UMass Mailbag: Week 8

  • In a nod to the 1998 University of Massachusetts Championship team, which was inducted into the UMass Athletics Hall of Fame the night before, the Minutemen wore helmets bearing the script "UMass" logo used that year as they took on South Florida at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

Staff Writer
Published: 10/19/2018 3:25:39 PM

It feels great to be answering some more fan questions this week in a mailbag. These next few mailbags will be the most exciting because we’re in the intersection of the three major sports at UMass, which should provide plenty of fodder for questions.

I did not receive many football inquiries this week, so this will be fairly basketball and hockey focused. I can really sense the enthusiasm for those two sports emanating from the fan base right now.

Q: We’ll start with the only football question on the board, which came from JackOEnvelopes on Twitter. He asked me about UMass’ schedule, which this year features two Sun Belt teams and two from Conference USA, and how the school created such a southern-heavy schedule. 

A: I don't have a definitive answer about this schedule, but I do have a strong hypothesis about the teams on this year’s schedule. The Minutemen have their FCS game and also a pair of regional “rivalries” against Boston College and UConn. Then you the second game of a home-and-home with a former MAC foe and a paycheck game to head to Georgia.

Almost all of the other seven teams have something in common – they’re either independents or new to FBS football. With only three years to craft a schedule after leaving the MAC, it’s clear UMass put an emphasis on finding games against schools who also needed to fill up schedules quickly. That led to a four-game deal with Charlotte (FBS in 2015) and four games with Coastal Carolina (FBS in 2017). You could even include the home-and-home with Georgia Southern (FBS in 2014) into that mix as well. They also have long-term deals with independents BYU and Liberty as well as an upcoming contract with independent New Mexico State starting in 2020. That leaves USF and FIU, two series that in theory would put UMass into the recruiting rich areas of Florida.

Q: Gregory Leger asked me last week on Twitter about some players on both the basketball and hockey teams that have stood out in practice that no one was really talking about.

A: I’ll start on the ice because I think Bobby Trivigno is a player who might not garner a lot of attention this year, but could make a big impact on some games this season. Coach Greg Carvel described the freshman as “greasy” after UMass’ opening-night win over RPI, and I think the description fits him well. Trivigno is not afraid to sit in the dirty areas and make things difficult on opponents, but he also has a good offense touch and seems to be fitting in well with the Minutemen’s system.

On the court, I’ve heard rave reviews for Keon Clergeot in the first three weeks of practice. He’s the type of guy who won’t always fill up the stat sheet, but he’s going to be a critical player for UMass this season with his energy. The Memphis transfer is a very smart player who is going to give the Minutemen plenty of quality minutes this year.

Q: That last answer leads perfectly into UMassFan33’s question about the biggest good surprise for coach Matt McCall and the Minutemen this season.

A: I hate to be that guy that says no one has really stood out as a surprise, but in reality, I don’t think anyone has really shocked McCall this offseason. I think there has always been a cautious optimism within the program about this season and everyone has so far lived up to those expectations in practice. This team has practiced well from everything McCall and the players have said publicly, but there’s still a lot to be seen in games from this group to live up to all the expectations from the fans.

Q: Greg Leger asked a second question this week, this time inquiring about the transfer who will make the most impact early on.

A: This answer is actually easy for me, it’s going to be Curtis Cobb. A player doesn’t forget how to score from sitting out a year, and Cobb was a good scorer at Fairfield, averaging at least 10 points per game in each of his first two college seasons. He’ll be the biggest beneficiary of the attention that will be paid to Pipkins this season, and his ability to find ways to score will add a jolt to the Minutemen. He’s also the most experienced of the four transfers, which means his learning curve should be a little bit easier than the other three.

Q: Let’s hop over to my inbox where Logan Jernigan asked me about the tempo UMass will play at this season. 

A: As Logan pointed out in his email, UMass is a lot deeper this year than it was last season, which should allow it to play faster. The Minutemen’s lack of depth definitely hampered how aggressive they could be on both ends of the floor, something McCall definitely wants to change this year. There is no doubt UMass will press more on defense and run in transition more on offense to try to keep the pace of the game fairly high.

The pace will be more obvious on the defensive end, I believe, rather than the offensive end, where McCall is stressing a bit more patience with shot selection. But the Minutemen will be playing much faster this season. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCall roll 11 or 12 deep at the beginning of the season as he tries to find the right combination before settling on a shorter rotation for December and beyond. 

Q: We’ll end with Eric Friedlander’s question, which I had purposefully been avoiding for a little bit. He asked me about a probable starting five for the Minutemen and I didn’t want to answer before I had enough information to make a reasonable stab at things.

A: I think there are only two players whose names are written in pen on the lineup sheet every night – Carl Pierre and Luwane Pipkins. If those two are healthy, they’ll start this season for UMass. I think Rashaan Holloway and Unique McLean will also start for the Minutemen, but I’m far less sure about those two than Pierre and Pipkins. That fifth spot is a bit tricky because I think McCall could switch up his lineups to fit the opponent. I could see McCall using Jonathan Laurent or Curtis Cobb in that final spot, but again McCall doesn’t seem to be close to figuring out who his starting five will be.

Also of note, McCall called starting the most overrated statistic in college basketball because every minute is important and it’s arguably more critical to find a good lineup to finish off games.

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