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The 44th annual edition of the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic will feature #20 WVU (8-1) and Marshall (3-6). The current line for tonight’s match-up is WVU by 21. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU at 7 p.m. ET.

The Herd and the Mountaineers probably haven’t been this diverse in a while. Marshall has been firing on all cylinders offensively during its three-game win streak. Defensively, however, the Herd has been somewhat more of a second half team. WVU, on the other hand, tends to boast their top-notch press defense. They went into their game against ULM leading the nation in steals, 3-point percentage defense and forced turnovers. The only team that has successfully beaten their defense this year is Virginia. Offensively, Coach Bob Huggins is still looking for a little more consistency. “We’ve played well offensively at times and not so well at other times and I think that’s the one area that we need to kind of shore up, clean up, and become more consistent there,” Huggins said.

(WVU Athletics)
Devin Williams of West Virginia is a force on both ends of the floor. (WVU Athletics)

West Virginia is coming off of a 100-58 smashing of Louisiana-Monroe this past Sunday. Five Mountaineers found themselves in double-digits, with Devin Williams grabbing 10 rebounds for a double-double. Carter, Miles and Jaysean Paige each hit four 3’s in a game where the Mountaineers finished 15 of 36 behind the arc. They also managed to force 21 turnovers on the day. WVU is 5-0 at home with a 3-1 record at neutral sites. They have yet to play an actual road game. Tonight’s game will go in the 3-1 column.

Marshall, as mentioned before, is on a three-game win streak going into this one. They are coming off of a 92-73 victory over North Carolina Central. Ryan Taylor dropped a career-high 27 points as four Herd players reached double figures. Taylor had a few words regarding this years’ Capital Classic. “In-state rival, big game, ranked opponent,” he said. “We’re coming off of three straight. It doesn’t get any more exciting than that. The whole state will be watching.” James Kelly had 12 rebounds to give himself yet another double-double. Marshall’s 54.4% from the field was the best they have shot this season. The only bad conclusion from the night was that Marshall’s defense in the paint was weak and inconsistent. Jeremiah Ingram, NCCU’s big man, easily put up 21 points and 7 boards against the Herd. His presence was noticed all game long.

One thing that the Herd has going for them this time around is the amount of home-grown players on the team. Marshall outnumbers WVU about 6 to 2 in that area. By the end of the game the in-state stats may not matter, but it has definitely provided some extra motivation for some. For Marshall, Jon Elmore (George Washington High School), C.J. Burks (Hedgesville High), and Stevie Browning (Logan) will all be playing substantial roles against the Mountaineers. Elmore played his first game for the Herd this past Monday against North Carolina Central, where he scored 5 points on 2 of 6 shooting. His only three pointer of the night gave Marshall a 12 point lead with 14:52 remaining in the second half.

Austin Loop has been hot for the Herd. (HerdInsider)

Here’s a look at who and what will be game changers in tonight’s match-up:

  • Austin Loop – Loop is averaging 11 points per game this year, but has hit 14 three’s in his last two games. He’s 43% behind the arc on the year and will go down as one of the Herd’s greatest three-point shooters. Loop is on fire recently and has been a huge part of Marshall’s three-game win streak. Look for him to make a difference against the Mountaineers.
  • #PressVirginia – WVU’s well-known press has caused many teams big problems this season. The only opponent that was successful against the Mountaineers’ defense was nationally ranked Virginia. It has helped bring WVU to an average of 12 steals per game and is a huge factor in points off turnovers.
  • James Kelly vs. Devin Williams – I can only expect this to be the most important battle of the night for both teams. Both players have almost the same exact numbers coming into tonight’s game. Kelly and Williams are both putting up around 17 PPG and 9.8 RPG. The only noticeable difference is that Kelly averages three more minutes on the court, but even then the difference isn’t massive. Whoever wins the battle of the big men will most likely decide the winner of the game.
  • Free Throws – Every year it seems like the Capital Classic comes down to the last few minutes. Free throws have lost the Herd many games in the past decade. And yes, it’s been a problem for that long. This season, Marshall is 63.1% from behind the line. WVU sits around 68%. The free throw battle will play a huge factor in the closing minutes of the game, especially for whoever is in the lead. As this was probably an obvious factor, I must reiterate that it decides the outcome of this game almost every year.
  • Composure – Again, I feel repetitive when I say this, but this one is also a huge factor year in and year out. Towards the end of each game, Marshall and WVU tend to get a little chippy, and players get ejected. I can’t remember how many times the two teams lost key players with a few minutes to go because they couldn’t keep their composure. If I’m Huggins and D’Antoni, I’m preaching this one to my kids big time. The last thing either team would need is to put someone on the free throw line in the closing minutes and lose key players in the process.

WVU has won four straight meetings between the two teams and eight of the last nine. They are 32-11 overall in the series. The last time the Herd defeated the Mountaineers was back in 2011, 75-71, when WVU was ranked #21. Marshall will look to extend their win streak to four games.

Fun tidbit for fans: Marshall has faced an AP Top 25 WVU seven times and have gone 2-5 against those teams, so a win won’t be impossible in this one. “Obviously, we’re the underdog,” D’Antoni said Wednesday. “This little university down here in the southern part of the state playing that mammoth up there in the north. We just have to go out there and try the best we can. Like that little train on the tracks: I think we can, I think we can.”

This will without question be the Herd’s biggest test of the young season. They go on to play #6 Maryland on the 27th.

Casey covers Marshall Thundering Herd Basketball for MFST. You can find him on twitter @wxmozz

https://i0.wp.com/www.myfantasysportstalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/a-20.jpg?fit=934%2C486&ssl=1https://i0.wp.com/www.myfantasysportstalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/a-20.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Casey MosrieAnalysisBasketballBig 12Conference USANCAABNews and UpdatesRecent Postsbig 12 basketball,Big12,capital classic,conference usa,conference usa basketball,Marshall,marshall basketball,WVU,WVU basketballThe 44th annual edition of the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic will feature #20 WVU (8-1) and Marshall (3-6). The current line for tonight's match-up is WVU by 21. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU at 7 p.m. ET. The Herd and the Mountaineers probably haven't been this diverse in a while....Why go anywhere else for sports and entertainment?