The No. 22 Massachusetts men’s basketball team doesn’t quite fit the new mold that is becoming men’s Division I college basketball.
The Minutemen don’t boast a lineup filled with superstar freshmen or potential NBA lottery picks. Instead, they are doing things the old fashioned way, with an experienced lineup that doesn’t rely on just one player to lead the way.
And maybe that is exactly why this year’s team is off to one of the best starts in program history and nationally ranked for the first time in 15 years.
“I think that (experience) brings you closer, makes you like a close-knit team,” junior Cady Lalanne said. “We all know each other’s game and have good chemistry with each other. What’s their go-to move. What they are like. Where they like the ball.”
One could argue that Chaz Williams was a one-man offensive show at times for UMass last season. But this year is different. Instead of Williams trying to do it all by himself, it’s up in the air every game as to who will lead the Minutemen in scoring. Through eight games, every starter has led the team in scoring at least once, with every starter averaging in double-digit points per game.
“I would say there’s a combination of a lot of things,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “A lot of guys have improved. We’ve had some different guys inserted into the lineup that have changed the complexion of the team, whether it’s Trey (Davis), Derrick Gordon, or a guy like Sampson (Carter) is playing good basketball.”
Every game, someone new steps up. Whether it’s Lalanne leading the charge with rebounds, Davis coming off the bench to hit crucial 3-pointers, or Maxie Esho upping the team’s energy by playing aggressive defense, the Minutemen have players that do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“Everybody is just ready,” Williams said. “Coach instilled in us to be ready at all times and I think our guys are doing that. We got that type of team that any given night, it can be any guy going off for 30 (points).”
While every player has had a hand in helping UMass get off to a perfect 8-0 start, Kellogg and the other players have been quick to defer all praise to Williams, the team’s leader.
“I think Chaz is doing a very, very good job of getting everybody involved with distributing the basketball and picking his spots to score,” Kellogg said.
That unselfish play was on full display Saturday, when Williams finished with a career-high in points (32) and assists (15) in the Minutemen’s 105-96 win over Bringham Young. Following the game, Williams said the assists total is what impressed him most and that he has always taken more pride in distributing the basketball rather than scoring it.
That mindset has made the team better so far this season and it’s made Williams a more efficient player through the first month of the season.
“I know any given play, I can give it to my teammates and they can do the same thing that I can do just as well,” Williams said. “It’s just all about having confidence in my teammates and just playing basketball.”
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.