Through The Maroon: Tackling conference realignment, Josh Cohen’s ascension

UMass wide receiver Christian Wells (9) eyes the New Mexico sideline before a play earlier this season at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

UMass wide receiver Christian Wells (9) eyes the New Mexico sideline before a play earlier this season at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writers

Published: 11-15-2023 5:08 PM

In this week’s edition of Through the Maroon, our writers tackle both the football and men’s basketball teams ahead of important games.

The men’s basketball team looks to stay unbeaten with a rare Friday night home game against Harvard while the football team travels to undefeated and No. 25-ranked Liberty on Saturday looking to play spoiler.

Garrett Cote

The college football season always seems to go by the fastest.

Maybe it’s because each team only plays one game a week, and the entire time leading up to it you’re just waiting for the day to be over to get one step closer to yet another Saturday. Maybe it’s because it’s the best time of year, and they always say time flies when you’re having fun.

Either way, the 2023 season is coming to a close as only two more weeks remain before conference championship weekend. Even the teams that won’t make it to their conference’s title game still enjoy tuning in to see what squad will emerge as that year’s champion after beating up on one another throughout the season.

UMass, however, doesn’t have that luxury. As of now, the Minutemen are one of only three independent teams in FBS that aren’t expected to be part of a conference in 2024 (Notre Dame and UConn being the other two).

Long-time independents like Army and New Mexico State (both teams UMass defeated this year) have found new homes, and the Aggies are even competing for a Conference USA championship in year one. Army will join the AAC as a football-only member in 2024. Considering the changes being made around him, UMass Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford has taken some heat about getting the football team into a conference.

Bamford was questioned regarding the topic on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, and responded with a promising statement, saying, “I am doing my job. Many parts of my job you don’t see. Some of the work is best kept private. I also know that some outcomes may not meet your standards, but I am working very hard for this university, our staff and our students.”

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Bamford understands that finding a conference will gain a share of television revenue. He knows the challenge of scheduling 12 independent games year-in and year-out, and he obviously recognizes that it gives the Minutemen something to play for each and every week.

In an era where conferences across the country are being gutted, it seems like now would be the perfect time for Bamford and UMass to slide into a conference. It isn’t that simple, obviously, but it seems like things are trending in the right direction.

Thomas Johnston

If the young UMass men’s basketball team wants to make a run this year, someone will need to step up as a running mate for Matt Cross. 

Cross, who averaged 12.2 points-per-game last season, is the top returning Minuteman and through two games, he’s scored eight points in a win over Albany before finishing with 19 points on Monday in a victory over Quinnipiac. 

Who can be that guy to provide another scoring outlet for UMass when defenses begin to key in on Cross? Can one of the freshmen step up similar to RJ Luis last year? That’s one option. Can fellow returners Keon Thompson or Rahsool Diggins make a jump? I’m sure the Minutemen are hoping they can. 

The player I’ll be watching is Josh Cohen. The 6-foot-10 St. Francis transfer was the NEC Co-Player of the Year a season ago after averaging 21.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. 

Through two games Cohen looks like he can be that threat after making the jump to stiffer competition. Against Albany he finished with 22 points and eight rebounds. He was an efficient 9-for-15 from the floor while knocking down both 3’s he took. 

His numbers in the win against Quinnipiac weren’t as impressive — 11 points and seven rebounds — but he shot 4-for-6 from the floor and added five assists. 

It’ll be interesting to watch if Cohen continues to develop his outside game. The two 3’s he made against Albany were the first of his career, as he didn’t sink one from deep in any of the four years he spent at St. Francis. I’m a sucker for a big man who plays down low but can also stretch the floor, as it opens up so many things for an offense. 

If Cohen has added to his game and can give the kind of production he had at St. Francis, the floor of this Minutemen team will be higher than people think.

Hannah Bevis

Every college coach will tell you that they want their team to win. UMass hockey head coach Greg Carvel is no different. But he’s also cognizant of the bigger picture when it comes to success — he wants his entire conference to get better as well, raising the talent level to make games more competitive so that more Hockey East teams can make deep runs in the NCAA tournament. 

One example is Carvel’s friendship with Providence head coach Nate Leaman, a working relationship that’s been beneficial for both teams. When the Minutemen were going to play No. 5 Michigan earlier this season, Carvel called up Leaman to pick his brain on the Wolverines’ style of play. Providence had played Michigan the weekend prior. 

“When I first got to UMass, Providence was the team that I wanted to mirror our program. As to how they played, I've always respected Nate, how he plays and his teams are very consistent,” Carvel said. “And we've built a friendship over (the years)… I think we just have real mutual respect for each other. When our teams play, it's usually a pretty good brand of hockey.” 

When coaches like Carvel and Leaman can work together instead of strictly against each other, it's mutually beneficial for all parties involved. Another example — the two teams are playing a home and home series this weekend. UMass will travel to Providence on Thursday for a game and the Friars will head to the Mullins Center on Saturday. Each ice surface is a slightly different size, so to prepare for the games, UMass will have practiced at Providence on Wednesday and Providence will skate at the Mullins Center on Friday. The result — each team will have a better idea of what to expect on game night, meaning more competitive hockey that will elevate both teams’ games and make it a more exciting game for fans. A real win-win for both programs.