Technically, BYU's men's basketball team will be playing its fourth neutral-site contest in its past five games Saturday when it clashes with the No. 21 Massachusetts Minutemen (7-0) at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
The Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase game tips off at 11:30 a.m. MST and will be televised nationally by the CBS Sports Network.
But calling it a "neutral" court is largely a matter of semantics, because UMass' main campus in Amherst is just 25 miles away from Springfield. Provo is 2,300 miles away.
"I like everything [about the game] except the miles," BYU coach Dave Rose said Tuesday night after BYU dispatched North Texas 97-67 to improve to 7-2. "I wish we were playing in Dallas or somewhere [else]. It is a long trip out there, but our guys are excited to play.
"I think it is going to be a great game on a national stage and then we get them back in our gym [Marriott Center] next year. So it is time to go, see what happens."
The Cougars are 2-1 in neutral court games this season, having downed Texas 86-82 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and Utah State 85-74 at EnergySolutions Arena. They lost 75-62 to No. 12 Wichita State in the finals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo., six days after losing their only other game against a ranked team, No. 21 Iowa State.
Clearly, they have approached this game as another chance to topple a ranked team and earn some redemption for the close losses to the Cyclones and Shockers.
"We've had a bunch of big games already," said BYU's leading scorer, Tyler Haws (23.6 ppg.). "We've watched them play a few times, and they've beaten some good teams so far. We are going to have to play well to beat them."
Unranked when the season began, the Minutemen have defeated Boston College, LSU, Youngstown State, Nebraska, No. 19 New Mexico and Clemson at home or at a neutral site, and Eastern Michigan in their only true road game.
"It just so happens that UMass is ranked for the first time since 1998, and we get a shot at them, so that's good," Rose said.
So good that many are calling the BYU-UMass matchup the best or second-best college basketball game of the weekend. According to the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) the NCAA uses to seed the NCAA Tournament, UMass is No. 1 in the country and BYU is No. 9.
UMass has two of the best players in the Atlantic 10 Conference, perhaps the country, in 6-10 forward Cady Lalanne and 5-9 guard Chaz Williams. Lalanne, who will test Cougars' freshman Eric Mika inside, is averaging 16.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, while Williams averages 15.4 points and 6.4 assists.
"For the most part, I am really pleased with our guys," Rose said. "I think we maybe turned the ball over more times than we would have liked [against North Texas]. But I thought the effort was good for 40 minutes, and we look forward to a big game on Saturday."
How the teams stack up
Team AP Top 25 RPI Sagarin Pomeroy
UMass 21st 1st 23rd 26th
BYU N/R 9th 28th 38th
BYU at No. 21 UMass
O At the MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.
Tipoff • Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
TV • CBS Sports Network. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 7-2, UMass 7-0
Series History • First meeting
Last Meeting • N/A
About the Cougars • Tyler Haws has scored 1,342 points in his career and his 30 points away from tying Trent Plaisted for 19th on the school's all-time scoring list. … Matt Carlino has scored 877 career points and is on pace to become the next BYU player to score 1,000 career points. … Kyle Collinsworth scored 17 points, a career high, in their 97-67 win over North Texas on Saturday.
About the Minutemen • All five of their starters are averaging in double figures, led by 6-foot-10 center Cady Lalanne at 16.4 ppg. and 5-9 guard Chaz Williams at 15.4 ppg. … Lalanne leads them in rebounding at 11.4 rpg. … Coach Derek Kellogg is in his fifth season and has a 71-65 career record.