HUNTINGTON — As soon as the 2019-20 basketball season abruptly ended for Marshall’s men’s basketball team amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus quickly shifted to getting ready for the 2020-21 season.
With the team having no seniors in 2019-20, the Thundering Herd has everyone back for the 2020-21 campaign, aside from forward Cam Brooks-Harris, who entered the transfer portal.
As the Herd looks forward, the non-conference schedule the veteran-laden Herd will face is starting to take shape, and it’s an impressive mix of solid competition to help the team build a strong presence heading into league play.
Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick confirmed previous reports as to the two current largest opponents — Virginia Tech and Xavier — on the Herd’s 2020-21 schedule while discussing regionalized scheduling last week.
“You look at our basketball schedule, and we’ve got Eastern Kentucky, who is regional,” Hamrick said. “Xavier is regional, Virginia Tech is regional. Akron and Toledo, too. We’ve been scheduling as regionally as we can.”
Marshall’s contest at Eastern Kentucky is expected to be the season opener in early November — possibly Nov. 10. The contest is the final of a four-year contract between the programs, putting the Herd on the road to open its season against the Colonels, who are coached by former Marshall point guard A.W. Hamilton.
Xavier and Virginia Tech are each considered “buy” games in which Marshall gets paid to travel for the contest against a bigger opponent. Sources say the value of each of those late November games is $90,000 each. Those “buy” games help Marshall’s athletics budget while also being cost-effective due to the fact that they are regional games that the Herd can travel to by bus.
While the majority of the non-conference pieces are filled, Marshall is reportedly looking for one more buy game to fill its 2020-21 slate.
There were talks of a Marshall matchup with North Carolina State, which would have pitted the Herd against former assistant Kevin Keatts, but those talks have ended.
That means Marshall is still in the market for one more buy game with the hopes that it is against a regional opponent — an aspect that becomes more important with travel concerns following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Finances are playing into college athletics more than ever now, which makes Marshall’s non-conference scheduling that much more important.
Marshall is also part of a multi-team event (MTE), which allows them to schedule multiple games as part of one event.
The NCAA Division I Council clarified its rules on MTEs on April 24, saying that teams that schedule a 28-game regular season can participate in one MTE of up to three games while teams scheduling 29 regular season games can take part in an MTE of up to two games.
Three-game multiple-team events have to be completed within 10 days while two-game MTEs must be completed within five days.
For Marshall, it appears that MTE will take place following the season opener against Eastern Kentucky.
Midweek home games against Coppin State, William & Mary and Tennessee Tech are part of that multi-team event. Marshall’s road contests with Xavier and Virginia Tech are weekend contests that round out the November slate in its final two weekends.
Before exams in December, Marshall starts with a pair of road non-conference games, returning a trip to College of Charleston — the Herd’s longest scheduled non-conference trip — and Akron.
After finals week, however, the Herd returns home for the bulk of its final non-conference stretch prior to the start of conference play with games against Ohio, Toledo and Northern Iowa at the Cam Henderson Center.
Marshall is currently working on finding a fit within its schedule for a home game against Duquesne, along with trying to solidify the final buy game to round out its non-conference slate.
There is a window squeezed around Christmas break for at least one, if not both, of those contests prior to the start of league play, which — if it follows recent format — will begin around the New Year.
With New Year’s falling on a Friday next season, Conference USA could start the league slate on Dec. 31 with its typical Thursday/Saturday game slots, barring any changes to the league’s format.
Potential changes will be discussed leading up to the league’s spring meetings, which are set for May 18-20.
Following those meetings, the league will set schedules and present them to the league’s television partners before releasing them. Normally, those schedules are released in mid-June.