The first game of the season is finally in the books and basketball season has started in about as fortuitous a way as possible for the UMass Minutemen. Derek Kellogg's crew pulled off a solid win over Boston College and will now turn its full attention towards the next test, a very talented LSU Tigers team.
"To get LSU at UMass, you can't turn those BCS-level games down," Kellogg said after the team's win over Boston College on Sunday. "All coaches would like to ease their way into the season, except for Coach [Steve] Donahue and myself, I guess. But I think with a senior-laden team and some older guys you can [schedule tough games early], but you have to be really careful in scheduling and know what's right for your program in that particular year."
The two-day turnaround could lead to some tired legs, but Kellogg expected to have a light day on Monday and hopefully a later shootaround on Tuesday, although with an 11:00 a.m. start time, that might be hard to accomplish.
Much like UMass caught BC two days after its opener, the Tigers will meet the Minutemen in their opener two days following UMass' first game. An experienced bunch, one can assume that UMass will acquit itself a little better than the Eagles did, but underestimating that quick turnaround so early in the season can be dangerous.
Meanwhile, LSU is coming off a 35-point win in an exhibition game and has generated enough interest around the country to garner a three votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll and eight votes in the AP Top 25. The freshman duo of Jordan Mickey and No. 11 overall prospect Jarell Martin has the Tigers' expectations much higher than normal. In their debut, Mickey stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, eight blocks and six rebounds while Martin scored 11 points.
The Tigers also feature two talented point guards who will likely split the duties right down the middle. Anthony Hickey and Tim Quarterman combined for seven points, six assists, five steals and just one turnover. Quarterman got the start and played 22 minutes while Hickey came off the bench for 19.
Andre Stringer was the game-high scorer in the Tigers' exhibition, scoring 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting in 28 minutes. Containing him will be a responsibility that falls to Derrick Gordon and there is little reason to believe he won't handle be able to handle Stringer.
Three Keys to the Game
- Point guard play will be huge. Chaz Williams is as solid as it comes at this position, but dealing with two players capable of playing the position at full speed will certainly make things difficult. When Williams need to rest, Trey Davis will need to have another solid game off the bench and Gordon will likely see some minutes as the primary ball handler.
- Cady Lalanne was a force against Boston College, but the Eagles' frontcourt was either in foul trouble or not up to the task of dealing with such a physical player. LSU will be quite different in this respect. Lalanne will need to have something close to a repeat performance (17 and 10 rebounds would be fine) for UMass to keep playing the way it wants to play.
- Raphiael Putney is a very, very uniquie player who can help this team when he is in the game. However, throughout his career his foul struggles have led to a severe dip in playing time. If this trend continues on Tuesday, Putney could see his spot in the starting lineup vanish. Probably for good this time.
Player of Interest
The Freshmen. Kellogg said (per Dan Malone) that he wanted to play some of the new guys against Boston College but the game was never at a point where he felt comfortable putting them in. Demetrius Dyson is expected to get the most run of the group and Zach Coleman isn't expected to play for a few weeks with an injury. That leaves Dyson, Seth Berger and Clydee Santee as the candidates and I would like to see each of them make a contribution to this game.
If UMass can play the way they played against BC -- physical, timely shooting, fast -- I think they can beat almost anyone in the country, including LSU. UMass wins, 80-75.