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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

By Brian Bailey

Brian Bailey

It's the time when hope springs eternal


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It's the time when hope springs eternal
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Big men lead Pirates past Tulane
Pirates produce win despite tame bats
Brandt baffles Stony Brook, nixes streak
Morrow makeover, team attitude rewarded
Morrow too much for Marshall
Women's track and field title spurs men
ECU ironing out wrinkles in early play
Terps clip ECU for best start in 25 years

By Brian Bailey
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In practical terms, the NCAA tournament starts tomorrow for East Carolina in Memphis, Tennessee.

It’s really as simple as that. It is the beauty of college basketball and one of the reasons the sport is so popular. Virtually every team has a theoretical chance when March rolls around to go all the way.

Granted, odds are certainly stacked against the East Carolinas of the world in March. Still, there is that chance. That’s really all teams want — a shot.

That’s all the 1992-93 Pirate basketball team wanted. Lester Lyons and company arrived in Richmond with a No. 7 seed (of eight teams) and a 10-16 record.

East Carolina then rolled past Old Dominion and UNC-Wilmington to make it to the finals against Lefty Driesell and his James Madison Dukes.

Cinderella was a Pirate that Monday night, and East Carolina beat JMU 54-49 to win the Colonial Athletic Association title.

That weekend became one of my fondest memories of my career.

That’s what March is all about and that’s the challenge that this edition of East Carolina basketball now faces.

Last year, the Pirates were big underdogs but made it all the way to the semifinals before bowing out. Jeff Lebo had his team playing its best basketball when it mattered most.

“A lot of these guys weren’t with us last year,” said Lebo, comparing this season's squad to the one that knocked off Central Florida and UAB last March. “Darrius Morrow has played major minutes in the tournament, but you really don’t know what to expect from the new guys in tournament play.”

The Pirates head to Memphis with a record of 14-15 and 5-11. East Carolina opens the tournament with a 1 p.m. (Eastern Time) matchup with the Rice Owls. The Pirates beat Rice on Feb. 4 in Greenville, 82-68.

“We had tremendous balance in that win over Rice,” Lebo explained. “We had six guys in double figures. But this is the best Rice team Ben (Braun) has had at Rice and this will be a tremendous challenge.”

Memphis is the top seed in the tournament. The Tigers led Conference USA in field goal percentage at 49.5 percent and in field goal percentage defense at 38.8 percent.

Memphis is going for its 10th conference tournament title. The Tigers have won five C-USA titles and, before that, captured four Metro championships in the 1980s.

After a first round bye, Memphis gets the UTEP-Houston winner on Thursday.

Southern Miss is the second seed. The Golden Eagles take on the Rice-ECU winner on Thursday. USM has its highest seeding in 11 years.

Southern Miss lost a key game to end the season at Marshall, and is very much on the bubble as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned.

Other quarterfinal matchups on Thursday include third seed Tulsa against the Southern Methodist-Marshall winner and fourth seed Central Florida gets the UAB-Tulane winner.

Memphis is 15-1 all-time in Conference USA tournament games at the FedEx Forum. The Tigers are favored again this year, but this is March where upsets are the rule rather than the exception.

East Carolina wouldn’t face Memphis until the finals, if the Pirates can get that far.

Rice is on the clock first. For the Pirates to make a long run in the tournament, Lebo thinks he’ll have to find some new heroes.

“We have to have someone unexpected to step up and play well, maybe two people,” Lebo explained. “It’s certainly an exciting time and we look forward to playing in Memphis.”

“March Madness” tips off for East Carolina tomorrow. Survive and advance. Win and play on.

It’s what college basketball in March is all about.


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03/06/2012 03:37 AM


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