It’s been a recurring topic of discussion for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team – trying to lobby fans, students and Amherst residents to come out and support the Minutemen as they mount their final push for one of the final selections in the NCAA Tournament.
And with its biggest game of the year and recent memory awaiting UMass (18-9, 8-6 Atlantic 10) on Thursday night with a home test against Butler (22-7, 9-5 A-10), the time for the Minutemen faithful to come out and fill the Mullins Center is now.
Not next game, not next season – now.
The Bulldogs come into Amherst as one of the premier programs in the country, a team that has reached the national championship game two of the last three seasons. They’ve also beaten Gonzaga and Indiana – both teams that have been ranked No. 1 this year – this season.
If UMass managed to conjure up an upset, the Minutemen could leap into serious contention of bubble teams trying to make the Big Dance. In fact, CBS Sports bracketology expert Jerry Palm has UMass in one of four play-in games for the NCAA Tournament in a battle for the 12th seed against former Minuteman coach John Calipari and reigning national champion Kentucky in the Midwest bracket.
Is Thursday not a big enough game for you? No? OK, how’s this?
Point guard Chaz Williams has openly lobbied fans, especially the students, to come out and catch a UMass game. In fact, he even offered to give fans a ride on his snowmobile to its game against Temple after the snowstorm left most of the Amherst area snowed into their homes and dormitories.
Before practice on Tuesday, Williams said he has been sending out tweets to fans to encourage them to come, even going up to students on campus to ask them if they’ll be at the game.
And while he couldn’t promise to offer up rides to the game, he still gave a pitch to bring fans out to the game.
“It’ll give us a huge advantage,” Williams said. “When it’s not even packed and there’s just a couple of people in the student section, we feed off of that and we do pretty well off of that, so I can only imagine if the whole place was packed and everybody is chanting for us.”
The Minutemen are a team that can mount dominating runs in the matter of minutes that can completely sway momentum in a given contest. Their full-court pressure tempo constantly has the foot on the gas pedal and if the opposition starts to lose focus, UMass can make them pay in a hurry. And with a packed house of screaming fans, the environment can make it very difficult for any team, even one as impressive and as good as Butler, to come in and win a game at the Mullins Center.
Williams went even further to say that a vibrant student section might make the team do something “crazy.”
“I might try to dunk on somebody, who knows,” Williams said with a laugh.
Thanks to their up-tempo style of play, it’s hard for the Minutemen to string together back-to-back games, which is commonplace in the A-10 Tournament with games running every day from March 14 to the championship game on March 17. If UMass gained a first round bye, it would advance straight to the semifinals, leaving just two games between the Minutemen and the conference title game, which has an automatic berth to the Big Dance on the line.
Is that still not enough to go to the game on Thursday? No? Really?
So much for UMass is riding on this one game. Why wouldn’t fans want to be a part of what could be the next big step the Minutemen take towards the national spotlight?
A UMass win on Thursday is far from a lock, as Butler is one of the best teams in the conference and has proven it belongs in the forefront of the college basketball picture.
But a packed house could be the difference maker that the Minutemen need to swing the pendulum in their favor.
Some fans might hold out on buying into the program until UMass’ chances of making the tournament are more of a lock than an outside ray of hope.
But for Kellogg, he’s just happy to have a chance.
“It’s a good position to be in,” he said. “It’s better than probably about 240 teams that really aren’t playing for much right now.”
If that’s not good enough to head down to the Mullins Center on Thursday, then so be it. The Minutemen will still be there.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.