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View from the East
Monday, December 29, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Too soon for swagger over auspicious start

©2003 Bonesville.net

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Enthusiasm about East Carolina’s 7-1 spurt out of the gates going into a 7 p.m. home game Tuesday night with Radford should be tempered by several factors. One is recent history, another is ECU’s relatively-weak strength of schedule and another is the daunting gauntlet that awaits the Pirates in Conference USA.

Only last season, ECU was 7-1 and subsequently 10-2 with a win over Marquette, which later reached the Final Four.

“We didn’t anticipate that we would only win two games the rest of the year,” said Pirates coach Bill Herrion after a 74-67 win over Virginia Tech in Norfolk on Saturday night.

The Pirates finished 12-15 last season and, in order to avoid a recurrence, Herrion has been trying to understand why his team experienced such a tailspin.

“One thing that happened last year was that we didn’t sneak up on anybody like the year before,” Herrion said.

Louisville learned from its loss in Greenville in ECU’s first year in C-USA in 2001-02 not to take the Pirates lightly. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino prepared his team accordingly for a return trip to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

The Sagarin computer rankings have ECU’s strength of schedule at 325th out of 326 Division I teams. That isn’t entirely ECU’s fault. The Pirates had a game with Seton Hall, No. 46 in the Sagarin ratings, which was snowed out on Dec. 6. It couldn’t be rescheduled but that would have boosted the strength of schedule component for the Pirates, who are rated No. 84 in the Sagarin system.

Only Georgetown has supposedly played a weaker schedule than the Pirates. Strength of schedule is based only on the teams played thus far, so ECU’s will definitely get tougher. Two of ECU’s wins have been against Campbell and N.C. A&T, ranked Nos. 323 and 324 respectively among Division I teams with a combined 0-16 record against Division I programs between them.

The Pirates have placed an emphasis on building momentum for the challenges of league play by winning non-conference games.

“We’ve still got to figure out how to get it done in January and February,” Herrion said. “The last two years in Conference USA, the problem hasn’t been ‘Can we guard anybody?’ or ‘Can we rebound?’ or ‘Are we physical enough?’ The problem we’ve dealt with in league play is scoring.”

For now, ECU is averaging 81.9 points, second in C-USA to Charlotte's lofty 88.2.

In the Sagarin ratings, Cincinnati is ranked No. 6 and Louisville is No. 10. The Cardinals are coming off a very impressive win at Kentucky, which was ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll.

“What I hope our fans understand about Louisville’s win at Kentucky is that it validates how tough the league is,” Herrion said. “He (Pitino) is a big time coach. To go in to Rupp Arena — 24,000 people — and win. I watched the tape of the last 10 minutes of that game. It was a great win. That’s Louisville second win over a No. 1 team this season. They beat Florida earlier. Then you had Memphis beating Missouri and Marquette is off to a great start.

“I haven’t seen Cincinnati but I’ve been reading their box scores and they’re just hammering people. They might be the best team.”

Of course, unlike the last two seasons under the now defunct division system in C-USA, the Pirates won’t have to play the league’s most powerful programs twice.

“We hope that will help us once we get into league play,” Herrion said.

It should.

The Pirates are averaging 5,101 fans at home for six playing dates. Their only loss was at George Mason in the only road game so far. That made the win at Norfolk on Saturday night all the more encouraging for a program that is 0-16 on the road in its two seasons in C-USA.

“That was important,” Herrion said. “It was technically a neutral site but it was big because we’ve struggled on the road.”

ECU needs to maintain its level of play in a supportive home environment and fans need to make the home arena a difficult venue for opponents.

For $30, fans can get four tickets, four Pepsis and four hot dogs for the Radford game.

The Pirates get a chance to make a statement about their potential away from home when they play at Ole Miss at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

The Rebels will be looking to avenge a 65-58 loss in Greenville last season but have just two starters returning from a 14-15 team. Coach Rod Barnes does have 6-8 senior Justin Reed, who averaged 15.4 points and 5.3 rebounds as a junior, and 6-7 senior Aaron Harper, who averaged 12.2 points and 3.7 boards last season.

Then the Pirates dive into C-USA play at home against UAB on Jan. 7.

The goal of course is postseason play, starting with qualification for the C-USA Tournament in Cincinnati March 10-13. The top 12 teams among the 14 basketball-playing teams in the league make the field. Then the Pirates would like to go to the NIT or the NCAA Tournament.

Several factors provide basis for optimism. Good defense has been a constant for the Pirates, who are limiting opponents to 36 percent shooting and 59.0 points per game. ECU has been primarily playing man-to-man but used a zone effectively at the end of its win over the Hokies.

And the Pirates currently lead C-USA with a plus-16.1 rebounding margin.

Seniors Erroyl Bing, Gabriel Mikulas and Derrick Wiley appear to be playing with a sense of urgency.

“Maybe they hear the clock ticking,” Herrion said. “If that’s going to make them play better, that’s great.”

Bing is shooting better and has accepted the role of coming off the bench. Wiley is also defending the opposition’s best perimeter player in addition to leading the scoring at 15.5 points per game.

HOLIDAY WEEK LINKS FROM BONESVILLE.NET:
Al Myatt: View from the East - 12.29
Too soon for swagger over auspicious start
Nuggets: Notes from ECU and beyond - 12.29
Letter to the Editor: Jack Snypes, Charlotte, NC - 12.29
Greg Vacek: Daily Web Headlines Roundup - 12.29
Bonesville: ECU hijacks Hokies - 12.28
Al Myatt: View from the East - 12.26
Tough-guy Kerr covets chance for homecoming
Keith LeClair: From The Dugout - 12.25

Baseball Scholarships: How the System Works
Bonesville: Pirates click on all cylinders - 12.24
Denny O'Brien: Pirate Notebook No. 164 - 12.23
Perimeter play key to reaching postseason
Al Myatt: View from the East - 12.22
ECU's answer is homegrown talent, says 'Chip'
Letter to the Editor: Jimmy Williams, Swansboro, NC - 12.22
Letter to the Editor: Julie Corbett, Tamassee, SC - 12.22
Ron Cherubini: More Than a Game - 12.21
Choo's "All Tape and Bandages" Team

Moussa Badiane is blocking shots at the rate of 3.9 per game and helping the Pirates to get their transition game in gear. Newcomers Japhet McNeil at the point and Mike Cook and Frank Robinson on the wings are fitting into their roles.

McNeil sets the defensive tone with pressure on opposing point guards that disrupts foes from getting into their offenses.

Belton Rivers has found his niche on the wing and can back up at the point.

The rotation includes Corey Rouse, who has had an attitude adjustment from an earlier suspension, and Luke MacKay, who may yet emerge as a needed long-range threat.

It’s an interesting cast with a load of potential to take on a schedule that is on the verge of getting serious. As the Pirates have said all along, “It’s time.”

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:39:55 AM
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