Anyway, tonight, the Mass Attack enter what has been a house of horrors for them, Lawler Arena, and Fight Mass will be making a trip there as well. It’s sort of an unofficial trip, since it’ll only be Matt and I, but damnit, it’s a presence nonetheless. UMass presently holds a 3-point lead over Providence for 7th place in the conference. They trail Northeastern by 5 in the race for that 6th place spot. The difference between 6th and 7th this year is the difference between “playing a BC or UNH team having an all-time great season” and “playing a pretty damn good Merrimack team or an inconsistent-but-still-Satan-coached BU squad.” Needless to say, I like the Minutemen’s chances in the latter over the former, but even with 2 games in hand, that’s a lot of ground to make up against a team holding the tiebreaker.
Still, you have to have goals besides “make the playoffs in a league where 8 out of 10 teams make the playoffs and one of those 10 teams is fucking Lowell.” And so the Minutemen soldier on, with the odds squarely against them thanks to this brutal schedule. Fortunately, their recent injury woes are starting to subside, with guys like Marcou and Concannon coming back. They’ll need all the help they can get against a top-15 Merrimack team that is playing extremely well and comes off last night’s overtime comeback against the previously white-hot Huskies. Dainton is gonna have to continue his very strong season, and the offense is going to have to break out of this slump one way or another.
Overly optimistic? Nah. At this point wins are gravy. We’re looking for progress here. Lowell and Vermont are brutal enough this year that I’m not overly concerned about either of them (facing similarly harsh schedules, although they play two at the end of the year in which we may actually have to root for Lowell) going on a run this year. UMass probably needs to steal a game or two here just to be sure to spare themselves the embarrassment of missing the playoffs, but it’s not panic-button time yet. There’s three games left against these Warriors. Let’s see how the teams match up tonight.
On the flip side of the coin, basketball takes on St. Joe’s tonight. Losing at Saint Louis was ugly, but not humiliating. Sometimes the shots don’t go, and a bad team like the Billikens can catch fire from 3 long enough to fluster a young team like the Minutemen. The truth of it is, this squad plays too low-scoring of a style to fall behind or spend too much time struggling from the field. Ford’s teams, you could never count out because of the high-speed tempo, but you never felt comfortable with their defense, either. Kellogg’s Minutemen have exhibited tenacious D for much of the game almost the entire year, with a few notable exceptions. They don’t have enough scoring talent right now to take a game over if Gurley gets neutralized. Between Riley, Farrell, Putney, Morgan, and Laguerre, I envision the offense becoming more balanced next year. Until then, we need to understand that this offense, despite their occasional successes, is very much a work in progress, and doesn’t have the consistency to avoid games like Wednesday’s 100% of the time. That said, the Hawks are once again atrocious this year, and considering the competition, getting a top-4 (read: #3 or #4) seed for these guys is probably out of the question if they lose tonight. (Of course, I’m not convinced this team is capable of winning the A-10 tourney this year regardless, at least not right now, and if that’s the case, wouldn’t we rather have a round-one home game to try and generate buzz? Just a thought.)
We’ll have reax to both games, Lawler Arena impressions, and my overdue take on the current state of student athletic marketing at UMass in the next few days. Until then, don’t forget to follow me (@bittym87) and Matt (@blindspots) for personal reactions as we take in the game tonight.