Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One door closes ...

With the exit of Mark Socoby comes an opportunity to fill his roster spot. The Black Bears already have three freshman and a UMass transfer coming on board for next season.

Wonder if there's any chance of the Black Bears being able to track down a junior college scorer? UMaine suddenly has 35 minutes a game to fill and the team desperately needs someone who can flat out score.

You look up and down the rosters of every America East team and everyone (maybe not Albany, but Tim Ambrose isn't bad and Will Harris is close) has at least one or two players you pretty much know are going to get their points on any given night. The Black Bears never knew from game to game what they were going to get from anyone. And that would have been the case whether Socoby came back for his senior year or not.

Recruits coming in next year are freshmen Jacob McLemore (6-2 guard out of San Diego), 6-6 wing Murphy Burnatowski (Canadian junior national team), 6-9 forward Mike Allison (Canadian junior national team) and a sophomore, 6-7 forward Travon Wilcher (UMass transfer).

It's not reasonable to expect any of those four to be prime time point producers. Of the players coming back, Gerald McLemore showed great promise and must keep improving. But it is hard to look at anyone else on the current UMaine roster and expect a huge bump in point production. Not saying we couldn't be surprised; just not counting on it.

That's why it'd be nice to find a junior college guy who can come in and do what Muhammad El-Amin did for Stony Brook. Or, how about Fred Meeks, remember him? He came to UMaine about 10 years ago and provided instant scoring punch.

There have got to be guys out there looking for the chance to play, play a lot and score the ball. UMaine's got 35 minutes a game worth of opportunity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

James to FGCU?

According to a televised news report tonight, UMaine athletic director Blake James is a candidate for the director of athletics position at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla.

Socoby says good-bye

Bangor television station WABI reported today that junior guard Mark Socoby will leave the UMaine basketball team. Coach Ted Woodward issued a statement, attributing the decision to "personal reasons."

"Mark expressed interest to transfer and we wish him luck," said Woodward. "We really like the guys we have now going into spring workouts."

The highwater mark of Socoby's UMaine career most assuredly was his career high 30 points in an overtime loss to Stony Brook during the play-in game of the 2008 America East tournament. He hit a tourney record nine three-pointers, including a banked in shot that forced overtime. He surpassed the previous record (7) held by four players, including his brother-in-law, former Black Bear star, Kevin Reed.

One of the more heralded high school players in the state of Maine in recent years, Socoby entered UMaine with high individual and team expectations. While the Black Bears struggled as a team his first two years, Socoby showed good promise. He earned third team all-conference honors after a sophomore campaign in which he averaged nearly 15 points and six rebounds a game. For whatever reason, Socoby's shooting percentages, scoring and rebounding slid this year. And the team continued its malaise, losing in the play-in game for the second straight year.

Here is Socoby's stat line from what turned out to be his last appearance in a UMaine uniform, a 65-56 loss to Hartford on March 6:

30 minutes
2 for 9 field goals
2 for 7 three-point field goals
2 rebounds
3 assists
1 steal
2 turnovers
8 points

We wish Socoby the best and appreciate his efforts in a UMaine uniform. It's been a tough few years in Black Bear-ville and it is apparent that it must have been weighing heavily on him.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rumor mill

Rumors are flying around that Black Bears junior guard Mark Socoby is considering leaving the UMaine program.

We hope that the rumors are unfounded and that Mark comes back with a vengence next season and finishes out with a stellar senior season. While statistically Socoby didn't have as strong a season as his sophomore campaign, he was still a player the opposition had to gameplan for when preparing to take on the Black Bears. Socoby and Gerald McLemore gave the Black Bears two legitimate outside threats.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Way back machine

Because it's always interesting to remember Black Bears from yesteryear ... and it's fun to work one of my favorite Black Bears into the discussion whenever possible ... let's take a look at the America East all-conference team from 1992-93. The '93 awards are significant because, until this season, that was the last time the Black Bears did not land a player on the all-league squad.

The '93 team featured four of the best players in the history of America East: Vin Baker, Hartford, Malik Rose, Drexel, Eddie Benton, Vermont and Spencer Dunkley, Delaware. Also on the first team was Brian Holden of Drexel.
Second team: David Stiff, Boston U., Anthony Wright, Delaware, Brian Pearl, Delaware, Anthony Brown, Northeastern, Dan Callahan, Northeastern.

UMaine's Marty Higgins and Derrick Hodge made second team all-conference in '92.

