"Here's how I feel about that," Jirsa told the media in the Bob Hartley Big Green Room. "They picked last year's team to be last in this year's Conference USA. We don't begin play in conference until the second week of January. So the difference between last year's team, and who we are the second week of January, that's what I'm interested in seeing.
I know we have got new people. I just mentioned we may have two, three, four new starters, people who did not start last year. So we have a different look and I believe how we progress through this non-conference schedule (in November and December) will really get us in position (for C-USA). Then let's see where they would pick that team."
One of those new people who will no doubt start is junior college transfer Chris Ross, who figures to be the Herd's starting point guard. The San Antonio, Texas native, who averaged 10 points, six assists and three steals per game last year at McLennan Junior College, is excited to get this mix of new and old players on the floor for its first test in Saturday's exhibition game, 7:00 p.m. November 5, with Division II West Liberty State of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, a 21-10 team last year who lost to Wheeling Jesuit in the finals of the WVIAC Tournament and returns all five starters.
"We'll all looking forward to starting," said Ross. "It's every player's dream to play Division I basketball and we've been working hard since the pre-season trip to the Bahama's to get ready for the season to start." Marshall played two games in the Carribbean in early September, gaining 10 additional days of practice for this mix of new and old players.
"My whole life, I've been a point guard or quarterback," said Ross of taking over for the departed A.W. Hamilton as the Herd point. "There is a lot of weight on my shoulders. My job is to get my teammates open shots, help them out. It's all going to work out for the good this year." Ross agrees with his head coach about the Herd's selection at the back of the pack in C-USA. "It's nothing but motivation," said Ross of being picked last in C-USA. "Everybody (on the team) has that in the back of their minds and carry that over to the games. Hopefully, that helps us win some game this year.
"Our main point this year is working the ball low to Mark Patton. He can score any way you can on a basketball court. We are basically a young team this year, with freshmen, sophomores and junior college juniors, so we got to get it together." Ross and Patton were selected on the pre-season C-USA Watch List for players who may win post-season honors.
Marshall's Sikeetha Shepard-Hall is one of the leading returning players in new Conference USA for 2005-06, with 1,157 career points>
Another player on the C-USA Watch List, for women, is Sikeetha Shepard-Hall, Marshall's eighth -ranked scorer of all-time. shepard-Hall is excited about the new league and the new locations she'll be playing in. "New league, new area, new locations, we are excited about them," said Shepard-Hall. "No more Buffalo! How about Houston, that's pretty exciting for Michelle (Hagan, also a native of Houston, Texas, like Shepard-Hall) and play in front of the people we grew up with. That's exciting."
Marshall was picked fourth in the pre-season, but hopes to do better in the league in year one. "As a team, we have to come together and stick together. Conference USA will be challenging and that's what we look for is a challenge. If there's no challenge, there's no fun. By us being in the middle, they don't know what to expect out of us so we'll just do what we do best...run the ball and play defense." Marshall's women's team has a nice mix of returners and new players, with four freshmen and two transfers in Megan Withrow, who played at Nitro and then UNC-Wilmington before transferring to MU, and Jill Justice, another in-state player from Greenbrier East High School who came back to West Virginia from Clemson.
"Megan Withrow, a West Virginia girl, she's a really good scorer, a really good passer," said Shepard-Hall. "She sees the floor very well. J.J. can light it up from anywhere; if she can see the basket, she may put it in your eye, from anywhere." Head coach Royce Chadwick, starting his fifth year as the MU head coach with a mark of 58-58, although the last two seasons were 19-10 and 18-12 after a rough start, knows the Herd has its work cut out in the jump in leagues from the MAC to C-USA.
"We move from the 19th nationally ranked league to number eight," said Chadwick. "You're not talking ab out moving up a step or two; you're talking about moving up a couple of stories. It will be very exciting for us as we go through the season playing teams in a top ten nationally ranked conference. We look forward to the challenge."