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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, February 2, 2004

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Path to redemption starts at USF

CyberEast of New Bern

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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 goal.

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 play.

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 Pirates.

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

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