UMass questions answered
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/7/2001

Every season begins with questions, but with several new players and a new coaching staff making their debuts at the University of Massachusetts, the questions surrounding the men's basketball program are more abundant than ever.

Following are some of the most prevalent questions and their potential answers.

1. Who will score? You don't replace a 2,000-point scorer easily, but UMass' new offense will help the Minutemen weather the loss of guard Monty Mack, who is playing in Italy.

Instead of 20 points from one player, the load will be spread around. All four low-post players are legitimate scoring options. Shannon Crooks, who has been a much better scorer off the ball in his career, will play off-guard exclusively this year.

If Kyle Wilson's 20-point performance against the BABC All-Stars was any indication, he'll be a threat too.

2. Besides Wilson, who shined Sunday, will any other new players make an impact? Anthony Anderson didn't play Saturday because of a one-game suspension for a team-rules violation, but he's been hyped even more than Wilson. The sophomore point guard likely will be the starter to open the season.

Sophomore Raheim Lamb, who sat out last year as a partial qualifier, and freshman Brennan Martin are in the mix at the up-for-grabs small forward spot.

3. Who else is fighting for time at small forward? Sophomores Willie Jenkins and Jameel Pugh are in the mix, but nobody has wowed UMass head coach Steve Lappas so far. He has more than hinted that he'll strongly consider using three guards at a time, moving Crooks to the wing.

4. If small forward is a question, could big men Micah Brand or Jackie Rogers play there and give UMass a big lineup? This is a popular idea among fans, but it isn't realistic. Neither is skilled enough on the perimeter to be comfortable there offensively and they aren't quick enough to handle the position's defensive responsibilities.

5. Is this the year Micah Brand emerges as a legitimate force? He's been brilliant in spurts but has disappeared at times, too. In the last eight games of last season, he scored in double figures in only one game.

Lappas' offense should help him. He has good passing and ball-handling skills for a big man and can hit from as deep as the 3-point arc.

6. Does any non-conference opponent have the potential to be this year's Holy Cross? Yes, but it's not Holy Cross. The Crusaders lost behemoth center Josh Sankes, who did in the Minutemen last year, making them less of a threat. Arkansas Little Rock in the opener could be scary, as the Trojans have an experienced team.

If UMass struggles to click in its first real game under the new coaching staff, UALR will be looking to pounce.

7. Will hiring Steve Lappas bring fans back to the Mullins Center? The initial novelty will help the first couple of games, then it all depends on whether the team is successful.

8. How will the Atlantic 10 change with the abundance of coaching changes? Temple benefits considerably from all the new faces. It takes teams a while to get used to facing Temple's match-up zone and new coaches will need time to figure out how to attack it.

Otherwise, the assistant coaches will earn their paychecks in the video room, breaking down tape as each new coach has to study and learn opponents' tendencies.

9. Which players will benefit the most from Lappas' new system? The most obvious beneficiaries are Brand and Eric Williams, who are mobile big men with some shooting range. Their talents should flourish in Lappas' motion offense.

10. Can this be an NCAA Tournament team? The Minutemen have a manageable schedule. If they stay healthy and they pick up Lappas' systems quickly, they have a decent chance.

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