Marshall Thundering Herd athletics had a historic 2017-18 year and thanks to combined levels of success from the football and men’s basketball teams, Marshall accomplished something no other school has been able to accomplish in quite some time.
It’s a pretty rare feat when a college athletics program finds major success in both football and men’s basketball in the same season, and not only did Marshall accomplish that feat during the 2017-18 season, but the Herd stood alone in another accomplishment.
The success began with the 2017 football season. Marshall had a lot to improve on after a disappointing 3-9 season in 2016 and despite a few hiccups along the way, the Herd more than doubled its win total from 2016 and earned a berth into the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State.
The Herd held a 31-14 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the Rams had a rally in them and cut the lead all the way down to 31-28 late in the fourth quarter. However, Marshall was able to hold off the rally from there and escaped with a 31-28 win over Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl.
The win gave Marshall its FBS-best sixth straight bowl win to finish at 8-5 overall after going 3-9 just one year prior. And now with nearly 20 returning starters from that 2017 team, expectations are high for the Herd in 2018 to contend for a C-USA Championship.
Marshall’s second part of the success story came via the men’s basketball team’s historic 2017-18 season. Dan D’Antoni and company reached unprecedented levels of success for Thundering Herd basketball by capturing the program’s first-ever C-USA Tournament Championship and for the first time in 31 years, a berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Herd took its 24-10 record into a Round of 64 matchup with 4-seeded Wichita State, a consistently elite mid-major college basketball program year in and year out. The odds favored the Shockers heavily in this game, but the only shocking that would be going on came courtesy of the Herd.
Marshall closed things out down the stretch and the 13-seeded Herd knocked off Wichita State 81-75 for the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win. Even though Marshall fell to West Virginia in the Round of 32, the Herd’s historic season was officially solidified.
The program finished the 2017-18 season at 25-11 overall with a C-USA Tournament Championship and a Round of 32 appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Both Marshall football and men’s basketball had successful 2017-18 seasons, but when their combined levels of success are taken into consideration, the Herd accomplished a rare feat.
Marshall was the only Division-I athletic program during the 2017-18 season to have a football team with eight wins and a bowl win in football and 25 wins, a conference championship, and an NCAA Tournament win in men’s basketball. No other school accomplished this feat in 2017-18 and no school in the country accomplished this feat the previous two seasons either.
Even the elite, power conference teams with far more resources at their disposal than what Marshall has didn’t accomplish what the Herd’s two biggest sports accomplished collectively. In fact, the 2017-18 season should be considered the best athletics year in Marshall history given the two combined seasons of football and men’s basketball.
Three of the previous five times Marshall made the NCAA Tournament in men’s basketball saw the football team finish that same season with a losing the record. The Herd made the NCAA Tournament in 1985 and finished with a 21-13 record, but did not win a game in the NCAA Tournament while the football team finished at 6-5 overall in the same year.
And then in 1987, the Herd finished 25-6 overall and made in the NCAA Tournament, but fell in the Round of 64. The football team finished the 1986 season at 6-4-1 overall, but that NCAA Tournament appearance in 1987 was later vacated by the NCAA.
There have been two times when Marshall football and men’s basketball posted combined success featuring an NCAA Tournament appearance and a winning record in football, but nothing on the level of the 2017-18 season. Marshall had never seen a season where football won a bowl game and men’s basketball made and won a game in the NCAA Tournament.
It was a special season for Marshall athletics and the future appears to be very bright for both programs. And who knows, football and men’s basketball could both have championship seasons in 2018-19 to improve on an already historic 2017-18 season.