Tagged: FREE T-SHIRTS

Weekend wrap-up: I’m not even mad; in fact, that’s amazing

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*

-Max

The game we’ve all (shitty part-time fans included) been waiting for

No. 14 Boston College Eagles (14-8-2 (10-6-2 HEA)) vs. No. 15 UMass Minutemen (16-10-0 (11-8-0 HEA))

Well it is upon us again. Everyone’s favorite game of the year. I just love having to get to The Bill an hour earlier than the early time I already get there just to get the same seats I usually do. Okay bandwagon fans, I suppose I’ll grudginly allow you to come to this game (only because I can’t stop you) ability to see this game, but please don’t embarrass the rest of us who are there screaming just as loud when this team plays Merrimack and Niagara. That means you don’t chant “Fuck BC” every ten seconds (Yes, we know it’s fun, but after a while you sound retarded). That means you stay in sync during the chants and follow the clever ones that the regulars know and love (HINT: pay attention to that kid with the goggles). That means please, for the love of that crazy guy up in the sky with the beard that people who go to BC believe in, no swesties painting “zoomass” across their stomachs. Painting the name of our college is fantastic, painting a term that makes all other New England colleges look down on us is not. Thank you.

It has been said by many that only two types of people go to Boston College, rich Catholic snobs and great hockey players. This year’s edition of the BC Eagles once again proves the latter true. The Minutemen will face tonight the most statistically dominating team in Hockey East. The Eagles are the top-scoring team in Hockey East (3.67 GPG), have allowed the second fewest goals per game (2.62), and have the second best special teams scoring differential (+13). UMass ranks fifth (3.19), fifth (2.96), and fourth (+7) in these categories, respectively.

The Eagles have spread the scoring around this year, and they have eight double-digit point scorers in Hockey East games (Brian Gibbons (6-17-23), Cam Atkinson (13-8-21), Joe Whitney (6-10-16), Ben Smith (9-5-14), Carl Sneep {Sneep’s a pussy… you know the rest} (5-9-14), Jimmy Hayes (4-10-14), Pat Mullane (4-7-11), and Paul Carey (3-7-10)). UMass can counter such prolific double-digit Hockey East scorers as James Marcou (6-20-26), Casey Wellman (12-10-22), Will Ortiz (9-8-17), Justin Braun (2-15-17), Matt Irwin (4-9-13), and T.J. Syner (4-6-10). I might add that this is the first time since writing this blog that the Minutemen have actually had less double-digit scorers than their opponent. The Boston College offense averages over 32 shots on goal per game in conference and features a solid power play that scores on 20.4% of its Hockey East opportunities.

Boston College does a good job denying the opposition opportunities to score, as well. With shutdown defensemen like Brian Dumoulin, who has a +14 plus/minus (really, fucking +14! He’s +13 in conference too; what the fuck?) and good all around team defense (their top two scorers are both +8 in Hockey East play), it’s easy to see why BC has only been letting up goals at a rate of just over two and a half a game. What’s more, the Eagles have made their goalies face fewer than 26 shots a game in conference. With these numbers, its easy to see why the less than outstanding John Muse (.911 save % in conference) and that scrub Parker Milner (.887) are only allowing 2.37 and 2.60 goals a game, respectively.

Numbers, however, can be deceiving. BC has had a veritable cakewalk of a schedule so far this year. The Eagles have only had to play the other four teams in the top five of Hockey East (UNH, UMass, Maine, UML) in six of its eighteen Hockey East tilts this season. Since the start of the new year, BC has struggled. They are 4-5-0 in games played in 2010, although they are 4-2-0 in their last five. The key variable during this stretch has been shots on goal. In the four wins since the Jan 1, BC has put up 45, 39, 36, and 43 shots on goal. In the five losses, they have only topped 31 shots on goal once, and that was in an overtime game. So the key to this game would seem to be to limit BC’s shots on goal…

…Which brings us to the part of the Minutemen that makes me shudder, the defense. Our beloved team’s defense is, eh, not great. Giving up an average of 30.4 shots against in conference play not great. Having only five players on the team with positive plus/minus ratings not great. Having a plus/minus leader (Brett Watson) whose rating is only +4 not great. And missing an oft-overlooked but key defenseman in Doug Kublin for the last four games not great. (I’m holding out hope that Kubbie will play tonight, he has endeared himself to me BY KNOWING HOW TO FOLLOW HIS MAN TO THE GODDAMN POST ON A 2-ON-2 , knowledge that seems to elude our other defensemen.)

Still, I hold out hope. Paul Dainton will obviously be back in net tonight (Defense: Please, please, please give him a chance to win, just 31 shots or less, I’m begging.), and hopefully the breather given him by Dan Meyers (who performed very well in the 4-1 victory over Providence) will mean the end to the troubles he had in the two previous losses. The Minutemen are 3-2-0 in their last five and both Jimmy and Casey are due. Neither have scored a goal and they have only combined for three points in the last three games. SIDE NOTE: James Marcou has 32 assists on the year, one more will break the UMass record he set last year. I’m sure he would love to get that in a big way against a big rival.

