Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Q and A with Erik Gallant from MassLive.com

This week I have been fortunate to exchange correspondence with Erik Gallant from a great UMass blog MassLive.com. Erik was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Minutemen:

1. What is the story with loses to UNI and IUPUI? Are these two small schools that are having great seasons, or were these games that UMass just gave away?

The Northern Iowa loss was the first game where UMass’ opponent strategically tried to slow the game down to a crawl. Northern Iowa made it a halfcourt game, which is really not a style of play that the Minutemen like. I don’t think it was too bad a loss, as UNI is a decent team (11-8 overall) playing in a solid league (Missouri Valley).

On the other hand, IUPUI was a bad loss. UMass was coming off their win over Syracuse, led by 11 at halftime, and mentally checked out for the second half. As a result, IUPUI stormed back with 57 in the second frame, and won decisively. It was a letdown game for sure, and a sign of something Travis Ford has warned against throughout the season: That this team has a bad habit of feeling too good about themselves.

2. Why did Gary Forbes leave VA to come to UMass? What kind of game does Forbes play, is he a shooter, does he prefer to penetrate, or is a post up type player?
Forbes transferred after Virginia’s coaching staff changed. Travis Ford, who as a player, transferred to Kentucky, has shown a real affinity for recruiting transfer students, and Forbes, who has NBA aspirations, was intrigued by the opportunity to be The Man in Ford’s system. I believe there were health issues involved, as well – Forbes was diagnosed with diabetes and, from what I’ve read, getting a year off from basketball at that point in his life allowed him to get on top of the situation – adjusting his diet, etc. He is a truly talented an all-around player: he loves to shoot threes, has the size to post up other small forwards effectively, and can handle the ball reasonably well. However, despite all his talent – or maybe *because* he is capable of so many great things -- he is a very frustrating player for many UMass fans. He forces a lot of bad shots, tries to do too much at times. For instance, against Xavier this week, with a minute remaining and UMass trailing by 4, he drove into the paint and attempted a completely unnecessary 1-on-4 circus shot that flatlined UMass’ comeback bid. With Forbes, fans take the good with the bad – it’s a mystery every trip down the court whether he’ll make an outstanding play or a forehead-slapper.

3. What is the story with Ricky Harris, he didn’t do much last year and now he is one of the top scorers in the county?
I love Ricky Harris. He’s a devastating deep threat (4 or more treys 8 times this year) but also loves to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hole. Really fun to watch, great attitude, the works. I am super excited at the thought of 2 more full seasons of Ricky Harris. Last season he was a freshman who happened to play the same position as the Minutemen’s best shooter (James Life). He really didn’t see very much playing time, and never found his rhythm. However he is ideally suited to the uptempo offense UMass has adopted this year. He had a rare bad game Sunday vs. Xavier (7 points), so Duquesne should brace themselves for a big bounceback game from Ricky.

4. You said UMass likes to run? Do they just run the fast break or do they run the entire game?

They run the entire game, and will likely employ a fullcourt press after made baskets for a large portion of the game. Ken Pomeroy has them ranked 3rd in the country in game tempo – http://www.kenpom.com/stats.php?y=2008&s=4 -- and Duquesne is 4th, so expect Wednesday’s game to be played in the 90s at least. They also average 26 three-point attempts per game, so this is very much a bombs-away team that prefers to shoot quickly before their opponent can set up their defense.

5. How much does UMass use their bench? Does the UMass bench have any talented players or are Forbes and Harris relied upon for most of the scoring from one game to the next?

Forbes and Harris are the big two, scoring 20 ppg each, but point guard Chris Lowe and forward Etienne Brower are each averaging 11-12 ppg and are fully capable of dropping 20. Lowe is getting national press as one of the fastest players in the country, and scores primarily through dribble penetration. Brower has been playing as the team’s 6th man, and is a strong, fast 6’8” guy who can shoot the three. Other than those four, the team’s scoring has been inconsistent at best. All their big men – starting center Dante Milligan, reserve Luke Bonner, and Tony Gaffney – are limited players in one way or another. Milligan shows flashes of brilliance, but is a foul machine which makes his ability to contribute wildly inconsistent. Bonner is a shooting guard trapped in a 7-foot body and really struggles with rebounding. Gaffney starts at power forward and is primarily in there for his defense and rebounding – he’s scored 8 points total in the month of January. Other than that they rotate 4 freshmen in limited minutes. One freshman I’d like to single out is Papa Lo, a forward from Senegal who is one of the skinniest people you’ll ever see. He’s becoming a fan favorite, I think partly because his name is so fun to say, but also because he’s averaging 1 block per every 3 minutes of playing time – 21 blocks in 72 minutes. His offensive game is non-existent at this point, but UMass’ other big men have been slumping in the area of post defense, so I think he’ll begin to play a larger role, possibly beginning Wednesday.

6. If Ron Everhart chooses to go with his 10/40 two platoon system do you think UMass will be able to keep up?

I do. UMass has shown a willingness – if not a preference – to try running their opponents out of the gym. In fact I think the Minutemen are eager to get back to the track meet style of play – they’ve lost back-to-back games where their opponent kept the tempo fairly slow. Duquesne fans are in for a treat, for sure -- this will be a really exciting game to watch.


Erik asked me some questions for a Q and A for MassLive.com, here is the link.


Anonymous said...

Really, really, really appreciate the work that you're putting into this site. Nice job and thank you.


EddieSpaghetti said...

So stoked for this game...

Dutch said...

Great feature. I also read your comments on the UMass board. Thanks!

I wish I would hear a buzz around town for this game like last year's Rhody game, but I don't feel it. That is a shame.

phildogg said...

The Duquesne voy Board is fun to read but your Dukes Court is now the first one I go to. The content is excellent and you seem like an all time Die Hard Dukes Fan, and that's a compliment!

Steve said...

I expected a more mainstream buzz this week from local media and fans. Other than Smizik it's just not there. However, I've been hearing rumblings in back alleys and side streets of the Pittsburgh sports community. While listening to 1250, I've heard several fans call in wanting to talk Dukes with often reluctant hosts. I've overheard conversations at stores. The buzz is there. It's just underground and less recognizable than the buzz building towards the RI game. That being said, I predict an attendance of about 4200.