Event: UMass Mintuemen (9-3) Vs. Davidson Wildcats (7-3)
Date/Time: Thursday December 22, 2011- 7 p.m.
Location: Mullins Center (Capacity-9,493)-Amherst, MA.
Broadcast Info: The UMass Sports Network will have a radio broadcast of the contest with Glenn Wong joining Josh Maurer and Tim Collins. Boston residents can find a streaming version of the broadcast on the UMass website, while Western and Centeral Massachusetts residents can find the game on the radio as well.
All-Time Series: Davidson hold a slight 4-3 lead in the series that dates back to 1982, after the Wildcats came away with a 63-61 win in 2009 in North Carolina. The last time these two teams played at the Mullins Center, UMass pulled off a 70-64 win over Davidson in 2004.
Last Time Out: Using an 18-0 run to start the second half, Umass was able to overcome a four-point deficit at the half and defeat Quinnipiac for the third year in a row. Chaz Williams led the Minutemen with 14 points and seven assists and Terrell Vinson was named the UMass Athlete of the Week for his performance against the Bobcats in the 72-67 victory.
Davidson did something Monday that even #2 Ohio State couldn't do this season, the Wildcats went to Kansas and held off the Jayhawks 80-74. SoCon Player of the Week Nik Cochran scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half, as Davidson led for all but 14 seconds in the team's first win over a ranked opponent since the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Storylines: UMass and Davidson will square off at the Mullins Center looking to secure a statement win and a big boost to their resumes before the conference season begins. For UMass, a win over Davidson would be just the team's third win against a team above .500 and by far the Minutemen's best win of the season. The Minutemen look to improve to 6-0 at home for the first time since the 2007-08 season, when UMass went all the way to the NIT Championship Game.
The two teams boast the best offenses in their respective conferences, with Davidson leading the Southern Conference with 77.4 ppg and UMass taking the crown in the Atlantic 10 at 75.8 ppg. A big part of the Minutemen's success has been their rebounding. UMass is seventh in the nation in rebounding with 41.8 rebounds per game, including 16 offensive boards per game. On the other side, a big part of the Wildcats offensive prowess has been their success from the free throw line. Davidson ranks third in the nation in free throw shooting at 79.6 percent with every regular hitting over 70 percent of their attempts. The Wildcats are averaging over 19 made free throws a game.
Williams has been the sparkplug and most consistent player for UMass all season long, but the team's current three-game winning streak has been a product of improved play from sophomore Jesse Morgan and Raphiael Putney. Putney hit two free throws to ice the game Saturday against Quinnipiac and has averaged 12.5 points and five rebounds in the team's past two games. Meanwhile, Morgan has moved into the starting lineup after some improved play and has proved he can be the team's secondary ball-handler.
Davidson head coach Bill McKillop has four players averaging double figure scoring and a rotation of nine players that have appeared in every game. Sophomore forward De'Mon Brooks leads the Wildcats with 15.7 points and 6.6 rebound per games and is hitting over 50 percent of his shots. Brooks is joined in the starting lineup by three juniors and a sophomore for a Davidson team that has just three losses, including a road contest at Duke and a tight loss at home against Vanderbilt.
Players to Watch: Vinson was the key to Saturday's victory with some strong rebounding and defense sparking the team's big run to start the second half. The junior forward had been struggling after a fast start to the season, but came alive with 13 points and eight rebounds. While Vinson isn't expected to be UMass' best player or contributor in any one category, the Baltimore native provides a toughness and determination that the rest of the team feeds off of.
Junior guard JP Kuhlman is Davidson's biggest threat in the backcourt. The former SoCon Freshmen of the Year led the team in scoring and assists last season and is in the top three in both categories this year with 13.7 points and 2.3 assists per game. He is second on the team in made 3-pointers and is getting to the free throw line 4.5 times per game, which is tied for the team lead.
Prediction: UMass is 9-3 but lacks a quality win and desperately could use this game as validation to the outside world and themselves. While Chaz Williams is always a unique weapon, I think it's going to come down to the play of the team's forwards against a balanced Davidson squad and whether or not UMass has learned how to close out a game.
UMass 76, Davidson 72