Saturday, January 30, 2010

UMBC 56, Black Bears 55

As far as stubbed toes go, the one suffered by the Black Bears today was a doozy. It may be throbbing for a few days.

After a shot-clock malfunction (this seems to have become a featured attraction for basketball games at Alfond) delayed the start of the game by 15 minutes, the Black Bears shooting stalled out for much of the afternoon. The Stillwater Avenue freezeout resulted in a loss to last-place Maryland-Baltimore County.

Despite 12 offensive rebounds and 10 steals, the Black Bears scored five fewer buckets than the Retrievers, who hadn't won since Dec. 20 against American. The Black Bears shot only 32 percent (17 for 53) from the floor and 64 percent (14 for 22) from the foul line. UMaine shot twice as many free throws as UMBC.

Still, with the clock winding down and a one-point lead, the Black Bears were in position to win the game. Sophomore guard Andrew Rogers missed a pair of free throws, however, and UMBC came back down the floor and won it on a short shot by seven-foot center Robbie Jackson.

Gerald McLemore paced UMaine with 16 points, but needed 16 shots to do it. Troy Barnies had 13 points and nine rebounds. Junior Bernal had nine points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. Rogers, a 55-percent foul shooter, had subbed in for Bernal (51 percent from the foul line) in the late-game situation where UMBC needed to foul.

Stubbed toes usually hurt for only a short while. Let's hope the Black Bears recover quickly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

UMBC (1-20, 0-8) at Black Bears (14-6, 6-1)

Saturday, Jan. 30, noon
Alfond Arena, Orono

Nobody in the entire college basketball universe has fallen farther (or faster) than Maryland-Baltimore County. One year after playing in its second consecutive America East title game --and two seasons after winning the league title and an NCAA bid -- the Retrievers have won one game sandwiched by losing streaks of nine and 11 games.

At the other end of the solar system are the Black Bears. The one-season turnaround being authored in Orono most likely has few peers. One year ago, coming off a seven-win season, UMaine won nine times and lost in the play-in game of the league tournament for the second consecutive year. Today, the Black Bears are riding a six-game winning streak and sit atop the America East standings.

UMBC is led by sophomore guard Chauncey Gilliam (12.7 points a game) and point guard Chris De La Rosa (10. 2 points, 4.9 assists). Gilliam was arguably the top freshman in America East last season, but a flagrant foul ejection against BU cost him dearly when it came to post-season awards. He's a streaky, left-handed shooter. Seven-foot center Robbie Jackson checks in at 9.5 points and 5.1 rebounds.

This is one of those danger-zone games. Black Bears coming off a big win over Boston U., with a trip to Vermont looming. Will the upstart Bears get caught taking a peek ahead or will they stay focused on the hurdle in front of them? I'm thinking the frustrations of recent seasons is still fresh enough to motivate UMaine for every game.

For those wondering: UMBC's lone win was Dec. 20 at American.

For UMaine to win: Hammer the Retrievers with McNally, Barnies, Burnatowski, Bernal and Allison. Abuse them in the paint. UMBC doesn't have the strength or depth to go toe-to-toe for 15 rounds. ... Challenge Chauncey: Don't let Gilliam get untracked. He's the guy who can make the scoreboard spin. ... Keep distributing: UMaine had 18 assists on 21 hoops vs. BU, a clear indication the team is functioning well in the half-court offense. Nothing frustrates an opponent more than an offense that keeps crunching out quality scoring opportunities.

RPI watch: Maine is at 112; UMBC is 346 (only Houston Baptist is lower).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recruiting trail

According to Scouts, Inc., point guard Thierno Niang is considering Providence and UMaine. Niang, who plays at Bridgton Academy, is listed at 6-foot, 175 pounds. According to Scouts, Inc., he's "lightning quick" but "turnover prone at the moment."

Niang, a native of Senegal, attended the Reebok 2009 Eurocamp for prospects last summer.

Jolt of vitamin BC

As expected, Boston College's win Tuesday over No. 21-ranked Clemson gave the Black Bears a little bump in the RPI. UMaine, which upset Boston College earlier this season, moved five spots, up to 115 from 120.

The next best America East RPI belonged to BU (No. 161) entering last night's game.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Black Bears 56, Boston U. 54

Mike Allison rebounded his own missed shot for a buzzer-beating put-back as the Black Bears toppled Boston U. Wednesday night. UMaine had a 10-point lead with five minutes left, but the Terriers fought back to tie it late.

With 2.9 seconds left, Junior Bernal inbounded the ball from just left of the UMaine bench. He threw a good lob pass as Allison came off a high screen set by Terrance Mitchell. BU switched on the play, putting a smaller player (think it was Corey Lowe) on Allison and he dove to the rim. Allison's attempt rolled off, but he quickly grabbed it on the other side and softly put it back up.

The win for the Black Bears could prove pivotal down the stretch as Boston U. finishes the regular season with four straight home games, the final one against UMaine. The Black Bears improved to 14-6 overall and 6-1 in America East.

