ECU men’s basketball conference preview

Published 12:51 pm Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Shooting guard Akeem Richmond leads his team in scoring and is looking to make a run in C-USA play. BRIAN HAINES | DAILY NEWS

Shooting guard Akeem Richmond leads his team in scoring and is looking to make a run in C-USA play. BRIAN HAINES | DAILY NEWS


It’s been a season of ups and downs for the ECU men’s basketball program, thus far.

After posting an 11-4 record out of conference, the Pirates have earned respect from in-state ACC opponents Duke and North Carolina State after two competitive games respectively. However, ECU’s other out-of-conference losses came at the hands of 6-12 UNC-Wilmington and Georgia State. With a lot to prove in the second half, Jeff Lebo’s team now shifts its focus to conference play, as they try to improve upon last year’s historic 24-win finish.

Off-season conference realignment has introduced some new faces to the C-USA this year. UCF, Houston, Southern Methodist and long-time conference powerhouse Memphis are out and the former 12-team conference expanded to 16 teams. Louisiana Tech, Texas-San Antonio, Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion, Charlotte, Florida International, Florida Atlantic and North Texas are the newcomers the Pirates must navigate past in order to secure their first conference championship.

So far, the team is off to a poor start after losing to ODU (7-9) in the conference opener on Saturday. While the loss hurts, the Pirates have a string of three winnable games on their radar to boost morale and ignite momentum. They head to Florida to take on FAU tonight and FUI on Saturday. Both opponents exhibit poor defenses, allowing more than 70 points per game, while the Pirates are No. 17 in the country in scoring, averaging just fewer than 84 a game.

After their stint in Florida, the team heads home to play Tulane (9-8), a team shooting less than 43 percent on the season. Containing standout guard Louis Dabney will by key in that matchup.

For the remainder of the season, Lebo will ride the hot hand of shooting guard Akeem Richmond, who is averaging 24 points over his last three games, but it’s the Pirate defense that will determine their success in the C-USA.

Southern Miss, as well as C-USA newcomers Charlotte and Louisiana Tech all carry dynamic offenses that could prove difficult for Lebo’s defense to contain. All three are favored to end in the top three in the conference.

The offensive production is there, but whether or not the Pirates can take the next step relies on a handful of new faces, freshman forwards Caleb White and Brandon Stith, to stay consistent on defense.