ORONO — According to the latest Sagarin computer ratings published by USA Today, the University of Maine men’s basketball team has played the sixth-toughest schedule in Division I — among 345 teams — so far this season.
No, that doesn’t take into consideration the matchup against NAIA member UMaine-Machias.
During the next month, coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears will have the luxury of playing on their home court often as they complete their nonconference schedule.
UMaine on Saturday begins a string of seven home games in the next 32 days when it entertains Brown University in a 2 p.m. contest at Alfond Arena.
“I’m really excited to actually play home for a little bit,” said senior Troy Barnies of Auburn. “Road games are fun. We all get close to each other and have fun when we leave the state, but home games are what it’s all about. The family and everyone gets to see you play.”
UMaine rarely enjoys such a generous home schedule. However, because of home-and-home arrangements and other factors, much of December will be spent in Orono.
The Bears actually play four games in the next nine days, with three at Alfond Arena.
“It is very exciting,” said UMaine senior Malachi Peay. “It’s nice to have these home games, fans coming out to see us and support us.”
UMaine (2-3) has been challenged by its early-season slate, which has included games at Utah Valley, Maryland of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame of the Big East and Northeast Conference power Quinnipiac.
Utah Valley knocked off Oregon State on Wednesday, while Quinnipiac nearly upset Massachusetts before losing at the buzzer the same evening.
“We knew it was going to be a tough schedule. Obviously, we’ve played some very good basketball teams,” Woodward said.
“A lot of good teams are coming that we’re playing here at home. Hopefully, those will prepare us for the conference season,” he added.
After Saturday’s game, UMaine plays host to Delaware State on Monday, travels to Massachusetts on Wednesday, then returns for a Dec. 12 contest at Memorial Gymnasium against Norfolk State.
The Bears play at home Dec. 19 against Colgate, travel to Penn State on Dec. 21 and entertain Columbia on Dec. 30 in Orono.
“We’ve got some good teams coming in,” Woodward said. “They’re going to be really good challenges for us. We’re definitely going to have to be ready, but it’s nice to have a chance to play in our home arena and try to get comfortable over there and have our home fans. Hopefully, we can show them what we’re all about.”
UMaine was 9-3 at home last season, including 3-1 in nonleague play.
Barnies hopes playing in Orono will help jumpstart the Bears, who are coming off Monday’s loss at Quinnipiac.
“We’ve got to get out of the funk that we’re in and hopefully these next couple home games are going to get us out of it,” Barnies said.
UMaine continues to re-emphasize rebounding, which has been a weakness. Opponents have outrebounded the Bears by an average of six per game and have averaged more than 11 offensive boards.
“I’m not going to say we got out-toughed, but the (Quinnipiac) game was pretty much decided by rebounds,” Peay said. “We came up short and that’s what caused the loss.”
Fraser making presence felt
Alasdair Fraser continues to make a solid transition to the college game for UMaine.
The 6-foot-7 freshman post player is averaging 7.2 points and 3.6 rebounds while playing 21.8 minutes per game.
“Aly’s doing a great job for us,” Woodward said. “I’m so pleased with the progress that he’s made.”
Fraser, who made two starts to open the season when senior Sean McNally of Gardiner was nursing an ankle sprain, has been effective at both ends of the court.
“He’s second in the league in blocked shots (2.0 per game) and leads the league in field-goal percentage (.652),” Woodward said.
Fraser has at least one block in each of the first five contests. He is shooting 15-for-23 from the floor.
“He’s scoring at the basket and he’s keeping people from scoring at the basket and those are two keys for us,” Woodward said.