Second half of league play looms large for UMass
By Robin Deutsch with Bruiser Flint, MassLive, 2/9/2000

The 11-10 (5-3 in A-10) Minutemen conclude a three-game home stand with La Salle before hitting the road for two games against Xavier (Saturday) and Fordham (Feb. 16). At the midway point of the A-10 season, coach Bruiser Flint has his squad in position to be among the top seeds come tournament time. The upcoming games against La Salle and Xavier will go along way toward solidifying that position. In his weekly column, Flint talks about the next two games and offers a few midseason awards.

Our team has reached the halfway point of the Atlantic 10 season. We are 5-3 in the East Division (tied with St. Bonaventure) and two games behind Temple (9-1) in the loss column. Our goal is to win the remainder of our league games which would put us in good position come time for the A-10 Conference Tournament (March 8-11). We don't want to be forced to play and win four straight games in order to win the league and advance into the NCAA Tournament.

No team has ever won four games in four days to win the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title. It is a tall order. The Philly teams -- La Salle, St. Joseph's and Temple -- treat the league tournament like home games and they all can -- and will -- be dangerous playing in the Spectrum.

Our next two games are against rivals from the West Division -- La Salle (8-11, 2-6) and Xavier (13-8, 4-5). La Salle, coached by Speedy Morris, is coming off an impressive 71-64 win over Virginia Tech. Four of the Explorers' players -- 6-foot-7 forward Rasual Butler (18.6 ppg), 6-foot-3 guard Donnie Carr (17.3), 6-foot-7 forward Victor Thomas (16.8) and 6-foot-2 guard Julian Banks (10.0) -- all score in double figures.

La Salle allows its opponents to score 67.5 points a game, so I think we have a chance to keep pace with the Explorers.

Our next game comes against Xavier on Saturday at the Cincinnati Gardens. Despite losing four straight games to Dayton, Duquesne, La Salle and Temple in mid-January, the Muskateers are dangerous. Ask Cincinnati, the nation's No. 1 team, who lost to Xavier 66-64 on Dec. 18.

With their potent offensive attack of Maurice Mcafee (13.7), Lloyd Price (13.5), Darnell Williams (11.5) and David West (11.0), Xavier is the third-highest scoring team in the A-10 at 74 points a game. Xavier also has a very balanced offensive game. We have to guard everyone. Kevin Frey, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore forward is in the midst of scoring in double figures five straight games. He provides an added dimension to a team that will defend us fullcourt and pressure us the entire game.

My only comment on the Fordham game on Feb. 16: Coach Bob Hill and his team won't forget that we beat them by 30 points, 82-52 on January 8. Going to the Rose Hill Gym is never easy. It is tight, cramped, the fans are on top of the players and it gets hot. Forward Arseni Kuchinsky erupted for 20 points and seven assists in the Rams' January 30 loss to Xavier, so he is a new-found weapon to contend with. What worries me most about Fordham is the two victories over St. Bonaventure, a team I consider the most improved in our league. The Rams have made great strides this season will be ready for us.

At the halfway point of the A-10 season, I thought it would be fun to present my midseason awards. It will be interesting to see if they hold up by conference tournament time. Here goes:

Coach of the Year: Oliver Purnell, Dayton. Last year Dayton finished 11-17, 5-11. This year, the Flyers are 17-4, 7-2. A postseason berth in the NCAA Tournament is a reality this season.

Player of the Year: Mark Karchner, Temple. When the Owls were struggling without the services of Pepe Sanchez and assorted injuries to key players, Mark "got it done." The Owls are 16-4, 9-1 and ranked 19th in the nation. Mark is averaging 15.8 ppg and 5.1 rpg.

Rookie of the Year: David West, Xavier. Fourth on the team in scoring (11.0), tops in rebounding (9.1 -- best in A-10), third in assists and fourth in blocked shots. That is a solid rookie season. It would be hard for me not to pencil in George Washington's SirValiant Brown (25.0) as a legitimate candidate. Not only does he have a great first name, but the 6-foot-1 guard from Springfield, Va., is having a terrific rookie season. GW comes to town on Feb. 29.

Most Improved Player: Kitwana Rhymer. There is no bias here. Kit barely played his first season and is currently fourth in the A-10 in rebounding (7.8) and fourth on our team in scoring. Kit is emerging as a top-flight center in our league.

All-First Team: Karchner, Victor Thomas of La Salle, Marvin O'Conner of St. Joe's (16.5 ppg), Tony Stanley of Dayton (14.1) or Dennis Mims of Virginia Tech (14.6) and our own Monty Mack (19.0).

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