Yes, Virginia, the UMass Minutemen basketball team just won a game in the Atlantic 10 tournament. I’m going to repeat that: the Minutemen won an A-10 tourney game. In what top scientists are describing as “by a wide margin the least likely thing that has ever happened,” UMass, which managed in consecutive years to suffer a shocking upset in the first round of said tournament that ultimate cost Travi$ Fraud’s teams a pair of NCAA Tournament bids, second-year (and, for some reason, already-embattled) head coach Derek Kellogg took a 10-19 team that very nearly 0-3 against the Atlantic 10’s two worst teams, snuck into the conference tournament on a last-day victory, and proceeded to do what Ford’s teams, featuring the likes of Forbes, Harris, Brower, Milligan, Lasme, and Freeman never did. The Derek Kellogg statue is to be placed in between the Mullins and the practice arena, and will feature lifelike hair to be re-jelled on a daily basis. Oh, and let’s name the Champions Center after him too.
Okay, so dramatic hyperbole aside, the Minutemen were playing a Charlotte team tail-diving in a way that makes the Cahoon Swoon look tame by comparison. They also didn’t have to play in UMass’s personal house of horrors, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. (No, really, I was so excited when I realized this game would be on Charlotte’s home court. I hate Boardwalk Hall; it’s right there with Safeco Field and Lawler Arena in the “places my favorite team should win but never seems to” pantheon, and it’s not even anyone’s home arena.)
Did UMass deserve to win this game? The defense in the first half and down the stretch was fantastic, though the lapse in the middle there nearly did them in. Derrio Green (and, really, the whole Charlotte offense) didn’t exactly set the world on fire from the field. And certainly, they got some help from the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen, a too many men technical foul. I’ve never seen that in a basketball game (that’s roughly seven full seasons of Celtics, four full years of UMass and countless pro and college games on TV in between). and I can guarantee you the crazies calling for DK’s firing would be louder than ever if such a thing happened with his team.
On the other hand, UMass, as if to continue the A-10 First Game tradition, tried their darnedest to lose this game. The team continues to struggle to hit open shots, although at least they’re getting more of them. Anthony Gurley, as the UMassHoops chat room can attest, had one of those frustrating games that has really epitomized his time here in Amherst. Bailey got lots of minutes. And yet they still pulled it off, thanks to the continued stellar rebounding effort and Ricky continuing to go out with a bang here.
So what’s next? A Richmond squad that UMass took to overtime on its own court, and could have beaten if Ricky hadn’t dribbled down the clock to about 1 on the final possession before heaving a terrible shot. On one hand, UMass doesn’t have to play them in Richmond this time. On the other hand…right. Atlantic City. Fuck. Well, that was fun. No, but seriously, this is two great wins in a row for DK and for this team going forward, regardless of how central Ricky was to them. If the guys can’t pull the victory and bring a 19-loss team into the NCAA tournament this year (which is like saying “if I can’t go try out for the Red Sox and make the starting rotation”), at least it’s nice to have not just A-10 Tournament experience for the kids, but also Boardwalk Hall experience going forward.
But hey, anything is possibbblllleeeee! (Except, again, that Red Sox scenario.)
Oh, other things to note…I caught the first half of UMass-Albany today, my first-ever men’s lax game at Garber Field. (I know, I’m a slacker, though in my defense, the home games always seem to be either a) during class or b) too far away for my hungover ass to walk on a weekend.) UMass came back from down 4-1 to win 11-6. I’m not even going to pretend to be a lacrosse expert, but I’ll do my best to keep an eye on Cannella’s talented young squad.
Last but not least (but certainly most obvious): the new layout is finally here! After finally getting some free time to mess around with GIMPshop (my new laptop, unlike my old PC, does not have the real Photoshop, and I’m not made of money), I was able to put something together with a shot Walsh took a few weeks back before a game. Accordingly, I switched up the blog template, and I think this one looks better; plus, I enjoy having the tags and author stuff BEFORE the post, so you guys know whose work you’re reading right away. We’d love to hear any input you might have on the layout; notably, we’d love to change the color scheme but WordPress only gives you so many templates, so we’ll just deal with what we’re given. Enjoy!
