BOGACZYK: Herd Women's Hoops in RPI Top 75
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 18, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – And you thought the recent smile on Marshall women’s basketball Coach Matt Daniel’s face was about the holiday season.
After back-to-back 20-loss seasons, Daniel’s Herd has found respectability. After Tuesday night’s comeback victory at Norfolk State, 73-71, Daniel’s team has climbed to No. 74 in the RPI, entering Saturday’s annual Capital Classic game against No. 22 West Virginia (8-1).
“I didn’t know where we were (in the RPI),” Daniel said, “but I knew we were to the point where I could look at it and not frown all day.”
If anything, Marshall’s RPI could rise, win or lose to the Mountaineers – because WVU is No. 32 in the RPI. The Mountaineers’ lone loss was Nov. 20 at unbeaten Mississippi State (RPI of 15).
Following Saturday’s game, the Herd comes home to face Brescia (Ky.) – non-Division I games do not figure in RPI calculations – and then go against Robert Morris (178 RPI) on Dec. 29 at the Henderson Center.
Then Daniel’s team jumps into Conference USA play against two of the league’s better RPI teams – Western Kentucky (9-2 with an RPI of 22) and at Old Dominion (123). WKU’s two losses were on the road to Louisville and Mississippi State, ranked Nos. 10 and 21 in this week’s Associated Press poll.
“Western Kentucky is really good,” Daniel said.
WKU was picked to finish second in Conference USA by league coaches, right on the heels of favorite Middle Tennessee (4-4) – which has the No. 1 RPI strength of schedule in the country to date.
West Virginia will be the Herd’s first top 100 RPI opponent, but Daniel’s team has two quality road wins – and they count more in the RPI – over Coastal Carolina (166) and Rhode Island (149). The two MU losses were at Eastern Kentucky (131) and Cornell (160).
At Norfolk State, Marshall trailed 46-33 with 14½ minutes to play and rallied to win. In six-plus seasons as a college head coach, Daniel could remember only one of his teams erasing a bigger deficit – a 24-point comeback at Texas-Arlington by his final Central Arkansas team in 2011-12, when the Sugar Bears won a Southland Conference title
“I really don’t feel like we’re playing very well,” Daniel said Wednesday after the return trip from Virginia’s eastern shore. “We didn’t play very well at Eastern Kentucky and we didn’t play well in the first half and even in the second half last night, in my opinion.
“I do think we’re better than we have been, and hopefully we’ll continue to get better.”
Marshall last started a women’s basketball season 6-2 in 2011-12. That club finished 16-14.
“The difference (from Daniel’s first two seasons) is there’s a maturity now we didn’t have, and when we don’t turn it over, we give ourselves a chance to win. And when we rebound – particularly defensive rebounding – we give ourselves a great shot to win.
“We’re scoring at a decent clip (68.0 points per game) and shooting at a decent percentage (.429). Defensive rebounding and taking care of the ball are the things we need.”
The Herd is minus-11 on the season in turnovers. The eight opponents have combined for 115 offensive rebounds (the Herd’s defensive glass), where Marshall has a season deficit of 24.
Marshall ranks third in C-USA in scoring defense (56.9 ppg), and Herd foes are shooting only .354. Only one opponent has shot better than .391 (Cornell’s .439).
Individually, the Herd is getting “different players stepping up on different nights,” Daniel said.
“Chika (senior post player Chukwuka Ezeigbo) the last two games out has been very good,” Daniel said. “I just had an agent contact me about Chika this morning. Leah Scott has been a conference player of the week and has a chance to be one of the best players in our league. AJ Johnson tied the school record for threes in a game (six) last night and led us in scoring.
“(Point guard) Norrisha Victrum is kind of our Energizer bunny. Aja Sorrells has been really, really solid. McKenzie Akers can hurt you any night from anywhere on the court. Chelsey Romero hit some big shots (at Norfolk State). Ashley Lambert goes 5-for-6 (Tuesday) night.
“We couldn’t hold a lead last year, much less come back from a deficit. I’ve been on the other side of what we did last night, just last year. We’re better, but we need to keep improving.”