Bob Huggins expressed his excitement for the 2019-20 WVU men’s basketball season earlier this month when he foresaw “a lot of rebounds” in the team’s future courtesy of sophomore forward Derek Culver and freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe.
Returning players share that same excitement for the team’s outlook, and sophomore guard Jordan McCabe already has high expectations for West Virginia’s big men, who will likely share the floor as often as possible this season.
“Looking at Derek and Oscar playing a four and a five, I don’t know if there’s a better front court in the country,” McCabe said.
Culver wants to see big things from West Virginia’s big men, too.
“That’s not really something you’re gonna find too much in college basketball, honestly,” Culver said. “Two productive bigs like me and Oscar, I feel like that’s gonna give teams a handful day in and day out.”
Huggins had similarly high expectations for his front court last season, but things never panned out for a number of reasons, including suspensions, inexperience and the ultimate dismissal of two players from the program.
Things are already different this year. Huggins has said the team is “as close as we’ve had a group be for a while,” and returning players like Culver are also more experienced.
But that doesn’t mean Culver acts as a teacher to Tshiebwe. In fact, both players are strengthening each other’s weaknesses.
“I think they’re learning from each other,” Huggins said. “I don’t think one is teaching the other one. I think they’re learning from each other.”
Huggins said it would be hard to compare the two players as newcomers to the program because they have very different styles: Culver is bigger, but shifty in the paint, while Tshiebwe is capable of both playing in the post and getting out in transition.
So far, it seems those differences in style compliment each other.
“I think Oscar has been really good for Derek, because the things that Derek wasn’t very good at, Oscar’s made him do to compete, like run the floor,” Huggins said. “How many times was I screaming at him to get down the floor? And he has to with Oscar, because Oscar is going to run it every single time.”
Huggins added that Tshiebwe has learned “he’s not the biggest, strongest dude out there,” but that Culver’s style of play is also rubbing off on him.
“I think Oscar has learned a lot from Derek as well,” Huggins said. “Derek’s footwork, the way Derek carves out space for himself to rebound the ball.”
Last season, WVU never reached its full potential after a sluggish start to the season — a hiccup Huggins said was caused by a lack of effort and buy-in.
In order for that big man tandem to have success when the season begins, Huggins thinks Culver will have to stay in the right frame of mind.
“If Derek continues with the attitude he has displayed to this point and he continues to work on his game, he’s a guy I think we can build around,” Huggins said.