The University of Maine men’s basketball team has just a pair of wins in America East play thus far, but Hofstra coach Jay Wright feels that come tourney time, the Bears won’t be anyone’s first pick as a tourney opponent.
The topsy-turvy league picture features six teams bunched at the top with either three or four losses, with the Bears and Towson bringing up the rear with 2-7 marks.
Vermont and Delaware are each 7-3, while Boston University is 5-3.
But when the league’s 10 members gather at Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Del., on Feb. 27 to begin battle for the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney, nobody will want a piece of Maine.
After escaping from Alfond Arena with a 77-75 win, Wright pointed out the parity present in the conference this year.
“Who do you want to play?” Wright asked. “The first place team’s gonna play Maine or New Hampshire or someone.
“You’re in first place and you’re gonna play Towson? They’re brutal. They’ve got a lot of seniors. There’s gonna be no easy games in that tournament.”
Wright’s squad, of Hempsted, N.Y., which with a 6-4 record and eight games to play could finish anywhere from first to the bottom four – and the play-in round that the 7-8-9-10 teams must face.
Last year, Boston University and Drexel were proven commodities who regularly dispatched the rest of the league’s teams. This year, as Wright points out, there are no juggernauts.
“I think Hartford’s one of the best teams in the league and Maine kicked them up here. They handled them pretty good. is a good team,” he said.
While Wright’s praise of the Black Bears is kind, John Giannini’s squad dropped its 10th game in 12 outings on Saturday and faces a tough five-game, nine-day stretch beginning this weekend.
UMaine lost some valuable practice time during the semester break because of a blizzard that made travel back to Maine tough on the Bears, and the major ice storm that socked in the region.
Despite that, Giannini said he tried to install some new wrinkles when the Bears were able to work out, and it took some time to work through the new schemes on offense and defense.
Giannini said trying to change the fortunes of a struggling team has been a challenge.
“It’s the most interesting learning experience for a coach to go through a tough season, too,” Giannini said.
“If things aren’t working well, do you change things? Or do you ask you players to do it better?”
Giannini said that with the power of hindsight, he thinks he may have made some mistakes.
“There’s no question that we’ve had more success when we’ve stayed with the fundamentals, stayed with the things that we’ve been teaching them since October, and continued to do those things better and better and better,” he said.
The second-year coach said despite a 5-12 overall mark, there has been progress.
“We’re still not a very good defensive team, [but] we’re moving toward that,” Giannini said. “And we’re moving toward being a better execution team.”