UMass in Great NCAA Tourney Position With Its Early ResumePosted by Nicholas Patrick on December 12th, 2013
Derek Kellogg’s UMass team was picked to finish fourth in the new-look Atlantic 10 this season, which would seem to position the Minutemen squarely on the bubble in pursuit of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998. In recent years, UMass has missed nearly every key opportunity to strengthen its non-conference resume (losing to Boston College, Seton Hall, Florida State, North Carolina State, Tennessee, and Miami twice), but this squad has garnered national attention by passing every tough test. Through eight games, UMass remains perfect, collecting wins over four power-conference teams (Boston College, LSU, Nebraska, and Clemson), along with high-mids New Mexico and BYU, and earning a championship in the Charleston Classic. What’s more impressive — aside from overcoming a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat Boston College, UMass has been in complete control of each of its other games. The Minutemen find themselves ranked in both major polls (#22 AP; #20 Coaches), and are currently ranked #1 in the RPI.
Senior guard Chaz Williams, a preseason first team all-A-10 selection, has led the attack – averaging 17.5 points per game, thanks in part to shooting 44 percent beyond the arc. When he’s not scoring, he’s helping others do so, as Williams ranks 20th nationally in assist rate. He finished the BYU game with a ridiculous 15:1 assist/turnover ratio, and all of it has led to a balanced and potent offense, as three other Minutemen are also averaging 12 points or more per game: Cady Lalanne (15.0 PPG, to go along with 10.4 rebounds per game), Sampson Carter (13.8 PPG), and Raphiael Putney (12.6 PPG). To boot, each of these contributors is 6’8″ or taller, constantly testing opponents’ interior defense.
Overall, a respectable offense was a key component to last season’s 21-win team. But UMass has improved in a few important areas, including on the offensive boards (it currently ranks 33rd nationally in offensive rebounding rate) and in shot selection (only 24 percent of its shots are from beyond the arc, well below the national average). These characteristics are products of a high-tempo offense, getting looks at the basket before opponents can set up their defense or position themselves for rebounds. Most notably, the Minutemen have improved dramatically on defense, as they currently rank 41st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. This team seems to have only a few flaws, but they will need to take better care of the basketball as the Minutemen currently turn the ball over on 19.2 percent of their possessions. And with limited depth (UMass only goes about eight deep), they may eventually begin to feel some of the effects of their fast-paced offense.
After weathering a tough November, UMass can look to be greedy through the rest of December and early January. If it can survive a neutral-site test against Florida State, then only a game at Ohio and three home games against Northern Illinois, Providence, and Miami (OH) can prevent the Minutemen from entering conference play undefeated and well on their way to finally earning that elusive ticket to the dance in March.