CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- THIS MARSHALL basketball team is young. A work in progress, Thundering Herd followers are told.
With the top three scorers all freshmen, this team has much to learn, and the hard-knock lessons are piling up.
This team has to learn how to start fast, or at least get back on fast breaks. And not draw technical fouls following foul No. 4. And not panic in the face of adversity and start jacking up shots at random. And not, as a television crewmember observed Saturday, "check out in the final three minutes."
Coach Tom Herrion and his staff are racking their brains on how to get that message across. They could use some old-fashioned senior leadership, much like football coach Doc Holliday has cultivated in four years.
In the fourth season of the Herrion era, the Herd has one senior - Yous Mbao.
There were two, but one was Elijah Pittman and he was no leader. Instead, he was dismissed under cover of "indefinite suspension," has left school, entered a plea deal in a battery case, received probation and is leaving the country to pursue a pro career. Better mind your P's and Q's overseas, Elijah.
With that fiasco out of the way, the Herd has a team that combined for six starts before this season - five from Tamron Manning and one from the last standing senior, Mbao. The 7-foot-2 Senegal native is 5 of 22 from the field in his career, has played 93 minutes this season and has been out with a knee injury since playing in the Jan. 2 game at Akron.
With Mbao a bit player when available, this team has no veteran leadership on the floor. I may be out of touch with the prep-school-polluted, transfer-overrun, upside-loaded modern world of basketball, but I'm finding a lack of experience odd in the fourth year of a coaching tenure.
Shoot, Mbao is the only third-year player on this team (remember, he transferred in from Marquette). JP Kambola would be the other, but he is sidelined by an NCAA eligibility issue. He figured to multiply his 51 career minutes, but we'll never be sure.
It must be noted that a good number of upperclassmen doesn't always guarantee success. In his fourth year, coach Ron Jirsa's Herd had three seniors - Travis Aikens, Chris Ross and four-year starter Tre Whitted, and still went 13-19. Jirsa went out the door.
Herrion's Herd fell to 13-19 last season and needs a miracle to equal it this time. No lie - even if the 6-13 Herd splits the last 12 games and registers the obligatory postseason loss, it will lose 20 games.
Perhaps Kareem Canty grows up and lays off the 3-pointers and Ryan Taylor figures out how to stay in games, but the team still lacks an elder statesman. So how did the Herd get this way?
Of previous recruits that could be juniors or seniors this season: