Let be forever known that on the 20th of March in the year 2012, the noble Minutemen of the Valley of the Pioneers, from the whimsical land of Amherst, vanquished a horde of Dragons, and claimed its rightful place among the Council of the Up-and-Coming in the Enchanted Garden of Madison Square.
Now, lest you think this was an easy road, sit and let me recall the tale. The Minutemen’s quest had thus far taken them through the vast, barren wastelands of Mississippi and New Jersey. As they arrived at the Cave of Daskalakis, they were tired, but remained steadfast and determined. Road-weary, the Minutemen had nonetheless acquired followers along the way, growing louder and more numerous as they trekked ever-closer to their goal.
And oh, their fearless leader Derek Kellogg, also known as Derek the Hairgelled, and Kellogg the Improving, had a quest of his own to take care of on the way to the Enchanted Garden. You see, the king of these dragons, Flint the Bruiser, was Derek the Hairgelled’s old friend and mentor, who had taken Derek under his wing when they were both young and under the wing of Emperor Calipari. (Look, I don’t care if that part makes sense or not, or whether Bruiser’s a man or a dragon in this case. Don’t make me start throwing midichlorians into this.) Now, old mentor Bruiser stood in the way of sure semi-glory for Derek. Both leaders knew the other’s strengths and weaknesses. It would be a true battle of wits.
The Minutemen entered the cave with their supporters, facing extreme heat, a sea of yellow, and, umm, a giant inflatable dragon. They struggled early in their fight, as the dragons were far more formidable than the mere canines and Jack Sparrow impersonators they had faced thus far in their travails. But out of the Minutemen stepped leaders. Chaz the Unbreakable. Terrell the Much-Improved. Javorn the Unheralded. Even Freddie the Firehaired contributed his underrated defensive prowess. And just as their ancestors before them, led by legendary Travis the Turncoat against the giant Orange Men (or at least legend has it), the Minutemen stemmed the tide. (It helped that Frantz the Choker missed numerous chances to land the striking blow.)
And so it was that Bruiser the Flint and the Dragons of the land of Drexel were slain in that Cave of Daskalakis. The Minutemen and their supporters rejoiced, and much mead was consumed in the celebratory din. (I mean, a shitload of mead, you guys.)
There is work to be done when the Minutemen arrive at the Mystical Garden. But whether it’s a pack of wolves or, err, a forest of trees that the Minutemen will face when they arrive, we know one thing is true about these noble warriors:
Nothing is over until they decide it is.
Now then. Tuesday is just seven turns away? I wait six turns.
We’ve seen a little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly since we last left you, our intrepid readers. The happenings for UMass’s big three programs (hockey, Chazketball, and football) have been a-happening. Reality bites, I’m afraid, as Matt and I have been hampered in our ability to keep the blog up-to-date by our full-time jobs, and Walsh continues to search for one for himself. So be a little understanding if free time, much like UMass power play goals, UNH fan teeth, or attractive Lowell residents, is at a premium.
That said, let’s check in and see how things are going for each of those teams.
Last night’s game against Yale was immensely encouraging in a lot of ways. UMass fought through a tough start (three penalties in the opening minutes) and put together a strong all-around effort for the rest of the game in a 3-1 win that wasn’t really even that close. It shows the team building off of its 4-4 tie with the Crimson of Hahhvahd, a game that itself served as a return to “actually trying” after the team pulled a Seguin and slept through its previous three.
Let’s take a moment here to address something mighty troubling. I got in some hot water a few games ago for taking some cheap shots at a few ditzy puck sl…err, scantily-clad female fans who came to cheer on their beloved Northeaste-wait, which one do we go to again? Where’s Kelly? But the Harvard game brought something much more harmful for UMass’s reputation than the most stereotypical Swestiest Swesties ever to set foot in the Bill. I’m talking, of course, about the dumb fucks who took it upon themselves to toss their chuck-a-pucks onto the ice during the game.
I feel like actions of this degree of stupid warrant a sternly-worded “fuck you” to the offending party (or parties…we’ll never know if it was the same kid, since from my vantage point, Mullins security did absolutely nothing to try and track the kid down, and it took until after the second offense for Goldstein to inform the audience that you’re, you know, not allowed to do that). Let’s forget for a moment that the stoppage of play that resulted from the second puck-chucking led to a UMass penalty that led to a game-tying Harvard goal, though there was, graciously, no actual penalty for the incident. Why the fuck would you do such a thing? How fucked up do you have to get before (okay, let’s be honest – during) the game to think this is a good idea? I’ve been to UMass games in some pretty intoxicated states. Lest you forget, I invented a version of the Jaegerbomb that has a higher alcohol percentage. But I know my limits, and I know the fine line between “rather” drunk and “fuck the consequences of all actions I might take” drunk. I might be giving the kid(s) the benefit of the doubt here, but I would hope that it would take a high blood alcohol level to make such a dumb fucking decision.
