It’s hard to call something the best ever, but when mentioning Marshall Thundering Herd basketball’s 2017-18 season, the argument can be made that it was the best season in Marshall program history.
The amount of history-making plateaus and firsts the program accomplished during the 2017-18 season are hard to fathom given how long Marshall has been playing basketball. There have been many outstanding seasons for Marshall basketball over the years that could stake a claim as the best in program history.
The Herd put forth eight seasons of 20 or more wins under the legendary Cam Henderson from 1935-1955 including a 32-win season in 1946-47. Marshall won the NAIA National Championship in 1947 and appeared in the tournament in 1938 and 1948.
However, those teams didn’t take on the level of competition that the modern-day Marshall basketball program has faced as a whole. The Herd made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance during the 1955-56 season with an 18-5 record, but lost in its first-round game against Morehead State.
Marshall made its first-ever appearance in the NIT during the 1966-67 season and finished 20-8 overall with an NIT semifinal appearance while also making the NIT in 1968. The Herd had a very stellar 1971-72 season that saw the team finish with a 23-4 record and an NCAA Tournament berth before losing in the first round to Southwestern Louisiana.
The Herd returned to the NIT during the 1972-73 season and finished with a 20-7 record. It took Marshall several years to return to postseason play, but finally returned to the NCAA Tournament during the 1983-84 season with a 25-6 final record after falling to Villanova in the first round.
Another NCAA Tournament berth followed during the 1984-85 season and a 21-13 final record after a first-round loss to VCU. The Herd returned to the NCAA Tournament during the 1986-87 season by finishing the season with a 25-6 record, but fell to TCU in the first round of an NCAA Tournament berth that was later vacated by the NCAA after violations.
An NIT berth for the first time in 15 years came next for the Herd and clinched a berth into the NIT during the 1987-88 season by finishing with a 24-8 record. But following the 1987-88 season, Marshall basketball wouldn’t return to a major tournament for nearly a quarter-century.
Marshall finally got back to major postseason play during the 2011-12 season with a berth into the NIT after a 24-year absence. The Herd finished that season at 21-14 overall and was the third consecutive season the team finished with 20 or more victories, the first time since 1982-1985 the program accomplished that feat.
The program wouldn’t return to a major tournament for another six years when after winning its first-ever C-USA Tournament Championship and first conference tournament championship since 1987, the Herd earned a berth into the 2018 NCAA Tournament for the first time in 31 years.
But what separates this Marshall team from the others is what the Herd did in the NCAA Tournament. For the first time in program history, the 13-seed Marshall got a win in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament by knocking off 4-seeded Wichita State to advance to the Round of 32 where the Herd’s season came to an end courtesy of West Virginia.
At season’s end, Marshall finished 25-11 overall, the program’s first 25-win season since the 1986-87 season. What the Herd did in March begs the question of if this season was the best season in Marshall basketball history. And when breaking down this historic season, the case can be made and maybe confirmed.
The Herd won its first-ever C-USA Tournament Championship, made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 31 years, and won a game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
Marshall also defeated two ranked teams in the same season for the first time in program history with one of those two wins being the first time the program has ever defeated a ranked conference opponent on the road.
Marshall has had numerous impressive seasons over the years, but the 2017-18 season should be considered the greatest season in program history. The level of competition was much higher than it was, as a whole, when the program had an abundance of success in the 20th century. But what puts this season over the top was that elusive first NCAA Tournament win.
The Herd’s 12 C-USA regular season wins during the 2017-18 season were tied for the most regular-season conference wins the program has had since the 1987-88 season which saw 14 conference wins. In addition, the past three seasons have resulted in three straight seasons of 10 or more wins in conference for the first time since doing so from 1998-2001.
Other Marshall teams probably had more talent from top to bottom, but what the 2017-18 team accomplished is unparalleled in the history of Thundering Herd basketball and it has earned the right to be called the best single season in Marshall basketball history.