IF ONE were to figure the Q score, which measures popularity, of the two coaches involved in tonight's Capital Classic game, it would be off the proverbial charts.West Virginia's Bob Huggins is already one of the most beloved figures in Mountaineer sports history. Marshall's Tom Herrion has been given a full embrace by Thundering Herd fans.When the teams tip off at 7:30, though, one can forget the Q's. This will be about O and D.Quite simply, this should be the best game in recent memory in regard to talent on display. It's not a stretch to say there might be more high-quality athletes in this game than ever in the series' history.The hope is the officials will allow the talent to shine. Odds are, though, this will be a grinder, a game in which the teams finish with scores in the low 70s.Should be fun. Both coaches insist on rugged, man-to-man defense and neither team backs down. There's not a lot of gambling in areas like wing passes, etc. Just hard-nosed hoops.Let's look, as we do every year, at the matchups.WVU's Truck Bryant vs. MU's Damier Pitts - These two have been at each other since they were freshmen, and this is their last go-round. As always, it will be Pitts' quickness and speed against Bryant's physical nature. Last year, Pitts got the best of the matchup with 25 points to Bryant's 10. The latter, however, has stepped up his scoring and is averaging 17.8 points to the former's 13.4. Edge: none.MU's Shaquille Johnson vs. WVU's Jabarie Hinds - Hinds better eat his Wheaties. The 5-foot-11 freshman will be going against the 6-3, 205-pound senior in Johnson, who will be the strongest guard on the floor. Don't misunderstand, Hinds is strong for a freshman. He'll be special. He already does a nice job of pushing the ball. This matchup, however, is more about the streaky Johnson. If he's hitting from the outside, he's a problem for WVU. If not, he's simply a defender, a la the Mountaineers' Keaton Miles. Edge: Marshall.WVU's Miles vs. MU's DeAndre Kane - Every time Kane steps on the floor he has the potential to be the game's best player. He's versatile. He can handle the ball. He can guard three positions. At 6-4 he can post up smaller guards, and he's fast enough to drive by bigger ones. Where Miles, primarily a defender to this point, can affect the game, though, is by affecting Kane's emotions. The Thundering Herd guard has trouble keeping those in check. Edge: Marshall.
MU's Dennis Tinnon vs. WVU's Kevin Jones - Terrific matchup of two of the nation's top 10 rebounders. Tinnon is averaging 9.9 points and has some lateral quickness to guard Jones, but the Mountaineer has rounded into an NBA prospect with his strength, smarts, maturity and inside-outside ability. He'll get his points against the 6-8 Tinnon. Edge: WVU.WVU's Deniz Kilicli vs. MU's Robert Goff - This will be most interesting to watch. Marshall's Goff, 6-9, 240 pounds, is a high-energy guy. He has length and can defend. Kilicli, 6-9, 260, is a strong player who has exhibited energy himself of late. Also, when engaged offensively, he's a weapon, whether it be with the baby hooks, 12-footers or dunks. Edge: WVU.
In sum, West Virginia will probably enter the game as a 4-point favorite. But the view from here is Marshall should have the advantage. WVU has the clear advantage in the frontcourt, but Marshall is better in the backcourt.Go ahead and give the Mountaineers the coaching advantage. (Will Huggins allow his team to lose consecutive games to Marshall?) But perhaps more important is the Thundering Herd's advantage in depth.Off the bench, WVU's Gary Browne has been very impressive at times. Aaron Brown has shown flashes. But MU can counter with a convoy of talented reserves: Dago Pena, Justin Coleman, 6-10 Nigel Spikes and 6-8 Jamir Hanner. Then there's that 7-2 Yous Mbao guy.
WVU was the favorite last season and MU won. Despite the odds, Marshall should be the favorite this season and West Virginia can win. The Mountaineers have the edge in the frontcourt and coaching; the Herd in the backcourt and bench.In the end, though, this might boil down to a rebounding battle. Both teams crash the glass. The winner will take all.This season, expect that winner to be Marshall. The call: 73-68.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.