East Carolina has passed the test so far to the tune of a solid start on the hardwoods. The Pirates beat North Carolina Central on Saturday, 69-56. It was the team’s seventh win of the young season against two losses.
Now the opposition gets a little tougher. Virginia may be the best team the Pirates face in 2016. The Cavaliers fell from 6th in the nation to 14th after being upset by West Virginia over the weekend.
So the Cavs will be in a foul mood for ECU’s visit tonight. Add a nasty attitude to one of the nation’s top defenses, and the challenge is that much tougher for Jeff Lebo and his squad.
“The last five years they have been the elite defensive team in the country,” said Lebo on Monday before his team’s trip to Charlottesville. “This year is no different. Tony Bennett really has them defending. They are holding their opponent to 34 percent from the field, which is unheard of. They are very big, they are a physical machine and they are going to be mad because West Virginia beat them on Saturday.”
Tonight’s game will be a homecoming of sorts for a trio of Pirates. Caleb White, Andre Washington and Jeremy Sheppard all hail from the Old Dominion state.
Sheppard is from nearby Richmond and he was named the American’s Rookie of the Week on Monday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Sheppard. “It will be a great test for us.”
Lebo scheduled the Cavaliers to allow his Virginians to play in front of family and friends.
When you think Virginia basketball, you think defense. It’s a stifling, suffocating defense that can completely shut down an offense.
UVa coach Tony Bennett is the master of the “Pack Line” defense.
Coach Lebo breaks it down like this.
“It means that they defend just inside the three point line,” explained Lebo. “There’s only one defender outside that line. They pack it in and it’s going to be balled up in there. They are a great rebounding team because they are all packed in there.”
The only common opponent between these two is Grambling State. The Pirates opened with a 72-59 win over the Tigers. Virginia beat Grambling 90-34, holding the Tigers to a measly 9 points in the first half.
“That’s what they can do to you,” said Lebo. “We have to find a way to score. They have had games where teams have like 9 points in the half. We are going to have to make some contested shots against them. We’re going to need a couple of guys to step up offensively.”
Lebo cranked up the noise at Monday’s practice to get ready for the environment in John Paul Jones Arena.
“It is a tough place to play,” concluded Lebo. “It’s a beautiful arena. It’s a tough road assignment but it will certainly get us ready for the American campaign.”
The Pirates won’t open league play until just after Christmas when ECU hosts South Florida at Williams Arena. Before that, the Pirates take a nine-day break for exams before hosting the College of Charleston and then traveling to UNC-Wilmington.
This tough stretch started with a win over N.C. Central.
Duplicating that feat in Charlottesville will be one tall order for the Pirates.
Scoring will be at a premium against the “Pack Line D.”