Analyzing the Herd Men's non-conference Performance

By JPrince83
Dec. 28, 2016

With tonight's 7 p.m. clash with the Pittsburgh Panthers inside the Petersen Events Center the final game in the Marshall Men's basketball team's non-conference schedule, it's time for a look at how the Herd has fared in the season before the season. 

Marshall got to play its first four games inside the friendly confines of the Henderson Center and coach Dan D'antoni's team responded by rattling off four straight wins to start the season. Since that time the Herd has gone just 3-5 losing all five of its contests on the road. So let's break down the schedule before we break down the team itself. 

Game 1 - North Carolina Central -  WIN (81-69) Marshall's first game of the season was against the Eagles of NCCU a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Eagles won the MEAC's regular-season title in 2014-2015 in route to a 25-8 record and a trip to the NIT. However, the 2015-2016 season was a disappointment as NCCU finished just 13-19 missing the postseason. 2016-2017, however, had the Eagles once again picked to finish near the top of the MEAC and despite losing to the Herd and Ohio State to start the year, NCCU has rebounded to win seven of its last 10 and is one of the Herd's best early season wins. 

Game 2 - Morehead State - WIN (85-77) - This set of Eagles have had a tumultuous season, to say the least. From coaching changes to an 8 game losing streak that began with the loss in Huntington the fans in Morehead, Kentucky have to be disappointed with their team's 3-9 record, especially since Morehead is traditionally a tough team within the mid-major ranks. None the less this win for the Herd was a very important step for D'antoni's team as the Eagles have had the Herd's number as of late. 

Game 3 - Western Carolina - WIN (98-63) - There is nothing too much to take away from this one, the Catamounts are flat out awful. Western Carolina has managed to win four games so far this season but has also been drubbed by 20 or more points on four other occasions. Including a 90-37 defeat to that team from Morgantown. It goes down in the win column but this one did very little to help the Herd in terms of RPI. 

Game 4 - Jackson State - WIN (71-61) - Like the Catamounts, the Tigers are a pretty bad basketball team, in fact, they lost to Western Carolina. However, they play a style that can really disrupt a D'antoni led basketball team as Jackson State slows the game down to a crawl. That disruption was evident in this Herd victory as Marshall's offense put up its second-lowest point total of the season in the ballgame. The win is still notable though since a year ago the Herd lost all of its games in which it was held to under 75 points. This one proved that when defense was required to grind out a win, that this year's Marshall team was capable of it. 

Game 5 - Ohio State - LOSS (111-70) - Easily the worst showing for the Herd this season, Marshall looked totally shell shocked in its trip to Columbus. Already playing without CJ Burks due to academic issues, D'antoni's squad would also be without its best inside presence in senior Ryan Taylor due to an ejection he suffered in the previous game. The game got out of hand in a hurry and things quickly snowballed into one of the least inspired performances Marshall has had in recent years. Sure, there have been more than a handful of blowout losses since D'antoni arrived, but few have been because of lack of effort, this was one of the few. 

Game 6 - Ohio - WIN (98-88) - This was a great bounce back game for the Herd. The Bobcats are picked as one of the favorites in the Mid-American Conference along with Akron and Marshall desperately needed a positive showing after its 41 point loss to the Buckeyes. Ohio entered the game undefeated and currently sit at 7-3 on the season making this one of the Herd's better wins in terms of quality of opponent, however, the biggest thing here is the Herd managed to do it without the services of the team's leading rebounder Terrance Thompson who missed his first of seven games so far, with an abdominal injury. 

Game 7 - Eastern Kentucky - LOSS (89-80) - EKU is typically not a bad basketball team, the Colonels have been to the NCAA tournament three times since 2005 including a trip as recently as 2014. But, this year's EKU squad is a little down as they currently hold a 6-8 record on the season. This is easily Marshall's worst loss of the year and one that I'm sure D'antoni's bunch would love to have back. The Herd didn't have Burks or Thompson, but to beat the Colonels it shouldn't have needed them. 

Game 8 - Chattanooga - LOSS (96-85) - The Mocs are a good basketball team with several veteran players who have NCAA tournament experience as UTC was a 12th seed in last year's Big Dance. The Mocs are currently 9-3 knocking off Tennessee in the season opener and almost claimed another SEC win in a two-point loss to Vanderbilt. Still, the Herd had its chances, up 41-33 at halftime. Unfortunately, the  Marshall defense, particularly, the interior defense struggled to stop UTC at all in the second half as the Mocs routinely went into the post for easy buckets. 

