HUNTINGTON — Marshall has won 54 men’s basketball games over three seasons, including a 17-8 mark so far this year, but coach Dan D’Antoni has not coached a postseason game.
Apparently, assuming the Thundering Herd maintains its degree of success, that will happen, even if the NCAA tournament and National Invitation Tournament do not come calling.
This time around, D’Antoni said Tuesday, the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament are in play. MU did not make itself available for the “pay-to-play” tournaments the last two seasons.
“We’re going to play all the way through, as much basketball as we’re allowed to play,” D’Antoni said Tuesday before MU’s practice. “If we’re invited, we’re coming. If that’s the NCAA final game, that’s where they’ll be.”
The Thundering Herd could win its last six regular-season games, take two in the Conference USA tournament before losing in the finals and miss the NCAA field at 25-9. And it might not be close, seeing as how only nine leagues enjoyed multiple bids in 2017.
Throw out the “Power 5” conferences and the Big East, and there were three — the American Athletic Conference, the West Coast Conference and the Atlantic 10. That number might even be reduced.
And cracking the 32-team NIT field, as the Herd did in 2012, is not as easy as it sounds.
For one, regular-season conference champions who lose in their postseason tournament and do not make the NCAAs receive an automatic NIT bid. That took care of 10 spots in 2017. The “Power 5” leagues received 13 bids, with the Big East shut out — no big deal for that circuit, which took seven NCAA berths.
So subtract 10 and then 13 from 32, and that leaves nine spots for the mid-majors. Those nine schools represented six conferences, and Conference USA was shut out.
C-USA teams have shied away from the “pay for play” tournaments in recent years. The last appearances came in 2016, when Old Dominion won something called the Vegas 16, which attracted only eight invitees. Louisiana Tech also played in that tournament, which did not return in 2017.
Marshall accepted invitations to the 2010 and 2011 CIT fields, playing all games at Cam Henderson Center. In 2010, the Herd beat Western Carolina and lost to Appalachian State; in 2011, the Herd lost to Ohio.
In 2016, Marshall rode a late-season surge to finish 17-16. With a 12-6 conference record an a suddenly explosive offense, the Herd appeared to be a good CIT candidate.
But the decision not to go was made in advance, and D’Antoni either made it or supported it strongly. “I don’t do that,” he proclaimed after Marshall bowed out in the C-USA semifinals against Middle Tennessee. “If they [the school wants] to pay me, but I don’t think they pay.”
Indeed, those tournaments do not. Marshall did make a little money in 2010 and 2011, but had to first cover a guarantee and foot the bill for the game officials.
With home crowds averaging more than 5,300 per game and coaches and players having more fun than ever, the program appears eager to play deeper in March, by whatever avenue.
“We would be open to playing in CIT, etc.,” said athletic director Mike Hamrick. “Obviously, NCAA or NIT preferred. Have to make it work financially.”
D’Antoni seems to be all in.
“It’s like I tell people, here’s what I promise: You’ve got a car riding down the road with a bunch of good guys,” D’Antoni said. “Have a good time, enjoy it. Wherever the car stops, you’ll have a good time, and that’s all you can ask.”