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Minutemen facing tough opponents over Winter Break

Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg wanted most of his team’s games in neutral sites or on the road during winter break so the Minutemen would get to play at the Mullins Center plenty of times once students came back.

In the meantime, Kellogg hopes to use the break to show UMass to the rest of the state with three in-state games outside of Amherst. The Minutemen will start their Atlantic 10 schedule on Jan. 6.

Here is a preview of the teams UMass will face while students aren’t in classes.

Dec. 19 vs. Memphis at the TD Garden, Boston, Mass.

The Tigers’ first and only loss was against No. 1 Kansas in Missouri, and it was only by two points. Besides that, Memphis (5-1) is ripping every opponent it faces by an average of 29.2 points per game.

Its last win came at home against Arkansas State. Despite beating almost all of their opponents handily, the Tigers have built a reputation on slow starts.

Memphis trailed the Red Wolves by four points at half time, but it received a boost from Duke transfer Elliot Williams (20 points) and got the win. Williams (20.5 points per game) often has been the go-to player in helping the Tigers get out of holes early and will get plenty of possessions against the Minutemen in a large venue.

Dec. 23 at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The Battle for the Commonwealth left off with as much drama as anyone could ask for last year at the Mullins Center.

Tony Gaffney tipped in Chris Lowe’s missed free-throw shot to bring the game into overtime after UMass was down five points with 46 seconds to go. However, the Eagles pulled out an 85-81 victory in the final minute.

This year, BC (6-2) will play the Minutemen at the Conte Forum in the middle of an eight-game home stretch.

The last win for the Eagles came in a last-second effort to beat Miami by one point right after they narrowly defeated Michigan, 62-58.

Dec. 30 at Davidson, Davidson, N.C.

UMass rounds out the non-conference part of winter break against a team that might’ve been in the NCAA Tournament if former Davidson guard Stephen Curry still played.

But those days are long gone for the Wildcats (2-6), who are trying to build a program without the No. 7 NBA draft pick, and it hasn’t been easy.

They started the season 0-4, and both of Davidson’s wins were against mid-major schools. The Wildcats also average 64.9 points per game.

Like the Minutemen, they also face inexperience issues with a majority of the team being sophomores, but they have yet to make any sort of steps toward becoming a competitive team this year.

Jan. 6 vs. Fordham at the Mullins Center, Amherst, Mass.

It’s not often that the 36-year-old Kellogg in his second season sounds old. But when a team starts the year 1-4, there’s not much a team can do besides firing a head coach.

The Rams did just that when they promoted 29-year-old assistant Jared Grasso to take over for Dereck Whittenberg. It didn’t help much as Fordham (1-5) lost its last game on Dec. 5 against Bowling Green in Grasso’s debut.

The Rams have four seniors, but seven freshmen.

Their last win came in a 10-point victory over Sacred Heart on Nov. 18, but since then lost two of their last three games by at least 20 points.

Jan. 10 vs. La Salle at the MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.

Kellogg will bring his team to the largest venue in western Massachusetts against a team picked to finish near the top with four starters and a top-50 recruit in Aaric Murray.

The Explorers are coming off a two-game winning streak with wins over Lafayette and Hartford at home.

Before La Salle faces the Minutemen, they will first get to play against Kellogg’s predecessor, Travis Ford. The game against Oklahoma State will be on the road Dec. 21.

Overall, the Explorers (5-2) can’t be too upset with their play during the non-conference schedule. Their only losses were to Villanova and South Carolina on the road.  

Jan. 13 at Richmond, Richmond, Va.

By the time this game rolls around, the Spiders will already have experience playing teams like Wake Forest, Florida and Missouri.

Richmond (7-1) is looking like it can fulfill the expectations of being one of the A-10’s best teams after a 59-52 win over Missouri on Nov. 28. Currently, it is on a five-game winning streak dating back to Nov. 22, starting with a 75-49 thumping of Chattanooga.

The Spiders’ record is now their second-best start since the 1954-55 season, and they’re now starting to get recognition for their success. Richmond picked up 17 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll with guard Kevin Anderson (17.3 ppg) leading the way.

Jan. 16 at Temple, Philadelphia, Pa.

The Minutemen play their final game of winter break at the Liacouras Center, where the Owls have yet to lose a game.

Temple (6-2) so far looks to be a team that hasn’t been hurt too badly after losing Dionte Christmas with its only losses coming in a one-point loss to No. 20 Georgetown and St. John’s.

The Owls will also play two more ranked opponents (No. 3 Villanova and the Jayhawks) before squaring off against the Minutemen. Even without Christmas, they still have plenty of returning players with experience coming from last year’s loss to Arizona State in the NCAA Tournament.

Adam Miller can be reached at amiller@dailycollegian.com.

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