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UMass coach Derek Kellogg roots for friends over program

Massachusetts head coach Derek Kellogg in action against Xavier in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Massachusetts head coach Derek Kellogg in action against Xavier in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg knows that Kentucky losing early in the Southeastern Conference tournament might be good for the Minutemen.

NCAA tournament bracket projections on CBSSports.com and USAToday.com have Kentucky as one of the last four teams in the field of 68 and the Minutemen as one of the last four teams out before the start of games Monday.

A quick Wildcats exit in the SEC tournament could open up a spot if the Minutemen win some games at this week’s Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Kellogg, who has several close friends, including John Calipari his former coach, boss and mentor, on the Wildcats’ staff, can’t bring himself to cheer against them.

“I’m rooting for them every step of the way. I don’t think we’re in that discussion quite yet. I’ve been talking to Robes (Kentucky assistant coach John Robic) and I’ve been texting with Cal,” Kellogg said. “What they don’t want is us playing each other in NIT. I don’t want that either. So we’re both kind of rooting for each other.

“I root for friends first,” he continued. “If Tony Barbee and Auburn could go and win the SEC tournament, I’d be ecstatic for him. I think having friends is more important than rooting against someone just because it might benefit you.”

Kellogg said when he’s watching other games on TV, he sometimes gets caught up the story and ignores the ramifications.

“I think anyone that’s even in contention would root for the team that’s supposed to win the league to win the title, but sometimes my coach hat falls off and I become a fan and I probably don’t root the right way for what’s good for UMass,” he said.

The Minutemen haven’t reach the NCAA tournament since 1998. They have been close on a handful of occasions.

“One of these times, hopefully this year, it will work out for us. I’m just trying to put us in position every year,” Kellogg said.

Injuries to key players the last two seasons might have made a difference.

“I wonder if we had Cady (Lalanne) last year are we close to being an NCAA tournament team? He was starting to really come on,” Kellogg said. “I wonder about Jesse (Morgan) this year. But if we had Jesse this year, would Freddie (Riley) have come out of his shell the way he has? But I’m fortunate to be coaching a good team with a good bunch of guys.”

TV FRIDAY? — All of Thursday’s first round Atlantic-10 tournament games are on NBC Sports. Saturday’s semifinals are on CBS Sports Network and Sunday’s championship game is on CBS. Friday’s games are only televised regionally.

If UMass beats George Washington at 9 p.m. on Thursday, it will face Temple at 9 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.

According to UMass spokesman Brian Henry, the game is no longer tentatively scheduled for Comcast SportsNet. Henry said NESN is a possibility.

If the game is on NESN, it might have to be joined in progress. The Boston Red Sox play the Minnesota Twins in a spring training game at 7 p.m.

There is also a chance it doesn’t get televised.

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

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On this week’s Daily Hampshire Gazette sports podcast, Jim Pignatiello is joined by Gazette UMass beat writer Matt Vautour, who breaks down the Minutemen’s chances in this week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament. UMass plays George Washington at 9 p.m. Thursday. The duo break down the matchup, discuss the Minutemen’s postseason chances and talk about the conference’s top programs. Click below to … 0

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