Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Strohecker: UMass basketball’s latest wins showing signs of complacency

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg said his team got “lucky” following its come-from-behind win at George Mason last Wednesday.

That term could also be used to describe UMass’ first three Atlantic 10 wins.

The Minutemen grabbed the nation’s attention with dominant performances in their tough non-conference schedule, beating the likes of Boston College, Louisiana State and New Mexico on their way to a 12-1 start to the season. UMass was ranked for the first time in 15 years and one of the best early-season stories in college basketball.

That success should have brought a sense of determination to keep up the strong play heading into conference play. Instead, it has been complacent.

The Minutemen trailed in the second half in all three of their A-10 games, including a season-high 13-point deficit at home against St. Bonaventure. UMass scratched out wins in each of those games. However, despite those victories, the performances have been nothing to get excited about.

Sure, the Minutemen have been resilient. But when you look at the opponents that these rallies have come against, it adds some uneasiness about the future.

The wins against Saint Joseph’s and the Bonnies both came against teams with good win-loss records, but neither team is expected to finish near the top of the A-10. Also, both games were played at Mullins Center, a place where the Minutemen should be dominating teams.

The win against the Patriots was perhaps the craziest of the three, battling back from a five-point deficit with less than a minute to play to steal an 88-87 win. But, it also came against a team that is currently 7-11 overall and winless in conference play. A one-point win against an 11-loss team doesn’t exactly give off positive vibes.

When you look at how all of these games transpired, you’ll realize that the competitive level has drastically dropped off from where it was a month ago.

In all three games, UMass started the second half poorly. It spotted each team big leads with sloppy play and careless fouls. The killer instinct that the Minutemen had to start the second half against Brigham Young and Boston College has been replaced with zombie-like starts and sub-par play.

Kellogg described his team’s defensive effort as “lousy” against George Mason. That may have been generous.

Too many times UMass allowed an inferior team to get easy looks at baskets early in the shot clock. The Patriots took advantage early in the game, but bailed out the Minutemen late by missing key shots. UMass should be thankful it didn’t squander any of these games because the schedule is only going to get harder.

The Minutemen go on the road to George Washington and Dayton and welcome Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis to Mullins Center all in the final three weeks of the season. Those teams are the best-of-the-best in the A-10. Those teams close out games when they build a lead.

UMass can’t rely on overcoming large deficits in the final minutes of games against tournament-caliber teams to find success. Those teams possess the killer instinct to not only hold onto their leads, but to increase them.

The A-10 might not have the prestige of the Big East or Big Ten, but this year is one of the deepest in the conference’s history. Nine of the 13 members have at least 10 wins and the Minutemen and Billikens are both nationally ranked, with the Colonials also receiving votes.

The start to this season has been nothing short of special for students and fans alike. It’s rekindled the memories of the program’s glory days of the 1990s when the team was an NCAA Tournament regular. And while the Minutemen have proven they can compete with the big-name programs, they’ve also fallen into a lull that’s caused their play to slip as of late.

After a while, Kellogg’s screaming can only do so much to light a fire under his team. In most cases, the best cure for complacency is to lose a game and get a wake-up call, showing that despite a phenomenal record, nobody is unbeatable.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that this team will make the NCAA Tournament. If UMass loses its next game, then there’s always the next one. But a loss in the tournament means the end to its season.

Simply put, if the Minutemen don’t rid themselves of this care-free attitude and wake up now, then they could be in for a rude awakening come March.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.

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    TylerJan 22, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    While I agree that UMass has blown it’s fair share of opportunities to put games away early, I still don’t know if I’d call it complacency. Sure they had nailbiters against weaker A10 teams, but there’s caveat here. The Bonnies/GM teams we played are not the same teams that other teams have played this season. Being ranked is difficult, and I know the “target on back” analogy is getting tired, but it’s true.

    I like your article, and I’m not at all trying to bash it. I just think that they are going through some natural growing pains after being catapulted into the national spotlight with higher than average expectations. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that we’re talking about a group of 18-24 year old guys. They’ll get it together before March, I know we’ve all got faith in our boys.