AMHERST — The No. 21/22 University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team will try out the new number in front of its name and the new target on its back Tuesday.
After being idle in its first week ranked, the Minutemen travel to Eastern Michigan for a 7 p.m. contest, their first true road game of the season.
Despite not playing last week, UMass took advantage of losses by teams ahead of it and moved up three spots to No. 21 in the Associated Press poll. After not being ranked by the coaches last week, the Minutemen entered the USA Today Top 25 at No. 22. Before Monday’s games, UMass was ranked No. 1 in the Ratings Percentage Index, although the computer system that evaluates a team’s success measured against its strength of schedule, isn’t designed to be a completely accurate barometer this early in the season.
Junior big man Cady Lalanne thought the Minutemen would be ready for the added attention that comes from opponents wanting to knock off a ranked team.
“Having that target on our back is something we’ve been looking forward to. The coaches have done a good job getting us prepared to handle our business out on the court. Teams are going to give us their best shot. And we’re playing at their place so it might be packed. We have to execute the game plan thoroughly and pay attention to detail,” he said. “It felt good (to get ranked). We’ve been working since the summertime for it to happen. For it to happen feels good that the work we’ve put in, is paying off. The most important thing is to keep on building in this.”
Eastern Michigan isn’t likely to be intimidated coming off an 81-63 loss to No. 3 Kentucky. The Eagles are 5-1, but hard to truly gauge. They opened the season with wins over non-Division I teams Albion (Division III) and Concordia (NAIA), and have beaten Robert Morris, Cleveland State and Texas-Arlington.
“I watched them play Kentucky and at halftime it was anybody’s game,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “This is a tough game for us. Anytime you go on the road, it’s a tough game and one I think (EMU) is excited for. I think our guys will be ready to play.”
Kellogg said his friendship with John Calipari and the rest of the Kentucky staff only helped a little for scouting this game.
“Kentucky plays totally different than us,” Kellogg said. “But there are some things from talking to (assistant) coach (John) Robic and Coach Cal that will correlate.”
Skinny junior forward Karrington Ward (6-foot-7, 186 pounds) leads EMU in scoring (16.0 points per game) and rebounding (6.2), while freshman guard Ray Lee has made an instant impact at 15.3 ppg.
The game kicks off a week of facing zone defenses for the Minutemen. Eastern Michigan plays an imitation of Syracuse’s two-three zone, while Saturday’s opponent, Brigham Young, plays a match-up zone.
“Teams that play zone struggle to rebound out of a zone,” said Lalanne, who is tied for eighth nationally with four double-doubles. “It’s going to be a big key to get offensive rebounds, putbacks and extra shots.”
DaShonte Riley, a 7-foot senior transfer from Syracuse, figures to see action against Lalanne.
NOTES — The game is one of four that UMass is contractually obligated to have against Mid-American Conference basketball opponents. It was apart of the agreement the Minutemen had with joining that conference in football. UMass defeated the Eagles 77-61 last year at the Mullins Center.
The game will be a homecoming for UMass assistant coach Marlon Williamson, a Michigan native.