Key Departures: Miles McBride (NBA); Derek Culver (NBA); Emmitt Matthews (–>Washington); Jordan McCabe (–>UNLV)
New In Town: Malik Curry (<–Old Dominion); Pauly Paulicap (<–DePaul); Dimon Carrigan (<–FIU); James Okonkwo (#157); Jamel King (#166); Seth Wilson (#186); Kobe Johnson (#198)
State of the Program:
It was an exciting yet unusual season a year ago for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, as they won a lot of games playing a little different style than we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Huggins led teams. They relied heavily on the playmaking and shot making of guard Miles McBride, who has left for the NBA, and never became the havoc causing defensive group Huggins is known for. They finished 70th in defensive efficiency, and bowed out in the 2nd round after being stymied by Syracuse. In the end, as almost always holds true, their lack of defensive effort prevented them from getting past the 1st weekend despite being a 3 seed. Huggins has 24 years of HC experience, only 6 of those season’s did his team rank outside the top-50 on D, 3 of them failed to go dancing and the 3 that did went 2-3 in tourney games. He knows what it takes and we will surely see a return of the vaunted Mountaineer pressure defense we all know and love. He’ll welcome back returning starters Sean McNeil (SR) and Jalen Bridges (SO) as well as key role players Taz Sherman (SR) and Gabe Osabuohien (SR) to help him to do just that. The Mountaineers were not super deep a year ago, and lost half of their rotation guys, so they’ll rely on a combo of Freshmen and transfers to help plug the holes.
Leading the group with a chance to start in the backcourt is Old Dominion transfer PG Malik Curry (SR), who comes in off an All-CUSA selection after averaging nearly 16/4/4. He has risen from JUCO to the CUSA now to the Big 12 as he continues to expand his game and prove himself as an impact scorer. He should start alongside McNeil and Sherman in the backcourt. Next up is DePaul, by way of Manhattan, transfer PF 6’8” Pauly Paulicap (SR). Paulicap had an All-MAAC season with Manhattan before transferring to DePaul where he was inconsistent but had some huge games, including a 16/16 game against St. John’s. He’s a big time athlete that finishes above the rim with ferocity and can block shots and rebound well, and he should find minutes in the frontcourt this season as a reserve. Also looking to get minutes in the front-court is FIU transfer 6’9” Dimon Carrigan (SR). Carrigan likely serves as more of a depth piece but profiles very similar to Paulicap as a long athletic big that can affect the game above the rim and by blocking shots. Both of them will compete with returning big men Isiah Cottrell (R-FR) and Seny N’diaye (SO), who played sparingly a year ago. Cottrell was a top-100 recruit and figures to get minutes behind Osabuohien. That’s 9 guys, and if you add in returning G Kedrian Johnson (SR) you have a big group for this freshman class to claw through for minutes. The backcourt likely needs another rotation player so if any of the freshmen group has a shot to break through I think it’s 6’1” Seth Wilson (#186). Wilson is undersized to be purely a scorer and will need to develop as a lead guard but his physicality should allow him to contribute as a defender in a limited role this season. The rest will likely redshirt this season and be relied upon heavily after this season as 7 Seniors will be set to exit the program.
Huggins is an all-time great coach, and an even better developer of talent. Miles McBride was 301st in his class and just left early for the NBA. Despite the lack of elite talent in terms of rankings and prestige, there are talented guys who believe in the West Virginia culture and system, and due to that the Mountaineers will almost always get a bump. What they have in McNeil and Sherman are 2 proven shot makers, and with the addition of Curry they will have plenty of options in the backcourt. With Bridges at the 4 and Osabuohien at the 5 they have the experience and athleticism to be a very dangerous defensive team as well. I really see Huggins heading back to that style and using the versatile, athletic forwards and wings they have to put pressure on opponents. Osabuohien as a 5 can guard any position and is an elite rim protector and tone setter. They may struggle more offensively without McBride and Culver, but McNeil and Sherman both averaged double digits and Bridges will expand his role after showing promise as a Freshman. They may have a similar or slightly worse regular season, especially early on, but in the end they could be even more dangerous than a season ago if they lean into their defensive strengths to make up for the loss of offensive weapons. This isn’t one of Huggins’ best rosters, but they have enough firepower to get to the tournament again and be a tough out as one of the better Big 12 teams.