The loss was the third straight defeat for UMass, dropping the Minutemen to 16-9 (6-6 in the Atlantic 10).
But UMass bounced back from that loss with a solid home win Feb. 23 against Dayton and then really improved its Big Dance resume with a 77-72 upset victory at Xavier on Saturday. The Minutemen, who were four-point underdogs, were red hot from long range, hitting a season-high 52 percent of their 3-pointers (13 of 25). Terrell Vinson and Freddie Riley combined for 10 long-range shots, and the win snapped a three-game road losing streak and five-game skid at Xavier.
UMass (18-9, 8-6) now has an RPI of 54. On the positive side, the Minutemen have seven wins over RPI top-100 teams, with a best victory against No. 39 La Salle. UMass also doesn’t have any losses to sub-150 teams, although defeats to George Washington (No. 146) and St. Bonaventure (No. 106) don’t help.
Of the five Atlantic 10 teams expected to make the NCAA Tournament by ESPN, UMass isn’t one, and the school is among the “last four in” in the bracket of CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm, who projects the Minutemen as a No. 12 seed and playing in an opening-round play-in against No. 12 Kentucky.
Realistically, the Minutemen will have to close the regular season this week with wins over ranked Butler on Thursday in their home finale and Saturday at Rhode Island to have any hope of an at-large NCAA bid (short of winning the A-10 Tournament).
It’s the only meeting of the season between UMass and Butler (22-7, 9-5) and it looks to be a short rivalry with the Bulldogs off to the new Big East with the Catholic 7 and Xavier next season. Massachusetts could be getting Butler at the right time, as the Bulldogs were blown out 84-52 at VCU on Saturday for their second straight loss and third in the past five games. Butler is 6-4 in true road games (5-4-1 against the spread). UMass is 10-3 at home (7-6-0 against the spread), with losses there to Miami (Fla.), George Washington and Temple.
Rhode Island (8-19, 3-11) enters this week having lost three straight and nine of 11. The Rams are one of the nation’s worst offensive teams and rank last in the conference in points per game (62.1) and 15th in shooting (40.4 percent). Rhode Island lost 81-53 in Amherst on Feb. 6, with UMass easily covering the 7.5-point spread. Junior guard Chaz Williams lead UMass with a season-high 27 points.
Massachusetts also will be rooting for Temple to have a 0-2 week. The Owls (21-8, 9-5) are ahead of the Minutemen in the Atlantic 10 and thus the NCAA Tournament pecking order. In addition, Temple won the lone head-to-head meeting. Should UMass win both its games this week and Temple lose at Fordham — unlikely with the Rams at 6-23 overall and 2-12 in the A-10 — and home against VCU, then UMass would finish in the top four and earn a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
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