The Mountaineers take on in-state neighbors the Thundering Herd of Marshall in Sunday night’s round of 32; looking to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in this year’s March Madness tournament. The Mountaineers have not played the Herd in several years and Sunday night’s game sets the two teams up not just for in-state pride but the coveted trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
There are likely students, and players, at West Virginia who do not quite understand what playing Marshall means simply because they did not grow up with the ‘rivalry.’ This weekend, the Mountaineers look to West Virginia native Logan Routt to learn a little more about that team in green from Huntington.
Routt was asked about playing in Sunday night’s game and it sounds as if he’s taking on the role of introducing the Mountaineers to more West Virginians playing hoops. “Some of the guys played in the game in Charleston my freshman year. I’m just going to say West Virginia kids play hard just like me,” Routt said. “Most of them are from West Virginia so they are going to play hard, play tough, make all the effort plays.”
Routt also pointed out that it’s not just the in-state bragging rights between two teams who are not regularly scheduled to play each other. This game Sunday night simply means more. It’s one more chance to take Dax and JC further into March play. Logan Routt knows this game is going to be big for the Mountaineers.
“It’s an in-state rivalry. It’s always going to be, no matter any sport, any level. An in-state rivalry in any level of sport is always going to be crazy. It’s March Madness, the second round, it’s going to be more.”
It’s clear the Cameron, West Virginia native is ready to help his team punch the ticket to the Sweet Sixteen. What is also abundantly clear is that West Virginia native and head coach Bob Huggins is well aware of what is at stake for his team, while at the same time he will not allow this game to be made into something bigger than it is in terms of ‘rivalry.’
“One of us is going to win. One of us is going to lose. One of us is going to keep playing. The other one isn’t. We are on one end of the state. They are on the other end of the state. We don’t really cross. From our standpoint, it’s not what you want to make it out to be Duke/ North Carolina. It’s not that at all,” Coach Huggins remarked.
Anyone who has remotely followed Coach Huggins and his coaching career at West Virginia knows that at the end of the day, the coach is not concerned or scared of who his team is playing and he just wants them to simply play. Play to win. Play to advance. That desire to win could not be further from the truth this weekend as the Mountaineers prepare to take on the Herd late Sunday night.
Coach Huggins is however, acutely aware of what this means for West Virginians in West Virginia, and those who have left home. Huggins knows firsthand what it’s like to leave West Virginia, but still be a West Virginian at heart, before making their way back home.
“. . . You have to understand our state. Doesn’t matter who we would be playing there’s going to be almost everybody in West Virginia either watching it on tv, listening to it on the radio. That’s our state. We’re so different. We don’t have professional teams and we really only have the two major colleges,” Huggins said. “People rally around West Virginia. It’s not just the people in the state . It’s the people who unfortunately had to leave the state to get a job, to do other things. So it will be people in Texas. It will be people in New Jersey. It will be people in Georgia, a ton of people in Florida and they’re all going to tune in and watch it. But they do that all the time. That’s their San Diego Chargers, they’re not here anymore are they? Padres, scratch that Chargers thing, Padres. That’s what we are. We are a flagship for the state”
Whatever happens Sunday night, these two teams will be on a national platform making their state proud. The Mountaineers have the girt and determination to continue on, for their state, for their coach for their brothers and hopefully that is enough for them to bring home the victory.