HUNTINGTON — For Marshall women’s basketball coach Tony Kemper, the end of the 2019-20 season came abruptly as COVID-19 took hold of the nation prior to his team’s battle in the Conference USA quarterfinals.
On Friday afternoon, Kemper got official word when his team might take the floor once again for a contest.
Marshall released its 2020-21 schedule on Friday, featuring a tough slate with regional games at national powers Ohio State (Nov. 18) and Kentucky (Dec. 9).
“We’ve talked about a couple games here and there, but there’s a plan on paper now,” Kemper said.
Scheduling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has been a bit more challenging with regionalization taking precedence.
The good news for Kemper is that his non-conference schedule starts with three of the first four games at home.
The season opens with a Nov. 13 contest against Coppin State. Then, following the Ohio State matchup, the Herd returns to Cam Henderson Center for contests with Morgan State and Radford, which is expected to be among the top teams in the Big South Conference.
The Dec. 9 contest at Kentucky starts a string before conference play in which the Herd has just one home game — that being a Dec. 17 matchup against Morehead State.
The Herd also travels to St. Bonaventure following the Kentucky contest and later goes to Las Vegas for the Holiday Hoops Classic to end non-conference play.
“We’re excited about it and there’s a lot of really good teams on there,” Kemper said. “It’s going to be a big challenge.”
The two marquee games — Ohio State and Kentucky — give Kemper’s team a chance to go against prime competition while also letting a few of their key players enjoy games at home.
Taylor Pearson, a Columbus native and Northland High School graduate, gets to take on Ohio State in front of friends and family while the game against Kentucky allows guards Kia Sivils, Kristen Mayo and Savannah Wheeler the chance to play in their home state against a marquee opponent.
“We’ve gotten a few good players out of Ohio in the last few years and Kentucky is the same way,” Kemper said. “I think those are challenges that our girls will really look forward to.”
The conference portion of the schedule is also daunting, but the first three games come at home with a weekend series against Old Dominion and Charlotte, followed by a single-game weekend contest against rival Western Kentucky.
With Conference USA moving to a more regionalized schedule for men’s and women’s basketball, the road is not an easy one for the Herd, who has 11 conference games out of 18 coming against teams who finished in the top half of Conference USA last season.
Especially with a shortened C-USA tournament field in 2021 (8 teams), the Herd has its work cut out for it.
“They’ve gone regional in our league, and if you look at our region, it’s very, very good,” Kemper said. “It’s good to start at home, but we’ve got two games each against tough conference opponents. You hope you can build momentum in the early weeks and see where it takes you.”