In looking at the first month of the 2013-14 season, it’s difficult to find too many teams who have enjoyed a better start to the season than the UMass Minutemen. Picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10, Derek Kellogg’s team is off to a 6-0 start with five of those wins coming against programs in “power” conferences. The sixth victory came on Sunday night in the title game of the Charleston Classic, as the Minutemen beat Clemson 62-56, and to this point in the season UMass has put together a resume that could benefit them come Selection Sunday.
6-foot-10 junior center Cady Lalanne put together another excellent performance against the Tigers, scoring 20 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking four shots to lead the way for UMass. In six games Lalanne, who averaged 8.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore, has four double-doubles and is averaging 17.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks on the season. To say that Lalanne, who tallied six double-doubles all of last season, has improved by leaps and bounds would be an understatement.
UMass has talent on the perimeter and on the wings, with point guard Chaz Williams running the show and Derrick Gordon, Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney rounding out the starting lineup. But for the Minutemen to contend in the Atlantic 10 and have a shot at ending the program’s NCAA tournament drought (UMass hasn’t reached the Big Dance since 1998), UMass needed Lalanne to take steps towards being one of the Atlantic 10’s best big men. Through six games, it certainly looks as if Lalanne’s done so.
This should be seen as a productive weekend for Clemson as well, with Rod Hall leading the Tigers on Sunday night with 16 points. One important development for the Tigers going forward could be the play of Devin Coleman in the title game. Entering Sunday the freshman played a total of 20 minutes in five games but against UMass Coleman took full advantage of the opportunity, scoring ten points in seven minutes of action. Clemson isn’t going to win many shootouts this season, but they’ve got the ability to make things difficult on teams in the ACC.
The expectations were higher for UMass entering the season, and these six games show that to expect an NCAA tournament bid out of this group is well within reason. But for a program that hasn’t experienced that level of success for quite some time, the question to be answered is how the Minutemen will deal with raised expectations. If UMass can do that, there should be little doubt that they can contend for the Atlantic 10 title.