ayton did the NCAA selection committee a favor by defeating St. Bonaventure on Saturday.
Barring a run by some team other than Temple or the Flyers in the Atlantic 10 tournament during the first week of March, these are undoubtedly the only two A-10 teams that will reach the NCAA tournament.
This year's A-10 field is that heavy with mediocre teams.
But St. Bonaventure's loss also gave the A-10's second tier one final shot of hope, with UMass perhaps having the most to smile about. The Minutemen, with tonight's game in New York against Fordham looming particularly large, are tied with St. Bonaventure for second in the Eastern Division with a 6-4 conference record.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint talks to his team regularly about its impending postseason chances, smartly without ever mentioning the letters ``NCAA.''
At best, these 12-11 Minutemen appear postmarked for the NIT - and even that would require their best run of the season over their six remaining games.
But the late-season deterioration of the Bonnies, losers of five of their last seven games, has left a thin opening for someone in the odd event this conference gets a third NCAA berth.
``Right now I think the conference is only going to get two teams, but if there is a third team, then I think we have as good a chance as anyone else of getting in,'' Flint said yesterday. ``We could always win the conference tournament, too, but if we win the games that we have to, then we could be right there.''
Flint has not been shy about talking postseason with his players, most of whom remember last season's bottomed-out finish.
The 1998-99 Minutemen were the first UMass team in 10 seasons not to play in a postseason tournament.
The fallout was thunderous, with 1,200 season ticket-holders dropping off the list prior to this season.
And the moment this year's team faltered, so did Flint's job security. Little wonder that he's pushing the idea of a late run for the postseason now.
``We talk about it a lot, because the guys remember that they sat at home last year and watched everyone else go, while we did nothing,'' said Flint.
``We still have a good chance, and it's all about winning games.''
And that means winning at the Rose Hill Gymnasium tonight against the best Fordham team in memory.
Among other things, the Rams have defeated St. Bonaventure twice this season. Flint naturally wants his Minutemen to remember that they, in turn, beat the Rams by 30 points last month at the Mullins Center.
``They're playing everyone tough at home,'' said Flint. ``I know it's going to be much more difficult than the first time we played them.''
he University of Massachusetts men's basketball team knows about Fordham, and the Rams know about UMass.
But what may capture the attention of coaches Bruiser Flint and Bob Hill most tonight will be the identity of the three men who will wear neither team's jersey: the officials.
The Atlantic 10 Conference does not release the names of a game's referees until just before gametime, so when UMass (12-11, 6-4 Atlantic 10) visits Fordham (11-12, 4-7), the drama could partly surround who is calling the game, not who is playing it.
Both teams came out of last weekend's losses with questions about the referees. Flint's comments were controlled, but he still disputed Xavier's 42-13 edge in free-throw attempts as the Musketeers won 87-77.
Hill was far more volatile after Fordham's 93-86 loss at St. Joseph's Sunday. St. Joseph's took 55 free throws to Fordham's 15, and Hill was ejected from a game that included nine technical fouls, which is believed to be an Atlantic 10 record.
Fordham collected seven technicals in a game Hill called "an embarrassment to the league, and to basketball. It was a jamboree, there were some near-fights — I've never seen officials handle a game like that."
Coincidentally or otherwise, referee Glenn Mayborg worked both games. But it was a big weekend for officiating controversy. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was upset after Saturday's two-point loss at Notre Dame, when the Fighting Irish owned a 28-3 foul-shooting edge.
In all three cases, the team with the foul-shooting advantage was the home team. In Xavier's case, the Musketeers were the more aggressive team in the paint, while UMass relied on perimeter scoring from Monty Mack, who had 32 points.
Flint still thought the numbers were a bit tilted. Hill said his game was allowed to spin out of control. That creates the unusual circumstance of matching two coaches (Flint and Hill) who come in with a bad taste about the previous game's officiating.
But whether last week's games were called properly or not, the free-throw statistics served as a reminder that neither the UMass nor Fordham offense relies on pounding the ball inside, which can also produce fouls.
The three highest scorers in tonight's game are guards — Mack (19.7 ppg.) and Fordham's Bevon Robin (15.9) and Jason Harris (15.7).
Tonight's game also has NIT implications. With its New York location, rich NIT history and modest revival under Hill, Fordham is considered an appealing NIT candidate.
UMass has virtually played itself out of NCAA tournament consideration, unless it wins the Atlantic 10 tournament and automatic berth. But to reach the NIT, a .500 record is required, and it's possible these teams could find themselves being compared against each other by selectors.
Hill said Fordham has improved since Jan. 8, when UMass disrupted the Rams with pressure defense in an 82-52 rout at the Mullins Center.
"I think we've come a long way," he said. "Our guys are not intimidated anymore, and they don't quit anymore, like they did up there. We're not there yet, but we're a lot better."
UMass is tied for second with St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 East, and has five regular-season games remaining after tonight. The Minutemen won 67-65 last year at Fordham, when Harris' 3-point shot rolled out at the buzzer.
MHERST - Look at a University of Massachusetts men's basketball schedule in November and a three-game stretch against Fordham, St. Joseph's and Rhode Island hardly jumps off the page. But the three games are, in fact, critical. How the Minutemen fare during the next three games could determine a lot for them.
It all begins tonight at 7 against Fordham at Rose Hill Gymnasium in the Bronx.
On the line is second place in the Atlantic 10 East and a potential trip to the National Invitation Tournament. UMass and St. Bonaventure are currently tied for second (behind Temple) at 6-4. Three wins would give the Minutemen a cushion over the .500 mark that is necessary to get into the NIT.
UMass' next three opponents comprise the bottom three spots in the A-10 East. All of them lost to the Minutemen earlier this year.
"We're playing to try to get into the postseason," Flint said. "We've got a chance. We're right there."
"These are real big," said sophomore guard Shannon Crooks. "We just have go get them. It's gong to be tough because we beat them before, so they're going to come out even more pumped.
"We should play like we have nothing to lose," Crooks added. "We don't need to put pressure on ourselves. We should go out and just play basketball."
Fordham returns home tonight after an ugly scene in its 93-86 loss at St. Joseph's. The game saw coach Bob Hill and forward Steve Canal get ejected. Hill was reprimanded by the A-10 for his harsh comments about the officiating after the game.
Canal, who raised both hands with middle fingers pointing skyward to the St. Joe's crowd, was given a one-game suspension for the obscene gesture and won't play tonight. It likely won't make a big difference, as Canal was averaging 3.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.4 minutes.
At 11-12 (4-7 A-10) the Rams have struggled since starting conference play, but their wins have been impressive. They beat probable NCAA Tournament participant Dayton once and St. Bonaventure twice.
UMass manhandled the Rams, 82-52, on Jan. 8, but Flint and his players insist Fordham has improved since last time.
"They're playing much better," Flint said. "(Jason) Harris and (Bevon) Robin have been playing a lot better for them."
"We have to do the things coach wants us to do," senior guard Monty Mack said. "It worked for us last time. We won the first game, so we know they're going to come out with a lot of energy and try to redeem themselves."
Fordham has been significantly better at home in conference play, going 3-2 in Division 1's oldest gym, compared with 1-5 on the road.
Hill said his team has strengthened psychologically as well.
"We're a much better team," Hill said. "We've come a long way. We've come together as a team. We've had to get the quit out of this team. We quit against UMass. They put a press on us. We turned the ball over and we quit."
In a somewhat unusual setup, the Rams now have forward Teremun Johnson doing the bulk of the ball distribution on offense. He leads the team with 4.6 assists per game. The setup allows more offensive freedom for Harris (15.7 points per game) and Robin (15.9 ppg).