Large rotation key during UMass’ early success

By Stephen Sellner

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Through two games, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has refused to take its foot off the gas pedal.

Thanks to the quality minutes it is receiving throughout the roster, UMass (2-0) has been able to maintain this intensity and pressure for the entire 40 minutes of play, shuffling in a constant rotation of nine to 10 players during the course of a game.

The Minutemen have done an excellent job of divvying playing time thus far, as at least eight players have seen double-digit minutes against Northeastern and Elon. UMass coach Derek Kellogg says that number should increase as the season progresses when sophomore Raphiael Putney returns to action on Thursday and freshman Maxie Esho continues to develop.

“I still have the coaches mentality of play the guys you feel comfortable with, which a lot of the times is the older guys, but as we slowly work Maxie [Esho] and Jesse [Morgan] and Cady [Lalanne] back into the rotation and Putney gets healthy I think we’ll have a nice nine to 11 man rotation,” said Kellogg.

The rotation relies heavily on production coming off the bench, including juniors Terrell Vinson and Sampson Carter. According to Kellogg, the pair are not prototypical reserves, with both getting off to a fast start this season.

Vinson has seen an increase in playing time, jumping from 21.2 minutes a game a year ago to 33 this season, which is tied for most on the team with sophomore Chaz Williams. The Baltimore native is second on the team in scoring after chipping in with 17 points opening night against Elon coming off the bench and 14 against Northeastern on Monday filling in for Putney.

Carter has been equally as impressive thus far.

His 14.5 points per game off the bench have given the Minutemen a spark, shooting three-of-four from behind the arc while featuring his touch around the rim in his 24.5 minutes a game.

Kellogg said he does not like to think of his second unit as reserves but the next people in line after the first five.

“I don’t really look at [it as] bench versus starters because we’re all kind of one team,” said Kellogg.

Foul trouble has kept senior Sean Carter off the floor, picking up his fourth foul after the first minute of the second half against Northeastern on Monday. Carter also picked up two fouls in the first ten minutes against Elon on Friday, forcing him to sit for the remainder of the first half. When on the court, the Fayetteville, N.C. native has made his presence felt in the paint on the defensive end and, along with Putney and Vinson, will be important pieces moving forward for UMass.

Perhaps the most intriguing distribution of playing time comes at the point guard position. Williams has seen the majority of the minutes thus far with 33 per game while sophomore Jesse Morgan has contributed with 16 minutes per game in relief.

Williams has shined on the court thus far, commanding the half-court offense in addition to leading the Minutemen in transition.

Morgan, on the other hand, is still developing at the position after moving from shooting guard during the offseason.

According to Kellogg, Williams’ success on the floor and Morgan’s inexperience factors into the discrepancy in the playing time between the two.

“I think it’s a combination,” said Kellogg. “We’ve worked Jesse in some and we’ve put him in some unfair positions because he’s not traditionally a back-up point guard. That’s been out of necessity.”

Kellogg went on to add that Williams’ value on the floor makes him “a guy who needs to play 30 minutes a game.”

Past Minutemen point guards Edgar Padilla, Chris Lowe and Kellogg himself have received similar playing time during their successful careers at UMass, according to Kellogg.

“A lot of those guys that have played since that time have played 30 minutes because it’s hard to recruit really good point guards and so normally you’ll have one in the program and a good backup or two,” he said.

As the Minutemen’s schedule toughens and Atlantic 10 play commences, quality minutes from their bench and timely substitutions will be a major factor in UMass’ ability to maintain its high-octane scoring outburst and up-tempo defensive pressure.

So far, they’ve answered the call.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.