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.
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.
Our somewhat-less-beloved UMass men’s basketball team lost tonight. At home. To St. Bonaventure.
…There are no words. I’ll try to sum it up for you: UMass played horrible defense against a horrible team in a slop-tacular game with horrible referees in front of a horrible crowd and came away with what must be the worst loss at home for the Minutemen in my four years of watching this team. It’s not Valentine’s Day Massacre-bad as far as repercussions, but that’s only because this team didn’t have realistic expectations of success before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The Minutemen, since the collective sploogefest of the upset win against Memphis in Boston (the thought of which, in retrospect, might be enough to get the team, coaches, and collective fanbase to want to drown themselves in barbecue sauce), have done the following:
- Lost a winnable game against our most hated opponent, in their arena but in front of a pro-UMass crowd, despite BC’s horrid shooting;
- Lost a winnable game at Davidson;
- “Defeated” one of the worst teams in all of college basketball by two, on a last-second shot;
- Lost a winnable game in Springfield to La Salle in which they held a sizable lead near halftime;
- Lost a winnable game at Richmond in which the Spiders couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, we had the last shot of regulation only for our best player to forget how much time was left, and in which a Spider set the conference record for blocks in a game;
- Got smoked by a good Temple team,
- …and now this.
This wasn’t a fall-from-ahead job like Fordham. UMass actually had to rally just to tie the game late in the second half after trailing by as many as 10 points. You read that correctly: 10 points. At home. Against St. Fucking Bonaventure. Bright spots? You want bright spots? Uhh, I guess…Ricky Harris and Anthony Gurley hit some awkward floaters. Big City hit a pair of free throws nothing but net (!). David Gibbs drove to the lane and scored, for perhaps the first time ever. The Minutemen even pulled off the “hey look, Riley is tying his shoe, everyone leave him alone and guard Ricky instead and OH WAIT JUST KIDDING OPEN 3” trick.
But in that same game, Freddy looked mortal, airballing a 3 at one point and missing treys on the final two possessions, both of which could have won the game. UMass actually got away with a few blatant hacks and still couldn’t win. Gibbs’s one drive to the hoop was just that: a one-time thing. Big Shitty (yeah, we’re going there) couldn’t have guarded James Marcou going to the basket in the last five minutes, let alone any of the Bonnies’ mediocre forwards. TV and Sean Carter were shockingly ineffective. Blah, blah, blah.
Matt and I are quickly reaching the ends of our ropes about this team. Like I said a few weeks ago, I’ll follow the UMass hockey team wherever it goes, in Toot we trust, oh captain my captain, and so on. I love DK and what he’s trying to do with this team (and with the fans), and I’m not foolhardy enough to expect too much from what is, at this point, most definitely a rebuilding year. But the point of a rebuilding year is to make progress, and at this point, I’m not really sure that’s what we’re seeing. I want to see this team grow and come together before our eyes. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the teams of old, back when we may have been underdogs to make the NCAAs, but where we at least expected UMass to beat St. Bonaventure by 30. But rebuilding year or not, this performance is just plain unacceptable. Our rope can only go so far before we, like (sadly) so many of the other die-hards, decide to do better things with our Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.
It’s like a decidedly less-expensive version of the Big Dig, where we’re still holding out hope that the end result will be beautiful – but maybe we should stop watching them build it, because the construction has been rather ugly.
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.