McCallie calls Hampton 'greatest' 15 seed ever
No one has to convince Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie about the perils of playing a No. 15 seed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
And it didn’t take No. 2-seeded Georgetown losing to Florida Gulf Coast 78-68 in the opening round of the men’s tournament to raise her level of concern.
After watching video of Hampton in preparation for today’s NCAA Women’s Tournament opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium (12:05 p.m., ESPN2), McCallie said she couldn’t help but be impressed by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champions.
“Hampton is the greatest No. 15 seed I have ever seen in my life,” McCallie said of the Pirates (28-5), who went 16-0 in the MEAC and won three league tournament games by 35, 26 and 21 points, respectively. “They are absolutely terrific. They are extremely well-coached. They have proven themselves, defeating LSU so handily like they did (67-58 on Nov. 16). ...
“I think what makes them so good is that they’ve got four people in double figures (scoring), they have tremendous athleticism (and) their defense is extremely disruptive.”
Hampton coach David Six is in his fourth season and making a fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament. While he can appreciate the sentiment behind McCallie’s praise, he left little doubt that he disagrees with the tournament bracket.
“My mom used to say, ‘It’s not what they call you, it’s who you answer to,’” Six said. “Nothing that happens here this weekend will make me think we’re a 15 seed, but we can’t cry over it. We’ve turned our focus to Duke; that’s the opponent in front of us. ...
“The great thing about this country is we can agree to disagree. You can have your own opinion. ... We’re thankful for the opportunity. We’re certainly going to have a big challenge ahead of us, but a challenge we are ready for.”
The MEAC overall has a Rating Percentage Index of 30 out of 31 conferences. Despite the win over LSU and a three-point victory over Boston College, Hampton’s RPI is just 79 while Duke (30-2) is fifth.
“They were completely untested in the MEAC,” McCallie said of the Pirates, who won only four league games by fewer than 10 points and five by at least 30. “They belong in the ACC; they are an ACC (caliber) team.”
Senior Keiara Avant, a 5-11 forward, leads the Pirates with 16.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Junior guard Nicole Hamilton averages 12.2 points, while senior guard Olivia Allen adds 11.8 and junior forward Alyssa Bennett 10.2.
“They have really good guards, and (Avant) is a really talented post,” Duke junior Haley Peters said. “They are also one of the best defensive teams in the country, so I think it will be a tough game all around.”
Hampton’s opponents averaged 47.2 points, a far cry from the 75.6 points the Blue Devils put up per game.
“We’re going to have to limit their offensive rebounding, limit our turnovers, obviously defend at a high level (and) not get overwhelmed by the moment,” Six said. “There’s been enough of that for us. We’ve been in the tournament four years; let’s focus on putting ourselves in a position to be successful now.”
Hampton’s NCAA streak began in 2010 with a 72-37 loss to the Blue Devils at Cameron, where Duke has won 18 consecutive postseason games and never has lost in the opening round. Avant and Duke senior Allison Vernerey played in that game, with Blue Devils post player scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds in 14 minutes.
“The first time, it was very loud there,” Avant said of the 2010 contest, when she had three points and three rebounds in 15 minutes. “We weren’t accustomed to such a loud crowd. This time, we are a little more experienced. We are ready now. ...
“When we are playing, we aren’t really focusing on, ‘Oh, it’s Duke’ or the other teams that we are playing. (Instead), we are focusing on the advantages that we have versus a team and trying to limit their advantages, cause turnovers, things of that nature.”
Don’t expect the Blue Devils to apologize for the home crowd. They’ve been on the other side, as well.
“Going on the road last year for the first two rounds was helpful because ... when you’re here, ... it doesn’t feel like you’re 100 percent in the bunker and focused on the game,” Peters said. “Having that experience last year and then ... being able to be at home and not have to travel anywhere and play in front of our fans, I think it’s a really big help. ...
“You know that the team that you are playing against, whoever it is, is also playing for their season not to end. We are, too, and we are trying to earn the chance to play with each other again.”
NOTES — No. 7-seeded Oklahoma State faces No. 10 DePaul in the second game today (2:30 p.m., ESPN2). ... The winners of today’s games at Cameron Indoor Stadium will return Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN2) for the right to advance to the regional semifinals in Norfolk.
Oklahoma State-DePaul winner (2:30 p.m., ESPN2) to face Duke-Hampton winner Tuesday
DURHAM — The winner of today’s 12:05 p.m. No. 15 Hampton at No. 2 Duke women’s NCAA Tournament showdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium will want to stick around a few hours to catch the second game of the four-team subregional.
The winner will face the winner of today’s 2:30 p.m. game, No. 7-seed Oklahoma State (21-10) or No. 10 DePaul (21-11).
That matchup should feature plenty of scoring: Oklahoma State scores nearly 74 points per game while DePaul averages 71.
The Cowgirls, who won the Women’s NIT last year, have the least NCAA tournament experience of any team in this subregional.
They’re in the field for the first time since 2010 and have only two players — seniors Toni Young and Lindsey Keller — who have played in the tournament.
Oklahoma State won its first 11 games, finished in a tie for fifth in the Big 12 and lost to No. 1 overall seed Baylor in the semifinals of the league tournament.
“Building the program, winning the WNIT helped us gain six more games last year in a tournament setting, and I believe it was a definite help for our team this year,” coach Jim Littell said. “The natural progression was for us to build from winning the WNIT last year to making the NCAA tournament and, hopefully, winning some games in the NCAA tournament.”
DePaul, which lost to Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the final Big East tournament as we’ve known it, made the NCAA field for the 11th straight year under coach Doug Bruno behind leading scorer Anna Martin, who averages 15.7 points but missed eight midseason games with a bone bruise.
This is a time of transition for the Blue Demons, who joined six other Catholic schools in breaking away from the Big East and forming a league that will use that name.
Perennial national powers Connecticut and Notre Dame won’t be in the new Big East. Notre Dame is off to the ACC, UConn is sticking around in the not-yet-renamed “old” Big East — and Bruno says it is “absolutely incumbent on somebody in the new Big East to step up and become what (the Irish and Huskies) have been.”
Of the four members of what will be the new Big East who earned NCAA women’s tournament berths, none earned a better seed than Villanova, a No. 9.
“There’s some good strength here, of the teams moving forward in the (new) Big East,” he added. “This is a strong league in and of itself.”