Something will have to give Sunday inside the Mullins Center. That's because two teams, the University of Massachusetts and Davidson, will take the court on three-game winning streaks.
For the Minutemen, it is a chance to do two things: 1. Extend their winning streak to four games, and, 2. Make a statement.
"I think as a competitor, as competitors we're all excited to play a pretty good team," UMass captain Carl Pierre said on Friday. "I think we're just focused on coming out and getting better.
"It could be a big statement win for us."
Tip-off at the Mullins Center is noon. The game will be broadcast live on the CBS Sports Network.
The Minutemen (5-3, 4-1 Atlantic 10) are currently atop the Atlantic 10 Conference standings, just behind 5-1 St. Bonaventure. Davidson (9-5, 5-2) is currently in fourth place in the A-10, a league where the top six teams in the conference standings have lost a combined nine league games.
Coach Bob McKillop leads the Wildcats into Amherst, a place where they have not won since 2017. In the 2018-19 season, UMass beat Davidson 54-51 on Keon Clergeot's 3-point basket with five seconds left in regulation.
Unlike UMass, Davidson has a pretty hefty resume of non-conference games. The Wildcats are 4-3 in those games. Two of those losses were one-point contests to then-19th ranked Texas and to Big East foe Providence.
"I think it's a great opportunity for a lot of different reasons," UMass coach Matt McCall said on a midday Zoom call on Friday. "They're a terrific team, year in and year out. A down year for Bob McKillop is 19-20 wins. A really good year is the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. That's what his teams do year in and year out. It's a tremendous opportunity for us.
"It's the next game on our schedule and it will be a great challenge."
Last year's game turned out to be anything but a challenge. Playing at Davidson, UMass fell behind 52-22 at halftime and ended up losing 80-55. Kellan Grady, a Bostonian via Northfield Mount Hermon, had 19 points and six rebounds in that game. The 6-foot-5 wing was one of five Wildcats to score in double figures that afternoon.
"For sure," said Pierre, when asked if playing Davidson means a little more because of last year's result.
"We had a tough go of it last year," the UMass senior said. "We think we have a good chance, but we are definitely keeping that in mind."
The Minutemen had been scheduled to play Saint Louis on Wednesday, but the Billikens bowed out because of COVID-19 issues inside their program. Instead of picking up a midweek, non-conference game, UMass spent the week practicing and trying to get some bumps and bruises healed up.
"I think the week off has been good. It's been good to prepare for the game. Did we get healthier in the week off? The best we could, I'll leave it at that," McCall said. "Dibaji [Walker] is still dealing with a wrist issue there. We're optimistic we'll have him for Sunday. He has to get through practice [Saturday] and we'll see his mobility. Kolton [Mitchell] had a concussion, and he will be out. Those are the guys I'll comment on."
Davidson has four starters back from that team that put a serious hurting on UMass a year ago. Davidson has five players from foreign countries and the rest come from six states. Luka Brajkovic, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound pivot from Austria, could provide UMass' Tre Mitchell one of his biggest challenges of the year. Brajkovic is bigger than Mitchell, and will seek to use his girth to win battles on the blocks.
"They don't change what they do," McCall said of Davidson. "Maybe the personnel changes. They have a lot of guys back from last year's team. Those guys played a lot of minutes. I went back and watched the game from two years ago. What did we do? How did we have success? How did we end up winning the game? One, we moved the ball and we shared the ball. We had the highest number of passes we had in a game all that season. Two, we were physical. We fought through screens. We had a bad loss [Fordham, 85-67] before that game. Practices became an absolute war. We were physical. We were tough. We fought through screens. We did those types of things and found a way to win that game. I thought we showed our toughness in those 40 minutes. We had urgency, we were alert. We didn't have that last year. They're running the exact same stuff. Their personnel hasn't changed much. We've got to have an unbelievable amount of urgency in the game.
"That's the biggest key."