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Nothing comes simple for Marshall basketball.
The Herd has had to grind out most of its five victories, and has suffered two tight losses out of its four defeats.
As far as aesthetics go, Marshall has played a lot of ugly basketball. Poor shooting from three point range and the foul line are both standing out as the team continues to struggle through every game.
Don't expect that to change when Coppin State (1-7) comes in to the Cam Henderson Center Saturday night.
The Eagles have not had much success this season, but are scrappy. In an 87-51 loss at No. 1 Indiana last week, Coppin State led 11-9 after ten minutes of play.
While the top-ranked Hoosiers pulled away from there, what that 10-minute stretch in Bloomington shows is that Coppin State is more than willing to play ugly, and for at least 10 minutes, can shut down one of the premier teams in all of college basketball.
This doesn't mean Indiana was completely focused on the Eagles, but it does mean Marshall will have to play with focus an intensity to avoid a tight game.
The best thing Marshall could do as this difficult stretch of games get going would be to pick up an easy win. Coppin State is nowhere near the caliber of Marshall's upcoming opponents, nor those in its recent past. An easy win could go a long way.
The Herd will be short-handed, playing without Robert Goff. The senior forward will be serving a 1-game suspension for receiving a flagrant-2 foul at the end of the Herd's last game, an action in retaliation after it appeared he was kicked in the head by an opponent.
DeAndre Kane continues to be Marshall's best all-around player, and if it weren't for shooting struggles, would be having a monster season. The junior averages nearly 16 points per game, to go with almost five rebounds. He also has 74 assists versus 28 turnovers, a more than acceptable ratio considering the circumstances that has led him playing the point. He's doing everything well except shooting the ball, which unfortunately stands out.
At times, Elijah Pittman appears to be the best offensive weapon the floor. The JUCO transfer is scoring a healthy 14 points per game while shooting a team best 43 percent from three point range. Pittman perhaps needs to try to put the ball on the floor just a touch more to earn trips to the free throw line, where he is shooting 84.4 percent.
D. D. Scarver shows flashes of the outside shooting ability, while continuing to be a scorer. Scarver is averaging 14.2 points per game and shooting a solid 38.6 percent from distance. The best part of that is, Scarver is shooting that way while not shooting as well as he is capable of. If he gets his three-point percentage into the 40's, which he can reach with his ability, the team becomes better.
Coppin State is the type of game where those weapons need to fire. Marshall's deep front line has its struggles, but there is no need for major concern around the basket at this point. Dennis Tinnon and Nigel Spikes are both averaging over nine rebounds per game. Both are shooting better than 45 percent from the field, with Spikes at nearly 65 percent. They struggle with lengthy opponents, but they're still having solid seasons.
Where Marshall absolutely must improve is the defensive end. More than once, the Herd has given up two or three easy buckets too many this season. A blend of newcomers on the floor, which seems the norm now under third year coach Tom Herrion, can lead to miscommunication and breakdowns. Marshall generally plays solid man-to-man defense when it gets in half-court sets and the opponent's front line stays below the foul line. However, sometimes it appears Marshall plays a funnel defense toward a shotblocker, on a team that doesn't have a shotblocker. The Herd can tweak its ball-screen defense without changing its philosophy on defense and remain successful
Despite the Coppin State struggles, there are some Eagles to watch for Saturday's contest. Patrick Cole, Michael Murray and Troy Franklin are all averaging double figures. Murray averages almost 11 rebounds per game, so he will be a handful for Marshall's interior defenders. The problem is, Murray stands just 6'5. His numbers and size suggest he could be a tenacious rebounder in the mold of former Herd player Tirrell Baines, who outplayed his size constantly.
Cole is a 6'5 point guard, and while he's just a freshman and therefore not as physically advanced as Kane, the matchup should be intriguing. Franklin, listed at 5'11 and also a point guard, will likely draw Scarver as his assignment. His lack of reach could mean cleaner looks for Scarver.
But if Marshall's 33.2 percent average from three-point range seemed like a struggle, it seems scorching compared to the Eagles. Coppin State is shooting 25.7 percent. That wouldn't seem so bad except the Eagles love to shoot the three pointer. They've attempted 210 in eight games.
Marshall needs a confidence building type of win. Coppin State is an opponent the Herd needs to take seriously and take care of from the outset. For a Marshall team that is nearly an ugly 7-2 (OT loss to Hofstra, last second loss to South Dakota St.), any easy win would be welcome.
Ryan Epling is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.