Sunday, February 28, 2010

All-Rookie Team

It's postseason honors time. Sandwiched between the end of the regular season and the conference tournament is the period when we salute the best of America East. We'll get things started with the All-Rookie team and the Rookie of the Year. Steve and I made our selections and then compared notes. Our All-Rookie team was unanimous.

Dylan Talley
6-5 -- Guard
10.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2 assists
The rangy guard has been a key figure in Binghamton's surprising fifth-place finish.
Murphy Burnatowski
6-7 -- Forward
5.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists
Burnatowski has become a force on offense and defense for the Black Bears. While his offensive numbers are modest, he is now at least someone opposing coaches must consider in their gameplans.
Ferq Myrick
New Hampshire
6-6 -- Forward
6.7 points, 2.1 rebounds
Might be the most offensively skilled freshman in the league. He has the potential to be a very good America East player in upcoming years.
Mike Black
6-0 -- Guard
6.6 points, 2 assists
He's had some outstanding games and has gotten better as the season progressed.
Adrian Satchell
Maryland-Baltimore County
6-5 -- Forward
6 points, 5 rebounds
Like Myrick, another raw talent that is waiting to burst out.

Honorable Mention: Charles White, Hartford, Logan Aronhalt, Albany, Marcus Rouse, Stony Brook, Chandler Rhoads, New Hampshire.

He gets the nod over Talley based on his contributions to a 19-win regular season and his ability to impact a game on both ends of the floor. Murphy's got a chance of becoming only the third UMaine player to win the award and first since Francois Bouchard in 1991. Rick Carlisle ('80) is the other.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Itinerary taking shape

The schedule for our trip to Hartford is coming into focus. After a loss to Albany Saturday night, the UMaine women will start our weekend with the play-in game against UNH. That contest will start at 6 p.m. and is followed by Albany and UMBC on the men's side.

If the UMaine women win against UNH, they'll play top-seeded Hartford at 6 p.m. Friday.

Saturday brings the men's quarterfinals. We know the Black Bears will play in the evening session, but the time slot depends on the outcomes of two games on Sunday -- Albany at Hartford and Stony Brook at UNH.

Boston U. 76, Black Bears 56

UMaine didn't defend well, didn't rebound, didn't shoot well, turned the ball over and got beat to numerous loose balls. That about covers Saturday's loss at Boston U.

The Terriers used a barrage of three-pointers, many of them uncontested, to build a big early lead and cruised to the America East victory.

The loss locks the Black Bears in at the No. 3 seed for next week's America East tournament. Boston U. goes in as the No. 4. UMaine will play Hartford or New Hampshire in the quarterfinal round.

Forget this one. It's tournament time and if a team doesn't bring it now, the season will be over.

Quarterfinals taking shape

Regular season champion Stony Brook has selected a noon starting time for its quarterfinal round game on March 6. The Seawolves will play the winner of the March 4 play-in game between Albany and Maryland-Baltimore County.

That means the Black Bears, as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, will play in the second quarterfinal session at either 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Today's game at Boston University and Vermont's date with Binghamton Sunday will determine the schedule.

Boston U. and Binghamton are set as the 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal matchup following Stony Brook.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Give a T to Maine sports fans

Can hardly believe it's been 11 years since attending our first America East Tournament in Delaware. We look forward to this event so much every year and enjoy the atmosphere and competition.

It's truly a pleasure to see ballplayers at this level of Division 1, competing for that one shot at playing in an NCAA Tournament. While the big time D1 programs are permeated by a professional "hands off" type of atmosphere, leagues like America East have a unique closeness about them. You can talk to the players and coaches and they actually enjoy the relationships and appreciate their fans.

The only regret I have is that UMaine, for whatever reason, does not have the type of following evident at other schools in America East. And it's not even close. At any other place in the league, a team having the success that Maine has had this year would have been banging out their arenas and gyms.

Not in Orono, though. The Black Bears get no home crowd. Ever.

Nineteen-win seasons don't grow on trees in Maine. Yet, no one seems to have noticed. Guess there's just only so much room at the Maine sports fans' table.

Black Bears (19-9, 10-4) at Boston U. (16-12, 10-5)

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2:30 p.m.
Case Gym, Boston

Boston University can pull into a third-place tie with the Black Bears in the standings, but it can't get to the No. 3 seed. UMaine has clinched the No. 3 spot, but with a victory, puts itself in position for a possible No. 2 seed (if Vermont loses to Binghamton Sunday).

