ESPN Boston: Massachusetts’ hopes to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 have taken a major hit with news that junior guard Jesse Morgan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Morgan, the Minutemen’s starting shooting guard and their second leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, was injured in Thursday’s 70-62 loss at St. Louis. Morgan’s right knee buckled as he drove to the hoop and he howled in pain while being tended to by team trainers.
Coach Derek Kellogg likely will use senior Freddie Riley in Morgan’s place, as he did in Sunday’s 77-73 win at Fordham. In that game, Kellogg also used regular point guard Chaz Williams in the off-guard slot with freshman Trey Davis playing the point.
In addition to being an explosive scorer, as evidenced by his 35-point effort against Ohio on Dec. 19, Morgan is UMass’ top perimeter defender and a key 3-point threat, which is a big part of the Minutemen’s offense.
While Riley has been a solid contributor both offensively and defensively over the past half-dozen games, averaging just more than 11 points, he’s been a bench player most of his career. Even if Riley approaches Morgan’s production, the loss in depth figures to hinder the aggressive, pressing defense the Minutemen have used with good results the past couple of seasons.
This is a big time loss for UMass. They will have to change the way they play their game. That is not easy; especially since they recruit guys who play a certain way and fit their particular scheme.
They lost a guy who scores approximately 0.47 points per minute on the court and replacing him with someone who scores 0.27 points per minute played. They are also losing a net of 1.2 steals per game which hurts the defense and takes away 1.2 possessions per game. Over the course of the season, that is 16.8 possessions. In the A10, a lot of games tend to come down to the final possession so teams can ill afford to lose any possessions. And spare me the, well one is a starter and the other a bench guy. Morgan plays 28 minutes per game and Riley plays 22. Not much of a difference to account for the disparity in production.
The other thing this does is forces UMass to occasionally move Chaz Williams to the 2G spot (the shooting guard). Williams is UMass’ primary ball handler and UMass is taking the ball out of the hands of their best floor general who is sporting a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio and giving it to a guy who never really handles the ball or facilitates an offense. Riley sports a 1:1 ratio and actually only has 1 assist and 1 turnover per game.
This is a major blow to UMass who was geared up for a run at an NCAA tournament bid this season. They still have Chaz Williams and they still have Terrell Vinson so they are still a good team and will be a tough match-up for most of the other A10 teams. I say this injury will result in 3 more loses than they would have had if Morgan did not get injured. This is based on not only the lost production and defense but also the shifting of players into roles they are not used to and not equipped for.