Saturday, December 13, 2008

UMass spearheads a great day for the A10

ESPN billed their college hoops doubleheader today as "two games between Atlantic 10 schools and national powers". What it turned into was "Temple and UMass show the country not to sleep on the A10", capped off by an evening match up between Xavier and Cincinnati which the Musketeers won on the road. Per usual, North Carolina rolled again.
The two early showcases for the Atlantic 10 were Temple hosting #8 Tennessee, and UMass playing #23 Kansas in Kansas City. The Temple game was impressive for a number of reasons. First of all, it showed that the better teams in the A10 should still be getting home-and-homes against the country's elite, based on talent and the fact that there are some excellent facilities including the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. Temple, behind 30 second half points from Dionte Christmas, won by 16. Christmas is an absolute freak.
UMass's game was awesome. Here's my rundown of how the two decided on a venue for this game:
UMass AD John McCutcheon: We've had a great couple of years and feel that in order to take our program to the next level, a home-and-home with a school like Kansas could really help.
Kansas AD: John I'd love to help you, but I don't think we can schedule a home-and-home right now. We may be able to play one game though, neutral site.
McCutcheon: Oh that's fantastic. Somewhere like the Meadowlands?
Kansas AD: Hmm, that might work. I say we go with Kansas City.
McCutcheon: Done! But only if it's during our finals.

So, this game is going under the "neutral" column in the official books, but in my books, we won on the road. There were over 17,000 fans at the game, and about 25 of them were in maroon and white. In fact, if I heard the commentators correctly, KU's season ticket holders got tickets to this game, which really should make it an official home game for the Jayhawks, who also had their own band and cheerleaders on site. Anyway, I was terrified the whole game that something would go wrong and in the end my fears were more or less confirmed when Chris Lowe missed three straight free throws, giving KU a shot to win in the final seconds. Fortunately, unlike C-Lowe, some of the UMass players have stepped up this year, and no one has been better than Tony Gaffney. I don't believe Gaffney is a speck bigger than 6'7, 205, but he took on Cole Aldrich all day and then got a fingertip on Sherron Collins' final shot, and UMass was able to keep the Jayhawks from getting another shot off to close out the win, 61-60.
Electrifying win for a passionate UMass alum. I was ecstatic. An hour or so after the game I checked the school's athletics website, and much like I saw earlier in the year when we took on Texas Tech in football, I found some issues that I wasn't too happy about. The front page brief on the game read as follows:
"Behind a 17-point effort by Ricky Harris and another stat-stuffing performance by Tony Gaffney, UMass upset the defending national champion #25/23 Kansas, 61-60, at the Sprint Center on Saturday afternoon. The Minutemen used a 55.6 percent shooting performance, while holding the Jayhawks to 28.6 percent shooting, to knock off the defending champ for the second year in a row. Derek Kellogg's Minutemen improve to 3-6 with the win, while Kansas falls to 7-2."
There are a couple of problems with that. Problem 1: UMass shot 45.8% from the floor. Kansas shot 33.9%. The numbers mentioned in the brief are only for the first half numbers. This doesn't require much fact-checking, and just looking at the numbers should inspire someone to double check the box score. Because if UMass was one possession from losing a game in which they were +27 in FG pct, there would need to be a federal investigation.
Problem 2: Ricky Harris had 18 points. Not really sure what led to that mistake, just a typo I suppose. The point is, the UMass website is no longer a good place to go to get information about a game. UMasshoops, on the other hand, is a great one. It's a fan-run site that hosts message boards and has articles about virtually every game from the past 15 years.
I digress, it was a great win for UMass and coach Kellogg's first big one at the helm of the Minutemen. UMass is now 5-1 all time against defending national champs, including two in the past nine months. The last one was probably the most fun I've ever had at a game:

UMass beats Florida at MSG.

Xavier's win was a little on the ugly side. Five technical fouls including two for Derrick Brown, my early pick for A10 player of the year (still slightly ahead of Christmas), who acted like a complete idiot before getting tossed. Nonetheless, a win over cross-town Cincinnati is always nice for the X-Men, who are still unbeaten heading into their showdown with Duke next weekend. So of the four games on ESPN/ESPN2 today, three were big wins in the A10, and the fourth was some school from Chapel Hill winning another game by 16.

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