Okay, okay, we’ll be the first to admit it here at Fight Mass: we’ve been slacking. Big-time. It’s not our faults, frankly…Derek’s got a hectic senior-year courseload (contrary to popular belief, the academic life at the world’s #56 university is, in fact, a bitch) and I’ve still got another 6 weeks or so left in my program down here at Disney World. (For those inquiring minds, Matt seems to have stepped back from a writing role and is accepting a more fitting role as our head Twitterer/social networker.) Between that and a less-than-exciting start to the season for the Mass Attack, you can see where keeping up with the site would be rather difficult. Rest assured, though, kids, that season 2 of Fight Mass is just getting started, as the men’s basketball season comes into full gear and the hockey team gets into the swing of Hockey East action. Remember, we started the blog around this time last year, and that was when I was in Amherst instead of all the way down the coast. I’ll be back soon enough.
So, catching up on where things stand for the Mass Attack…not a pretty start, to be sure. UMass is 0-6-3, the only winless team in D1 thus far. Things seem like they would be dire in Amherst, but let’s not freak out just yet. The Minutemen were not getting an at-large bid this year, as we’ve been saying from the start, and the 0-3-3 HEA record isn’t nearly as horrifying when you consider UMass lost those 3 games by a combined 5 goals. UMass also has three ties already after going all of last season without a single one. Two of those ties, to be sure, were games UMass should have won, against mediocre Providence at home and last weekend’s last-minute collapse at Lake Whitt. The tie against BU, a much hotter sister-kissing, could have easily been a win as well. Really, when you consider A) that this team is so ridiculously young and inexperienced, B) the injuries to the few remaining veterans, and C) the pretty tough schedule thus far, 3 points in 6 games isn’t that bad. The youngsters, particularly Pereira and Gracel, have been very impressive, and the defense hasn’t been a complete disaster, at least not in Hockey East play. Now, you can’t totally throw away games like the Army shitshow, but the truth of the matter is that despite all the horribleness of a winless first 9 games, UMass is just one point out of a playoff spot in Hockey East, where they were picked by so many experts to finish 9th or 10th. The Minutemen have been knocking on the door of the win column all year long. They’ve played exactly one awful game (again, the Army debacle), and have managed to not get swept in their three HEA series so far. Coming up are winnable games against a few more teams, Vermont and Lowell, who will be in that battle for the last HEA playoff spots. It’s the perfect time for our boys to finally put a W on the board, so let’s all calmly back away from the ledge for now until after these games are in the books.
In the meantime, guys, keep on coming out to support your team. I know the pre-Thanksgiving Vermont game can suffer from all the students going home early, but if you’re gonna be in town Tuesday night, go out there and cheer UMass to that elusive first win. You have the whole rest of the night to party and worry about getting home the next day for The Busiest Drinking Night of the Year(TM). I’ve been wondering when this team would have a poor start (didn’t happen in my four years in Amherst), and now that it’s happening, this is a good test of the bandwagon mentality for the hockey fans, and whether or not attendance will suffer due to the lack of wins. If the numbers have to suffer, those of you who go just have to be extra loud. Maybe this is the chance for the hardcore fans (that’s you) to take back the Mullins from the frat boys and Swesties? Hint, hint.
Segueing off from that rambling mess of a paragraph into basketball now! UMass hockey is reminding me an awful lot of last year’s basketball squad, with Dainton filling the Ricky Harris spot as the “lone remaining star senior,” and yes, I understand all the flaws in that comparison, but just the same – he’s the training wheels for a stocked group of freshmen. For Kellogg’s boys, those training wheels are off, and what we’ve seen so far is a somewhat wobbly 2-0 start with wins over Rider and Sacred Heart. Opening night included a 22-point deficit overcome for a 10-point win, in a game where UMass had a great student turnout, scared them off, then came back without them. Go figure. The Broncs are actually a pretty experienced squad, so for them to collapse so completely (with a little help from Gurley and Riley both getting ridiculously hot at the same time) says that UMass did something right. It’s a little disconcerting that Kellogg even said after the game that he didn’t know how it happened, though. But a win is a win. Unless, of course, it’s an 8-point win against Sacred Heart, an absolutely atrocious basketball team that should never have smelled the lead, let alone in the second half. However, considering last year’s team would have probably found a way to be 0-2 so far, you have to at least be happy with the results of these first two games.
The good? Daryl Traynham looks every bit as good as advertised, although hopefully game 2 is more indicative of his offensive talents than game 1 was. Gurley looks like he’s finally got things figured out. Riley’s gonna score a shitload of points for UMass before his career is over…you just can’t deny how smooth that shot is. Sampson Carter has been greatly improved, too. And UMass has done all this without Javorn Farrell, who was the unsung hero of last season, and with Terrell Vinson basically a ghost.
The bad? Little Village Bailey may be in far better shape, but this whole “lack of tangible basketball skills in game situations” thing continues to be troubling. Here’s hoping he’s still getting used to his leaner body. Luckily, the team doesn’t hinge on his success, so he’s got time to become a big contributor off that bench. TV, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. What the hell happened to this guy? He was up-and-down last year, but in two games, he’s really been a non-factor. Guys with this much raw talent don’t just disappear overnight, so I’m confident he’ll get it together, but it does raise eyebrows. Sean Carter hasn’t really been too great either. Really, the big men need to step it up for tomorrow’s matchup with New Mexico State, which has a couple of big men of their own that will provide a better test than Rider or SHU have. Unlike the hockey team, hoops actually does need to win some non-conference games. I think the big dance this year is an attainable goal if (and this is a huge, huge if) TV improves, DT plays this well against better opponents, and Riley and Gurley continue carrying the offense. The cool thing about struggling to a 2-0 start is that you’re still 2-0, and I know Coach Kellogg and the team know they need to be a lot better in order for the wins to keep coming in. Even if the team proves to be not quite ready for that jump yet, I can see this team making a run in a suddenly-not-quite-so-deep A10 and/or getting back to the NIT and getting valuable postseason experience for the sophomores and for DT and the other guys like Putney, Esho, and Morgan if and when they work their way into the rotation.
In the meantime, and I hate to keep beating a dead horse here, but please go out there to the Mullins and support your boys. Hell, they’re undefeated! I love that the marketing department was able to get a good student turnout for opening night against Rider, but that flat start scared off a bunch of them, and the attendance for Sacred Heart was abysmal (although the timing of the game and the opponent were likely factors as well). If UMass keeps winning, I’m sure the student turnout will improve, and I love that the diehards in the front row(s) are already much more numerous than last year, when it was basically me, Matt, Hamel, Goggles, and a few other guys and the band every night. Our school is situated in the birthplace of basketball, and we’ve got guys like Marcus Camby and Gary Forbes (as Marv Albert said, from “U of Mass”) in the NBA, and our state is home to the greatest NBA franchise of all time. It shouldn’t be hard to get students to turn out for free games, especially this year with a team that has contention potential. Get out there and make the Mullins a nightmare for visitors again. I know I’ll be doing my part when I come home in January.