After starting the season strong with a 3-1 record, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has faltered as of late, losing its last four games. The four straight losses have all come away from the Mullins Center.
What makes the losses harder to handle is how close they have been. UMass has lost its last three games by a combined total of 10 points.
The Minutemen hope that a return to the Mullins Center will get them back on the right track, as they take on Holy Cross on Wednesday.
“It’s a great feeling to be back in front of the home crowd,” guard C.J. Anderson said.
“Especially those loyal fans who really love and support us. It’s good to be back there and play in front of them.”
The Crusaders run the patented Princeton offense, one that involves a ton of motion with cuts and screens away from the ball, as well as ball movement. The Minutemen will have to stay disciplined on the defensive end in order to keep Holy Cross from getting easy buckets.
“They try to outsmart you and use backdoors and hard cuts,” Anderson said. “It comes down to being alert and talking on defense. Coach has been talking to us about that and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
UMass coach Matt McCall said it’s hard to prepare for each team’s individual style and pace when they’re running the Princeton offense.
“When you’re playing against a Princeton team, your alertness and your communication needs to be through the roof,” McCall said. “Our scout team has done a good job, but it’s hard to simulate what they’re doing and the timing of their offense. It’s been a lot of us being alert, us communicating, us having good energy, all those types of things.”
One of the similarities between the losses for UMass has been slow starts. The Minutemen allowed Minnesota to get out to a 15-6 lead to start the game, trailed Brigham Young 11-2 just 3:29 into the game and trailed South Carolina 21-12 halfway through the first half on Saturday.
These slow starts have hindered UMass, and in close games have made the difference.
“We’ve gotten off to a bad start in basically every game we’ve played,” McCall said. “It’s important for us to get off to a good start and that starts with our approach in shoot around, in warmups. We can’t wait to have our teeth knocked in before we start playing. That’s another thing you have to look at, when you’re losing these close games we’ve been getting off to bad starts. We have to find ways to get off to better starts during the game.”
McCall would not rule of shaking up the starting lineup in hopes to generate a spark to start the game.
One way the Minutemen can control the game is on the glass. Holy Cross’ opponents have averaged 10 more rebounds per game, controlling the glass. With UMass’ size in the post, that should lead to opportunities for the Minutemen to gain extra possessions.
McCall feels that the style of play the Crusaders use leads to them not being a great rebounding team.
“That’s how they play. They throw a variety of defense out there, most namely 1-3-1 and matchup zone,” McCall said. “When they go 1-3-1 it’s on misses. They don’t send a lot of guys to the offense backboard for offensive rebounds. They want to sprint back and get their defense set. I don’t think they’ll ever be in the top categories of rebounding teams.”
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Amherst.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.