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Mountaineers haven't suffered Herd hangover

MORGANTOWN - Bob Huggins has no problem at all facing Marshall each year. In fact, had he had the opportunity, he would have loved to have played the Thundering Herd as a player at West Virginia.

He missed the game by a year, having finished his playing career in the winter of 1977, roughly a year before the two schools resumed a series that had been dormant for nearly half a century.

That doesn't mean, however, that Huggins is particularly enthralled about Wednesday night's annual matchup between the teams at the Charleston Civic Center. The timing just isn't right, and that has nothing to do with Marshall's four-game win streak or the Herd's 13-4 record.

"I think playing the Marshall game in the middle of the season is a disaster,'' Huggins said. "It doesn't help either team.''

Well, the fact is it seems to help Marshall even less, no matter who wins the annual grudge match.

West Virginia (13-5) interrupts its Big East schedule for Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. game. Marshall takes pause from its Conference USA slate. For each, it is the only non-conference game on their respective schedules over the final two months of the season.

WVU played its last non-conference game Dec. 23 and then began an 18-game Big East schedule. Marshall faced Akron on New Year's Day and then began its 16-game C-USA slate.

Once upon a time, this was a December institution. The first game after that nearly 50-year break was squeezed in during late February, but then between 1978 and 1992, the teams played before the New Year every season but one, usually on alternating home courts. But since then, the game has been in Charleston in the middle of each team's conference schedule in all but the 1996-97 season.

What Huggins and just about every other coach on either side of the matchup has lamented during those years when the game was placed in January (and occasionally February) is that it takes both teams out of the conference flow. Now, sometimes that can be a good thing if a team needs a break, but this game is anything but a break.

It is emotional, physical and usually exhausting. And there are repercussions.

"They won last year and then went and just got drilled the next game out,'' Huggins said. "It ought to be in the preseason. It should not be where it is.''

Well, Marshall didn't exactly get drilled the next game out, but indeed the Herd probably had a letdown, losing at home by a point to an East Carolina team that had lost six of its previous nine games.

And, in fact, the aftereffects of the WVU-MU game, if there are any, seem to weigh far more heavily on the Herd than the Mountaineers. Fact: In the last seven seasons, Marshall is a perfect 0-7 in the game that follows its matchup with WVU. West Virginia, meanwhile, has won five of its last six post-Marshall games and seven of its last nine.

It's not just a recent phenomenon, either. Marshall is 3-13 in its last 16 post-WVU games when the matchup was in the middle of the conference season. West Virginia used to suffer the same fate under Gale Catlett in the 1990s, but since John Beilein and then Huggins took over, WVU is 7-2 post-MU.

It's not always just the next game, either. Marshall won last year's game, 75-71, and then went 2-4 in its next six games. WVU lost, but went 3-1 in its next four games, the only loss a last-second defeat at Louisville.

There are other similar upticks and downturns. West Virginia's 2010 win over Marshall was the first of a six-game win streak, while MU, which was 15-2 until playing the Mountaineers, started a five-game losing streak.

In fact, win or lose the Herd has been generally awful after playing West Virginia. In 2009, a loss to WVU was the beginning of a 1-6 streak and in the two years prior to that, a loss to the Mountaineers was the beginning of these streaks: 1-4 in 2008 and 2-4 in 2007. And even when Marshall won in 2006 and 2005, the Herd followed those wins with runs of 1-4 in 2006 and 0-6 in 2005.

And in 2004 and 2003, Marshall followed a loss to West Virginia by winning one game and then promptly going 0-4 each year.

West Virginia, meanwhile, hasn't shown the same effects. Only twice, in 2005 and 2008, have the Mountaineers stumbled badly. After a win in 2008, the Mountaineers lost back-to-back home games to Georgetown and Cincinnati, and a 2005 loss was the first of a five-game losing skid. But in six of the last eight years, WVU has followed the Marshall game with winning streaks of 2, 3, 3, 4 and 6 games, and a 3-1 stretch.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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