UMass Lacrosse: Minutemen wrap up season tonight at Drexel

I know I didn’t have any low-rent analysis to offer before last week’s game against Hofstra, but there wasn’t much to say that hadn’t been said before. The Gorillas were in a must-win situation to even have a chance at the CAA tournament.

They took the Pride to OT but lost on a tough goal were officially eliminated from any postseason competition.

(Quick aside, the Pride player ran to the logo at midfield to celebrate after his goal, showing just how classy Hofstra douchebags can be. Never change assholes. Also there was quite the exchange between Hofstra’s goalie and a few teammates and the 2006 Gorillas on the sideline, who were at Garber for the 10th anniversary of their run to the national title game).

Anyway, the Minutemen have lost four games in a row, all in conference, and look to avoid last place in the CAA with the game tonight at Drexel.

Since their season is over there isn’t a ton to play for other than pride. There are four seniors on this team who would like to go out with a win, and the Gorillas would certainly like to avoid a last place finish in conference play. Unfortunately though that’s not more than they deserve after the way they’ve played in the last four games.

Just win tonight, that’s all I can say. I would like to know what happened to Dan Dolan in the cage because Sean Scocone, who has started the last four games, is obviously 0-4 and hasn’t made the saves in crunch time. Dolan beat UNC and Penn State in consecutive weeks and the team was riding high. Then they inexplicably switch to a freshman in Scocone who had never started before and the team loses four straight conference games.

I hate to speculate but something must have happened to make Dolan lose the job. You don’t win the two games he won and then lose the job in practice, especially to a kid who’s clearly not as good as he is.

We’ll see which way the Minutemen go tonight, but I’m hoping they can find a way to win and at least end what was a once-promising season on a somewhat positive note. Unfortunately though 2016 is going to be remembered as one missed opportunity after another for a Minutemen program that has really been scuffling recently. Hopefully we have more to look forward to in 2017.

Go U.

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UMass SGA President looking for input on FBS Football

Yesterday, UMass Student Government Association president Anthony Vitale asked for input and feedback regarding FBS football and the call from the faculty senate to either reclassify to FCS or drop the program altogether.

Vitale gave a quote the other day to Tom Mulherin, who has a WordPress blog as well, where he did not speak in favor of athletics:

UMass Amherst Student Government Association president Antonio Vitale questions the merit of having an expensive athletic department with a budget of $33 million. He wonders why a school that has dramatically leaped in public university rankings across many different reviews would sacrifice academic funding while it pours money into the murky waters of its athletic program’s future.

 
“Personally, I don’t view these high-cost athletics as a completely necessary role of this university,” he said. “It just seems absurd to me that we are spending [a lot of money] on sports while we’re asking academic departments for cuts. We’re neglecting the primary function of a low-cost public university and instead favoring athletics.”

Now his request for input came after he said this, so we’ll if he changed his mind or wanted to try to gather as many facts as possible.

As for the request, I wrote him an email and I would encourage everyone who supports UMass football and UMass athletics to do the same.

My email in its entirely is included below, but I want to take this time to remind everyone again that even if/when the faculty senate makes the recommendation to reclassify or drop football at UMass, it is not binding in any way. It is merely the suggestion of a group of powerless individuals who like to feel important. They have done it before and will do it again, but it means nothing. The problem is the public perception, which is what I’m sure the athletic department wants to combat and what we are sending these emails for, to show that the program has support to compete at the highest level.


Mr. Vitale

I’m writing to you as an alum, fan, and ardent athletic support of the University of Massachusetts to urge you to show support for the athletic department and for FBS football at today’s meeting.

NCAA athletics are unique in their ability to bring a student body together in a way few other things can while simultaneously providing great press for the university on a national stage. I was disappointed to read your comments given to Tom Mulherin regarding athletics and their role in the university. NCAA athletics are vitally important to the collegiate experience, and has been stated many times, provide a “front porch” for any university to use to market themselves. The University of Massachusetts is a flagship campus, a public, land-grant institution that competes at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics and should not be forced into a lower division in the biggest sport in America. It was a mistake that UMass was playing in a lower division for so many years prior to the move up, we don’t want to go back to that.

Now there have been growing pains with this move, significant ones, and I would not pretend otherwise. Mistakes were made during the move that unfortunately set that process back, but the move itself was the right decision. With the current staff in place in both the athletic department and on the field, the football program will continue to make forward progress. It is a slow progress, and that’s where patience is required. The faculty senate, or should I say specific members of it, are completely unwilling to allow for the necessary time for a move such as this one to play out. This is not an ‘instant gratification’ move, it takes a while to establish yourself in FBS and adjust to the level of competition. Very few people seem willing to show the patience necessary to see this succeed, and I urge you to set an example and show that patience.

I can imagine you’ll receive some feedback from the student body on this issue as well, and if I had to guess, a lot of that will center around the fact that the team plays games at Gillette Stadium, which they cannot really go to see. I agree with them in that regard, they shouldn’t have to go to Gillette to see the team, and the move there has hurt student involvement and support. However, while there are four games to be played in Foxborough this season, in the years that follow the number goes down significantly. In 2017 for example it is very likely that every game will be on campus, which is a big step forward and another example of required patience. The team will be coming back to campus, which will improve everything about the program and experience. That’s an important point to note. It will help not only the program and school but the surrounding community as well. Amherst and the area around it does a lot of business on game day, which would be hurt by a move down to FCS and crushed by dropping the sport.

