Catching up on our intrepid heroes’ escapades over the past week or so…
Okay, seriously guys (0:09 mark):
Tonight’s 72-66 victory over Northeastern is somehow the most lopsided victory to date for the 4-3 Minutemen, who might well be off to the worst 4-3 start in the history of hyperbolic overreactions. You can really make a case that this team deserves to be 1-6 at this point, getting outplayed badly in their three actual losses and getting lucky against injured teams against Harvard and Providence. (The Siena game, ironically, UMass actually significantly outplayed their opponent and fell victim to awful luck on missing wide-open shots in the first half while the Saints banked in wild threes.) The Miami game was particularly disappointing, given the large (if late-arriving) crowd on hand and the RPI bump it could have provided. The Minutemen actually looked solid for the first 15 minutes or so in that one, but a series of missed opportunities and a few questionable calls pulled the wheels off quickly.
Now, the Minutemen also have the added burden of the Cady Lalanne situation. Not that Cady was looking 100% to begin with, but his absence (coupled with DK’s apparent lack of any sort of trust in Tyler Bergantino to do, err, anything yet) makes a thin lineup even thinner. I mean, for Chrissakes, Sampson Carter was our starting center tonight. The Minutemen gave up 15 offensive rebounds to the Huskies. Absolutely mind-boggling. Luckily, Jesse Morgan finally seemed to come to life with some huge corner threes to spur the latest last-minute rally. UMass ended up shooting just shy of 48% for the game. At this point, we’ll absolutely take it.
11 days off now. The Season of Great Expectations (TM) is hanging together by a thread. The Minutemen’s at-large hopes are already in grave danger, and as cupcake as the rest of the non-conference schedule looks, this team doesn’t seem to have any interest in easy wins. It sucks to be so down on these guys, but the fact of the matter is that the fun and joy of Chazketball has given way to an all-too-familiar system of passing the ball around the perimeter, watching Chaz try to make everything happen, and chucking wild threes all day long. It looks an awful lot like the “bazkettaball” we lamented during the first few years of the DK era. If this team is going to go anywhere and beat anyone of note, it’s going to need to somehow pull back together, and quick. Here’s hoping Kellogg uses this week-and-a-half to refocus his guys before they take on Elon in Springfield.
Since the 8-2 debacle against Lowell, which occurred on a Sunday and starred Jeff Teglia (who has since turned up on numerous milk cartons) and therefore cannot really even be considered part of the official UMass canon, the hockey team has stabilized somewhat. They were able to grind out a pre-Thanksgiving win against seasonal foe Vermont, pulled a tie against a feisty Quinnipiac team, and now come off a home-away split with the Northeastern Huskies. The most recent weekend does seem a little maddening at first, with UMass dominating both games from start to finish, yet with drastically different results: on Friday at the Bill, they couldn’t buy a goal against Chris Rawlings and lost 1-0 on a fluke breakaway goal. On Saturday, where we and dozens of other maroon-and-white faithful got the last laugh on Teddy Bear Toss night, UMass put 45+ shots on the net and six of them went in, including one for HEA Rookie of the Week KJ Tiefenwerth, his first (finally!).
Looking at the standings, UMass is remarkably just one point out of a home ice slot. Are there legitimate concerns surrounding the Power/Rowe injury situation, the slow start of Mike Pereira, the dismal play of any goaltenders not named Boyle? Sure. But UMass still has one of the toughest strength-of-schedule rankings in the country, is still the only team in the nation to beat #1 UNH, and is in striking range in the Pairwise standings (currently 23rd). UMass closes the year with remaining non-conference games on the docket, and a strong showing could well propel this team into contention for an at-large bid. Colgate, the #24 team in the Pairwise, comes in for two this weekend (a chance to avenge last season’s first-round lacrosse disappointment!). UMass then heads to Yale next week, currently fourth in the Pairwise, and which is a team UMass has actually played well against in recent years. After a break, the Minutemen ring in the new year up in Hanover in the Dartmouth tourney, against dreadful Bemidji State and then a crack at either UNH (as a non-conference foe) or Dartmouth, who are 2 and 3 in the Pairwise respectively. If UMass can play well in this stretch – like 3-1-1 or 4-1-0 good – the second half schedule looks good for UMass. The two at UNH are daunting, and there’s still another trip to Chestnut Hill, but there’s only one more with BU (at Mullins), two cracks at Maine at home, a two-gamer up in Burlington, one more at Matthews, home-and-homes with Providence and Lowell, and of course all three games left with Merrimack. Again, while it’s more road-heavy than the first half, the fact that UMass has just one more each against BU and BC (and knows it’s capable of staying around with both teams) means that a vast majority of what’s left is against the rest of the “middle of the pack” teams that UMass is striving to differentiate itself from. I think now that Boyle’s the established starter, if he can continue to play at least as well as he did this weekend against NU, we could be in for a fun second half.
Remember: the two guys who carried this team last year, Sheary and Pereira, really haven’t even gotten going yet, nor has the expected biggest freshman contributor (Tiefenwerth). Did Saturday’s rout at Matthews mark a turning point? (Or was it when all of us passed through the inauspicious Stargate on the Northeastern campus?) Cautious optimism, people! CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM!
(P.S. Special thanks this weekend to: the Mullins Militia for accommodating me for the Miami game on my lonesome as Matt was working; Amy of the Bench Crew for hanging out with the gang and putting up with our shenanigans Saturday night, and also our good friend Roy for being the honorary Fourth Fight Mass Dude; and the Husky Hockey Blog fellows for crossing enemy lines to come meet us at the end of the game. And of course, congratulations to the Coogan family on their future addition! We suggest Douglas for the youngin if he’s a boy. Just sayin.)
Happy non-denominational winter holiday to all of you loyal Fight Mass readers. The hockey season is about to resume with what amounts to an exhibition down in Florida against Cornell and then a rematch with one of UMass’s foes from the 2006-07 NCAA Tournament, Clarkson (who surrendered the first-ever Minutemen tourney win) and Maine (who, after losing four games in two weekends to UMass, got its ace goalie back and stopped UMass from making the Frozen Four). Basketball is riding another win streak and has a rematch with Central Connecticut State, they of the inexplicable blowout road loss last season, coming up on Thursday. Here’s a few of the things we are excited about here at FM, and which things give us the old “bah, humbug” feeling.
A few of our favorite things:
– Hockey, as we established when last we left you, is coming off of a pretty impressive showing, a win and a tie against two Ivy League teams that have been performing reasonably well this season. Of course, even that fucking zoo movie probably looks pretty entertaining compared to the disaster of the previous three games for UMass, but it was good to see signs of life. Anything we say in terms of a full midseason recap is going to pale in comparison to the absolutely wonderful mid-season recap posted by Awesome Triangle Dude, but needless to say, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the play of guys like Guzzo and Sheary, and the recent improvements of Yevenko and Boyle. And hell, Fredo Marcou hasn’t been a disaster this year, though he still provides a bit too much high blood pressure in some defensive situations disproportionate to the amount of offense he supposedly generates. But hey, if you told us a few months ago that he was gonna put up 8 points and a +1 at the break after what happened last year, and we’d launch a federal investigation into what you’re smoking. And I even gave him the coveted “player I’m betting will have a breakout season” tag that I gave to Chase Langeraap last year with positive results.
– Basketball. As with last year, the awesome start has tapered off somewhat. At first glance, this year might look a lot like last year in the first 10-15 games. Last year they rushed to a quick start against mediocre teams, many of which experienced some less-than-advantageous travel conditions. This year they played some bad teams playing on more reasonable rest, and then embarked on a rough stretch of three games in three games (two against some pretty good competition in FSU and CoC, both losses), followed by travel home for a game, travel back to play a decent Miami team in a close loss, back home, and back down to ECU again for a nailbiter of a win against a team they should paste. Since that stretch (which is unlike anything they had to deal with last year), they’ve seemed to recover nicely, and are steadily adapting to not having Sampson Carter out there. I’ll say this – Esho and Lalanne are working their way into more and more playing game every night they’re out there. After a few lackluster showings, grinding out a win against a good Davidson team should boost everyone’s confidence going forward. Just gotta avoid the old-fashioned let-down.
– Charley Fucking Molnar. Oh, so THAT’s what a head coach looks like. I forgot after Brown left. Have you seen the press conference? Go to UMassAthletics and watch it. No, fuck you, porn or CoD can wait, do it now. I didn’t get around to seeing it until last week and I get why the big-wigs are so enamored of this guy now. Holy shit can this guy orate. I’m actually reminded a bit of Obama when he was campaigning. And while Obama’s approval ratings are sort of Morris-esque right about now, something tells me that running a football team might be a little less difficult than being, oh, I dunno, the leader of the free world.
Let’s pump the brakes for juuust a second and point out that he’s never been a head coach at any level before. And the guy he’s learning from right now, Brian Kelly, isn’t exactly a Calipari-level mentor like Cal was to DK. But Molnar does have a lot of experience in the conference UMass is going into, having worked at all three directional Michigans. He’s already brought in a big recruit in local kid AJ Doyle, a recruit I’m so excited about that I don’t mind that a) he went to CM, and b) that I just linked to the Herald. And believe me, both of those things would normally bother me.
