CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- THIS MARSHALL basketball team is young. A work in progress, Thundering Herd followers are told.
With the top three scorers all freshmen, this team has much to learn, and the hard-knock lessons are piling up.
This team has to learn how to start fast, or at least get back on fast breaks. And not draw technical fouls following foul No. 4. And not panic in the face of adversity and start jacking up shots at random. And not, as a television crewmember observed Saturday, "check out in the final three minutes."
Coach Tom Herrion and his staff are racking their brains on how to get that message across. They could use some old-fashioned senior leadership, much like football coach Doc Holliday has cultivated in four years.
In the fourth season of the Herrion era, the Herd has one senior - Yous Mbao.
There were two, but one was Elijah Pittman and he was no leader. Instead, he was dismissed under cover of "indefinite suspension," has left school, entered a plea deal in a battery case, received probation and is leaving the country to pursue a pro career. Better mind your P's and Q's overseas, Elijah.
With that fiasco out of the way, the Herd has a team that combined for six starts before this season - five from Tamron Manning and one from the last standing senior, Mbao. The 7-foot-2 Senegal native is 5 of 22 from the field in his career, has played 93 minutes this season and has been out with a knee injury since playing in the Jan. 2 game at Akron.
With Mbao a bit player when available, this team has no veteran leadership on the floor. I may be out of touch with the prep-school-polluted, transfer-overrun, upside-loaded modern world of basketball, but I'm finding a lack of experience odd in the fourth year of a coaching tenure.
Shoot, Mbao is the only third-year player on this team (remember, he transferred in from Marquette). JP Kambola would be the other, but he is sidelined by an NCAA eligibility issue. He figured to multiply his 51 career minutes, but we'll never be sure.
It must be noted that a good number of upperclassmen doesn't always guarantee success. In his fourth year, coach Ron Jirsa's Herd had three seniors - Travis Aikens, Chris Ross and four-year starter Tre Whitted, and still went 13-19. Jirsa went out the door.
Herrion's Herd fell to 13-19 last season and needs a miracle to equal it this time. No lie - even if the 6-13 Herd splits the last 12 games and registers the obligatory postseason loss, it will lose 20 games.
Perhaps Kareem Canty grows up and lays off the 3-pointers and Ryan Taylor figures out how to stay in games, but the team still lacks an elder statesman. So how did the Herd get this way?
Of previous recruits that could be juniors or seniors this season:
DeVince Boykins: Took a redshirt season, so he is a third-year sophomore. His 3-point shooting (.417) dwarfs his foul shooting (.217). His effort doesn't seem to be in question; the payoff is.
Justin Coleman: Oh, yeah, remember this guy? He lit up the gym in his prop year, then lit up his cellphone on the bench during a game at Belmont. That compounded his discipline problems and brought him a quick dismissal. After a season at Midland College in Texas, he apparently has returned to obscurity.
You may hear about a high school point guard by the same name that has signed with Alabama. Don't confuse the two.
Chris Martin: He shot jumpers from his waistline and was in over his head defensively, though he actually drew charging fouls. He is sitting out a transfer year at Mount St. Mary's.
Jamir Hanner: Did the ball spin sideways on his jumpers, or was it just me? How in the world was he a D-I recruit?
Kambola: Mentioned above.
D.D. Scarver: Couldn't defend a statue, wasn't terribly tough and underachieved from 3-point range, but he averaged 11.9 points and actually hit free throws - .789, unheard of by Herd standards. Given the current state of affairs, he should still be here.
Pierria' Henry: Wait, the Herd failed to land him. The Charlotte 49ers point guard and South Charleston High grad will be seen in Huntington on March 6.
And then we have the man who was the last recruit from the Donnie Jones era, DeAndre Kane. I've said plenty about his season at Iowa State, so you can watch for yourself. Big 12 teams are on TV more than American Idol.
Would Kane, strange and moody as he was, been a good senior leader for the Thundering Herd this season? At least better than Pittman, I figure.
Should this Marshall team be so young four years into a coaching tenure? I don't think so.
Today's trivia question: Which Marshall coach had the best fourth season?
Not a hard question. The answer was Rick Huckabay, whose 25-6 team of 1986-87 remains Marshall's last NCAA tournament team.
But consider this: four other coaches won 20 in their fourth season - Cam Henderson, Ellis Johnson, Bob Zuffelato and Greg White. Henderson's team won the 1939 Buckeye Conference title; Johnson's team was fourth at the 1967 National Invitation Tournament.
The worst fourth seasons? Dwight Freeman (1993-94) at 9-18, Jirsa at 13-19. Those were the final seasons for both.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.