The “big” news coming down the pike earlier today was the expected announcement of Dirt Road Johnson’s imminent departure from Dayton University:
By my count this is going to be the third or fourth comeback for Mr. Johnson? Hopefully this will be the one that takes! (Also, this dude claims he is suffering lingering effects from a bout of mono he had back in August? Was his doctor prescribing leeches for treatment?? What the hell is going on here?)
Whether or not you believed that Dirt Road was suffering from “post concussive stress syndrome” (and, in addition, you accept the fact that he left the program literally at the last possible moment before classes restarted on Monday as pure coincidence) or not, it really doesn’t matter. While he was a big body that could have been useful during the doldrums of the A10 season, his absence, I can assure you, will not be missed. He now joins the list of players such as Detwon Rogers, Ryan Bass and Matej Svoboda — common answers in everyone’s favorite Ghetto parlor game, “What was that fucking guy’s name?” Godspeed, Chase Johnson, we hardly knew ye.
Moving on, we got a nice tip time for you early risers tomorrow, a 12:30pm starting time against the UMass Minutemen. The league home-opener is always a festive time to get LOWD with your closest buds and best girl!
First thing I will tell you is that the Minutemen are young, like “keep them away from Joe Biden” young. Matt McCall has had to completely destroy the beast that was the 2018-19 UMass basketball team just to maintain a sense of semblance. It’s a zen thing. Everyone you see in a Minutemen uniform will be back next season, certainly something for the UMass fan base to be excited about. McCall brought in a stellar freshman class to Amherst, led by 6’9″ Tre Mitchell. Mitchell (14.7 ppg/6.2 rpg) was the highest-ranked incoming recruit in the Atlantic Ten and has lived up to his billing so far this season, leading the team in scoring and ranking a close second in rebounding.
Unfortunately for McCall, he had to shut down freshman guard T.J. Weeks for the remainder of the season due to a nagging hernia. Weeks was averaging around fifteen points per game and connecting on half of his three-point attempts. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, Weeks’ early departure is a huge loss for this emerging UMass squad. Carl Pierre (14.5 ppg/41% 3fg) is still hanging around Amherst (somehow he is only a junior??), continuing to do a little bit of everything on the floor. Freshman guard Sean East (12.0 ppg/5.1 apg) is another promising player for Massachusetts, an athletic kid from Louisville with a solid perimeter stroke. While it seems inappropriate to point to next year during the inception of January, UMass fans have every reason to be encouraged. The team will be young, yet experienced, and have the much needed depth to run McCall’s system suitably on both ends of the floor. Weeks, Mitchell, East and Pierre might be the most formidable foursome in the conference next season. It appears the groundwork is being laid for a Massachusetts basketball resurrection.
It is Massachusetts’ coach Matt McCall’s third season at the helm, and seemingly the third season where Minutemen fans need to look to the future for better days. UMass have had inexperienced teams during McCall’s entire tenure, with his team’s having an average experience of 1.46 years in his first season and a somehow lower 1.40 during his second year in KenPom’s experience metric. The Minutemen seemingly hit the reset button again this year, with another young team, an average experience of just 0.96 years. If you are constantly rebuilding, it becomes easier to explain away 11-21 records I suppose.
The Minutemen may be a young team, but those kids are not shy when it comes to shooting it from three. UMass have hit 36.5% of their attempts from deep, which ranks them 52nd among D1 teams. Not only does UMass shoot the ball from the perimeter at a decent clip, they aren’t afraid to let it fly either, with 41.3% of their field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc and have averaged 1.09 points per shot on those attempts. Most of UMass’ success on offense seems dependent on those perimeter shots falling though, as they are only making 48.2% of their two point field goals coming into tomorrow’s contest.
