Boards and whistles
MORGANTOWN - There are two things above all else that Bob Huggins prides himself in being able to teach his teams to do, whether they were teams at West Virginia, Kansas State, Cincinnati or as far back as stops at Akron and Walsh.
His teams play relentless defense and they rebound the basketball, and he admires opponents who do the same.
Needless to say, the West Virginia coach was impressed when first he switched on video of the Marshall team his Mountaineers face in tonight's Capital Classic. The Herd can play some solid defense, but it is MU's rebounding that really stands out.
"They're a great rebounding team. They're probably the best that we've seen to this point,'' Huggins said Tuesday before practicing and then heading to Charleston for tonight's 7:30 game at the Civic Center. "It's kind of like what I say to our guys all the time: If you get there you're probably going to get some. If you don't ever get there you probably won't get any. They get there all the time.''
True, more will tell the tale tonight than just an ability to grab missed shots. In an emotionally charged series where momentum can seem to shift for no apparent reason, the difference could be a lot of things. In the last four games between the teams there have been 190 fouls called and 245 free throws taken, so that might be a good place to start.
Still, these are also two teams that tend not to shoot the lights out on a regular basis, and especially not against each other. So controlling those misses could be even more important than it normally is.
"This might be the best rebounding team we've ever played against,'' West Virginia guard Truck Bryant said of the Herd.
Indeed, Marshall ranks first in the country in rebounding margin and first in offensive rebounding.
Marshall's leader is 6-foot-8, 225-pound junior college transfer Dennis Tinnon, who averages just a tick under a double-double at 9.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. He led all junior college players in rebounding a year ago. Center Robert Goff, at 6-9 and 240 pounds, can clog up the middle, too. And even MU's guards rebound the ball, including the 5.9 per game from leading scorer DeAndre Kane.
"Tinnon's got great bounce,'' Huggins said. "He's got great bounce, a great second bounce and he's also got a big body and great hands. But they can all get to the ball and they all do.''
West Virginia, though, is no rebounding slouch, ranking second in the Big East. Senior forward Kevin Jones leads the league in both scoring (20.1) and rebounding (11.6) and is fourth in the country in rebounding. Between the 6-8, 260-pound Jones and 6-9, 260-pound Deniz Kilicli, the Mountaineers have some muscle of their own.
Of course, in this series one of the keys is keeping that muscle - as well as everyone else - on the floor. A year ago each team was whistled for 32 fouls and shot 35 free throws in Marshall's 75-71 win. Two years before that the teams combined to shoot 68 free throws and the year before that 61.
Huggins hopes that's not the case again tonight.
"Obviously you have to call fouls,'' Huggins said. "You have to call fouls when fouls are there, but you don't have to take it to extremes. But go back and look at the tape [of last year's game]. There were a lot of fouls.
"You hope that if we foul a lot they call a lot of fouls on us, and if they foul a lot they call a lot of fouls on them. And you hope they don't, at the end of the day, look and try to make it even. Call the fouls that are there.''
No matter how the game is called, though, it is likely to be close. For one of the rare times in the series, the teams are both playing pretty well and ranked in the Top 35 of the RPI. But even when the teams don't seem to be close on paper they tend to play close games. Of the last 13, 11 have been decided by single digits and two went to overtime.
"It's hard [for either team to pull away] when you have that much emotion involved,'' Huggins said. "And, honestly, when there's so many fouls called in four years it's hard to get any flow.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.