With college basketball practices underway across the country, web sites and magazines have been releasing their team rankings and conference predictions in anticipation of the season. It seems the consensus among the outlets listed below and a half-dozen hoops magazines is that UMass should be in the top four of the Atlantic 10 race, along with defending champion Saint Louis, VCU and La Salle.
ESPN's Jordan Brenner wrote the team preview that appears for ESPN Insider subscribers. He has UMass finishing fourth in the Atlantic 10.
With Chaz Williams, UMass always has a chance. The 5-foot-9 senior is back for one more season after his sterling play (15.5 points, 7.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds per game) earned him all-conference honors in 2012-13. "He's done a real good job solidifying our program," coach Derek Kellogg says.
Williams, certainly, would love to finish his career with an NCAA bid. To do that, though, will require improvements from the guys around him. Most critically, Williams' ability to create for others won't matter if they can't knock down shots. And UMass has a serious lack of 3-point shooters. Raphiael Putney, a versatile 6-9 senior, hit 28 treys a season ago, but those came on 100 attempts. No other returning player hit more than a dozen. So Kellogg hopes that sophomore Trey Davis can contribute and that transfer Derrick Gordon, who averaged 11.8 PPG at Western Kentucky, can expand his range. Otherwise, he'll need a freshman -- perhaps Clyde Santee -- to help replace departed seniors Freddie Riley and Terrell Vinson, as well as Jesse Morgan, who was dismissed from the program.
If the outside shooting doesn't surface, UMass will have to rely on its press to create offense. Gordon, with his athleticism and aggressiveness, should be a great fit for the system, just like Putney. But when teams break the press, a second weakness is exposed -- UMass' half-court defense.
The Minutemen allowed 103 points per 100 possessions in conference games last season (ninth). "That's going to be a focus from Day 1," Kellogg says. "We're going to have some tough defensive practices and we really need to work on our defensive rebounding." Indeed, UMass allowed conference foes to rebound 33.2 percent of their own misses (10th). To change that, Cady Lalanne (8.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG) will need to become a more consistent inside presence. And a healthier Sampson Carter -- he averaged 6.4 PPG and 4.3 RPG after returning from hip surgery -- will provide a boost, too.
If UMass can improve its D, a shooter or two emerges and Lalanne becomes the all-conference center Kellogg thinks he can be, this team has enough talent to reach the NCAA tournament. But the Minutemen are still a step behind the likes of St. Louis and VCU to contend for the conference crown.
Projected 2013-14 conference finish: 4th
Below are the predictions for the A-10 as supplied by the six national writers for CBS Sports. Here is the link for the entire article which shows their choices for some of the larger leagues around the country.
College Chalk Talk
Writers Chris DiSano and Ian Nolan at College Chalk Talk provided their take on the Atlantic 10 and felt UMass would come in as the fourth place team. Their 140 character synopsis reads... UMass - Yes, Chaz Williams is still in school but the NCAA drought remains, now at 15 long years for the Minutemen. The senior could lead them back as his final act.
They also have Chaz as a first team all-conference choice and Derrick Gordon as one of their three impact transfers.
The duo also feels the Minutemen will make their return to the NCAA tournament, along with VCU, Saint Louis and La Salle.
College Sports Madness
College Sports Madness puts UMass as the No. 40 teams in the country and feels the Minutemen are worthy of a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.