But what really defecated on my (and all reasonable UMass fans’) parade was that this somehow managed to happen twice. Whether it was the same kid or not, the fact that there was no public shunning of the offending party – in fact, quite a bit of appeased laughter – is a painful reminder that this student section has a ways to go before it escapes its own reputation. I appreciate the efforts being made by those in Section S, which I will always consider the “true” student section regardless of how asinine it is that they sit by the goal that UMass only shoots on once and with a limited view of the corner on the other side of the UMass bench. For the first time since my freshman year, there are kids up here who are actually trying to lead this diverse, ragtag group of variously-dressed, variously-cheering, variously-informed hockey fans and/or casual observers and/or Puffton pregamers. I feel like this is going to be a losing proposition until the team achieves some actual success and generates a following for more than just the spectacle. Just look at UVM. They had a few good runs, sent St. Louis and Timmah to the NHL, and now they have a great student section for a team that’s even more god-awful this year than UMass, their last meeting notwithstanding.
I think I speak for the other two (even if they won’t admit it) that the efforts of the Militia and a few rows of kids who “get it” are a step in the right direction, but for the Bill to return to the levels of intimidation unmatched since the four-game sweep of Maine in ’06, it’s gonna take some stepping-up, a lot more creativity (like the “Do my homework” chant! The guy who started it is awesome) and a lot less “Fuck you Harvards.” And an “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh SEE YA ASSHOLE” for the fuckhead who throws the pucks on the ice, as he gets dragged out, barely able to stand, after getting pointed out by the rest of his row. That’s what things are like at the other nine schools in Hockey East, guys. Even Lowell and even fucking Merrimack. (Okay, maybe not Providence, but they would if anyone showed up to games.) It’s not weird, it’s not tattling – it’s called being a fan and not wanting your team to get a fucking penalty and/or injury because of some douche in the stands. And that, folks, is your sternly-worded “fuck you.” Thanks for coming and let us never have to speak of this again. (I’m choosing to act as though the wave started by the student section never happened, since this bullshit also actually happened at a Bruins game the other night.)
Ahem. So yeah, the Yale game went well. Hope they can carry the positive momentum into the second half now. I’m putting the Kubbie Kounter on hold, by the way. In fact, maybe we’ll just do it for the second half. I feel like Guzzo would be running away with it by now though, as he and Gracel might be the only Minutemen who showed up for those three straight losses. Just sayin’.
So here’s where we discuss the titular 30 Rock reference. The Minutemen descended into the crevasse, alright. Tuesday’s game at East Carolina might be the ugliest display of bazkettaball that I’ve ever had to witness, right down to the horrific webstream with ECU’s overly excitable announcers and PA guy blasting on echo over an uber-low resolution video that constantly flashed things like “MAKE SOME NOISE” and “DEFENSE.” (You get what you pay for, unless it’s UMass All Access video, wakka wakka wakka!) UMass built a massive first-half lead almost effortlessly, then actually stopped giving effort for a disturbingly long period of time as ECU fought back valiantly before finally shooting itself in the foot one time too many. And I mean damn I’d hate to be the doctor who has to fix up that foot! I can’t say it’s the worst UMass win I’ve ever seen, since I’ve seen them trail AIC late into the first half and beat Fordham at home on a buzzer-beater, but it was a bit discouraging to think that ECU had to miss a flurry of 3’s and free throws for UMass to pull this one out.
But whatever – they did pull it out. A win is a win and this one came on the road, and after a horrific travel schedule the likes of which I haven’t seen this team have in my time following them. Three games in three nights in the Bahamas, a flight home, a flight back to Miami, another flight home, and another flight back down to Greenville? Brutal, especially for a team that runs a full-court press for most of every game. So let’s put this one in the rearview mirror and focus on a 7-3 record and a cupcake schedule between this team and the start of conference play. It looks like the A-10 will be a bitch this year, in a good way for the conference but maybe not for UMass. I figured the conference would be up-for-grabs, but clear front-runners have emerged in Xavier and the Fighting Majeruses (Majerusi? Whatever, they’re fat, and I refuse to acknowledge whatever a Billiken is) and we’ve seen teams like Dayton pull off some nice upsets. Hell, even Fordham has three wins somehow. Really, the only team that looks truly horrible in this conference is – wait for it – oh this is great – weeeeeeeeeee’re Rhode Island born, and we’re Rhode Island (in)bred and when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead! Yeah, URI is 1-8 with a home win over Chaz-less Hofstra. In a word, epic. (They’ll probably sweep us.) So yeah, any thought of competing for an at-large bid now depends upon running the rest of the non-conference table and making a big dent in the conference. It would’ve been nice to get at least one of the three that they’ve lost so far, but there are still high-RPI teams left on the schedule – all at home – in the form of Xavier, Saint Louis, and Davidson (?!). And really, I think this team is at least as any team in the conference outside of Cincinnati.
