It should come as no great surprise that the University of Maine men’s basketball team has settled into the middle of the America East pack.
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears started well during nonconference play, but do not appear to have enough experience, depth or chemistry to challenge for a conference title.
UMaine (11-11, 5-6 AE) is a good all-around ballclub. It features one of the league’s top perimeter shooters in senior Gerald McLemore, a polished post performer in sophomore Ali Fraser and rookie of the year favorite Justin Edwards, a freshman guard.
Senior point guards Raheem Singleton and Andrew Rogers are capable floor leaders and junior forward Mike Allison has elevated his game, but graduation losses and injuries have left the Bears lacking.
UMaine’s frontcourt depth was hampered by an early leg injury to senior backup center Svetoslav Chetinov. Senior Travon Wilcher is a limited role player and freshman nonscholarship player Ethan Mackey was lost to a knee injury during preseason.
Allison’s progress was slowed by a head injury and surgery for a broken bone in his right hand, which caused him to miss seven games. Freshman combination guard Noam Laish, who was expected to play a significant role, also is sitting out the season after hip surgery.
Even so, the Bears have been competitive throughout the league schedule, losing by an average of nine points. However, they have not yet beaten an AE team with a record over .500.
This team has not established a consistent offensive flow in the half-court. UMaine needs its players complement each other’s strengths by playing more unselfishly.
McLemore is the best 3-point shooter, but has to work too hard to get open looks on the perimeter. That is part of the reason UMaine is shooting only 31 percent from long range in AE games.
Good screens create some shots for McLemore, but seldom does he score off a kickout pass from the post or a penetrate-and-pitch move by Singleton or Rogers, both of whom can get into the seams.
Edwards, though creative and dynamic in the open court, too often tries to dribble through a crowd and turns the ball over. He possesses outstanding passing skills and court vision that can lead to open shots by his teammates.
Fraser is the offensive lynchpin, because if he gets the ball down low and makes a quick move, teams can’t stop him. If he can recognize a double-team, a quick pass to the wing or to a cutter in the paint should mean an open look elsewhere.
Allison’s height and wing span should make him a more frequent target for lob passes to him along the baseline. And his ability to keep balls alive on offense is another key in giving the Bears second shots.
Offensively, UMaine is at its best when it can rebound and run or attack in transition off a turnover. Singleton and Edwards are both adept at getting to the rim for a hoop and/or a foul.
Freshmen Kilian Cato and Xavier Pollard have filled roles. Cato, a perimeter-oriented forward, has been a complement to Allison.
Pollard could be a key to UMaine making a late-season surge. He provides a spark with his willingness to attack the basket and his aggressive, physical style.
UMaine has been a bit limited defensively, in part because of its thin frontcourt. The Bears can be effective applying full-court pressure and playing man-to-man, but with three players logging 30-plus minutes per game, fatigue can rear its head late in games.
Often utilizing a 3-2 matchup zone, UMaine ranks last in league play, allowing opponents to shoot 41 percent from 3-point distance.
The Bears need a continued commitment to rebounding, including contributions from its guards, to limit opponents’ second shots and be able to maintain a brisk tempo offensively.
All that said, UMaine shouldn’t be counted out completely. If the Bears can reduce turnovers, rebound more effectively and demonstrate better cohesiveness on offense, they are capable of beating any America East opponent.