Much-improved Cady Lalanne leads UMass to Charleston Classic crown

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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.

Sun Belt approves new scheduling format

Sun Belt Conference
Sun Belt Conference
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With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.

And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.

Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.

Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.

Former Wichita State assistant returns as a consultant

Chris Jans, Gregg Marshall
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Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.

Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.

“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”

While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.