The Pirates and Blue Raiders will be meeting for the first time in 12 years and for the first time ever as C-USA opponents. ECU owns a 2-0 all-time record over the Blue Raiders.
It'll be a much harder battle for ECU this time around, though. The Pirates have struggled with about every aspect of their game since entering conference play.
One major area they've had trouble is shooting percentage. Yes, both teams are shooting 45 percent on the season. However, ECU's shooting has been sub-par since starting its C-USA schedule. The Pirates are shooting 37.8 percent while the Blue Raiders have remained consistent at 44.5 percent.
Second half shooting has killed the Pirates. They shot only 20.8 percent from the field in the second half. Southern Miss hit 52 percent of its second-half shots en route to a 60-46 second-half overpowering of the Pirates.
ECU's gotten ahead in games, but didn't have it in them to finish it out in the second half. In all five conference losses, the Pirates have yet to trail at halftime.
"It's just trying to play through fatigue," said freshman Caleb White, "and staying sharp the whole game. We feel like that will put us over the top down the stretch in these games." Rebounding, finishing and staying mentally strong are all things White said head coach Jeff Lebo is emphasizing.
White is one of the players Lebo is looking towards to be a complementary scorer for the Pirates. In the past, Maurice Kemp and Miguel Paul have played that role, but now Lebo is hoping White can help fill in various positions and keep his scoring pace.
"We need him to be more aggressive," said Lebo. "We've talked to him about being aggressive, but he's a freshman…He wants to fit in, but he's in a position, as a freshman, where we need him to be more aggressive and be an aggressive scorer for us. That's a hard thing to ask of any freshman at this level to come in and do."
That's not the only thing that overpowered the Pirates. Last time out, Southern Miss outscored ECU 34-2 in the paint. Middle Tennessee has three players over 6'7" to ECU's one, so the Pirates are going to have trouble stopping Middle Tennessee's size down low. On top of that, it's going to be hard for ECU to attack the rim.
"We're just trying to stick with what works," said Michael Zangari. "The ball will come inside and I've got to finish when it comes in there. In the Southern Miss game, obviously, I only had one attempt, but that was more Southern Miss doing a good job keeping the ball to the post. These upcoming games, I think they'll probably play behind and we'll get the ball in there a lot easier than we did against Southern Miss."
On top of that, Akeem Richmond will have to be on top of his game. He scored 18 points against Southern Miss, but hasn't been very consistent throughout conference play. Standing opposite of him will be Middle Tennessee's standout senior trio. Shawn Jones, Neiko Hunter and Kerry Hammonds II combine for 39 of Middle Tennessee's 69 points a night.
Tip-off is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m in Murphy Center. The game can be followed on the Pirates IMG Network or live updates can be found on Twitter (@InsideECUSports).