New Place, Familiar Face

First-year Marshall head coach Tom Herrion brings a unique perspective to his first Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic as the leader of the Thundering Herd. After all, Herrion knows plenty about rivalry games against West Virginia, having been an assistant coach at Pitt for three years before heading to Huntington.

But that means the Mountaineers also have a bit more familiarity with their in-state foe from Conference USA than they might otherwise have in a normal year. WVU head coach Bob Huggins said Herrion has taken many of the principles he followed with the Panthers and applied them to the Marshall program.

"They run all the same sets," Huggins said. "By and large, they play the same way defensively. They guard inside the 3 and run a lot of good sets, everything with a ball screen.

"I think [Herrion] brought some good sets to Pitt. Tommy's always been a half-court set guy, and I think he brought some good sets there. Jamie [Dixon, head coach at Pitt], his teams have played [well] defensively since he became a head coach. I think Tommy took a lot of that to Marshall. You know, they run some things that they ran at Pitt before he got there that are good sets."

The Thundering Herd players have taken to their new coach relatively well, as Marshall has been competitive in starting 12-5. Its 1-2 record in C-USA play is largely the result of starting with some tough match-ups in that league, including losses at nationally-ranked Central Florida (which was undefeated at the time) and at Memphis.

Indeed, Huggins said he felt this MU team is the best he has faced in his four seasons in Morgantown.

The Herd is led by DeAndre Kane, a redshirt freshman guard from Pittsburgh who averages 15.1 points and 3.6 assists per game. He also mixes it up around the rim, with an average of 5.2 rebounds per contest that is good enough for third-best on the roster.

Senior forward Tirrell Baines leads the front-line, grabbing 7.4 boards per game while scoring 12.9 points per contest. Guard Damier Pitts has returned to action after missing the first nine games of the season due to academic issues and is averaging 15.4 points per game.

"I think their perimeter game -- this is the best perimeter game they've had," Huggins said. "Pitts and Kane are very good. [Dago] Pena really shoots it [41.8 percent from 3-point range]. [Shaquille] Johnson's a really good mid-range player. They bring a lot of versatility.

"I think Kane has really helped them, because he's a scorer. He doesn't make shots, but he's a scorer. Pitts has played really, really well since he came back. He got a lot of great experience as a freshman, and I liked him. I thought he was a good player coming out of Hargrave [Military Academy]. They're good. Pena's good. Johnson's good. I think Baines is a really good player inside."

Despite all that, West Virginia is still the prohibitive favorite going into the annual neutral site clash at the Charleston Civic Center. Indeed, the Mountaineers have won 11 of the last 14 meetings in this series, including the last four contests.

But recent history suggests the Herd, for whatever reason, will make things very interesting: 10 of the last 12 Capital Classics have been decided by single digits, including two overtime games.

"It's a huge, huge game for them," Huggins said of the Herd. "They're stepping out of conference and playing a BCS school on a neutral site. I think that brings a lot of emotion. And the truth is, after last year, everybody's coming out ready to play against us. We're everybody's big game. Miami of Florida plays in the ACC and it was a huge game for them [in December]."

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Wednesday night's game will conclude WVU's regular season non-conference schedule. It will be the Mountaineers' second game in a row outside of Big East play, after taking down then-No. 8 Purdue from the Big Ten Conference on Sunday in a 68-64 thriller at the Coliseum.

    That's not as atypical as one might think. But unlike most other Big East teams' out-of-league games at this point in the season, the Capital Classic is not a nationally televised marquee matchup.

    "I think -- I'm not positive, but I think everybody has a window built in the Big East schedule because most of our teams play nationally televised [non-conference] games," Huggins said.

    "Villanova played Maryland. Connecticut played Texas. We played Purdue. We played Ohio State last year at this time. I mean, a lot of it is TV driven. The Marshall game is not, but the other ones are TV driven. Like everybody does, we need television exposure."

  • At other stops in his coaching career, Huggins has been a part of some heated rivalries. At Cincinnati, there was cross-town foe Xavier to contend with on a yearly basis. In his brief stint at Kansas State, the Wildcats hoped to one-up that state's flagship program at Kansas.

    So where does the in-state battle with Marshall rank?

    "It's not in the ballpark of Cincinnati - Xavier. That's a holy war," Huggins said frankly.

    "When I got there, the KU - K. State game, KU had won so much -- you have to win once in a while for it to be a rivalry. They hadn't won in a while, and they had never won at Bramlage [Coliseum, Kansas State's arena]."

  • In recent years, the match-up with Marshall has been a sluggish game bogged down by quick whistles from referees, leading to a pile of personal fouls on both sides.

    The 2008 match-up, Huggins' reintroduction to the rivalry, featured 52 fouls (28 on Marshall and 24 on the Mountaineers). That's a lofty total, but the 2009 game went a bit further. There were 29 fouls on the Herd that night and 25 for West Virginia. Things calmed down a bit last season (as "only" 40 fouls were called), but recent history suggests the referees could play a big role in the Capital Classic.

    Asked why that was, Huggins said he had no explanation. One reporter wondered if it was because of the emotion that comes along with the in-state battle. That was a notion the head coach shot down.

    "I don't know. Was there more emotion that game than there was Sunday [in the Purdue game]?" Huggins asked. "I don't think so. I mean, the one game made national news, there were so many fouls called. I don't know [why that is]. I can't answer it."


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