Kneejerk Reactions: Maine 68, UMass 56
Tonight I’m breaking out a new format for our Kneejerk Reactions column. I wish it was under better circumstances. I’m also breaking what has become a bit of an unwritten rule here, beginning writing about the outcome of a game before it ends, but if UMass isn’t going to play a full game, why should I have to sit through the whole thing first?
Tonight’s game against Maine was an atrocity. A mind-numbingly bad display of putridity. A positively Lowellian effort if there ever was one. The Minutemen lost to fucking Maine. Maine. No successful basketball season should ever include a home loss to Maine. The BC game was an expected first speed bump, but this was possibly the easiest game on the entire schedule, and damned if our boys didn’t manage to completely blow all of the good will a 7-0 start brings.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, went right tonight. Even our positives were negatives. Gurley? Sure, he had his flashes of his this-season brilliance, but he went cold in the second half. Vinson? A few nice moves early on, and another Casper act down the stretch. Traynham? I’m still highly anticipating my first chance to see him play in person, but for every brilliant defensive effort and Rondoesque play creation, he’ll turn around and toss a ball away in the open court. (And I’m starting to think he just miiiight be flopping, falling down on basically defensive possession. Just a bit.) But hey, at least they had upsides in this game. Bailey? Carter? Please. Riley was a trainwreck tonight. Farrell had another oddly quiet night. Correia, well, he is who we think he is.
The fundamental problems with this team are as such: they do NOT score in half-court situations. The offense relies so heavily on fast-breaks and turnovers, on beating teams in transition. That game was severely lacking last year, and has been vastly improved. But when everyone goes ice cold and starts choking on easy plays like the Minutemen have, first in the BC game and now tonight, they have no way of jump-starting themselves when the opponent stops making dumb mistakes and/or finds an offensive rhythm, as the Black Bears did tonight in spite of an atrocious shooting start.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to death with the strides DK’s team has made defensively. When the energy is there (and that has been more often than not), the D is tenacious. It’s offense that’s killing this team. If Gurley and Riley both have even below-average nights, there is no third option. Farrell and Sampson can occasionally break out with solid performances, but for the most part, this is a two-pronged offensive attack. They need a) to be a hell of a lot more balanced, b) someone like Farrell to become more consistent as a third option, or c) Jesse Morgan to come for the second half and live up to all the hype almost instantly. Gulp.
Okay, so let’s think positively: this team can’t possibly play a third straight game with sequences like the second-half debacle where Carter missed a layup, Gurley missed a wild putback attempt up-and-under, and then Carter missed a 2-foot bunny all consecutively. Right?
If they do, it might be time to rethink the expectations for this team. I really thought they were progressing. Please tell me they’re progressing. PROGRESS DAMNIT!
On to the next one. Sigh.
Fight Mass MVP of the Game: Gary Forbes
Yeah, our first winner of this award doesn’t get to be from the current UMass team. But damn, he continues to look like he at least belongs in the NBA. Big ups to Gary for getting the start tonight in Denver’s completely futile attempt to beat the runaway Celtics.
– Yeah, this new format is gonna sort of rip off the A.V. Club’s TV Club segments. Originality is for suckers.
– Crowd didn’t look too bad for a Wednesday night with finals approaching, especially considering how much air the BC loss took out of the bandwagon’s tires. Student section has a full row and a half (better than last year, I suppose!) of diehards. Most of them stayed through the end, too. Too bad they had to see that shitshow. Hope they give this team another shot with the Seton Hall game coming up. Saturday night crowds tend to be alright.
– (Of course, I wonder how many of those kids thought they were showing up for a hockey game. That’s this weekend and it’s in Maine, by the way. More on that later in the week.)
– I’ll be glad to never have to hear Josh Maurer say “Malachi Pee-Ay” ever again.
– I Facebook statused this tonight: “von wafer literally turns the ball over or shoots an airball every single time he touches the ball. SURELY tony gaffney couldn’t have been worse than this.”
– Farewell to The Ice is Life. Crazy to think about just how smug they were one year ago, and now that program appears to be in shambles. Still, much as I hate to admit it, I looked forward to their every post, and now they’re gone. I would have loved to see their post after that last game with the ugly sister.
Well, you can put the champagne away now.
Nobody thought UMass basketball was going to run the table this year, not the craziest fan with the marooniest glasses. Indeed, the Minutemen have failed their first true test of the season, albeit barely, falling to Boston College 76-71 at the Gahhhden. No Terrell Vinson heroics this time. Hell, no Tony Gaffney tip-in at the buzzer to force overtime. Just a sloppy, sloppy game on both sides, where the Minutemen failed to find the offensive rhythm they rely so heavily upon.
