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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Thursday / November 23.
  • Squarely On the Bubble, UMass Forced to Wait and See

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    By JOSH NEWMAN
    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    Derek KelloggNEW YORK – UMass, which has not been to an NCAA Tournament since 1998, was right there on Saturday afternoon in a 71-62 Atlantic 10 semifinal loss to Virginia Commonwealth.

    Trailing the entire second half, the Minutemen hung tough, chipped away at a deficit that reached as many as 10 and had opportunities to at least tie the game, but in the end, they will wake up Sunday morning at the mercy of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

    “The question I would have is, do we pass the eye test, because that’s one of the main things that they’re talking about,” UMass head coach Derek Kellogg said. “When you watch us play against GW, Temple, Xavier, those teams and then a team that’s in the top 25 (VCU) on a neutral site after three days, you pass the eye test.”

    UMass finishes play in the A-10 Tournament at 21-11 after a 9-7, sixth-place finish in conference-play. The A-10 will send Butler, VCU and Saint Louis and very likely Temple to the NCAA Tournament, while La Salle opened Saturday as one of Joe Lunardi’s ‘Last Four In’ at 21-9 overall, 11-5 in the A-10 and an RPI of 40. The question now becomes, with a soft bubble in play, will there be enough room for the Minutemen in the field of 68?

    As a point of reference, Lunardi began Saturday with UMass on the outside looking in, while Jerry Palm actually had them as a 12-seed and playing in the first round at Dayton on Tuesday evening.

    “I think that they’ve been extremely competitive in our league and if you look at their games, they’ve been within an eyelash of being a team that had a bye in this tournament,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “If I had a vote in the selection committee, I would certainly include them in the field, but everyone has a bias. I think the top six teams in this league deserve extreme consideration, but I understand the selection committee only has a certain number of at-large bids to give out.”

    UMass raced out to an early nine-point lead, gave it all back and trailed by eight at 54-46 with 8:46 to play. With the score 58-56 with 4:32 to play, Cady Lalane missed a layup from close-range. The miss turned into a Briante Weber layup for a four-point lead. Weber then stole the ball in the backcourt and found Troy Daniels in the left corner for 3 to make it 64-56 with 4:18 to play.

    The missed layup represented UMass’ best chance to pull off a win it possibly had to have as it would get no closer than four points on two separate occasions the rest of the way.

    Other teams waiting and watching on a soft bubble with Selection Sunday approaching include Kentucky (21-11, RPI 56), Middle Tennessee State (28-5, RPI 29), Virginia (21-11, RPI 74) and Maryland (22-12, RPI 62).

    “We’re a very exciting team and I feel like everyone across the world would want to see us play,” said Brooklyn-born UMass point guard Chaz Williams, who finished with a team-high 18 points and four assists. “We feel like all we need is an opportunity. Once we get an opportunity, get our feet wet, the sky is the limit. We have a bunch of young guys that are hungry to win.”

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