Event: UMass Minutemen (10-3) Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (5-6)
Date/Time: Thursday December 30, 2011-7 p.m. EDT.
Location: Mullins Center (Capacity: 9,493)-Amherst, MA.
Broadcast Info: The UMass Sports Network will be providing a link to the live broadcast of the game on their athletics website with Josh Maurer, Tim Collins and Glenn Wong on the call.
All-Time Series: Despite UMass holding a 5-4 in the series, Central Connecticut made a huge statement last year, with a 92-63 victory on their home floor. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 33-9 behind a 17-0 run and never looked back, as they placed three scorers over the 20-point mark.
Last Time Out: UMass earned their biggest win of the season in a tight 73-65 win over Davidson, last Thursday night. Five Minutemen finished in double-figures, with Jesse Morgan leading the way with 14 points and three assists. Another big second half run keyed the victory, as UMass used a 17-4 run to take the lead in the second half and stay unbeaten in Massachusetts.
Central Connecticut dropped their first home game of the season last Thursday when LaSalle came to town. Without leading scorer Ken Horton, the Blue Devils fell 85-59, despite 30 combined points from Kyle Vinales and Adonis Burbage.
Storylines: Two teams going in very different directions, look to end non-conference play and 2011, with a victory at the Mullins Center Friday night. While UMass looks to earn a season-high five game winning streak, the Blue Devils have lost four in a row, including three games by 10 or more points. Neither team has played in the past week and the two teams have played just three games each in the past three weeks.
UMass is playing their best basketball of the season during their current winning streak, with wins against East Carolina, Quinnipiac and Davidson. While Chaz Williams (14.5 ppg, 5.9 apg) leads the Minutemen, it has been the production of the team's younger players that has sparked the streak. Sophomores Jesse Morgan and Raphiael Putney have both earned starting spots and have made tremendous strides in their scoring averages in their second season.
On the other side, Central Connecticut has lost four in a row after a five game winning streak but their recent results may be deceptive. The team's current slide includes losses to Michigan State and Northwestern out of the Big 10, a talented Brown squad and LaSalle without the nation's third leading scorer. Senior forward Ken Horton is averaging 22.5 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor and is hitting nearly three 3-pointers per game. He should be back in action tonight, after rolling his ankle the morning of the LaSalle game.
Two extremely talented guards mix with Horton to make up a scary three-headed monster, with freshmen Kyle Vinales averaging 20.2 points and senior Robby Ptacek averaging 18.6 points. The trio has combined to score 80.8 percent of the team's points and will need to be as efficient as possible, against a UMass team that receives nearly 25 points more per game from their bench.
Players to Watch: Terrell Vinson has flown under the radar at points under the team's new system and slight youth movement. The junior forward though will have a chance to shine Friday, when he'll get an opportunity to stop Horton. Vinson's 6'7", 220 frame gives him a bit of a size advantage over the smaller Horton and he's the perfect high-energy, tough defender, to keep Horton busy all night. If Vinson can slow Horton down, the rest of the UMass bigs should have their way on the boards, as the Minutemen come in as the ninth best rebounding team in the nation.
Freshmen point guard Malcolm McMillan has a very undesireable task ahead of him, as the Blue Devils try to end their losing streak before Northeast Conference play begins. The normally reliable defender will have to slow down Williams, which is no small task, and control the ball against the UMass full court pressure. McMillan is averaging 5.3 assists per game and 2.4 turnovers but on the season opponents are averaging just .7 assists to turnovers, with opponent struggling even more at the Mullins Center.
Prediction: Central Connecticut has proved a difficult opponent for the Minutemen in the past, but it won't be nearly as easy this time around. A fresh and focused Umass squad is a scary prospect and you can bet the team will be both after last year. Expect Umass to try to force the ball out of Horton's hands and for Williams to try to attack McMillan early. This one could get ugly, as the Minutemen look to exact some revenge.
UMass 84, Central Connecticut 71