Game 9 - Toledo - WIN (111-105) - Back at home inside the Henderson Center, Marshall rebounded from its disappointing road swing with a hard-fought overtime victory over a scrappy Rockets team. Toledo is just 6-6 on the season, but the Rockets have suffered a few heartbreakers losing a pair of one-point games to Saint Joseph's and Green Bay on top of a three-point loss to Marshall conference mate Middle Tennessee. This one goes down as a solid win for the Herd. 

Game 10 - Akron - LOSS (99-88) - Without Ryan Taylor, Terrance Thompson or CJ Burks the game with the Zips was shaping up to be a blowout for the Herd. Except it wasn't. Marshall got a great effort from its European players, probably the best effort it has gotten all year long and pushed the MAC favorites to the brink. At 2:54 left it was just a four-point ball game, but Marshall just couldn't get enough stops down the stretch to gut out the win. On top of three of the Herd's best players being out for this one, Jon Elmore was also off his game shooting wise, going just 3-16 from the field. Elmore did, however, dish out 10 assists. Akron sits atop the MAC standings right now with a 10-3 record and I'm sure the Herd would love another shot at the Zips at full strength. 

Game 11- WV Wesleyan - WIN (81-65) - Not a ton to talk about here. DII Wesleyan never had a chance of winning this one, but this game did mark the return of CJ Burks as he was cleared the day of the game by the NCAA after missing the Herd's first 10 games due to academic issues. Burks played 25 minutes and scored 11 points in a game that saw every player dressed for the game get into the action

Game 12 - #24 Cincinnati - LOSS (93-91) - This one was a heartbreaker for the Herd. Sure, the loss doesn't hurt in terms of season goals or perception, but a win against the nationally ranked Bearcats could have been a program turning point and the defining moment of the D'antoni era. Instead, it will go down as one of the most bizarre losses in Marshall history. With just a 27 seconds left in the overtime period and the shot clock about to expire on the Bearcats, a Cincy player threw up a desperate shot to avoid the violation. The ball wedged between the rim and the backboard resulting in a stoppage of play and a jump ball. The possession arrow favored Cincinnati and since the ball technically hit the rim it resulted in a fresh shot clock for the home team, meaning the Bearcats could play for the final shot. In turns out it would be the final three shots as Cincinnati's Troy Caupain put up a tough shot in the lane that wouldn't go, a Bearcats tip was also no good but with just .7 seconds remaining the ball was tipped back out to Caupain in the middle of the lane who put up a floater that went in to give Cincy the win. 

So how does the Herd grade out in the non-conference portion of the season? Certainly better than it did last season when Marshall started off 0-6, but, injuries and suspensions have kept the Herd from scoring as good as it could have this season as well. Wins against NCCU and Ohio are good wins and being undefeated inside the Henderson Center is great. But, if Marshall wants to take the next step under Dan D'antoni its got to find a way to win on the road. Too many woulda, coulda, shoulda, moments in tight games have kept the Herd from reaching its full potential. 

Marshall's guard play has been excellent as Stevie Browning and Elmore have both been named conference players of the week and Austin Loop has been lights out from beyond the arch. With Burks back in the fold, who scored 14 points in the loss to the Bearcats, the Marshall backcourt is going to continue to get better. However, the Herd frontcourt has to become more consistent. Taylor has to find a way to stay in ball games and Ajdin Peneva must become a more physical post presence especially without a timetable for Thompson's return. The pieces are there for the Herd to contend for a Conference USA title, it's just a matter of putting them all together and it must learn to get tighter on the defensive end late in games when stops are crucial. 

Currently, I'd give Marshall's non-conference performance a "C+." A few plays here and there or a few games at full strength could have propelled the Herd into the "A" category, especially if it pulled out the heartbreaker at Cincinnati. But while a win against the Bearcats would have been huge for the Herd, who is still looking for its first road win of the season, Marshall can't allow the heartbreaker to become a second loss as the Herd has another great opportunity for a signature win against the ACC's Pitt Panthers. A win tonight would also be an excellent momentum builder heading into CUSA play.