There were mutters of it at the start of the season. Confident players, like Miguel Paul, did not shy away from commenting on it; from being clear that was their goal.
“I expect 20 wins from this group,” Paul said at the team’s season-opening media day. “That is not out of the question this season.”
The 20-win season- a feat that has eluded this ECU basketball program for over four decades. It is the question that everybody has on their mind when the season starts: Will this be the team that finally takes the Pirates to the next level on the court?
Now, at the midpoint of the season, ECU (9-5, 0-1) has 16 games remaining in the regular season. They need to win at least 11 more games to meet their goal, meaning that they must finish with at least an 11-6 record in conference. An ECU team has never won more than eight games in conference since joining Conference USA in 2001.
The question still remains: can they do it? The Pirates started the season red hot, winning their first five games and six out of the first seven. They won their first seven games at home and gave UNC a serious run for their money in Chapel Hill.
But since starting 5-0, the Pirates have struggled to get a win-streak going. The team has not had consecutive wins in 10 games. But then again, the Pirates have not lost consecutive games all season. At midseason, ECU has lost the consistency it showed at the beginning of the season.
That was never more evident than in the team’s most recent game, a 67-54 loss in the conference opener to Memphis. In the first half Memphis - C-USA’s traditional powerhouse - had their way with the Pirates, racing to a 39-19 lead at halftime.
But the Pirates took to the second half with a fire in their eyes. They took risks, shot well and out-performed a talented Memphis team. In the second half, ECU closed the lead to five after trailing by as many as 27 points in the first half. The Pirates would have won this game if they played both halves as they did the second.
It is performances like those that make fans believe a 20-win season is still possible. When this team is on a hot streak, they have the talent to beat just about anyone. Maybe this second half performance against Memphis will be the spark to ignite such a streak.
In the 16 games that remain, only one opponent has a losing record (Rice). Marshall and UAB, both of which play ECU twice, sit at 8-8. That means that even if the Pirates win all five of these games, they will have to win six out of the remaining 11 against quality programs.
Five teams in the conference have over 10 wins and less than five losses. ECU has eight games scheduled against those teams, and has already lost one (Memphis). Seven games remain against the best CUSA has to offer, and ECU can only afford to lose five more times to keep the hope of 20-wins alive.
It will not be easy. It will take the best finish in conference that the Pirates have ever had. It would be a run to 20 wins built on a foundation of grit, sheltered by an abundance of skill and held together by a bit of luck.
But these guys are still alive and, as long as that is the case, they’ve got a shot.