HUNTINGTON - You can retire the phrase "Marshall faces a new Conference USA opponent tonight," for it will be used almost every week.This is the second week in a row the Thundering Herd takes on a C-USA newcomer, as North Texas comes to town. Game time is 7 p.m. at Cam Henderson Center, with no local TV (it is being beamed to Time Warner Cable SportsChannel in Texas).All told, eight basketball-playing schools joined the conference, a full half of the 16-team lineup. The Herd has only two weeks this conference season in which it won't face a new rival.That will put a premium on preparation. It's as if the Herd plays 23 nonconference games, from a scouting standpoint.
Then again ..."Conversely, every team that's getting ready for us, we're a new team," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "So it's a two-way street. Certain teams cause different things; sometimes it's exciting to see a new style, new personnel. We're not as familiar with North Texas as we might have been with UTEP or some of the teams who [have been] in the league, but you get caught up really quick."Shoot, the Mean Green has to find the Henderson Center."Just like we needed directions to find San Antonio's gym," Herrion said. "Unfamiliarity, we'll see that from several teams as the season continues to unfold." For one of these teams, the season could unravel, for both are 0-2 in league play. Marshall (6-11 overall) lost at lowly regarded Texas-San Antonio (90-81) and Texas-El Paso (66-56) last week; North Texas (9-7) fell to Southern Mississippi (74-64) and Tulane (73-62).The Mean Green's most notable victory has been a 61-41 stunner New Year's Eve at Texas A&M, in which the Aggies were held to 30 percent shooting.That suggests a deliberate, even plodding game, but North Texas isn't like that. Let's put it this way: If Marshall's defense doesn't show up tonight, a horse race is possible."Their speed really jumps out at you," Herrion said. "They're explosive in transition. One of the fastest teams we'll see. They open up the floor, they're dangerous off the miss or turnover; we've got to get back, get set. Good athleticism, they're a pretty deep club, they play nine or 10 guys. They've got good balance." Some examples of that balance:Ten different Mean Green players have started;Nine players are averaging at least 17.6 minutes;
Six players are averaging at least 7.4 points, led by Alzee Williams' 13.0. Jordan Williams averages 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.
But that doesn't necessarily translate into success, especially when the Mean Green is shooting 42 percent from the floor and has a 0.72 assist-to-turnover ratio, both 15th in the league.BRIEFLY: Marshall is not in last place in C-USA in free-throwing shooting, as its 60 percent tops Old Dominion's 59.7 percent. ... The Herd is dead last in defensive rebounding percentage at 65.7 percent - opponents have snagged 229 offensive rebounds, highest in the league. ... Marshall is fourth in attendance, with an announced 4,716 per home date. The league average is 3,567.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.