The UMass bandwagon is filling up fast… and with good reason. The Massachusetts Minutemen have high expectations this year as they try to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. The Minutemen have had these types of expectations before and failed to live up to them, so forgive us for not holding our breath. Still, after several “This is the year!” projections recently, some experts truly believe that 2013-14 really is the year. Let’s take a deeper dive into one of Rhody’s longtime rivals.
2012-13 Record: 21-12 (9-7 in the Atlantic 10)
Key Losses: F Terrell Vinson, G Jesse Morgan, G Freddie Riley
Key Returners: G Chaz Williams, C Cady Lalanne, F Raphiael Putney
Player to Watch: G Chaz Williams
Williams is the early A-10 Player of the Year favorite, and may be the “Player to Watch” for the entire conference. The diminutive point guard is coming off a junior season in which he led the Minutemen in points (15.9 per game) and assists (7.4 per game). He surpassed both of those averages in UMass’s two wins over the Rams last year, averaging 23.5 points and 9.0 assists against Dan Hurley’s squad. Williams is only 5’9″ but don’t let his size fool you… he is incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Predictions: Massachusetts 77 – Rhode Island 70 (Feb. 9)
Massachusetts 78 – Rhode Island 67 (Feb. 26)
The Minutemen are coming off a sweep of Rhody last season, including a very convincing 81-53 win in Amherst. Williams and company have too much firepower once again, and it’s looking like another pair of wins for UMass. Whether they can actually live up to our prediction remains to be seen.