Keeping Score: Not such longshots now

Published: 12/23/2022 2:37:55 PM

Good morning!
The Atlantic 10 portion of the UMass men’s basketball season starts a week from today at St. Bonaventure. In November, oddsmakers installed the Minutemen as 18-1 longshots to win the conference, but those odds improved after a 9-3 record against non-league opponents that at this writing are a collective 77-54.

USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin rates the Minutemen behind only Saint Louis, Dayton, Richmond, VCU and Davidson in the A-10. They had been as high as 86th in Sagarin’s ratings but lost to UMass-Lowell and North Texas, and trailed an undermanned Dartmouth team until the second half when they pulled away and won 68-57 as 13-point favorites.

The slump was triggered by the absence of senior playmaker Noah Fernandes, who sprained his ankle against Harvard on Dec. 2. Despite missing five games, Fernandes remains tied for second in assists (24), three-point shooting percentage (.435) and points per game (11.4).

Longtime — and long suffering — UMass fans are excited because all but three players are newcomers, including 6-7, 230-pound forward Matt Cross who leads the team in points (133), points per game (12.1) and rebounds (71).

The mop-haired junior forward from Beverly attended Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., where he averaged 18.3 points a game his senior season. According to 247Sports, Cross was recruited by UConn, UMass, Tulane, Miami, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Butler, Texas A&M and by coach Frank Martin when Martin was at South Carolina. In August, 2020, Cross enrolled at Miami but six months later transferred to Louisville, reportedly to be the Cardinals’ three-point shooter. “Matt Cross has what Louisville needs,” wrote a Louisville columnist.

The Louisville media guide reported that Cross’s goal at Louisville was to lead the ACC in three-point percentage and field goals, that his greatest influencers were Larry Bird and Ray Lewis (hmm), and he wears No. 33 in honor of the Celtic Hall-of-Famer.

Louisville, it turned out, wasn’t a great fit for Cross. He started nine games but gradually saw less playing time. By the end of the season, wrote SI’s Matthew McGavic: “Not only was (Cross) benched, he barely has any role on the team at all.”

During a taped halftime interview with UMass play-by-play announcer Jay Burnham, Cross said, “Kinda like, time to come home. Everything sounds good when you’re getting recruited. No one hears the bad things, the dog and pony show, you don’t really see the true side of people. I call it the Hollywood act.”

Cross still wears No. 33 and turns 22 in February. Maybe the only part of his game that was missing was maturity.

Many teams in this year’s A-10 are beatable. Sagarin ranks Saint Joseph’s, URI, George Washington, and La Salle in the bottom third of D-1, and St. Bonaventure will be hosting UMass off a four-game losing streak.

If the rating services are accurate and teams stay true to form, UMass is capable of a 22-win regular season, a high seed in the A-10 tourney and a dance card at March Madness, so roll out the Wilsons and let the fun begin.

Earlier this month, the Recorder reported that Amherst College hockey coach Jack Arena had won his 500th career game (now 504). Arena grew up in Randolph and attended prestigious Milton Academy which educated poet T.S. Eliot, singer James Taylor and former Mass. governor Deval Patrick.

At Amherst, Arena was the D-III hockey player of the year his senior season. When the coach subsequently left for a D-1 lacrosse job, athletic director Peter Gooding began to search for a successor. “He didn’t find anyone he liked on such short notice,” wrote Arena. “He asked me if I thought I could do it. Not knowing better I said yes. I’m pretty sure he scared the team into behaving.”

Despite having an intrinsic ability to coach, Arena didn’t know how to recruit. “I had a steeper learning curve than most coaches,” he told Justin Long for an article in Amherst’s alumni magazine. “I watched how (baseball coach) Bill Thurston and The Darp (football coach Jim Ostendarp) dealt with team management and team dynamic. As a result, we started to build back up and it must’ve worked because 39 years later I’m still here.”

Christine McVie’s passing leaves Stevie Nicks as Fleetwood Mac’s only surviving female vocalist. It reminded me of a Red Sox anecdote but the details were vague, so ‘thanks’ to Curt Smith of for refreshing my memory.

