“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The average points per game in college basketball is higher than it’s ever been, and the Thundering Herd from Huntington, W. Va. are doing their part.
Marshall is averaging a blistering 89.9 points per game, which is the sixth most in the nation. The Herd has six players averaging double-digits and their adjusted tempo is the fastest in Confernce USA and third fastest of 351 Division 1 teams.
I know what you’re thinking — Marshall might put up as gaudy numbers as some of the elite teams above, but they play no defense and that assumption is mostly true. The thing is, their strategy has worked for them more times than not this season, so why change it up?
In this small sampling of games below you’ll see a true representation of what Marshall can be this season. Due to multiple key injuries the games before these, I consider those mostly inclusive examples of their offensive abilities.
During this 6-game stretch the Herd saw the return of CJ Burks and it’s been reported that Terrence Thompson will be available for the first time tonight against MTSU since late November. This means Marshall will have their complete arsenal available together for the first time this season.
⇑⇑⇑ Written on Thursday
Written on Friday ⇓⇓⇓
Well, It’s officially safe to say MTSU is a really, really good defensive team having held Marshall to a season-low 57 points in Murfreesboro Thursday night. The Herd’s previous low was 70 points back in their loss at Ohio State and it’s the lowest point total they’ve posted since March 11, 2015.
Check out the highlights:
Scouting The Herd
It’s highly improbable that Marshall will be held to less than 60 points again on Saturday. That’s not to say that UAB can’t somewhat duplicate the defensive performance MTSU put on Thursday night though.
Like the Blue Raiders, UAB has shown of late they too can be a very good defensive team. Through four Conference USA games, the Blazers lead all teams in defensive turnover percentage. And surprise, surprise they are second in the conference in defensive 3-point percentage.
The Blazers will have to continue the trend of excelling in both of those areas to have a shot at slowing down this prolific Marshall offense. The Herd was held to 5-of-19 from behind the arc and turned the ball over 14 times Thursday night. UAB will need to produce a similar effort Saturday to prevent another 95-91 shootout like last season.
Let’s break down the Herd’s starting five.
Jon Elmore ¦ 6-foot-3, 191 lbs. Junior
Before Thursday night I had Elmore as my front-runner for C-USA Player of the Year. He’s still in the hunt, but the blueprint to stopping the talented point guard has been revealed. Elmore must be guarded with intense pressure at all times the moment he touches the ball. He will expose even the best of defenses if he has space. MTSU held him to seven shot attempts, which is half his normal. Hakeem Baxter will have his work cut out for him.
Stevie Browning ¦ 6-foot-3, 177 lbs. Senior
If Elmore is Batman, than Stevie is his Robin. The two guards account for nearly 27 points per game and I can all but guarantee you you’ll never see a team stop them both in a game. In Marshall’s overtime loss at Cincinnati, the senior was 6-of-8 from behind the arc and had 28 points. Browning could cause a mismatch issue for UAB when Watts is on the court. I don’t hold much hope for Denzell chasing him through ball screens all night, which may force UAB to zone early.
Ryan Taylor ¦ 6-foot-5 240 lbs. Senior
Taylor is arguably one of the most underappreciated versatile big men in the country. He’s undersized in height but has an uncanny sense for rebounding having recorded 3 double-doubles in Marshall’s first five Conference USA games. MTSU’s interior got him into foul trouble as they do to most bigs, but Taylor still managed to record 12 points in 32 minutes with 4 fouls. He’ll shoot the three as well, and I’d expect him to look for it if he’s guarded by Cokley or Mehinti.
Austin Loop ¦ 6-foot-4 203 lbs. Senior
The previous three get all the headlines, but it’s Loop that has taken Marshall from a middle of the pack Conference USA team to a title contender this season. The senior is leading the conference in made threes with 57 and is on pace to make more than 100 this season. He’s Marshall’s Klay Thompson. The Herd thrives of pace and spacing and he draws a defender close to him at all times. He’s hit more than five 3-pointers five times this season.
Ajdin Penava ¦ 6-foot-9 200 lbs. Sophomore
This is as tall a player as Marshall will put out on the court Saturday. Other than his 20 point game at FIU, the Bosnian is not much of a scoring threat; though I will say his game is improving nicely as the season has gone on. His minutes can range from 12 to 30-plus, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be much of a factor against UAB’s front court.
Marshall doesn’t dip too deep into their roster in terms of significant contributors, but the few they have are good ones. Sophomore guard CJ Burks has been fantastic for the Herd since he returned from injury in mid-December. He dropped 25 points at Pitt off the bench and 15 against Old Dominion last week. Terrance Thompson, one of Marshall’s most important interior forwards, returned to play last night for the first time since November 25. He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but he is a vital piece to their success going forward having averaged 19.8 points in the Herd’s first five games before his injury.
Last Time Out
UAB ran the Hilltoppers out of the gym in one of their most complete games of the season. The Blazers have held three of their first four Conference USA opponents under 60 points, and they’ve played the third toughest conference schedule thus far.
Junior forward William Lee has been named the KenPom.com MVP in two of the Blazers first four Conference USA games. His 58 points over the last three games are just a point shy of his career high 59 points scored last January.
William Lee’s 47 blocks ranks 12th most in the nation, and he continues to lead the NCAA in blocks per personal fouls at 2.14 per game.
3 Things To Watch For
- Tempo – UAB has the slowest tempo and Marshall has the fastest tempo when looking at just Conference USA games — something has to give. The Blazers will be best served to slow down their half court offense off made Marshall baskets and push it after their turnovers and misses. In other words, exactly what they did against WKU. Stick to what works.
- Chris Cokley – I noticed immediately when Cokley came into the game that he had a slight limp. Hopefully his limited minutes will allow him to be more of a factor Saturday. UAB will need to take advantage in the paint where they are deeper, bigger, and more athletic.
- Jon Elmore – MTSU corralled the talented junior point guard, and UAB must do the same. If he has room to operate you’re in trouble. He’ll take it to the rim or pull up from NBA range, and he’s really good at doing both. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ehsan and staff put some length on him early to disrupt his vision.