Capital Classic: Huggins expects another close game
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The last 13 times West Virginia and Marshall have played, the game was decided by fewer than 10 points 11 times - and one of the exceptions was an 11-point victory by the Mountaineers in 2009.
History suggests tonight's 7:30 Capital Classic inside the Civic Center (WOWK) will add to the list.
"It's hard," said WVU Coach Bob Huggins, who is 4-1 against Marshall with a 3-1 record with the Mountaineers. "It's hard when you have that much emotion involved, and honestly, when you have (210) fouls called in four years, it's hard to get in any flow."
There's more than history, though. The events of this season suggest it's going to be difficult to keep the two apart.
WVU averages 75.4 points, just two baskets more than Marshall. The Mountaineers allow opponents to score 65.7 points per game and shoot 43.7 percent from the floor. Marshall's opponents score 64.5 points and shoot 43.5 percent.
They also share weaknesses. WVU turns it over 14.4 times per game, Marshall 14.2. WVU shoots 63.5 percent at the free-throw line. Marshall shoots 60.6. That could be an issue given the glut of fouls the past four seasons.
"You have to call fouls when fouls are there," Huggins said. "You don't have to take it to the extreme. Go back and look at the tape. There's a whole lot of fouls. I hope if we foul a lot they call a lot of fouls on us and if they foul a lot they call a lot of fouls on them. You hope at the end of the day they don't try to make it even and call fouls that aren't there."
Marshall (13-4) has won 7 of 10 games decided by 10 points or fewer and is 5-3 in games decided by five or fewer points. The Mountaineers (13-5) are 3-3 and 2-1.
The Thundering Herd has a four-game winning streak and won the past three games by a combined five points. WVU has had its highest high (85-80 double overtime win against Kansas State) and lowest low (64-57 loss against Connecticut) in the close games.
The Mountaineers survived 17 ties and nine lead changes in Manhattan, Kan., but built and lost a 10-point lead in the second half at UConn. Even if WVU expects another close game, the coach said he doesn't know what to expect from his team.
"Every day is a new day," said Huggins, who is coaching six true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and a junior college transfer. "We have good days. We have bad days, which I guess you get with youth.
"They've never gone through having to work this hard and they've always been better than everyone else - that's why they're here. If they weren't better than everyone else, they wouldn't be here. I think it takes a while for guys to figure out how hard you have to play all the time."
It's a necessity tonight because Marshall will challenge WVU's strengths. The Thundering Herd leads the nation in rebounding margin at plus-11.2. Marshall has outrebounded opponents in 16 of 17 games and the exception was when it was even against Jacksonville State.
"This might be the best rebounding team we've ever played against," senior guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant said.
WVU has scored 258 points - 20 percent of the season total - on 254 offensive rebounds. Senior Kevin Jones is second nationally in offensive rebounds per game, fifth in rebounding and third in double-doubles.
Marshall has allowed only 177 offensive rebounds to opponents. Only three players from the other team have had 10 or more rebounds in a game.
"Everyone box out," Jones said. "All five guys have to box out because what I've seen on tape is they send everyone to the glass. We have to secure rebounds. That's what the difference in the game is going to be."
Neither team shoots particularly well. Marshall shoots 43.2 percent, actually worse than the opposition, and has been below its average nine times. WVU shoots 46.5 percent and has been below its average seven times. Yet WVU has often made up for it with 3-pointers and is 8-1 when it makes seven or more in a game. Marshall is No. 36 nationally in 3-point defense and allows just 29.8 percent.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.