Coverage from:
The Associated Press
The Springfield Union-News
The Mass. Daily Collegian


Bonnies Await Their Toughest Test Yet
From The Associated Press, 3/5/2001

OLEAN, N.Y., March 5 Overcoming adversity, the theme of the St. Bonaventure men's basketball team all season, will continue to be tested this week.

The Bonnies, who lost three top scorers from last year's N.C.A.A. tournament team and were then hit by a rash of injuries, battled to a fifth-place finish in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

On Thursday afternoon, St. Bonaventure (18-10 over all, 9-7 in conference) will see how much more the team has, opening the conference tournament with a quarterfinal game against fourth-seeded Massachusetts, which it defeated twice this season.

"I really haven't had a lot of time to think about it, but as I step away to see what we've accomplished then I realize how fortunate we are," Coach Jim Baron said of his third team to win 17 or more games in the last four years. "Because you know how close you are to go both ways you can go south or you can go north. And we've been fortunate to have our guys stick together."

Looking ahead, Baron said it doesn't hurt that the Bonnies are coming off their victory over the Minutemen (13-14, 11-5).

"I think it gives you a little bit of confidence, but by the same token, I also know that they're a very good basketball team and we have to do a better job of some of the things that I evaluated on the tape," he said.

Although a repeat N.C.A.A. bid is an outside shot at best for the Bonnies they would have to win the Atlantic 10 championship tournament in Philadelphia there is a chance to get a National Invitation Tournament bid.

That would be reward enough for Baron.

"To be in this position is unbelievable," Baron said. "Let me pinch myself, thinking about a postseason tournament."

After beginning the season with an 8-1 record, injuries led to the Bonnies' free fall in late December. They have since rebounded to win six of their last nine.

The starting center, Peter Van Paassen, missed five of his last nine games, hobbled by tendinitis in his right ankle. The starting guard, Patricio Prato, missed nine games with a broken left wrist.

Photo
Kevin Houston injured his hip on this play on Saturday, crashing to the floor.
The leading scorer, Kevin Houston, has been nursing a number of injuries, including a bruised hip. And then there were injuries to the team's reserves: guard Marques Green (charley horse); forward Robert Cheeks (infected right index finger and a sprained left knee); and forward Andy Stinson (separated right shoulder).

Baron said Van Paassen remains questionable for Thursday's game (SBU said on Tuesday that Van Paassen will not play and is done for the season), while Houston will have his hip checked by a doctor.

Houston, who sat out last season after transferring from Miami, has averaged 19.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

St. Bonaventure has also been helped by the emergence of starters Vidal Massiah and J. R. Bremer, who have combined for about 25 points per game this season.

"Some of the adversity we've faced has held us back, but our goals are still high," Van Paassen said. "Right now, we're still trying to win as many games as we can so we'll be a lock for the N.I.T., but our goal is still to win the conference tourney."


Minutemen plan for a lengthy stay
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 3/8/2001

PHILADELPHIA Monty Mack says the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team isn't ready for checkout time yet.

"I packed for a week," the senior guard said as UMass prepared for today's Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinal against St. Bonaventure at First Union Spectrum. "I plan on being here."

The Minutemen want to get past today's 2:30 game, beat either St. Joseph's or La Salle in tomorrow's semifinal and be here Saturday night, when the A-10 title game is held. UMass (13-14, 11-5 A-10), must win two games to qualify for NIT consideration, and must win the A-10 championship to earn an automatic NCAA berth.

Coach Bruiser Flint's future appears to depend on this week's results. It might take a tournament title from the league's fourth-place team for him to be retained.

"There's some added pressure in that," said point guard Shannon Crooks, one of Flint's strongest supporters among the players. "But there's been pressure all season, and this is ours.

"Anything less than winning the title will be a disappointment," Crooks said. "To win for him would also show him how thankful we've been to him."

Crooks has a key assignment today. He'll guard St. Bonaventure forward Kevin Houston, who scored 26 points in the Bonnies' 66-59 win at UMass Saturday.

Crooks took on the coverage of Houston in the second half of that game, and did a pretty good job. The Bonnies' forward had nine points in the second half.

