HUNTINGTON — Conference USA’s basketball season is setting up to be an unusual one schedule-wise, with back-to-back games and a divisional format that was announced on Wednesday to provide competitive balance.
For Marshall’s men’s basketball team, the goals do not change even though the format does.
Led by head coach Dan D’Antoni, the Thundering Herd wants Conference USA regular-season and tournament crowns and another appearance in the NCAA tournament.
While D’Antoni and the Herd know the 2020-21 season will be a difficult road, the team also thinks it has the pieces in place to be successful on that journey.
The biggest aspect that Marshall sees as an advantage is a multiple-schemed attack in which the Herd can adjust to its opponent.
“We have different avenues that we can go,” Marshall forward Jannson Williams said. “We’re going to have to filter through those. I feel like that’s going to have to be the game plan.”
If the Herd wants to go big, it can do so with 7-foot center Goran Miladinovic providing a boost in the post. Miladinovic had several good showings in spot duty during non-conference play that were pivotal to building toward league play.
Marshall can also come back with a lineup of shooters involving both Williams and Mikel Beyers on the floor at all times, which means teams will have to respect the outside shot from the 6-foot-9 talents.
When those two are involved, the floor spacing opens up, which allows guards Jarrod West, Taevion Kinsey and Andrew Taylor to penetrate and create off the dribble.
The Herd can also go to a hyper-athletic lineup that features Kinsey, Darius George (who D’Antoni said returned to practice this week) and Obinna Anochili-Killen, which allows the team to pick up the tempo and get out in transition quicker against bigger lineups.
Those are just three combinations that show the numerous variations in styles that the Herd can employ. With 96 percent of the team’s scoring returning from last season, the depth is there for D’Antoni to work different combinations, which makes scheming Marshall a chore.
“We do have a lot of versatility,” West said. “We’ve got a lot of options and we’ve got a lot of people that can play, so Coach Dan can throw different lineups in there on the fly, really, and we can execute that. That can be definitely beneficial for us.”
For example, this weekend’s opponent is Louisiana Tech, a team that utilizes its guards but also has big post players in the 270- to 300-pound range.
Marshall can counter that with Williams, Beyers and Killen all being able to extend those players out off the block, but should rebounding become an issue or if post play starts to wear on the Herd, Miladinovic can come in and allow the Herd to get tougher against that system.
Williams said no matter the scheme incorporated, the key for Marshall is to use its pace and style to its advantage on both ends of the court.
“We’re going to have to really be smart,” Williams said. “These guys are big. They’re definitely big and they’re going to be athletic. I’ll give it to them. Whoever has the best endurance will win these games, especially the second game.”
Marshall and Louisiana Tech face off in the Conference USA opener for both teams at 7:30 p.m. Friday before returning for the second game at 7 p.m. Saturday. Both games take place at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston, Louisiana.