Chaz Williams

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UMass gets commitment from Rivals 150 point guard Luwane Pipkins

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UMass reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years this past March. The Minutemen coaching staff is riding that momentum, cashing in Bogan (Ill.) 2015 point guard Luwane Pipkins, a three-star recruit, who committed to UMass on Tuesday night.

Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette first reported the news, confirmed by CBT‘s Scott Phillips.

The 5-foot-10 floor general is ranked as the No. 122 overall by Rivals, and is the first commit in UMass’ Class of 2015. He held offers from Bradley, DePaul, La Salle, Northern Illinois and Valparaiso.

Pipkins is a good fit for UMass on both sides of the ball. He is a tenacious on-the-ball defender and is an improved 3-point shooter. Playing with the loaded Mac Irvin Fire on the Nike EYBL circuit, Pipkins is connecting on 38 percent of his shots from beyond the arc through three games.

He was Mac Irvin Fire’s leading scorer at 19.7 points, along with 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, during Nike EYBL Session 1 in Sacramento.

While it’s natural to compare him to Chaz Williams, given that they are both under 6-feet, Pipkins will need to become more of a distributor to fit the mold. When he arrives in Amherst in the fall of 2015 he’ll join an experienced back court headlined by Derrick Gordon, Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds, who is eligible this upcoming season following his transfer from West Virginia.

Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview: Saint Louis-VCU rematch in Brooklyn?

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A season ago, the Atlantic 10 earned five bids on Selection Sunday. Those handful of teams all won at least one NCAA tournament game in 2013. Conference realignment stripped two of those teams from the league — Butler to the Big East and Temple to the American — but the A10 could actually get more teams bound for the tournament in 2014.

Despite losing the likes of Butler, Temple and Xavier while also seeing La Salle — which reached the Sweet 16 — struggle this season, the latest bracketology projections has the Atlantic 10 with six bids. Saint Louis and VCU have been strong as expected. UMass has been up-and-down but are bound for the tournament for the first time since 1998. George Washington, picked 10th in the preseason, finished third in the conference standings. Dayton still remains on right side of the bubble, possibly being the league’s sixth tournament-bound program.

We’ll find out by Sunday, the final day of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, if that becomes a reality.

Saint Louis, the regular season and reigning tournament champion, is the top seed, earning a double-bye along with VCU, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s as those three teams round out the top four seeds. Eyeing a run will be the Minutemen, Flyers and even Richmond, though that would require four wins in four days.

The Atlantic 10 should have one of the nation’s most entertaining tournaments, made more appealing by its setting: the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 12-16

*First round and quarterfinals can be seen on NBC Sports Network

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Final: March 16, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Saint Louis

The Billikens won 19 straight games after losing to undefeated Wichita State, but stumbled late in the season losing three straight. Saint Louis avoided a completely disastrous end to the regular season as Jordair Jett’s last-second layup helped the Billikens escape with a 64-62 win in Amherst over UMass, giving them the top seed. Saint Louis has an experienced club, which faced adversity through the years, led by Jett and Dwayne Evans.

And if they lose?: VCU

The Rams were the preseason favorite and started the year ranked in the top 10. VCU has won four straight to close out the season, including a win over Saint Louis a week after a narrow loss to the same team. Havoc has the league’s most efficient defense and is third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic combine for 28 points and 15 rebounds per game.

Other Contenders:

  • George Washington: The Colonials have certainly been a surprise this season. GW’s A10 tournament hopes improve if Kethan Savage, the team’s second leading scorer who has missed the past 12 games, can get back on the floor. Four of the Colonials’ five conference losses came with Savage, averaging 13.4 points per game, on the sideline.
  • Saint Joseph’s: Phil Martelli has four guys scoring in double figures. The Hawks can shoot the rock, the top 3-point shooting team in the Atlantic 10 at 38 percent.