Freshman Murphy Burnatowski led UMaine with 14 points. He was 4-of-6 on 3-pointers as the Black Bears connected on 40.5 percent (10 for 25) from distance. Mitchell added 10 points and four assists.

Junior Bernal led UMaine with 10 rebounds. He also had seven points and four assists. For the game, the Black Bears registered 18 assists on 21 hoops. Boston U. had only four assists as a team.

Boston U. (11-9, 6-2) at Black Bears (13-6, 5-1)

Wednesday, Jan, 27, 7:30 p.m.
Alfond Arena, Orono

Boston U. was the coaches pre-season pick for the America East title for good reason; Really, three good reasons: John Holland, Corey Lowe and Jake O'Brien.

Holland (19.6 points) is the league's leading scorer and would probably have a player of the year award in his trophy case if it weren't for Vermont's Marqus Blakely. Lowe (16.5) is a scoring guard who can blow up on any given evening. After flirting with transferring following the dismissal of longtime coach Dennis Wolff, the 6-8 Jake O'Brien is back for his sophomore campaign. He was rookie of the year last season. O'Brien averages 13.1 points.

All three can drop it from deep, but skilled enough to do other things closer to the rim. Former Villanova assistant Pat Chambers now leads the Terriers.

Point guard Tyler Morris injured a wrist earlier this season and has been out since Jan. 7. He was averaging 11.2 points a game. Southern Maine native Carlos Strong comes off the bench and is a 3-point threat.

This game is huge for Boston U. A Terriers win here could launch them into the second half of the league season. A season in which BU closes with four straight, yes, four straight, home games -- a huge advantage in the final two weeks.

For the Black Bears to win: Hound the 3-point line. BU will try to win the game there first. Force them to win it inside. Terriers lead America East with eight 3-pointers per game. ... Force them to run some offense. ... Hit the boards. After a so-so rebounding performance at Hartford, UMaine must get back to controlling the glass and limiting second-chance opportunities. Hartford had nine offensive rebounds to the Black Bears' two. Against BU, that won't work. ... Play steady, don't get rattled by runs. Boston U., by the nature of its talent, will make a run or two. Black Bears must limit the run-outs so that they don't become extended runs. ... Don't get over-excited. UMaine hasn't played in a game of this importance in a long, long time. None of the players on this team have ever been in a setting like this so it will be interesting to see what kind of composure the Black Bears have.

RPI note: UMaine is No. 120 as of Tuesday. Boston U. is 161. ... Look for the Black Bears to get a little RPI bump today after Boston College dumped No. 21 Clemson last night.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Canadian pipeline?

Black Bears are reportedly recruiting another player from the former National Elite Development Academy that produced UMaine freshmen Murphy Burnatowski and Mike Allison.

Now called the Regional Elite Development Academy, the Black Bears are reported to have interest in 6-2 point guard, Jahenns Manigat. He's from Ottawa. Check out some footage. Manigat is No. 4.

Bracketology Bears

Most hoop heads know how the "bracketology" game works at this stage of the season. Various college basketball experts from around the country make weekly stabs at forecasting the NCAA Tournament brackets and the subsequent placement of teams.

It's interesting to monitor. But it's especially interesting when and if: A.) You have tickets to one of the NCAA first- and second-round sites; and/or, B.) You're team is worthy of mention in the bracketology.

So, as presumptuous as it is at this point, it was a bit fun to check out Joe Lunardi's weekly update and see UMaine as a No. 15 seed opposite second-seeded Michigan State in Milwaukee. There's a lot of hay to bale before we get to March, but it sure is fun to see UMaine appearing on national websites visited by millions of hoop fans and players. It doesn't hurt. The ironic part of it is that more hoop fans outside the state of Maine are aware of what's going on than those within the state.

Now, if we can just start seeing the Black Bears slated for "The Dunk" in Providence where we'll be setting up shot in March ... that'd be good.

Monday, January 25, 2010

AE salutes G-Mac

As expected, Gerald McLemore earned America East Player of the Week honors. Not expected was that he had to share the award. He's the first Black Bear honored this season. Binghamton's Greer Wright shared the award with McLemore.

Wright and Binghamton went 1-1 on the week with Wright hitting for 30 Sunday in a win at Vermont. McLemore, meanwhile, helped UMaine to a 3-0 week, averaging nearly 20 a game, including a career high 27 Saturday at Hartford.

The America East release mistakenly referred to McLemore as a junior. He's a sophomore.

Voter appeal

The Black Bears picked up a few more votes in the Mid-Major Top 25 poll. UMaine has 10 points and resides at No. 43 among the teams receiving votes. Vermont dropped out of the 25th spot to No. 34.

New England teams appearing in the Top 25 are Northeastern (No. 15) and Harvard (No. 17).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

With a bullet

Don't look now, but at the 1/3 pole of the America East schedule, the Black Bears have moved into the top spot in the standings. Vermont's loss at Binghamton Sunday leaves UMaine percentage points in front of Stony Brook and Boston U. both of whom have 6-2 league records. The Black Bears are 5-1 with a home date against Boston U. on Wednesday.

