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    Luwane Pipkins — and UMass — have been surprising

    UMass's Luwane Pipkins throws a 3-pointer from the corner over Niagara's Kahlil Dukes in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 in Amherst, Mass. (J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP)
    anthony roberts/the republican/AP
    Luwane Pipkins stuck around to help out UMass.

    He was one of the few who decided to stay. Luwane Pipkins could have transferred from UMass after the school fired coach Derek Kellogg — as six of his teammates did — but he didn’t.

    He stayed, and so far it has worked out well for him and first-year coach Matt McCall. Pipkins is averaging 22 points per game and his shooting percentage has improved markedly (from 34 last season to 44 percent this season). He hasn’t evolved into a marksman, but he’s playing well and so are his teammates. He’s also averaging 5.5 assists.

    I expected this season to be a disaster for McCall after all the transfers, but the Minutemen are feisty and have beaten UMass Lowell, Niagara, and Western Carolina. You won’t see those teams in the NCAA Tournament, but it would be hard to find anyone who thought all three games would be victories for UMass.


    The Minutemen could have beaten Harvard, too, but lost in overtime, 70-67. Pipkins did his best, hitting two game-tying 3-pointers. One forced the overtime and the second was trumped by Bryce Aiken’s 3-pointer at the buzzer that won the game.

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    The Minutemen will lose to 14th-ranked Minnesota Friday in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn, but they could bounce back against BYU Saturday. I bet they’ll return to Amherst 4-2, which is far better than the 0-6 I was envisioning.

    Lots of things have changed: Conference realignment has affected a lot of schools, and not just the Power 5 schools. Boston University is now in the Patriot League but played Maine Wednesday. Those two schools go back to the Yankee Conference and have met 102 times since 1902-03. Hopefully, the rivalry can continue in nonconference play, but conferences of 14 or more teams playing 20 conference games works against that.

    What will this spawn?: Big-time teams often will play road games near the hometowns of important recruits. Dean Smith started this at North Carolina. But I can’t remember this happening: Miami played a home game in Reading, Pa. It was a promise to Lonnie Walker.

    The Hurricanes and Walker beat La Salle, 57-46, in front of 6,734 fans at Santander Arena in Reading. Walker scored only 5 points, but his team won and the fans warmly welcomed him home, chanting his name.


    ‘‘I knew what to expect out of my Reading crowd,’’ Walker told reporters. ‘‘I knew it was going to be packed.’’

    His grandmother was at the game in her wheelchair.

    ‘‘I just thank God that my grandma can at least see me play one time in my college career,’’ Walker said.

    What can drive coaches crazy?: Inconsistency, for one thing. New Hampshire took Florida right to the wire Tuesday night before losing, 74-70, in Gainesville. Then the Wildcats turned around and lost to previously winless American. Coach Bill Herrion is a veteran but he must be asking himself how that’s possible.

    FBI investigation fallout: Louisville has announced that freshman forward Brian Bowen will not play for the school and that assistant coach Kenny Johnson has been fired. This is directly related to the investigation, and Bowen won’t be the last player affected.


    Metrics and college hoops: I really like the website, which deals with some very cool advanced analytics in the college game. It’s easy to understand, too.

    Games I’d like to see this weekend

    First and foremost: The championship games in all the eight-team tournaments, most notably Disney World, Disneyland, the Bahamas, and the PK80 in Portland, Ore. PK80 is a new, one-time event to celebrate the 80th birthday of Nike founder Phil Knight. It consists of two eight-team tournaments for schools that wear Nike sneakers. North Carolina, Michigan State, and Oregon are in one bracket, and Duke, Florida, and Gonzaga are part of another. The two teams that go 0-3 with have to switch to Under Armour.


    Eastern Michigan at Indiana: Another possible bad loss for the Hoosiers. I also want to see double-double machine James Thompson IV of Eastern (16 ppg, 13 rpg).

    New Mexico at TCU: The Lobos have lost their last two. TCU is undefeated but I’m not believing in the Frogs yet, so I see this as competitive.


    Alabama vs. Minnesota at Barclays Center: This is the second game of a doubleheader following UMass-BYU. Alabama is relying on freshman Collin Sexton but he and his teammates now run into an experienced, rugged Minnesota unit.

    Northern Kentucky at Memphis: Upset city. I think the Norse will win.

    Akron at Dayton: An interesting Ohio matchup that most likely will be close and hotly contested.

    BC at Providence: The Friars are the best team BC has faced. The Eagles need to give a top-notch effort to get a notable victory.


    Manhattan at Fordham: An old New York rivalry that could produce some sparks. Both teams are better than last season.

    Temple at La Salle: The Owls are off to a great start but the Explorers have some dangerous offensive players.

    Joe Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan