Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

West Virginia prepares for trip looking to erase a lot of wrongs

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The WVU Coliseum floor is nothing but a vision of sanded wood at the moment. In the coming weeks, it will receive it’s new design masterminded by the creative minds in the school’s athletic department.

The scoreboards are off and the baskets are safely tucked away.

There is not a single reminder of the 18-point drubbing at the hands of little Coastal Carolina nearly four months ago in the second round of the CBI that ended the Mountaineers’ season with a school-record 21 defeats.

Sanding off the effects of that season and keeping it from lingering into another will take more than a fresh coat of paint. This Bob Huggins is well aware of.

Changes have been made. Esa Ahmad graduated. Sagaba Konate left early for the NBA Draft and Wes Harris, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon, Beetle Bolden and Lamont West all transferred.

There are new faces in their place, ones who will get an early start to their college careers this week, as the Mountaineers begin preparations for a foreign trip to Spain, where the team will play in three high-level exhibition games in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona from Aug. 3-13.

Here’s a peek at what the Mountaineers will need to do in order to build some early success:

First, some news

Among the five new players signed for next season, Miles McBride, Sean McNeil and highly-touted forward Oscar Tshiebwe are already enrolled in summer courses at WVU.

Junior-college prospects Ethan Richardson and Taz Sherman have yet to enroll, but are still eligible to travel and play with the Mountaineers, according to a West Virginia official.

Sports information director Bryan Messerly said NCAA rules have changed and now allow players who will be enrolled for the fall semester to participate in foreign trips, meaning Sherman and Richardson will be able to work out and travel with the team.

We’re talking about practice, man

As part of the trip, teams are permitted 10 practices. West Virginia is planning on spreading out its 10 over the next four weeks before departing.

Out with the drama

What Huggins would like more than anything else is to begin to build some early chemistry and develop an identity that escaped the Mountaineers last season.

Over the course of last season, the Mountaineers used 17 different starting lineups with 14 players starting at least once.

Why? There was the injury issue with Konate’s knee that forced him to miss 27 games and Bolden was in and out of the lineup with multiple injuries.

Derek Culver missed the first semester’s worth of games due to a suspension and Ahmad and Harris were both dismissed in February for a violation of athletic department policy.

Putting all of that drama in the rearview mirror will likely be a topic of discussion among Huggins and his returning players.

Who steps up?

Over the final 10 games last season, Jordan McCabe averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 assists. Jermaine Haley added 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds over that same stretch.

West Virginia guard Jordan McCabe averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 assists per game over the final 10 games of the season. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

Culver quickly developed into an all-Big 12 freshman after returning from suspension and averaged 11.5 points and 9.9 rebounds in 26 games.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. averaged 5.4 points per game as a freshman, but scored 16.3 per game in the last four of the season, including a 28-point output against Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.

Any positive step forward will likely center around that core.

As for who steps up, West Virginia needs all four to show signs of improvement and leadership.

The Big O

Listed at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, Tshiebwe may have the most imposing build of any freshman at West Virginia since Devin Williams first walked on campus in 2013.

He is the first five-star men’s hoops recruit to enroll at WVU since Devin Ebanks in 2008.

All of it has made Tshiebwe’s debut highly anticipated and Huggins has hinted several times he’s looking forward to playing Tshiebwe alongside Culver in the starting lineup.

How quickly the two can jell will be an early focal point, as will how fast Tshiebwe can adjust to the college game.

More than anything, Culver will welcome Tshiebwe’s presence, just to keep double- and triple-teams away from him, which he saw plenty of last season.

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