There’s a reason the classics are called the classics. Five years, 10 years, 25 years down the line, they still work.
West Virginia University’s basketball team is taking an old-school approach to its frontcourt these days. So far, it has been a hit.
The idea of what a basketball big man should be has changed in recent years. For a long time, centers and power forwards were more of the Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone variety, dedicated low-post players who didn’t stray too far from the basket. Yet, as with most things in life, that concept evolved.
Now, 7-footers or near-7-footers look like Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokounmpo, wings who are more comfortable running the floor or shooting from outside. And more are on the way, like Washington freshman Jaden McDaniels, a 6-10 kid averaging nearly four 3-point attempts a game. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the natural progression of the sport.
So it’s intriguing when basketball teams thrive with a more conventional approach in the post. The Mountaineers have not just one but two bruisers making life a living hell for opponents.
Foes already knew entering this season to beware of 6-10, 255-pound Brahma bull Derek Culver, a second-team All-Big 12 pick last year. Then WVU coach Bob Huggins signed him a tag-team partner, adding 6-9, 258-pound Oscar Tshiebwe to the Mountaineers’ Legion of Doom.
Don’t even bother game-planning for that duo’s outside game. Culver and Tshiebwe have combined to shoot a stone-cold zero 3-pointers. Those two are throwing it back by throwing it down. They’re the top two rebounders in the Big 12, Culver averaging 9.7 boards and Tshiebwe averaging 9.6. Plus Tshiebwe is sixth in the league at 1.4 blocks per game.
And they’re helping the Mountaineers as a whole stake their claim as the best defensive team in college basketball. They’re second in Division I in both overall field-goal percentage defense and 3-point field-goal percentage defense. Only 31 teams in the country have had more 3-pointers attempted against them than the 340 foes have shot against West Virginia. Much of that has to do with what awaits those opponents when they attack the basket.
That was evident in WVU’s Tuesday beatdown of TCU, a marvelous display of defensive might with Culver and Tshiebwe at the forefront. Culver pulled down 11 rebounds against the Horned Frogs and, while Tshiebwe finished with six boards, he also blocked three shots. TCU shot just 31.8 percent from the floor and more than half its attempts Tuesday night, 23 of the Frogs’ 44, were from 3-point range.
That’s not a formula for victory, but it was one forced upon TCU and will be forced upon others as the season progresses.
You don’t mess with what works. You want more evidence that this is working? Huggins isn’t talking about it, and the media isn’t asking about it. That wasn’t the case earlier in the season when the two biggest bricks in the Great Wall of Morgantown were trying to figure out how to work together.
Huggins isn’t shy in letting people know what’s on his mind. How Culver and Tshiebwe coexist isn’t at the top now, and he can turn his attention to other pressing matters.
Everyone else in college basketball? They’re paying attention. Failure to do so would be fatal.
So don’t watch WVU basketball with the idea that Culver and Tshiebwe will channel Durant anytime soon. It’s not gonna happen. The Mountaineers are going old school for now.
And old school’s cool.