UMass will have its hands full with FSU in Orange Bowl Basketball Classic

Last modified: Friday, January 03, 2014
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Chaz Williams hasn’t forgotten what it felt like to walk off the floor in the Bahamas in the 2011 Battle 4 Atlantis. It’s been two years since his University of Massachusetts team fell to Florida State, 73-53, but the result clearly still bugged him.

“It’s one of those things you can’t forget when you lose by 20 to a team on national television,” Williams said Friday after practice at Nova Southeastern University. “We’re pretty fortunate to have this opportunity to play them again. Seeing them on the schedule again was a reminder of what happened.”

Saturday’s 2 p.m. meeting with the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl Classic offers the Minutemen opportunities to avenge the 2011 defeat and improve their NCAA tournament resume for 2014.

“I don’t feel like we have to win every game, but I feel like we can,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “It’s a good place to be. Any game, we have played and will play, we have an opportunity to win. (Saturday) we have an opportunity in front of us that we might as well try to take advantage of. It’s a nice opportunity for us. This is another high RPI team that I think is an NCAA tournament team that could make a run because of their size and athleticism.”

Coincidentally in that 2011 game, FSU was ranked No. 20 and 22, while the Minutemen were unranked. On Saturday, the rolls will be reversed as UMass (10-0) is No. 20 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25.

The Seminoles (7-3) likely aren’t far outside the top 25 picture if they continue to play the way they have. They boast blowout wins over VCU (85-67), which was ranked No. 10 at the time, and Charlotte (106-62), which was receiving votes in the poll. FSU’s three losses were to respectable opponents — Michigan (82-80 in overtime), Florida (67-66) and Minnesota (71-61).

“Our guys realize how good they are,” Kellogg said. “We understand what we’re up against. But our guys have good energy. They seem like they’re focused and ready to play. It’s another huge, huge test for our team and program and I’m hoping we’re up for the challenge.”

FSU is one of the biggest teams in the nation, boasting three 7-footers, including two who play regular minutes.

Boris Bojanovsky, a 7-foot-3 Slovakian, averages 7.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in 17.1 minutes. Michael Ojo, a 7-foot-1, 295-pound Nigerian center, averages 3.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 14.0 minutes.

“It’s gotta be one of the biggest teams in the history of college maybe,” Kellogg said. “Their length up front and even at the guard spot is about as good as any I’ve seen all year. We’re going to have our hands full around the rim. They do a really, really good job protecting the basket. They crowd the paint on defense and make you take a lot of outside shots. Then they try to rebound and run on you.”

UMass junior center Cady Lalanne, who grew up in the Orlando area, was prepared for another battle inside after having several in the Charleston Classic earlier this year. He was excited for the matchup and being closer to home.

“I love playing in Florida. My mom, my cousins, a couple of my high school friends and some of my teachers are coming down,” Lalanne said. “They haven’t seen me play in years. It feels good that they would come down here.

“It’s a difficult game with their 7-footers, but I’ve played against big guys all year so I think it’ll be a good game,” he continued. “Charleston was great preparation. I never played against big guys like that until Charleston.”

Senior guard Ian Miller leads FSU at 14.9 points and 3.6 assists per game, while senior Okaro White’s game loosely resembles Raphiael Putney’s. Like his Minuteman counterpart, he’s long (6-foot-8), skinny (204 pounds) and a good 3-point shooter (42.1 percent.). He’s averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

This is the seventh meeting between the two schools with each side winning three times. This is the teams’ second meeting at this event. UMass won 69-60 in 1999.

After the game, the team will scatter for the holidays before returning Christmas night to begin preparing for Providence on Dec. 28.

NOTES — Florida State is one of four schools — Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon — wearing different uniforms this weekend as part of a Nike initiative to “bring Native American Heritage to life on the basketball court” according to Florida State. The Seminoles will wear turquoise uniforms.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida approached us about this program and we are honored and excited to wear these unique uniforms,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said in a press release. “The color is significant as it is deeply symbolic of friendship and community in the Native American culture.”

NESN has picked up the Sun Sports broadcast of the game.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage