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Counting Down the Most Important UMass Minuteman: Part Two

UMass basketball is almost back baby! As the season opener draws near we will look at the most important players for the Minutemen squad this year.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

In part one we looked at players 13-6 on the roster. Now here are the top five most important players for the Massachusetts Minutemen this season.

Note: This is not a straight ranking of the best players on the team. This is ranking includes three pieces of criteria: impact a player will have on the team, how important it is for the player to play at a high level, and finally how important it is that the player improves his game from last year.

The Backup and Team Chemist

5. Tyler Bergantino: F/C. 6-9, 250 lb. Junior #11

Borrowing a term from the Bill and Jalen Basketball Preview, the Chemist is in charge of the team chemistry. Team chemistry is always important on college teams with factors being the length of the season and how much time the players are around each other. Bergantino is the class clown of the Minutemen and helps to loosen the mood making videos like this:

and this:

His YouTube channel is here and is worth checking out.

Besides being the head honcho on team chemistry Bergantino will play an even bigger role as the first big man off the bench. With some serious depth issues on the front court Bergantino will be used to spell both Esho and Lalanne, unless Kellogg wants to go small ball. While he may not play the most minutes on average there will be games where Lalanne and or Esho get into foul trouble early and Bergantino will need to play major minutes. He appeared in all but one game and averaged 7.3 minutes last year with 1.5 rebounds and .3 blocks. He needs to be more aggressive on the boards and play better help defense down low because there really is no one else to play center if Lalanne or Esho are out of the lineup.

The Firecracker Turned Firework

4. Maxie Esho: F. 6-8, 215. Senior #1

After spending the last two seasons as one of the best 6th man in the country, Esho finally gets the nod to enter the starting lineup full time. Late in the season with Lalanne in a slump Kellogg tried out Esho as a starter in the NCAA tournament game. The game that demonstrated just what Esho could do when he put his whole game together was the George Washington game in the A-10 tournament. Maxie finished with 22 points on 7-11 shooting from the field and added 8-10 from the FT. He also added in seven boards and was the best player on the floor for UMass.

Esho provided a spark off the bench that translated to the rest of the team. Playing only 21.2 minutes a game he will see a substantial increase in playing time and it will be interesting to see if he can play with that fire for 30 minutes a game. Beside from being a highlight reel Esho was a jack of all trades last year coming in at sixth for scoring, third in rebounding, steals, and blocks and number one at these:

Esho did average three personal fouls last year which is a concern with the lack of front court depth. There is a big drop-off from Esho to Bergantino or any other wing Kellogg could plug in if UMass goes small ball. Esho will be counted on to be the second leading rebounder along with blocking shots coming from the weak side along with improving his offensive game.

The Potential Sixth Man

3. Jabarie Hinds: G. 5-11, 185. Junior (RS) #4

Hinds comes to the Minutemen by way of Morgantown WV, home of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Hinds started 59 games in his two seasons with WVU and gives UMass a key vet who has competed in a top tier conference. He started 59 of the 65 games that he appeared in during his two years under Bob Huggins, and averaged 7.4 points per game along with 1.6 assists during his sophomore year. Coming out of high school he was the 73 player in the country and 13th at point guard.

He seems to be set as the 6th man for the Minutemen which is almost more important than being the fifth starter. Talent wise he is right up there with anyone on this roster and is familiar with the team after he had to sit out  last year due to his transfer. He is also one of the fastest players on the team and will be a weapon off the bench playing against starters who will be gassed. Playing him with Gordon and Davis though could be a problem defensively since he is only 5-11 and that would be a miniature backcourt which is probably why he won't start. But he will be the leader of the second unit and is a good free throw shooter and will be on the court at the end of games which is more important than starting.

The Can't Get Injured Guys

2. Cady Lalanne: C. 6-10, 253 lb. Senior #25

Lalanne started off as hot as any big man could be with seven double-doubles in the first twelve games. Over the next 21 games he would only have three of them. He played his worst games during both the A-10 and NCAA tournament which is not something that you want from your star player. However his decline in production can be attributed to the style of offense UMass was running during conference play with Chaz Williams becoming a ball stopper at times.

Despite the downturn in the second half Lalanne still averaged 11.3 points (55% FG), 7.9 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. As Lalanne will become more of the focal point in the offense he be better on offense and by being in the flow of the game he will play better. Defensively he is the anchor and UMass' best rim protector. He needs to repeat his fouls per game numbers of 2.6 from last year as staying on the court will be essential.

As a senior Lalanne has taken on a more vocal leadership role and is very charismatic. If Lalanne can be a solid double-double guy every game while adding in multiple blocks this could be a special year not only for him but for the whole team. If Lalanne has chronic foul trouble or misses significant time with injury this season could get ugly. With no solid back up big man that can give you 30 minutes of quality basketball on both sides of the floor Cady is one of the keys to making it back to the big dance.

Look for Lalanne to evolve into one of the best big men of the country and start to garner national recognition.

1. Trey Davis: G. 6-0, 185 lb. Junior #12

While I think Lalanne is the most talented player on this Minutemen roster Trey Davis is the most important. The starting point guard is the most important player on the team because they are the floor general and control the flow of the game also making them a leader on the court.

Davis was probably the surprise breakout player last year. He saw his minutes jump from 9.5 to 23.3 and increased his points from 3.3 to 9.2 which was fifth on the team. He shared the 6th man name with Maxie Esho and the two of them provided not only good energy off the bench, but also production. Davis was second for assists with 2.5 and third in steals with .9 per game. The most impressive stat he had last year was his 1.2 turnovers per game. He has a good basketball IQ and is good at taking care of the ball. He also led the team in three point shooting percentage with 37.7 percent and took the second most on the team.

With Chaz departing that leaves 35.2 minutes per game open. Davis may not play that many this year but he will average more than 30 for the year. However, just because he is taking over for Chaz does not mean he will be the next Chaz. Davis isn't the creator or the ball stopper that Williams was and will orchestrate the offense in the halfcourt much better. He won't be nearly as good running the fast break as Williams was but UMass will have enough athletes to make up for that. The halfcourt offense was pretty tough to watch at times last year and Lalanne was not getting the touches that he needed. Davis should take a more hands off approach than Williams and let others like Gordon drive to the basket and create offense. Also he is a very good spot up shooter where Williams was a better shooter off the dribble. This will allow Davis to find open windows and knock down threes when other guys are trying to create. Perimeter shooting is a weakness that UMass has going into the season and Davis will need to repeat that near 40 percent season.

Davis also hit key shots during major points in big games. If the Minutemen are looking to make a run at the A-10 title and deeper run that last year in the NCAA's Davis will need to keep playing his best basketball late in the games. Trey will probably put up numbers around 15 points and 6 assists and will be one of the best points in the A-10.

For the Minutemen to repeat a ticket to the NCAA's Davis will need to orchestrate a more fluid offense from last year and continue to hit threes and take care of the ball.