WVU-Marshall: In-State Battle For A National Prize
SAN DIEGO — Outside the state, the game barely makes a ripple, even in the NCAA Tournament.
Evidence of that is found in the relegation of the contest to the worst of all possible timeslots — past 9:30 p.m. in the east on Sunday night, as well as an announcing crew and network that most people couldn’t identify with Google. But for West Virginians, it might not be topped by anything. WVU and Marshall, with a Sweet 16 berth as the prize. It trumps the bitter meetings of the recent past on both the gridiron and the hardcourt. And the Herd might have the emotional advantage.
Not because West Virginia doesn’t think the game is important, or because it will discount the Thundering Herd. After all, it’s the NCAAs. WVU, with the upset loss to Stephen F. Austin two years ago still a factor for many players, should know what happens when a team is overlooked. Still, Marshall has, for many years, held the West Virginia game as the highlight of its season, and after a two-year hiatus in meeting, will play every card in the disrespect deck as motivation.
MU believes that West Virginia is ducking it for a variety of reasons. Few of them hold water. (You can find the real reason the teams don’t play here.) As is all too common in today’s society, though, none of that matters. MU thinks it gets the short end of the stick, so when the teams meet on any field or court of competition, it results in a huge effort by the Herd.
Does West Virginia realize that? With just three players who have ever participated in a game against Marshall, probably not. (Lamont West, Beetle Bolden and Logan Routt were on the last team when the two last played in December of 2015, but all three were redshirts.) Will they understand that this goes beyond an NCAA game? That it will be like Purdue-Butler, which is another in-state NCAA match-up with built-in intensity?
Marshall head man Dan D’Antoni obviously thinks the game should be played. (“That’s my opinion. They have a different opinion. Life goes on.”) Mountaineer mentor Bob Huggins won’t discuss the particulars, but notes that it’s not a battle of long-term rivals.
“We are on one end of the state. They are on the other end of the state. We don’t really cross,” Huggins said. “From our standpoint, it’s not what, you want to make it out to be – Duke/North Carolina. It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”
Both coaches acknowledge there will be great interest in the game as it plays out.
“You have to understand our state,” Huggins said. “Doesn’t matter who we would be playing, there’s going to be almost everybody in West Virginia either watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio. That’s our state. We’re so different. We don’t have professional teams, and we really only have two major colleges.
“People rally around West Virginia,” added WVU’s 11th-year head coach. “It’s not just the people in the state. It’s the people who unfortunately had to leave the state to get a job to do other things. So it will be people in Texas. It will be people in New Jersey. It will be people in Georgia, a ton of people in Florida and they’re all going to tune in and watch it. But they do that all the time.”
So, without a doubt, a ton of West Virginians, both in state and expatriated, will be watching. But does that overhanging specter of disrespect give an advantage to Marshall? A look at one of D’Antoni’s comments provides a hint.
“We’re a Division I school. You gotta treat us like one,” he said in response to a query about negotiating anything other than a home-and-home series. Since that isn’t happening, does he use that for motivation? Herd players were careful not to mention anything of the sort in their press availability, but history suggests it’s a motivator.
Is it important for WVU to stress those fueling factors? Huggins may try to relay some of it, but messages of that sort rarely get through. In all likelihood, WVU will be expecting a strong effort, like it received from Murray State. But it won’t anticipate that extra edge that Marshall’s players, especially those who hail from within the state, will bring. West Virginia’s Jevon Carter sums up the Mountaineers’ approach, and it’s one that ignores the disrespect angle.
“[It doesn’t] matter,” he said of the fact that WVU will now face the Herd after a two-year hiatus. “This is March. We’re here to win a National Championship. It’s just happens that we just matched up against Marshall. It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re going to come to play and do our best and get a win.”
Whether that’s enough won’t be known until the clock approaches midnight on Sunday night.