It's been a while, but UMaine is now entering a new phase where they will actually be playing some BIG games.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2011 AE tourney

Albany and the Times Union Center hosted America East officials Friday in pursuit of the 2011 America East Tournament. League officials will decide next year's site in March or April.

Also under consideration: Hartford (hosting the men's tourney for the first time this year), Binghamton and Boston University. There are also reports floating around that the AE office will looking into a neutral site, Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.

The official Black Bears Pit vote goes to (drum roll please) ..... anywhere but Binghamton. The tourney is fine at the Events Center, the lodging is inexpensive, but the trip is just long.

Preference, in order:
1. BU ... let's face it, a trip of less than 2 hours is a plus;
2. Albany ... if it's a combined men's/women's tourney at the Times Union Center;
3. Mohegan Sun ... something different and new, willing to give it a try;
4. Hartford ... although this vote may change depending on the experience this year. Steve went down to Hartford Saturday and gave a good initial report on the Chase Family Arena.
5. Binghamton ... Nice arena, good tourney vibe, but I-88 just stinks.

First AE/POW of the season?

Look for Gerald McLemore to become the first Black Bear of the season to earn Player of Week or Rookie of the Week honors in America East.

Unless somebody else goes completely off the charts Sunday, GMac should have a chance, averaging 24 points a game in road wins at Albany and Hartford.

Black Bears 77, Hartford 69

UMaine held Hartford scoreless for the final 3:14 on its way to a fifth straight victory and a share of first place in America East. The Black Bears (13-6, 5-1 America East) have now won more games than any team since the 2004-05 edition went 14-15.

After Joe Zeglinski (18 points) pulled the Hawks within 71-69 with a 3-pointer, the Black Bears finished with a 6-0 run, keyed by four straight free throws from Terrance Mitchell (17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals). Mitchell was 9-for-9 from the line for the game.

Gerald McLemore led all scorers with 27 points. He was 7-of-11 from deep. Junior Bernal had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.

UMaine is 3-0 on the road in America East play and 8-4 away from home overall.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Black Bears (12-6, 4-1) at Hartford (5-14, 3-3)

Saturday, Jan. 23, 1 p.m.
Chase Family Arena, West Hartford, Conn.

The Hawks have won three of four following an 11-game losing streak that extended from Nov. 24 to Jan. 9. Hartford is led by guard Joe Zeglinski (16.4 points), one of the top perimeter threats in America East and brother of Virginia guard Sammy Zeglinski. Morgan Sabia, a 6-8 forward, is also a threat from outside. He checks in at 12.3 points and leads the Hawks with 5.9 rebounds a game. Point guard Andres Torres has been out since injuring a knee against Kentucky.

Spotlight game: The Black Bears and Hawks are America East's only game Saturday.

For the Black Bears to win: Chase the Hawks off the three-point line and force Zeglinski to become an assist man. ... Minus the point guard, UMaine may employ some trapping just to use up some shot clock early in Hawks' possessions. ... Offensive glass. If the Black Bears get 10 offensive boards, it should bode well. ... Tough plays. Zeglinski is a hard-nosed Philly kid. Don't let the Hawks establish themselves as the leader with the hustle plays.

It's a team thing

Interesting side-note to the Black Bears' success thus far: There have been 10 installments of the America East Player and Rookie of the Week and we're still waiting for a Black Bear to be honored.

Vermont's Marqus Blakely has been named Player of the Week three times. Boston U.'s Big Three of John Holland, Jake O'Brien and Corey Lowe have each won the weekly award once.

Leading the first-year players are Binghamton's Dylan Talley and Pina Guillaume, who have each been Rookie of the Week twice.

Top story (easily)

Don't look now, but the Black Bears are penning the top story of this America East basketball season ... and second place isn't even close.

A team picked to finish eighth, barely above a decimated and scandal-soaked Binghamton program, is in a virtual tie for first place five games into the league season and has held the top RPI spot in the league for several days running.

The reason for the turnaround is clear: defense and a new-found purpose on offense.

Put simply, UMaine is guarding people better, especially on the perimeter. In guard-oriented leagues like America East, being able to defend and be physical with the other teams' guards is a priority. That has been lacking in recent seasons.

Credit Junior Bernal, Gerald McLemore, Andrew Rogers and, especially, Terrance Mitchell. From my viewpoint, Mitchell has brought with him a penchant for getting in peoples' faces and playing the hard-nosed defense we're accustomed to in America East. Mitchell is long enough and big enough to create some problems.

Offensively, the Black Bears are running better sets. The shooting hasn't always been there, but look closely and you can see UMaine getting shots that UMaine wants vs. shots that they settle for or shots the defense wants them to take. That had been a fatal flaw the past few years.

What does all this mean? It means that in one season, the Black Bears have greatly improved their margin for error. In recent years, a dry spell or a few turnovers would doom the club. But when a team is playing with greater consistency on both ends, that margin for error increases and those same miscues become minimized. That's what's happening.

