Chaz Williams (AP photo)

UMass begins its season with wins over ACC and SEC programs

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AMHERST, Mass. – The UMass Minutemen have now kicked off its 2013-2014 season with a win over an ACC program and an SEC program.

The latest win came in the home opener in an exciting Tuesday morning game, as UMass survived LSU with a 92-90 win as part of the Tip-Off Marathon.

Cady Lalanne, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in Sunday’s win over Boston College, came up big in the second half with 16 points and six rebounds, all in the second half. Lalanne only logged four minutes in the first half after being hit with two of the first half’s 34 fouls.

“I just told him to keep his head,” UMass senior forward Raphiael Putney said. “Kept telling him, ‘You’re one of the best big men in the Atlantic 10,’ he just came out with a vengeance. He came out and did what he had to do.”

In the second half, Lalanne had twice gave UMass a boost during a run. He had the final two buckets in a 13-2 UMass run that gave the Minutemen a 60-47 lead to start the second half. He then had two more buckets, after Johnny O’Bryant picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes to play, that extended the lead to double digits once again.

“The first minutes of the second half he was tremendous, so we needed him to come back and battle with O’Bryant,” Putney said. “That’s what he did and he did a good job of it.”

Lalanne fouled out with 2:15 to play, and LSU made a run at a late-game comeback, cutting the lead to 88-85 with under 30 to play. However, UMass made the free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

LSU had struggles of its own on the frontline. O’Bryant landed his third foul late in the first half, and his fourth with 13 minutes to play before returning to the game eight minutes later. What was the more glaring issue occurred moments after the tip. Martin went to the bench with an ankle injury after a minute of action, having his only shot blocked by Raphiael Putney to begin the game.

Through two games, Chaz Williams is averaging 22.0 points and 6.0 assists per game. His play is expected given that he enters his senior season with big expectations, as not only one of the best players in the Atlantic 10, but one of the best point guards in the country.

The rest of UMass looks sharp. Sampson Carter looks a lot more comfortable this season, as opposed to last season when he was coming back from a hip injury. Tyler Bergantino and Maxie Esho have excelled in their roles off the bench while Derrick Gordon is still getting back into game form after sitting out last season due to transfer.

But Lalanne’s play to begin the season has been a huge bonus for the Minutemen becasue it gives UMass a strong inside presence to along with its talented back court. Yes, Lalanne put up big numbers against a smaller BC frontline and yes Martin played less than a minute for LSU on Tuesday, but these aren’t fluke games, according to his teammates.

“That’s Cady Lalanne being Cady Lalanne,” Williams said. “We practice with him, and all them days that’s Cady being Cady and the world hasn’t seen that. You know, us teammates, we tell him, ‘Go out and dominate every game and make the world realize that you are potentially one of the best big men in the country.’ And that’s what he’s trying to do.”

UMass has a tough non-conference schedule with games against Providence, and BYU still remaining. Starting off the season with two quality out-of-conference wins in a 48 hour span is a great start for sixth year head coach Derek Kellogg, who has a favorable conference schedule with home games against VCU, Saint Louis and La Salle.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?