HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - If you look at it one way, Marshall's basketball team is being dealt another bad hand in its schedule - its longest two-game road trip of the Conference USA season comes after it played six of its last nine non-league games away from home.Keep in mind the Thundering Herd has lost 10 in a row away from Huntington, dating back to last February.But really, the Thundering Herd is getting a break as it opens conference play with a Texas swing. Under C-USA's new Thursday-Saturday format, Marshall plays at Texas-San Antonio tonight and then heads to Texas-El Paso for a Saturday night contest.First off, the semester hasn't started, so the Herd can take an extra day to get the kinks out from a long plane ride. Indeed, Marshall players and coaches flew out of Charleston's Yeager Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
The other advantage is this: The Herd follows tonight's game with a trip to UTEP, 540 road miles to the west. El Paso is also the site of the C-USA basketball tournament, but that's a solid two months away. That's a lot better than the Herd's luck three seasons ago, when the Herd made the 1,600-mile trip twice in a seven-day span.So yes, this is good fortune."We got in Tuesday night; it allowed us to practice earlier today, get a little more settled in," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said Wednesday.But that good fortune only lasts as long as today's 8 p.m. tip, when the Herd (6-9) takes on the Roadrunners (4-9) at the 4,080-seat Convocation Center. But the Herd might get a break on the hardwood, playing a team that probably would be picked 16th and last in the coaches' preseason poll, if there were one.UTSA has nine newcomers, tying it with Marshall for most in the league, but the "growing pains" have been more painful. The Roadrunners are coming off a 104-71 loss to Arkansas, and have suffered other indignities - a loss to Division II McMurry, a 30-point loss to Texas Tech, a 26-point loss to Cal State-Bakersfield and a 31-point rout by Georgia State.Replicated Rating Percentage Indexes have UTSA at 341 (ESPN) or thereabouts, out of 351 teams.The Roadrunners are expected to get 6-foot-2 junior-college guard Keon Lewis back after being out three games with an injury. His 15.3 points per game leads four double-figure scorers, which also include 6-1 senior guard Hyji Thomas (12.2), senior 3-point shooter Jordan Sims (11.2) and 6-foot senior Devon Agusi (11.1).They trail in most stat categories, but own a plus-2.3 rebounding edge and shoot 70.3 percent from the foul line."Their guards can score and they've got bodies up front that can take up space," Herrion said. "They'll mix defenses, change it up. They definitely play some man, play some zone, so we expect to see a lot of different looks."Marshall will try to lift its own lagging RPI of 266, but the more important goal is getting its C-USA season off on the right foot in conference play. Herrion is ready to put the early-season struggles aside and concentrate on the new "16-game season."And take care of business on the road for the first time in 11 months.
BRIEFLY: Shawn Smith is sneaking up in Marshall's scoring column. He has scored 67 points in his last five games, lifting his season average to 9.3. ... Kareem Canty's 6.93 assists per game lead Conference USA and are sixth nationally. But Canty is just 10th in C-USA in assists-to-turnover ratio, 1.58. ... Health-wise, reserve guard Tamron Manning is a game-time decision and backup center Yous Mbao (knee) is doubtful. ... Marshall is 5-3 in conference openers, five of which have come on the road. ... UTSA may have been second in C-USA in football attendance (29,214 average), but it is dead last in basketball attendance at 787 per game. The Roadrunners have one four-digit crowd, 1,044 vs. Northern Arizona.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.