East Carolina’s basketball team used a rare bye week in March to work on various skills and prepare for a final regular season game at UCF that will help finalize seeding for next week’s American Athletic Conference tournament.
ECU last played on Feb. 29 in an 84-63 loss to surging Connecticut in Minges Coliseum, and received a full seven days off before today’s final matchup versus the Knights, who own a 6-11 league record, while the Pirates are 5-12.
“I do think a couple days off this week helped for a couple guys who are beat up a little bit,” Pirate coach Joe Dooley said before Friday’s practice. “It is what it is and I just think guys are tired, and they are tired everywhere (at other schools). ... We scaled back on the contact Wednesday and we’re off yesterday and then you get two days of preparation to play. There was a lot less contact earlier in the week.”
The American tournament bracket will be determined after today’s slate of games that also includes Memphis (10-7 in AAC) at Houston (12-5), Connecticut (9-8) at Tulane (4-13) and Wichita State (10-7) hosting Tulsa (13-4).
The Pirates are expected to see the return of veteran guard Tyrie Jackson for the UCF game and the conference tournament. He hasn’t played since Feb. 19 at Memphis.
“I think so,” Dooley said of the Northwest Florida State College transfer’s possible return to action.
East Carolina (11-19, 5-12) at UCF (15-14, 6-11), 2 p.m.How to watch: ESPNU.
Why to watch: The Pirates are aiming to finish with the same 6-12 AAC record they did in 2014-15 and 2016-17 for their most American wins in program history. ECU was 3-15 in league action a year ago. Last season in Orlando is when ECU’s Jayden Gardner exploded for 35 points and 20 rebounds while the Knights had 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, who is now with the Boston Celtics. UCF was on a three-game losing streak before defeating SMU 61-58 on Wednesday when the Knights defended a 3-point attempt at the buzzer that missed by SMU’s Tyson Jolly.
Matchup to watch: Jackson is a strong perimeter defender and could help against a UCF squad that has four players averaging between 9.5 and 13.0 points per game. Guards Matt Milon (5-of-8) and Darin Green (3-for-5) made eight 3-pointers combined in the Knights’ 68-64 victory over ECU in Minges on Feb. 6.