Despite having its second winning season in Head Coach Jeff Lebo's three year tenure, ECU will likely need to win the conference tournament to end the school's twenty year NCAA tournament drought.
Entering the tournament as the No. 4 seed, The Pirates (18-11, 9-7 C-USA) will face the hosting Tulsa Golden Hurricane (16-14, 8-8 C-USA) Thursday at 9:30 pm ET. The team's met in the same building on Feb. 20 and the Pirates prevailed 72-63 behind Maurice Kemp's game-high 23 points and Akeem Richmond's timely three-point shooting.
ECU trailed Tulsa 56-52 in the second half of that game before Richmond drained three consecutive triples that gave the Pirates a lead they would not relinquish.
Since that game, ECU finished strong by winning three of its last four games to clinch a first round bye. Tulsa split its last four games—including a 77-71 win at Rice in its regular season finale—under first year head coach Danny Manning.
Since Saturday's 86-79 win against Marshall on senior night at Minges Coliseum, the Pirates saw two of its seniors earn all-conference honors. Kemp was named to the first team—the first time an ECU player earned that honor since joining Conference USA—and Miguel Paul made the second team for the second consecutive year.
Kemp and Paul are the keys to the team's success. Kemp is second in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.4 points per game, while Paul is second in assists with 6.9 per game. Paul's ability to share the basketball has been a huge part in the recent emergence of Richmond.
Richmond shattered the school record for made-three's in a season with 91—shooting 45 percent from three-point range—but his improved defensive play has begun to turn heads. In that game against Tulsa, Richmond notched a steal and a pair of made free throws in the game's final minute to salt away an ECU win.
The winner of Thursday night's game will likely earn the right to face the Memphis Tigers (27-4, 16-0) on Friday. The Tigers finished a perfect 16-0 in league play and face Tulane Thursday, who is fresh off of a last-second 66-64 win against Marshall on Wednesday. Memphis coach Josh Pastner was voted the conference's coach of the year and his point guard Joe Jackson player of the year.
Whether or not ECU wins the tournament or not, the Pirates are still slated to participate in a postseason tournament. In 2011, ECU accepted a bid to play in the Collegeinsiders.com (CIT) tournament before falling to Jacksonville University in the first round at Minges Coliseum.
ECU senior guard Shamarr Bowden has not been ruled out of Wednesday's game after having missed the Pirates' last five games with a shoulder concern.
The game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network and the Pirates IMG Sports Network.