Who Are You: UMASS

Stanford faces UMASS on Tuesday night at MSG!

Kevin Danna brings his insights, observations, and interviewer skills to the table before Tuesday evening's NIT semifinal contest between the UMASS Minutemen and your Stanford Cardinal!

 ‘Twas a five-hour flight, and the flight was rough (actually, the flight was pretty smooth). Though I be scared of heights, I can still never get high enough (not true for either phrase of that last sentence, but ‘tis the next line of the rap, so what can I do? By the way, if you know this song, you're my new best friend). 

Despite all that, the Stanford Cardinal are now gettin' down in New York City alongside U-U-U---U-Dub, Minnesota and U-U-U---U-MASS (pretty sure that's not an actual chant, excuse my lack of A10 cheering knowledge) to play for the second most important title in college basketball.

Stanford is three-fifths of the way through its very own drive for five. To get the job 80 percent done, the Farm Boys must take down the UMASS Minutemen, a team the Cardinal got cozy with quite frequently in the postseason a couple of decades ago. Though Stanford lost to Bobby Knight's favorite coach two consecutive years in the second round of the Big Dance (Stanford was eight seeds higher/lower, however you prefer to say it, than UMASS both times - 2 vs. 10 and 1 vs. 9), the Card beat "the team from the A10" in 1991, which was…

…you already knew - the last and only time Stanford has won the NIT. Moreover, Stanford knocked off UMASS in the Garden in the semifinals of the '91 NIT by two points.

But of course, that was 21 years ago, before even current UMASS Head Coach Derek Kellogg played his first game at his eventual alma mater for John Calipari (Kellogg was a part of the '95 team that took down Stanford in the second round). Lots has changed about the Minutemen, so get up to date with a program you probably haven't cared about one way or another for 16 years.

UMASS - The Program

The Minutemen are postseason regulars throughout history, but 2012 marks the first time UMASS has made a postseason tournament since 2008, when they lost to 2007 NCAA runner-up Ohio State in the NIT Championship game. They also have only made the NCAA tournament twice since Coach Cal bolted for greener (questionable) pastures in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets- and those were the very next two years, so it has been 14 years since UMASS has been in the Big Dance. Their seven-year streak of NCAA tourneys made account for all seven of the school's NCAA appearances.

UMASS has made the NIT 11 times with an all-time record of 13-12 in the C.M. Newton Invite. This is the Minutemen's third NIT Final Four appearance, with the other two coming in 1991 and 2008. The three years leading up to 2011-12 were rough; after losing to the Buckeyes in the NIT Title game, then-coach Travis Ford emigrated to Stillwater, paving the way for Derek Kellogg to take over. He won 12 games in both his first and second seasons as head coach before reaching .500 for the first time in his third season in 2010-2011 (though the year ended in very disappointing fashion; losing to Fordham, a team who was on a 41-game A10 losing streak, and then falling to Dayton in the first round of the conference tourney by four touchdowns).

UMASS - The 2011-12 Edition

Needless to say, expectations weren't all that high for UMASS in a deep Atlantic 10, as the Minutemen were picked to finish 12th in the 14-team league (I guess Atlantic 14 isn't sexy enough). Kellogg put a heavy emphasis on running and pressing coming into the season, and it paid off probably as well as it could have. Their up-tempo offense has resulted in 77.3 points per game (15th in the nation), 74.8 possessions per game (7th in nation), 2,273 attempted field goals (2nd in nation) and 2,691 possessions overall, which leads the country. On defense, they trap opponents into more than 16 turnovers per game and are charged with almost nine robberies per contest, 8th in the NCAA.

Those stats have bled into the win column, as UMASS has won ten more games than they did in 2010-11 and are the last A10 team standing with a 25-11 record. The Minutemen had an impressive 11-3 non-conference record, but didn't really beat anybody of note - taking down Davidson at home was probably their best non-conference win, and throttling Boston College by 36 "on the road" was their biggest name victory outside of conference play.

