Jirsa was hired in July in the wake of former Marshall coach and standout player Greg White, who left to spend more time with his family in the less stressful environment of Division II and the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with the University of Charleston. Jirsa, a former head coach at the University of Georgia who sent the Bulldogs to two National Invitational Tournament (NIT) berths in his two seasons at the helm, has come to Huntington with an emphasis in defense and rebounding. So far, the Herd has beaten two exhibition opponents by holding Team Dasani to 43 percent from the floor and GT Express to only 34 percent shooting. Marshall has a plus-23 rebounding ratio in the first two games with most of a squad back which was out-rebounded by an average of 35-33 per game and was minus-22 in the final three games of the season, including minus-12 in two Mid-American Conference tournament games.
The Herd has started the same four players in both scrimmages with only a change at the shooting guard (or two-guard) position. The point-guard will again be junior A.W. Hamilton, who led the MAC in assists with 138 (5.52 assists per game). Hamilton was also the leader in assist-to-turnover ratio in the league by finishing the year with 138 assists and only 63 turnovers, a mark of plus-2.19 (second in the MAC was 1.91). The two-guard will probably be one of two juniors. Ronnie Dawn played in all 29 games last year, with one start, and is the leader among returning players with 37 three-point goals (37-89, .416-best percentage on team among shooters with at least 20 attempts). The other possible starter is Enoch Bunch, who appeared in 26 games last year. Bunch has seven starts in 47 games in his career. He shot 36 percent from the floor, 33 percent from the three-point arc and his 2.1 assists-to-turnovers ratio was only .01 behind Hamilton and Dawn, giving the Herd three players with a plus-two ratio. New to the Marshall attack with be true freshman Tre' Whitted, a 6-4, 185 pound freshman from Wilmington, North Carolina. It is sure to be emotional for the first game when the hometown college, UNC-Wilmington, comes to town this Friday. Also in the mix is walk-on guard Taurean Marshall (good name for a Herd player), who is 6-2, 180 and a sophomore.
At the forwards, one familiar face and one newcomer have started to date but these players are very familiar to each other. Senior Marvin Black and junior Eric Smith both hail from Cleveland, Ohio, and played against each other in high school. Black came to Marshall from Coffeyville Community College last season and helped to recruit Smith to join the Herd from John A. Logan College in Illinois. Black appeared in all 29 games last season, 29 as a starter, and led Marshall in rebounding at 7.8 per game, He finished fifth in the MAC with 5.8 defensive rebounds per game and hit 61 percent of his shots (125-of-204), best on the MU squad. Smith averaged 15 points and six rebounds per game in junior college. The starter opposite of Black in the lineup is junior David Anderson. Anderson, one of Marshall's more colorful and energetic players, transferred to MU from Oklahoma State and averaged 9.1 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. He scored in double-digits in 13 games, with a career high of 20 points verses Akron.
The center is local sophomore Mark Patton, who started nine games and appeared in all 29 as a true freshman. With 20 additional pounds of muscle added in the off-season, the 6-9, 225 pound Patton is hoping to become a force both inside and outside for the Herd. The Cabell Midland player averaged 3.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game but has worked hard in the off-season to improve his shot and rebounding. Also seeing a great deal of time will be fellow big men such as senior Ardo Armpalu (6-10, 240) and sophomore LaVar Carter (6-7, 250) at both center and forward.
The University of North Carolina-Wilmington is a team that has won the Colonial Athletic Conference three times in the last four years, including the last two in a row, and has three trips to the NCAA Tournament's "Big Dance" to show for their efforts. Last year under new head coach Brad Brownell the Seahawks showed no signs of slowing down, going 24-7 for the year and losing by only two, 75-73, to the Maryland Terrapins in the first round of the tournament. Coach Brownell has to deal this season with the return of only two starters from that team. Senior forward 6-7, 230 pound Anthony Terrell is one of those two. He appeared in 31 games last year, starting 28, and averaged seven points and fiverebounds per game. The other is junior guard John Goldsberry, 6-3 185 pounds, who started 27 and played in 31 games. Goldsberry averaged five points, 2 and one-half rebounds and three and one-half assists per game.
Other key returnees include 6-6 senior Joel Justus, who started seven games (3.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg); junior Aaron Coombs, a 6-11 junior center (2.5 ppg, 1,8 rpg); 6-7 sophomore forward Mitch Laue (2.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg); and Beckham Wyrick, a 6-6 sophomore forward (2.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg). The Seahawks have added two transfers and three freshmen to this year's team. 6-7 sophomore forward Taylor Lane came in last season from Denver and has three years eligibility left beginning this year. Ed Spenser in a 6-2 junior college guard from Butler Community College. The three frosh are 6-3 guard T.J. Carter, 6-8 center Dejan Grkovic and 6-2 guard Dave Noel.