No break for UMass
By Eric Athas, The Daily Collegian Staff, 12/14/2005

For most students on this campus, winter break entails a month of doing as little as possible while resting between semesters. Things will are slightly different for the Massachusetts men's basketball team.

While the Minutemen will put the books down for a month, they will certainly not be getting much rest during the break. After a 10-day layoff for finals week, UMass (3-3) returns to action next Thursday night to host Siena and will play 11 games over the break.

UMass ended the first semester with a strong showing on Monday night, downing Boston University 64-45 at the Mullins Center. With such a long layoff after the game, senior Jeff Viggiano felt it was important for UMass to play well against BU.

"It was important for us to play well and get a big win like that with such a big break coming up, because if guys struggled it would be on their minds throughout the break," Viggiano said.

The 10-day break between games is the second extended break the Minutemen have had already this season, and Viggiano said he is ready for an increase in games over break.

"[The layoff] is frustrating because games are fun," Viggiano said. "Practice is hard. We practice a lot, and when you get out on the floor it's just fun to play against different people in front of the crowd."

When the Minutemen take the court against Siena, it will be only their fourth game in a month, giving coach Travis Ford extra time to implement his system and work with the team.

"We need these next 12 days to get better, to learn our offense better and to learn to play defense for an extended amount of time," Ford said. "We have a long way to go."

One of the biggest bonuses for UMass about the first semester ending is that sophomore Dante Milligan becomes eligible. The 6-foot-9 forward, who has been sitting since transferring from Pittsburgh last January, will immediately bolster UMass' depth, as the team currently suits up only eight scholarship players.

Following the Siena game, UMass will play three games before beginning Atlantic 10 play.

The Maroon and White travel to New York City for the Panasonic Holiday Festival tournament at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27 and 28. The Minutemen will face St. Peter's in the opening round, and depending on the outcome of that game, they will face either host St. John's or Columbia the following night.

The Minutemen will then have another week off before getting on the Mass Pike and heading east to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College on Jan. 3. The latest installment of the Commonwealth Classic, which began in the 1996-96 season, will pose a challenge for UMass as the Eagles are currently ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll.

UMass will look to build momentum during these four out of conference games heading into its first A-10 contest, a Jan. 7 clash with Duquesne (1-5).

Ford has targeted conference play as the point in the schedule that he hopes to have his team clicking. The Minutemen will be put to the test as they will play four road games against A-10 opponents in January.

UMass has struggled away from home this season, going 0-2 on the road and 0-1 at neutral sites. While the neutral site was essentially a home game, as UMass faced the University of Alabama at Birmingham at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, only the Mullins Center has been kind to the Minutemen thus far, as they are 3-0 on their home court.

If the Minutemen take care of business with Siena next week, their perfect home mark will be challenged when they take on Saint Joseph's on Jan. 11. The Hawks (4-2) have played a very difficult schedule, and have registered wins against Kansas and Drexel early on.

After Saint Joseph's, UMass will head to Saint Louis on Jan. 14 to take on the Billikens, a team in its first year in the A-10. Saint Louis (4-3) is expected to be a top team in the A-10 after making the move from Conference USA.

The Minutemen then return home for a mini-home stand, as they host Fordham on Jan. 18 and Temple on Jan. 21. Fordham (2-6) has got off to a slow start, but has lost four of its six games by 10 points or less. The Owls (5-2) feature one of the conference's top players in Mardy Collins. Collins is averaging 14.5 points per game this season.

UMass will end its break on the road, with a Jan. 25 game at Rhode Island (5-2) and a Jan. 29 game at LaSalle. LaSalle (5-0) touts the A-10's leading scorer in Steven Smith at 20.8 points per game.

With so many games to be played over the next month, students will arrive back in Amherst in late January with a much clearer picture of how the Minutemen's season will turn out.

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