The Niners (9-8, 1-2) got off the early conference-play schneid by up-ending the Fordham Rams on Saturday 71-61. It was a game that again saw Derrio Green dismantle the Rams with outstanding shooting; however, this time the Niners managed to keep one-man wrecking machine Chris Gaston in check to provide the difference. Wednesday night brings another northeastern foe in the UMass Minutemen, who enter the game 10-6 overall and 2-1 in conference play, featuring wins over the perpetually obnoxious Dayton Flyers and the LaSalle Explorers.
UMass is a predictable team in that they’re predictably underachieving -don’t let the Dayton win fool you, Dayton is a perpetual paper lion. In the third season of Derek Kellogg’s grease-haired reign, the Minutemen show few signs of improvement at a time where Kellogg’s style and recruiting should be making their mark on the program (I add that caveat of the third season given our own struggles under first year head coach Alan Major). A particularly rough stretch was one featuring three straight home losses, including one to lightly-regarded Maine. Despite the poor results UMass does have discernible talent and given that, the Niners should not regard them lightly.
The Minutemen have just one double-digit scorer, 5th year Sr. Anthony Gurley (who many remember transferred from Wake Forest following the ’06-’07 season). Gurley to his credit has become a better all-around scorer, relying less on his outside shot and more on the rest of his game. He is still though a solid threat from outside, hitting on 37.5% of his attempts. It will be interesting to see if Gurley tries to attack the (likely) Niner 2-3 zone or if he tries to shoot over it. Joining Gurley in the backcourt is fellow Sr. PG Gary Correia. Correia doesn’t score much (4.1 ppg) and isn’t a terrific playmaker (2.5 apg) but is a respectable defender. Wing forward and former Niner recruit Terrell Vinson appears to be struggling in his sophomore campaign with UMass, seeing his scoring nearly cut in half (5.7 ppg vs. 9.6 ppg last year). Though his overall FG% is nearly the same, Vinson has seen his perimeter shooting drop, foul shooting drop and perhaps most importantly, his foul shooting rate has declined. It’s an unfortunate decline for the Minutemen as Vinson was highly heralded and had a very impressive freshman campaign. Vinson’s struggles are likely due to lingering Achilles’ tendinitis, something Deuce Briscoe knows a thing or two about.
Fellow sophomore swingman Freddie Riley has also struggled to improve upon his play from a year ago, scoring at the same rate but taking more shots to do so. Particularly concerning is his play of late as he hasn’t managed to score in double figures over the last 6 games, including a goose egg against LaSalle in just 11 minutes of action. In the front court, Sampson Carter who claims his two last names as his most proud accomplishment, starts at PF and gets the bulk of the minutes at that position. Carter is the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder at 8.9 ppg and 5.1 rpg respectively. Carter isn’t a particularly deft shooter for someone at his position (38.2%) but scores nearly half his points from the free throw line, where he’s quite successful (80.3%). Let’s try not to foul him, mkay?
Splitting time at the center position for UMass is a familiar name for the Niners, Sean Carter. Carter flirted with the Niners on the recruiting trail before ultimately settling on Oregon State. The marriage would only last one season as Carter, like Gurley, transferred to UMass following his freshman campaign. In his Jr. year Carter is scoring 5.1 ppg and a team-best 5.8 rpg in just under 20 minutes of action per game. Splitting that time with Carter is Sr. C Hashim Bailey. Despite a half dozen starts Bailey plays just under 10 minutes/game, doesn’t score much and doesn’t rebound very often. That makes him a particularly boring writing subject to me, so we’ll move on to Javon Farrell. This is going to shock you: he’s yet another sophomore wing player who averages 9ish points per game for the Minutemen. Naturally he shoots less than 40% from the field and less than 20% from behind the arc despite scoring 9.1 ppg.
Lest anyone forgets, UMass has also had a bit of the suspension bug that’s plagued the Niners this year: former Niners’ target Daryl Traynham has been suspended indefinitely by the Minutemen.
As a team, there’s really not much that stands out about UMass. They’re not great from the field (41%) but they’re not awful. At least no more awful than their opposition, whom they limit to 41.5% shooting from the field. They are, just like last year, dreadful from behind the arc though, shooting a woeful 27.2% from deep. More importantly than any stat, however, is that we owe them. We owe them for that awful, embarrassing ‘home’ loss in the first round of the A10 tournament last year. Sure, we had the unforgivable 6 men on the court violation, but that shouldn’t of ever figured. The game should not have been close, we should have blown them out and that should have been that. But none of that happened and despite being short-handed this year I think we’re the better team and certainly better coached, not to mention again being at home. I want to see Derrio Green and Deuce Briscoe (who finally is on the mend) playing well and Chris Braswell attacking the meh interior of UMass. This is also a game where someone like An’Juan Wilderness or Charles Dewhurst can have a solid impact, with Terrell Vinson being limited in his explosiveness with his lingering injuries.
It’s been a difficult season for the Niners with ineligibility, suspensions and injuries taking a tremendous toll, but the Niners are competing every night and playing with the kind of gusto that makes fans hope for better times ahead.
Here’s to the 49ers coming out Wednesday night and putting a painful memory to rest with a win!