Overall Rank: #118
Conference Rank: #5 Conference USA
2008-09: 15-17, 7-9
2008-09 postseason: none
Coach: Donnie Jones (31-31 at Marshall, 31-31 overall)
By the record, the second year of the Coach Donnie Jones era was worse than the first. However, that trend will end during the 2009-2010 campaign; assuming everybody can stay relatively healthy. The Thundering Herd was forced to play a lot of players out of position when forward Tyler Wilkerson missed ten games due to an injury. Wilkerson is back to lead the frontcourt, but lack of depth up front will not be a problem anymore.
Key Losses: G Markel Humphrey
There are a lot of new big bodies who can come in and play up front. Most notable is super recruit Hassan Whiteside. The 6-11 freshman is certainly raw, but he is full of potential. Whiteside is a natural shot blocker with a tremendous wingspan. He may not score very much, but this team desperately needs somebody who can play some minutes at the five spot. Cam Miller, a transfer from Western Carolina, and Nigel Spikes could both fill some minutes at power forward when necessary. Next to Whiteside, it is Antonio Hayman and DeAndre Kane who will make the biggest impact right away. Hayman, a junior college transfer, is a 6-6 small forward who was a dominate force on a very good junior college team. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, he even has the toughness and versatility to play at the three or four spot.
However, there is already a log jam of talent at the three guard spot, so Hayman might not be starting from day one. Chris Lutz will likely start at the shooting guard position after averaging 10.7 points and knocking down 2.3 three-pointers per game last year. Shaquille Johnson had a superb freshman campaign and earned 27 starts. He tallied 9.6 points per game, but could be relegated to the bench since his rebounding skills are not that great. Either way, he can provide an offensive spark. Add senior Darryl Merthie and sophomore Dago Pena to the mix and the Herd have a lot of weapons on the wings.
Tirrell Baines would ideally play the three spot as well, but that will depend on whether or not Whiteside is ready to step into the center position right away. Baines is a terrific athlete and those athletic skills were not used very well last year when he was stuck playing under the basket. Yet, the 6-7 junior still averaged 8.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and was one of the team’s few shot blocking threats. As good as Baines could be, Wilkerson will be the star of the frontcourt and the entire team. The 6-8 senior averaged 10.4 points and a team high 6.2 rebounds last year and played very well when he was healthy. He has proven that he can play the five spot, as he did last season, but he is not a shot blocking threat and would be a better fit at the four. With players like Georgetown transfer Octavius Spann sitting on the bench, along with the newcomers, this is a suddenly a pretty deep group.
Who to Watch:
Coach Jones played a lot of freshmen last year, but perhaps none were as important as Damier Pitts. The 5-10 point guard averaged nearly ten points per game, but more importantly he dished out 3.2 assists per game and did a decent job dictating tempo and running the team. With a year of experience under his belt, Pitts will only be better and having more talent around him will not hurt either.
What this team needs is a true big man and if Whiteside is that guy, the Thundering Herd will have a surprisingly good season. Even if he does not score a point, he will be a force on the defensive end and even if he plays less than 20 minutes a game, it will allow Wilkerson and Baines to spend some time at their more natural positions, and that could make all the difference between postseason play and another losing record.
Projected Post-season Tournament: CBI/CIT
Projected Starting Five:
Damier Pitts, Sophomore, Guard, 9.7 points per game
Chris Lutz, Senior, Guard, 10.7 points per game
Shaquille Johnson, Sophomore, Guard, 9.6 points per game
Tirrell Baines, Junior, Forward, 8.7 points per game
Tyler Wilkerson, Senior, Forward, 10.4 points per game