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StLouHoo's Preview:

A Battle with the Minutemen

Massachusetts Minutemen

The Hoos hit the road in search of their 7th straight holiday tournament title. First up is an undefeated A-10 program playing less than a 2-hour bus ride from their home court. Is UVA ready for its first neutral court clash of the season?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, November 23rd, 12:00 am ET
Location:Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT
TV:ESPNews

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:
Torvik:Ranks UMass #191, predicts a 64-50 UVA win, 95% confidence
KenPom:Ranks UMass #178, predicts a 66-49 UVA win, 94% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#10 Sean East II, 6'3" 185, FR
30.6 mpg, 13.4 ppg, 6.8 apg, 45.5 3P%
SG#4 Keon Clergeot, 6'1" 185, JR
23.4 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 2.2 apg, 36.4 3P%
SF#12 Carl Pierre, 6'4" 190, JR
30.2 mpg, 13.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 44.4 FG%
PF#5 Samba Diallo, 6'7" 195, SO
27.4 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 56.7 FG%
C#33 Tre Mitchell, 6'9" 240, FR
25.4 mpg, 12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 49.0 FG%
Key Reserves
G#23 T.J. Weeks, 6'4" 185, FR
24.4 mpg, 14.8 ppg, 0.4 apg, 63.0 3P%
F#2 Preston Santos, 6'6" 180, FR
13.0 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 63.6 FG%
C#11 Djery Baptiste, 6'10" 245, SR
14.8 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 44.4 FG%

 

The ABC's of Massachusetts:

A) This is an incredibly young team. The Minutemen had a ton of turnover from last year, most of it not good. In addition to the graduation of center Rashaan Holloway, the Minutemen saw three of their top five projected returners and three additional role players (six total) transfer out of the program. Those defections included leading scorer Luwane Pipkins to Providence, forward Jonathan Laurent (9.5 ppg) to Oklahoma State, and guard Curtis Cobb (8.4 ppg) to Wagner.

In their place, coach Matt McCall has had to play seven true freshmen. Seven. Two are starting, and another two are part of their core 8-man rotation. That foursome includes their two leading scorers (Weeks and East) and their starting center (4-star Tre Mitchell). (Unfortunately two others, John Buggs and Kolton Mitchell, have already been shut down with injury.) KenPom ranks them 343rd nationally in experience. They've acquitted themselves very well, scoring effectively and leading the team to a 5-0 start, but at some point that youth is going to manifest. There is only one senior on the team, transfer big man Djery Baptiste.

B) They're scorching hot from 3. Through five games, UMass is 13th in the nation in 3-point percentage at a collective 43%. They like the deep ball too, taking 41% of their shots from behind the arc, which is in the top 3rd of D-1 teams. It's powering a high-scoring offense that has hit at least 79 points in four of their first five games. And the shooting threat is balanced, with East, Weeks, Pierre, and even big man Mitchell all hitting at 40% or better. This is the best-shooting team we've faced this year, and after Anthony Lamb found a way to shoot 7-of-14 on 3's this past week, it has to be a focus area for the UVA defense.

C) They've let opponents do damage at the rim. UMass' allowed 2P% through five games is a respectable 45.5%, which is 113th nationally. With that said, they haven't really faced a murderer's row of offenses, only Northeastern has a top-half offense per KenPom. And there are some performances that stand out from their opponents' box scores. Fairfield wing Jesus Cruz got into the lane went 6 of 9 in close on his way to 14 points. Northeastern big man Thomas Murphy posted up for 18 points on 12 shots in the paint. Central Connecticut wing Greg Outlaw went 6/12 in the lane for 12 points, and Rider center Tyere Marshall scored a whopping 28 points on 11-17 2-point shooting and a lot of drawn free throws. UMass freshman center Mitchell is showing up on offense so far in his young career, but there's every reason to suggest Huff and Diakite can have some success against him on the other end.

 

Their Season To Date

UMass is 5-0 on the year so far. Its best win is at home over KenPom #118 Northeastern of the CAA. It has played just one game away from home so far, a 62-60 road win at KP #276 Fairfield. Most recently they scored an 82-72 home win over Rider.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Kill them on the glass, both ends. UMass platoons two true big men, Mitchell and Baptiste, at the 5 spot. Both are solid on the defensive glass, but the rest of the club has struggled to keep opponents off it. The Minutemen are 275th nationally in defensive rebounding, allowing foes to recover nearly 1 out of every 3 misses, and none of those teams had a big man trio like Key/Diakite/Huff, each of whom is O-Rebounding north of 8% (that's good). On the defensive glass, UVA needs to play like it ought to, as UMass is already a pretty subpar offensive rebounding team while Virginia sits at 26th nationally in defensive rebounding rate. If the final rebounding numbers don't skew heavily in UVA's favor, we'll know something went wrong.

2) Shut down East. Point guard Sean East has been a revelation for UMass. He was a total unknown when he committed to coach McCall just this April, unranked and unrated by all the major services. But he's had no problems playing on the big stage right out of the gate, not just scoring the ball (13.4 ppg on an excellent 65% TS%), but running the offense as well. He's serving up 6.8 assists a game against only 1.4 turnovers, a nearly 5:1 A:TO ratio. Clark and Morsell will need to lock him up and prevent him from effectively captaining the Minutemen attack.

3) Protect the ball. UMass is a pretty mediocre defensive team, but one statistical category pops off the page in their favor, and that's turnover generation. They're 58th in the nation in forcing turnovers, 23.2% of possessions. They're even better with live-ball steals, 12.9% which is 35th nationally. Guards East, Weeks, and Clergeot are all ball hawks and will look to see if they can't pressure our young, inexperienced backcourt into careless turnovers, preferably those that they can promptly take to the bank in transition before the Pack Line gets established.

 

 

Predictions:

Back when I first looked at UMass over the offseason, this looked like a fairly routine warm-up. With the amount of turnover they faced, leaning so heavily on a large crop of unheralded true freshmen, this seemed like a team that even a reloading UVA shouldn't have to sweat. But credit where it's due, UMass has really impressed out of the game this season, and when your freshmen rotation players can run a clean offense and knock down a high percentage of 3's, you're in a good position to win some games.

Couple that with the fact that UMass is the relative home team at this neutral event, and there's some potential for this to be an interesting game. But as well as they've played, at the end of the day this is four freshmen (including a PG) going against Tony Bennett's pack line for the first time ever. Expect UMass to gun away and even hit some big shots, but their offense to struggle to do enough to keep up with a UVA offense that finds some consistent rhythm playing its newfound brand of inside-out offense. Maybe the UVA guards even hit a few 3's to provide some insurance.

Hoos Win 62-52