There's only one men's basketball team in the Atlantic 10 Conference with a worse record than the University of Massachusetts, and it's coming our way.
Still trying to exit the road that's leading to nowhere, UMass next faces Duquesne Wednesday night at Mullins Center, a matchup the Minutemen now face with an injured point guard and the uneasy knowledge that after this game comes Kansas, the nation's 18th-ranked team.
That was once viewed as a battle of showcase programs but now presents a David-and-Goliath scenario, except that the biblical David had better aim than these Minutemen.
Saturday's 53-50 loss to St. Bonaventure displayed a problem UMass has faced all year. Tepid shooting showed up in 42.2 percent field goal accuracy, 52.6 foul shooting and an 18.2 percent 3-point touch. Now, there's new concern over the health of Charlton Clarke, who bruised a knee against Fordham Thursday and hobbled through 28 scoreless, ineffective minutes Saturday.
Clarke hopes to heal in time for Wednesday's game when the Minutemen (5-8, 2-1 Atlantic 10) meet the Dukes (4-9, 0-3). He's expected to play, but the choices are not good unless he's completely healed. That looked unlikely Saturday, given the pain he seemed to be in at Reilly Center.
If he plays with his injury, he risks making it worse and perhaps jeopardizing his chances to play Saturday against Kansas. That would open up the possibility of not just a UMass loss, but an embarrassing spectacle on national TV.
If he can't play Wednesday, UMass could have trouble against a team it's expected to beat, unless backup point guard Jonathan DePina shakes his season-long slump. Fearful of turnovers and defensive lapses, UMass coach Bruiser Flint has remained unwilling to try inexperienced sophomore guard Rafael Cruz at the point.
In fact, Flint didn't even have Cruz on the floor for the final 1.4 seconds Saturday, when UMass set up a 3-point shot that would have sent the game into overtime. What little action Cruz has seen has usually come with the Minutemen trailing and his outside scoring touch needed.
Monty Mack took the final shot against St. Bonaventure, a desperation try from the right corner that didn't come close. Flint said his other option was DePina, who had played a poor game but had hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, cutting a 53-47 deficit to 53-50.
Clarke has played well against Detroit, Virginia Tech and Fordham, and UMass won all three. But when he's struggled, so has the team, and the prospect of playing without him altogether (or with limited mobility) is not good.
Against St. Bonaventure, UMass beat itself with 21 turnovers. That led to 20 points for the Bonnies, a team that has trouble scoring from a set offense.
There were a few bright spots Saturday, though not many. Good things continue to happen when sophomore Kitwana Rhymer is on the floor, and the 6-foot-10 center shot 3 for 4 with three rebounds in 19 minutes. In his first season of college basketball, Rhymer has made 11 of 16 shots, and Flint knows many UMass fans would like to see more of him.
"Kit has played well, and he's surprised me," Flint said. "But I'd like to see him take his time and keep building his confidence.
UMass also displayed its best interior passing of the season Saturday, and showed signs of learning how to break a zone. Mike Babul's numbers (six points, three rebounds) didn't do justice to the skill he showed in moving along the baseline, and Chris Kirkland scored 14 points with 11 rebounds, tying career highs.
"I know I've just got to get aggressive and take advantage of the chances I get to score," Kirkland said. Babul agreed, saying aggressiveness in moving without the ball - more than strategic adjustments - explained UMass' first-half effectiveness.