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Sully's Court: Interesting three-game stretch ahead for UMass

Posted by Joe Sullivan, Globe Staff  December 16, 2013 10:21 AM

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UMass didn’t play great Saturday, but the Minutemen still won easily, beating Northern Illinois 80-54. It shows how good they’ve gotten; it doesn’t take their best effort to beat an inferior opponent easily.

The next three games will be tricky. First up is a road game at Ohio Wednesday. Because UMass plays football in the MAC, it has to to play some MAC opponents in basketball as part of the agreement. This has the potential to be a difficult game; Athens isn’t an easy place to get to and the weather will be bad. A victory would be another big notch in the victory column.

After that they play Florida State on a neutral court in Sunrise, Fla., and then Providence at the Mullins Center. All three games will be challenging. Then they finish non-conference play with another MAC obligation at Miami of Ohio. That shouldn’t be a problem. It’s reasonable that the Minutemen could head into Atlantic 10 play undefeated (although there is one more non-conference game at Elon). The Atlantic 10 is tough this season, maybe better than the new Big East, so there will be some losses, but the Minutemen would have to fall apart completely to miss the NCAA Tournament.

Five rising

Oregon: The Ducks are 9-0 for the first time since 2006-07 when they started 13-0. The Ducks had a gusty win over Illinois Saturday at the former Rose Garden in Portland.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels had a nice win at Boise State Saturday and are 8-0, tying the second-best start in school history.

Texas: The Longhorns are one of the most surprising teams in the US at 9-1 plus they’ve got a five-game winning streak.

Utah: The Utes have been on the decline since Rick Majerus left, but suddenly they’re 9-1 after beating arch-rival BYU 81-64. The Utes had lost seven straight and 11 of the last 12 to BYU. Unfortunately, the rivalry looks like it’s going to be discontinued. Utah’s getting the blame for now.

Wisconsin: The Badgers continue to set new milestones. They are now 12-0, their best start since 1915-16, when they started 12-0 and finished 20-1. They are in The Associated Press’ top 5 for only the second time in school history.

Five falling:

Charleston: The Cougars have moved to the Colonial Athletic Association this season, but it doesn’t look like they’re ready for the step up in competition. They’re 4-6 after losing at home to Marist Saturday.

Evansville: The Purple Aces are a decent unit, which is why losing at home to Jackson State from the SWAC, as they did Saturday, is unacceptable.

Lamar: When Billy Tubbs coached Lamar, they were an NCAA Tournament team. In his first season, Pat Knight got Lamar to the NCAA tournament by pulling off upsets in the Southland Conference Tournament. It’s been all downhill since for the son of Bob Knight. This season’s Cardinals are 1-8 after losing at home to Tennessee Tech Sunday.

Nevada: The Wolfpack are 4-7 and have lost to some good teams like UCLA, Missouri, Cal and Pacific but it was shocking for them to lose to Nebraska Omaha at home.

Virginia Commonwealth: Havoc isn’t doing enough. The Rams lost to Northern Iowa Saturday in Cedar Rapids and a team that was nationally ranked to begin the season is now 8-3. This was the team’s first loss in December since 2010.

This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. The Shockers beat Tennessee at home to remain undefeated. They have a chance to run the table.

This week’s Final Four: Michigan State, Louisville, Arizona, Oklahoma State

This week’s national champion: Michigan State

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