Category: Basketball

Into the Crevasse

We’ve seen a little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly since we last left you, our intrepid readers. The happenings for UMass’s big three programs (hockey, Chazketball, and football) have been a-happening. Reality bites, I’m afraid, as Matt and I have been hampered in our ability to keep the blog up-to-date by our full-time jobs, and Walsh continues to search for one for himself. So be a little understanding if free time, much like UMass power play goals, UNH fan teeth, or attractive Lowell residents, is at a premium.

That said, let’s check in and see how things are going for each of those teams.

Hockey:

Last night’s game against Yale was immensely encouraging in a lot of ways. UMass fought through a tough start (three penalties in the opening minutes) and put together a strong all-around effort for the rest of the game in a 3-1 win that wasn’t really even that close. It shows the team building off of its 4-4 tie with the Crimson of Hahhvahd, a game that itself served as a return to “actually trying” after the team pulled a Seguin and slept through its previous three.

Let’s take a moment here to address something mighty troubling. I got in some hot water a few games ago for taking some cheap shots at a few ditzy puck sl…err, scantily-clad female fans who came to cheer on their beloved Northeaste-wait, which one do we go to again? Where’s Kelly? But the Harvard game brought something much more harmful for UMass’s reputation than the most stereotypical Swestiest Swesties ever to set foot in the Bill. I’m talking, of course, about the dumb fucks who took it upon themselves to toss their chuck-a-pucks onto the ice during the game.

I feel like actions of this degree of stupid warrant a sternly-worded “fuck you” to the offending party (or parties…we’ll never know if it was the same kid, since from my vantage point, Mullins security did absolutely nothing to try and track the kid down, and it took until after the second offense for Goldstein to inform the audience that you’re, you know, not allowed to do that). Let’s forget for a moment that the stoppage of play that resulted from the second puck-chucking led to a UMass penalty that led to a game-tying Harvard goal, though there was, graciously, no actual penalty for the incident. Why the fuck would you do such a thing? How fucked up do you have to get before (okay, let’s be honest – during) the game to think this is a good idea? I’ve been to UMass games in some pretty intoxicated states. Lest you forget, I invented a version of the Jaegerbomb that has a higher alcohol percentage. But I know my limits, and I know the fine line between “rather” drunk and “fuck the consequences of all actions I might take” drunk. I might be giving the kid(s) the benefit of the doubt here, but I would hope that it would take a high blood alcohol level to make such a dumb fucking decision.

But what really defecated on my (and all reasonable UMass fans’) parade was that this somehow managed to happen twice. Whether it was the same kid or not, the fact that there was no public shunning of the offending party – in fact, quite a bit of appeased laughter – is a painful reminder that this student section has a ways to go before it escapes its own reputation. I appreciate the efforts being made by those in Section S, which I will always consider the “true” student section regardless of how asinine it is that they sit by the goal that UMass only shoots on once and with a limited view of the corner on the other side of the UMass bench. For the first time since my freshman year, there are kids up here who are actually trying to lead this diverse, ragtag group of variously-dressed, variously-cheering, variously-informed hockey fans and/or casual observers and/or Puffton pregamers. I feel like this is going to be a losing proposition until the team achieves some actual success and generates a following for more than just the spectacle. Just look at UVM. They had a few good runs, sent St. Louis and Timmah to the NHL, and now they have a great student section for a team that’s even more god-awful this year than UMass, their last meeting notwithstanding.

I think I speak for the other two (even if they won’t admit it) that the efforts of the Militia and a few rows of kids who “get it” are a step in the right direction, but for the Bill to return to the levels of intimidation unmatched since the four-game sweep of Maine in ’06, it’s gonna take some stepping-up, a lot more creativity (like the “Do my homework” chant! The guy who started it is awesome) and a lot less “Fuck you Harvards.” And an “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh SEE YA ASSHOLE” for the fuckhead who throws the pucks on the ice, as he gets dragged out, barely able to stand, after getting pointed out by the rest of his row. That’s what things are like at the other nine schools in Hockey East, guys. Even Lowell and even fucking Merrimack. (Okay, maybe not Providence, but they would if anyone showed up to games.) It’s not weird, it’s not tattling – it’s called being a fan and not wanting your team to get a fucking penalty and/or injury because of some douche in the stands. And that, folks, is your sternly-worded “fuck you.” Thanks for coming and let us never have to speak of this again. (I’m choosing to act as though the wave started by the student section never happened, since this bullshit also actually happened at a Bruins game the other night.)

Ahem. So yeah, the Yale game went well. Hope they can carry the positive momentum into the second half now. I’m putting the Kubbie Kounter on hold, by the way. In fact, maybe we’ll just do it for the second half. I feel like Guzzo would be running away with it by now though, as he and Gracel might be the only Minutemen who showed up for those three straight losses. Just sayin’.

Basketball

So here’s where we discuss the titular 30 Rock reference. The Minutemen descended into the crevasse, alright. Tuesday’s game at East Carolina might be the ugliest display of bazkettaball that I’ve ever had to witness, right down to the horrific webstream with ECU’s overly excitable announcers and PA guy blasting on echo over an uber-low resolution video that constantly flashed things like “MAKE SOME NOISE” and “DEFENSE.” (You get what you pay for, unless it’s UMass All Access video, wakka wakka wakka!) UMass built a massive first-half lead almost effortlessly, then actually stopped giving effort for a disturbingly long period of time as ECU fought back valiantly before finally shooting itself in the foot one time too many. And I mean damn I’d hate to be the doctor who has to fix up that foot! I can’t say it’s the worst UMass win I’ve ever seen, since I’ve seen them trail AIC late into the first half and beat Fordham at home on a buzzer-beater, but it was a bit discouraging to think that ECU had to miss a flurry of 3’s and free throws for UMass to pull this one out.

But whatever – they did pull it out. A win is a win and this one came on the road, and after a horrific travel schedule the likes of which I haven’t seen this team have in my time following them. Three games in three nights in the Bahamas, a flight home, a flight back to Miami, another flight home, and another flight back down to Greenville? Brutal, especially for a team that runs a full-court press for most of every game. So let’s put this one in the rearview mirror and focus on a 7-3 record and a cupcake schedule between this team and the start of conference play. It looks like the A-10 will be a bitch this year, in a good way for the conference but maybe not for UMass. I figured the conference would be up-for-grabs, but clear front-runners have emerged in Xavier and the Fighting Majeruses (Majerusi? Whatever, they’re fat, and I refuse to acknowledge whatever a Billiken is) and we’ve seen teams like Dayton pull off some nice upsets. Hell, even Fordham has three wins somehow. Really, the only team that looks truly horrible in this conference is – wait for it – oh this is great – weeeeeeeeeee’re Rhode Island born, and we’re Rhode Island (in)bred and when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead! Yeah, URI is 1-8 with a home win over Chaz-less Hofstra. In a word, epic. (They’ll probably sweep us.) So yeah, any thought of competing for an at-large bid now depends upon running the rest of the non-conference table and making a big dent in the conference. It would’ve been nice to get at least one of the three that they’ve lost so far, but there are still high-RPI teams left on the schedule – all at home – in the form of Xavier, Saint Louis, and Davidson (?!). And really, I think this team is at least as any team in the conference outside of Cincinnati.

There are question marks, of course. For every great story (Esho and Cady being solid out of the gate Morgan coming out of his slump, Carter’s alley-oops, and of course Chaz) there are concerns. Sampson is out for the season, which blows because he was starting to create favorable memories in my head of Etienne Brower, with a combination of length, underrated D and a smooth shooting touch from the line and the arc. At least he gets to redshirt and won’t be leaving us with the rest of DK’s inaugural class. Freddie had been…let’s say not so great coming into last night’s game, then he lit it up for the first half aaaaaand inexplicably was benched by DK for the rest of the game. Not what you want to do to a player who’s….let’s say moody. Look, we criticize the shit out of Riley, and he and Matt’s Twitter spats were well-documented. But we do it out of love, man. We want Freddie to be the spot-up 3-point ace he seems capable of being, but we’re sports fans – we get frustrated when our players struggle, and unfortunately, his shooting numbers make him a magnet for the criticism. (The mess that was the offense the last two years didn’t help, but he’s undoubtedly slumped to start this year as well.) Now, he finally looked to be breaking out of it, and Kellogg sits him on a team that already is a guard short with Laguerre’s academic ineligibility. DK’s making strides from a coaching standpoint this year, no doubt, and the new system on both offense and defense is working much better than anything they were doing the last few years. But unless there’s more to this story (which is certainly possible), I find it highly perplexing. Here’s hoping the team irons out whatever was going on here for tomorrow’s Springfield Siena game. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m way more confident about it than I would have been a year ago.

Football

Okay, this post is getting to “way tl;dr” territory. So I’ll keep it brief for now and probably try (ha) to follow-up soon. As a Notre Dame football fan (go ahead, toss the paper balls and boo) I’m pleased with the appointment of Charley Molner. I know, something about the combination of Charlie and offensive coordinator and Massachusetts and Notre Dame sounds like failure. And while both took over for a beleaguered and unpopular coach (I kinda liked Willingham, actually, but the results spoke for themselves), Weis was taking over his alma mater with extraordinary expectations and a storied history, a program that even I’ll admit was moving in the wrong direction on the prestige scale. (Though, fingers crossed, Kelly is slowly righting that ship.) The Minutemen have nowhere to go but up, and out of the crevasse that was (was! WAS! It’s SO good to say that!) the Morris era. Granted the bar may be low, but his rally cry – that UMass should be the best college football program in New England – is solid, and frankly, quite achievable given that BC is in a downward spiral and UConn’s rise to glory is fizzling. True, it’s premature to crown the guy when he’s yet to be a head coach in his career, and we haven’t seen how he recruits yet. But let’s be frank – we weren’t going to get a Mike Leach to come here just yet. The first year might be a little shaky, between the growing pains of an FBS schedule, a first-year head coach and a cupboard left pretty bare. And the pressure’s a little greater than it was for DK, who wasn’t replacing a coach UMass was still paying and who didn’t have a new conference and stadium to work with. If next season’s excitement is tempered by the lack of actual success, well, that’s the crevasse the Morris era has left us in. We may have to dig just a little deeper before we find the way out.

