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W2W4: Providence

After a week of thinking about what could have been in its first loss of the season last Saturday at the hands of Florida State, the Massachusetts men's basketball team can finally take its feelings out on the hardwood when it returns to action on Saturday night against Providence.

UMass will need to keep an eye on Providence guard Bryce Cotton, whose 19.1 points and 5.7 assists per game lead the Friars. (Photo courtesy Providence College Sports Info)

In a back-and-forth game, the Minutemen eventually fell to the Seminoles 60-55 after a controversial ending. With it, the loss put an end to UMass' undefeated 10-0 start to the season.

After scattering home for the holidays, the Minutemen returned to Amherst on Christmas night for a light workout before full practices on Thursday and Friday. Kellogg said he was pleased with the mood of his team following its first dose of defeat of the season.

"They came back with good attitudes and good energy, so those are usually two tell-tale signs of where we're at mentally," Kellogg said. "We're in general a pretty hungry team and a group that wants to do well, and I'm hoping that we can take some positives out of the loss to Florida State."

UMass (10-1) will have its first chance to put those lessons to use when it hosts Providence College on Saturday night at 6 p.m.

Despite a season-ending injury to starting point guard Kris Dunn and season-ending suspensions to freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, the Friars are 10-2 entering Saturday's matchup, with their only losses coming against then-No. 3 Kentucky and Maryland.

Here are some things to watch for as UMass and PC square off Saturday night:

DEFENDING COTTON: At 19.1 points per game, Providence guard Bryce Cotton is one of the most explosive scorers not only in the Big East, but the country, so it'll obviously be in UMass' best interest to keep an eye on the senior, who can light it up in a hurry.

But the Minutemen will also have to look out for his passing ability. With point guards Kris Dunn (injury) and Brandon Austin (suspension) both out for the rest of the season, Cotton has taken the role as the Friars' primary ball-handler with the team's lack of backcourt depth. And he's done well in the role. He's averaging 5.1 assists per game – as he's using an inside-out game with his bigs down low to free him up for scoring opportunities – and he does a good job taking care of basketball. Against the Wildcats on Dec. 1, he played all 40 minutes and didn't commit a turnover.

Sampson Carter and the Minutemen look to get back in the win column Saturday at home against Providence. (Photo courtesy Cade Belisle, Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

"He's a very good player," Kellogg said. "He does a lot of stuff for them. He's their primary ball-handler, he's their leading scorer, a guy that really makes them go, and so you have to be conscious really all game long of where he is because he's such a good player."

PUSHING THE PACE: With just six players who see significant minutes on its roster, depth is a supreme concern for Providence. In that sense, it would likely serve UMass well to push the tempo even more than usual in order to test that depth, make the Friars tired and get them in foul trouble with their lack of options on the bench.

"We'll just play the way we play, which in all honesty, is really that way anyway," Kellogg said. "We're going to try to play the way UMass plays, push the tempo on them and hopefully get the pace of the game moving."

KEEPING FRIARS OFF FREE THROW LINE: Through 12 games, Providence ranks first in the country in free-throw percentage (81.6 percent), almost 3 percent more than the next closest, Boston College (78.9), and more than 12 percent more than UMass (69.2).

Kellogg said there's added emphasis to keep the Friars off the line.

"When you play against a team that shoots at such a high percentage like they do, I think it becomes more of a factor," Kellogg said, "so yeah, you do not want them going to the free-throw line where they're shooting 82 percent."

POTENTIAL SELLOUT: UMass Athletics sent out a release Friday giving fans who plan on going to Saturday's game a few pointers and pieces of information. The release states that a limited amount of reserved tickets remain and that a large crowd is expected. A larger number of general admission tickets are still available in the end zone areas of the Mullins Center, however, in an effort to fill those areas while students are on break.

If the game sells out, which is a definite possibility, it will be the 60th men's basketball sellout in Mullins Center history and the first since Dec. 2, 2006, when UMass hosted Boston College.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Based on previous lineups, here are the projected starting lineups for Saturday's game:

PROVIDENCE

*G Bryce Cotton, Sr.: 19.1 PPG, 5.7 APG, .347 3PT%
*G Josh Fortune, So.: 6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG
*F Tyler Harris, So.: 13.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG
*F LaDontae Henton, Jr.: 12.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG
*F Kadeem Batts, Sr.: 12.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG

UMASS

*G Chaz Williams, Sr.: 15.7 PPG, 7.5 APG
*G Derrick Gordon, So.: 10.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG
*F Raphiael Putney, Sr.: 11.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG
*F Sampson Carter, Sr.: 12.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG
*C Cady Lalanne, Jr.: 14.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.9 BPG

WHERE TO CATCH THE GAME: Saturday's game will be nationally televised on ESPNU at 6 p.m., and will also be available on Watch ESPN. As usual, you can also hear the game on the radio on 105.5 FM WEEI (Springfield), 1440 AM WVEI (Worcester) and 95.9 FM WATD (South Shore). I will be at the game as well, so you can follow me on Twitter @steve_hewitt for live updates and commentary from the Mullins Center.

Have a UMass basketball question for Steve Hewitt ? Send him a tweet @steve_hewitt or send him an email at shewitt@umass.edu and it could appear in an upcoming mailbag.

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