AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts and Providence don’t have much of a rivalry these days. The two former Yankee Conference schools don’t play enough for the players or fan bases to have any real animosity toward each other.
Saturday’s 6 p.m. game on ESPNU is more of a matchup between two good teams trying to improve their standing in the national picture. But that could change with another close game Saturday. The Minutemen edged the Friars on a tip at the buzzer last year in Puerto Rico. The teams play again next year in Providence. A tight game Saturday could certainly make that game feel like more of a rivalry.
“After watching the Rhode Island-Providence game and seeing how intense and hard-fought that was, I think it’ll be similar Saturday,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We’re expecting a huge crowd. We’re 10-1, they’re 10-2. We’re both on the cusp of doing something special this year. Anytime you have that kind of game, it feels like a rivalry, especially with two teams in such close proximity.”
The Friars opened the season with five straight home wins before beating La Salle and Vanderbilt, then losing to Maryland in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.
The only other loss was a 79-65 setback to Kentucky.
Bryce Cotton had a breakout game against UMass last year, scoring 23 points with all-Big East point guard Vincent Council on the shelf with an injury.
The game launched Cotton’s entire season. Now as a senior, he’s averaging 19.1 points and 5.7 assists. While PC’s frontcourt isn’t as big as Florida State’s, the Friars are strong inside. Kadeem Betts, a 6-foot-9 senior big man, is averaging 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. LaDonte Henton, a 6-foot-6 junior, isn’t far behind with 12.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg. NC State transfer Tyler Harris resembles UMass’ Raphiael Putney. The slender 6-foot-9 wing averages 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He’s one of the team’s better 3-point shooters (35.3 percent).
GRAY AGAIN — UMass plans to wear its alternate gray uniforms instead of its more traditional whites. The Minutemen are 1-0 in gray this season. They also wore the uniforms against Louisiana State.
ALUMNI GAME — Following the Minutemen’s Jan. 11 game against St. Bonaventure (12:30 p.m.), there will be an alumni game to benefit Coaches vs. Cancer. UMass is recommending but not requiring a donation of at least $1 to go to CvC.
The game will feature two UMass legends as coaches with Trigger Burke, whose No. 32 is retired, on one bench and all-time leading scorer Jim McCoy on the other.
Highlighting the preliminary list of attendees are four members of UMass’ 1996 Final Four team: Donta Bright, Dana Dingle, Carmelo Travieso and Tryone Weeks.
Standouts Will Herndon, Monty Mack and Chris Kirkland have RSVP’d to attend. Kellogg is also expected to play.
Julius Erving will not be one of the alumni playing, but he has history against the Friars. The last time UMass beat Providence in Amherst was Dec. 2, 1969, Erving’s first varsity game. The future NBA legend broke the school record with 28 rebounds and had 27 points in the 90-85 win.