HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The rest of the basketball world may not know the newcomers to the radically restructured Marshall basketball program, but coach Tom Herrion knows his troops very well.Herrion, in his fourth season, knows his team well enough to pick up the pace on installing the Thundering Herd's more aggressive systems, defensive and offensive. He is certain that for the first time his team is deep enough to pick up ball handlers past midcourt, to cause more turnovers and bad shots, thus helping a more aggressive offense.Shoot, he is certain his team will draw more charging fouls than it did a year ago. Then again, those were about as frequent as consecutive made free throws."Saturday is our seventh practice," Herrion said last Saturday before that practice. "We've had more guys taking or attempting to take charges in our first six practices since I've been here. That's a point of emphasis and it becomes contagious, and it's a big play in the game." Herrion is moving from his strict halfcourt defense, which he brought from his assistant coaching stint at Pittsburgh. When executed well, that defense is sticky and painful to try to solve.When that defense is inconsistent, it is painful to watch. That was the case last season, in which the Herd struggled to a 13-19 record.Twelve times the Herd allowed foes to shoot 47 percent or better, with Ohio shooting 65.3 percent, Southern Mississippi 63.2 percent and Houston 59.4 percent. Take extra credit if you identify those as MU's top three drubbings, by 37, 56 and 27 points.
At home against East Carolina, MU held the Pirates to 32.8 percent. At Greenville, N.C., the Pirates shot 52.2 percent. You can guess who won which game, and you can consider that a reflection of the season in general.Herrion hasn't just turned that page, he has ripped it out of the proverbial book. With seven new scholarship players eligible, he has recruited different personnel for a different style."Adapting to our personnel now, that we've recruited, I'm positive that's the right style for this group," he said. "We're quicker, we're more athletic, we move our feet better 'one' through 'five' in our positions. Hopefully, it's a situation where our defense will create better tempo, more possesions and hopefully create more offense for us."
Guards such as Kareem Canty and Tamron Manning will be charged with stressing opposing guards moving up the court. DeVince Boykins, even more solidly built than he was last year, was becoming a good on-ball defender last year. Herrion thinks his late recruit, the much-hyped Chris Thomas, will be a big factor on defense as well as on the other end.Herrion will need good work underneath from the committee of Yous Mbao, Cheikh Sane and J.P. Kambola. Sane's NCAA certification is still in the works, though Herrion doesn't expect a problem.The best defender, perhaps? Tyrone Goard, the George Washington High graduate and transfer from Ohio."Goard is probably our most versatile, anchor-type defender," Herrion said. "And he can play multiple positions."And he can take a charge. "He's been really good at it, dating back to high school and AAU," Herrion said.
It's still a week-plus away from the team's intrasquad scrimmage, Oct. 17, one feature of the revamped practice schedule. The 17th would be the approximate date of Thundering Herd Madness, which might be the third or fourth practice - or even the first.That difference promises to give fans more quality basketball for their $5 general admission."The tone of that night will be totally different than the previous Herd Madness," Herrion said. "We're going to treat it more game-like to get something out of it, especially with people in the stands. It will be a more intense, serious business-like evening."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.