Francois Bouchard (No. 1 draft choice on my all-time Black Bears team) was picked to the second team in '94, starting a 15-year streak of at least one Black Bear being honored.

Who will begin a new streak next year?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Take that

In one way, it's poetic justice that Binghamton and Maryland-Baltimore County are preparing to square off for the league title Saturday.

Prior to the conference tournament last week, America East announced its annual awards and conspicuous by their absences were Binghamton junior guard D.J. Rivera and UMBC freshman forward Chauncey Gilliam.

Rivera had arguably the best individual season in the league and was widely viewed as a front-runner for the player of the year award with Vermont's Marqus Blakely. Not only did Rivera not win the player of the year award, but coaches also left him off the first team all-conference team.
The snub was a result of league coaches who were upset by the NCAA's handling of his transfer from St. Joe's.

He was eligible, he played and he excelled. Don't take it out on him.

As for Gilliam? He's arguably the top rookie in the league and demonstrated that again during the tournament, playing an instrumental role in UMBC's two victories. But he was left off the all-rookie team. He competes and sometimes appears close to the edge, but that's what you want from players ... I'd think. He had great statistics, but, apparently, coaches felt they needed him to pay for a flagrant foul that was called on him during a regular season game.

The call was questionable at best. Hard to tell whether his elbow to BU's Matt Wolff was intentional, a case of good acting, or a combination of both. Nonetheless, he'd already been punished and the snub was piling on. Maybe there's another side to the story. But, as with Rivera, he played the whole season and played well.

Gilliam and Rivera get the last laugh, however, as those who punished them via the ballot enjoy some crow in front of the television.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Notes from Albany

Black Bears
Most will point to the banked in three-pointer by Hartford's Andres Torres with 50 some seconds to go as the game breaker, but the tenor of the game was set during a six- or seven-minute span of the first half. UMaine went into one of it's patented funks (turnovers, bad shots, bad defense) and allowed Hartford to not only rally from a seven-point deficit, but assume control of the game.

The Black Bears tried to rally, but everytime they needed a key defensive play or execute a crucial offensive set, the Hawks made the plays. UMaine pulled within one, but by that time, it was Hawks, the No. 9 seed and losers of 14 consecutive games, who were dictating play.

Thus, for the second straight year, the Black Bears boarded the bus home just as the rest of us were getting set for the tournament to start. Would have been nice if the Black Bears could have stayed around and gotten a taste of the intensity in the arena when the quarterfinals began.

One of the best quarterfinal days in recent memory. Two overtime games, a No. 9 getting feisty with the No. 1 seed and the expected close game in the 4/5 game. Big, boisterous crowds.

Albany demonstrated the value of playing tough and together, despite not having near the offensive weapons of Vermont. After trailing much of the game, Vermont finally took leads late in regulation and then in overtime, but the Great Danes, struggling mightily on the offensive end, found a way to hang in there. ... It was the first time a No. 7 has defeated a No. 2 in America East tournament history and it was electric in the building the whole game. ... It wasn't pretty, but that's the beauty of basketball; you can win with offense, you can win with defense or you can win by just out-gutting the other team.

UMBC/Boston U.
Another overtime upset, paced by UMBC stud Darryl Proctor, whose follow-up bucket with 2 seconds to go forced the extra period. ... Retriever guard Jay Greene didn't score until his two free throws sealed the win late in OT. But his play was scintillating. All he did was orchestrate UMBC's comeback from an 8-point deficit with about 2:30 left in regulation. ... BU's John Holland and Corey Lowe were hitting bombs and carried the load, but UMBC had better balance, getting strong performances from center Justin Fry and freshman Chauncey Gilliam. ... Gilliam, inexplicably left off the all-rookie team, clearly out-performed BU's Jake O'Brien, who was named rookie of the year. Word around Albany was that AE coaches punished Gilliam for his flagrant foul ejection vs. Boston U. during the regular season. What a joke.

Speaking of jokes, what were the coaches thinking when they left do-everything Binghamton guard D.J. Rivera off the first-team all-conference team. In fact, not a single member of the No. 1 seeded Bearcats made the first team. ... Rivera is probably the quickest guard in America East since Hofstra's Craig "Speedy" Claxton. Yes, he's that quick. He's got a gear that nobody else has in this league.

