MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - As a general rule, by the time West Virginia has approached its annual game with Marshall under Bob Huggins, the Mountaineers have already accomplished a lot.
They have usually completed a largely successful non-conference schedule, are well into the meat of their conference slate and have the incentive to earn yet another notch in their collective belt where NCAA resumes are concerned.
Not so this time. Not on any of those counts.
In fact, when the teams meet tonight at the Charleston Civic Center, West Virginia finds itself in almost desperate straits. The Mountaineers don't need a win to pad a resume, they need one just to get a resume started.
"We need to win games,'' Huggins said rather succinctly. "I don't think there's any doubt about that.''
The teams meet at 7:30 p.m., playing at the Civic Center for the 22nd consecutive year. The game will be televised throughout the state on the Capital Classic Network (WOWK in Charleston).
Marshall (5-3) has won three in a row, while West Virginia is just 2-3.
West Virginia holds a commanding 29-11 lead in the series, 16-5 since it was anchored in Charleston in 1992. The Mountaineers have won 12 of the last 16 and five of the last six, but 11 of the last 14 have been decided by single digits. Two of those games went to overtime.
For the first time since 1996 and only the second time since the series moved to Charleston, the game won't be played in the middle of the teams' conference schedules. It was moved from its traditional January spot because WVU couldn't work both it and a previously contracted non-conference game with Purdue into its new Big 12 schedule.
Therein lies one reason the game is so important to West Virginia this time around. It's always significant because of the nature of the rivalry, but in years past the Mountaineers could usually pass it off as just another in a long line of difficult tests.