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Vin Parise’s 30-second timeout: Five questions with Derek Kellogg

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Vin Parise from CollegeBasketballTalk caught up with UMass head coach Derek Kellogg, who sits at 6-0 this season with a win in the Charleston Classic.

CBT: If I would have looked into a crystal ball in October and told you that UMass would be Top 25 before Thanksgiving; would you have believed it?

Kellogg: I knew we had some strong pieces in place and we would be better but I am a little surprised, in a very good way, that we are playing this well so early. I knew Chaz Williams would be our leader, but our other guys have been just as great.

CBT: When did it hit home that you guys could be a really good basketball team?

Kellogg: When we beat #19 New Mexico, I started to look at this group a little different. The way we had our press going and the way we played offensively – I felt we had the ability to play a high level of basketball. I’d love to be able to bottle that up now for the rest of the season.

CBT: Well, let’s talk X’s & O’s. What’s been the key so far between the lines and what will UMass be known for this season?

Kellogg: It will always start with our full court pressure. When we are able to speed the game up and Chazz Williams is pressuring with his on-the-ball defense; we are really good. But our half court defense has been tremendous as well. We beat LSU this year by only pressing half the game because they run so well. I don’t know if last year we would have been able to play at two different speeds like that.

CBT: How about your balance? You have 6 guys that average between 7 and 17 points per game.

Kellogg: I love it. My biggest question at the start of the year was who do I start? We have a solid 7-8 man rotation. Depth wise, I’d love for one more guy to emerge so it becomes a 8-9 rotation. We’re about to play on the road as a ranked team so people will be gunning for us – we need that depth. We’re also going to see some zone in the next few games so it helps when you have some more options.

CBT: How special has this start been as an alum and how often do you talk to John Calipari?

Kellogg: Cal is the best. I’ve been his player and then later his friend – but he will always be a mentor to me. He’s so happy for me and UMass right now. He’s always one of my first 2-3 text messages after I get after a big win. For all the places he’s been, I feel Cal will always consider UMass home. I’m just so lucky to be at a place where I went to school, that I love so much and a place that is so passionate about their hoops. Hopefully we can keep it going.

Vin Parise is the College Basketball Insider for NBC Sports Network and SportsNet New York. He is also a contributor & analyst for ESPN3, MSG Network, Cox Sports New England, Fox Sports 1, The Providence Coaches Show, St. John’s Radio & Iona College Radio. He coached 8 seasons at FDU, Rutgers & Iona. Follow Vin on Twitter: @VinParise

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.