Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: If you are a UMass sports fan, the glass can be varying levels of full

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If you are a University of Massachusetts sports fan, you can look at the glass as half full, or half empty.

If football is your major concern, the glass has to be half full, perhaps at best. But if basketball and hockey are what gets your attention, the glass is half full. If you are a hockey fan, that glass might just be pretty close to overflowing.

The UMass hockey team came into the week ranked ninth in the nation. On Thursday, coach Greg Carvel's Minutemen stunned No. 4 Providence 3-2, to improve to 4-0 in Hockey East and 7-1 overall. UMass' only loss came at Ohio State, one day after the Minutemen upset the then-top ranked Buckeyes.

UMass was playing at Providence Saturday night, and a win could seemingly put the Minutemen into the top five in the nation. UMass and Providence were the only teams from East Coast-based conferences in the USCHO.com Top 10.

The Minutemen will be home next Sunday at 2 p.m. against Hockey East rival New Hampshire. If you go, you'll get to see who might just be the best player in college hockey.

If you base your decision on the "best player" on where said player was drafted, than UMass defenseman Cale Makar has to be the best player in college hockey.

He was the fourth player chosen in the 2017 NHL First Year Player Draft, taken by the Colorado Avalanche. The three players taken ahead of him, Nico Hischier by New Jersey, Nolan Patrick by Philadelphia and Miro Heiskanen by Dallas, are all currently in the National Hockey League.

Makar had a chance to sign with the Avalanche after a freshman season that saw him named third-team All-Hockey East. He chose to return for his sophomore year. Don't expect him to stay much longer than this season, so you should go see him now.

Once upon a time, the idea that a UMass hockey team would be in the nation's top five might have been laughable. Not anymore.

Right now, Carvel's team is the gold standard of sports in Amherst.

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The same cannot be said of Matt McCall's basketball team. But that's not a knock on the basketball squad. The hockey team has just separated itself from the pack.

The Minutemen are 2-0 after getting the best of America East foes UMass Lowell and New Hampshire last week. Does that mean UMass gets a first-round bye in the America East tournament? Just joshing.

But the Minutemen played better in their second game than they did in the first game. The caliber of foe dropped, but to score 100 points any time is a good night's work.

Everybody on McCall's roster got in the game and 10 of the 13 players on that roster had double-figure minutes. Freshman guard Tre Wood had eight assists and 11 points in 24 minutes, which is a nice how do you do to the fans in the Mullins Center.

A 2-0 start, especially with a difficult home game next Tuesday against Harvard coming up, is no guarantee that UMass will make the tournament, or will be significantly better than last year.

It is a good start, and this is a team worth keeping an eye on.

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Then, there is Mark Whipple's football team that fell to 4-7 with a 35-16 loss to BYU on Saturday, before a small gathering of 14,082 at Gillette Stadium.

The Minutemen were in this at halftime, trailing only 14-10. But the Cougars, who lost to UMass last year in Utah, scored the first 21 points of the second half to pull away.

UMass had 62 points and 777 yards in total offense last week in an overtime win over Liberty. On Saturday, the Minutemen managed only two touchdowns and a Cooper Garcia field goal, getting 285 yards in total offense.

"We weren't very good on third down [on offense]," Whipple told reporters after the game. "Credit to [BYU]. We have to be better and control the ball. We were able to do that in the first quarter, but just couldn't sustain it in the third quarter."

While it is true that BYU has more talent than UMass, and had more talent last year, dry spells like the one that plagued the Minutemen on Saturday can't happen if they want to have a record over .500.

Next week isn't going to be any better, because if Georgia has any hope to play in the championship tournament it had to beat Auburn Saturday night, not stub its toe against UMass and then beat Alabama in the SEC championship game.

I still don't know if a coaching change will turn things around in Amherst. I go back and forth on that every couple of days.

What I do know is that if athletic director Ryan Bamford makes the move to change the football leadership, he has to get it really right.

The Minutemen could not afford a new coach who needs the team to take a step back before it goes forward.

We'll see what the future holds.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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