There are question marks, of course. For every great story (Esho and Cady being solid out of the gate Morgan coming out of his slump, Carter’s alley-oops, and of course Chaz) there are concerns. Sampson is out for the season, which blows because he was starting to create favorable memories in my head of Etienne Brower, with a combination of length, underrated D and a smooth shooting touch from the line and the arc. At least he gets to redshirt and won’t be leaving us with the rest of DK’s inaugural class. Freddie had been…let’s say not so great coming into last night’s game, then he lit it up for the first half aaaaaand inexplicably was benched by DK for the rest of the game. Not what you want to do to a player who’s….let’s say moody. Look, we criticize the shit out of Riley, and he and Matt’s Twitter spats were well-documented. But we do it out of love, man. We want Freddie to be the spot-up 3-point ace he seems capable of being, but we’re sports fans – we get frustrated when our players struggle, and unfortunately, his shooting numbers make him a magnet for the criticism. (The mess that was the offense the last two years didn’t help, but he’s undoubtedly slumped to start this year as well.) Now, he finally looked to be breaking out of it, and Kellogg sits him on a team that already is a guard short with Laguerre’s academic ineligibility. DK’s making strides from a coaching standpoint this year, no doubt, and the new system on both offense and defense is working much better than anything they were doing the last few years. But unless there’s more to this story (which is certainly possible), I find it highly perplexing. Here’s hoping the team irons out whatever was going on here for tomorrow’s Springfield Siena game. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m way more confident about it than I would have been a year ago.
Okay, this post is getting to “way tl;dr” territory. So I’ll keep it brief for now and probably try (ha) to follow-up soon. As a Notre Dame football fan (go ahead, toss the paper balls and boo) I’m pleased with the appointment of Charley Molner. I know, something about the combination of Charlie and offensive coordinator and Massachusetts and Notre Dame sounds like failure. And while both took over for a beleaguered and unpopular coach (I kinda liked Willingham, actually, but the results spoke for themselves), Weis was taking over his alma mater with extraordinary expectations and a storied history, a program that even I’ll admit was moving in the wrong direction on the prestige scale. (Though, fingers crossed, Kelly is slowly righting that ship.) The Minutemen have nowhere to go but up, and out of the crevasse that was (was! WAS! It’s SO good to say that!) the Morris era. Granted the bar may be low, but his rally cry – that UMass should be the best college football program in New England – is solid, and frankly, quite achievable given that BC is in a downward spiral and UConn’s rise to glory is fizzling. True, it’s premature to crown the guy when he’s yet to be a head coach in his career, and we haven’t seen how he recruits yet. But let’s be frank – we weren’t going to get a Mike Leach to come here just yet. The first year might be a little shaky, between the growing pains of an FBS schedule, a first-year head coach and a cupboard left pretty bare. And the pressure’s a little greater than it was for DK, who wasn’t replacing a coach UMass was still paying and who didn’t have a new conference and stadium to work with. If next season’s excitement is tempered by the lack of actual success, well, that’s the crevasse the Morris era has left us in. We may have to dig just a little deeper before we find the way out.
Oh, Craig Finn, is there anything you haven’t already written a great lyric for?
UMass hockey fought valiantly this past weekend against BU, but fell exasperatingly short once again against the Warsofsky-less Terriers in front of a large, but (once again) fairly disinterested crowd. I’ll weigh in eventually (pinky swear!) with that long-promised overview of where I feel the student section is going – the wrong direction, by the way – and the factors that have led to the discontent of the Fight Mass writing staff and my fellow alumni who were present for better days. In the meantime, let’s see where UMass stands as the final three weeks of the regular season approach.
At this point, I think we can divide the rest of the conference into subgroups: the contenders (BC, UNH, and – gasp – Merrimack), the pretenders? (BU and Maine), the plucky upstarts (Northeastern), the scrappers-to-make-the-playoffs (us, Providence, and Vermont), and Lowell (Lowell). The skeptical question mark for the pretenders is where the biggest grey area is for me. There’s no question that the top 3 teams have differentiated themselves as the class of Hockey East. You could argue that BU or Maine can still play their way back into that discussion, but with Maine falling ever-closer to the middle of the pack hurts their legitimacy, and I don’t trust either of their goalies anyway. BU barely squeaking by us doesn’t change the fact that they just finished fourth in their own four-team tournament, one that their home PA announcer is the PA announcer of. I’ve seen Merrimack in person and watched BC and UNH on TV several times. BU is just not as good as those teams, regardless of the fact that they’re only 2 points behind the Warriors. Northeastern, meanwhile, damn near won the Beanpot, are looking better by the week – and, of course, have 4 games left against BC and UNH while BU gets to feast on UVM and Providence. With 6 points to overcome, it’s gonna take recent trends for the two Boston dog teams to escalate if those last two games between them are going to matter. Still, you have to admire Cronin’s team and how far they’ve come, even if they do rely waaaay too heavily on that McNeely-MacCloud tandem and Rawlings occasionally standing on his head. And they have a guy named Dongara. Hehe.
