BOSTON (CBS) — The UMass Minutemen are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, and head coach Derek Kellogg is happy all their hard work is paying off.
Kellogg was playing point guard when the Minutemen were winning the A-10 and making appearances in the tournament on a yearly basis in the early-to-mid-1990’s, but this will be his first tournament appearance as a head coach. He’s led UMass to a 70-32 record over the last three years, and a 109-85 record since taking over in 2008-09.
But, Kellogg and his team will have to wait for Wednesday night’s play-in game between Iowa State and Tennessee to find out who they’ll be playing come Friday afternoon. Kellogg joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger & Mazz on Monday afternoon, and said he doesn’t have a preference when it comes to their first-round opponent.
“I’m not sure yet, I’m sure by the time it gets to Friday I’ll have a better feel for who I’d like. Having to prepare for both and watch tape on both teams has been difficult, but I’ve watched a bunch of both teams on the college basketball channels. I think they both do different things very well,” said Kellogg. “We’re worried about UMass for the next couple of days, but come Wednesday we’ll know who to lock in and zero in on.”
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“Iowa is playing almost 11 guys and scoring at a high clip; they’re one of the better offensive teams in the country,” he said of the 20-12 Hawkeyes. “They’ve done a really good job at playing at a high-speed and forcing the tempo.”
“Tennessee has been up and down, but they’ve played their best basketball the last couple weeks of the season,” he said of the Volunteers, who handed UMass an 83-69 defeat in last year’s Puerto Rico Tipoff. “They’re a big physical team that throws it off the backboard and goes and gets it with some pretty good wings and a good point guard in (Antonio) Barton.”
“They’re different and difficult styles, so I’m interested to see Wednesday night how that game unfolds and pans out.”
Some have been critical of the 24-8 Minutemen getting a six-seed in the tournament, but Kellogg tells any doubters to take a look at their season as a whole, and not just the struggles they had down the stretch.
“You look at our schedule and every other game was against an NCAA tournament team,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can’t pick and choose when you want to use the resume, or when you want to look at our RPI and say that’s good enough or not good enough. (The selection committee) did what they have always done and taken credence in a full body of work, and how good the A-10 was this year.”
“I thought we played phenomenal for a stretch there; we had seniors that were locked in and we may have been ahead of schedule. But then we had some winter blues and some of the younger teams were catching up. But we also played some really good games in that stretch,” he noted. “It came down to a lot of games where, in the closing minutes, we won a bunch and we lost a few.”
“It’s one of those things when you’re playing in a top-level conference, at times you’re not going to win every game, but how you respond is key.”
Kellogg also talked about Coach K’s recent comments on the A-10 and UMass’ lack of tournament experience: