UMass will look to stay perfect at home and get revenge for the second straight game, when they take on Fordham in their A-10 opener. Chaz Williams will lead the Minutemen in his first conference game, since he was in a Hofstra uniform in 2009.
Event: UMass Minutemn (11-3) Vs. Fordham Rams (7-6)
Date/Time: Thursday January 5, 2012-7 p.m. EDT.
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.
Last Year's Game: UMass lost a game in the Bronx that will be difficult to forget, no matter how many years go by. Fordham broke a 41-game Atlantic 10 conference losing streak, with a 77-73 win in front of their home crowd in both team's regular season finale. Despite 30 points from senior Anthony Gurley, UMass' rally fell short, as the Rams hit their free throws down the stretch. With the loss, UMass dropped from the seventh seed in the A-10 Tournament to the eight and stopped the Minutemen from reaching a new high mark for wins under head coach Derek Kellogg.
Last Time Out: UMass avenged a 29-point loss against Central Connecticut State last year, with a 32-point stomping in Amherst, as Kellogg earned his fiftieth career victory at his alma mater. Chaz Williams and Raphiael Putney led the way with 18 points apiece and three other Minutemen finished in double figures.
Tuesday night Fordham earned a huge upset win, when they downed #22/21 Harvard, in their first victory over a ranked team since 1978. Junior Chris Gaston led the way with 18 points and 10 rebounds, with the bulk of his efforts in the second half. The Rams did something few teams had been able to do this season against Harvard; they shot the ball at a high percentage, as they knocked down 48 percent of their field goal attempts and half of their 3-pointers.
Storylines: Building Momentum Two sleepers in the A-10 will meet at the Mullins Center, with both team desperate to keep their win streaks alive. With the contenders in the conference solidly entrenched (Xavier, Temple, Saint Louis), both schools need to beat the other second tier teams, if they are going to have a chance to compete. While UMass enters on a five-game streak, Fordham has won three in a row and four of five, with big wins against Georgia Tech and Harvard. The Minutemen are the more legit threat to the rest of the A-10 and need to take advantage of a schedule that begins with three very winnable games and includes only one game apiece against Xavier, Temple and St. Louis.
Battle of The Big Men: Chris Gaston outplayed a Harvard front court Tuesday, that three days earlier had dominated the paint against St. Joseph's, one of the best front courts in the A-10. The junior forward leads the nation with 11 double-doubles and leads the Rams in scoring (16.8ppg) and rebounding (11.2rbg), for the second year in a row. He is projected as a darkhorse for the A-10 Player of the Year and has been dominant during the team's current win streak: 25 points, 14 rebounds, 46 percent shooting and seven-made free throws per game. Add in senior Kervin Bristol and his 7.7rbg and two plus blocks per game and Fordham could provide the Minutemen with fits inside.
Defending Home Court: UMass is 7-0 at home and 9-0 in games played in the state of Massachusetts, not too shabby for a group that went 8-8 at home last year. The Minutemen aren't drawing anything close to capacity crowds at the Mullins Center, but don't think it isn't a huge advantage to play there. With the team's up-tempo new look inciting the fans, playing in Amherst has become much more difficult and the team has fed off the home crowd, with several extended runs in each of the past few home games. If Umass can get off to a hot start and push the pace, expect Fordham to really struggle working against the home crowd and the UMass full court press.
Players To Watch: Chaz Williams has been the leader of this team since the team's first game and will need to continue being that steady pulse, as the Minutemen enter conference play. In the team's three losses this year there have been three trends: below average shooting (especially from beyond the arc), UMass not dominating the boards and Williams struggling (excluding the Miami game). Fordham has an imposing front court that could bother Williams' shots inside, but he needs to continue attack and create opportunities for teammates, if the Minutemen are going to avenge last year's loss.
Sophomore combo guard Branden Frazier won't have to try to slow down Williams on the defensive end, but will have a big part in trying to break the UMass press. Friday, Central Connecticut State was extremely successful breaking the normally stingy press, but didn't have the talent to stick with the Minutemen. If Frazier can break the press with ease and be an effective weapon outside, he's the team's second leading scorer, another Fordham win is plausible.
Prediction: Fordham is better than expected, and a much bigger threat than anyone would've thought, especially after Tuesday's win, but they don't have enough to beat UMass. Yes the Rams have a strong front court, but they don't have the shooters from outside to keep UMass honest and they don't have a true point guard. Look for a very exciting first 30 minutes, full of nerves on both sides, before the Minutemen go on a run to put the game away.
UMass 72, Fordham 66