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Expect foul play at Capital City Classic

MORGANTOWN - It was shortly after West Virginia had finished off its second beatdown of Rutgers in 11 days Saturday afternoon when Deniz Kilicli was reminded that he probably shouldn't feel like he can relax for a while now.

You want torturous? The teams played for nearly 21/2 hours (and it seemed like six), combined for 47 fouls and 61 free throws.

And by the time the Mountaineers finish their next game, that's likely to seem like an elegant ballet.

"Marshall's going to be tougher than these guys,'' Kilicli said.

Yes, and it's likely to be even harder to watch.

The annual Capital City Classic Wednesday night between West Virginia and Marshall has of late become fairly predictable. No, the winner isn't always a given, although since the series was anchored permanently in Charleston in 1992 the Mountaineers have won 15 of the 20 games. If the Herd wins this one, it would be only the third time in a 36-game series that technically dates back more than 80 years that Marshall has ever won back-to-back games.

No, the predictable part has less to do with who wins the game than how it is played and received by another Civic Center sellout. It will be physical (no question), probably sloppy (that physical nature having a lot to do with that) and emotionally charged. The masses will include a crowd that tilts heavily toward West Virginia, but can be easily drowned out if and when Marshall gets on a roll.

Oh, and there will be that really neat second-half timeout when big male cheerleaders hoist little female cheerleaders in the air and see which side has the last couple standing. I don't know why, but that's always intrigued me, I guess because I couldn't even hold my 3-year-old granddaughter in the air that long.

But almost as predictable will be the stoppages of play, and hopefully not because the Civic Center clocks aren't in sync (as was the case when WVU last played there in November) or because of a fire alarm evacuation (the 2002 WVU-MU game).

There will be whistles, and plenty of them.

A year ago, these teams combined for 64 fouls and 70 free throws (both perfectly divided at 32 fouls and 35 foul shots). In the last four seasons, they have averaged 47.5 fouls and 61.25 free throws. And that includes a rather tame 2010 game when only 20 fouls were called. Throw that one out and the other three games in those four years averaged 56.7 fouls and 66.3 foul shots.

Why? Well, you know why. It's just good, old-fashioned hatred.

"They're Marshall. That's all I know,'' Kilicli said. "They're a rival. That's the only thing you have to know. That's what they told me when I first came here. Pitt and Marshall. You don't like those guys. That's what they told me.''

And so West Virginia plays like they don't like the other guys. Hey, Marshall does, too, but at least statistically it's hard to argue that the physical nature of the game hasn't been ratcheted up since Bob Huggins arrived at WVU. John Beilein's teams were more finesse. Huggins? Well, not so much.

The numbers back it up, too. This wasn't always a foulfest. Beginning in 2000, the first eight games between these teams produced only two games in which the total fouls called eclipsed the mid-30s - 48 in 2001 and 43 in 2004. None of those games produced more than 39 free throws.

The free throws attempted in the last four years have been 61, 68, 46 and 70.

Now, you could also blame it on tight officiating, of course, but for the most part these are not throw-away referees who have worked these games. Perhaps they do get a bit caught up in the reputation the game has and have an inclination to call things close and try not to let it get out of hand, but if that's the case then usually just the opposite occurs.

No, the main reason is probably just the intensity and the desire to win. And because Marshall won a year ago, snapping a four-game WVU winning streak, don't expect the Mountaineers to come out with anything less than an aggressive approach.

"We still have last year's loss in the back of our minds,'' West Virginia's Kevin Jones said. "I know I do, Truck [Bryant] does, Turk [Kilicli] does. We know that they're a tough team and we're going to be ready for a fight.''

Unfortunately, if it does come down to a rugged fight and repeated trips to the foul line, well, that doesn't bode well for either team or fans of well-played basketball. And here's why:

West Virginia ranks 297th in Division I in free-throw shooting. And that's positively scorching compared to Marshall, which ranks No. 321. For the record, then, there are just 41 schools that shoot free throws worse than WVU and only 17 that throw up more bricks than the Herd.

Yes, this could get really ugly.

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

 


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