Minutemen NIT-bound for second straight season

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Before the Atlantic 10 Tournament started, Massachusetts point guard Chris Lowe talked about how the Minutemen didn’t really want to play in the NIT last year after missing out on the Big Dance.

Lowe sang a different tune Sunday night when his Minutemen suffered the same fate as last year, but you could sense the disappointment from a group that seemed like a lock just a week ago.

“We just gotta be happy to play,” Lowe said on Sunday night, upon hearing the news that UMass will once again play in the NIT. “A lot of teams in college basketball aren’t playing right now — at least 200 teams had to hand in their uniforms.

“At least we get to play another day.”

For the 10th straight year, UMass will not be a part of the NCAA Tournament. The Minutemen (21-10, 10-7 A-10) failed to crack into the field of 65 Sunday night as the field was announced. Much like last season, a one-and-done performance in the A-10 Tournament likely cost them an at-large bid and relegated the Minutemen to the NIT.

UMass coach Travis Ford thought his squad deserved to get in, and was mystified at some of the teams that got in ahead of his.

“Our resume I think is a lot better than some of the teams that got in,” he said. “Briefly looking at a few teams I was surprised that got in, I thought we had a lot better record.”

When asked, Ford (at first) didn’t want to name those teams. But later he intimated that he thought his team deserved an automatic bid over Oregon, South Alabama, Mississippi State and Arizona.

UMass captain Gary Forbes took the loss against Charlotte pretty hard, but doesn’t want to dwell on it.

“You can’t cry over spilt milk for too long,” Forbes said. “We still got a chance to play basketball and prove something.

“The NCAA Tournament is gone, and it was in our hands and we could have done something. But we didn’t and it wasn’t meant to be.”

UMass will host Stephen F. Austin (26-5, 13-3 Southland Conference) on Tuesday night at the Mullins Center for a 6 p.m., tipoff. The game will be aired on ESPNU.

If 2nd-seeded UMass prevails against the Lumberjacks, it will play the winner of No. 3 Florida State and No No. 6 Akron. That game would also be played at the Mullins Center.

Along with teams like Ohio State and Virginia Tech, UMass appears to be one of the last teams to miss the NCAA Tournament cut. A win over Charlotte in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament may have been all it needed.

This season ended very much like last year’s did. In 2007, the Minutemen entered the A-10 Tournament with 20-plus wins, a first-round bye and a six-game winning streak. The only different this year was they lost to Charlotte, not Saint Louis.

Heading into the A-10 Tournament, Ford thought one win was all his team needed for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. But now looking at the way the bracket turned out, he isn’t so sure.

“I don’t know how many more games we would have had to win. I don’t think if we had beat Charlotte we were automatically in, looking at it now,” Ford said. “I don’t know.”

One thing that certainly worked against UMass was wins against the Top 50 RPI. On Feb. 22, the Minutemen had five such wins, and nine against the Top 100. But once the season ended, UMass finished with just one against the Top 50 and six in the top 100.

The late-season struggles of both Rhode Island (UMass beat them twice) and Syracuse really hurt the Minutemen.

Interestingly enough, UMass could potentially meet both of those teams in the coming days.

Lowe and the Minutemen just wish it could be in the NCAAs and not the NIT.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]