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Matt Vautour: After 15 years away, UMass returns to the AP Top 25

Massachusetts' Trey Davis (12) dances with his teammates after defeating Clemson 62-56 in the second half of the championship game at the Charleston Classic NCAA college basketball tournament in Charleston, S.C., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

Massachusetts' Trey Davis (12) dances with his teammates after defeating Clemson 62-56 in the second half of the championship game at the Charleston Classic NCAA college basketball tournament in Charleston, S.C., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

By Matt Vautour
Monday, November 25, 2013
(Published in print: Tuesday, November 26, 2013)

Sitting in the Charleston, S.C., airport Monday afternoon, University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg was in the process of returning the texts and voice mails that had flooded his phone Sunday night.

“I apologize to anyone who didn’t get a ‘thank you’ back yet,” Kellogg said. “There were like one-hundred something texts,” he said.

There were likely to be more coming. The first wave were to praise Kellogg on his team winning the Charleston Classic. The next wave were probably to congratulate him on the Minutemen being ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25, their first time in the poll since 1998.

“It’s good for the view of our program. It gives us credibility in recruiting. It’s good for our campus, the people and the students. It gives people something to be proud of — a good basketball team with good kids,” Kellogg said. “It’s something I’ve strived for, to make UMass basketball relevant again. I wish it was later in the year and we didn’t get so much notice so early, but when you play a good schedule and don’t lose, I guess people are going to notice.”

Forty-three of the Associated Press’ 65 voters noticed enough to put the Minutemen somewhere on their ballots, from No. 15 to 25. UMass was the first team in the “also receiving votes” section of the USA Today Coaches Poll, making UMass the de facto No. 26.

When UMass dropped out of the AP Top 25 on Nov. 24, 1998, it was inconceivable that the Minutemen wouldn’t return until 15 years later.

Sure, UMass had dropped off some since Marcus Camby and John Calipari left two years before, but still, the Minutemen had been to seven straight NCAA tournaments and had been regulars in the poll (ranked for 78 weeks), spending far more time ranked than unranked. So, while a loss at St. John’s was enough to knock previously No. 24 UMass out of the rankings on Nov. 24, 1998, most people figured the Minutemen would be back before long.

It didn’t happen. After Bruiser Flint was fired, Steve Lappas was hired and fired. Travis Ford was hired and then bolted. All without a single week ranked. Gary Forbes and Stephane Lasme played in the NBA, but never played a UMass game for a ranked team. Ricky Harris, Rashaun Freeman and Terrell Vinson all scored 1,200 points without any of those baskets coming for a ranked squad.

The city of Charleston has an odd connection to the Minutemen’s top 25 absence. UMass’ first game after getting bounced was at the College of Charleston, where coach John Kresse’ Cougars beat the Minutemen 77-75. UMass’ return to the rankings came on the strength of winning the Charleston Classic, coincidentally enough at John Kresse Arena, named after the former coach.

The Minutemen won’t take their new status out for a spin this week. They don’t play again until travelling to Eastern Michigan on Dec. 3. Kellogg had a practice scheduled Tuesday morning before releasing his team for a two-day Thanksgiving break. Practice is scheduled to resume Friday evening. He said he planned to leave all the accolades behind when the team returned.

“It works out nicely. We’re going to take a few days off,” Kellogg said. “When we come back we’re going to reset like we’re 0-0. Hopefully we stand the test of time with this group. They’ve performed every time out this year. They’ve practiced really hard too. I don’t know why that would change.”

ATLANTIC 10 MINUTEMAN OF THE WEEK — Three weeks into the season and all three Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors have gone to a Minuteman. Cady Lalanne won the most recent after his averages of 15.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks earned him Charleston Classic Most Outstanding Player honors.

Lalanne won the first weekly honor from the A-10. Chaz Williams won it last week.

MY TOP 10 & No. 21 — 1. Michigan State, 2. Kansas, 3. Arizona, 4. Kentucky, 5. Duke, 6. Oklahoma State, 7. Syracuse, 8. Ohio State, 9. Connecticut, 10. Louisville. ... I voted UMass No. 21. For the rest of my Top 25 visit the College Hoop Week Guide on GazetteNET.com’s UMass Sports Blog.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: Providence vs. Kentucky, Sunday, 8:30 p.m., Brooklyn, N.Y. — The Friars have flirted with national attention after a strong start. This will be their toughest test of the year.

ATLANTIC 10 GAMES OF THE WEEK: Saint Louis vs. Wisconsin, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network, at Cancun Challenge — This south of the border tournament game could see a score where the winner scores south of 60 as both teams like to play slow.

Wichita State at Saint Louis, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network — SLU, which won the A-10 regular season title last year, has flown under the radar so far. The Cancun Challenge, plus a game with last year’s Final Four squad, could vault the Billikens into the spotlight fast.

QUOTABLE — “Work ain’t done tho. Keep y’all foot on the gas,” former Minuteman Javorn Farrell on Twitter congratulating his former UMass teammates on getting ranked. Farrell, who transferred to Texas-Pan American, is leading the Broncs in scoring at 16.0 points per game.

FINALLY — Who would have thought of all the teams the Atlantic 10 was losing that the best of them (so far) in 2013-14 would be Charlotte? The 49ers, who fizzled last year, are 5-1 after winning the Puerto Rico Shootout last week.

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

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