Thursday, April 10, 2014
AMHERST — Chaz Williams seemed like he didn’t know what to do with himself.
The University of Massachusetts had been given a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. It was higher than what the players or coaches expected to get. The Minutemen were so used to thriving on feeling underrated and disrespected that a big vote of confidence from the selection committee felt weird.
By Monday afternoon, the chip had returned to their collective shoulder. Experts on TV, strangers on Twitter and even computers all predicted that the Minutemen would lose without even knowing who they’d play. Tennessee and Iowa will play Wednesday night for the right to be UMass’ 11th-seeded opponent.
Disrespected again, Williams was back in his comfort zone.
“We love it. A lot of people don’t expect us to be here,” Williams said laughing. “Thank you to everybody who said that. It’s just fueling our fire.”
UMass coach Derek Kellogg wasn’t reading too much into being the trendy upset victim.
“About 50 percent of the time (the predictions) work out. Hopefully, we can be a team that’s untrendy,” Kellogg said.
DOUBLE PREPARATION — It never occurred to Kellogg that he might have to prepare for two different opponents. But getting a sixth seed opened the door to playing against the winner of a play-in game.
“That kind of shocked me. I thought we were going to be around a No. 7,” Kellogg said. “But when I saw all these teams getting in that we played and beat, anything was possible. I was just happy our name was called.”
Unable to install a game plan, Kellogg said the Minutemen are focusing on themselves.
“Our half-court defense could use a little improving. Our press could get better,” Kellogg said. “We have to keep an eye on our shot selection. We’ve rushed it a little bit.”
Kellogg has spoken to members of the Kentucky staff, which he’s close to, about Tennessee, but didn’t get a full scouting report.
DYSON WILL BE READY — Kellogg has begun playing freshman guard Demetrius Dyson a few minutes a game, a trend that could continue in postseason.
“It’s a great experience for us. I’ll be ready whenever my number is called,” Dyson said. “I’m just praying that things go the right way when I get into the game. Even though this is an NCAA tournmament game, I’m thinking of it like a regular game. Like the last game, I just tried to get in and do whatever I could.”
MOSTLY INDIFFERENT — While Kellogg and most of the UMass players expressed indifference to which opponent they’d play Friday, senior forward Raphiael Putney admitted he had a preference.
“I actually want to play Tennessee because last year they beat us in the Puerto Rican tournament,” Putney said. “They really got the best of us. We were a young team, not really mature. This year is a totally different team.”
Dyson and Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes were AAU teammates.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage