Thursday presents tough test for Herd

By JPrince83
Jan. 03, 2017

Marshall's CJ Burks drives in for a layup against a Pitt defender.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Marshall men's basketball team will return home to the Henderson Center for the first time since December 19 when the Thundering Herd took down Division II member West Virginia Wesleyan. 

Awaiting coach Dan D'antoni's crew is one of the best defenses in the country - the Old Dominion Monarchs. ODU comes into Thursday night's Conference USA clash with a 9-5 record and the nation's second-best scoring defense allowing just 56.4 points per game. The Monarchs have held four teams below 50 and have yet to allow more than 68 points in a game all season. 

Marshall, on the other hand, enters the game having scored 70 or more points in 35 consecutive contests and currently boasts the country's eighth-best scoring offense averaging just over 88 points per game. 

Both teams have been tested. The Thundering Herd proved in games against Pittsburgh (106) and top 25 ranked Cincinnati (91) that its offense can score even against top flight competition while Old Dominion has shown against #10 Louisville (68) that it can hold one of the country's best teams well under its averages. 

Thursday night's winner will most likely be decided by which unit players better, the Marshall offense or the Monarch defense? The aforementioned 70 point plateau may be the magic number for the Herd. ODU hasn't allowed a team to score 70 points since March 11, 2016, against Western Kentucky but the Monarchs also haven't scored more than 65 points a single time this season. 

So while ODU has a stingy defense, its offense has been rather anemic with the loss of All-Conference USA first teamer Trey Freeman, now with the Grand Rapids Drive of the NBA D-League. It would seem that if the Herd could find a way to extend its streak of 70 point games to 36 it would have a good chance of moving to 3-0 in league play

Conversely, it could be said that Marshall has as much of a defensive problem as ODU has an offensive one, however, what the Herd really have an issue with is rebounding. In the seven games in which Marshall has won the rebounding battle the Herd is only allowing an average of 68 points per game, not surprisingly Marshall is 7-0 in those games. 

However, when the Herd doesn't win the rebounding battle Marshall is giving up a tick more than 99 points per game and also not surprisingly is just 2-6 in those games. The good news is the Thundering Herd could be getting some help on the glass with the return of Terrance Thompson who hasn't played since a November 25 loss to Ohio State. 

Thompson leads the Herd in rebounding, averaging 7.8 boards per game through the team's first five games before getting injured. Not coincidently, seven of the eight games Marshall has been beaten on the boards have come with Thompson sidelined. It's not clear whether or not Thompson will play Thursday night against ODU, but coach D'antoni said after Marshall's 89-72 win over Florida Atlantic that the North Carolina native was getting close to a return. 

"He ran with the team this weekend and went through pregame workouts with us Monday," D'antoni said. "He looked better than he has in a while. He's getting close."