You stated in your comments that we should be focused on academics, and no one can refute that. The key is to support both academics and athletics together in a joint effort to increase UMass’ visibility and profile. The upward trend in rankings is outstanding for the school, but it is very important to note that there is almost nothing that can put a school on the minds and in front of the eyes of prospective students like athletics can. Top tier athletics do that better than any other, and UMass is a Tier 1 university that deserves Tier 1 athletics.

The public perception of the university takes a hit every time the faculty senate raises this issue, and that is unfortunate. Chancellor Subbaswamy spoke passionately on this same issue last year, about how the division is what would make headlines, and he was correct. I find it disappointing to say the least that certain professors, who in my opinion bring FAR less to the university than the athletics programs, push this agenda every chance they get in an effort to feel important. They make claims that the money could be better spent on infrastructure improvements and more faculty. You attend this school now, I attended 10 years ago…it is a constant construction zone. It always has been. New buildings go up with regularity and when I visited campus last weekend I saw extensive work being done to North Campus and to the LGRC. There seems to be money available for infrastructure already. Max Page, who is the leader of this movement, made over $130,000 last year on tenure to do very little actual teaching. I think it would be more effective to initiate cuts to teachers who don’t teach, or to increase their responsibilities so they do more to earn their hefty salaries and state pensions that make them some of the Commonwealth’s highest paid employees.

I don’t know your particular school or major, but the effect on some of UMass’ most recognizable academic programs would be seriously damaged with a change to football. The Isenberg School of Management for instance, one of our finest, would be hurt. The Sports Management program, recognized far and wide as among the best, if not the very best in the entire country. How do you think that program will look if the school it’s taught at throws up a white flag on football? Do you think it would retain its sterling status? Absolutely not. In fact the drop would be precipitous. Every time this issue arises the school takes a hit. It would be nice to see even more solidarity in the face of this opposition as to minimize the damage the faculty senate members do to the public perception.

My support for the program and athletic department increased, as it did with many others, when the move up to FBS was made. That will continue to happen with future alumni too, but only if the school keeps pushing forward and stays the course. A drop now would do irreparable damage to alumni relations, to say nothing of the damage to the athletic department as a whole.

You have a lot to take in before you craft your message to the faculty senate today, and I hope that this and other impassioned letters help you to understand that FBS football is the right move to the University of Massachusetts. We are striving for excellence at the highest level in everything that we do, and this is no different. We want to be the best, and to do that, you have to challenge yourself at the highest level. FBS football is that level, and I look forward to the days, coming soon, when the University of Massachusetts Minutemen are enjoying success there.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Michael Traini


 

UMass Football Recruiting 2017: Minutemen host Junior Day visitors

Back on April 9th the Minutemen hosted several visitors for a Junior Day even in Amherst. Junior Days are considered unofficial visits for the recruits who are going into their senior seasons but are still currently in their junior years. You also occasionally see younger players like current sophomores come out for Junior Days as well.

While the visits are “unofficial” in the NCAA sense the event is always well-coordinated and planned, a big chance for the program to show itself off to potential future Minutemen.

April 9th was the second of two Junior Days the Minutemen were planning to hold prior to the start of the spring evaluation period. There were players from all over the Northeast who were in attendance, and the list from Fire The Musket sources is below:

State Name High School Position
CT Dexter Lawson Bloomfield CB
CT Dillon Harris Bloomfield LB
CT Russell Thompson Bloomfield WR
CT David Lopez Bloomfield
CT Edison Galan Manchester QB
DE Mahkai Lee A.I. Dupont CB
DE Curtis Linton Caravel OL
DE Zebulon Wright Salesianum DT
DE Josh Patrick Salesianum LB
DE Gary Brightwell St Georges Tech RB
MA Coreese Everett Springfield Central CB
MA Tank Walker Springfield Central S
MA Christian Friedel Marshfield WR
MA Kevin Crabtree Milton Academy OL
MA Bobby Denaro Nashoba Regional OL
MA Mike Mulvena Shrewsbury LB
MA Shaq Joseph Somerville ATH
MA Daniel Gaudette Wachusett Regional DL
MA Cole McCubrey West Boylston LB
MD Noah Nicholson Our Lady of Good Counsel CB
MD Anthony Budd Our Lady of Good Counsel FS
NJ Harrison Hand Cherry Hill West CB
NJ Donald Rappoccio Monsignor Donovan OL
NJ Jordan Watson Paramus Catholic DE
NJ Chima Dunga Paramus Catholic DL
NJ Ronan Guerra Paramus Catholic
NJ Jermaine Wilder Passaic County Tech S
NY Rapheal Odey Jr. Brockport Central WR
NY Justin Terry Christ The King CB
NY Damian Ostaszewski Curtis DL
NY Kwannah Kollie Curtis WR
NY Kyle Schreiner Fairport G
NY Mitch Weist Harpursville FB
NY Jordan Bryan Middletown RB
NY Malik Fisher Xavier DE
PA Maurice McCray Delaware Valley Charter LB
PA Shaheed Ross Delaware Valley Charter ATH
PA Basadiq Dejuses Delaware Valley Charter
PA Alonzo Taylor Delaware Valley Charter ATH
PA Jameer Brooks Frankford LB
WV Darius Stills Fairmont DT

(All links in the above table go to a recruit’s Hudl page for their film)

There area few names on this list that stand out about the rest.

