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February 7, 2013

Game 24: UAB

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Until proven otherwise, there's no choice except to look at Marshall basketball one game, one possession, one effort at a time.

The past month, the Thundering Herd (10-13) has alternated between uninspired performances and strong efforts.

One good game, one awful game. No carryover from one game to the next. Half the time that's been for the better. The other half, it has not.

This stretch was triggered by an inexcusable loss to Delaware State on Jan. 2. The Herd followed that defeat with an embarrassing 94-57 loss at Ohio. Just when it was time to write off the squad came conference play, and an inspired 18-point blowout victory of Tulsa.

The momentum of that win would be short-lived. The Herd went to El Paso and lost to UTEP by 11, a game Marshall was never within single digits in the second half.

But before anyone could again write off the Herd came a promising 21-point victory at home against East Carolina.

Then the bottom fell out again. Marshall went to Southern Miss with hope of a successful, difficult road swing. That ended with a 102-46 thumping at the hands of the Golden Eagles.

Again it was time to call for heads to roll. A promising Herd basketball season was falling down the tubes. If Southern Miss beat Marshall by 56, how bad would Memphis beat the reeling Herd in FedEx Forum?

Well the Herd displayed fight, grit, will, and came up just one-point short, 73-72. It was the type of effort that can turn a season around. It could carry over momentum.

The Herd came home to face hapless SMU, and lost by double-figures in a game Marshall was never in.

So a once again deflated Herd squad would get a crack at red-hot UCF and former Marshall coach Donnie Jones, one last time in the Henderson Center.

The Herd sent UCF out of town with a 75-71 defeat. Nigel Spikes played outstanding and the Herd used a strong surge in the final three minutes to pick up the home victory.

Surely the Herd could take some confidence into a road game with Tulane.

Tulane led 59-35 at halftime. So much for that.

That's a long story to prove a point. Marshall has not been unpredictable the past month. On the contrary, the Herd has been very predictable. Good game, bad game.

But there's a wildcard to this theory of predicting the Herd. Marshall has not won a road game this season.

That throws a wrench into figuring out Saturday's contest at UAB.

The Herd and Blazers (10-13) will square off in Birmingham's Bartow Arena. The teams are strikingly similar. UAB's starting five will likely consist of four players who began their college career somewhere other than UAB. Jordan Swing, a Western Kentucky transfer, leads the way with 13.8 points per game, matched by JUCO transfer Rod Rocker. Transfers Terence Jones and Fahro Allihodzic are at 10.2 and 9.7 points per game respectively. Redshirt junior Robert Williams scores 9.0.

Marshall counters with JUCO transfer Elijah Pittman's 15.1 points per game. DeAndre Kane and JUCO transfer D.D. Scarver are next at 14.4 and 13.6 points per game. JUCO transfer Dennis Tinnon averages 10.5 points per game.

As has been the case for Marshall, there is a significant fall off, and perhaps this is where the inconsistency can be traced to. Spikes had a career game against UCF, with 11 points, nine blocks, and 5-of-6 from the foul line.

In New Orleans, Spikes scored five points and had six rebounds, which was not enough on a night the Herd gave up 91 points.

UAB is no slouch. The Blazers are coming off a 70-63 victory at Tulsa last time out, and beat UTEP Jan. 30. Sandwiched in-between those outings was a tight, 79-75 home loss to Southern Miss.

Logic says to expect a game in the 70's and while rebounding is important, field goal percentage is more so. Herd opponents are shooting a healthy 43.2 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from three point range. UAB shoots 43.2 percent from the floor and 33.6 percent from beyond the arc. UAB is also forcing more turnovers than it is creating, under first year head coach Jared Haase, a former Kansas standout.

UAB has some proficient free throw shooters. Preston Purifoy is 49-of-53 on the season, good for 92.5 percent. Swing is shooting 81.8 percent. Williams is near 80 percent. If it weren't for Rod Rucker's 54.4 percent mark, magnified by the fact he's shot the most free throws on the team, the Blazers would be much better than their already impressive 73.5 percent team average at the charity stripe.

The problem is, the Blazers do not attack the basket. UAB has shot 77 fewer free throws than its opponents through 23 games.

With Spikes becoming a shot blocking factor, the Blazers may be content to shoot jumpers. If the Herd can catch the Blazers on a cold shooting night, the matchup indicates the first road victory of the season is possible in Birmingham.

Besides, the Herd's predictably unpredictable efforts indicate its time for a close game Saturday.

Ryan Epling is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.




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