The Massachusetts Minutemen have proven they will be one of the top contenders in the Atlantic 10 this season. UMass (14-5, 4-2) is coming off of an exhilarating 61-60 victory against La Salle this past Wed. Just three days before that significant win, the Minutemen took down a Richmond team that was riding high after defeating none other than the Charlotte 49ers.
The John Calipari protégé and now Head Coach in his fifth seasons with Massachusetts, Derek Kellogg, has his Minutemen hitting their stride at the perfect time as conference play is heating up. After Kellogg's first winning season (25-12, 9-7) as head coach coming last year, UMass is certainly complimenting the success they displayed towards the end of last season with a strong 2013 campaign.
While Massachusetts is arguably having one of their best seasons in recent memory, that too is Charlotte. The Minutemen and the 49ers have very similar playing style, especially on defense; there are some very distinct style differences though, which will make their fast-approaching matchup a must-watch.
UMass' point guard Chaz Williams is undoubtedly the team's standout performer. Recording 16.7 points and 7.2 assists per game, Williams' heads the Atlantic 10 in assists (No. 6 in NCAA). The speedy, junior guard who is known across the conference for his ball handling and slash-to-the-basket mentality has become a consistent outside threat as well. After shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc last year, Williams is shooting just under that, at 41 percent this season. In the last two years he has proven to be one of the most dependably dynamic players for the Minutemen, let alone the Atlantic 10.
The similarities that Charlotte and Massachusetts show come from their interior play. While the Minutemen may have a slight height advantage, both teams pride themselves on a deep bench.
Raphiael Putney contributes constant production in the paint for the UMass attack, scoring a team-high 17 points in their last appearance against La Salle. Where Putney does lack on the defensive end, others excel. In their last outing, sophomore forward Cady Lelanne almost had half of the entire team's rebounds, he finished with 9 points and 10 rebounds.
Sophomore Forward, Maxie Esho fills out just about every box-score stat he possibly can. Terrell Vinson follows suit and applies heavy pressure in the paint, disturbing post-up player's rhythm. On Wednesday against the Musketeers, 72 percent of the Minutemen's points came from their big-four interior players. Putney, Lelanne, Esho and Vinson were the teams leading scorers that game; as of late they have confirmed that they have the ability to take over any contest.
The unpredictable style that Massachusetts plays with will make them a tough competitor in any game this season. Although the interior play of UMass isn't quite polished yet, their backcourt is; the Minutemen are quickly progressing towards becoming a dangerous dual-threat team to keep an eye on in the coming months.
The Charlotte 49ers (16-4, 4-2) are coming off one of their most tumultuous week of the season.
Three days after being ambushed by George Washington, Alan Major and Judy Rose announced that junior DeMario Mayfield had been suspended indefinitely.
The loss of Mayfield, their leading scorer, is a huge blow to a team that already has trouble putting the ball in the basket.
In league play, Mayfield has averaged 14.3 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game. He's accounted for half of the 49ers 3-point offense.