Gazette: Good Start Critical For UMass - UMass Athletics

Gazette: Good Start Critical For UMass

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Check out Matt Vautour's preview notebook of the UMass hoop season in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

A year ago, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team tipped off its season in Florida. The Minutemen played in North Carolina, Texas and three times in New Jersey during their nonconference schedule.

If you added the distance the Minutemen will travel to all of their nonconference games this year, you'd barely reach Atlantic City. The Minutemen won't get on a plane once before Atlantic 10 play. They don't leave New England and aren't scheduled to face anyone ranked in the top 25 during their 14-game nonconference schedule. They only leave the 413 area code three times.

Good start critical for UMass

AMHERST

A year ago, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team tipped off its season in Florida. The Minutemen played in North Carolina, Texas and three times in New Jersey during their nonconference schedule.

If you added the distance the Minutemen will travel to all of their nonconference games this year, you'd barely reach Atlantic City. The Minutemen won't get on a plane once before Atlantic 10 play. They don't leave New England and aren't scheduled to face anyone ranked in the top 25 during their 14-game nonconference schedule. They only leave the 413 area code three times.

When UMass opens its season tonight against Rider, the Minutemen will be far away from the "anyone, anywhere" philosophy that used to define the program's scheduling.

But this schedule might be the right one for this UMass team, which needs to learn to win before it can expect to. So a steady diet of America East, Northeast and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference teams, with a couple of bigger named foes - Boston College and Seton Hall - sprinkled in, awaits the Minutemen.

Senior Anthony Gurley said UMass needs to take advantage of it.

"It's huge for us to off to a good start in this nonconference season. We're not doing as much traveling and we're not playing as many major schools as we have in the past," he said. "The schedule kind of plays to our advantage. But that being said, we have to take care of business."

FORMER PLAYERS - There will be quite a few former Minutemen who'll be in uniform for other schools around the country.

Max Groebe, Jr., Cornell - Groebe could finally get consistent minutes after being buried on the deep Big Red squad last year. He's a candidate to start at shooting guard.

Papa Lo, Jr., Bryant - Lo is a likely starter again at Bryant, which is in its third year of transitioning to Division I. Lo blocked 54 shots last year as a sophomore.

Matt Glass, Jr., Vermont - The former Minuteman wing will make his debut at Vermont after sitting out last year as a transfer. He's being asked to be a consistent outside presence and could see a lot of minutes for his home-state Catamounts.

Travon Wilcher, Jr., Maine - The Springfield native played just four games last year for Maine and doesn't figure to be in the mix for a lot of minutes this season for the Black Bears. He could get a chance to face his former team as Maine is at UMass on Dec. 8.

David Gibbs, Jr., Mount Ida - Last year's starting point guard in the season-opener originally planned to transfer to Newberry College, but instead landed at Division II Mount Ida, where he'll be eligible to play right away.

Doug Wiggins, Sr., Mountain State - The Connecticut transfer, who never suited up for UMass before being dismissed from the program after a series of off campus incidents, is leading the NAIA school in scoring with 18.7 points per game already this season.

UMASS COACHING TREE - Former Minuteman player and assistant coach Tony Barbee begins his first season at Auburn after a successful run at Texas-El Paso. He'll have his work cut out for him in year one as the Tigers were picked to finish last in the SEC West.

Former UMass coach Bruiser Flint begins his 10th season at Drexel. Minuteman fans can see him in action on Dec. 4. His Dragons play Northeastern in the first game of the Boston Tipoff Classic before UMass plays Boston College at 6:30 p.m.

NEW COACHES - The Minutemen will face six different schools breaking in new coaches, including four in nonconference play. Boston College hired Steve Donahue after a successful run last year at Cornell. Kevin Willard replaces the controversial Bobby Gonzalez at Seton Hall.

Milan Brown took over for Sean Kearney at Holy Cross. Kearney was shown the door after just one season in Worcester.

Marshall coach Donnie Jones is the new coach at Central Florida.

In the Atlantic 10, Alan Major takes over for Bobby Lutz at Charlotte while Tom Pecora tries to resurrect Fordham.

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