Surveying the Atlantic 10: Where UMass stacks up as the stretch run approaches

Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian

Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian

Selection Sunday, as well as the fates of many teams embedded in the fringe of the potential NCAA Tournament landscape, is exactly a month away.

Wait, really?

It’s a bit surprising that within the next month, the 2014-15 season will conclude, conference tournaments will take place and brackets will set as bubbles burst. But that’s exactly where we stand, and if you’re a UMass fan, you’re probably wishing the regular season could prolong.

Unlike last season for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, in which it felt like the Minutemen were forced to wait an eternity for a bid to the NCAA Tournament, this year’s rendition is just now rounding into shape. UMass sports a six-game winning streak and is tied with three other teams (VCU, URI and Dayton) for first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference. But is it enough?

UMass is a part of a conference which, for the most part, will spend the next month scrambling to separate itself from the pack. This could either help or hurt the Minutemen depending on how the season plays out but also sets up for a potentially thrilling final 30 days within conference play.

Let’s take a look at the conference landscape, with an eye on March Madness. We’ll start with the conference standings.

Dayton (19-5, 9-3 A-10)
Massachusetts (16-9, 9-3)
Rhode Island (17-6, 9-3)
Virginia Commonwealth (19-6, 9-3)

Davidson (17-6, 8-4)
George Washington (17-8, 7-5)
St. Bonaventure (13-10, 6-6)
La Salle (14-11, 6-6)
Richmond (13-12, 6-6)
Saint Joseph’s (11-12, 5-6)
Duquesne (8-15, 3-9)
George Mason (8-16, 3-9)
Saint Louis (10-15, 2-10)
Fordham (6-16, 1-10)

*Bold indicates a tie for first place

Teams that should be in: VCU, Dayton  Continue reading

Final: UMass 3, UMass Lowell 3 (OT)

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

After defeating UMass Lowell for the first time since the 2010 season last Saturday, UMass had to settle for a 3-3 tie this time after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period.

In his return from a two-game absence, sophomore Steven Iacobellis scored a short-handed goal on 2-on-1 breakaway, finishing off a pass from Dennis Kravchenko to extend. It was Iacobellis’ sixth of the season, and Kravchenko’s second assist of the game.

Kravchenko now has 27 points on the year, which is the most for a freshman since Casey Wellman had 33 in the 2008-09 season.

UML responded with a shorthanded goal of its own with eight minutes, 53 seconds left in the game by Evan Campbell, cutting the Minutemen lead to one. The River Hawks later tied it at the 2:15 mark on a goal from Michael Kapla.

UMass will be back in action next Friday night when it takes on Providence College on the road in the first game of a weekend home-and-home doubleheader.

Second Intermission: UMass 2, UMass Lowell 1

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

UMass will take a 2-1 lead into the final period versus UMass Lowell following goals from Brandon Montour and Shane Walsh.

Montour’s goal tied it at 1 just one minute, 47 seconds in for his third goal of the year. After some nifty stick work passed a River Hawks player, the freshman put a wrist shot into the back of the net over the shoulder of UMass Lowell goalie Jeff Smith. Marc Hetnik and Steve Mastalerz assisted on the goal.

With the scored tied at 1, freshman Dennis Kravchenko attempted a wraparound that somehow skidded along the crease passed Smith and came to a stop. Walsh was in the right place at the right time, finding the puck and poking it home to give the Minutemen the lead. Kravchenko and Mike Busillo recorded assists.

After the second goal, Smith was pulled in favor of Kevin Boyle, who took the loss last Saturday night.

 

First Intermission: UMass Lowell 1, UMass 0

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

The lone goal in the first period came from UMass Lowell as the River Hawks lead UMass 1-0 at the first intermission. Some notes from the opening 20 minutes:

  •  Ryan McGrath was the goal scorer for UMass Lowell, putting a wrist shot past Minutemen goalie Steve Mastalerz with 11:11 left in the period. It was his second of the year, with teammates Terrence Wallin and Tyler Mueller receiving assists on the play.
  • UMass received two power plays, with the second one, a hook from Gage Hough, carrying into the next period.
  • The River Hawks outshot the Minutemen 7-5 in the period, forcing Mastalerz to make six saves.
  • After giving up five goals in the last game versus UMass, UMass Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle did not get the start, with Jeff Smith being the one in between the pipes instead.