"I've got to make him put the ball on the floor," Crooks said. "He likes shooting the ball more than driving."

St. Bonaventure (18-10, 9-7), the fifth seed, has won its last three and beat UMass without 6-foot-11 center Peter Van Paassen, who has tendinitis in his right ankle. Van Paassen will be out again today, but Flint said if UMass doesn't improve on last week's play, Van Paassen's absence won't matter.

Flint has moved senior guard Jonathan DePina into the starting lineup. DePina, who scored a career-high 16 points against St. Bonaventure, replaces forward Winston Smith, who has totaled six points in his last seven games.

DePina has started only two games the opener against Iona when Mack was suspended, and Saturday, because seniors traditionally get the nod in their final home game.

The 6-5 Smith has started all but one game. DePina's addition creates a three-guard lineup with Crooks on a wing, and Flint thinks DePina has been better at running the team from the point than Crooks.

St. Bonaventure figures to show some zone defense, and the Minutemen will need better perimeter shooting from Crooks (3 for 12 against the Bonnies) and Mack (6 for 27 over his last game and a half). "The majority were good looks," an unworried Mack said. "I forced a few, but mostly, they just didn't fall. Some days they fall, and some they don't."

If shots don't fall today, it may mean the end of a season, the career of seniors Mack, DePina and Smith, and the Flint era at UMass.

"I think we have as good a chance as anybody of winning this tournament," Flint said. "But this is it, man. We know what's in front of us."


Minutemen kick off A-10 tournament
By Adam White, The Mass. Daily Collegian Staff, 3/8/2001

The game will begin like any other: a whistle will blow, a basketball will be tossed into the air and two players will take off after it.

But the better team in today's Atlantic 10 Tournament matchup between Massachusetts and St. Bonaventure will control more than just the ball. The winner will advance to the semi-final round and move one step closer to the coveted conference crown. As neither the Minutemen (13-14, 11-5 A-10) nor the Bonnies (18-10, 9-7 A-10) has much chance of gaining an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, that A-10 championship is the only ticket that either of these teams can get to the Big Dance later this month.

For UMass, a win also breathes life into a somewhat disappointing season that has head coach James "Bruiser" Flint fielding as many questions about his job security as he is about basketball (see sidebar).

The tournament actually started yesterday afternoon at 3:30, but the Minutemen did not have to take the floor. Fourth-seeded UMass and No. 5 St. Bonaventure each earned a bye in the opening round, as did St. Joseph's, Xavier and Temple. The top-seeded Hawks will lock horns with La Salle at noon, while the No. 2 Musketeers and the No. 3 Owls will battle George Washington and Dayton, respectively, in the evening games.

"There are three parts to the season," said Flint, referring to the non-conference schedule, the A-10 portion and the postseason. "The third part is the key. We have a legitimate shot to win the A-10 Tournament."

Flint's team has pulled a sort of roundball Jekyll-and-Hyde routine this season, losing 9-of-11 in the non-conference portion of its schedule before exploding through A-10 play with an 11-5 conference mark. That leaves the Minutemen with the unenviable task of having to run the table in A-10 Tournament play in order to gain an NCAA bid along with virtual locks St. Joe's (24-5, 14-2 A-10) and Xavier (21-6, 12-4 A-10).

"Xavier and St. Joe's have good records because they did things out of conference," Flint said. "We didn't play well at the beginning of the year, but we didn't play well against good teams."

But to say that UMass' season can be split into halves of night and day is somewhat misleading; the Minutemen suffered through a few black days down the stretch in conference play as well. The trouble really started on Feb. 17, when Temple (18-12, 12-4 A-10) came into the William D. Mullins Center and stomped UMass 84-52 in front of a national television audience. The Minutemen recovered with two straight wins before venturing into Philadelphia for their only regular-season date with conference frontrunner St. Joe's. That night proved to be another painful lesson for UMass, which blew a 16-point halftime lead en route to a crushing 84-69 defeat.

