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UMass, Boston College men's basketball rivalry a cold war

With no game on the schedule this year and none scheduled down the road, it looks like the men’s basketball rivalry between the University of Massachusetts and Boston College has once again become a cold war.

When Boston College was coached by a UMass alum (Al Skinner) and the Eagles and Minutemen played every year, UMass fans weren’t too fond of BC. Things only got worse when the Eagles unexpectedly cancelled this season’s game scheduled for Amherst. BC coach Steve Donahue’s comments Tuesday at the second annual Commonwealth of Massachusetts Media Day are unlikely to soothe feelings either.

“I hope it is a game we can get back together, but I didn’t get the sense that people wanted that game,” Donahue said.

Donahue talked about improving his team’s nonconference schedule, but is playing perennial lightweights Dartmouth, New Hampshire, St. Francis (N.Y.) and Bryant after dropping UMass. He talked about Harvard as the primary Bay State rivalry to keep intact.

“Harvard is really good. I don’t want to be the guy that avoids a team because they’re really good,” Donahue said. “People did that to me at Cornell and I was bothered by it. If Harvard is good enough to beat us, they’re good enough to beat us. I’m not going to sidestep them. I hope (Harvard coach) Tommy (Amaker) can keep his program going like I think he can. It helps college basketball in this area.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he wasn’t dwelling on the end of the series but felt for his fans.

“Since I’ve taken over we’ve tried to reach out to most of the teams in the state to try to get some things going,” Kellogg said. “Some have worked. Some haven’t. ... I don’t think I’m disappointed personally (about the BC cancellation). Every coach in here has to do what’s best for their program. I don’t have any ill will. I think our fans are a tad bit disappointed because they always enjoyed the Boston College game. It was a big game they circled on the schedule. But for me personally, I didn’t play BC as a player. I’m worried about UMass and making sure our program is where it needs to be. Maybe somewhere down the road we’ll play again and it’ll be a big deal like it was when it originally started with the Commonwealth Classic (1995).”

POLL — UMass was picked first in the unofficial Commonwealth of Massachusetts preseason poll, receiving all eight No. 1 votes and 48 points. The poll was voted on by eight members of the state’s college basketball media. Harvard was second with 29 points, just ahead of No. 3 BC (28 points), No. 4 Northeastern (26) and No. 5 Boston University (25). Holy Cross was last with 12 points. Each of the four Boston schools received at least one second-place vote.

UMASS vs. AIC — The Minutemen will play an exhibition game against American International on Nov. 10 at a time to be determined. The game could be played at Curry Hicks Cage. Instead of a second exhibition, UMass will play a closed scrimmage against Drexel.

HARVARD UPHEAVAL — Amaker deflected discussions about his program after his two co-captains, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, withdrew from school for the year following an academic cheating scandal. Because the Ivy League doesn’t allow redshirts, withdrawing enables the players to go through the process of defending themselves without losing a year of eligibility.

“Because of the privacy laws and out of respect for the process and the students that are involved in this, I’m not allowed to comment or speak,” said Amaker, who added that the off-court issues haven’t dampened his excitement for the season. “We’re excited about this season and looking forward to the challenges every new year can bring.”

Harvard’s first Division I game of the season is at UMass on Nov. 13.

NO CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT FOR BU — Boston University was the latest victim of a conference vindictively preventing a departing member from participating in a conference tournament. BU announced it was heading for the Patriot League and America East countered by preventing the Terriers from playing in its conference tournament, likely blocking BU’s only legitimate path to the NCAA tournament. America East teams have never earned an at-large berth. Terrier standout big man Jake O’Brien transferred to Temple because of the blow to BU’s NCAA chances.

Conferences often like to tout their attention to the experience of the student-athlete, but they’re punishing kids, who had nothing to do with the decision to leave, by denying them a big part of that student-athlete experience.

The Atlantic 10 gets credit for treating Temple and Charlotte like full members until they leave. If a conference feels the need to do something, a better solution might be to let teams compete. If they win the league tournament, the departing school could forfeit its NCAA tournament winnings (minus expenses) back to the league.

BU coach Joe Jones was impressed with how his team handled the disappointment.

“We have to try to win as many games as we can and win the league championship,” Jones said. “For the overall experience for a student-athlete not to get to play in the conference tournament is upsetting. It’s a downer for them. When it first happened, it hit them pretty hard, not only our players but all the athletes at BU. Now we’ve moved past that. We’re just looking forward to our season. They’ve handled it much better than I even imagined.”

HOT SEAT TO A PAY RAISE — While Kellogg’s contract extension hasn’t been made official yet, he talked about going from the perception to having his job on the line last year to getting a raise.

“It’s amazing how fast things can change. You always want to be conscious not to get ahead of yourself to not feel like things are too bad or too good,” Kellogg said. “A former coach and mentor of mine used to say, ‘It’s never as good as it seems. It’s never as bad as it seems. In the middle is reality.’ I want to make sure the players on our team realize that it wasn’t as bad as people were making it at this time last year and it’s not as good as some people want to make it out to be. We’re trying to stay even keeled.”

MISCELLANEOUS — Kellogg has replaced former UMass football coach Kevin Morris as the co-chairman of the annual Juvenile Diabetes Walk, which is Sunday at 10 a.m. at Six Flags.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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