Aug 27, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Marshall Men’s Basketball has 16 games at the Henderson Center for the 2013-14 season, it was announced Tuesday, but it’s what’s away from “The Cam” that really makes Coach Tom Herrion’s fourth season special.
It’s also the foundation for an attractive 2014-15 schedule, too.
“We’ll be tested greatly,” Herrion said of his young team with eight new players and only one returning starter in forward Elijah Pittman.
This season, the Herd has not one, but two, visits to Southeastern Conference arenas – at Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Marshall also goes to Penn State and plays at Akron, which is established as the top program in the Mid-American Conference. The Zips have been to three of the last five NCAA Tournaments.
The annual Capital Classic date with West Virginia is there, of course – but with a twist.
For the first time in the neutral site series at the Charleston Civic Center, it’s a Saturday night game – “great timing for that game, Saturday in mid-December (14),” Herrion said.
(The Herd and WVU women will meet that same afternoon in the same arena.)
Marshall also goes to longtime foe Morehead State and visits East Tennessee State for the one road game in the four-game Roundball Showcase, and has 16 Conference USA games, including a home-and-home with Charlotte.
The visitors here include Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, plus Stephen F. Austin, a team that some fans might look past … but the Lumberjacks won 27 games and the Southland Conference regular-season title in 2012-13 and played in the NIT.
Marshall has 12 of its 31 regular-season games against teams that ranked in the final RPI top 125 last winter.
“We’ve clearly challenged ourselves greatly,” Herrion rightly said of a schedule that opens Nov. 8 against visiting South Carolina State.
But it’s what follows that’s very, very noteworthy for Herd hoops, too.
“Obviously the depth of our road non-conference schedule is tremendous,” he said. “But we were able – I think for the first time in a long time, at least the modern era Marshall -- to engage and then execute home-and-homes with BCS-level schools.”
Two of the so-called “power conference” teams – South Carolina and Penn State – are scheduled to return the Herd visits to the Henderson Center in the 2014-15 season. Those are home-and-home contracts.
The last power conference team to play at “The Cam” was Virginia Tech in 2006-07. And if you count the Atlantic 10 as one of those power leagues, UMass visited in 2001-02.
But two of those top-six league teams -- ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC -- coming to Huntington in one season? When’s the last time that happened?
In 1991-92, Pitt and Penn State played here. The Panthers were a Big East team, but PSU will still an independent before making the move to the Big Ten. If you do want to count the A-10 as a power league, there were two Herd home dates of that ilk in ’90-91 – West Virginia (A-10) and Virginia (ACC).
In ’83-84, Cincinnati (Metro), WVU (A-10) and Marquette (independent) played at the Henderson Center.
And here’s one more thing to consider …
The last five “power conference” teams that have ventured into “The Cam?” They all lost.
The list is No. 23 Wake Forest (1997-98), UMass twice (1998-99 and ’01-02), Georgia (1999-2000) and Virginia Tech (2006-07).
Maybe that’s why most of the big boys don’t want to dribble through the Herd home.
But that’s getting ahead of the Herd. How about this season?
“It’s a challenging schedule for us,” Herrion said. “We’re bringing in Arkansas State (to start a home-and-home) and Western Kentucky – arguably the two top teams in Sun Belt – and Western is entering our conference the following year, coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I think it’s a very, very competitive schedule. We’re on the road to Morehead State and East Tennessee State, two places where our fans can travel -- Morehead on a Sunday afternoon, one hour away. East Tennessee, an old rival from Southern Conference days here … that’s on a Saturday on Thanksgiving weekend.”
Herrion said “plugging in” non-Division I games this season with Alice Lloyd (Ky.) and neighboring Rio Grande (Ohio) was a much a function of the 2014-15 schedule, “when we had no room to add” another Division I home-and-home.
The biggest challenge comes in a two-week stretch with no home games, and dates at ETSU, Vandy, Penn State and with West Virginia.
“We go to Akron, on a great roll,” Herrion said. “South Carolina and Akron are back-to-back on the road, too. Vanderbilt and Penn State are back-to-back, two games in three nights, then a week later we play West Virginia in Charleston. Some of it was done strategically, some obviously we did because that’s just how it fit.
“I think the schedule has really good balance. It has quality teams throughout, something our fan base should be excited about, especially when you look at the totality of the next two seasons, back-to-back.”
Multiple sources in Conference USA said men’s basketball will increase the league schedule to 18 dates next season (with a 14-team league – Western Kentucky entering and East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane exiting). Herrion said he favored 18, but no scheduling format has been decided, however.
Herrion said with an increase in C-USA dates, other return dates and the home-and-home contracts that are in place, what is usually a taxing effort by top assistant coach Mark Cline and Herrion – piecing together a schedule – is just about complete for 2014-15.
The Herd is penciled in for a game at Louisville as part of a four-game exempt event that will also yield three home games. Marshall is scheduled to go to Nevada (returning a 2012-13 game), Akron (which comes back to Huntington in 2015-16), Arkansas State and face WVU in Charleston.
South Carolina, Penn State and Morehead State come to the Henderson Center. Add in three home games in the Louisville-rooted exempt event and likely a couple of lower Division I foes MU would bring in for guarantees, and the 2014-15 schedule -- with 18 C-USA games -- is nearly a done deal.
“The opportunity to play those type of (power conference) schools and have them return games to us is special,” Herrion said. “In a perfect world you’d like to balance it out, and have one in this year and one the next, but we can’t be too picky because it’s tough to get those teams in here.
“We only go to Vanderbilt (no return and a $90,000 guarantee for the Herd), and we do go play Penn State and South Carolina on the road, but those two come back here the following year,” Herrion said. “That’s just part of the balancing act of scheduling, with an anticipated increase in conference game, we really feel like we’re pretty much done with that schedule, the outline already in place. We’d only have to plug in a couple of different dates and we’re done, except for securing the exact dates and stuff like that.”