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Arena: Mullins Center Seating Capacity: 9,500 Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
Nickname: Minutemen Colors: Maroon, white
School Name: University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Depending on who you listen to, the powers that be at UMass are either out of touch or thirsting to win. Maybe it is a little of both. UMass fired Steve Lappas last March after a first-round loss to La Salle in the Atlantic-10 Tournament. He had just finished a 16-12 year, a healthy gain over a 10-win season in 2004, but it clearly was not enough for a school that believes it should compete for conference championships. Enter Travis Ford, a young, aggressive coach with Kentucky roots who UMass leaders feel can make an impact in the Northeast. After five years out of postseason play, the good news is Ford walks into a solid skuation where an NIT berth is certainly within reach. If he provides the spark that Minutemen fans expect, Ford can become the mini-John Cali-pari that some UMass supporters insist is still possible in Amherst.
While UMass had major offensive problems — the Minutemen averaged just 64.4 points per game and committed 15.5 turnovers — four starters return from a team that beat UConn, Florida State and A-10 champ George Washington. Ford says he'll pump some life into the offense with the running-pressing style he learned under his college coach, Rick Pitino, and used while at Eastern Kentucky. The keys will actually be newcomers Ford scraped together late in the recruiting process.
Freshman Chris Lowe, a point guard with some New York flash-and-dash, is an important player and the only pure lead guard on the team. If he can run the show, Ford can free returnees Maurice Maxwell and Artie Bowers to run and score. He's also very excited about the offensive skills of junior college recruit James Life, who could give UMass its first legitimate wing scoring threat since Monty Mack left town in 2001.
Up front, the Minutemen can ride the broad shoulders of returning first-team all-conference forward Rashaun Freeman, one of the most athletic big men in the league. Freeman has some help up front in shot-blocking forward Stephane Lasme.
Three other key players will be transfers Brandon Thomas (Long Island) and Dante Milligan (Pittsburgh) and Lawrence Carrier. Ford recruited Thomas who attended junior college last year but did not play basketball because of his versatility and insists he could play some point guard. Milligan never got a chance at Pitt but was a highly recruited prep player. If either of those forwards steps up, Ford may have the mix to be an instant winner in the Atlantic 10.
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