– Max

Carpe Fail

That’s Latin for “seize the fail,” FYI.

For those of you who are new to UMass sports fandom, this past weekend probably felt like a massive stomach punch (although the rest of us, in hindsight, probably should have known better.) Hockey got positively smoked by Quinnipiac (?!) in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 4-2 final score would indicate. This coming mere days after squeaking out just one goal against Hockey East cellar dwellers Vermont in a lifeless 2-1 defeat. Actually, truth be told, the Mass Attack has now sleepwalked through four games in a row. Any semblance of offensive prowess that they displayed in the early stages of this season seems to have been lost during that less-than-stellar Northeastern win, seemingly all wasted on the 7-2 drubbing of Holy Cross that now feels like it occurred sometime during the 1940s. No, much like windmills, scoring DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!, but you know what I mean. At least in the NU and Maine games, the team looked like it cared a bit. Not so much on that three-game “road trip” to nowhere. QU, Lowell, and Vermont accounted for all six UMass victories last year. They’ve accounted for three consecutive losses and a distinct, familiar sinking feeling.

Obviously, fan discontent with this squad is reaching new highs (Christ, even Dick Baker is pissed), and being New England sports fans, everyone’s looking for a scapegoat. Last year, Marcou’s minus-a-billion plus/minus rating was an easy target, but he’s been distinctly less awful this season (though still not approaching Kublin levels just yet), giving credence to the theory that injuries played a big part in his struggles. The goalies have all been inconsistent, but each has shown flashes of brilliance. And then there’s Toot. Is the talent he’s recruiting simply not good enough to compete? Does the departure of Dennehy and his subsequent rise to glory playing in a high school rink telling us something? Is Toot’s “system” simply flawed, no matter what pieces he puts into it? All solid questions, all worth discussion, all of which will bring a variety of answers. (I’m going with maybe, absolutely, and its starting to look that way, respectively. But that’s just me.) But look, Toot’s not going anywhere. The guy’s a fixture, the longest-tenured by far of UMass’s “big three” coaches, and by all accounts, a great guy who does a lot for the community and for the school. He’s toyed with retirement as recently as last year, before signing his current deal which brings him through one more season after this one. Between that and getting rid of the Glenn Beck lookalike who was, ahem, “running” our football team for the past couple years in favor of an actual D1 football coach (hopefully), they’re not gonna pay to get rid of Toot now. I would be stunned if he was let go during this season, no matter how bad things may get. Now, if they miss the HEA Playoffs on the other hand…that’ll change our tune. There is no way this team should miss the playoffs in such a down year in the conference.

But, being the optimist that I am, I don’t foresee that being a possibility. Last year’s team improved markedly from first to second semester. They’ve hit a rough patch, and they do still have three dates with the #1 team in the country ahead, but I think they’ve got it in them to turn this around yet. It starts with actually giving a shit about these non-conference games. A game in shitty southern Connecticut on Thanksgiving weekend, I can sort of understand. But if you can’t get up for two Ivy League teams coming into the Bill (where, somehow, UMass remains undefeated, I should add) to close out the first half strong, you’re making a big statement on the team’s heart, regardless of how ultimately meaningless the games might be.

Let’s all take a deep breath for now and re-assess where this team stands in a week. Even then, there’s plenty of season ahead. It…gets…better?

Oh, also, bazkettaball. That’s what the Charleston game devolved to, by the way, after Chazketball was cut short by early foul trouble. The result was UMass hoops’s first really embarrassing loss of the season (I still believe in that Florida State team, despite how the rest of the Bahamas tourney went for them). I’m glad that the Battle 4 Atlantis (sigh) is over and the guys are back home and, you know, not playing three games in three nights of up-tempo ball. In less than an hour, they’ll tip off against the Towson Tigers, and since this is not lacrosse, it stands to reason that a return to winning ways is to be expected. Remember, UMass’s chances at an at-large bid are pretty reliant on winning a lion’s share of the shitty non-conf games (and, likely, one road win against a power conference team, like, say, Saturday at Miami) as well as a strong run through the conference schedule. The FSU loss didn’t hurt much, but Charleston might be a big blow later on. I’m getting way ahead of myself here, though. Let’s see how the guys fare tonight, back at home with a few days of rest under their belts and a god-awful opponent on the docket. This is the kind of gimme game (ahem, Maine) that can really derail a season, so it kind of sucks in that there’s so little to gain with a win and so much to lose with a loss.

So, uhh, win, please. I’d like to go back to that, k? Thanks.

 

-Max

 

 

‘Til the Echoes Ring Again

On paper, we should have seen this coming. Boston College came into tonight’s game with a narrow victory at home over UNH and a blowout loss at Holy Cross. The Minutemen cruised to three comfortable victories, albeit against some pretty awful teams, but games in which the team won by double digits despite not shooting particularly well. It would be easy for the doubters to point to last year and say “here we go again,” as UMass’s 7-0 start came off the rails starting with a loss to a not-so-great BC team. But this year, BC will be fortunate to end the year “not-so-great.” They were picked unanimously to finish dead-last in the top-heavy ACC. They feature an absurd nine freshmen on the roster. And they’re a program that, truth be told, has never really been all that successful, not as much as their football team and certainly not even close to what they’ve done on the ice. Whereas the purists will always see UMass as a hoops school, basketball has always played third fiddle on the Heights.

But damn…who could’ve seen this coming?

Despite shooting a pedestrian 47.8% from the field (which, over the course of a season, would rank 78th in the nation at this point), despite getting outshot at the free throw line by a staggering 25-7 margin, despite nobody on the team really doing anything you could describe as “going off” (Chaz led in scoring with 16), the Minutemen still completely dominated the final three-quarters of the basketball game, only falling behind early on a couple of quick threes and some nice free-throw shooting by noted Eurotrash flopper Patrick Heckmann. From there on, it was a clinic in pressure defense, controlling tempo, hitting shots in transition, and never taking the foot off the gas pedal – all of which are things the Minutemen have notably lacked in the first few years of the Kellogg era. Shit, we haven’t seen a good old-fashioned beatdown like this since – gulp – the Travis Ford days. So far, “going ahead by like 25 and then cruising to a modest 12-15 point win” has been as close to a blowout as we can get under Kellogg, whether we’re playing an A-10 foe or AIC. Until tonight, that is.

Look, let’s not start thinking we’re Xavier all of a sudden. The Minutemen benefited from plenty of awful, awful BC turnovers, missed open shots, and defense and rebounding that could best be described as “voluntary,” against a team that looks like it’d fit in much better on a soccer field if they were at all in shape (which they clearly are not, based on how gassed UMass’s pace left them by the middle of the 2nd half). I don’t know what Donahue is trying to do with this team, unless he thinks a squad of Jiri Welsches has a chance of competing in the ACC, but whatever it is, it’s a serious work-in-progress right now.

But give credit where credit is due. After playing down to some shoddy competition in the first half of the Northeastern and NJIT games, the Minutemen grabbed this game by the throat early and, save for a brief run that got the Eagles to the low teens, never really let go. The fun thing is that I still don’t think we’ve seen all this team is capable of, but we did see what happens when Jesse and especially Riley manage to put together even an average game shooting the ball. Both guys played with a lot more confidence and, yes, better shot selection. Most impressive of all, in my estimation, was Cady Lalanne, who showed off big-time with some blocks, quality positioning on rebounds, and even a nice shooting touch. He’s clearly the most polished freshman of the DK era, and until we actually see Jordan Laguerre on a basketball court, I might even argue the most exciting. Seeing how much guys like Farrell, Putney, Sampson Carter and Vinson have improved in two years, I can see quite a bit of potential for young Cady.

Between blowing out BC on the hardwood and sending Kevin “Glenn Beck” Morris packing, thereby clearing the way for the football team to bring in an actual coach to guide them into the FBS era, it’s been an absolutely stellar day for this athletics program – yes, even good enough to soothe the headache of Saturday’s debacle in Lowell. (By the way, I literally woke up with a headache Sunday and I think it had more to do with what happened in Tsongas than anything that transpired down the street at Lowell Beer Works that night.)

The rest of the week brings potential, with hockey looking to get back on track in Vermont tomorrow night (if you ignore games-in-hand, they could move into a points tie for home ice tomorrow night! *rolls eyes*). And then we get to see basketball – nay, Chazketball – on national TV for three days in the Bahamas tournament. Florida State is a huge test for this program, for sure, and for all we know they’ll go right out and get embarrassed and the hater bandwagon will be full once again.

We’ll cross that bridge when it comes. For now, bask in the glory of a blowout win over BC. It doesn’t happen every day.

– Max

Back to the Future

Winning?! What is this winning you speak of?

