September 30, 2014

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Successful season, leads to eight seed for Minutemen

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

After the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 89-83 win over Rhode Island in the final game of the regular season, UMass head coach Derek Kellogg and a host of media members packed the media room.

Before Kellogg began talking about the game, a media relations member announced the following statement:

“With the win tonight, UMass secures the number eight seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.”

Before he was able to continue his statement, Kellogg bewilderingly blurted out “we got an 8th seed?”

After beating powerhouses like Xavier and Saint Louis, and completing his most successful season in the three years as the Minutemen’s coach, Kellogg’s disappointment with their seeding is understandable.

“The reason I was surprised is we kind of did everything that we needed to do to maybe slip into the fifth or sixth spot,” said Kellogg.

They went 20-10 overall – one of only four A-10 teams with at least 20 wins – and 9-7 in conference play, and technically finished tied for fifth in the league.

However, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Dayton – the teams tied with UMass for fifth – all owned the tiebreaker over UMass.

They entered Saturday’s game needing plenty of help to earn the fourth seed, but a fifth, sixth or even seventh seed was within their grasp. But nothing broke UMass’ way, as every team it needed to lose ended up winning.

“Unlike the week before where everything fell for us, I thought on Saturday, everything went opposite to what we needed to move up,” said Kellogg.

UMass’ plunge to eighth place spoke to the fact that the top teams in the conference, are not always the best.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the fourth best team is the fourth place team when you’re not all playing the same teams,” said Kellogg.

In fact, the team that snuck into fourth place and grabbed a first round bye was St. Bonaventure. The Minutemen finished four spots behind the Bonnies, despite a one game discrepancy in the standings. UMass also defeated SBU in the regular season.

In addition, the Bonnies faced Fordham (14th place), Duquesne (9th place) and URI (13th place) twice on the season, while the Minutemen face SJU (5th place), La Salle (7th place) and URI two times.

The A-10 features so many teams that it’s impossible to schedule an even slate of conference games. In other words, the jostling for the final playoff spots can depend on which opponents a team faces twice, and in this season, the Bonnies were fortunate enough to play two of the worst teams in the league twice.

“With an unbalanced schedule in the league, not everyone has the same nine wins,” said Kellogg.

The Minutemen logged a number of quality wins this season, as they finished 4-2 on the season against the top five teams in the conference.

“I think we have a pretty good team this year,” said Kellogg. “If we’re the eighth best team in the conference then I guess we’ve got a pretty nice league.”

The eighth place finish matches the same seeding they received for last season’s A-10 Tournament. Last year’s team finished 15-15 overall, and went 7-9 on the season, and still managed earning a first round playoff home game.

However, their season ended with a blowout loss to Dayton at the Mullins Center.

“The flow of the team wasn’t very good,” said Kellogg of his 2010-2011 squad. “We kind of came in slow to the finish line.”

Kellogg’s current squad has taken on a complete transformation from a year ago, and while their seeding has not improved in a year, the team unquestionably has.

“I think now we have a style established, [and] a core of guys that know what’s expected,” said Kellogg.

At this point, nothing can be done about UMass’ seeding. Whether they deserved a higher seed or not, they find themselves with a first round matchup versus Duquesne, and a second round matchup with top-seeded Temple looming large.

“This would be the first year since I’ve been a coach where I think we have a legitimate shot to win our home game and move on in the tournament,” Kellogg said.

Jackson Alexander can be reached at jtalexan@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.

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