East Carolina meets Memphis in CUSA Opener
The Pirates have never beaten the Tigers
After snapping its four-game skid on Monday night at NC Central, East Carolina will begin league play on Saturday afternoon when it faces Memphis at the FedEx Forum at 4 o’clock. The Pirates (8-6) have never beaten the Tigers on the hardwood and they will be facing an angry Memphis team that was throttled by Tennessee, 104-84, on Wednesday night in Knoxville.
While Josh Pastner’s team was pummeled by the Volunteers, it does possess a tremendous amount of talent. The Tigers have their typical athleticism and quickness, but are very young. They have just one senior and three juniors on their roster. Five freshman play significant minutes and have struggled with consistency despite their 11-3 mark. There have been several close calls against teams such as Tennessee State, Austin Peay, and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi.
Memphis has three players scoring in double figures and eight players averaging seven points or more. 6’6″ freshman Will Barton tops the Tigers in scoring with his 12.9 per game mark while also being tied for the team lead in rebounds with 4.9. Wesley Witherspoon, a 6’9″ junior, and freshman Joe Jackson also score in double figures. Witherspoon puts up 11.8 points and also grabs 4.9 boards. Jackson, who averages 10.8, is the team leader in assists with 4.3 per contest. Freshman Chris Crawford leads the team with 26 three-pointers and is tied with Will Barton for the team lead in steals with 23.
While that firepower and up-tempo style leads to Memphis averaging over 80 points, the Tigers have struggled stopping people at times and are allowing nearly 73 points per game after allowing 104 against Tennessee. Conversely, East Carolina has played pretty well on the defensive end this season. The Pirates allow just 65 points per game and are holding their opponents to just 27 percent from beyond the arc.
After showing flashes of brilliancy mixed with much inconsistency, senior shooting guard is having a strong final season with the Pirates. He is averaging a team-high 13.8 points and leads the club with 31 trifectas while shooting over 40 percent from deep. Jamar Abrams and Darrius Morrow also score in double figures for ECU. Abrams, who is second on the team with 28 three-pointers, averages 10.9 points and 4.3 boards. Morrow, the top and really only scoring option on the interior, produces 10.5 points. He tops the team with his mark of 5.4 rebounds.
It appeared as though East Carolina may be catching Memphis at a good time since the Tigers were coming off a contest at rival Tennessee. However, after getting drubbed by the Volunteers, Pastner’s club focus and effort may be better than it would have had the Tigers played well in Knoxville. Regardless, the Pirates have the potential to play with Memphis. However, in order to do so, they will have to shoot the ball much better than they have the last two times out when they’ve just eclipsed the 30-percent plateau–their worst two outings of the season in that regard. They must also take better care of the basketball and eliminate some of the unforced turnovers they’ve committed to date. Defensively, they may have to play more zone than they have to date since they may experience some match-up issues with the longer and quicker Tigers. Boxing out will be critical as there have been too many offensive rebounds allowed in many games. The game will need to be in the uppers 60’s or low 70’s for East Carolina to have much of a chance.
While this young Memphis team has struggled against what were probably comparable opponents to date, expect them to come out and play inspired basketball after Wednesday night’s drubbing. East Carolina will probably compete for awhile, but the Tigers will pull away as the game wears on as they possess more depth, talent and athleticism.