Chaz Williams and UMass (13-4, 2-1 A10) will look to knock off high-flying St. Joes (12-5, 2-1 A10) at the Mullins Center at 4 pm. EDT Saturday. (TV: None, Radio: 1510 AM The Zone)
UMass leads the all-time series between the team's 31-28, with the Minutemen having won four of the past five. The two teams split two February matchups last season, with UMass winning the second game 69-51, between the two struggling sides. In the Minutemen victory, UMass held the Hawks without a field goal for the first 11:31 and gave up just 15 first half points, in what would be the team's second best defensive showing of the season. Minutemen fans hope they can get a similar performance from their team at home Saturday, where the team is a spotless 9-0 on the season. Wednesday night against Charlotte the Minutemen found another way to win at the Mullins Center, as UMass overcame a small deficit with under five minutes to play by hitting a barrage of free throws. Williams led the way with 18 points and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line, as UMass hit 13-of-14 shots from the charity stripe in the final 4:47.
Phil Martelli's group is coming off a big win of their own, after the Hawks knocked off Fordham 80-62 in Philadelphia Wednesday. Sophomore guard Langston Galloway scored 30 points for the second time this season in the win, as he connected on seven of his nine 3-point attempts. Everything for UMass begins with Williams, who is both the team's point guard and emotional leader. Williams in ninth in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (15.9ppg), second in assists (5.9apg) and third in steals (2.5spg). Two big men are the secondary options for the Minutemen, as Terrell Vinson and Raphiael Putney both average at least 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. UMass' lone senior, center Sean Carter is the anchor inside, as he averages a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game. The Minutemen's strength is their scoring prowess and rebounding; the squad leads the conference in scoring offense (77.7ppg), rebounding (41rbg) and steals (9.9spg).
Three Hawks are averaging double figure points on the season, with a fourth at just under 10 points a game, for a St. Joes team that has already won more games (12) than a season ago (11). Junior guard Carl Jones leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring with 18 points per game and has plenty of help from Galloway-who's third best in the conference at 16.4ppg. Inside the team is anchored by sophomore forward C.J. Aiken. The 6'9" terror leads the nation in blocks with 4.47 per game, which is more than 10 of the 14 teams in the Atlantic 10 average. As a team, St. Joes is second in the nation, with 8.69 blocks per game.
Despite Aiken's prowess inside on the defensive end, the Hawks are actually known for their offensive skills, as the team leads the conference in field goal percentage (48.2 percent).
The two teams have two shared common opponents, with both ironically from the Atlantic 10 Conference. While UMass has disposed of Fordham and Charlotte at home, the Hawks fell 57-52 to Charlotte at home last Saturday, before blowing out Fordham on Wednesday.
Prediction:The Atlantic 10 is extremely deep this season and a big part of it is the depth in the city of Philadelphia. UMass already fell to LaSalle last weekend and will look to avoid the other secondary power (St. Joes), before they have to face off against perennial power Temple at the end of February. The Hawks are extremely balanced, talented and athletic, which could cause the Minutemen serious problems with a short bench. On the other hand, UMass has shown they have what it takes to beat teams like St. Joes: neutralize the big man inside, lock down on one of the two perimeter scorers and make the other one beat you. If UMass can do that again Saturday, they'll be sitting pretty at 3-1 in the Atlantic 10.
UMass 79, St. Joes 73