How does the story end? That's up to Messrs. McNally, Barnies, McLemore, et al.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Black Bears 63, Albany 54

UMaine opened a two-game road trip with a win at Albany Thursday night. The Black Bears took the lead for good late in the first half and held off the Great Danes throughout the second.

With their fourth straight win, the Black Bears (12-6 overall, 4-1 America East) move to within a half-game of league leader Vermont (5-1 in the league). The Catamounts lost to Stony Brook Thursday.

The Black Bears shot nearly 60 percent (22 for 37) from the floor, led by Gerald McLemore's 21. GMac hit five of nine 3-pointers. Terrance Mitchell added 12 points and four steals. Sean McNally had 14 points and five rebounds.

Junior Bernal posted a solid line with nine points, six rebounds and three assists.

UMaine worked the lead to as much as 11 points in the second half. Albany never got closer than one point in the final half. If not for an 11-for-22 performance at the foul line, the final margin might have been a little wider. Albany was perfect on 13 attempts from the foul line, but was held to 40 percent (18 for 45) from the floor.

The win is the most for UMaine since going 12-18 in 2006-07. Next up is the 14 wins by the 2004-05 team.

Albany was playing without standout forward/guard Will Harris, the team's leading scorer. Great Danes guard Tim Ambrose led all scorers with 24 points.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Black Bears (11-6, 3-1) at Albany (6-14, 1-4)

Thursday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m.
SEFCU Arena, Albany, N.Y.

Albany will host the Black Bears minus leading scorer Will Harris (14.7 points, 4.6 rebounds), who suffered a knee contusion against Boston University earlier in the week. Great Danes coach Will Brown, in a Times Union story Wednesday, said there's "not a shot ..." that Harris will play against UMaine and that when he'll return is unknown.

That leaves guard Tim Ambrose (13.9 points, 4.7 points, 3.1 assists) as Albany's top scorer when they take the floor Thursday. Freshman Logan Aronhalt (5.1 points) has been playing well for Albany and was recently named America East Rookie of the Week.

For UMaine to win: Must guard against a letdown because Harris isn't on the floor. Sometimes, when a leading player goes down, the others pull together for the short term. ... Ambrose is a solid guard, but if the Black Bears play their customary defense and shoot a little better than the New Hampshire game, it will be tough for the Great Danes to keep pace. ... Look for the Black Bears to exploit Albany inside. ... And remember, eventually, Gerald McLemore is going to bounce back and find his shooting rhythm. ... UMaine needs to keep the pressure on by pounding the glass. The UNH performance on the boards was impressive. The same work Thursday should reap big rewards.

Albany injury

Albany star forward/guard Will Harris suffered a knee contusion and was forced to leave Tuesday's loss at Boston University. The Black Bears take on Albany Thursday night at SEFCU Arena.

The Great Danes are off to a 1-4 start to America East play after being picked to finish third by league coaches. The Black Bears are 3-1 after being pegged for eighth.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Black Bears 56, New Hampshire 42

UMaine repelled a couple New Hampshire comeback attempts in the second half Monday then pulled away late during the customary late-game, foul-shooting phase.

Terrance Mitchell (10 points, 6 rebounds) and Murphy Burnatowski (6 points, 8 rebounds) provided much-needed spark for the Black Bears. Mitchell had two of the biggest hoops of the game. With UNH threatening twice in the second half, Mitchell posted up and converted down low.

Burnatowski also had a key tip-in during that stretch.

The Black Bears pounded the Wildcats on the boards, 44-27. UNH shot a chilly 28 percent. UMaine shot only 35 percent from the floor, but 12 offensive boards and seven steals helped offset the frosty heaves.

Sean McNally (13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Junior Bernal (9 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists) played strong games. Mike Allison (5 points, 3 rebounds) had a strong first half as the Black Bears took a 10-point lead at the break.

At halftime, UNH's three leading scorers (Alvin Abreu, Dane DiLiegro and Tyrone Conley) had one point. Led by Conley's 13, the threesome finished with a combined 20 points, well under their 36-point average.

UMaine moves into second place in America East (first in the RPI) and will take its three-game winning streak to Albany Thursday.

UNH (6-9, 1-3) at Black Bears (10-6, 2-1)

Monday, Jan. 18, 7 p.m.
Alfond Arena, Orono

UMaine is in a situation where it can deal a severe blow to New Hampshire's hopes in the league race. After coming within a 20 seconds of hosting the America East championship game last year, the Wildcats were expected to carry over that momentum to the new season.

UNH has stumbled out of the blocks, but the Black Bears should remember this is an experienced team that took league champion Binghamton to the brink in a thrilling semifinal game before untimely late turnovers did them in.

Dane DiLiegro (10.9 points, 9 rebounds) is an active big man and must be kept off the offensive boards. Alvin Abreu (13.5 points) is a versatile player who is complemented by Tyrone Conley (11.9 points) and Radar Onguetou (6.5 points, 6.3 rebounds).

