Nov. 16, 2009
NORTH DARTMOUTH, MA-The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth men's basketball team hopes that the third time is the charm.
The Corsairs, who have posted back-to-back excellent seasons, will try to take it one step further this year as they go for their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division III Championships.
In each of the last two years, the Corsairs shone, posting a combined 52-8 record. Last season, they won the Little East Conference post-season tournament and the NCAA Regional title, advancing to the NCAA Sectional semi-finals. Two years ago, they won their first 20 games, won the Little East Conference regular season championship, hosted the LEC post-season tournament and a second round NCAA Tournament game, and finished 25-4.
"Our expectations are high," said UMass Dartmouth Head Coach Brian Baptiste. "We lost one starter off our team from last year, we have a good nucleus back, and we have added some impact players in (junior) Lance Greene (Dorchester, MA/Charlestown HS/UMass Lowell) up front and (sophomore) Paul Rose (Boston, MA/North Cambridge Catholic HS/Massachusetts Bay CC) in the back court. I'm hoping that they can blend in with the returning veterans and be even a stronger team than we had last year."
The Corsairs were ranked sixth nationally in the pre-season by Division III News. "I like the ranking, it will help tremendously with recruiting," said Baptiste. "Players want to play for a team that is highly regarded and expects to go to the NCAA Tournament."
Up front, UMD is counting on senior forward Brandon Shelton (Cambridge, MA/Cambridge Rindge & Latin HS/UMass Lowell), who led the Corsairs in scoring (17.7 points per game) and rebounding (6.2 rebounds per game) and was named a pre-season All-American by Division III News. "Brandon will be one of the main people in our rotation, along with Lance Greene, (senior forward) Matt Walker (Brockton, MA/Brockton HS) and (sophomore forward) Tom Henneberry (Lexington, MA/Lexington HS)," said Baptiste. "Lance can score from inside, block shots and rebound, and he adds a new dimension to our team, which was more perimeter-oriented last season. Lance's presence will change the way we do things on offense. If the other team doubles down, he can find someone open for a three-point shot or cutting to the basket. Matt is very consistent in scoring from the perimeter, and he is very good around the basket. If he plays like he did last year, he'll be in the running for Little East Conference Player of the Year. Tom will be a utility guy who knows all the positions, so he will be valuable."
Senior Jeff Macchi (Franklin, MA/Franklin HS), who starred for both the Corsair baseball and basketball team last season, returns to start as well. "Jeff does a good job, penetrating on the dribble and drawing fouls as well as being improved in his perimeter play," said Baptiste. "One of the most important things he brings is his strength on defense, and stealing passes. (Sophomore guard) Alex Klepadlo (Bernardston, MA/Pioneer Valley Regional HS) will back up Jeff. Alex has improved his ball handling skills and his perimeter shooting, and he continues to be a strong defensive player. He reads extremely well in the half court, as well as in our full court pressure situations."
Junior Brandon Stephens (Dorchester, MA/Newton North HS) is another returning veteran who will reclaim his starting berth. "Brandon has worked extremely hard during the off-season, and he should have a big year," said Baptiste. "He is very intense on the defensive end and brings a lot of energy to the team." Senior Tyler Turtoro (Shelton, CT/Shelton HS) will back up Stephens. "Tyler wants to go out bit in his senior year," said Baptiste. "Tyler has the ability to score in bunches he is the quickest guy on the team, he shoots the three extremely well, and he can help us out in pressure defensive situations. (Junior) John Kanarski (Marblehead, MA/Marblehead HS) could also see action."
At the point guard position, UMass Dartmouth must replace Reece Freeman, who earned numerous honors during his career while being ranked nationally in assists and steals. "We have (sophomore) Paul Rose (Boston, MA/North Cambridge Catholic HS/Massachusetts Bay CC), who has outstanding skills for a point guard," said Baptiste. "He has good passing skills and is a very good perimeter shooter, and we expect big things from him once he feels comfortable with everything we're running. Paul has the potential to be an outstanding point guard."
The Corsairs have depth at the point. "(Sophomore) Randy Torres (New Bedford, MA/New Bedford HS) does a good job of picking up the tempo with his quickness and speed," said Baptiste. "He has been able to help on our fast break, as well as in bringing the ball down the floor and running our sets. Randy has the quickness to bother other guards bringing the ball down the court. (Sophomore) Steve Ramos (Lynn, MA/Hebron Academy/Franklin Pierce) has tremendous abilities, and is catching on to our system. He has good skills, and he has the potential to be an outstanding player."
The rest of the bench should also be a strength. "(Junior) Kyle Yeadon (Hanson, MA/Whitman-Hanson HS) will back up Matt Walker at the four spot," said Baptiste. "Kyle is an excellent three-point shooter. (Freshman) Matt Clifford (Norwood, MA/Norwood HS) is 6-8, and could back up Lance while developing for the future. (Senior) V.J. Divine (Brookline, MA/Brookline HS) is very versatile and can do a lot of things. He brings aggressiveness, energy and intelligence."
The Corsairs have been known for their up-tempo offense, and that won't change. "We plan on playing a fast-paced type of game, and we want to run and press as much as possible," said Baptiste. "When you play that way, you need 10 people who are capable of playing, and, hopefully, one of our strengths this year will be our depth. We have some question marks, but I think we'll be a very good perimeter team and a very good pressing team, as well as have the ability to go inside, which we haven't had since (All-American center) Dan Holbrook graduated."
As is their habit, UMD will play a tough schedule. "We try to play teams who are in the NCAA Tournament, and our schedule is strong, which is similar to past years," said Baptiste. "The competition in our conference is very good, and we play Salem State and Bridgewater, who went to the NCAAs last year, Tufts, a strong NESCAC team, and Brandeis, one of the best teams in the UAA, and is in the same conference as Washington University, which won the championship last year. In our conference, Eastern Connecticut, Western Connecticut and Plymouth State have a lot of returning starters from last year, and RIC and Keene are typically strong."
Defense could be the key. "I think the key to our success will be how intense and smart we are on the defensive end," said Baptiste. "We want to take the other teams out of their offense. That will play a big part in our team's success this year."