Cal men’s basketball tasked with slowing down Hampton’s uptempo offense

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For young teams such as Cal men’s basketball, when the game appears to be moving at breakneck speed, the best course of action is to regroup and slow things down. Against Hampton, that won’t be an option.

In their home opener and the beginning of the four-game Legends Classic, head coach Wyking Jones and the Bears will have the task of figuring out how to handle the Pirates, one of the fastest teams in all of Division I basketball.

When granted with the opportunity, the Pirates love to get out and run. Since head coach Edward Joyner took over the program, Hampton has consistently been at the top of the country in tempo.

The Pirates have finished in the top 100 five times and have never fallen outside of the top 150 since Joyner took over as head coach, according to the 2019 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings.

Suffice it to say, the Pirates like to play fast, even if it means sacrificing efficiency. Two games into the season, they’ve remained on brand, averaging 83.5 points per game and currently ranking 20th in the country in tempo.

If the past is any indicator of the future, Hampton’s speed may spell doom for Cal.

Last season, Cal played Portland State and Central Arkansas, a pair of teams that ranked 7th and 17th in tempo, respectively. The Bears surrendered 202 combined points and lost both games by an average margin of 26 points.

The task of defeating Hampton won’t be any easier considering that this is a veteran team, one that features eight rotation players returning to the fray.

The Pirates run deep. This season, 12 players are averaging at least 10 minutes per game. With fresher legs, any five that Joyner rolls out will have the juice to get up and down the floor.

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Entering Tuesday’s action, Hampton only has one player averaging more than 30 minutes per game. As expected, that workhorse is the team’s lifeblood.

At the center of the Pirates’ attack is junior Jermaine Marrow. Since arriving at Hampton, Marrow has done nothing but get buckets, entering this season 21st on the school’s all-time scoring list. He’s a two-time All-MEAC nominee, earning a spot on the first team last year, and was named to the Big South preseason first team.

Beware of the small sample size, but two games into the season, Marrow has the early making of a Big South Player of the Year candidate. The guard is currently averaging 23.5 points, 5.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game on superb efficiency.

While Marrow has steadily improved as a shooter during his time at Hampton, his bread and butter plays right into Cal’s weakness.

Marrow is a bonafide slasher, a small guard who loves to utilize his quickness to weave into the lane and get to the rim. That doesn’t fare well for a Bears team that has an ultra-thin big man rotation and not one true rim protector.

Including the exhibition game against Cal State East Bay, Cal has only recorded two blocks this season. For context, former center Kingsley Okoroh averaged 2.1 blocks per game last season for the Bears.

Against Marrow and company, there’s a very realistic scenario in which the Pirates blitz into the paint and dare the defense to turn them into shooters.

Recalling how Cal’s games against Central Arkansas and Portland State unfolded last season, the best course of action is to force Hampton to slow things down.

Minimizing defensive possessions isn’t automatically conducive to winning basketball, but the Bears have little to no experience playing this lightning-fast, up-and-down brand of basketball. Should Cal let Hampton play to its strengths, a long night at Haas Pavilion might just be in store.

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.