THE UNKNOWN MINUTEMEN
January 24, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
THE UNKNOWN MINUTEMEN
When you peer through the top 25 men’s college basketball poll, there are few teams that standout. We see the usual participants, Arizona, Syracuse, Duke and Kentucky. But did you happen to notice the Minutemen of UMASS? That’s right, The University of Massachusetts, the Minutemen from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I bet half the country didn’t even know Massachusetts had a basketball team let alone a top 25 team. In the most recent AP Top 25 basketball poll (before losing to Richmond), UMASS is ranked 13th, the USA Today/ Coaches poll has them ranked 12th, and the RPI ranking has the Minutemen rated 4th.
UMASS plays in the Atlantic 10 Conference with teams like St. Louis, Dayton, VCU and George Mason. All have been known to play in the “Big Dance” and many have been a tournament Cinderella. UMASS is a different story.
UMASS has been playing college basketball since 1899. Their first post-season tournament appearance didn’t happen until the 1949-50 season when they played in the NAIA. UMASS made the NCAA tournament in the 1961-62 season under Head Coach Matthew Zunic. The Minutemen appeared in several National Invitation Tournaments in the 70’s (remember Julius Erving?) but ran into a drought until John Calapari took over the program in the late 80’s. Calapari took UMASS to the Sweet 16 in 1991-92, the Elite Eight in 1994-95 and even a Final Four appearance in 1995-96. UMASS hasn’t been back to the NCAA tournament since 1997-98. That may change this year.
The Minutemen are 16-2 this season, 3-1 in the A-10. They are eight points away from being undefeated, losing to Florida State 60-55 and Richmond 58-55. Granted their schedule isn’t an earth shaker, they have beaten some good teams including Boston College, LSU, Nebraska, Clemson, New Mexico, BYU, Providence, Miami and St. Bonaventure.
There are no All-American players on the squad. No McDonald’s All-American players out of high school. This is a true team, no superstars, just a group of hard working players looking to make a name for themselves and put UMASS basketball back on the map.
Without looking, can you name one player on the UMASS roster? Neither could I. The Minutemen have one “name” player in Chaz Williams. Williams was nominated as a McDonalds All-American out of high school and was a pre-season A-10 first team selection this year. The Sporting News named Williams the best player in the Atlantic 10 and Lindy’s pre-season preview named him the ninth best point guard in the country. After Williams, there is very little recognition. Derek Gordon, Seth Berger, Zach Coleman, Demetrius Dyson and Maxie Desho all received pre-season accolades, but most of those honors didn’t get outside the A-10 or out of the state of Massachusetts.
The Minutemen are starting to see some national recognition and deservedly so. The Atlantic 10 and the Minutemen don't receive the respect they deserves because of the focus on conferences like the Big Ten, the ACC and the Big 12. But when it is all said and done, don’t be surprised to see the Minutemen of UMASS making noise in this years’ NCAA tournament.
Current favorites to make the NCAA Tournament
ACC: Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Clemson