SCOUTING THE THUNDERING HERD
This is the best Marshall team in at least half a decade, as new head coach Tom Herrion has comboed a size and scoring punch into a 12-5 start. The former College of Charleston (S.C.) head and Pitt assistant coach is continuing to blend his half court offensive sets with tough, physical defense that has allowed Marshall to hang in most games this season even with the loss of an interior NBA player and among the better scoring guards in the school's recent history. The Thundering Herd is especially solid in the backcourt, where Damier Pitts (5-10, 165 lbs.) and DeAndre Kane (6-4, 200 lbs.) are splitting a combined 30 points per game. Pitts, the point guard, hasn't distributed the ball as effectively as Herrion would like, as the junior's assist-to-turnover ratio is about even. But Pitts can score from anywhere on the floor and is making about 37 percent of his shots from both three-point range and the floor overall. He is excellent at the line and tries to draw contact when attacking the basket, as his stature won't allow him to overpower opposing frontcourt players. This is a score-first guard, and one that will take runouts as they present themselves. West Virginia must rotate back in transition and force the Herd into operating out of its usual halfcourt sets to avoid allowing easy points.
Kane, the two-guard, plays a team-high 30 minutes per game and is converting well from the field at 47.3 percent. He has taken 186 shots, 19 more than any other player, and though not as solid a shooter from the outside as Pitts, Kane can still get hot from deep. He likes to get to the bucket more than spot-up, but does struggle at the line at times in making 59 of 91 free throws thus far this season. Kane is also very good on the defensive glass, and passes as well as any player on the roster. Casey Mitchell could struggle with Kane's athleticism, and this could be a difficult defensive match for the Mountaineers is Mitchell doesn't get adequate help on drives.
Forwards Johnny Thomas (6-6, 205 lbs.) and Tirrell Baines (6-6, 220 lbs.) give Herrion consistent interior scoring. Thomas is making almost 55 percent from the field, while Baines is just at 50 percent. The accuracy has helped Marshall avoid battling more physical teams on the offensive glass and given the Herd an average of 22 combined points a game. Thomas, the swingman, is averaging 9.3 points and almost five rebounds. He continues to shoot from the outside, but hasn't found the mark in missing 26 of 34 threes. He has solid length and behind Baines is the best offensive rebounder on the team. That size has translated into 16 blocks (team high) and 10 steals, and will be needed against a West Virginia unit that isn't long but does challenge well for rebounding most of the time. Baines, who plays bigger than his height, averages 13 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. The senior is the go-to scorer on the block, though many of his points come off putbacks. Baines has a decent short jumper, but cannot shoot from anywhere outside and will instead try to drive it or put pressure on the rim off misses. He doesn't handle particularly well, either, but has made 51 of 64 free throws. West Virginia must get a body on Baines and try to at least keep him in his current position on rebounds and not allowing his momentum to go toward the bucket. If the Mountaineers can force him to take jumpers or try contested drives, it can limit effectiveness. If Baines gets going in his slasher and rebound-and-drive mode, it doesn't bode nearly as well.
Center Nigel Spikes (6-10, 220 lbs.), five points, 5.6 rebounds, plays about 20 minutes. Obviously, the sophomore's height is his main asset. Spikes doesn't shoot outside and isn't great at the line at 41.7 percent. This is essentially an elongated body to clog the lane, get a few boards and provide some scoring as needed on the inside. Spikes isn't great defensively and will have a very difficult time defending Kevin Jones anywhere on the outside. His match-up with Deniz Kilicli, who has been replaced by Dan Jennings in the starting line-up, should be a bit better because of style similarities.
|Wed. Jan. 19
8:00 p.m. EST
Capital Classic Network
WVU - 9
Marshall - 56
Marshall has adequate depth, as Herrion is routinely getting into a nine-man rotation. The biggest boost off the bench is Shaquille Johnson (6-3, 205 lbs.). The guard plays about 28 minutes, has 11 starts this season and has taken the third-most shots on the team at 136. The junior is making 39 percent, but struggles from three-point range. He can handle decently and will get to the line (68.1 percent). An all-around good player, Johnson can create for others, hit the occasional outside shot, and get to the rim and finish. He will, however, turn the ball over and simply lacks the scoring punch of (10 points per game of his fellow guards. The other backcourt backup, Johnny Higgins (6-2, 185 lbs.) averages about four points and 15 minutes per game. A sure-handed, dependable guard, Higgins has 35 assists against 21 turnovers and gets Marshall into its sets well. The junior typically takes just shots that are open inside the arc, and he won't press the play, instead allowing others scoring opportunities while he fills minutes as a role player.
Reserve swingman Dago Pena (6-6, 220 lbs.) averages more than eight points and three rebounds and has 11 starts this season. The junior, Conference USA Co-Sixth man of the Year last season, is a bit of a three-point specialist. Pena has made 28 of 67 threes (41.8 percent) in 99 total shots this season. He has good quickness and release, and it's surprising it doesn't translate better to the foul line (57.1 percent). West Virginia must guard Pena well beyond the line and challenge all his shots – not an easy task due to match-ups and height issues. Center Orlando Allen (6-10, 290 lbs.) is one of four MU players 6-10 or taller; fellow center Yous Mbao is 7-2 but must sit out this season as a transfer from Marquette. Allen, a senior, isn't real productive in a points-rebounds sense, but can steal a few minutes while providing some size and decent play on the defensive end. The former Oklahoma player never seemed to hone his skills enough to be a major threat on the college level and likely only had a major conference offer because of height. He has some strength, though, and can be tough to move away from the blocks.
This is perhaps Marshall's best team since Huggins took over at West Virginia. The Herd can hit from outside at a couple positions, has solid size and some strength on the interior and is creating offense within its half court sets under the new coaching staff. Still, West Virginia has a bit more skilled talent, is playing as well as it has all season, and seems to finally be working together and adhering to the scouting report. In this one, that idea is to get on the boards, work defensively for the full shot clock and don't give up easy points in transition (ever) or at the three-point or free throw line. The Mountaineers have played a far better schedule and are more seasoned, and have more similarities to teams Marshall has lost to than ones it has defeated. If WVU can be physical, challenge on the boards and defensively and hit some shots – a big if at the Charleston Civic Center – it should be fine. Still, the height loss of Kevin Noreen hurts and it often seems both teams caught up in the tussle the series devolves into. One hopes this doesn't turn into another foul-marred, free throw shooting contest. If it does, call this a toss-up because of venue and style of "play." If not, West Virginia is the favorite.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season.
Marshall: F Eladio Espinosa (Throat), Doubtful.
WVU is 56-19 all-time at the Charleston Civic Center. It is 64-21 all-time in Charleston.
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A whopping 146 fouls were called in the last three Capital Classics. The teams shot a combined 176 free throws.
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West Virginia has won 36 straight games when holding foes under 70 points.
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The Mountaineers are 15-4 since the Capital Classic has been played in Charleston. They have won 11 of the last 14 and four in a row. Huggins is 4-0 against Marshall, with all games coming at WVU.
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Marshall is 9-1 at home, 3-4 on the road this year. This is the Herd's first neutral site game.