With Herd Madness set to take place tonight, basketball season is upon us and the Marshall Thundering Herd will be looking to build on its historic 2017-18 season.
Marshall had a season over three decades in the making last season by finishing 25-11 overall with a C-USA Tournament Championship and for the first time since 1987, a berth into the NCAA Tournament. But the accomplishments weren’t finished there for Dan D’Antoni’s squad.
The No. 13 seeded Herd knocked off No. 4 seeded Wichita State in the Round of 64 for the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win and advanced to the Round of 32 where Marshall’s season came to an end at the hands of the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Last season was a breakthrough season for D’Antoni’s Herd, but the 2018-19 season could be even better given the talent Marshall returns from last season’s team. The Herd won’t catch anybody by surprise this season and has plenty of hype surrounding what this season could be by national outlets.
Marshall was picked second in the preseason C-USA basketball poll selected by the 14 head coaches in C-USA. The Herd received five first-place votes, four behind Western Kentucky’s nine first-place votes. Most believe Marshall and WKU are the clear-cut favorites and could meet again in the C-USA Tournament Championship game for the second straight season.
The 2018-19 Herd returns 77 percent of its total points scored from last season, a team that finished 10th in the country in scoring offense. The highest scoring duo in college basketball from last season leads the charge in preseason all-conference senior guards Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks. Many believe Marshall’s backcourt is as good as any team in the country, and it all starts with these two.
Elmore has been gaining major national attention since his March performance last season in leading the Herd to a C-USA Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament win. He won the C-USA Tournament MVP award and led the Herd with 27 points in the upset win over Wichita State in the Round of 64.
The preseason Bob Cousy Award candidate put up career-highs in scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, and free throw percentage while becoming the first player in C-USA history to lead the league in scoring (22.7) and assists (6.8) for two straight seasons. He also earned first-team all-conference honors last season.
As good as Elmore was last season, Burks was right there with him. The former sixth man blossomed into a starter and became one of the best players in C-USA last season. Burks put up career-highs in scoring, assists, rebounds, and free throw percentage during the 2017-18 season while finishing third in C-USA in scoring (20.1 points-per-game).
Burks earned second-team all-conference honors last season and will be a major factor for the Herd once again this season. It’s more than a two-man show for Marshall, however, and two other key guards from last season’s team will be back this season in sophomore Jarrod West and senior Rondale Watson.
West led the team in 3-point field goal percentage last season at 41,2 percent and his defense-first mentality and toughness paid major dividends for the Herd. Watson made his Marshall debut last season after transferring from Wake Forest and he made an immediate impact.
Watson proved to be an effective sixth man off the bench much like what Burks was for Marshall in his first two seasons with the program. Watson shot 36 percent from behind the arc and 45.1 percent from the field while showcasing his athleticism in several highlight reel alley-oops along the way. He is also known for his defense as well.
Marshall’s frontcourt has a big question mark, however, with the loss of reigning C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in Ajdin Penava. The Bosnian superstar averaged 15.6 points-per-game, 8.5 rebounds-per-game, and 4 blocks-per-game last season while leading the country in blocked shots.
Penava opted to forgo his senior season at Marshall and head to the professional ranks where he is currently signed with Kirolbet Baskonia of the Liga ACB and the EuroLeague. The loss of Penava is a big one, but the Herd returns other frontcourt players such as sophomores Jannson Williams and Darius George.
Williams and George developed into key contributors for Marshall last season and played key minutes in the Herd’s March run. Williams became a starter towards the end of the season during the most important games of the season and George came off the bench and brought great energy every night.
Both have proven to be valuable commodities for the Herd and seeing even more improvement out of them during the 2018-19 season should be expected. They both can shoot from behind the arc and do what D’Antoni wants them to do. Marshall’s frontcourt also adds a huge new addition in freshman Iran Bennett.
Bennett sat out the 2017-18 season for the Herd, but will suit up this season and likely vie to become the starting center. Bennett’s 6’9″, 350-pound frame gives Marshall an added dimension the team has never had under D’Antoni and it could be the difference maker for the Herd this season.
Besides Bennett, the Herd’s frontcourt also adds several other new faces such as sophomore Mike Beyers, freshman Cam Brooks-Harris, and junior Ante Sustic who could all make an impact this season. Other new faces on the Herd’s roster this season could leave an early mark on the season as well.
Freshman guard Taevion Kinsey has proven to be a supremely-gifted athlete throughout the offseason and he could help add depth to the backcourt. The same goes for freshman Jeremy Dillon as well, who is listed as a guard/forward and could be a versatile player for Marshall moving forward.
Simply put, Marshall returns a lot of talent from an NCAA Tournament season. That usually lends itself to high expectations and that is the case heading into the 2018-19 season. The Herd only loses one significant player from last season’s team and when the returning talent is coupled with the new talent, this team becomes very intriguing.
The schedule has plenty of challenging games as well, such as road trips at Maryland, Texas A&M, and Virgina during non-conference play. If Marshall can manage to win at least one of those games, it could have an NCAA Tournament-caliber resume before C-USA play even begins.
Excitement is at a fevered pitch for Marshall basketball right now and the Herd will be looking to raise another banner in 2018-19. The first exhibition game is set for 4 p.m. ET on Oct. 28 at home against Glenville State and the regular season tips off Nov. 7 on the road at Eastern Kentucky for a 7 p.m. ET tipoff.