So then you’ve got the bottom of the standings, with a rebuilding team (us), a hard-to-figure-out and probably underachieving Vermont team, and, well, Providence, who does nothing particularly well but isn’t awful enough to mitigate the fact that on any given night, their goaltender can steal a game. (See: last Saturday or 50% of the fucking games Beaudry has against us.) Lowell, of course, is historically, hysterically bad, but our lead over the rest of Hockey East is tenuous at best. There’s two playoff spots left for these three teams, and someone’s gonna get left out in the cold. Here’s where they stand:
7. UMass – 15 points
Remaining: 2 vs. Merrimack (H/A), 2 vs. BC (H/A), 2 vs. Maine (H/H)
8. Vermont – 14 points
Remaining: 2 vs. UNH (H/H), 2 vs. BU (A/A), 2 vs. Lowell (H/H)
9. Providence – 12 points
Remaining: 2 vs. BU (H/A), 2 vs. Lowell (H/A)), 2 vs. Merrimack (H/A)
For tiebreakers, UMass holds the breaker on Vermont, Vermont holds the breaker on PC, and PC holds the breaker on UMass. Think of it as the worst game of rock-paper-scissors ever. Or for the nostalgic nerds out there, think of UMass as fire, Vermont as grass, and PC as water. And Lowell as Magikarp. Except nobody’s super-effective.
So obviously, the Minutemen have the toughest task ahead. If UVM and PC both sweep Lowell, as one can reasonably expect, that would put each of them ahead of UMass if the Minutemen fail to gain a point for the rest of the year. And that’s even if they lose the other four games apiece (which is also quite reasonable). UMass has definitely played better at home of late – relatively speaking – and I give them a fighting chance to pull off an upset over a Da Costa-less Merrimack team or a coasting BC team. But as usual, those last two games of the season against Maine are probably going to decide our fate. Last year’s team went up to Alfond against a pretty similar Maine team and stole two wins. This year, they’re at home, and Maine is in a bit of a nosedive since an impressive win over BC on January 16th. They’ve since been swept by UNH, earned just 1 point against BU in two games at home, tied Northeastern, and got walloped by Vermont at home before edging by the other night. Maine has two with Lowell that will likely get them back on track, but they follow that with two against Merrimack. One would expect Maine won’t have nearly as much to play for in that final weekend, if BU beats up on the rest of their schedule and locks down the final home ice slot.
Here’s hoping UMass can pounce on the Black Bears like they have in years past in that last weekend. Otherwise, our playoff hopes might mean – wait for it – rooting for Lowell. Eww.
Note: I’ve got plenty to say about the basketball team’s recent slide as well, but I’ll wait on that, maybe until after the Rhody game. I can only hope that things will be much more fun to talk about by then.
Okay, okay, we’ll be the first to admit it here at Fight Mass: we’ve been slacking. Big-time. It’s not our faults, frankly…Derek’s got a hectic senior-year courseload (contrary to popular belief, the academic life at the world’s #56 university is, in fact, a bitch) and I’ve still got another 6 weeks or so left in my program down here at Disney World. (For those inquiring minds, Matt seems to have stepped back from a writing role and is accepting a more fitting role as our head Twitterer/social networker.) Between that and a less-than-exciting start to the season for the Mass Attack, you can see where keeping up with the site would be rather difficult. Rest assured, though, kids, that season 2 of Fight Mass is just getting started, as the men’s basketball season comes into full gear and the hockey team gets into the swing of Hockey East action. Remember, we started the blog around this time last year, and that was when I was in Amherst instead of all the way down the coast. I’ll be back soon enough.
So, catching up on where things stand for the Mass Attack…not a pretty start, to be sure. UMass is 0-6-3, the only winless team in D1 thus far. Things seem like they would be dire in Amherst, but let’s not freak out just yet. The Minutemen were not getting an at-large bid this year, as we’ve been saying from the start, and the 0-3-3 HEA record isn’t nearly as horrifying when you consider UMass lost those 3 games by a combined 5 goals. UMass also has three ties already after going all of last season without a single one. Two of those ties, to be sure, were games UMass should have won, against mediocre Providence at home and last weekend’s last-minute collapse at Lake Whitt. The tie against BU, a much hotter sister-kissing, could have easily been a win as well. Really, when you consider A) that this team is so ridiculously young and inexperienced, B) the injuries to the few remaining veterans, and C) the pretty tough schedule thus far, 3 points in 6 games isn’t that bad. The youngsters, particularly Pereira and Gracel, have been very impressive, and the defense hasn’t been a complete disaster, at least not in Hockey East play. Now, you can’t totally throw away games like the Army shitshow, but the truth of the matter is that despite all the horribleness of a winless first 9 games, UMass is just one point out of a playoff spot in Hockey East, where they were picked by so many experts to finish 9th or 10th. The Minutemen have been knocking on the door of the win column all year long. They’ve played exactly one awful game (again, the Army debacle), and have managed to not get swept in their three HEA series so far. Coming up are winnable games against a few more teams, Vermont and Lowell, who will be in that battle for the last HEA playoff spots. It’s the perfect time for our boys to finally put a W on the board, so let’s all calmly back away from the ledge for now until after these games are in the books.
