Minutemen welcomed to Miami

By Stephen Sellner

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team failed in its first attempt to grab a signature win after being blown out by 20 points to Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Nov. 24.

Erica Baptiste/Collegian

Saturday’s test at Miami (Fla.) offers the Minutemen (6-2) another chance to solidify themselves as a potential playoff team when the calendar turns to March.

In its first six victories of 2011, UMass has run by the opposition with an average margin of victory of 22.5 points. However, a pair of convincing defeats to the College of Charleston and the Seminoles makes its matchup with the Hurricanes (4-2) a huge game for the Minutemen going forward.

Junior Freddie Riley acknowledged the stakes of the upcoming game, but is going in with the idea that it’s another chance for him and his teammates to improve.

“It’s a big game because we did struggle against Florida State, but we know that you’re [going to] struggle some games so we’re not so much worried about the team we’re that playing against. We’re just worried about getting better and having a good game,” said Riley after Wednesday’s win over Towson, whose hometown of Ocala, Fla. is roughly a five-hour drive north of Miami.

The game also offers a homecoming for freshman Cady Lalanne, whose family resides in Orlando, Fla.

The Hurricanes are coming off back-to-back losses in their first two road games after reeling off five wins in a row to start the season. Miami fell to a tough Purdue team, 76-65, and came up just short in a 64-61 overtime loss to Mississippi as the Hurricanes’ Malcolm Grant failed to cash in a pair of attempts that could’ve won or tied the game at the end of regulation and the overtime frame, respectively.

Grant is Miami’s go-to option on the offensive end, averaging 17.5 points per game. The senior guard can be lethal from downtown, shooting 40 percent from behind the arc.

Another compelling aspect of the contest comes before the tip-off as to UMass coach Derek Kellogg’s decision on the starting five.

Kellogg has preached all year long that he does not consider his bench players to be reserves and that there isn’t a great discrepancy between the first five and the second five to enter the game.

After solid performances by Chaz Williams and Riley in their first appearances coming off the bench, Kellogg would not say whether the lineup would be the same when the Minutemen take the floor against the Hurricanes. According to Kellogg, he plans to reevaluate the rotations on a game-by-game basis and admitted that more changes could be coming in the future.

UMass got back into the win column on Wednesday with its 86-56 win over an inferior Towson team, which Riley believed was an important step towards redeeming themselves after their shortcomings in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

“Anytime you lose big the way we did, you always want to redeem yourself as quickly as you can,” he said.

In the game, the Minutemen forced a staggering 26 turnovers, 17 of which came in the first half, which lead to 37 points.

Kellogg and his new up-tempo game plan was implemented in the offseason with the help of Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who enters his first year at the helm for the program after spending the last 14 years at George Mason (where Kellogg was an assistant coach with him in 1997 and 1998). As Kellogg alluded to before the season started, Larranaga ran a similar pressing style while he was on the Patriots coaching staff.

Larranaga and the rest of the Hurricanes will be able to see the UMass product in full swing with a 1 p.m. tip-off.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.