College Sports in the Carolinas
Don't miss Al Myatt's
profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004
from the East
February 10, 2005
By Al Myatt
Pirates need somebody to 'hate'
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
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
"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
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
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.
Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.
Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville
02/23/2007 12:33:02 AM