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

Breaking down UMass basketball’s 2023-24 schedule

Previewing the Minutemen’s next four months
Kayla Wong
Daily Collegian (2023)

After a tumultuous offseason, the 2023-24 edition of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team is ready to begin its season-long journey. Last year the Minutemen went 15-16 and 6-12 in Atlantic 10 play during Frank Martin’s first season in charge of the program, despite starting 7-1 in nonconference play.

Most of the Minutemen’s players last season either graduated or transferred out of the program, and as a result, only three players from last season’s team returned (Matt Cross, Rahsool Diggins and Keon Thompson).

In front of this new-look UMass roster stands 30 regular season games, spread out from Nov. 7 through March 6, notably with just one road game in the first seven. Here’s a look at 10 of the Minutemen’s 12 non-conference opponents (two are yet to be determined due to the bracket format of the Diamond Head Classic) along with notes on the team’s A-10 slate.

All season projections are from Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball analytics website:

Albany (Nov. 7) at home

Coach: Dwayne Killings (3rd season)

Last Season: 8-23, 9th in America East (3-13)

Season Projection: 8th in America East (302nd in KenPom)

A non-conference slate that Bart Torvik ranks 203rd in the nation begins on the second night of the season, with Dwayne Killings and the Albany Great Danes arriving to the Mullins Center. These two teams faced off last year and the game ended in an 87-73 Minutemen victory. Despite the Great Danes’ low projections, don’t look past their roster: Josh Cohen will be tested in the season opener against Albany’s sophomore big Jonathan Beagle, the reigning America East Rookie of the Year.

Quinnipiac (Nov. 13) at home

Coach: Tom Pecora (1st season)

Last Season: 20-12, 3rd in Metro Atlantic (11-9)

Season Projection: 4th in Metro Atlantic (256th in KenPom)

Quinnipiac seemed as if it was on its way to a peaceful, quiet offseason this past spring. However, plans were suddenly changed when head coach Baker Dunleavy departed to take over the general manager position at his alma mater Villanova. Assistant Tom Pecora stepped in and maintained a good level of roster continuity that makes the Bobcats one of the MAAC’s best programs this season. Quinnipiac’s players to watch: Matt Balanc and Paul Otieno, an experienced guard-big duo containing perimeter shooting and rim protection alike.

Harvard (Nov. 17) at home

Coach: Tommy Amaker (16th season)

Last Season: 14-14, 7th in Ivy League (5-9)

Season Projection: 6th in Ivy League (227th in KenPom)

Last season, UMass fans took over Lavietes Pavilion in a three-point away victory over the Crimson. This season Harvard makes the return trip to Amherst. It’s been a rough last couple of seasons for the Crimson, as injuries and transfers have hurt an otherwise strong Ivy program. This year is no different, with Harvard’s top two scorers from last season transferring (Chris Ledlum to Tennessee, Idan Tretout to Iona) and their third-highest scorer, Evan Nelson, out for the season with an Achilles injury. So with a young roster, it’s a rebuilding year for the Crimson.

Central Connecticut State (Nov. 22) at home

Coach: Patrick Sellers (3rd season)

Last Season: 10-22, 7th in Northeast (7-9)

Season Projection: 4th in Northeast (316th in KenPom)

After opening its season against UMass in 2022-23, Central Connecticut State gets pushed farther down the schedule for their date with the Minutemen in 2023-24. Patrick Sellers brings an experienced roster to the Mullins Center led by Kellen Amos, a rangy wing who scored 24 on UMass in last season’s matchup. He’ll give Matt Cross and other Minutemen players issues, but there’s not enough offensive firepower throughout the rest of the Blue Devils’ roster to snatch an upset victory.

South Florida (Dec. 2) at home

Coach: Amir Abdur-Rahim (1st season)

Last Season: 14-18, 8th in American Athletic (7-11)

Season Projection: 7th in American Athletic (127th in KenPom)

After a disappointing 2022-23, South Florida made one of the most eye-catching coaching hires in the nation over the offseason in their plucking of Amir Abdur-Rahim from Kennesaw State. In four seasons heading the Owls, Abdur-Rahim took the program from a one-win season to a 26-win one featuring their first NCAA tournament berth. Abdur-Rahim brought some of that Kennesaw State talent along with him to the Bulls, including a pair of senior wings in Chris Youngblood (14.7 points per game last season) and Brandon Stroud (9.2 points per game). This is a sleeper team in the American, and if the new-look roster gels quicker than expected, South Florida will be anything but a pushover. This will be the return game following a 73-67 UMass win in Tampa, Florida last season.

