2022 Iona vs Hofstra - Men's

Hofstra Men's Basketball Preview: Pride Have High Expectations

Hofstra Men's Basketball Preview: Pride Have High Expectations

After the strides it made last season, Hofstra men's basketball is looking for more. The year simply did not end the way the team wanted it to conclude.

Sep 29, 2022 by Briar Napier
Hofstra Men's Basketball Preview: Pride Have High Expectations

After the strides it made last season, Hofstra men's basketball is looking for more.

The Pride had seemingly everything it needed heading into March, including a player who was named the Colonial Athletic Association's best player, an efficient style and a run of eight wins in nine games to close out the regular season. 

However, before Hofstra could really make a serious charge toward its first NCAA Tournament in two decades, its season was over.

There's a chip on the Pride's shoulder this season, especially with some significant contributors back and intriguing transfers and additions in. 

College basketball on Long Island is steeped in history and tradition, and with the squad Hofstra is bringing to the court for the 2022-2023 season, it very well could add to it very soon.

What is there to look out for with Hofstra men's basketball this season? 

Below is a look into what the Pride will bring to the table this season, as FloHoops previews every men's basketball team in the CAA.

2021 Season Review

For two decades, Hofstra men's basketball has had the look of a team on the cusp of something historic, but it has never quite actually gotten there. That continued in the 2021-2022. 

Since former coach (and two-time national champion with Villanova) Jay Wright took the Pride to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2000 and 2001, the program has registered 20-win seasons 10 times since, but with no trips back to March Madness. 

Legendary alum Speedy Claxton, the star of Wright's teams in the mid-90s and early-2000s, continued that trend in both good ways - with a strong 21-11 season in his first year as head coach of the Pride after eight years as an assistant under former coach Joe Mihalich - and bad as the Pride were quickly disposed of in the CAA Tournament by Charleston, despite finishing third in the regular-season standings and having the CAA Player of the Year in guard Aaron Estrada. 

Considering that Hofstra had the look of a team that could make some noise in the postseason after in non-conference play, it beat Arkansas and took Houston to overtime (both teams of which later made the Elite 8), the Pride likely were wishing they could have some do-overs from last season to put themselves in a better position for the postseason. 

With some very important returners and transfers in the mix for the upcoming season, Hofstra has a huge chance to correct those mistakes.

On The Court

Claxton's offensive system last season was very analytics-friendly, and as evidenced by Hofstra's overall strong play against the elites of its schedule, it also was a system that could be dangerous to opponents. 

The Pride turned the ball over on less than 15% of possessions, shot over 56% on 2-pointers and had a near-80% clip from the free-throw line, with the team's 79.7% rate ranking third in America. 

Essentially on offense, the Pride do many of the little things well.

Five players averaged at least an assist per game, and with a player like Estrada being the focal point, not many teams at the mid-major level can keep up for long. 

Still, there were some holes in the system - for how well the Pride shot from the charity stripe, they also didn't get there often, tallying just 13.1 free throw attempts per game in the 2021-2022 season. 

Hofstra, as a whole, was generally a poor rebounding team. 

Defense will remain the major question mark going into the season, however, as the Pride too often allowed teams to shoot lights-out - take the fact opponents shot 38.3% on the year from 3-point territory as an example - but the unit as a whole did appear to improve down the stretch as the season went on, especially during Hofstra's run of eight victories in nine games to close out the regular season.

Key Returner

Aaron Estrada, G, R-Sr., Woodbury, New Jersey

As certain college basketball presences on social media would say, buy stock now in Aaron Estrada. 

Hofstra was the third stop in as many seasons for the 6-foot-3, do-it-all playmaker, following a promising freshman year at Saint Peter's and a sophomore season at Oregon, in which he only played in nine games, before heading back to the East Coast. 

But on Long Island, Estrada immediately made an impact, starting every game for the Pride. 

He was responsible for 30.5% of his team's shots in conference play last year, a usage rate that was tops across all CAA players (per KenPom) in the 2021-2022 season. 

With numerous ways he can beat players, Estrada is a nightmare for defenders to guard and coaches to scheme against. 

Guard him tightly? Estrada's effective field goal percentage of 54% was the best in the CAA, and if he couldn't find a way to score, he could find teammates to the tune of a team-high 5.0 assists per night. 

Sag off of him? Estrada is a capable 3-point shooter at 33% for last season. 

Foul him? Estrada was one of the best free-throw shooters in the country with a 93.5% rate at the foul line this past year. 

An easy pick for CAA Player of the Year, Estrada has a legitimate chance to be the conference's first repeat selection for the award since former Pride star Justin Wright-Foreman did it in 2018 and 2019 and join the likes of David Robinson and Eric Maynor as former multiple-time winners.

Key Addition

Tyler Thomas, G, R-Sr., New Haven, Connecticut

Considering how well Estrada's transfer to the program went last season, it's very plausible that the biggest threat to his aim for a repeat CAA Player of the Year pick could come from his own team. 

Thomas comes to Claxton's program following three years at Sacred Heart, where for two seasons he was the main man in what the Pioneers did. His 2020-2021 season (19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists per game) won him that year's Northeast Conference's Most Improved Player award. 

He made it back-to-back All-NEC appearances last season, despite slight statistical dips in each of those aforementioned statistical categories, but his 16.4 points per game (on a career high 48.1% shooting) in the 2021-2022 campaign still ranked sixth in the league. 

Sacred Heart struggled to a 10-20 record last season, so Thomas should make a quick impact on a Hofstra team expected to win many games this year and take some of the scoring load off of Estrada, whose earned reputation across the league should see him garner much attention from opposing defenses night in and night out. 

Still, how quickly his high-usage style from his previous school meshes with Estrada will be a point to watch in Hofstra's early games, but Thomas could effectively slide right into the void left by two-time All-CAA guard Jalen Ray, who graduated after a stellar five-year career with the Pride that included 13.4 points per night this past season. 

Game To Watch: Hofstra Vs. Iona, TBA Nov. 11

Taking roughly a 45-minute drive across the East River to get between each campus, Hofstra and Iona are two pillars of New York basketball that both could be playing well into March this season. 

For Iona, much of that boils down to who is coaching the Gaels on the sidelines.

Rick Pitino, the hall-of-fame coach who took Kentucky and Louisville to national titles in 1996 and 2013, respectively, is fourth among active Division I coaches in wins and a legendary name in the college game who has taken Iona to successive postseason appearances (first the NCAA Tournament, then the NIT) in his first two years in charge. 

Both of those seasons have included identical 82-74 wins over Hofstra, which was scheduled in 2020 as a non-conference opponent for the first time since 2011, but with both programs expected to be at, or near, the top of their separate leagues this winter, their early meeting in November could make for a preview of what type of program each team could see this postseason. 

Keep an eye on Gaels junior forward Nelly Junior Joseph in this game and how the Pride handles him, if they can. 

The 6-foot-9 big man from Benin was the only underclassman to make the All-MAAC first team last season as a two-way force down low, recording 13.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per night.