Now, this is no time for our boys to hang their heads in shame. Despite the huge opportunity lost tonight to really rile up the student support, UMass hung in there with a power-conference team, one with a certifiable superstar (Reggie Jackson), an experienced lineup, a head coach on the rise (Donahue, whom you may recall from last year’s home loss to Cornell). On another night, those missed bunnies fall in, and/or BC doesn’t cash in on seemingly every single free throw, and you’re looking at a steal of a win. But truth be told, the experienced Eagles were able to overcome the disjointedness of the game, and UMass wasn’t, and that made all the difference.
There’s a lot of good to take from this game. UMass didn’t let the game get out of hand down 13 early in the second half, cutting the lead to 2 on numerous occasions. Terrell Vinson actually showed up. Sean Carter was the energy player this team really needs him to be. Anthony Gurley continues to be an absolute beast. Most importantly, Daryl Traynham, back from his foot injury, was the sparkplug in the second half, doing just about everything to try and will this team to a win. I wasn’t able to watch the game, but from the sounds of it, good things happened every time DT was on the floor. To consider that this lil’ guy’s merely a freshman makes me very excited.
Now for the bad. Hashim “Moderate-Sized Village” Bailey continues to struggle with, well, just about all aspects of the game, committing silly fouls and failing to make full use of his still-quite-large frame, which you’d think would be an asset on an undersized team like this one. Javorn Farrell battled foul trouble all night and seemed largely neutralized by the constantly-shifting BC defense. Freddie Riley’s shot continues to be way too streaky. Had that three-pointer for the lead fallen, maybe he gets it going and this game ends differently…but when he’s frustratingly cold like tonight, it limits this team’s offensive options severely. Gary Correia’s struggles continued, and there’s not a lot of point guard depth right now with the injury still seemingly limiting how long they can keep DT out there.
The Eagles, hate to say it, look a heck of a lot better than most of us figured they’d be, in the first year under a new head coach and such. Donahue, unlike Kellogg, has experience on his side, as well as veteran talent already in place. They’re a better team than UMass right now. The fact that they did what they did without Raji tonight, in what turned out to be a fairly hostile environment (despite their proximity to home; after all, Boston College is conveniently located somewhat near the city it claims to be in) is particularly impressive.
Here’s the good news: the way this season is going, BC might be the best team UMass plays all season, except for maybe UCF (Seton Hall is missing its go-to guy, or I’d throw them in there as well). The A-10 has been inconsistent in non-conference play and seems ripe for the taking. Temple looks particularly disappointing, Xavier and Dayton are solid but beatable, Charlotte’s a mess and Richmond just lost to Old Dominion. Particularly as Traynham continues to take control of this team (as I think he will), TV gets his act together (as I hope he will), and Kellogg’s in-game coaching continues to improve, I can’t imagine that UMass will have as many easy shots missed as they did tonight, against a very good defense to boot. They’re sure to get better looks against the Maines and Central Connecticuts of the world, not to mention a good portion of that conference schedule.
So here’s the key: bounce back on this mini-homestand. Maine shouldn’t be overlooked because the team’s gonna want to bounce right back. Seton Hall is a Big East team on a Saturday night, so you’d expect a big crowd (although not as big, sadly, as it would’ve been if they won tonight), playing without its best player…gotta think they can pull that off. UCF is surprising a lot of people this year, and will probably be their next big test, but I don’t think they’re as good as BC this year. BU was expected to be better this year, but they haven’t looked too impressive in the early going. Sweeping is not out of the question, but even a 3-1 stretch leaves the Minutemen at 10-2, with what should be a win at Central Connecticut standing between them and the start of conference play.
Counting our chickens before they hatch? Probably. They could go 0-4, and then it’s back to the old drawing board. Still, you gotta admit, even when they lose, as they did tonight, this team can’t help but compete night-in and night-out. They’re making strides from last year in just about every aspect of the game. They never seem out of it like they did at times last campaign. I’d be shocked if they didn’t start to click real soon and start playing to their full potential.
Stay winning. Or rather, get back to winning, and then stay there. Tonight’s just a little bump in the road.
Okay, okay, we’ll be the first to admit it here at Fight Mass: we’ve been slacking. Big-time. It’s not our faults, frankly…Derek’s got a hectic senior-year courseload (contrary to popular belief, the academic life at the world’s #56 university is, in fact, a bitch) and I’ve still got another 6 weeks or so left in my program down here at Disney World. (For those inquiring minds, Matt seems to have stepped back from a writing role and is accepting a more fitting role as our head Twitterer/social networker.) Between that and a less-than-exciting start to the season for the Mass Attack, you can see where keeping up with the site would be rather difficult. Rest assured, though, kids, that season 2 of Fight Mass is just getting started, as the men’s basketball season comes into full gear and the hockey team gets into the swing of Hockey East action. Remember, we started the blog around this time last year, and that was when I was in Amherst instead of all the way down the coast. I’ll be back soon enough.
So, catching up on where things stand for the Mass Attack…not a pretty start, to be sure. UMass is 0-6-3, the only winless team in D1 thus far. Things seem like they would be dire in Amherst, but let’s not freak out just yet. The Minutemen were not getting an at-large bid this year, as we’ve been saying from the start, and the 0-3-3 HEA record isn’t nearly as horrifying when you consider UMass lost those 3 games by a combined 5 goals. UMass also has three ties already after going all of last season without a single one. Two of those ties, to be sure, were games UMass should have won, against mediocre Providence at home and last weekend’s last-minute collapse at Lake Whitt. The tie against BU, a much hotter sister-kissing, could have easily been a win as well. Really, when you consider A) that this team is so ridiculously young and inexperienced, B) the injuries to the few remaining veterans, and C) the pretty tough schedule thus far, 3 points in 6 games isn’t that bad. The youngsters, particularly Pereira and Gracel, have been very impressive, and the defense hasn’t been a complete disaster, at least not in Hockey East play. Now, you can’t totally throw away games like the Army shitshow, but the truth of the matter is that despite all the horribleness of a winless first 9 games, UMass is just one point out of a playoff spot in Hockey East, where they were picked by so many experts to finish 9th or 10th. The Minutemen have been knocking on the door of the win column all year long. They’ve played exactly one awful game (again, the Army debacle), and have managed to not get swept in their three HEA series so far. Coming up are winnable games against a few more teams, Vermont and Lowell, who will be in that battle for the last HEA playoff spots. It’s the perfect time for our boys to finally put a W on the board, so let’s all calmly back away from the ledge for now until after these games are in the books.
In the meantime, guys, keep on coming out to support your team. I know the pre-Thanksgiving Vermont game can suffer from all the students going home early, but if you’re gonna be in town Tuesday night, go out there and cheer UMass to that elusive first win. You have the whole rest of the night to party and worry about getting home the next day for The Busiest Drinking Night of the Year(TM). I’ve been wondering when this team would have a poor start (didn’t happen in my four years in Amherst), and now that it’s happening, this is a good test of the bandwagon mentality for the hockey fans, and whether or not attendance will suffer due to the lack of wins. If the numbers have to suffer, those of you who go just have to be extra loud. Maybe this is the chance for the hardcore fans (that’s you) to take back the Mullins from the frat boys and Swesties? Hint, hint.
Segueing off from that rambling mess of a paragraph into basketball now! UMass hockey is reminding me an awful lot of last year’s basketball squad, with Dainton filling the Ricky Harris spot as the “lone remaining star senior,” and yes, I understand all the flaws in that comparison, but just the same – he’s the training wheels for a stocked group of freshmen. For Kellogg’s boys, those training wheels are off, and what we’ve seen so far is a somewhat wobbly 2-0 start with wins over Rider and Sacred Heart. Opening night included a 22-point deficit overcome for a 10-point win, in a game where UMass had a great student turnout, scared them off, then came back without them. Go figure. The Broncs are actually a pretty experienced squad, so for them to collapse so completely (with a little help from Gurley and Riley both getting ridiculously hot at the same time) says that UMass did something right. It’s a little disconcerting that Kellogg even said after the game that he didn’t know how it happened, though. But a win is a win. Unless, of course, it’s an 8-point win against Sacred Heart, an absolutely atrocious basketball team that should never have smelled the lead, let alone in the second half. However, considering last year’s team would have probably found a way to be 0-2 so far, you have to at least be happy with the results of these first two games.
The good? Daryl Traynham looks every bit as good as advertised, although hopefully game 2 is more indicative of his offensive talents than game 1 was. Gurley looks like he’s finally got things figured out. Riley’s gonna score a shitload of points for UMass before his career is over…you just can’t deny how smooth that shot is. Sampson Carter has been greatly improved, too. And UMass has done all this without Javorn Farrell, who was the unsung hero of last season, and with Terrell Vinson basically a ghost.
