Saturday, March 29, 2008

MCI to Maine

According to the New England Recruiting Report, the Black Bears have picked up a commitment from MCI frontcourter Svetoslav Chetinov. Chetinov, a native of Bulgaria, is a 6-9 center. The Report has him as the No. 43 prospect in New England (No. 39 is Maine recruit Gerald McLemore, a 6-3 combo guard out of San Diego and Worcester Academy) and No. 5 in Maine.

Other players surrounding Chetinov in NERR's New England rankings include:
No. 40 New Hampton's Tori Childers, a 6-5 power forward who has accepted a football scholarship to South Carolina;
No. 41 Ryan Olander, a 6-11 center headed for Fairfield;
No. 47 Quasim Pugh, a 5-10 point guard out of St. Thomas More who is headed for College of Charleston;
and No. 53 Chris Baskerville, a 6-5 power forward out of Lee Academy who is going to Central Connecticut.

The landing of Chetinov is a step toward addressing one of the two glaring weaknesses of last year's squad: consistent post production (passing, rebounding and scoring). Ballhandling was unquestionably the single greatest weakness as the team averaged nearly 19 turnovers a game. Many of those turnovers were committed when the ball went into the post and players struggled to get a shot attempt and/or make a kick-out pass.

In addition to Chetinov and McLemore, the Black Bears add 5-9 guard Ryan Martin (Maranacook HS) and 6-5 forward/guard Jon McAllian (Bangor HS).

More on Chetinov: He averaged 16.7 points a game during an U18 Christmas tournament in 2006.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Cheeseheads and Mainers

Is it any more unrealistic for UMaine to compete in the America East with a roster dominated by Maine high school products than it is for Wisconsin to compete in the Big Ten and nationally with a team full of Dairy State products?

I suggest Black Bears fans read the article in today's New York Times. Very interesting to this Black Bears fan. I'd throw encouraging in there, too.

Obviously, you're talking about a different caliber of kid coming out of the Wisconsin high school ranks as compared to Maine. But then again, they are making a jump to a high-major. Maine high school products are making the transition to America East, a low-major.

We all know that coach Ted Woodward has a plan to build a program by getting the best kids from the state of Maine and then fill in around them for the missing ingredients. The jury's still out on this plan, but if it works (and I think it can if UMaine gets the right mix), the payoff should be huge.

We all hoped for better results this season, especially considering the overall lack of strength in America East, but the validity of this vision will become a little clearer next season when the roster is full of guys who should know now what it's going to take to compete at the AE level.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mr. Basketball to UMaine

Maine's Mr. Basketball, Ryan Martin, has announced his intention to attend UMaine this fall. According to a televised report out of Bangor, Martin will walk on for his freshman year.

Martin, a 5-9 sharpshooting guard, led Maranacook to the Class B state championship last month. He joins a recruiting class that includes 6-5 guard/forward Jon McAllian of Bangor and 6-3 combo guard Gerald McLemore of Scripps Ranch HS in San Diego (Worcester Academy).

Maine is presumably still looking to add a true point guard and, possibly, a power forward to its roster.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My all-tourney picks

Joe Zeglinski, sophomore guard, Hartford ... after New Hampshire battled back to tie the game late, Zeglinski hit a killer step-back jumper at the right elbow to retake the lead for Hartford. In a guard-dominated league, he's one of the best.

Jay Greene, junior guard, Maryland-Baltimore County ... for my money, the best player, pound for pound, in America East. He sets the tone for the league's best team with his variable speed abilities and he just flat out has a basketball IQ that is fun to watch. He passes with both hands equally well and delivers assists with Chris Paul-like precision.

Ray Barbosa, senior guard, Maryland-Baltimore County ... When the Retrievers needed it most while laboring against Vermont in the semifinals, scoring 29 points, including a couple crucial pressure-valve 3s.

Daryl Proctor, junior forward, Maryland-Baltimore County ... he doesn't wow you with physical gifts, but what he does is find the ball, over and over again. He just goes out and gets the ball for his team. And, oh yeah, he has a deft fallaway from about 12-, 15-feet and is nifty at converting Greene passes around the hoop.

Warren McLendon, junior forward, Hartford ... Two solid games from a guy that not many were talking about entering the tourney. He gives Hartford an inside presence to go along with the play of Zeglinski, Jaret Von Rosenburg and Morgan Sabia on the perimeter.

Honorable mention: Corey Lowe, guard, Boston U.; Matt Wolff, Boston U.; Mark Socoby, guard, UMaine; Alvin Abreu, guard, New Hampshire; Marqus Blakely, forward, Vermont.

48 hours

Two days in Binghamton. Hard to believe that we've already attended three America East tournaments at the Events Center. Seems like only yesterday we were heading over to New York for the young building's first attempt at hosting.

When we pulled into the hotel, we ran into the Black Bears just as they were breaking up their pre-game meal Friday afternoon. We exchanged best wishes with several of the players, the coaching staff and had a nice chat with Trainer Paula Linder.

Instead of breaking up the trip into two half-days of travel as they had done in previous years, the Black Bears practiced in Orono the morning of March 5 then boarded the bus for the trip to Binghamton. The Bears practiced Thursday at the Events Center and then took in a movie.

Friday brought the AE awards banquet, a shootaround and the play-in game against Stony Brook.

