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Marshall basketball: Herd hopes to live up to the hype

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall again enters the basketball season with high expectations from the outside.

Preseason magazines consider the Thundering Herd among the best teams Conference USA has to offer.

It's a nice gesture, but one that third-year Coach Tom Herrion and his players won't hang their hats on.

They were ranked high on several preseason lists last year and ended up finishing tied for fifth in C-USA and losing in the first round of the NIT. Sure, that berth was the Herd's first in the NIT since 1988. But the mission was to snap the team's NCAA Tournament drought, which started after losing in the 1987 tournament's first round and has lasted ever since.

"We didn't fulfill our goal," junior guard DeAndre Kane said during Marshall's media day Thursday. "We didn't do what we wanted to do. We didn't win what we wanted to win."

The Herd enters this season - which officially begins with "Thundering Herd Madness" at 8 p.m. today at the Henderson Center - devoted to making its final results match the preseason predictions.

Actually the team wants to surpass them, staking its claim not as one of C-USA's top teams, but as the top team.

Marshall, which finished last season at 21-14, was picked second this preseason by Athlon and NBCSports.com and third by Lindy's. That's after being picked second by Athlon, Lindy's and Sporting News in the 2011 preseason.

Any type of free publicity for Marshall University is a great thing, Herrion said. And it's nice to achieve that level of respect with those keeping a close eye on the conference.

It's something the fans can get pumped up over. But, Herrion said, it's not something the team should feel satisfied with.

"It doesn't carry the weight of what it's printed on, to be very honest with you," Herrion said. "It's great. Being picked high means you have a chance. Being picked low ... we're all optimistic this time of year, but that really doesn't transcend very well.

"It's not something that I think this group, in particular ... we kind of went through it more last year," he added. "My first year, we didn't have high expectations. We had more last year and now we have even higher expectations, in terms of the external ones that are out there. Those aren't pressures, but I think this group now, they've been through it."

Marshall's lofty preseason rankings didn't cause its C-USA opponents to cower.

The Herd finished last season with a 9-7 conference record, a record Herrion said wasn't good enough last year and won't be good enough this year. During a period from Jan. 18 to Feb. 10, where the Herd lost six of seven games, five of those losses came in conference play.

The team isn't dwelling on that skid, but Kane said it reminds them that their conference opponents are targeting them as a team to beat.

"We know we're not sneaking up on nobody," he said. "We know every day that we've got talent. We've got players who can compete with whoever in the country. It's going to take hard work. Every day, we've got to bring it."

The Herd enters this season with veteran leadership considered among the conference's best. Seniors Nigel Spikes and Dennis Tinnon and Kane have been named Marshall's captains. Kane was a preseason All-C-USA first team pick, while Tinnon, a forward, was named to the second team. The Herd worked through the offseason to fortify its defense, a blemish for the team last season when it allowed opponents to shoot 45 percent from the floor.

MU also faces another tough schedule. On top of Conference USA play, the Herd hosts Nevada, plays Cincinnati and West Virginia in Charleston and visits Villanova and defending national champion Kentucky. In all, the Herd will play eight NCAA Tournament participants from last season, plus three NIT qualifiers.

Perform well against them, Tinnon said, and ending Marshall's NCAA drought should be a reachable goal.

"If we knock some of those big teams off, it'll give us an opportunity to be an easy pick, not having them second-guess us," he said. "We're going to give them a reason to choose us."

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


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