The bad? Little Village Bailey may be in far better shape, but this whole “lack of tangible basketball skills in game situations” thing continues to be troubling. Here’s hoping he’s still getting used to his leaner body. Luckily, the team doesn’t hinge on his success, so he’s got time to become a big contributor off that bench. TV, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. What the hell happened to this guy? He was up-and-down last year, but in two games, he’s really been a non-factor. Guys with this much raw talent don’t just disappear overnight, so I’m confident he’ll get it together, but it does raise eyebrows. Sean Carter hasn’t really been too great either. Really, the big men need to step it up for tomorrow’s matchup with New Mexico State, which has a couple of big men of their own that will provide a better test than Rider or SHU have. Unlike the hockey team, hoops actually does need to win some non-conference games. I think the big dance this year is an attainable goal if (and this is a huge, huge if) TV improves, DT plays this well against better opponents, and Riley and Gurley continue carrying the offense. The cool thing about struggling to a 2-0 start is that you’re still 2-0, and I know Coach Kellogg and the team know they need to be a lot better in order for the wins to keep coming in. Even if the team proves to be not quite ready for that jump yet, I can see this team making a run in a suddenly-not-quite-so-deep A10 and/or getting back to the NIT and getting valuable postseason experience for the sophomores and for DT and the other guys like Putney, Esho, and Morgan if and when they work their way into the rotation.
In the meantime, and I hate to keep beating a dead horse here, but please go out there to the Mullins and support your boys. Hell, they’re undefeated! I love that the marketing department was able to get a good student turnout for opening night against Rider, but that flat start scared off a bunch of them, and the attendance for Sacred Heart was abysmal (although the timing of the game and the opponent were likely factors as well). If UMass keeps winning, I’m sure the student turnout will improve, and I love that the diehards in the front row(s) are already much more numerous than last year, when it was basically me, Matt, Hamel, Goggles, and a few other guys and the band every night. Our school is situated in the birthplace of basketball, and we’ve got guys like Marcus Camby and Gary Forbes (as Marv Albert said, from “U of Mass”) in the NBA, and our state is home to the greatest NBA franchise of all time. It shouldn’t be hard to get students to turn out for free games, especially this year with a team that has contention potential. Get out there and make the Mullins a nightmare for visitors again. I know I’ll be doing my part when I come home in January.
Hockey has lost five of six and is seeing its home ice chances slipping away. Basketball has put together consecutive wins and, in their latest endeavor, looked – dare I say – dominant at times, albeit against a fairly bad St. Joe’s team. In fact, they won on national TV (being CBS College Sports, but still)…on Valentine’s Day.
…What the hell is this, bizarro UMass?
It’s been a weekend nobody would have seen coming about a month ago. Hoops rallied from 16 down on the road to force overtime, then from 5 down early in the extra frame to knock off Duquesne, and now three days later they’re looking at a tie for the 8th seed in the A-10, with plenty of momentum going into the home stretch. Hockey, meanwhile, got flustered by a hot freshman goaltender at home, then watched the defense and their own ace goalie give up another six-spot to a Boston team.
As big fans of the Hold Steady here at Fight Mass (well, Matt and myself, anyway), we live by the mantra “stay positive” around here – to the extent that I’ve seriously considered getting the band’s infinity/plus-sign logo in tattoo form. So I’d like to talk about the bright spots first, and in greater detail. The Hold Steady don’t have a song that adequately reflects how I witnessed the basketball game first-hand (and called it on the radio) while I only heard the hockey game on RNX, and even then only intermittently; however, I should mention that this also factors into the equation.
Regardless, DK’s defense was suffocating at times. Phil Martelli’s Hawks went nearly 11 minutes without scoring to close the first half. That’s over a quarter of the game. Granted, that team’s a mess right now; their top two players (Williamson and Govens) are glorified role players, their big guys (Hilliard and O’Brien) are foul-prone and they have basically zero depth. I’m not sure what they were trying to do on offense, but it involved a whole lot of dribbling and passing around the perimeter until the shot clock was down to 10. Still, you have to give UMass credit for all the flustering they managed to do. No D-1 offense could possibly be that bad on its own, and guys like Farrell, Vinson, Sean Carter, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) even Correia were fiends on the defensive end.
The offense? Eh. ‘Twas sufficient. Another dazzling performance by Ricky, and Gurley once again decided to join us prior to the last couple minutes and knocked a few shots down. I thought Riley got a quick hook; he played sparingly in the second half so, baring an injury, it appears that he found his way into DK’s doghouse, which is surprising because now that City is finally there I’m surprised there’s any room….
