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UMass prepping for hard schedule

The schedule over winter break could be pretty frustrating for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team based on its schedule and how it’s done against other quality opponents.

However, UMass coach Derek Kellogg believes that tonight’s game against Grambling State could be a good test to see if playing a competitive schedule has done anything to the Minutemen’s confidence. At the very least, he knows that matchups against top-40 teams are what will make fans more interested in watching his team.

“When you talk about schedules and tough scheduling, I think that will translate into people wanting to come watch a team that’s playing pretty much everyone,” Kellogg said.

The most recent quality opponent to play UMass (4-5) was Seton Hall on Dec. 7. After being down 44-19 at the half, the Minutemen turned around in the second half with 49 points.

However, the effort was not enough to overcome a combined 43 points by Herb Pope and Jeremy Hazell in an 86-68 loss to the Pirates. Seton Hall was one of four non-conference teams in the top 40 to play UMass this year.

Most of the top-tier opponents that played or are scheduled to play the Minutemen do so at neutral sites or on their home turf. But when it comes to non-conference opponents coming to the Mullins Center, Cornell was the only team to even receive a vote in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

The Tigers (1-4) will be a similar opponent to what UMass is now accustomed to on its home court.

GSU’s only win game against Paul Quinn College in a 75-61 victory. Since then, it has failed to pull any closer than 10 points to its last three opponents.

The meeting between the two teams will be the first ever and the first time a team from Louisiana played in Amherst since 1992.

The Tigers’ recent struggles should give Minutemen’s younger players plenty of opportunities to showcase their talent considering how little attention they received during practice on Thursday.

“We haven’t really started talking about [Grambling St.] much, so I really don’t know too much about them,” guard Ricky Harris said.

The Tigers have struggled offensively, averaging 58.8 points per game while giving up 74.8. Their leading scorer is point guard Ariece Perkins (13.2 points per game), who is one of three players to average in double-figures.

Kellogg hopes to see an improvement with his team’s effort during games and in practice now that the non-conference schedule is coming to a close. One of his biggest challenges has been getting the newer players to understand how hard they have to play at the Division I level.

“When you tell them to sprint, I don’t even know if they know what a sprint is at this level, so I’m going back to the minute details of ‘this is how we do things,’ and they’ve responded pretty well,” Kellogg said.

Some of the reserves who don’t have many minutes will get their opportunities tonight with Harris, Freddie Riley and Javorn Farrell out with various injuries. Since all three players are guards, junior Gary Correia will likely play much of the game at point guard.

Following the meeting with GSU, UMass will have a week of rest before it plays Kellogg’s former team, Memphis, at the TD Garden in Boston on Dec. 19.

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

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