The immediate future of the Marshall men’s basketball team rides on the Thundering Herd’s next two games. How many of those games it wins will dictate where the team will fall to begin Conference USA’s “bonus play” schedule.
As a way to boost conference teams’ NCAA tournament résumés, C-USA has the first 14 conference games determine which of three pods teams will play in the rest of the way. The top five teams go into Pod 1, the sixth-through-10th teams go to Pod 2 and the 11th-through-14th teams fall to Pod 3. The teams in each pod then play each other in the final four conference games of the season.
Depending on how the Herd fares at UTSA at 9 p.m. Thursday and at UTEP at 4 p.m. Saturday — along with help from other teams — Marshall could jump to Pod 1. It also could fall to Pod 3.
And if anyone thinks Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni is worried about pod prognostication, he has some disappointing news for them.
“I just worry about who we’re playing next,” D’Antoni said Tuesday. “Where that fits in or out of the pod, I couldn’t care.
“The thing about basketball is that it’s a tournament game,” he added. “You have to be ready to play in the tournament. If you win your last game, they call you the champ, so we worry about the next game.”
Pod play has a significant bearing on the C-USA tournament. When a team is placed in a pod, it doesn’t fall out of that pod, nor can it climb into a higher pod, no matter how well it does in its last four games or how poorly other teams do in theirs.
For instance, Marshall finished at the top of last year’s Pod 2 and was the No. 6 seed in the C-USA tournament, despite ultimately having a better conference record than UAB, which finished at the bottom of Pod 1 and got the No. 5 seed.
Marshall sports information director Cody Linn crunched the numbers for this week’s scenarios. If Marshall at least splits its games against UTEP and UTSA, it goes to Pod 2. Win both, and the Herd would need FIU to lose both of its next two games and FAU to lose at least one, or have Louisiana Tech lose both and FAU to lose to Southern Mississippi to have a shot at Pod 1. Any three-way tie with Louisiana Tech, FAU and/or FIU, Marshall loses out on the tiebreakers.
If Marshall loses both, the Herd would need UTEP, UAB or UTSA to lose one its next two to stay out of Pod 3.
That’s a lot of math, but here’s what that adds up to in junior guard Jarrod West’s eyes: It makes it easy to stay focused on this weekend’s slate.
“It really does give a strong incentive to stay focused and prepared,” he said. “If you win, you get to be in that top pod, which gives you a chance to be a top-four seed and get a bye. It’s also more momentum going forward.”
Sophomore Taevion Kinsey said that along with that focus must come a positive mindset. If they’re going to dwell on any part of those pod scenarios, it what can happen if the Herd can sweep its Texas trip.
“We’re looking forward to winning,” Kinsey said. “We don’t think about losing, ever. I know the team is thinking about winning. We know it’s a possibility to lose, but we’re trying to make that possibility as small as possible.”
Put in this position last season, the Herd split its final two games before bonus play and found itself in Pod 2. From there, Marshall won its last four games of the regular season. The Herd would love a repeat of that, but it really would love to do it in Pod 1. That makes going 2-0 this weekend a must.
“We want to put ourselves in the best position for down the road,” West said. “In a perfect world, you get a first-round bye and you don’t have to play that first day and you get that extra day of rest and preparation.
“At the same time, you don’t want to over-focus on that,” he added. “You want to take it one game at a time and focus on that. You don’t want to look too far down the road.”