In the meantime, guys, keep on coming out to support your team. I know the pre-Thanksgiving Vermont game can suffer from all the students going home early, but if you’re gonna be in town Tuesday night, go out there and cheer UMass to that elusive first win. You have the whole rest of the night to party and worry about getting home the next day for The Busiest Drinking Night of the Year(TM). I’ve been wondering when this team would have a poor start (didn’t happen in my four years in Amherst), and now that it’s happening, this is a good test of the bandwagon mentality for the hockey fans, and whether or not attendance will suffer due to the lack of wins. If the numbers have to suffer, those of you who go just have to be extra loud. Maybe this is the chance for the hardcore fans (that’s you) to take back the Mullins from the frat boys and Swesties? Hint, hint.
Segueing off from that rambling mess of a paragraph into basketball now! UMass hockey is reminding me an awful lot of last year’s basketball squad, with Dainton filling the Ricky Harris spot as the “lone remaining star senior,” and yes, I understand all the flaws in that comparison, but just the same – he’s the training wheels for a stocked group of freshmen. For Kellogg’s boys, those training wheels are off, and what we’ve seen so far is a somewhat wobbly 2-0 start with wins over Rider and Sacred Heart. Opening night included a 22-point deficit overcome for a 10-point win, in a game where UMass had a great student turnout, scared them off, then came back without them. Go figure. The Broncs are actually a pretty experienced squad, so for them to collapse so completely (with a little help from Gurley and Riley both getting ridiculously hot at the same time) says that UMass did something right. It’s a little disconcerting that Kellogg even said after the game that he didn’t know how it happened, though. But a win is a win. Unless, of course, it’s an 8-point win against Sacred Heart, an absolutely atrocious basketball team that should never have smelled the lead, let alone in the second half. However, considering last year’s team would have probably found a way to be 0-2 so far, you have to at least be happy with the results of these first two games.
The good? Daryl Traynham looks every bit as good as advertised, although hopefully game 2 is more indicative of his offensive talents than game 1 was. Gurley looks like he’s finally got things figured out. Riley’s gonna score a shitload of points for UMass before his career is over…you just can’t deny how smooth that shot is. Sampson Carter has been greatly improved, too. And UMass has done all this without Javorn Farrell, who was the unsung hero of last season, and with Terrell Vinson basically a ghost.
The bad? Little Village Bailey may be in far better shape, but this whole “lack of tangible basketball skills in game situations” thing continues to be troubling. Here’s hoping he’s still getting used to his leaner body. Luckily, the team doesn’t hinge on his success, so he’s got time to become a big contributor off that bench. TV, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. What the hell happened to this guy? He was up-and-down last year, but in two games, he’s really been a non-factor. Guys with this much raw talent don’t just disappear overnight, so I’m confident he’ll get it together, but it does raise eyebrows. Sean Carter hasn’t really been too great either. Really, the big men need to step it up for tomorrow’s matchup with New Mexico State, which has a couple of big men of their own that will provide a better test than Rider or SHU have. Unlike the hockey team, hoops actually does need to win some non-conference games. I think the big dance this year is an attainable goal if (and this is a huge, huge if) TV improves, DT plays this well against better opponents, and Riley and Gurley continue carrying the offense. The cool thing about struggling to a 2-0 start is that you’re still 2-0, and I know Coach Kellogg and the team know they need to be a lot better in order for the wins to keep coming in. Even if the team proves to be not quite ready for that jump yet, I can see this team making a run in a suddenly-not-quite-so-deep A10 and/or getting back to the NIT and getting valuable postseason experience for the sophomores and for DT and the other guys like Putney, Esho, and Morgan if and when they work their way into the rotation.
In the meantime, and I hate to keep beating a dead horse here, but please go out there to the Mullins and support your boys. Hell, they’re undefeated! I love that the marketing department was able to get a good student turnout for opening night against Rider, but that flat start scared off a bunch of them, and the attendance for Sacred Heart was abysmal (although the timing of the game and the opponent were likely factors as well). If UMass keeps winning, I’m sure the student turnout will improve, and I love that the diehards in the front row(s) are already much more numerous than last year, when it was basically me, Matt, Hamel, Goggles, and a few other guys and the band every night. Our school is situated in the birthplace of basketball, and we’ve got guys like Marcus Camby and Gary Forbes (as Marv Albert said, from “U of Mass”) in the NBA, and our state is home to the greatest NBA franchise of all time. It shouldn’t be hard to get students to turn out for free games, especially this year with a team that has contention potential. Get out there and make the Mullins a nightmare for visitors again. I know I’ll be doing my part when I come home in January.