It was a perfect weekend for the UMass athletics program. UMass hockey won two games in a single weekend, one pretty and one ugly. Basketball, after a shaky stretch in the first half, flexed its muscle down the stretch and took over against Elon, as the Chaz Williams era began with a bang. If you want to take it even further, women’s basketball even got a win to start the year, and UMass football lost, which, for those following at home, is a victory for the future of the program.

We won’t equivocate on this: the level of competition was not high this weekend. Holy Cross looked a far cry from the squad that upset BU on Comm Ave earlier this year. Northeastern has officially taken Lowell’s throne as unquestioned worst team in Hockey East this year. And Elon is, well, Elon. But wins are wins, and the first step to escaping the “rebuilding” label is winning the games you’re supposed to win. Both teams did that in spades this weekend.

Friday’s double-header was a thing of beauty, especially on the ice. I wrote on Friday morning about the very real possibility of a letdown against Holy Cross in a virtual exhibition game (given UMass’s slow start and their weak non-conference schedule, an at-large bid is a major long shot). But the Crusaders looked like anything but spoilers on Friday night, managing to play a game that was ugly enough to match those hideous purple uniforms. UMass had exactly one true “blowout” win last year (our trip to Gutterson!) and so it’s good to get one of those at home to improve the students’ opinion of this program, even if it did make the second half of the game almost a little boring. It was also pretty cool that after not seeing a hat trick at home my entire time at UMass, we (and all of the freshmen, incidentally) have now seen two at home this year. Of course, Allen didn’t get credit for his trick until one of Guzzo’s goals was changed to him later in the game, which is funny because we were cheering the entire third period for Guzzo to get what we thought would be his OWN hat trick. Still, Stephen and the rest of the Minutemen looked solid from beginning to end and took care of business early and often. As Matt pointed out after the game, you can tell that Toot didn’t even have to yell at his team too much given how intact his voice was during the postgame interview with Brock Hines.

Last night’s game was a lot uglier, but the result was another win and, more importantly, two conference points and a clinch of at least a tie of the season series against the Huskies. Both teams came out kind of flat and played surprisingly poorly through two periods given the importance of the game for each team. Yet the Minutemen took control of the game in the third after a late power play goal by Mike “The Franchise” Pereira tied the game late in the 2nd off a nice rebound on a King Phillips shot (good to have him back!) and Gracel put UMass ahead for good in the third. The Huskies, to their credit, turned up the intensity at the end, including a scary minute where Mikey almost gave us all a heart attack at least three times trying to clear the puck with NU on the 6-on-5, but Syner’s empty-netter from his own blue line was a thing of beauty, the kind of game-clinching goal that UMass is finally, finally starting to get. Has the worm turned on their inability to close out close games? Fingers crossed. We’ll see what this team is made of with a pair against disappointing Maine and upstart Lowell next weekend…more on that later this week.

(Sidebar: Speaking of ugly, those two puck sluts I relentlessly tweeted about all game long. We’re talking the most disgustingly spray-tanned skanks you’ll ever see, beyond trashed, so completely clueless that they cheered for Northeastern’s first goal of the night. I’m only half-joking when I say that the Mullins Center staff needs to wash and disinfect the boards in front of Section S that these two were grinding on. I’m all for team spirit, but come on now, show the slightest bit of class. I think I’m asking for too much here.)

Lastly, some thoughts on the Rage at the Cage Friday night. I’ll certainly take a comfortable 18-point win any day of the week, no matter who they’re playing, especially how last season finished. It was disheartening to be down by four at halftime to a Southern Conference team, but when you consider one of our key players (Putney) got hurt and missed most of the game (and the team looked visibly shaken for several minutes, and who can blame them given how scary the injury was), and Riley and Morgan were a combined 2-for-2351 (give or take) from the field, putting up 85 points regardless was something I’ll gladly take. The pressure defense was a mixed bag – sometimes it looked stifling, other times it led to easy looks in transition that the Phoenix simply failed to make, but the guys played with a refreshing amount of energy.

Looking at individual players – there was a lot to be pleased with. The biggest story, of course, is the debut of Chaz Williams, who looks like everything we could have possibly dreamed of at point guard. Shooting, court vision, great hands on defense, even some rebounding for a little guy. The spark when he’s on the court reminded me of the Daryl Traynham era, only his game is clearly a step ahead of Daryl’s, plus his defensive strategy isn’t as…ahem…aggressive as Daryl’s. You gotta remember that this team hasn’t had a true point guard for a whole season since C-Lowe (sorry, Gary), and DK’s sloppy implementation of the dribble-drive definitely did not fit Lowe’s game at all. Now we’re finally seeing the benefits of several years of putting together a team and a system that fits the team, and Chaz appears to be the perfect man to quarterback this offense. Aside from that, his game is electrifying – even when UMass was winning early last year, they’ve rarely been fun to watch in the Kellogg era. Chaz is the most exciting player this team’s had since Tony Gaffney, and that’s a BIG plus when it comes to getting the attendance numbers back up.

Aside from Chaz, Terrell Vinson had some great numbers coming off the bench – it’s early, but if this is going to be the year he finally breaks through, this was certainly a good start. The other new guys – Esho and Lalanne – got some minutes, and though both seem pretty raw, they both look like they’ll bring good size. Cady got a longer look than Maxie, and while his awareness needs work, there’s surely some potential going forward. Really, the only negatives you can take from this game were the play of Riley and Morgan. Not only did the offense struggle mightily whenever Chaz left the court, but two of them (Freddy in particular) took some atrocious shots (we’re talking “contested, several feet behind the line with 33 on the shot clock” atrocious). I did think both of them looked a little better on the defensive end, but, well, it’s Elon – these guys weren’t hitting the broad side of a barn. The thing is, we know that both Freddie and Jesse are actually capable of catching fire and hitting these shots, but that doesn’t make it less cringe-inducing when they launch ’em, particularly when everyone else is in a good rhythm. Moreover, if Chaz and Vinson (and to a lesser extent two guys who quietly had great games as well, Javorn Farrell and Sampson Carter) are going to fill the scoring void left by Gurley, the Minutemen can look at their 2-guards’ shooting as a bonus. Last year, UMass only rallied past Rider on opening night because Riley and Gurley caught fire on those kinds of shots. Friday proved that UMass can beat an inferior team without clicking on all cylinders, something that wasn’t necessarily the case the past few years. Hopefully the two of them can find their shot as the season goes on, because if they’re on, this offense looks pretty damn good.

Next up for the Minutemen – hey, how ’bout that – the Northeastern Huskies come to town tomorrow night. I don’t anticipate that the buzz of opening night will necessarily translate to a good Monday night turnout against an America East foe, but for now, I’m not concerned about attendance. I am a slightly bit concerned about Putney’s injury, and I doubt we’ll see him in this week’s games, but I’m actually confident that UMass can take care of business against NU and NJIT without him, and that he can be back as UMass goes for 4-0 at BC. Jinxes be damned – in Chaz we trust.

– Max

Kubbie Points for the weekend:

Max: DeAngelo (Friday), Phillips (Saturday)

A Somewhat More Perfect Union

Just a week ago, the question for the Minutemen was whether they could put up a strong enough showing against UNH and BC to give them momentum going forward into the easy part of their schedule. Even the most optimistic of fans (ahem…this guy) couldn’t have predicted that, a night after getting smoked by the Wildcats, UMass would go out and make their biggest statement in nearly two years by knocking off the top team in the country. They played – finally – a complete 60-minute effort and they reaped the rewards.

Now the question is how they can deal with this newfound success. UMass teams in the past have had trouble with this concept. In 06-07, they followed up both of their wins over BC with losses (one by blowout fashion at home to the same Eagles the next night, the other with the most embarrassing of possible hockey outcomes – a loss to Lowell). The next year, UMass beat #9 BC and lost the next game at Gutterson; they later swept a three-game stretch against top-7 teams (including beating Notre Dame and Colorado College in the Lightning College Hockey Classic) – and proceeded to lose their next five en route to an epic collapse. Three years ago this weekend, UMass blew out then-#1 BU (their last win over a top-ranked team) and proceeded to get shut out by Lowell the next night (remember when UMass used to lose to Lowell? That was fun). Later that year, the boys looked like they were going to emerge from the Cahoon swoon after a tie against #7 UVM at the Gutt and a win over #3 Northeastern at home…and then they lost four straight. (To be fair, that team was a goal away from reaching the Garden, and they beat a top-3 Northeastern team three times including the playoffs. Alas…’twas not to be.)

I could go on, but you get the point – the problem this program has had in the Cahoon era isn’t getting signature wins, it’s following up on them. (That and a propensity for second-half collapses, but those things kinda go hand-in-hand.) Momentum doesn’t exist for this team – they could be speeding toward a wall, and then they’ll go and sweep Maine to end a season. They’ll be riding the highest of highs, then suffer the lowest of…ehh, I won’t even go there, Lowell sucks.

This weekend is a chance for the Minutemen to pick up what should – and I wish there were more things I could do to emphasize this text – SHOULD!!!!!!! – be two easy wins. Holy Cross is, of course, an Atlantic Hockey team, and while they now-famously have a win over BU on their resume, that same BU team has played badly enough that UMass should frankly be embarrassed to only have one point against them, before you even take into account how those games went down. But come on, we’re talking about a school that produced Bill Simmons* and wears purple. How good can they be?

