Entering the season, all the talk surrounding the Massachusetts men’s basketball team was about ending the 15-year NCAA Tournament drought.
On Monday, it ended a different 15-year drought.
The Associated Press released its weekly poll on Monday with UMass slotted in at No. 24 in the country. The ranking came with much anticipation following the team’s 62-56 Charleston Classic championship win Sunday night over Clemson, pushing its record to a perfect 6-0 to start the season.
It’s the first time the program has been ranked since the 1998 season.
“Well, I think first of all, it was nice flying under the radar for a little while there,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said in an interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg.
“So the ranking gets us some national attention. I think the one thing it does, it reminds people of the glory years of UMass back in the 90s when we were a top-20 team on a regular basis.”
The Minutemen join Iowa as the two new members, replacing Atlantic 10 rival Virginia Commonwealth and New Mexico – who the Minutemen beat in their semifinal matchup – in the national rankings. VCU was ranked No. 10 last week, but plummeted out of the Top 25 after losing two of its three games at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament.
UMass made it a point to strengthen its non-conference schedule in order to garner more national attention and it certainly aided its own cause this weekend in receiving enough votes to move into the Top 25. So far this season, the Minutemen have the fifth best out of conference schedule and have the top RPI in the country.
Through its first six games, UMass also proved that it might have one of the most balanced lineups in the nation. Every member of the starting five – Chaz Williams, Derrick Gordon, Raphiael Putney, Sampson Carter and Cady Lalanne – is averaging double-digit points per game.
Entering Selection Sunday the last two seasons, UMass was a bubble team, ultimately missing out on the NCAA Tournament due to a low a RPI and not enough quality wins. That won’t be the case this season as UMass already has four wins against BCS-conference opponents – Boston College, LSU, Nebraska and Clemson – and anupset over the then-No. 19 Lobos to put on its tournament resume.
“UMass is a basketball school that is committed to men’s basketball,” Kellogg said to Katz and Greenberg. “We have a great program and we play a fun, exciting style that, obviously now, people realize can beat some of the top teams in the country.”
After opening the season with a grueling non-conference schedule, the Minutemen will travel to Eastern Michigan on Dec. 3 before returning home to face yet another talented out-of-conference opponent in Brigham Young University on Dec. 7 in Springfield.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.