30, with an opponent and location to be determined in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
“We just played the second-toughest schedule in the country and this schedule will be no different,” coach Bob Huggins said. “We’ve done a great job in recent years in bringing teams to the Coliseum that have gone on to do well in their respective leagues. Obviously, the field in the Bahamas is loaded, then mix in Pitt, Purdue, the Big East Battle and the SEC Challenge. This is another challenging schedule for our guys, and a schedule that Mountaineer Nation will enjoy.”