With added bench depth, UMass men’s basketball looks to play at faster pace

Minutemen add four transfers, three freshmen to roster

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Katherine Mayo/Collegian

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

Matt McCall’s tool box during his second year at the helm of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team looks far different than the one he had a season ago.

After the firing of Derek Kellogg, many players transferred out of the program, leaving the Minutemen with a bench that sometimes was just one or two players deep. That will not be the case this season as after an infusion of transfers and recruits, McCall has a deep lineup to play with and run different schemes with.

Since UMass was a small team last year, it didn’t have the bench depth to utilize its speed and athleticism, having to conserve certain players to be able to play nearly the entire 40 minutes of the game. Now with bodies at their disposal, the Minutemen have made a focus of working on their press defense, something that should be utilized routinely during the season.

“I think they’re excited about it,” McCall said of the new defense. “In order to press, you have to want to press. It’s got to become instinctive as far as when the ball goes through the net. Based on lineups will determine how we press, how much we press. I think our guys are excited about it. I think they want to do it and it’s been a huge focus for us throughout the last three weeks.”

One reason the team is excited about the prospect of playing faster is that it gets everyone involved. When a team is racing up and down the court and playing with a high energy level, it takes a whole team effort to not wear any particular player down.

McCall knows he will need to utilize his bench to play this style, and hopes it brings a healthy competition to the team.

“In order to press you’ve got to play bodies,” McCall said. “You can’t play our style of play and play six guys; there’s a lot of minutes that guys need to play to help us press. I told our team, I think one of the most overrated things in college basketball is starting. If you’re focused on that, you’re focused on the wrong things.

“You’ve got to focus on how to impact the game,” he added. “And I think for all those young guys, having an understanding of what we’re doing, but the biggest thing is bringing energy and effort every single day, and that’ll get you on the floor.”

For returning players like Carl Pierre, the opportunity to get some rest and be able to play at a high tempo is thrilling. Pierre averaged 31.2 minutes per game a season ago, sometimes playing the full 40 minutes. With the opportunity to get more rest, the sophomore should have fresh legs to improve on his overall offensive and defensive game.

“It’s super exciting,” Pierre said. “Playing fast is just, how can I say it… the beautiful game, I guess you could say. The game’s flowing, you’re getting shots, getting stops, pressuring teams – that’s where you get a lot of energy and that’s where the game really becomes fun.”

Additionally, the deep roster will pay dividends for guard Luwane Pipkins. The junior played just under 35 minutes per game a season ago, while also handling the responsibility of bringing the ball up the court and often times defending the opposition’s top ball handler.

With teams attempting to wear Pipkins out to disrupt his explosive offensive game, they would often press him to tire him out. That won’t be the case this year, as Memphis transfer Keon Clergeot and freshman Tre Wood are capable ball handlers who will be able to take some pressure of Pipkins by bringing the ball up the court.

“I think we have the luxury to do that,” McCall said. “Offensively, it takes some of the pressure off [Pipkins] bringing it up every time. He’s going to be on the floor. If we’re going to press, he’s got to also be fresh. We’ve got to make sure that we conserve his legs in different ways that we can.”

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.