West Virginia basketball took some major steps in the right direction after 2018-19’s disaster, finishing with a 21-10 record and the nation’s third-best defense, according to KenPom. They were on track to return to the NCAA Tournament before the season was abruptly ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and return almost every major key piece from that team, yet there’s a lack of significant preseason buzz surrounding the Mountaineers.

Then again, that’s what happens when you go 3-6 over the final month of the season. It leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

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WVU’s surprisingly steep fall came thanks to some truly atrocious offense. Given, it wasn’t great all season, but their scoring averaged dropped from 73.4 to 62.7 points per game during that stretch. They ranked just 308th nationally in effective field goal percentage and 338th in three-point percentage, both of which came back to severely hamper Bob Huggins’ squad.

West Virginia’s two best players were big men Oscar Tshiebwe (a second team All-Big 12 selection) and Derek Culver, so it’s not a surprise to see their offensive attack focus more inside than out. That should be the case in 2020-21 as well seeing as both stars return, but there’s no denying that this group needs a legitimate offensive threat on the perimeter.

A scoring solution

Enter Miles McBride.

The 6-2, 196-pounder only started two games during his freshman season but showed flashes of star potential, especially early in the season.

He first burst onto the scene with 21-point outing in a win over then-No. 2 Ohio State in Cleveland in December, which he followed a few games later with a 22-point performance in a home win over then-No. 22 Texas Tech.

Those were the two signature wins for the Mountaineers and, when looking at the season in a larger context, it’s not a surprise that they were McBride’s two best games.

How important was McBride’s perimeter punch to West Virginia’s offense and overall effectiveness?

The Mountaineers were 12-4 in games where he scored at least 10 points, and three of those four losses came on the road, including at Kansas and at Baylor. When defenses held McBride to single digits, West Virginia only went 9-6.

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McBride did hit that freshman wall at the end of January, reaching the double-digit point plateau just four times in WVU’s final 11 games (including each of the last three, when they went 2-1) after having 12 such games previously. Uncoincidentally, that’s when their season took a sharp downturn as well.

Further, McBride’s efficiency was an even greater predictor of team success. West Virginia posted a 9-0 record when he shot at least 43 percent – regardless of how many points he scored – compared to 12-10 when he didn’t.

Getting McBride involved

Now let’s take that a step further given the team’s three-point struggles we touched on earlier. McBride was among the few legitimate three-point threats the Mountaineers had and was certainly inconsistent, as most freshmen tend to be. But, when he was making shots at just a decent rate from behind the arc, West Virginia was a much more dangerous team. McBride was 19-50 (38 percent) from three-point range in the team’s 21 victories. In their 10 losses, he was just 5-29 (17.2 percent).

The biggest question for McBride now is just consistency. Some of that will come naturally in his second season playing at the college level, but Huggins can also do some things to help make McBride’s job easier.

As you may have noticed in the clips above, almost all McBride’s baskets in those games were unassisted. He was creating his own shot off the bounce and occasionally as the ballhandler in a pick-and-roll set. However, he was only the primary ballhandler in spurts and rarely had any plays drawn up for him. That’s not a huge surprise considering he was a) a freshman and b) coming off the bench, and being the go-to offensive option on the perimeter can be a heavy weight for a freshman to carry. McBride should be more equipped to handle that role as he’ll enter the starting lineup and be given heavier minutes as a sophomore.

WVU’s X-factor

Some NBA scouts are expecting a breakout season from McBride, as he is projected to be a lottery pick by 247sports. I’m expecting a breakout season as well given the star potential he flashed during his freshman campaign.

But, if West Virginia is going to live up to their preseason expectations and at least challenge Baylor and Kansas in the Big 12 title race, they need McBride to step up. No other perimeter player on the roster has shown the potential and ability he flashed last year. McBride is and will have to be the X-factor that will determine how lethal the Mountaineers will be.

Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.