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Herd needs to win C-USA tourney for NCAA berth

Marshall’s path to the NCAA tournament field of 64 lies in the Conference USA field of 12.

In order for Marshall to make the NCAA Tournament 64-team field — actually 65 — the Thundering Herd will have to win the C-USA tournament this week.

First of all, C-USA doesn’t command the so-called big name teams that filter the Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, PAC 10 or ACC. If there is any debate on whether to take the No. 2 team in the C-USA or the No. 8 team in the Big East, you can bet it will go to the Big East where the competition is fierce from top to bottom in the conference.

Also, just because a team wins 20 or more games doesn’t mean that team will get a shot at the big prize.

The Thundering Herd has 23 wins, but that has no guarantee it will be an at-large invitee to the Big Dance since three of those wins were against NAIA opponents and won’t be recognized by the selection committee.

Of those 23 wins, there is no real signature win. Marshall did split with UAB and one of its losses was tough 68-60 decision to a top-10 ranked West Virginia team.

But there is also that glaring loss to North Carolina. Actually, it was more of a disaster than a loss. The Herd fell 98-61 to a Tar Heel team that is a mere 16-15 this season.

Marshall has to win its conference tournament to make the NCAA field. Not even a runner-up is going to get them their first trip back since 1987.

An NIT bid is a stronger possibility than making the NCAA. The Herd hasn’t been to the NIT since 1988 and does have a worthy resume.

While getting an at-large berth to the NCAA is basically a pipe dream, winning the conference tournament isn’t.

The Herd gets a bye into the quarterfinals. Any time a team can get a bye and play one fewer games, it is a distinct advantage. With the tournament at a neutral site, that is another plus in Marshall’s favor.

So while Marshall’s path to the NCAA tournament must go through the C-USA tournament, it’s not a path that is cluttered with detours.

—— Sinatra ——

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.