Herd coach having harried first season
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- To say new Marshall women's basketball coach Matt Daniel hit the ground running would be incorrect. It was more like the ground hit him running.
He was hired in June, very late in the cycle of coaching changes. He has a vision for turning around the Thundering Herd program, much like he did at his previous stop of Central Arkansas, but it will take awhile to carry it out.
Or even to address it.
"We were literally able, last week, to sit down and have our first really organized staff meeting, instead of grasping at straws, putting out fires," he said Monday. "We are transitioning through the transition.
"They talk about anytime you take over a program, and I've done this before, you're just trying to survive. I'm not interested in just trying to survive, but we're evaluating how we need to move forward in all aspects of the program, and I like the direction we're headed.
"How fast we get to where we want to go, I can't say that right now because we're playing catch-up in so many areas."
Playing catch-up isn't an enviable position when you have to face a top-25 team, and that's what the Herd faces in West Virginia tonight at the Capital Classic. The Mountaineers are 23rd in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and are receiving votes in The Associated Press poll.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, with all seats $7 general admission. The game will air on West Virginia public television (WPBY in Charleston-Huntington, Channel 5 on Suddenlink in the Kanawha Valley).
Daniel, who was once recruited by then-Marshall coach Billy Donovan, took the MU job on May 29 after a successful stint at Central Arkansas. There, he started with a six-win season and then flipped it around to three straight 21-win campaigns.
He replaced Royce Chadwick, who left after 11 seasons on the MU bench. The end of Chadwick's tenure was shaky at best, and included a painful-to-watch 78-21 loss to WVU in the 2011 Capital Classic.
Daniel brought two assistants from UCA, hired another from South Carolina State and plunged into the season with an entire Chadwick-recruited program - it was way too late to find an impact player.
Tonight, he will take part in the 52nd meeting between the teams, with WVU owning a 35-16 edge. Under 11th-year coach Mike Carey, the Mountaineers have won the last seven and are prohibitive favorites to add another one.
WVU (4-2) is coming off a 54-47 win Sunday at Virginia, a performance that soothes the pain of two losses at Florida International's tournament the previous weekend. WVU lost 71-63 to Louisiana State and 79-70 to Iowa.
Guards Taylor Palmer (11.0), Christal Caldwell (10.3) and center Ayana Dunning (9.7) lead a balanced scoring attack.
"I think we have a lot of interchangeable parts," Carey said. "I think we have we're deeper this year than we've ever been. We're not as big because of Asya Busse's injury, but we have a lot of people that can play different positions. That really helps us if we get in foul trouble."
Marshall (4-3) is coming off a 59-51 win over Presbyterian, a day after falling to 67-63 to Jackson State at an Eastern Kentucky tournament. Shay Weaver leads the Herd with 12.7 points, with seven others averaging at least five points.
"To be honest with you, it's a different kid every night [who stands out]," Daniel said. "I think that happens in a new system, and that's the type of system we run anyway, a system were everybody can get rich. ... I just hope it's somebody, as opposed to nobody."
But really, he needs a lot of "somebodies" against a much more established, nationally ranked WVU team.
"This game is a tall, tall order," Daniel said. "It's a tall order for where we are with our program, and if you look at coach Carey, his history there and the things he's been able establish over his tenure, I hope that I can be as fortunate to have as much success."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.