UMass looks to start off its season with cohesive play against UMBC

Steadman, Buttrick will look to contribute in absence of Tre Mitchell

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Parker Peters / Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

Fans will finally witness the product of an eventful offseason for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team against University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Tuesday night in the first home game without COVID-19 restrictions since March of 2020.

The Minutemen will need their bigs to step up both defensively and on the boards, as Tre Mitchell led the team in rebounds and blocks but is now no longer at UMass.

Another point of emphasis will be guarding the 3-point line and not allowing the Retrievers to do damage from distance. UMBC plays fast and shoots a lot of 3-pointers, so defensive positioning will be vital. Head coach Matt McCall believes this roster has the flexibility and depth to allow for defensive versatility, but still need to secure the rebounds off the misses.

McCall wants his team to have a “connected, five guys versus the basketball” mentality on defense, aggressive but disciplined. Guards Noah Fernandes and T.J. Weeks will certainly play a big role, but it is still unclear who will step up from the forward position, and McCall believes it’ll have to be done as a collective.

“I think we got to get it done by committee,” McCall said of his wing players. “I think [T.J. Weeks Jr.] and Dyondre Dominguez have had a really, really good offseason summer.”

Michael Steadman, a new addition to the Minutemen from Montana brings needed length, post skills and ability to guard the pick-and-roll. He suffered a sprained ankle in October, but McCall expects him to be ready to go at tip-off.

UMass’ other new addition, Trent Buttrick, will fit in with the rest of the bigs and the squad. Buttrick is a skilled forward who transferred from Penn State and can contribute to the offensive game with his shooting, pick-and-pop ability and ability to put the ball on the floor to create for others.

Buttrick enjoys playing with savvy guards like Fernandes and Weeks and how he meshes with players such as Dominguez, Dibaji Walker and Steadman will be critical for the success of UMass. There will likely be some lineup movement in the first few games, but the Minutemen are expected to contribute from the get-go.

“I feel like we’ve really come together as a team the last two and a half weeks,” Buttrick said.

His role has changed since his time with Penn State, but he believes it’s for the better.

“I feel like I’m allowed to do more, to showcase more of my skills.”

Buttrick credits coach McCall for his successful transition and says building a good relationship with McCall made him feel comfortable right away.

As for the team’s transition into this season after losing three starting-caliber players in Mitchell Ronnie DeGray III and Carl Pierre, the difference in who’s getting minutes will be huge. Fernandes sees potential in his squad’s toughness and maturity.

“This year everybody who returned got a lot better,” Fernandes said. “The past three weeks have been amazing, we got a lot better as a team. We just got to stay locked in and we’ll be good.”

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Mullins Center.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.