Then there’s a rematch with Northeastern, the first time since 2006 that I’ll be at a home game with neither Matt nor Derek present. (Eerie.) The Huskies barely stole a point on opening night against UMass, but have been pretty bad since, and hopefully won’t get the luxury of spending the entire third period on the power play this time. As Papa Triangle pointed out in his preview this week, while the Huskies’ power play was horrible in that game, the Minutemen couldn’t put together any momentum to get the put-away goal on the board because, oh let’s think, they had one (or two) fewer guys on the ice for much of the second half of the game. I’m optimistic that the guys’ opening-night jitters are behind them and they play a much more disciplined game.

That said, history suggests UMass is in for a letdown after that BC series. If UMass has to come away with just two points this weekend, though, let’s get real here – the Holy Cross game, as much as it would suck to lose, is an exhibition at this point. UMass’s shoddy start to the year has once again put them into Hockey East-or-bust mode, although I’m much more confident about this team’s chances of competing for a trip to the Garden than I was last year (obviously). They’d need a pretty remarkable second half to be thinking about an at-large bid. If UMass loses to the Crusaders, I’d be okay with it – provided they beat Northeastern tomorrow.

(But don’t let that stop you from going to the Bill tonight, kids. And don’t forget, game starts at 6!)

—-

Oh, so hey, baz-ketta-ball starts tonight. As usual, I’m half-assing it with my whole “preseason preview” thing this year. Anyone who’s mentioned it to me lately should know, though, that I’ve been quite high on this team’s chances this year. Last year’s team was just not quite there yet. A lot of – ahem – “experts” think UMass might barely make the A-10 playoffs this year, but these are people who are looking at the stats, seeing Gurley’s points are gone, and predicting a fall-off. If anything, losing Gurley is the best thing that could happen to this team. Nothing against AG, he certainly had his moments and improved dramatically after a terrible first year in Amherst, but he’s the training wheels that this team needed to lose, the crutch that they kept falling back on. He led the team in scoring, but he took a remarkable number of shots to do it, and the team seemed to stand around waiting for him to do something far too often. This year, with DK finally seeming to concede that this team is better-built for a high-paced game rather than whatever the failed dribble-drive experiment had devolved to last year, I expect a much more balanced attack. I expect big things from guys like Putney and Morgan. I expect that having an actual point guard is going to facilitate a more potent offense. I expect Matt’s BFF Freddie Riley to finally break through. I expect Junkyard Dog Javorn Farrell will thrive now that he’s not forced to play out of position at the point. I expect one of the touted freshmen (Esho and Lalanne) to step up to the plate. I expect Terrell Vinson will come out motivated after a disappointing start to his career. And I expect that this team will breeze through a way-too-easy non-conference schedule and it will result in a team with a pretty good record that probably still has no shot at an at-large bid, but I’d be happy with a legitimate run in the conference tourney and a return to the NIT. I expect they’ll be good enough that even Derek, who loved UMass basketball but has sworn off UMass baz-ketta-ball, will be convinced to come to a game with us. Baby steps here.

Do I expect too much? Oh, of course. I’ve been burned by these guys before…we all have. But there are fewer question marks here than there ever have been in the past. Being away from campus, of course, I haven’t actually seen any of this team yet this season, so I suspect we’ll have a better grasp of what these guys are made of after tonight’s Cage match with Elon. Who, by the way, UMass should certainly beat, seeing as how they’re a reverse Nole(t).

See ya there.

– Max

* Nahh, Simmons is alright.

Chinese Democracy

Okay, no more fucking around, I’ve been officially blackmailed into writing this piece that I’d been procrastinating for so long. Much like Duke Nukem Forever, Daikatana, GnR’s Chinese Democracy, Marco Scutaro’s throws across the diamond, and the 2010 New York Jets, this piece was long-delayed, had to be re-done several times, and will almost assuredly disappoint in the end. Deal with it.

So here we stand in a bizarre time for New England sports. This is a hawwkey taaawn, for the first time in a long time. The Bruins are the hottest ticket in town, hoisting a Stanley Cup, running shirtless around town and running up million-dollar bar tabs. Hell, even Dreamboat Ellsbury can’t get enough action to keep up with Marshmont, Seguin, and the boys. The Swesties this fall will be trading in their pink Red Sox caps for pink Bruins caps. And with the NBA on a one-way ticket to Lockoutsville (the NFL having cancelled its reservations in the city’s town’s skeezy motel, thankfully heeding the advice of a psychopath), hockey seems destined to be ready to fully captivate everyone’s sports eyes, save for one and a half days a week this winter. You know what that means, right? I would be shocked – SHOCKED I say! – if attendance doesn’t skyrocket around Hockey East this year. That would include our beloved Minutemen, as our freshly-minted Bruins fans invade the Mullins Center eager to see some good ol-fashioned HAWWWWKEY in person, without the possible distraction of, say, the Celtics playing the Bulls or Heat or Lakers at the same time. (Of course, there’s always the off chance that more people will stay home to watch the Bruins now, but shut up, let me continue pontificating for a bit, geez.)

I’ll be totally honest – I was rooting for the NFL lockout too. Why, you ask? Well, aside from my not-so-secret sentiment that the NFL receives a disproportionate amount of coverage from the sports media compared with equally-if-not-more-deserving sports like hockey, hoops, and baseball (nothing pisses me off more than random offseason notes in the NFL like Brett Favre’s latest unretirement distracting from oh I don’t know A FUCKING PENNANT RACE MAYBE), I was also kind of really excited for the potential benefits this might have toward a little thing called UMass football. Yes, our boys are finally graduating to the “big show,” and technicalities aside, I guarantee I’m not alone in suddenly caring a hell of a lot more about what this team does now that it “matters.” Yes, it’s just the MAC, and yes, the CAA was actually a slightly stronger conference last year despite its higher “status.” Whatever. UMass was not bowl-eligible, and now they can be.

…Well, except for the fact that they’re stuck in CAA purgatory this year. It’s hard to imagine that won’t impact the players, who really have nothing but pride to play for. But it will mean everything that the fans come out and show their support, because it’s gonna depend on us, and on you, for this to work. The Kraft family has provided the stage, but the difference between this being “the big step up the UMass program’s been waiting for” and “another mistake that the Globe can flaunt around as ‘proof’ of the state school’s inferiority to their darling private schools, while ignoring anything positive UMass does” is whether or not the fans show. If the fans don’t show, this doesn’t succeed, and it sets the whole athletics program back big-time. If it succeeds, UMass is a name brand, the only (likeable) D1 FBS college football program in Massachusetts, and all of a sudden things get a little easier on the recruiting and ticket-selling fronts for the other sports, all of a sudden Dick’s Sporting Goods is putting Sam the Minutemen next to Baldwin the Eagle, all of a sudden the Big East is knocking again…alright wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. That’s all way down the road. Like, you can’t see it from atop Du Bois far. (That’s good, hopefully I can afford season tickets by then.) But it has to start somewhere, and it’s starting in Foxborough of all places.

It starts with 5-6 Saturdays a year, against schools that (UNH aside) are about as interesting to UMass fans as the William and Maryses of the world. In this economic climate, taking the family to a Pats game on a Sunday for $500+ (and that’s just the tickets) is out of the question. The chance to see FBS college football, however technically that description is, is going to draw casual interest in New England, I’m convinced. It’s going to be whether the team gets the diehards, the lifers, the young alumni still not ready to leave UMass behind (ahem, the founders of this blog say hi) and – of course – the students.

Therein lies part of the problem. Frankly, the quality of the UMass student section in all sports has gone decidedly downhill in my five-plus years of being associated with this school. (THERE. I SAID IT.) When I was a freshman, the diehards were standing in the preseason game at the Practice Rink teaching newbies the chants and singing Fight Mass with the full left-right diagonal clap dealie. Now? There’s seriously kids who think it goes “Hey…you suck…fuck fuck fuck fuck go UMass!” Nobody aside from us three has asked Matty G how much time is left in the period for a couple years now. Clever chants, fun twists on old ones (“Your mom called! She said you suck! Your dog called! He said you suck!”), even dumb guilty pleasures like Noleeeeeet-Nolet-Nolet-Noleeeeeeeeeet” have been supplanted with – yup – “fuck (name of school).” And the occasional “let’s go UMass!” And that’s fucking it. All the things that make college sports fun – all the shit that got me hooked in the first place, besides the hockey of course – have gone by the wayside, and though the gate numbers have been solid despite the team’s less-than-stellar record, the atmosphere has suffered. We’ve gone from “notoriously profane fans who yell mean-spirited things and get really loud when they need to” to “notoriously profane fans who yell really fucking stupid things and have to be told when to get loud by a NOOOOOOOOOISSSSSSSEEEEEEEEEMEEEEEEEEEEEETERRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!1” I don’t need S&P to tell me that’s a downgrade. (hurrr he made a political funny)

See, here’s what I loved about the Bruins this season – there were no pink hats yet. It was like watching the Red Sox back in ’04. The bandwagoners always seem to watch on the edge until the very end. I was at games 3 and 4 of the Flyers series. That place was loud. People were actually into the game, people knew what was happening. Maybe that’s just the difference between hockey and baseball, or maybe it’s because cell phones are exponentially more powerful these days, but I feel like the atmosphere at Fenway ain’t what it used to be. It’s not about the team anymore – it’s about being seen. I have a horrible sinking feeling that this is the Bruins’ impending fate, actually. Actually, the Bruins’ run has put the UMass students into perspective for me. For so long, I felt like the sudden surge of Tourette’s-like stupidity was a sign that our students really were the neanderthals the Globe and the rest of the eastern-MA media stereotypes them as. Then I watched kids from all over the Commonwealth erupt from the North Station area after game 7 with, not “let’s go Bruins” but “fuck Vancouver” – and after every chant for a Bruin was something like “Luongo sucks! Luongo sucks!” It actually distracted me from celebrating that emotional moment (which, by the way, I wrote about over here, shameless plug). For a moment I was disgusted, but in a way, it was also a relief – these are BC kids, and BU kids, and Northeastern kids, and they’re no classier than our guys. At the same time, though, it’s a bit discouraging to think that, as a whole, these are Massachusetts kids.

