MORGANTOWN – As West Virginia’s men’s basketball team tries to spit the bad taste of last year’s disaster out of its mouth, opening against Akron at 7 p.m. Friday at the Coliseum, all of the attention will be cast upon the debut of McDonald’s All-American Oscar Tshiebwe and his inside partner Derek Culver.
No one can argue about their importance to this year’s team as it tries to claw its back from a 15-21 season, a strong argument can be made that WVU will go not as they go but as the point guards go, especially starter Jordan McCabe.
A year ago the Mountaineers suffered from his ‘freshmanitis’ for much of the season as he learned not only the WVU offense but the rigors of playing in the Big 12.
And, without him and his true freshman backup Miles “Deuce” McBride playing at a high level, Bob Huggins’ 14th year as head coach of his alma mater may not stand up to what are high expectations.
McCabe understands the situation.
“I know what his expectations are of me. I need to keep us on the straight and narrow by not making dumb mistakes,” he said.
Huggins made that point to him in the exhibition victory over Duquesne last week when McCabe made a bad decision and was lifted from the game and sat in the purgatory that is the bench.
McCabe says despite the presence of both Tshiebwe and Culver, he feels no added weight on his shoulders.
“My job is to take care of the ball and find a way to come out with a win,” he said.
That really is all Huggins asks of him.
“The point guards have the ball all the time. They make a lot more decisions than anyone else does,” Huggins said, when asked about how important their play is even with Tshiebwe and Culver around.
“I don’t think there’s any question Derek can do what he did a year ago and Oscar got 17 and 14 against Duquesne in the exhibition game. We ought to be a very good rebounding team at both ends of the floor,” he said.
“If those guys will realize their potential, it makes it a lot easier to put three smaller guys out there.”
And that to Huggins is a big deal.
“It’s kind of like John Chaney used to say. If you want your defense to be really good, play three bigs. If you want your offense to be good, play three guards,” he said. “There’s a lot of truth in that because generally speaking their skill level is a lot better. They pass it better, they dribble it better, they shoot it better.”
McCabe is a nifty ball handler who sometimes tries to do too much or get too fancy with his dribbling or passing. He’s is expected to come out with more maturity this season in his role running the club.
The point guard, he understands, is the engine that drives the team, sets up other players, controls the pace and finds the open man.
“Any great team has a great point guard. You look at the Raptors last year. You look at Virginia as well. They have really good guard play,” McCabe said.
A year ago, while averaging 5.8 points a game he led West Virginia with 88 assists and anyone who saw how the Mountaineers shot last year knows that figure could be much higher.
Huggins will go with a starting lineup of Tshiebie, Culver and Emmitt Matthews Jr. up front and McCabe and Chase Harler in the backcourt.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel