College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Saturday, November 22, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
Season of promise starts now
If the competitive difficulty of East Carolina’s basketball
schedule were plotted on a graph, the peak would have been last season.
The Pirates played the teams in Conference USA’s tough
American Division home and home, doing so without the advantage of sneaking
up on C-USA powers as ECU had done the previous year.
The competitive situation eases to a degree this season
because the Pirates will play teams such as Cincinnati, Louisville and
Marquette only once during the regular season. Division play has been
dissolved. Instead, ECU will play Charlotte, UAB and South Florida home and
The top 12 teams in the league standings of C-USA’s 14
basketball-playing members advance to the C-USA Tournament in Cincinnati.
ECU has been picked 13th by the C-USA coaches but with a more mature club
that features four returning starters and a less difficult schedule, Pirates
coach Bill Herrion feels a return to the league tournament is realistic
among the team’s goals.
ECU opens the season at home against a revamped Campbell
program at 7 p.m. tonight.
“Our goals never really change,” Herrion said. “Number one,
we want to play hard. We want to compete hard and become the best team we
can be. Number two, we want to get into the C-USA Tournament. The ultimate
goal is postseason play (the NCAA Tournament or the NIT).”
Herrion has been through a range of competitive challenges at
ECU. When he arrived for the 1999-2000 season after a successful run at
Drexel, the Pirates were playing in the Colonial Athletic Association. The
focus changed when ECU was approved for all-sports membership in C-USA and
the Pirates spent the 2000-01 campaign as lame ducks in the CAA, playing the
regular season but ineligible for the CAA Tournament.
In 2005-06, of course, every member of C-USA’s old American
Division — other than the Pirates — will have a new home. Cincinnati,
Louisville, Marquette and DePaul move to the Big East. Charlotte and Saint
Louis will join the Atlantic 10. South Florida from C-USA’s old National
Division also will head for the Big East and TCU may possibly exit for the
Teams scheduled to join C-USA and fill the voids presently
include Central Florida, Marshall, Rice, SMU and Tulsa.
“I was looking at some rankings of our recruiting class the
other night and we were 10th or 11th in C-USA,” Herrion said. “But if you
take out the teams that will be leaving, our recruiting class was third.”
Herrion concedes that ECU may not be as attractive to
recruits without the power bloc of C-USA’s departing programs. The absence
of point guard Cedric Jackson of New Jersey from ECU’s early signees (6-10
Charles Bronson and 6-7 junior college transfer Mike Castro) may be
attributed to the league’s changing composition. Herrion will still seek the
best players possible, the question is how interested higher caliber players
will be in ECU within the context of a watered-down C-USA.
Competitive level is a relative thing. ECU stands to move up
in basketball in C-USA when some of the traditional powers move out.
Scheduling is one factor that separates ECU from programs
such as Louisville and Cincinnati. The Pirates played Campbell in
Fayetteville and traveled to Coastal Carolina and Radford last season in
order to get those teams to play in Greenville this season.
The Cardinals and Bearcats make monetary guarantees to get
lesser teams in Division I to come to their homecourts. College basketball’s
established teams can, in effect, buy wins. That helps their records and
their ratings power index, which are factors when the NCAA Tournament
committee makes its selections.
ECU will play at Seton Hall on Dec. 6 this season for a
guarantee of its own — $40,000 — but money wasn’t the only factor in that
scheduling choice. The Pirates have turned down guarantees for “money games”
from other teams in the ACC, Big East and Big Ten.
“We felt like we needed to get to that area,” Herrion said of
the battle of Pirates in South Orange, N.J. “Japhet McNeil (freshman point
guard) is from New York and Mike Cook (freshman guard) is from Philadelphia.
We’re trying to recruit that area so we felt it was a good game to go play.”
ECU must return home games last season with trips to George
Mason and Ole Miss this season. They’ll meet Virginia Tech in Norfolk on
“Our schedule has a good balance,” Herrion said. “Having one
division in C-USA gives us a more competitive opportunity night in and night
out. Our division the last two years has just really beat us up.”
The Pirates got off to a 10-2 start last season that included
a win over Marquette, which reached the Final Four. ECU struggled the rest
of the way, finishing 12-15 overall and 3-13 in the league. The Pirates
missed the C-USA Tournament after earning a berth their first season in the
league. ECU still has not won a C-USA road game, going 0-16 over two
“We’ve got to figure this thing out for four months instead
of two,” Herrion said. “Some of it was that we didn’t sneak up on anybody
like we did two years ago. When some of these teams came to ECU for the
first time, they weren’t ready for that beehive and people got knocked back
a little bit.
“This past year people knew a little bit more about what to
Herrion also admitted that last year’s team was negatively
affected when he suspended starting senior point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye
for a stretch of games because of academic issues.
“From a chemistry standpoint, I don’t think we ever really
recovered from that,” Herrion said.
In Holcomb-Faye’s place is McNeil. Returning starters include
seniors Gabriel Mikulas, Erroyl Bing and Derrick Wiley as well as sophomore
guard Belton Rivers. Junior Moussa Badiane is already ECU’s career leader in
blocked shots. Freshmen Mike Cook and Frank Robinson should help Luke MacKay
give the Pirates needed outside scoring balance.
Campbell will bring a different team to Greenville than the
one ECU blasted 86-61 last season, outrebounding the Camels 51-22. New coach
Robbie Laing has replaced a deliberate offense with a running approach and
will have a taller team than last season. Campbell’s new work ethic is
evidenced by 5 a.m. practices.
The Pirates are healthy although Rivers and Cook have both
dealt with preseason concussions.
“We’re as talented right now as we’ve been in my five years
here,” Herrion said.
After five weeks of practice, Herrion said he feels the team
is more than ready to play a game.
Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.
Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville
02/23/2007 12:41:21 AM