UMass had the look of a team capable of challenging for a bid to the NCAA tournament until January 10, when junior guard Jesse Morgan was lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL in a road loss to Saint Louis.
According to Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette that may be the last time the Philadelphia native suits up for the Minutemen, as Morgan was reportedly forced to withdraw voluntarily from the school for disciplinary reasons.
According to Vautour’s report, the decision stems from an undisclosed incident that resulted in Morgan being suspended for UMass’ November 3 exhibition against American International.
Morgan returned to the floor following the suspension and was a key cog in the attack for Derek Kellogg, averaging 13.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.
Morgan combined with electric point guard Chaz Williams to form one of the Atlantic 10’s best perimeter tandems, but that all changed when he injured his knee just minutes into UMass’ conference opener against Saint Louis.
UMass finished the 2012-13 season with a record of 21 wins and 12 losses (9-7 Atlantic 10), falling just short of their goal to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. The Minutemen dropped their Postseason NIT opener against Stony Brook.
UMass has to account for the loss of four key contributors from last season: guards Morgan and Freddie Riley (8.8 ppg) and forwards Sampson Carter (6.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Terrell Vinson (12.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg). Also there’s a chance that wing Javorn Farrell, who did not play last season due to an ankle injury, may look to finish his career at another school (Farrell has graduated and would be eligible immediately).
But the Minutemen will still have talent on the perimeter due to the return of Williams and the addition of Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon. Gordon was one of the Sun Belt’s best newcomers in his one season at WKU, playing an instrumental role in the Hilltoppers’ surprising run to the 2012 Sun Belt tournament crown.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
Michigan State has climbed on the back of star senior wing Denzel Valentine early in the season but they’ll undoubtedly need more help as the season goes on if they want to sustain their current top-5 ranking. One of the keys to the Spartans could be the on-going health of sophomore point guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, who is battling a foot injury.
According to a report from Kyle Austin of MLive.com, Nairn has been putting on a protective boot the last few months to help battle plantar fasciitis as the guard has been playing in practices and hasn’t had his minutes reduced in games.
The injury looked like it was hurting Nairn’s early-season play, but he’s been very good in two games at the Wooden Legacy in California this week, so it could be that he’s getting more used to playing through the pain of the injury.
If Nairn is healthy and capable of contributing, he’s a huge boost to Michigan State because he’s one of the fastest players in college basketball and an additional ball handler on the floor. Through six games so far this season, Nairn is averaging 5.3 points and 4.7 assists per game as he’s been one of the team’s best distributors.
Plantar fasciitis can be a tough injury to fight through, so we’ll have to see if this affects Nairn as the season goes along.
GAME OF THE DAY: George Washington vs. No. 24 Cincinnati, 1:30 p.m.
Two 6-0 teams clash at the Barclays Center in what could be an important game for NCAA tournament resumes of both teams. The Bearcats picked up their most legitimate win over Nebraska, but the Colonials pose as a more real threat after they beat Virginia at home earlier this season. Cincinnati hasn’t shot the ball well in recent wins, but they’re beating up opponents on the glass and the defense has been solid. George Washington is coming off of a win over Tennessee in which they held off the Volunteers in the second half. The Colonials have lost 20 of their last 23 against ranked opponents, but another win over a top team would look great for them going forward.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 4 Iowa State vs. Illinois, 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
This game is apart of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida as the Illini could desperately use a win after a 3-3 start. Illinois head coach John Groce and his team are feeling the pressure for a big win on a neutral site after falling to North Florida, Providence and Chattanooga earlier in the season. The No. 4 Cyclones easily dispatched Virginia Tech earlier in the event and have found a nice balance on offense with the emergence of senior big man Jameel McKay inside.
SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- N0. 2 Maryland has struggled to put away teams early at times this season and they’ll try to change that behavior when they host Cleveland State.
- Staying in the Big Ten, No. 16 Purdue hosts Lehigh. With a game at Pitt and against New Mexico looming, could this be a trap game for the Boilers?
- Nebraska and Tennessee take the floor in consolation action at the Barclays Center. The Huskers need someone besides Shavon Shields and Andrew White to step up in the scoring column while Tennessee is getting huge numbers from senior guard Kevin Punter.
- Two 4-0 teams will meet in Brooklyn as Louisville takes on Saint Louis (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Neither team has faced a significant test this season and this is the Cardinals’ first game away from home.
- An intriguing night game to keep an eye on is Belmont traveling to BYU (8:00 p.m.). The Bruins are as well-coached as any team in the country and forward Evan Bradds has been playing great ball to start the season. The Cougars don’t have a high scorer like they did in the past, but Kyle Collinsworth is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor and BYU has a lot of weapons around him.
- UAB and Virginia Tech battle in one of the more intriguing consolation games of the Emerald Coast Classic. Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses but have a shot to make things better on the trip with a solid win on Saturday.
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
- Bryant at Georgetown, 11:00 a.m. (FS2)
- Bucknell at Penn State , 12:00 p.m.
- Tennessee-Martin vs. Mississippi State, 12:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
- Ole Miss at Bradley, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Old Dominion at VCU, 3:00 p.m.
- Hawaii at Texas Tech, 3:00 p.m.
- Kent State at Pitt, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- SIU-Edwardsville at Butler, 4:00 p.m.
- Georgia at Seton Hall, 6:30 p.m.
- Western Illinois at Creigton, 7:00 p.m.
- Colorado State vs UTEP, 7:30 p.m.