Chaz Williams and the Minutemen have seen and achieved a lot this season. They traveled to the Bahamas, swept their Massachusetts rivals, knocked off a ranked Temple squad to make it to the Atlantic 10 Semifinals for the first time since 2001, knocked off three higher seeds in the National Invitation Tournament and Tuesday they'll look to notch one more accomplishment when they face Standford at the Mecca Of College Basketball.
Fifth-seeded UMass (25-11) and the (3) Cardinal (24-11) will meet in the NIT semifinals for the second time when the two teams tip off Tuesday night at 7 p.m. EDT at Madison Square Garden, with a spot in Thursday's NIT Championship Game on the line. ESPN2 will broadcast the game with Mike Patrick, Fran Fraschilla and Bill Raferty on the call. An audio broadcast of the game will also be available nationally on Westwood One Radio with Bob Papa and former UMass head coach Steve Lappas providing commentary.
The winner of Tuesday's game will play either PAC-12 regular season champion (1) Washington or Tubby Smith's (6) Minnesota squad. That game will be played at 9 p.m. directly after the UMass-Stanford game.
It has been a fantastic run for the Minutemen who have beaten an SEC team (Mississippi State), a Big East team (Seton Hall) and the Colonial Athletic Association Regular Season Champion (Drexel) all on the road.
The Minutemen started with a double-overtime thriller in Mississippi, where the Minutemen gave up a double-digit second-half lead, only to knock off the (4) Bulldogs off in the second overtime 101-96. Less than a week later, UMass traveled to New Jersey where they outlasted (1) Seton Hall 77-67 behind a few big three-pointers down the stretch. UMass capped off their run through their side of the bracket with a thrilling comeback of their own. After trailing by 17 early in the second half against (3) Drexel, the Minutemen handed the Dragons their first home loss of the season behind 14 second-half points by junior Terrell Vinson.
On the other side, the (3) Cardinal have had a slightly easier trip to Madison Square Garden, as they haven't had to leave home. Stanford opened with a 76-65 win over Cleveland State, before narrowly defeating (7) Illinois State by a 92-88 margin in overtime. In that game, Stanford overcame an 11-point deficit behind 29 points from sophomore Aaron Bright and freshmen guard Chasson Randle put the Cardinal ahead for good with a three-pointer with a minute to play. Stanford's quarterfinal matchup was much easier, as the Cardinal obliterated (5) Nevada by an 84-56 score.
Twenty-one years ago these two programs met in the NIT Semifinals, with Stanford earning a 73-71 victory over the Minutemen. But the Minutemen made the most of their next appearance in the NIT Semifinals, defeating defending national champion Florida five years ago, only to lose to Ohio State in the Championship Game.
Stanford is an extremely deep team with 11 players having made 24 or more appearances. Randle (13.9 ppg) and Bright (11.6 ppg) are two of the team's leading scorers as the pair of underclassmen have both excelled behind the three-point line shooting over 43 percent. While Randle fills up the stat sheet with steals and rebounds, Bright has been inserted as the starting point guard as a freshmen and achieved a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ration and 3.6 assists per game.
Senior forward Josh Owens is the team's second leading scorer (11.7 ppg) and leading rebounder at 5.7 rebounds per game. Owens also leads the team in field-goal percentage (57.6 percent) and steals (41).
While Stanford is above-average offensively (71.7 ppg) and on the glass (+4.4 rebounding margin), the Cardinals are 79th in the nation in scoring defense, as they allow just 63.5 points per game. UMass is the opposite, with a top-20 offense and a defense that allows 72.4 points per game.
The game could come down to which team can take better care of the ball, with two young point guards facing off on a huge stage. UMass has turned the ball over 14 times a game this season but has forced opponents into almost 17 giveaways a game. On the flip side, Stanford has turned the ball over just 13 times per game, while forcing 14 turnovers a contest. If the Minutemen can bother the Cardinal ball handlers and create some easy baskets, they may be able to push the game into the 70s or 80s and force Stanford to play out of their element.