In Jeff Lebo's first season as ECU's head coach,2010-2011, the Pirates had their first winning season in 14 years and first post-season tournament appearance in nearly two decades.
Now in his third campaign, Lebo is coming off of a 15-16 season and only lost one senior to graduation. With all the returning talent, expectations are beginning to grow.
Unfortunately for Lebo, that senior they graduated was Darrius Morrow, who was the team's only true center and back-to-the-basket type player. The Pirates plan to replace Morrow by committee.
This year's squad features five players over 6-foot-8, including 6-foot-10 red-shirt freshman Yashin Kolo, who will likely get the start Saturday night at the No. 5 position. Expect to see a lot of Auburn junior-transfer, Ty Armstrong and freshman Marshall Guilmette as well.
The strength of this year's Pirates team is undoubtedly their experience and depth in the back court,returning five guards who averaged at least 20 minutes of playing time, including first-team preseason Conference USA point guard Miguel Paul.
The player that has been generating the most buzz is Akeem Richmond. Richmond, who spent his first two years of eligibility at Rhode Island, appears to provide Lebo another threat from the perimeter.
Not to be forgotten, senior forward Maurice Kemp and junior forward Robert Sampson will be instrumental if the Pirates have success this season. Both players have developed a perimeter game and have been able to get to the rim as well. It will be interesting to see if Kemp can make the transition from power forward to small forward.
The biggest concern for this team is rebounding. With Morrow, they finished ninth in Conference USA in that department. If the Pirates want to get to the next level, that must be improved upon.
With the exception of North Carolina on Dec. 15 and a couple others, the Pirates have a favorable non-conference schedule. This has many speculating that this team could reach a seemingly improbable 20 wins. I think that may be a stretch, but a winning season and a threat in the Conference USA tournament is very likely.