Last season UMass beat St. Joseph's on February 23rd to improve to 15-11 and proceeded to lose 4 straight games to close out the season in disappointing fashion. The Minutemen basketball team had not lost three straight games since the end of the 2011 season, but with Terrell Vinson's foot on the line and Xavier coming to the Bill there was a sense of impending doom (at least in this particular fans corner of the universe). I am guilty of having my personal life come to a head at the same time as this season (I am expecting my first child any day now) and as such haven't been able to update the site as much as I would like but at 18-8 with road games at Dayton and at Temple on the horizon at 6:30 PM this evening it felt like the season was on the brink. By 9:15 PM a breath of life has rejuvenated the fan base.
On a night when the Minutemen played only 6 players for more than 8 minutes Chaz Williams threw the team on his back and carried them to what is arguably the best win of the season, and maybe the best win of the Derek Kellogg era. Williams played 38 minutes, scored 29 points on 8-12 shooting, went 7-7 from the FT line and added 9 assists. In game that involved a couple of NBA caliber guard talents, it was Williams that stood out as the best player in the game, and for a program looking to right a ship that had sprung a leak the leader of the squad stepped up big on the biggest stage.
However, while Chaz was a beast, I have to take a moment to recognize Freddie Riley who has often been harshly criticized by yours truly in this space, not because I don't like Freddie but because I love Freddie and think he's a key component to this team moving forward -- and boy did Freddie show up big tonight. Freddie was the only guy on the team to come off the bench and provide any type of minutes, and when you take into account that he was tasked with covering "Zip 'Em Up" Tu Holloway, he had a difficult test in front of him and he passed with flying colors. Riley added 12 off the bench, but more importantly he combined with Jesse Morgan to hold Holloway to 10 points on 2-11 shooting (Holloway played all 40 minutes and looked as disinterested as any player I've seen all season).
To put this game into perspective, if UMass goes 1-2 down the stretch with a win over URI to close out the season and a 20-10 record I believe that this win over Xavier should be enough to put the Minutemen into the NIT, and heading into a season where the team was predicted to finish about as low in the A-10 as possible, with significant injuries to key rotation players -- that's a pretty fantastic sentiment. I'd feel a lot better if UMass can go 2-1 down the stretch, but 20 wins is 20 wins and you have to like what you've seen out of this team thus far. It would have been very easy, after the demoralizing La Salle loss for UMass to come out flat tonight and get blown off the court by a good Xavier team - but instead Coach Kellogg had the boys flying out of the gate and they were able to jump out to a 12 point half time lead and hold on down the stretch for a great win.
As it stands right now UMass is tied at 8-5 in the A-10 with Xavier and St. Joseph's behind Temple (10-2) and St. Louis (10-3). Based upon the schedules remaining for both of the teams ahead of the Minutemen I think it's safe to say that the best finish we can hope for is 3rd. The remaining schedules for the teams tied with UMass are:
St. Joseph's (18-10, 8-5)
2/29 @ St. Bonaventure
Xavier (17-10, 8-5)
2/28 @ St. Louis
I can see both Xavier and St. Joseph's going 2-1 down the stretch which means UMass must go 2-1 to even have a shot at the #3 seed in the A-10 tournament, but we already know that UMass will have the tie-breaker over Xavier so as long as UMass finishes, at worst, with the same record as the Musketeers we're likely looking at no worse than a #4 seed in the A-10 tournament.
I know this has been all over the place, and that I haven't exactly been updating with much frequency but as I said I'm expecting my first child soon and that has been a bit stressful for me -- I will try to keep updated more often in the short term but in the long term I will get things back going on a more frequent schedule.