UNH/Stony Brook
Playing without injured guard Alvin Abreu, the Wildcats led the entire way and held off a late charge. ... UNH's Rony Tchatchua was injured and left the floor late in the game. ... Wildcats will need all its bullets and another strong performance from Tyrece Gibbs, who was immense against Stony Brook. ... Watch out for the Seawolves and UNH in future years. They are young, mature, growing and getting better.

Quarterfinal studs
* Tim Ambrose, Brett Gifford (defended Marqus Blakely) and Will Harris of Albany. Hey, and don't forget Mike Johnson. All the little-known guard did was grab 10 rebounds and hit the biggest free throws of the game. He's a 51-percent free throw shooter.
* Blakely; he kept Vermont in the game
* Proctor, Greene and Gilliam. BU's Lowe and Holland were flashy, but the Retrievers were more persistent
* Binghamton puts extreme pressure on the opposition both offensively and defensively. That's a unique and great quality.
* Gibbs was stellar for UNH, both scoring and on the boards; sophomore Tyrone Conley hit several clutch shots.
* Stony's freshmen -- Bryan Dougher, Dallis Joyner and Tommy Brenton -- play hard and give Stony a great core for the years ahead.
* Wolfie receives the mascot of the tourney award for his awesome "Thriller" dance routine with the Stony Brook dance team. He got a standing ovation from the hard-core still hanging out at the SEFCU as the clock ticked toward 11 p.m.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Black Bears shut out

Just pulled into our hotel in Albany and immediately checked for the news from this morning's America East banquet.

For the first time in 16 years, the University of Maine didn't have a player named first, second or third team all-conference. Sean McNally was the Black Bears' best chance after a solid sophomore season, averaging 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. He's also the top offensive rebounder in America East.

UMaine guard Gerald McLemore was named to the all-rookie team. Junior Bernal was named to the all-academic team.

McNally was likely among a group of three or four players vying for the final couple spots on the third team. Hartford senior Jaret von Rosenberg made the third team. His own teammate, Michael Turner, had a strong season and was another candidate.

There were a few other surprises: Boston U.'s Corey Lowe was named first team all-conference over Binghamton's D.J. Rivera, who leads the league in scoring and is eighth in rebounding. UMBC's Jay Greene was also named the second team. I'd take Rivera and Greene over Lowe.

On the rookie team, Vermont's Garvey Young made it while Maryland-Baltimore County's Chauncey Gilliam did not. Gilliam has been among the league leaders in field goal shooting all season, averaged 11 points and 4 rebounds a game. He's also shooting 47 percent on threes compared to Young's 28 percent. Gilliam plays nearly 31 minutes a game while Young only plays a fraction of that. Interesting.

Binghamton, regular season co-champions and the No. 1 seed with two wins over Vermont, did not have a player named first-team all-conference. Vermont and third-place BU each had two.

AE post-season awards

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gettin' in tune

Last 10/Last 5

When you're hot you're hot
Binghamton ... 9-1/5-0
Vermont ... 9-1/5-0
Boston U. ... 7-3/3-2
UNH ... 6-4/4-1

Stuck in the middle with you
Stony Brook ... 6-4/3-2
UMBC ... 4-6/3-2

You're as cold as ice
Albany ... 3-7/1-4
Maine ... 1-9/1-4
Hartford ... 0-10/0-5

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tournament picks


UMaine vs. Hartford
Hawks' last win was against Black Bears in January. Black Bears' last win was against Hawks in February. This game's in March. Nobody on UMaine's active roster has ever won a game in March (unless you count assistant coach Chris Markwood, who hit the last-second shot to beat BU four years ago). Hartford made it to the league championship game last year. Good news: Hartford's not a great rebounding team. Bad news: Hawks find the holes in a porous defense and knock down threes.
Pick: Hartford


Vermont vs. Albany
With or without Mike Trimboli, Vermont should win this game. Now, if Marqus Blakely missed the game, that would be different story. Albany's just not that good, making its near .500 record very impressive.
Pick: Vermont

Boston U. vs. Maryland-Baltimore County
This ought to be interesting. Two proud veterans (UMBC's Jay Greene and Darryl Proctor) against BU's "Iron Five" lineup. Hopefully the refs will let the best players stay in this game, because it's going to feature some terrific vets and two solid rookies (BU's Jake O'Brien, UMBC's Chauncey Gilliam).
Pick: UMBC

Binghamton vs. Hartford
Bearcats just too quick, too fast, too tough, too agile, too ... well, you get the picture.
Pick: Binghamton