One more thing…we will most definitely on hand for this weekend’s festivities at Chestnut Hill University. Is it Friday yet?
That’s what Richmond’s Darrius Garrett recorded in Richmond’s 70-63 OT win tonight, a new Atlantic 10 record, a performance reminiscent of the good ol’ days when Stephane Lasme was swatting just about anything that came his way in the maroon-and-white.
But the defining play of this game was when Ricky Harris got the ball on the inbounds play, tie game, 13 seconds to go, chance to be the hero again. And he took the inbound with his back to midcourt. And he dribbled, slowly, across the timeline. And dribbled. And dribbled. Aaaaaaaaaand with about half a second left went up for a desperation shot and got the ball stripped by his defender. Horn. Overtime.
This even followed a timeout, where Derek Kellogg hopefully drew up something that didn’t remotely resemble what happened. Earlier in the game, DK felt the need to rip off his sportscoat and tie in a hissy fit at the officials, although I’m not going to start the whole “we would’ve won if he hadn’t cost us 2 points!!!!” thing, because that’s not how continuity works. But even if the atrocious play wasn’t Kellogg’s fault, you have to wonder how in the world Ricky could watch DK draw up a play for the last 13 seconds, even if that play basically amounts to “get Ricky the ball and let him try to win this himself” a la Fordham, and have Ricky bring the ball up as casually as he did. He obviously had zero idea how much time was left, as if there were 30 seconds left, but it simply makes no sense to me how they screwed it up that badly. DK looked pissed after the horn sounded, and hopefully this never ever happens again, but it was pretty embarassing nonetheless.
Otherwise, it was an admirable performance by UMass on the road in a hostile venue; Riley’s shot is looking really good lately and he’s an explosive scorer, and the overall defensive effort is much-improved (although Richmond helped out by shooting way too many wild 3’s). Gurley’s recent vanishing act sure is troublesome, though, and Vinson has been okay, but hardly the future superstar he showed flashes of in the Memphis game (which now seems like forever ago).
Overall, the team competed, and in a rebuilding year, that’s all you can ask for on a nightly basis. Let’s just hope that these struggles are just growing pains for an extremely-young team, rather than lasting issues that will plague the team even as it develops.
Previews! And did we mention previews?
First, UMass hoops, fresh off of a nondescript six-point loss at “home” (actually, Springfield, much like Boston, looked from the highlights to be a greater home-court advantage for UMass than their own arena) to La Salle, takes on a very good Richmond team tonight. Tri Corner Blog has a very good overview of what to look for in the game tonight, which we would tell you to watch on ChannelSurfing if we weren’t so damn scrupulous. (Of course you can also hear it on the normal radio networks as called by Josh Maurer.) This is one of those games where there’s not much history between these two teams per se, but, as TCB’s Matt points out, the behavior of Richmond hicks fans at these two teams’ A-10 field hockey tournament game recently deserves to be avenged. Basically, these grown adults (which, by the standards of the south, leaves them with the intelligence and maturity of 12-year-old boys from civilized America) spent the game calling our players lesbians, one of them ordered pizza and said that the guy who took his order “sounded like a fag – but then again, aren’t they all up here?”, etc. Southern stereotypes are fun, especially when they all turn out to be accurate! But I’ll digress on the politics here…let’s just say it’d be real fun to get revenge on the court.
We don’t have much to say about the La Salle game because, well, neither of us really heard much of it between watching our beloved Patriots die a horrendous death at home and our preparations for the Northeastern roadtrip. But from what I did hear, it was a good game for Big City, TV and Freddie Riley, until foul trouble caught up to the guys at the end and nobody else could hit a big shot when they needed to.