Okay, sidebar time: Look, we (okay, I) feel really bad about this whole Big Shitty situation. It sucks to have to shit all over one of our own players. But really, if you haven’t seen a game yet (or if the only one you saw was Memphis), you have to watch him play to understand. He’ll play astronomically poorly for several minutes, making even the most routine rebound look like an ordeal, and then every so often he’ll dive for a loose ball or something and, because of how much better “making a fairly difficult play” looks than “botching a fairly easy one,” the crowd oohs and aahs. It’s like a Nickelback concert; their couple of I guess-they’re-serviceable hit singles sound like pure musical genius next to the rest of the shit they play. I’m sure he’s a great guy and all, and players have feelings too, but honestly – every time I watch him play I become less confident in his ability to play the game of basketball. DK finally appears to feel that way too, based on these last few games. It’s unfortunate, and I’m personally rooting for City to turn it around. Until he does, though, his minutes belong to Hov.
Ahem, as I was saying, Riley didn’t play much, and the same goes for Sampson, but the dribble drive looked refreshingly effective. It’s easy to get carried away with a couple wins when it’s literally been nearly two months since the last time they did it, but if – and I repeat, IF – they can put a nice little run together, and 3-2 is certainly doable in the last five games, then I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Minutemen hosting that new first-round campus site home game in the A-10 Tournament. Lord knows UMass can’t win in Atlantic City to save their lives, but if UMass can hold onto or even improve on that #8 seed, the Minutemen have a chance to do something Travi$ never did: win a goddamn conference tournament game. In a rebuilding year, you can’t understate the importance of postseason experience, however fleeting it may be.
Now, going from the light at the end of one tunnel to the trainwreck on the side of the tracks, the Mass Attack Express got derailed pretty hard this weekend against the red-hot
Chris Rawlingses N’Eastern Huskies. Having not been there, I’ll have to defer you to Ben’s wrap-up, but let’s just say that the last thing the struggling Minutemen needed was a game dictated by horrendous officiating (though it’s tough to say whether Toot’s bench minor-worthy outburst was fueled by the blue-balls-inducing tease of UMass’s offense the last few games).
But the fact of the matter is this: UMass has now given up 6 or 7 goals a remarkable five times in the second half of the season. To say that the defense lost it completely with Lecomte and Kublin sidelined is an understatement, and even with Lecomte and Langeraap back to bolster the size, experience, and physicality up front, the blue line is still in disarray. Kublin’s not a game-changer the likes of, say, Jeremy Dehner for Lowell (quick side note: UMass’s own struggles, aside from pissing us off as UMass fans, have severely limited the amount of enjoyment we’ve been able to draw from the ugly sister’s epic collapse). Just the same, though, his absence has had a trickle-down effect on his fellow blue liners. Mikey Marcou, while continuing to surprise on offense, has been a disaster the last few games defensively, which is a huge regression for someone who had been playing well earlier in the year. Bronco had a good game Friday night, but has been maddeningly inconsistent. Younger guys like Irwin and Rowe are, like Mikey, good offensive d-men who have struggled on D at times. Kessler’s a mixed bag, and Donnellan hasn’t gotten enough playing time to make a name for himself yet. The only constant has been Nolet, and you simply can’t get by with just one consistent defenseman. Not in this league.
So here we are with five games left, one at home, two being against a suddenly-hot Merrimack team, a game in Chestnut Hill against a BC team that might not be quite as amped up about it, and then two more up in Maine, whose freshmen want revenge for the Wilson series and whose hick fans want “revenge” for She-Man-Gate.
As UMass fans, we’re used to this script: the Cahoon Swoon, the fade to black at the end, the whimper and then, nothing.
That’s the beauty of sports, though…you never know when the script will get flipped. Here’s hoping that this Bizarro Weekend is a harbinger of said script-flipping.
Wednesday afternoon, the University of Massachusetts closed its campus for the day in preparation for an anticipated nor’easter. At around 1 PM, we still didn’t have a flake of snow on the ground, but hey, we’re college kids. We’ll take a day off any way we can get one. (Actually, I don’t have classes scheduled on Wednesdays anyway, so it didn’t do much for me, but I’ve been told it was much-appreciated by most everyone else.)
Last night, UMass’s offensive performance was about as potent as the “snowstorm:” it looked poised to strike on paper, it certainly threatened, and there were flurries of offensive chances, but the goal tally matched the total snow accumulation in inches. (Rounded to the nearest whole number. You know what, shut up, it’s my metaphor and I’ll stretch it if I so please.)
