HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s men’s basketball team has a big task on its hands this week as the Thundering Herd gets back into conference play.
Just how big? Oh, about 6-foot-11, 260 pounds.
Western Kentucky junior Charles Bassey is Conference USA’s preseason player of the year and thought to be one of the country’s top big men. That’s the challenge Marshall (7-2 overall, 1-1 Conference USA) faces against the Hilltoppers (9-4, 2-2) when the teams square off at 5 p.m. Friday in Bowling Green, Kentucky and at 2 p.m. Sunday in Huntington.
Marshall center Goran Miladinovic has steadily improved over the course of the last few weeks, but this week’s matchup will be his toughest test yet.
In addition to Miladinovic, the Herd will likely throw many looks at Bassey and use its depth to continuously have the Hilltoppers’ big man working.
“There’s going to be times that Goran may need help,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “I don’t think he’s as developed inside as Bassey, so he may need some help. We’re going to have to team defend him a little bit and scheme it a little bit defensively.”
Bassey’s impact on the success of the Hilltoppers is not lost within the statistics. The talented junior center is averaging five points more a game in wins than losses and, in two of four losses, Bassey has been limited to single-digit rebounds.
The key for Marshall is to keep him off the offensive glass, which would give the Hilltoppers — not a great shooting team this season — additional opportunities.
Part of the way for Marshall to get that accomplished is to force Bassey to defend the perimeter as well, which in turn could limit his energy on the other end of the floor.
Marshall’s lineup features 6-9 forwards Jannson Williams and Mikel Beyers, who will inject a nice game of cat-and-mouse into Friday’s 5 p.m. matchup at E.A. Diddle Arena.
While Bassey will be a challenge down low, the Herd’s ability to force him outside to defend also will challenge him.
“I’m sure Bassey has an advantage inside with Mike and Jannson guarding him, certainly,” D’Antoni said. “We would certainly have an advantage outside with Bassey trying to guard them. Who wins that? You don’t know until the game’s over.”
D’Antoni said that Bassey is running and moving better now, putting on his NBA scout hat for a moment to assess the talent of Western Kentucky’s big man.
Coming into the matchup, there’s certainly no more decorated player within Conference USA than Bassey, who has a list of awards and accolades as long as his wingspan.
In the preseason, he was named a Preseason Second-Team All-American by Lindy’s while also being named to the Naismith Trophy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch lists.
Bassey has since backed up those numbers, winning four Conference USA Player of the Week awards in the early portion of the season while leading the nation in total rebounds (141) and double-doubles (eight).
For the season, Bassey is averaging 16.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. The rebound average is fourth nationally while his block average is third.
Those numbers also have him on the Wooden Award Player of the Year Midseason Top 25 Watch List.
Bassey earned the 2018-19 Conference USA Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year honors and was regarded by many as the league’s top talent in 2019-20 before an injury sidelined him for the season.