By Luke Wiggs, Panhandle News Network Sports
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The dominos finally fell into place to allow the alumni teams of the state’s two biggest collegiate institutions to do battle in TBT. While fans in both camps will refuse to admit it, they each cheered for their bitter rivals, in secret or even out loud in the Charleston Coliseum, to put into motion this long overdue matchup. While Marshall’s alumni struggled to secure their place in the second round, Best Virginia made short work of their first-round foes, but despite this, everyone knows that this won’t be an easy matchup for either side when Tuesday comes around in front of a partisan crowd. Let’s talk about how we got here and how these two sides match up in preparation for this Mountain state only affair.
HOW WE GOT HERE
Herd That 77-71 Founding Fathers
Herd That had a fight on their hands in their first-round victory against the James Madison alumni. Despite the theatrics and nerving end, it showed more positives than negatives to me about this former Marshall side. Namely, Jon Elmore, who scored 49 points in 2 games last TBT, was held to just 7 in this first-round victory. Positive? You may ask, to that I say the fact that Herd That proved they could win without their star playing at peak performance means this truly is the best edition of this team we’ve seen yet. Not to mention, Elmore is never one to have two bad games in a row meaning Best Virginia should be prepared to handle his best.
Best Virginia 75-45 Virginia Dream
It was a much more comfortable win in the first round for Best Virginia. Though it was a tale of two halves. Still getting to know each other, Best Virginia’s rotations both on the court, and from head coach James Long, looked off leading to a poor shooting performance over the first 18 minutes. However, cooler heads prevailed, as did the better team, as Best Virginia dismantled their neighboring state, outscoring them 25-6 in the 3rd quarter. Best Virginia proved they could succeed without a traditional facilitator or big man, proved they had enough floor spacing and proved that role players like Jermaine Haley and Deangelo Hunter could make the most out of their limited minutes. Only one player (Kevin Jones) logged over 23 minutes for Best Virginia as opposed to four (Browning, Kelly, Young, J Elmore) for Herd That, meaning Best Virginia should have the freshest legs possible to meet the old foe.
Comparing each team’s best 5
Herd That: Stevie Browning, Jon Elmore, Cam Young, Justin Johnson, James Kelly
Browning was a disappointment in the first-round game shooting 3-10 from the field and logging just 1 assist to 4 turnovers. However his shot creation was a necessity for Herd That – their first year in TBT, and like Jon Elmore, I don’t expect him to have 2 bad games in a row. The aforementioned Elmore is going to be a matchup problem for Best Virginia who has to decide whether to guard him with smaller ball pressure guards, or lengthier slower wing defenders. Not to mention Elmore still was a weapon as a facilitator in round 1 drawing double teams and finding the open man. Remember: As said above, it is not as simple as “stop Elmore to stop the Herd” but limiting the Marshal Talisman is the first step to victory. Cam Young was a welcome surprise off the bench through his 12 points came on 14 shots. He’s also 6 foot 6 leading him to be one of Herd That’s top wing defenders. Justin Johnson was a bully in round one all game long. His “he’s too little gesture” made a frequent appearance en route to his 17 point 7 rebound performance. Despite being a traditional big man, he’s only 6 foot 6, but may force Best Virginia to play 2 forwards more often as opposed to John Flowers who played stretch 4 in round 1. James Kelly was Herd That’s most efficient player tallying 16 points on 6-9 shooting. He does his job well drawing bigs out of the paint and opening lanes for Elmore. Not to mention Ryan Taylor who did not miss a shot in limited minutes and “the bod” himself Ot Elmore who is always good for a big shot.
Best Virginia: Teyvon Myers, Jamel Morris, John Flowers, Kevin Jones, Devin Ebanks
Myers was the biggest surprise starting at point. He was one of the last players added to the roster But did well contributing 6 points and 4 assists, as well as maintaining a fast tempo. Jamel Morris didn’t feature as much as a go-to option as he did last year, but scored 11 and functioned well as a spot-up shooter. J-Flow tied Myers for top assist man and also got into double figures and checked all the right boxes as a defender. Kevin Jones proved my earlier prediction correct about being the top scorer with 18, both in isolation and catch-and-shoot situations. Devin Ebanks had to shake off some rust in limited usage but provided 8 gritty rebounds along the way. The glass proved to be the biggest concern as Best Virginia was out-rebounded by Virginia dream 48-45. 24 points off the bench, led by 11 from Jermaine Haley, also helped propel Best Virginia into round 2.
EACH TEAM’S ADVANTAGES AND WHAT THEY NEED TO DO TO WIN
Jon Elmore, in my opinion, will be the best player on the floor Tuesday night. Not just in his ability to get to the rim, but his ability to facilitate to the open man. Putting him in pick and roll/pick and fade situations with James Kelly, while Young and Browning sit off the ball, keeps the ball in Elmore’s hands with the ability to make something happen. I am also excited to see the Johnson v Jones matchup at power forward. Johnson impressed with his footwork around the rim as I saw him for the first time, but KJ has been doing that for years. Lastly heard that was an abysmal 16-31 from the line in round 1. To convert just a few more of those attempts would have meant an easier first-round victory. But keep in mind they earned 31 free one’s to Best Virginia’s 20 meaning their ability to go to the charity stripe could also mean the difference down the stretch.
The easy answer here is more second-half Best Virginia as opposed to first half. Better second-half ball movement led to many more open looks from beyond the arc, and better rotation on defense led to steals and fast break chances. Best Virginia is the much longer team and has the ability to play bully ball against Herd That who have just 2 players above 6 foot 7, neither of whom played more than 18 minutes. Best Virginia has the ability to share the scoring wealth, not to mention unleash the beast of Tanner McGrew who saw limited action in round one but figures to be a secret weapon for the gold and blue.
There is so much mystique around this matchup, it could truly be anyone’s ballgame. As opposed to the last time basketball teams associated with these two schools met on the hardwood.
The lower bowl of the civic center will surely fill to capacity Tuesday for a matchup that can also be seen on ESPN+, streamed at wvmetronews.com, or listened to on WEPM and WCST. TBT has been hoping for this matchup and the media spectacle that will come with it, and I doubt anyone will be left disappointed with the competitive nature of both squads. Though, only 1 team can advance, moving them just 4 wins away from a million dollars, and giving their respective fanbases bragging rights for the foreseeable future.