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Marshall basketball: Herd's depth could mean different faces in starting five

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall men's basketball Coach Tom Herrion said he has a "beginning five," rather than a "starting five." There's a difference.

The Thundering Herd takes the floor tonight at 7 p.m. for its regular-season opener versus South Carolina State, and there's a chance the five players to begin this game could look different from the group that opened Marshall's preseason game against Concord. That's not a case of Herrion being indecisive. He said it's an example of the depth the Herd has this season.

"I keep saying that one of the better qualities of this group is our depth and our balance," Herrion said. "I don't know if we drop a lot from one through 10 or 11.

"I think I have eight or nine guys that deserve to begin a game each day," he said.

Marshall's starting five against Concord even differed between the projected lineup in the game notes and the actual lineup on the court.

The game notes had sophomore Chris Thomas starting at guard, but it was DeVince Boykins who began the game. Not that it mattered much, as Boykins played 19 minutes and Thomas played 18.

Of the 12 players who entered the game against Concord, 10 of them played at least 15 minutes. While playing time might not be as equal later in the season, Herrion said that substitution strategy is one he'll use, considering the Herd's style of play this year. It's a smaller lineup from last season, which included post players like Nigel Spikes, Robert Goff and Dennis Tinnon. So Marshall is employing more of a pressure defense that can harass opponents, cause turnovers and lead to open-court and fast-break opportunities that allow Herd players to use their athleticism.

"We're playing differently, which is going to force us to rotate quicker, especially defensively," Herrion said. "I think it's going to take a while to feel comfortable.

"We're still trying to find our way from a personnel standpoint, in terms of combinations, rotations, guys that work well together. That's a challenge that's exciting for our staff. There's a science to some of that."

The players like how it's worked so far and the opportunities they get to work within different combinations. Point guard Kareem Canty - who makes his regular season debut after a late NCAA Eligibility Center decision forced him to sit last year - said it gives him a shot at playing with most of the roster, to learn their tendencies and understand how he can help them most as a facilitator.

"We get the chance to play with everybody," he said. "It's not just one set. We can play with each other and jell with each other and know where each other is most comfortable."

With the Bulldogs, the Herd gets an opening opponent trying to pick itself up off the mat following a 6-24 season. After winning three of its first four games, South Carolina State lost 17 of its next 18. It does return one touted player, 6-foot-11, 225-pound senior forward Matthew Hezekiah. Hezekiah averaged 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds last season and was named to the all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason first team.

Marshall has a rebuilding project of its own this year. A senior- and experience-laden Herd team in 2012-13 finished 13-19, lost in the first round of the Conference USA tournament and then said goodbye to seven of its top eight scorers through either graduation or transfer. Only leading scorer Elijah Pittman (16.1 points per game) returned.

There is a sea of new faces, but Herrion likes how hard the group plays and how well it unselfishly passes the ball. That selflessness, he said, needs to extend to the starting lineup.

"For our players, every kid wants their name called when the lights go out," he said. "That's a big deal. Most of those kids have started their whole lives. We're beyond that as a group. Everything's for the greater welfare of our success."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

 


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