The Mountain State’s TRUSTED news source.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.


Learn more about HD Media

Isaiah Cottrell

Cottrell

It was a surprise. Most people didn’t expect Taz Sherman to return to the West Virginia University men’s basketball program.

Sure, he had another year of eligibility, thanks to the NCAA, but after Sherman made himself available for the NBA draft, it seemed like a long shot to expect to see Sherman back in Morgantown.

Even longer than the 3-point shots the 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard poured in while averaging 13.4 points, including 47 3s (second on the team).

It appeared a paycheck from international basketball in Europe was in Sherman’s near future.

That’s why it was such a surprise when the Missouri City, Texas native announced earlier this week that he was indeed returning to the Mountaineers.

Nobody was happier than veteran WVU coach Bob Huggins.

“We are thrilled to have Taz back for another season of Mountaineer basketball,” Huggins said. “He went from scoring five points a game in his first season with us to scoring more than 13 points per game last season.

“Taz explored his options in a professional manner, while finishing his bachelor’s degree in May. Taz is a leader on and off the court and he will provide us with veteran leadership this season.”

So Sherman is back in the fold. But what if 6-3 guard Sean McNeil also returns to WVU after exploring his NBA options? What then?

It creates an interesting scenario.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume star WVU point guard Deuce McBride is going to remain in the NBA draft. That means the Mountaineers’ backcourt probably would be 6-1 Old Dominion graduate transfer Malik Curry at point guard, McNeil at shooting guard and Sherman coming off the bench, which he did in 22 of 28 games last season.

Then there’s 6-7 sophomore Jalen Bridges at small forward. He’s expected to build on a breakout redshirt freshman season in 2020-21.

But beyond that collection of perimeter players is when the scenario really gets interesting. Most notably, the question is: Which players are going to man the power forward and center positions?

Redshirt freshman Isaiah Cottrell is the odds-on favorite to win the job at power forward if, of course, the Achilles tendon he tore last season is fully healed. When it involves the Achilles, it’s always a big if.

But let’s assume Cottrell will be 100%. He gives the Mountaineers the one vital offensive weapon WVU lacked last season — namely, a power forward who can face the basket and score on a jump shot or off the dribble.

That would be huge. It’s what WVU lacked in former power forward Oscar Tshiebwe. What makes Cottrell even more vital, however, is the loss of 6-10 center Derek Culver to the NBA.

Without Culver, the Mountaineers have no one who can score consistently in the paint. Instead, Huggins went on a mission to find “rim protectors,” which was a notable defensive deficiency during the 2020-21 season.

So it appears the center position will be manned by committee. There’s 6-7 veteran Gabe Osabuohien, who is a force on defense but a liability on offense. Then there are transfers Dimon Carrigan (6-9, 215 pounds) and Pauly Paulicap (6-8, 225).

Carrigan is a shot-blocker who averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds for FIU. Paulicap is bigger and stronger and averaged 7.2 points and 6.1 rebounds at DePaul in 2020-21.

What all this means is WVU could have a “donut” offense in 2021-22 with a notable hole in the middle.

It appears to all depend on Cottrell.

He’s the linchpin.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.