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WVU bigs (copy)

WVU’s Oscar Tshiebwe (34) and Derek Culver (right) defend at the basket against Texas Tech during the 2019-20 season. The two Mountaineer big men present a formidable presence on the boards, imposing enough for coach Bob Huggins to proclaim “We’re going to lead the country in rebounding.”

Bob Huggins doesn’t like to get outrebounded.

Call it a pet peeve.

Rebounding just might be the veteran West Virginia University head basketball coach’s favorite statistic, and it shows. His Mountaineers ranked No. 5 in the nation during the 2019-20 season in rebounding margin by outrebounding opponents by 8.1 boards per game.

Well, guess what?

Huggins was just getting warmed up. This season he wants to clean the glass even more clearly.

Just ask him.

“We’re going to lead the country in rebounding,” said Huggins during a recent Zoom meeting.

The best part is he offered this opinion matter-of-factly in his usual monotone as an unsolicited remark.

It just made it better.

Granted, it’s difficult to argue with Huggins’ prediction. After all, Oscar Tshiebwe, WVU’s 6-foot-9, 260-pound sophomore, averaged 9.3 rebounds in 2019-20. And junior Derek Culver, all 6-10, 255 pounds of him, added 8.6 boards per game. That’s a pretty darned good start.

But besides those rebounding behemoths, Huggins has added a pair of former Huntington Prep big men to WVU’s roster. There’s 6-10, 240-pound freshman Isaiah Cottrell and 6-10, 235-pound freshman Seny Ndiaye. The latter is a particularly intriguing prospect.

“Well, the original idea was to put him in Beckley Prep and let him get another year of prep,” said Huggins, referring to Ndiaye. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought we’d just redshirt him and he’d get a lot more from playing against Derek and Oscar and Isaiah than he would playing against some 6-foot-3 guy — not to knock Beckley Prep, but they just don’t have 6-10 guys turning around down there.

“So we decided to bring him in here so he could play against those guys every day. And he has gotten better and better and better.

“When you take a look at what could happen, this year is a free year. We could conceivably redshirt him next year, providing Derek and Oscar are still around. And he’d still have four more seasons. So, he could be a six-year guy. Probably the first in college basketball history.”

Well, that would be quite the distinction.

In the meantime, Huggins is very satisfied with the level of competition in Mountaineer practices.

“We’ve only scrimmaged once,” he said. “I think the person who dominates practice is Derek [Culver]. Derek’s team generally wins all the time. Derek gets the majority of the rebounds and they look to throw it inside to Derek quite a bit, particularly when it’s a close situation in practice.

“This very well could end up being a special group, in that they really like each other. They hang out together. They’re very close friends, but they’re also extremely competitive against each other. And they’re smart enough to know. They’re looking around and saying, ‘Wait a minute, there are 13 guys out here and only five are going to play.’ They understand that.

“And they understand they’re going to have to compete their butts off against the other couple guys at their position to get any [playing] time.”

All that does is make the Mountaineers better.

Talk about a win-win situation.

This has all the earmarks of 2020-21 being a great season for WVU.