Amherst, MA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 23rd-ranked Massachusetts Minutemen play their final tune-up before embarking on Atlantic 10 Conference action, as they entertain the Miami-Ohio RedHawks at the Mullins Center on Saturday night.
Miami opened the season at 0-4, but has seemingly turned a corner of late by winning two straight, three of its last four, and four of its last six. The RedHawks are coming off a 67-65 triumph over visiting Southern Illinois, but they will likely have their hands full in this contest as they have lost to what many would consider to be the better teams on its schedule thus far (Notre Dame, Arizona State, Xavier), while going just 1-5 away from home. Miami will open Mid-American Conference play at Central Michigan next Wednesday.
Massachusetts beat regional rival Providence in overtime last Saturday, 69-67, to improve to 11-1 on the season. It was the first sell-out crowd at the Mullins Center in more than seven years, and the team is a perfect 5-0 at home here in 2013-14. The Minutemen are playing the second of a four-game homestand tonight, as they will entertain Saint Joseph's and St. Bonaventure in the next week.
UMass won the only previous meeting between these two teams, slipping by in a 70-69 decision on Jan. 2, 2013 on Miami's home court.
Despite their recent success, the RedHawks haven't proven themselves against top-flight competition, which UMass certainly would qualify, so the expectations for this game, particularly on the road, aren't all that high. Still, Miami is bound to put forth maximum effort as it tries to pull off the upset in its final non-league game on the docket. The team is averaging just 64.9 ppg in hitting 42.9 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a mere 26.3 percent showing from 3-point range. The club's defensive performance yields 72.5 ppg, with opponents shooting 47.4 percent from the floor while draining 41.0 percent of their tries from beyond the arc. Will Felder is the top scorer and rebounded among the regulars, averaging 13.2 points and 7.3 caroms per contest, and there really isn't anyone else who strikes fear in the hearts of opposing players. One guy to keep an eye on moving forward is Willie Moore, who played his first game for the RedHawks in the recent win over Southern Illinois and tied for the team lead in scoring with 14 points.
Boasting a starting lineup where every player is averaging double figures in scoring, the Minutemen have had very little trouble cranking out the points this season, as they average 80.2 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .470 overall and .371 from 3-point range. Defensively, UMass permits 70.7 ppg, despite its foes shooting just 40.6 percent from the floor, which includes a 28.1 percent effort out on the perimeter. The club is +5.3 in rebounding margin, but drops the ball, literally, in the turnover battle (-1.7). In the overtime win against visiting Providence, UMass had five players reach double figures, with Sampson Carter (12 points, 12 rebounds), Cady Lalanne (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Chaz Williams (10 points, 10 assists) each logging double-doubles. The Minutemen shot just 39 percent from the field, and went only 9-of-18 at the free-throw line. Fortunately, the Friars connected on only 39.3 percent of their total shots, missing 11 of their 13 3-point attempts in the process. UMass claimed a 45-36 advantage on the glass, and its reserves outscored those for the visitors, 23-0.