AMHERST -- There's still a lot of basketball left to play between now and Selection Sunday on March 7. But for the University of Massachusetts, the NCAA tournament starts tonight.
Tuesday's 66-60 loss to Fordham at the Mullins Center was the 10th loss of the year for the Minutemen. Unless they win out their last 10 games and have a good Atlantic 10 Conference postseason tournament, the Minutemen's seven-year run in the NCAA Tournament might be over.
"Let's get to that point," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said, when asked if the Minutemen would have to win the A-10 Tournament to get invited to the NCAAs. "Let's get to the Atlantic 10 first."
UMass is currently 8-10 and 4-3 in the Atlantic 10 East Division.
In each of Flint's first two seasons, the Minutemen needed late-season runs to cement at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament. Two years ago, UMass won 11-of-12 games, and last year UMass had to win 13 of 14 to insure an at-large bid.
It's beginning to appear as if UMass will have to run the table or win the postseason tournament to make the NCAAs. If neither happens, it would be the first time in the UMass careers of senior players Charlton Clarke and Lari Ketner that they didn't play in an NCAA Tournament game.
"I told my team, you have 10 games left. I told my two seniors 'How do you want to end your career?' " said Flint.
If the Minutemen are going to make their move, they'll start tonight at Dayton. Like UMass, the Flyers have been struggling. Dayton, 8-9 and 3-4 in the A-10 West Division, won at Duquesne on Jan. 23, ending a four-game slide. From there, UMass heads south for a non-league tilt with the University of Texas.
UMass returns home next Thursday night for the start of a three-game homestand. Rhode Island and Lamar Odom visit on Feb. 4, followed by St. Joseph's on Feb. 7, and St. Bonaventure comes in Feb. 10.
"We've struggled all year," said Flint. "Guys still aren't focused on coming out and playing every day. We have 10 games left, and you can win all 10 if you play hard."