SCOUTING THE HERD
In many recent seasons, the WVU game was THE event on the Herd schedule. Win it, and it was a successful season for the Huntington crowd, even if the team achieved nothing else.
That's not the case this year, however, as Marshall has clear designs on an NCAA bid, and the talent to grab one in a less than overwhelming Conference USA. The Herd figures to enter this game without the overriding desperation that accompanied many of its previous trips, but that could be good for a team that has higher aspirations than winning a single game on its schedule.
In the scoring column, Marshall is led by its guards, but has plent of support from its starting forwards. DeAndre Kane (15.9 ppg) and Damier Pitts (13.4 ppg) set the pace outside, but do so on the strength of firing up almost 100 more shots than any other player on the team. They've combined for 431 attempts this year, while the next closest duo has just 230. They, along with third starter Shaquille Johnson and off-the-bench sniper Dago Pena, give the Herd four real scoring threats from the perimeter. Kane and Pitts also get to the free throw line with regularity, while Johnson and Pena's outside lean give them fewer trips to the line. Guard Justin Coleman chips in 5.9 points per outing, making defense on Herd guards a task without rest. There's not one that can be ignored on offense.
The front court doesn't get quite as much attention, but provides good scoring support and outstanding rebounding. Dennis Tinnon is just shy of a season double-double, averaging 9.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Nearly five of those boards come on the offensive end each game. Robert Goff chips in with 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as the fifth starter.
Backup work is spread among Nigel Spikes, whose role has diminished somewhat due to a knee injury, but he appears to be rounding back into shape. He still appears for 14 minutes per game, averaging 3.4 points and 4.1 rebounds. Jamir Hanner and Yous Mbao split most of the remaining backup time up front, with defense and rebounding their key areas of contribution.
The rebounding battle takes center stage in this contest, as both teams rely on board dominance to secure wins.
Charleston Civic Center
WVU 13-5, 4-2
MU 13-4 4-0
WVU - 17
MU - 34
Two other areas to watch in this game will be guard play and free throw shooting. Marshall's offense all around the perimeter will force West Virginia's guards to play very good defense throughout the shot clock -- something that has been lacking at times this year. The Mountaineer guards must get out to cover, and can't go under screens -- otherwise, the Herd will get more open looks than Huggins would like. On offense, West Virginia must run its sets smoothly, and not get caught up in the clutching, grabbing and holding tactics that are sure to occur as the game heats up. WVU must force Marshall's guards to expend energy on defense, and make them pay for defensive lapses.
Finally, free throws figure to be a key. No matter how few West Virginians are on the roster, the hype around the game and the excitement of the crowd leads to more intense play, which leads to more fouls. That, in turn, extends to parades to the free throw line, where both teams have struggled this year. Marshall is making just 60.6% of its tries, while WVU is just barely better at 63.5%. The team that can knock down its tries from the line will likely emerge the winner -- just as West Virginia's women's team did on Tuesday night.
West Virginia has featured the same starting lineup in every game this year, while Marshall has had four different sets of starters. Both teams, obviously, have been successful with these different approaches.
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Kevin Jones stands a good chance of finishing second on WVU's career list for minutes played, but will need some wins in the post season to challenge Da'Sean Butler's all-time record of 4,491.
Jones currently has 3,751 minutes under his belt. If he averages 35 minutes per game over the minimum of 15 remaining games in his career, that would put him at 4,276 minutes. That would leave him 215 minutes short of Butler -- the equivalent of about 5 1/2 games.
Truck Bryant is in a similar situation on the career starts list. He has 109, trailing Joe Herber's record of 128.
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Marshall and West Virginia both have 48 players who have scored at least 1,000 points in their careers. North Carolina is the all-time leader in that category with 62 players atop the 1,000-point mark.
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Marshall has built its excellent record despite a negative assist to turnover ratio. The Herd has 241 turnovers against just 221 assists this year. WVU is barely on the positive side of the ledger, as it has 18 more dimes than drops.