In many ways, the Wildcats and Black Bears are very similar in personnel: McNally/DiLiegro, McLemore/Abreu, Mitchell/Conley, Barnies/Onguetou. So maybe the real question is, which team is deeper. We'll find out tonight.

The difference in the game just might come down to Junior Bernal, Mike Allison, Murphy Burnatowski and Andrew Rogers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Black Bears 67, Stony Brook 61

A win like this was more than improbable the past several years. Impossible is more like it.

Using a stifling defensive effort and good work on the offensive end, the Black Bears (10-6, 2-1) rallied from a 14-point deficit two minutes into the second half for a stirring victory against Stony Brook.

The Seawolves (11-8, 3-2) are expected to contend for the America East title and were off to the best league start in school history. Leading 40-30 at half behind the 3-point shooting of Muhammad El-Amin and Bryan Dougher, things looked bleak for UMaine when the defense sagged and allowed a couple easy hoops to open the second half.

Particularly galling was an uncontested three by El-Amin and a lay-up in which the entire Black Bear team was beat down the floor.

Coach Ted Woodward, in a motivational ploy coaches don't like because it usually is only good a time or two during the season, subustituted en masse. He sent four players in. Sparked by Terrance Mitchell (10 points and a good job gurarding El-Amin), Andrew Rogers (5 points, 3 assists), Mike Allison (4 points, 2 rebounds) and starter Troy Barnies (18 points, 9 rebounds and countless hustle plays), the Black Bears steadied themselves and gradually cut into the lead, trailing by five at the 15-minute mark and 1 at the under-12 timeout.

The Black Bears shot 61 percent in the second half to finish at 53 percent for the game. Stony Brook, after blistering the nets in the first half, finished at 38 percent. The Seawolves had only two 3-pointers in the final half after dropping six in the first.

When starters Junior Bernal, Sean McNally and Gerald McLemore reentered the game, they helped finish the deal. Bernal had seven points and seven rebounds. McNally had eight points and nine rebounds and McLemore had 10 points.

For what seems the first time in years, a crowd at Alfond Arena was into the game as the Black Bears completed the comeback. That is fun to see and the players most surely must appreciate the support.

There were any number of "winning" plays made in this game by different Black Bears: Barnies diving for a loose ball at mid-court, winning the battle and calling a timeout; McNally's huge 3-pointer that sealed the win; Rogers hit a big three; Mitchell's suffocating D on El-Amin and Allison/Barnies/McNally banging blow for blow with Stony Brook's top rebounders, Tommy Brenton and Dallis Joyner.

After seasons of seven and nine wins, respectively, the past two years, the Black Bears are at 10 and counting. The last time the Black Bears had double-digit wins was 2006-07 when the team finished 12-18. The 2004-05 team went 14-15.

Can this Black Bears team surpass those totals? Good things happen to teams that stay together, play hard and sacrifice on defense. This team seems to be figuring that out and is also showing in spurts they can score in different ways. That's a good sign. But to say anybody saw this in the tea leaves? C'mon.

How improbable is all this? Moments after the final score had posted, CBS ran a graphic during its Michigan Sate/Illinois game displaying the logo of four schools making bids for their first NCAA appearances. The schools: Army, William & Mary, Northwestern and, yes, that's right, UMaine.


Stony Brook (11-6, 3-1) at Black Bears (9-6, 1-1)

Saturday, Jan. 16, 2 p.m.
Alfond Arena, Orono

Stony Brook brings to town its version of the Big Three for its date with the Black Bears. Leading the Seawolves to their best America East start in the school history are guards Muhammad El-Amin, Bryan Dougher and frontcourt stud Tommy Brenton.

Amin is fifth in AE scoring at 15.2 points a game. Brenton is second in rebounding (9.2) and first in field goal percentage (.551). Dougher is capable of big scoring games and is first in the league with 54 three-pointers. He shoots .415 on the bombs.

The Seawolves also boast one of the best sixth-men in the conference in guard Chris Martin.

Stony Brook numbers

El-Amin ... 15.2 points, 3.4 rebounds
Dougher ... 14.6 points
Brenton ... 7.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.9 steals
Martin ... 10.0 points

Team comparisons

Scoring ... SB 67.9, UM 65.3
FG % ... SB .417, UM .392
FT % ... SB .692, UM .689
3P % ... SB .328, UM .306
Rebounds ... SB 36.9, UM 37.0

RPI ... SB 193, UM 143

To win: Black Bears will have to keep Brenton, Dallas Joyner and Amin from getting second-chance opportunities on offense. Brenton is an active rebounder, always around the ball. Keeping a body on him is a priority ... Don't let Amin and Dougher shoot uncontested 3s. Force Stony to go to their second and third options on offense. ... Shoot better than 40 percent. ... Go to whomever Brenton is guarding and see if you can get him in foul trouble. He's hyperactive so try to get him going for the blocks early. Stony's a different team without him on the floor.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Temperature check

We're only a couple weeks into the conference season, but it's never too early to look at the America East stock market.

