It has been 15 long years since the UMass Minutemen made the NCAA Tournament. Bill Clinton was still the President of the United States. Titanic won the Oscar for Best Picture. "Too Close" by Next was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Top 100. It was simple time; it was a better time.
In those 15 years the Minutemen have seen four coaches (Bruiser Flint, Steve Lappas, Travis Ford, Derek Kellogg) try and fail to bring UMass back to the promised land. Travis Ford got as far as the NIT Finals, but that's not "The Tournament."
2013-14 has a different look and feel about it though. Chaz Williams is one of the most well-known players in the country, Derrick Gordon has been heralded as an impact transfer and Cady Lalanne has looked like a reinvented version of himself, both physically and technically. After an NIT bid ended in the first round last year, this is a team with big-time aspirations.
The road back begins on Sunday against the school that many in Massachusetts see as its big brother and the favorite of most fans inside I-495: Boston College. BC has made seven NCAA Tournaments since UMass last danced and plays in the deeper ACC, allowing for greater national exposure and a more challenging schedule. If there was ever a time and a place for UMass to step up and show what they are made of, it's Sunday afternoon at the TD Garden in Boston.
Boston College is in a similar position as UMass, albeit under much more difficult circumstances. They, too, return the core of a team that showed flashes of being a capable Tournament contender. They, too, are starting to take on the persona of a coach hired within the last five years. They, too, are battling several teams in their own conference for a precious NCAA Tournament bid.
All of these similarities make Sunday's contest all the more intriguing. Both teams need this win to begin the process of building an NCAA Tournament resume and neither team will want to lose what is essentially a battle for bragging rights in the state of Massachusetts.
Kellogg and Co. have been preparing for this game for months and will get some quality scouting in Friday night when BC opens its season with Providence. The fire BC plays with on Friday will be an indicator of how seriously they take these kinds of bragging rights games and a precursor to what UMass will face on Sunday.
It has been a long fall in Amherst as the football team has limped through its second season of big-time college football. The Minutemen can turn that tide with a win on Sunday. UMass needs this win, and I expect them to come out and look like it.
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