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28 days ‘til opening day: Donnie Marsh looks to jump start Alabama A&M

NCAA Basketball: Alabama A&M at Western Kentucky Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Nov. 10 couldn’t come soon enough.

As we slide through the final weeks before college basketball returns, we’ll look at one storyline about the upcoming season that lines up with the number of days until opening day. Keep coming back to see if we have the creativity and dedication to pull this off. No promises.

It’s Oct. 13 and we’re just 28 days from opening day.

It wasn’t a pretty for Alabama A&M in 2016-17.

The Bulldogs didn’t win their first game until Jan. 7 although they didn’t, like some, have any non-Div. I games on the schedule to fall back on. They finished the year 2-27, fielding an offense that ranked second-to-last in the country in efficiency per KenPom. A part of that was a season-long slog from three, where they shot just 28.0 in conference play.

Even with a miraculous turnaround, the pie-in-the-sky ceiling is capped for the Bulldogs in 2017-18. A low APR score has them ineligible from NCAA postseason play.

But with all that gunk out of the way, there are some positive vibes around the program. Willie Hayes stepped down after last season, ending a six-year run. There were some nice moments — a fifth place finish in 2013-14, an all-SWAC talent in Ladarius Tabb — but Hayes won just 34 percent of his league games.

In steps Donnie Marsh, who’s excited for the opportunity.

"I felt like this was an opportunity for me to continue my work at an HBCU," Marsh said, "to continue trying to help young men develop as people and as players. It was an opportunity to take something that I learned from a really good place and bring it to a place I think really, really wants it. This fan base, the support network, Bulldog nation all want a championship. They all want a chance to cheer in March. I think that's the ultimate for college basketball fans and I think this is a place where you can do that."

He brings in some intriguing credentials. Marsh has been a longtime Mike Davis assistant, coaching with him at Indiana and UAB, and then two separate stints with Davis during his SWAC-throttling run at Texas Southern. Davis’ Tigers have never finished lower than second in the league, and have made three NCAA appearances over five years.

Marsh has also run his own program at the highest level, leading FIU from 2000-2004 while the Panthers were in the Sun Belt.

Despite inheriting a difficult situation, Marsh has a promising combo guard to build around in De’Edrick Petty. As a freshman, Petty made 24 starts and played 29.3 minutes per game, seeing time at both guard spots. He also averaged 13.3 points per game and should be the focal point of Marsh’s first team, and could have all-league potential. He also has an experienced center in Mohamed Sherif (15.6 MG) likely stepping into a larger role.

Marsh has seen firsthand what it takes to build a dominant SWAC program. He’s also done this before, almost certainly taking lessons from his time at FIU. With a full season of development and recruiting, and the APR ban hopefully lifted, he could well jump start Alabama A&M.