New offense will tap into UMass’ athleticism

By Staff

After being blown out by Dayton on its home floor in the first round of last year’s Atlantic 10 tournament, Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg knew he needed to make a change.

Kellogg did just that and dismissed the dribble-drive offense in favor of a fast-paced, motion offense which will help get the most out of his athletic roster.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to change up a little bit and play this style was because I wanted to make sure that we were getting the full effect out of my team and the bodies that we have,” said Kellogg.

The new scheme is an up-tempo style that incorporates more ball screens, substitutions and possessions in the post. The goal is to create mismatches in the Minutemen’s favor, while also applying constant pressure with fresh legs.

Kellogg spent the summer watching tape and talking to other coaches through the recruitment period to learn more about the execution of the offense as he prepared to make the switch. He acknowledged that former UMass coach and current Kentucky coach John Calipari, Miami’s Jim Larranaga and Cornell’s Bill Courtney helped him through the process.

Perhaps the biggest influence came from the play of Virginia Commonwealth in last year’s NCAA tournament, as the Rams reached the Final Four featuring a similar style of offense.

“I liked the way that VCU played in the tournament and also throughout the year,” said Kellogg. “I thought they’re similar to us in style and the type of guys they have so I’ve taken some of their press philosophy and also some of their offensive style.”

With the frequent substitutions, Kellogg is calling on his players to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the “brotherhood.”

The change in scheme has also brought excitement to the team, especially to the post players, who should see more touches in the new system.

“In the past, it was more a guard-oriented offense, but now it’s balanced,” said senior big man Sean Carter. “That’s all we’ve been looking for is the balance.”

The fast-paced style of play also appeals to the guards, especially sophomore point guard Chaz Williams, who transferred from Hofstra after being named to the Colonial Athletic Association All-Freshman Team a year ago. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native is quick and a ball-handler who should prove to have a pivotal role in UMass’ new system.

“It’s more in the favor of the way I play, and I feel like it’s in the favor of the way most of the guys on the team play,” said Williams. “It’s benefiting us a lot and it’s helping us to become a much better team than most people think.”

One of the major question marks going into the season is filling the void left by Anthony Gurley, who led the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game in his final season with the Minutemen.

However, Kellogg believes that the offense relied too heavily on Gurley last year and hopes to eliminate dependency on one scoring threat. According to Kellogg, oftentimes others would stand around and watch as they deferred to Gurley to make a play.

“The way I’m coaching it and doing it now, it’ll be spread out a little bit more,” said Kellogg. “A lot more guys have more freedom and you’ll probably see some things out of some guys that they hadn’t shown over a couple years, but I think they’re capable of doing.”

Junior Freddie Riley appears to be the next in line to replace Gurley, as the shooting guard averaged 8.0 points per game and showed signs last year that he can be a dynamic scorer.

Despite the expectations, Riley does not feel replacing Gurley falls entirely on his shoulders.

“I’m not really trying to fill any void because I feel that not only have I improved, but my teammates have improved a great deal so everybody should fill the void, not just me,” said Riley.

Although the adjustments should help the UMass offense throughout the season, Kellogg is not expecting his team to pick up the system right from Day 1 but to continue to grow into the system.

“We were going to have some growing pains no matter what,” Kellogg said. “I’m just trying to have those at a minimum when the real games start.”

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