2022 Howard vs Hampton - Men's

Hampton Men's Basketball Preview: Pirates Hope For Success In CAA Debut

Hampton Men's Basketball Preview: Pirates Hope For Success In CAA Debut

Hampton is making a go of it in a new league and needs as strong a start as it can get. HU is one of the several new basketball-playing schools in the CAA.

Sep 28, 2022 by Briar Napier
Hampton Men's Basketball Preview: Pirates Hope For Success In CAA Debut

Hampton is making a go of it in a new league, and it needs as strong of a start as it can get.

One of the several new basketball-playing schools in the Colonial Athletic Association for the 2022-2023 season, the Pirates - who come from the Big South Conference - have a hoops program with a lot of history and credentials in the college game. 

Life in the Big South likely didn't go as well as it hoped, so Hampton, which has made six NCAA Tournament appearances this century, now is looking for greener pastures elsewhere. A move to the CAA could be the answer to consistent program growth, but it certainly won't come easy.

What is there to look out for with the Hampton men's basketball this season? Below is a look into what the Pirates will bring to the table for the upcoming season, as FloHoops previews every men's basketball team in the CAA.

2021 Season Review

Having made three NCAA Tournament appearances out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference since 2011 under longtime coach Edward Joyner Jr., the same heights hadn't been replicated since the Pirates joined the Big South Conference for the 2018-2019 season, and problems especially reared their head for the 2021-2022 campaign. 

Hampton finished 9-19 to place last in the Big South North Division. It was the school's first season with single-digit wins since 1998-1999, a rare low point for one of the country's most consistent and best-performing HBCU hoops programs. 

The Pirates shooting was atrocious from all over the court. They finished with a 44.2% 2-point field goal percentage and a 29.4% mark from 3-point range for the season, both of which ranked as some of the worst rates in America. 

Hampton, which only scored 70 points or more against Division I foes seven times, only beat consecutive D-I opponents once during the year and quickly were axed out of the first round of the Big South Tournament by High Point, ending the Pirates' four-year stint in the league with a dud. 

Senior forward Najee Garvin (15.2 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) and junior guard Russell Dean (14.9 points, 3.9 assists) often were the focal points of whatever the Pirates did, but their talents couldn't get HU out of the Big South basement this time around.

On The Court

Joyner's best teams often play a fast-yet-controlled style that gets them to the foul line often, limits turnovers and is skilled at limiting good interior looks on defense. None of those features were prevalent enough last season to bring the Pirates into relevancy, especially when they shot the ball as poorly as they did. 

An adjusted offensive efficiency rating - or how many points a team would score in 100 possessions against an average D-I opponent - of 90.6 (per KenPom) ranked in the bottom 10 in the nation. Combined with another poor offensive rebounding rate (22%), many Hampton offensive possessions flamed out quickly and didn't see many follow-ups, either. 

The Pirates were fairly good at getting to the free-throw line, averaging just over 20 attempts per game, but trips to the charity stripe mean little if they aren't converted. HU's 69.7% clip from the line was below average. 

A solid defense always is a reliable team feature to build upon, however, and in terms of making shots harder for opposing offenses, Hampton did very well by having a top-10 lowest 3-point percentage allowed nationally at 28.8%. 

Joyner tends to like a few skilled shot-swatters in his rotation, as well, though with 7-footer Dajour Dickens (2.9 blocks per game in two seasons at Hampton) having now graduated, the Pirates' staff will need to find and/or develop a new defensive force down low for the future.

Key Returner

Russell Dean, G, Sr., Columbia, South Carolina

A bright spot in an overall rough year for Hampton, the Pirates will be relying on "Deuce" often this upcoming season, as they adapt to life in a new conference. 

Dean followed a strong sophomore breakout season with another jump in points per game his junior year, proving himself to be a reliable stat-sheet stuffer and offensive creator. He led the Pirates in assists. 

Snubbed out of the All-Big South teams, despite being in the top 5 of the league in both points and assists per game, the chip on Dean's shoulder could be big enough to elevate him into a force in the CAA this season. 

That must come with better efficiency on the offensive end, however. 

Dean played over 90% of Hampton's minutes in league play for the second year running last season, and with that much usage, something above a 34.3% field goal percentage (as he had last year) must be seen. 

Dean also drastically amped up his 3-point attempts in the 2021-2022 season, shooting 4.5 triples a game, compared to just 0.4 a night in 2020-2021, but didn't have the volume translate over into being a reliable shooter. He finished the year at a poor 27.2% from deep. 

Still, Dean's credentials as a distributor and scoring piece from inside the 3-point arc are among the best on the Pirates' roster once again, and it would be silly for the team not to lean heavily on the senior against a new slate of conference foes. 

Key Addition

Jordan Nesbitt, G, Soph., St. Louis

Another example in the recent wave of several current and former high-level prep recruits taking their talents to HBCU programs, Nesbitt, a former four-star prospect, should see a large role in Hampton's game plans immediately, and he has the potential to emerge as a breakout candidate. 

Having committed out of high school to Penny Hardaway's program at Memphis, the 6-foot-6 guard didn't play much behind other former top-100 recruits like Landers Nolley, Boogie Ellis and D.J. Jeffries, resulting in his transfer back home to play for Saint Louis. 

There, Nesbitt became a key starter for the 23-win Billikens, averaging 8.2 points a night, with 13 games in double-figure scoring numbers. 

He declared for the NBA Draft following the season but opted to return to school and enter the transfer portal, where he found himself committing to Hampton in a big get for Joyner and his staff. 

A good rebounder for his size (4.3 boards per game) and a budding shooter (33.7% from 3), Nesbitt's time playing significant minutes in another solid mid-major league, the Atlantic 10, should prepare him well for the grind of the CAA season. 

He and Dean immediately should become one of the top-scoring backcourts in the conference, and if Nesbitt takes another step forward in his production with the skillset and talent he already has in his arsenal, watch out.

Game To Watch: Hampton Vs. Howard, TBA Dec. 3

The rivalry known as "The Real HU" is one of the fiercest in HBCU sports, though COVID-19 issues canceled the 2021 edition of the game, preventing the two old rivals from playing for the first time in decades. 

Hampton has dominated the all-time series, winning 16 straight games from 2010-2018, dating back to when the programs were both MEAC members, but Howard - which is amid an impressive turnaround under third-year coach Kenny Blakeney - holds a two-game winning streak against the Pirates. That also happened to be two of the merely four D-I victories the program recorded in the 2019-2020 and COVID-impacted 2020-2021 seasons combined. 

The Bison finished over .500 at 16-13 last season for the first time since 2002, and with all that positive momentum, plus a recent good history against the other HU, Howard should be a legit contender in the MEAC and a key nonconference opponent for Hampton on top of the rivalry itself. 

The Bison don't have Makur Maker anymore. He's now with the Washington Wizards, despite making headlines by committing to the program as a five-star prospect, but star sophomore Elijah Hawkins - winner of the MEAC's Rookie of the Year award following a stellar 13.0 points and 5.6 assists per game last season - should be a handful for any team he comes up this season.