COACH: Ed Joyner Jr. (5th season, all at Hampton, 64-65).
OPENER: Nov. 8 vs. William and Mary.
5 GAMES TO WATCH: Nov. 17 vs. Delaware. The Pirates have knocked off a CAA school each of the last three years.
Dec. 21 vs. James Madison. Governor's Classic game at Richmond Coliseum is an interesting matchup.
Jan. 7 at N.C. Central. MEAC opener against one of the conference's top teams.
Jan. 20 vs. Morgan State. Bears provide a gauge of where the Pirates stand in the league.
Feb. 15 at Norfolk State. First of two games in two weeks against rivals and preseason MEAC favorites.
STRENGTH: Defense. The Pirates have no lights-out scorers, and Joyner built the team around defense and effort. HU was second in the MEAC in FG percentage defense (.390). According to numbers guru Ken Pomeroy, the Pirates were third in effective FG percentage defense (.418), which accounts for both 2s and 3s. MEAC Rookie of the Year Deron Powers (11.9 ppg, 144 assists) is a year better and more comfortable running the show. High-flying F Du'Vaughn Maxwell (10.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 77 blocks) is the team's adrenal gland and made massive improvements in his game. Wings Dwight Meikle (5.8 ppg) and Ke'Ron Brown (5.7 ppg) are athletic and versatile defenders. Post player Emmanuel Okoroba (8.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is in better shape, and 6-9, 260-pound transfer Jervon Pressley, who had stops at Towson and Robert Morris, becomes eligible after first semester.
WEAKNESS: Perimeter shooting. The Pirates were 10th in field goal percentage (.391) and 11th from 3-point range (.263). None of the quartet of primary 3-point launchers shot better than 28 percent. HU was a respectable fifth in two-point percentage (.463) in conference games, but shot just 27.2 percent from three. Powers and Ramon Mercado (7.9 ppg) are good shooters who need to be more judicious. Transfer guards Brian Darden (Radford) and Breon Key (Old Dominion), both Phoebus products, should aid perimeter production.
PREDICTION: The Pirates are among a handful of MEAC contenders in a tight race. They return as much as any team in the conference, aside from defending champ Norfolk State, who they played well in both matchups last season. The to-do list includes creating more offense and easier baskets from its defense; becoming more efficient in half-court offense; defending and rebounding more diligently in late-game situations. If Okoroba and Pressley establish themselves inside and they hit some jump shots, expect them to contend for the title.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun