UMass returns from the Christmas break with a two-game road trip against a pair of Mid-American Conference teams, beginning at Northern Illinois (2-9, 2-2 at home) on Saturday afternoon before a contest at Miami (Ohio) (4-6, 3-0 at home) on Wednesday.
UMass is looking to win five-consecutive games for the first time this season and the first time since reeling-off six-straight during a similar stretch of games in December of last year.
The Minutemen are making their first trip to Illinois in five seasons, dating back to the first two games of the Derek Kellogg era when his 2007-08 squad opened the season against Arkansas-Monticello and Southern Illinois in Carbondale. Prior to those games, UMass hadn't played in the Land of Lincoln in 11 years when Bruiser Flint's group played in the 1997 Great Eight in Chicago's United Center against Georgetown.
The 2012-13 season marks the fifth for head coach Derek Kellogg ... Kellogg starred as a point guard for the Minutemen from 1992-95, playing for coach John Calipari ... Kellogg spent a year as a graduate assistant with Bruiser Flint at UMass, two years at George Mason with Jim Larranaga and eight at Memphis with Calipari, culminating with the 2008 NCAA Runner-up season ... UMass' win totals under Kellogg have gone 12, 12, 15 and 25 last season.
The Minutemen are shooting 40.3 pct. from the field, 29.8 pct. from outside and 71.2 pct. from the free throw line, while averaging 73.8 points per game.
UMass averages 7.4 3-pointers made and 24.8 attempts per game. The Minutemen have 86 steals thus far for 8.6 spg, which ranks 69th in the nation. Last season, UMass collected a school-record 326 steals and 8.8 spg.
Junior PG Chaz Williams leads the A-10 in assists (7.5, 7th in NCAA) and double-digit assist performances (3).
SERIES HISTORY WITH NORTHERN ILLINOIS & MAC
Saturday's game will be the second all-time meeting with Northern Illinois. The Minutemen won the initial contest, 102-87, on Nov. 10, 2007 at the BTI Tip-Off Classic in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
UMass is 7-5 all-time against current members of the Mid-American Conference. The record against those schools includes: 1-0 vs. Akron, 1-0 vs. Buffalo, 1-0 vs. Eastern Michigan, 0-2 vs. Kent State, 1-0 vs. Northern Illinois, 2-0 vs. Ohio and 1-3 vs. Toledo. Prior to its 85-76 win over Ohio in Amherst 10 days ago, UMass had lost its most recent game against a MAC school, falling at Toledo, 57-56 on Dec. 3, 2008. A season earlier, the Minutemen defeated Northern Illinois (102-87) in Cedar Falls, Iowa and Toledo (68-61) in Amherst.
This will mark the second of four games this season against MAC schools. UMass is contractually obligated to play two games at home and two on the road as part of the football program's membership in the conference. The four opponents and their locations are determined by the MAC.
2-POINT FIELD GOALS AND FREE THROW SHOOTING CARRYING MINUTEMEN OF LATE
While its no secret UMass has struggled to shoot the ball consistently from outside, the Minutemen have made great strides over the past four games in their 2-point field goal and free throw shooting.
Following a season-low 28.6 pct. shooting game against Miami (Fla.), Mass has compiled four-consecutive games over 40 percent for the first time this season season. Included in that is a sizzling 52.3 pct effort from inside the arc.
From the charity stripe, UMass has shot 72.1 pct. and has averaged 25-of-34 per contest, compared to 14-of-19 for its opponents - outscoring the opposition 98-55 at the line during the streak.
UMASS GETTING THE TRANSITION GAME GOING
One of the primary factors recent victories over Ohio and East Carolina has been UMass' ability to put together a pair of momentum-building scoring runs, while limiting its opponent's opportunities. The Minutemen collected two of their most lopsided stretches all season against the Bobcats - a 23-1 stretch over 6:40 in the first half and an 11-0 skein over 2:14 in the second half when Ohio had tied the game at 55, and followed with a 14-0 run to open the game with the Pirates before adding a 16-0 stretch early in the second half.
This season the Minutemen have compiled 10 scoring runs where the margin was at least nine points, compared to seven by their opponents and just one during the current four-game winning streak.
UMASS 1,000-POINT CLUB GAINING NEW MEMBERS
Junior PG Chaz Williams scored his 1,000 career point last month in the win over Siena and could be joined soon by senior F Terrell Vinson. Vinson enters the NIU game with 999 career points following his 15-point effort in last week's win over East Carolina.
Entering the season, 42 previous UMass players had reached the milestone.
UMASS TURNING INTO ROAD WARRIORS
UMass enters the NIU contest having won five consecutive road games dating back to the postseason NIT run last year. The last time they won as many true road games was during the 1997-98 season when Bruiser Flint's second team reeled-off seven-consecutive in opposing arenas.
UMASS NEVER OUT OF A GAME
With the style of play and mentality that Derek Kellogg has implemented at UMass, just about any deficit can be overcome. UMass erased a 12-point deficit in defeating Ohio 10 days ago, marking the second time this season and the sixth time in the last two seasons it has overcome a double-digit hole to win a game.
Three weeks earlier at Siena, the Minutemen trailed by 17 points (33-16) before outscoring the Saints 45-12 over a 13:02 period for a 51-45 lead at the midway point of the second half before getting a running jumper by Chaz Williams with 3.3 seconds left to win the game. It was the third time in the last 11 months that UMass has erased a 17-point deficit and won - at home against Saint Joseph's and at Drexel in the NIT Quarterfinals.
UMass opened the game on a 14-0 run over the first 5:00. They also used a 16-0 run in the second half after ECU had cut the margin to 47-44. They now have 10 runs this season with at least a plus-9 margin in them.
The Minutemen finished with four players in double-figures, marking the third time that has happened this season (4 vs. Providence and 5 vs. NC State).
UMass scored 84 points, one point shy of Wednesday's season high 85 points against Ohio. UMass scored 42 points in the first half, marking its third 40-plus first half of the season.
UMass shot 26-of-31 for 84% from the free throw line, their second highest free throw percentage this season. They made their first eight attempts of the game.
Chaz Williams had a season-high 26 points. It was his third 20-plus point game of the year and 19th in his career. He also tied his career-high with 11 assists.
Terrell Vinson finished with 15 points, giving him 999 for his career. He had 11 points in the first half, his highest in the opening period this season. He also drew a pair of charges.
Freddie Riley made four 3-pointers in the game and finished with a season-high 14 points. It was his first multi-3-pointer game of the season and his first since last season's final against Stanford when he made two. His last game with four makes was against Central Connecticut (12/30/11). He has 165 career 3-pointers made which is 7th all-time in school history.
UMass is currently riding a four-game winning streak; it's longest of the season. It is 19-2 at home, dating back to the start of the 2011-12 season.
WILLIAMS NAMED TO BOB COUSY AWARD WATCH LIST
After posting a banner season in 2011-12 in his first season playing for UMass, junior point guard Chaz Williams has garnered national attention for running the fast-paced Minuteman offense. Last Thursday, the Brooklyn native received yet another accolade as he was named to the 2013 Bob Cousy Award Watch List.
The award is given annually by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to the nation's top point guard in college basketball and is named after Hall of Famer and former Boston Celtic Bob Cousy.
In 2011-12, Williams earned NABC First Team All-District 4 honors in addition to being named to the All-Atlantic 10 First-Team and the Atlantic 10 All-Tournament Team. He averaged 16.9 points per game and 6.3 assists. The addition of the transfer from Hofstra helped guide UMass to the NIT Final Four last year before a lose to Stanford in the Semifinals.
Through 10 games in 2012-13, Williams leads the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game and leads the A-10 with 7.5 assists - which ranks seventh nationally.
FOUR STARTERS, 9 LETTERMEN BACK FROM 25-WIN SQUAD
UMass welcomes back four starters, including its top four scorers and nine of its top 10 rebounders from last season's team that went 25-12 and reached the NIT Final Four. Led by All-America candidate Chaz Williams at the point guard spot, the Minutemen will look to continue their up-tempo offensive style and full-court pressure defense in head coach Derek Kellogg's (64-65) fifth year at his alma mater.
UMass returns the following percentages in 2012-13: Scoring 89.3 pct.; Rebounding 83.2 pct.; Assists 94.7 pct.; Steals 91.7 pct.; Blocks 76.7 pct.; Minutes 85.4 pct.
Williams (16.9 ppg, 6.2 apg, 4.4 rpg), a first team NABC all-district and all-conference selection, was one of just three players in Division I last year to average at least 16.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. The others were Tim Frazier of Penn State and Nate Wolters of South Dakota State.
UMass recorded a school-record 326 steals last season (8.8 spg, 7th in NCAA) which aided in its 76.6 possessions per game, ranking the Minutemen second nationally behind Seattle's 77.2.
UMASS TO RETIRE MARCUS CAMBY'S NO. 21 JERSEY
The Massachusetts athletic department announced Tuesday that it will retire the jersey of 1996 Naismith National Player of the Year Marcus Camby on Jan. 19, 2013 when the Minutemen host George Washington at the Mullins Center.
One of the most decorated athletes UMass has ever produced, Camby lettered from 1993-96 and led the Minutemen to the 1996 NCAA Final Four and a 35-2 record, the most successful season in program history. He was named a consensus first-team All-American that season as he averaged 20.5 points to lead the Atlantic 10. In his three seasons at UMass, he was a two-time NABC All-District selection, an Atlantic 10 First-Team pick twice and the league's Freshman of the Year in 1994.