Since a 19-point loss at Stony Brook, the Black Bears have won three straight by average of 15 points a game. BU will seek to avenge a last-second loss at Orono. The Black Bears won that game on a Mike Allison put-back off an inbounds play.

The Terriers feature one of the most potent lineups in America East with four players averaging double figures. Junior forward John Holland scored 43 points in BU's Bracket Buster win over Delaware. He is a threat from anywhere on the floor. Senior guard Corey Lowe can get hot from outside. Sophomore forward Jake O'Brien was last year's rookie of the year and has elevated his game this season. Guards Carlos Strong and Tyler Morris (back from injury) are veterans capable of strong games.

While the Terriers haven't quite lived up to their pre-season selection by coaches to win the regular season title, they are adjusting quite nicely under first-year coach Pat Chambers. Chambers replaced longtime BU bench boss Dennis Wolff.

Terriers to watch:
John Holland, 6-5 junior forward ... 19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds
Corey Lowe, 6-2 senior guard ... 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists
Jake O'Brien, 6-8 sophomore forward ... 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds
Carlos Strong, 6-2 senior guard ... 10 points, 4.9 rebounds, 48 percent on 3-pointers

For UMaine to win: Block out, block out, block out ... Black Bears must hold their own on the boards. BU is one of the teams in the league that can play muscle-ball with UMaine. Terriers have two guards averaging five rebounds. They put a big lineup on the floor that features bruising 6-9, 240-pound center Jeff Pelage ... Take care of the ball. UMaine committed just six turnovers against Albany. A repeat performance would be huge against BU ... Chase Strong, Holland and Lowe off the three-point line. Don't let them get comfortable from behind the arc.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black Bears 66, Albany 53

With Wednesday's win over Albany, the Black Bears have clinched no worse than the No. 3 seed in next week's America East Tournament in Hartford. UMaine could move to the No. 2 spot if the Black Bears win at Boston U. Saturday and Vermont loses to Binghamton Sunday.

Either way, UMaine will play either Hartford or New Hampshire in the quarterfinals.

Murphy Burnatowski led the Black Bears attack offensively and defensively. He had 20 points, six rebounds, 4 steals and two blocked shots. Junior Bernal had 10 points and six assists. Gerald McLemore tossed in 13 points.

UMaine had 10 steals in the game and committed only six turnovers. The Black Bears held Albany to 22 second-half points.

Boston U. can pull into a tie with the Black Bears for third place. UMaine would get the No. 3 seed in the tie-breaker, though, with its win over Stony Brook.

The America East Tournament gets underway Thursday, March 4 with the first round game between UMBC and Albany. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Saturday, March 6 and the semifinals Sunday, March 7. The time slots for the semifinals will be announced shortly after the completion of the regular season on Sunday.

Seeding showdowns

With only three dates left in the America East regular season, the only certainty for the upcoming conference tournament is the play-in game matchup. Also known as the PIG, the first round game will feature Albany and Maryland-Baltimore County and take place at 8:30 p.m. on March 4.

Albany's last play-in game appearance was in 2004 and UMBC lands here after two straight title-game appearances.

Still to be determined are positions 1 and 2 (Stony Brook and Vermont), 3 and 4 (Maine and Boston U.) and seeds 5 through 7 (Binghamton, Hartford and UNH).

Eight games in three days:

Today, Feb. 24
Albany at Maine
Vermont at Stony Brook
Hartford at Binghamton
Saturday, Feb. 27
Maine at Boston U.
Sunday, Feb. 28
Binghamton at Vermont
Stony Brook at UNH
Albany at Hartford

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Albany (7-22, 2-12) at Black Bears (18-9, 10-4)

Wednesday, Feb. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Alfond Arena, Orono

Looking at Albany's individual statistics, it's hard to figure this team is 2-12 in America East and 7-22 overall. Three players are shooting between 33 percent and 45 percent on 3-pointers, six players average between 3.7 rebounds and 5 rebounds a game. But proof that basketball comes down to being a team game is shown in two key stats: opponents field goal percentage and turnovers.

The Danes have 106 more total turnovers than their opponents and are allowing opponents to shoot .439 percent from the floor; a lethal mix.

This is a team, however, that was picked to finish third in the pre-season coaches poll. They are dangerous and, under Will Brown, have established themselves as a hard-nosed team that will fight for rebounds and compete.

The Danes and Maryland-Baltimore County will meet in the conference tournament play-in game on March 4. The winner of that game will play either Stony Brook or Vermont.

