As we mentioned when conference play began, it was going to be a bit of a bumpy ride through the A10 this year, but alas we find ourselves amid the ever-enjoyable two-day break with a win to satisfy the cravings. The Flyers are coming off easily their biggest win of the year against a talented St Bonaventure team, (that is now left with little room for error over their last 16 games) and in come the Minutemen of Amherst, Massachusetts for a familiar Saturday matinee. It’s still hard to believe the newest version of the Dayton Flyers has yet to win back-to-back games, but Saturday will give them their juiciest opportunity yet, as UMass brings their bones in from the cold after a Wednesday night loss in OT to George Mason.
Also, we mentioned the A10 was going to be a fridge full of spoiled milk all season: We are two games into the conference season and TWO teams are undefeated, with one of them being Duquesne…We forgot to mention the ground beef that was left unwrapped and sitting in the back of the fridge since summertime. Sorry.
UMass comes in led by first year coach Matt McCall, who the Minutemen were able to scoop up from Chattanooga in the offseason after the Mocs went 29-6 in his second season and made The Big Dance. What you may or may not remember however is HOW UMass happened upon young Mr. McCall. In late March, UMass was conducting a similar coaching search to UD, after firing long-time head coach, and alum, Derek Kellogg. It was announced through every basketball channel imaginable that UMass had decided to offer the job to Pat Kelsey, the head coach of Winthrop.
You may remember Pat Kelsey as the assistant who left Xavier after a player slept with his wife. (Isn’t College basketball just the darndest?) ANYWAYS, Pat Kelsey and UMass Athletic Director, Ryan Bamford, were set to have a press conference just like any other coaching signing: in the home arena with media and key boosters present to ask initial questions. 35 Minutes before the press conference, AD Bamford gets a call on his cell, it’s Pat Kelsey, and he’s not taking the job. Immediately media are stopped from being let in the Mullins Center, people around campus are told the press conference has been cancelled and bedlam ensues. Pat Kelsey pulled an “Urban Meyer” citing “personal reasons” which I would have to imagine is a short way of saying his wife wasn’t too crazy about moving from the comfy Charlotte suburbs to Western Massachusetts. I linked another article about Kelsey’s contract details here.
Two weeks later, enter Matt McCall stage left.
McCall has impressed me so far as a hire for UMass and seems like a guy who has immediately inherited the program as his own under a new AD and told to put the pace car out for the bandwagon to follow. We actually have UMass to thank for Jalen Crutcher, and I’m sure he will have a few friendly moments with McCall on Saturday, as Crutcher was committed to McCall and Chattanooga before he left for Amherst and Jalen eventually landed at the old U of D. McCall left Chattanooga after two seasons, going 48-18 and making the tournament last season, bowing out in the first round.
His UMass Minutemen have been sitting shotgun for the same bumpy ride thus far as your Dayton Flyers, starting 7-8, including being one of only two teams to start A10 play winless at 0-2. With the George Mason loss I mentioned above, the Minutemen also got thrashed on A10 opening night by the Bonnies, to the tune of 98-78. Their non-conference slate was highlighted by wins at home against Georgia as well as Providence, but also featured ugly, unforgivable losses to Harvard, Quinnipiac and Georgia State (UD was THIS close).
After recording my podcast with the UMass diehards earlier this week, they summed up the team like this:
UMass has a few guys who can single-handedly take over games for meaningful stretches, but struggles to do it consistently. They generally play pretty good team defense and are a surprisingly good 3pt shooting team overall, getting 37% of their points from beyond the arc, top 100 in the country. With that said, they have zero backcourt depth and only one legitimate ball handler, which leads to lots of turnovers and some frustrating sets in the half court. (hey! We know what that feels like!) The general lack of depth on the UMass roster means that if Pipkins or Holloway get in foul trouble early, the shit can get stinky, fast. Our bench guys are hit or miss, no one resembling a pure point guard on the roster, but McCall has the team playing the right way and expects these bruises throughout the season. They’re young, they’re learning, we just want to see improvement, which isn’t really all that much to ask after finishing 12th in the conference last year at 4-14.
Luwane Pipkins is the straw that stirs the drink for the Minutemen. Currently the fifth leading scorer in the conference at 18 PPG, Pip is a guy who can get it done in a multitude of ways. In his 34 minutes/gm this season he has shot 41% from the field on 14 shots per game, 39% from 3 and usually will chip in a few rebounds and assists for a well-rounded, honest day’s work. Speaking of honest day’s work, it got around the conference last year during Pipkins freshman campaign that he was often “the smelliest dude on the court” who admittedly did not like to shower much, sometimes going 2-3 weeks at a time without a proper rinse. While this would totally account for the scoring Pipkins has been doing lately, let’s hope our Flyers plug their noses and stay at work on defense. Guys will do anything to boost their draft status, and I guess not showering, hoping defenses gag while guarding you is certainly one way to do it, just not the route I would’ve chosen.
The man who endures that stench alongside Pipkins in the backcourt is CJ Anderson. Anderson is the closest thing UMass has to a real point guard, averaging 5.8 assists/gm, good enough for 2nd in the conference right now. In his senior season now, Anderson is averaging 8.6 pts/gm, but his 34% from the floor isn’t really striking fear into the heart of defenses. He has one game over 12 points this year – a 23-point effort in a loss to Quinnipiac. He’s more concerned with pushing the ball around than actually putting it in the hoop. These types of dudes are necessary on every hoops team.
Rashaan Holloway is starting to transcend into “He’s been around forever” territory, and still has another year to go after this one in Amherst. The big hefty is still tipping the scales over 300-large, and still can be seen before most games, home or away, stealing food from the media room. When he’s in the game, he’s a force down low, as one would imagine from a fella who’s 310lbs. However, as you could also imagine from a fella over 300lbs; he gets in foul trouble A LOT. Consequently, he averages 24 minutes a game, but still averages damn near double digits every night. He is currently second in the conference in FG % behind Dayton’s very own, Josh Cunningham.
After those three, the contributions from Carl Pierre, Malik Hines, Ryshawn Miller and Unique (Unique?) McLean are basically interchangeable. All 4 averages between 20-25 minutes a game, they’re all going to give you somewhere between 5-12 points each, and Hines is seemingly the only one with an interest in rebounding from night to night. Carl Pierre is a Freshman that Umass was able to swipe up after McCall got on campus late in April, he’s been a threat from 3 but rarely from anywhere else. Hines rounds out the normal starting lineup for the Amherst Millitia. In his third year he’s gotten more burn each season and making the most of his opportunities this year, averaging 7.9pts and 6.3reb per game.
I feel like I should do more talking about Unique McLean, for obvious reasons, but the recon is running long and I don’t normally do these and there’s more information to digest than I first thought. I left out Chris Baldwin, he comes in off the bench, he might do stuff, you won’t remember him anyways so we’re moving on!
I’d expect a low-scoring, sloppy effort. Got the Flyers in a close one, 67-62. UD gets over the schneid, moves to 8-7 on the season (2-1 in the league).
The Arena has been damn quiet all year, there’s no excuse Saturday. Be LOWD or stay home.
The LOWD ambassador of Chicago, Sully has spent his life tirelessly watching UD hoops. Welcomer of all takes, hot and cold.