In conference, the Minutemen got off to a very good start; actually, it was more than a start, going 7-3 in their first 10 conference games and squarely on the NCAA bubble. Included in that hot stretch was a 13-point win over eventual NCAA participant Saint Louis. However, the Minutemen would lose four of their next five, and any at-large consideration was blown out of the water. Still, UMASS finished 9-7 in the A10 regular season, good for a tie for fifth with La Salle, Dayton and St. Joe's. They got their mojo back in the A10 tournament, knocking off Temple in the quarterfinals for their first win over a Top-25 opponent this season before running into a red-hot Bonnie squad that would eventually take the league's auto-bid.

Their 22-11, 9-7 performance was good enough for a 5-seed in the best Field of 32 (take that, CIT!), and the Minutemen have been the anti-Stanford in the NIT, winning all three of their NIT games on the road. It started with a  double-OT 101-96 thriller over Mississippi State in Starkville. The Minutemen were up 14 with 15 minutes to play before winning it in 50 minutes.

Up next was a date with #1 seed Seton Hall. Ahead by one late in the game, Chaz Williams and Terrell Vinson hit back-to-back threes to pull ahead with 1:30 to play en route to a 77-67 victory, setting up a clash of old friends Bruiser Flint and Derek Kellogg (Kellogg was Calipari's point guard at UMASS, Flint was an assistant at the time) in the dragon's lair at Drexel.

UMASS - The Drexel Game

Drexel owned this game for the first 24 minutes. The Dragons held a double-digit lead for much of the first half and were up by 17 with 16:26 to play in the second. They crushed the Minutemen on the glass 43-21 and at one point had UMASS outboarded 17-4. They weren't phased at all by the trapping D and forced UMASS into a zone in the first half thanks to the work Sammy Givens was doing (the dude had two and-1s to start the game). The Dragons proceeded to carve up the zone for most of the first half, moving well without the ball, finding baseline cutters and getting all the weak-side offensive rebounds in the world. Kellogg picked up a T 91 seconds into the game, Drexel fans were going B-A-N-A-N-A-S as if Gwen Stefani were in 2005 form (though I wish she was still in 1996 mode when she was just a girl), and the Minutemen were dead in the water.

And then the final 16:26 happened. The Minutemen took their pressure defense to a whole new level, Terrell Vinson went bonkers with 14 second-half points, and UMASS staved off multiple Dragon attempts to send the game into overtime en route to a 72-70 squeaker, placing UMASS in NYC.

UMASS - The Starting 5

·         Chaz Williams (#3, 5-9, 175-pound RS Sophomore Guard) - He is UMASS's engine. The Hofstra transfer had enough of CAA play and found himself as the leader of "the team from the A10" in his first eligible season. He brings more than close to 17 points, more than six assists and almost four and a half rebounds per game. He brings, as Platz told me on Sunday, a desire to win greater than anyone else on the court - at least that has been the case during the NIT. The kid from Brooklyn has stepped it up in a huge way in the NIT, averaging 22.7 points, 6.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds in the first three games. Like all good small guards (the 5-9 listing is generous), he's a crafty penetrator who can get off some acrobatic shots (split two post defenders in mid-air in the Drexel game) and is super quick. He has some absolute DIMES, too, a couple of which I will link to throughout the article - one I won't link to is a no look 90-mph fastball he threw from the right wing to the right block to Sean Carter for the and-1 dunk against Drexel. When he's going, as the UMASS athletic department likes to say, they're playing Chaz-ket-ball.

·         Jesse Morgan (#5, 6-5, 190-pound Sophomore Guard) - Dude had a perfect game against Rhode Island (happened to be their last regular season game): 25 points on 9-9 FG and 6-6 from downtown. Good thing he didn't miss; UMASS only beat the lowly Rams by four. Averaging about 10 points per game on the season, Morgan is the first dude to have such a perfect game from the field (shoot at least nine shots, six of which are threes) since Bryce Taylor did it in the Pac-10 Title game for Oregon five years ago. He's a big part of that opportunistic defense with 53 steals on the season (second to Chaz-ma-tazz). When he gets a theft, he's going the other way, getting an and-1 finish off one such steal against Drexel in the first half.

