UMass basketball: Final report card

By Stephen Hewitt

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

It was a magical season for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team as the Minutemen experienced a remarkable turnaround. UMass finished the year 25-12 – a 10-win improvement from a year ago when the team finished with a .500 record.

The program appears to be headed towards a bright future, as all but two Minutemen will be back next year, joined by a talented recruiting class and the return of freshman Cady Lalanne and junior Sampson Carter from injury.

Here is a player-by-player evaluation of the team’s season from the opinions of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s men’s basketball beat writers.

Chaz Williams, PG

Stephen Hewitt: A-

Jackson Alexander: A-

Stephen Sellner: A-

JA: Williams was simply fantastic this season in his first year as a Minuteman. He made first team all-conference and led his team in points (16.9), assists (6.4) steals (2.2) and 3-point percentage (42 percent). Just as impressively, he ranked within the top seven in the Atlantic 10 in all four of those categories, and won the conference assist crown.

In addition, Williams also helped shape the culture surrounding UMass basketball. He defers credit to teammates in post-game interviews, and constantly refers to his team as the ‘brotherhood,’ a mantra picked up at the beginning of the season that stuck throughout. The only thing holding him back from a flawless grade was his league-leading 126 turnovers.

Jesse Morgan, SG

SH: B-

JA: B

SS: B

SH: One of the Minutemen’s top 3-point shooters, Jesse Morgan, made big strides this season.

After coming off the bench for the start of the season, he eventually earned a spot in the starting rotation alongside Williams in the backcourt. He had breakout games throughout the year where it seemed like he wouldn’t miss – including the Rhode Island game where he was perfect – but was noticeably absent in many other games, including the team’s finale against Stanford.

If Morgan can work on making his offensive game consistent while also continuing to lock down defensively, he could potentially be one of the conference’s top guards in the future.

Raphiael Putney, SF

SH: C+

JA: C+

SS: C

SH: Putney is another player that made huge strides this season, but like Morgan, was inconsistent, and was almost nowhere to be found during UMass’ postseason run.

The wiry forward proved he was one of the most difficult players to guard. He drained 3-pointers with efficiency all season long – including some really deep ones – and also kept defenses honest with his ability to drive the lane and make difficult runners and floaters.

On the defensive end, he used his long arms to his advantage as he made an astounding 51 blocks that led the team. But he’ll have to be a little more cautious on that end of the floor in the future, as early foul trouble hurt his ability to stay on the floor and produce more consistently.

Terrell Vinson, PF

SH: A-

JA: B

SS: B+

SS: Not enough can be said about the season Vinson had for UMass. Not only did he provide leadership on the court as a junior, but during crunch time, there was no other Minuteman better suited to take a game over. Vinson took his game to another level late in games, the most recent case being his 14-point second half performance that lifted UMass to a come-from-behind victory over Drexel in the NIT quarterfinals.

Vinson was able to stretch the floor with his jump shot but also battle in the paint, making him a tough matchup for opponents.

As he enters his senior year, Vinson’s game should only get better as the Minutemen try to take the next step in reaching the NCAA tournament.

Sean Carter, C

SH: B-

JA: B+

SS: B

SS: Heading into the season, it was uncertain what kind of effectiveness Carter was going to provide for UMass. As the only senior to play notable minutes, expectations were that he would be a leader for the team and play solid defense. What was still uncertain was what kind of lift he would provide offensively.

While he was far from a dominant post player, Carter was a perfect fit for the fast break offense, being on the receiving end of countless alley-oops from Williams. But the senior was respectable in the paint, averaging just south of eight points per game.

Carter had breakout performances this season against Mississippi State in the first round of the NIT (20 points, 12 rebounds) and on senior night against URI (22 points, 10 rebounds).

While the future looks bright for the backcourt with Lalanne and Carter returning from injury, Carter’s ability to defend the post and get up and down the court will be missed.

Javorn Farrell, G/F

SH: C

JA: C+

SS: C+

JA: If it weren’t for his superlative play in March, this grade would be much lower. At the beginning of the year, Farrell made poor decisions with the ball, and took some questionable shots. After being benched on Feb. 29 versus Temple, Farrell picked up his play and was integral in wins versus Duquesne (20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds) and Mississippi State (16 points). Those were his only double-digit games in March, but his defense, passing and rebounding played a key role in UMass’ run. If Farrell can carry over his end of the season play into next year, he will be one more weapon Kellogg can call on.

Maxie Esho, F

SH: C

JA: C

SS: C

SH: With Lalanne and Carter suffering early season injuries, it was Esho who was asked to take on a bigger role that he otherwise wouldn’t have had to fill.

With his long wingspan and athletic ability, Esho was the perfect fit to cause havoc at the front of the UMass press, which is effective all season long in large part to his effectiveness on it.

Arguably one of the most athletic players on the team, Esho was on the receiving end of a lot of alley-oop dunks, but over the course of the season, he greatly improved his offensive game past those highlight flashes. He developed a semblance of a jumper while also having the ability to take it off the dribble and finish inside. He had his coming out party in a 72-71 loss to La Salle in which he finished with 18 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.

There’s no question Esho has much to learn. He’s still extremely raw and made a lot of freshman mistakes this season, but he’s only improving and is a great fit for UMass’ system going forward.

Freddie Riley, SG

SH: D

JA: C-

SS: D+

JA: Good luck finding another UMass player as enigmatic as Riley. One day he can be knocking down 30-foot 3-pointers like it’s nothing, and the next he’s struggling to perform the simplest of basketball tasks. The 2011-12 season was supposed to be his breakout season. Instead, he set career lows for minutes per game, points per game, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Instead of hammering him with a horrid grade because of those stats, I’ve based his grade on the fact that he was caught in a numbers game.

Morgan and Farrell each emerged as more reliable options at shooting guard than him. With more minutes, I believe his production would have improved.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg

SH: A

JA: A-

SS: A

SS: After three sub-par seasons, a lot of pressuring was riding on Derek Kellogg in his fourth year at the helm to get UMass back on the map. And with a roster filled with his recruits, there was no room for excuses; it was time to produce.

And produce they did, posting its best win total since 2007 when Travis Ford led the Minutemen to the NIT championship game. Much of that had to do with Kellogg’s decision to ditch the dribble-drive offense over the offseason in favor of an up-tempo, full-court pressure style that helped maximize the team’s stockpile of athleticism. And despite injuries to Lalanne and Sampson Carter, Kellogg kept the team afloat and marching forward.

Kellogg clearly has this program back on track and appears to have UMass headed down a promising path into the future.

Stephen Hewitt, Jackson Alexander and Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected]