SCOUTING THE THUNDERING HERD
Marshall has had to adjust its roster and rotation several times to account for injuries early in the season, but it still fields a lineup capable of scoring and rebouding the ball well.
In the backcourt, DeAndre Kane leads the Herd with a 16.0 points per game average, despite suffering thought something of a recent cold spell. Overall, though, he's adjusted well to a move to the point guard spot, and is tallying 8.4 assists per game in addition to his solid scoring average. He has a sparkling 3-1 assist to turnover ratio, and is clearly the go-to guy for the Herd. Kane is well complemented by shooting guard D.D. Scarver, who puts up almost 14 points per outing. While Scarver isn't the most accurate shooter around, he has to be accounted for on every possession, as he makes enough shots to make defenses pay for ignoring him.
The front line also doesn't have any productivity holes. Senior Dennis Tinnon is a relentless force on the boards, and averages nearly a double-double with 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Fellow senior Nigel Spikes also grabes more than nine boards per outing, and chips in nearly eight points while rejecting more than one shot per game on defense. On the opposite end of the experience scale, newcomer Elijah Pittman is adding 14 points per game, with many of those coming on three-point attempts. He's also a good rebounder, grabbing 5.6 per contest.
Chris Martin provides a good deal of support at guard, tossing in 6.5 points per game. He too has to be accounted for at the three-point line, where he's made 11 attempts this year. Robert Goff and Jamir Hanner are the primary subs up front. Goff averages an idenical 3.3 points and rebounds per game, while Hanner contributes at a very efficient rate, adding 4.9 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in just more than 10 minutes per action.
Overall, this is a more talented Marshall team than any the school has fielded in recent years. It has struggled to shoot the ball at times this year, and is hitting just 31.7% of its threes, but it rebounds with ferocity and gets a number of extra chances on offenses while limiting those of its opponents. It is also strong defensively, allowing foes to make jsut 41% of its shots from the field. Marshall expected to challenge for an NCAA tournament bid this year, and there's nothing in this lineup to suggest that it won't be in position to do that when March rolls around.
Both teams come into the game with some injury issues. West Virginia saw both Kevin Noreen and Dominique Rutledge sidelined against VMI with ankle injuries, while Matt Humphrey sat out the game with a shoulder issue. Noreen, who has spent more time on the injured list than on the floor in his West Virginia career, is WVU's best big man at running the offense, while Rutledge is a high energy rebounder and defender. Their absences would again leave WVU's frontcourt at the mercy of officials' whistles, which has been a recurring factor this year. Humphrey is set to play, but WVU needs all three in order to have enough pieces to be effective.
On the Herd sidelines, big man Yous Mbao is still hurting from the effects of a collision with teammate Robert Goff. Goff returned to action in Marshall's last game, but Mbao is not expected to play, DeVince Boykins also returned to the lineup in that game, and is expected to be ready for the contest. Player availability thus looks to be a factor in the game, with the Herd missing only a minor contributor, but it's not the biggest one. Instead, it figures to be control, in a variety of fashions.
WVU 2-3, 0-0
Marshall 5-3, 0-0
WVU - 147
Marshall - 223
The first will be control of the boards. Both coaches preach rebounding above all else, and with both squads clanking shots off the rim at an alarming rate, the squad that can grab the most misses is going to have a big advantage in the game. Next, self-control, in terms of both fouling and composure, will also be key. The intensity in this game always ramps up at some point, and the team that can keep its cool when the action gets hot should be able to execute more effectively. That also comes into play with fouls, and the ability to play defense without pushing and grabbing, and also to keep from retaliating when the occasional elbow gets thrown. Which team plays better fundamental defense by moving its feet and not reaching? Which team can box out without grabbing and shoving? Which team avoids silly or reaction fouls? Control will be the watchword.
With both teams having suffered a loss or two it didn't expect, the importance of this game is likely ratcheted up past the normal emotional pitch that Marshall assigns to it. Both schools have tough games following on the schedule (the Herd plays Cincinnat and Kentucky in two of its next four, while the Mountaineers face undefeateds Virginia Tech and Michigan around a road trip to Duquesne). The loser of this game will have to offset this setback with an extra win or two in the conference -- a battle that will last the entire season. Obviously, West Virginia has a much tougher slate in the regard, so this might be one of the most important in-state games in WVU's history.
Are the number of fouls called and free throws shot in the series a reflection of the game's intensity? Or does a collection of sometimes lower-level officials have an impact? Does the defensive minded-namture of Bob Huggins' teams also contribute? In the last five games in the series, the teams have committed 242 fouls (48.4 per game) and shot 273 free throws (54.6 per contest).
That might be bad news for a WVU team that has lived in foul trouble this year. West Virginia is averaging more than 21 fouls per game and has already had three different players foul out of a game.
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The neutral site contest isn't an oddity for either team -- this will be the third neutral site game for Marshall and the fourth for WVU this season.
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Although it hasn't been much of a threat to top the mark over the past couple of years on a consistent basis, West Virginia is 36-0 under Bob Huggins when shooting 50 percent or better from the field. That not only speaks to the point totals attained when shooting the ball well, but also to West Virginia's defensive prowess. Give the Mountaineers 70 points or so, and they are likely to win.
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While the Herd is 17-40 all time against current members of the Big 12, the Huntington school has never faced a team which was a member of the league at the time the game was played. Many of those match-ups came against current members, but they occured when the teams were members of the Big Eight conference.