The final blow came Saturday on Senior Day, when the Minutemen closed their regular season with a 66-59 home loss to St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies had also dealt the Maroon and White its first conference defeat, 66-65, on Jan. 13 in Olean, NY.

That could be either very good or very bad for the Minutemen, who are in search of their first conference championship since the 1995-96 campaign. Rarely does a team go 0-for-3 against any given opponent in a single season, especially a squad with a worse conference record. On the other hand, UMass has dropped four in a row and 6-of-7 to the Bonnies.

The Minutemen are 2-0 against St. Bonaventure in A-10 tournament play, having beaten the Bonnies 75-62 in 1993 and 69-56 in 1996 en route to the school's second and fifth A-10 tournament championships, respectively. But they have only reached the A-10 semi-finals once under Flint, when they defeated GW in last year's second round before losing to eventual champion Temple.

Personnel-wise, the Minutemen seem to match up well against the Bonnies regardless of their regular-season woes against them. Conference Player of the Week Kevin Houston, a 6-foot-4 senior swingman, is the heart and soul of the Bonnie offense. Houston racked up 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting in SBU's win over UMass on Saturday, well over his season average of 19.5 points per game. The team also got a big lift from junior guard J.R. Bremer, who canned four second-half threes en route to 20 points on the afternoon.

UMass counters with All-Atlantic 10 first-teamer Monty Mack and Shannon Crooks, whom Flint calls "the best defensive guard in the conference." Mack finished just behind Houston in fifth place on the A-10 scoring list (19.2 ppg), while Crooks finished among the conference's top 15 in assists, steals and assist-turnover ratio.

Where the Minutemen enjoy a decided difference over SBU is in the frontcourt, where the Bonnies have little answer to A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Kitwana Rhymer. The 6-foot-10 senior shares the paint with equally formidable forward Micah Brand, with whom he also shares the A-10 Most Improved Player award.

Both Rhymer and Brand excel at shot blocking; Rhymer's 60 swats led the league while Brand's 32 ranked seventh in the conference.

SBU will benefit somewhat from the return of senior center Peter Van Paassen, who averaged 14.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, but missed five of the Bonnies' contests (including the last win over UMass) with a foot injury.

A win over the Bonnies would likely set up a semi-final rematch with St. Joe's, provided the Hawks triumph in their second-round game today at noon. St. Joe's trenched itself in atop the A-10 from the onset of conference play, showing little signs of weakness while getting MVP seasons from junior Marvin O'Connor (21.6 ppg, second in conference) and A-10 Rookie of the Year Jameer Nelson (6.2 assists per game, best in conference).

The accolades weren't limited to the Hawks' roster either; the nod for A-10 Coach of the Year went to St. Joe's Phil Martelli, who reached the 100-win plateau in only his sixth year at the Hawk helm.

The Minutemen seemed to be well on their way to an upset of the Hawks on Feb. 27 at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, having led by as many as 19 (45-26) in the first half behind 50 percent shooting from the field.

The Hawks then strung together a jaw-dropping 33-8 run over a 14-minute span in the second half to rip the lead away for good. Mack finished with a team-high 15 points, but managed only four of those in the second half.

Despite the outcome, some Minutemen saw their defeat as being somewhat positive, in that they caught a glimpse of exactly what it would take to topple the Hawks in the somewhat less-hostile environment of the A-10 Tournament.

"Their gym is small, and their crowd really gets into it," said forward Jackie Rogers, who tallied 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in the loss. "The way we played in the first half, I know we can beat them at [a neutral site]."

Not that the Spectrum will be exactly neutral. St. Joe's, Temple and La Salle are all situated within the City of Brotherly Love, leaving their opponents with the added factor of a raucous home crowd to deal with. Luckily for the Minutemen, fans of St. Bonaventure must make an even farther trip down to the tournament than UMass fans.


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ournament play, having beaten the Bonnies 75-62 in 1993 and 69-56 in 1996 en route to the school's second and fifth A-10 tournament championships, respectively. But they have only reached the A-10 semi-finals once under Flint, when they defeated GW in last year's second round before losing to eventual champion Temple.

