UMass started the season awash in flattery. The Associated Press preseason poll listed the Minutemen at No. 23. ESPN Magazine listed them 14th in its preseason Sweet Sixteen.
As most of us know by now, those considerations were incredibly overblown. The Minutemen may be ready for this sort of hype by the end of the season, but at the moment they are an underacheiving bunch with a 1-1 record.
And of all things, UMass has been pushed around in the one area where it was thought to be impregnable -- on the glass.
Count UMass coach Bruiser Flint among those who are amazed, in a disgusted way, by this surprising reality.
The aforementioned rankings were largely based on the fact that UMass has one of the largest frontcourts in the nation, if not the biggest, which probably doesn't say a lot for the impact sheer size can have on a college basketball game.
St. John's, the team that beat UMass in more ways than one last week, was downright tiny in comparison. That said, St. John's came within a minute of beating Stanford -- a legitimate national power -- three nights ago.
So perhaps there is hope for the Minutemen, provided their big people start performing according to plan. Go figure:
Lari Ketner, a 6-foot-10 All-American candidate who is supposed to be one of the finest centers in the country, started the year by saying he wanted to play with more of an attitude this season. He didn't want to disappear from the floor during crucial junctures, this time around.
Thus far, though, he's still trying to change that pattern. Ketner has averaged 14.5 points on 12-of-28 shooting over the first two games, including a 5-of-14 effort against St. John's.
Ajmal Basit, in a half-joking way, said his goal was to lead the nation in rebounding this season. Thus far, however, the only hot pace the 6-9 power forward has set is in playing himself out of games early. He has nine personal fouls over two games, and far more bench time than playing time.
Leave it to Mike Babul, a 6-6 small forward, to be the chief producer up front so far.
Which doesn't say a lot for this team's fortunes, once the Minutemen hit the teeth of their schedule. "We have to rebound the ball a lot better than we have," said Flint. "But we also have to play harder. We got off to an awful start against St. John's, and the next thing you know, all of our guys put their heads down. I don't know if we took things lightly or not, but we weren't down there for nothing."
Indeed, the Minutemen were there in part to show that those preseason polls were on the ball.
Not surprisingly, they dropped out of the Top 25 this week. At least they can work on their game outside the national spotlight.