So after two games, UMass is 1-1 in the A-10, the one winning being that squeaker against a god-awful team at home, followed by a second-half collapse against a mediocre team at “home.” I’ve said all along that the most important thing for UMass to do this season is to show improvement as the year goes on and maybe, just maybe make a splash in the conference tournament. They’ve got a long ways to go but my hopes of them coming strong out of the gate in A-10 play have been for naught so far. I may have more to say after the Richmond game, depending on how it goes.
Secondly, and (with all due respect to the ballers) a thousand times more importantly, we are now two days away from the massive clash between the University of Massachusetts and, uhh, that other state school, Eastern Mass. State College-Lowell or whatever they fancy themselves. Now, for those who have been reading from the beginning here, I’m sure you’re aware of, ahem, personal reasons why we here at Fight Mass would like nothing more than to defecate all over their parade this weekend. I’m personally looking forward to finally reading the “bulletin board material” during our pregame festivities Friday evening, although at this point it will be more for comedic purposes than anything else.
Selfish grudges aside, the River Rats and Minutemen enter this weekend in a deadlock for the 4th spot in Hockey East, and UMass’s lead over Lowell in the Pairwise and other predictive rankings, for what it’s worth at this fairly-early point in the year, is tenuous. UMass and Lowell come off a weekend where each team played at UNH and NU, with very different results: UMass got blasted by UNH while Lowell played them to a tie, while UMass dominated NU and Lowell ran out to an early lead before undisciplined play almost cost them an easy win which they eventually pulled out in OT.
The Minutemen come in at 12-8, while Lowell is 12-7-2. In the conference, the teams each have 12 points, but Lowell holds the tiebreaker (after that gut-wrenching first defeat in Coketown) and has one game in hand on us. In a conference where every single game can have a dramatic impact on the standings, these games, while they might not necessarily make or break the season, can go a long way in setting the tone for the home stretch of HEA play.
We mentioned it before, we’ll say it again: with the exception of that Hockey East Tournament sweep several years ago, Lowell has had our number for quite some time now, regardless of the way the season is going for either team. When they’re good, they outplay us; when they’re bad, we play down to their level. They come in remarkably even; Lowell getting off to a solid start before sputtering a bit, UMass getting off to a great start before sputtering a lot, but the overall bodies of work are quite similar. Going deeper into the numbers, the River Rats are badly underperforming their Pythagorean, as Lowell is +20 for the year (70-50), while UMass is overperforming at +6 (69-63). The problem with those numbers is that, unlike baseball (where Pythagorean can be somewhat indicative over such a long season), college hockey plays such a short season that the small sample size leads to easy skews. UMass’s two recent debacles against BU and UNH count as two losses, but they kill the Pythagorean at a combined -9.
Still, the supposed offensive edge UMass would have with its two superstar forwards is negated by Lowell’s edge defensively (led surprisingly not by last year’s standout Maury Edwards, but by Nick Schaus and Jeremy Dehner, an eye-popping +25 combined for the year) and offensive balance (10 double-digit scorers, compared to 6 for UMass who has two guys, Lecomte and Carzo, with 9). Add that to their well-publicized goalie tandem of seniors Hutton and Hamilton, compared to Pauly D’s one career win in 7 tries against Lowell (Meyers has yet to play them), and Lowell has the edge on paper.
But that’s the thing: the games don’t get played on paper. Despite all the expectations for Lowell and the lack thereof for UMass, these teams are in virtually the exact same position coming into this weekend, and both are coming off win-droughts with victories at Matthews, both big in their own unique ways. And so the Minutemen and their ugly sisters have a chance to make a statement: for UMass, the opportunity to flip both the “Cahoon swoon” script and the “can’t beat Lowell” script. For Lowell, the expectations, both from the preseason hype and their tradition of beating big brother, have to be tremendous. And while even a sweep by either team guarantees nothing in this season of unreal parity in the Hockey East Association, we’re gonna know a lot more about these two teams in a couple days.
…Unless, of course, they play to ties on both nights, and then we’re back at square one.