he University of Massachusetts men's basketball players will have to keep their suitcases packed for the early part of the coming season, as the Minutemen will be on the road for nine of their 12 games before the turn of the century.
UMass released its 1999-2000 schedule Thursday and it includes seven national TV games (one ABC, three ESPN and three ESPN2) and six games on the Atlantic 10 network.
Highlighting the list of opponents is defending national champion Connecticut on Nov. 22 on ESPN2.
The Commonwealth Classic series with Boston College will move to campus sites this year as the Minutemen and Eagles will play at Conte Forum on Dec. 4.
UMass has two other nonconference games against Big East opponents - Villanova at the Mullins Center (Dec. 6) and at Providence (Dec. 30).
The Minutemen will get a little sun before Christmas. After playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl Classic on Dec. 18, UMass heads to San Juan for the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic from Dec. 21-23. UMass faces Southern Illinois in the first round and will play two teams from the field of Tennessee, American University of Puerto Rico, UNC-Charlotte, Tulsa, BC, and Illinois-Chicago depending on who wins and loses.
The Minutemen open their season at Iona on Nov. 20 and play their first home game against Marshall on Nov. 29.
Texas comes to the Mullins Center for the game on ABC Feb. 1 to complete the home and home series.
Boston University returns to the UMass slate for the first time since the 1992-93 season when the Terriers come to the Mullins Center on Dec. 2.
A trip to the University of Detroit (Dec. 11) rounds out the nonconference campaign.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint is pleased with his team's schedule.
"UMass is always going to play a tough schedule," Flint said. "That's our philosophy: 'Any time, any place, any team.' We have some tough games on tough opponent courts."
MHERST - The renewal of a dormant New England rivalry, a trip to Puerto Rico and an early test against the NCAA champions highlight the University of Massachusetts men's basketball schedule.
Trying to rebound from a disappointing 14-16 season, the Minutemen will open Nov. 20 at Iona, then plunge into the fire at national champion Connecticut two nights later, tipping off a 29-game regular-season schedule.
Included on this season's schedule is the first UMass game against Providence since 1980. The Friars, who own a 20-5 lead in the series, will be host to the Minutemen Dec. 30 at Providence Civic Center.
"UMass will always play a tough schedule," said coach Bruiser Flint, surveying a lineup that includes games against 10 teams which reached the 1999 NCAA tournament, and two others that reached the NIT. "That's our philosophy — any place, any time, any team. We have some tough games on tough opponent courts."
Radio broadcaster Jack Leaman reminisced about the rivalry against Providence, and said he was happy to see it come alive again.
"When I was coaching, Providence was always a big game and a great rivalry," said Leaman, who coached UMass from 1966-79. "That game, Boston College, UConn and Holy Cross were all big because we wanted to be the best in New England."
"There's been talk of teams merging within the Atlantic 10 and Big East, so I think we'll see more of these interleague games," Leaman said.
The Providence game is one of four that UMass will play against Big East teams. Another feature is the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic in San Juan Dec. 21-23.
The Puerto Rican tournament virtually completes the program's cycle of appearances at varied and often exotic sites. In the 1990s, UMass has competed in tournaments in Maui, Honolulu and Alaska, as well as a 1994 exhibition tournament in France.
UMass will play three games in Puerto Rico, beginning with the Dec. 21 quarterfinal against Southern Illinois. The eight-team field also includes North Carolina-Charlotte, Tennessee, Tulsa, Illinois-Chicago, American University of Puerto Rico and Boston College, which means UMass could play BC twice.
The Minutemen play at Boston College Dec. 4 in the annual Commonwealth Classic. UMass is 4-0 in the Classic, which began in 1995.
The Minutemen will play 12 games at Mullins Center, including eight Atlantic 10 Conference tests and non-conference games against Marshall (Nov. 29), Boston University (Dec. 2), Villanova (Dec. 6) and Texas (Feb. 5). The Boston University game will mark the schools' 65th meeting, but first since 1993.
In Atlantic 10 play, UMass will play East Division archrival Temple at home Feb. 1, and in Philadelphia Feb. 26. A Jan. 29 game at Virginia Tech is expected to be UMass' last trip to Blacksburg as an Atlantic 10 rival of the Hokies, who announced plans to leave the conference for Big East play in 2001 and will come to Amherst next season.
In addition to facing the daunting task of facing the national champions in its second game, UMass will also meet UConn on the Huskies' home floor. The series will shift to Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., which opened in 1990 and which UMass will visit for the first time.
Other non-conference games will be at Detroit Dec. 11 and against Florida State Dec. 18 in Miami. From Miami, UMass will leave for Puerto Rico.
Flint enters his fourth season with a 54-41 record. He has three years left on his contract, but last year's tailspin not only snapped a streak of seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (and nine straight in postseason play), but seemed to have raised the stakes for this year's team, at least in the public's eyes.
Flint will seek a turnaround with only two new recruits, junior college transfer guard JoVann Johnson and 6-foot-11 freshman Micah Brand. The Minutemen are counting on point guard Shannon Crooks, who sat out last season after transferring from St. John's, to strengthen a lineup that includes veterans Monty Mack, Chris Kirkland and Mike Babul.