·         Raphiael Putney (#34, 6-9, 185-pound RS Sophomore Forward) - This cat is an athlete. Has absolutely no meat on his bones, but he can jump, and he can dunk it - he has done so almost 30 times this year. His dunk against St. Joe's on January 14 (the same day Stanford smacked Colorado by 20 at home to get to 5-1 in Pac-12 play) is a nominee for GEICO Play of the Year. The dunk is nice, but the feed from Chaz is even sicker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAFD_nUgxwM.  He has another dunk, off an alley-oop thrown from half court, which is a nominee for dunk of the year. Again, the feed from Williams is probably better than the dunk itself, but this is still pretty tight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLx7jkcYQ5Y.  He rebounds pretty well for someone who only weighs 185 pounds, grabbing almost six per game, but some of that is probably because there are a ton of extra possessions in a UMASS game compared to a normal one. 

·         Terrell Vinson (#33, 6-8, 220-pound Junior- Forward) - Kellogg's Mr. Clutch in the postseason. He is averaging more than 13 points per game in the NIT, but it's when he has gotten his that makes him so important. Against Seton Hall, he scored eight points in the final 6:22 to seal the deal and scored 14 second half points against Drexel (18 overall) as a huge contributor in the comeback dub-sac over Drexel. The guy is very athletic, blocking a shot in transition to send the Drexel game to the under-eight mandatory in the first half and can also throw the lob pass, setting up Sean Carter for an alley-oop against the Dragons.

·         Jay-Z- er, Sean Carter (#54, 6-9, 245-pound RS Senior Center) - The dunkmaster himself. He has 52 of ‘em on the season, which accounts for 47 percent of all his made field goals on the season.  Though he did travel on his first possession down on the block against Drexel, he can move pretty well (he will finish alley-oops) and has good hands- you have to if you can catch that no-look Williams pass.  He has upped his play in the NIT stats wise, averaging 12.3 points and eight boards per game in the NIT as opposed to 8.1 and 6.5, respectively, in the regular season. With the name Sean Carter, you can expect a ton of Hova and Illuminati references in the And-1 article for this game.

UMASS - The Bench

·         Javorn Farrell (#0, 6-5, 215-pound Junior Forward) - It's pronounced "Juh-VON", in case you were wondering. This is another guy who has stepped it up during the postseason, averaging 9.3 ppg, and 3.2 apg during the A10 Tourney and NIT combined. He has also been judicious and lethal from downtown, connecting on seven of his 12 three-point attempts in those six games. While he can shoot it, he is also a slasher and can take it strong from the perimeter.

·         Maxie Esho (#1, 6-8, 205-pound RS Freshman Forward) - He averages five points per game, but has shown a capability to really score it. Esho was named the A10 Rookie of the Week after dropping 18 on the Explorers of La Salle in addition to grabbing six boards and collecting three steals. Another guy who can take it to the hoop- he got into the Drexel game and almost immediately looked for his offense.

·         Freddie Riley (#4, 6-5, 190-pound Junior Guard) - Beware of shooter. He has hit at least three threes in seven games this year and is one of four guys on the roster who have made at least 50 on the season (that makes UMASS one of only four teams who can make that statement - Florida, Iowa State and those Penguins from Youngstown State are the other three). Truth be told, this guy is more of a volume shooter (my favorite basketball euphemism). Although he has logged the seventh most minutes of anybody on the roster, he has jacked up the most threes, attempting a long ball once every 3.69 minutes he is out there. His one field goal attempt per 2.58 minutes also leads the team. His percentages aren't pretty - .347 overall, .305 from three, .522 from free (though just 12-23 on the season from the charity stripe).

The Stat Comparison

Category

UMASS

Stanford

Scoring

77.3 (72.4)

71.7 (63.5)

FG%

.437 (.410)

.446 (.417)

3FG%

.352 (.307)

.379 (.341)

FT%

.675

.664

Rebounds

39.3 (38.8)

36.7 (32.2)

Defensive Rebounding %

.659 (.654)

.719 (.652)

Assists

15.4 (14.8)

12.7 (10.7)

Assists/FG ratio

.559 (.594)

.503 (.479)

Turnovers

14.8 (16.6)

13.7 (14.9)

Steals

8.9 (7.2)

6.4 (6.7)

Blocks

4.7 (4.0)

3.3 (3.7)

Percentage of shots as 3s

.353 (.352)

.321 (.312)

 

The one stat that really stands out to me is UMASS opponents' assist-to-field goal ratio of .594 - that's pretty high. When teams are effective against UMASS' trapping defense, it's because they are able to move the ball quickly and efficiently, meaning people have to move without the ball. UMASS almost forces you to play team basketball on offense because if you try to dribble your way out of their traps, zones and overall pressure, you're probably not going to have much success.