New Hampshire vs. Stony Brook
Just might go double-overtime. Two young, aggressive, on-the-rise programs, either of which should give Binghamton a run for its money in the next round. I like Tyrece Gibbs, Alvin Abreu and Dane Diliegro just a tad more than Muhammad El-Amin, Tommy Brenton and Demetrius Young.
Pick: New Hampshire


Vermont vs. UMBC
This will come down to how well Retrievers defend Marqus Blakely. Keep him from going off, and they'll stay in the game. Greene and Proctor will have the edge if it's close after the final TV timeout.
Pick: UMBC

Binghamton vs. New Hampshire
Wildcats are not impressed with Binghamton's No. 1 seed and Herrion's got them believing. Gibbs cancels Rivera, Diliegro cancels Fuller and Abreu cancels Mayben. And UNH has enough firepower on the rest of the roster to make a run at the upset.
Pick: UNH


Maryland-Baltimore County at New Hampshire
Call it the Acronym Bowl: UMBC vs. UNH for AE championship on ESPN. Home team wins something like 95.347813 percent of all America East championship games. Go crazy granite heads, go crazy.
Pick: UNH

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Trimboli still sick

According to the Burlington Free Press, star Vermont guard Mike Trimboli is still out with an illness and his status for the America East tournament is uncertain. The illness caused Trimboli to miss his first game in four years Sunday when he didn't make the trip to Orono. The Catamounts still pounced on the Black Bears for a 93-81 win.

Color me a little skeptical on this. Kind of an unusual move to make an announcement that there "may" be an announcement the next day. All it does is excelerate the speculation. For me, I'll believe he isn't playing when they tip off at 12:07 p.m. Saturday and he's not there. Until then, I expect to see Trimboli. It wouldn't surprise me if there is some sort of statement today, it'll be along the lines of "Mike has shown some progress in the past 24 hours and he may be available, but we'll have a better idea in the next two days."

Sylvester Stallone may be in attendance at the press conference.

Post-season Awards

Preparations for the trip to UAlbany's SEFCU Arena and the conference tournament are in place and now it's time for Black Bears Pit to announce the selections for All-America East honors.


First Team
F - Marqus Blakely, Vermont
G - John Holland, Boston U.
G - D.J. Rivera, Binghamton
F - Darryl Proctor, Maryland-Baltimore County
G - Mike Trimboli, Vermont
Second Team
F - Colin McIntosh, Vermont
F - Reggie Fuller, Binghamton
G - Jay Greene, Maryland-Baltimore County
G - Corey Lowe, Boston U.
G - Tyrece Gibbs, New Hampshire
Third Team
G - Muhammad El-Amin, Stony Brook
G - Tim Ambrose, Albany
F - Will Harris, Albany
G - Michael Turner, Hartford
F - Sean McNally, Maine

Marqus Blakely, Vermont ... in a close race with BU's John Holland and Binghamton's D.J. Rivera, Blakely wins his second straight POY. His ability to take over a game in any number of areas (rebounding, blocked shots, steals, scoring, assists) is the determining factor. He simply gives Vermont something nobody else in the league has.


F - Jake O'Brien, Boston U.
F - Chauncey Gilliam, Maryland-Baltimore County
G - Gerald McLemore, Maine
F - Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook
G - Bryan Dougher, Stony Brook

Jake O'Brien, Boston U. ... the 6-8 sharpshooter paces an outstanding class of first-year players.

Kevin Broadus, Binghamton ... He took over a Bearcat program that hadn't quite been able to turn the corner and in his second year, won a share of the league title and beat Vermont twice. If that isn't enough for league coaches to stand up and take notice then they are searching for issues.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Vermont 93, Black Bears 81

Vermont scored 37 points in the final 13 minutes and earned a share of the regular-season America East title.

The Black Bears fall to 9-20 on the season and finish 4-12 in the league. UMaine has dropped four straight and nine of its past 10 games.

Sean McNally paced the Black Bears with 24 points and eight rebounds. Troy Barnies had 19. Also in double figures were Junior Bernal (12 points) and Kaimondre Owes (18).

After the Black Bears pulled within 56-54 with 13:13 left in the game, the Catamounts pulled away and led by as much as 20 points ... all in the final 13 minutes.

UMaine's play-in game foe, Hartford, is finishing the regular season against Boston U. and was trailing 36-16 late in the first half. Hartford rallied and pushed the game to overtime before falling.

The Hawks have lost 13 consecutive games. Their last win was in January against the Black Bears. UMaine's only victory in the past 10 games was against Hartford.