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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Monday, January 9, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Calipari & Company loom for evolving Pirates


7:00-9:00 a.m.

Tune in on the radio or catch the live Internet feed of today's Talk of the Town with Henry Hinton:


Ricky Stokes is enduring some interesting nights in his first year as head coach of the Pirate basketball program. In the last week he has gone from exhilaration as he watched his team nearly beat a Top 25 team to desperation as he watched them nearly lose to a Division II crowd.

Welcome to East Carolina basketball, Ricky!

The performance of the Pirates in Winston-Salem on Wednesday night was nothing short of amazing. In spite of continued shooting woes, ECU hung on with No. 23 Wake Forest with an inspired outing that showcased Jeremy Ingram’s on-court leadership and some tenacious defense.

The four-point loss against the Atlantic Coast Conference team on the road — preceded by a dominating win over UNC-Wilmington — was encouraging. Pirate fans began to feel the season may not be lost after all.

Then came the Tigers of Division II St. Paul’s. Watching the game from the stands on Saturday night, I was reminded of the famous line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s characters could not shake the band of persistent men chasing them: “Who are those guys”?

And what are they doing at a D-II school? And how can a D-II school get players like that?

I’m sure there is an explanation. Most likely something to do with academics. But Stokes was the first to admit the Tigers were difficult to stop — or even slow down. Truth be told, ECU was fortunate to escape with the 80-74 victory.

“I want to give St. Paul’s a lot of credit because they played extremely hard,” Stokes said after the game. “We regrouped in the second half and were able to attack more inside and make perimeter shots. The defense, however, was the difference for us tonight.”

Note to Terry Holland... Don’t schedule St. Paul’s in the future.

Now comes the biggest game of the year to date as John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers visit Minges on Wednesday night to open the Conference USA schedule.

Memphis held off a strong challenge from that tough Winthrop team on Saturday night to get a 73-63 win. That makes the Tigers' record 13-2 coming into Greenville. Their only losses have been to Duke in the Preseason NIT championship game and Texas last week.

The Pirates lost to Winthrop back on December 18th 70-48.

Memphis is led by senior forward Rodney Carney (17.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game) and freshman forward Shawne Williams (14.4/5.9). The team's catalyst is sophomore point guard Darius Washington (13 ppg/51 total assists).

Washington has been a little banged up but scored 17 points in the Winthrop game so expect him to be full speed on Wednesday.

Calipari is in his sixth season with the Memphis program and is now arguably the last of the big name coaches left in C-USA. His presence in this upcoming game and the Tigers' national ranking (No. 4 last week) has sparked enough interest for it to be nationally televised on CSTV, which by the way was bought by CBS this past week.

East Carolina is now 6-7 and must find the same intensity it played with at Wake Forest if it hopes to stay on the court with Memphis.

Stokes’ game plan against the Deacons was to slow the game down and not let Wake push the ball. When the entry pass was made down low the Pirates often found their only option was to foul the bigger front line of the opponent.

Memphis will start a front line that averages nearly 6’9”, which presents a similar challenge for the Pirates. Calipari’s team has seen a lot of zone defense in recent weeks. The teams who have had any success against them have packed it down low and made the Tigers shoot from the outside, which they have demonstrated they can do.

That may be Stokes’ only option against the larger, more talented Memphis team. Keeping people like Corey Rouse out of foul trouble will be a key.

Another key will be the home atmosphere. Students are back on campus, so the Minges Maniacs will be in full voice.

Hopefully, the game will sell out and ECU will have the same advantage it has enjoyed in recent years when the likes of Louisville and Cincinnati have come to town.

Pirate fans are always chirping about wanting a big-time college basketball atmosphere. Wednesday night presents one of the best opportunities in a while to show they really mean it.

Game time is 7 pm.

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04/21/2008 07:05:43 PM

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