Pirates tip-off C-USA play against Tulane

Published 8:25 pm Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — A four-game losing streak is not how the East Carolina hoops team wanted to ride into conference play, but the Pirates showed some encouraging signs in their latest loss, a 79-66 defeat to No. 16 Clemson.
After struggling to find his shot of late, senior guard James Legan popped off for 21 points against the Tigers, while sophomore point guard Brock Young notched his fourth double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 assists.
Nobody should be more happy to start Conference USA play than ECU, which has had three of its last four losses come at the hands of ACC teams.
While the Pirates are done facing squads from one of the best basketball conference’s in the nation, it will begin facing teams from what might be an up and coming one tonight when they begin C-USA play at home against Tulane.
As of Monday, Memphis was the king of the conference with a 10-3 record, and was tightly trailed by Houston (8-3).
Tied for third at 9-4 were Southern Miss and UCF, while Tulsa and UAB were right behind them with 9-5 records, and only a half game behind them were ECU and UTEP at 8-5.
The Pirates’ first conference foe Tulane, sits right underneath ECU and alongside Marshall, whom both have 7-6 records.
While no more than two games separate the top seven teams, Pirates coach Mack McCarthy said that at this point in the season records can be deceiving.
By scheduling ACC teams for three of the final four games before C-USA play, there is no doubt McCarthy was trying to toughen up his team before it starts playing the games that really count.
The only question is, did it work.
ECU has played 13 games this season, and while it has no doubt shown improvement this season, the question is just how much.
The Pirates have played some really impresses stretches of ball, while at other times tended to resort to some bad habits of the past.
McCarthy said the inconsistency stems from not having enough players rise to the occasion on a regular basis.
A team effort will be needed tonight if the Pirates want to start off conference play on the right foot.
Tulane heads into Minges after 78-53 drubbing by the SEC’s Auburn and will no doubt be primed to play.
The Green Wave is powered by junior point guard Kevin Simms, who is posting a team-high 12 points per game, while handing out nearly four assists a night.
Senior forward/center Robinson Louisme and fellow 6-7 forward Asim McQueen give the Green Wave a scoring presence in the post where they each tally nine point per game.
Averaging a C-USA worst 64.8 points per game, Tulane has struggled on offense, but have been able to stay in games behind a defense that lets up only 64.2 a night.
Catching up with Conference USA
1. Memphis, 10-3 (travels to ECU Jan. 28)
Though they have dropped out of the top 25, the Tigers have been solid on both ends of the court. Memphis posts a C-USA best 78 points per game, while letting up only 61 (third best in Conference USA). The Tigers also rack up an astounding seven blocked shots a night.
So far freshman sensation Tyreke Evans has lived up to the hype and currently leads Memphis in scoring with a 16.9 average.
2. Houston, 8-3 (hosts ECU Jan. 21)
Expected to have a setback after scoring machine Robert McIver graduated, the Cougars haven’t missed a beat this year. Junior Kelvin James has helped pick up the slack on offense with his 18 points per game, while junior transfer Aubrey Coleman has been sensational. Coleman is ninth in the league in scoring (16.9) and leads the conference in steals (3.18).
3. Southern Miss, 9-4 (travels to ECU Feb. 4, hosts to ECU Feb. 17 )
While not the most dynamic offensive team, the Golden Eagles have done a very nice job on the defensive end where it allows only 59.8 points per game, which is second in C-USA. Jeremy Wise has lived up to expectations and has delivered 18 points per game.
3. UCF, 9-4 (travels to ECU Feb. 7)
Jermaine Taylor is in the midst of another monster season as he is second in the conference in scoring with 23.2 points per game. Freshman point guard A.J. Rompza has acclimated nicely to college ball and is dishing out a C-USA third best 5.31 assists per night.
4. Tulsa, 9-5 (hosts ECU Feb. 21)
Tulsa will make some noise in conference play as it leads the league in two very important categories: defense, and rebounding margin. The Golden Hurricane allows a stingy 59.6 points a night, while out-boarding its opponents by over seven rebounds a game.
4. UAB, 9-5 (travels to ECU Feb. 28)
The Blazers are legit contenders for the conference title, and are expected to give Memphis a run for its money. UAB has fantastic scoring balance and features three players in the top ten in scoring in Robert Vaden (19.6/third), Paul Delaney III (17.1/seventh) and Lawrence Kinnard (16.1/10th). Kinnard is also second in the league in rebounding with nearly nine boards night.
5. UTEP, 8-5 (tied with Pirates and will travel to ECU Jan. 17)
The Miners boast the conference’s leading scoring in Stefon Jackson (23.8 ppg), and its fourth leading scoring in Randy Culpepper (19.2 ppg). The two are a tremendous tandem and when you factor in the play of sophomore point guard Julyan Stone, this team can be very dangerous. Stone’s six assists a night are second only to ECU’s Brock Young (8 apg).
6. Marshall, 7-6 (Hosts ECU Jan. 10, travels to ECU Feb. 25)
The Thundering Herd have had an up and down season, but lead the conference in offensive rebounding and field goal percentage. However, they are dead last in defensive rebounding.
Led by Shawn Taggert’s 13 points per game, Marshall is capable of putting up points and is averaging a C-USA fifth-best 74.8 a night.
6. Tulane, 7-6 (travel to ECU tonight, hosts ECU Feb. 11)
Point guard Kevin Simms has been the backbone of the Green Wave as he leads the team in points (12 ppg) and assists (3.8 apg).
Tulane plays tough every night and with a pair of 6-7 forwards in Robinson Louisme and Asim McQueen, it is capable of presenting tough match up problems on a nightly basis.
7. SMU, 4-7 (hosts ECU Jan. 24)
Matt Dougherty’s team has been really struggling to put the ball in the basket this season, as it averages a mere 66 points per night. The Mustangs offensive stays alive with the help of the three-point shot, where they have made a C-USA best 37 percent. Freshman Paul McCoy leads the squad with 15 points per game.
8. Rice, 5-9 (hosts ECU Jan 31, travels to ECU Feb. 14)
After a rough season last year, Rice has taken a step in the right direction this season. The duo of Cory Pflieger and Rodney Foster have been able to keep the Owls in games with their 10 points a night each. However, Rice still has a long way to go, and is currently being out-scored by a C-USA worst 6.7 points a contest.