The 2019-20 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 portal.
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:
West 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 frustrating, 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 this season but played just 13.5 minutes per game. The former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball had a poor season in the shooting department as well, hitting only 21 percent of his 3-point attempts and shooting just 31 percent overall.
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.
West Virginia’s formidable front court should 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’s 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 polish on his passing game, averaging 1.7 assists.
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 head-scratchers of the season. Matthews shined early in non-conference play but struggled to do much of anything through most of the Big 12 slate — 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 — 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 2019-20.