Game might get ugly, but here's a call
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Tuesday, I saw a video of DMX singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
It made me wonder. Which might be worse: the rapper's rendition or tonight's WVU-Marshall basketball game at Charleston's Civic Center?
The Thundering Herd has fallen to South Dakota State and Hofstra this season. It's coming off back-to-back three-point victories over Morehead State and UNC-Wilmington.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, have fallen to Davidson. Their lone victories are over Marist and VMI.
Out of 345 NCAA Division I teams, Marshall is No. 268 in scoring defense through Sunday's games, allowing 71.6 points per game, while West Virginia is No. 201, allowing 67.4.
In field goal percentage, MU is No. 120 (44.8 percent) to WVU's 253 (41.2). In 3-point field goal percentage, MU is No. 207, while WVU is somewhere below No. 265 at 23.5 percent. The NCAA requires teams make a minimum of five per game to show up in those rankings. Not kidding.
Then I remembered the electric atmosphere that always accompanies this game at this venue. I remembered the way the contests are almost always tight. I remembered that who-can-hold-the-cheerleaders-up-longest showdown.
It spurred me to again break this sucker down.
My gut says the two teams will swap their usual identities. Marshall, rather than WVU, will try to make this a physical, half-court game, while the Mountaineers will try to push the ball and put pressure on the guards.
The key: rebounding. When Marshall is superior on the boards, it usually wins. The Herd has seven players 6-foot-8 or taller.
I expect WVU to counter by playing small. When Mountaineer big men Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray are on the court together, defensive trouble ensues. Opponents' big men have had success offensively.
So let's assume Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins starts Juwan Staten, Jabarie Hinds, Keaton Miles, Terry Henderson and Murray, and break this down.
If he's on, though, WVU could be in trouble. Kane has a height advantage (6-4 to Staten's 6-1) and will look to post up the Mountaineer.
It's a contrast in styles. Kane plays hard, can pass - he might be MU's only pure passer - but isn't a true point guard. Staten, meanwhile, is a strong, true point guard with speed and a better handle on the ball. On offense, Staten will try to penetrate. On defense, he'll pressure you like mad.
Scarver, though, has converted just 35 of 88 (39.8 percent) of his field goal attempts. Hinds has taken less than half as many shots (41), but has at least hit 43.9 percent.
Again, a contrast. Hinds is a slasher with more speed than Scarver. The Mountaineer will try to get by MU's guard on offense and hope to pester with quickness on defense. Scarver is not a great defender.
Pittman is Marshall's No. 2 scoring threat. He's long, athletic and runs the floor well. At 6-9, he's explosive to the rim, yet is a decent 3-point shooter, hitting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.
It will be a tough defensive assignment for WVU's 6-3 freshman. Yet Pittman will also have to go out and guard Henderson on the perimeter. The Mountaineer is a bouncy, athletic player who seems to be his team's best outside threat. His inexperience, however, could hurt in such an intense environment.
And understand this: West Virginia will absolutely have to guard 6-8 Tinnon, who can pick and pop. The Thundering Herd senior is strong, runs well in transition and rebounds well on both ends of the floor.
Miles, though, has an advantage with his quickness and has been playing more confidently of late. He's second on WVU's team in steals and has a wingspan that could prove troublesome to Tinnon.
Spikes, a senior, presents a strong body who can face you up. Murray can't afford to let the Thundering Herd player get deep in the post position.
Murray, meanwhile, is a long junior who can run and bother shots around the rim. He has a nice, soft shot and will force Spikes to go out and guard him, which should prove interesting.
BENCHES - Marshall will get some bench help from guard Chris Martin and 6-8 Jamir Hanner, who has shown some offensive prowess of late, but WVU's main concern will be 6-9 Robert Goff, who apparently is recovered from a concussion.
The Thundering Herd, meanwhile, might have to deal with a bevy of WVU reserves that could include 6-9 Kilicli, a powerful, yet foul-prone center. Huggins will have Gary Browne, Matt Humphrey, Dom Rutledge, Aaron Brown and Eron Harris at his disposal.
Trying to make a call on this game is almost folly. It should be ugly. It should be tight. It might be a foul-a-palooza.
But if DMX can sing "Rudolph," I can make a call.
In the end, West Virginia wears down Marshall and wins 67-63.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.