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NCAA tournament team previews: Massachusetts Minutemen

Chaz WilliamsChaz Williams and the Minutemen started the season 18-1 but slipped down the stretch. What are their tournament chances? (Mary Altaffer/AP)

As part of its preview of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. For more teams, click here.

Record: 24-8, 10-6 Atlantic 10

RPI/SOS: 23/37

Adjusted offense / Adjusted defense: 108.3 (95th) / 96.9 (43rd)

Impact player: Chaz Williams, senior PG. 15.8 ppg, 7.0 apg, 36.5% three-point shooting

The Case For:

Williams, a speedy 5-foot-9 sparkplug and first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection, has essentially been doing this for years, averaging at least 15 points and six assists in his three seasons in Amherst. (He spent his freshman year at Hofstra.) His 36.9 percent assist rate ranked 13th nationally but was actually slightly down from last season’s 42.4 percent mark, which ranked eighth. Regardless, the Minutemen’s improvement can be traced to Williams getting two important forms of help: the emergence of center Cady Lalanne as a formidable tag-team partner inside and a defense that shot up 70 spots in efficiency this season. Lalanne, healthy after enduring a stress fracture and surgery on his foot as an underclassman, is now a regular double-double threat (11.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg) whose 7 percent block rate ranked fourth in the A-10. The Minutemen’s P.A.I.N. pressure defense can cause headaches for even tourney-quality teams; see New Mexico’s 18 turnovers against UMass in November or the 19 coughed up by George Washington in the A-10 quarterfinal. Given their uptempo defensive style, the Minutemen are fittingly quick on the other end, with the 18th-shorted average possession length in the country. That overall tempo may throw more deliberate opponents off their games.

The Case Against:

The Minutemen’s 16-1 start seems like a distant memory after they went 8-7 down the home stretch, including a head-scratching 11-point loss at home to lowly George Mason (which went 4-12 in A-10 play) and a less-than-ideal 13-point defeat at St. Bonaventure. The George Mason loss, much like UMass’s 88-87 win over the Patriots a month prior, exemplified the Minutemen’s tendency to fall behind early in games and how vulnerable they are when opponents don’t wilt in the face of their defensive pressure and quick pace. And one price of the Minutemen playing fast is that they often also play loose, turning the ball over on 18.8 percent of their possessions, the 10th-highest rate in the 13-team A-10. Williams, a 39.9 percent shooter on the season, had 10 games where he shot below 30 percent this season, which seemed to reduce UMass to mediocrity as it went 5-5 on such nights, compared to 19-3 when he shot higher than that threshold. If opponents can limit Williams, the rest of the Minutemen’s offense may follow.

SI Prediction: Lose in the second round to Tennessee.

View complete bracket predictions from SI.com’s panel of experts

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