Following the Atlantic 10 (especially on Twitter), gives good indication on how each team’s fanbase feels about its head coach. There are years where fans want their coach to get the boot (Richmond fans have been in this boat for quite some time), and there are years where fans are frustrated with coaching performance but know that time will ultimately tell (Anthony Grant at Dayton). Matt McCall, however, may be the most beloved coach in the league through just one season on the job. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Minutemen fan who doubts the rising second-year head coach. Though Massachusetts won just 13 games last season, coach Matt McCall has a tailwind of support from the entire UMass fanbase entering the 2018-19 season. Why? Massachusetts has a chance to essentially go from “worst to first” in a manner of one offseason.
Luwane Pipkins will be competing for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year
There is no question that Luwane Pipkins could be the best guard in the Atlantic 10 this year. The sophomore had to carry quite the load for UMass, taking the greatest percentage of shots for his team out of any player in the Atlantic 10 conference. And yet, Pipkins shot 41.8% from deep, scorching the nets en route to being the 9th best three point shooter in the conference and the 2nd best scorer. This year, he’ll have more help than just Carl Pierre on the wing. Rahsaan Holloway will be healthy, adding much-needed size in the post as well as another scoring option. Curtis Cobb comes in as a guy who dropped 46 points (9 made three pointers) for Fairfield two seasons ago and could be a dark horse scoring threat. And for the first time in seemingly forever, UMass’ rotation will run deep, with plenty of talent coming off the bench.
Carl Pierre is quietly one of the nation’s best shooters
Freshman Carl Pierre was certainly called upon to do more than he originally expected last season. Due to multiple injuries and transfers, the Minutemen had a rotation that only ran 6 or 7 men deep at points during last season. Carl Pierre, however, stepped up to the plate in style. The Massachusetts’ freshman shot a whopping 47.2% from deep from three in 2017-18. His shooting was big in home wins over Providence and Georgia, and he only had 3 games last season without a made three pointer. If you’re placing your bets on a rising sophomore, Carl Pierre is sneakily one of the best shooters in the nation, and if he continues to fire at a clip above 45%, the Minutemen are going to be even more dangerous from long range this season.
Matt McCall needs to mix all the pieces together
We’ve seen the story before: an A-10 coach brings in a lot of talent, expectations are sky-high, but that talent doesn’t mesh well, and the team fails to meet lofty expectations. Matt McCall needs to make sure his guys develop chemistry heading into the upcoming season. The Minutemen are used to Luwane Pipkins playing hero ball due to last season’s enormous limitations. While Pipkins has proven himself as a passer, he’s also going to be on the receiving end of plenty of double teams next season; he’ll likely have to pass some of the scoring load on to other key players in Massachusetts’ roster.
Most notably, I look at Carl Pierre as a guy who will need to carry more weight on his shoulders and develop his offensive skill set. He’ll be guarded tight on the perimeter; if Pierre can elevate his game driving to the hoop and possibly working off pump fakes, he’ll be lethal on that end of the floor. C.J. Anderson was an underrated piece to the puzzle for Massachusetts last season, as his passing really improved towards the end of the season. Losing a guy with the vision he had hurts, so again, the team will have to look to be sharp with its ball movement, and a guy like Pipkins can’t be turning it over as much as he did last year.
This Massachusetts team has the talent, a lot like Saint Louis this year, and the race to the finish line in the conference will come down to the intangibles. Can the Minutemen play better defense next season with fresh legs and transfer talent that should add a lot on both ends of the floor? Can Luwane Pipkins be the leader that takes this team to an A-10 title? Can Rashaan Holloway bounce back to the potential we saw in him at the end of 2016-17? These are all questions that have yet to be answered, but if you’re the Massachusetts fanbase, you have full trust in Matt McCall, and I don’t blame you for that.