Well, another weekend, another disappointment for UMass athletics. The 12th-ranked men’s lacrosse team managed to falter on the road to an inferior Yale team, killing any sort of mome…
Hold the phone.
What’s this you’re wharrgarbl-ing on about?
Hockey SWEPT Maine? Basketball BEAT Rhode Island?
….PLAYOFFS? You can talk to me about playoffs, because both teams won a game (and then, in hockey’s case, another game)?!
Okay, so we at Fight Mass will admit, we had higher hopes for both of these teams than “barely sneaking into their conference tourneys on the last day of the season.” Particularly after basketball beat Memphis and looked poised to at least improve on last year’s in-conference performance, and after hockey got up to #9 in the country with the harder half of their schedule seemingly in the rear-view mirror.
Regardless, the Mass Attack took advantage of Scott Darling’s mysterious suspension and roughed up Shawn “The New Wilson” Sirman two nights in a row, then had to withstand the storm of a furious comeback bid by the Black Bears last night, and nearly doubled their all-time Alfond win total in a 26-hour span. The offense woke up again by running through the points, with Justin Braun and Matt Irwin exploding onto the scene in a manner eerily similar to last year’s near-shocker at Matthews Arena. Paul Dainton was magnificent in holding Maine’s potent offense to 5 total goals in two nights. In what can only be described as “Derek being proven triumphantly right,” the defense gelled around the return of Doug Kublin from mono. And Brett Watson of all people provided two more goals.
So yeah, next weekend, UMass gets to return to the Conte Forum, where we’ll likely see the bizarre sight of a noticeable BC student section at home against the Minutemen. The Iggles haven’t played a truly meaningful game in a couple of weeks now and are, naturally, considered the runaway favorites in the series. However, if the Minutemen play as well as they did last weekend, and are able to catch a couple breaks and ride the momentum of this Maine sweep, and Dainton is on his game…okay, that’s a lot of if’s. But “if” is a fun word to toss around when, just a few days ago, things were as grim as they were. There’s hockey yet to be played, and that’s all we can ask for.
Meanwhile, the basketball team (unlike hockey, those bastards) send out the seniors in style, continuing the annual tradition of ruining Rhody’s season. This is the third year in a row; two years back, the Minutemen dragged URI kicking and screaming into the NIT (and then damn near won it). Last year, UMass marched into the Ryan Center and made little Jimmy “Date Rape Baby” Baron cry on his senior day, the game we will always know as the C-Lowe/Matty Glass Game (I could watch that Glass pick on Ulmer every single day until the end of time). And now, the year in which the gap between the teams is the greatest, where URI is a win away from the NCAA Tournament and UMass needs a win just to make the conference tourney in which only 2 of 14 teams miss it, and yet history just continues to repeat itself with these two. If the roles were reversed, I think we might hate URI even more than we hate BC here. And we hate BC a lot.
Honestly, it wasn’t a pretty game. At one point, when the teams were trading fast-break misses back and forth, someone near me likened it to a hockey game, with the near-misses coming fast and furious – only there’s no goalies in basketball, and the scores aren’t supposed to be that few and far between. The officiating — horrendous, but it was bad both ways, and we’re used to that by now. And the thing that struck me the most was that URI really does not have a go-to guy. They’ve got a lot of pretty good players, sure, but they had no answer for Ricky Harris, who woke up in a big way after a just-okay first half. It’s worrisome that the future of this team will bank on someone (Freddie? TV?) stepping up and becoming the new face of the team next year, and although I think that taking the Ricky crutch out of the equation will speed up the process, there’s no doubt that he will be missed. 3rd all time in school history in scoring, no matter how you look at it, is fantastic. Ricky’s the one guy who played for all four of my years at UMass, and for that, I’m certainly grateful.
The URI student section was impressive (although not unexpected given that this is pretty much the only sport they have), but I saw hope for us as well. Sure, a number of kids were coming over from the Rec Center to grab t-shirts and promptly leave, but for the most part, I felt like kids were into it. They should definitely try to schedule more Saturday afternoon games next year if that’s at all possible; this was definitely the best student section of the year even having to compete with the Blarney Blowout over in town, and the end of the game was as loud as I’ve seen the Mullins for basketball in quite some time. Hopefully the kids who came out for this one were sold on this team’s potential and will be more inclined to see more games next year as a result, but, of course, the guys need to win games to attract fans, simple as that.
And so now the Minutemen survive to play Tuesday at Charlotte, a team in freefall mode, and whom UMass owes some revenge from a few years back. At the very least, Ricky gets one more game, and the freshmen get their first taste of playoff basketball together. This can only be a good thing.
