Non-Conference Breakdown: UMass

Published by James M. Acer on October 16, 2012 at 3:12AM

With the Harvard men’s basketball team’s season opener less than a month away, The Back Page is breaking down the Crimson’s non-conference opponents. Each week, we will take a look at two new foes. Last Thursday we profiled MIT. Next up is UMass.

In just over four weeks, the Harvard men’s basketball squad will head down the Mass Pike to Amherst, where it opens its Division I schedule against the University of Massachusetts on Nov. 13. Despite dotting its non-conference schedule with other Atlantic-10 opponents like St. Joseph’s and Fordham in recent years, Harvard has not faced UMass in over two decades. The Minutemen dominated the last rendition of this interstate matchup in 1991, cruising to a 35-point win.

Harvard should certainly be able to improve on its last performance against UMass, but the Crimson will not have an easy time with an athletic Minuteman squad that has received some preseason hype.

UMass exceeded expectations last season, posting a 25-12 record and a fifth-place finish in the A-10 before reaching the NIT semifinals. The Minutemen, picked to finish fifth in the A-10 in the preseason coaches’ poll, return four of five starters from last season, including standout point guard Chaz Williams, a preseason pick for the Atlantic-10 First Team. Joining the 5’9” Williams in the backcourt will likely be junior Jesse Morgan, who averaged a shade under 10 points per contest last season. Following a summer wrist injury, Morgan expects to be fully healthy for the season.

Up front, UMass will likely be anchored by a crew of long, athletic forwards. Junior Raphiael Putney, last season’s second leading scorer, returns along with fellow big man Cady Lalanne, a 6’9” forward/center who looks to be fully healthy after being hampered by a foot injury last season. Senior Terrell Vinson, a versatile 6’7” forward, and 6’8” senior forward Samson Carter add to the Minutemen’s depth in the front court.

Fans might be tempted to sleep through the contest given the unorthodox 10 a.m. start time, a result of the game being featured as part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, but this matchup between two of Massachusetts’ top teams should not be missed.