MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins doesn't need a history lesson to understand his 21st-ranked Mountaineers will be a big target Wednesday night when West Virginia plays Marshall in the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic in Charleston.
He's been involved in three highly competitive games against the Thundering Herd, including a down-to-the-wire 66-64 victory in 2008.
But here is a little history lesson anyway.
In 2006, West Virginia, then coached by John Beilein, was ranked 12th in the country and went out to Pauley Pavilion to knock off 18th-ranked UCLA, 60-56, in a game televised nationally on CBS. Four days later in Charleston, Marshall stuck it right in West Virginia's ear, beating the Mountaineers, 58-52.
This year the circumstances are similar. West Virginia is coming off a big win against eighth-ranked Purdue, 68-64, in a national TV game that also aired on CBS.
Next up for West Virginia, you guessed it, Marshall. The difference is the Marshall team in '06 finished the year with a sub-.500 record (12-16) but Huggins doesn't see that happening in 2011, coach Tom Herrion's first in Huntington.
Despite a 77-61 loss at Memphis last Saturday, Marshall is still on track for a possible post-season bid with quality wins already over 15-3 James Madison and 12-3 Southern Miss.
Herrion has two really nice players starting in the backcourt in Damier Pitts (15.4 ppg.) and DeAndre Kane (15.1 ppg.), while also bringing junior Shaquille Johnson (10.9 ppg.) off the bench.
Kane is originally from Pittsburgh where he played at Schenley High with Dejuan Blair and D.J. Kennedy before going to The Patterson School.
"I think Kane has really helped them because he's a scorer," said Huggins. "He can make shots and Pitts had played really, really well since he came back. He got a lot of great experience as a freshman. I thought he was a good player coming out of Hargrave."
Sophomore forward Nigel Spikes is not nearly the player Hassan Whiteside was, Whiteside leaving school early for the NBA draft and is now playing in the NBA D-League, but Spikes (6-10) gives them some size in the paint.
Orlando Allen and Eladio Espinosa, also both 6-foot-10, provide quality minutes off the bench.
"They've got three really and two of them are transfers," said Huggins. "They're big, strong, physical guys. They're kind of what Pitt's done with their big people. They set a lot of screens. They rebound the ball offensively and they make it hard to score around the goal."
Senior forward Tirrell Baines, also from The Patterson School, is averaging 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Baines scored his 1,000th career point earlier this year against Savannah State.
"Baines is a really good player inside," Huggins said.
Herrion, who coached five seasons at College of Charleston where he compiled an 80-38 record, most recently spent three years on Jamie Dixon's staff at Pitt. Huggins says Herrion's teams are known for their half-court offense.
"Tommy has always been a half-court set guy," said Huggins. "Jamie has been playing defensively since he became a head coach and I think Tommy took a lot of that to Marshall. They run some things that they ran at Pitt before he got there; they're good sets."
Overall, Huggins says this year's backcourt is the best he's seen from Marshall in his three years playing the Herd.
"This is the best perimeter game they've had," he said. "I think Pitts and Kane are really good, Pena really shoots it and Johnson is a really good mid-range player. They bring a lot of versatility."
Tip off is set for approximately 8 p.m. following the WVU-Marshall women's game at 5:30 p.m. The Capital Classic Network (John Sanders and Frank Giardina) will televise the game statewide on WOWK (Charleston/Huntington), WVNS (Beckley), WBOY (Clarksburg), WTRF (Wheeling), WTAP (Parkersburg) and WJAL (Eastern Panhandle).
The game can also be seen on ESPN Full Court and ESPN3.com.
Notes: According to West Virginia sports information director Bryan Messerly's game notes, a total of 146 fouls have been called on both teams in the last three games with the two teams shooting a combined 175 free throws … Huggins was asked about the inordinate number of fouls being called and he isn't sure why, "I have no idea? The one game made national news, there were so many fouls called" … West Virginia has won four in a row after dropping its first two conference games of the year and Huggins is seeing improvement from his team, "We're passing the ball better; we're passing up shots to get better shots and we're probably throwing it closer a little bit more often and defensively, we're way better" … Junior forward Kevin Jones is now 41 points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career … Ten of the last 12 Capital Classic games have been decided by single-digit margins, including two overtimes … WVU is 73-13 in non-conference regular season games in the last seven years … the Mountaineers have won their last 36 games when they hold their opponents to less than 69 points … West Virginia is 15-4 against Marshall in the Capital Classic since the game has been played annually in Charleston.