Personnel-wise, the Minutemen seem to match up well against the Bonnies regardless of their regular-season woes against them. Conference Player of the Week Kevin Houston, a 6-foot-4 senior swingman, is the heart and soul of the Bonnie offense. Houston racked up 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting in SBU's win over UMass on Saturday, well over his season average of 19.5 points per game. The team also got a big lift from junior guard J.R. Bremer, who canned four second-half threes en route to 20 points on the afternoon.

UMass counters with All-Atlantic 10 first-teamer Monty Mack and Shannon Crooks, whom Flint calls "the best defensive guard in the conference." Mack finished just behind Houston in fifth place on the A-10 scoring list (19.2 ppg), while Crooks finished among the conference's top 15 in assists, steals and assist-turnover ratio.

Where the Minutemen enjoy a decided difference over SBU is in the frontcourt, where the Bonnies have little answer to A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Kitwana Rhymer. The 6-foot-10 senior shares the paint with equally formidable forward Micah Brand, with whom he also shares the A-10 Most Improved Player award.

Both Rhymer and Brand excel at shot blocking; Rhymer's 60 swats led the league while Brand's 32 ranked seventh in the conference.

SBU will benefit somewhat from the return of senior center Peter Van Paassen, who averaged 14.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, but missed five of the Bonnies' contests (including the last win over UMass) with a foot injury.

A win over the Bonnies would likely set up a semi-final rematch with St. Joe's, provided the Hawks triumph in their second-round game today at noon. St. Joe's trenched itself in atop the A-10 from the onset of conference play, showing little signs of weakness while getting MVP seasons from junior Marvin O'Connor (21.6 ppg, second in conference) and A-10 Rookie of the Year Jameer Nelson (6.2 assists per game, best in conference).

The accolades weren't limited to the Hawks' roster either; the nod for A-10 Coach of the Year went to St. Joe's Phil Martelli, who reached the 100-win plateau in only his sixth year at the Hawk helm.

The Minutemen seemed to be well on their way to an upset of the Hawks on Feb. 27 at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, having led by as many as 19 (45-26) in the first half behind 50 percent shooting from the field.

The Hawks then strung together a jaw-dropping 33-8 run over a 14-minute span in the second half to rip the lead away for good. Mack finished with a team-high 15 points, but managed only four of those in the second half.

Despite the outcome, some Minutemen saw their defeat as being somewhat positive, in that they caught a glimpse of exactly what it would take to topple the Hawks in the somewhat less-hostile environment of the A-10 Tournament.

"Their gym is small, and their crowd really gets into it," said forward Jackie Rogers, who tallied 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in the loss. "The way we played in the first half, I know we can beat them at [a neutral site]."

Not that the Spectrum will be exactly neutral. St. Joe's, Temple and La Salle are all situated within the City of Brotherly Love, leaving their opponents with the added factor of a raucous home crowd to deal with. Luckily for the Minutemen, fans of St. Bonaventure must make an even farther trip down to the tournament than UMass fans.


UMass hopes to turn the tables
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/8/2001

PHILADELPHIA - The University of Massachusetts has met St. Bonaventure in significant games four straight times. In all four, the Minutemen have left shaking their heads in defeat.

In January, a Vidal Massiah game-winning 3-pointer and a controversial non-call when Monty Mack was knocked to the ground in the final seconds led to a 66-65 Bonnies win.

Last Saturday, UMass had a chance to climb to the tournament's No. 2 seed if it won, but SBU got the better of the sloppy rematch, 66-59.

Today at 2:30 p.m. (TV: FSNE) at the Philadelphia Spectrum the stakes are much higher for the Minutemen and Bonnies in a quarterfinal of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

While the recent history with St. Bonaventure is poor, UMass coach Bruiser Flint can look back to his first year at the helm (1997-98), to find a particularly significant win against the Mustard and Brown.

With his team struggling at 6-9, the Minutemen rolled into Olean, N.Y., and beat the Bonnies, 63-59. The win stands out because it was the first time Flint employed a three-guard lineup as he replaced then-freshman forward Winston Smith with sophomore guard Charlton Clarke. The switch launched UMass on an 11-1 run that pushed it toward the NCAA Tournament.

