(Editor's note: The Atlantic 10 Conference men's basketball tournament quarterfinals, semifinals and final will be held at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall from March 12-14. The Press' A-10 report runs every Tuesday leading up to the tournament.)
In Derek Kellogg's second year at Massachusetts, he's finally seeing the Minutemen come together. Over the last week, UMass has won two straight following a three-game winning streak.
The Minutemen haven't had the best season. They are 10-15 and have had several losing streaks. But Kellogg hopes the past week means UMass is on the verge of something good.
"It takes time when you have so many new players," Kellogg said Monday in the conference's weekly conference call. "Everyone comes into college thinking they can be that guy. You have to temper their expectations a little bit. The last couple of weeks they have really nestled in what are trying to do. It's a learning process on both ends."
Senior guard Ricky Harris is an integral part of that rise. In the last four games, he averaged 28 points to raise his season average to 19.5.
Harris ranks fourth all-time in school history with 1,816 career points, just behind Atlantic City High School graduate Lou Roe (1,905), but ahead of Julius Erving (1,370) and Marcus Camby (1,387).
"One thing he could always do is score. He could always put the ball in the basket," Kellogg said of Harris. "He's turning into the player I know he is. He has a little bit of swagger and confidence as he is figuring out different ways to score. Really over the last three weeks, he's played probably as good as anyone I have seen in the league."
However, the Minutemen's schedule before the Atlantic-10 Tournament is not easy. UMass travels to George Washington in Washington on Wednesday. Then, starting Saturday, three of their next four games are against St. Louis, Dayton and Rhode Island, all of which are in the top half of the A-10 standings.
Any success in the next few weeks will be heavily dependant on Harris.
"Harris is a terrific player who more or less willed them to (beat us) last season," George Washington coach Karl Hobbs said. "He is a guy capable of willing his team to victory."
The players around Harris have performed better over the last week as well. Redshirt sophomore Sean Carter had 19 rebounds in an 84-80 overtime victory over Duquesne.
Carter, an Oregon State transfer, is averaging 5.3 points and 7.1 rebounds in 25 games.
"One thing he does is compete," Kellogg said. "If he keeps that attitude and competing every time out, good things really happen to those guys."
Richmond has shot to the top of the conference and entered The Associated Press' Top 25 for the first time in 24 years.
The Spiders are 20-6 and the only nine-game winner in the conference.
Before this season, Richmond had not even received a vote in the AP poll since 1986. The last time Richmond was ranked in the top 25 was Jan. 28, 1986.
This is the sixth week in school history that Richmond has been ranked and just the second time in 52 years.
Players of the week
Along with Harris, Xavier's Jason Love was named the A-10 co-Player of the Week. He had his sixth double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a 76-64 win over Florida.
George Washington's Dwayne Smith was named Rookie of the Week. He scored a season-high 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 15 minutes in a 78-53 win over Fordham.
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