This evening, the West Virginia Mountaineers take their annual interlude from Big East conference play to square off against the Marshall Thundering Herd. While most Mountaineers would hate to admit to a rivalry against the little brothers from the southern part of the state, this game means a lot in the Mountain State. West Virginia dropped last year's contest to the Herd, and have only won six of the last 10 matchups. While the football version of this game can be pretty one-sided, the basketball version is often a tightly-contested grudgematch. Here's what's to watch for from the Civic Center tonight:
- How will the 'Eers fare against the Herd's big two? Don't look now, but Marshall sits atop Conference USA with a perfect 4-0 conference record. Marshall has had success this season relying primarily on the scoring of DeAndre Kane and the rebounding of Dennis Tinnon. A tall, rangy guard, Kane is bigger than anyone the Mountaineers will have to match up with him. Whether Truck Bryant, Jabarie Hinds, Keaton Miles or either of the Brown(e)s draw the assignment, keeping up with Kane will be a top priority for WVU. Down low, the Herd rely on Tinnon to haul in more than ten boards a game. Tinnon isn't particularly tall, but he plays with a tenacious physical style in the paint that could give Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones fits if they don't establish good position early.
- Who comes to play? To most of these kids, the idea of the WVU/Marshall game being a rivalry probably didn't cross their mind when they chose to come to Morgantown. That said, since this game often comes down to one or two possesions, it may be the moment for one of the young Mountaineers. Keaton Miles has slowly improved, while juco transfer Dominique Rutledge finds himself getting more and more court time. I expect a breakout performance from one of these two.
- Will the refs come to play? Unfortunately, the historical trend for the Capital Classic that can't be ignored is awful, awful officiating. If a normal college basketball game takes two hours, expect this one to take three. Both teams can expect to spend plenty of time at the line, a trend which benefits Marshall. For WVU to succeed in a gritty toughly contested and tightly officiated affair, the Mountaineers will have to hit their free throws. If they can do that, it shouldn't be a problem for the boys in gold and blue. If they struggle at the line, and spend most of the night there, this one could be ugly.
- That awful half-court logo. Look, I know I'm supposed to keep politics out of a sports blog, but the one thing that will be obvious to anyone who turns this one on for even just a minute will be the domination of the Friends of Coal logo at center court at the Civic Center. If by "center court" I mean "stretches from one three point line to the other". Keep politics out of my sports, and please keep lobbying groups off of my court decorations, that's all I'm asking.
Stay tuned to SBNation Pittsburgh and The Smoking Musket for more on the West Virginia Mountaineers.