Oct. 30, 2012
***The following appeared in the Oct. 27 football game program.***
By STEVEN SCHOON
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -
As Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick viewed part of the Herd's fourth practice of the preseason, he couldn't help but notice what he saw on the floor at the Cam Henderson Center.
"We're pretty big aren't we?" Hamrick said to a member of the media.
Hamrick's eyes speak the truth about this 2012-13 men's basketball squad. With an average height of 6.52 feet, Marshall stands the tallest of any team in Conference USA. The Herd is slightly taller than last year's Marshall team (6.50 feet) which finished with a 21-14 record and made the NIT for the fifth time in program history, the first since 1988.
The most noticeable evidence of height is junior center Yous Mbao, who at 7 feet 2 is the tallest player in C-USA. You don't have to lower the measuring stick much for the Herd backcourt, where 5-10 Damier Pitts and 6-3 Shaquille Johnson have graduated.
"We have bigger guards and a lot more forwards this year," said 6-10 forward Nigel Spikes. "We have forwards that can play some guard spots. Our guys that play the three, most of the time they'll be bigger than the average three, so that can always become our benefit during the game."
Spikes is referring mostly to Dennis Tinnon, the senior forward who is C-USA's returning rebounds leader with 10.0 per game last season. Even after adding seven pounds - up to 232 - to his 6-8 frame this season, Tinnon has been getting regular work in with the guards during practice, with the hope of spending some time at the small forward position.
"Dennis has really worked on his game this year," Spikes said. "Having him at the three spot can really open it up and we can put bigger guys on the floor."
Won't moving out to the wing limit Tinnon's rebounding ability?
"It could," Tinnon said, "but with all of those that bounce out far from the rim, I'll be out there and can get it. Maybe I'll get a lot more tip dunks and stuff like that to add to my game."
Tinnon's ability to move out of the paint will create more options for third-year Coach Tom Herrion, who takes great pride in having a good rebounding team. Last season, the Herd was outrebounded in only seven of its 35 games and finished plus-7.0 per game on the glass, ranking 10th in rebound margin nationally.
"A lot of the guys are pretty tall," Tinnon said of his teammates. "Last year we had some big players, but this year we have guys who are big who can also play out on the wing. We have big men that can play a lot of different positions. We can rotate people in-and-out. "
Marshall returns 70 percent of its rebounding from last season. Those numbers include 6-9 senior Robert Goff, who averaged 4.6 rebounds while starting in 33 games. Jamir Hanner, a 6-8 sophomore, also returns after playing sparingly as a freshman. Despite not losing any big men last year, the Herd added 6-9 junior college transfer Elijah Pittman, who can help keep Marshall's rebounding average close to last year's mark of 39.8, the eighth-best in Division I.
"We are planning to do it again, but we want to do it better," said Spikes, who averaged 4.8 boards. "Double the numbers, double the rebounds. Since we have the advantage, we need to use it."
The advantage extends beyond the three-point arc as well. The smallest player on the roster is 6-0 guard Chris Martin. Preseason All-Conference USA first-team performer DeAndre Kane returns as a junior. The 6-4 guard was one of the top rebounders in the conference at his position last season while averaging a team-high 16.5 points.
Freshmen Kareem Canty (6-1) and Tamron Manning (6-4) will vie for playing time, as will junior college transfer D.D. Scarver (6-4).
Granted, the team with the tallest players doesn't always come out on top, but it can't hurt when it comes to predictions. Herrion's team is the consensus preseason conference runner-up to Memphis, the unanimous favorite to repeat as champions. The Herd is talented with its leading scorer (Kane) and leading rebounder (Tinnon) back for another year, along with an experienced returning cast.
Like last season, expectations are high.
Marshall's goal, like most, is to be one of 68 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament in March. The last team to taste March Madness for the Herd was in 1987 and that team had some height as well. That year, the Herd was led on the court by Skip Henderson, the shortest at 6-2, and led vertically by a pair of Toms -- Tommy Boyd and Tom Curry, both 6-9. Overall, the average height of Marshall's fifth NCAA Tournament team was 6.51 feet.
Hitting the glass has translated to wins for Herrion at Marshall, at least 20 in each of his two seasons. It's the 100th season of Marshall basketball and with the right mix of newcomers and veterans, along with Herrion's tallest squad yet, the Herd hopes to be celebrating more than its centennial year.