UMass basketball focused on Holy Cross and its Princeton-style offense

  • Men’s basketball coach Matt McCall, shown last season, has spent the last six days preparing UMass for Holy Cross and its Princeton-style offense. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2018 10:05:46 PM

AMHERST — Bill Carmody is a harbinger of the old-school basketball that relies on patience and precision.

His version of the Princeton offense is methodical and efficient while grinding away at the opposing team. Any little mistake, whether it’s being too aggressive or losing track of your man oftentimes leads to the ball going through the net.

Now in Carmody’s fourth year at Holy Cross, the learning curve is over for the Crusaders as everyone on the roster has bought into the coach’s system. And it leaves most opposing coaches nervous for game time.

“It’s hard to simulate what they do,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “It’s not easy to simulate what they’re doing, so we really need to rely on communicating and playing hard. You try to break it down piece by piece as much as you can – and that’s a challenge – but you try to break it down that way and hope it translates to the game”

McCall and the Minutemen have had six days to prepare for Holy Cross’ visit to the Mullins Center on Tuesday at 7 p.m., and the emphasis has been on focus. The second-year coach said UMass (5-3) needs to avoid falling into the same pitfalls as so many teams that face Holy Cross and let itself get lulled to sleep by the methodical nature of the Princeton offense.

He said the Crusaders (5-3) thrive off of teams forgetting their assignments momentarily and the Minutemen need to limit those lapses to be successful.

“Teams like this, they distract you and you can’t play the game distracted,” McCall said. “They’re good at distracting teams and guys playing the game distracted and we can’t do that. We have to continue to play and understand it’s a 40-minute game. When we get backcut and we give up a layup, don’t start finger pointing, don’t start getting frustrated, just get the ball out of the net and get up the floor.”

Holy Cross is the only team UMass is scheduled to face this season that runs this style of offense, which in many ways is antithetical to the Minutemen’s normal defensive principles. McCall said he couldn’t focus as much on teaching his normal defense during the six-day layoff because of preparing for this game.

However, there is some overlap between UMass’ normal game plan and the one it will try to execute against the Crusaders. Redshirt junior wing Jonathan Laurent, who ran a similar style of offense in high school, said UMass just emphasized certain areas of its principles that normally aren’t highlighted as much against a different opponent.

“We’re just making sure you’re guarding the person in front of you, this game especially,” Laurent said. “Backcuts, backdoors, they like to move a lot, so just keeping track of your man and making sure you’re in the right spot to also help your teammates.”

Patience will especially be key against Holy Cross, which ranks seventh in the country in slowest game tempo by college basketball analytics guru Ken Pomeroy. The Crusaders’ offensive possessions average 18.1 seconds in length, according to Pomeroy, and there are very few that last fewer than 10 seconds.

“They’re just a team that’s going to run their plays until there’s five seconds on the shot clock,” junior guard Luwane Pipkins said. “They’re a well-executing team. They do it very hard and we just need to stay with the game plan and do what we need to do.”

On the other end of the court, UMass might have a bigger challenge. The Minutemen are averaging 15.8 seconds per offensive possession, which ranks 56th fastest out of 353 teams according to Pomeroy. The Crusaders, however, force teams to take 19.1 seconds per possession on offense, the third-longest time in the nation behind Virginia and Seton Hall.

The Minutemen have been at their best this season when they are able to push the pace, which will be difficult Tuesday. Pipkins said the Minutemen have to be very aggressive rebounding on the defensive end and use those misses as chances to create pace. McCall had a similar vision for how UMass would create the tempo it needs on offense.

“It starts with stops,” McCall said. “If they’re able to score and set their defense, they can cause you to chew up even more clock. We’ve got to get stops and when they do score, try to inbound it quickly and get it up and not allow them to get set.”

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