Blue Ribbon Preview Of UMass Men's Basketball
Nov. 3, 2010
Blue Ribbon Yearbook
COACH AND PROGRAM
Last year, UMass learned how to close.
Despite losing 11 out of 15 in January and February, the Minutemen put aside their frustrations and ended the regular season in impressive fashion, beating a Rhode Island team that needed a win to improve its NCAA Tournament bubble status. The win qualified UMass for the A-10 Tournament, and in the first round the Minutemen upset Charlotte, a team that had been considered an NCAA Tournament prospect at one point in the year. Although they lost handily to Richmond in the A-10 quarterfinals, they entered the offseason with renewed confidence.
"The one positive is that we played our best basketball the last month," Kellogg said. "We gained some valuable experience during that stretch."
The "someone" has yet to be determined, but the position the mystery player will play -- point guard.
In Kellogg's dribble-drive offense, the point guard is every bit as important as a quarterback in football, perhaps even more so. Not only must the point guard be a good decision maker, he must also be offensively talented enough to attack the basket.
UMass did not possess a player with that skill combination last year. David Gibbs, who transferred, was an OK decision maker but lacked offensive skills, averaging 2.6 points in almost 20 minutes per game. Ricky Harris, who graduated, was the second-best scorer in the A-10, but he was deficient in the decision-making department. In 31 games, he had more assists than turnovers only nine times.
All of Gurley's statistics improved last year except for his minutes, which dropped from 28.5 to 24.9, mostly because he was dropped from the starting lineup. He spent most of the second half of the year as the team's sixth man, a role in which he excelled. Like Harris, Gurley is an excellent scorer but a mediocre distributor. Last year he had almost twice as many turnovers (70) as assists (33), and has a career turnover-to-assist ratio of 2.2:1.
Traynham has been on Division I college coaches' radar since his sophomore year, when he made a huge impact on the AAU circuit as a member of the DC Assault, drawing praise from none other than NBA Washington Wizards' first-round pick John Wall. (He played on the DC Assault with 6-5 sophomore guard Javorn Farrell (4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and 6-8 freshman forward Maxie Esho).
Traynham's the ideal dribble-drive point guard, with the ability to score in transition and off the dribble in the half-court, and find open teammates. He probably would have been a top-ranked recruit during his senior year, but he transferred high schools twice from his sophomore to senior years, which sidetracked his career a bit. Traynham told the Washington Post last December that he'd made some bad decisions in his past, but is more mature now.
Whether Gurley or Traynham take over at guard, Kellogg believes one of them will be an improvement over last year.
"We need to find some stability at point guard," Kellogg said. "Anthony's in pretty good shape, and we have a highly-touted freshman in Daryl.
"I'm confident those guys will do what I need them to."
Adding depth to the point guard position will be 6-1 senior Gary Correia (2.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg). Correia, who played in all 32 games last year, starting five, was the least error-prone of all the guards, dishing out 69 assists to go with 26 turnovers.
Pushing Gurley, Traynham and Correia in practice will be Hostra transfer Chaz Williams, who'll sit out this season per NCAA rules. Williams, who'll be a redshirt sophomore next year, led the Pride with 138 assists last year, and finished second in scoring (9.8 ppg).
Two players who probably won't be vying for time at point guard but will be valuable members of the backcourt are 6-5 sophomore guards Freddie Riley (9.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and Farrell.
Riley announced himself as a long-distance marksman in his collegiate opener, launching nine threes (and making four of them) in a loss to UCF. He rarely ventured closer to the hoop the remainder of the year, as 63 of his 93 field goals came from beyond the arc. He was accurate, leading the team with a .348 three-point field goal percentage, but Kellogg thought his game lacked consistency. Twice he logged no points, in 14 minutes against Baylor and 15 against Charlotte.
"He was up and down," Kellogg said. "If can get on that level playing field [in terms of competing every night], he has a chance to be a great player."
Farrell lived up to his reputation as a physical guard, finishing second on the team with 26 steals, and fifth in rebounds.
"He'd get in there and mix it up," Kellogg said of Farrell's rebounding. "He'd cause havoc."
Competing with Riley and Farrell for playing time will be 6-5 freshman Jesse Morgan, who'll be academically ineligible for the first semester but should be ready to play for the second, Kellogg said. Morgan, who originally signed a letter of intent to play at Seton Hall, is a good dribble-drive player in that he can shoot from the wing and attack the hoop.
While the point-guard position will have a lot of pressure on it this season, the individual player who'll receive the most scrutiny is 6-7 sophomore Terrell Vinson (9.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg). Touted last year as the cornerstone upon which UMass' future success would be built, Vinson lived up to some of that hype, finishing third on the team in scoring, second in rebounding and third in blocked shots with 19. But he, like Riley, disappeared at times. He produced just two double-doubles, against Grambling and Baylor, and didn't make the A-10's All-Rookie team.
"I think he learned how physical the college game is," Kellogg said. "He's a guy who's going to have to make a big jump for us to be successful. He has to really elevate his game."
Vinson was one of only two players to start all 32 of UMass' games. The other was 6-9 junior Sean Carter (5.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Carter was the top rebounder on one of the best rebounding teams in the A-10, registering a season-high 19 against Duquesne. He also led the Minutemen with 42 blocks. Carter transferred to UMass two years ago from Oregon State, and, like most transfers, was a bit rusty after sitting out an entire year. Kellogg believes Carter's rust is finally gone. "That sit-out year is tough," Kellogg said. "It's usually in that second or third year that they [transfers] blossom.
"He needs to be an anchor for us on the glass. When he had big rebounding games, we did much better."
One of the best storylines of the early season will be to see who, if anybody aside from Vinson and Carter, emerges from UMass' large group of forwards. Sampson Carter (4.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), a 6-8 sophomore, earned the team's postseason Most Improved Player award and has the most experience of the group, having played in all 32 games, including seven starts. Hashim Bailey (2.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), a 6-10 senior, possesses the physical toughness Kellogg likes, but his conditioning has prevented him from being a true impact player.
The one player who could curtail both Carter and Bailey's minutes is 6-8 redshirt freshman Raphael Putney. Putney possessed the skills last year to play immediately, but at 180 pounds, lacked the size and strength, so Kellogg decided to sit him out. Putney hit the weights hard in the offseason, which he hopes will help him endure the rigors of the A-10.
Also pushing the two veterans will be Esho, who played with Traynham at Wise High in Upper Marlboro, Md., before prepping a year at Lee Academy in Maine, was ranked the 50th-best power forward by Scout.com.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
The Minutemen's problem is simple -- Kellogg is committed to running the dribble-drive offense, but the offense demands a top-flight point guard, which UMass hasn't had during Kellogg's two-year tenure. He's hoping this will be the season he finds one. If he doesn't, the Minutemen will continue to be stuck in neutral. But if he does, everything might click.
That's because Kellogg's done a good job recruiting players who fit his offensive scheme, like Vinson, Riley and Carter. If Gurley is allowed to focus on scoring, Farrell continues to progress, and Putney, Esho or Morgan proves to be double-digit minute players, UMass has the depth to finish in the middle of the A-10. But it won't fully realize its potential until next year or 2012-13.
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