Sleeper: UMass

Chaz Williams might be the best player in the entire conference. The Minutemen have some head-scratching conference losses, but they were the last team to beat VCU. UMass is the top scoring offense in the conference, but the loss to Saint Louis on Sunday kept the Minutemen from a double-bye. If they want to cut down the nets they’ll now need four wins in as many days.

Deeper Sleeper: Dayton

The Flyers are barely in the projected tournament field. In fact they could be getting a home game in the First Four. Dayton came on as an early surprise with an upset with over Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational. That was followed by a late-game collapse against Baylor the next day. In the last five weeks, Dayton has topped George Washington, UMass and Saint Louis. The Flyers have the ability to string together several upsets with this week, possessing one of the league’s top 3-point shooting teams and the A10’s most efficient defenses.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Jordair Jett, Saint LouisNot sure if enough people know about the Saint Louis guard. Jett is averaging 13.4 points and 4.7 assists per game. He’s also come up with some big plays in crucial moments for the Billikens.
  • Mo Creek, George Washington: The Indiana transfer is a huge reason why the Colonials are poised for their first tournament appearance since 2007. He’s averaging 14.6 points per game.
  • Langston Galloway, St. Joseph’s: One of the conference’s top scoring options at 17.0 points per game. He logs a lot of minutes (35.7) for the Hawks.
  • Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver, Dayton: The impact transfer and senior forward are the two leading scorers for Dayton, better than 12 a game for both. These two can shake up the A10 bracket this week.

CBT Prediction: VCU over Saint Louis

Best Atlantic 10 Tournament Memory:

Best moment? That’s a stretch. Craziest moment? That’s a definite.

Last season in the Atlantic 10 first round, Richmond led by three with 5.9 second left. The Spiders lost by five to Charlotte. The 49ers hit eight free throws in the final 4.7 seconds.

Late Night Snacks: UMass outruns VCU

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Game of the night: Massachusetts 80, VCU 75

During the Atlantic 10 media day, I spoke with Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg about his team’s three-point dependence. Since he arrived at UMass, Kellogg’s squads were content to jack a high percentages of threes, consistently posting a three-point attempts percentage in the mid-30s. After asking Kellogg whether this trend would continue for the sixth year, he stressed the team would ease their diet of long-range indulgence: “We need to be even more selective from three this year because of the level of play [in the conference].” Against VCU, the Minutemen attempted eight threes, but whiffed on all eight (as he explained in the post game presser, “Once we were 0 for 6, I told my guys to stop shooting 3s. I told them, ‘Why settle? Get to the free throw line'”), the first time since March 2006 that a UMass team has failed to hit a three. As he maintained during the preseason, though, UMass is now more offensively efficient because of their refusal to settle — the squad’s three-point attempts percentage is 25.6 percent, one of the nation’s lowest rates, and just 20 percent of their A10 points come from beyond the arc (compared with the percentage of points, 60 percent, within the three-point line). In the win versus the Rams, UMass both got to the line (20 of 27) and didn’t force their offense (48 percent), scoring .94 PPP against a team that prides itself on wreaking defensive havoc.

Important outcomes

Siena 67, Manhattan 63: If the Jaspers had made little more than half of 42 free throws they attempted versus Siena, Steve Masiello’s team would have secured the victory. The win is significant for two reasons: it muddies the top tier of the MAAC, as Manhattan is now third in conference play with two home games remaining; this is the biggest win for Jimmy Patsos at Siena, and since only ten other DI teams have less experience than this season’s squad, Siena should quickly ascend the MAAC rankings.

Florida Gulf Coast 75, Mercer 61
: Is FGCU ready to make another run? Similar to last year’s squad, the Eagles lost to Mercer in their first regular season match-up before winning the next game (and in the case of the 2013 team, also winning the third game, which was the conference tournament title). Defense is analogous to success for new coach Joe Dooley, and the Eagles strove to limit Mercer to one offensive possession at a time, corralling an impressive 34 defensive rebounds.

