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BOGACZYK: WBI Bid Adds to Herd's Step Forward

March 17, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall has reached a final four in women's basketball.

That's one way to look at the Thundering Herd's bid to the Women's Basketball Invitational, which Coach Matt Daniel's team opens with a trip to Northern Kentucky on Thursday night.

Of the 349 teams in Division I women's hoops, 144 reach the postseason - 64 in the NCAA tournament, 64 in the WNIT and 16 in the WBI. Of those 144, the Herd (16-14) received one of the final four seeds.

"Hey," Daniel said, grinning, "at least we've got one."


 

 

Marshall has a No. 8 seed in one of the WBI's two East Region brackets. NKU (19-13) is a No. 1 seed after playing its way to the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament title game, where the Norse fell to nationally ranked Florida Gulf Coast. NKU is in the WBI for a third straight season.

The Herd goes to the 9,400-seat Bank of Kentucky Center with a four-game losing streak since three-year starting point guard Norrisha Victrum went down with a right ACL tear. The junior floor leader will undergo knee surgery next week, Daniel said.

And although Marshall is shorthanded, after a winning record that followed 9-21 and 11-20 seasons - and last-place Conference USA finishes - in the 39-year-old Daniel's first two MU seasons, the coach said a postseason bid isn't something to wave away.

"If you're not here to go play in the postseason, what are we here for?" Daniel said. "There are teams in the NCAA Tournament that are hurt, teams in the WNIT that are hurt, teams in the NCAA Tournament that are tired. But yes, it is an opportunity to go to postseason.

"I've been a head coach for seven seasons (four at Central Arkansas). Two of those we were ineligible for the postseason (transitioning to Division I at UCA). Of the five teams that have been eligible, we've made it three.

"There never has been a player that we've recruited and has graduated that did not know postseason play. Besides, I also think if you're really trying to build something - which we came here to do - look at history ... I think we're starving for it."

Since becoming a major-college program, the Herd's lone postseason bid came as 1997 Southern Conference Tournament champions - a 69-49 NCAA Tournament first-round loss as a No. 15 seed at host and second-seeded Colorado.

The WBI, operated by Milwaukee-based Sport Tours International, requires teams to pay to host games. Daniel said Marshall will receive a $7,000 guarantee as a road team at NKU.

"The WNIT is the same, pay if you host," Daniel said when asked how much lobbying is necessary for a WBI berth. "You have to tell them you're willing to play, and after that your body of work speaks for itself."

Marshall is one of five C-USA women's teams in the postseason. League regular-season and tourney champ Western Kentucky has the lone NCAA berth. Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion are heading to the WNIT as first-round home teams.

Daniel's team, led by senior post player Chukwuka "Chika" Ezeigbo and junior forward Leah Scott - All-C-USA second team selections -- finished in ninth place in the 14-team C-USA regular-season race after being picked to finish last in the preseason coaches' poll.

Daniel's third Herd team not only fooled his peers, but posted a winning season and reached the postseason as well. Now, the Herd faces a program in the third year of its transition to Division I that's similar to what he dealt with during his four years at Central Arkansas.

"They're a good team," Daniel said of NKU. "It's a good trip for us, 2 1/2-3 hours by bus, and I'm very familiar with the kind of transition they went through. They've played a good schedule and they didn't win by accident. They're a very worthy opponent."

The Herd coach hopes a WBI bid - like a winning season and rise in the C-USA standings - is another step in "the process."

"It's pretty neat to do that, have the success we did and make the postseason," Daniel said. "It's

pretty neat to do that so fast. It's challenging but postseason play - something I've learned in last three seasons - is not something you take for granted.

"I'm honored to be one of five from Conference USA to be in the postseason. I'd be honored anyway, but I am especially considering where we were picked."

Asked what kind of season he expected back when it started, Daniel shrugged.

"I try not to worry too much about results, just coach the play," he said. "That's really who I am at the core, and whether it's desperation or greed - depending on the side of coin you want to talk about -- you can't lose sight of that when you're getting your head beat in, or you're winning all of the time.

"That's something with this process, the frustration of losing games, things not necessarily going your way, that can put you in a place of dire need and want, but that's not really who I am or want to be.

"I just want to help young people get better as players and as people, coach the play, coach the skill set, and let the results take care of themselves in this span of November to March. But it's nice to be where we are."

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