Massachusetts added a lot of integral pieces last season, and subsequently, expectations were high. Unfortunately, an impressive non-conference showing spiraled into a depressing conference season that ended up costing DK his job. After an… interesting hiring period that featured Pat Kelsey backing out of the UMass job at the last minute, Massachusetts secured Matt McCall who did an incredible job replacing outgoing transfers in just a couple months as Massachusetts’ head coach. Now, no one knows what to expect, and with a team of new and returning players, this team could finish anywhere in the league standings.
The Springfield, Massachusetts native is heading back home for his senior season, and I think the Minutemen scored one of the better transfers on the market this offseason. Sure, Brantley only averaged 4.9 points per game in 16.8 minutes of playing time, but he shot 46.5% from three in Big Ten play last year. To put this in perspective, he made more 3 pointers in conference play than DeJon Jarreau and Donte Clark did last season, and that was while taking significantly fewer attempts and playing in a loaded Big Ten conference. I urge you not to cast off Brantley simply because “he hasn’t gotten enough exposure.” He was a significant piece to last year’s Maryland squad, a team that went on to be a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Massachusetts should be fortunate.
Anderson improved mightily in terms of efficiency last season, and this comes after a reduction in minutes per contest. As a junior, he shot 59.7% from 2 and 36.0% from 3 compared to 43.3% and 25.7% as a sophomore. These improvements came with more shot attempts as well, despite slightly less playing time. Anderson had one of the biggest games of his career in last year’s A-10 Tournament, shooting 6-7 from the field, dishing out 3 assists, and dropping 17 points on Saint Joseph’s. This is a promising development; though the Minutemen lost valuable pieces after Derek Kellogg was fired, Anderson could really step it up in his senior season.
Pipkins may be Massachusetts 2nd most important player next season; on the defensive end of the floor, LuWane Pipkins is an animal, and he had one of the best steal percentages in the nation at 3.8%. Pipkins really came onto the scene last year at the start of the season; then, he plateaued a bit. Pipkins had 14 steals in the first 3 games of the season, including 8 in Massachusetts’ first game. He dropped 18 points on the road against Mississippi, 20 against Providence, and 27 against Kennesaw St. Pipkins was kind of hit-or-miss in conference play. When he struggles, he struggles a lot, but even if he’s not hitting on the offensive end of the floor, his lockdown defense will serve as an enormous asset whenever he’s on the court.
Surprisingly, Hines has been underutilized throughout his first 2 seasons as a Minuteman. He rarely saw 10 minutes of court time last season, but when he did, he had some big performances. Look at his 14 points ad 8 rebounds against Wagner as an example. He also had 15 points and 13 rebounds in a game against St. Bonaventure. The guy literally had a double-double in just 23 minutes on the court. It’d behoove Matt McCall to give Hines some more time in the paint. He crashes the glass on both ends of the floor, and his performance against the Bonnies in March is indicative of his potential. Massachusetts, from top-to-bottom, could have the best frontcourt in the A-10 next season; they just have to utilize that potential.
If your expectations aren’t sky-high for Rashaan Holloway, you need to do a double take. As a sophomore, Holloway played less than 20 minutes a game and still managed 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. Not to mention, he was a beast on defense with the 4th best block percentage in the conference. You have to hope that Matt McCall looks to utilize Holloway much more than Kellogg did: more paint touches for the big fella! The Atlantic 10 is going to be a guard-oriented league; lots of teams have gaps down low, meaning Rahsaan Holloway can absolutely go to work on freshman forwards in the paint. Massachusetts could exceed expectations if they look to give Holloway the ball as often as possible. I cannot stress this enough.
The only issue that arises is: who’s going to generate offense when Holloway gets double-teamed? Massachusetts needs to have outside shooters that can collect and knock down shots from the perimeter when Holloway gets extra help in the paint. That’s where Jaylen Brantley could emerge as a big-time threat.
