The University of Massachusetts was one of the last teams to have its tournament hopes spoiled last season after falling just short of an automatic qualification in the A-10 Tournament and then getting ousted by the selection committee on selection sunday. With most of their key players back, including heart and soul Chaz Williams, the Minutemen and their fans have high expectations for this year’s team competing in a watered-down Atlantic-10 Conference. So far, so good as UMass has reeled off three straight wins to begin the season. Now they get what is probably their toughest test of the young season against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The home Minutemen are an established four point favorite for the 12:30 tip.
It’s hard to avoid Chaz Williams when talking UMass basketball. The Hofstra transfer enters his third full season as a Minuteman and is making an impression across the country with the type of numbers he is putting up early on. Williams has never averaged less than 15 points per game in any season with UMass and the 5’9″ Brooklyn native is scoring 21 per game through the first three of 2013/2014. Williams lost his sidekick in Jesse Morgan after last season but plenty of other athletes are stepping up for Massachusetts. Cady Lalanne, Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney are all in double-figure scoring per game this season. Lalanne is a strong low-post threat with a good scoring sense and a soft touch. Putney is a raw athlete on the wing with a build that likens Kevin Durant. Massachusetts was able to take down LSU at home a week ago as a 5-point favorite and will look to do the same to Nebraska, which comes into this game undefeated too.
The Cornhuskers have taken care of business and christened their new basketball arena like they would have hoped – kicking off the season 3-0 with all of the wins coming at home. Now, we get a chance to really find out how good Nebraska can be this year with a tough road test in Mass. Like the Indiana State game I wrote about over the weekend, this game tips at a very odd time – 12:30PM with Thanksgiving break looming. While Massachusetts certainly has the familiarity factor going its way, I don’t expect the home court to have nearly the impact it might appear to have on paper. This swings some favor Nebraska’s way. For the ‘Huskers it’s all about their “Big 3” scorers – Ray Gallegos, Deverell Briggs and Shavon Shields. A senior, junior, sophomore, respectively, the three all average at least 17 points per game and attack defenses from a variety of angles. I expect the versatility and size of Nebraska to give Massachusetts some trouble in this one and give the Cornhuskers a 50/50 shot at winning this one on the road.
This game is a coin flip straight-up so I feel comfortable taking the four points with Nebraska and hoping that the ‘Huskers keep it close. It should be an entertaining, high-scoring game if you can tune in at 12:30.