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MU basketball: 2012 schedule is daunting

HUNTINGTON -- Tom Herrion went to lunch with Marshall officials Tuesday. He got served something that made his stomach turn, but it wasn't the pizza at Mama Rosa's.

"They gave me my schedule," said Herrion, the Thundering Herd's third-year men's basketball coach.

"Now I'm sick to my stomach."

Herrion humor aside, the 31-game 2012-13 schedule released Tuesday afternoon is precisely what he ordered. There's plenty of meat here, including road games against Big East member Villanova (Nov. 11) and defending national champion Kentucky (Dec. 22), plus games at the Charleston Civic Center against West Virginia (Dec. 5) and Cincinnati (Dec. 15).

The Herd is considered the host for the Cincinnati matchup, giving Marshall 16 home games (15 in the Henderson Center), 12 road games and three other neutral-site contests.

"Our goal is to get as many games in the Henderson Center as we can, but it's not realistic to get top opponents to come in there because they don't really need to," said Jeff O'Malley, an associate athletic director at Marshall who works with Herrion and assistant coach Mark Cline to craft the schedule each year.

"You have to play them where you can."

Herrion can attest to that. He has been an assistant coach at Pittsburgh for Jamie Dixon and at Virginia and Providence for Pete Gillen. At each of those stops, he helped with scheduling.

"I've been on the other side of it," Herrion said. "They have nothing to gain by coming here. We can cry for respect and all that, but some of it is a byproduct of having a team people think is pretty good; it's a hard place for people to come and beat us."

Marshall's schedule wasn't released until Sept. 29 last year, but this lineup came together quickly with the addition of the exempt event called the 2K Sports Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. That includes the early-season matchup at Villanova in the second game of the season after MU opens with Longwood on Nov. 9 at the Henderson Center.

The Herd will then play three games in as many days at Hofstra the following week (Nov. 16-18) against the University of District of Columbia (UDC), South Dakota State and host Hofstra as part of the Classic.  

Including Conference USA opponents, it's a schedule that features 10 games against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last season - Kentucky, Cincinnati, WVU, Villanova, South Dakota State, Ohio, Southern Mississippi (twice) and Memphis (twice).

"Clearly it's a great challenge and clearly a testament to where our program continues to move," Herrion said. "We will be challenged from the get-go, but I think this is where we're at."

The competition might make Herrion queasy, but the travel is palatable.

After the Herd returns from the conclusion of the 2K Sports Classic in Long Island, N.Y., the team heads only to neighboring states for road games - Kentucky and the annual clash with Ohio - and to Charleston for the December matchups with WVU and Cincinnati.

Those are all easy bus rides for the team and car trips for fans.

Marshall plays at Hofstra on Nov. 18, but doesn't have to board a plane again until Jan. 12 (UTEP) in the second Conference USA game of the season.

On another scheduling note, Marshall's four-game series with Akron has been deferred one season. The Herd and Zips were supposed to play Dec. 29 of this season, but now Marshall will visit Akron in 2013-14 and 2014-15 before the contract concludes in Huntington in 2015-16.

That game getting nixed means that after Marshall visits Kentucky on Dec. 22, it won't play again until Jan. 2 at home against Delaware State.

Marshall went 21-14 last season and reached the NIT for the first time since 1988. But the program hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1987 or won a game in one of the two major postseason tournaments in 45 years.

Herrion hoped last season's run to the C-USA finals could change the NCAA fate, but the selection committee rejected the Herd. Herrion and the schedule-makers did their part, however, as Marshall finished with a strength of schedule of 23 and non-conference strength of schedule ranked ninth in college basketball.

That schedule also featured 10 games against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament the previous season.

"I think we knocked on the door," Herrion said. "We can say what we want, but we didn't get the job done enough in the conference schedule. No one's told me that, but in my heart of hearts, is why we weren't ...  at the end of the day, we might have been on the cusp of the NCAAs but we didn't get it done in the regular season in the conference.

"Our non-conference was fine. We had quality."

Last season Marshall won at Cincinnati, lost to WVU in the annual Charleston matchup and couldn't pull off the comeback at Syracuse.

In terms of major conference opponents, the Herd went from three to four with Kentucky and Villanova replacing Syracuse. Then there's Ohio, which won 29 games and nearly reached the Elite Eight.

Nevada, which won 28 games and went 13-1 in the WAC, is coming to the Henderson Center.

South Dakota State reached the NCAA Tournament behind 27 wins and a higher RPI than the Herd.

In that nearly two-month stretch where Marshall travel is minimal, it'll only face two teams that finished below .500 last season: UNC-Wilmington and Coppin State.  

"I think this group of guys is ready to play against this type of schedule and compete against some of the best programs in America," Herrion said. "That speaks volumes about our basketball program."

Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at chuck.mcgill@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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