he sense of security from Saturday's season-opening, 67-65 victory over Iona will fade away soon enough.
The Minutemen, who were beaten on the boards by one rebound against the small and thin Gaels, are about to find out what playing big really means tonight against Marquette in Milwaukee.
The Golden Eagles (0-1) lost to South Alabama in the first round of the preseason NIT on Nov. 14, but at least two of the team's qualities remained constant in the 67-54 loss. The frontcourt of 6-foot-10 John Mueller, 6-7 Jon Harris and 6-7 Oluoma Nnamaka played its usual tough game on the glass.
And the guard for whom the Marquette offense exists - 6-5 shooter Brian Wardle - finished with 17 points and six rebounds.
``They're a great defensive team,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. ``They play real physically. They have a lot of big guys, a lot of big, young guys.''
For now, Flint's main concern rests with his own star.
Monty Mack served the final game of a three-game suspension (including two exhibition games) by sitting out the Iona game and plans to step on the Bradley Center floor for his first action of the season tonight.
There's no doubt that Mack is eager to make up for lost time in the shooting department.
``Monty will get his shots, don't worry,'' Flint said.
The issue of returning to game shape is a more difficult question to answer. Mack, who sprained his right ankle two weeks ago during a practice, has only shot in practice. With the exception of some light running last week, he has not put the ankle to a serious test. He will wear a wrap on the ankle for tonight's game.
Still, the shooting guard's presence alone should make a profound difference.
``Is this team different without Monty Mack? I'd be crazy if I said it wasn't, absolutely crazy,'' Flint said.
If nothing else, the Minutemen learned something about themselves after completing a rather shaky win over Iona.
``We knew (Mack) wasn't going to be here for the first couple of games and so we were ready for it,'' point guard Jonathan DePina said. ``But it felt good to win without him. It shows us that if he gets into foul trouble and ends up going to the bench, that we can still win the game.''
Mack's role also will pay another dividend tonight. Wardle, like Mack, is a shooting guard whose success guides the team.
``And I thought we ran a lot of plays,'' Flint said. ``They run an unbelievable amount of plays.
``But a lot of our plays are similar to theirs, because their best player is a 2-guard, just as our best player is a 2-guard,'' he said. ``But I've already warned the guys. This team is a lot more physical than the one we just played.''
That said, for the first time this fall Flint will have a chance to put his full complement of players on the floor in a game situation.
With Mack back in the rotation, Shannon Crooks, who seared the Gaels for 20 points, will return to a more full-time role as a point guard. DePina, in turn, will step back into his backup role.
``The Iona win was good, especially since we didn't have our best dude out there,'' Flint said. ``What we know is that when we run our stuff, we'll score. We'll create opportunities.''
ILWAUKEE — His team won a game without Monty Mack, but Bruiser Flint would rather not have to do it again.
"Shannon Crooks can play the position (shooting guard), but he's not Monty," said Flint, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach whose team plays Marquette tonight (7 p.m.) at the Bradley Center. "Is the team different with Monty in there? I'd be crazy to say no."
Mack will be in there tonight, and at last, the school's fifth all-time leading scorer (1,617 career points, 26 behind fourth-place Tony Barbee), and his team will be able to put October's ugly shoplifting incident behind them. Mack was suspended for both preseason games and Saturday's 67-65 opening win over Iona, but he has been allowed to practice with the team, so the transition should be reasonably smooth.
"It's easy to incorporate him back in, because that spot gets a lot of shots in our offense," Flint said. "Besides, for us, Monty's The Man."
Mack suffered a minor ankle injury in practice, and the ankle will be wrapped tonight.
"Everyone knows how Monty plays — he plays hard, and we need him," point guard Jonathan DePina said. "But we've been practicing without him, and we can win if we have to without him."
Apparently, but the UMass lineup looks much better with Mack in there, even at less than 100 percent.
Flint felt that UMass didn't always attack Iona's zone defense aggressively enough, but thinks Mack's return helps solve that problem by making zone less attractive for opponents to play.
"When teams back off and play zone, we've got to take it to them, and we didn't always do that (Saturday)," Flint said. "But will teams zone us as much with Monty in there? I don't think so."
Mack's return simultaneously closes down a bad chapter in his life, and ushers in a good one. Tonight's game will be his first as a fifth-year graduate player, made possible when NCAA rules were changed to allow players who graduate on time (as Mack did last spring) to retrieve the freshman-year eligibility they lost to academic rules.
Mack is following Tyrone Weeks' footsteps in that regard. He has also been practicing at point guard, though Flint's preferred plan is to move Crooks back to the point, and use DePina as Crooks' backup.
Without Mack, Flint used Crooks at shooting guard for 39 minutes Saturday, and DePina played the point for all 40. Among the many benefits of Mack's return is that he's a career 79.8-percent foul shooter who handles the ball frequently at the end of games.
That will be a comforting sight for a team that nearly cost itself the opener with 10-for-22 foul shooting.
