ECU Basketball: Offseason Talking Points

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Inside ECU Sports takes a look at three areas of concerns coach Jeff Lebo and his staff need to address in the offseason.

The East Carolina men’s basketball team won more games in its inaugural season in the American Conference than many of the prognosticators ever thought it would.

And in what turned out to be their final outing of the season, the Pirates nearly gained the program’s first victory against a ranked opponent in nearly 13 years. However, their season-high 15 3-pointers weren’t enough and the conference tournament’s eventual champion, No. 20 Southern Methodist, held on to a 74-68 victory in the quarterfinals.

Three days later, rather than revisiting all of the highlights from the 2014-2015 season in the aftermath of the Pirates’ season-ending loss, Inside ECU Sports instead takes a look at three areas of concerns coach Jeff Lebo and his staff need to address in the offseason.

BULK UP THE POST

This seems obvious, but for whatever reason, Lebo has been unable to find any kind of a sustained post presence during his five years in Greenville. The root of this problem starts and ends with recruiting.

It didn’t take Lebo long to realize that his team was substantially undersized in The American. Shortly after the start of conference play, the Pirates worked almost exclusively in a 2-3 zone defense, which was effective at times — Most notably in home wins against Cincinnati and Memphis — but also limited them and subsequently, made them more vulnerable.

Michel Nzege throws down a dunk.
(Kat Jessick/InsideECUSports.com)
Lebo, if given the luxury of a stronger post presence, would ideally want to revert back to the man-to-man defense that won him a CIT Championship in 2013. But in order for that to happen, he can’t continue to miss on scholarship forwards.

Promising freshman Grant Bryant was a non-factor this season, appearing in just three games; 6-foot-9 JUCO transfer Kanu Aja totaled about as many fouls per game (1.2) as rebounds (1.6) and averaged just 8.2 minutes; and junior Michael Zangari’s saw his playing time dip to 15.8 minutes per game and his scoring numbers suffered as a result — dropping from 8.7 points per game to 2.6 this past season.

There are some silver linings on the Pirates’ interior, beginning with rising junior Marshall Guilmette.

Guilmette, who has been ravaged by injuries over the last two seasons, seemed close to full health for the Pirates during conference play and made great strides offensively. The 6-foot-10 Guilmette netted a career-best 18 points in ECU’s overtime win over UCF in the first round of the conference tournament and showed off his range down the stretch: shooting 45 percent from 3-point range (9-for-20) in his last seven games.

In addition to Guilmette, ECU will return its leading rebounder, red-shirt sophomore Michel Nzege, and introduce 6-foot-9, 210-pound JUCO transfer Clarence Williams, who played for the nation’s second-ranked junior college at Trinity Valley (Athens, T.X.).

REPLACING ANTONIO ROBINSON

On paper, the Pirates should be a formidable offensive team next season with their five leading scorers returning, four of which are starters.

However, the one starter that will not back is point guard Antonio Robinson, who might have been the Pirates’ most valuable player this season.

His disruptive perimeter defense, which presented opposing backcourts problems with his long 6-foot-4 frame, was instrumental in making ECU’s 2-3 zone effective and the offense ran considerably smoother with him on the floor.

Robinson’s 55 steals (1.7 per game) were the third-most among American players this season and 24 more than his next closest teammate in that department. Not to mention, he finished with more than twice as many assists (122) than any other Pirate.

Terry Whisnant goes to the hole for two points..
(Kat Jessick/InsideECUSports.com)
Jeff Lebo might tell you that Robinson was his best perimeter defender this season. If not, he’d likely name Robinson’s fellow classmate, senior shooting guard Paris Roberts-Campbell. Neither player will play for the Pirates this fall.

The easy answer for a defensive replacement is point guard Lance Tejada, who was once a Top 100 high school prospect but failed to meet the lofty expectations set for his freshman season.

That isn’t to suggest that there weren’t times the Pompano Beach, Fla. native showed flashes of that potential. There certainly were — none more recognizable than Tejada’s six steals and eight assists while Robinson was in foul trouble during last week’s overtime win over UCF — but he could never do it with any kind of consistency.

If the answer isn’t Tejada, ECU could turn to former starting point guard Prince Williams, who played sparingly this season but, similar to Robinson, is long (6-foot-5, 200 pounds).

HOW DOES B.J. TYSON’S ROLE CHANGE?

Although Robinson might have been ECU’s most valuable player, freshman B.J. Tyson was easily its most dynamic. His athleticism mirrors a few former Pirate greats; recently with forward Maurice Kemp; and if you go back to the program’s “golden years” in the 1990s, Lester Lyons, who led the Pirates through the 1993 Colonial Athletic Association Tournament and to the NCAA Tournament.

However, as I referenced earlier, the Pirates return their five leading scorers — led by Tyson’s 12.5 points off the bench — along with four starters, but the lone vacancy needing to be filled in the starting lineup is at point guard.

Among Tyson’s myriad of talents, running an offense doesn’t appear to be one of them. So if you’re Jeff Lebo, does B.J. Tyson come off the bench again as a sophomore next season?

Assuming that he doesn’t make a remarkable transition to point guard (which wouldn’t surprise me at all if he did, by the way), there doesn’t seem to be any room for Tyson.

If he replaces Whisnant, then ECU will be sitting down arguably its best perimeter shooter. If Lebo benches Caleb White instead, then he will be making his already undersized roster even smaller.

It’s important to note that Lebo isn’t a coach who puts much stock into who starts and who doesn’t. Rather, he focuses solely on minutes — Tyson is tied for the third-most minutes per game (24.2) on the team — but it will remain to be seen if Tyson accepts a similar role than he had in his freshman season.


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