Marshall has been searching for an identity through the early part of the season, and doesn't appear to have found a leader or player to go to during crunch time. That fact is borne out in the Herd's starting lineups as well, as no fewer than eight players have gotten at least two starts this year.
One player who should be ready to step into the leadership role is junior Mark Patton (6-9, 240). The in-state native has filled out both his physique and his stat line this year, and is averaging an impressive 11.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. West Virginia doesn't have a banger to match up with Patton's strength underneath, so a battle of quickness vs. brawn appears to be in the offing.
Joining Patton on the front line will be forward David Anderson (6-8, 220). The senior is averaging a steady 10.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest while shooting almost 60% from the field.
In the backcourt, guard A.W. Hamilton keys the Herd attack. He's averaging 8.0 points and 4.6 assists per contest, and is a solid, all-around performer who helps the Herd in a number of ways. Joining Hamilton in Marshall's three guard offense are senior Ronny Dawn (6-3, 190) and sophomore Tre Whitted (6-4, 200). Whitted scores at an 8.8 points per game clip, while Dawn, a career 42% three-point shooter, has struggled from long range this year, hitting just 28.6% from beyond the arc.
Freshman guard Joe Miles (5-11, 175), who has started half of the Herd's games, is Marshall's leading scorer at 14.3 points per contest, and it's possible he could be in the starting lineup as head coach Ron Jirsa looks to inject some fire into his offense. However, he has played well off the bench of late, so Jirsa may prefer to use him as an offensive boost, much as West Virginia does with Patrick Beilein and Kevin Pittsnogle off the bench. Miles is actually shooting a bit better from three-point range (42.9%) as compared to his overall success rate of 42.1%. Guard Enoch Bunch (6-0, 185), who missed the Ohio game with a hip injury, and freshman Ryan Lamb (5-8, 165) provide backup minutes on the perimeter, while LaVar Carter (6-7, 250) who recently returned from a concussion, provides both bulk and scoring (6.4 points per game) on the front line.
West Virginia forward Mike Gansey vs. Marshall point guard A.W. Hamilton
Forwards vs. guards don't often figure as premier matchups, but the battle at the top of West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone looks to be one of the most intriguing of the evening.
|Tue 8:00 p.m.|
WVU 11-1, 1-1
MU 2-10, 0-4
WVU - 30
MU - 264
Of course, that's exactly the goal that Gansey has in mind at the top of West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone. He will attempt to cut the floor off and prevent Hamilton from reversing the ball against WVU's quick-to-rotate zone, and will also try to cut off direct passing lanes once the ball goes to one side of the floor. Gansey's long arms, leaping ability, and basketball smarts make him a tough opponent in this regard, but Hamilton is now a seasoned veteran who isn't likely to crack under the first signs of pressure.
One thing to watch is what Hamilton does after he gives up the ball for the first time in Marshall's offensive sets. Does he simply wait for the return pass if necessary, or will he cut through the defense and become part of the offensive flow. He's not a big scorer, but has the ability to hit the open jumper if necessary.
This battle is one that Marshall has to win if they have hopes of springing an upset. If West Virginia is able to bother the Herd's attack from the outset and prevent them from getting into their offense, it will be a struggle for them to score points.
WVU: J.D. Collins (Ankle, Wrist) Probable
MU: Taurean Marshall (Knee) Probable, Enoch Bunch (Hip) Questionable
Once again, this game comes at a terrible time on the Mountaineer schedule. The clash with the Herd is the third game in six days for West Virginia, which at this point should be far more concerned with Big East battles than with a contrived "rivalry". And although the players and coaches know of the importance placed on this game by many, it also has to be something of a distraction, coming as it does after the all important conference schedules have started.
The game is no less intrusive for the Herd, which played a Sunday contest against Ohio University prior to this Tuesday night contest. The pressure of a 2-10 start also is weighing mightily on the minds of Marshall players, so a win over the state's flagship institution would go a long way toward easing the pain of their early season results.
The team that deals with these issues best is likely to be the winner. In a game filled with emotional overtones, the squad that is best able to execute its offense and keep on an even keel is the one most likely to have success. Both John Beilein and Ron Jirsa stress that sort of play, but neither has his team to the point where it can be counted on to do that night after night. There's always a good bit of heckling and invective flowing toward the floor of the Charleston Civic Center during this contest, and when the adrenaline gets flowing, out of control play can often result. If either team breaks down in this area, its opponent could well ride the momentum created for a win.
Although critics constantly harp on West Virginia's out of conference strength of schedule, nary a peep is heard (Herd?) from those same sources about the appearance of Marshall on WVU's schedule. MU's RPI of 264 this year is the next-to-lowest such rating on WVU's out of conference slate, yet no calls have been made for dropping this game from the schedule. Hmmmm.
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With a win, WVU would finish with an unblemished out of conference record for only the second time in school history. The Mountaineers were a perfect 10-0 in non-conference action during the 1997-98 season.
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Herd freshman Joe Miles has forged an impressive start to his collegiate career. He is the only first-year player in the nation to score in double figures in each of his team's first 12 games this season.
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The last six meetings between the two teams have been decided by six points or less. Two of those games have gone into overtime, and the total margin of victory in the six games is a mere 22 points.
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Want the definitive stat to watch in tonight's game? Under head coach Ron Jirsa, Marshall is 1-20 when scoring 69 points or less.