TAKE ON PIRATE SPORTS
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
It's the time when
hope springs eternal
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In practical terms, the NCAA tournament starts tomorrow for East
Carolina in Memphis, Tennessee.
It’s really as simple as that. It is the beauty of college basketball
and one of the reasons the sport is so popular. Virtually every team has
a theoretical chance when March rolls around to go all the way.
Granted, odds are certainly stacked against the East Carolinas of the
world in March. Still, there is that chance. That’s really all teams
want — a shot.
That’s all the 1992-93 Pirate basketball team wanted. Lester Lyons and
company arrived in Richmond with a No. 7 seed (of eight teams) and a
East Carolina then rolled past Old Dominion and UNC-Wilmington to make
it to the finals against Lefty Driesell and his James Madison Dukes.
Cinderella was a Pirate that Monday night, and East Carolina beat JMU
54-49 to win the Colonial Athletic Association title.
That weekend became one of my fondest memories of my career.
That’s what March is all about and that’s the challenge that this
edition of East Carolina basketball now faces.
Last year, the Pirates were big underdogs
but made it all the way to the semifinals
bowing out. Jeff Lebo had his
team playing its best basketball when it mattered most.
“A lot of these guys weren’t with us last year,” said Lebo, comparing
this season's squad to the one that knocked off Central Florida and UAB
last March. “Darrius Morrow has played major minutes in the tournament,
but you really don’t know what to expect from the new guys in tournament
The Pirates head to Memphis with a record of 14-15 and 5-11. East
Carolina opens the tournament with a 1 p.m. (Eastern Time) matchup with
the Rice Owls. The Pirates
beat Rice on Feb. 4 in
“We had tremendous balance in that win over Rice,” Lebo explained. “We
had six guys in double figures. But this is the best Rice team Ben
(Braun) has had at Rice and this will be a tremendous challenge.”
Memphis is the top seed in the tournament. The Tigers led Conference USA
in field goal percentage at 49.5 percent and in field goal percentage
defense at 38.8 percent.
Memphis is going for its 10th conference tournament title. The Tigers
have won five C-USA titles and, before that, captured four Metro
championships in the 1980s.
After a first round
Memphis gets the UTEP-Houston winner on Thursday.
Southern Miss is the second seed. The Golden Eagles take on the Rice-ECU
winner on Thursday. USM has its highest seeding in 11 years.
Southern Miss lost a key game to end the season at Marshall, and is very
much on the bubble as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned.
Other quarterfinal matchups on Thursday include third seed Tulsa against
the Southern Methodist-Marshall winner and fourth seed Central Florida
gets the UAB-Tulane winner.
Memphis is 15-1 all-time in Conference USA tournament games at the FedEx
Forum. The Tigers are favored again this year, but this is March where
upsets are the rule rather than the exception.
East Carolina wouldn’t face Memphis until the finals, if the Pirates can
get that far.
Rice is on the clock first. For the Pirates to make a long run in the
tournament, Lebo thinks he’ll have to find some new heroes.
“We have to have someone unexpected to step up and play well, maybe two
people,” Lebo explained. “It’s certainly an exciting time and we look
forward to playing in Memphis.”
“March Madness” tips off for East Carolina tomorrow. Survive and
advance. Win and play on.
It’s what college basketball in March is all about.
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