Matt Vautour: UMass future has a lot of pieces to sort

Last modified: Saturday, May 03, 2014

At the end of the University of Massachusetts’ loss to Saint Louis in the 1998 NCAA tournament, Minuteman fans felt about that season a lot like they do right now about 2013-14.

Back then, UMass was such a fixture in the tournament that a first-round loss was something regrettable, something that felt beneath expectations.

But as the years passed and the Minutemen continued to miss the postseason, memories of that team and what it accomplished grew a lot fonder.

For the next few days and weeks, the margin of 86-67 loss to Tennessee will leave people with some negative thoughts about the season or at least how it ended, blocking out the fact that after 15 years of futility it was a huge step.

But how will people remember this season five years from now? Was this season the start of something or a culmination? Were the current seniors the foundation or the rooftop?

Or simply: What happens next?

Only time will tell.

Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney were important pieces of UMass’ building process, but the biggest question will be replacing Chaz Williams. The senior point guard has played an immeasurable role in everything the Minutemen have done the past three seasons. In addition to his impressive statistics, he’s been a leader and the player the Minutemen have built everything they’ve done around.

“There’s a great group of young guys on this team,” Williams said, looking around the locker room. “They’re just going to build off of what we started and keep it going. They’re ready.”

UMass will use some combination of Trey Davis and West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds to fill his on-court role. Who fills his leadership shoes will be something that develops.

The Minutemen have talent. Derrick Gordon was a much better player down the stretch than he was in December and January. He’ll be asked to shoulder more scoring, defense and probably leadership.

Cady Lalanne has a big offseason in front of him. After an excellent start to his season, he tailed off at the end of the year. If he comes back with increased muscle and commitment, he could have a chance for a great senior year and professional career.

UMass will need contributions from guys who’ve never been relied on before. UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he planned to press more, run more and play more guys next year.

The Minutemen had been excited about Zach Coleman before he was injured in the preseason. He’ll get a crack at helping to fill the minutes and scoring vacated by Carter and Putney.

Demetrius Dyson, who impressed the coaching staff in practice and short playing stints figures to see a sizable jump in minutes as well.

Seth Berger and Clyde Santee could earn more time with strong offseasons.

In addition to incoming freshmen C.J. Anderson, a forward, and Rashaan Holloway, a big man, the wild card is newcomer Donte Clark, a highly regarded wing who sat out this year as an academic nonqualifier.

Kellogg pondered the intersection of the past, present and future to close his postgame press conference.

“I think about it frequently — of UMass being back in the NCAA tournament and how long it’s taken us to get there. Not only myself, but over the last years of kind of building the program and making sure that we do it the right way, which takes some time,” Kellogg said. “I think the whole university, the campus and all the people were really appreciative of what we’ve been able to accomplish this season and I’m hoping it’s a spring board that we can at least be in the conversation every year to be one of those teams (in NCAA contention). So I’m happy with obviously the way the season played out and getting here. But also, it’s kind of bittersweet because I would have liked to have been playing on Sunday.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage