HUNTINGTON — It didn’t take long for Stevie Browning’s blood to get pumping when he heard the pairings for The Basketball Tournament last week.
As soon as he heard that ‘Herd That’ was taking on ‘Best Virginia’ in the first round matchup, Browning felt that adrenaline surge throughout him.
Sure, this is a different breed — a tournament with a $1 million purse at the end of it.
That exceeds everything else.
But this matchup also has enduring bragging rights attached to it, and Browning couldn’t have hand-picked a better opponent to start the journey against.
“Man, it’s special to me because it’s still a rivalry game,” Browning said. “It’s that one that everyone wants to see.”
Just as people used to build the hype for the Capital Classic when it was annually played in Charleston, Browning knows the same is coming when the two Mountain State representatives meet in the final game of the first round on July 5 on ESPN’s family of networks.
“For me, there’s nothing better than playing in a big-time game like that on national television,” Browning said. “That’s why we do it.”
While Browning’s focus is on trying to lead ‘Herd That’ to a win, he also hopes there is a bigger value in the matchup — one that could continue to pay off both schools in the long run.
Browning wants the buzz from the TBT matchup to rekindle talks of resuming the rivalry each year.
“People are begging for that game to come back, so to me, this is a little chance we’ve got to give it to them and continue that rivalry,” Browning said. “This is big for us, and this is big for the state.”
Browning grew up in Logan, which he characterized as ‘75 percent WVU’ in terms of loyalty. That made for fun banter in his hometown once he left Fairmont State to transfer to Marshall.
“I grew up a WVU fan until I went to college,” Browning said.
Browning played in the final regular-season meeting between the programs in 2015 when West Virginia earned an 86-68 win.
It was the only time in his career that he got to go against the Mountaineers as he graduated before the teams locked up in the NCAA tournament in 2018.
Browning said that it shouldn’t take an NCAA Tournament draw for the teams to be playing each year.
“This should happen every year, no questions asked,” Browning said. “It brings so much money to the state. It’s just a no-brainer. That, and these two styles are fun to watch go head-to-head.”
Just as the fan base on each side is different, so too are the styles of each.
‘Herd That’ is going to push the pace and get up as many shots as possible while trying to turn it into a track meet while ‘Best Virginia’ is going to use its tough defense to turn it into a grind-it-out affair.
The contrast of styles and general ill-will that each team has for the other gives a national presence to both in-state schools and a lot of grit to the TBT, which is something Browning said is a treat.
“This is the only type of basketball that’s going on, and it’s a Marshall-WVU game?” Browning said. “Woooo, it doesn’t get any better than that. That’s big-time!”