Iona 80, Rider 77: With under fifteen minutes remaining in the second half, Iona, thanks to a made three from Sean Armand, led Rider by thirteen points. A scant fourteen minutes later, that lead was cut to three, and the Gaels, rather than let an opportunity to put a game between itself and Manhattan slip away, was forced to desperately hold on to the win. Iona’s usual suspects — Sean Armand and A.J. English — had twenty point games, but the real star was Rider’s Jimmie Taylor, a guard who scored 13 straight points in the final minutes.

Starred
Travis Bader (Oakland)
The 6-foot-5 wing threw off the mental handcuffs Wright State had placed on him during Oakland’s recent loss, converting four of six threes and attempting twelve free throws in a win over UIC.

Jimmie Taylor (Rider)

A budding long-range star, Taylor scored 19 points overall in the loss, and was instrumental in Rider’s comeback.

Jamail Jones (Florida Gulf Coast)

Jones isn’t one to hang out on the interior all game and grab defensive rebounds — the wing has grabbed more than five defensive boards just a handful of occasions in 2014 — but his play on the glass (ten defensive rebounds) helped stymie Mercer’s offense.

Struggled
Briante Weber (VCU)
Weber, whose spent this season transitioning to VCU’s full-time, true point guard, hit a large speed bump, committed six turnovers.

Steven Spieth (Brown)
Referees ruled Spieth had foul a Maodo Lo by impeding his path to a loose rebound, and Lo, an 84 percent free throw shooter, made both attempts to break to tie and give Columbia a home win.


UIC’s offense

Oakland has always been known more for its offensive, and not defensive, schemes, but the former Summit League member limited UIC to just over one point per possession and only twelve two-point field goal makes.

Notables
-It’s possible to make both the struggled and notables list in the same night! When Briante Weber recorded three steals, he became the first Ram to surpass 100 steals in a single season. He is swiping five steals per 40 minutes, and since VCU still has four regular season games remaining (not including the A10 tourney and a possible postseason appearance), Weber should boost this record substantially.

UMass bounces back with a 90-52 Atlantic 10 win over Fordham (VIDEO)

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UMass, the No. 13 team in the nation, saw its late-game magic run out in a loss, on the road, against Richmond on Wednesday night. The Minutemen used come-from-behind wins against St. Joesph’s, St. Bonaventure and George Mason in three of the four games leading up to its matchup with the Spiders.

And on Sunday afternoon at home, UMass appeared to be off to another slow start with Fordham racing out to a 7-0 start, while the UMass offense shot 0-for-4 from the field with four early turnovers. However, UMass quickly regrouped. The Minutemen set the tempo, and used its height advantage to control the glass (43-31) to get back in the win column with a 90-52 victory over the Rams.

After allowing the first seven points of the day, the Minutemen went on a 24-5 run, which doubled up Fordham’s score. UMass entered the break with a 40-24 lead. Maxie Esho energized UMass when he came off the bench to score the first four points of the game — the first off an offensive rebound, followed by a dunk in transition.

From there Chaz Williams ran the show, scoring 14 of his 18 in the first, including four 3-pointers while dishing out eight assists on the afternoon, a brief afternoon at that. All 11 UMass players scored including Raphiael Putney with 13 with Trey Davis and Esho scoring 13 and 10, respectively, off the bench.

UMass refused to take its foot off the gas to start the second half, going on a 17-0 run in the first four-plus minutes to stretch its lead from 16 to 33.

Jon Severe began the game with an open 3-pointer. Other than a transition dunk, that was the only good look he got in the first half. UMass swarmed him, and the entire Rams offense, allowing a 32 percent shooting on the afternoon. The Rams was limited to 6-of-27 from beyond the arc (four of which came with Fordham down 30-plus). Severe ended 2-of-14 for seven points. Chris Whithead had 13 points, followed by Branden Frazier with a dozen.

