Preview: West Virginia - Marshall

Both combatants in the Capital City Classic are likely to be without key members of their starting lineups, but that won't lessen the intensity as Marshall takes on West Virginia in the game of the year for the Herd.

SCOUTING THE HERD

With standout forward Markel Humphrey expected to be sidelined for the game (barring some 1970 Willis Reed-type motivational ploy), Marshall will have a bit of a different look when it takes the floor against WVU. That modified lineup worked well in MU's last start, however, as the Herd knocked off UAB at the Henderson Center.

Guards Mark Dorris and Darryl Merthie will try to take up some of the slack for Humphrey, and the pair has already done just that in previous games. Dorris (sr., 6-2, 180 lbs.) has increased his scoring average during Humphrey's absence and now shows a 13.4 points per game scoring mark He has also improved his three-point shooting to a solid 38% rate. Merthie (Jr., 6-0, 190 lbs.) averages 7.8 points per contest and is the team assist leader at 3.0 per game. His three-point shooting is up and down, but if he is on, he makes the Herd much more difficult to defend from the perimeter.

St. Albans, W. Va. native Adam Williams (So., 6-4, 200 lbs.) got his first start against UAB, and could again be in the lineup against WVU. He has tallied just 6.8 minutes per game this year, but the emotion of playing against the state's flagship institution always seems to inspire state natives in this bitter contest.

Tirrell Baines (Fr., 6-6, 210 lbs.) is the Herd's primary inside threat with Humphrey out. He tallies 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, and is an active player in the lane and on the glass. He is set to play alongside Robbie Jackson (So., 7-0, 265 lbs.), who doesn't fill up the stat line, as he averages less than two points and two rebounds per outing. He is a newcomer to the starting lineup, however.

The Herd has shuffled its starting lineup in part due to dissatisfaction from head coach Donnie Jones over the effort of some players. That move, however, has given the Herd a spark off the bench. Pierre-Marie Altidor Cespedes (Sr., 6-0, 180 lbs.) has ten starts on the season, but subpar shooting also contributed to a spot on the bench. He averages 3.3 points per game and also directed the offense respectably. Gunner Matt Walls (Fr., 6-3, 200 lbs.) has been much more productive in a sub role, averaging 8.3 points per game and leading the Herd in both three-point shooting categories.

Up front, Jean Francois Bro Grebe (Sr., 6-9, 230 lbs.) is another player long on experience, albeit one that is seeing much less court time in his final season. He is averaging fewer than five minutes per game as the Herd looks to the future. One player in that vision is Tyler Wilkerson (So., 6-8, 240 lbs.), who has provided MU with additional strength in the lane. He averages 5.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest, and could start against West Virginia if Jones chooses to try to go big against WVU's shortish front line.

OUTLOOK

West Virginia has been caught short in this game in recent seasons, in part because of a lack of emphasis placed on the contest.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Wed Jan 23
8:00 p.m.

Charleston Civic
Center Coliseum
Records
WVU 14-4, 4-2
MU 10-6, 2-2
Series
WVU 25-10
TV
WV local
Sirius Channel: 119
RPI
WVU - 27
MU - 159
That's not to discount Marshall's effort or play in those games – it likely played at or near its maximum efficiency. But is simply seemed as if, under John Beilein, there wasn't the understanding of the contempt in which West Virginia is held by the vast majority of Herd nation. That, coupled with the chance to knock off a highly-ranked team that had made its bones in the NCAA over the past couple of seasons, helped propel Marshall's play.

While head coach Bob Huggins would much rather be playing Memphis or Kentucky at this point in the season, he knows the emphasis which fans of both teams place on this game. He also knows he will get the Herd's best shot – that players with heretofore limited production might just come up huge in the game of the season (at least from Marshall's perspective). Huggins is nothing if not competitive, so it's unlikely that he will overlook this game, or downplay it as it has been in the past.

This game often comes down to a test of will and "want-to". Certainly, Huggins will again juggle his defenses to find the best fit against MU's offensive talents. And Herd head coach Donnie Jones, who has done a solid job in his first season, will also have his share of tweaks for West Virginia. But in the end, games like this, which are inflamed by the passions of the crowd, tend to come down to a handful of possessions – and the winner of those is often determined by the team, and players, that want it more.

Don't buy that? Well, take a look at West Virginia's most recent home game – a win over St. John's. Although a crowd of more than 13,000 was in attendance (more than will be at the WVU-MU game), there wasn't a great deal of buzz. Even when West Virginia trailed early, there wasn't the usual pickup that a Coliseum crowd provides. Thus, some stretches of the game seemed almost desultory – let's get this thing over with and get out of here.

That won't happen in Charleston. No matter which team is winning or playing well, there will be buzz in the Civic Center. The players will feel it. And the team that responds the best, that plays with the most energy, will likely come out on top.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Joe Alexander (Groin) Doubtful, Joe Mazzulla (Thigh) Probable

MU: Markell Humphrey (Foot) Doubtful, Taurean Marshall (Knee) Out

FAST BREAKS

Da'Sean Butler doesn't get enough credit for all the things he brings to the team. So, in this game, keep an eye on the silky smooth sophomore forward. Watch his series of pump fakes, spins and stepthroughs as he creates space for his shot. Keep track of him on the boards, where he uses good position and quick feet to get to the ball. Watch him on defense, where he often is forced to guard players several inches taller and more than a few pounds heavier than he. Hopefully, you'll get an appreciation for the many ways in which he contributes to the team effort.

When it comes time to name our players of the game, Butler's steady contributions often are taken for granted. He'll be second or third in points scored, and usually the same in rebounding. He'll have hit a key three-pointer, made a big steal, or whirled into the lane to bank home a difficult shot. But still, he tends to get overlooked, so consider this one small attempt to rectify that situation. And take the time to appreciate all the facets of his game – we'll be doing the same.

* * *

Marshall has converted a 3-point shot in 530 straight games, a streak that has spanned 20 seasons. The last time the Thundering Herd did not make a 3-pointer in a game was on Feb. 27, 1989, versus Appalachian State (MU def. ASU, 97-96).

* * *

WVU is 50-19 all-time at the Charleston Civic Center, which includes games played on the "old side" of the building, as well in the new Coliseum.. WVU is 58-21 all-time in Charleston.

* * *

Marshall's game notes claim a pair of wins over conference preseason favorites, but the logic appears to be a bit puzzling. In an item titled "Conference Preseason Favorites Fall at the Cam", the following appears:

"Marshall defeated a pair of preseason favorites to win their respective conferences with its victories over East Tennessee State Big East co-favorite Louisville on Dec. 18 and, after a halftime tie at Freedom Hall, fell to the Cardinals by 10 points. Louisville and Georgetown each received eight votes to win the league."

Perhaps this is the same sort of thinking that dubs as its greatest football victory a 31-42 decision over West Virginia in 1997.


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