So ball movement is a big key for me for Stanford going into Tuesday night's matchup with the Minutemen- non-ball handlers can't stand idle and hope Chasson or Aaron can just go Kobe on everyone. Coach Dawkins likens this team to Cleveland State and Washington a little bit. It will take a Cleveland State-like effort, not a Washington one, in order to have the chance to play Washington again (or Minnesota for the first time).

Addendum - Questions I asked Derek Kellogg

Yeah, it was a pool reporting thing at the press conference today with all four teams, so I got in what I could. Some of these questions made more sense in the context of what other reporters asked. I got like five in, so it certainly isn't worth billing The Bootleg for a separate column. Here's what I had to ask Coach Kellogg. For what it's worth, he seemed like a great guy:

The Bootleg (Coach Kellogg was talking about UMASS fan support; he estimates 2,500 UMASS fans will be at The Garden): How much of Chaz's family do you expect to be in attendance?

Derek Kellogg: Oh I'm not sure (laughs). Probably as many as they'll let in at the Garden! Nah, he's got a nice group of family and friends that have followed him around and have come to his games, even make the trek down to the Mullin Center. I think that's one reason why we've done so well with players from New York City is because it's close enough where they can get to it, but it's far enough away where he can live his own life and be a college student. It's almost that perfect distance from Brooklyn/Bronx/Queens/wherever to get to UMASS.

TB: I'm a West Coast guy, how far away - how long is it?

DK: It's about 2:45, three hours maximum. Depends on who is driving, if there's any traffic, you know. Where you from on the West Coast?

TB: I'm out from the Bay Area, here for Stanford.

DK: It's nice out there!

*other questions by other reporters*

TB: You were just talking about the press in the second half against Drexel - what was the difference in your press in the second half, as opposed to the first half?

DK: Well we were able to get into it, because we made some baskets. I thought we made a couple of open threes that went down, finally. The biggest thing against Drexel is you have to score on ‘em, and that's pretty difficult to do - I think they were top ten in the country in scoring defense. We were able to get a couple of shots to go and we were able to set the press up, and then guys always seem to play a little better after they have scored some baskets - they play with a little more energy and intensity, and my team is not different from a lot of kids out there where they play better when they score.

TB: I heard you mention to another reporter that you talked to Coach Cal after his win yesterday. Did Coach Cal get a hold of you and Bruiser after the UMASS-Drexel game?

DK: Yeah, he texted probably both of us, I would assume. But actually, his text was "I didn't watch the game, congratulations. I couldn't watch the game." And then a couple of the other guys said they watched it but sat on their hands. I think for a guy whose both guys have coached for ‘em and worked for ‘em and played for ‘em, you probably can't root for anybody and you certainly don't appreciate the game. Cal has been pretty helpful with me this season and especially on this run to just check in and text and call. He's got words of advice without giving advice; just kind of a comment or a one-liner that you don't realize he's giving you advice until you realize he's giving you advice, so it's been pretty good. He's been through it a few times, is what I mean.

TB: Any chance you schedule a game with Kentucky in the near future?

DK: Probably not, probably not. It was kind of like the Drexel-UMASS game. You win, but nobody totally really wins. So it's one of those deals. You'd rather go up against somebody you don't know, and he's got five first-round picks.

*longer break between questions*

TB: What do you remember about the '95 game against Stanford in the NCAA Tournament; you played in that, right?

DK: Yeah, I remember that they came in with a really good reputation. I know that Brevin Knight, who was the guy I was covering, was one of the best point guards in the country. But I thought we had a really good college basketball team that we would be tough to be no matter who it was. It was a good game that we prevailed, and on that particular day, I thought we were the better team. I also thought Marcus Camby was one of the top ten college players in a long time, so I thought he made a big difference just patrolling the paint and allowing our defense to press up on guys.


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