MHERST - They are the type of team that can give coaches nightmares - a mid-major with little name recognition, but excellent 3-point shooting ability. If they get hot from the outside, they can beat you.
Meet the Marist Red Foxes who will be at the William D. Mullins Center at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The University of Massachusetts, which was hurt by strong perimeter shooting by Arkansas-Little Rock in a narrow 66-60 season-opening victory Nov. 16, will need to do a better job against the Red Foxes.
A year ago, Coach Dave McGarity's club went 17-13, and it has carried that momentum into a 3-0 start this year that included an 80-70 win over South Alabama on Wednesday.
The backcourt is led by 6-foot-2 point guard Sean Kennedy, whose 8.1 assists per game were third in the nation last year. He's averaging 18.0 points, 8.0 assists and 6.3 rebounds so far this year. He had 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to help Marist upset South Alabama.
He's joined by Rick Smith, not to be confused with the school's most famous basketball alum, 7-4 center Rik Smits, who shined with the Indiana Pacers. Smith is a 6-3 shooter who is averaging 11.3 ppg so far.
University of Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas is aware that keeping those two in check would severely cripple Marist's chance of pulling off an upset.
"We needed to work on our defense on the perimeter," he said. "The strength of this team is on the perimeter. We have to shut down their two guards, especially."
UMass senior Shannon Crooks has been a good man-to-man defender during his Minuteman career, and Anthony Anderson, who will make his first career start Saturday, was solid defensively late against Arkansas-Little Rock.
Sophomore Willie Jenkins said the team's intensity needs to be higher than it was against UALR.
"Now that we know little teams are going to come out and try to make a name off us, we have to match their intensity even more," he said. "We know now we can't come out relaxed against any team. If we want to be a good team we have to kill the teams that aren't as good as us plus the teams that are. "
Lappas said he thought the Minutemen have corrected some of their mistakes from the season opener.
"I feel like we took the things that we did wrong in that game and made a real conscious effort to improve on those things this week," he said.
While the Minutemen will try to shut down Marist's guards, Lappas expects Marist to use an opposite defensive game plan, as he expects them to try to bottle up center Kitwana Rhymer and power forward Micah Brand.
"What they're going to try to do is play man-to-man and try to pack it in, and so we have to impose our will on them, because they're going to try to not let us get the ball inside," Lappas said. "We have to get out in transition and get some easy baskets that way."
The Red Foxes are small compared to the 6-10 Rhymer and 6-11 Brand, as starting center Jack Watson is just 6-7 and power forward Matt Tullis is 6-9.
Notes: UMass is trying to improve to 2-0 for the first time since the 1995-96 season, when the Minutemen started 26-0. ... If coach McGarity is looking for someone with first-hand knowledge of UMass personnel, he needn't look farther than his own practice court, as former St. Bonaventure guard Eric Siegrist is sitting out this year for the Red Foxes after transferring from the Bonnies. ... Marist's first win of the season came against former UMass coach Bruiser Flint, who made his debut as the head coach at Drexel that night.
he Marist College men's basketball players are feeling pretty good about their 3-0 start to the season. But the Red Foxes also know their toughest road trip of the season awaits them.
Marist begins a string of three road games tonight with a non-conference encounter against the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.
Tip-off is 7 p.m. at the William D. Mullins Memorial Center.
The UMass contest starts a swing that includes stops at Lafayette University in Easton, Pa., on Thursday and ends a week from today at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Marist beat Lafayette and Bowling Green at home last season, needing overtime to beat Lafayette, 82-80.
Marist has opened with three wins at home.
''It was important for us to establish ourselves on our home court,'' Marist tri-captain Sean Kennedy said following his team's 80-70 victory Wednesday night over South Alabama. ''We lost only two games at home last year and it was important for us to get off to a good start.''
UMass is the most potent team on Marist's schedule. The Minutemen finished 11-5 last year for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 Conference and were 64th in the final Ratings Percentage Index power rankings.
UMass is expected to put up similar results this year according to the preseason polls. The Minutemen feature one of the top frontcourts in the Atlantic 10, one that includes Micah Brand from Middletown (Orange County).
''He has a lot of potential and hopefully he's starting to realize it,'' UMass first-year coach Steve Lappas said.
Brand scored 23 points in a 66-60 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock in the season opener. The 6-foot-11 junior center was a teammate of Kennedy's and fellow senior tri-captain Matt Tullis on the Hudson Valley men's open basketball team at the 2001 Empire State Games, a state-wide, Olympic-style competition.
''He's probably one of the toughest players I've been teammates with,'' Tullis said.
Although Marist and UMass are playing for the first time since the 1983-84 season, Lappas is no stranger to the Marist program. Lappas coached Manhattan College to an 81-60 victory over the Red Foxes in the 1991-92 season, a season when Manhattan won 25 games and advanced to the third round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Lappas also guided Villanova to an 80-59 win over Marist during the 1994-95 campaign. Lappas coached at Villanova for nine seasons.
''I know Marist has a very good program,'' Lappas said. ''Coach Dave Magarity has done a very good job over the years at Marist.''
The Red Foxes have been led by Kennedy, the most valuable player in last weekend's Pepsi-Marist Classic. The senior point guard is averaging 18 points, 6.3 rebounds, eight assists and 2.7 steals per contest.
Rick Smith and Nick Eppehimer are averaging in double figures in points and complement Kennedy's play in the backcourt.
''They have tremendous guards,'' Lappas said. ''The point guard really controls the game and the kids know their roles. The big key for us is if we're able to contain their guards because they're very good.''