This game is also on NESN, by the way. (They advertise it as Boston College versus UMass Amherst. Amherst, what the fuck man? This is UMass, that other college is UMass Lowell, get your shit straight NESN.) Usually a televised game would be enough to get me nervous, but there’s something else this year. There hasn’t been that January slide I’ve suffered through every year I’ve been here (please don’t come in February. Or March. Or Ever.), we don’t play down to our opposition, and I find myself really believing in this team.

The Rundown:

Offense: BC (sucks.)
Defense: BC (sucks.)
Goaltending: UMass
Special Teams: BC (sucks.)
Other Factors: UMass

Prediction:

Boston College 2 – 4 Massachusetts
(Against everything my brain tells me, my heart says we can and will win this.)

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Two steps forward, one huge step back.

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.

-Max

No love in the air: Men’s hoops takes on Fordham

Almost two years ago, the UMass men’s basketball team was in the mix for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament behind what looks like a loaded team by today’s standards: Forbes, Harris, C-Lowe, Milligan, Brower, and guys like Gaffney coming off the bench. On Valentine’s Day, UMass hosted lowly Fordham in a nationally-televised contest on ESPN2 (I think…it may have even been ESPN itself though). It was the boys’ chance to strut their stuff on a national stage, during an otherwise slow week for sports. Marketing even drummed up support with t-shirts. If you’re fairly new to UMass, you may be wondering where the “UMass ❤ ESPN” t-shirts came from, which I’ve seen at least a couple of at literally every UMass sporting event since then (whether ESPN was involved or not). Well, now you know. And now I will make you hate those shirts.

Y’see, the Minutemen inexplicably failed to show up for that game, letting Fordham hang around for the first half and falling apart down the stretch to let the A-10’s typically less-dangerous Rams embarrass us on national television. I call it the Valentine’s Day Massacre, even though we only lost by a few points. It felt like a blowout loss to a real team (and remember, these were the glorious times of just a few short years ago when the Minutemen actually beat inferior teams at home). Instead of rolling into the A-10 tourney, the Minutemen had the pressure of needing to win one to keep hopes of an at-large bid alive, and, well, we all know how that worked out in the Travi$ Fraud era.

Now, normally, when your favorite team suffers a soul-crushing defeat, you’ll want to erase all memory of that game and move on. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Red Sox 2003 ALCS shirt, or a Patriots 2007 AFC Champions hat. Yet, for whatever reason, clueless UMass fans continue to wear these shirts recalling the Valentine’s Day Massacre, as if they have no idea what actually happened on the court, and just came to the game for the t-shirts. Oh, wait. That’s because they did. This is something that has pissed off many a true Minutefan for the last several years: the people who come for the free t-shirts and leave before halftime (or, in a few cases, before the game even starts). Now, granted, when it comes to college sports, it’s better to have a mix of fairweather and hardcore fans than no fans at all (see: the Mullins Center this year for basketball), but if you can’t be bothered to stick around to see your team play for at least the first half – and even that’s pretty lame – it’d probably be better for you to just not come at all. The point of the shirts is so that you’re seen on TV wearing them, not walking around campus next week, or two years later. One of my buddies – let’s just say he’s one of the more prominent student fans at basketball games – came up with the idea of proving a point by making Facebook events promoting free t-shirts for games where that isn’t the case. Ethical? No. But he’s got a point; a midweek t-shirt game against an A-10 dreg would probably draw a bigger crowd than a weekend game against an upper-tier team like Richmond or Dayton with no free swag.

A little disclosure here: I was held up by something, I don’t recall whether it was class or work obligations but I was definitely late to the game, juuust late enough to miss out on getting a t-shirt. (As in, literally the person in front of me walking in got the last one.) But I’m preeetty sure part of drowning our sorrows after the game would have included some sort of shirt-burning ceremony. I wanted nothing to do with that game; I wanted to get that memory purged, Eternal Sunshine-style. (And for that matter, sophomore year, I wanted the memory of Leemire Goldwire purged, too. And hockey’s entire second half. And the Super Bowl. And, uhh, maybe a couple of hookups. Man, sometimes I wish that movie was real.)

Anyway, rant aside, the Rams are paying their first visit to the Bill since that awful, awful night two years ago. No national coverage, and probably a lot lower stakes, as the Minutemen are coming off two consecutive disappointing losses and Fordham is beyond awful this year. They’ve lost last year’s breakout star Jio Fontan to USC, they’ve won just twice all year, they already fired their coach, they have two guys averaging double figure scoring. If UMass wants to do anything in conference play this year, they cannot lose this game, because really, everyone UMass has played this year (including Dowling and Arkansas-Ft. Smith) should be able to rout the Rams at home. I have a lot of  loyalty for the hockey team. A LOT. They could lose every game down the stretch, change their fight song to a Keith Urban song, have the UMass Republican Club sing the national anthem, replace Matty G with Glenn Beck, and replace the pucks in the Chuck-a-Puck contest with kittens, and I’d still follow every game. Basketball? Yeeeah, they don’t exactly have that from me yet, and besides, losing to Fordham would be far more egregious than all of that combined.

I’ll be back on hand to call the game on WMUA (the stream is right here or just tune your old-fashioned radio-mabobber to 91.1 FM at about 7:15 or so) and Matt’s gonna be there too, so you can probably expect a blog post from him at some point.

And there better not be any UMass ❤ ESPN t-shirts, or so help me Cosby, there will be consequences.

-Max