Mahkai Lee and Zeb Wright have both been on the UMass radar for some time now. Lee has been picking up FCS offers to date, along with the Naval Academy, and Wright is garnering a lot of interest but no offers as of yet. They are both from Delaware, the state that gave the Minutemen Taylor Edwards last season (he and Lee were high school teammates), and they are talented players. They are certainly players to watch going forward for UMass.

Harrison Hand is a very talented CB out of New Jersey who’s ranked highly but only holds a few offers (247, Scout, Rivals). He seems to be a Rutgers lean right now but a kid with his length and his physicality would be great for the Minutemen defensive backfield.

Justin Terry is another 3-star DB who’s low on offers (Monmouth only right now) but high on talent. His athleticism jumps out at you on film and he’s dangerous with the ball in his hands in open space. Good speed and good burst, another player to watch.

Rapheal Odey Jr. is a tall, talented wideout from wayyyy Upstate New York. I think he’ll be one to keep an eye on myself.

Finally Darius Stills, a rare UMass recruit from West Virginia, is a real find in my opinion. He’s a big boy on the DL at 6’3″ 275lbs and can play either DE or DT. He is also to date the only attendee of this Junior Day event to receive an offer from UMass, which came just a couple days after he was in Amherst. He shows some very good power and pursuit, and he does a great job of penetrating into the backfield. His recruitment is trending up, but UMass was in early and is showing real interest in not only him, but his brother Dante as well. Dante just happens to be a 4-star DL in the 2018 class. Darius and Dante seem to want to play together at the next level, and they are WVU legacies as their dad Gary played there. For right now only Dante has an offer to play in Morgantown.

I’ll try to do my best too keep UMass Nation updated on the recruiting game for the Minutemen as they look to put together another equally impressive class for 2017 as they did in 2016.

Go U.

UMass Football: Minutemen set to go ‘Between The Hedges,’ play at Georgia in 2018

The Massachusetts Minutemen have scheduled very aggressively in football independence, adding numerous payday games against high-quality (read: SEC) competition. They continued that trend on Wednesday by announcing a late-November 2018 game in Athens, Georgia against the Georgia Bulldogs.

As you can see in the announcement, the Minutemen also got a home/home basketball series as part of the deal, which pays them a $1.5M guarantee per Matt Vautour’s report in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. The payout is for the football game, similar to the contract the Minutemen have with South Carolina, which is for an equal payout and a home/home basketball series.

In the interest of self-promotion (which is not my strong suit but anyway…) check out the piece on Underdog Dynasty I cobbled together:

Sticking strictly to the football scheduling first, this is another great game for the Minutemen program to have on the schedule. It’s a payday game, and UMass’ chances to win it are very slim, but it provides a bevy of benefits to the team and the university.

It’s an excellent travel opportunity for fans and alumni to go see the Minutemen in one of college football’s best environments. It’s a game on the road in UMass’ top recruiting territory (Florida/Georgia), which is a big sell to recruits that you can say you will be playing a road game close to their homes. It’s gives the program national exposure late-season against an SEC opponent. It’s brings in $1.5M and assists the men’s basketball team in getting a quality set of games. And finally, it nearly completes the independent schedule for 2018, which will be UMass’ 3rd year without a conference home.

There are people who won’t like because they’re hung up on the fact that the team is unlikely to win, but as a both fledgling and independent FBS program, these are necessary games to have on the schedule. In fact, even if UMass had a conference home someplace like the AAC, they would still be scheduling games like this one.

Let’s take a look at UMass’ 2018 schedule which is now nearly complete (courtesy FBSchedules.com:

The game at Georgia gives the Minutemen 6 road games in 2018 against 5 home games. As they have previously stated, UMass wants to play an FCS game every year in order to ensure they get 6 home games on the schedule. Based on that, the FCS opponent would be the last one to add for 2016.

However, UMass has also previously stated that while they are limited as to what they can do as an independent, they want to have a bye week at some point during the season. Bye weeks are easy to come by when you’re in a conference, but when you’re independent you have to take what you can get. As an example look at their schedules for 2016 and 2017. This season there is a bye but it’s the week of November 12th, after they’re already 10 games in. 2017 doesn’t have a bye at all.

Right now UMass has two free weeks in 2018, October 13th and November 24th. 11/24 is the final week of the regular season, and it is the IDEAL spot to have their final game. That would leave 10/13 as their bye which is exactly where you want it, right in the middle of the year. The problem with 11/24 is that as the final week of the FBS regular season, it’s also the first week of the FCS playoffs.

I’ll circle back to my New Mexico State tweets there in a second, but I want both thank Chris Mycoskie for pointing that out and show who would be available as an FCS team from either the SWAC or MEAC.

Both the SWAC and MEAC are made up of HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Neither one of the conferences competes in the FCS playoffs, but they do send their champions to play one another in the Celebration Bowl.

