By Jon Rothstein
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Conference-USA has always been portrayed as Memphis and a cast of others.

The Tigers reemerged as a national power when John Calipari made Beale Street a destination for high level college basketball and Josh Pastner has kept the program at an elite perch during his three seasons as head coach.

“They’re the measuring stick,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said of Memphis. “They carry the flag for our league”.

But after this season, Memphis will leave the friendly confines of the conference they’ve dominated and join the Big East for the start of the 2013-14 season.

Who will replace them as the team to beat in Conference-USA? It could very well be Marshall.

The Thundering Herd will enter Herrion’s third season as the top challenger to the Tigers in their final season in the league.

“We’ll be a dominant rebounding team,” Herrion said. “We’ve got great size. We’re bigger and stronger than we’ve been.”

The main reason for that is rugged forward Dennis Tinnon, who was recently granted an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA. Tinnon averaged 10 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last season.

“It’s justice,” Herrion said of the NCAA’s ruling on Tinnon. “He killed himself during the whole process in terms of working out. We’re going to try and play him away from the basket in spurts. In some of the schemes I’m looking at, I’m thinking he could be our pseudo small forward with Robert Goff and Nigel Spikes up front. That’s three guys bigger than 6-9.”

The 6-10 Spikes battled injuries last season and should solidify the middle while Goff has all the makings of a player that could be in for a breakout season.

“He had moments last year but he’s got to become more consistent,” Herrion said of Goff, who averaged 6.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest during the 2011-12 campaign. “Spikes is the guy that’s really the key. Having him healthy changes everything. He had a great sophomore year but was probably only 60 percent at best last season.”

Herrion is also optimistic that former Marquette big man Yous Mbao, a 7-foot-2 center has a more of an impact.

Marshall’s perimeter will be different than it was a season ago but it could be more balanced. The Thundering Herd lost veteran floor general Damier Pitts but bring in a talented point guard in freshman Kareem Canty, who adds something Marshall hasn’t had according to Herrion.

“He’s more of a pass first guy,” Herrion said of Canty.

Junior guard Deandre Kane is one of the more complete guards in college basketball — but no one really knows about him. Last season as a sophomore, Kane averaged 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game but only shot 25% from 3-point range.

“He should be in the conversation for Preseason Player of the Year in our league,” Herrion said of Kane. “He’s got to become a better outside shooter and he’s working very hard at that. Deandre has never worked harder than he’s working right now.”

JUCO transfer D.D. Scarver should be line for major minutes next to Kane on the perimeter. Herrion describes Scarver as a “natural scorer” and has good size at 6-4. Sophomore guard Chris Martin also figures to make a more significant contribution than he did a year ago.

Marshall’s won 43 games in Herrion’s two seasons as head coach and the Thundering Herd had an impressive run last season before falling to Memphis 83-57 in the Conference-USA Final. The only step now that remains is making the NCAA Tournament, a feat that should be easier with Memphis no longer player the conference tournament in their home arena as the league is shifting the event to Tulsa in 2013.

“We got a great taste by playing on a big stage last season in the finals against Memphis,” Herrion said. “We’ve used that as a motivator. We want to get back that spot again.”

Your thoughts on Marshall’s chances this upcoming season? Be heard in the comments below…

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