UMass men’s basketball experimenting with two big-men lineups

Minutemen have thrown out lineups with Tre Mitchell and Djery Baptiste playing together

Parker+Peters%2FDaily+Collegian

Parker Peters

Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Javier Melo, Assistant Sports Editor

Running a lineup with two big men isn’t exactly conducive with how basketball is played in 2020.

However, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has been throwing out lineups that do just that, and those lineups have flashed signs of impressive play.

Freshman Tre Mitchell and graduate student Djery Baptiste couldn’t be more different as players. Mitchell is a skilled big that looks like the type that would’ve dominated the NBA in the 2000’s with his post ability and shooting talent.

Baptiste is the polar opposite. He’s a big whose game revolves around defense and rebounding. He is listed at 6-foot-10, 245 pounds and is just a very physically imposing presence. His length offers him the ability to alter shots around the basket and his imposing physicality allows him to set good, strong screens.

A big strength that the lineup involving the two has offered UMass (9-14, 3-7 Atlantic 10) is in the rebounding department. Mitchell is a solid rebounder, but Baptiste is terrific at boxing out and clearing space to go up and get the ball. The two combine well and have become a vacuum for rebounds when mixed in together.

They also offer defensive versatility inside the paint. The two are long and active on defense, resulting in shots being altered on either side of the basket and making it tough for teams to create shots near the basket.

“I like it from a rebounding standpoint,” McCall said. “I like it from a defensive standpoint. We’re longer, especially when we’re in zone. I still gotta figure out what we’re going to do offensively. I don’t love our spacing when they’re in there on offense. We’ve got to continue to put them in situations out there when they are in offensively. But when you’re playing against a team as physical as Rhode Island was, it was a lineup that we had success with because they’re physical in the interior.”

The offensive side of things hasn’t been seamless, which is why the two have barely seen time on the floor together. The lack of depth at the position behind the two also doesn’t help in that regard. That said, the potential is there. Mitchell is a very skilled offensive player. He can shoot the ball from any part of the court and there is a world where he’s a stretch big in the lineup that involves Baptiste.

If the two of them can figure out the chemistry on offense, this lineup could be a big advantage as the season starts to wind down and more tough opponents start coming. Baptiste certainly agrees.

“I think if we can find the offensive piece of it, like just the chemistry where we go and everything’s flowing, I think it can be very deadly,” Baptiste said.

Another deterrent to a big lineup getting more minutes is the loss of TJ Weeks. The sharpshooting freshman offered flexibility on the perimeter with his length and passing ability, but also offered another real threat for teams alongside Carl Pierre. Without Weeks, the Minutemen don’t really have any consistent 3-point shooters outside of Pierre. That presents a big issue when it comes to playing a big lineup.

A part of Mitchell’s game that could make these two function well is Mitchell’s passing ability. Against Rhode Island, Mitchell only registered three assists, but did not turn the ball over and made great kick-outs to the perimeter.

“He had some terrific passes,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “There’s been games where he’s gotten doubled where he’s kicked out, we just haven’t made shots. That was one of the things that I liked most about Tre in the recruiting process.

“I just think that when you get frontcourt players that can pass, it completely changes your team. With how we want to play offensively, if you have frontcourt guys who can pass, you become just that much more deadly. And whether he’s on the perimeter or on the post, he’s got such good feel, he can find guys. That’s where he’s terrific.”

So, will the big-men lineup be rolled out for more than like a two-minute run every once in a while? Probably not. But it offers another dimension to the Minutemen if properly ironed out.

And who knows, maybe bully ball is what brings UMass over the hump.

Javier Melo can be reached by email at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.