SWAC teams:

  • Alabama A&M
  • Alabama State
  • Alcorn State
  • Jackson State
  • Mississippi Valley State
  • Arkansas Pine Bluff
  • Grambling State
  • Prairie View A&M
  • Southern University (LA)
  • Texas Southern

MEAC teams:

  • Bethune Cookman
  • Delaware State
  • Florida A&M
  • Hampton
  • Howard
  • Morgan State
  • Norfolk State
  • North Carolina A&T
  • North Carolina Central
  • Savannah State
  • South Carolina State

Now none of those teams really wow you, and you might remember Howard was the team Boston College beat 76-0 last year where the 2nd half was shortened quarters. But if they were available to play UMass for a small guarantee on 11/24 that would be great to finish off the 2018 schedule. It’s unknown though if any of these teams would be willing and/or able to play at UMass, but it’s certainly possible.

That brings me back to my initial tweets yesterday where I was speculating that New Mexico State could be an option for the Minutemen on 11/24 as 2018 would potentially be NMSU’s first season as an independent as the Sun Belt is kicking them and Idaho out of the league after 2017.

Idaho, in my personal opinion, is probably going to reclassify their program back to FCS, which is why I didn’t think they’d be an option as a 2018 opponent for the Minutemen. Now if they decide to be an FBS independent that changes things but I’m operating under the assumption they will be back in the Big Sky.

NMSU on the other hand, I had felt would at least give FBS independence a shot. However it seems that may not be entirely the case.

The idea that NMSU could go back to FCS would throw a wrench in this plan for sure, but if we assume they are going to give independence a shot, they would be the perfect game to schedule at home for UMass, even better than an FCS team.

UMass would be helping out a fellow independent school, they would get a game in the final week of the regular season, at home, to finish off their schedule, and they would be playing an entire slate of FBS teams, which looks slightly better should the team be in contention for a bowl bid. You could set up the return game at NMSU late-season in 2019 as well, which would be a big plus. Also, NMSU’s basketball team is always pretty good, wouldn’t be surprised if they worked a few of those games into any deal.

It’ll be interesting to see how UMass approaches that final 2018 game. If they utilize their open week in October they can play almost any FCS team they want, but they would not have a bye. If they go for 11/24 (which I believe would be their preference) they’ll either need a SWAC/MEAC FCS team or NMSU if NMSU stays independent. I don’t think NMSU is going to have a decision made anytime soon, but if they are going to stay FBS, they will need to make the call about at the start of the 2016 season in order to schedule. If they do decide to stay, they would be my first call for that 11/24 week. UMass does have plenty of time to finalize that last game, certainly enough IMO to wait for NMSU (and of course Idaho) to make a call on remaining FBS, with the caveat of course that those schools make that call in a timely fashion.

We won’t delve into any more football scheduling possibilities in this post, though I could do that for days, but I do want to touch on the fact that the basketball team gets a home/home with Georgia too.

I like the way the department is adding these MBB series to football agreements as a way to increase the visibility and competition of the MBB program in addition to football. Plus, in this particular case, Georgia is coming to Amherst to play at the Bill. That’s huge, as we’ve seen there is a bit of a struggle getting P5/HM teams to play on campus. I’m excited to see that one.

Want to take a minute to thank a couple former Minutemen for their time with the program. Joe Colton announced on Twitter that he’s hanging them up, and he was a great ambassador and a great Minuteman. Great story of a local walk-on who earned a scholarship and a starting spot, played fast, played hard, always gave it his all.

Also, former Minuteman Chris Carter is no longer playing football. It was previously announced back in January that he was no longer with the program, but his tweet/Instagram post yesterday explained why:

To summarize, Carter has suffered enough concussions to be medically disqualified, which is a real shame. He’s positive about the move though, with a good job lined up and an additional major, he’s ready for life after football. Thank you Chris, and good luck.

Go U.

Spring game recap on Underdog Dynasty, UMass Athletics looking for new website host

I recapped the annual spring game for Underdog Dynasty so if you’d be so kind, check it out, share it, go wild. Comment even, have a ball. Much appreciated.

It was sloppy, but one thing I learned watching that for sure is that there is going to be a lot of opportunity for the young kids, especially incoming freshman, to get a chance to play.

Also, many of you who were watching online like me last night surely noticed issues again with the stream and production on the athletic department website. Audio issues, buffering issues, playback issues…sadly that’s nothing new for UMass’ current online broadcasting.

However, I was contacted from a well-placed source within the athletic department after the above tweet was posted to let me know that they are actively working on addressing the issues.

Putting their site up for bid is the best thing they can do in order to find improved hosting quality for their online offerings, especially streaming options. They are aware of the issues people face when tuning in and by looking for a better provider are doing everything they can in order to make the experience more stable and user-friendly. That’s great news and shows they are dedicated to improving every aspect of the department, both on the field and off.

I did not receive any info of when the site would be put up for bid, only that it would be soon. One might imagine it would be in the summer when there is no real content to produce so a transition could be made easily. I look forward to hopefully having a much better website sometime in the near future, that will be great for everyone.

Finally, don’t forget to follow along with the Gorillas as they go for CAA win #1 today at 1pm against the Fairfield Stags.

Go U.

