Previews previews previews!

Previews! And did we mention previews?

First, UMass hoops, fresh off of a nondescript six-point loss at “home” (actually, Springfield, much like Boston, looked from the highlights to be a greater home-court advantage for UMass than their own arena) to La Salle, takes on a very good Richmond team tonight. Tri Corner Blog has a very good overview of what to look for in the game tonight, which we would tell you to watch on ChannelSurfing if we weren’t so damn scrupulous. (Of course you can also hear it on the normal radio networks as called by Josh Maurer.) This is one of those games where there’s not much history between these two teams per se, but, as TCB’s Matt points out, the behavior of Richmond hicks fans at these two teams’ A-10 field hockey tournament game recently deserves to be avenged. Basically, these grown adults (which, by the standards of the south, leaves them with the intelligence and maturity of 12-year-old boys from civilized America) spent the game calling our players lesbians, one of them ordered pizza and said that the guy who took his order “sounded like a fag – but then again, aren’t they all up here?”, etc. Southern stereotypes are fun, especially when they all turn out to be accurate! But I’ll digress on the politics here…let’s just say it’d be real fun to get revenge on the court.

We don’t have much to say about the La Salle game because, well, neither of us really heard much of it between watching our beloved Patriots die a horrendous death at home and our preparations for the Northeastern roadtrip. But from what I did hear, it was a good game for Big City, TV and Freddie Riley, until foul trouble caught up to the guys at the end and nobody else could hit a big shot when they needed to.

So after two games, UMass is 1-1 in the A-10, the one winning being that squeaker against a god-awful team at home, followed by a second-half collapse against a mediocre team at “home.” I’ve said all along that the most important thing for UMass to do this season is to show improvement as the year goes on and maybe, just maybe make a splash in the conference tournament. They’ve got a long ways to go but my hopes of them coming strong out of the gate in A-10 play have been for naught so far. I may have more to say after the Richmond game, depending on how it goes.

Secondly, and (with all due respect to the ballers) a thousand times more importantly, we are now two days away from the massive clash between the University of Massachusetts and, uhh, that other state school, Eastern Mass. State College-Lowell or whatever they fancy themselves. Now, for those who have been reading from the beginning here, I’m sure you’re aware of, ahem, personal reasons why we here at Fight Mass would like nothing more than to defecate all over their parade this weekend. I’m personally looking forward to finally reading the “bulletin board material” during our pregame festivities Friday evening, although at this point it will be more for comedic purposes than anything else.

Selfish grudges aside, the River Rats and Minutemen enter this weekend in a deadlock for the 4th spot in Hockey East, and UMass’s lead over Lowell in the Pairwise and other predictive rankings, for what it’s worth at this fairly-early point in the year, is tenuous. UMass and Lowell come off a weekend where each team played at UNH and NU, with very different results: UMass got blasted by UNH while Lowell played them to a tie, while UMass dominated NU and Lowell ran out to an early lead before undisciplined play almost cost them an easy win which they eventually pulled out in OT.

The Minutemen come in at 12-8, while Lowell is 12-7-2. In the conference, the teams each have 12 points, but Lowell holds the tiebreaker (after that gut-wrenching first defeat in Coketown) and has one game in hand on us. In a conference where every single game can have a dramatic impact on the standings, these games, while they might not necessarily make or break the season, can go a long way in setting the tone for the home stretch of HEA play.

We mentioned it before, we’ll say it again: with the exception of that Hockey East Tournament sweep several years ago, Lowell has had our number for quite some time now, regardless of the way the season is going for either team. When they’re good, they outplay us; when they’re bad, we play down to their level. They come in remarkably even; Lowell getting off to a solid start before sputtering a bit, UMass getting off to a great start before sputtering a lot, but the overall bodies of work are quite similar. Going deeper into the numbers, the River Rats are badly underperforming their Pythagorean, as Lowell is +20 for the year (70-50), while UMass is overperforming at +6 (69-63). The problem with those numbers is that, unlike baseball (where Pythagorean can be somewhat indicative over such a long season), college hockey plays such a short season that the small sample size leads to easy skews. UMass’s two recent debacles against BU and UNH count as two losses, but they kill the Pythagorean at a combined -9.

Still, the supposed offensive edge UMass would have with its two superstar forwards is negated by Lowell’s edge defensively (led surprisingly not by last year’s standout Maury Edwards, but by Nick Schaus and Jeremy Dehner, an eye-popping +25 combined for the year) and offensive balance (10 double-digit scorers, compared to 6 for UMass who has two guys, Lecomte and Carzo, with 9). Add that to their well-publicized goalie tandem of seniors Hutton and Hamilton, compared to Pauly D’s one career win in 7 tries against Lowell (Meyers has yet to play them), and Lowell has the edge on paper.

But that’s the thing: the games don’t get played on paper. Despite all the expectations for Lowell and the lack thereof for UMass, these teams are in virtually the exact same position coming into this weekend, and both are coming off win-droughts with victories at Matthews, both big in their own unique ways. And so the Minutemen and their ugly sisters have a chance to make a statement: for UMass, the opportunity to flip both the “Cahoon swoon” script and the “can’t beat Lowell” script. For Lowell, the expectations, both from the preseason hype and their tradition of beating big brother, have to be tremendous. And while even a sweep by either team guarantees nothing in this season of unreal parity in the Hockey East Association, we’re gonna know a lot more about these two teams in a couple days.

…Unless, of course, they play to ties on both nights, and then we’re back at square one.

-Max

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