Thursday, April 10, 2014
AMHERST— For a moment, when two regions of the NCAA tournament had been announced and the University of Massachusetts hadn’t been seeded, senior Raphiael Putney got nervous. A year ago, the Minutemen hopefully watched the selection show at coach Derek Kellogg’s house and were left out of the field.
Putney’s fears were eased shortly. Not only did UMass get in, but it got a better seed than predicted. The Minutemen are a No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region. They’ll play Friday against the winner of the play-in game between Iowa and Tennessee. The game will be played at 2:45 p.m. (CBS) at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The winner plays either No. 3 Duke or No. 14 Mercer in the third round on Sunday.
CBS actually put UMass on the screen prematurely during the selection show. The players, who were watching at the Amherst Brewing Company, cheered, but then had to wait to see their opponent and then cheered again when CBS posted their matchup.
“I was very nervous thinking maybe our name might not be called,” Putney said. “We’ve been working so hard for the past four years. To finally hear our name called is a blessing.”
“That was an emotional, great feeling,” Kellogg said. “To see UMass pop up in the screen was the result of a lot of hardwork and dedication from our staff and families. Vindication today. It’s been an emotional time and we’re excited to be where we are.
“I felt good for our guys. They put a lot of hard work and faith into this program,” Kellogg continued. “Now they have a chance to compete in the greatest sporting event on earth.”
The players felt like the committee respected their body of work by giving them a No. 6 seed.
“We had a great year. We beat some big teams. It shows what type of team we are,” senior Sampson Carter said. “We took some punches, but now we really get a chance to show how tough we are. It’s a wonderful feeling. A six seed shows a lot of respect that we had.”
Senior point guard Chaz Williams agreed.
“For them to give us a six seed, we thought ‘wow, they’re showing us a little bit of respect,’” Williams said. “We worked tremendously hard this year for this moment. We’re not satisfied. We’re happy for our name to be called. Now we have work to do.”
No. 6 seeds are 91-45 all-time in first round games.
The Minutemen were one of six Atlantic 10 teams to make the field, a record for the league, which had never received more than five. It was one of four conferences to get six bids. The Big 12 had the most with seven.
UMass beat seven teams that were selected for the field — VCU, George Washington, Saint Joseph’s, Providence, Nebraska, New Mexico and Brigham Young.
Playing the winner of a play-in game added an extra level of preparation as the Minutemen will have to create two separate game plans.
“Now we have an extra team to scout. At this point we’re excited to be here,” Kellogg said. “We’re ready to get down to Raleigh and play some basketball. The guys are ready and are in a good frame of mind.”
Tennessee arrives in the tournament on a hot streak. The Volunteers (21-12) had won five straight games before losing to Florida in the SEC tournament. They beat UMass, 83-69, last year in the Puerto Rico Tipoff.
Iowa (20-12) stumbled down the stretch. The Hawkeyes lost six of their last seven games after starting the season 19-6. Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey actually interviewed to be the coach of the Minutemen before the Minutemen hired Steve Lappas.
UMass coaches and administrators were glad to avoid playing their friends. When Oklahoma State and Kentucky, which are coached by former UMass coaches Travis Ford and John Calipari, respectively, came up on the screen against other opponents there were cheers.
“I said, ‘Thank god that’s not happening,’” Kellogg said. “I didn’t want to play Kentucky. That’s not fun to go against your mentor.”
Kellogg said he didn’t want just being selected to be the high point of this experience.
“I’d like to go out there, win a game or two and try to make a run at this thing and see what happens,” Kellogg said. “We’re capable if all things are going well.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage