FEATURE: UMass Basketball On An Upswing
Dec. 30, 2011
It's tough to tell whether it's experience, the addition of a legitimate point guard or jettisoning Vance Walberg and his now-infamous Dribble Drive. Whatever the case, Derek Kellogg finally appears to have his alma mater, the UMass Minutemen, on track.
The first three seasons haven't exactly gone as planned, but UMass had 10 wins under its belt prior to Santa Clause arriving at the Kellogg Household - and that's a significant sign of progress. Sure, there aren't a ton of eye-popping victories -- the most impressive is a home win against Davidson last week -- but it's about steady progress these days for this once-storied program. The three losses are all legitimate: Florida State in the Bahamas, against a quality College of Charleston club and also at Miami.
Hofstra transfer Chaz Williams leads the team in scoring (14.5) and has a near 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, putting up 6.2 assists per contest. There's no one else averaging double-figure scoring, but guys like Raphiael Putney (8.8 ppg) and even Freddie Riley (8.7 ppg) are starting to mature after coming into the program undisciplined and unprepared. The new players -- Cady Lalanne and Max Esho -- aren't putting up staggering numbers, but give UMass quality depth it truly hasn't had since Kellogg took the reigns from Travis Ford.
"I think it's a combination of having some older guys and having Chaz helps," Kellogg said. Kellogg has also made wholesale changes to the system. The Dribble Drive is basically history. These guys get out and run more, set screens, toss the ball inside on occasion -- and on the defensive end, they press. It's resulted in more points (the Minutemen are averaging 75.6 points per game) and also forcing mistakes by the opposition (teams are averaging 19 turnovers against UMass).
"We're one of the few teams out there that presses all 40 minutes," Kellogg said. And Kellogg is hoping that it won't be quite so easy to prepare for the Minutemen once league play hits.
"Teams aren't accustomed to it," Kellogg said. UMass goes for its fifth consecutive win Friday night against a Central Connecticut team that may not appear imposing, but it one that crushed the Minutemen last season, 92-63.
"We've still got a ways to go," Kellogg said. "But we're definitely making progress."