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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Thursday, February 10, 2005

By Al Myatt

Pirates need somebody to 'hate'

Sensational Stereos

©2005 Bonesville.net

It's being called rivalry week in college basketball — a term generated by ESPN, I believe — and East Carolina, appropriately perhaps, has the week off.

The Pirates have been resting and preparing for a 7 p.m. game Saturday against Marquette, hoping to do some Minges magic in triplicate against the Golden Eagles. ECU took care of business in the closest thing to a rival matchup by beating Charlotte week before last.

While Duke and North Carolina battled for 40 minutes on Wednesday night, circumstances have left ECU with nary a neighbor with which to feud. That situation is a function of ECU's entry into Conference USA four seasons ago.

"We had built a great rivalry with UNC Wilmington when we were in the Colonial (Athletic Association)," said ECU coach Bill Herrion. "In the four years we've been in Conference USA, I'd like to think our fans would think that Charlotte has been a good rivalry for us because we're the only two teams in this league from North Carolina."

But Herrion concedes that feelings from the 49ers may not be mutual.

"Because Charlotte has had success for a much longer period of time than we've had, I'm sure that they look at either Cincinnati or Louisville or Memphis as more of a rivalry," said the ECU coach.

The situation will not improve with Charlotte's departure to the Atlantic 10 next season. Although Herrion has indicated he would like to schedule UNCW and Charlotte, it would probably be for one non-conference game at the most per season. For rivalries to flourish in hoops, there needs to be an annual home and home confrontation. Whatever happens in the first game pushes the envelope to the second game.

ECU got even against the 49ers in Greenville for the season but the emotion dissipates when fans and players have to wait an offseason for a shot at redemption.

Healthy rivalries are like arms races. A pair of programs are pushed to higher levels through competition. It's too bad the Pirates lack such a competitive catalyst. Old Dominion is in the neighborhood — but there again — one matchup per season outside of a league framework hardly develops the benefits of a healthy rivalry.

ECU's closest league foe next year after Conference USA reshuffles has a hefty buffer zone — at least 50 times wider than the narrow real estate that separates UNC and Duke.

"Geography," Herrion said. "That's hitting the nail on the head."

Herrion cut his teeth as a college head coach at Drexel in Philadelphia where you can hardly cross a street without invading a rival's turf. It just isn't the same in Greenville.

"Our closest game next year when the conference gets realigned is going to be at Marshall," Herrion said. "From what people have told me, that's an 8- or 9-hour bus ride."

Folks at ECU and Marshall don't go to the same parties as is sometimes the case with students at Duke and Carolina. Talking smack long distance lacks the same impact.

The Pirates don't have a dance partner to push them to their competitive limits and so ECU is often forced to bring its own emotion into buildings such as Freedom Hall and the Pyramid, which has resulted in a wide range of performance this season in terms of consistency.

"We're playing better basketball right now, but a real issue — and I don't know if it's because we're young and inexperienced — is just our kids understanding the importance of playing 40 minutes of good basketball, particularly when you go on the road," Herrion said.

"It's so hard to win on the road. You've just got to play offense and defense every possession for 40 minutes. We have not been able to do that."

ECU athletic director Terry Holland understands the situation. That's why he has talked about scheduling ACC schools in the region.

For now, ECU's motivation springs from trying to make the C-USA Tournament field.

"We have six conference games left and our goal is we want to get in the Conference USA Tournament," Herrion said. "In order for us to do that we need to win as many games as we can out of these last six."

That endeavor starts after a week of resting up for Marquette.

Lacking a rival, ECU has flourished on occasion by rising up to knock off an established program within the energized confines of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The Golden Eagles, part of the exodus to the Big East next season, know only too well about that.

The first time it happened was Feb. 26, 2002 when East Carolina stunned Marquette 51-46.

It happened again on Dec. 30, 2002 when the Golden Eagles went tumbling again in Greenville, 73-70.

"Our fans weren't going to let us lose and we fed off of that," said Pirates power forward Erroyl Bing after that second triumph over Marquette.

The second time the Pirates topped Marquette at home, Coach Tom Crean's club regrouped to make a run to the Final Four behind the leadership of current NBA star Dwyane Wade. This time around, guard Travis Diener, who recently returned from an injury, is the closest thing to a star for the Golden Eagles.

It may be hard to develop emotion about a team that's leaving the league coming all the way from Milwaukee. But for 40 minutes on Saturday night, the Pirates and their fans need to find the fever pitch that other programs muster for rivalry week.

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02/23/2007 12:33:02 AM
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