Inside Marshall Sports

Conference USA projection entering 2/23

After watching the Herd snatch defeat against UTEP, here’s a stab at projected Conference USA standings:

1. Memphis 16-0
2. Houston 13-3
3. UAB 11-5
4. UCF 10-6
5. UTEP 9-7
6. Marshall 8-8 (wins tiebreaker)
7. Tulane 8-8
8. Tulsa 7-9
9. Southern Miss 7-9
10. SMU 4-12
11. East Carolina 3-13
12. Rice 0-16

I’m taking a pretty optimistic track, picking Marshall to bounce back and knock off UCF this Saturday, then lose two on the road and beat Southern Miss.

UCF has been very good since joining C-USA, but the Herd under Donnie Jones has bounced back nicely after grating losses. You should see a sense of urgency at the HC — Marshall must have this game, IMO, to stay on the road to 8-8. 7-9 is going to get you in the 8-vs.-9 game at the C-USA tournament (winner gets Memphis).

Some thoughts after the UTEP game:

— Robbie Jackson is starting to play like an honest-to-gosh 7-footer. He’s getting open, catching the pass and going up with authority. And since his free-throw stroke is soooooo much better, it’s good to get him to the line.

— DJ admitted he may have overused Darryl Merthie. He said P-Mac never got into the flow after getting in early foul trouble. Hmm…. As well as Merthie has played in the past month, you wonder if you want him on the floor in the final 10 seconds.

— Actually, I have a feeling the Herd spent a lot of time practicing late-game situations. Between Merthie’s disasters and Mark Dorris trying to re-enact the SMU game, there was some brain-cramping going on with the green squad. As another coach would say, “DJ’s got to get that fixed.”

Trying not to go overboard, but …

If you’re a Herd fan and can’t get a little excited after Marshall’s win Saturday, you have no pulse. That was a 14-point win over a Tulane team that is struggling, but packed a good early-season resume. That comes on the heels of a road win at SMU (you take any roadie you can get) and the 34-point whoopin’ of East Carolina.

Suddenly, this team is a half-game out of fourth with five games to go — the next two at home, then a week break before a road swing. As you’ll see in my Monday a.m. column, this isn’t a bad time at all.

I didn’t go into football rule changes, but I will here. What do you think about:

  • The pro-style 40-second play clock?
  • No penalty for incidental face-masking?
  • Clock runs on the “ready for play” after a runner goes out of bounds? (except final two minutes)

I see another attempt to shorten games. While, as a morning paper writer, I like a good 2-hour, 45-minute contest, I’m not sure the fans in general would agree that games are too long. As I heard one say two years ago when they tried those ridiculous timing rules, “Why, I’m in utopia at a college football game. Why should we want a shorter game?”

I could live with the play-clock change — at 35 seconds. I see the NFL’s 40-second clock as a tad too slow.

I did have another fleeting thought: How would Marshall’s defense have liked a game with about 5-8 fewer plays last year? Hmmmm …

Anybody got some eligibility?

Another day, another injury in the Herd basketball camp…. I’m sure you’ve heard about Matt Walls by now. Broken hand, out four weeks. (One wag in the office suggests the injury could actually help his shot.)

Coach Donnie Jones doesn’t expect Darryl Merthie to play, and he said Taurean Marshall is awfully sore and probably will sit again. Soooo…. expect a lot of P-Mac, a little Mark Dorris at point guard again, Markel Humphrey at the “3” and all of the big guys getting in and banging — SMU has a lot of height in Bamba Fall and Papa Dia, the two guys from Senegal.

And the Herd had another adventurous journey. The charter aircraft developed mechanical problems and that flight was scrubbed, and the team had to book commercial flights at the last minute.

But SMU is not great and Marshall is a three-point favorite. This is a roadie you need to win.

As I watch this butt-kicking …

I wonder how ECU won down in Greenville (well, besides 9 3-pointers). Also, I believe I misstated ECU’s road losing streak… It’s just short if *three* calendar years. I’m still writing 07 on my checks. 🙂

Mack McCarthy is coming …

Great guy, really… Ran into him a lot the year he was the analyst on the Thundering Herd TV network (may it rest in peace). He often joked that he learned the hard way about his odd little predecessor, Murray Arnold, and told stories about the MU student section back in the day.

As you may know, he’s serving in an interim capacity, though ECU doesn’t use the “i” word. His status will be determined at season’s end. Shoot, that’s a nearly impossible gig — he has doubled last year’s conference win total at two.

