MORGANTOWN - There are a lot of variables that play into the annual basketball game between West Virginia and Marshall at the Civic Center.
Right at the top is the legitimacy of a rivalry that does not really exist in the lopsided football series between the schools. The Herd has lost four in a row, but every game is competitive and Marshall won three of the five prior to the last four.
There is the sellout crowd, which generally seems pro-Mountaineers until Marshall begins to make some noise on the court. Then it can seem like the Henderson Center.
Shoot, there's even the last-cheerleader-standing (atop another's upraised hands) competition that one of these days is going to cut short by the end of a TV timeout.
It's all pretty engrossing stuff.
Here's something to watch for, though, between the lines when the teams meet Wednesday night at the Civic Center: free throws.
Increasingly they have become the difference between winning and losing - or at least in keeping games close.
This year, No. 21 West Virginia (12-4) holds a slight statistical edge over Marshall (12-5) going into Wednesday's 8 p.m. game. The Mountaineers are shooting 69.1 percent from the line this season compared to 67.1 percent for the Herd.
But Marshall holds an edge in the number of free throws the teams are being awarded. The Herd averages 27.7 attempts per game to WVU's 23.7 attempts.
And that might just be the key - which team gets to the line more. In all but one of the last five games between the teams, West Virginia has shot more free throws. And the one exception was 2008, when MU shot 33 to West Virginia's 28. That the Mountaineers made an awful 39.3 percent that night (11-of-28) was the main reason Marshall stayed close before losing 66-64.
In the last two years, West Virginia has averaged a whopping 35 free throws in this game to Marshall's 22.