I’ll admit things have been (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a bit busy of late, so I apologize we haven’t had a chance to weigh in on the recent happenings in UMass sports. Here’s a quick rundown:
– On Friday and Saturday, the hockey team defied all logic and played the vaunted BC offense very tightly, Mac Haight (whom I wrote about a month ago would definitely be the 3rd stringer all year and would likely not see any ice time) won all of our hearts with a serviceable, damn-near-great at times pair of performances, and UMass played both games to 2-2 ties. Of course, they only got one point out of it, thanks to some Bunyon Magic inventing a new exciting rule change that allows for the overturning of an offsides call. Was Power ultimately offsides? Sure, after seeing the replay. But it was the kind of bang-bang play that happens all season long in the Hockey East conference slate, so it’s nice to know that BC was able to get a point out of the weekend on a play that has now been confirmed to be non-reviewable. There is now approximately a 405% chance that UMass will proceed to lose a game this year on a goal that is offsides that they will not be able to review. Book it.
Honestly, though, the Minutemen had their chances to bury backup netminder Brian Billett and a BC team that, as they so often do, didn’t put forth a full 60-minute effort against UMass. The sad truth is, UMass has played the most conference games already at 7, and have frustratingly little to show for it. Vermont presents an opportunity to turn things around against another middling team, but – again, this is sounding like a broken record – it’s not always as easy as “hey, they played super-well against one of the best teams in the country so of course if they play like that they’ll beat the bad teams.” That said, between the supposedly-recovering Mastalerz and the competent Haight, we’re comforted in the knowledge that we won’t see Wakaluk again in a meaningful game until he shows he can actually handle the spotlight. So there’s that.
Let’s move on to the more fun thing on the docket: UMass
football hahahaha no. Basketball moved to 3-0 with a workmanlike home victory over Youngstown State, the second-best of the three teams they’ve faced this year, and the buzz is in the air. All of a sudden, you’re hearing things like “receiving votes” and “underrated” and “likely tournament team” from various sources. Swell.
Now the Minutemen face what has been their undoing in the previous two hyped seasons: the infamous Preseason Tournament in a Strange Venue During the Day With Basically Nobody Present Against a Pretty Good Set of Teams, trademark pending. Luckily, they get it out of the way this year before Thanksgiving, so I don’t have to tell the same family members for the third year in a row how good my alma mater is going to be this year as they promptly get stomped. To be fair, I have a level of confidence in this team that I didn’t have the last two times around. The Penguins game wasn’t exactly the wild rout it appeared to be on paper when the schedule was announced, but in Kellogg’s defense, YSU actually looks like a pretty solid small-conference foe who could easily roll to a low-20s win total and an RPI in the low top 100. (You know, unlike a certain other school in Massachusetts which will be lucky to win 10 games this year at the rate they’re going.) There was some good that came from it, though – Putney’s slam at the end of the game has gone much further than I ever expected in generating buzz for the team. Hey, I’ll take it, even if when it happened I wasn’t really watching YSU’s press and figured it was an unnecessary garbage-time showboating act.
Nebrasketball is up next, and they come into Charleston 3-0 by blowing out a trio of really bad teams. (Sorry, Dunk City minus its mastermind doesn’t count as a quality foe). Like UMass, the Huskers have played all of their games at home (TD Garden is a home, if you didn’t notice) and that home is the shiny new Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln, to which I want to go to there someday. So it’ll be an adjustment for both teams to play in unfamiliar territory in front of a largely-empty venue. There’s been some talk about UMass generating energy by feeding off the crowd, but I’d say Nebraska may even see more of this effect given that they’ve played to sellout crowds in their first three games whereas UMass hasn’t even played a home night game yet and has drawn a bit more sparsely.
The Huskers are led in scoring by guards Ray Gallegos and Deverell Biggs, both of whom were suspended for the first two games but who put up 18 and 17 points respectively in their last game against SC State. It’s hard based on that body of work to get a good gauge on who Nebraska really is, which is scary, but they’re also the preseason pick to finish dead last in the Big Ten. In other words, this is a win on paper. But remember, so was last year’s game against a Providence team with six scholarship players available, and that was nearly a disaster. The key on Thursday is for UMass to separate themselves from last year’s shortcomings. They must see the opportunity presented here, to not only add another major-conference foe to their resume, but to get that all-important meeting with New Mexico on Friday afternoon. The goal this year is to not sleep on anyone. We’ll soon see how that goes against the Huskers.