For a little trip down memory lane, here are Mack’s previous 12 trips to the Henderson Center, all with UT-Chattanooga:

1/25/86 — UTC 81, Herd 74
1/24/87 — Herd 94, UTC 81
2/29/88 — Herd 93, UTC 77 (UTC later knocks out Herd in So. Conf. semifinal in infamous 71-70 game)
2/12/89 — UTC 79, Herd 78
1/13/90 — Herd 86, UTC 83 (OT)
1/12/91 — UTC 77, Herd 72
2/10/92 — UTC 76, Herd 75
1/9/93 — Herd 78, UTC 77
2/14/94 — UTC 81, Herd 77
1/7/95 — Herd 95, UTC 83
1/22/96 — Herd 86, UTC 69 (Later, MU knocks out UTC in SC quarterfinals … Billy D was 4-1 against the Mocs)
12/23/96 — Herd 90, UTC 83 (MU later hands UTC the SC championship game)

About that kicker …

After the signing day stuff, I chatted briefly with the soccer player who is joining the football team for spring practice. Turns out I did identify him correctly from the pressbox, goalkeeper Craig Ratanamorn.

He is a junior from Wichita, Kan., and I guess he would have 2 years eligibility in football. He is a scholarship player (that schollie gets charged to the football team if he sticks around) who hasn’t kicked in competitive football since high school. Says soccer was getting a little stale for him, and he picked up a football and kicked a little. The weight coaches saw him and encouraged him to chase the dream.

You may have read a note I had last fall about the kicker, banging 50-yarders and sneaking one over from 60. You never know how he’ll do in live fire, but the leg is there.

I couldn’t resist the fun of telling him about the Merrick brothers, etc.

Yes, John Shannon’s in the house

Already in Huntington, on the job. Full announcement in the morning, but there it is. … A spread maestro who has put up good numbers the last three years at Toledo.

Much more on that for Thursday a.m., plus the recruits and everything else.

The morning after

So much for my Super Bowl prediction, right? But the upset scenario happened the way I thought it might: The Giants’ defensive front positively whipped the Patriots’ O-line. If you could ever logically pull it off, that D-line should have been named the game’s MVP.

A few former Marshall opponents came into play here: You may remember Troy State’s Osi Umenyiora, who was a senior in 2002, and Toledo OT Nick Kaczur. Kaczur once blew me off for an interview before the ’02 MAC championship, so I’m glad the negative karma is still coming into play. (yuk, yuk)

You think Ahmad Bradshaw is rethinking his decision to turn pro now? Of course not… Wow! The vision that will be planted in my head forever is Bradshaw wrestling the football back after his fumble. Really, the Patriots recovered, but the officials did not catch it — and having once been a zebra, I can testify that fumbles aren’t easy to call. Sometimes, you peel the players off the pile and whover has the ball, that’s what you go with.

This play illustrates the fight Bradshaw has in him, even more than I realized. This man really, really earned his ring, IMO.

A Darius Watts sighting

He has signed with the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena league… Here’s another interesting note: Phil Elmassian has been hired as co-offensive coordinator at Louisiana-Monroe.

You may remember Elmassian from when he coached outside LBs at Marshall, a year after serving a tumultuous 2001 as WVU’s defensive coordinator. Stunningly enough, he stayed four years in one place, getting let go at Nebraska when Bill Callahan was canned.

Best development: A consistent hook shot off the glass from Tyler Wilkerson, which he used to beat 7-footer Jerome Jordan a few times. It’s about time he started showing up on a consistent basis, and will be the lead item from my Friday column in the a.m.

Word from the Herd camp is he’s simply practicing a lot better these days. It makes me wonder: Is Donnie Jones’ workouts that much more intense than those of Ron Jirsa? Hmmmmmm…

Worry du jour: Rebounding. Tulsa had 18 offensive rebounds, and WVU had 17 against the Herd. Much can be pinned to Markel Humphrey being absent, then playing at less than 100 percent, but his teammates must hit the boards with more fervor.

Saturday’s rematch with UAB will be a big barometer in that department. The Blazers are no doubt being reminded about getting drilled on the boards in their loss in Huntington.

The upcoming road swing to UAB and UCF is not for the faint of heart. Assuming the Herd loses both, here’s a bit of good news: It probably will not fall below its current 7th spot, perhaps getting tied by Southern Miss. If it picks off a win, a run at the top four suddenly looks possible.

After the UCF game, Marshall is home for four of five, with the roadie at SMU.