HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Tom Herrion was 29 years old when he sat next to Pete Gillen at Providence and witnessed what's possible in Year 3.
As a third-year assistant with the Friars, Herrion watched the program take the significant leap from 18-win National Invitation Tournament qualifier to 24-win NCAA Elite 8 team.
Herrion was with Gillen again at Virginia when the Cavaliers went from 14-16 and no postseason in 1998 to the NIT in '99 and an NCAA Tournament berth at the turn of the millennium. That Big Dance invitation once again came in Gillen's third year at the helm.
Herrion, 44, is 43-26 in two seasons as the men's basketball coach at Marshall. Herrion's Herd went from CIT in Year 1 to the program's first NIT berth since 1988 last season.
"This is Year 3 now," Herrion said last Thursday. "We talk about building a program. Year 1 everyone is kind of blind eye and kind of band-aid everything. Year 2 we had much more infrastructure in place and now these older guys have a clear, concise understanding of what I want from them on and off the floor.
"We've started to put a program in place that allows you to sustain it. Now the leadership has to be established and developed and that has to be passed on from team to team as we move forward."
Herrion has struck a roster balance: three seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen among scholarship student-athletes.
Junior guard DeAndre Kane and senior forward Nigel Spikes are the only two players recruited by the previous coaching staff, and the 6-foot-10 Spikes is the only current Herd player who logged minutes for the previous regime.
Otherwise this group only knows one way: the Herrion way.
"You're trying to build and you invest so much," Herrion said. "So much has gone into this in such a short period of time and you're so hungry for more.
"We've made the necessary steps, yet we clearly have bigger ones to attain."
As sure as Herrion will toss aside his sports coat before the first media timeout when Marshall opens its 2012-13 season against Longwood at the Henderson Center on Nov. 9, you can be sure he's speaking of the NCAA Tournament.
The Herd hasn't been in that postseason event, which now involves 68 teams, since 1987.
Herrion has three of his top seven scorers back, although the seventh person on that list - Justin Coleman - was gone long before the Herd went one-and-done in the NIT last March.