Marquette (0-1) could provide a revealing test. The Golden Eagles lost 67-54 at home to South Alabama last week, and this is the type of game an NCAA tournament contender — which UMass purports to be — figures to win.
But it's also a road game in an unfamiliar building, and while Marquette is not a Top 25 opponent, it's a respected and recognizable one. The Golden Eagles have also had six days to focus on this game, and UMass has had one.
"Their best player (6-5 senior Brian Wardle) is a 2-guard who comes off a lot of screens, so it makes them a lot like us," said Flint, who snuck in a little preparation for this game last week. "But they also run an unbelievable amount of plays, even more than us, and we run a lot."
ovember 20, 2000, 7:00 p.m.
Head Coach: Tom Crean, 2nd season
2000-2001 Record: 0-1
1999-2000 Record: 15-14 (8-8 in Conference USA)
Returning players: Brian Wardle (Sr., G), Oluoma Nnamaka (Jr., F), Cordell Henry (Jr., G), John Mueller (Sr., C), Jon Harris (Jr., F), David Diggs (Jr. G), Greg Clausen (Sr., C), Brian Barone (Sr., G)
New faces: Odartey Blankson (Fr., G/F), Scott Merritt (Fr., C), Terry Sanders (Fr., F)
Marquette is a Conference USA member. Last season, the Golden Knights finished 4th in the American division with an 8-8 record in conference play. Marquette earned an NIT berth, where they lost 67-63 to Xavier. The Golden Knights finished last season with a 12-4 home record.
Marquette returns four starters from last year's team, including leading scorer Brian Wardle (16.6 ppg), a second team C-USA All-League selection. Junior forward Oluoma Nnamaka was the team's leading rebounder (6.7 rpg) and fourth leading scorer (8.5 ppg). Junior guard Cordell Henry directs the team's attack; he led the team in assists last year, averaging 3.25 per game; he ended the year second in the conference in assists/turnover ration (+ 1.63). Junior forward Jon Harris was the team's second leading rebounder (6.4 rpg). Freshman Terry Sanders is likely to start at forward alongside Nnamaka; he averaged 9.0 points and shot 69.2% in the two exhibition games.
Marquette is ranked # 160 in the preseason Sagarin power ratings, 11th out of 12 in Conference USA teams. UMass comes in at No. 61. They won both their exhibition games, opening with an 84-76 victory over the California All-Stars (who beat UMass in the Minutemen's exhibition opener) and downing BC Flowtex from Slovenia 85-57 in their final exhibition tuneup. Marquette won the only previous meeting with UMass (1969-70).
Marquette opened its season with a 67-54 loss to South Alabama in the Preseason NIT. Brian Wardle led the Golden Knights with 17 points, while Cordell Henry added 10. Marquette led by 6 at the half, but shot just 31.5% from the field.
ILWAUKEE, Wis. - They rely on defense to win games. As a team, they run a lot of set plays structured around setting screens to get shots for their shooting guard.
This is, of course, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. Or is it the Marquette Golden Eagles?
When the two teams battle tonight at 7 at the Bradley Center, these two teams will see which one has a better grasp on their similar styles.
UMass welcomes back senior shooting guard Monty Mack, who has completed his three-game suspension for shoplifting. He also is coming back from a sprained ankle, which he suffered more than a week ago in practice.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said Mack's return puts everybody more in sync.
"That's your guy. You're doing things because that's who your team is built around. Shannon Crooks can play the position, but he's not Monty Mack. So it's a whole different mentality for guys on the team.
"Is your team different with Monty Mack? I'd be crazy if I said it wasn't," said Flint, who added that he wasn't concerned about Mack's ankle. "He should be fine. It won't hurt him (tonight). He's not 100 percent, but he'll be shooting them (tonight)."
Marquette checks in at 0-1 after a surprising 67-54 loss to South Alabama in the first round of the Preseason National Invitation Tournament.
A year ago the Golden Eagles went 15-14 (8-8 Conference USA). Senior shooting guard Brian Wardle led Marquette in scoring, both against South Alabama (17 points) this season and last year with 16.6 points per game.
The Golden Eagles' regimented offense is designed to get the ball to Wardle.
"I thought we run a lot of plays. They run an unbelievable amount of plays," Flint said. "If they get an offensive rebound, they throw it back out and run another play."
With only a day to prepare after his team beat Iona Saturday, Flint said Marquette's similar style of play to that of UMass has helped.
"Some of the things we did in practice helped prepare for him," Flint said of Wardle.
"Some of the things they do we already practice for. A lot our plays are similar because their best player is their two-guard. He comes off a ton of screens."
Wardle is the only player returning from last year's squad who had a double-figure scoring average. Junior forward Oluoma Nnamaka averaged 8.8 points in 1999-00.
NOTES: If Mack storms out of the gate, he could move into fourth place on UMass' career scoring list. He needs 27 points to pass Tony Barbee (1,643 career points.)