* UMaine: Show me one person who thought the Black Bears would be 9-6 at this point with a win at BC and at Binghamton and I'll show you a politician. With two AE homies on tap (Stony Brook and UNH), Black Bears have a chance to demonstrate they are legit.
* Binghamton: Despite their off-the-court issues, the Bearcats largely have played tough, witness a road win at Albany and then the bounce-back victory over Stony Brook after the overtime loss to UMaine.
* Stony Brook: The Seawolves lost a close game at Binghamton, but they also posted a 12-point win at BU and are off to their best AE start ever. Expected to be good, but without the history, there was some doubt.

Holding steady
* Vermont: Catamounts figured to be solid with Marqus Blakely and Maurice Joseph ... and they are.
* Boston U: Most everyone's pick for the top spot with a Big Three of Johnny Holland, Corey Lowe and Jake O'Brien. Terriers played the league's toughest non-conference schedule, stubbed their toe in AE home opener vs. Stony Brook, but seem to be figuring it out under first-year coach Pat Chambers.
* UNH: Wildcats will remain a tough gig with Dane DiLiegro and Alvin Abreu.

* Hartford: With the return of Joe Zeglinski, it wasn't unreasonable to expect Hawks to get a bounce. It hasn't happened to this point. A close loss at Baylor early in the season appears to have been a mirage.
* UMBC: No Proctor, no Greene and the slide has been quick and resounding. Still, this team has Chauncey Gilliam and a nice point guard in Chris De La Rosa.
* Albany: Time to buy would be right now with Great Danes. Can't see them staying at the bottom with Will Harris and Tim Ambrose. Do you feel lucky?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hey, it is what it is

UMaine is among the "others receiving votes" in this week's Mid-Major Top 25. The Black Bears garnered two votes for No. 44 on the list. Vermont was the only other America East team to receive votes. The Catamounts were No. 30 with 38 points.

No. 1 is Northern Iowa. Mid-Major Top 25.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Black Bears 66, Binghamton 61 OT

Huge win. No, make that HUGE win for the Black Bears.

Yes, Binghamton was only 6-10 overall entering the game and yes, the Bearcats are operating under a cloud (if you don't know what happened to the hoops program at Binghamton by now, you don't care anyway) and yes, this is not even close to the same team that won the league title and went to the NCAA tournament last year.

Still, the Events Center has been somewhat a house of horrors for the Black Bears (UMaine's only win at the EC was against Boston U. in the quarterfinals of the 2005 conference tournament) and Binghamton was coming off two very impressive wins against LaSalle and at rival Albany. Binghamton draws large and loud crowds of supportive knowledgeable basketball fans and students -- making it a tough venue for the opposition.

In short, Binghamton has a home-court advantage surpassing just about every team in America East, except maybe Albany.

The statistic that jumps out at me was 14 turnovers. In 45 minutes of basketball against a team known for its physical, hounding defense, the Black Bears only turned it over 14 times. UMaine also fought its way to 15 offensive rebounds and a huge advantage at the foul line.

Terrance Mitchell led the way with 22 points. He was 15 of 18 from the foul line. Sean McNally had 11 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Freshman Mike Allison scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half. He also had five rebounds and hit 7 of 8 from the foul line.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Black Bears (8-6, 0-1) at Binghamton (6-10, 1-0)

Sunday, Jan. 10, 2 p.m.
Events Center, Vestal, N.Y.

Rocked by dismissals and an on-going state of New York investigation into its basketball program, Binghamton just might be the surprise of the America East season at this point.

With many predicting doom and gloom since Malik Alvin, D.J. Rivera and Tiki Mayben were kicked off the team and coach Kevin Broadus was suspended, the Bearcats have acquited themselves quite nicely. Interim coach Mark Macon has led the team to a victory over LaSalle and then an America East opening win at rival Albany in the past two games.

After three straight wins, the Black Bears stumbled in its AE opener at home, shooting 30 percent on their way to a loss to Vermont.

F- Greer Wright, 6-7, junior (13.0 points, 5.7 rebounds)
F - Moussa Camara, 6-5, junior (8.8 points)
G - Dylan Talley, 6-5, freshman (10.4 points)
G - Chretien Lukusa, 6-2, junior (8.6 points, 5.1 rebounds)

Talley, the team's point guard, is expected to miss his third straight game with a thigh contusion. ... Camara and Lukasa played supporting roles during the Bearcats run to the AE title and the NCAA bid last year. Thrust into starring roles, along with Wright, they are playing with motivation. Against LaSalle, 6-9 freshman center Pina Guillaume scored a career high 19 points.

Black Bears

UMaine must find more efficiency on the offensive end while continuing its strong defensive efforts. The Black Bears have scored fewer than 60 points in eight of their 14 games. ... The Events Center is a tough venue for opposing teams and the Bearcats' win over the A-10's LaSalle and subsequent triumph at Albany should put the Black Bears on high alert. An 0-2 start to the America East season is not what UMaine had on its mind. ... Black Bears have lost five straight to Binghamton and trail the all-time series, 12-6.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vermont 64, Black Bears 56

UMaine took a run at handing Vermont an early conference loss, but in the end, poor shooting did in the Black Bears.

