Touri: UMass should follow blueprint to winning set by Atlantic 10’s best

UMass finished first in three-point percentage in A-10


(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

If you look at the three Atlantic 10 teams that managed bids into this year’s NCAA tournament, you’ll find a major theme: guards, wings and perimeter shooting.

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team wrapped its first season under coach Matt McCall last week, and there’s plenty of reason for optimism despite the second round exit. This is still a young team with promise moving forward, and the blueprint for building a successful program sits in front of them.

The A-10 was a three-bid league this season, and tournament champions Davidson, regular season winners Rhode Island and at-large bidders St. Bonaventure were by far the most successful teams in the conference. None of the three made a major run through the tournament, but UMass can still look to each for guidance.

Take URI, the best team in the conference for a majority of the winter. It’s a team built around perimeter play, around guards Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin, along with wings E.C. Matthews and Stanford Robinson. Terrell was First Team All-Conference this season, Matthews was third team—and had a case for second—while Dowtin will be a force in the conference next season, with fellow guard and Twitter darling Fatts Russell right beside him. The Rams were built around guards and wings, not bigs.

The Bonnies were largely carried by two First Team All-Conference guards in Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, a pair of deadly outside shooters that set the conference on fire down the stretch of the season. Adams was the conference’s Co-Player of the Year, while Mobley set an A-10 Tournament record for threes in a single game, draining nine triples as Bonaventure topped Richmond in the quarterfinals. Even when Mobley and Adams were cold, it was wing Courtney Stockard who picked up the slack, posting his best performances of the year in late February and into March.

Davidson was more of the same, as the A-10 tourney champs launched three after three en route to an automatic bid into the Big Dance. Co-Player of the Year Peyton Aldridge could qualify as a “big,” a monster on the low block that could score with either hand, but even he had stellar range, one of the league’s better 3-point shooters with an outside game to match his inside exploits. With Aldridge cold, the Wildcats still managed to give Kentucky hell in the tournament, as sophomore guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson was on fire from deep to keep Davidson alive. With Aldridge graduating, freshman guard Kellen Grady looks like one of the A-10’s next big star, an electric scorer inside and out.

Oh, and Davidson, Bonaventure and URI were second, third and fourth in the conference in 3-point percentage this season.

Here’s what I’m getting at: watching those three teams in a position that the Minutemen hope to find themselves in for years to come is proof that the path to success for UMass is on the perimeter, not down low. If the Minutemen hope to be perennial contenders for an NCAA bid, they need to build around their guards, around strong 3-point shooters.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that there’s no place for big men in today’s game. But that role is severely diminished, and that’s where basketball is going. As much a force as I think Rashaan Holloway can be on his night, he’s not the guy McCall needs to build around; Luwane Pipkins is, and Carl Pierre can be.

The Minutemen are already on their way, with perhaps the best young backcourt in the A-10. Adams and Mobley will graduate from Bonaventure this spring, and that sort of dominant backcourt is a lofty goal. Pipkins has already proven that he is one of the conference’s premier scorers, having averaged 21.2 points a game this season and leading the league in scoring in A-10 play. Pierre, meanwhile, was the A-10’s best 3-point shooter and has shown flashes of ability to score off the bounce and going to the basket, not just as a catch-and-shoot sniper.

I’m not saying guys like Holloway, Malik Hines and Chris Baldwin have no role to play at all; they surely do. McCall can’t run with five guards all season, but for the Minutemen to really be successful, they have to be the secondary option. With Pierre and Pipkins returning, and transfers Curtis Cobb and Keon Clergeot entering the lineup next year, McCall has a plethora of guard and wing weapons to lay a real foundation moving forward.

If UMass can invest in guys like that, and follow the example that the A-10’s three best teams set this season, the Minutemen could become a team full of athletic scorers with range, stretching teams out and making them pay from outside.

This season was a start; Pipkins became a superstar in the A-10, Pierre impressed from outside and the team was always dangerous from deep. After all, those three teams were second, third and fourth in 3-point percentage—UMass finished first.

The future of basketball is moving further and further away from the basket. That future could be a bright one for UMass.

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