College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, February 2, 2004
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
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The scope of the Super Bowl is so expansive that a basketball game involving
East Carolina and South Florida on Tuesday night seems shrouded in
obscurity. That, of course, is not fair to either the Pirates or the Bulls.
For them, the pending matchup has great significance.
One thought about the Carolina Panthers, who were on the short end of a
32-29 score in the NFL’s showcase event on Sunday night in Houston, before
examining the ramifications of this ECU-USF hoops showdown. In a region in
which sports enthusiasts are often divided by their college loyalties, the
Panthers provided a common focus.
The Panthers united fans and that was refreshing. But, as Bill Herrion has
been saying about ECU basketball, “There are no moral victories.” That’s
especially true in pro sports but the Panthers still represented the region
well. New England ultimately made the plays to win the game in the final
seconds. The Panthers simply didn’t have time to answer the closing field
I’ve heard people say about an especially competitive game, “If you didn’t
care who won, it was a great game.” Although there are few people who enjoy
competition without some sort of rooting interest, Super Bowl XXXVIII was a
great game in that respect.
Within significantly more limited parameters, ECU and South Florida could be
a great game, too. The Pirates and the Bulls must be regarding one another
as if they were a pitcher of iced tea in the midst of a crawl across the
desert. Neither team’s cup has exactly overflowed thus far in Conference USA
What one represents to the other is a realistic opportunity for victory and
a first step toward qualifying for the C-USA Tournament on March 10-13 in
Cincinnati. The Bulls are 0-5 in league play while the Pirates are 0-7 after
losing a hard-fought battle to DePaul 70-65 in Greenville on Saturday night.
“We didn’t play with the defensive intensity we needed early in the second
half,” said ECU coach Bill Herrion. “We got down but the kids didn’t quit. I
thought we had some pretty good looks late in the game. Guys have got to
step up and make shots.”
Herrion didn’t question the effort of his players against DePaul and that is
important in the throes of an 8-game losing streak that has dropped the
Pirates to 8-9 on the season. Maintaining a high level of effort is
important going into a winnable game at South Florida against a team which
is reeling to an extent possibly greater than the present plight of the
Tulane, at 0-6 in the league, is also a player in the game of musical chairs
going on in the C-USA basement. The Pirates host the Green Wave on Feb. 18
and will play South Florida at home on Feb. 28. To the credit of many ECU
fans, they have not abandoned their team. Attendance was
5,329 for the DePaul game. Unlike the previous home game against
nationally-ranked Louisville, which drew 7,553, not that many people were
attracted by the opponent.
The format of the Conference USA tournament makes the scramble among the
teams at the bottom of the standings significant. The top 12 in the
C-USA standings among the league’s
14 teams will make the field for the Kelly Tires Conference USA Tournament
at U.S. Bank Arena.
That’s not the University of Cincinnati’s campus arena, the Shoemaker
Center, but the Bearcats will still get a sizeable bump in terms of fan
support. Last year, the event was held at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, where
the Cardinals prevailed on their home floor.
The league has scheduled its tournament in less-than-neutral venues because
of the built-in attendance factor. It’s not an equitable situation from a
competitive standpoint but the consensus among C-USA interests is that it
beats empty seats.
Where the league tournament is played isn’t a big deal for the Pirates. They
just want to get there. ECU made the C-USA Tournament field in 2002 but
didn’t qualify last season.
The Pirates and the Bulls have some brief but competitive history. ECU won
the first ever hardcourt meeting 68-62 in double overtime in Greenville last
season. South Florida won 38-37 in football at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this
past season — also in double overtime.
The teams will limp into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. matchup at USF’s Sun Dome. The
Bulls are apparently down to seven scholarship players through an assortment
of attritions. ECU’s inside attack has been compromised by the loss of
senior Gabriel Mikulas to a broken arm and the absence of sophomore Corey
Rouse because of a concussion.
ECU has its epic history of struggles on the road to overcome. The Pirates
are 0-20 in Conference USA games outside the supportive environment of
Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. ECU is 0-6 on opponents’ courts this
season but does have a 74-67 win over Virginia Tech on a neutral floor in
Norfolk, Va., to its credit. The Hokies, incidentally, are coached by Seth
Greenberg, who was directing South Florida last season.
Robert McCullum, 20-11 at Western Michigan last season, is now guiding the
Bulls, who lost 65-53 to Houston while shooting just 28.6 percent from the
field on Saturday.
The bottom line for Tuesday night is that both teams have a shot at their
first C-USA win. That makes it a big game.
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02/23/2007 12:45:01 AM