During a Red Sox broadcast way back when, play-by-play voice Ken Coleman referred to her as “Steve Nicks.” Coleman’s sidekick Joe Castiglione said, “Ken, I believe that’s Stevie Nicks.” Unfazed, Coleman said, “Well I know him well. I call him Steve.”

This week the Mass. Gaming Commission voted 5-0 to approve a legal sports book at MGM Springfield. According to Sam McQuillan of, the rollout will be in time to bet the Super Bowl on Feb.13.

“We are extraordinarily excited in the not-so-distant future to transition our sports lounge into an extraordinary sportsbook,” said MGM Springfield’s president and CEO Chris Kelley.

Undoubtedly the Mass. State Lottery lobbied the Commonwealth to wait until after Christmas because scratch tickets are its golden egg during stocking stuffer season.

Correction: Earl Shaffer was the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail as reported, but his memoir was titled Walking with Spring, and not “The Crazy One.”

“That was Earl’s trail name,” wrote Daniel Shaffer of the Earl V. Shaffer Foundation. “My uncle was 29 and had served four years in the South Pacific during World War II. He set out in 1948 to ‘walk off the war.’”

SQUIBBERS: The SportsHub (WBZ-FM) dominated last month’s Nielsen ratings, easily beating classic hits WROR and Christian hits WXKS. All-sports WEEI was a distant sixth. Its parent company Audacy is down to 22 cents a share. … Epic as Argentina’s win was against France, the best match from start to finish was Argentina versus the Netherlands. Referee Mateu Lahoz handed out 17 yellow cards and Argentina’s Nathan Ake drilled the ball into the Netherlands bench. That’s sports, American-style. … The NY Post reports that 82-year-old Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants a casino at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, and that the process involved donating $700,000 to Governor Kathy Hochul’s re-election campaign. … Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be right-handers. The Yankees signed 30-year-old left-hander Carlos Rodon to six years and $162 million this week despite a mediocre 56-46 career record. … After the Patriots’ lateraled Sunday’s game into the loss column, Raiders center Andre James told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Being a Raider, I thought I saw every way someone could lose or win a game. I was wrong, man, I was wrong.” … Eastern Michigan’s win against San Jose State in Tuesday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl began when Eagles’ special teamer Tristan Hines grabbed a blocked point-after and returned it for a 2-point conversion. Temple did the same thing against UMass seven years ago, another of those trademark defeat-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory moments for State U. … Patriot podcaster Greg Bedard called Mac Jones’ first quarter histrionics on Sunday “borderline insubordinate.” His sidekick Nick Cattles said 70 percent of the listeners on his own podcast voted for the Pats to go three-and-out and garner a top 10 draft pick. … According to, UMass football attendance was up 20 percent from last season (10,800 from 8,994) but the five-year average remained flat (-0.18 percent). … Mets owner Steve Cohen continued to make Hal Steinbrenner look like Scrooge by signing Carlos Correa for 12 years and $315 million, and by dumping James McCann (.195 avg.) onto the Orioles and eating $19 million of the catcher’s $24 million contract. … Vanity plate of the week, seen in Springfield: RATFINK. … During student break, UMass is offering an 11-game ticket package for every hockey and men’s and women’s hoops game between now and Feb. 6 for $110. … According to 247Sports, 11 UMass football players who’ve entered the transfer portal have yet to find another school. Maybe, you know, they just aren’t that good. … Xander Bogaerts’ swan song to the Boston Red Sox: Take This Job and Shove It. …. Vikings radio play-by-play voice Paul Allen on referee Tra Blake’s job performance: “I hope Tra Blake never comes back to Minnesota.” … When my grandson Chase was younger I showed him photos I’d taken of two models dressed as mermaids on the beach. I told him they were real. “No they’re not,” he answered. “Santa Claus is real,” I said. “Yeah, but they’re not.” That boy sure knew the difference between fact and fiction. Be sure to leave out the cocoa and cookies. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, everyone.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at


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