Jelani Scott | Sports Editor
On Thursday, March 17, the Hampton University Pirates will be making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament and will square off against the #1-seeded Virginia Cavaliers at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The game will begin at 3:10 p.m. on TruTV and will be the third matchup broadcasted on the opening day of the tournament. Hampton goes into the contest as the #16-seed in the Midwest Region, a spot they earned after winning their second consecutive MEAC Championship on March 12.
In 124 first round games in the tournament, the 16 seed has never beaten the 1 seed. The Cavaliers are coached by former NBA player Tony Bennett, who is in his seventh season with the team. Bennett has led the Cavaliers to a 162-71 record and is 6-5 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pirates are led by Head Coach Edward “Buck” Joyner, who is also in his seventh season. He has led the team to a 115-105 record and three MEAC Titles. His Pirates won the conference outright for the first time in his career this season.
The Pirates defeated the South Carolina State Bulldogs, 81-69, at the Norfolk Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. The Pirates’ “Big 3” of guards Reginald Johnson Jr. and Hampton native Brian Darden and forward Quinton Chievous combined for 56 of the team’s points.
The senior trio have each set their own milestones in their final year and also catapulted the Pirates to a 21-10 record (13-3 in-conference) and the MEAC Regular Season Title.
Darden made 80 three-pointers this season, the most he has ever had in a season, and was ranked in the top-20 in the MEAC in scoring (13.2).
Since transferring from Radford University after the 2011-12 season, Darden has been one of the most pivotal players on the team over the last three seasons. This season, he averaged career-highs in points per game (12.9) and minutes (31.5).
Chievous, who transferred from Tennessee University after the 2013-14 season, led the MEAC in rebounds with 11 per game, a number that ranked him twelfth in the nation in that category.
The Chicago native also managed to average 17 points per game, making him the only player in the MEAC to do that this season and one of the few players in the country to average a double-double.
Johnson averaged a team and career-high 18.3 points per game, the second highest in the conference. The Miami (Ohio) University transfer also averaged 3.7 assists per game, placing him sixth in the conference in that category, and 2 steals per game, which placed him in the Top-3.
Both Chievous and Johnson were named to the All-MEAC First Team on March 4.
The Cavaliers also have three players averaging double figures this season in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The team finished the season 26-7 overall this season (13-5 in-conference) and had a number of signature wins.
ACC Player of the Year guard Malcolm Brogdon, forward Anthony Gill and guard London Perrantes led the charge and have placed UVA firmly behind the University North Carolina, who beat UVA for the ACC Title, as favorites from the conference to win it all.
At 6’5’’ with 6’10’’ wingspan, Brogdon is widely regarded as one of the best players in the country and future NBA talent. He averaged 18.7 points per game, shooting an efficient 46.8% from the field and 40.9% from downtown.
His defensive ability has been a contributing factor to Virginia accumulating 86 wins over the last three seasons and being ranked third in scoring defense (59.7 points per game).
Gill averages 13.3 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game and is shooting 55.9% from the field. Perrantes is averaging 11 points per game, 4.4 assists per game, 3 rebounds per game and 1.1 steals per game. He is also shooting 44.1 % from the field and 48.1% from downtown.
UNC, Villanova, West Virginia, California and Miami are among some of the teams that have fallen to Virginia and each team is projected to make it at least out of the first round of this year’s tournament.
Virginia has reached the “Big Dance” in each of the last three seasons and has earned a top-two seed each year.
The Cavaliers were upset by the Michigan State Spartans in each of the last two tournaments and have not reached a Final Four since 1984.
The Pirates went dancing last season after getting hot at the right time, going only 17-18 in the regular season and winning their four MEAC tournament games and the MEAC Title.
The team won their play-in game against the Manhattan Jaspers and went on to play the #1-seeded University of Kentucky Wildcats in a game that gained them much publicity.
Of the five teams Kentucky beat, the Pirates scored the third-most points in their losing effort, more than Cincinnati and West Virginia.
Hampton Nation hopes the Pirates can pull off the monumental history-making victory and become the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed.
But regardless of the outcome, the Pirates can chalk up yet another successful season and will have the school’s full support as they look to build another winning season next year.