Oh hey guys, what’s up?
So life got busier again and I’ve found myself consistently putting off writing about the one thing that occupies much of my non-work week, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen Athletic Programs. It turns out it’s really tough to work full-time and travel around watching UMass play and write about said UMass. I think I might have mentioned that before.
Nonetheless, as both hockey and basketball gear up for the stretch run, I feel that now is the time to break the Fight Mass media silence (you know, besides our increasingly-popular Twitter account) for some long form opinion-sharing. I’ve decided to put this in the form of a Q&A, because it doesn’t matter why.
Let’s start with hockey. How are the prospects for these final few weeks looking?
Decidedly meh. Every time the team puts together a full 60-minute effort, they follow it up with a lackluster performance. This would have been fine had it been the story of their season, but instead we’re seeing a team play to its preseason expectation of mediocrity, after months of being sub-mediocre. Visualize trying to climb out of a deep dark hole, finally finding a ladder, and then curling up next to it and falling asleep. That’s basically UMass right now. Blow out Merrimack at home one night, blow a third-period lead at their place the next night. March into Matthews and put up 50 shots in a dominant 3-0 win one night, come home and lay an egg against Lowell the next. Four games remain: at Lowell (always a house of horrors), home against Northeastern (still looking like a tournament team somehow), and a home-and-home with a good Providence squad. Two wins might be the best we can hope for. UMass still has a realistic shot at hosting the opening-round playoff game, which would be the first since the Maine sweep my freshman year. It would be a good time, format be damned. It’s going to be real hard to see it happening if captain Troy Power remains out with what looked like a gruesome knee injury, but reports thus far indicate he’s not been ruled out just yet.
Did anything fun happen recently at games?
Oh yeah, we sat in front of Toot and noted Fight Mass fan James Marcou at Matthews last weekend. That was pretty cool. Also, we betrayed our roots and hung out up in the BU cheering section with our new buds Bloggin’ on Babcock at the recent comeback tie against them a few weeks back. Honestly, it was a blast to see how the “other half” lives. Gosh, their fans are just so much more coordinated with things like chants, yelling, and actually understanding what’s going on it a hockey game. And don’t worry, we were still happy when UMass rallied at the end, because we don’t get a higher draft pick if the team is bad so there’s no use rooting against them.
Okay, that’s enough hockey. Let’s get to shooty hoops. What’s gone wrong since that #13-ranked start?
Right, we were riding on cloud nine when we left you last, and since then we’ve seen that fun little number next to our name disappear and be replaced by enough lingering doubts to fill 40 pages of UMassHoops game threads. Unfortunately, that procrastinating-til-the-last-minute strategy, which many had hoped would provide enough close calls to finally wake the team up to the dangers of letting teams hang around, collapsed in their face in not one, not two, but three straight roadies against middling conference foes. We almost saw it happen again against a below-middling Rhody team over the weekend, but Chaz and the trademark general incompetence we seem to see every year from URI’s program bailed us out in the end. To be sure, UMass has kept every one of these games competitive. If you want to spin the excuse-o-meter, you’ll find hot Richmond shooting, shoddy officiating in Olean (and, for that matter, the first half in Kingston just to keep the Rams in the game), and self-inflicted foul wounds on Hawk Hill. I’m not convinced Richmond’s home crowd made a big difference, but the atmospheres in Philly and particularly up in Olean (where the students are literally on the court) certainly qualified as intimidating. Winning on the road is never easy in a good conference, and the A-10 has been much better than advertised this year outside of URI, Mason and Fordham.
But are we still going to make the tourney?
Yeah, I think that’s still a pretty safe bet. UMass hosts Mason tomorrow night, which should be safely in the “W” column. That would put us at 7-3 with this six-game gauntlet: at GW, vs. VCU, vs. URI, at Dayton, at Duquesne, vs. Saint Louis.
Home against URI should be another win, and Duquesne is hot garbage and provided we’re not a top-15 team again I can’t imagine their fanbase (?) making that an intimidating environment. That would get us to 9 wins, matching the total from the last two years. I think that in order to be contenders in Brooklyn, UMass would be wise to finish top-four and avoid a tiring first-round affair. So if UMass can find a way to split those remaining four, that’d be swell. George Washington has always matched up well against us, but I feel their record this year is a bit inflated by a weaker schedule, and they’ve got a few injuries to sort through. VCU isn’t the same away from home when they can’t run their “mug the fuck out of everyone” defense. Dayton started strong but has scuffled of late, but because there’s literally nothing else to do in Dayton, their fans show up at their needlessly large arena every single game and I could see that being a trap. And then we have senior day, Chaz’s (hopeful) final game at the Bill, what currently projects as the first legitimate opportunity to witness a Mullins court-storming since that UConn game before even I was a student. The Billikens will be a true test with their pace and style that will require our outside shooting to be on point to have a chance. I think 2-2 in that span is very much achievable. 3-1 (with a win over SLU) might be enough to win the regular-season title, depending on other outcomes. Let’s hope we can still have that conversation in a little bit.
What about football?
Hush your mouth. We’ll have all offseason to talk about Whipple.
Alright, that’ll be it for now. Back to watching random college basketball (SD State vs. Wyoming, yes I have a problem, shut up). Tune in to @FightMass for all your George Mason live-tweeting needs.