UMass basketball to face Richmond
The No. 13 Massachusetts men’s basketball team can finally turn its full attention to conference play.
The Minutemen (16-1, 3-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) briefly opened their conference schedule earlier this month with victories over Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure and George Mason. But an out-of-conference road date and eventual 84-74 victory over Elon on Saturday interrupted UMass’ journey through the conference gauntlet.
With the non-conference aspect of their schedule finalized, the Minutemen return to the road for the third straight game Wednesday to face a familiar foe in Richmond. The Spiders (12-6, 2-1 A-10) recently defeated Dayton 73-64 at home and own a 7-2 home record on the season.
“I’m sure they’re going to be up for our game and it will be a nice packed house like always,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “It’s going to be a tough one.”
The Minutemen defeated the Spiders a year ago 70-65 in a game influenced heavily by defense. Over the final six minutes of play, UMass allowed Richmond to score just two points while going on an 11-point offensive run late in the game to pull out the victory. And while the rosters aren’t quite the same, defensive intensity will play a large part in deciding the outcome on Wednesday.
Through 18 games, the Spiders are allowing just 65.4 points per game to opponents on 40 percent shooting in addition to forcing 14.6 turnovers per game. They traditionally play a matchup zone.
“Their defense right now is what’s keeping them where they are,” Kellogg said. “I guess they lead the league in field goal percentage defense and that matchup zone. So we have to be proficient on the offensive end and don’t let that lead to easy baskets for them. I think that’s where teams have gotten hurt by them.”
For UMass, the task will be to maintain consistent defensive pressure despite having the ability to change schemes. Kellogg noted that he’s experimented with multiple variations of zones and man-to-man defenses, a commodity as league play continues.
“When league games come and these teams are scouting and doing some stuff, you gotta make sure you’ve got a whole arsenal of different ways to come at them,” Kellogg said.
Richmond is led by strong guard play. Senior point guard Cedrick Lindsay is scoring 19.1 points per game this season while chipping in 4.2 assists per game. His running mate, junior guard Kendall Anthony, is averaging 13.3 points per game.
Minuteman guard Chaz Williams echoed his coach’s sentiments, saying that getting defensive stops opens up the rest of the game for the team. If the team can string together stops, especially in the second half, it has a good chance of finding success.
“Our offense feeds off our defense a lot,” Williams said. “Sometimes our defense creates turnovers that lead to easy offense.”
The Spiders have traditionally fared well at home against ranked opponents – they have beaten four of their last five ranked foes. UMass jumped ahead to 13th in the Associated Press Top 25 this week, the first time the team has been ranked within the Top 15 since 1995-96.
“You know, the guys are playing pretty hard and I’m enjoying being around them if that’s worth anything,” Kellogg said despite adding he wasn’t sold on the ranking. “I’m not sure that makes us 13 or not, there’s a lot of good teams out there.
Williams knows that other teams are taking stock of the Minutemen’s rise in the national spotlight.
“We feel like every game is going to be a huge test for us because the name’s that on the front of our jersey,” Williams said. “We just have to come prepared every day, we feel like if we come prepared and play UMass basketball nobody can compete with us in the country.”
Wednesday’s game at Robins Center will take place at 7 p.m. and can be watched online on ESPN3 and the Atlantic 10 Digital Network.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.