Pirate hoops prepares for C-USA opener

Jeff Lebo

ECU (9-4) enters Conference USA play looking to finally break into the conference's top tier.

With the ECU basketball team's 91-60 win over North Carolina Wesleyan on Jan. 5, the Pirates shut the door on their 2012-13 non-conference schedule. After starting the season 5-0, ECU has traded wins and losses game after game to get to their current 9-4 record.

But, from here on out, the Pirates have a bit of a fresh start as conference play begins. This is the point in the season where teams buckle down and prepare themselves for a conference championship run.

ECU now starts a streak of 16 games against conference foes, leading right up to the season finale against Marshall. But up first, this Wed., the Pirates start things off hosting the Memphis Tigers.

The highly-publicized Tigers enter this matchup with a 10-3 record, most recently beating Tennessee 85-80 in Knoxville. Memphis is riding a four-game win streak, but has struggled to win games on the road. Of the four games that the Tigers have played outside of Memphis, they are 2-2. At home, they are 8-1. That should certainly play in the favor of the Pirates.

Looking ahead to the rest of the Conference USA schedule, ECU is sure to face some tough competition. Though Memphis usually leads the way there are others teams, such as Houston (11-2), Tulane (12-3), Southern Miss (11-4) and UCF (10-4), who will be vying with ECU for Conference USA's top spot. More surprisingly, out of all the Conference USA teams, only Marshall (7-8) and Rice (3-9) have losing records.

This is a season where conference-parity will be running high and an eventual champion will have to earn that recognition against a slew of qualified teams. Tulane boasts a 10-0 home record, including a win over Alabama. Houston enters conference play with C-USA's best record and on a six-game win streak. Southern Miss just set its team record for most points scored, in a 135-41 victory over Dillard. Everywhere around the conference, teams are fighting to prove they belong at the top.

This is ECU's time to prove that it belongs. So far, the Pirates rank second in the conference in scoring offense (79.2 ppg) and third in scoring margin (+11.2 ppg). They rank near the top of the conference in field goal percentage (fifth), opponent's field goal percentage (fourth), offensive rebounding (third), blocked shots (second), assists (first), steals (fourth), and assist to turnover margin (first).

If ECU comes out and puts up these kinds of numbers, it will be in control of its Conference USA destiny. The Pirates have never finished higher than seventh in the C-USA standings. If they want to change that, it all starts this Wed. against Memphis.

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