Previewing the UMass Minutemen

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Saturday, January 10th, 2015 With 0 Comments

Tomorrow, George Mason (6-8, 1-1 A10) hosts Massachusetts (8-7, 1-1 A10) at 1pm in the only meeting of the season between the two teams. The Minutemen have begun conference play with a home loss to St. Bonaventure and a road win over La Salle. Combined with a very tough non-conference schedule, UMass currently has an RPI of 56.

Derek Kellogg and his frontcourt players will be relieved not to see Erik Copes this time around. The former Mason big man destroyed UMass with 12 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots in one of the best performances of his career on February 12 a season ago. George Mason got their most convincing Atlantic 10 road win of the season that night, 91-80.

The Patriots had surprised many with a run of strong play over the last month, but in order to prove that they’ve gotten back on track, they need to shake off Thursday’s loss to Richmond. Mason can’t afford another slow start on offense, nor can they afford to be sluggish on their defensive rotations.

Sunday afternoon basketball has not been kind to George Mason in recent years. The win over Princeton on November 16 snapped a 12-game Sunday losing streak, but was followed by another loss on November 23, to the College of Charleston. Competing for attention with the NFL playoffs will also be a challenge.

Yesterday, I asked Adam Stein (@theumbr) of to answer some questions about the Minutemen: With Chaz Williams’ graduation, UMass had to find a new leader and a new starting point guard. How has the transition gone, and which player(s) have filled those roles? Are there any lingering holes?

Adam: The transition from last season to this season has been rocky. Chaz Williams was such a dominant personality on and off the court that it has been hard for the Minutemen to replace him. Trey Davis has done a good job handling point guard responsibilities but inconsistency has hurt him. In multiple games so far he has scored over 20 points, but in other games he has struggled to hit shots. Lack of leadership is one of the biggest pieces missing from this year’s team as nobody has emerged as the night in, night out, go to guy that Chaz was for the past three seasons. Senior big man Cady Lalanne is a force in the paint at 6-10, 250 lbs., but after a hot start he’s been inconsistent, with six double-doubles in his first eight games, but only one since. Coming off a 5 point, 3 rebound game at La Salle, what does he need to do to be more consistent?

Adam: Cady Lalanne has the potential to be one of the best big men in that Atlantic 10, but has yet to live up to that potential. We saw a similar trend last season as he started hot and then faded through the A10 schedule. Two of his biggest weaknesses are foul trouble and handling the double team. When Cady picks up early fouls, not only does it force Coach Kellogg to sit him, but it also affects his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. By this point in the season, opponents have figured out that double-teaming Cady as soon as he touches the ball is the best way to neutralize his offense, as he hasn’t quite figured out how to quickly out-maneuver the double-team or pass out to one of his guards. This is why in the past two games Youssou Ndoye of St. Bonaventure and Steve Zack of La Salle were able to outplay him. Who are the other important players to watch on the UMass side?

Adam: Cady Lalanne: As mentioned, when he is playing well, he can be the best player on the court and he is a double-double machine.

Derrick Gordon: DG became a national figure when he became the first openly gay DI basketball player. As a guard, he thrives in the paint and is also a force on defense. He is usually assigned to guard the opposing team’s best guard.

Donte Clark: Clark is a freshman guard who has been the biggest surprise so far. At the beginning of the season, Coach Kellogg was struggling with who to start in the 3 spot in the lineup. After an injury to forward Seth Berger, Kellogg when with Jabarie Hinds, but has recently inserted Clark into the starting lineup. Donte has shown flashes of brilliance and has topped the score sheet in multiple games this season.

Maxie Esho: Esho is the leading scorer and emotional leader of the Minutemen. Last game against La Salle he recorded his first career double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds What are the key strengths and weaknesses of this year’s team?

Adam: Strengths: This season UMass has a deep bench that has been the key to every victory this season. Usually Coach Kellogg plays a 7 or 8 man rotation, but this season he has been regularly playing 10 guys and has not been shy to use his freshmen. Jabarie Hinds, Zack Coleman, Tyler Bergantino, Demetrius Dyson and CJ Anderson have all been called upon in critical points so far. Free throw shooting has also been a strength. Maxie Esho in particular has improved immensely between last season and this season and for a big man, Cady Lalanne has a very soft touch at the line.

Weaknesses: Lack of leadership, as I mentioned before, and turnovers. Turnovers have been huge as Cady Lalanne has struggled to break out of double-teams and the guards have looked flat in the half court offense. They have done better taking care of the ball as of late, but a few poorly timed turnovers can be the difference between a win and a loss as we have found out the hard way this season. At 8-7 on the season but against a very tough schedule (#6 SOS in the country), the Minutemen are one of the few teams that challenged themselves out of conference more than the Patriots did. However, they went 0-5 against the RPI top 60. So I have to ask, is this year’s squad a contender, or a pretender?

Adam: It hurts me to say this, but I think they are a pretender. They have played well against some good teams including close losses to Harvard and BYU, but were also embarrassed by Florida Gulf Coast and Providence. The only chance for serious post season contention is now to win the Atlantic 10, which judging by a bad home loss to St. Bonaventure, might be out of the cards. Luckily the Minutemen have a young team with a lot of talent. If things don’t go well this year, they will be able to reload for next season.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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