Morgantown, West Virginia – The West Virginia men’s basketball team will face hated rivals Pitt Panthers tonight at 8:30PM inside the WVU Coliseum.
Pitt, coming off a dreadful 78-63 loss at home against The Citadel in their season opener, will have a very difficult time matching up with the Mountaineers in the Backyard Brawl.
Bob Huggins’ team is once again loaded with talent. This year, however, the team has fifteen players and many of them are new to the program.
The Mountaineers are nowhere to be found on any of the preseason Top 25 lists primarily because of what they lost during the offseason.
Eight players return from last year’s team that finished ranked #13 in the Associated Press poll, but two of the most talented players on the team – Miles “Deuce” McBride (selected in the 2021 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks) and Derek Culver (who knows where he’s at now?) – have departed.
According to Huggins, Culver will be missed even more than McBride. “We’ve got guards. We’re really going to miss Derek. Derek could get hard rebounds. Derek was big and strong and people couldn’t move him. He could move whoever he wanted to move, and he got big rebounds at the end of games.”
West Virginia now lacks a real interior scorer. Huggins said that while his new bigs – redshirt seniors Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap, as well as true freshman James Okonkwo – are legitimate rebounders, they are not traditional interior scorers.
Returning big men Gabe Osabuohien and Isaiah Cottrell are talented, but again, neither are considered great inside scoring threats.
“We just don’t have a big, strong guy right now who we can throw the ball to close, but hopefully, we can spend enough time with them to get them to the point where we can score a little bit in there. They’re going to be iso’d because our opponents are not leaving Taz (Sherman), they’re not leaving Sean (McNeil) and they’re not leaving Jalen (Bridges). It’s going to be one-on-one down there.”
West Virginia’s starting lineup for tonight’s game:
Point guard – Kedrian “Keddy” Johnson (Senior) 1.3 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game – Johnson came off the bench and gave the team quality minutes last season, and will now have the opportunity to start and lead the Mountaineers. With that said, newcomers Malik Curry and freshman Kobe Johnson are both talented and will be fighting with Kedrian Johnson for minutes.
Shooting guard – Sean McNeil (Senior) 12.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists – McNeil shot 39% from three point range and 88% from the foul line last season, and had moments of real brilliance as a junior last year. McNeil will likely be West Virginia’s top scoring threat this season and should have a major breakout year.
Small forward – Taz Sherman (Senior) 13.1 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists – Sherman appears to be ready for a true breakout season this year. If Bob Huggins allows him to play without restraints offensively, Sherman is capable of creating his own shot and scoring big every game this season.
Power forward – Jalen Bridges (Sophomore) 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.3 assists – Bridges’ statistics from last season don’t tell the whole story. Bridges had an outstanding second half of the season when he was forced to step into the starting lineup and shot an impressive 40% from three point range as a freshman. Bridges is capable of averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game this season for the Mountaineers.
Center – Isaiah Cottrell (Redshirt freshman) 1.6 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.4 assists – Huggins said that West Virginia will often play four out with only one player inside the paint. He also said that Cottrell is the team’s third best shooter behind only Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman. Cottrell will provide size defensively and will be a threat to step out and hit three pointers and jump shots offensively.
Reserves (in order according to playing time off the bench)
WVU 76 PITT 53