Derek said it, and I’m starting to agree: this was almost worse in a lot of ways than losing 7-1, because at least then you know it’s over after one period and you don’t have your heart ripped out at the end. This one was 1-0 until the last five minutes, and UMass was > < this close to knotting it up and breaking the offense funk seemingly a million times. Like the other shutout game, against Madore and Vermont, the boys played well enough to win in basically every aspect of the game – the luck just wasn’t on their side. The defense was miles ahead of where it was against BC and BU the last few games, the offense got plenty of opportunities, but it comes down to finishing, and right now the Minutemen can’t do it. It didn’t help that the hottest goalie in Hockey East played out of his mind, but when your backup goalie holds the other team to one goal for the majority of the game, that’s a game you just have to win. (By the way, even though both of the goals Meyers have up were sort of weak, particularly the second one, you really can’t blame the goalie when you get shut out. Still, unless Dainton’s hurt, I would’ve preferred to see him in net and let Meyers start against Merrimack on senior night if you want to give him a start at all. Just my opinion.)
So, where do we go from here? Six games left, five on the road, and it starts tonight at Matthews. “Must-win” is sort of cliche, and we do play in a league where a team that is completely and totally dead in the water can dominate a team on an absolute roll. But realistically, if UMass gets swept by the Huskies tonight, they can say goodbye to home ice – if they haven’t already. Either way, this whole “Cahoon swoon” thing is getting more and more legitimate as the season continues.
…by the way, hockey aside, it was a pretty good start to the weekend for UMass sports. Softball won, lax opened their season with a win, and basketball actually pulled off one of their recent second-half comeback attempts to beat Duquesne in OT. (Big City’s stat line? 6 minutes. I think DK finally gets it.) The boys are back at home tomorrow afternoon at 4, hopefully they can see what a conference winning streak looks like. (Or any type of UMass winning streak. Sigh.)
Well, to call this the worst sporting weekend in my nearly four years at UMass is probably an understatement. First, UMass hockey fell flat on its face in front of the entire New England area on NESN and 8,000+ at the Mullins Center, doing virtually nothing right in a 7-1 bloodbath at the hands of the team everyone loves to hate. Not really much to say about this one: UMass got outplayed in literally every aspect of the hockey game. Goaltending? Dainton didn’t have it, Meyers wasn’t much better, Muse was rarely tested. Offense? Eagles. Defense? Eagles, by a LOT. Special teams? UMass got all the first-period power play time, including over a minute of 5-on-3, and looked completely inept.
Honestly, there were no silver linings other than the fact that it only counts as one game, and that aggregate goals are meaningless in the NCAA. The troubling thing is that, after going through the entire first half without getting blown out – staying close in literally every game – the Minutemen have now suffered losses of 7-3 (BU), 7-2 (UNH), 6-2 (BU…again) and now this mess. They’re a mind-numbing six goals under .500 in Hockey East and down to even overall. What does it mean? Well, this percentage of the way through an NHL season, you’d have to start worrying; in a 27-game season, it just means UMass has gotten thrashed, absolutely thrashed, four times (this the first one at home). Their overall record, which is still solid in spite of everything, tells you that when things are bad for this team, they’re REALLY bad. For some reason, games spiral out of hand for these guys, which tells me there’s a tendency to give up (whether it’s late in the game, as it was in the two BU debacles, or early in the game, like up at Lake Whitt and now this shitshow).
So that means there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that this team, I still believe, has the talent to make a run in Hockey East. The bad news is that there are still effort and character issues. You simply cannot give up early in a sport; anything can happen in a game that’s 2-0 in the first (which is the point where it felt like the wheels really came off), hell, a comeback is still possible even after it’s 4-0 after one period, but a 7-0 deficit is insurmountable. (By the way, this applies to the fans, too, but Ben covered that already in his post.)
I will say this: BC, as Derek pointed out in his preview, is a damn good hockey team, and you must give coach York and crew credit for making them into serious contenders earlier than anyone outside Chestnut Hill could have predicted. They’re scary-deep, they don’t make stupid mistakes, and yeah, it’s safe to say that their January slump is behind them. Meanwhile, I have to take back anything I said before the game about BC’s fanbase being apathetic; their little cheering section was easily the most impressive of its kind in the Mullins Center all year, and they were certainly rewarded for their efforts and creativity. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hate most people from BC with a fiery passion, but you can’t say they don’t care when they send over 100 kids to a place they supposedly wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole. (Then again, we’ll see how many of them come out in their own arena in a couple weeks.)
Coupled with tonight’s results, I think you have to look at Hockey East like this: three home-ice locks (UNH, Maine, and BC), and one spot open for the taking, with UMass, BU, and Vermont as the front-runners in a jumble, along with Lowell, although they’re on their way out as their offensive struggles (and now the loss of Dehner) have them on a rather Cahoon Swoon-esque slide. Northeastern, meanwhile, could jump into the conversation, but it would require a sweep of next weekend’s home-and-home with the Minutemen. Once again, we have to hope that playing the Huskies gives UMass a spark, and that this time, they sustain it. More on that later in the week.
