UMass men’s basketball ready for high-scoring showdown with BYU
It feels like a developing pattern for the No. 21 Massachusetts men’s basketball team as it prepares to face Brigham Young University on Saturday at Mass Mutual Center in Springfield.
Despite the month of December only beginning, UMass (7-0) has yet another high-quality opponent scheduled. Much like the marquee matchups against the likes of Louisiana State and New Mexico, BYU presents yet another challenge as the Minutemen navigate a dangerous out-of-conference schedule.
“If you look at (BYU’s) RPI they’re top 10 in the country, so this is a good team” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “And they’re a fun team to watch, I think it’s going to be a fun game as long as it stays competitive.”
The Cougars (7-2) enter Springfield as a battle tested team. They lost by just two points to then-No. 21 Iowa State Nov. 20 and fell to No. 11 Wichita State 75-62 six days later. BYU also picked up victories against Stanford and Texas.
For those compelled by offense, Saturday should offer a treat. The Minutemen average 81.6 points per game while the Cougars are ninth in the country at 89.2 points per game. Led by a two-pronged attack at guard, BYU shoots early and often, hoisting just over 69 shots a game. Kellogg acknowledged UMass will need to set a defensive tone early.
“I think we’re gonna stay with our defense, but it’s imperative you play defense early because they’re trying to score,” Kellogg said.
“Some teams will play UMass and try to slow it down and walk it up and turn the ball over from side-to-side three or four times before they attack. (BYU) is attacking from the minute the ball goes up to the second the game ends, they’re coming at you.”
The Cougars backcourt of Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino account for nearly half of the team’s total scoring, averaging a combined 41 points per game. The defensive effectiveness of Chaz Williams and Derrick Gordon could go a long way in dictating the flow of the game.
“I think we have to understand their personnel,” Kellogg said. “(Haws) is averaging 25 points per game and (Carlino) had 18 in the first half versus Wichita State so obviously they’re capable of going for big numbers so we have to pay attention to those guys.”
UMass plays at a faster pace than BYU and would much rather be in a game decided by transition offense. Junior center Cady Lalanne thinks the team can use its willingness to run to its advantage and get out in front of BYU’s zone.
“I don’t know if they play as fast as us,” said Lalanne, who leads the team in scoring (16.4 points per game) and rebounding (11.4 per game). “Running up and down, we just gotta see who’s in better shape at the end of the day.”
While the Cougars place most of their offensive focus on guard play, Lalanne’s been anchored down in the paint so far this season. He’s averaging six offensive rebounds per game. He noted that strong team defense could lead to more opportunities at the other end of the court.
“Just contest all their shots and hope they miss them,” Lalanne said of the team’s mindset. “Rebounding is probably the biggest thing, we should be able to get offensive rebounds and run.”
The Minutemen have spread the scoring consistently through seven games. Every starter is averaging at least 10 points per game while Trey Davis and Maxie Esho are both averaging 6.1 points per game off the bench. Kellogg, who will be coaching in his hometown of Springfield, is preparing for the possibility that he might need to squeeze out every bit of offensive production from his squad.
“This could be one where it could get into the 90’s, it could be a very high-scoring, entertaining game,” he said. “And I think both teams are playing that way.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.