The West Virginia Mountaineers, 13-2, are off to a sensational start to the season and could absolutely compete for a Big 12 Conference Championship and perhaps a National Championship this season. After a miserable 15-21 season last year, it is an incredible time to be a West Virginia fan and this season and team should be appreciated.
However, looking ahead, the 2020-2021 West Virginia Mountaineers will almost certainly be the best, most talented team in the program’s history. This of course depends on everything going right and everyone coming back, but the team could potentially be a National Championship favorite next season.
Oscar Tshiebwe, the fabulous Freshman Forward, is absolutely athletically gifted enough to declare for the NBA Draft right now, but he is still very raw and would benefit from another season in Morgantown. Bob Huggins will have the unfortunate story of Sagaba Konate to use as an excellent example of what happens if a player leaves prematurely. I suspect that Tshiebwe will be back for one more season and then declare for the NBA following a remarkable Sophomore year.
Derek Culver, although again very talented, is unlikely to be ready for the NBA after this season. He’s perhaps even more raw than Tshiebwe and leaving West Virginia early would be a tremendously poor decision for him to make. To truly gain the attention of NBA scouts, Culver must improve his post play, develop his mid-range game and learn to play more under control.
The players that the Mountaineers will likely lose next year are Seniors Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler and Logan Routt. Haley is a big, consistent, talented guard and is a pretty massive loss for the team. Harler has become a reliable shooter and aggressive defender off the bench and Routt is a big body who adds depth on the interior.
With that said, there are players on the team currently who will step up to replace the departing Seniors (Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman will play a bigger role) and several incoming players who will make the team even deeper and probably better.
Jalen Bridges, who redshirted this season, has benefited from a year of practicing and working out with the team. A 4 star in-state recruit out of Fairmont, Bridges has the size and skill to get minutes off the bench and contribute immediately. I erroneously said that West Virginia “didn’t need Bridges” over six months ago, but he’s clearly going to be an outstanding player for the Mountaineers.
Isaiah Cottrell, a 6’10 four star forward, has been absolutely terrific for the juggernaut Huntington Prep team this year. Although Duke commit Jaemyn Brakefield gets more attention, Cottrell has been the most consistent player on the team and his length and skill will be invaluable for the Mountaineers as a Freshman next season.
Taj Thweatt, a three star 6’7 forward out of New Jersey, and Kedrian Johnson, a 6’4 guard who has been mentioned as one of the best JUCO players in the country this season, will be immediate big-time contributors off the bench as well.
This year’s team is very, very good, but next season’s team will be extremely athletic, very deep and without a doubt the most talented team in West Virginia basketball history. Imagine Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Jr., Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe with another year of experience! Depending on how the team finishes this season, expect them to be a Preseason Top 5 team and a favorite to win the National Championship next year.