Baldwin’s a guy that’s going to have to step up next season. As a sophomore, Baldwin is going to see a significant spike in playing time. Heck, he could even be a starter in Massachusetts’ frontcourt. Baldwin averaged 7 rebounds per game in his last 3 games of the season. Again, if Hines and Baldwin can reach their full potentials down low, then all of a sudden you’ve got a lethal frontcourt that runs 3 or 4 men deep. Not to mention, you could have a first team All-Conference player in Rashaan Holloway if things go as expected. Baldwin is a player I expect to make big jumps, but he’ll have to prove he can be efficient with more time on the floor.
Athletic, talented, and capable, McLean is ready to take the floor after redshirting last season. I expect the freshman to have significant time in this Massachusetts backcourt, especially with a limited number of active players on this roster. The Minutemen have 4 incoming transfers that have to sit out a year, meaning guys like McLean have more than enough opportunities to prove themselves. After having to sit out a disappointing 2016-17 season, I’m certain McLean is just itching to get out on the floor this season.
Pierre decided to forgo a prep year and commit to the Minutemen as a high school senior. He’ll be a young guy, but he brings plenty of talent and adds more depth to Massachusetts backcourt. Matt McCall came into this program and had to fill 7 scholarship spots. This was the last one, and I was really impressed at how quickly he was able to revitalize this roster. I like Carl Pierre, and I think he’s got the work ethic to be an impact player in a couple of seasons.
With an array of post moves and the ability to use his body to get positioning in the paint, 6-9, 245 pound Khalea-Morris is reason #4 that Massachusetts could have one of the best frontcourts in the league next season. While he’ll be playing behind Rashaan Holloway and company, he has the chance to be a crucial interior player as a freshman; something Chris Baldwin and Malik Hines didn’t have. Again, I really like the way Massachusetts’ big men are shaping out, and I think we’ll see this team be dominant inside all season long.
Home– UMass Lowell, Niagara, Western Carolina, Holy Cross, Providence, Georgia, Georgia St., Maine
Away– Harvard, Quinnipiac, South Carolina
Neutral– Minnesota, BYU
It’s been somewhat of a theme for these new A-10 coaches to load up on non-conference home games (see Keith Dambrot’s schedule at Duquesne). The logic follows though — generate interest early on, win some games, and get fans packed in the Mullins Center. Home games against Providence and Georgia will be big opportunities in Amherst in which the Minutemen will more than likely be underdogs. Neutral site games in the Barclay’s Center Classic against BYU and Minnesota present uphill battles but also chances to steal. Road games against Harvard and Quinnipiac could be trickier than you think, and South Carolina is a brutal team to play on the road (just look at Duke in last year’s NCAA Tournament). Bottom line: Massachusetts has its work cut out this year.
Home – Duquesne, George Washington, Saint Louis, VCU, Dayton, George Mason, La Salle, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s
Away– Davidson, Fordham, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Dayton, George Mason, La Salle, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s
Massachusetts isn’t going to like having to play Dayton and Rhode Island twice, and road games against St. Bonaventure and Davidson aren’t going to be very easy either. I don’t see Massachusetts beating Saint Louis or VCU at home, but at least they don’t have to go on the road for those games. Honestly, the Minutemen are going to struggle, and this schedule isn’t doing them that many favors. It could be worse though; at least they have two opportunities against beatable teams in George Mason and La Salle.
Non-Conference Record: 7-6
Conference Finish: 12th in A-10
Starting Lineup: Jaylen Brantley, LuWane Pipkins, C.J. Anderson, Chris Baldwin, Rashaan Holloway
X-Factor: Jaylen Brantley
Biggest Sleeper: Malik Hines
Most Improved: C.J. Anderson
MVP: Rashaan Holloway
Don’t get me wrong; I think Massachusetts has the opportunity to be a surprise team this year. I think they could finish as high as 6th or 7th depending on Matt McCall’s ability to piece together this program. However, I think Massachusetts is more equipped for a breakout season in 2018-19. This year, the Minutemen have 4 redshirt transfers chewing up scholarship spots. This roster does not run that deep, meaning new guys have to step up and all of a sudden be integral pieces to this program. Derek Kellogg ruined what was a very talented Massachusetts team last year. Unfortunately, a lot of those talented pieces have since departed; what is left though, can be coached to do something special. The Minutemen just have to prove it first.
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