RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Derek Kellogg was a player during Massachusetts’ 1990s surge under John Calipari and now has the Minutemen back in the NCAA tournament as a coach after a long absence.
He’s hoping that Friday’s game against Tennessee in the Midwest Region — their first appearance in 16 years — is the start of another long run of tournament trips.
“I’d like to kind of write our own legacy, our own history, as far as where we’re not looking back but now we’re looking forward,” Kellogg said Thursday. “Hopefully this is an opportunity to get UMass where we’re a team that’s continuously looking for NCAA tournament appearances and postseason play.”
Kellogg started on teams that reached the NCAA round of 16 in 1994 and a regional final in 1995 under Calipari, who guided UMass to the Final Four a year after Kellogg’s graduation. That came amid a run of seven straight NCAA appearances, which ended in 1998 two years after Calipari’s departure for the NBA.
Kellogg’s sixth-seeded Minutemen (24-8) have pushed tempo and played pressure defense, averaging 76 points while shooting 46 percent. Fifth-year senior Chaz Williams leads the offense at 15.6 points and 7 assists per game, while the Minutemen have a starting lineup that has been together for all 32 games.
“The atmosphere is beautiful and it’s tremendous,” Williams said of reaching the NCAA tournament. “It gives you kind of the feel like it’s a Super Bowl, it’s a World Series game. So it’s just pretty exciting just to know that we’re here for a purpose and we have business to take care of.”
The 11th-seeded Volunteers (22-12) arrived in Raleigh early Thursday morning after rallying to beat Iowa in overtime in the First Four late Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio. This is Tennessee’s first NCAA trip since 2011 and the first under coach Cuonzo Martin, who said his team can build off its tough win.
“I thought it was great for our guys to play a game like that, a physical game,” Martin said. “I think it’ll help us because now you have a game under your belt. Now it’s just basketball.”
Here are five things to watch in Friday’s Tennessee-Massachusetts matchup:
NCAA NEWBIES: Only one UMass player — Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon — has played in the NCAA tournament before. Gordon played in a First Four win against Mississippi Valley State in 2012 before losing to eventual champion Kentucky. “We’ve got to be able to keep our composure throughout the game,” Gordon said. “I referred that to plenty of guys on the team and I believe everybody got the message.”
CADY UP FRONT: Minutemen junior center Cady Lalanne will have a tough challenge inside against the Vols’ beefier front line of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Stokes was second in the Southeastern Conference at 10.4 rebounds per game, while Maymon was third at 8.2. That duo helped Tennessee rank second in the SEC in rebounding margin (plus 8.4). UMass has been outrebounded in three of the past five games.
SCORING BALANCE: Both teams have plenty of scoring options. Williams leads three UMass players (Lalanne at 11.4, Sampson Carter at 10.5) averaging in double figures and four others averaging at least 8.8 points. The Vols also have three players averaging at least double figures, led by Jordan McRae at 18.6 points per game, and Josh Richardson chipping in 9.4.
TIRED TENNESSEE: Martin sounded pleased that his team got the chance to get the first-game jitters out against Iowa, and he didn’t sound worried about whether his team might have some fatigue from the short turnaround and late-night travel. “That’s where the conditioning comes in,” he said.
VOLS’ UPSIDE: While Tennessee squeaked into the tournament, this is the same squad that beat No. 1 seed Virginia by 35 points at home in late December. They’ve also won six of seven coming down the stretch, with the only loss coming against top-ranked Florida in the SEC tournament. “When guys are hitting shots on our team,” Richardson said, “it’s tough for anybody in the nation to beat us.”