McCall era tips off for UMass

  • UMass sophomore Juwane Pipkins averaged over 10 points per game during his freshman season. He will be asked to carry the offense even more this season, which opens tonight at the Mullins Center at 7 against UMass-Lowell. J. Anthony Roberts

For The Recorder
Thursday, November 09, 2017

AMHERST — At 7 p.m. Friday, a turbulent offseason and an eventful preseason give way to the 2017-18 regular season and the start of the Matt McCall era at UMass.

The Minutemen will host UMass-Lowell at the Mullins Center in both teams’ season opener.

UMass won’t look much like it did a year ago. Coach Derek Kellogg was fired after the season and seven players transferred.

The Minutemen added five transfers and three freshmen, including Unique McLean, who redshirted last year. Four of the transfers are sitting out, while the fifth, Maryland’s Jaylen Brantley, was expected to be a starter in the backcourt. However, a routine test found a previously undiagnosed heart condition that ended his playing career.

The biggest holdover, literally and figuratively, is center Rashaan Holloway. The junior big man missed most of the preseason with a broken thumb and may not start Friday’s opener, but he remains the UMass player that opponents most have to focus on.

Led by Holloway, the frontcourt looks like a strength. He’s joined by fellow junior Malik Hines, who has earned McCall’s trust through the preseason and with it, the potential to play a lot of minutes. Sophomore Chris Baldwin, who played sparingly last year before gaining momentum late, looks to be a likely key contributor as well.

Freshman Khalea Turner-Morris, who will have a chance to develop behind his three older teammates, has shown promise.

The team’s most indispensable player might be C.J. Anderson, the only senior. He’ll be the point guard in bigger lineups and the power forward in smaller ones. He could guard someone 5-foot-11 to someone 6-8 in the same game. He’ll be asked to score more than he ever has before and be a leader.

Sophomore Luwane Pipkins, who showed scoring ability as a freshman (10.2 ppg), will be asked to score a lot on a team with few natural scorers and limited outside shooting. He’ll play both guard spots and a lot of minutes.

McLean has embraced using his considerable athleticism to become a defensive stopper for UMass and showed promise in that role in UMass’ exhibition game.

Freshman Carl Pierre, who was lightly recruited out of high school, has impressed the coaching staff with his feel, his work ethic and his potential. If he can emerge as an outside shooting threat, the Minutemen will add a dimension offensively.

Walk-on guard Rayshawn Miller has earned regular minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how his role expands as the year progresses.

Last season, Lowell finished 11-20, including a 90-76 loss to UMass. The River Hawks were picked tied for sixth in the America East preseason poll. Senior Jahad Thomas averaged 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds a year ago.

“We have to have an edge to us Friday night. Who cares what’s supposed to happen,” McCall said. “Anything can happen when the ball is thrown up in the air. If we aren’t focused on the right thing, we’ll lose the game. We have to play the game and get lost in competing.

“We just have to focus on ourselves and continue to get better,” McCall added. “We just have to continued to understand pick and roll coverage and transition defense. If you can do a good job in those two areas, you’re team will probably have some success.”