Morgantown, West Virginia – Bob Huggins has unquestionably coached many talented teams during his long and illustrious career. However, Huggins would likely call some of his former Cincinnati Bearcats teams as the best, toughest teams he’s ever coached.
The 1991-1992 Cincinnati team – led by future NBA players Nick Van Exel and Corie Blunt – made it to the Final Four before losing a close 76-72 game to Michigan’s Fab Five featuring Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King. That Bearcats’ team went 29-5 and 1st in the Great Midwest Conference with an 8-2 record that season.
Huggins was later asked if that Cincinnati team would have won the national championship if Martin didn’t break his leg before the start of the NCAA Tournament and Huggins believed they would have, saying, “No doubt, whatsoever.”
While at West Virginia University, Huggins’ most talented team so far has certainly been the 2009-2010 Final Four team led by Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Da’Sean Butler, Truck Bryant, Joe Mazzulla, Casey Mitchell and John Flowers. This team finished 31-7 overall and 13-5 in a really tough Big East Conference. The Mountaineers won the Big East Conference Championship at Madison Square Garden and beat a Kentucky team that had John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Eric Bledsoe in the Elite Eight. If Da’Sean Butler wouldn’t have been injured in the Final Four, there’s a very good chance that the Mountaineers would have beaten Duke and advanced to the National Championship.
The most dominant front court in the Big 12 and perhaps the nation – Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver – both return, and while West Virginia will lost Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler and Logan Routt, Huggins brought in talented JUCO guard Kedrian Johnson (the #4 ranked JUCO player in the country), four star forward Isaiah Cottrell, four star Jalen Bridges (who Huggins referred to as “one of his best players in practice) and Taj Thweatt (one of the best high school players in the state of New Jersey).
Oscar Tshiebwe is the best rebounder in the country and has worked hard during the offseason to improve his post game. Derek Culver is probably the second best rebounder in the Big 12 Conference between Tshiebwe. Miles “Deuce” McBride is the best returning guard in the conference and the likely leader of the team. Kedrian Johnson adds a scoring punch from the two guard position that the Mountaineers haven’t had in years. Emmitt Matthews, although he struggled at times last season, is an incredible athlete and can score from the perimeter and attack the basket. His length and size make him one of the most difficult players in the conference to stop when he’s making shots. Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil are deadly scorers off the bench. Gabe Osabuohien is a perfect complimentary garbage man to replace Tshiebwe or Culver when they are tired or in foul trouble. Jordan McCabe is an ideal veteran leader that will provide key minutes behind Miles McBride. Jalen Bridges and Isaiah Cottrell are talented and mature enough to step in an immediately contribute as freshman. In other words, this team is loaded.
Several “way too early predictions” are out for the upcoming season and West Virginia has been given nominal respect, but there simply isn’t a team that will have the level of size, depth and talent that the Mountaineers will in the Big 12 or perhaps in the country.
Bob Huggins has done everything in the game of college basketball except win a national championship and this team gives him a better shot than any in his entire illustrious career.