AMHERST — With still no NCAA Tournament opponent to prepare for — that gets decided on Wednesday night, when Tennessee meets Iowa – some members of the UMass Minutemen have admitted to thinking ahead, about who likely would be waiting for them on Sunday.
UMass first needs to get past Tennessee or Iowa on Friday in Raleigh, N.C., but a win would probably mean a game two days later against Duke. The Blue Devils are the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Regional, but they’re viewed as royalty when it comes to college basketball.
“What I’m most looking forward to is playing Duke,” said Sampson Carter, a fifth-year senior forward. “I really want to win this first game, so we can have the opportunity to get on that type of stage, and prove the type of players we are, what we can be, and show how hard we’ve worked to get to that point.”
UMass and Duke have played only once, on Dec. 12, 1983, at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won that game, 88-56, in Mike Krzyzewski’s fourth season as head coach.
Krzyzewski, now in his 34th season as Duke’s coach, took what some viewed as a shot on Saturday at the Atlantic 10 Conference, which has six teams (UMass included) in the NCAA Tournament, the same number as the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’ll get in trouble probably for saying it. I like the Atlantic 10, they’re a really good conference. I hear people saying there are six [NCAA] teams in there. Come on. I mean, they’re good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through,” Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewswki was responding to a question about fellow ACC member N.C. State, which at that point was a bubble team (and received an at-large bid a day later). But the comment didn’t sit well with some A-10 supporters.
“I saw that. Listen, coaches are out there fighting for their leagues,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “We talk about our record against some other conferences. I’m not a guy that’s really into that. I’m worried about playing well.”
If his team plays well on Friday, it just might end up against Krzyzewski’s Duke squad, which features freshman sensation Jabari Parker.
That’s assuming, of course, that the Blue Devils beat Mercer in Friday’s first game. It would be quite an upset if they don’t, but Duke lost a similar NCAA Tournament game two years ago: Playing in Greensboro, N.C., the second-seeded Blue Devils fell to No. 15 Lehigh, 75-70 .
UMass is planning on watching Wednesday night’s Tennessee-Iowa game together, scouting the team they’ll be facing and looking for things that might be able to help come Friday.
“Tendencies, how they play defense, try to learn things they like to do and don’t like to do,” Chaz Williams said. “We’ve really just been focusing on us up to this point, but after tomorrow we’ll worry about our opponent.”
Preparing for takeoff
The NCAA provides transportation for up to 75 people for all of the 68 schools competing in the tournament. UMass will have a traveling party of approximately 110 — team, band, cheerleaders, athletic department staff, select boosters — with its charter flight leaving Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. from Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport. The Minutemen have scheduled a 2 p.m. practice for Wednesday at N.C. State’s practice facility . . . None of the Minutemen seemed to be disappointed at being sent to Raleigh for regional play, but junior forward Cady Lalanne was hoping the destination would be Orlando. Lalanne grew up there, went to Oak Ridge High School there, and still has family there. “I really wanted to go down to Orlando, but I’m not mad at North Carolina, either,” Lalanne said.