College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, December 29, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
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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
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,”
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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02/23/2007 12:39:55 AM