AMHERST -- You could make an argument that junior guard Monty Mack is the most irreplaceable player on the UMass basketball team.
The Minutemen could be about to find out if that's true.
Mack's status is uncertain following the accusation of a UMass student that he attacked her during a dining hall fight last Sunday. The student said Mack punched her in the ear and threw her against a tray rack after he and others joined in a fight between two women. A court hearing was set for Nov. 20 when a clerk magistrate will determine whether to file formal accusations.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said he'd investigate the matter before deciding if any discipline action would be taken. Any suspension probably wouldn't come until after the court hearing.
The Minutemen open their season a week from tomorrow at the Mullins Center against Niagara in the Chase NIT.
There's also the matter of the 13 stitches Mack required the day before the dining hall incident to close cuts on the fingers of his left hand. Mack said he fell on a broken bottle in his dorm. He missed some practices and did not play in UMass' 84-82 exhibition victory over Team Focus Thursday night.
Mack said he expected to be ready to play by opening night.
Most people would probably pick center Lari Ketner as the team's most indispensable player. Ketner was a first-team Atlantic 10 selection last year and is an All-America candidate. The 6-foot-10, 268-pound senior led the Minutemen in scoring (15.2 ppg) and blocks (2.1 bpg) and ranked second in rebounding (7.4 rpg).
But the No. 24 Minutemen desperately need someone to shoot well from the outside to open up room underneath for Ketner to operate. That's what makes Mack so important. He's the one with the most potential to fill that role.
Last season, UMass was 9-3 when Mack shot 50 percent or better and 12-8 when he didn't.
"The thing he's going to have to get used to is people playing him a little tougher like they did at the end of last year," Flint said. "People are sort of playing for him because they realize he's become a big part of our offense."
No UMass guard shot better than 40.8 percent last season. In Thursday's exhibition, the backcourt of Charlton Clarke and Jonathan DePina combined to sink only 3 of 20 shots. Mack shot only 39.9 percent a year ago, but you could argue he was either shaking off the rust from sitting out the previous year due to insufficient grades or still adjusting to the college game.
Mack shot much better away from the Mullins Center (123 of 291, 42.3 percent) than at it (40 of 118, 33.9 percent). The disparity was even greater for 3-pointers. Mack hit 41.3 percent of his threes (38 of 92) outside the Mullins Center and only 27.1 percent (16 of 59) inside.
Against all five opponents that UMass played both at home and on the road, Mack shot better on the road. Against Fordham, he sank 5 of 7 shots on the road and 11 days later hit only 2 of 9 at home. Against St. Joseph's, he shot 8 of 15 on the road and 2 of 11 at home. Against Rhode Island, he was 8 of 15 on the road and 6 of 19 at home. Against Temple, he was 4 of 7 road, 4 of 13 home. Against St. Bonaventure, he was 7 of 15 road, 4 of 15 home.
"I had no idea," Mack admitted when informed of the aforementioned statistics.
"I don't think it has anything to do with feeling pressure from the home crowd," he said. "I like the pressure to be on me. We practice all the time at the Mullins Center, so I should be used to the rims. I don't know what it was. I can't tell you."
Flint thinks he might have the answer.
"We played a little better on the road," Flint said, "because I felt the guys concentrated harder. I think we were a little too comfortable at home."
Mack enjoyed two of his best shooting games against two of the best teams UMass visited. He hit 8 of 15 at both No. 3 Kansas and No. 21 Rhode Island.
Mack averaged 13.8 points while starting all of his team's 32 games and was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team.
Prior to the dining hall incident, many expected him to have a break-through season this year now that he has a full college season under his belt.
"If it happens, it happens," Mack said. "If not, I'll just work harder and do the things the coaches want me to do."
Mack averaged 23.2 points as a junior and 19.7 as a senior in leading South Boston High to two state championships. But he was more of a scorer than a shooter. He used his 6-foot-3 height to score a lot of his points inside.
"I'm a better shooter now than I was in high school," Mack said.