WVU basketball: Rivalry with Marshall is always a tricky issue

SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 18: C.J. Burks
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 18: C.J. Burks /

The WVU basketball program has been in good shape for nearly two decades. As a thriving member of the Big 12, and formerly the Big East, the Mountaineers faced great competition.

Throughout those nearly 20 years, Marshall also seemed to be a main competitor. That series, known for many years as the Capital Classic, was shuttered in 2015.

It took a meeting in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for these teams to be reunited on the court again. It doesn’t seem like a future meeting is in the cards at all.

Some feel that’s how it should be. Others, mostly the Marshall faithful, are on the verge of demanding this game be played every year again. There really is no right or wrong answer in this instance.

It all matters how this game, or series, is perceived. It’s kind of a unique chain of command when certain teams see others as a rival. West Virginia and Marshall should actually be considered rivals because they are the only two Division I athletic programs in the state of West Virginia. Obviously, WVU carries much more weight on a national scale.

In the chain or command of regional rivalries, teams are always trying to look up to or look down on someone else. Let’s start with Penn State. Those in favor of Penn State do not really see Pitt as a rival, though Panther fanatics are always demanding to play each other. Pitt doesn’t fully see the Mountaineers as a rival, despite more than 100 years of history that suggest otherwise.

West Virginia fans hate Pitt more than anything else and rightfully feel that the Backyard Brawl should be played each year. That’s how Marshall fans feel about the Mountaineers, even though most WVU fans couldn’t care less about playing Marshall at all.

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There are some differences here because Marshall is not a Power 5 school, like Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia. But the arguments are pretty similar. Marshall has had success at various levels, mostly on the football field. But playing against the Mountaineers is always seen as a Super Bowl, as opposed to playing for and winning Division I-AA national titles in the 1990s.

Even Marshall’s best team with Randy Moss and Chad Pennington couldn’t beat the Mountaineers. Even Marshall’s best basketball team, with Jon Elmore and Jarrod West, couldn’t beat the WVU basketball team. Fans of the Thundering Herd feel they should be given that opportunity to take on the bigger school, WVU, up north. But that’s not how things work.

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins and Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni have traded some words in press conferences, according to Cincinnati.com. Huggins says there is an open invitation for the Thundering Herd to play the Mountaineers … in Morgantown. D’Antoni wants a more fair home-and-home series.

D’Antonio brings up the point about West Virginia playing smaller schools in the early part of the basketball season. That part is true. But, the Mountaineers never make the trip to play a small school on the road. They shouldn’t start with Marshall.

More on regional rivalries, Xavier plays Cincinnati each year and Duquesne plays Pitt. Those four programs, though, are on a more even field than Marshall will ever be with the WVU basketball team. One year of NCAA Tournament success does not make a program a national power, like the Mountaineers have become under Huggins.

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The debate will rage on for years, until the rivalry is on the court again. It’s bound to happen at some point, but both programs are in good spots without having to worry about each other.