At 13-14, the Minutemen are trying to extend their season and Flint plans to start a three-guard set again, for the first time this year. Just like four years ago, Smith is the victim of the move, heading to the bench in favor of senior point guard Jonathan DePina.

"We've played better like that," said Flint, who has used the combination at times over the years, but hasn't started a game that way.

"I haven't been getting anything out of Winston (Smith). Jonathan has been playing well out there anyway and this takes the pressure off Shannon (Crooks). Jonathan does a better job running the team."

DePina has played well as a starter during his career and helped earn the start with a personal-best 16 points against these same Bonnies Saturday when he drew the start on Senior Day.

The Bonnies again will be without senior center Peter Van Paassen, who missed Saturday's game and has since been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Freshman Quadir Habeeb will start in his place.

Flint wants his team to take better advantage of Van Paassen's absence.

"We didn't attack the post enough against the zone," Flint said. "We settled for jump shots."

Despite their earlier problems with the Bonnies, the Minutemen expressed confidence.

"We probably should have won the first game, which was a tough loss," Brand said. "We wanted to come in on Saturday and make up for it. But some things didn't go our way and we didn't do some things we needed to do. Now we're focusing on doing those things (today). We know if we buckle down and do the things we have to, we can beat that team."

Saturday, Kevin Houston (26 points) and J.R. Bremer (20) killed the Minutemen, hitting jump shots. Mack stressed the importance of keeping them honest on the perimeter.

"We need to go out there and play better defense and pressure their guards a little more," Mack said. "We just have to go out there and play UMass basketball and play with confidence."

Crooks, who will guard Houston, agreed.

"If he gets his feet set, it's in," Crooks said. "I have to make him put it on the floor. That will be the key to containing him."

The game marks just the third time the evolving rivalry has taken place in the postseason. The Minutemen won both previous A-10 tourney tilts, in 1993 and 1996.


Minutemen on rocky road
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/9/2001

PHILADELPHIA - When the University of Massachusetts walks on to the court this afternoon for the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, it's no secret that in order to achieve their preseason dream of reaching the NCAA's field of 64, the Minutemen will have to win the A-10 tournament title.

After a 2-9 beginning, their impressive 11-5 run in the A-10 portion of their schedule wasn't enough to put the Minutemen in position to be considered for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.

The difficulty of UMass' non-conference schedule always has been a topic for debate, but on the heels of its 11 conference wins, many onlookers have wondered: Had UMass played a less difficult nonconference schedule, would the Minutemen be headed to the NCAA tourney? Or would they at least be in position to be considered?

Those questions spawn more questions:

- What is more important, games that generate wins, or games that provide revenue and television exposure?

- Is creating a situation that fosters NCAA Tournament hopes more important than one that brings in money for an entire athletic department?

- If the schedule is considerably more difficult than the average team's, should expectations on the head coach be altered?

- How important is being on television?

The UMass scheduling philosophy has been that you need to play a grueling slate to earn respect for an at-large bid because the Atlantic 10 doesn't get the same respect as bigger conferences. However, the facts don't exactly bear that out.

The Ratings Percentage Index is an instrument used by the NCAA to rank its more than 300 Division 1 teams based on wins and losses and strength of schedule. A lower number corresponds with a better team. The average RPI rank of UMass' nonconference opponents is 70.18, which indicates a difficult schedule.

Fellow A-10 teams Xavier and St. Joseph's face similar challenges each year in their quests to reach the NCAA Tournament. But their strategy has been different.

With Selection Sunday (Mar. 10) approaching quickly, the Musketeers and Hawks are considered locks to make the NCAA field of 64. They've done it with a much easier nonconference slate. The average RPI of Xavier's opponents is 140.8; For St. Joe's foes, it's 143.8.

Both teams played a mixture of stronger opponents and weaker ones and are ranked in the top 25. UMass swept the season series with Xavier.

Home games are also a factor. The Musketeers played seven of 11 nonconference games at home, while the Hawks played four of 12 at home and six inside Philadelphia's city limits.

