With the exception of a home game against Long Island this coming Tuesday, UMass has finished the non-conference slate of its schedule and is ready to enter conference play. Massachusetts sits at 6-5 and will be fighting to be in the top half of the Atlantic 10 this season. First up for the Minutemen will be a road matchup against La Salle on Sunday, then they’ll visit Dayton for a very tough contest. But before all of that, let’s look at how the Minutemen fared during the non-conference season.
Despite a below average record, the Minutemen actually got off to a very good start this year, winning their first 4 games of the season. Though a road win against Harvard didn’t look that special back in November, the Crimson just went toe to toe with Oklahoma in the Diamond Head Classic- without their starting point guard Siyani Chambers. If the Crimson win the Ivy League this year, and it looks like they’ll have a good chance to do so, then the Minutemen all of a sudden have a win over an NCAA Tournament team.
During this four game stretch, the Minutemen also took down a Power 5 team in Clemson pretty easily. Though the Tigers don’t have an NCAA Tournament team this season, they were certainly a good win for the Minutemen, especially when you consider the way in which UMass won. Massachusetts knocked down 16 three pointers and had 25 point contributions from Trey Davis and Donte Clark. All things considered, beating Clemson looks good.
UMass had a lot of games on its schedule that it very easily could’ve won but instead lost by a slim margin. A trip to Florida where the Minutemen played UCF and Florida Gulf Coast is the perfect example. They lost both games by a total margin of 5 points; had a couple more baskets gone their way on the road, the Minutemen are looking at an 8-3 record overall.
Massachusetts also got blown out by some pretty decent teams. The Minutemen didn’t stand a chance against Providence who was able to trounce their defense by putting up 90 points. The Friars are beginning to look like Final Four material with the experienced play of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. They also got destroyed by a Creighton team that’s nowhere near as good as it was during the days of Doug McDermott. Once again, defense was the issue. The Jays shot 51% from the floor and put up 60 points in the second half. The Minutemen didn’t stand a chance when these two met in Las Vegas.
With an overall record of 6-5, its tough to cut the Minutemen much slack, but I will give them the fact that they played quite a few good opponents. Massachusetts honestly didn’t have many “gimme games” on its schedule, unlike many of the other teams in the Atlantic 10. That being said, UMass has to find a way to beat teams like Ole Miss, Florida Gulf Coast, and Creighton if it wants to make it back to the Big Dance. The Minutemen have certainly prepared themselves for conference play, but whether they’ll find success is still up in the air.