The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

November 4, 2012

Herd can’t be bothered by outside expectations

The outside expectations placed on the 2012-13 Marshall men’s basketball team have followed the Thundering Herd since their NIT appearance in March.

It was a brief stay, ending abruptly with a first-round loss at Middle Tennessee State, but the word on the Herd was out. Many prognosticators believe Marshall has what it takes to emerge as the Conference USA champion and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But the players cannot concern themselves with what outside sources might write or say. There is one critic who stands more substantial than any other.

“My guys have to worry about pleasing me,” third-year Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. “We don’t have to worry about pleasing anybody externally, whether that’s our fans or so-called experts or anyone like that. They know it’s going to take a lot to please me, and I’m not satisfied very often.”

Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Marshall will face all season the task of having to deflect those heightened expectations. Returning the majority of a team that played in the conference tournament finals and played in the NIT for the first time in 24 years, all part of a third straight 20-win season, can do that.

But Herrion believes he has the players who can look past distractions and take the program a step farther. Marshall has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1987; that is the ultimate goal.

“We’re making progress,” Herrion said. “Clearly we’ve got a long way to go. I think a lot of teams in the country would say that right now, including ourselves. We’ve got a corps of guys that have played a little before. We’ve got a lot of new faces that we are trying to assimilate and get them caught up.

“I like the attitude of this team. I like the makeup of it. I think we have a chance to be a good team, in time.”

The Herd defeated Bluefield (Va.) College 94-67 Thursday in their only exhibition game. They outrebounded the Rams 69-25, getting three players in double-digits on the glass.

Marshall also had a private scrimmage against Winthrop Saturday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. NCAA rules prohibit Herrion from commenting on the scrimmage and no media coverage was allowed.

Herrion was able to speak afterward about the upcoming season, which will begin against Longwood at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Cam Henderson Center.

He said there are things he has seen his team do well against live competition, but there are things that have to improve.

“We’ve got to take care of the basketball,” he said. Marshall had 15 turnovers against Bluefield. “Whoever we are playing in the backcourt, we’ve got to be better with the basketball. We can’t turn it over.

“We’ve got to remember who we are. We have to be a dominant rebounding team. I think we have the capability, at times, to be that way.”

That is an understatement. Last season Marshall was eighth in the nation in rebounds (39.8 per game), third in offensive rebounds (15.5) and 10th in rebounding margin (plus-7.0).

Herrion has at his disposal a nice mix of experience and newcomers. From guard DeAndre Kane to forwards Dennis Tinnon and Robert Goff and center Nigel Spikes, Herrion has been pleased with team leadership.

Throw in players such as guard Chris Martin, forward Jamir Hanner and center J.P. Kambola, as well as junior college transfers D.D. Scarver (guard/forward) and Elijah Pittman (forward), and the versatility should pay off for Marshall.

“We’ve got a lot of depth, and that’s a good thing for us, once we get all our guys on the floor,” Herrion said.

A number of players did not play against Bluefield, including Kane and Spikes, both of whom were held out as a coaches decision. Guard DeVince Boykins and forward Robert Goff missed because of injuries, and guard Kareem Canty sat out while Marshall continues to work with the NCAA about an initial eligibility issue, according to a release.

If the Herd falls short this year, it certainly won’t be because of strength of schedule. Marshall plays eight NCAA Tournament and three NIT teams from a year ago, and 12 that had RPIs in the top 70.

Among the teams on Marshall’s schedule are Villanova on the road Nov. 11, West Virginia Dec. 5 and Cincinnati Dec. 15. The latter two will both be played in Charleston.

And — oh, yeah — the Herd will play defending national champion Kentucky Dec. 22 at Rupp Arena.

“We schedule (tough) on purpose and we really challenge our guys,” Herrion said. “We have great challenges throughout the schedule and I think our kids are excited about those opportunities.”

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