Matt Vautour: Nation’s No. 1 team visits New England Saturday

Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2015

I’ve always loved the idea of two schools coordinating a weekend where multiple sports from each school face off against each other.

Boston College used to do it with Notre Dame in football and hockey. It created a fun weekend adding atmosphere to the hockey games with additional Fighting Irish fans at Kelley Rink.

But somehow Northeastern pulled off the ultimate coup.

This weekend the Huskies will welcome Michigan State to historic Matthews Arena in men’s and women’s basketball, as well as hockey. It was a great get when it was scheduled and it’s an amazing game for NU now considering the Spartans are the No. 1 men’s basketball team in the country.

Big Ten teams, especially the elite ones, don’t play road games at CAA schools as a general rule. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, it stemmed from a conversation between the two schools’ athletic directors while they were each serving on the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Michigan State’s Mark Hollis liked the idea of his three teams travelling together, eating together and bonding.

Husky AD Peter Roby no doubt liked that this is arguably the biggest regular-season sports weekend in school history.

It’s all being billed as the Northeastern Winter Showdown highlighted by the men’s hoop game at 12:30 p.m. NU’s three teams will travel to East Lansing next year.

It’d be fun to see UMass try something similar. There are only so many good hoop opponents, who also play hockey. The Big Ten has the most options, but there are a lot of schools in that league that might not travel to Amherst for basketball. However, Minnesota, Penn State and maybe Michigan might be realistic targets. Arizona State, which has a new hockey program, might be a realistic possibility, too.

The Minutemen already have men’s hoop deals in place with Providence and Harvard. Adding hockey (Hockey East would have to help with PC series) and women’s basketball to the mix would be fun.

In a perfect world this would be a UMass-Boston College or UMass-UConn scenario. But neither of those schools want to play UMass in men’s basketball right now and UConn’s women’s team wouldn’t likely travel to Amherst.

MY TOP 10 — 1. Michigan State, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Iowa State, 4. Kansas, 5. Duke, 6. Maryland, 7. Kentucky, 8. Purdue, 9. Xavier, 10. Providence.

For the rest of my Top 25 visit the College Hoop Week Guide on’s UMass Sports Blog.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: Whether you’re a fan of history or just like good basketball, Saturday features a terrific slate of games. Three of them pit former national champions head to head.

No. 11 North Carolina vs. No. 22 UCLA, Barclays Center, 1 p.m. CBS — UCLA has wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga. In a year where nobody has been dominant, the Bruins are among the game’s most battle-tested teams. Carolina is very talented, but still figuring it out sometimes.

No. 4 Kentucky vs. Ohio State, Barclays Center, 3:30 p.m. CBS — Not the matchup this would have been in some years as the Buckeyes are down. Still, this is a couple of traditional heavyweights.

UNLV at No. 13 Arizona, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2 — Arizona is probably a little overrated right now with Kaleb Tarczewski (8.6 points, 7.2 rebounds) out and UNLV is flying under the radar. The Rebels are 8-2 and beat Oregon and Indiana when each of those schools were in the top 15. Their losses are UCLA, by two, and Wichita State on the road. This screams upset.

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 23 Cincinnati at VCU, Sunday, 4 p.m. CBSSportsNet — The Rams hung with Duke, barely lost to Wisconsin and fell just short against Florida State. Still, VCU is hunting for a signature win and this is an opportunity.

FINAL FOUR BOUND — Michigan State, Duke, Oklahoma, Maryland.

BUZZER BEATER — Syracuse is 1-2 since Jim Boeheim’s suspension started. The Orange are currently being led by designated coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins, a well-regarded assistant. It’ll be interesting to see if Syracuse fans are still in his corner for the future, if their team continues to struggle with him at the helm. It’s not really fair to judge him based on his performance in this unusual set of circumstances. But who said fans, especially in central New York, are fair?

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

Matt Vautour can be reached at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at


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