If you’re looking for a team that could be on the rise in the A-10 the next couple of seasons, look no further than Massachusetts. Though Derek Kellogg’s team hasn’t found the same success as it did two seasons ago when it made the NCAA Tournament behind star guard Chaz Williams, we very well could see this team reach the Big Dance in a few years. UMass was just 14-18 last season and got off to an abysmal 1-7 start in conference play. Though Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds had big seasons offensively, the Minutemen weren’t good enough to hang with the middle of the pack, and they’re defense was anything but stingy throughout conference play. Though the Minutemen would win pull an upset win over VCU and beat Rhode Island twice down the stretch, it was a shoulder-shrugging season in Amherst, no doubt. But with some experienced players returning for 2016-17, and one of the best recruiting classes the A-10 has seen in awhile, Massachusetts is building for the future and preparing to be one of the better teams in the conference once again.
The most notable departure this offseason was Trey Davis who led the Minutemen in points and assists and was second in rebounds (18.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.2 APG). With one of the more non-conventional shooting forms in college basketball, he scorched the nets all season long, shooting 36.6% from three and 87.6% from the free throw line. Davis was a scoring-machine, and Derek Kellogg could have a tough time finding a replacement for such a dynamic player. And hey, if Davis’ basketball career doesn’t work out, he could always be a rapper. Jabarie Hinds is another key piece to the puzzle that Massachusetts will be without. The senior averaged 14.5 points per contest and his 3.0 assists per contest put him just behind Davis in that category. Hinds had an 18 point, 7 assist performance that helped UMass upset VCU, and he followed that up with a 37 point night against Duquesne just three days later. The Minutemen also lose two very good rebounders in Antwan Space (5.3 RPG) and Tyler Bergantino (3.4 RPG).
As mentioned, Massachusetts has one of the best recruiting classes in the A-10 this year, so we should see freshmen getting plenty of playing time throughout the course of the season. DeJon Jarreau could very well serve as an immediate star in the backcourt as UMass will have to find a way to make up for the losses of Davis and Hinds. Jarreau will be the likely starting PG while freshman Unique McLean will be a great backcourt addition; he may also have a case for best name in Atlantic 10 basketball (though Scoochie Smith still owns the title IMO).
Though the Minutemen lost some effective post players, they’ll add a pair of frontcourt powerhouses in Brison Gresham and Chris Baldwin, both of whom are 3 star recruits. To top off this stellar recruiting class, the Minutemen also get another key forward in Tyrn Flowers who will likely see time at the 3 and the 4. But UMass’ freshmen aren’t the only newcomers you’ll see on the court next season; point guard LuWane Pipkins will finally be available after being an academic non-qualifier last year. In addition, Canisius transfer Zach Lewis will be in the mix with Clark and McLean in Massachusetts’ backcourt.
Donte Clark is going to be the star of this UMass team next season, and without leading scorer Trey Davis on the roster, he has a chance to be a 20+ PPG type scorer. Clark scored 16.1 points per game last season while still tallying more than 2 assists per contest. He’s the only returning double digit scorer on the roster, and as a junior, he’ll be one of the most experienced players on this team. Massachusetts has just one senior on its roster this year. Massachusetts will have a lot of young talent working the system, but Donte Clark is going to be this team’s rock in 2016-17.
After that, there are a lot of returnees that are capable of making significant jumps. Rahsaan Holloway has been putting in a lot of work over the offseason; he could be one of the better centers in the league. Zach Coleman and Seth Berger saw less than 20 minutes of court time per contest last season, but they’ll both play greater roles this year. C.J. Anderson is another player that hasn’t peaked offensively just yet, but for a guard, he was really effective on the glass his sophomore season. Look for any, if not all, of these players to make some sort of a jump in scoring next season, as UMass won’t have three guards making all of the plays.
I’ll say that for the kind of team Massachusetts is looking like it’s going to be this season, it did a really good job scheduling a reasonable, but not ridiculously challenging non-conference schedule. There are undoubtedly some gimme games in the mix (UMass shouldn’t have an issue beating NC A&T, Rider, or Wagner), but the Minutemen will also play a lot of 50-50 games that could end up helping their SOS a lot. Massachusetts will play on the road against an Ole Miss team that has an all-conference caliber forward in Sebastian Saiz. Massachusetts will also host Harvard. Tommy Amaker’s squad returns a dangerous point guard with tournament experience in Siyani Chambers. They’ll also have an away game against a Providence team that’s been in the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons now. The Minutemen will undoubtedly be challenged.
As far as its conference schedule goes, Massachusetts once again will not have the easiest slate of games. The Minutemen will get two cracks at Rhode Island, a team that could very well win the A-10 this season. In addition, they’ll face off against St. Bonaventure and La Salle twice; either of those teams has the talent to shock the league and become regular season champs. This team will get to play Davidson and Dayton at home, but it will have to go on the road to face what will be a very talented VCU team. All in all, the Minutemen have a lot of winnable games on their schedule, but they’ll also have a few chances to get some upset wins.
This does not feel like a season where Massachusetts comes out of nowhere and makes the NCAA Tournament, but I wouldn’t put it past them to at least go .500 or better this year. It really depends on how good these freshmen are, as they’ll be a key piece to the rebuilding process. Donte Clark is the type of player that can turn the direction of this team around, but he can’t do it all by himself. Massachusetts has 4 returning players that averaged between 3 and 6 points per contest last season. Some, if not all, of those players are going to have to emerge as consistently dominant performers in this league. This is going to be no easy A-10 conference in 2016-17. If the Minutemen want to hold their own and avoid finishing near the bottom, they’re going to have to find someone other than Clark who’s going to be a leader and effective scorer.