CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Larry Eustachy may have appeared to have several screws loose when he bumped and cursed his way to courtside oblivion Saturday at the Henderson Center, but the Southern Mississippi basketball coach made one very good point.
He said he thought Marshall's 2010-11 club "is better than last year's team."
He's right about that, while those who continue to e-mail with worries of woe about Coach Bob Huggins' West Virginia team are far too fretful.
Is WVU as good as last year's club that reached the NCAA Final Four? Dumb question. Next question: Are the 2010-11 Mountaineers - a roller coaster club of role players - an NCAA Tournament team, maybe even with 11 losses or so?
Sure ... but as the regular-season midpoint arrives this week, it's hard (but OK) to focus beyond next week's Capital Classic at the Charleston Civic Center, because the prospects for that 39th meeting being even more contentious than this week's state Senate opening session are high.
Besides, before that Jan. 19 tipoff, the Herd and Mountaineers have significant dates to play.
Marshall should go to 12-4 with a waltz past road-weary Savannah State (2-16) tonight at the Cam, and WVU (10-4), which has emerged from its testy Big East start at 2-2, gets Providence (11-6, but in the Big East basement at 0-4) at home Thursday.
Then, the Herd has to travel to Memphis (12-3) for a Saturday noon game. WVU gets another quality non-conference foe in visiting Purdue (15-1) on Sunday afternoon. After that, the state foes will focus on each other.
Memphis has been the Conference USA kingpin for so long, everyone assumes that would be the case again. Honestly, although the Tigers always are tough in their raucous home, I'm not sure they're really the poll-sitting club they've been this season.
Memphis has played only one road game, and was blown out a week ago at Tennessee. It has an RPI of 78 - that's 35 spots below Marshall right now - and the Tigers have three "good" losses, to Georgetown, the Vols and Kansas, but few quality wins (1-3 versus the RPI top 50).
A year ago, the Herd won 24 games for then-Coach Donnie Jones, but too often they played like they were waiting for "Sultan of Swat" Hassan Whiteside to use his long limbs to win games for them.
Coach Tom Herrion's first MU team, with plenty of the same personnel but enough new quality parts to make a difference, plays like the deep and versatile team it is. If it doesn't make life difficult for C-USA foes in more venues than the Henderson Center, I'll be surprised.
If Marshall didn't learn what quality can produce this past week, it might never do so.
On Sunday a week ago, the Herd won at St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies were then No. 98 in the RPI. Not that big a deal, eight? Wrong.
One, it was a road win, which counts for more in the RPI, and because opponent's opponents count for 25 percent of the RPI (and St. Bonaventure had beaten St. John's and lost to Cleveland State and Virginia Tech), the Herd's shot from 188 to 79 with that win.