AMHERST - After a tumultuous preseason that has kept him in the spotlight and off the court, junior guard Monty Mack will return to the University of Massachusetts lineup for the team's final exhibition game against Marathon Basketball tonight at 7 in the Mullins Center.
Mack suffered a cut on his hand that required stitches and kept him out of the Minuteman lineup for their first exhibition game last week against Team Fokus. He also was involved in an off-court incident in which a woman accused him of assaulting her in a UMass dining hall.
Mack will appear at a show-cause hearing Nov. 20 to determine whether charges will be filed against him.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said he is comfortable inserting the guard back into the Minuteman line-up.
"From the information that I've gotten, I think he deserves to play," Flint said. "I know he has to go to the show-cause thing on the 20th, which will tell him whether he has to go to court or not.
"If this was his third or fourth incident, it would be different," Flint continued. "I believe in innocent until proven guilty. If he is proven guilty it goes deeper than playing basketball and we'd have to re-evaluate things then."
Also making their first appearance for UMass will be Kitwana Rhymer, a sophomore center, and Darryl Denson, a sophomore walk-on guard. Rhymer had been sidelined by a sprained ankle, but practiced Tuesday and likely will be worked back in tonight.
Once the regular season begins Monday against Niagara in the preseason NIT, Flint said he plans to use a mixture of half-court and up-tempo play, but the "run and gun" Minutemen, who were on display last week, will be back for one more game.
"We'll run a few more (half-court) plays," Flint said. "But we'll do most of the same things we did the other night, a lot of running and using a lot of guys. The regular guys probably won't play as much because we don't want anybody getting hurt."
Many teams used a zone defense against UMass down the stretch last year and Flint expects it to happen again.
"I'm going to ask (Marathon) to play zone against us so we'll have a chance to work on that," he said.
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The preseason NIT is one of several early events that will employ some experimental rules. To help prepare for them, the Minutemen will use those rules tonight.
The rules include a 45-second shot clock and adjustments to time-outs and free throw lanes.
His coach says Monty Mack will play tonight, though just how much, or how effectively, remains to be seen.
But as the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team wraps up its preseason, the appearance of Mack in uniform is bound to be the focus of attention, not just because of the unwelcome publicity surrounding him lately, but because his absence last week didn't build anyone's confidence that the No. 24-ranked Minutemen have much outside shooting without him.
UMass will play Marathon Basketball in a 7 p.m. tune-up at Mullins Center, less than a week before Monday's opener at home against Niagara in the Preseason NIT. Mack missed last week's 84-82 preseason win over Team Fokus with an injury to his left hand that UMass coach Bruiser Flint said has not entirely healed.
"Monty still isn't catching the ball that great," Flint said of the junior shooting guard. "But he'll play."
Mack cut his non-shooting hand on a piece of glass recently, an injury unrelated to a Nov. 1 incident in which Mack's name was linked with a fight on campus. A Nov. 20 show-cause hearing is scheduled to determine if charges will be filed regarding the Nov. 1 incident, and no further action or comment is expected beforehand.
As for basketball, Mack's injury pointed up a potentially glaring weakness in the UMass attack. Starting guards Charlton Clarke and Jon DePina shot 3 for 20 against Team Fokus, and since the Minutemen expect to see plenty of zone defense, Mack's role as an outside shooting zone-buster could be crucial.
Team Fokus played zone briefly, then agreed to come out of it because Umass had not practiced how to attack it. Such cooperation is common in preseason games, in which the opponent receives an appearance fee but understands its role to help the college team prepare for the season.
But tonight, Flint wants to see how his team will react to zones. "I might ask Sarge (Marathon coach Glenn Sergent) to play a little zone," Flint said. "We may also run a few more set plays than we did last week."
While Flint expects Mack to play at least a few minutes, he isn't as sure about Kitwana Rhymer. He hopes the 6-foot-10 sophomore, who missed last week's game with an ankle problem, will be able to play at least briefly. A decision will be made today.
Of the other big men, much of the preseason attention has centered on Anthony Oates, a 6-10, 270 pounder who is expected to take some of the load off of Lari Ketner's shoulders. Last week's debut suggested fans should not expect too much too soon.
"He was nervous, because it was his first game banging at the collegiate level," Flint said of Oates' four-point, four-rebound, six-turnover performance in 13 minutes. "But he'll get better."
"It was a different atmosphere than I'm used to," said Oates, whose free throw broke an 82-82 tie with 17 seconds left. "I'm not used to having that many people at the game cheering."
Oates played junior-college ball in Arizona, and even last week's crowd of 5,337 seemed big to him.
Tonight's game will be played under NCAA experimental rules, including 10-minute quarters that will be in effect for the preseason NIT. Marathon has lost to St, John's (87-82 in overtime) and Connecticut (79-76). Its roster includes former Saint Louis guard Erwin Claggett, 6-11 Richard Shaw (Marquette) and Johnny McCrimmon (Rutgers).