C-USA Team by Team Preview: ECU Pirates

USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates are coming off their first 20 win season ever. But can Jeff Lebo keep the ship sailing in the right direction with so many departures?

The East Carolina Pirates have been playing Division 1 basketball since the 1965-1966 season. Prior to last year, the record for number of victories in a season was 18. The 12-13 Pirates bettered that total by 5 victories, reaching a final record of 23-12 and winning the CIT postseason tournament in dramatic fashion on the road at Weber State. The big question for the 2013-2014 Pirates will be whether or not they can keep up with the promising trajectory after losing 7 players from last year's team.

ALL TIME
2 NCAA Tournament appearances (1972 & 1993)
0-2 NCAA Tournament record

Best Year
Finding a best year for ECU proves difficult. East Carolina has never won a conference title in men's basketball. Their only two NCAA Tournament teams were below .500 on the season but got the automatic bid from their conference tournaments. Last year's team set the wins mark at 23, but failed to make the Big Dance, or even the NIT. If we have to choose one year though, let's go with the 1972 squad that lost to Villanova in the first round of the NCAA's. That year's tourney only featured 25 teams, which makes ECU's presence in the field more impressive.

Last NCAA appearance
1993. Their second and last appearance in the Tourney was 20 years ago. The Pirates drew in-state powerhouse North Carolina and lost by 20 to the Eric Montross/George Lynch-led Tar Heels.

Best Stretch
The stretch from 1969-1975 saw the Pirates have winning seasons 4 out of 6 years and not finish below 4th in the Southern Conference.

Notable Players
Sonny Russell (1949-1953), Blue Edwards (1985-1989), Oliver Mack (1975-1979), George Maynor (1975-1979)

Current Team

Venue:
Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, capacity 8,000
2012-2013 average attendance = 4,801

Head Coach: Jeff Lebo
Jeff Lebo left Auburn (replaced by former Tony Barbee) in 2010. He went 96-93 overall at Auburn, but his 35-61 record in SEC play sealed his fate. Prior to Auburn, he had very successful stints as head coach at Tennessee Tech and Chattanooga. In his first year at Greenville, he guided the Pirates to a respectable 8-8 C-USA record. That conference record dipped in year two (5-12) but surged back up last year to 9-7. Many people don't remember that Lebo was a McDonald's All-American once upon a time and got to play under the legendary Dean Smith at UNC.

Last Year:
23-12 overall record, 9-7 in C-USA play
The 12-13 Pirates headed into conference play 9-4 without any marquee victories. They were a very competitive team in Conference USA team, playing in two overtime games and a few buzzer beaters. Miner fans should remember McKenzie Moore's game-winning shot at ECU last January. After losing to Tulsa in the C-USA Tournament's first round, the Bucs won 5 games in a row to win the CIT Tournament (against Savannah State, Rider, Loyola, Evansville, and Weber State). Notable victories on the season included UCF, Tulsa, and the CIT teams. Their only top-25 matchup of the year was at North Carolina. The Pirates remained competitive in that game losing by only 6 points. No doubt their weak schedule hurt their already long shot chances for an at large bid.

2013-2014 Prospective Roster
G- Akeem Richmond, 6'0 JR
G- Paris Roberts-Campbell, 6'2 SR
F- Brandon Stith, 6'7 FR
F- Ty Armstrong, 6'8 SR
C- Marshall Guilmette, 6'10 SO

G- Antonio Robinson, 6'4 JR (Juco transfer)
G- Peter Torlak, 6'1 SR
G- Peyton Robbins, 6'4 SO
F- Caleb White, 6'6 FR
G- Prince Williams, 6'4 SO

The Pirates' list of departures is impressive. They lose one of the best assist men in C-USA in point guard Miguel Paul to graduation. Other seniors lost include leading scorer Maurice Kemp, guards Corvonn Gaines and Shamarr Bowden, and forward Erin Straughn. On top of losing these five seniors, ECU also saw starting forward Robert Sampson transfer to Georgia Tech. That being said, Richmond, Roberts-Campbell, and Armstrong were key strong players who averaged 20-25 minutes per game last year and will most certainly be expected to be the leaders of this team. Richmond and Armstrong can average double digits in scoring and Armstrong should be the team's best rebounder now that Sampson and Kemp are gone. Questions for the Pirates include how much of an impact newcomers like juco transfer guard Antonio Robinson will have and whether or not Guilmette can flourish in what will probably be a bigger role on the team.

The Outlook
Don't be fooled by the seven players gone from last year's team. Jeff Lebo is building something out in Greenville and the Pirates look to have just enough to stay competitive in C-USA. How competitive they will be will depend greatly on how well the newcomers (Robinson, Stith, and White) can adjust to division 1 basketball. ECU ended the 2013 season on their highest note in their basketball history. They will no doubt be confident and eager to take the next step.

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