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UMass men’s basketball could come out on top of the Atlantic 10

UMass coach Matt McCall finishes with two tough road games, but he has no objections to how the conference rescheduled things.
UMass coach Matt McCall finishes with two tough road games, but he has no objections to how the conference rescheduled things.Jessica Hill/Associated Press

UMass hasn’t played a men’s basketball game since Feb. 6, when the campus was shut down because of a surge in coronavirus positive tests among students.

Meanwhile, according to coach Matt McCall, his team has not had a positive test since November.

It’s almost an absurd thought, but despite the pause in practice and games, the Minutemen are in position to still have a great finish to the Atlantic 10 season. Their final two games are on the road against difficult opponents Richmond and Saint Louis, but if they were to win both, they would be the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament based on the winning percentage of their 8-2 record.


Crazy, right?

Those final two games were scheduled by the Atlantic 10, which pretty much wiped out the original final two weeks of the regular season and assigned different games to everyone.

McCall doesn’t have any objections.

“It’s two challenging games,’' said McCall. “They were picked 1-2 in the league in the preseason rankings. We were supposed to play them anyway. We’ve got to go play. If we win both, we win the league. Let’s go play. Let’s go earn it.”

His team was finally let back on the court last week, in groups of four. There were full team practices Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

The Atlantic 10 also erased the final week of the regular season and decided to play the conference tournament a week earlier. The majority of the tournament will be played in Richmond March 3-6, with the championship game scheduled at Dayton March 14.

“I understand what the league is doing,’' said McCall. “We’re just trying to get the tournament played.’'

▪ BC coach search: It sure seems like Harvard’s Tommy Amaker is not involved. Too bad; I still think he’s the best choice.


Some thoughts on candidates who have been mentioned, although BC athletic director Pat Kraft hasn’t revealed anything about his search.

John Thompson III, currently not coaching: His final two seasons at Georgetown were not good, but overall, he was a winning coach at Princeton and Georgetown, with 10 NCAA bids, including one Final Four. That’s impressive.

Could John Thompson III fit at BC?
Could John Thompson III fit at BC?Alex Brandon

Howard Eisley, Michigan assistant: Being a BC alum is a big plus; he understands the possibilities and the limitations. He’s a member of a staff that has had great success, on both the court and the recruiting trail. He would need to have at least one veteran ex-head coach on his staff.

Dennis Gates, Cleveland State: He has accomplished a lot in a short time at Cleveland, but it’s really his time as a Florida State assistant that makes him a good candidate. Not sure whether the fact that his wife is a high-ranking official in the BC athletic department helps or hurts his candidacy.

John Beilein: He’s been a big winner everywhere in college, but he’s 69 years old and just failed miserably as the Cleveland Cavaliers coach.

Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago: His teams are obviously well-coached … defensively. Offensively, there are some rough spots. Some think he’s more suited to possible openings at DePaul or Marquette.

Mike Rhoades, VCU: The hard truth for BC fans is that VCU is a better job.

Mark Schmidt, Saint Bonaventure: He has made Bona a winner; if he can do that, he can make BC a winner. Maybe that’s enough for BC fans, but his personality and approach will not be noticeably inspiring.


Whoever is hired, the first priority is to re-recruit Wynston Tabbs, who is in the transfer portal after being suspended for violating COVID-19 protocols. He was the team’s best player, and the new coach is going to need talent.

A great, surprising move would be to hire Merrimack head coach Joe Gallo as an assistant and let him install his confounding zone defense. And you have to commit fully to it.

▪ How good is Gonzaga? Listen to someone who would know, head coach Mark Few: “This isn’t the most physically imposing squad we’ve marched out there,” he said, noting the 2017 team that reached the NCAA championship game was bigger and the 2019 team may have had more gifted athletes. “This is a team. They move it and share it. Our offensive numbers are reflecting that. It’s something to behold if you ask me.’'

Gonzaga's Corey Kispert has had a big season.
Gonzaga's Corey Kispert has had a big season.Young Kwak/Associated Press

A suggestion for Danny Ainge: If possible, draft Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, a 6-foot-7-inch deadly shooter. He will make a difference.

▪ Why I root against Duke and Michigan State: If both teams carve out enough good wins in the next two weeks to become NCAA at-large contenders, it will take berths away from deserving mid-major teams that might get upset in a conference tournament. Schools like Belmont and Winthrop.


Conference tournament previews

In this haphazard season, three conference tournaments actually begin this week.


Feb. 26, 27, March 6, 13

(at higher-seeded team)

Favorite: Maryland Baltimore County. The Giant Killers have good balance with some solid big guys.

Contender: Vermont. UMBC and the Catamounts actually tied for first in the regular season and split two games. There’s a big dropoff after the top two.

Long shot: UMass Lowell. Obadiah Noel would have to return to the lineup and carry the River Hawks.

Prediction: UMBC. The Retrievers are led by 5-2 point guard Darnell Rogers. Globe readers might remember his father Shawnta, who played for George Washington and tormented UMass for a few years.


Feb. 25, March 2, 8, 9

(at campus sites for first and second round; at Indianapolis for semifinals and final)

Favorite: Cleveland State. In his second season, Gates pushed his team to the top of the league.

Contenders: Wright State, Oakland. Loudon Love of Wright is the best big man in the league.

Long shot: Detroit. The Titans were missing injured players early in the season but now are healthy

Prediction: Detroit. Guard Antoine Davis is third in the nation in scoring at 23.2; he could win this himself with a three-game hot streak.


Feb. 27, March 1, 4, 7

(at higher seed)

Favorite: Winthrop. The Eagles have lost only once all season.

Contenders: Radford, UNC Asheville. Asheville holds the only victory over Winthrop.

Long shot: Hampton. The Pirates would need senior guard Davion Warren (21.3 ppg) to have an otherworldly tournament.


Prediction: Winthrop. The rest of the Big South just hasn’t been able to keep up.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at josephsullivan1974@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan