MORGANTOWN - After dropping three of its last five contests and dropping out of the Associated Press Top 10 for the first time this season, No. 11 West Virginia (13-3, 4-2 Big East) plays its final two non-conference contests of the season beginning Wednesday night at the Charleston Civic Center against instate rival Marshall University (15-2, 4-0 C-USA).
In what has become known as the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic, the Mountain State's only two NCAA Division I programs will battle for state supremacy with the game's 9 p.m. tipoff.
Prior to the 22nd meeting between the two mens' squad, No. 16 WVU women (17-1, 5-0 Big East) will take on the Thundering Herd (11-6, 3-2 C-USA) at 6:30.
West Virginia has controlled the series of late, winning the last three men's contests as well as the last four on the women's side. However, the wins haven't come easily as evidenced by last year's 87-76 win for the men and the women's nine-point, 74-65, triumph.
The Mountaineers are coming off a disappointing, 72-71, setback at the hands of the No. 5 Orange from Syracuse. A game which saw the old gold and blue shoot a horrendous 32.3 percent (10 of 31) in the first half, but only trail by one, 26-25, thanks to a late triple by sophomore point guard Darryl 'Truck' Bryant.
"I'm just trying to run my team," Bryant explained in an interview with MSNSportsNet.com. "Before, I wasn't doing the things my team needed me to do."
That has apparently changed as the New York-native topped the Mountaineers in scoring with 18 points while dishing out three assists against the Orange.
Numbers which are good, but not good enough to keep WVU among the nation's elite.
"That's because people on my team, including myself, are taking plays off," added the sophomore.
Something the Mountaineers can ill afford to due on Wednesday if they want to continue their domination over Marshall. Especially, when one looks at the history of the short-lived series.
West Virgnia holds a 16-5 edge in the series, which restarted in 1989. But Marshall has captured two of the last five contests-three of the last eight-and lost by two, 66-64, in 2008 and by four in 2004 (55-51) and 2003 (65-61).
The Mountaineers will go with its normal lineup of senior Da'Sean Butler, who leads the team with a 15.8 points per game average, and Bryant (10.3) at the guards with senior Wellington Smith (4.8 ppg) and sophomores Kevin Jones (15.1, 7.7 rpg), and Devin Ebanks (12.1, 8.1 rpg) at the forwards.
Marshall will counter with senior Tyler Wilkerson (12.6 ppg) and freshman Hassan Whiteside (12.5) at the forwards with the guard slots held down by seniors Chris Lutz (7.8) and Darryl Merthie (4.8) and sophomore Shaquelle Johnson (12.1). Also look for juniors Tirrell Baines (6.5) and Antonio Haymon (5.1) and sophomores Damier Pitts (10.1), Dago Pena (7.0), Cam Miller (4.5) and Nigel Spikes (3.3) to possibly break into the Herd's starting lineup.
For the Mountaineers freshman Dalton Pepper is coming off a career-high 15 points against Syracuse and should see immediate action-especially if the Thundering Herd look to pack it in against the Mountaineers. Also look for senior Joe Mazzulla (1.9 ppg) as well as Casey Mitchell (5.6), John Flowers (3.9), Jonnie West (2.5), Dan Jennings (2.2) and Cam Thoroughman (1.0) to see action.
West Virginia closes out the non-conference portion of its regular season schedule with a home clash with Ohio State on Saturday.