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Rebounding a concern for Mountaineers

File photo courtesy of Dale Sparks WVU’s Jalen Bridges grabs a rebound during last year’s contest against Florida. Bridges and Gabe Osabuohien currently lead the Mountaineers with 4.8 caroms per game.

MORGANTOWN — For most of the Bob Huggins era, dominating the glass has been a major factor. This year, through five games, has the makings of being different.

“I would say we’re not very good,” head coach Bob Huggins said about the team’s rebounding Tuesday. “I think, before, I said we were horrible. We’ve gone from horrible to not very good.”

While progress has been made according to Huggins, West Virginia essentially has nowhere to go but up. The Mountaineers, who were outrebounded in three of those five games, currently rank dead last among Big 12 teams with an average of 31 rebounds per game.

To date, forwards Jalen Bridges and Gabe Osabuohien lead West Virginia with 4.8 rebounds per game — ranking a dreadful 23rd in the conference.

“That’s something we start practice with every day,” Huggins said. “It’s hard for them to rebound if you got your back and your behind on them. We’ve gotta continue to work on proper block-outs. We need to be able to, instead of stand and watch when the ball is shot, to be able to get pretty good opposite, quite frankly.”

Improving on the fundamentals is an easy place to point the finger, as is roster turnover. West Virginia added seven new players during the offseason, searching for ample replacements in filling a handful of roles.

Managing the loss of Miles “Deuce” McBride, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, is one thing. But finding a replacement for big man Derek Culver, who led the Big 12 with 9.6 rebounds per game, is proving to be a much greater task.

Huggins, roughly a month before the season, when asked about whether team rebounding was going to be the approach, said, “It’s gonna have to be.”

Isaiah Cottrell, who has filled Culver’s spot in the starting five, is averaging three rebounds per game. The two are different types of players, but there is no question that the drop-off has had an effect on the Mountaineers.

It seems fairly likely that Culver’s production will be unable to be matched this season, but anybody putting forth somewhat similar production would already resemble improvement. Among the newcomers, many of whom have starting experience at lower levels — there seems to be some hope that one of them can step up and be that guy.

Dimon Carrigan, a fifth-year transfer from FIU, is one of the first big men turned to off the bench, but he matches Cottrell’s three rebounds. He’s known more for his defensive prowess, ranking second in Conference USA in blocks last season, but still managed to bring down six rebounds per game.

Pauly Paulicap, a transfer from DePaul, is the other. He also averaged roughly six rebounds a game last year, but also averaged 7.2 points per game.

“It’s like I tell them every day, ‘You’ve got an opportunity every day to show what you can do. That’s up to you. That’s not up to the coaching staff, that’s up to you,'” Huggins said. “I think all anybody really wants and probably deserves is an opportunity. They have an opportunity every single day to show what they can do. You look at it, the guys that are playing the most are the guys that really have shown us they’re capable of handling what it is we’re gonna face.”

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