Dec. 28, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Seven wins. Six losses. Zero excuses.
This was to be the basketball season in which Marshall seriously challenged to end its NCAA Tournament drought of a quarter-century.
It still might be, Coach Tom Herrion said.
“The sky isn’t falling,” Herrion said Friday morning, with his Thundering Herd (7-6) having returned to workouts following a four-day holiday break. “We’re all frustrated and disappointed with our win-loss record and all that, but we have 18 games left on our schedule, plus our conference (USA) tournament, so we’ve got time.
“We do have to get some things straight. One thing I’m not doing is giving up on this team or this group. It’s a great challenge for me and our staff to try and right the ship. That’s my responsibility and I embrace it. I don’t like my kids any less.
“I know we haven’t played well at times individually or collectively but we still have a chance to be really good, still have a chance to win a conference championship – but not the way we’re playing. We’ve got to play better. That’s a great challenge for us, but I’m not defeated. I’m very positive in our ability to correct some things and get better.”
Marshall, coming off the program’s first NIT appearance since 1988, is 6-0 at the Henderson Center but 1-6 elsewhere, with the lone win over Division II District of Columbia in the 2K Sports Classic at Hofstra. Four of the losses have come to teams in the RPI top 100, another to West Virginia (No. 114).
Asked if in his career he’d been with – as a head coach or assistant – another team that needed to pick itself up in such fashion, Herrion said it really doesn’t matter.
“I don’t worry about comparing ourselves to other teams,” said Herrion, whose third MU team next faces Delaware State (5-7 and at Maryland on Saturday) at the Cam Henderson Center on Wednesday night. “I guess a lot of people would say we’re our own worst enemy.
“We helped create these expectations for ourselves and for our fan base, a fan base that’s been so starved and hungry, so there’s a natural letdown. And for me, as the coach, that makes me feel bad, like you’re letting down a total fan base, one that has invested in us since I’ve been here.
“That wears on you a little bit. And that’s part of what motivates me to get things right, because we have a great fan base, a passionate one, and one that has been supportive and I know will continue to be, like it has been through the frustrations or inconsistencies we’ve had as a team. I bear the brunt of that responsibility as the head coach, and I’m fine with that.”
An 82-54 Herd loss at Kentucky last Saturday was the most lopsided loss in Herrion’s 200-game, seven-season head coaching career (130-70). It capped a frustrating 2012 portion of the schedule in which the Herd has been riddled by personnel changes, offensive inefficiency and a rotation that has yet to be settled.
Asked about a timetable for the return of junior starting point guard DeAndre Kane – he’s been out since Dec. 10 with a right hand injuy -- and Herrion shrugs.
“Hopefully, in the near future,” the Herd coach said. “Doctors have not given me anything more specific. He goes back in for a follow-up in another day or two, and we’ll know a little more after that, I guess.”
Might Kane – ranked second in Division I in assists at 8.5 per game -- be back for the start of C-USA play at home against Tulsa on Jan. 9?
“We hope,” Herrion said. “We hope. But it’s obviously fluid.”
Kane’s absence is just part of a litany of personnel curves that have altered the Herd staff’s preseason thinking – and the team’s capabilities.
Redshirt freshman DeVince Boykins tore knee ligaments in preseason. The NCAA ruled freshman point guard Kareem Canty ineligible. Big men Robert Goff and Yous Mbao collided in a practice rebounding drill, with both suffering head injuries. Mbao is still out. Then, it was Kane who has missed the last three games. Freshman guard Kelvin Amayo just became eligible last week and made a three-minute mop-up debut at Kentucky.
Herrion said Amayo will work “to begin with” at point guard.
“It’s two-fold,” Herrion said when asked what has created the degree of difficulty for the Herd. “I don’t know that we ever played seven non-home games this early in the season. And I don’t know if never gone through as much personnel flux, the totality of it, that we have … and now you throw another kid into equation in Amayo.
“It’s not an excuse, but it’s who we are and where we’re at. The hard part for me, and our staff, is we spent the summer and the fall doing preparations, schemes with a totally different forecast of a makeup, guys in a different rotation, different than now.
“That’s probably been the biggest challenge. We’re trying to change things a little bit on the fly. Now, we have a little more time this break and that’s what we’ve got to use it for.”
Between visits to “The Cam” by Delaware State and Tulsa, the Herd goes to rival Ohio for a 2 p.m. game on Jan. 5. Then it’s all conference play for the Herd, and some of Herrion’s hopes for a big-time revival for his team are rooted there as much as in his own team’s progress.
C-USA appears to be a wide-open league, and while Memphis was forecast at the team to beat, the Tigers (7-3) won’t play a road game until Jan. 4 at Tennessee. Five of the 12 C-USA teams don’t have a road win, including the Herd.
“It’s from afar, so to speak” Herrion said when asked to gauge C-USA. “I haven’t seen much tape so far, I’ve seen mostly through some boxscores and stats, but I think there are going to be a lot of teams in the hunt, including ourselves.
“I think it’s got a chance to be wide open. Right now, it’s a hard barometer to read because schedules are so different and skewed, with all due respect. You get through 6-8 conference games and you have a much better grasp.
“I’d like to think that our challenging schedule, what we’ve played so far, and where we’ve played, will help us in that regard. We still have a chance to win a championship, but clearly, we’ve got to get better.”