Prior to the start of the season many felt that Derek Kellogg’s UMass Minutemen had the ability to contend in the Atlantic 10. After winning the Charleston Classic and picking up quality non-conference victories over the likes of LSU and BYU, the bar has been raise for this experienced group led by one of college basketball’s most electrifying players in senior point guard Chaz Williams.
On Saturday afternoon the 22nd-ranked Minutemen moved to 9-0 on the season with an 80-54 win over Northern Illinois, with this being the best start to a season for UMass since 1995-96 (that team won its first 26 games and reached the Final Four). Center Cady Lalanne led five players in double figures with 17 points to go along with five rebounds, and Williams dished out seven assists to go along with his 12 points. The starting lineup doesn’t lack for either talent or experience, and against the Huskies the UMass bench was productive as well.
Guard Trey Davis finished the game with six assists, forward Maxie Esho scored 12 points and the seldom-used Clyde Santee racked up 13 points in six minutes of action. Davis and Esho are already part of the UMass rotation, but can Santee use Saturday’s late-game performance as a catalyst and earn more minutes as the start of Atlantic 10 play approaches?
That may be unlikely, especially when considering the fact that he’d played just three minutes all season before Saturday. Kellogg has entrusted starters Williams and Derrick Gordon and the reserve Davis with the majority of the backcourt minutes, and that will likely remain the case.
Rutgers has struggled to achieve success on the floor the last few years and head coach Eddie Jordan is hoping that some talented newcomers can help start a turnaround. With the start of practice, local media saw some of the Scarlet Knights’ early practice and Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press noted that the duo of freshman point guard Corey Sanders and junior college forward Deshawn Freeman were getting a lot of burn together.
With both incoming players being four-star prospects, it’s hardly a surprise that Jordan would see what the two were capable of. According to Carino, it meant a lot of Sanders driving and forcing the defense to collapse before finding Freeman.
“It seems like coach always has us on the same team,” Freeman said to Carino. “Ever since we’ve gotten here, he’s trying to get us to play together.”
Carino also notes that since Rutgers is deeper, longer and more athletic in general this season, the team could do more with a pressing defense to help create turnovers.
While Rutgers still faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten, they at least have some exciting pieces that will be in place for a few seasons.
LSU football and Leonard Fournette are off to a strong start this fall, but the beginning of October also means that college hoops is right around the corner. If you’re a Tigers basketball fan, you also have plenty to be excited about on the hardwood this season with the arrival of a loaded freshman class headlined by forward Ben Simmons.
While the versatile Simmons has solidified a spot in the starting lineup for next season, it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Johnny Jones uses the rest of his talented freshmen. In a story from Sheldon Mickles of the New Orleans Advocate, he looks into some potential LSU starting lineups.
Freshman guard Antonio Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American with Simmons, is also expected to start, but does another talented freshman guard, Brandon Sampson get a shot to start? And what of Arizona transfer Craig Victor when he’s eligible to play in December?
Mickles believes the early favorite for starting lineup is guards Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Blakeney, Simmons and center Darcy Malone. When Victor returns, Mickles said Victor could push Simmons into the “center” position, which would be a matchup nightmare on the opposition because Simmons would be very tough for many college centers to defend.
Sampson also gets a mention from Mickles of having the potential to start down the line. Overall, a good problem to have for Jones and he’ll have to experiment to see which lineups are giving him the most. Having a productive starting five is nice, but I’m sure Jones would love to find the five players he wants to close with.