Unlike hockey, whose expectations were understandably a lot higher (both at the beginning of the year and, especially, after their stellar first half), basketball’s fate for much of year has been a first-round road game and likely exit from the A-10 Tournament. A strong showing against Charlotte, and especially a first-round shocker (and I can’t stress enough how due this team is to be on the other side of that equation), could do wonders for this team going forward.
And if they lose by 30 in Charlotte? We’ll always have that senior night. Sad to think I will never again set foot in the Mullins Center as a UMass student, but the memories from my tenure here will live forever, and my entry into the alumni club – my graduation to the other side of the arena (not that I won’t be general-admissioning it up and joining the student fray for a few more years, naturally) is an exciting prospect that is just beginning.
So, not to crib that whole “live together, die alone” theme that Rocks has been using lately, but the countdown to the weird red hieroglyphs and the accompanying disaster has been, for the moment, put on hold. UMass typed in the Numbers and hit execute. Now, the road ahead is wrought with challenges. But for at least one more week, there is a road ahead.
Hockey has lost five of six and is seeing its home ice chances slipping away. Basketball has put together consecutive wins and, in their latest endeavor, looked – dare I say – dominant at times, albeit against a fairly bad St. Joe’s team. In fact, they won on national TV (being CBS College Sports, but still)…on Valentine’s Day.
…What the hell is this, bizarro UMass?
It’s been a weekend nobody would have seen coming about a month ago. Hoops rallied from 16 down on the road to force overtime, then from 5 down early in the extra frame to knock off Duquesne, and now three days later they’re looking at a tie for the 8th seed in the A-10, with plenty of momentum going into the home stretch. Hockey, meanwhile, got flustered by a hot freshman goaltender at home, then watched the defense and their own ace goalie give up another six-spot to a Boston team.
As big fans of the Hold Steady here at Fight Mass (well, Matt and myself, anyway), we live by the mantra “stay positive” around here – to the extent that I’ve seriously considered getting the band’s infinity/plus-sign logo in tattoo form. So I’d like to talk about the bright spots first, and in greater detail. The Hold Steady don’t have a song that adequately reflects how I witnessed the basketball game first-hand (and called it on the radio) while I only heard the hockey game on RNX, and even then only intermittently; however, I should mention that this also factors into the equation.
Regardless, DK’s defense was suffocating at times. Phil Martelli’s Hawks went nearly 11 minutes without scoring to close the first half. That’s over a quarter of the game. Granted, that team’s a mess right now; their top two players (Williamson and Govens) are glorified role players, their big guys (Hilliard and O’Brien) are foul-prone and they have basically zero depth. I’m not sure what they were trying to do on offense, but it involved a whole lot of dribbling and passing around the perimeter until the shot clock was down to 10. Still, you have to give UMass credit for all the flustering they managed to do. No D-1 offense could possibly be that bad on its own, and guys like Farrell, Vinson, Sean Carter, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) even Correia were fiends on the defensive end.
The offense? Eh. ‘Twas sufficient. Another dazzling performance by Ricky, and Gurley once again decided to join us prior to the last couple minutes and knocked a few shots down. I thought Riley got a quick hook; he played sparingly in the second half so, baring an injury, it appears that he found his way into DK’s doghouse, which is surprising because now that City is finally there I’m surprised there’s any room….
Okay, sidebar time: Look, we (okay, I) feel really bad about this whole Big Shitty situation. It sucks to have to shit all over one of our own players. But really, if you haven’t seen a game yet (or if the only one you saw was Memphis), you have to watch him play to understand. He’ll play astronomically poorly for several minutes, making even the most routine rebound look like an ordeal, and then every so often he’ll dive for a loose ball or something and, because of how much better “making a fairly difficult play” looks than “botching a fairly easy one,” the crowd oohs and aahs. It’s like a Nickelback concert; their couple of I guess-they’re-serviceable hit singles sound like pure musical genius next to the rest of the shit they play. I’m sure he’s a great guy and all, and players have feelings too, but honestly – every time I watch him play I become less confident in his ability to play the game of basketball. DK finally appears to feel that way too, based on these last few games. It’s unfortunate, and I’m personally rooting for City to turn it around. Until he does, though, his minutes belong to Hov.
Ahem, as I was saying, Riley didn’t play much, and the same goes for Sampson, but the dribble drive looked refreshingly effective. It’s easy to get carried away with a couple wins when it’s literally been nearly two months since the last time they did it, but if – and I repeat, IF – they can put a nice little run together, and 3-2 is certainly doable in the last five games, then I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Minutemen hosting that new first-round campus site home game in the A-10 Tournament. Lord knows UMass can’t win in Atlantic City to save their lives, but if UMass can hold onto or even improve on that #8 seed, the Minutemen have a chance to do something Travi$ never did: win a goddamn conference tournament game. In a rebuilding year, you can’t understate the importance of postseason experience, however fleeting it may be.
