Before the basketball season started, John Giannini looked at the grueling seven-game stretch that faced his team and made a pronouncement.
“It’s very simple,” Giannini said. “If we have a 4-3 record after our first seven games, we have an outstanding team.”
Five games into the season, Giannini’s University of Maine Black Bears have rushed out to a 4-1 record and face their first America East road trip of the year.
But now that they’ve got the “four” piece of the equation taken care of, expectations have changed.
“We just don’t want the three, now,” senior forward Colin Haynes said with a laugh.
Giannini put the Black Bears’ early success in a nutshell.
“There’s not more than two or three teams in the country that could have gone 5-0 in those first five games,” Giannini said, pointing out that the loss came at the hands of national power Illinois, a team that won’t lose very many times this season.
“So we did pretty much what we can,” he said. “Now we have to move onto other challenges.”
Those challenges begin tonight as the Bears travel to Towson, Md., to take on Towson University at 5:30 p.m. The game is the America East game of the week and the TV feed will be picked up and broadcast by WVII-TV in Bangor.
And on Saturday night, the Black Bears head to Newark, Del., where they’ll face the University of Delaware at a sold-out Bob Carpenter Center.
Giannini knows the games that will mean the most for the Bears come March are ones like these against America East conference foes.
“Your nonconference games are very important to develop as a team, to build a successful season, to establish the reputation of your program,” Giannini said. “But the only way you win championships or get to the NCAA tournament is through your conference.”
Haynes said the Black Bears’ early performance was what he’d hoped for.
“I’m not really surprised, because I could see during the preseason how we were pretty good on defense – and that’s pretty much what I was worried about: Defense.”
And on offense, the Bears have lost little: They’re scoring 80.8 points per game.
Senior forward Carvell Ammons, who made Big 10 stops at Northwestern and Illinois before transferring to Maine, said the first conference road trip of the year presents two different challenges.
First, it’s Towson, a team that Maine narrowly beat in Maryland last year and lost to two years ago.
“I think it’s just hard to get excited about the game,” Ammons said. “Last year we went there and I don’t think there were 25 people in the stands. It’s a game where you really have to motivate yourself.”
When the Bears get to Delaware, they’ll be facing a team that has been among the league’s best over the past three years. And the environment will be vastly different, too. The Carpenter Center is always sold out.
“If we had to go to Delaware every game to get that atmosphere, I’d do it,” Ammons said.
“I’ve played in front of big crowds. That’s what makes it fun. When the crowd’s into it, and they’re on you.”