UMass men’s basketball looks to remain undefeated at home when Georgia comes to town

By Philip Sanzo

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

It’s only appropriate that during finals week, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will be faced with one of its biggest tests all year.

The Minutemen have played once-ranked Minnesota, New England rival Providence and a Final Four team in South Carolina. But with three non-conference games remaining on the schedule, the Minutemen (5-5) will face Georgia (7-1), another Southeastern Conference team.

The Bulldogs, more known for football than basketball, have put together a fine year thus far, winning seven games while losing only one.

They will be the second SEC team that UMass will play this season. The Minutemen lost a close contest to the Gamecocks earlier in the year. But according to UMass coach Matt McCall, the two teams couldn’t be any different.

“I think they’re two completely different teams,” McCall said. “Georgia does not beat themselves. They’ve played a very challenging schedule up to this point, they’ve already won at Marquette, they’ve beaten some terrific teams, Saint Mary’s is ranked in the top 25. How Georgia is not ranked in the top 25 is beyond me. Obviously being in the league a couple years with coach Fox and then playing in my first year at Chattanooga, his teams don’t beat themselves. They run good offense, they take care of the ball, [and] they guard. And then obviously you’re dealing with one of the best frontcourt players in the SEC if not the country. With the numbers that he puts up, the impact he has on the game, he’s terrific.”

The frontcourt player that McCall is referring to is Yante Maten, a 6-foot-8 senior who is nearly averaging a double-double, scoring 18.5 points and grabbing 9.4 rebounds per game this season.

Maten is coming off a game in which he scored a season high 25 points vs. Winthrop while bringing in 11 rebounds.

Having gone with Malik Hines and Rashaan Holloway in the same starting lineup multiple times this season, McCall has leaned more on Hines to give him quality minutes on both ends of the floor.

According to the first-year head coach, Holloway, who played 21 minutes vs. Providence but only 10 vs. Holy Cross, will have to be more disciplined if he hopes to play more.

“Malik is playing because Malik is reliable out there on the floor defensively,” McCall said. “Rashaan, if you look at his numbers from one year to the next, they are very, very similar. His biggest thing is being disciplined and staying out of foul trouble. He would play more if he wasn’t in foul trouble, but there has only been one game I think this year, maybe that was Harvard, where he wasn’t in foul trouble. He has to continue to be disciplined defensively and not put himself into situations where we can’t play him because of fouls.”

Coming off a win against the Friars, UMass has clawed its way back to even at 5-5 after starting the year 3-1. While no doubt an important victory, McCall emphasized the reality of being only 5-5.

“There are a lot of factors in there that made [Providence] a good win, but it’s just one win and that’s not disrespect to them,” McCall said. “But like I’ve been trying to preach all week, are we fat, happy and satisfied with being 5-5, because that’s where we’re at and that’s reality. It’s all about getting back to work and having the right focus and the right frame of mind in practice. Because when you win and you win a game like that, what comes with it is a lot of distractions and getting caught up and people telling you you’re great and we’re a great team and all that. That wasn’t the case the previous two games ago.”

In two weeks UMass will be kicking off the conference part of its schedule with a road game in Olean, New York against St. Bonaventure. The Minutemen struggled mightily in conference play last season going 4-14.

“I want to see everybody play their roles, just live up to it,” sophomore guard Luwane Pipkins said. “For everybody to play a complete game these next three games we got coming up before conference. I just wish we can make a statement going into conference, that’s it.”


Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.