It is not as if shots inside the perimeter are constantly being blocked by UMass’ opponents, with only a 7% block rate on offense. Additionally, their shot selection isn’t anything your favorite analytics nerd would oppose, with plenty of threes and attempts at the rim and not an overload of mid range shots. It seems this young UMass team just isn’t great at finishing at the rim right now, averaging 1.14 points per shot near the basket. It might not be fair to compare that figure to the Flyers bloated 1.41 points per shot at the rim, but with the A10 league average for these shots at 1.18 points per shot, UMass can sometimes struggle to score at the basket even in comparison to other conference foes.
With all that said, the young Minutemen has been competent on offense overall this season, with a 101.7 KenPom offensive efficiency. On the other side of the ball is where UMass’ youth seems more apparent. UMass’ has a KenPom defensive efficiency of 102.5, which puts them 214th among D1 teams. Yet, there are some metrics that suggest the Minutemen have the potential to be strong defensively. They have forced their opponents to turn the ball over on 22.4% of their possessions this season, 47th best in the country. They also do well limiting opponents in taking shots from the perimeter, allowing their opponents to take threes on just 31.1% of their field goal attempts. Massachusetts opponents have also not shot the ball well from deep, only hitting 29.4% of their attempts.
While UMass have done well forcing opponents off the three-point line, the metrics suggest they could be selling out to stop the three only to lay a red carpet leading to the rim. 50.5% of their opponent’s field goal attempts have come at the rim, where they are scoring, on average, 1.19 points per shot. On shots their opponents have missed, UMass has struggled to wrangle in rebounds, with their opposition getting to an impressive 32.8% of offensive rebound opportunities—ranking the Minutemen 323rd in the nation. Not great. A team that struggles preventing opponents getting to the rim and struggles to prevent offensive rebounding? Pencil Jablo in now for 834 retweets and 2,748 likes on Obi Toppin dunk and put-back videos tomorrow afternoon.
Not only are Massachusetts young, but they are not particularly deep either. Sophomore Sy Chatman had a usage rate of 24% in his six games this season, but has since entered the dreaded transfer portal. Freshman TJ weeks has missed the past five games with a hernia and according to reports today will miss the rest of the season. McCall is down two players entering conference play, the sun never shines in Amherst.
With those two missing, freshmen Sean East and Tre Mitchell, along with upperclassmen Kelton Mitchell, Carl Pierre and Samba Diallo, take up most of the Minutemen minutes, with that particular line-up combo accounting for 43.5% of the total minutes in recent UMass games. Mitchell is a big body who gets the line frequently, with a free throw rate of 36.7%. East has done well creating for his teammates this season, earning a commendable 34.4% assist rate thus far. Pierre will need to be carefully followed on the perimeter, shooting an impressive 41.3% from deep this season while attempting 63% of his field goal attempts from behind the line. Diallo is out there partly because you can’t play with four players and partly to chase the ball down for the other four, rebounding 9.2% of UMass’ offensive rebound chances and posting a 18.2% rebounding rate defensively.
Eventually I will predict a suffocating loss for UD, today is not that day. As of this moment, Dayton is a runaway freight train packed with explosives intent on destroying everything in its path. While Tre Mitchell has the length to cause Obi Toppin some issues on both ends of the floor, the young man simply doesn’t have the body mass or CHEST to tangle with a soon to be 22 year-old grown ass man like No Stoppin’. It’s quite possible, even likely, that UMass will cause a season-high turnovers (would you believe Charleston Southern currently holds that distinction? Well, it’s true.) — which could be instrumental in keeping them in the game.
For whatever reason, Matt McCall doesn’t flinch when he is in UD Arena. He stares into the sea of red sweaters like a drunken pirate, fearless and determined. My instincts tell me the Minutemen will keep this one close for the majority of the game before Dayton slips out to a 12-16 point victory. At the end of the day, the Flyers simply move the ball too well to be stymied defensively for forty minutes. Flyers go to 3-0 in the conference, beating UMass 81-67 in yet another sold out UD Arena. A vital opportunity awaits UD come Tuesday.
Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.