HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall men's basketball Coach Tom Herrion had a good feeling through summer practices that the players on his roster would defy labels. As the Thundering Herd played through its August tour of Canada, his hunch was confirmed.
Herd fans can see for themselves today, when Marshall hosts Concord in a 7 p.m. exhibition at the Cam Henderson Center, how flexible the games are of a mostly new cast of characters in the Marshall lineup.
Of the 14 scholarship players and walk-ons on the 2013-14 Herd roster, nine of them were not on it last season. Through graduation or transfers, only one of the top eight scorers from last year - leading scorer Elijah Pittman - has returned to the team. That's given Herd coaches the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. And as they watched the players take on mostly college opposition during the Canada tour, they realized many of them could succeed at more than one position.
"I think it was made even more clear to me and our staff coming off that trip that we do have really good versatility," Herrion said, "which allows us to really be more creative as a staff in terms of some of the schemes we want to do offensively and defensively. When we go in the office, in staff meetings these last (few) weeks, we've talked about some things we haven't done here."
Herrion feels some on the roster can play point guard or shooting guard. Others can move between forward positions and play both in the post and on the wing. And it has allowed him to hearken back to some strategies he used as head coach at the College of Charleston from 2002 to 2006, where he never had a losing season.
"I think what you'll see most is our level of extended aggressiveness, defensively," Herrion said. "We've been more of a team that's played you more purely in a half-court defensive. I think you'll see, both in makes and misses defensively, our ball pressure and our point of pickup will be much higher.
"We're going to truly allow more of our pressure defense to create more offense for us," he added. "It's going to cause us to have to play more guys."
The players are ready for it, said Tamron Manning, a 6-foot-4 sophomore experienced at both guard spots. They can see how many of their teammates can fit into more than one slot on the floor.
"If you were to label our team, the big word is 'versatile,'" he said. "You have Elijah, who's 6-foot-9, which normally you stick him down in the post, but he's probably the best 3-point shooter on the team. You have Ryan (Taylor) who's 6-6 and is built like a post (player) but handles the ball like (guards). It's weird to see, but we're really versatile and that's really going to help us."
The Herd is looking for solutions to rebound from a disappointing 13-19 record last season. Marshall's team isn't the only group sporting a new look. Conference USA itself is filled with new teams, eight in all. Some come in with pretty good resumes. Middle Tennessee made last season's NCAA Tournament, while Charlotte and Louisiana Tech played in the NIT.
Herrion feels the makeup of his roster has the Herd on the right path.
"I think our personnel fits the style that I want to play this year, which is different than we played the first three years," he said. "I'm really confident that it's conducive to having success in this league. I think we've got great pieces. I really like our roster, our skill level and our talent level. We definitely feel as though we've got a chance to compete at a high level in this league."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.