MCGILL: Sweet 16 Awaits Winner of Marshall-WVU Clash
The Word on the Herd -- March 17, 2018
By Chuck McGill
SAN DIEGO – The list of teams that have reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed is short: Bradley, La Salle, Ohio, Oklahoma, Richmond and Valparaiso.
The rare or unprecedented has been a theme this season for the Marshall men’s basketball team, and that will not change Sunday night when the Thundering Herd and in-state brethren West Virginia meet here at Viejas Arena in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Tip time is 9:40 p.m., Eastern and 6:40 p.m., in San Diego State University’s on-campus arena.
It is the first time the Mountain State’s only two Division I hoops programs have met outside of their home state.
“We have done a lot of stuff that hasn’t been done in a long time, but we want to keep winning,” Elmore said. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win a national championship. That’s hard and only one team does it, but that’s what we strive for and that’s what we are expecting out of this run and we’re going to take it one game at a time and see what happens.”
The Mountaineers and Herd have identical 25-10 records, but not much else is similar. WVU’s head coach, Bob Huggins, has won 844 games and coached in 24 NCAA tournaments. This is the first Big Dance for MU head coach Dan D’Antoni, who has 73 career victories. The Mountaineers are a pressing, physical team. The Herd relies on spacing and quick perimeter shots.
“The game’s going to be won how we defend the paint,” D’Antoni said. “They stay tight … going to have try to do the best we can in that area and use our strengths to be better at what we do as opposed to what they do. We’re not going to stop everything.”
West Virginia and Marshall have a long history on the hardwood. From 1977-78 until 2015-16, the teams played every year. WVU holds a 33-11 series lead and has won five straight.
“We’re familiar with West Virginia people,” D’Antoni said. “Now, do I want to beat them? Does it give me a special little feeling? Yeah. That’s good. There’s nothing wrong with it. That’s what makes it fun.”
There are a combined 11 West Virginians on the rosters of WVU and Marshall, including eight who play for the Herd. All three of MU’s guards – Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks and Jarrod West – are Mountain State products. WVU sophomores Chase Harler (Moundsville, West Virginia) and Logan Routt (Cameron, West Virginia) regularly play for the Mountaineers.
“I’m going to recruit West Virginians,” D’Antoni said. “I think that’s the way college basketball ought to be. I think that’s what it is. You are representing your state and if you’re not looking at your state first, that’s a mistake. I think I can find kids who I can coach up if they’re willing to be coached. I think I can get ‘em to a level that they can compete against anybody.”
Until this season, Marshall had never won at least 20 games overall, at least 12 conference games and defeated a ranked team in the same season. The Herd defeated its first ranked conference opponent on the road (Middle Tennessee) and beat a pair of ranked teams (MT and Wichita State) in the same season for the first time in program history. Friday’s 81-75 win against the Shockers was Marshall’s first NCAA tournament win in six trips to the event.
West Virginia offers the Herd a chance to defeat a ranked team for the third time in 15 days, and reach the Sweet 16 in Boston, where No. 1 seed Villanova would await next Friday.
Until game time, D’Antoni says he will stay focused on the Herd, not the national attention on the state of West Virginia or the old rival Marshall that is no longer on the schedule on an annual basis.
“I’m not going to worry about West Virginia,” D’Antoni said. “They got a great ball club and they should be proud of who they are. We got a great ball club. I don’t know who is going to win. We’ll find out.”