UMass men's basketball opens Puerto Rico Tip-Off Thursday against Providence
UMass coach Derek Kellogg huddles with the Minutemen in the second half of their 67-64 season-opening win over Harvard on Tuesday morning at the Mullins Center. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
BAYAMON, Puerto Rico — There are 18 weeks and at least 28 games for the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team before Selection Sunday.
But the Minutemen’s goal of having their name called by the NCAA tournament selection committee that day, could be affected by tonight’s 7:30 game against Providence in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
For each of the eight teams, the first game in the event determines if it lands in the winners’ or losers’ bracket.
For UMass, playing in the winners’ bracket likely means a game with No. 6 North Carolina State on Friday and a potential matchup against either Tennessee or Oklahoma State on Sunday. Winning either of those games would be a bonus. Just playing them would boost the Minutemen’s strength of schedule and Ratings Percentage Index ranking.
“I just want them to understand that they’re playing Providence,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “I just want them to go out and try to win this one. If we’re fortunate enough to do that, we all know what’s in front of us.”
The Friars (2-0) arrive at the island commonwealth with wins over New Jersey Institute of Technology and Bryant, but they lost all-Big East point guard Vincent Council to a hamstring injury early in the NJIT game. He didn’t play against Bryant and won’t play against UMass in Puerto Rico, making an already thin roster even thinner. The Friars will have six scholarship players and shooting guard Bryce Cotton running the point. Kellogg said ideally the Minutemen would use their depth advantage and their up-and-down style to wear out the Friars.
“We’d like to do that and we would have liked to have done that against Harvard, too,” Kellogg said. “But some of it is where we are. We have some guys coming off of injuries too. There’s some things I’d like to do, but I’m not sure we’re quite there yet.”
The winner will face the winner of Penn State and NC State on Friday at 6 p.m., while the losers will meet at 7:30 p.m.
REUNION OFF — The subplot of tonight’s game was supposed to feature a battle of Brooklyn, N.Y., point guards and close friends, Council and UMass’ Chaz Williams.
“Since Pampers. We’ve known each other since we were little kids,” Williams said. “He’s one of my closest friends.”
Said Council, “In the summer time we always hang out, always at each other’s house. We play together and practice together. We play one-on-one, shoot together, lift together. It’s more of like a brotherhood.”
On most days they’d play at Bishop Ford High School, Williams’ alma mater, or when they were talking trash, on one of the nearby outdoor courts in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Both emulated fellow Brooklyn product Sebastian Telfair, who went from high school directly to the NBA.
“We’ve been battling all summer. He’s just a good ballplayer, a good point guard,” Williams said. “He’s one of the best players I have played against or will play against.”
They were looking forward to playing against each other, 1,600 miles from Brooklyn. But Council’s injury means he’ll only watch as Williams battles his Friars.
“I was really disappointed. He’s like a brother to me,” Williams said. “I was looking forward to matching up against him. We were very competitive working out this summer. That would have been good to see.”
REUNION ON? — While Williams and Council won’t meet on the court, UMass and former Minuteman coach Travis Ford, who is in his fifth season at Oklahoma State, still could.
UMass and OSU, which opens the tournament against Akron today at 11:30 a.m., would have to have the same results in their first two games to have a chance to meet on Sunday.
Ford has stayed close with UMass associate athletic director Tim Kenney and assistant coach Adam Ginsburg, who coached with Ford and stayed on at UMass with Kellogg. UMass staff assistant Matt Vogel was a manager under Ford.
“It’ll be great to see them. It’s going to be great,” Ford said. “Tim Kenney is a close friend and our families are close and we still get together quite a bit. It’ll be great to see them. I’m looking forward to that.”
Ford said he hasn’t thought much about playing against UMass.
“I really have no feeling either way. I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into it. Going against a former team is never easy,” said Ford, who still keeps track of how UMass does. “I do as much as I can. Obviously not as much as I did when they had more players that we recruited. But I absolutely do.”
The Cowboys arrived in Puerto Rico at 1-0 after a preseason marred by injuries.
“It’s been the craziest preseason I’ve ever had with injures. We’ve pretty much had to practice four-on-four,” Ford said. “It’s been a tough preseason. We have some good players. We just have to get everybody healthy. We’ve had to change up a lot. It’s been an adjustment period for us. It’s not the way you want to start out, but we lost some very valuable time.”
SIGNINGS IMMINENT — Seth Berger, the 6-foot-7 wing from Seattle who verbally committed to UMass in September, officially singed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday and announced it on Twitter:
“Just signed to play ball @UMass_Bball, so excited to be apart of the of the program and play with my new brother @_SirCaptainZach”
SirCaptainZach is Zach Coleman, who committed to UMass the same weekend Berger did. His high school is holding a signing day for him and a teammate next week.
Both letters will have to be cleared by UMass’ compliance office before the school makes it official and Kellogg can comment on it.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.