It’s hard enough being a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament. After all, a 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed in the history of March Madness.
But it’s even harder when that 1-seed is Kentucky (34-0, 18-0), which is seeking to become the first team in almost 40 years to go undefeated and win a national championship.
Hampton head coach Edward Joyner Jr. has looked at the film, and he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s never seen a team with this much talent.
“They’re an incredible-looking team,” Joyner said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “They got a lot of size, a lot of talent, a lot of depth. They don’t have any foreseeable weaknesses. But again, you just have to go out and play, play your game, trust yourself and believe.”
Hampton (17-17) came out of nowhere to win the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Championship and qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Pirates entered the tournament with a 12-17 record, won three of its four games by double digits, and then beat Manhattan, 74-64, in first-round NCAA Tournament action Tuesday.
They’ve been on a great run, but Thursday marks a monumental mismatch with the Wildcats. How will Joyner convince his team that it actually has a chance in this one?
“The first thing they got to understand is it’s just basketball,” he said. “It’s something you’ve been doing your whole life. You got to believe you can go do it. You’re here for a reason, and you deserve to be here. You’ve earned the right to be here, so why not go play for it?”
Hampton had four players average double figures this season: Dwight Meikle (13.0 points per game), Reggie Johnson (12.0), Deron Powers (10.4) and Quinton Chievous (10.3). Another, Brian Darden, averaged 9.8.
Nevertheless, the Pirates were given little chance in their First Four game with Manhattan, which Joyner used as motivation.
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “We’ve been fighting all year and we’ve had a lot of adversity all year – a lot of injuries. The one thing we told our guys the whole time is once we get our full allotment of players, if we can bring it together at the right time, we’ll be fine and we can get to this point – and we have. Now, of course the gift of getting to this point is Kentucky – and that’s one heck of a gift. But anytime you step on the court, anything can happen. That’s the approach that we’re taking. We have nothing to lose and we’re going to go compete.”
A handful of teams have come close to solving the Kentucky mystery this season, but none has been successful. The Wildcats come at you in waves, with seven players averaging between 20.7 and 25.8 minutes per game – and eight players averaging between 5.6 and 11.3 points per game. Kentucky also finished third in the country in scoring defense (54.0 points per game allowed) and second in blocks (6.9).
All of which is to say Hampton will have its hands full Thursday.
“I haven’t got the pre-game speech ready yet, but it’s going to be something similar to what I’ve told them the whole time and especially at the start of the tournament,” Joyner said. “It’s a new season. It’s a time to reinvent yourself. People can look at you a little different. This is a different stage. And if you can go win this game, it’s the biggest upset – I heard somebody say on TV last night – in sports history.”
Tip-off is slated for 9:40 p.m. ET.