UMass basketball players using upset talk as motivation
Every year, there’s that one matchup in the second round of the NCAA Tournament that ends in a major upset of a higher-seeded team.
Usually those games get so much talk and traction that by the time it occurs, it almost seems expected.
This year, that higher seed is the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.
It’s been 16 years since UMass last played in the NCAA Tournament, and based on predictions and rumblings from experts around the country, that appearance could be short lived.
When the Minutemen take the court Friday night against either Iowa or Tennessee in the No. 6 versus No. 11 matchup, they will be wearing their white jerseys and have the higher seed next to their name, but will be playing the underdog role. And that’s just how the UMass players want it.
“We love it,” senior Chaz Williams said. “We love it. A lot of people don’t expect us to be here, but we love it. Thank you to everybody who say that. … It just fuels my fire.”
Many experts are saying that the Minutemen got overseeded, and that they were the beneficiaries of an impressive string of wins to begin the season in non-conference play before stumbling down the stretch and exiting early in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
That may be true, but if you ask anybody on UMass, including coach Derek Kellogg, there’s a general belief that the Minutemen got the seed they deserved.
“It’s trendy because you have to pick somebody (to get upset),” Kellogg said. “I think (the experts) are right about 50 percent of the time. Where 50 percent of the time, it works out and the other 50 percent some team that the trendy guys don’t pick wins and then they all jump on them in the Sweet 16. So, hopefully we can be a team that is untrendy.”
ESPN’s Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight did a bracket projector based on analytics and gave UMass only a 32 percent chance to advance to the third round. And while that’s out of three possible scenarios, ESPN.com’s Jordan Brenner and Peter Keating gave the Hawkeyes a 78 percent chance of beating the Minutemen and the Volunteers a solid 70 percent chance.
“I use it as fire to hear what people are saying,” junior Cady Lalanne said. “The first day we got picked, sitting there watching it, people were saying we were going to get beat by Tennessee or Iowa and only make it that far, but I think we’ll make it further than that.”
UMass finished the season with a record of 24-8, three wins more than Tennessee and four more than Iowa. Even still, the Minutemen aren’t earning the same respect, mainly because they don’t play in a power conference like the Big Ten or the Southeastern Conference.
But, it’s something that isn’t uncommon for the players on UMass. Many of the Minutemen’s entire careers in Amherst have been set on trying to prove the doubters wrong.
“We’ve been picked to lose all four years,” senior Sampson Carter said. “I’m used to it and I’m used to proving people wrong too. That’s what we’ve done to get here, so we just have more proving to do.”
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.