UMass Lacrosse: Gorillas travel to Fairfield seeking 1st CAA victory

Last weekend the UMass Minutemen played the Towson Tigers tougher than any opponent the #7 Tigers have had this season not named Johns Hopkins. They battled for four quarters but in the end came up short, losing 11-8 and dropping to 0-2 in the CAA in the process.

It was a game UMass certainly could have won, but when it came down to it they didn’t execute when it mattered most. They didn’t do a great job taking care of the ball and didn’t cash in on some of their better opportunities.

That’s going to need to change as the Minutemen travel to Connecticut to take on a Fairfield team who are sitting at 2-0 in the CAA with one-goal wins over Hofstra and Drexel.

The Minutemen have dug themselves a bit of a hole in the CAA, and they need to turn the results around fast in order to make sure they earn a place in the CAA tournament this year. That basically means that they need to win out, making this road game against the Stags as must-win as it gets.

The Minutemen used a 2-3 record in the CAA last season to earn the final berth into the conference tournament, and managed to almost win the whole thing, losing only on a crazy, last-second goal in the championship game.

While that would indicate the Minutemen perhaps have some room for error in their final three games of this season, that isn’t the case. After dropping what should have been a win against Delaware, then losing to Towson, the Minutemen need to refocus and make sure they win the games they have left, starting tomorrow with Fairfield.

The confidence boost that would come with taking a three-game conference winning streak into the conference tournament shouldn’t be understated. It would mean a lot to a Minutemen team that has been Jekyll and Hyde all season long.

We know from their results that the Minutemen can compete with and beat nearly any team in the country if they play their game and stand fast defensively. But we’ve also seen that they can lose to anyone when they are not ready to play.

For the program as a whole, it would be a big step to finish out this regular season above .500 at 7-6, and then make it to at least the CAA title game again. Earlier in the year, when UMass was holding a national ranking and defeating some of the nation’s better teams, I was thinking they could make an appearance in the NCAAs this year. That dream is firmly on the back-burner now, as they need to show they can make their own conference tournament, never mind the Dance.

But if they can get some momentum built in the next three weeks, go into the conference tournament on a bit of a roll, they could potentially claim the CAA’s automatic qualifier, but much would need to go right for that to happen.

Right now, the Gorillas have the Stags in front of them, and they need to come away with a road victory tomorrow. There is no free stream so I’ll be unable to watch, but I will follow along with what should be a Minutemen victory.

Go U.

UMass Lacrosse: Minutemen host #7 Towson in crucial CAA clash

The UMass Minutemen will be looking to get back on track tomorrow when they host the #7 Towson Tigers in a CAA league matchup at Garber Field in Amherst.

The Minutemen suffered a somewhat ignominious defeat last week on the road against the Delaware Blue Hens in their CAA opener. They did not seem like they were prepared mentally to face a Blue Hens team that was set to give the Minutemen their best possible effort. UMass will need to use the lessons learned in that game and apply them to facing a Tigers team whose offense is a force to be reckoned with.

The Tigers lowest goal output this season is eight, done in their lone defeat to Johns Hopkins. They’ve scored nine once, and in their other eight games they have scored at least 10 goals. UMass as a whole needs to be on top of their game Saturday, but no unit more than the close defense and goaltender.

The Tigers come in ranked #7 in the country, and from my admittedly brief research, it should be the first time that UMass is hosting a Top-10 opponent since 2012 when the Minutemen entered the NCAA playoffs at 15-0 and the #9 Cornell Big Red came to Amherst for the first round (and defeated the Minutemen 13-11). The previous instance was in 2009 when the #1 Syracuse Orangemen came to Garber and handed the Gorillas a 10-3 defeat.

Playing Towson tomorrow also gives the Gorillas a chance at a little payback. The Tigers beat UMass twice last season, including on a crazy last second goal in the CAA Championship game that sent the Tigers to the NCAAs and the Minutemen home. The chance for some revenge and to put a big dent in the Tigers 9-1 record should be a huge motivating factor for the Minutemen this week.

Consistency has been the Minutemen’s biggest issue all year. They need to figure out what causes the dips in their play and make sure they work to correct it. I do feel however that a game of this magnitude will bring out the best in this Minutemen team.

If I’m picking areas of emphasis outside of the defensive unit as a whole needing to play at their best, there are two that come to mind. They need to win the battle at the faceoff X, and they need to cash in when they have the man-up. They have been unable to do either with any regularity this season (particularly scoring with the advantage) and that needs to change for them to win this game.

The CAA is a tough conference to play in, a lot of quality teams that play tight, hard-fought games. The other downside is that despite the fact that there may be two worthy teams, it’s more than likely that only one CAA squad is going to make the NCAA tournament. If you’re UMass, you want to win your conference games to earn tiebreakers and set yourself up as the highest possible seed in the conference tournament. Getting the automatic qualifier is UMass’ guaranteed ticket to the dance, and that work began last week. They did not get off to the start they wanted, so I’m sure they are going to look to fix that tomorrow.

This game sets up to be a classic battle. If you can make it out I encourage you to do so. The weather should cooperate (knock on wood) to make for a good day for lacrosse tomorrow.

Go U.