Danes to watch:
Will Harris (6-5, Sr. forward) ... 12.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 39 percent on 3-pointers
Mike Black (6-0, Fr. guard) ... 6.6 points, 45 percent on 3-pointers
Tim Ambrose (6-0, Jr. guard) ... 13.3 points, 5 rebounds, 33 percent on 3-pointers
Scotty McRae (6-8, Sr. forward) ... 6.1 points, 4.5 rebounds

For UMaine to win: keep hammering the boards and keep Albany off balance with a "spread the wealth" offense ... Look for UMaine to post up with its taller guards, too. Gerald McLemore (6-3), Junior Bernal (6-5) and Terrance Mitchell (6-3) have a size advantage on Black and Ambrose. ... Get a whiff of the finish line. Black Bears should be motivated to the hilt with the chance to clinch third place (with a win vs. Albany) and/or stay in the running for a share of the league title (if things fall right).

Title thoughts

While we have centered most of our discussion here on the race for seeds in the upcoming America East tournament, don't forget the Black Bears still have a shot at a piece of the regular season title.

UMaine can't get to the No. 1 seed, but the Black Bears could get a share of the crown if:
Black Bears beat Albany and win at Boston U.;
Stony Brook loses to Vermont and at UNH;
Vermont wins at Stony Brook and loses to Binghamton.

Can't happen you say? Well, league coaches picked UMaine to finish eighth, only two points in front of a decimated Binghamton club, and look at what has transpired with both those programs.

As the immortal Joaquin Andujar once said, "youneverknow."

Murphy's law

Murphy Burnatowski Monday was named America East rookie of the week for his play in UMaine wins over New Hampshire and Hartford.

The 6-7, 230-pound forward out of Waterloo, Ontario, had 10 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots in the Black Bears' 72-53 win at Durham, N.H. Then, Sunday, he had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks as UMaine downed Hartford, 66-52, at Alfond Arena.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two at the top

Gerald McLemore and E.J. Kusnyer of Mercer are tied for the NCAA lead in 3-point field goals made with 94. McLemore leads the country in 3-point field goals per game at 3.5.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Black Bears 66, Hartford 52

The Black Bears maintained their grip on third place in America East with the win over a shorthanded Hartford club.

With a balanced attack, UMaine defeated a Hawks team that was missing three players, including leading scorer Joe Zeglinski, who were serving suspensions. The reason for the suspensions was undisclosed.

The two teams could meet in the quarterfinal round of next week's America East tournament. Binghamton (7-7 in the league after a win Sunday over UMBC), Hartford (5-9) and New Hampshire (5-9) are jockeying for the five, six and seven seeds. The Black Bears can lock up the No. 3 seed with a win Wednesday against Albany.

Sean McNally registered a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds to spark UMaine to a huge rebounding edge. Terrance Mitchell added 15 points. Junior Bernal also went for a double-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Murphy Burnatowski was the fourth Black Bear in double figures with 10 points. He had seven rebounds.

The 18 wins is the most for UMaine since the 2003-04 team went 20-10 and advanced to the America East title game.

Hartford (7-9, 5-8) at Black Bears (17-9, 9-4)

Sunday, Feb. 21, 2 p.m.
Alfond Arena, Orono

This game is possible preview of the 3/6 game in the upcoming America East tournament ... at Hartford. The Hawks have a chance to overtake Binghamton for the No. 5 spot (or could slide to No. 7) and a victory against the Black Bears would be crucial.

There has been virtually no movement, however, in the America East standings for the past four or five weeks.

UMaine is battling to hang on to the No. 3 position as Vermont and Stony Brook have essentially wrapped up the top two spots. Boston U. still has hopes of overtaking the Black Bears, but UMaine can thwart those hopes by winning home games against Hartford and Albany in advance of the Feb. 27 date at Boston U.

Hartford is a dangerous opponent today. Joe Zeglinski is one of the top 3-point shooters in the country, burly junior Joel Barkers clears out space underneath and Morgan Sabia rebounds and is a lethal shooter from outside.

Hartford stat leaders
Zeglinski, 6-0 junior, guard ... 16.4 points, 35 percent 3-pointers
Barkers, 6-6 junior, forward ... 9.4 points, 4.8 rebounds
Morgan Sabia, 6-8 junior, forward ... 12.1 points, 6 rebounds, 39 percent 3-pointers

Closing schedules
Stony Brook ... Vermont, at UNH
Vermont ... at Stony Brook, Binghamton
Maine ... Hartford, Albany, at Boston U.
Boston U. ... Maine
Binghamton ... UMBC, Hartford, at Vermont
Hartford ... at Maine, at Binghamton, Albany
New Hampshire ... UMBC, Stony Brook
Albany ... at Maine, at Hartford
UMBC ... at Binghamton, at UNH

Saturday, February 20, 2010

AE sweeps

America East went 3-for-3 in its Bracket Buster games Saturday. Vermont won at home against Fairfield (Northeast Conference) while Boston U. and New Hampshire won on the road.

BU clubbed Delaware (Colonial Athletic Association) and UNH edged Loyola, Md. (Metro Atlantic Athletic Association). UNH won as Tyrone Conley hit a shot with .7 left after starting the game 0 for 10 from the floor.

Disco inferno

Forgot to mention a humorous event from the New Hampshire game that involved Terrance Mitchell.

At the end of the first half, the Black Bears were inbounding the ball and had the length of the court to go for a hoop. With 1.6 seconds on the clock, Troy Barnies (if memory serves) threw a baseball pass to Mitchell who was on the right sideline somwhere between mid-court and the hash mark. As time expired, Mitchell tossed up a desperation 3-pointer and was inexplicably fouled. That wasn't so funny to UNH coach Bill Herrion.

The humor came as Mitchell lined up to shoot the free throws. As he was getting ready to loft the first one, UMaine coach Ted Woodward, the bench and Black Bear fans noticed the scorer's table hadn't turned off the bright orange lights that outline the backboard when the shot clock/game clock expires. Mitchell made the first, then the second, with the lights on before the scorer's table and the officials shut it off. Then Mitchell made the third.

Good concentration on Mitchell's part.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chart toppers

Sophomore guard Gerald McLemore has moved to the top of the nation's 3-point shooting list. His seven bombs at UNH put him at 92. A.J. Kusnyer of Mercer is second with 87. Corey Hassan (86) of Sacred Heart and Hartford's Joe Zeglinski (85) round out the top four. Hassan began his career at Boston U.

The top power conference 3-point shooters are Jeremy Hazell of Seton Hall and Rotnei Clarke of Arkansas, tied for sixth with 83.

The Black Bears, third in the America East standings, once again moved back to the top of the league in the RPI. UMaine is at 136 with Stony Brook (146) and Vermont (147) next. The Black Bears' edge stems from strength of schedule. UMaine's is ranked 251 while Stony Brook is at 322 and Vermont at 316. There are 348 teams in Division 1.


New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion weighed in with this following the Black Bears' dismantling of his Wildcats Wednesday night:
“They’re an extremely physical team that manhandled us. They took us behind the shed and laid it on us.”

High praise when you consider that Herrion, while at Drexel, was the lead conductor of some of the meanest, nastiest, toughest teams America East has ever seen.

Despite 21 turnovers, the Black Bears continue to impress observers with offensive sets that feature crunching screens, strong rip-throughs with the ball and, generally, a "Won't back down," thrust. In recent years, it wasn't uncommon to see the Bears offense repeatedly retreating toward mid-court. Now, the offense is being run inside the three-point arc consistently and the defenses are having a hard time moving Maine out. It's a recipe for success.

On defense, the Black Bears continue to harrass all the way to the rim and don't give up many easy looks. Again, that is a recipe for success.

Wednesday's game was on television and Steve heard an interesting comment from color man Frank Sullivan. When talking about UMaine's Canadian contingent, freshmen frontcourters Murphy Burnatowski and Mike Allsion, Sullivan said something like, "And I hear they have another one coming from the same area." Sullivan didn't elaborate, but it leaves you to wonder if he let something slip on 6-2 guard Jahenns Manigat, who plays for the Regional Elite Development Academy.

Consider me envious: Have been attending UMaine games at New Hampshire long enough to remember dates at the ice arena across the street. When UNH first moved back to Lundholm Gym, the place was dark, dingy and, to say the least, a morgue. Now, hoop games at UNH are just outright fun. They've done a great job updating and improving the facility. Combined with an entertaining game presentation, fans are turning out. If UNH put together a run of solid seasons, the place would be bonkers. It's the height of irony that UNH, of all places, has a homecourt atmopshere like this and UMaine (despite more success at the America East level through the years) has no atmosphere whatsoever at home games. However, it is proof that it can happen if the right moves are made. First on the list? Get the renovation of The Pit back on the table. Hey, maybe I should start a "Pit Fund." All proceeds going toward creating a home for UMaine men's and women's basketball.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Black Bears 72, New Hampshire 53

McLemore leads country in 3s
Bernal hits a milestone

Nothing feels better for a road team than taking the air out of a large and loud crowd and then sending them to the exits early. That's what the Black Bears did Wednesday at New Hampshire.

In a wire-to-wire performance (excuse me if we overlook the fact UNH briefly tied the game at 8-8 after the Black Bears jumped out to an 8-0 lead), UMaine put the clamps on, hounding the Wildcats into 28-percent shooting from the floor.

The Black Bears received solid contributions from a variety of sources, beginning with Gerald McLemore, who ripped the nets for 30 points and was 7 of 10 on 3-pointers. McLemore now leads the entire country in 3-pointers made with 92.

Murphy Burnatowski kicked in 10 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots as UMaine established superiority in the paint. Troy Barnies came off the bench and provided a spark with 14 points and five rebounds. His spin move to his left hand for a second half lay-in was a highlight move, as were a couple of follow-up dunks late in the game.

Junior Bernal had another solid all-around game with five points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Bernal surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career with a free throw early in the game.

All this was done with Sean McNally limited by foul trouble and a sore foot (tweaked in practice a couple days ago). Mike Allison, Terrance Mitchell and Andrew Rogers also provided strong play as UMaine won going away.

The Black Bears were able to maintain their 16-point halftime lead despite 21 turnovers (one of the only sore spots of the game).

New Hampshire was only 2 of 15 (13 percent) from deep in the game, while UMaine hit 10 of 19 (53 percent).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Black Bears (16-9, 8-4) at UNH (10-14, 5-8)

Wednesday, Feb. 17, 7 p.m.
Lundholm Gym, Durham, N.H.

If the Black Bears have any thoughts of cruising down I-95 to pick up a gift-wrapped victory in advance of a two-game homestand, they might want to check New Hampshire's America East resume.

While UNH seems destined for a seventh-place finish in the league standings, the Wildcats have been fighting toe-to-toe with everybody in the league.

UNH has lost twice in overtime (at Binghamton, at Vermont). They've also lost to Hartford twice by three points, the second on last-second 3-pointer from Joe Zeglinski. Early in the league schedule, UNH dropped a couple other close games ... four points to BU and six points at league leading Stony Brook (where the Black Bears were thumped).

The Wildcats finish with three straight home games, but face an uphill climb to get out of seventh place. They'd have to leapfrog Hartford in the standings (the Hawks hold the tiebreaker). Binghamton is two games up on UNH in the loss column with four games left -- two of them at home (Hartford and UMBC).

Still, don't expect the Wildcats to go quietly into the New England night on Wednesday. This is a club that was within a whisker of knocking off eventual league champ Binghamton in the tourney semifinals last year.

UNH players to watch
Alvin Abreu ... 6-2 guard, 14. 8 points
Tyrone Conley ... 6-2 guard, 12.0 points, 34 percent on 3s
Dane DiLiegro ... 6-8 center, 9.3 points, 8.4 rebounds
Radar Onguetou ... 6-5 forward, 5.8 points, 6 rebounds

At stake for UMaine
Keep winning games, hang on to third place and see what happens with the leaders. ... America East history shows that seeding is crucial come conference tourney time. The higher you finish, the better your chances, it's as simple as that. ... Stony Brook finishes with three out of four on the road, beginning tonight at UMBC. Doesn't appear that Seawolves will stumble, but then again? ... Vermont has pretty much sewn up no worse than second place and could pass Stony Brook with a beneficial three-game finish (at Hartford, at Stony, Binghamton). ... Black Bears can diffuse any thoughts Boston U. has of overtaking third place in the finale on Feb. 27 by taking care of business in the next three. It starts with UNH Wednesday.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Playoff positioning

Boston University's narrow win over Hartford Saturday keeps the Terriers in contention for a third-place showdown with UMaine on the final weekend of the America East season.

The Black Bears, however, can ruin the Terrier hopes before they arrive at Case Gym on Feb. 27.

UMaine has three games on the schedule (at UNH, Hartford, Albany) before the finale. Meanwhile, BU has just one (Binghamton). If the Black Bears take care of business and get three wins, the best BU could do is tie at 11-5.

The tiebreaker most likely would come down to games against Stony Brook (both BU and UMaine were swept by Vermont). The Black Bears split against Stony Brook while BU was swept.

That makes Wednesday's Black Bear date at New Hampshire pretty big.

