Preview: Capital Classic

West Virginia and Marshall meet tonight in the annual Capital Classic in what is anticipated to be the finest duel talent display in recent series history.


Marshall, winner of six straight since losing to North Carolina, has amassed its most talented team in more than a decade. The Herd has three players averaging more than 12 points and the ability to play eight to nine players as needed against most foes while blending young skill with veteran experience. The interior is the strength. Forwards Tyler Wilkerson (6-8, 240 lbs.) and Hassan Whiteside (7-0, 235 lbs.) hit for 12.6 and 12.5 points, respectively, with both controlling the glass for more than seven boards per game. Wilkerson, the four man, has solid athleticism and length and has snared 21 steals. He is making more than 50 percent from the field, and though he isn't a true outside shooter, the senior can knock down threes if left alone. Whiteside, who has the ability to control the paint on both ends, has a team-high 95 blocks and is shooting well over 50 percent. His is a purely inside game, and though the freshman isn't fully developed in terms of polish, he has enough moves and sheer bulk to clear space and make room for close-range looks. On defense, his length will be a significant obstacle for the Mountaineers, who have settled at times when challenged in the lane. The No. 19 prep center last year, Whiteside chose the Herd over UConn, Louisville and WVU, among others, making him among the more prized recruits of head coach Donnie Jones.

Point guard Darryl Merthie (6-0, 190 lbs.) is a heady player who distributes well. The senior has played in more than 70 career collegiate games, but just now moved into a full-time starting role. Merthie averages just shy of five points in about 18 minutes per game. He has struggled from the field (28.1 percent overall, worse from 3pt. range). He does have almost a two-to-one assist to turnover ratio, and he is asked more to get the ball in the proper hands than try to carry the team in scoring. WVU needn't worry about leaving him open, but his drive and dish skills are decent, and he will find the open man. Off guards Chris Lutz (6-3, 190 lbs.) and Shaquille Johnson (6-3, 205 lbs.) average 7.8 and 21.1 points per game, respectively, via widely varying games. Lutz, a senior, is shooting 39 percent both inside and out, and will shoot from the outside far more often than Johnson. The defending team leader in threes, Lutz is a decent defender and takes care of the ball. Johnson, a sophomore, has been on fire from the field as a three-man at 52 percent overall, 44 percent (21 of 48). He has very good range and will put up shots from anywhere. He also has the size and strength to get into the lane and force opposing players off the ball on defense. He led the team last year and steals and plays with control as evidenced by 51 assists against 21 turnovers. A Jacksonville native, Jones was lured by MU's staff, obviously, by their connections to the area when Donnie Jones was an assistant at Florida. Perhaps the MU player with the most upside, Jones will be a solid test for the Mountaineers. Expect a battle between him and Da'Sean Butler in this one.
Game Info
Wed. Jan. 20
9 p.m. EST

Civic Center
WVU 13-3
MU 15-2
WVU 27-10
Capital Classic Network
Sirius Channel: 158
WVU - 11
MU - 53

Jones is also working with a solid bench. The third-year Marshall mentor is able to go about nine deep, with others filling in for a few minutes here and there. The top reserve is former starter Damier Pitts (5-10, 165 lbs.). The sophomore now spells Merthie after starting in place of him in 12 games this year. Pitts averages 10 points and has shot around 45 percent. He can hit the three, but isn't a major outside threat. He is another MU player with a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, and his game is very similar to Merthie's. There's not much of a dropoff, but also not much of an addition in scoring. He is the only true guard back-up used by Jones, though the head coach will roll in combo player Dago Pena (6-6, 220 lbs.), who usually mans the swing position. Pena, another Florida-based player, will step outside but primarily operates inside the arc. He played in 21 games last year before injuring his shoulder, and thus far this season has shown some shooting ability off the bench while averaging seven points. The trio of Antonio Haymon (6-6, 220 lbs.), Cam Miller (6-8, 210 lbs.) and Nigel Spikes (6-10, 220 lbs.) are all used at the three, four and five slots, though somewhat interchangeably. Haymon is a junior college transfer who plays about 13 minutes. He hits for five points and two rebounds per game. An above-average offensive rebounder, he can get key stick backs while stealing a few minutes. Miller, a Western Carolina transfer, and Spikes, a Prop 48 casualty last year, combine for about eight points and three rebounds. Both are shooting well, though it is primarily in clean-up time. They both average less than 10 minutes.


Marshall has the size, depth and coaching to compete with West Virginia. Their interior shooting, because of good size and some skill, has been exceptional. The Herd point guards allow teammates to get into the offense well and create good opportunities. The forwards are finishers, and the entire team is playing well together of late. WVU might have an edge in overall ability, but it will give up some size on the interior and in ball security almost across the board. Marshall has seen few teams possessing the length of the Mountaineers, and that should certain hinder the Herd on drives, finding passing lanes, getting good looks and rebounding. West Virginia, for its part, cannot assume that this is a game off to recover in the middle of a difficult stretch. It must match the effort MU is almost assured of showing, and it needs to get a body on the forwards and try to limit their influence on the boards. Neither team is exceptional from the outside or from the line, and that – along with the physicality and intensity usually present in the series – could combine for another 50-plus foul game that has little flow, no beauty and in which neither team showcases the best of itself. That has worked well for Marshall in the past, but it is not at a deficit in ability as great as in the past. This should be the best display of team talent seen in a Capital Classic in recent years. The game will essentially come down to which team makes shots, executes better on both ends and can withstand momentum swings and surges.


WVU: None.

MU: F Tirrell Baines (Knee), Doubtful.


WVU is 54-19 all-time at the Charleston Civic Center and 62-21 all-time in Charleston. It has won 45 of its last 52 non-Big East games.

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Nine of the last 11 Capital Classics have been decided by six points or less. Two have gone into overtime. A whopping 106 fouls were called in the last two series games, resulting in 129 free throws.

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WVU had won 27 games in a row when scoring more than 70 points. That streak was snapped by No. 5 Syracuse in the Mountaineers' last game. The Classic games have been noted for their rough-and-tumble play and typical scoring in the 50s, which has usually benefitted Marshall.

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Da'Sean Butler is eighth in all-time scoring at West Virginia. He needs four points to pass Lowes Moore for seventh place and 16 to pass Kevin Pittsnogle for seventh place.

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WVU is 14-4 in the series since it moved permanently to Charleston and has won 10 of 13 and the last three series games. Huggins is 3-0 against Marshall. Jones is 0-2 against West Virginia.

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