Look closely and you might just notice a chip on Sam the Minuteman's shoulder. After UMass basketball lost out to La Salle this past Sunday, Derek Kellogg and the team have to be eager to show that they are indeed the real deal. The 82-75 loss was a televised game that cut short the team's six-game winning streak. It also took the Minutemen to a 1-1 conference record, likely bringing many fellow UMass fans back down to Earth. As exciting as the 2011-12 season has been so far, UMass still has yet to prove itself in the Atlantic 10.
They'll get another fresh chance to start doing just that when they take on Charlotte on Wednesday night on campus at the Mullins Center. For students and alumni like me, there's more than just another conference game at stake, or the team's 12-4 record. Those of us who live here in western Mass have yet to see the Minutemen lose a single game at home this season. UMass is undefeated through eight games at home.
It's been as good a start to the season as I've seen since living on campus as an undergrad. More importantly, unlike last season, this is no false start. UMass has turned in convincing victories against schools like CCSU and Fordham, and with the middle of January approaching, there's no sign that the Minutemen will lose steam.
Yes, they lost to La Salle, but only just. By the time Kellogg had switched it up and tried a zone defense, the Minutemen started turning things around, and fast. There was little doubt that Chaz Williams and company were the better players on the court in the fourth frame, and a few more minutes on the clock would almost certainly have made for one more in the W column.
The Charlotte 49ers undoubtedly took notice of UMass' late-game performance. Charlotte is 9-5 overall and 2-0 in the conference, and they're going into the game at Amherst on the heels of two straight wins against Richmond and Saint Joe's.
It hardly needs to be said, but momentum is critical at this early stage in the A-10 season. If UMass drops to a 1-2 conference record, those exciting non-conference wins might as well be distant memories. There's little doubt that this UMass team has what it takes to beat Charlotte. The only question is whether or not it can start and finish strong.
Taurus Londono graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2007.