Recruiting trail

Kyle Callanan, a 6-2, 190-pound guard out of Mt. Anthony (Vt.), reportedly lists UMaine, Holy Cross, Fairfield and Central Connecticut as schools he is interested in.

Callanan has played some point guard for the Albany City Rocks AAU team in the past year. His coach at Albany recently indicated Callanan would likely make his decision this spring.

This season, he has become Mt. Anthony's all-time leader in points and assists.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bearcats busted

The long-awaited state of New York review of the Binghamton athletic program has been released. What was suspected was confirmed:

Binghamton University's conference title and first NCAA appearance last year came at a steep cost to the school's reputation. Academic funny business, alleged payouts, cover-ups and athletes out of control were the basic themes of the report.

Now, all that's left is for Binghamton University to mend its ways.

I have no doubt they'll do exactly that. Having attended three America East tournaments at the Vestal, N.Y., campus, the school has much going for it. A beautiful arena, a nice campus, a large and supportive fan base. Our observation of Binghamton is that of a school with much going for it.

They'll survive this and eventually win a league title the right way, I suspect.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stony Brook 83, Black Bears 64

Ouch. Everybody expected an all-out battle for first place Wednesday between Stony Brook and the Black Bears. It never materialized as the Seawolves blitzed UMaine in New York.

The loss leaves the Black Bears (16-9 overall, 8-4 America East) most likely fighting for no better than third place in the league. Vermont is 9-3 and holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. Stony Brook is in first alone at 9-2. Even if the Black Bears were to somehow get into a tie, the Seawolves would prevail by virtue of having a win over Vermont.

UMaine now has a week to get ready for a Feb. 17 trip to New Hampshire.

Black Bears (16-8, 8-3) at Stony Brook (16-7, 8-2)

Wednesday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m.
Pritchard Gym, Stony Brook, N.Y.

The Black Bears toppled Stony Brook, 67-61, in Orono. Since then, the Seawolves have won five straight. While UMaine will be playing its third game in five days (two of them on the road), Stony Brook has been off since Feb. 3.

The winner of this game will remain in strong contention for the regular-season title. The loser will need some help down the stretch as Vermont put itself in a strong position with its win at BU Tuesday.

The match-up features two physical teams. Stony Brook's frontcourt of Dallis Joyner (7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Tommy Brenton (7.9 points, 9.3 rebounds) are glass eaters. Muhammad El-Amin (15.1 points, 3.5 rebounds), a 6-5 guard, leads the Seawolves in scoring.

Guard Bryan Dougher (13.9 points) is one of the top 3-point threats in America East.

For the Black Bears to win: Front line of Sean McNally, Troy Barnies, Murphy Burnatowski, along with subs Malachi Peay and Mike Allison must continue the strong play from the past couple games. ... While Stony Brook has some terrific ball-hounds, they rely heavily on El-Amin, Dougher and guard Chris Martin for scoring. UMaine may have a little more balance. Use that offensive balance to gain an advantage. ... Savor the atmosphere. As in years past whenever UMaine fields a contender, the team enjoys going on the road for big games in front of enthusiastic crowds. It takes forever (if ever) for the bandwagon to fill up at Alfond, so Black Bear teams relish the roadies.

UMaine leads the all-time series with Stony Brook, 12-8.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vermont clips BU

What does Vermont's win at Boston University Tuesday night mean for the Black Bears?

It means that UMaine needs to knock off Stony Brook Wednesday and complete a season sweep of the Seawolves to retain realistic hopes of a regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the America East tournament.

Top of the AE:
Stony Brook ... 8-2
Vermont ......... 9-3
Maine .............. 8-3

By virtue of its season sweep, Vermont wins any tie-breaker with UMaine. That's why BU's failure to hold a four-point lead with a minute left stung a bit in the Black Bears' camp. If BU holds on, Vermont is saddled with a fourth loss with upcoming games against Binghamton and Stony Brook. Now, Vermont is in prime position to make a run at the title ... barring a major slipup. I don't see that happening.

That makes tomorrow night's game on Long Island huge. Win and the Black Bears are likely in the hunt to the end.

Remaining schedules of the AE leaders:

Stony Brook
at Albany

at Hartford
at Stony Brook

at Stony Brook
at UNH
at Boston U.

Recruiting trail

Black Bears have reportedly offered to Latif Rivers of Avon Old Farms (Conn.).

Rivers, a 6-0 guard, earned New England Recruiting Report accolades last week for his performance. He scored 24 points with seven assists and three steals vs. Westminster and followed it up with 36 points, four assists and five steals against Kent.

His season averages: 20.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.5 steals.

ESPN's Insider on Rivers: "Rivers is a power guard with all the tools. He shoots it well from behind the arc, has a powerful frame, and goes hard to the rim. He plays with a super high motor and has the ball skills to play some point, but can dominate the ball ..."

Rivers also lists St. Peters, Long Island, Stony Brook, New Hampshire, Eastern Kentucky, Lehigh and Central Connecticut as suitors.

Looking back

When UMBC upset the Black Bears on Jan. 30 at Alfond Arena, it was natural to reflect on the game two years earlier, when UMaine -- on its way to a 7-23 season -- toppled eventual America East champ UMBC on its home floor.

Of course, a big difference in the two upsets was the fact Maine's win took place a month earlier in the league schedule and nobody knew how badly UMaine would stumble the rest of the year. The Retrievers were a good team and everybody knew it. Last week's UMBC upset was authored by a team that already had nine- and 11-game losing streaks on its resume.

Just for kicks, let's look at the results of the "payback" games from those two seasons. In 2008, UMBC traveled to Orono and pasted the Black Bears by 17 (85-68). Yesterday, the Black Bears led by as many as 38 before settling for a 21-point verdict (84-63).

What does it all mean? Not sure ... yet.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Black Bears 84, UMBC 63

UMaine will play for at least a piece of first place Wednesday night at Stony Brook after Monday's thrashing of UMBC.

Gerald McLemore poured in 8 of 12 shots (7 of 10 from range) for 25 points as the Black Bears gained revenge for the last-second loss to the Retrievers just nine days ago.

The Black Bears (16-8, 8-3 America East) pulled to within a half-game of first-place Stony Brook (8-2 America East). Vermont is 8-3 in the league and plays Boston University Tuesday night.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Black Bears (15-8, 7-3) at UMBC (2-21, 1-9)

Monday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m.
The RAC, Baltimore

Fresh in the Black Bears' minds will be the stinging loss to Maryland-Baltimore County less than two weeks ago at Alfond Arena. At least, it should provide some motivation. The loss knocked UMaine out of first place and snapped a six-game winning streak.

On the line Monday for the Black Bears will be an opportunity to play for first place. Should UMaine knock off the Retrievers, they'd move within a half game of Stony Brook. They head to Long Island with a chance to reclaim a piece of first place Wednesday.

Look for UMaine to build on the Binghamton performance. The offense was spotty (efficient at times and a bit stale at others), but the defense was consistent and did a great job frustrating the Bearcats' top threats.

If the Black Bears can continue to produce points both inside and out, like they did in spurts against Binghamton, they have a chance to extract some revenge.

UMBC seems to be leaning more and more on freshman guard Chris De La Rosa. Look for UMaine to try and cut him off of bit. Stay in front of him and make someone else make plays. Look for Sean McNally, Troy Barnies, Murphy Burnatowski and Mike Allison to have solid games on the interior. If Malachi Peay can find his game, it would provide a big lift down the stretch.

The Retrievers are coming off a 79-60 home loss to Vermont Friday. UMaine topped Binghamton Saturday, 61-49.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Black Bears 61, Binghamton 49

Black Bears needed this one. Black Bears came out of the halftime locker room and took it.

After visiting Binghamton cut the Black Bear lead to 50-49 with a shade more than 2 minutes to go, UMaine closed with an 11-0 run for an important America East victory.

With the win, UMaine moves into sole possession of third-place, a half-game behind Vermont. The Black Bears and Vermont are even in the loss column. The Black Bears will board a plane for Baltimore Sunday en route to Monday's game at UMBC. It will be the first of three straight road games for UMaine.

Binghamton (11-14, 6-4 Amercia East) had come to Maine (15-8, 7-3) on a four-game win streak.

Sean McNally (15 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Terrance Mitchell (15 points, 4 rebounds) sparked UMaine. Mitchell scored 14 of his points in the first half as the Black Bears struggled to a 25-22 lead.

Gerald McLemore contributed nine points and five rebounds and Murphy Burnatowski added seven points, five rebounds and two blocks.

The Black Bears' defense was consistent throughout, holding Binghamton's top scorer, Greer Wright to 11 points, all in the second half. Wright entered the game averaging 23 a game during the Bearcats' four-game winning streak. UMaine held a 6- to 10-point lead for much of the second half.

So frustrated were the Bearcats with their offensive sets that they resorted to spreading the floor and just giving the ball to Wright and asking him to go one-on-one. It didn't work as the Black Bears pulled away after the lead was cut to one. McLemore hit a huge 3-pointer from the left corner late in the contest.

