Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Coming Thursday: 54 Years of NCAA Heartbreak

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Coming Thursday: 54 Years of NCAA Heartbreak

Article excerpt

TODAY'S NOT-SO-TRIVIAL question: Which Conference USA team has gone the longest without making the NCAA tournament? Answer: Rice, whose drought will hit the 46-year mark. The Owls were members of the Southwest Conference when they played in the 25-team Big Dance of 1970.

If you said Marshall, you were incorrect, but not far off. With sadness and resignation, many Thundering Herd fans know the last appearance was 1987.

The Herd was in the low-rung Southern Conference, the league tournament was held in Asheville, North Carolina, and there was alcohol in the media room.

And there was nobody who thought the Herd would be desperately seeking its next NCAA tournament bid 29 years later. (Take extra credit for remembering "Desperately Seeking Susan was released in 1985.)

So who in C-USA has gone the next longest without a dance invitation? Louisiana Tech, 1991.

The Herd and the Bulldogs tangle Thursday night at Cam Henderson Center, with a tip time of 7. An NCAA bid isn't on the line, but the game isn't unimportant.

With Alabama-Birmingham clinching the regular-season title, seeding in the Conference USA tournament is one issue. The Blazers aren't the backyard bullies the Memphis Tigers were last decade, but it's good to land on the other side of the bracket.

Therefore, a No. 2 or 3 seed is desired. Marshall, Tech and Middle Tennessee are tied for third at 11-5, with Old Dominion a game back at 10-6. (I'll sort out the tiebreakers in my "Inside Marshall Sports blog.)

Another challenge is simply to win a tough game. The Herd and Bulldogs need all the experience and confidence they can get when the league's 13 teams convene at Birmingham's Legacy Arena next week.

They'll need all they can get, for their trip to the long-lost promised land runs through hometown UAB. It's not the Blazers' home court, but they have won 28 straight in any arena in Birmingham. With a few thousand of their fans in the house, can they be beaten?

As deep and complete as UAB may be, the Herd and Bulldogs can do it. Not to say they will, but they certainly can.

You know how Marshall's two games with UAB turned out. In Huntington, the Blazers led for 32 minutes, but Ryan Taylor was foiled while driving for a game-winning basket. (And you thought I was incapable of diplomacy!)

At UAB's Bartow Arena last week, the Herd was ahead for about half the game, but the Blazers used a few Dirk Williams 3-pointers, a few offensive rebounds and free throws to keep the Herd away in the final minutes.

As for Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs have beaten the Blazers this year, dominating the final 10 minutes in an 85-76 win at Ruston.

That doesn't ease the Bulldogs' pain from 2015, when they won the C-USA regular-season title but fell to the Blazers in the semifinals, 72-62 in overtime. The Bulldogs tied the game after trailing by 16, but the Blazers dominated the extra period. …

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