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2016 NCAA Tournament Previews: Hampton

The #1 seeded Hoos open the 2016 against #16 seeded Hampton Pirates. Hampton won an opening round matchup last season against Manhattan before getting smoked by Kentucky in the round of 64. The Hoos would like to give Hampton a similar sending off to what Kentucky gave them a year ago.

This game will be about the Hoos' Pack Line Defense and how well they can stop Hampton.
This game will be about the Hoos' Pack Line Defense and how well they can stop Hampton.
Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, the 2nd seeded Hoos faced #15 seed Belmont in the first round, and struggled to put away the Bruins. That Belmont team was loaded with shooters, including former Wahoo Taylor Barnette. As a team, nearly 50% of their shots came from behind the arc. Teams that can shoot the 3 are often noted as potential "giant-killers" in the NCAA tourney. Though Belmont shot just 8/25 from outside, their ability to stretch the Pack-Line gave them options inside and the Hoos were beaten inside to the tune of nearly 60% shooting on 2s. Belmont was basically a team built to play against the Pack-Line Defense.

This year’s matchup is better, at least on paper. Belmont was the 5th best shooting team in the nation (based on eFG%). Hampton is the 286th best shooting team in the nation. They shoot just under 35% of their shots from 3, but they rank 314th in the nation in 3pt%. Though Belmont was a perimeter oriented team, they also got over 1/3 of their minutes in that matchup from players 6’7" or taller. Hampton has just 3 rotation players that tall, and none of them average even 20 minutes per game.

One place where Hampton and Belmont are similar is a small Wahoo connection. Akil Mitchell’s little brother Akim is a freshman for the Pirates, though he plays just 11 mpg (he started 10 times early in the season, but got mostly gargage time minutes late in the season).

So if Hampton can’t shoot and they aren’t big inside, how do they win? Well, for starters, they play fast. They are 43rd in the nation in tempo, although they aren’t a full-court pressing team like West Virginia. They play a pressure, man-to-man half-court defense that tries to force tough shots moreso than force turnovers. They play very fast on offense, and they will run at every opportunity.

They also crash the offensive boards. Though they are 278th in the nation in effective height (the Hoos are 46th), they are 35th in offensive rebounds. That said, they struggled on the glass against the better teams that they played. In their two toughest games (a 33 point loss to SMU and a 42 point loss to Colorado), they managed just 25% and 18% offensive rebounds. Those numbers would rank near the bottom of the nation over a season. The Hoos, of course, are one of the best teams in the nation at preventing offensive rebounds.

The Pirates get a lot of their points in transition (or semi-transition). They have a lot of players who can beat you off the bounce and get to the rim. They rank 277th in the nation in assists per made basket. They do draw a lot of fouls (53rd in the nation in FT rate), though they shoot it very poorly from the stripe (321st).

So, let’s put this all together. Hampton is a small-ish team that can’t shoot, tries to crash the offensive glass, plays a lot of 1-on-1 and likes to run. If you’re a Virginia fan, you know that this sounds like a pretty good matchup for the Hoos. If you aren’t a Virginia fan, I’m surprised you’re here but suffice it to say that the Hoos are basically built to beat a team like Hampton.

The Pirates are led by senior PG Reginald Johnson Jr, a transfer (in 2014) from Miami OH. Johnson led the team with over 18 ppg and over 4 apg. Though he leads the team in usage rate, by a rather wide margin, he was actually an inefficient offensive player. He shot just 37% on the season, including right at 30% on 3s. He also shoots just 71% from the FT line, though he draws a lot of fouls.

Their top shooter is senior SF Brian Darden and he’s made just over 34% of his threes (or about the same percentage as Devon Hall, though with significantly more attempts). Junior SG Lawrence Cooks is also a decent shooter, making 32% from downtown.

On the inside, the 3 Pirates who will get a majority of the minutes are seniors Quinton Chievous, Jervon Pressley, and Dionte Adams. Chievous is a stretch 4 who made just 29% of his 3s but can put the ball on the floor and even score with his back to the basket a little bit. He averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds on the season (against SMU and Colorado, he had just 6 and 4 rebounds, respectively). He is also a dreadful FT shooter (at just 48%). Adams and Pressley split the minutes at 5, and both are very good on the offensive glass. Adams is also a decent scorer and both are solid shot blockers. Pressley is bigger and is a better defender inside, but he’s giving up quite a bit of size against Mike Tobey, Jarred Reuter or whoever else the Hoos may have at 5. He’s bigger than Gill, but will be giving up a great deal of quickness to AG.

That’s really about it for the Pirates, who aren’t particularly deep. The 6 guys who play most of the minutes are all upper-classmen (5 seniors and a junior). They really miss Dwight Meikle, who was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder a year ago but missed the entire season after ankle surgery. The fact they made the tournament without Meikle or fellow would-be senior Ke’Ron Brown (who was shot back in August) is very impressive. In case you're wondering, as far as we can tell, Brown is fine but his basketball career may be over.

As mentioned, this is a great matchup for the Hoos. If they stay disciplined in their Pack-Line rotations, there is no way that Hampton can consistently score against the Hoos. And Hampton isn’t a particularly good defensive team either. Johnson will likely be tasked with trying to slow down Malcolm Brogdon, but he’s giving up a couple of inches and nearly 30 pounds to the ACC Player of the Year. Lately, Brogdon has shown a willingness to go down low into the post against smaller guys, and we may see that again.

This could be another time for a big game from Mike Tobey. Nobody on the Pirates roster can guard Tobey inside, and he won’t be giving up a ton of quickness to a guy like Jervon Pressley. Hampton doesn’t run a tlot of screen-and-roll offense which has been known to bother Tobey. They run a lot more isolation sets though they may try more pick-n-roll with Tobey on the floor. Of course the easy solution for that is to sub Isaiah Wilkins back in. I could even see Reuter or Jack Salt getting some real run in this game. They are all so much bigger than anybody on Hampton, they should have their way inside. Reuter had some big moments for the Hoos this year (against Cal, in particular) and could help give some of the regulars some rest in advance of a potential Saturday matchup.

Hampton is obviously a decent team, winning both the MEAC regular season and tournament titles. But they are also a team that got demolished by all 4 KenPom top 100 teams they played and managed to lose to KenPom #324 Nichols State. In fact, their best win is over #122 Louisiana-Monroe. The only common opponent between the two teams is William&Mary. The Tribe beat Hampton 86-67, while the Hoos took care of the Tribe 67-52. (Though it is mildly interesting that both teams scored 67 against the Tribe, the Hoos did it in 65 possessions, while Hampton did it in 71 possessions.

It looks like the Hoos are favored by about 24 points. KenPom has them as 97% to win. (For comparison, #1 overall Kansas is also 97% to win their opening matchup). The Hoos should win comfortably. Whether they cover will depend largely on how much Tony Bennett plays his starters.