Bundle up

Nothing says come attend an exciting game at UMaine more than a television shot of a family waving to the cameras with their gloves and winter coats on. Got to get out of Alfond.

Binghamton (11-13, 6-3) at Black Bears (14-8, 6-3)

Saturday, Feb. 6, noon
Alfond Arena, Orono

The magnitude of this game goes far beyond the simple battle of third-place teams looking to stay in contention for the regular-season title. That's the big picture for sure. But the smaller, more immediate matter is this -- The game is about which team will launch itself into a bevy of road games with a much-needed victory.

The Black Bears are coming off two-straight so-so performances and will head out on the road for three straight games (UMBC, Stony Brook, New Hampshire) after the Alfond date with Binghamton. UMaine needs to regain its footing with a solid performance today.

The Bearcats are on a tear, racking up four straight wins behind the stellar play of guard Greer Wright. Freshman guard Dylan Talley, since returning from a contusion, has been a solid contributor. Talley was out when the Black Bears topped Binghamton in overtime earlier this season.

Wright (15.7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) has thrust himself into the conversation for the league's player of the year. During the Bearcats' four-game winning streak, he has averaged 23.3 points, including a 30-point outburst against Vermont. He also dropped 29 on UNH.

Talley, a freshman guard, has moved to second on the team in scoring at 11.7 a game. Wright and Moussa Camara (10 points a game) are the Bearcats' top 3-point weapons.

For Black Bears to win: Make the Bearcats a perimeter shooting team, don't let them get to the rim. ... Get some production from the frontcourt. Teams are focusing on Gerald McLemore and the Black Bears' perimeter. UMaine must get results underneath. ... Get out of the blocks. UMaine, for whatever reason, admitted to taking UMBC lightly and paid dearly for it. Then, in a tough road game at Vermont, admitted to coming out with a lack of intensity and paid for that. It's time to show the lessons of those two games and the past several seasons have been learned. Not going to say this game is a must win, but it's close to it with a three-game trip on tap.

First meeting: UMaine 66, Binghamton 61 in OT.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vermont 64, Black Bears 51

A sluggish start proved costly and the host Catamounts claimed their second victory over the Black Bears. Vermont now owns a season sweep over UMaine, crucial should the two teams tie in the final America East standings.

The loss dropped the Black Bears into third-place tie with Binghamton. The Black Bears host the Bearcats Saturday.

UMaine trailed the whole way at Vermont then fought its way back to within five points in the second half. The Black Bears could never get enough offense going, however, to complete the comeback. UMaine shot only 31 percent from the floor while Vermont connected on 46 percent.

Vermont frontcourters Marqus Blakely (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Evan Fjeld (13 and 10) led the Catamounts. Junior Bernal led the UMaine effort with 12 points and nine rebounds. Murphy Burnatowski had 13 points, four rebounds and three steals.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lonergan on Black Bears

Vermont coach Mike Lonergan on the reason for the Black Bears' improved play this season:

“Probably experience and team chemistry, I always thought they had talent. ... Now they are playing with confidence.”

-- Burlington Free Press

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Black Bears (14-7, 6-2) at Vermont (15-8, 6-3)

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 7 p.m.
Patrick Gym, Burlington, Vt.

First meeting: Catamounts 64, Black Bears 56 ... Vermont broke away late at Orono in the America East opener for both clubs.

After a three-game slide, Vermont bounced back and thumped Albany Saturday. Meanwhile, the big question for UMaine is; Will the Black Bears bounce back after a lackluster home loss to UMBC?

Vermont has the league's top player in forward Marqus Blakely. Blakely is a rare commodity at the low-major level of Division 1: He can hurt opponents in a multitude of areas. He scores, rebounds, passes and defends. Cut him off in any one area and he'll just turn to something else. He doesn't force his game. He just dominates.

Guard Maurice Joseph and forward Evan Fjeld are his top cohorts.

Black Bears enter second half of league season in position to finish well above the expectations of America East coaches. UMaine has scored less than 60 points in 11 of its 21 games. Will that lack of offense come to roost down the stretch? Or will the team's defensive ability continue to produce low-scoring victories?

History is clear on one thing when it comes to the America East Conference and its post-season tournament: The high seeds have a huge advantage.

If that isn't motivation enough to get the Black Bears emotionally ready for each and every opponent, then nothing will.

The stretch drive to Hartford and the 2010 conference tourney begins Wednesday.