Most importantly, Molnar sounds like he has exactly the right mindset for this job. Unlike Morris, who came in with “hey, let’s build a team that might occasionally be competitive in the CAA” as his mentality, Molnar, with admittedly-higher stakes and with way more resources at his disposal, knows what we really want. With all due respect to the Akrons and Bowling Greens of the world, this move, to be truly successful, is about the future, about using the MAC as a stepping stone to greater things for the entire athletics program. In the greatest of all possible timelines, that future is probably at least 6-8 years down the road, when UMass plays in the NBC Presents “Community: The Movie” Bowl on the network that inherits the void left behind when FOX goes out of business. Meanwhile, back in real life, we’re looking at more like a decade-plus, and Molnar seems to understand that. It’s not gonna happen overnight, especially having to build an FBS roster from slightly-below-scratch. But the good thing about next year, honestly, is that the team’s not eligible for bowls yet. They have a year to assess just how much catching-up this program needs to get into position, and they have a couple of holdover QBs that Doyle can understudy. I hope the fans have the patience to stick it out if the going is tough early, although I think the big edge Molnar has over Kellogg here is that, while DK was taking over a team that was on the brink of capturing the fans’ excitement with Ford’s NIT run, Molnar is taking over for a lame duck who certainly coached like a lame duck for his entire tenure. We’d be crazy to expect results right away – what we’ll be looking for is progress. I got a good feeling about this one.
– The new banner. Sweet and simple. Figured it was time to change it up. Lemme know what you think.
– Laughing at other peoples’ expense. Look, rape is never okay, but while we have tons of sympathy for Trivino’s RA, we will shed not a single tear for the dismantling of that Terriers team over the past couple weeks, with both Coyle and Trivino leaving the squad. Merrimack’s return to earth? Yeah, #1 might have been a bit of a stretch – hopefully we’re seeing the start of some sort of Dennehy Downfall in the same vein as the infamous Cahoon Swoon. And on the hardwood? Nobody’s feeling bad for Xavier for losing games due to suspensions stemming from that trainwreck of a brawl in Cincy. Getting the heartiest laughs, though, are your 1-11 Rhode Island Rams, who have a 12-point home win against Hofstra (RPI #270) to their credit. Yikes. The Jim Baron era might be dwindling down to its ugly, ugly face- I mean, conclusion. The only downside is the RPI hit our conference is taking, but it’s worth it to see those yokels suffer. Fight Mass mid-week Rhody Road Trip this year? Probably not…but it would be fun.
– Fenway Park. Less than 2 weeks. Joy. 😀
– You know what? I’m still feeling jolly, so I’ll keep the negativity brief. But let’s be honest: ninth place in Hockey East this year, in what is really kind of a down year for the conference, isn’t gonna cut it. Yeah, the boys are keeping a lot of these games close, and there’s some shoulda-couldas in there (opening night, the BU series, etc.) but the results are what matter, and this year we were expecting a bit more growth. There’s a lot of season ahead, and plenty of games against the teams immediately within striking range in the standings, so no need to panic just yet, but if they drop the first two to PC and – gasp – the Fenway game vs. UVM, then it may be worrying time. Gotta win at least one of these…two puts them right back in the thick of things. Remember, we still have ‘Mack three times…it’s not getting any easier.
– Student turnout at hoops. It’s, eh, still on the lacking side. The good news is that the home schedule is actually pretty solid. Xavier, St. Louis, St. Joe’s, and Charlotte are all teams that are at the very least in the “receiving votes” conversation. URI at home for senior day is always a good proposition. And La Salle and St. Bona’s aren’t awful this year. Really, the only sucky scheduling quirk this year is that the Davidson game was during intersession. The next two are not big draws, but the students are out of town anyway. If the team can actually keep the wins coming, word of mouth has to eventually spread. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be helping, dear readers. Talk up UMass hoops. Those of you who don’t really care for hoops? At least you can hold your damn tongues when they show the promos at the Bill instead of groaning about how much the team sucks. I groan when they advertise the women’s game not because they’re women, but because the team actually is legitimately terrible and has been for a long time. Men’s hoops has a chance to actually make something of this season. If you’re not gonna support them, stay out of the way.
To be honest, I think it’s gonna take cracking the top 25 for the student interest to be revitalized. I’d love to be proven wrong this year. At least we have the hard-working efforts of the Mullins Militia out there. Keep up the good work, boys…it’s at least looking better than the last few years. Progress!
– Our posting. Hopefully now that Matt has a new wireless keyboard thinger for his iPad, he’ll be contributing to more than just the Twitter. And Walsh? Where’d you go bro?
Honestly, having a full-time job makes it pretty damn hard to keep up with this thing. I dunno how the Triangular one does it, but our hats are off to him.
Alright, a couple days and we’ll be back to chat about the Florida tournament and the CCSU game. Enjoy the last few days of 2011 and try not to drink too much eggnog. And remember, if years were Christmas then this December would be the December of our December.