There was quite a buzz among West Virginia fans when coach Bob Huggins shuffled the Mountaineers starting lineup for their 65-47 win over Oklahoma State on Tuesday night.
But the end result, as William Shakespere might see it, was much ado about nothing.
“It didn’t seem like (starting lineup change) helped us much,” Huggins said after the win.
Huggins replaced Jordan McCabe and Derek Culver with Miles McBride and Taz Sherman in the WVU starting lineup Tuesday night. The move was Huggins attempt to get an offensive spark from a team that was riding a three-game losing streak and couldn’t seem to find the basket.
The Mountaineers shot 32.4 percent from the field during their three-game slide in losses to Oklahoma, Kansas and Baylor.
Sherman was a lone bright spot during that stretch – at least against Baylor – as he put up 20 points in that loss. He hit 6 of 11 from the field, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range. McBride has proven to be a capable – albeit inconsistent – scorer during his freshman season.
But as Huggins said, it didn’t work.
Sherman’s hot shooting from Waco, Texas, didn’t catch the plane back to Morgantown. Sherman finished 4-for-11 from the field and just 1 of 6 from 3-point range Tuesday night. He and Sherman started 0-for-7 from the field in their new roles as starters.
Here’s the thing: Nothing carries more overvalued importance with this team than who starts.
While McBride did see an increase in minutes with the switch, playing 31 minutes Tuesday night compared to 17 in the loss to Baylor, the change didn’t dramatically affect the minutes of the others.
Culver played 20 minutes off the bench Tuesday night but saw only 12 minutes of floor time as a starter at Baylor. Sherman played 22 minutes in each game, once as a starter and the other off the bench.
McCabe saw less time Tuesday night than he did as a starter against Baylor. But didn’t see much in either (eight minutes against Baylor, four against Oklahoma State).
The reason who starts and comes off the bench isn’t that important is twofold.
First, Huggins plays 10 to 11 players with relative regularity. McCabe has started 25 of the Mountaineers 26 games yet he is ninth in minutes played (12.4 per game). Chase Harler and Sean McNeil, among others, see more floor time than regular starter McCabe.
No West Virginia player averages as many as 24 minutes a game. Which brings us to the second reason why the starting lineup isn’t that important for WVU. This team doesn’t have one or two players who are significantly better than the rest.
Culver and freshman Oscar Tshiebwe lead the team in minutes played (23.8 per game). They also lead the team in scoring and rebounding (Tshiebwe 11.4 point per game, 9.4 rebounds per game; Culver 10.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg).
But those totals aren’t significantly greater than their teammates. McBride is third on the team in scoring (9.5 ppg) despite only getting a start Tuesday night. Jermaine Haley averages 9.1 points and 23 minutes a game.
Fans (and, oftentimes, players) make quite the fuss as to who is and is not in the starting lineup. If only Huggins would start this player instead of that one, then the Mountaineers would find their offensive firepower, the thinking goes.
But the truth is, especially with this team, it’s not that important who starts the game.
What matters much more is who finishes it.