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.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.