UMass Lacrosse: Minutemen Suffer Tough Loss to Delaware to Open CAA Play

The Massachusetts Minutemen, despite a .500 record, were ranked at #19 is the most recent USILA/Coaches poll and were riding high after back to back wins over North Carolina and Penn State. They were on the road in Delaware to open conference play, and with the Blue Hens sitting at 3-7 with their wins coming over bad teams, UMass was in great position to maintain their spot nationally and pick up a 3rd straight win.

Unfortunately the Blue Hens had other plans, and they used four straight 4th quarter goals to distance themselves and end up defeating the Minutemen 9-7 yesterday.

I’d been saying on twitter and on this very blog to my tens of followers that Delaware, while a team that UMass should beat, was not a club that should be taken lightly. When you are in the same conference as another team, the familiarity makes for tight games and “upsets” that shouldn’t really be that surprising.

Conference foes that play every team, and many times twice a year because of tournament games, know each other’s ins and outs well. Very few surprises on the field, and the records usually get thrown out the window.

In UMass’ case while they are a better team than Delaware this year, losing to them was never out of the question. This was a game UMass should have won because Delaware had only really shown that they could beat bad teams; their power ranking was the lowest of any team on UMass’ 2016 schedule and their wins were over teams with a total of four wins between them.

The game started off well for UMass, scoring just 20 seconds in, but they were never able to consistently control possession and back up goals on top of each other to build a lead. Their execution in the offensive zone was seriously lacking all game, and their shot selection left a lot to be desired.

Defensively the Minutemen did not play poorly, but they also did not play well, and they were victimized by some confusion on the back end especially in the 4th quarter during Delaware’s 4-goal run.

The Gorillas went in to the half trailing 5-4, and they needed to come out with a lot of energy and aggressiveness in order to take the lead and keep it. They managed to score the only goal in the frame for either side, but they did not execute well at all. They took several undisciplined penalties and freshman goalie Sean Sconone was forced to make several sparkling saves in order to keep the Minutemen close.

Scocone started this game, the first start of his career, and played it in its entirety. He was not spectacular in the first half, giving up a couple of bad goals that he should like to have back, but in the 3rd he was fantastic. Without his performance in the 3rd the Minutemen could have lost this game by 10 goals. In the fourth he came back to earth a little bit, but overall I cannot say he was the reason for the loss. I would like to know where Dan Dolan was and why he didn’t start this game, but this can’t be pinned on Scocone.

UMass did not do as well on faceoffs as you would like them to, going an even 50% on the draws with Delaware (10 for 20). Tom Meyers struggled early but got better late, and Noah Rak came in to spell him at times as well.

One of UMass’ biggest issues, which has been a problem all season, was special teams. UMass took several penalties in the 2nd half, including a period of time in the 3rd quarter where they were two men down, and that really hindered their ability to get an offensive rhythm going. They were undisciplined, and while they fortunately did not give up any goals on the man-down, it is still time where your opponent is controlling the ball and the clock.

In addition, UMass was 0-3 on the man-up against Delaware, a concern that is growing more and more serious by the game. They have consistently failed to score with the man-up this season, and if you want to succeed at the highest level in the college game, you need to take advantage of extra man opportunities. UMass has not been able to do that this season, and it is hurting their chances of winning games.

You can check out all the stats from this one in the box score here.

The Minutemen’s biggest problem, which has been the primary issue since the season began, is consistency. Week to week, game to game, you never know which Minutemen team you are going to get.

For two weeks we saw the Minutemen look like they didn’t belong on the same field with Brown and Albany, losing by a combined 20 goals. But the for the following two weeks, we saw the Minutemen knock off a ranked UNC team at home and a Penn State team that was receiving votes on the road (Penn State went on to defeat #1 Denver the following week).

I don’t believe the Minutemen’s bye week hurt them (though it was a bit out of the ordinary to have a week off like that in the midst of the season and before conference play began). What really needs to happen is UMass has to find their game on a regular basis, there’s no two ways about it. This team can beat anyone on a given Saturday, and their 4-4 record prior to Delaware against the #1 strength of schedule in the country was a strong showing. They just have to be able to show what they can do every time.

Coach Cannella mentioned in the Daily Collegian recap above mentioned that UMass’ execution was lacking because they were faced with a zone defense all game, which was not something they were used to. They did however have two weeks to prepare for it with the bye, and as such should not have had that difficult a time with it.

Now UMass has to come home to face a Towson team currently ranked #8 (and possibly rising) and boasting a 9-1 record. The Gorillas lucked out getting this one at Garber, but Towson is the best team in the CAA right now and on track to claim the conference’a automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.

UMass, with their SOS and a good showing for the rest of the regular season and in the CAA tournament, could possibly sneak into the NCAAs, but it’s a long shot. There has been more chaos in NCAA D1 lacrosse this year than in any other, which could help, but the top power conference teams will grab most of, if not all the at-large bids. UMass’ best bet would be to win the CAA’s AQ, and grabbing a win against Towson would go a long way towards that.

This game next Saturday sets up to be a good one. Towson beat Drexel on Saturday but had some trouble (as one is wont to do against conference foes) and they will be the highest-ranked team UMass has hosted in a little while. I’d imagine that perhaps the Minutemen took the Blue Hens too lightly yesterday, and they will do no such thing to the Tigers on the 9th.

