Keeping Score: Mullins sadness

Published: 1/21/2022 6:13:12 PM
Modified: 1/21/2022 6:12:07 PM

Good morning!
Recently, I was reminded of a long ago day in western civ class at Mitchell College. The teacher was a man of considerable girth and bluster who’d rant about the Treaty of Versailles and whatever else had his knickers in a bunch. “I was correcting some of your tests last night,” he said one morning, “and I almost puked!”

Imagine what he’d say if he got a look at the UMass basketball team. Coach Matt McCall’s band of long range shooters have lost seven of their last nine games and wasn’t off the A-10 schneid until Thursday’s 91-85 barnburner against Saint Louis made them 1-4 in the conference and 8-9 overall. 

Sad to say, this is a mediocre team in an easy-to-forget conference, one with nary a team in the Top 25 and only one — Davidson — in the top 50 according to the NCAA’s ranking system.

And yet last fall UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said: “We’re very happy with the Atlantic 10. We’re a charter member. We have deep, deep roots in the Atlantic 10.” 

Those deep roots haven’t taken hold, because historically the Minutemen have been easy marks for conference opponents.

The difference between competitive hoops and playground hoops is defense. UMass has allowed more points per game (78.2) than all but 17 of the 350 teams in D-I and have the fewest defensive rebounds of all but 26 teams.

Co-opting a headline from the New York Post, McCall is a dud man walking. His best player Tre Mitchell transferred to No. 23 Texas last spring, and according to one insider, “UMass has zero recruits lined up for next season.”

How’d it get to this point? Five years ago Bamford fired Derek Kellogg and hired Pat Kelsey, who walked out on the introductory press conference after he got wind of a pay-to-play culture in Amherst. Frantic to find a replacement, Bamford found the closest coach with a pulse which happened to be McCall.

It was one mistake on top of another. Despite McCall’s 20-loss season his first year, Bamford extended him through 2023. “It’s apparent that Matt very quickly changed the trajectory of our program,” Bamford said in a press release.

McCall’s five-year record at UMass is 53-75 overall and 23-46 in the A-10. The Mullins Center is barely a quarter full, and the university could save money by moving the games back to the Curry Hicks Cage.

Fans are weary of the same shtick, the cheesy T-shirt throws, the Sweet Caroline sing-alongs and all the other fake ephemera that’s supposed to get them pumped.

Bamford had a chance to get Rick Pitino two years ago but cowered at making such a bold move. Iona signed him to a five year deal for $5.5 million and at this writing the Gaels are 15-3 and undefeated in the Metro Athletic Conference.

UMass, meanwhile, is going nowhere fast. 

After Saturday night’s blowout loss at Buffalo, the SportsHub’s Jim Murray asked the Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard, “Is there too much nepotism? Does [Bill Belichick] need to clean out that room?”

Steve Belichick coaches the outside linebackers and brother Brian coaches the safeties.

“He or somebody with the last name of Kraft needs to ask hard questions,” answered Bedard. “Ever since Brian Flores left as defensive coordinator I don’t think it’s been good over there and you can start with Steve. Is Steve the guy to lead that defense?”

Radio host Mike Florio added this to the discussion: “To the extent that one of the problems is the performance of his son Steve, this is one of the problems of hiring your kid. You can’t fire others who deserve scrutiny if you don’t fire your son.”

The athletic community lost a stalwart with the recent passing of Charlemont’s Ray Willis, who coached everything from track & field to badminton, ran the Boston Marathon three times and hiked the upper portion of the Appalachian Trail when he was 65. Condolences to his family, particularly to the grandson he always had with him at UMass hockey games.

UMass football coach Don Brown has landed seven transfers including former Wolverine cornerback George Johnson III of Port Salerno, Fla., San Jose State wideout Isaiah Holiness who had 30 catches and two TDs for the Spartans and 6-foot-6 defensive lineman Tyson Watson of Michigan State.

Others include Louisville transfer Greg Desrosiers who played at Belmont Hill, Colgate offensive lineman Ben Bohnenberger, Penn State safety Tyler Rudolph, and defensive end Marcus Cushnie of Florida State.

■■■■    

Whenever UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel says he’s happy with how his team played despite back-to-back losses, it’s time to worry. That’s what he told analyst Brock Hines after the lost weekend in Michigan, but the CHN’s Adam Wodon saw it differently: “I watched that first game and it was a 1-1 game and UMass made two really bad neutral zone turnovers that led to two odd-man rush goals, and the second night they did not bounce back well at all. I thought UMass was ready to take one of those two games but Michigan did a great job.”

UMass is 0-4 against Minnesota State and Michigan, and 10-2-2 against the rest of the schedule. We’ll know more after an upcoming stretch of seven games in 15 days that started Friday night against Northeastern.

On Wednesday, the results of the 2022 Hall of Fame vote will be announced live from Cooperstown on the MLB Network.

It will be interesting to see how the vote goes for David Ortiz, who tested positive for steroids in 2003. Ortiz broke into the bigs in 1997 and played his first five years in Minnesota. His game logs on baseball-reference.com show he hit 58 home runs in 1,447 at-bats in the Twin Cities. The following year he signed with the Red Sox and proceeded to hit 103 home runs in his next 1,477 at-bats.

If Ortiz gets in how about all the others, including Roger Clemens and egads, Barry Bonds?

And if Bill Mazeroski made the Hall for his ninth inning home run off the Yankees’ Ralph Terry in the 1960 World Series, how about Curt Schilling for pushing the Red Sox past the Yankees in 2004?

It’s not supposed to be a popularity contest, but it is.

SQUIBBERS: The Baltimore Orioles’ pitching staff had the worst ERA in baseball last season, averaging nearly six runs a game (5.99). What to do? Move the fences back 40 feet to make room for more fly outs and less home runs? That’s what they’re doing. …. Kudos to NY Post columnist Phil Mushnick for calling out Chris Collinsworth’s contrived verbiage — arm talent, eye discipline, lane integrity, etc. … Rashad Devoe has reached an out-of-court settlement with Amherst College. In August, Devoe filed a 48-page complaint against Amherst alleging racism and wrongful termination as the men’s lacrosse coach. … UMass castoff Oliver Chau is the leading scorer for the No. 1 Quinnipiac Bobcats. … The UMass basketball team caught a break when their game against Fordham was moved from Jan. 2 to Feb. 28. Fordham’s leading scorer Antonio Daye withdrew from school two weeks ago. … Lookalikes: Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin and former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe. … Next month’s Beanpot has lost its luster with BC, BU, Northeastern and Harvard all out of the top ten in the national polls. … Scott Ferrall of Sirius-XM’s Ferrall on the Bench reports that prior to last week’s game against the Raiders a bettor put $1 million on the Bengals to win the Super Bowl at 17/1 odds. … According to the NY Post’s Ken Davidoff, the MLB lockout has to end by Feb. 1 for spring training to start on time, and by March 1 for the regular season to start as scheduled. … OK, run that by me again: why was it time for Tom Brady to leave the Patriots?

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com


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