Marshall practices at the Henderson Center Tuesday afternoon in preparation for tonight's Capital Classic.
HUNTINGTON - With its nation-leading rebounding game, Marshall's inside men have gotten two healthy samples of Big East basketball, preparing them to a large extent for West Virginia.But the Thundering Herd has yet to experience the inside-outside prowess of Kevin Jones, the Big East's leader in scoring and rebounding. And the Herd is bracing for that bearded Turkish native, Deniz Kilicli.To hear coach Tom Herrion and his players speak, Kilicli is underlisted at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds. Way, way underlisted."One I look at him, I think of a lumberjack," said Dennis Tinnon, the Herd's rebounding machine. "A real big frame, body, got the beard going on. He's a pretty good player; I think he is. He just takes up a lot of space."
"He's 'Man Mountain Dean,' " Herrion said. "He blocks the moon. He blocks the sun; that's how big he is. People don't realize how enormously big and strong he is, but he's got great agility and tremendous touch, because as a right-handed post guy, he plays as a left-hander."He's gotten way better, so he causes major problems, especially with him and Kevin. Kevin can stretch you out and when Truck [Bryant] is making 3s, they've good balance, inside and out."Kilicli looked dominant early in last year's Capital Classic, scoring eight points in the first 12 minutes. But he failed to score in the final 28 minutes, finishing 4-of-10 from the floor in Marshall's 75-71 victory.Jones went 3-of-9, scoring nine points and six rebounds. When the ball goes up at 7:30 tonight at the Civic Center, nobody in the Marshall camp expects numbers that low.Forward Dago Pena is ready to hand Jones the Big East's player of the year award now, and Herrion wouldn't dispute it."You lead that conference in scoring and rebounding - I mean, I've been in that league twice, and that says enough," said Herrion, a former Pitt and Providence assistant. "You do that in that league and that means you're in talks for player of the year on the national level."That's a credit to Kevin, and the development from the staff he's had from his freshman year. I recruited him when I was at Pitt, and clearly he's made great strides."Herrion's Marshall team lives by rebounding, to a large degree. In last year's game, the Herd (13-4) held an advantage until the game's end, when WVU's late-game rally gave it a one-board edge.Since then, the Herd has been outrebounded three times - all last season. This season, it has been tied once, when it used a short lineup much of the way against Jacksonville State.Otherwise, pure dominance - to the tune of plus-190 in 17 games. The plus-11.2 average leads Division I after last weekend's games.How would the Herd do in the body-banging Big East? Hard to tell, but it has played Cincinnati and Syracuse, beating each by 13 rebounds and leading a combined 37-25 in offensive boards.
With Tinnon, the 6-7, 220-pound Green Bay, Wis., native who came from the Kansas junior-college circuit, the Herd's offensive rebounding numbers almost seem fabricated. Tinnon averages 10.9 rebounds, which doesn't even lead Conference USA, but his 4.9 offensive boards per game have wowed opponents and teammates alike.The Herd averages 17.6 offensive boards, which leads its conference by a large margin. Five times, MU has gathered more offensive rebounds than the opponent has on its defensive end, and has come close in a few other games.C-USA ranks its teams on offensive rebounding percentage, and the Herd's 45.2 percent is nearly 6 percentage points above the nearest team.DeAndre Kane - yes, the 6-4 guard - is second on the team at 5.9 rebounds per game, and he fights as hard as anybody inside. Starting center Robert Goff, 6-9, 240 pounds, is at 5.2, and 6-10 Nigel Spikes is grabbing 4.1 off the bench.Goff is another Kansas juco import, and the 6-9, 240-pounder and Tinnon are ready to bang around in their first Capital Classic. They've seen the video of last year's game. What they're not ready for is a barrage of 64 fouls.Forty whistles were blown in their game last weekend against Central Florida, and that was plenty for all involved. Tinnon couldn't believe what he saw from last year.
"The officials were not that great," he said. "I mean, the game was just called ... every touch, a little foul here, a little foul there. Everything was getting called by the refs. I'd rather the game not get called so [tightly]. It gives us an opportunity to bang a little bit, especially down low with these guys. They've got big bodies and everything."That was kind of terrible last year.""Each team plays different, offensively and defensively," Herrion said. "But those experiences have given our guys, and our newer guys, more experience."Tonight, that experience will be tested.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org