Cyr: Near-impossible task awaits UMass men’s basketball in Atlantic 10 Tournament
Five wins. Five days.
That’s what it’s going to take for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team to extend its season past this week’s upcoming Atlantic 10 Tournament. The only chance the Minutemen have of making it to the Big Dance is a virtually impossible Cinderella run for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
And if history is any indication, UMass (14-17, 4-14 A-10) will have to do what no other team has done before.
Since the A-10 switched formats to the current 14-team bracket in 2015, no team that played on the first Wednesday (seeds No. 11-14) has advanced past the second round of the tournament. In those four games against either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, the team from the bottom four have lost by an average margin of 11.8 points per game.
The closest any team that played on Wednesday was to advancing to the quarterfinal was No. 13 Fordham when it lost to No. 5 Dayton 70-67 in 2014 under a 13-team bracket.
Simply put, barring a miracle run the finale of the 2016-17 season for the Minutemen will be played in Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena.
But before that, the Minutemen, who did not receive a single mention in any of this year’s A-10 all-conference honors, must first turn their attention to Saint Joseph’s in the first round of the tournament Wednesday evening.
UMass has had success with the Hawks (11-19, 4-14 A-10) in conference play thus far, taking both matchups against St. Joe’s this season. The Minutemen took the first matchup 62-57 at Mullins Center Jan. 18 behind a 23-point performance from guard Zach Lewis. In the return trip in Philadelphia, UMass won 87-76 behind a balanced scoring attack led by Donte Clark (24 points) and Luwane Pipkins (19) Feb. 11.
It’s never easy beating the same team three times in one year, either.
However, on Wednesday, I’ll be more interested in seeing how well the Minutemen execute their stuff rather than how well they match up against the Hawks. Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimble, James Demery and Charlie Brown are all talented players, but what version of this year’s UMass team is going to show up?
Will the Minutemen make their outside shots, and how well can they eliminate miscues and prevent careless, inopportune turnovers? Will Clark be the scorer that’s proven he can take over games? How well will the freshmen play? Will someone come out of nowhere to spark any sort of run in Pittsburgh?
We’ve seen multiple versions of the Minutemen on display throughout the season, and it could all be over after 40 minutes Wednesday night.
“I think the one positive about college basketball is that the games keep coming and now everyone in the country has an opportunity in front of them,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg told reporters Monday at practice. “If you want to call it a fresh start, I think that works, but also I just think it’s another opportunity to play basketball and go out and compete.”
Right now, the Minutemen are guaranteed only one more game in their season. After that, it will be a long offseason with all their scholarship players eligible to return for 2017-18.
So how can UMass guarantee more basketball?
“You need it all to come together at once, that hasn’t really happened,” Kellogg said. “One of the things I’m just trying to get them to believe is we all need to take all of our good games and good practices and good minutes and put it together all at once and if that happens then we have the kind of team we want to have at this time of the year.”
Next stop, Pittsburgh.
Andrew Cyr can be reached at email@example.com, and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.