I’ll be in attendance for that one, which also happens to fall on UMass’ football Junior Day. I think a few recruits might make their way over the see that game, so I hope the weather cooperates and the crowd is a good one. If it’s the same as UNC that’s good, though it would be nice to see even more people there; it’s possible with a Top-10 opponent coming in.

Given the way the season has gone we could see any number of Minutemen teams next Saturday, but I think they’ll bring their best effort and look to grab a very important win.

Go U.

UMass Roundup: Minutemen Hire Greg Carvel as Hockey Coach, Appear to be Finalizing Basketball Matchup(s) With UMass-Lowell

Haven’t rounded up the Minutemen news for a little bit, but there are some stories out there worthy of me posting while simultaneously working, which is always fun. Chief among them is THE news for the Flagship this week, as the Minutemen have hired former St. Lawrence University hockey coach Greg Carvel to the same position in Amherst on a five-year deal.

Carvel becoming the new hockey coach at UMass is a great hire. He’s well-regarded and well-liked around the college hockey community and is a proven commodity, which is something UMass desperately needed in the wake of the disaster that was John Micheletto.

To recap the hiring from the hockey side of things, go and read the piece on Fear The Triangle if you haven’t already. I mean I can’t think why you wouldn’t have, but seriously, if you haven’t make sure you read it now.

I can’t do any better than the authority on UMass hockey so I won’t even try, but suffice it to say I agree wholeheartedly. Carvel is about the best hire UMass could hope for given the available candidates, and of course eliminating people who are obviously not in contention.

UPDATE Thursday 3/31/16 8:45am – Here’s the link you can follow for everything related to Coach Carvel’s hiring, along with the stream of the press conference that will begin at 10am.

I’d have been happy of Merrimack’s Mark Dennehy was the hire as well, but he and Carvel are basically equal in my mind. Both are younger coaches who have had recent success in difficult conferences, and both have had that success as a result of rebuilding programs. Both have ties to UMass, both are familiar with the area and both are good recruiters. Dennehy has had his success in Hockey East already, which does differ from Carvel, but Merrimack also took a small step back this season. It’s also not any kind of dealbreaker; the ECAC is no joke.

Like I said FTT recaps it better than I ever could, so my focus for this is going to be on AD Ryan Bamford.

The way Bamford took control of this hire, leading the search himself without the use of an outside firm, is a very positive sign for the future of the entire department. He identified exactly what he wanted in a coach and what the university needed. He went out and interviewed not only candidates but also other, respected members of the college hockey community to gain a better understanding of UMass’ place in the hierarchy and how they were viewed. He made sure that both the candidates for the job and the fans, students, and alumni that support UMass hockey knew that he and his department, along with the university, were truly invested in their commitment to the program. He’s made it clear since he arrived that he wants Minutemen athletics to challenge for titles, and he was true to his words with his search for a new hockey coach.

In fact, the school is so committed they’ve started a Hockey Excellence Fund to raise $75,000 for the program to help upgrade and update facilities. Something like that (which if we’re being honest isn’t terribly complicated) would have been unheard of during the previous administration.

This new Minutemen athletic department staff has said that the goal is for every team to compete for a National Championship in their sports. I like that commitment and dedication, and I feel that it will enhance the department as a whole to strive to be the best they can possibly be. However we must be pragmatic, some sports are far less likely to achieve that goal than others. That doesn’t mean they cannot and will not have success, but at different levels.

However, the way college hockey is at the current point in time, UMass’ hockey program has probably the best chance of any sport the Minutemen field of winning a National Championship.

Seriously.

Parity is all over college hockey right now. Providence College is the defending champion. Union College won it all a couple of years ago. We could very easily see Quinnipiac hoisting the trophy this year. If those schools can compete for and win titles, the flagship of the University of Massachusetts ABSOLUTELY can.

Now there are a lot of people who will laugh at that, mainly other Hockey East fans, because UMass’ program has been a dumpster fire for a while now. We can make no bones about it, we’ve been awful. But Union, Providence, Quinnipiac, those programs all rose up from obscurity to win or contend for a title, which means UMass can too. And none of those schools can boast the resources UMass can offer when the department is truly committed to the program.

That’s the rub. Previous administrators didn’t care about hockey, and we’ve all seen where that got us. Despite the potential in the program, despite the fact that it’s a revenue sport in the Northeast and in the best college hockey conference BY FAR, John McCutcheon couldn’t have given a shit less about it, which is just one more line item in a ledger filled with line items that shows McCutcheon was maybe the most incompetent fool we’ve ever employed at UMass.

Hiring Carvel is the first step to hopefully turning UMass into the contender we want it to be. There is legitimate “sleeping giant” potential with UMass if they can establish the right culture with the right coach and right institutional support. It’s not happening overnight, and you will hear a lot from other HEA fans that we’re insane, but keep the faith, because the rebirth of UMass hockey began yesterday.

In other UMass news, it appears that the Minutemen are close to finalizing an agreement to play the UMass-Lowell RiverHawks on the hardwood as early as next season.

It’s important to note that nothing has been formally announced, so when it happens is still up in the air, but the rumors have been out about a potential game(s) for a little while now.

That was January and February. Ryan Bamford confirmed on Twitter that a matchup is happening, but the details are yet to be released.

