Bob Huggins doesn't seem to be a big fan of Marshall coach Dan D'Antoni. The West Virginia coach despises the annual Capital Classic between the schools even more.
Despite that disdain, Huggins must have the No. 20 Mountaineers prepared to continue their dominance in the series Thursday night in Charleston.
West Virginia (8-1) has won four straight and eight of nine against Marshall, which is 5-19 in this annual rivalry game since it moved permanently to the state's capital in 1991-92. After the Mountaineers pulled out a 69-66 victory last year despite allowing the Thundering Herd to shoot 50.0 percent, D'Antoni voiced his opinion on the future of the series.
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“I've heard suggestions for a home-and-home,” D'Antoni said afterward. “Here's what I think: Morgantown, Charleston, and the next year, Charleston, Huntington. It's good for the state.
“If they back out now, they're afraid of us.”
That comment prompted Huggins to mock D'Antoni on his next weekly radio show.
“I probably coached a thousand games. And now I'm scared. Scared to play Marshall,” Huggins said last year. “The whole thing's comical.”
Never a fan of this annual matchup, Huggins quickly blew by the topic when asked this week if he's spoken with D'Antoni since last year's contest.
“No. I haven't seen him,” Huggins said.
Undefeated since opening with six straight losses, Marshall (3-6) seems to view this contest as perhaps the state's most important basketball game each year.
“This game is for the state,” D'Antoni said. “We need to respect them, but then we want to compete. This game is what makes the next Jerry Wests, Hal Greers, Rob Thorns, and Mike D'Antonis. It is the one that excites the kids in this state.”
The focus in Morgantown appears to be more on cooling off the Herd and posting a second consecutive 9-1 start. West Virginia rebounded from its 70-54 loss to then-No. 10 Virginia by rolling to a 100-58 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Sunday.
The Mountaineers are the nation's top team in defensive 3-point percentage (22.4) and average forced turnovers (22.7). While giving up 59.0 points per game, they're averaging 85.9 despite shooting 30.1 percent from beyond the arc.
“I think we've done a pretty good job with our full-court pressure, but we need to be more consistent offensively,” Huggins said. “We've played well offensively at times and not so well at other times and I think that's the one area that we need to kind of shore up, clean up and become more consistent there.”
Jevon Carter, who scored 14 against Marshall last season, averaged 8.0 points on 28.8 percent shooting in the previous six games before scoring 21 and hitting 7 of 14 on Sunday. Devin Williams (17.0 points, 9.8 rebounds per game) recorded his sixth double-double of the season.
Both could be in for big games against Marshall, which allows an average of 82.9 points on 47.0 percent shooting. The Herd, however, have averaged 88.5 points in the last four games and shot 51.5 percent during the three-game win streak. They shot 38.8 percent in the first six contests.
While Austin Loop has keyed the past two wins with a combined 46 points and 14 3-pointers, Marshall is paced by Miami transfer James Kelly (16.4 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and Ryan Taylor (16.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Taylor had 11 points against West Virginia last season but committed seven of Marshall's 24 turnovers.
“I think we're playing good basketball,” Taylor said. “Everyone is ready to play in Charleston.”