Scrolling Headlines:

UMass men’s basketball falters in the second half, falling to George Washington 83-67 Thursday -

February 24, 2017

UPDATE: SGA announces second and third artist for ‘Mullins Live!’ -

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Divest UMass and STPEC host panel on building ‘solidarity economies’ in the Trump era -

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UMass women’s basketball losing streak extends to 10 games after loss to URI -

February 23, 2017

Sixth annual Advocacy Day set to take place March 1 -

February 23, 2017

Panel discusses racial, sexual and psychological violence in response to art exhibit -

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Judy Dixon enters final season with UMass tennis with simple message: One match at a time -

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UMass baseball enduring early-season limitation in playing in New England -

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Minutewomen softball begins season with cross-country travel, string of tournaments -

February 23, 2017

UMass baseball looks to bounce back from disappointing 2016 season -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse senior Hannah Murphy is Angela McMahon’s latest legend in the making -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse senior defenders accept leadership roles in quest for ninth consecutive Atlantic 10 Championship -

February 23, 2017

Kelsey McGovern rejoins UMass women’s lacrosse as an assistant coach after starring for Minutewomen -

February 23, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse looks to continue improving throughout 2017 season -

February 23, 2017

Spring Sports Special Issue 2017 -

February 23, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse defense relying on senior leadership with new faces in starting lineup -

February 23, 2017

UMass softball fills holes left by seniors with freshmen for 2017 -

February 23, 2017

The Hart of the Lineup -

February 23, 2017

UMass softball prepares for a long, busy season in 2017 -

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UMass men’s lacrosse defenseman Tyler Weeks makes his way back from ACL injury -

February 23, 2017

Strohecker: UMass basketball can cement itself among A-10’s best teams with win over VCU

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

In my first three years attending the University of Massachusetts, the men’s basketball team had many home games against top-notch Atlantic 10 opponents, but came away with mixed results.

In the 2010-11 season, UMass lost an overtime thriller to a 22-win Temple team that was the poster school of the conference.

In the next season, the Minutemen knocked off an up-and-down Xavier squad that featured premier players Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease, snapping a six-game losing streak to the Musketeers. It gave hope to the UMass faithful that the program could finally be recognized as one of the A-10’s top teams.

Then last year happened.

Butler paid a visit to Mullins Center, making for one of the biggest home games in recent memory for the Minutemen. It was a chance to knock off a mid-major that was just two years removed from losing to Duke in the national championship game. The result: UMass never led.

It was a prime opportunity that the Minutemen let slip away, forcing them to wait until this year to once again have the opportunity to host a premier opponent and finally get that marquee conference win that could vault UMass into the top-tier of the A-10.

That game will be Friday night, when coach Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth’s “havoc defense” pays its first-ever visit to Amherst. VCU has had success in recent years, making it all the way to the Final Four in 2011, and has been a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament.

When the Rams joined the A-10 last year, they instantly became one of the top teams in the conference, despite having all of their success against the Sun Belt Conference. But make no mistake about it: VCU, even in the midst of having a so-called down season, is still one of the main draws in the conference, wherever the team goes.

“They’ve been ranked in the Top 25. They went to the Final Four, so they’ve done a really good job as a program and they’ve branded themselves well,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said.

When you take a look at the A-10 scene to determine who belongs at the top, it’s hard to tell. After all, for a very long time, Temple was the school that came to everyone’s mind when the A-10 was mentioned, but that team is now in the American Athletic Conference. Butler was a one-year wonder, making a quick pit stop before moving on to the new Big East. And the Rams haven’t been around for long enough to really be the face of the conference.

So, I ask, why isn’t it time to think of the Minutemen as one of the premier teams in the A-10?

They’ve been members of the conference since 1976, and were toe-to-toe with Temple as the best team in the A-10 for a while in the 1990s. But, after a decade of down years and not much postseason success, UMass now finds itself back in that position to make a run at the conference crown and stay there.

The Minutemen climbed all the way up to No. 13 in the AP Poll earlier this season and already feature marquee wins over several non-conference opponents. They’ve helped move the A-10 in an upward motion, so now all that UMass needs is that one notable win that can plant the team among the conference’s best.

When VCU visits a sold-out Mullins Center on Friday night, the Minutemen will be playing for much more than their 21st win of the season. They will be on full display for a national audience, looking to make their case: Now is the time to finally think of UMass as one of the marquee names that the A-10 has to offer.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.

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