The Catamounts, led by the all-around play of two-time America East player of the year Marqus Blakely (check out this line: 11 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocked shots), deflected the host Black Bears' bid and moved to 2-0 in the league, 11-5 overall. UMaine falls to 0-1, 8-6.

The Black Bears shot just 30 percent on its home floor while Vermont hit 39 percent and outrebounded UMaine by a 36-24 count.

Terrance Mitchell (13 points) and Gerald McLemore (12) paced UMaine's scoring attack.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Game day

Vermont (1-0 America East, 10-5 overall) at Black Bears (0-0, 8-5)
Thursday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m.

Catamounts opened their America East schedule Saturday with a win over UMBC. ... The Black Bears open conference play with three out of four at home. ... UMaine begins conference play with the top RPI in the league.

RPI: UMaine 149, Vermont 154


* Marqus Blakely, 6-5, senior, forward
Two-time America East player of the year is off to a brilliant start, with averages of 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.3 blocks.
* Maurice Joseph, 6-4, senior, guard
14.3 points a game for the senior who started his career at Michigan State.
* Evan Fjeld, 6-8, junior, forward
8.6 points, 5.9 rebounds

Best two non-conference wins (RPI): at Buffalo (98), at Rutgers (148)

Black Bears
* Gerald McLemore, 6-3, sophomore, guard
15.4 points
* Sean McNally, 6-7, junior, forward
11.6 points, 8.1 rebounds
* Junior Bernal, 6-4, senior, guard
7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds

Best two non-conference wins: at Boston College (112), Princeton (139)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Comparing notes

With the America East season upon the Black Bears, let's take a quick look back at some of the Black Bears' non-conference opponents and how they fared against AE squads:

lost to Black Bears
lost at Hartford
beat Stony Brook
beat Black Bears by 46
beat Albany by 32
beat Black Bears by 17
beat Boston U. by 18
lost to Black Bears
lost at Stony Brook
lost to Black Bears
lost to Stony Brook
lost to New Hampshire
beat Black Bears (at Orono)
beat Hartford
lost at Vermont

The records of UMaine's non-conference opponents through Jan. 4:

Fordham (2-10), Boston College (9-5), Kennesaw State (5-9), Columbia (6-6), Princeton (7-5), Colgate (3-10), Delaware State (4-7).
Total: 36-52

Syracuse (13-1), UConn (10-3), Quinnipiac (6-6), Norfolk State (1-11), Brown (6-9).
Total: 36-30

Observations: The losses to Norfolk State and Brown stand out, as does the victory at ACC member Boston College. ... Norfolk State was expected to be a contender in the MEAC and has the returning player of the year. Its record is disappointing to say the least. ... The Brown loss was tough because the Black Bears held a lead and then let an average team score 43 points in the second half to pull away. ... The BC stunner speaks for itself. As is natural in these matchups, BC apologists insist the Eagles were sleep-walking; but that doesn't matter, the Black Bears have a W in their column. Besides, UMaine was tied at halftime with UConn just a week earlier so unless BC's roster doesn't scan the Internet or nobody informed them of this, there are no excuses. You either get it done or you don't.

Black Bears 52, Princeton 50

Chicken or the egg? Bad offense or good defense?

Kind of hard to tell at Monday night's slugfest at Alfond Arena where the Black Bears stymied Princeton for much of the first half and then held on for dear life and a 52-50 victory.

Clinging to a four-point lead in the final seconds, the Black Bears withstood a scare when Princeton's Kareem Maddox hit a close range shot and was fouled and went to the line with 3.9 seconds left. With everyone in the building (including the always-snoozing ushers) understanding he'd intentionally miss the free throw, Maddox executed it just the way coaches draw it up.

Maddox added some loft, missing high off the iron so that it dropped back down and bounced again. The extra kick off the rim threw off the timing of the rebounders. Out of the brief scrum, the Tigers' Nick Lake got an open look from the right side (maybe 10 feet), but missed as the horn sounded.

Despite only three field goals in the second half, UMaine won its third straight to conclude its non-conference slate at 8-5. While it'd be a bit presumptious to say the Black Bears will go into Thursday's America East opener vs. Vermont with momentum, it's hard to overlook the fact the team has found a way to win some games it has lost in recent years. Monday night was exhibit A.
With their offense in full-blown hibernation after jumping out to a 26-13 lead in the first half, the Black Bears found a way to scratch out a win over a Princeton team that was coming off an impressive win at St. Joe's and was sitting at a solid 113 in the RPI (UMaine was at 183).

Gerald McLemore (14 points) and Murphy Burnatowski (11 points, 5 rebounds) spearheaded the effort. The two combined to hit 11 of 12 free throws, many of them down the stretch as Princeton starting fouling in an attempt to get back into the game. McLemore also contributed four steals in the game.