At Towson (Dec. 6) away

Coach: Pat Skerry (13th season)

Last Season: 21-12, 3rd in Coastal Athletic (12-6)

Season Projection: 4th in Coastal Athletic (138th in KenPom)

Last season, on an otherwise quiet night of college hoops, two 1-0 northeast programs squared off in front of a newly rejuvenated UMass fanbase. It was Towson who came away with the victory and the more successful season, as the Tigers won 21 games and went 12-6 in a competitive CAA. The program suffered two massive losses over the offseason (Nicolas Timberlake transferring to Kansas and Cameron Holden graduating), but retains a similar level of talent. A starting frontcourt of Wofford transfer Messiah Jones and Charles Thompson contributes to Towson likely being one of the best rebounding units in the nation. Additionally, Coppin State transfer guard Nendah Tarke is a big-shot maker and taker, albeit on high usage numbers.

UMass Lowell (Dec. 9) at home

Coach: Pat Duquette (11th season)

Last Season: 26-8, 2nd in America East (11-5)

Season Projection: 2nd in America East (191st in KenPom)

Last year’s River Hawks roster came into Amherst an underdog and left as a serious America East contender, shooting over 56 percent in an 85-80 victory over the Mnutemen at the Mullins Center. Those contender projections came to fruition in March, as the program came one game short of their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Despite a couple players departing, UMass Lowell finds itself right back in March Madness talks this season due to a roster that is once again among the America East’s elite. Starting guard Ayinde Hikim is an exemplary floor general and Abdoul Karim Coulibaly returns to plug up the paint on both sides of the floor. Thanks to their talent and depth, there’s a real argument to be made that the River Hawks are the best program in the commonwealth this season.

West Virginia (Dec. 16) in Springfield, Massahusetts

Coach: Josh Eilert (interim, 1st season)

Last Season: 19-15, 8th in Big 12 (7-11), NCAA 1st round

Season Projection: 12th in Big 12 (64th in KenPom)

A recap of West Virginia’s offseason would take up five pages. Between a former head coach getting arrested outside a Taylor Swift concert on a drunk driving charge, countless transfers entering and leaving the program and NCAA waivers being accepted and denied, the Mountaineers were the talk of the college basketball universe this summer. Interim coach Josh Eilert is at the helm following Bob Huggins’ resignation, and he’ll be taking his new-look lineup into Springfield for the Hall of Fame Classic. Volatile scorer Kerr Kriisa arrives by way of Tucson, Arizona as West Virginia’s starting point guard, and he’ll be flanked with a lengthy frontcourt consisting of Akok Akok (Georgetown transfer), Quinn Slazinski (Iona) and Jesse Edwards (Syracuse). This is likely the Minutemen’s highest-profile game of the season, and with an entertaining undercard of Florida Atlantic against St. Bonaventure, Springfield’s MassMutual Center should be packed.

Georgia Tech (Dec. 21) in Honolulu, Hawaii

Coach: Damon Stoudamire (1st season)

Last Season: 15-18, 13th in Atlantic Coast Conference (6-14)

Season Projection: 13th in ACC (118th in KenPom)

The Yellow Jackets are UMass’ first opponent in the 2023 Diamond Head Classic, an eight-team tournament in Honolulu that sees the Minutemen play three games in four days. Damon Stoudamire replaces Josh Pastner as head coach, and he both retained and brought in some key talent. Ole Miss transfer guard Amaree Abram is primed for a breakout season as just one of many players on this roster that can be a top scoring option if called upon. This game could also see the return of Tafara Gapare to a UMass contest, only this time he’ll be in an opposing jersey after he transferred to Georgia Tech following his freshman campaign.

The Minutemen’s second opponent in this tournament will either be Portland or Hawaii.

Siena (Dec. 30) at home

 Coach: Carmen Maciariello (5th season)

Last Season: 17-15, 4th in MAAC (11-9) 

Season Projection: 4th in MAAC (268th in KenPom)

The Saints had a strong start last season, with Javian McCollum in particular cementing himself by November’s end as one of the nation’s top mid-major guards. However, McCollum is gone this season after transferring to Oklahoma, along with Siena’s other four starters, giving Carmen Maciariello a near-blank slate to work with in the offseason. As a result, this year’s Saints squad is a young one but teems with potential. Last year’s MAAC Rookie of the Year Michael Eley should take a big step forward along with Sean Durugordon (if the Austin Peay transfer receives a waiver). Frontcourt issues could make this a game where UMass’ Cross and Cohen put up big numbers.

Atlantic 10 Notes

After a less-than-stellar record last season, A-10 play doesn’t project to be much kinder to the Minutemen in 2023-24. KenPom projects UMass to go 5-13 this season in conference games, a one-game downgrade from 2022-23’s 6-12 performance.

The Minutemen open their A-10 schedule with two tough contests against teams that should finish in the conference’s upper half in Duquesne and Dayton, getting the Dukes at home and the Flyers away. The toughest series of games is in late February, where an away date with La Salle is followed by back-to-back home matchups against two of the A-10’s elite: VCU and St. Bonaventure.

There are no real “easy stretches” in the conference schedule, but the lightest three games for UMass should come earlier in February, where an away game in the Reilly Center against the Bonnies is sandwiched between home games against George Mason and Rhode Island.

The Minutemen get six of their 18 conference games nationally televised this season, which is one more than last year and 11th of 15 in the conference.

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *