UMass men’s basketball looks to extend winning streak against Georgia State

By Amin Touri

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

Fresh off two signature wins against Providence and Georgia, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will play the fourth of five consecutive home games when Georgia State comes to town on Wednesday, with a three-game winning streak and an unbeaten home record on the line.

With back-to-back statement wins under their belts, the Minutemen (6-5) are trying to keep their momentum going against a tough Panther (7-4) team that pushed Dayton to overtime on the road over the weekend.

According to coach Matt McCall—who had previously mentioned his concerns about his team getting “fat, happy and satisfied” after some recent success—the team’s effort level has stayed high after the weekend win.

“I was concerned with their effort, coming out of those two games,” McCall said after Tuesday’s practice. “We haven’t had bad effort in practice, especially since what they’re dealing with from a distractions standpoint outside of basketball. Once this is over, it becomes all ball, which is great. I haven’t felt like they’ve been complacent or not willing to work.”

In contrast to the Bulldog team they faced over the weekend, one whose offense flowed through the frontcourt, the Minutemen will see a guard-dominant team in Georgia State on Wednesday.

“Well I think when you look at them on film, the majority of the game they’re playing with four guards out there,” said McCall. “Their guards have tremendous size, can score in the post, so they cause you a lot of problems, give you matchup problems. With them starting four guards, it puts you in a bit of a bind with how you want to match up.”

The Panther offense runs through guard D’Marcus Simonds, who’s averaging 20.9 points per game this season along with 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists to his credit. Simonds is a slasher who makes his living going to the hole and either finishing or getting the foul; he’s already been to the line 68 times this season in just 11 games, an effective approach for a 77 percent free throw shooter.

Simonds combines with Devin Mitchell and Malik Benlevi—averaging 12.2 and 11.6 points per game, respectively—for a perimeter triumvirate that forces teams to go small to adjust.

According to senior forward C.J. Anderson, however, UMass wants to force the matchup adjustment on Wednesday, not be forced into one.

“We’re not trying to get accustomed to teams,” Anderson said. “We try to make them adjust to us. No matter what game we come into, if they’re big or small, we’re going to stick with our team, do what we’ve been doing. We want to use our advantages—we have bigs, we have size on our team, we don’t have to play four guards just because they are.”

Defensively, the Panthers spend an overwhelming majority of the game in a matchup zone, and their lack of man-to-man means they focus more on their own personnel than on opposing matchups.

“I don’t think they’re overly concerned with who’s on the floor for us,” said McCall. “But we have the flexibility to go small, which we’ll probably do a lot tomorrow. It’s a very challenging game from a style of play standpoint, from a personnel standpoint, it’s a huge challenge for us tomorrow.”

The Georgia State contests comes in the midst of a hectic time for the Minutemen—the stretch run of finals week UMass, as the last round of exams concludes on Wednesday, hours before they suit up for a 7 p.m. tip-off.

“It’s a difficult time right now because of finals,” McCall said. “They’re dealing with more than they’re normally dealing with, from exams to campus becoming empty, there’s just a lot of stuff going on. There’s some distractions, and we confronted it, we talked about it.”

Anderson, on the other hand, thinks that basketball is a distraction from academics, not the other way around.

“We’re feeling good,” Anderson said. “It’s a lot on our plate right now, but at the same time this is like our safehouse. When we come here, your stress and everything is relieved. We just come here and play for each other.”

The Minutemen have two games remaining on the non-conference schedule, and look to keep their momentum going after a pair of huge victories.

“I just think we just got to keep getting better,” McCall said. “We got to continue to work, continue to improve, continue to make strides. This is not necessarily about Dec. 20, this is about January, February, March, are we peaking at the right time. Let’s not peak on Dec. 18 after two good wins. There’s an enormous amount of basketball left to be played, so we just got to continue to get better.”

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.