Feb. 18, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The RPI does not lie.
After Marshall’s 71-59 Henderson Center loss Saturday night to Memphis, the follow story I wrote included the revelation that Coach Tom Herrion’s team had played more games against RPI top 100 teams than anyone in Conference USA.
The number was 10 postgame, and now it’s 11, as UTEP climbed back into the top 100 early Sunday with its Saturday night whipping of the Herd’s next foe – UCF on Wednesday night in Orlando.
That game against Coach Donnie Jones’ Knights will be Marshall’s 12th against a top 100 team in the Ratings Percentage Index that is one of about a dozen tools used in selecting and seeding the NCAA Tournament bracket.
On Sunday, a couple of Herdheads e-mailed and wanted to know how it was then that Marshall doesn’t have a top 100 RPI strength of schedule. It was No. 112 through Sunday’s games, by the way.
Well, it’s because it seems the schedule – not planned, but as it has developed – has turned out kind of like a doughnut … sort of a hole in the middle.
From the top 100, the Herd has faced Villanova (57), South Dakota State (67), West Virginia (99), Cincinnati (40), Kentucky (44), Ohio (74), UTEP (97), Southern Miss (37), Memphis twice (24) and UCF (92). The Herd’s 11-15 season is reflected in a 1-10 record in those games.
However, Marshall also has played six games against the RPI bottom 100, too (of 347 Division I teams) – Longwood (339), Hofstra (314), UNC Wilmington (272), Coppin State (302), Delaware State (248) and Rice (311).
The degree of difficulty could have been more severe for Herrion’s Herd, too. Once plans for an NCAA exempt event that would have provided three home games fell through and Marshall ended up going to Villanova and then to play three dates at Hofstra, MU needed another home game.
So, Marshall asked Akron to push back a return date in the Rubber City from last season’s Henderson Center visit by the Zips until next season.
Right now, Akron has won a nation-leading 17 games in a row, is No. 48 in the RPI with a 20-4 record, and its 12-0 record in the Mid-American Conference is one of six unbeaten teams in league play left in Division I (Memphis, Akron, Miami, Gonzaga, Norfolk State and Louisiana Tech).
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Don’t know how much Herd followers are paying attention to what’s ahead in C-USA hoops beyond this season, but a few newcomers are making noise as Selection Sunday is less than a month away.
The aforementioned Louisiana Tech is 23-3, including 14-0 in its WAC swansong, and No. 46 in the RPI. Middle Tennessee State, which ousted Marshall in the Herd’s NIT return last season, is the Sun Belt’s best team (23-4, 15-1) with an outstanding 27 in the RPI.
Charlotte is 18-7, 6-5 in an Atlantic 10 race that could send six teams to the big bracket, including those 49ers. Charlotte, No. 56 in the RPI, started 11-1 (losing only to Miami) and has wins over Butler, La Salle, Xavier and UMass.
Meanwhile, one program that’s perennially a postseason contender is the Herd’s 2013-14 home-and-home C-USA “partner,” Old Dominion. The Monarchs are 3-23 and is last place in the Colonial Athletic Association – a big reason the CAA has fallen to 25th in conference RPI.
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Last week, C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky was in Nashville, Tenn., making a “welcome” visit of sorts to neighboring Middle Tennessee State. While there – on Valentine’s Day – he also threw out a few bouquets to Western Kentucky, which wants in C-USA.
So, with continuing published reports that Tulsa could leave C-USA for the Big East to join fellow private-school movers SMU and Tulane, the Hilltoppers might be in line to replace the Golden Hurricane, should it leave, and keep the Herd’s home league at 14 members starting in 2014-15.
If nothing else, Banowsky surely didn’t squash any speculation about Western’s chances:
“I do think there is room for more growth,” Banowsky said when asked about WKU, which has a strong basketball tradition that includes 21 NCAA Tournament bids. “I have a lot of respect for Western Kentucky, and the leadership up there is great. The university is really nice.
“I don’t know if you’ve been there, but it sets up really well (with Middle, in the Nashville market, too). There is potential for more growth in the conference, and you never know in this day as college athletics change. We are poised to move forward if we need to. I like Western Kentucky.”
A Tulsa-for-Western Kentucky swap would be one that a lot of Herd supporters would support, tilting the C-USA footprint even more towards Huntington than the recent expansion did.