Marshall once again relies on the excellent duo of Tamar Slay and J.R. VanHoose in most games, but they aren't the only solid players on the Herd roster.
Joining Slay in the backcourt are freshman Ronny Dawn and transfer Ronald Blackshear, both of whom can score in their own right. Blackshear has give Marshall imediate scoring help since his activation for the second semester, averaging 16 points per contest, while Dawn has run the team well, averaging less than two turnovers per contest.
Up front VanHoose, who averages a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds per outing, is joined by Latece Williams, whose 12 points and 8 boards take some of the heat off VanHoose in the paint.
If the Herd has a problem, it's with substitutions and with getting everyone involved in the offense. Marshall has five players averaging more than 32 minutes per game, which could affect them in the late stages of tight games.
Also, with five starters who can shoot and score, Marshall has sometimes had problems getting the ball evenly distributed and keeping everyone involved in the flow of the game.
WVU's Lionel Armstead vs. Marshall's Tamar Slay
There are several matchups in this game that are intriguing, including Chris Moss up front and Jay Hewitt at point, but this one figures to set the stage early.
WVU 7-9, 0-5
MU 8-8, 3-4
|Wed 1/23 8:00 PM|
The lanky Slay is a bomber who will fire from any range, but who has some defensive deficiencies. He'll try to use his height and long reach to keep Armstead from getting open looks at the basket.
Armstead will have to battle Slay both on the perimeter and in the paint, as Marshall should try to post him up or get the ball to him inside to use his great height advantage.
The three point shooting of these two players often sets the early pace for their teams, so whichever one gets off early will give their team a decided advantage.
WVU: Jonathan Hargett (Knee) Out
WVU's dominance in the series can be traced to two items - a superior front line and well-executed coaching strategies. While the Mountaineers still possess the coaching edge, the front line advantage may be gone.
In past seasons, the Mountaineers have been able to throw multipe scoring threats along the front line at the Herd, but this year they have only one in the form of Chris Moss. Marshall can counter with Latece Williams and J.R. VanHoose defensively, so for the first time in a long while West Virginia won't enjoy a decided advantage up front.
Another weapon possessed by West Virginia, the ability to press and shuffle players in and out, is also diminshed this year. WVU's defensive woes have been well-documented, so it looks like that area is also less of an advantage for the Mountaineers this year.
Finally, there's the intangibles. For Marshall, a win over WVU would probably be better received than a trip to the NCAA tournament. For West Virginia, this game might provide the sole bright spot in a season that has rapidly deteriorated from NCAA hopes to not even making the Big East conference tournament.
The rivalry aspect of the game can always be counted on to shorten the point spread. With both teams fighting to salvage disappointing seasons, this game figures to be even more hotly contested than normal, as tempers are obviously short in both camps.
Even with the lack of pressing success this year, watch for WVU to try to pressure Marshall's ballhandlers fullcourt. West Virginia will be harder pressed to repeat their strategy of tiring the Herd out with substitutions, as the Mountaineer bench has been shortened by injury and disciplinary action.
Chris Moss and Lionel Armstead are the only Mountaineers to start every game this season.
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Much has been made of WVU's poor shooting from the field, but WVU's field goal percentage of 43% still puts them in the middle of the Big East pack at ninth. The key has been the Mountaineers' lack of defense. WVU is 13th in the league, allowing opponents to hit 43.4% of their shots.
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Chris Moss is now 20th in all time rebounding at WVU with 631, and needs 25 points to join teammate Lionel Armstead in the 1000 point club.