Meanwhile, Matt and I made the annual (third time for me, first for him) bus trip down to URI to watch our men’s basketball team against our favorite A-10 rival. We’ll point out that we were among maybe five or six students on our bus and the group was heavily alumni-centric, so it wasn’t quite as fun as the last two trips. The outcome was also pretty depressing: once again, UMass started alright, then the wheel came off and before you knew it they were down 17 at half. I don’t even feel like talking about Big Shitty anymore, because honestly, there was nothing nice to say; I cringed every moment he stepped out on the floor, and this time he never managed to prove me wrong. The Gurley Show was also teetering on the brink of cancellation for me; his inconsistency is simply maddening at times.
Now, you have to give URI credit; they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn to start the game (0 for their first 8 or 9 threes I think), and yet they were able to keep UMass from getting any sort of sustained run thanks to a devastatingly effective press that forced UMass turnovers seemingly at will. You gotta love their fan base, too — granted, there’s really nothing else to root for in Kingston, but just the same, they’ve packed that place all three times I’ve been there, their student section(s) put(s) ours to shame, and it’s freaking LOUD in there (not to mention a fantastic place to watch a game, even from the balcony corner that they always stick us in). I honestly love the Ryan Center, although I must admit that I’d love it a lot less if it weren’t for the last two trips. This one…eh.
UMass did put something together to start the second half again, and we had visions of another 17-point rally followed by actually holding the narrow lead, but then the Rams and their fans woke up again and put a quick stop to it with a bevy of dunks, not to mention their shooters finally heated up. Our guys made it respectable in the closing minutes, as Gurley suddenly realize there was a basketball game going on and started knocking down shot after shot, but it was in vain. This was a superior team with a lot more experience, especially in the coaching department, and it showed. Still, I liked what I saw out of the freshmen, and Sean Carter continues to be solid if not spectacular. And hey, at least they didn’t embarrass themselves on NESN. *sigh*
First, the good.
UMass hockey bounced back nicely last night with a 4-1 win at Providence. They proved a few things in that game; first, they showed they can, in fact, beat good goaltending, as in one of Hockey East’s elite keepers in Alex Beaudry (who single-handedly stole a game from the Minutemen on Halloween). They also showed that they can, in fact, win with Dan Meyers in net; after a couple putrid performances in front of the backup goalie, the Minutemen won with him for the first time since the thriller at Yale. And, lastly, they showed that Providence College is an absolutely atrocious team this season, but we all knew that.
So, thanks to BC’s sleepwalk through the last month or so, UMass is still in position where 2nd place is within reach, especially with two key games against the Eagles coming up in February. This includes next Friday’s monster of a showdown, in front of the NESN cameras and what will almost surely be one of, if not the largest crowd in Mullins Center history. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go camp out in line for a week to get primo seating.
Oh, and ‘grats to Eddie-O for his first career goal. It was nice to see the box score and find names like Olcyzk, Carzo, and Mikey among the goal-scorers, proving that UMass can get scoring from guys other than Casey, Jimmy and Ortiz. (Still, it would be nice to see some more offense; after scoring 5 goals in 3 of their first 4 games, the Minutemen haven’t put up more than 4 since the Wellman hat trick game at Vermont before Thanksgiving!)
More about BC later this week. Now, let’s turn our attention to UMass’s other big sport on campus.
Ugh. Do we have to?
The Minutemen had their chance to turn around a fickle student population with a rare Saturday night home tilt, in front of a national TV audience on ESPNU, hosting Charlotte with the chance to avenge the Valentine’s Day Massacre….and they completely and utterly blew it. I overheard one of the students (yes, we had a legitimate student section, and it only took TV cameras and a big-screen TV giveaway to get them to come!) refer to this as the “make or break game” for UMass’s students. And, for brief flashes, they played like it, especially in a fantastically entertaining stretch to start the second half, where UMass closed a 10-point deficit to one off a couple nice plays by Ricky Harris.
That was the 16:10 remaining mark in the 2nd half. UMass went on to score five points in the next eleven minutes. Raise your hand if any part of that sentence surprises you. Okay, you with the hands up – I’m guessing you only saw the Memphis game? (Did that even happen, by the way? I’m getting less and less sure with each day that the Memphis game wasn’t a pizza-and-beer-induced dream sequence. I could have sworn I saw Hashim Bailey actually playing some semblance of defense…)
Matt and I are at rope’s end with this team. Yeah, it seems uncanny that everyone we play seems to have a guy (in this case, Derrio Green) who can hit contested three-pointers seemingly all day long. But instead of continuing to contest that guy, our defense just gives up (in this case, letting Green take those shots uncontested). Our offense seems content with letting non-shooters (Matt Hill?!) jack up threes, failing to generate anything resembling offensive penetration or ball movement, going on little spurts with runners, floaters, and right-place-at-the-right-time layups. In other words, even when things are going well, it’s still sloppy as hell, and you almost feel embarrassed to cheer. The defense is atrocious, nobody can hit free throws, the guys commit stupid fouls…it just goes on and on.