The Minutemen, conversely, have played three of 11 at home, two against teams that have spent time ranked in the Associated Press top 25 and all three against NCAA Tournament-bound teams. In fairness, the success of Boston College and Providence, two teams that beat UMass at the Mullins Center, was not predicted this season.

Money's a factor

The issue is rooted in money as well. A team like Boston College, which is currently ranked No. 10 in the AP's Top 25, had more than $200,000 to spend on "buy games" - one-game guaranteed deals to play home contests against lesser teams that will take money for a game. The Eagles played nine of 11 nonconference games at home.

UMass played fewer nonconference home games than any team in the country affiliated with one of the conferences ranked in the top 10 by the RPI. UMass has faltered under the weight of a motto that once was a symbol of pride: "Any team, any time any place."

With 29 sports to support and just one that generates positive revenue, there is considerable pressure to milk the men's basketball program. The program makes enough to support itself, but not the other 28 teams. Most schools nationally that offer I-AA football, a huge money loser, can't afford to support a broad-based athletic program. The Minutemen are the exception. If they want to avoid dropping sports programs, they need more money.

University of Massachusetts Athletic Director Bob Marcum confirmed he is prepared to ask the administration for $1.6 million to counteract the loss in basketball revenue in recent years. Part of Marcum's solution is scheduling certain basketball games in less-than-ideal situations. Next year, in order to earn the football team a game at Division I-A Marshall, the men's basketball team is playing at Huntington, W.V. The Thundering Herd will play at UMass twice down the road.

That doesn't help the basketball program, however. Coach Bruiser Flint says the Minutemen were slated to play a "buy-game" with Hartford at home in the second game of the regular season, which Marcum denies. The thinking was that the struggling Hawks might provide an environment for the Minutemen to work out the kinks.

"I don't know about anything that," Marcum said.

For the opportunity to play Marquette on ESPN2, the Minutemen traveled to Milwaukee. It was a one-shot, made-for-TV game with no return game at the Mullins Center. But UMass got $35,000 to make the trip. The game came just two days after UMass opened its season at home vs. Iona and, looking out of sync, the Minutemen lost.

On Dec. 2, the Minutemen played Oregon in Portland, flying across the country for one game, another UMass loss. This game also was on TV, but only on ESPN-Plus, the network's satellite arm.

Despite the Minutemen's two-year absence from the NCAA Tournament, Marcum pointed out that they've remained on TV more than most of their conference brethren, largely because of the road games they're willing to play.

"You don't wake up one morning and decide to schedule Oregon," Marcum explained. "You can turn down a lot of games if you want to avoid TV appearances, but I don't know many programs that want to lose that exposure."

Marcum has defended himself against Flint's schedule criticism.

"I didn't hear anyone complaining about the schedule in September and October, but when you end up on the down side of it, it's natural to be frustrated," Marcum said, adding, "It wasn't this office that coined the 'Any team, any place' slogan."

Coach wins in A-10

Flint's supporters have argued that the schedule has led to the coach's recent job-security issues.

They point to the fact that he is the Atlantic 10's third winningest coach in the past five years. Flint's .659 league winning percentage is the seventh best of anyone ever to coach in the league.

Since the 1993-94 season, only two of the 21 teams that won 11 or more games in the A-10 have not made the NCAA Tournament and none has missed the postseason altogether.

But that's the scenario facing the 13-14 Minutemen.

All of which has made Flint's seemingly impending firing seem ludicrous to some of his colleagues.

"They all tell me, Bru you can't keep playing this schedule," Flint said. "I look at the other teams in our conference and what they've done. I didn't think we'd be 2-9 (at the beginning), but that's the hand that's dealt you."

If Flint gets fired, the Minutemen's days of playing such grueling schedules are probably over. It would be hard for UMass to attract the caliber of coach it wants without giving the new boss an easier slate.

"A coach would have to be out of his mind to come here with the schedule the way it is," Flint said. "If you want to change things, you have to change the schedule. You have to play some games where your team can feel success. I'd coach without an extension, but let's change some things to help. Are we willing to go out and pay the money to have some games at home?"

Flint is still hoping to get the chance to find out.


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