Pittsnogle Pontification

West Virginia cured any ills it had about lack of motivation for the Capital Classic against Marshall via in-state spokesman Kevin Pittsnogle.

The senior center, a Martinsburg native, guaranteed a win over the Thundering Herd (7-9), providing bulletin board fodder for the Conference USA near-bottom feeder.

"We'll win," he said. "We're going to do it. I have faith in my teammates. I know coach doesn't like it, but I'm going to do it anyway. I guarantee a win. Myself and the other seniors have a pact. We know we're going to win. There is no doubt. I guarantee it."

Zing. That'll do. The comments are even more of a surprise considering then-No. 24 West Virginia was upset, 59-55, by the then-2-10 Thundering Herd last season when two Herd players had the proverbial Game of Their Lives.

Ronny Dawn, after averaging 3.4 points and hitting just 12 3-pointers in 42 attempts, went five-for-six from behind the arc against WVU last year, including making three in the final four minutes. A.W. Hamilton, now a graduate manager, also went five-of-six from 3-point range as Marshall became the first school in NCAA history to hit only 3-point field goals in the second half and win.

The setup is the same this year. The No. 9 Mountaineers (14-3) are again heavily favored against a Marshall team with a losing record and one which has lost its last three and four of its last five games since getting away from playing Evansville and Appy State twice (2-2 in those games) and fellow power Kennesaw State (three-point win).

"They are much improved from last season," WVU head coach John Beilein said in stating what must be fact. "But I'm not sure how much better we want them to be. Every game has come down to the last possession, the last 30 seconds."

Indeed, in the last three games no team has won by more than four points and each of the past seven Capital Classics have been decided by fewer than 10 points. Two have gone into overtime, and all seven have been decided by a combined 26 points. WVU leads the series 24-9 all-time.

And perhaps there's the reason for Pittsnogle's forthright forthcoming. Marshall has won one-quarter of its games against WVU and has generally stunk up Charleston's joint, going 3-11 versus the Mountaineers there. It lost five in a row before gaining a split in the last four games via an overtime win against WVU's worst squad in years.

What's to stop top 10 West Virginia from extending its nation-leading 12-game winning streak? Only Triskaidekaphobia. No. 9 West Virginia is riding its longest win wave since it won 22 consecutive games in 1988-89. It has beaten two top 10 teams and won at No. 17 UCLA on Jan. 21. The Mountaineers are in the top 10 for the first time since they were No. 8 on March 2, 1982.

West Virginia leads the nation in assists and is second in turnovers, meaning it rarely wastes a possession. WVU leads the Big East in turnover margin, assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-pointers and has the league's top scoring tandem in Naismith candidates Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey. Both average 19.8 points per game.

"I put them right up there with Pitt as far as teams I don't like," guard Patrick Beilein said of Marshall. "There's a lot of talk on the court and I've grown to dislike them, and that's saying something because I'm not a state native."

Marshall is the only team to beat WVU in the Civic Center under Beilein, in his fourth year. West Virginia has beaten then-No.8 Florida, Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure there in addition to two wins over Marshall. It will be teams' first meeting since 12 state miners died in two accidents this year.

"It has been as rough as any time period in the state, as far as emotion and what is really important in life," John Beilein said. "Maybe this will take people's minds off of it for just a few minutes in some small way, which might go a long way over time."

Quotes N' Notes:

* Marshall guard Tre Whitted: "I'm looking forward to going to Charleston and hopefully taking care of business. It's a great atmosphere on the court, seeing one side in green and white and the other in blue and gold."

Better make that one corner green and white, Tre.

* Patrick Beilein, on being ranked ninth: "We'd love to be ranked at the end of the year."

So, are the writers smarter than the coaches, who ranked you 13th?

"Eh, writers, I mean, they're great and everything. But the polls don't mean anything. Don't get me wrong. It's nice to see. But we have a lot of games left. We have a lot to prove."

* John Beilein told Pittsnogle it was up to the father-to-be if wanted to leave the game upon possibly hearing of his wife's coming delivery.

"I just left it up to him," Beilein said. "I said, ‘Kevin, whatever you want to do, whatever you think is right is fine.' It's a nice situation here because we are within driving distance."

WVU will play at St. John's on Jan. 29 before coming home for consecutive games versus Notre Dame (Feb. 1) and Cincinnati (Feb. 4). As the luck of the Irish would have it, Pittsnogle's wife, Heather, is due Feb. 1. Blimey!

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