Derek Kellogg remembers his first Final Four experience.
As an assistant coach at Memphis in 2008, he helped the Tigers reach the NCAA
tournament’s Final Four. With star point guard Derrick Rose running the show, that team made
the national championship game, but lost to Kansas in overtime.
Now, four years later, as the head coach for Massachusetts, Kellogg is playing in another
Final Four, but it’s in the National Invitation Tournament. The Minutemen take on Stanford
tonight at Madison Square Garden in one of the semifinals.
While there are undoubtedly many differences between the 2008 Memphis squad and this
year’s UMass team, Kellogg said there is one glaring similarity that has rung true with both
“The biggest similarity is the tightness of the team, the kind of brotherhood that these
guys have,” Kellogg said. “They really enjoy being around each other, practices are fun and
energetic even this late in the season, and I thought the year at Memphis when we went to the
Final Four, it was very similar in that the guys have a little edge, there was a mission and they
enjoyed each other’s company.”
To get to MSG, the Minutemen (25-11) had to win three consecutive road games – a task
not at all easy considering the team’s road’s struggles this season – but they got the job done in impressive fashion against all NCAA tournament caliber teams.
First, UMass traveled to Mississippi State, defeating the Bulldogs 101-96 in double
overtime. Then, the Minutemen went to New Jersey to beat the top seed in their bracket in Seton Hall before finally going on the road to Drexel, where UMass overcame a 17-point second half
deficit to advance to New York City.
“They wanted to keep playing, they believed that it could happen and they really stuck
together as a team,” Kellogg said. “All of the hard work that they put in throughout the year and
even over the summer is starting to pay off now in the type of condition we’re in.”
Standing in the Minutemen’s way of a championship game berth is the Cardinal, who has
had the luxury of playing in all home games to advance to the semifinals, beating Cleveland
State, Illinois State and Nevada.
Although they finished seventh in a down year for the Pac-12, Kellogg still believes that
they are a worthy opponent and has been impressed watching them on tape.
“They’ve really gotten better as the season’s gone on,” Kellogg said. “They have a lot of
young guys that are continuing to improve and I think they’ve finally started to put it all
together, kind of like we have, as the postseason has begun.”
Like UMass, Stanford’s roster is filled with underclassmen, including freshman guard
Chasson Randle, who leads the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game and in 3-point field goal
percentage at 43.8 percent.
Inside, the Cardinal boasts Josh Owens, who averages 11.7 points and 5.7 boards per
game, and the Minutemen will also have to be careful to not let sophomore guard Aaron Bright
get hot from outside. He averages 11.6 points per game by virtue of his 43.3 shooting percentage
“Their guard play is very good and they’re young,” Kellogg said. “They have a front line like a lot of Pac-12 teams with good size and can beat you on the boards with good athletes. It’s
going to be a tough contest for us where we can’t let them beat us on the boards and get off a lot
Game time for tonight’s semifinal is scheduled for 7 p.m., which will be televised on
ESPN2 from Madison Square Garden. The winner will play Washington or Minnesota in Thursday’s championship.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter
@MDC_Hewitt and @steve_hewitt.