The play-in game served as one final snapshot of the UMaine season: good at times, OK at times, but not consistent enough to finish the job. Ahead 41-30 with 16 minutes to play, the Black Bears offense went dormant and the Seawolves ended up pulling away in the extra session for a 73-65 decision.

A strong play-in game crowd of 2,202 witnessed some stellar shooting from Mark Socoby (tourney-best 30 points) as the sophomore kept the Black Bears afloat with an assortment of long-range 3-pointers. His final bomb, a 25-footer over two Stony Brook defenders with 4 seconds on the clock, sent the game to overtime at 57-all.

Socoby finished with a tourney record nine 3s, surpassing a record held by, among others, Kevin Reed -- Socoby's brother-in-law. Congratulations to Mark.

Freshman Sean McNally played a strong game inside, putting up 9 points and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds.

Hopefully, the Black Bears will remember the sting of the past three early exits from the tournament and let that motivate them as they prepare to move back up the America East standings next season. For perspective, look no further than this year's AE championship game combatants. Hartford a year ago, needed to rally from 19 points down to win in the play-in game. UMBC was in the play-in game just two years ago.

The Black Bears have not won a tournament game since 2005, the first year the tourney was held at Binghamton.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tourney picks

Maine 65, Stony Brook 64 ... got to pick the Black Bears here. Hopefully the club can put together 40 minutes of basketball and we'll get to see them on Saturday. The return of Junior Bernal should help. Maine is 1-2 all-time in play-in games. Let's make it .500.
UMBC 75, Maine 61 ... As much as we'll be pulling for the upset of the tourney, it just doesn't look realistic. The Retrievers have been real consistent for the better part of two months, they've got a number of offensive weapons and the Black Bears have been fading. But you never know ... if somebody gets hot, the Black Bears keep the turnovers under 15 and dig in and play some defense?
Binghamton 53, Vermont 52 ... Don't let Vermont's scoring outburst in the season finale against the Black Bears fool you, this game could be played in the 40s if the shooting is off. Neither team will back down, so it'll come down to toughness and we'll give the edge to the Bearcats on their home court.
Hartford 75, UNH 72 ... This figures to be maybe the most entertaining game of the quarterfinal bracket. Both teams are capbable of knocking down 3s in bunches. The Wildcats are the trendy pick in this one, and it does appear this is the best matchup they could hope for coming out of the seven slot. But don't underestimate the Hawks. Leibovitz has them playing together.
Albany 68, Boston U. 67 ... BU's got Corey Lowe and John Holland, two of the better players in AE the past month, but Albany is comfortable at the Events Center.
UMBC 78, Binghamton 69 ... The Zoo Crew is in full roar, but UMBC just has too many weapons.
Albany 65, Hartford 64 ... Great Danes lean on Brian Lillis, Brent Wilson, Jon Iati and they come through, again.
UMBC 84, Albany 67 ... Two years ago, Retrievers were in the AE play-in round. Now they're headed for a little bigger stage, the NCAA Tournament.
Players to watch
Stony Brook: Ricky Lucas
Maine: Mark Socoby
UMBC: Jay Greene, Ray Barbosa, Brian Hodges, Daryl Proctor
Binghamton: Mike Gordon, Lazar Trifunovic, Dwayne Jackson
Vermont: Marqus Blakely, Mike Trimboli
Hartford: Morgan Sabia, Joe Zeglinski
New Hampshire: Tyrece Gibbs, Mike Christensen
Albany: Brian Lillis, Jon Iati
Boston U.: Corey Lowe, John Holland
Super frosh
Tyrone Conley, Dane Diliegro, Alvin Abreu, New Hampshire; Morgan Sabia, Hartford; John Holland, Boston U.; Sean McNally, Maine

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Blown away in Burlington

Both teams emptied the bench for this one as Vermont cruised to an 89-58 victory in the regular-season finale, leaving the Black Bears in last place in the standings. The America East Tournament runs March 7-9 at Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y.

For only the fourth time in program history, the Black Bears will begin the America East Tournament by taking part in the play-in round. The NCAA and the conference prefer the term "first round" games, but that doesn't fool anyone -- it takes a victory in the play-in game to even feel like you are a part of the tournament. Lose and everyone goes home before the real action begins.

Ask Stony Brook, a program that has lived in the play-in round, and will be looking to get its coach, Steve Pikiel, his first tourney victory and a spot in the quarterfinals. Stony Brook and the Black Bears will meet at 7 p.m. Friday at the Events Center on the campus of Binghamton University. The Seawolves swept the Black Bears during the regular season.

The Black Bears' last appearance in the play-in round was in 1998. Overall, UMaine is 1-2 in play-in games.

Maine's last tournament victory was three years ago against Boston U.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Right to wear white

Will the Black Bears need to pack their home whites? That's about the only question left as UMaine prepares for next week's America East Tournament in Vestal, N.Y.

A victory Sunday in the season-ender in Vermont will leave the Black Bears with the No. 8 seed for Friday night's play-in game vs. Stony Brook. Lose, and, as the last-place seed, only the road blues will be needed in all AE tourney games.

Tourney note: Binghamton's win today at Stony Brook leaves the door open for a possible Bearcats and Albany rubber game hot on the heels of last week's post-game fireworks which resulted in the one-game suspension of Binghamton coach Kevin Broadus.

If Binghamton were to survive that, how about a possible semifinal date with top-seeded UMBC on the Bearcats' Events Center floor?