Massachusetts is more concerned with continuing the program's best start in 18 seasons than any recognition it has earned from the early success.
The No. 22 Minutemen look to remain undefeated Saturday against a Northern Illinois squad that hasn't won a non-conference road game in more than three years.With victories over schools from the ACC, SEC and the Big Ten along with one over previously ranked New Mexico, UMass (8-0) returned to the Top 25 last month for the first time since November 1998. The Minutemen further solidified their spot among the nation's elite with last Saturday's 105-96 win over pesky BYU, which has suffered its only three losses to ranked foes.The focus, however, remains on the court where UMass is off to its best start since John Calipari's 1995-96 squad opened 26-0 en route a Final Four appearance that was later vacated due to NCAA sanctions."I haven't heard much talk about being ranked," coach Derek Kellogg said. "It's more like 'What's next?'"Were fortunate to be 8-0."Averaging 84.5 points and shooting 47.8 percent, the Minutemen set season highs for points, field-goal percentage (55.6) and assists (29) against the fast-paced Cougars.Senior Chaz Williams set career highs with 32 points and 15 assists while committing a season-low one turnover. He shot 9 of 14 overall, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, and hit all nine of his free-throw attempts."Chaz Williams just kind of lulls you to sleep; throws it around a few times and then just attacks and gets wherever he wants," BYU star guard Tyler Haws said.The 5-foot-9 Williams, averaging team highs of 17.5 points and 7.6 assists, also showed some leadership when he briefly mixed it up with BYU's 6-10 Eric Mika after both stepped in when Haws and UMass forward Raphiael Putney got tangled up in the lane."I expect that from him," said teammate Sampson Carter, who had a career-high 20 points. "His energy is so contagious, so just to see him like that gets me fired up."The Minutemen hope to maintain that high energy level while trying to improve to 3-0 against Northern Illinois (3-4). Maxie Esho had 14 points and Williams added 12 as UMass held the Huskies to 31.7-percent shooting in last season's 64-59 road victory.NIU has lost seven in a row away from home overall and 19 consecutive non-conference road contests since an 86-80 victory at Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 24, 2010. The Huskies fell 63-58 at Nebraska on Nov. 30 in their only road game this season, nine days after the Minutemen beat the Cornhuskers 96-90 at the Charleston Classic.At 10.7 points per game, sophomore Darrell Bowie is the only NIU player averaging in double figures. Though the Huskies allow an average of 64.3 points, they're scoring 69.0 per contest.Bowie scored six of his team-high 12 points in the final four minutes of NIU's 64-57 win over Dartmouth on Dec. 5 in its most recent contest. He had eight points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals versus UMass last season.The Huskies are facing their first ranked opponent since losing 97-61 at then-No. 10 Missouri on Dec. 27, 2010.