UMass head coach Derek Kellogg opened up his rotation on Sunday afternoon with Clyde Santee, Seth Berger and Demetrius Dyson all seeing action in the first half along with regular reserves Esho, Davis and Tyler Bergantino. The expanded rotation is an effort to reduce the mileage on UMass’ core contributors as well as a way to develop some younger talent.

The Minutemen have been in some fights this season in conference so far, and they’ll need their starters and bench guys at full strength as the Atlantic 10 season progresses with VCU and Saint Louis still needing to make the trek up to Amherst while UMass also has a date with George Washington in the Nation’s Capitol for a good road test.

Kendall Anthony, perimeter defense result in Richmond beating No. 12 UMass

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No. 12 UMass had seemingly made a habit of digging themselves a hole in the first half, only to find a way to climb out of it in the second half. In each of their three Atlantic 10 victories ahead of Wednesday’s game at Richmond the Minutemen trailed in the second half, with Chaz Williams and company doing just enough to escape unblemished.

That wasn’t the case against the Spiders, who rode a 21-point night from Kendall Anthony to a 58-55 victory at the Robins Center. On a night that saw many of the players on both teams struggle offensively Anthony had no such issues, shooting 8-for-14 from the field and making four of his six attempts from beyond the arc.

UMass had a chance to send the game into overtime but Chaz Williams’ three-pointer went long, capping a night that had some things in common with their loss to Florida State in December.

Just as they did against Florida State (1-for-15 3PT), UMass struggled from deep against Richmond as they shot 2-for-14. Entering the game UMass ranked third in the Atlantic 10 in three-point percentage, and while they may not rely on the shot for a high percentage of their points (just under 21% of their points were scored on three-pointers, 12th in the Atlantic 10) the Minutemen need to hit the shots they take in order to keep opponents honest. When that occurs the driving lanes remain open for Williams, making him an even tougher player to corral.

That didn’t happen against Richmond, which was able to slow down that Gordon/Williams tandem as a result. Gordon and Williams combined to score just 15 points on 4-for-17 shooting, with Williams shooting 2-for-11 and turning the ball over four times to go along with his seven assists. Against Florida State, the senior shot 4-for-14 from the field and turned the ball over four times.

The approach teams need to take in order to slow down UMass has been known for quite some time, with the most important objective being to slow down Williams, but given his skill that a task far easier said than done. The Richmond guards were successful in doing so, and Chris Mooney’s team picked up another quality win as a result.

Thrilling comeback from No. 16 UMass erases another subpar performance

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At what point do we start to get concerned about No. 16 UMass?

The Minutemen went down to Fairfax, VA, tonight and knocked off George Mason, 88-87, in a thrilling, come-from-behind win.

UMass was trailing for much of the second half, but Chaz Williams made every play in the final minute, leading UMass back from five down with 41.3 seconds left. He forced a turnover with 10 seconds left, missing a layup that was put back in by Derrick Gordon to give UMass the win. All told, Mason turned the ball over three times in the last 30 seconds of the game. That’s not how you will close out upsets over top 25 teams.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened for UMass this season, however. Nine of the 16 games that they’ve played this season have been decided by less than eight points, and the Minutemen are 8-1 in those nine games. That’s good a thing. Winning is a skill. Having the confidence and mental toughness to execute in the most pressure-packed possessions is not an easy thing to do, and UMass has proven that they can do just that.

The teams they are struggling to beat aren’t exactly Final Four contenders, however: Clemson, Nebraska, LSU, Providence, Miami (OH), St. Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure, George Mason.

The only real contender to make the NCAA tournament out of that group is Florida State, who just so happens to be the only team to have knocked off UMass this season.

Chaz Williams is awesome. He had 26 points, eight assists and five steals on Wednesday. UMass has length and athleticism along their front line that would make Kentucky blush. Derrick Gordon has turned into a nice secondary scorer. On paper, they look awesome. Their record does, too.

So why are they struggling to beat teams they shouldn’t be struggling to beat?