That’s what this boils down to, methinks. Boston kids are spoiled sports fans. I mean, no shit we are. No fanbase has been this lucky over a decade, and with three teams at least in the conversation to win their sport’s next championship (and the other, well, not playing for a while). That’s why apathy about the sports teams makes so much sense. We have an NFL team that contends for a Super Bowl literally every year, so why care about a D1-AA football team aside from some tailgating? The Celts have the big three, so it’s no big deal if Derek Kellogg’s boys aren’t winning. (Just wake us up when BC or URI is in town.) And the hockey team? It’s a great pregaming event, but let’s try to get out before the third period so we can drink some more before we head to the frats/Hobart and banging/being drunk Swestie sluts. I mean, even the group of friends me, Matt, and Walsh partied with my senior year after games in North…most of them were there as a pre-pregaming event.

Ah, but I think I’ve argued this before – hockey’s a special case. It’s become the thing to do on campus that the University doesn’t discourage. The other big two either a) don’t play in “real” D1, or b) play on weeknights. Friday and Saturday nights can’t be overslept, nor can studying get in the way. This works heavily in hockey’s favor – they can draw a crowd without playing particularly well, due to the perfect timing of most of their schedule. Ironically, though, this has been a huge negative for the quality of the student section.

See, the team hasn’t played particularly well over the past three semesters. Alright, “dismal” might be a better word. They never had a stretch that bad for that long in the few years prior, when the fanbase was breaking attendance records and riding the momentum of the ’04-05 Hockey East and ’06-07 NCAA runs that finally put the program on the map. Anyone who started following the team starting midseason of ’09-10, though, has seen nothing but failure. We still have the upperclassmen who were freshmen and sophomores when the school was still buzzing about those then-recent playoff runs, so hockey’s status as a popular weekend event lives on through them. The enthusiasm and hockey know-how just didn’t carry on to this generation, though, because the teams they witnessed were mediocre. We now, however, have another batch of freshmen and sophomores who have seen three semesters of low-quality play (half a year of the Jimmy/Casey fiasco, and a whole year of rebuilding) and who are getting bad habits from the start.

Look, I can’t just stand here on this soapbox and say I want every student to do this when this happens and say that when this happens. But I’m not horribly enthused about where this is going. I guess I’d rather the Mullins be full of students for hockey games than the barren wasteland it’s become for basketball, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t have a Hockey East-caliber student section as it stands today. And we totally did for a couple years there. Now? Like I said…one big pregame party, where the douche yelling “fuck BC!” in between looking at the Smokeshow of the Day on fucking Barstool and talking about that one time he played JV in high school to the girls in Marchand shirts reigns supreme, until he leaves midway through the second. Oh, and we’re probably playing BU that night.

That’s where we stand now. There are a number of directions it can go in, but you – yes motherfucker, YOU – have a lot to do with it. I really want Fight Mass to get bigger this year. I’m not looking for personal gain from it – I’m happy with my software support job in Manchester for now, and am more than happy to delay pursuing my dreams in sports journalism until my financial situation is more clear. And I’ll be damned if this thing ever makes any money. No, I really want this to be a rallying point for those of you diehards who, like me, have bigger and better things in mind for our alma mater. For a while, you see, this dream was just that – a pleasant thought, like “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had even half a section of kids wearing our school colors, let alone a jersey or something to indicate they know they’re at a sporting event?” But now, with this football thing (oh hey look I tied it all together, go me!), shit’s for reals. Integrating the fanbases is something I’ve preached before, but now I mean it. The students who go to hockey and the students who go to football and the students who go to basketball…it’s never seemed as uniform as when I was a freshman. Granted, those were the best of times for me, it turned out. Lasme and Freeman were around, the hockey team had Jon Quick, football had its epic playoff game against UNH…the future seemed so bright, and everyone knew it. Moreover, Maroon Platoon was present at every game. There was some kind of school-sanctioned unity going on. I’ve seen the rise of Mullins Militia presence last semester when I came back from Florida. This has GOT to continue next year. Get kids hooked early, spend whatever budget there is to keep these kids devoted. Sell big on the future for this program, and get the kids who care to spread the word.

And it IS a bright future! Football may be spinning its wheels for a year, but building momentum for the first year in the “big show” is important. Hockey is returning a very promising young class, keeping almost everyone who did any scoring last year, and adding some more talented freshmen, all in a year where the rest of Hockey East figures to be down. Basketball…Kellogg finally has “his” guys in there and seems devoted to simplifying that offense to fine-tune it to the players he actually has. The Big Three programs on campus seemingly have nowhere to go but up after last year, and this is a perfect time to get freshmen excited about the team. Push hockey to the kids who are hooked on the sport after the double-whammy of Olympics last year and Bruins this year. Push basketball to those who need something to fill the Celtics void. And push football, because as much as I love hockey, I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that the success or failure of football’s FBS jump is vital for the entire program going forward. That’s why, for the first time, I’ll actually be including some football coverage on the site this year (though rest assured, it’s still a hawwwkey taaaahwn.)

I haven’t lost faith completely in the classes of ’12 and ’13. There’s some very passionate sports fans there who are waiting for something to cheer for. The teams have to do their part, of course, to make the games count for more than just an amusing diversion from books or a place to be seen before the parties. But, silly as it sounds, I want this incoming freshman class to learn the traditions the right way, before “fuck fuck fuck fuck Go UMass” becomes part of the lexicon. It might come in the form of a basic rookie guide, which sounds lame when you picture a school-sanctioned “appropriate” one, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I’d much rather prefer a more natural approach, and that means you – the student readers and fellow recent alumni – to band together and make an example. Speaking of bands, this would be so much easier if we had a hockey band, and it looks like this might finally almost be a possibility at some point, but until then, it’s in our hands. I have no problem with the douche in the Howitzer t-shirt, aside from his taste in sports websites and his inability to at least use the word “fuck” in a more clever manner/chant. But in order to get him to care about what’s actually happening on the ice, or to get him and the Swesties and everyone else to realize there’s (gasp) a THIRD period, it’s up to those of us who do know and care to start showing it a little more. So let’s give last year a mulligan with the rebuilding effort, and actually build something ourselves this winter, shall we?

So there you have it – yet another meandering rant-turned-pep-talk from yours truly. Hope it thoroughly fell short of your expectations, which I imagine were massive at this point. Now for some more teasing – I have some fairly big plans for this blog in its third year, as part of my strategy for FM to become a rallying point for my fellow devoted UMass student fans and/or a place where I can bitch and moan about the power play for several paragraphs. You’ll have to stay tuned for that. In the meantime, for your concrete hockey news based on things like numbers and journalism, stay tuned to everyone’s favorite craft beer enthusiast/hockey fan, Fear the Triangle, and keep asking yourself: is it October yet?

Die Another Day(ton)

The UMass men’s baskettaball season has finally, graciously, come to an abrupt end. And not a moment too soon.

Oh, sure, the CBI and CIT will come a-calling for up-and-coming mid-majors who want to pay the $35G entry fee to play in a meaningless post-season tournament. But newsflash: this is not an up-and-coming mid-major. The Atlantic 10 is not a mid-major. It’s a major, albeit not one of the “power six,” but not a joke of a conference where the Arkansas-Little Rocks of the world can line up to be 15 and 16 seeds year after year. This is what pisses me off the most about the “look how many teams have made the NCAA tournament since UMass last did it!” Yeah. Look how many teams play in bullshit conferences. UMass plays in the Atlantic 10. It ain’t spectacular, but it’s prestigious enough that you need to actually be good to win the conference. That’s why Xavier and Temple win it year after year. That’s why Dayton, certainly a proud enough program, is a yearly contender. With great power comes great responsibility, of course. UMass could drop down to one of the aforementioned bullshit conferences, and be a perennial power in, say, the Northeast Conference. (Actually, based on their performance against Central Connecticut…you know, let’s not go there right now.) But they don’t. They play in the Atlantic 10. And so we will continue to suffer as fans, missing the tournament year after year, until they build a team capable of competing at this level.

This was not such a team this year.

That 7-0 start (no, seriously! They started 7-0!) was a facade, and we all knew it. Rallying against a Rider team that fell asleep at the wheel, and only after Gurley and Riley caught absolute fire behind the arc. Barely squeezing by teams like Sacred Heart and Holy Cross. (Unless it’s Notre Dame, you generally want to blow out schools with adjective-noun religious names.) Those blowout wins against not-so-great TCU and New Mexico State looked nice until you factor in their hellish travel schedules. The real warning sign should have been AIC hanging around in the first half. AIC! Basically a community college! I mean, for chrissakes, even Travis Ford’s tournament-missing teams were able to blow out middling A-10 squads at home. No matter who UMass played, a 20-point win just seemed to be too much to ask for. And yeah, margin of victory shouldn’t matter if you’re winning, but face it – it does matter. If you’re not significantly better than shitty competition, then something is severely wrong with either your focus, your style of play, your talent, your coaching…something. And in some combination, all of these factors undermined the Minutemen’s season, until their most embarrassing two-game span in recent memory: snapping Fordham’s 41-game conference losing streak, and then a “nationally”-televised (which is to say, even less-“nationally” than Versus’s “nationally”-televised NHL games) playoff game against a middling Dayton team which saw the second-worst loss in Mullins history. Moreover, the student endzone was actually full for the first time since, ohh, I dunno, probably the last time BC was in town (my 21st birthday, incidentally), and once again, a poorly-timed stinkbomb of a performance likely made the marketing department’s job that much harder for next year.