He left UMass as the school's all-time leader in blocked shots in a career (336) and single-season (128). Camby scored 1,387 points in his career to rank in the top 10 after his final season for the Maroon & White.
This will be the fifth men's basketball jersey retired at UMass and ninth in school history. Previous hoops numbers to be hung at the South end of the Mullins Center include George "Trigger" Burke (#32), Julius Erving (#32), Lou Roe (#15) and Al Skinner (#30). Additionally, Dick Bergquist in baseball (#26), Danielle Henderson in softball (#44), Greg Minton in water polo (#6) and Eric Sopracasa (#43) in men's lacrosse have had their jerseys retired in their respective sports.
UMASS SELECTED FIFTH IN A-10 PRESEASON POLL
UMass was selected fifth in the preseason Atlantic 10 Poll in a vote by media and coaches. Saint Joseph's was picked to win the league followed by Saint Louis, VCU, Temple and UMass. The Hawks had 11 first place votes, while the Billikens had 10 votes. Temple, UMass and Butler all had two first place votes in the poll.
Junior Chaz Williams was named to the preseason First Team. Williams had a banner campaign in 2011-12 in leading UMass to the NIT Semifinals. The Brooklyn native was named to the All-Atlantic 10 First Team, the A-10 All-Championship Team and the NABC All-District 4 First Team.
Among national publications, Athlon picked the Minutemen to finish fourth and make a return trip to the NIT. They also tabbed Chaz Williams as the Preseason Player of the Year and one of the top 10 Floor Leaders in the nation. Lindy's had UMass seventh but listed it as a team folks may want as an A-10 sleeper team. Williams was bestowed the honor of being the Most Entertaining player in the league.
UMASS AMONG TOP 3-POINT SHOOTING TEAMS IN 2011-12
UMass averaged 8.1 3-point field goals per game a year ago, which ranked first in the Atlantic 10 and 31st nationally. The Minutemen made 288 triples to rank second all-time in school history.
UMass was one of just four schools in Division I with four players who made at least 50 treys. The others were Florida, Iowa State and Youngstown State.
MULLINS CENTER TURNS 20 IN 2012-13
UMass is in its 20th season of play at the William D. Mullins Memorial Center and has posted an all-time record of 193-75 (.719). The Minutemen also own a 103-49 (.676) all-time record in regular-season Atlantic 10 Conference games at the Mullins Center, and a 4-2 mark in Atlantic 10 Tournament contests. The first game was played on Feb. 4, 1993 as UMass defeated West Virginia 64-59 in overtime.
UMass was dominant at home last season, posting a 15-1 record in Amherst, which included a 14-1 record at the Mullins Center (1-0 at historic Curry Hicks Cage) and a renewed home-court advantage with the student-based Mullins Militia. UMass averaged 4,359 fans in 15 dates last season. Those numbers got increasingly higher as the season evolved to 5,411 for eight A-10 home games and 6,614 for the last five regular-season home dates. The Minutemen saw four crowds of more than 6,200 in the final six games, with a season-high 8,399 in the victory over Saint Louis.
UMASS A POPULAR TV CHOICE IN 2012-13
UMass is scheduled to appear on television 11 times this season with nine current match-ups slated for national broadcasts. That marks the most regular-season showings since the 1997-98 year.
UMASS POSTSEASON HISTORY
UMass has an all-time postseason record of 24-21 in 18 combined appearances in both the NCAA and NIT tournaments. The Minutemen have made eight NCAA Tourney showings, with the last in 1998. The first came in 1962 before a string of seven-consecutive from 1992-98 in which it ran its all-time record to 11-8 with an Elite Eight showing in 1995 and the only Final Four appearance in A-10 history in 1996. Last season the Minutemen collected their 11th NIT appearance and ran their record to 13-13, which included Final Fours in 1991 (fourth), 2008 (runner-up) and 2012 (tied-third).
ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE
The A-10 ranked seventh among all conferences in the final RPI in 2011-12. The league boasted eight Top 100 teams, third among all leagues behind only the Big East and Big 10. The eight teams matched the SEC and was more than the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Mountain West.
A-10 IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
For the fifth year in a row, the Atlantic 10 Conference earned at least three bids into the NCAA Tournament while it marked the 27th time in the league's 35-year history that the conference received multiple bids to participate in the national tournament. The A-10 also received multiple at-large bids for the fifth year in a row and 18th time overall. Over the last six years, the league has had 12 at-large selections - the seventh most among Division I conferences - behind only the Big East (42), Big Ten (29), ACC (26), Big 12 (26), SEC (23) and the Pac-10 (22). In fact, the A-10 is one of eight conferences to receive at least one at-large selection over each of the last six seasons.