Don’t be Surprised
if the Pirates Make a Run

by Josh Spence

After nearly pulling off one the biggest upsets in school history against Wake Forest, the East Carolina basketball team came home for what was nearly a rude awakening.  Despite trailing at halftime, the Pirates edged out Division II Saint Paul’s to take their sixth win of the year, and steer themselves back in the right direction for the start of conference play.  East Carolina opens play in Conference USA with the league's toughest team, the Memphis Tigers, on Wednesday January 11. 


Don’t forget, this is a Pirate team that was left for dead just a few short weeks ago.  The Pirates had lost five straight games, and the toughest part of the schedule was on the horizon.  The Pirates headed into the Christmas break losers of five in a row, probably thinking themselves the season was all but over. 


But it turns out just the opposite that is true.  The Pirates' season is just beginning, and to be honest, aside from going undefeated, the only shot ECU has to make it in the NCAA tournament is to win in the Conference USA tournament.  That being said, every game played to this point has been essentially exhibition.  The Pirates non-conference schedule has been nothing more than preparation for the 14 game conference slate in which they are about to embark.


The addition of Jeremy Ingram has been huge. The Wake Forest transfer has transformed the Pirates into a different team.  Known for his defensive tenacity, Ingram’s presence has amounted to an average of four less points allowed per game.  The addition of Ingram has also paid dividends offensively.  In the seven games prior to Ingram’s arrival, the Pirates reached the 80 point mark once.  In the six games since his arrival, the Pirates have eclipsed 80 three times.  80 has been somewhat a magic number for the Pirates.  East Carolina has now won six straight, and 17 of its last 18 when scoring 80 plus. 


Early in the season the Pirates showed very little promise offensively.  With little or no scoring threat inside, the Pirates were limited to try and score from the outside.  When you live by the three, you die by the three, and that was the story for the Pirates.  However, the addition of Ingram has changed the Pirates offensive story.  Although Ingram gives the Pirates another shooter from the outside, Ingram’s defense has translated into offense for the Pirates.  Ingram’s five steals led East Carolina to a season high thirteen in the close loss to Wake.  The defensive improvement has led to more fast breaks and easy basket opportunities for the Pirates. 


Early in the year the Pirates seemed like a team that was searching for its identity.  An identity the Pirates seem to have found in hard nose defense.  Like Ricky Stokes' teams of the past, it is defense that will lead the way if this team is to be successful.  Although (6-7) is not how the Pirates would have liked to enter the conference slate, the team has clearly learned and grown from their mistakes. 


Here’s what the Pirates have to look forward to in conference play.  Under Conference USA’s new format, ECU will play each team in the league at least once, and will play three teams in a home and home series.  The Pirates three mirror teams are Marshall, UCF and Tulane, three less than stellar teams currently in the bottom half of the Conference standings.   The Pirates also play two of their toughest league opponents, Memphis and Houston, at home.  Don’t be surprised if the Pirates end up as one of the four teams with a first round bye in the conference tournament.

Josh Spence