Now, going from the light at the end of one tunnel to the trainwreck on the side of the tracks, the Mass Attack Express got derailed pretty hard this weekend against the red-hot
Chris Rawlingses N’Eastern Huskies. Having not been there, I’ll have to defer you to Ben’s wrap-up, but let’s just say that the last thing the struggling Minutemen needed was a game dictated by horrendous officiating (though it’s tough to say whether Toot’s bench minor-worthy outburst was fueled by the blue-balls-inducing tease of UMass’s offense the last few games).
But the fact of the matter is this: UMass has now given up 6 or 7 goals a remarkable five times in the second half of the season. To say that the defense lost it completely with Lecomte and Kublin sidelined is an understatement, and even with Lecomte and Langeraap back to bolster the size, experience, and physicality up front, the blue line is still in disarray. Kublin’s not a game-changer the likes of, say, Jeremy Dehner for Lowell (quick side note: UMass’s own struggles, aside from pissing us off as UMass fans, have severely limited the amount of enjoyment we’ve been able to draw from the ugly sister’s epic collapse). Just the same, though, his absence has had a trickle-down effect on his fellow blue liners. Mikey Marcou, while continuing to surprise on offense, has been a disaster the last few games defensively, which is a huge regression for someone who had been playing well earlier in the year. Bronco had a good game Friday night, but has been maddeningly inconsistent. Younger guys like Irwin and Rowe are, like Mikey, good offensive d-men who have struggled on D at times. Kessler’s a mixed bag, and Donnellan hasn’t gotten enough playing time to make a name for himself yet. The only constant has been Nolet, and you simply can’t get by with just one consistent defenseman. Not in this league.
So here we are with five games left, one at home, two being against a suddenly-hot Merrimack team, a game in Chestnut Hill against a BC team that might not be quite as amped up about it, and then two more up in Maine, whose freshmen want revenge for the Wilson series and whose hick fans want “revenge” for She-Man-Gate.
As UMass fans, we’re used to this script: the Cahoon Swoon, the fade to black at the end, the whimper and then, nothing.
That’s the beauty of sports, though…you never know when the script will get flipped. Here’s hoping that this Bizarro Weekend is a harbinger of said script-flipping.
Wednesday afternoon, the University of Massachusetts closed its campus for the day in preparation for an anticipated nor’easter. At around 1 PM, we still didn’t have a flake of snow on the ground, but hey, we’re college kids. We’ll take a day off any way we can get one. (Actually, I don’t have classes scheduled on Wednesdays anyway, so it didn’t do much for me, but I’ve been told it was much-appreciated by most everyone else.)
Last night, UMass’s offensive performance was about as potent as the “snowstorm:” it looked poised to strike on paper, it certainly threatened, and there were flurries of offensive chances, but the goal tally matched the total snow accumulation in inches. (Rounded to the nearest whole number. You know what, shut up, it’s my metaphor and I’ll stretch it if I so please.)
Derek said it, and I’m starting to agree: this was almost worse in a lot of ways than losing 7-1, because at least then you know it’s over after one period and you don’t have your heart ripped out at the end. This one was 1-0 until the last five minutes, and UMass was > < this close to knotting it up and breaking the offense funk seemingly a million times. Like the other shutout game, against Madore and Vermont, the boys played well enough to win in basically every aspect of the game – the luck just wasn’t on their side. The defense was miles ahead of where it was against BC and BU the last few games, the offense got plenty of opportunities, but it comes down to finishing, and right now the Minutemen can’t do it. It didn’t help that the hottest goalie in Hockey East played out of his mind, but when your backup goalie holds the other team to one goal for the majority of the game, that’s a game you just have to win. (By the way, even though both of the goals Meyers have up were sort of weak, particularly the second one, you really can’t blame the goalie when you get shut out. Still, unless Dainton’s hurt, I would’ve preferred to see him in net and let Meyers start against Merrimack on senior night if you want to give him a start at all. Just my opinion.)
So, where do we go from here? Six games left, five on the road, and it starts tonight at Matthews. “Must-win” is sort of cliche, and we do play in a league where a team that is completely and totally dead in the water can dominate a team on an absolute roll. But realistically, if UMass gets swept by the Huskies tonight, they can say goodbye to home ice – if they haven’t already. Either way, this whole “Cahoon swoon” thing is getting more and more legitimate as the season continues.
…by the way, hockey aside, it was a pretty good start to the weekend for UMass sports. Softball won, lax opened their season with a win, and basketball actually pulled off one of their recent second-half comeback attempts to beat Duquesne in OT. (Big City’s stat line? 6 minutes. I think DK finally gets it.) The boys are back at home tomorrow afternoon at 4, hopefully they can see what a conference winning streak looks like. (Or any type of UMass winning streak. Sigh.)