Sean McNally just missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. Troy Barnies had five points and eight rebounds. Junior Bernal had nine points and six rebounds.

Both teams shot poorly: Princteon at 34 percent and the Black Bears at 32 percent.

Burnatowski has a college-ready body and plays with confidence. In my opinion, he made the play of the game in the final minute when he went high and fought off a Princeton defender for a poorly thrown pass, was fouled and hit the free throws. ... Black Bears didn't convert many open-court opportunities created by its good defense. ... Princeton is probably a better shooting team than it showed and started hitting clutch 3s late. ... Players on Princeton's roster can claim they may some day be president, but they can't claim a victory in basketball over Maine as the Tigers are now 0-2 vs. the Black Bears. ... Black Bears need some kind of offensive production underneath to release the pressure on Gerald McLemore and the other perimeter threats. ... The last time I saw Princeton in person was in the late-1970s (I think) vs. Minnesota. ... That's one BIG black bear in the center of UMaine's new portable floor. ... Alfond Arena continues its tradition as the frostiest hoops facility known to modern man.
Thumbs up
to Burnatowski and the Black Bears defense.
Thumbs down
to the fan near us who spent the first 10 minutes complaining about the PA system volume. ... to all the fans who didn't show up two days after a landmark victory at Boston College.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Game 13

Princeton (7-4) at Black Bears (7-5)
Monday, Jan. 4, 7 p.m.
Alfond Arena, Orono

The complexion of this non-conference game changed considerably since the two teams' Dec. 20 date was snowed out and rescheduled. The Black Bears have gone 2-1 and dropped from 261 to 181 on the strength of an upset of Boston College Saturday. The Tigers have won twice and now reside at 115 in the RPI with a 7-4 record.

The game will serve as a tuneup for the Black Bears' America East opener Thursday vs. Vermont.

Princeton won at St. Joe's Saturday to run its winning streak to five games. The streak includes victories over Lafayette, North Carolina-Greensboro, Monmouth and Wagner.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Black Bears 52, Boston College 51

What a way to ring in the new year: A victory over a BCS conference program and big fat check for playing them.

That's what the Black Bears earned Saturday as they outplayed Boston College down the stretch and scatched out a one-point win at Chestnut Hill.

The Black Bears (7-5) controlled the tempo of the game and dared Boston College (9-5) to win from the outside. The Eagles did hit nine 3-pointers, but when they didn't, UMaine usualy grabbed the rebound and patiently worked the offense.

Coming into the game, the Eagles were ranked No. 97 in the RPI while Maine stood at 220.

UMaine consistently found good shots underneath. Big hoops late in the game from Gerald McLemore (14 points), Junior Bernal, Malachi Peay and Troy Barnies, as well as a couple free throws from Sean McNally (15 points, 7 rebounds) lifted the Black Bears.

A good win for a team that has struggled to close games in recent years. UMaine trailed by as many as eight points, but kept fighting back. Now, the task for the Black Bears is to take this momentum and confidence and push it over into the rest of the America East season.

UMaine closes its non-conference schedule with a game Monday at home against Princeton.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Top 10 Black Bears of the Decade

KEVIN REED (03-07)
When Kevin Reed pulled up for the make-or-break 3-point shot late in a quarterfinal round tournament game against UMBC in 2007, the outcome rode on its accuracy. And there couldn't have been a better person to take that shot. Reed had battled his way back from an injury that wiped out his '05-06 season and I don't think we were ever as sure about a shooter as whenever Reed let fly. It didn't go in (unlike his jumper to upset BU two years earlier), but it doesn't change a thing about Reed's legacy. Easily the top four-year Black Bear of the decade, Reed established a new school record for 3-pointers and shares the America East record for 3-pointers in a tournament game. He's remembered also for being a top rebounder. The powerful 6-3, 215-pounder averaged 13.5 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals a game for his career. He was a classy competitor.

Getting the nod as player of the decade is Andy Bedard, who merely changed the culture around the program when he transferred home to Maine from Boston College. Bedard was a rare player, combining solid, fundamental play, a knack for the spectacular and a fierce will to win. A 6-1, 180-pound guard with explosive qualities, he guided UMaine to 42 wins during his two years in Orono. If not for the broken hand he suffered against Hartford in the conference tourney quarterfinals in 2000, who knows how things may have turned out. Bedard averaged 14 points, 7 assists and 2 steals a game for the Black Bears.

To recap, the list looks like this:

10. Justin Rowe
9. Errick Greene
8. Huggy Dye
7. Rickey White
6. Joe Campbell
5. Julian Dunkley
4. Eric Dobson
3. Nate Fox
2. Carvell Ammons
1-B. Kevin Reed
1-A. Andy Bedard

Honorable mention: Derrick Jackson, Colin Haynes, Ernest Turner

Note: Bedard (twice), Fox, Ammons, White and Rowe were Black Bears who earned first team All-America East honors during the decade.