Columns/Opinion, Sean Manning, WVU Sports

Dan D’Antoni’s comments likely missed their mark

The NCAA tournament meeting between Marshall and WVU re-ignited an argument that has been discussed at high-top bar tables across West Virginia for the last decade: Should the Mountaineers and Thundering Herd play annually in basketball?
The same argument happens with football, but both sides seem to be on common ground that it’s a lot more difficult, especially for WVU, to schedule each other with only three out-of-conference slots on the Mountaineers’ slate every year.
But with so many out-of-conference spots in the basketball schedule — WVU played 13 this season — why can’t it make room for the only other Division I school in the state?
Herd head coach Dan D’Antoni took every opportunity given to him last weekend leading up to the tourney game to ask the same question: Why won’t you schedule us?
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Marshall made its first NCAA tournament in 30 years and won its first tourney game ever.
“We have a good program. We made the NCAA tournament. We got the first-round win. We’re a legit program. So play us — it’s that simple,” D’Antoni said.
But it didn’t end there, D’Antoni went with subtle trash talk to get WVU head coach Bob Huggins and administration to flinch, claiming that Marshall is the true school in West Virginia because of one of the silliest explanations I’ve heard.
“We’re a Division I school, you’ve got to treat us like one,” D’Antoni said. “I would love to play. I’ll needle them a little bit. I see someone I can needle, so I’ll needle them a little bit. We are playing West Virginia University. I’m coaching Marshall University, where West Virginians play. I’ll leave it at that.”
D’Antoni is referring to the fact the Herd had eight West Virginia natives on the roster, along with three coaches on his staff.
The reason this argument is silly is the Mountaineers have three on scholarship this season — Logan Routt, Chase Harler and Brandon Knapper. D’Antoni’s comments also ignore that WVU had a Morgantown native as the heart of team the previous four seasons in Nathan Adrian.
Sure, Marshall has more West Virginia players on its team by a considerable amount, but there’s a reason for that, more than Huggins not giving them a chance.
The Herd has to recruit in-state players while WVU doesn’t. That’s not a knock on the talent level in the state, but with Huggins’ footprint in Ohio, along with his resume as a Hall-of-Fame caliber coach, he can pluck top-level talent from other places.
Do you think Marshall could sign a 4-star point guard from Wisconsin like Huggins did with Jordan McCabe, or a 4-star forward from Ohio, in Derek Culver? Chances are slim to none.
Marshall is doing what it has to do to succeed and hit lightning in a bottle with a bunch of West Virginia players this season, and that’s great. It proves recruits from the Mountain State can compete at the highest level.
But let’s not act like WVU intentionally avoids West Virginians because it doesn’t deem them good enough. It’s because WVU doesn’t have to recruit the way Marshall does.
D’Antoni tried to poke the bear when he saw a window, but I have a feeling Huggins grabbed the stick and threw it back at him.
The series between the schools has come down to where the game is played, and you could argue that this game should be played annually.
But based on the argument D’Antoni made for why it should happen, WVU shouldn’t give the Herd a second glance.