West Virginia sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe is stepping away from the program due to personal reasons and won't return this season, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins announced on Friday. Tshiebwe, a sophomore, is averaging 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season.
"Did it catch me by surprise? No. What do we going forward? We're going to win more games," Huggins said in a meeting with the media shortly after the announcement. "I think this gives us an opportunity to be able to spread the floor a little bit more. Gives Derek [Culver] a lot more room to work down there."
Huggins was asked if there was a chance Tshiebwe might return this season, to which he replied, "No, absolutely not. No return."
A former five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American, Tshiebwe had a big freshman season last year in which he averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds, fulfilling expectations as a star recruit and instant impact addition. This year, he was a preseason All-Big 12 selection and ranked No. 15 on the CBS Sports preseason top 100 (and one).
But Tshiebwe this season has taken a backseat to junior big man Derek Culver, who is averaging 14.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game during the team's 8-2 start to the season. Culver is averaging 27.6 minutes per game while Tshiebwe has averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game, a dropoff from his 23.3 minutes-per-game average last season.
His dip in production aside, Tshiebwe's absence is nonetheless a huge blow to a Mountaineers team that has a real shot at a Big 12 title this season. Culver's role will no doubt expand moving forward, but the team's frontcourt -- lauded this preseason as among the best in the Big 12 -- now suddenly doesn't have anyone taller than 6-foot-7 in its regular rotation without him. It could make for a tricky patch job for Huggins as league play continues.
"We've got guys that have worked their butts off all summer to get an opportunity," Huggins added. "They get an opportunity, I am more than confident that they will do a great job for us, so why would we screw that up?"
West Virginia is 1-1 in league play since it began two weeks ago with a road loss to a top-10 Kansas team and a five point win over Iowa State on its resume. It faces Oklahoma then Oklahoma State in consecutive games in the upcoming week, both of which it is considered a slight favorite in KenPom.com projections.