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Eastern Carolina (14-15) vs. Rice (17-14)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 7, 1:00 p.m. (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: FedEx Forum (18,119) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: CSS. Home Record: ECU 10-7, Rice 11-6. Away Record: ECU 3-8, Rice 6-6. Neutral Record: ECU 1-0, Rice 0-2. Conference Record: ECU 5-11, Rice 8-8. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 6-5.

GAME NOTES: The first round of the 2012 Conference USA Tournament tips off in Memphis this afternoon, as the 10th-seeded East Carolina Pirates take on the seventh-seeded Rice Owls, with the winner advancing to play Southern Miss in the quarterfinals.

East Carolina spent most of the season as one of C-USA's worst teams, finishing 14-15 overall. The Pirates experienced a late surge however, winning their last two games of the regular season over Marshall and Tulane to lift them to a 5-11 conference record.

Rice had a fairly consistent season with a 17-14 overall mark, and the team finished alone in seventh place in the standings with an 8-8 league ledger. The Owls are trending downward at the moment, having lost two of their last three games, including a heart-breaking 76-75 setback to cross-town rival Houston in the regular-season finale.

East Carolina won the lone meeting between the two teams this year, beating Rice in an 82-68 final on Feb. 4 in Greenville. The Pirates own a 6-5 advantage in the all-time series, having topped the Owls in four of the last five encounters.

Despite residing near the bottom of the C-USA standings, East Carolina sports the league's third-best scoring margin (+4.1) and is one of the most proficient teams from beyond the arc, ranking second with 211 three-pointers. The squad also has a positive margin in turnovers (+1.31). The catalyst for the Pirates has been Second Team All-Conference USA honoree Miguel Paul, who leads the league in assists at 5.8 per game. On top of being a great distributor, Paul is tied for sixth in scoring at 15.0 ppg and he adds 1.3 spg and 2.2 three-pointers per contest to his stat line. Darrius Morrow has produced in the paint for ECU, averaging 13.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 1.1 bpg while shooting an impressive 54.8 percent from the field. Maurice Kemp adds 10.2 ppg and a team-high 6.3 rpg to the mix.

Rice has played solidly at both ends of the court this year, ranking fifth in the conference in field goal percentage (.444) and second in field goal percentage defense (.410), while remaining in the black in both rebounding margin (+0.9) and turnover margin (+0.35), if just barely. The Owls have a Second Team All-CUSA member of their own in Arsalan Kazemi. The junior forward is one of just two players in the league to average a double-double on the season, tallying 12.5 ppg and 10.3 rpg, while ranking third in field goal percentage at .592. Kazemi has been a great asset at the defensive end as well, logging 2.1 spg and 1.1 bpg. The rest of the cast for Rice is well balanced, with seven others averaging at least 5.5 ppg. Tamir Jackson (10.5 ppg, 2.9 apg) and Dylan Ennis (8.2 ppg, 3.9 apg) are the team's most effective players in the backcourt.

These teams match up well despite the difference in conference records. ECU has come on of late and has a nice array of weapons to keep up with Rice shot- for-shot, but the Pirates don't really have an answer for Kazemi down low, giving the Owls a slight advantage.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 74, East Carolina 72

03/07 10:34:44 ET