The “brotherhood” is back.
Four returning starters from a year ago headline the Massachusetts men’s basketball roster for the 2012-13 campaign, as Chaz Williams, Jesse Morgan, Raphiael Putney and Terrell Vinson lead the Minutemen into a season filled with enormous expectations.
Nine players from last year’s National Invitation Tournament Final Four squad join forces with three incoming freshmen – not including sophomore guard Derrick Gordon, who has to sit out the season per NCAA rules after transferring from Western Kentucky – as UMass tries to build upon its success last year and makes the next big step to the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s a rundown of the Minutemen and the roles and storylines they carry heading into the season:
Chaz Williams, guard
Williams, the undeniable leader on the court for UMass, enters the season fresh off his first year with the Minutemen in which he led the Atlantic 10 in assists (6.2 per game), earning him a nomination to the A-10 Preseason First Team.
Williams also emerged as one of the team’s closers in tight games with the majority of his team-leading 16.9 points per game coming in the second half as UMass put teams away late. The team will continue to rely on Williams to take over games late and put opponents away with his ability to get to the basket.
Jesse Morgan, guard
Heading into the season, it appeared Morgan would continue to be the starter at the shooting guard. But since being suspended for last Saturday’s exhibition game against American International after violating team rules, that notion appears up for grabs.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg said on Wednesday that Morgan and the rest of the suspended players (Cady Lalanne and Trey Davis) will all play in Tuesday’s opener against Harvard, but Morgan was running with the second team during practice, while guard Freddie Riley was running with the first team.
Regardless of whether he starts or not, Morgan brings a toughness on the defensive end that allows him to cover the opposition’s best perimeter scoring threat and allows Williams to focus more on getting the Minutemen out in transition.
Morgan also showcased his shot-making ability, shooting just shy of 40 percent (39.8) from the floor.
Raphiael Putney, forward
Putney appears to have all the talent in the world and produced one highlight reel dunk after another while also knocking down 37.3 percent of his attempts from down town a year ago.
He’s an immediate mismatch with his 6-foot-9 frame on the perimeter, but his six foul-outs last year were tied for the team lead and he could only muster 24.2 minutes per game, which was fifth on the team.
If Putney can stay on the court, his athleticism can only help the Minutemen’s fast break and his 3-point shot will help extend the floor.
Terrell Vinson, forward
The play of Vinson down the stretch was critical for UMass last season. His ability to make big shots in critical moments last year helped catapult the Minutemen into the NIT and he provided toughness in the paint.
UMass will look for more of the same from the senior to be another option late in games.
Cady Lalanne, forward/center
Lalanne will try to fill the shoes of graduated center Sean Carter and be the presence in the paint the team lacked last year.
Carter’s influence came mainly on the defensive end with occasional signs of offensive production, but the Minutemen could use a consistent post presence to throw the ball into and try to get points to save possessions towards the end of the shot clock.
Lalanne is coming off a foot injury that only allowed him to play in 14 games, so it’s worth monitoring Lalanne’s game-shape and if he can keep up with UMass in transition early in the season.
Maxie Esho, forward/center
Esho will likely be the sixth man for the Minutemen and is role is to bring energy off the bench on both ends of the floor.
Esho was very active on the defensive end, including at the front end of the press with his ball pressure.
Esho could see time in the starting lineup at the center position if Kellogg elects to go with a smaller lineup (Esho is 6-foot-8 compared to Lalanne’s 6-foot-9), but it appears Kellogg would prefer Esho to come off the bench and be the lightning bolt to keep up UMass’ full-court pressure.
Freddie Riley, guard
Is there a bigger wildcard than Riley?
Two years ago, Riley was looked at to be a big contributor on the offensive end, but he couldn’t find consistency in his shot, only making 34.5 percent of his shots from the field and just 30.5 percent from 3-point range.
Riley’s minutes reflected his poor shooting, only seeing 17.3 minutes per game while only averaging 6.5 points per game.
If Riley can gain some confidence in his shot, as he did last Saturday with his 6-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc and 21 points last Saturday, Riley’s offense could give the Minutemen yet another scoring threat that was largely not there last season.
Sampson Carter, forward
After playing in just seven games last season with a hip injury, Carter is hardly 100 percent heading into the season-opener.
It’s still uncertain what UMass can expect out of the senior, but as the season progresses and his conditioning continues to improve, Carter could bring another post presence off the bench, along with the ability to step out and make jumpers from outside the paint.
Trey Davis, guard
Freshman Trey Davis’ job is simple: Right the ship while Williams gets his much-needed rest.
Davis said that he needs to keep the same intensity that Williams brings to the floor while he’s running the point, as the Minutemen can’t afford to take their feet off the gas pedal with Williams out of the game.
Morgan was dubbed with that responsibility last year, but he believes his natural position is at the shooting guard. Davis will allow Morgan to stay where he’s comfortable.
Tyler Bergantino, Izzy Freeman, forward, center
The pair of rookie big men will likely encounter a learning curve as they go through their first college basketball season, but if they learn quickly, UMass could use the rookies’ size and post presence in conference play.
Freeman, a 7-foot, 205-pound center, could later emerge as a valuable post defender off the bench, while Bergantino, a 6-foot-9 forward and center, adds more power to the post with his 215-pound build.
Javorn Farrell, guard
Farrell is currently sidelined with a leg injury. There is no timetable for his return, but he could provide a boost off the bench if he returns for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.