Event: UMass Minutemen (12-3, 1-0 Atlantic 10) Vs. LaSalle Explorers (11-4, 1-0 A-10)
Date/Time: Sunday January 8, 2012-2p.m. EDT.
Location: Tom Gola Arena (Capacity: 4,000)-Philadelphia, PA.
Broadcast Info:Comcast Sports New England will telecast the game with Tom McCarthy and John Griffin on the call. The UMass Sports Network will also have an audio broadcast of the game streaming on their website with Josh Maurer and Tim Collins bringing you the game.
Last Year's Games: UMass holds a slight 14-12 lead in the all-time series with the teams splitting their two games last year. In the first game, UMass hosted the Explorers at the MassMutual Center in Springfield and escaped with a 74-71 victory. The Minutemen scored 54 of their 74 points in the paint behind big games from Sean Carter, Javorn Farrell and Terrell Vinson. A month later, LaSalle came away with a 72-51 victory on Senior Day, behind an outstanding defensive performance. UMass knocked down just 29.8 percent of their shots and the Explorers dominated the boards to even the season series.
Last Time Out: UMass earned their first Atlantic 10 victory of the season the hard way, when they outlasted Fordham 80-76 Thursday night at the Mullins Center. Vinson and Raphiael Putney both recorded double-doubles in the game and Chaz Williams added 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, including the final three free throws to ice the game.
The Explorers earned their biggest win of the season Wednesday when they took down the Atlantic-10 favorite Xavier Musketeers 80-70. Senior Earl Pettis finished with a season-high 23 points as LaSalle earned their fourth straight win and tenth straight at the Tom Gola Center.
Storylines:Two of the biggest surprises in the Atlantic 10 conference square off Sunday, trying to keep big streaks alive. UMass enters the game riding a six-game winning streak, with five consecutive games of 72 points or more. Dr. John Gianni has led LaSalle to an impressive 10 straight wins at home dating back to last season and a four-game winning streak. Something's got to break Sunday when UMass, the second-best scoring team in the conference, takes on LaSalle and its stingy defense, that has held opponents to less than 70 points nine times in 15 games.
The Minutemen will be playing their first road game in over a month Sunday when Chaz Williams and crew take on LaSalle in their Atlantic 10 road opener. Williams will have work his cut out against one of the best backcourts in the Atlantic 10, as the Explorers frequently employ a four-guard system.
A four-guard system could be just the thing to break down the UMass full-court press that has frustrated nearly every opponent this season. Gianni has said he went to the system to take care of the ball better, but it's also helped the team's perimeter defense and they've shot a higher percentage. South Carolina transfer Ramon Galloway leads the Explorers with 15.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He's far from the on;y threat, as LaSalle is the only team in the Atlantic 10 with four players averaging 12 or more points per game.
With such a strong guard presence on the other side, the onus is going to fall on the shoulders of the Minutemen's big men to control the game. While the Minutemen dominated LaSalle in points in the paint last year, it didn't carry over to the rebounding totals or second-chance points. Putney, Vinson, Carter and Maxie Esho will need to assert their will inside and focus more on getting out to the perimeter to get a hand in front of LaSalle's bevy of 3-point shooters.
Players to Watch:Don't be surprised to see LaSalle use full-court pressure against the heavily forward oriented Minutemen lineup, which means Jesse Morgan will need to be at his best. Morgan entered the starting lineup at the beginning of this winning streak and has been fantastic. The sophomore guard has proven capabale of not only scoring but serving as the secondary ball handler when Williams is sitting.He'll need to show plenty of poise for the Minutemen, if UMass is going to break LaSalle's longest home winning streak since 1990.
Freshmen Jerrell Wright is the lone forward to start for the Explorers and he'll have his work cut out for him. LaSalle is a below averaging rebounding team and they'll take on one of the top 10 teams in the nation, on paper things don't look good for the Explorers unless Wright can have a big game. He's plenty talented and more importantly one of two players on the roster who are over 6'8" and have seen regular minutes.
Prediction:UMass and LaSalle have a lot of things in common between their dominance at home, to their surprising starts but on the court they are very different. UMass tries to beat you with their high-energy system that relies on dominating the boards and getting out into transition. The home team focuses on not turning the ball over, taking good shots and getting plenty of looks along the perimeter. I think UMass should have enough because of the extreme athleticism of some of their forwards that allows them to play like guards, but the game could go either way.
UMass 71, LaSalle 67