Catching up on our intrepid heroes’ escapades over the past week or so…
Okay, seriously guys (0:09 mark):
Tonight’s 72-66 victory over Northeastern is somehow the most lopsided victory to date for the 4-3 Minutemen, who might well be off to the worst 4-3 start in the history of hyperbolic overreactions. You can really make a case that this team deserves to be 1-6 at this point, getting outplayed badly in their three actual losses and getting lucky against injured teams against Harvard and Providence. (The Siena game, ironically, UMass actually significantly outplayed their opponent and fell victim to awful luck on missing wide-open shots in the first half while the Saints banked in wild threes.) The Miami game was particularly disappointing, given the large (if late-arriving) crowd on hand and the RPI bump it could have provided. The Minutemen actually looked solid for the first 15 minutes or so in that one, but a series of missed opportunities and a few questionable calls pulled the wheels off quickly.
Now, the Minutemen also have the added burden of the Cady Lalanne situation. Not that Cady was looking 100% to begin with, but his absence (coupled with DK’s apparent lack of any sort of trust in Tyler Bergantino to do, err, anything yet) makes a thin lineup even thinner. I mean, for Chrissakes, Sampson Carter was our starting center tonight. The Minutemen gave up 15 offensive rebounds to the Huskies. Absolutely mind-boggling. Luckily, Jesse Morgan finally seemed to come to life with some huge corner threes to spur the latest last-minute rally. UMass ended up shooting just shy of 48% for the game. At this point, we’ll absolutely take it.
11 days off now. The Season of Great Expectations (TM) is hanging together by a thread. The Minutemen’s at-large hopes are already in grave danger, and as cupcake as the rest of the non-conference schedule looks, this team doesn’t seem to have any interest in easy wins. It sucks to be so down on these guys, but the fact of the matter is that the fun and joy of Chazketball has given way to an all-too-familiar system of passing the ball around the perimeter, watching Chaz try to make everything happen, and chucking wild threes all day long. It looks an awful lot like the “bazkettaball” we lamented during the first few years of the DK era. If this team is going to go anywhere and beat anyone of note, it’s going to need to somehow pull back together, and quick. Here’s hoping Kellogg uses this week-and-a-half to refocus his guys before they take on Elon in Springfield.
Since the 8-2 debacle against Lowell, which occurred on a Sunday and starred Jeff Teglia (who has since turned up on numerous milk cartons) and therefore cannot really even be considered part of the official UMass canon, the hockey team has stabilized somewhat. They were able to grind out a pre-Thanksgiving win against seasonal foe Vermont, pulled a tie against a feisty Quinnipiac team, and now come off a home-away split with the Northeastern Huskies. The most recent weekend does seem a little maddening at first, with UMass dominating both games from start to finish, yet with drastically different results: on Friday at the Bill, they couldn’t buy a goal against Chris Rawlings and lost 1-0 on a fluke breakaway goal. On Saturday, where we and dozens of other maroon-and-white faithful got the last laugh on Teddy Bear Toss night, UMass put 45+ shots on the net and six of them went in, including one for HEA Rookie of the Week KJ Tiefenwerth, his first (finally!).
Looking at the standings, UMass is remarkably just one point out of a home ice slot. Are there legitimate concerns surrounding the Power/Rowe injury situation, the slow start of Mike Pereira, the dismal play of any goaltenders not named Boyle? Sure. But UMass still has one of the toughest strength-of-schedule rankings in the country, is still the only team in the nation to beat #1 UNH, and is in striking range in the Pairwise standings (currently 23rd). UMass closes the year with remaining non-conference games on the docket, and a strong showing could well propel this team into contention for an at-large bid. Colgate, the #24 team in the Pairwise, comes in for two this weekend (a chance to avenge last season’s first-round lacrosse disappointment!). UMass then heads to Yale next week, currently fourth in the Pairwise, and which is a team UMass has actually played well against in recent years. After a break, the Minutemen ring in the new year up in Hanover in the Dartmouth tourney, against dreadful Bemidji State and then a crack at either UNH (as a non-conference foe) or Dartmouth, who are 2 and 3 in the Pairwise respectively. If UMass can play well in this stretch – like 3-1-1 or 4-1-0 good – the second half schedule looks good for UMass. The two at UNH are daunting, and there’s still another trip to Chestnut Hill, but there’s only one more with BU (at Mullins), two cracks at Maine at home, a two-gamer up in Burlington, one more at Matthews, home-and-homes with Providence and Lowell, and of course all three games left with Merrimack. Again, while it’s more road-heavy than the first half, the fact that UMass has just one more each against BU and BC (and knows it’s capable of staying around with both teams) means that a vast majority of what’s left is against the rest of the “middle of the pack” teams that UMass is striving to differentiate itself from. I think now that Boyle’s the established starter, if he can continue to play at least as well as he did this weekend against NU, we could be in for a fun second half.
Remember: the two guys who carried this team last year, Sheary and Pereira, really haven’t even gotten going yet, nor has the expected biggest freshman contributor (Tiefenwerth). Did Saturday’s rout at Matthews mark a turning point? (Or was it when all of us passed through the inauspicious Stargate on the Northeastern campus?) Cautious optimism, people! CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM!
(P.S. Special thanks this weekend to: the Mullins Militia for accommodating me for the Miami game on my lonesome as Matt was working; Amy of the Bench Crew for hanging out with the gang and putting up with our shenanigans Saturday night, and also our good friend Roy for being the honorary Fourth Fight Mass Dude; and the Husky Hockey Blog fellows for crossing enemy lines to come meet us at the end of the game. And of course, congratulations to the Coogan family on their future addition! We suggest Douglas for the youngin if he’s a boy. Just sayin.)