Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hampton: 12th seed, 12 reasons to believe

NCAA Today
No. 12 Hampton (28-4) vs. No. 5 Michigan State (22-9
12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Carmichael Arena, Chapel Hill, N.C. (University of North Carolina)

In honor of Hampton earning a No. 12 seed in the NCAA championships - the highest ever for a MEAC team in the NCAA's 64-team tournament era - we offer up 12 reasons why Hampton can topple Michigan State in Sunday's first round:

- MEAC teams are 0-20 in the NCAAs since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994. No one beats MEAC teams 21 times in a row.

- The good thing about being a lower seed on a neutral court is the natural tendency to root for the underdog can kick in and the lower seed can feel as though it's playing a home game. So if the Lady Pirates get on a roll today, they may be able to feed off the energy of North Carolina fans who not only want to see an upset but will also be angling for an easier second-round matchup for the home team.

- Memo to Tar Heel Nation - be careful what you wish for.

- Think Michigan State has all the marquee talent? Think again. Hampton's Alyssa Bennett was ranked No. 32 on ESPN's list of the nation's top 100 recruits in 2009. That's a higher ranking than any Michigan State starter and all but one player on the entire Spartans roster (guard Branndais Agee was at No. 28 on the 2012 list). In other words, for much of the game the most highly-regarded prospect on the floor will be a Lady Pirate.

- At No. 12, Hampton is the highest-seeded MEAC entrant in the 64-team era. At No. 5, Michigan State is the lowest-seeded MEAC opponent. The seeding gap has never been closer.

- And as we all know, No. 12 seeds beat No. 5 seeds all the time, right?

- Wait, that's the men's tournament. Heading into this year, women's No. 12s have won just 17 of the 80 meetings with No. 5s in the 20-year 64-team era. But on Saturday, No. 12 BYU spanked No. 5 N.C. State, and No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast led most of the way before falling 61-60 in overtime to Oklahoma State. So far, it's been a great year to be sitting in that 12-spot.

- Michigan State's Annalise Pickrel and Hampton's Shellis Hampton were high school teammates on a state championship team at Grand Rapids Catholic Central. How does this increase Hampton's chances of winning? Well, it doesn't. But it's pretty cool nonetheless.

- Hampton beat Virginia Tech. Michigan State lost to Virginia Tech. It's yet another indication that there's not as much daylight between the two teams as the seeding suggests.

- Over the last three years, Hampton has faced Stanford (with Chiney AND Nneka Ogwumike), Duke, Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Kansas State, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Pittsburgh, among others. So playing big-time teams is nothing new for the Lady Pirates. It's more like a way of life. By the way, in 15 games over the teams listed above the past three years, Hampton went 8-7.

- How strong is Hampton's defense? The Lady Pirates knocked off Coppin State in the MEAC final despite shooting just 26.2 percent. Just imagine what the Lady Pirates might do if they actually knock down shots.

- Ultimately, we feel the Lady Pirates' ability to do just that will be the biggest key to Sunday's game. We know Hampton will defend. But the phrase "defense wins championships" is only true to a point. Defense wins "MEAC" championships. But to knock off a team the caliber of Michigan State, the Lady Pirates will likely need some offensive firepower, too. With Bennett and guards Nicole Hamilton, Malia Tate-DeFreitas and Kenia Cole, the Lady Pirates have four players that can get you 20 on any given night. Offensive consistency has been somewhat elusive for Hampton, and Michigan State can be stout defensively. But if two or more of the Lady Pirate scorers are feeling it Sunday, we love Hampton's chances.

Hampton game notes

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