Yes, I know they’re mostly freshmen or transfers who took a year off (and the guys who we have back are either playing through pain a la Pretty Ricky, not that good to begin with a la Gary Correia, or the frustrating enigma that is David Gibbs). Yeah, Charlotte’s actually a pretty good team. But these guys are starting to make me wonder if they’ll even make the A-10’s this year. That’s setting the bar awfully low, I’m aware, but really – I had no idea that the Memphis game was going to be a turning point in the wrong direction for UMass. If this keeps up, the question for me is not going to be when these guys realize their enormous potential, but if that’ll even happen at all with these guys.
And after all that…I’m still probably going to be there Wednesday for the Xavier game, if I’ve got nothing better to do. Hey, it’s hard to turn down the chance at a free 42″ TV, what can I say? I want these guys to prove me wrong.
Our somewhat-less-beloved UMass men’s basketball team lost tonight. At home. To St. Bonaventure.
…There are no words. I’ll try to sum it up for you: UMass played horrible defense against a horrible team in a slop-tacular game with horrible referees in front of a horrible crowd and came away with what must be the worst loss at home for the Minutemen in my four years of watching this team. It’s not Valentine’s Day Massacre-bad as far as repercussions, but that’s only because this team didn’t have realistic expectations of success before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The Minutemen, since the collective sploogefest of the upset win against Memphis in Boston (the thought of which, in retrospect, might be enough to get the team, coaches, and collective fanbase to want to drown themselves in barbecue sauce), have done the following:
- Lost a winnable game against our most hated opponent, in their arena but in front of a pro-UMass crowd, despite BC’s horrid shooting;
- Lost a winnable game at Davidson;
- “Defeated” one of the worst teams in all of college basketball by two, on a last-second shot;
- Lost a winnable game in Springfield to La Salle in which they held a sizable lead near halftime;
- Lost a winnable game at Richmond in which the Spiders couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, we had the last shot of regulation only for our best player to forget how much time was left, and in which a Spider set the conference record for blocks in a game;
- Got smoked by a good Temple team,
- …and now this.
This wasn’t a fall-from-ahead job like Fordham. UMass actually had to rally just to tie the game late in the second half after trailing by as many as 10 points. You read that correctly: 10 points. At home. Against St. Fucking Bonaventure. Bright spots? You want bright spots? Uhh, I guess…Ricky Harris and Anthony Gurley hit some awkward floaters. Big City hit a pair of free throws nothing but net (!). David Gibbs drove to the lane and scored, for perhaps the first time ever. The Minutemen even pulled off the “hey look, Riley is tying his shoe, everyone leave him alone and guard Ricky instead and OH WAIT JUST KIDDING OPEN 3” trick.
But in that same game, Freddy looked mortal, airballing a 3 at one point and missing treys on the final two possessions, both of which could have won the game. UMass actually got away with a few blatant hacks and still couldn’t win. Gibbs’s one drive to the hoop was just that: a one-time thing. Big Shitty (yeah, we’re going there) couldn’t have guarded James Marcou going to the basket in the last five minutes, let alone any of the Bonnies’ mediocre forwards. TV and Sean Carter were shockingly ineffective. Blah, blah, blah.
Matt and I are quickly reaching the ends of our ropes about this team. Like I said a few weeks ago, I’ll follow the UMass hockey team wherever it goes, in Toot we trust, oh captain my captain, and so on. I love DK and what he’s trying to do with this team (and with the fans), and I’m not foolhardy enough to expect too much from what is, at this point, most definitely a rebuilding year. But the point of a rebuilding year is to make progress, and at this point, I’m not really sure that’s what we’re seeing. I want to see this team grow and come together before our eyes. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the teams of old, back when we may have been underdogs to make the NCAAs, but where we at least expected UMass to beat St. Bonaventure by 30. But rebuilding year or not, this performance is just plain unacceptable. Our rope can only go so far before we, like (sadly) so many of the other die-hards, decide to do better things with our Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.
It’s like a decidedly less-expensive version of the Big Dig, where we’re still holding out hope that the end result will be beautiful – but maybe we should stop watching them build it, because the construction has been rather ugly.