Scrolling Headlines:

Whose American Dream? -

June 24, 2017

Man who threatened to bomb Coolidge Hall taken into ICE custody -

June 24, 2017

Cale Makar drafted by Colorado Avalanche in first round of 2017 NHL Entry Draft -

June 24, 2017

Conservatives: The Trump experiment is over -

June 17, 2017

UMass basketball lands transfer Kieran Hayward from LSU -

May 18, 2017

UMass basketball’s Donte Clark transferring to Coastal Carolina -

May 17, 2017

Report: Keon Clergeot transfers to UMass basketball program -

May 15, 2017

Despite title-game loss, Meg Colleran’s brilliance in circle was an incredible feat -

May 14, 2017

UMass softball loses in heartbreaker in A-10 title game -

May 14, 2017

Navy sinks UMass women’s lacrosse 23-11 in NCAA tournament second round, ending Minutewomen’s season -

May 14, 2017

UMass softball advances to A-10 Championship game -

May 13, 2017

UMass basketball adds Rutgers transfer Jonathan Laurent -

May 13, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse gets revenge on Colorado, beat Buffs 13-7 in NCAA Tournament First Round -

May 13, 2017

Meg Colleran dominates as UMass softball tops Saint Joseph’s, advances in A-10 tournament -

May 12, 2017

Rain keeps UMass softball from opening tournament play; Minutewomen earn A-10 honors -

May 11, 2017

Former UMass football wide receiver Tajae Sharpe accused of assault in lawsuit -

May 10, 2017

Justice Gorsuch can save the UMass GEO -

May 10, 2017

Minutemen third, Minutewomen finish fifth in Atlantic 10 Championships for UMass track and field -

May 8, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse wins A-10 title for ninth straight season -

May 8, 2017

Dayton takes two from UMass softball in weekend series -

May 8, 2017

Chiarelli: UMass has chance to revitalize fanbase

On Sunday, at 3 p.m., the waiting game finally ends.

Evan Sahagian/Daily Collegian

For fans of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, college basketball purists and those sick of the never-ending preseason hype machine, basketball is finally back. Playing on the TD Garden parquet in front of fans from all over the region should feel like Christmas morning, the culmination of excitement and anticipation.

Yet the focus for many is not the beginning. Instead, it’s the end.

I was sitting with a close friend at lunch one afternoon when the topic of the conversation turned to the state of UMass basketball.

“I’m really hoping to see an NCAA Tournament game this year,” he said unprovoked. It was a harmless statement, but one that’s permeating around campus this season. Now, more than ever, students and fans expect the Minutemen to take that next step and return a program to the highest pedestal of college basketball.

The “college experience” is better when students have something to rally behind. Athletics are an easy choice and offer a common outlet for excitement. UMass is still searching for that as it tries to expand as a national power within the NCAA.

The Minutemen haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament in 15 years. The last time the University produced a legitimate contender in a major sport – football’s 2006 Division 1-AA appearance in the national championship — MySpace was still a rising star in the world of social media.

Through 21 games at the Division I level, UMass football stands at an abysmal 2-21. Just one of those wins came at home and virtually no students partook in the two-hour bus ride to soak it all in. Hockey is in the midst of a changeover and may be another season or two away from truly contending. If not for field hockey, the University’s foothold in the national landscape of collegiate athletics would be virtually nonexistent.

Basketball offers students at UMass and fans in the surrounding region a chance to care, a reason to finally get excited.

This team is plenty talented.

The Minutemen have won at least 20 games the past two seasons while finishing at 9-7 in the A-10 both years. Chaz Williams, one of the program’s most prolific players and a contender for Player of the Year within the conference, is in his senior year and averaged 15.5 points per game a year ago. So too, are Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney, two critical role players who are no strangers to heavy minutes under coach Derek Kellogg.

“We just know this is our last year,” Putney said before the season. “Last year we just didn’t finish a couple games that we needed to win. So this year we’re more mature and we know what we need to do to win now.”

The team faces high expectations and, to a certain extent, pressure. A year ago, the idea of making noise within the NCAA Tournament was feasible before the season, but it wasn’t until the final weeks of the season that the idea became real.

“I don’t even want to think about the pressure,” Carter said. “We try not to think about any of that.”

Some of that “pressure” is self-inflicted. Unlike last year’s questionable out-of-conference schedule, UMass isn’t holding back. Games against BC, LSU, Florida State and Brigham Young are a conscious effort to play upper echelon talent and prove to the selection committee this team can run with the nation’s best.

“We have to come with a tournament mindset from early,” Williams said. “We’re playing against tournament-like teams so we have to come ready like it’s a tournament game. We can’t come in with (any) mistakes.”

It’s imperative the Minutemen also find an improved version of Cady Lalanne and utilize Derrick Gordon effectively. Traditionally, UMass’ greatest struggles have come within the half-court offense. A traditional, hulking post presence like Lalanne and a dynamic slasher such as Gordon alleviate Williams of carrying the team for stretches at a time.

Ultimately, the current collection of Minutemen won’t be viewed in terms of the usual buzz words like progress or potential. There’s been two years of that. Now, it simply comes down to results. There’s a hunger throughout campus for a winning team to cheer for and a hunger within the locker room to deliver notoriety to a program that’s been missing since the days of John Calipari and Marcus Camby.

“People always try to say, ‘What’s my best attribute or what can I do on the floor,’” Gordon said in early October.

“And I say honestly, a lot of people don’t say it, but I’m a winner. I’m the person that’s gonna do whatever it takes for my team to win.”

The mindset to win is in place, a crucial ingredient for a team set to embark on a pivotal year for the future of UMass basketball. Now, it’s time to produce, time to prove this is a team capable of playing deep into March.

It’s time to dance.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at mchiarel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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