Houston's Joseph Young (front) ranks second in Conference USA in scoring.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The way coach Tom Herrion sees it, Houston has set itself up well for its move to The League With No Name.And he believes his Marshall team has taken advantage of the week that preceded today's game against those ready-to-split Cougars. Game time is 2 p.m. EST at Houston's Hofheinz Pavillion, with WCHS channel 8 airing it in Charleston-Huntington."One, we got to spend some time on us, more than you usually do this time of year," Herrion said. "Second, we needed to academically get our feet back on the ground."Third, the Thundering Herd will try to get its sputtering season back on the uptick. Shoot, Marshall is trying for its second road win in a row, following the surprisingly easy win Feb. 20 at Central Florida.
Both teams are jockeying to get into the middle of the Conference USA pack, maybe even sneak away with a first-round bye in the league tournament. With UCF on the postseason sidelines, there are five such spots.But Houston (15-11, 4-9) is a long way from that, even a game behind eighth-place Marshall. The Cougars have lost three in a row, clinching their fourth straight season with a losing league record.This perennially enigmatic team has lost to undisputed C-USA doormat Rice, but has dumped third-place Texas-El Paso by 18. And really, their three-loss streak looks respectable - triple overtime at Tulsa, by seven points at Memphis and by 10 at UTEP.Herrion is 3-0 against the Cougars and coach James Dickey, including a first-round dismissal in the 2011 C-USA tournament. But he knows the dangers of selling the league's highest-scoring team (76.8 per game) short."They're a terrific offensive club," Herrion said. "They're explosive, they score from several positions - 3s and inside with [TaShawn] Thomas. They've got balance and a lot of weapons."A lot of young weapons, too - their top five scorers consist of three sophomores (Joseph Young, Thomas, J.J. Thompson), one redshirt freshman (Jherrod Stiggers) and one true freshman (Danuel House). That's a solid multi-year core for the Cougars' move to a league that is losing its Big East moniker.Back in C-USA, Young is a very close second in league scoring, trailing East Carolina's Maurice Kemp 17.769 to 17.760. Thomas is close to averaging a double-double with 16.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, and House averages 12.5 points.House, a 6-foot-7, 195-pound forward, has been named the league's rookie of the week three times."He has lived up to his billing, and he's a good candidate for freshman of the year," Herrion said. "He's got good size on the wing, versatile, got a smooth shot. He shoots well enough you've got to guard him deep, and then he can take you to the rim."Marshall (12-16, 5-8) will try to reverse its result of a week ago, a 52-48 home loss to Alabama-Birmingham. The Herd hasn't put together consecutive wins in three months, and hasn't done so against league foes since the 2012 C-USA tournament.The Herd returns to finish its home season Tuesday against Southern Mississippi, then travels to East Carolina for the regular-season finale March 9.
BRIEFLY:Marshall's DeAndre Kane still leads C-USA in assists with 7.0 per game and ranks seventh in NCAA Division I. The Herd still leads the league in offensive rebounds per game (14.6), which is sixth in the country. ... Nigel Spikes has blocked a shot in 13 consecutive games and is fourth in the league with a 1.8 average. ... The Herd was able to fly non-stop, taking the United flight to Houston from Yeager Airport. It will fly home to Cincinnati, then bus back to Huntington.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or at twitter.com/dougsmock.