So where do we go from here? Turn all the lights down now. I’m NOT feeling this. (With apologies to blink-182.)

Seriously. There is nothing to be gained from spending thousands of dollars to play in a mediocre tournament. This team has regressed drastically as the season has gone on. And yeah, part of it was that the Minutemen started playing against teams who didn’t have to travel thousands of miles and/or the third day in a row. The fact of the matter is, the offense made nil progress as the year went on, while Anthony Gurley (who pretty much was the offense at the start of the year) started getting contained and shut down. There was no plan B. This team had one way of winning: grind the game down, hang around and make the other team play “baskettaball,” and hope that the opponent goes just as cold from the field. In a few games – the first game against Dayton, both games against Rhody, and almost that Temple game – it worked. More often than not? The offense sputtered hilariously.

Enough is enough with this “dribble drive” crap. The halfcourt offense had almost no chance of scoring unless Freddie/Gurley/Morgan happened to hit a jacked-up 3. Gurley had a streaky year, true, but I’d take “streaky” over the shitshow of outside shooting from the rest of the team. Riley’s shot selection was atrocious. Morgan still looks like he’s figuring out the rhythm of D1 hoops and it’s hard to get a grasp on whether he can be the dominant scorer he’s shown flashes of. But look at the rest of the squad – Correia’s not really an outside shooter, Putney’s outside shooting was awful, and even Sampson and Vinson(!) jacked up the trey from time to time. Has anyone ever heard of midrange shooting? It felt like watching the Jim O’Brien Celtics from time to time, with Gurley as Pierce, only not nearly as good. Worse still, when the team actually DID drive to the hoop, nobody seemed capable of finishing. I mean nobody. Sean Carter was lobbed awful alley-oop passes all season long (most of the time not his fault), Farrell and Gurley occasionally slashed to the hoop with mixed results, and Bailey managed to become an alright defender and rebounder with absolutely no inside scoring game whatsoever, sort of a homeless man’s Kendrick Perkins. It looks a million times worse after years of watching Travis Ford’s teams run up and down the court, scoring seemingly at will at times, defense-optional. I appreciate that these guys recognize the importance of defense, but you can’t win basketball games without a consistent offense. You just can’t.

To his credit, Kellogg seems to recognize this. In the postgame interviews after the Dayton game, he dismissed the idea of competing in a low-level tournament and stressed that it would be much more productive for the team to get into the gym, and prepare for next year by being bigger and stronger. He said he wants to run more, saying the team “did what they could with what they had” this year. So he knew all along that the team didn’t have it, but didn’t want to mention any of this until after the season. Okay, so that kind of sucks with regards to this year, but I’d be rather concerned, frankly, if he came out and said something like “well, that’s too bad, but the more we run this offense, the better it will be.” He hinted that the team wants to run more. It all sounds pretty apologetic, but how much of it is posturing? Whatever. It’s a step in the right direction for now, and that’s all we can hope for. What it actually means for this program is another monster entirely.

Now, Kellogg himself ain’t goin’ nowhere, for anyone who hasn’t yet grasped that UMass cannot afford to buy him out right now. He’s here for two (or three, depending who you ask) more years, because that’s what he’s signed for. That’s absolutely fine with me for a few reasons; first of all, a surefire, instant upgrade does not seem readily available, nor does one seem interested. Al Skinner’s still out there, but eh, I’ve never been horribly impressed with what he’s done with considerably more resources at BC. Outside of that, the powers-that-be seem to be, at least publicly, dead-set on keeping a coach here long-term, a la Majerus at Saint Louis or Baron at Rhody. Never you mind that neither coach has been horribly successful of late. We want no part of being a stepping stone for anyone. There’s no denying that DK being successful would be a godsend, a feel-good story, and most importantly, a way for this team to keep it rolling because of his undying loyalty to his alma mater. So he’s here, for better or for worse, and instead of debating whether he should stay or not NOW, the debate for us now becomes whether he can figure it out by the end of his contract.

So how can he do this? Well, call me crazy, but I’m optimistic that next year CAN be a huge improvement. Yeah, I’m the same guy who just spent 1300 words telling you what went wrong this year. But what makes me optimistic is that a) the turnover in players is going to make it easy to rectify all the failure, and b) the coach has indicated that he sees what went wrong and is, for the first time in his tenure as head coach, openly discussing an overhaul of the way this team plays. Let’s take a look.

Next year, the roster loses Gurley, Correia, and CDP (and maybe Hill, but – with all due respect to the new father – whatevs). One of the biggest problems with Kellogg’s tenure has been his inability to get HIS point guard. Chris Lowe was a fantastic talent, but his talents in the uptempo game were wasted between DK’s first-year adjustments and the fledgling offense. Wiggins, Traynham…different guys, different stories, same fates. Gibbs? Might have been better in Ford’s system but more likely just one of those guys who, for whatever reason, can’t put it together at this level. (Good as Ford’s offensive system was…Gibbs was the best recruit he could land? Really?) And Correia, the guy whose entrance made us cringe even in Chris Lowe’s worst games of his senior year, who was only our point guard this year because of what happened with the previous three guys I mentioned. That’s something people are so quick to forget with regards to this team. Look, I don’t want to pile on GC, but it was clear from his freshman year that this guy was a backup point guard at this level, and instead we were left with him, having no legitimate PG backup, running a convoluted offense all year long. The point guard is the quarterback of your team, and UMass’s was a backup, plain and simple.

As Gurley went through the year, putting up big numbers for a team on which he emerged as basically the only scoring option on many nights, the question arose from UMass nation: “Who’s gonna replace this guy next year? Where will we get his scoring from?” That’s fan-ese for “I don’t understand how stats work in basketball.” That’s like the people who think that wins and losses are meaningful statistics in baseball. Here’s the answer: “Well, other people are going to shoot more, in a system that will be designed so that they get scoring opportunities rather than Gurley, and – voila! – points may or may not result.” And honestly, Gurley’s season wasn’t that impressive. He’s not Jimmer Fredette. He’s not even freaking Gary Forbes. He really wasn’t that much better than he was back when Ricky and Gaffney et al were on the team, and he was not exempt from criticism then. On a team that struggled this much offensively, that shot in the bottom 1/7th of the nation from the field, it’s not “how do we replace this guy’s scoring.” It’s “how can we overhaul the offense so that the other guys actually take quality shots?”

Back in the – ahem – “glory days” for UMass, sure, we had outside shooters. Yeah, there was Forbes slashing to the hoop, and Ricky to an extent in his absence. But you also had guys like Freeman and Gaffney and Milligan who could occasionally do things down in the post, offensive rebound, etc. CDP is gone, so his offensive woes are irrelevant. But Vinson and Sampson and Sean have, thus far, underwhelmed with their offensive games. Of that triumvirate, Sean had a pretty good season, but he could stand to attack the basket even more. Maybe it’s the number, but I keep thinking of Etienne Brower when I see Sampson out there, only with a better inside game and without as much shooting prowess. And Vinson…boy, what a mystery he’s been. There was just so much potential for him that first year, but his offense out of the halfcourt is virtually nonexistent. He might just be better suited as a finisher in a run-and-gun type of offense. I don’t know, maybe not. But something has to change for him, because it just feels like such a waste of talent.

There were a few bright spots this year. Much has been made of the emergence of Putney and Morgan. Putney, in particular, has been very exciting to watch, with his phenomenal reach, aggressiveness, and, well, he’s just so goofy-looking! Seriously, though, if he continues to eat more sammiches this off-season (someone hook this guy up with some extreme mass-building supplements, f’real now) and gets even stronger, he could be an inside-outside threat as his basketball smarts continue to progress. He’s gotta shoot better than 20% from 3, though, or maybe just not shoot them at all. I personally think he might be better-suited shooting those KG-esque midrange jumpers; if only such shots weren’t discouraged by the coaching staff. The guy I do want shooting more 3’s is Jesse Morgan. He was streaky as hell down the stretch, but I like his quickness and aggressiveness, and I think he did a damn good job for someone with so little experience and time to adjust to the system. He’s a curious case, for sure, but one to keep an eye on next year. I’d like to see him do more than just shoot from the outside, but I think he could certainly have a Ricky-before-his-senior-year type role for a team that needs all the shooting help they can get.

Speaking of curious cases…I don’t know how this whole Riley stuff is going to play out. There’s plenty of speculation and rumors that he’s any combination of a headcase, unhappy here, and/or starving for the opportunity to prove himself. Thus, I see this as a turning point for Freddie – either he packs up and leaves, or he gets his head on straight and comes out next year with the same level of determination that we saw in the waning minutes of the Dayton disaster. Both outcomes would be more constructive than the season he had this year, in which he was undoubtedly the team’s most controversial Tweeter, openly criticizing the fans (and even responding to our own Matt at one point, which I’m pretty sure is why head coaches despise Twitter), opining about not getting to play, etc. No player on this team was more divisive for fans. But when you have a guy with the potential to be a prolific scorer and shooter (provided his shot selection and/or the offensive system improves), maybe you have to give him a chance, and ignore the baggage – or, even better, hope he’s able to overcome it.