Pregame notes: UMass vs. UMass Lowell

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

UMass welcomes UMass Lowell to the Mullins Center Friday night one week after the Minutemen defeated the rival River Hawks 5-3 at home. UMass looks to clinch the season series with another win tonight in the first leg of this weekend’s home-and-home series. Here are some pregame notes:

  • UMass split last weekend with a win Saturday night over UMass Lowell following Friday’s loss to Northeastern. Overall, the Minutemen are 5-7-1 since the beginning of the second half of the season. The key through most of UMass’ recent run of improvement has been in its defensive performances. Last Saturday, the Minutemen limited the second-highest scoring team in the Hockey East in the River Hawks to two late power play goals. UMass looks to produce a similar outing Friday night.
  • On the other end, UMass Lowell is in the midst of a 1-6 stretch in the back end of its conference schedule. This period includes two losses each to No. 3 Boston University and No. 10 Providence. With UMass sitting at the bottom of the Hockey East standings, the River Hawks look to salvage the season series this weekend and gain momentum.
  • Steven Iacobellis returns to the lineup tonight after a two-game absence due to an undisclosed injury. The sophomore has 19 points this season, tied for third on the team. He’s back on a line with Ray Pigozzi and Frank Vatrano, which made an effective line earlier in the season.
  • Staying on the injury front, senior captain Troy Power will sit out his second straight game. He suffered a head injury in the first period of last Friday’s loss vs. Northeastern that appeared serious.
  • UMass will travel to Lowell for tomorrow for the second end of the weekend series. Originally scheduled for a 7 p.m. start, it’s now moved up to 4 p.m. due to an impending storm.

Follow @a_chiusano24, @RossGien and @Jason_Kates for live updates of tonight’s game.

Fran O’Leary announced new men’s soccer coach

Fran O’Leary was announced the Massachusetts soccer team’s 10th head coach in program history Wednesday morning. He replaces Devin O’Neill who took over at the helm in 2014 on an interim basis following the death of longtime head coach Sam Koch in July, 2014.

From Dublin, Ireland, O’Leary coached five different colleges between 1989-2012 where he boasted a winning record with each program en route to 234 total wins. His most success came at Bowdoin College from 2005-2012 where he finished 74-39-14. In 2010, he led the Polar Bears to a Division III Final Four run.

O’Leary, 52, most recently served as an assistant coach for the MLS’ Toronto FC for two seasons before being fired in August, 2014. His dismissal was part of a massive staff change that included the firing of head coach Ryan Nelsen.

O’Leary now takes over a UMass team that finished 3-14-1 in 2014, missing the Atlantic 10 playoffs. The Minutemen haven’t had a winning record since 2009.

“I would like to thank the members of the search committee and the University of Massachusetts administration for giving me the opportunity to lead the men’s soccer program,” O’Leary said in a press release by UMass Athletics. “I am very excited about the challenge ahead and look forward to working with the student-athletes as we prepare for the 2015 season.”

FINAL: UMass 5, UMass Lowell 2

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

UMass Lowell’s nine-game win streak over UMass is over after a 5-2 Minutemen victory at the Mullins Center Saturday night.  Heading into the final period with a 3-0 lead, UMass allowed two consecutive power play goals 30 seconds apart early in the period.  But Shane Walsh gave the Minutemen all the insurance it needed with a goal off of a River Hawks’ turnover in their defensive zone.  Some third period notes:

  • Walsh scored his 10th goal of the season, tying him for second on the team with Dennis Kravchenko.  The goal marked his sixth third period goal of the year.
  • Frank Vatrano’s two goals Saturday marked his fourth multigoal game this season.  However, it was his first since Dec. 16, 2014 against Northeastern.
  • Despite the victory, penalties proved costly for UMass again in the final period.  With a 5-on-3 disadvantage, the Minutemen surrendered a power play goal to Michael Kapla 4:42 into the period.  Thirty seconds later, Dylan Zink capitalized on the 5-on-4 advantage to decrease UMass’ lead to 4-2.  The Minutemen prevailed however, avoiding a third straight defeat.
  • UMass will face the River Hawks again next weekend in a two-game home-and-home set.  Friday, UMass Lowell will once again visit the Mullins Center for a 7 p.m. game.  The Minutemen then travel to Lowell Saturday night.