Jan. 8, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Since his arrival at Marshall in late May, Matt Daniel has been preaching that there’s nowhere to go but up in women’s basketball for the Thundering Herd.
Now, the first-year MU coach takes his team into a situation that helps him make his point.
Picked 12th – last – in the preseason Conference USA coaches’ poll, the Herd (6-7) opens league play Thursday night (8 p.m. Eastern time) against Southern Mississippi (8-5) at Reed Green Coliseum. Daniel’s team is coming off a 10-day break and will have played only once – a Dec. 30 loss at Navy – in an 18-day span.
“We’ve got a tough road ahead of us,” Daniel said. “The good part about it is there is no pressure on these kids now. With a new staff coming in, (to start the year) in non-conference, not knowing what was expected, there was.
“But everybody expects nothing from this point out, so hopefully it will loosen these kids up and we can play.”
Marshall plays its home C-USA opener Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Cam Henderson Center against Tulane (11-2). The Green Wave was the coaches’ poll pick to win the 2012-13 title.
Daniel won a Southland Conference title in his last season at Central Arkansas (with a 24-7 finish) before heading to Huntington, but his goal with a 10-player Herd roster is more realistic. His first year at UCA went 6-23 before the Sugar Bears won 21, 21 and 24 in his final three seasons.
“If we can take care of the ball and execute, we’ve got a shot. When we struggle with that, we struggle with it in a big way,” Daniel said. “We open up in a tough way, on the road, and then we’ve got Tulane. Not great, but any league in America is tough for league play.
“There isn’t a team in the country that looks at their league and says, ‘Oh, this is going to be a cakewalk.’ I don’t care if it’s NAIA ball or the No. 1 team in the country. Nobody looks at their league and says, ‘We’re going to run the table; this is going to be a piece of cake.’”
The Herd is C-USA’s lowest-scoring team at 56.8 points per game, but the Herd has curbed some of its turnover tendency, going from a 19.9 turnover average in the first eight games to 14.2 in the last five.
“We’ve been working the last few days in practice and our staff has been going recruiting a bit with the break in between the Navy and Southern Miss games, so hopefully we’ve gotten better in both of those aspects,” said Daniel, who also plans a lineup change as C-USA play begins.
The Herd will move 5-foot-9 junior Erica Woods from a post spot to guard, replacing Shay Weaver, who is the team’s top scorer at 10.0 points per game. Woods will be joined in the starting five by freshman point guard Norrisha Victrum, with 5-7 Orlandria Williams, 5-10 Suporia Dickens and 6-3 Chukwuka Ezeigbo in the frontcourt.
That would be the eighth different starting five Daniel has used in 14 games.
“We’ve made some personnel changes, moved Erica to the guard spot from the post, and we’re really pleased with what she’s doing,” Daniel said. “We’re going to continue to search. I’m not interested in just going through the motions. We’ll continue to search for lineup changes that we need. The problem with that is we dress 10. It is what it is.”
Daniel said the one game-in-18-days situation can be an advantage, particularly for a first-year coach trying to install – and reiterate – with a system new to the players.
“It’s good (the long break) if they adjust to the adjustments; it’s not good if they don’t,” the 36-year-old coach said. “Then, you might as well go play. I think it’s good. I’d like to think we’ve gotten a little bit better at some things.
“Otherwise it’s just a waste of time, and I’m not into wasting time. That’s the hope. Now, where that takes us, I really don’t know, because we’ve got to adjust on the fly. Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa (away, Jan. 17), whoever else, they’ve seen us for 13 games now, and they’re going to make adjustments. We have to make adjustments, so it’s going to be hard to tell until we’re into it.”
Daniel said that in building the Marshall program, he is looking as much to the future as the present -- the 16 C-USA regular-season games and the conference tournament in Tulsa, Okla. He said the Herd has made some needed inroads in recruiting for 2013-14 and beyond, too.
“I like the kids that we’ve signed,” Daniel said. “I got a chance to watch most of them play (in recent weeks) and will have a chance to see all of them play, and we’ve had big recruiting trips where we kind of think we’ve kind of turned the corner on some kids, hopefully.
“I think it has the potential to look like a completely different deal in 18 games, when this is over, to the first game next year, but what I don’t want to do and won’t do is just try to get to the first game next year.
“I want to help these kids get better and grow. We’re not going to become complacent and lethargic. We’re not just going to go through the drill. We’re trying to win the next play. Always.”