Next year, the team will welcome the biggest name Kellogg has recruited in his time with the program. Jordan Laguerre projects as a dynamic scorer, an immediate impact-guy, someone who can score off the dribble (lol wut?), hit the outside shot, dunk the ball, cure cancer, and slot right in on the top line next year alongside Hobbs and Syner. Nah, but seriously, we’ve heard this shit before – Gibbs was supposed to be a combo guard who would score seemingly at will, and that’s not even close to what we ended up seeing. Still, he’s the most exciting prospect ON PAPER that this team has brought in since Gibbs, and since he’s a DK guy and not a Ford guy, you have to be at least somewhat thrilled for his arrival. The good news is that he plays a position that we have a few existing guys at – the aforementioned Morgan, Riley (unless he leaves), and even Farrell if needed (although I think JYD’s second half struggles this year had a lot to do with him playing too much 1/2 and not enough 3, for which he seems better suited). The bad news is that the pickings are considerably slimmer at positions where we most need improvement.

Okay, that’s being awfully harsh to Chaz Williams. But really, the last few transfers we’ve had have struggled in their first years with the team. Brower, Gaffney and Gurley took until their senior years to truly make an impact. Bailey and Bonner were busts. Sean Carter’s first year here wasn’t so hot. But I suppose we have no choice. In Williams we trust. The good news is that this guy seems to have his head on straight, relative to our last few point guard projects (Wiggins/Traynham). Still, point guard is one place you never want to have question marks – we just saw that for three straight years. Here’s hoping Chaz is the real deal.

Also of note are redshirt Maxie Esho and Cady Lalanne, who sat out the year becoming academically eligible. Both are big forwards (6’8″ and 6’9″ respectively). Both are highly-touted prospects (sound familiar?) who could step in and succeed where Bailey failed and Vinson has yet to succeed. These guys have flown under the radar, but both have scouting reports rife with words like “athletic” and “good scoring touch” that, while perhaps indicative of hyperbolic scouting report lingo, could just as easily indicate that the answer to what ails this program might already lie within. We shall see. I’m looking forward to learning more about these guys’ role as the offseason moves on and Kellogg figures out what this team will look like next year.

And how will that team play? Ultimately, it comes back to the dribble-drive. Is it time to get Walberg out of town? Honestly, I haven’t been following the DK-Walberg rumors as closely as some have, particularly this year (where I was present for a grand total of one game in person). Some fans insinuate on the forums that Walberg is running the show. If that’s the case…it’s time for him to not run the show anymore. This will be year four for Kellogg. For three years, the so-called architect of the DDM hasn’t been able to get it to work effectively. It’s time for DK to figure out what he’s got and build a system that will make it work. This isn’t Memphis; Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans aren’t walking through that door. (And why would they, we don’t have a coach to pay them off, HEY-O!!! Kidding, of course.) If that means wrestling control of the team away from his assistant coach, then so be it. If it turns out that it’s nothing but idle fan speculation, well, cool, whatever. I just can’t believe that a program at this level could run the same failed offense over and over again.

This program can succeed at the A-10 level. The students – and now, I suspect, many of the local fans – are done with the honeymoon phase, and they ain’t coming back until DK starts putting out a winning product. Now it’s up to him to salvage his own legacy and the respect of the fanbase that once made the Bill one of college basketball’s finest venues. For the fans who have been calling for his head, listen to his words. He knows this season was unacceptable, but I think that maybe – just maybe – he gets what needs to be done, and next year he’ll have the pieces to do it.

This team got what it needed – a year that was spiraling out of control has ended. Josh Maurer’s pronunciation will likely be the same next year, but the era of “baskettaball” has come to an end.

Or at least, for this program’s – and my sanity’s – sake, it better have.

-Max

P.S. Oh, and thank you to the graduating class of 2011. Anthony Gurley, Hashim Bailey, Gary Correia, and possibly Matt Hill. My uneducated criticisms and those of all the other fans do not change the fact that these players put their hearts and souls into the training and practice and sacrifice that goes into playing collegiate sports at the highest level.

P.P.S. Thanks for calling me out, Matt, but I’ve decided that my long-promised “state of the students” article will be coming after the hockey season is over. Whenever that may be, hopelessly optimistic exclamation point!

some guys they get a little bit uptight

When I asked for a home playoff game, this isn’t really what I was going for…

I mean, its not too say I dislike basketball, but I would have preferred hockey. I’m not pissed about the when, but a weekend at 7pm would have been fun. Its not that I’m unhappy with the seeding, but I would have liked to be better than tied for the last home spot. Its not that I think this team doesn’t have a chance, but I’m not too happy we are comming off a losing streak including a loss to a team that hasn’t won a conference  game since I was at Bunker Hill Community College (yup, January 28 2009). But guess what, fuck it, I’ll take it!

There’s really no point in writing a preview of this game. If this team has proven anything this year, the only thing consistent is inconsistency. Some games they come out and out run, out pass and out shoot their opponents, some games they run the dribble dribble dribble dribble (30 seconds later….) dribble SHOOT AS THE SHOT CLOCK IS EXPIRING offense (herein referred to as Baskettaball). Some times the shots are falling, sometimes the shots are not (BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN WE WILL MAKE ANY ADJUSTMENTS TO THE OFFENSE) and sometimes, on very special occasions, elbows are thrown to opposing players necks. The only people who have any idea how this game will go is the players wearing Maroon and White tonight, and frankly, they probably won’t know until 9:15.

Its a winnable game, for sure, but Its also an immensely loseable game as well. This team, more than anything, has a fetish for playing down to the level of their opponents. Fordham (lol) Maine (lolol) Central Connecticut (by 29!(lolololololololololololol) are all examples of it. And even though this team beat Dayton in the Bill in early January by 5 to open the conference schedule, its been hard times lately. This team has lost nearly all of the good will the 7-0 start to the season and 5-2  start to conference play got this team. There is no vote of confidence, and there is little optimism (outside of the mindless brainwashed board police/student hype-men/JV bloggers) that this team will do much of anything tonight. But I think this team can win tonight. I think this team will win tonight (but I have zero confidence in that statement).

Only tonight will tell. And sadly, I think we will know the answer by halftime.

On to some random thoughts

  • So I’ve been to quite alot of basketball games this year, but given Max’s graduation and Derek’s vehement opposition to the idea of Baskettaball, I sit alone. I am sending an open offer to the student section, come find me and bring me down to the student section and I will lend my golden pipes and wit to the miltia tonight. I like the idea of this being a bad action movie. Coming back for one last mission. Also: free whiskey is appreciated.
  • Gurley is 3rd team A10. First off, I can’t really disagree, given the surplus of swingmen who have only scoring ability. Also: how fucking dumb do the idiots chanting Naismith at him earlier this year feel?
  • The Mullins should have a dunkins. This is random, but obvious.
  • I like the idea of UMass making one of the really shitty basketball tourneys this year. Worst. Bus trip. Ever. (although I would love to see the 4 fanatical basketball fans on campus complain about the lack of excitement on campus about such an event with “I guess students would rather be drunk then see their school’s team play Tennessee-Martin” tweets)
  • Freddie’s last game at the Bill? We can only hope
  • I hope the T shirts tonight are just old hockey ones. Or maroon platoon shirts with “A10 FIRST ROUND” poorly printed on the back
  • LAX lost before any of us could mention that we finally have a good team on campus. Ah, well, that was a fun idea. Is it next september yet?

See you tonight at the Bill

-Matt

 

“And when we die, we’ll be Rhode Island-dead…”

Oh, the University of Rhode Island. No matter how bad things get for the UMass Minute-a-men baskettaball team (note: we’ve taken to the Josh Maurer pronunciations of the words “Minutemen” and “basketball” in case you haven’t noticed), you’re always there to brighten our spirits.

For whatever reason, since I became a part of the UMass community by enrolling in 2006, the Minutemen have not lost its season series to URI. Not once. As a freshman, when Stephane Lasme and Rashaun Freeman were walking through that door, UMass lost a nail-biter in Kingston, but routed the Rams in the Bill. The Minutemen ended up settling for the NIT that year, but we dragged the Rams kicking and screaming with us. Sign of things to come.

The following year, UMass squeaked by at home, then, in a game typical of the Travis Ford era, rallied from a late seven-point deficit to pull out a 98-91 win in Rhode Island. That was my (and Derek’s) first visit to the Ryan Center, during which I served as the “space” in a row of shirtless fans spelling out “Go UMass!” on our chests. Yes, Derek was at a basketball game, and there were UMass students present – and it was on the ROAD! (Seriously, there were about 40 students on that bus. It was epic. You’re hard-pressed to find that many students at a home game now, if you don’t count the band.) We countered the “U! R! I!” chant with “N! I! T!,” which didn’t go over well with the angry Rhode Islanders, who, again, would probably have been in the big dance had it not been for two losses to UMass on their resume. The Minutemen had two of the most painful losses in recent memory that year (the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre vs. Fordham, then a bunch of wins including the Rhody game to get our hopes back up, followed of course by the collapse against Charlotte in Atlantic City), but beating URI made it all worthwhile. I’ll never forget standing outside the Ryan Center in late February – still inexplicably shirtless – waiting for the players to board the team bus. I hugged Travis Ford that night. We all did. It’s one of the reasons we’re still so bitter about his betrayal, logical as it was. UMass went to the NIT finals that year, beating Florida before losing to a young Ohio State squad led by much younger versions of the David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale, etc. core of seniors that is now among the nation’s best teams. Rhody? Bounced in the first round of the NIT. Hah.

