Marshall coach Dan D'Antoni and the 13th-seeded Thundering Herd might just might be your new favorite March Madness team. They won their first NCAA tournament game in program history, upsetting No. 4 seed Wichita State 81-75. They did it with a freewheeling, probability-fueled style guided by D'Antoni, the coach who left a lasting impression on the sideline with his T-shirt and blazer combination.
"We think it looks good, man, you see a lot of people crackin' on him, chanting where's your tie and stuff like that," guard Jon Elmore said earlier in the week before he scored a team-high 27 points in the win. "But he's comfortable and thinks it's a good look and we've all accepted it and think it looks good. So more power to him."
Guard C.J. Burks added: "It does look good. It's very in style. It's a different style. It's a very well-liked. It looks different, so he likes it a lot and he's very comfortable. Looks very good."
When Marshall's offense is firing at all cylinders, it looks very good, too. The Thundering Herd have the second-shortest average offensive possession in the country and the seventh-fastest tempo, according to KenPom.com. Nearly half of the team's field goal attempts are 3s.
D'Antoni, a former Marshall point guard and assistant coach, was an assistant with the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. His younger brother, Mike, coaches the Houston Rockets. They have the best record in the NBA, fueled by an incredibly efficient offense.
Watch Marshall play and you'll see similarities between D'Antoni's style and those of the best teams in the NBA.
"I would say it's the most fun style of play in the country," Elmore said. "I've seen a lot of college teams play and I might be biased, but I think we have the most fun. We shoot a ton of threes, throw alley-oops. The crowd gets fired up. Personally I think it's the best and it's kind of funny we will be watching NBA games in the locker room or talking about the highlights before on SportsCenter and we run a lot of NBA plays.
"Everything Houston does we do, the D'Antonis of course, and you will see Golden State running our plays and we will run their plays. Then you will see Cleveland running some of that stuff and it's very pro oriented. That is where they came up was in the pros. I think it shocks a lot of college teams when they play us or see what we do because it's getting integrated into the college system and we're one of the first teams to do that."
D'Antoni says it originated half a century ago at the high school level.
"Well, the system really started way back in the 50s and 60s in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky," he said. "It's kind of where all the high school coaches taught. They said they started the fast break and the zone defense, of course we're a man team. So it kinda started there and then Mike's team and my team – we both played that style. We didn't have centers that posted and we were an outside/in team.
"If you look at our stats, we don't post up. But if you watch at the end of the game and look at points in the paint we will be right there. We just go a different way. We're off the dribble. They're more of a pass in."
D'Antoni knows his analytics and the expected value of a corner 3-pointer, contested lay-up, a trip to the foul line for two free throws, etc. He favors the shots that typically yield the most points, as he explained in this instant classic about advanced analytics when asked if his team didn't work the ball into the paint enough during a game.
"I like these guys," he said after the first-round win. "I like the chance riding with them, fun to be on a trip with and they're fun to watch to play and it's real fun when we win," D'Antoni said. "So we're going to try to do that one more time. I told them the beginning the goal is to win the NCAA Tournament. Wherever we get in the car driving down the road to that championship, when it stops we'll all get off we'll be happy because we like who is in the car. We like the journey we're on. We're looking forward to the next leg, and I have confidence in these guys that they'll give you a real good ball game and got a great chance to win."