MHERST - Despite his team's 2-7 record, University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint has clung to the belief that his team can reverse its dreadful start.
After 10 days since his team last played a game, Flint on Tuesday addressed things he said the team would do or hoped to do for the remaining 18 games of its regular season. Defense and guard play were two of his biggest concerns.
The Minutemen face No. 14 North Carolina Friday at 9 p.m. at the Charlotte Coliseum.
Flint always has been a man-to-man believer when it comes to defense, but he appears to have relented somewhat.
He said his team will play some zone in an attempt to keep his big guys, specifically Kitwana Rhymer, out of foul trouble.
Flint emphasized that whatever style his team uses, it needs to do it more cohesively.
"We have to do a better job playing team defense. This group has a tendency to just guard their man instead of working together," he said. "If we execute better defensively, we'll be better."
One thing that has hurt UMass immensely is the considerable drop-off from both its starting guards - Shannon Crook and Monty Mack - compared with their play at the end of last season.
"Our guard play has been bad. If our guards played better we'd have a different record," Flint said. "It's got to be much better."
Mack, who averaged 19.8 points per game last year, has suffered through a long shooting slump, hitting at just 27.7 percent. He's pointed to his shot's lack of arc as the key element that needs fixing. But Flint said the senior's entire game has been too flat.
"Monty is playing too straight up and down on defense and on offense," Flint said. "He has to get his legs more into his shots. He's standing out there and that's also why he hasn't been doing a good job on defense."
Fixing what ails Crooks might be more significant, but also more difficult.
"Shannon has to have a better understanding of what we're trying to do. He has 27 assists and 26 turnovers. That kind of sums it up right there," Flint said. "He's only shooting 38 percent from the field. His decision making has got to be better. If his decision making gets better, his shooting percentage will go up. He turns it over because of his shot selection."
Fueling Flint's optimism that those things can be overcome is that school is out at UMass and his players have nothing to focus on except basketball.
"We can come in twice a day. We can walk through a lot more stuff and be specific," Flint said. "This is always a time where we get better. It's just us here. There's nobody else. This is a good time to teach because you can take your time and let guys know things and make them understand.
"One thing that hurt us is that we haven't had a lot of practice time, so we look sloppy," Flint said. "We have to tighten up those types of things. The little things have been what hurt us."
Flint pointed to newcomers Jackie Rogers and Jameel Pugh as two players he thought could add something down the stretch.
"Jack is getting a little bit better. He's starting to come around," Flint said. "In the last couple weeks, the kid's been more active instead of standing around watching. I think he's getting a better understanding of what we're trying to do and what we need from him.
"Pugh's been playing a lot better lately," he added. "He still has to do some things and pick up some things and do them all the time."
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How does that make you feel?: Sports psychologist Joe Carr, who met with the team prior to the season, is in town for a scheduled follow-up visit and Flint is glad to have him.
"Doc Carr is here, none too soon," he said, grinning.
Weather woes: The Minutemen returned to practice Tuesday without Rogers and freshman swingman Willie Jenkins, who both had weather-related travel difficulties. Both were expected back for Wednesday's workouts.
Starters?: The Minutemen have featured three different starters at power forward this season. Rogers started the first five games, but was replaced by Micah Brand for the next three. A strong performance off the bench by Ronell Blizzard against Boston University earned him the start against Boston College.
Flint wasn't sure who'd be on the floor at tipoff against North Carolina, but was leaning toward the 6-foot-11 Brand against the sizable Tar Heels.
"We might go back to Micah," Flint said. "I'm not sure yet."