The next year, with Kellogg as head coach, the tandem of Chris Lowe and Tony Gaffney and an inexplicable win at Kansas couldn’t mitigate the difficulty of transition. UMass was bound to miss the postseason, with an abysmal record, and the NIT run’s fan  dwindling by season’s end. Indeed, DK lost his first game against Rhody, a 12-point defeat in Amherst that had Rhody once again poised to go dancing. All they had to do was beat us again, on their home floor, on senior night (well, afternoon). A much smaller contingent of UMass faithful made this trip, including a few of us holdovers from the year before. What we witnessed? Matt Glass setting a vicious, and probably illegal, pick. Chris Lowe driving coast-to-coast in the final seconds. And a near-sellout Rhody crowd, Lou Merloni and all, silenced once again, as they watched the Minutemen clinch yet another NIT berth for the Rams. And the 30 or so UMass fans in attendance were positively giddy.

Last year? Same story in reverse. Another transition year for Kellogg, another expected return to the dance for Rhody. The road trip was first, as Matt accompanied me to his first UMass road hoops game, and my last as a student. Only a few other students showed, a real testament to just how far the student support of this team has plummeted, and where it needs to return. Rhody dominated this game in the first half, but Anthony Gurley went off in the closing minutes to narrow the score to respectability and plant the seeds of momentum for the rematch. It was UMass’s senior day, the last game of the regular season, Rhody’s tenuous bubble hopes on the line yet again. You know what happens next. (Here’s a little trip down memory lane, complete with a Lost reference in the title and discussion of hockey’s playoff hopes to add to the 2010 nostalgia!)

So here we are, 2011, Kellogg’s boys have climbed up to respectability, if still wildly inconsistent and not-quite-there-yet. Rhody seemed particularly vulnerable this year, its fans much less optimistic about the team’s tournament dreams, with the likes of Delroy James and Will Martell thrust into leadership roles, with few exciting players on the horizon (let the Nikola Malesevic era begin!), with Jim Baron’s job security in question now that his son (who, at best, struck me as a homeless man’s Mike Bibby) having graduated and moved on, and, most importantly, with Rhody Nation aware that no matter how much they try, URI cannot get those two wins over UMass that it will probably take for this program to ever make the big dance again. Granted, UMass will probably need to prove it can beat the likes of Saint Louis and St. Joe’s before the Minutemen break their tournament drought, but just the same. The Rams dropped their first game against UMass this year, and even though we hadn’t seen a win since then, you just had to figure the Rams are the cure for what ails the Minutemen. Always.

God, I love it when I’m right.

True, the first half felt like more of the same baskettaball for UMass. Notably, we’ve decided here at Fight Mass that Josh Maurer isn’t crazy when he pronounces it “baskettaball” instead of “basketball.” Indeed, he’s actually onto something. The horrific style of play that the Minutemen play, which is the end result of the DDM offense not being executed properly, is not basketball. It’s baskettaball. It entails a lot of passing the ball around the perimeter, taking awful 3-point shots, missing open layups and dunks, turning the ball over in the paint and just in general, standing around, and attempting at least one failed alley-oop (usually Correia to Sean Carter) per game, then hoping that somehow Farrell and Gurley will bail you out in the end. UMass played a lot of quality basketball during its 7-0 season-opening run, with only a few glimpses of the baskettaball of the past two years. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the four-game losing streak to the likes of Saint Louis, St. Joe’s, and George Washington, all teams UMass should be able to beat at this point, regardless of venue, was a return to baskettaball, which is unwinnable for UMass when the other team can shut down Gurley and Farrell. And that sucks to watch, because it would seem to indicate a regression. Besides, this team needs to be able to win without Gurley going forward.

Luckily for UMass, Rhody also seems to play a lot of baskettaball. They heave up awful 3’s, they commit silly turnovers, and their offense is just plain boring to watch much of the time. Also luckily for UMass, DK has finally turned Jesse “The Takeover” Morgan loose, in the absence of the injured Riley, as well as giving Raphiael Putney a lot more minutes. We saw them both on the floor for much of the second-half run, opening things up for Gurley to get his game going again, covering for Farrell who seems to be pressing things lately (he’s at his best when he’s left to do the little things well, hence the “Junkyard Dog” nickname), and just making better overall choices with the ball. Maybe watching the team’s recent malaise from the bench has been a boon for these guys, because they’re seeing what not to do. I know Matt and I have gotten some heat for being overly critical of Riley (even from Riley himself), but the fact is, if Riley used his abilities the way Jesse Morgan has in these last two games, he’d be a much better player. We don’t question Riley’s shooting ability, but Morgan seems to have a better grasp for when to fire his shots. He’s always in rhythm and he gets his role in the offense. If these two can build off of what the other is doing, we could have two absolutely deadly scoring threats from the outside next year, which in turn would make everyone else’s game more effective. The offense was a lot smoother for UMass in the second half (from what I heard – no video, sadly) and would have won by a lot more had it not been for the atrocious foul discrepancy coupled with some uncharacteristically-poor free throw shooting.

Really, as frustrating as those last four games were to watch, it’s been exciting to see Putney and Morgan starting to live up to some of the hype. Hopefully they continue to improve and the rest of the team follows their lead as the regular season winds down. UMass is just sitting outside that 5-8 range, and I think getting a home A-10 game would be a good step this year. I could still see this team making it back to the NIT as well if they finish 3-1 down the stretch and win a game or two(!) in the conference tourney. Just as easily, of course, I could see a 1-3 finish and a first-round exit in an A-10 road game. Either way, there’s obviously a lot of room for this team to grow, and the rest of the season affords them a fairly low-pressure opportunity to prepare for next year. They’ve shown that they’re clearly not ready to compete with the upper crust of the conference just yet, although the Temple game gives them one last opportunity to disprove that (and if they manage to somehow win that game, my expectations for the conference tournament will be a bit higher). If they have some momentum going into the offseason, with most of the core group returning and with Kellogg’s own guys finally comprising the entire team, I’ll feel a lot better about next year being the year all this rebuilding finally pays off.

And even if it doesn’t? At least we’ll have two games against Rhody on the schedule.

-Max

Shippin’ up to, uhh, North Andover, whoa-oh?

Last night,

Anyway, tonight, the Mass Attack enter what has been a house of horrors for them, Lawler Arena, and Fight Mass will be making a trip there as well. It’s sort of an unofficial trip, since it’ll only be Matt and I, but damnit, it’s a presence nonetheless. UMass presently holds a 3-point lead over Providence for 7th place in the conference. They trail Northeastern by 5 in the race for that 6th place spot. The difference between 6th and 7th this year is the difference between “playing a BC or UNH team having an all-time great season” and “playing a pretty damn good Merrimack team or an inconsistent-but-still-Satan-coached BU squad.” Needless to say, I like the Minutemen’s chances in the latter over the former, but even with 2 games in hand, that’s a lot of ground to make up against a team holding the tiebreaker.

Still, you have to have goals besides “make the playoffs in a league where 8 out of 10 teams make the playoffs and one of those 10 teams is fucking Lowell.” And so the Minutemen soldier on, with the odds squarely against them thanks to this brutal schedule. Fortunately, their recent injury woes are starting to subside, with guys like Marcou and Concannon coming back. They’ll need all the help they can get against a top-15 Merrimack team that is playing extremely well and comes off last night’s overtime comeback against the previously white-hot Huskies. Dainton is gonna have to continue his very strong season, and the offense is going to have to break out of this slump one way or another.

Overly optimistic? Nah. At this point wins are gravy. We’re looking for progress here. Lowell and Vermont are brutal enough this year that I’m not overly concerned about either of them (facing similarly harsh schedules, although they play two at the end of the year in which we may actually have to root for Lowell) going on a run this year. UMass probably needs to steal a game or two here just to be sure to spare themselves the embarrassment of missing the playoffs, but it’s not panic-button time yet. There’s three games left against these Warriors. Let’s see how the teams match up tonight.

On the flip side of the coin, basketball takes on St. Joe’s tonight. Losing at Saint Louis was ugly, but not humiliating. Sometimes the shots don’t go, and a bad team like the Billikens can catch fire from 3 long enough to fluster a young team like the Minutemen. The truth of it is, this squad plays too low-scoring of a style to fall behind or spend too much time struggling from the field. Ford’s teams, you could never count out because of the high-speed tempo, but you never felt comfortable with their defense, either. Kellogg’s Minutemen have exhibited tenacious D for much of the game almost the entire year, with a few notable exceptions. They don’t have enough scoring talent right now to take a game over if Gurley gets neutralized. Between Riley, Farrell, Putney, Morgan, and Laguerre, I envision the offense becoming more balanced next year. Until then, we need to understand that this offense, despite their occasional successes, is very much a work in progress, and doesn’t have the consistency to avoid games like Wednesday’s 100% of the time. That said, the Hawks are once again atrocious this year, and considering the competition, getting a top-4 (read: #3 or #4) seed for these guys is probably out of the question if they lose tonight. (Of course, I’m not convinced this team is capable of winning the A-10 tourney this year regardless, at least not right now, and if that’s the case, wouldn’t we rather have a round-one home game to try and generate buzz? Just a thought.)

We’ll have reax to both games, Lawler Arena impressions, and my overdue take on the current state of student athletic marketing at UMass in the next few days. Until then, don’t forget to follow me (@bittym87) and Matt (@blindspots) for personal reactions as we take in the game tonight.

-Max