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.
The first half of the 2009-2010 Hockey East season felt like the “morning-after” scene of 2009 smash comedy “The Hangover,” which my buddy Walsh and I watched last night while drowning our sorrows after UMass’s embarassing 7-3 loss to Boston University. After the drunken debauchery of the year before, all of a sudden the Terriers awoke to find their buddies (Yip, Wilson, Gilroy, et al) missing completely or, in the cases of underperformers like Millan, Bonino, and Trivino, missing teeth. In addition, they found all sorts of things they weren’t expecting to find, like UMass, Maine, and Lowell fighting for home ice, Merrimack ahead of them in the standings, and a tiger in the bathroom.
Well, in my admittedly-disjointed metaphor, yesterday’s game was a lot like the scene where Stu realizes where their buddy Doug is (no spoilers for those who haven’t seen it). All of a sudden, the offense was clicking, the motivation and determination were back, and even Millan almost looked (at times) somewhat as good as everyone seemed to think he was last year.
UMass, meanwhile, looked like the ones who needed electrolytes, bed rest, and Advil. Every single aspect of the game of hockey looked off by just a beat. Every break they caught (thanks to 13 BU penalties, some more deserved than others) was followed by an offensive faceoff loss or a neutralizing penalty of their own. Passes were juuust off. Defensemen juuust missed keeping pucks in at the blue line. Little mistakes add up when you’re making them all game long. Barry Melrose was there calling the action for ESPNU (whom I barely missed out on meeting in the media room) and apparently referred to the Minutemen’s effort as “A full 60 minutes of ineptitude.” It’s hard to argue.
What now for UMass? 2 wins in 7 games is troublesome. 2 straight multiple-goal losses to teams in the lower half of the PWR rankings is even worse. The echoes of second-half “Cahoon swoons” are deafening at this point. Why shouldn’t we be hitting the panic button just yet?
Well, 2-5 in seven games looks bad, but UMass was in the game in the first three-game losing streak, and dominated the play for a vast majority of the Bentley game. It’s not like the Minutemen are getting vastly outplayed on a nightly basis like they did in this game. And there’s no stretch of 3 games in 6 days left on the schedule, let alone such a game against a team with 3 weeks to rest their legs.
UMass remains 4th in Hockey East with a ton of games left to go. Admittedly, BU was expected to be one of the easiest remaining opponents. But that’s why you play the games. And it’s not just UMass finding that out this weekend in Hockey East. BC got swept by lowly St. Lawrence, although they followed it up by nearly knocking off Denver. Northeastern, a team that has fallen from the top along with BU this year, topped Lowell in the Ledyard Bank Classic, sending the River Hawks to its fifth loss in their last eight. Maine may have stunned Colorado College, but not before a nailbiter against Princeton that goes into the books as a tie.
Don’t get me wrong. We here at Fight Mass are worried. We’ve seen this one before, and we know how it ends. But defeatist attitudes are no fun, and after seeing how well this team can play, we know they’re capable of getting back on track. With trips to HEA-leading UNH and suddenly-resurgent Northeastern on tap for next weekend, followed by that massive two-gamer against the little sister, it’s time for these guys to nut up or shut up. (Hey, what can I say, 2009 was a damn good year for comedies.)
Meanwhile, men’s basketball gets set to take on Fordham in the A-10 opener on Wednesday (another chance to hear yours truly on student radio!). I’ll have a more in-depth look at that later this week.
Gettin’ set to ring in the new year up in snowy Manchester, after watching Jon Quick’s old team, the Manchester Monarchs, get stomped by…yeah…Lowell. (Isn’t it fitting that the New Jersey of Massachusetts has the minor league hockey affiliate of the actual New Jersey?)
Couldn’t agree more with Matt’s thoughts on the hockey result from yesterday. UMass utterly and completely dominated the first half of that game and couldn’t get more than one goal across against Kyle Rank, and there were some tough bounces (Carzo juuuust missing a deflection comes to mind) but the truth of the matter is the Minutemen self-destructed down the stretch. This team’s gotta play with more discipline in 2010 if they want to stay near the top of the HEA standings, and these late-game misconducts need to end. It’s easy to get frustrated when dominant play gets mitigated by brilliant goaltending, but that doesn’t excuse the third-period meltdown. There sounded like a lot of positives in the first two periods (again, especially the first), and truth be told, Bentley was a team playing below their talent level, but then again, the same could be said for Princeton when they knocked off Lowell last month. You simply can’t take a team lightly, and fortunately, I don’t think that’ll be a problem with all the Hockey East rivals on the slate.
This weekend’s matchup with BU will be massive. (Shameless plug alert: I’ll be calling the action alongside Sam Bingham on WMUA radio; you can tune in on 91.1 FM in Amherst or stream it live from wmua.org. Pregame show starts around 3:45 pm.) The defending champs have been hockey’s biggest surprise in a negative sense, although frankly I’m not sure why people expected a team losing two of the Hobey Hat Trick candidates to be anywhere near as good. UMass badly outplayed BU last time they played in Amherst (when the Terriers were laughably ranked 2nd in the nation), but missed some golden chances and let BU nearly steal one, finishing with a 3-2 win. Now UMass is the prohibitive favorite (admittedly an extreme rarity in this one-sided all-time series) and has to avoid a letdown. Hopefully Toot reminds his boys that this is still the defending champion, that there’s plenty of underachieving talent on this squad (ahem, Bonino and Trivino, Millan…uhh, basically everyone who’s back from last year). I’m not sure who has the advantage as far as the rest goes (UMass is playing their third game this week, but BU has the rust factor in play from not playing in a month). I don’t want to give a bad team too much credit, but they’re still BU, this is still Jack Parker…it’ll be a closer game than it should be, but I think UMass pulls out another win. The second-half swoon discussion will certainly be in play otherwise…
As for basketball….ah fuck it, I don’t feel like talking about that right now either (besides, Matt pretty much covered it; though I wanna see these guys actually play an A10 game or two before I write them off completely). 50 minutes left to go in 2009, gonna get back to enjoying it. See you in 2010 folks!