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Herrion not sitting still with Herd roster

If Tom Herrion had his druthers, on Sunday he would've been coaching for a spot in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen like Ohio's John Groce, or preparing for a second-round NIT game like Middle Tennessee State's Kermit Davis.

Instead, the Marshall men's basketball coach was grabbing a quick bite to eat in a Washington D.C., airport en route to the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. If you're unfamiliar, that is the Big Dance equivalent for junior colleges.

"We started spring break Friday," said Herrion, who finished his second season at 21-14 and is 43-26 in two seasons with the Thundering Herd. "This is as good of a time as any for me to get out (and evaluate).

"That said, I feel comfortable with where we're at right now."

Herrion, 44, is embarking upon his third spring/summer at Marshall, and the roster situation is much more stable this time around even with the uncertainty surrounding Dennis Tinnon's eligibility for next season.

If Tinnon is granted an additional year - and with no other known defections as of now - Tinnon and fellow big men Nigel Spikes and Robert Goff will be the team's three seniors in 2012-13.  

There will be three juniors, too: leading scorer DeAndre Kane, center Yous Mbao and junior college import Elijah Pittman (he is not at the NJCAA tourney, by the way. His Lamar State team fell one game short of qualifying).

The rising sophomores are Jamir Hanner, J.P. Kambola and Chris Martin.

There also will be three new freshmen: Isaiah Williams, a sinewy 6-foot-7 perimeter player who sat out this past season as an academic non-qualifier; Kareem Canty, a 6-1 Brooklyn, N.Y.,  point guard; and Tamron Manning, a 6-4 guard who is a finalist for Kentucky's Mr. Basketball.

Don't forget about the highly touted DeVince Boykins, who held his own against departing seniors Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson in practices this year. He took a redshirt season and will help form a deep - albeit youthful - backcourt.

That is 13 scholarship players for 13 spots, again working under the assumption that there will be no defections.

That is hardly guaranteed. Last summer, we watched Johnny Thomas, Aundra Williams and Eladio Espinosa all depart with eligibility left.

Then there is Kelvin Amayo, a one-time Towson signee who failed to qualify there and re-routed to Huntington. He enrolled at Marshall in January as an academic non-qualifier and could be eligible by, at the earliest, the 2013 spring semester. He cannot practice with the team until then, so do not worry about factoring him into scholarship numbers.

So, 13 players for 13 spots with Tinnon's situation unresolved.  

Don't be surprised if Herrion adds to a roster made up almost entirely of his recruits, with Spikes and Kane being the exceptions.

*  *  *

DID ANYONE happen to notice Herrion at the State Tournament at the Charleston Civic Center last Wednesday?

I was impressed, considering Herrion parked his hindquarters near the court for the 9:30 a.m. game while I was lollygagging in Murfreesboro, Tenn., after the Herd's first-round NIT loss the night before.

The Marshall hoops team bused overnight to West Virginia after the late-night loss, and Herrion promptly headed to Charleston upon the team's arrival.

Take a breath, Tommy!

"I really wanted to support the state," he said. "There is some good young talent in the state and some guys have expressed interest in walking on at our place down the road."

The next day, Herrion attended Kentucky's Sweet Sixteen at Rupp Arena to watch Manning and Scott County.

*  *  *

TWO OF Marshall's 2011-12 opponents, Cincinnati and Ohio, reached the NCAA Sweet Sixteen over the weekend.

The Herd defeated Cincinnati, 73-69, in overtime on Nov. 25 and lost at home to Ohio, 70-68, five days later.

I heard more than one national pundit pontificate before the tournament commenced that college basketball is top heavy and there'd be few upsets this year. I found that an odd stance coming off the runs of Butler and VCU in recent years.

Sure enough, No. 13 seed Ohio will face No. 1 seed North Carolina on Friday for a spot in the Midwest Region finals.

The Bobcats are just the fifth of 112 No. 13 seeds since 1985 to reach the Sweet Sixteen, and a pair of No. 15 seeds - Norfolk State and Lehigh - won on the same day for the first time ever.

"Opportunity breeds results," Herrion said. "Those teams got opportunities. We saw it during the regular season.

"I think there are a lot of good teams in college basketball and I think it's here to stay. The landscape of college basketball, the days of super power conference domination, is changing.

"That's not to say we're going to have Butler or VCU in the Final Four every year, I just think there is more and more balance, more and more depth and more and more talent trickling down."

Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at chuck.mcgill@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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