HUNTINGTON - None of the members on the Marshall University men's basketball roster was born the last time the Thundering Herd played in the National Invitational Tournament.
Marshall ended a 24-year drought when the tournament committee selected the Thundering Herd to travel to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to hook up with the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee in tonight's first round. Game time is set for 9:15 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN3.
"It's the next step for us and for this program," Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. "It's the next step toward restoring the tradition here. It's a great challenge playing on the road at Middle Tennessee. They are a terrific club out of the Sun Belt Conference and have had a terrific year."
Fifth-seeded Marshall ended the regular season at 21-13 after losing to Memphis, 83-57, in Saturday's championship game of the Conference USA Tournament.
Fourth-seeded Middle Tennessee captured the Sun Belt's East Division title after finishing 14-2 and 25-6 overall. Arkansas State upset the Blue Raiders 64-61 in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Championship played in Hot Springs, Ark.
The Thundering Herd and Blue Raiders previously have met five times, with Middle Tennessee owning a 3-2 advantage in the series. The most recent encounter saw Marshall post a 63-60 win in Huntington on Nov. 17, 2009.
Middle Tennessee is perfect in two home games played against Marshall. This year in the Murphy Center, the Blue Raiders are 14-1 and currently boast a 13-game winning streak.
"When you look at the field, it's a great reflection on our team that we're hosting," Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. "There are 16 or 18 teams in this field that could win NCAA tournament games. Marshall is a really talented team and they're playing really well."
Middle Tennessee will get an up-close and personal view of one of the nation's top rebounding teams. Marshall averages 7.3 more rebounds than its opponents, which is the best mark in C-USA and one of the best in the country.
Marshall's top scoring threat is DeAndre Kane, who leads the team with 16.6 points per game. The sophomore averaged 22.0 points during four C-USA Tournament games and was named to the all-tournament team along with teammate Dennis Tinnon.
Joining Kane and Tinnon (9.9 ppg and 9.9 rpg) in the projected starting lineup for tonight's game are Damier Pitts (14.5 ppg), Shaquille Johnson (9.1) and Robert Goff (6.2).
Three Middle Tennessee players average in double figures in the scoring department - LaRon Dendy (14.8), Marcos Knight (11.8) and JT Sulton (10.4). Bruce Massey is the team's top playmaker at 3.9 assists per game.
The winner of tonight's matchup's advances to the field of 16 against either top-seeded Tennessee or No. 8 seed Savannah State.