(13) Marshall (25-10) at (5) West Virginia (25-10), Sunday, 9:40 p.m. Eastern, TBS
How they got here: Marshall won the Conference USA Tournament to claim the league’s automatic berth. West Virginia was an at-large selection for the NCAA Tournament.
Tournament results: Marshall — def. Wichita State, 81-75 (round of 64); West Virginia — def. Murray State, 85-68 (round of 64).
Expected starters and head coach
Marshall — G Jon Elmore (22.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.9 apg), G Jarrod West (7.9 ppg, 2.9apg), G C.J. Burks (20.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg), F Jannson Williams (5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg), F Ajdin Penava (15.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg). Head coach — Dan D’Antoni (72-62 overall and at Marshall).
West Virginia — F Esa Ahmad (10.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg), F Wesley Harris (5.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), F Sagaba Konate (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.3 bpg), G Daxter Miles Jr. (13.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg), G Jevon Carter (17 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.6 apg). Head coach — Bob Huggins (844-340 overall, 254-129 at West Virginia).
About Marshall: Marshall’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament is its first in 31 years, with the last appearance coming in 1987. The Thundering Herd’s win over Wichita State was its first NCAA Tournament win in five appearances. Against the Shockers, Marshall turned to its driving force, Elmore, the Conference USA Tournament MVP, to get them over the hump. Elmore scored 27 points, including four 3-pointers and an 11-for-15 clip at the free-throw line, to lead four Marshall players in double figures. Penava turned in a quality game (16 points, 8 rebounds) before fouling out, while Williams scored 10 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. Burks added 13 points. Marshall’s top bench option, Rondale Watson, was relatively ineffective, scoring just 4 points in 13 minutes. The Thundering Herd have been on a hot streak since the start of February, going 10-3. D’Antoni, the former Marshall point guard who took over as head coach four years ago, is the older brother of current Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. Sunday’s game will mark their first meeting with a Big 12 team this season and their first meeting with West Virginia since Dec. 17, 2015, a West Virginia victory.
About West Virginia: The Mountaineers are seeking to reach the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in their last 12 NCAA Tournament appearances. Carter played like a man on a mission against Murray State, scoring 21 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists. In addition, he showed why he might just win the nation’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018 by claiming six steals and limiting Marshall’s talented guard, Jonathan Stark, to 9 points. The Mountaineers were up by nine at halftime and remained in control of the game in the second half. Konate had a fine game with 14 points and 7 rebounds, freshman Teddy Allen exploded for 16 points off the bench and Ahmad added 12 points and 6 rebounds. Given the long cross-country trip for the first weekend of the tournament, right after losing to Kansas in the Big 12 title game, this was the perfect start for the Mountaineers. They shot 50 percent for the game and forced 16 Racers turnovers.
Prediction: Marshall and West Virginia will be jacked up for this one, that’s for certain. The Thundering Herd will be especially into it, as they haven’t beaten West Virginia since 2011 (WVU is 33-11 all-time against Marshall). There’s also this undercurrent of disrespect because WVU isn’t playing Marshall every year anymore, which is the kind of stuff underdog coaches like D’Antoni just love to play up in these situations (at one point D’Antoni said WVU was scared to play Marshall, upon which Huggins took the time to point out Marshall’s RPI ranking). Look, Marshall has a really good team. The matchup between Elmore and Carter will be one of the big keys in this one. Elmore is the only player in the country averaging at least 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game. Carter is the game’s top perimeter defender and is on a hot streak offensively, too. The other big matchup here is Konate and Penava in the pivot, and I think that’s a matchup Konate can win. If WVU wins those two matchups, the rest comes down to depth, and the Mountaineers have more than the Thundering Herd at this point. I expect this to come down to the wire, but I expect West Virginia to move on to the Sweet 16.
Next up: The winner faces either Villanova next Friday in Boston in the Sweet 16.