West Virginia beat Nicholls, 83-57, in an impressive but not unexpected home victory Saturday afternoon. But more than the lopsided score, it was the method of the Mountaineers victory that should leave WVU fans filled with holiday cheer.
The more the 2019-20 WVU basketball team plays, the further the 2018-19 disaster fades in the rear view mirror. Blowing out a Nicholls team that upset Pitt and played the other power teams it faced close reflects well on the Mountaineers outlook as they begin Big 12 play next month.
The end-to-end contributions WVU has received from both its starters and its bench is reason for even more optimism.
The benefits of having superior depth is multifarious. If it’s a cold shooting night for a player or two, reinforcements are available to pick up the scoring slack.
If foul trouble shelves someone for much of the game, there is an equally capable replacement ready to step in and duplicate the production.
With more players able to more equitably minutes, the entire team is better rested, and fatigue is the problem for the opponent.
Five Mountaineers hit double figure scoring Saturday – three starters and two reserves. Miles McBride (15 points) and Sean McNeil (10) were the double digit scorers off the bench. This isn’t the first time the Mountaineers have relied on their McBench. McBride (18) and McNeail (11) tallied strong efforts off the pine in leading WVU over Wichita State in the championship game of the Cancun Challenge in November.
Chase Harler got the start Saturday, replacing Jermaine Haley, who didn’t play. Harler struggled offensively, scoring just three points on 1-of-6 shooting. But he played a solid game defensively, offering solid off-ball help against Nicholls guard Dexter McClanahan. WVU held McClanahan, the Colonels leading scorer, to a season-low seven points.
While the Mountaineers are deep, they have a couple players whose contribution can’t be replaced. On Saturday, forwards Derek Culver (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Oscar Tschiewbe (15 points, 10 rebounds) led WVU with double-doubles. Culver was particularly dominate, as the sophomore forward has been all month. It the third time in the last four games Culver turned in a double double.
West Virginia’s schedule is about to get much more difficult. After Christmas, there are no more undermanned foes like Nicholls or Austin Peay. The Mountaineers face Ohio State in Cleveland on Dec. 29. The Buckeyes might be the top ranked team in the nation when the polls come out Monday.
Against teams like Ohio State, WVU needs Culver and Tshiewbe to be on their games. The luxury West Virginia has is, outside of those two, the team can absorb a less-than-stellar effort from some because of the wealth of talent of others.
The Mountaineers will need their depth when they begin conference play in January.
If they carry it over from December, it will be a happy new year.