UMass basketball looks to rewrite recent history with Tennessee
RALEIGH, N.C. – The NCAA Tournament, by nature, provides the opportunity to give basketball fans unique matchups.
This year’s bracket is no different. In the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s case, it will face Tennessee at 2:45 p.m. on Friday. Playing teams from some of the notable power conferences, such as the Southeastern Conference, is a fairly rare occurrence for UMass, often occurring only a handful of times a season.
But the Minutemen have recent history with the Volunteers, a history they’re hoping to rewrite on Friday.
“We owe (Tennessee) one,” forward Raphiael Putney said following UMass’ selection show party at Amherst Brewing Company on Sunday.
“(Tennessee) got us in Puerto Rico when we were first coming together as a team. We’re here now, I don’t think they want to face us this time. Hopefully we get a win and do big things.”
Indeed, the Volunteers pulled away from the Minutemen in November of 2012 at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, scoring 14 unanswered points in the second half to win 83-69.
Both teams were tied 54-54 with just eight minutes, 28 seconds left. But Tennessee outlasted UMass to close out the game. Current Volunteers forward Jarnell Stokes led all scorers with 24 points and added 12 rebounds. Tennessee shot 45 percent to the Minutemen’s 35 percent and outrebounded UMass 51-37.
It’s something Minutemen guard Chaz Williams hasn’t forgotten. But he’s also cognizant that the situation is different now.
“We’re a different team from last year, a totally different team,” Williams said. “So what Tennessee saw last year is not the same UMass they’ll see tomorrow afternoon.
In the 83-69 loss, former Minutemen guard Jesse Morgan led the team with 18 points. UMass didn’t have current shooting guard Derrick Gordon, just as the Volunteers didn’t have point guard Antonio Barton, who also transferred. But Williams acknowledged there’s an added incentive to beat a team which handed them an out-of-conference loss in a season in which the Minutemen narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not necessarily a rematch, but it would be good to beat them guys after they defeated us last year in the consolation game,” he said.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg also noted there are striking differences between the personnel of both squads now. But the ability to re-watch film from last season – something Williams said he would do Thursday after practice – is helpful to the coaching staff as well.
“We’ll browse through (the tape) just to see how maybe they play some different sets we’re running or ball screens or our press,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg has also watched the Volunteers often on television this season, finding time to familiarize himself with a lot of what they do.
“I think you got a pretty good feel for who they are from watching them a ton on TV this year,” Kellogg said. “I think because of how often they’re on television, we’ve been able to watch them a lot this year.”
UMass balancing NCAA Tournament attention
The Minutemen appear in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 16 years on Friday, an exciting prospect for a program eager to return to national prominence. With the grand stage comes increased attention, something both Kellogg and the players are processing.
“Just the fan base and how much support you see around the community,” center Cady Lalanne said of the new experience.
“People messaging you, texting you, social media and all that. So it feels pretty good having everybody supporting you,” Lalanne said.
Kellogg knows that the social media aspect is something he has to accept as a coach, especially when it comes to the attention UMass is receiving in the media.
“I think the kids and social media today, you can’t hide them from it,” he said.
“They’re telling me what people are saying more than me going to them. So they’re fully aware that maybe people think we’ve been overseeded or that we might be the trendy upset pick, whatever you might call it.
“I didn’t shy away from that before the selection show. I haven’t shied away from it since. The kids are perceptive on that social media. They’re good. They get a lot more information than you might imagine.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.