Massachusetts is a team that’s expected to be the sleeper in the league this year (if that makes any sense at all). The Minutemen have some undeniable talent, but their youth and inexperience have kept them from notching really big wins in non-conference play. However, this team has essentially avoided any bad losses and enters conference play with a respectable 10-3 record. There are no amazing wins on this team’s resume, but the Minutemen do boast a few good victories. The top dogs, Dayton, VCU, and Rhode Island, have all shown signs of weakness this year, so this will be Massachusetts’ chance to prove it deserves a spot at the top of the list.
The win that stands out most for Massachusetts right now is its win over Temple. The Minutemen downed the Owls 70-67, and the best part is that this win is beginning to look even better. After losing to UMass, the Owls were off to a 1-2 start to the season with a brutal home loss to New Hampshire. It looked as if Massachusetts beating Temple wouldn’t mean much for its resume, but the Owls responded and won the NIT Pre-Season Tournament, beating two Top 25 teams in West Virginia and Florida State in the process. This is a Temple team that will probably be a bubble tourney team at the end of the year, and this win looks good for UMass.
Another good win, and most recently, was Massachusetts’ downing of Georgia State on the road. This was a game that Kenpom gave the Panthers a better-than 60% chance of winning. Georgia State has been really good at home under Ron Hunter, but the Minutemen marched in and won 74-65 in a collective effort.
These were the two wins that really stand out for Massachusetts in non-conference play. You could make the argument that Harvard was a good win for the Minutemen, but this Crimson team isn’t nearly as good as Temple. Like the Owls, Harvard was in bad shape when it lost to UMass. The Crimson lost 4 of their first 5 to start the season but have turned things around since a home loss to George Washington. They’ve won 4 straight and even have a great road win over Houston, so this win could end up looking decent for Massachusetts.
Luckily for Massachusetts, it does not have any bad losses heading into conference play. Maybe from a frustration standpoint, the loss to Mississippi was the worst because the Minutemen blew a late lead on the road. Still though, Massachusetts was not expected to beat a good SEC team away from home. The home loss to UCF definitely stung for this team as well, but looking back at it, the Knights are one of the better teams in the AAC, and this loss shouldn’t end up looking too bad at the end of the season. Finally, there is absolutely no shame in a 6 point road loss to Providence, although that would’ve been a great win if Massachusetts had pulled it out.
Non-Conference Grade: A-
Massachusetts played great in the non-conference portion of the season. It beat a good team in Temple, and even in its losses, it was right there the whole time. This team has been competitive in every single game it’s played this season, and for that reason, Massachusetts is getting an A-. The real test is coming up. Massachusetts starts A-10 play with St. Bonaventure, George Mason, VCU, Dayton, and Rhode Island. If I were Massachusetts, I’d be thrilled to win 2 of those games and would start looking forward to the rest of the season.