UMass basketball teams ready for the new season

Perhaps one of the best seasons for women’s basketball in UMass history is just a glimpse. For the first time since 1998, the Minutewomen reached the playoffs with a spot at WNIT and played for the Atlantic 10 Championship. They haven’t lost any of the seven players who have led them to this point and added two. transfers and a strong crop of freshmen.

“I think last year was a good foundation for what we’re capable of. A lot of people underestimated us last year, ”said UMass graduate student Sam Breen. “We’re only going to get better from now on.”

Every member of the “Savage Seven” who won three games in three days to reach the Atlantic 10 final, including Breen and point guard Destiney Philoxy, the first team performers of all conferences last season. Breen was named to the All-Atlantic 10 preseason squad, while Philoxy landed in the second team and was honored to the Atlantic 10 preseason defensive squad.

Sydney Taylor averaged 15.6 points per game (fifth in the conference) and scored 59.3, which led the league. Freshmen Ber’Nyah Mayo and Makennah White have carved out meaningful roles for themselves, and high school graduate Stefanie Kulesza has found her niche at the college level. Angelique Ngalakulondi became a force at its lowest during the playoffs.

“The seven of us were a good base group and we were lucky that everyone was back,” said Breen. “I think the seven of us were a good base and we built ourselves really well on that. “

Although they feature many of the same faces, the Minutewomen entered the season with the motto “be different”. The players initially asked UMass coach Tory Verdi, who recently agreed to an extension until the 2025-2026 season, what that means. He said they didn’t win a championship last year, why would they want to be the same?

“Last year was the start of something and we are going to continue to do something special,” said Verdi. “I see it as a stepping stone. “

PRE-SEASON SURVEYS – The Minutewomen were scheduled to finish sixth in the A-10 preseason poll, while the UMass men’s basketball team was placed ninth.

UMass was fifth last season for men and seventh for women.

“It’s good that we’re picked sixth, the preseason is more for the media and the fans. Where I watch it is where you end up,” Verdi said. “The way I see them things is that a lot of coaches don’t respect what we do at the University of Massachusetts.There’s a reason we play conference games.

It’s hard to know what to think of the men’s basketball team. On the one hand, they bring back seven players from last year’s squad, but they also lost their top two scorers and made five transfers.

“It’s important for us not to pay attention to that sort of thing,” said UMass junior point guard Noah Fernandes. “At the end of the season we’ll see who has the respect. “

HIGHLIGTHS – Five UMass players are six feet or taller, led by Natousha Harden, a 6-foot-4-inch freshman. Three are also 5 feet 11 inches tall, giving the Minutewomen a height and length they haven’t owned recently.

“The length bothers the opponents,” said Verdi. “It gives us the opportunity to get deflections and interceptions and push in transition to get easy baskets.

TWO HEADS BETTER THAN ONE – UMass guard Rich Kelly, a transfer from Boston College, noticed Baylor and Gonzaga lined up several pointers watching last season’s National Championship game. He thought it would be a fun offense he belonged to and considered his backcourt mate when he decided on which school to end his varsity career. Fernandes was the perfect person.

“This is the first time in my career that I have shared the backcourt with another real point guard. It makes my job a lot easier. Having an open perspective to learn from another leader, another facilitator has been nice for me, ”Kelly said. “Sounds pretty good right now.”

GIVING SEASON – Philoxy set career highs in points (11.5), assists (6.5) and rebounds (3.8) per game last season. She placed fifth in the country in assists per game. The Queens native is aiming even higher this season.

“I love to pass the ball. My goal this year is to have more assists than last year. My career high was 10, let’s go for 15. Let’s go for more than that. I want to be No. 1 in the NCAA for assists per game, ”Philoxy said. “But I have to figure out when to pass the ball and when not, when to score. I want to redo everything. High career in points, assists, rebounds. If I can do it all, I will.

FRONT LINE WORKERS – Following the departure of both UMass men’s centers, Tre Mitchell (transferred to Texas) and Mark Gasperini (graduated) last season, the Minutemen will use their bigs in rotation and approach the position by committee.

Transfers Trent Buttrick (Penn State) and Michael Steadman (Montana) could share the floor together due to their shooting and low playing abilities, and Central Connecticut transfer Greg Jones can provide energy and l ‘experience. The three could also function as a big loner in smaller queues.

“In our offense we do a lot of pick and roll action, with the big three that we have they love to create screens because they know it will give them open shots,” said Fernandes.

Kyle Grabowski can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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