There has been some dissent in the ranks over on UMassHoops about playing the RiverHawks in basketball. Some feel that it’s a lose/lose situation because UMass-Lowell isn’t very good, and if they somehow beat us it makes us look terrible. Some feel we’re too good to play them.

Others, like myself, welcome the chance to play UMass-Lowell and hope the games become a yearly occurrence because it becomes a rivalry game quickly and piques interest. I also don’t see the percentage of living in fear of freaking UMass-Lowell basketball as they are far away from the stage where they’d be able to defeat even a down UMass team in any more than a one-off fluke.

I’ve expressed this point of view on the board, but this medium gives me a chance to expound on it even further.

Firstly, we’re going to play a handful of teams with terrible RPIs every year. Without fail, every single year. Teams whose RPIs are above 250 at the least. Since were are going to be doing that anyway, the teams we end up playing (when possible) should have some sort of potential to be interesting.

Last season we played #343 New Orleans, #338 Central Arkansas, #328 Howard and #254 LIU-Brooklyn (we also played #219 Central Florida, #215 Florida Gulf Coast, and #196 Boston University, just for reference). UMass-Lowell was ranked #261 last season.

The games against UCA and Howard were part of the Vegas MGM tournament, but that does not change that they were against bad teams. UMass goes out of its way to try and play in an early season tournament yearly, and games like those are part of every tournament, so it’s the same as if the Minutemen scheduled the matchups themselves.

We also had to scramble a bit to add LIU-Brooklyn to the slate, as if I recall correctly that was the final game added to last year’s schedule.

What it boils down to is that no matter what, UMass is going to be playing at least three teams who are not very good. If given the option, I would rather those teams be local or quasi-local, as that at least has a chance to increase interest in what are traditionally non-interesting games.

I think much of the consternation from some fans comes from the belief that UMass isn’t scheduling “better” teams they way they would like to see, or the way they did in the glory days. That an understandable concern, but I think it’s separate from us scheduling easy games.

I’d like to see the team do what they can to get good games against good teams on the schedule. They’ve got a good series going with Providence which is a plus, they usually end up with a couple good games from the tournament they play in, and they have a home and home starting next season with South Carolina. They’ve been playing Harvard regularly or trying to as well. The thing is that the higher-up teams have to want to play UMass too, and that’s not always the case.

I’ve got no doubt they are trying to get good non-conference games on the schedule, but it’s a separate issue to schedule weaker teams as well. Everyone has a few bunnies. If we can get those games to potentially be interesting, that’s the real win.

I’d love to play UMass-Lowell every season. I get the sense it’s a distinct possibility too, as we’ve got a system president in Marty Meehan who’s a UMass-Lowell alum and who is a big supporter of college athletics. I’d imagine we’d play them in Amherst for a couple years and then return a game at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, then repeat the pattern (Amherst/Amherst/Lowell/Amherst/Amherst/Lowell, etc).

The Tsongas is a nice arena that would allow fans in the EMass area an opportunity to see the team closer than the Mullins. Playing at Harvard the past two years has been a UMass home game both times, which has worked out well, and until Boston College decides to sack up, the opportunities to play outside the 413 in Massachusetts are limited. The Tsongas is a good opportunity for that.

All in all I just hope people get on board with playing UMass-Lowell, because it’s obviously happening. Replacing a game with LIU-Brooklyn or Middle-of-Nowhere Tech with UMass-Lowell is a good thing for both basketball programs. That’s a game I’ll certainly try to get out to when we find out the date next season, not to mention it will be the debut of our stellar recruiting class.

UMass and UMass-Lowell already play in many other sports that don’t get a lot of press. Women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse and field hockey have faced off with UMass-Lowell this season or last. UMass baseball is traveling to Lowell this season. Once UMass-Lowell jumped their athletics to Division 1, games between the schools were bound to happen. In fact, one sport where they have not played where I know I would like them to is men’s lacrosse. Having game #14 this season against UMass-Lowell would have been a nice breather and boost to UMass’ record. Maybe next year.

People should get behind playing games with UMass-Lowell in basketball because I’d bet it becomes a regular occurrence. Given the fact that we have a legitimate, if currently one-sided rivalry with the RiverHawks in Hockey East, playing them in basketball has the potential to be a draw for students and fans. I’m looking forward to it.

In other news, football will be hosting a Junior Day on April 9th which will be larger than the one they hosted a little over a month ago. It should have a further reach than just New England, and I will do everything I can to make sure I get a list of prospects attending to pass on to anyone kind enough to read these ramblings.

The athletic department has also begun a new video series called “Made at Massachusetts”, and the first subject is football cornerbacks coach and former Minutemen CB Steve Costello. It’s very cool and the first of many, so make sure to check it out.

Go U.

UMass Football: Pro Day Piece on Underdog Dynasty

As many may know I’ve been covering UMass for Hustle Belt while they were members of the MAC. As they are now officially FBS Independents, the coverage has moved to a different SB Nation site, Underdog Dynasty.

Give the article a click and a read if you could, and hell, retweet and like it too; I’ll never pass up on a chance to drive traffic to the articles. Any other UMass pieces I write for SBN will be on UDD going forward.

Go U.