With a mascot named for the state motto, the Mountaineers play at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia, a circular area just outside downtown. Even though the area holds 14,000 seats, only 2,300 free seats are open to WVU students, and while tailgating isn’t as intense as for football games, don’t let anyone tell you these basketball games aren’t serious. As current head coach and former WVU player Bob Huggins says, “In this state, Mountaineers are a way of life.”
Other than in the 1970s, the Mountaineers—with gold and blue colors—have consistently been in the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament 26 times, and into the Final Four four times. Today, WVU is in the Big 12 Conference, with the University of Maryland Terrapins as fellow Big 12 rivals, and the Virginia Tech Hokies and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers as out-of-conference rivals. The Mountaineers also have a rivalry with Marshall University, the only other Division I team in the state. The Mountaineers have won 33 of the 44 games played since 1929, and the series has been on hiatus since 2014.
Down at the other end of the state in Huntington, West Virginia, Marshall University’s Thundering Herd is the team to follow. The Herd’s first basketball season was in 1907, when basketball was a very different game from what we know today: the free-throw line was at 15 ft (4.5 m), the double-dribble was still allowed, and play was so rough that personal fouls had just been introduced.
As a member of Conference USA, the Herd—with kelly green and white jerseys—plays against teams in the southeast U.S., and has rivalries out-of-conference that include Ohio University, East Carolina University, and Morehead State University. The team plays in the Cam Henderson Center, named after the pioneering head coach from 1935-1955 who created modern zone defense and led the Herd into a new era of basketball. Officially, Marshall’s team has been to the NCAA five times, with a sixth visit in 1987 not counted due to NCAA violations.
Men’s teams always get all the attention and focus when we talk sports, but both Marshall and WVU have women’s teams. The teams date back to the 1970s, when Title IX mandated that the same amount of money be spent on men’s and women’s sports teams, and so alongside a men’s team, colleges and universities had to have a women’s team as well. WVU’s head coach is former Mountaineer Mike Carey, who has brought the women to eight NCAA tournaments in the last 18 years. In the 2016-2017 season, the women finished first in the Big 12 Conference. Like the men’s teams, The Mountaineers have had more tournament success than the Thundering Herd. Marshall’s women’s team has only made it to the NCAA tournament once in 1997.
We should mention that there are a number of other colleges in West Virginia that have basketball teams, such as Fairmont State University, West Virginia State University, and Glenville State, however, none are Division I.