University of Massachusetts basketball coach Derek Kellogg says he's excited about what his freshman class will bring to the 2016-17 Minutemen.
"We needed to have a big class this past year," Kellogg told reporters on Tuesday at the annual Atlantic 10 Conference media day. This year's media day was held at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, which will be the site of the 2017 A-10 men's basketball tournament.
"We needed to raise our talent level and get more guys in here," said Kellogg, who is beginning his ninth season at the UMass helm. "I think our staff and the university helped us do that."
If Kellogg's five-man recruiting class develop quickly, the Minutemen could finish higher than 10th in the Atlantic 10.
That's where the Minutemen are ranked in the preseason poll, voted on by the conference's coaches and select media members.
Dayton, co-champions of the regular season last year, earned 16 first-place votes and 374 points to lead the poll. Rhode Island had 12 first-place votes and was just four points behind Dayton with 370 points. Virginia Commonwealth is third, followed by Davidson and St. Bonaventure to round out the top five.
George Mason, coached by former Williams College coach Dave Paulsen, is the conference's pre-season No. 12 selection.
Last year, the Minutemen were 14-18 and 6-12 in the conference. That ended a streak of five consecutive .500 or better records. Kellogg said one of his hopes is that with more depth in more positions, an up-tempo game will lead to more wins.
"We're going to continue to shoot threes, but this year, I think we'll be able to play at a faster pace," said Kellogg, whose team attempted 709 treys last year and only made them at a 33 percent rate.
"I think it's fun basketball that fans want to see you play," he said. "I think our team has been recruited to play that way. We've recruited to play a fast, up-tempo style of play and shoot a lot of threes. We have something that not a lot of teams in our league has, and that's a 6-10, 300-pound center [Rashaan Holloway] center that we have to take advantage of."
Kellogg went back into the way-back machine to try and compare what the Minutemen want to do with an old rival from the Calipari era — Arkansas.
"If you look back at Arkansas in the '90s, they played fast and they threw the ball into Corliss Williamson 20 times a game," Kellogg said, recalling coach Nolan Richardson's teams. "They won just about every game they played — almost every game, except for the UMass games."
The Minutemen beat Arkansas 104-80 in the Tip-Off Classic at what is now the MassMutual Center on Nov. 25, 1994. UMass beat the Razorbacks again 79-63 in the NCAA Sweet 16 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on March 21, 1996.
Redshirt junior forward Donte Clark, who is the top returning scorer for the Minutemen (16.1 points per game), was the only UMass player named to a preseason All-Star team. Clark, Peyton Aldridge of Davidson, Joseph Chartouny of Fordham, ShawnDre' Jones of Richmond and JeQuan Lewis of VCU were all named to the Preseason All-Conference third team.
The first team members consist of Davidson's Jack Gibbs, George Washington's Tyler Cavanaugh, Richmond's T.J. Cline, St. Bonaventure's Jaylen Adams and Dayton's Charles Cooke.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.