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January 24, 2014


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

American: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, SMU

Big East: Creighton, Providence, Villanova, Xavier

Big 12: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

Big Ten: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin

Pac-12: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford

SEC: Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss

A-10: Dayton, George Washington, Massachusetts, Saint Louis, VCU

CAA: Towson, Delaware

C-USA: Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech

Horizon: Green Bay

MAC: Toledo

MVC: Wichita State, Indiana State

MWC: Boise State, New Mexico, San Diego State

WAC: New Mexico State, Utah Valley

WCC: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

America East: Stony Brook

A-Sun: Mercer

Big Sky: Northern Colorado

Big South: Charleston Southern, Radford

Big West: UC Irvine

Ivy League: Harvard

MAAC: Manhattan, Canisius

MEAC: Norfolk State, Savannah State

NEC: Robert Morris

OVC: Belmont

Patriot: Boston U, American

Southern: Davidson, Chattanooga

Southland: Stephen F. Austin

Summit: North Dakota State, IPFW

Sun Belt: Arkansas-Little Rock, Georgia State

SWAC: Southern, Alabama State

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