The state of Maine now stands alone — in Division I men’s basketball circles.
With the recent qualification of South Dakota State for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, Maine is the only state that has not produced an NCAA postseason participant in the sport.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Alaska hasn’t, either, but that’s because it does not have any Division I men’s basketball teams.
The Pine Tree State has only one, the University of Maine, and the Black Bears have never been to “The Big Dance.”
UMaine is among the longest-suffering Division I men’s programs. It began Division I play in 1962 and has yet to qualify.
According to a 2008 story in USA Today, only six other programs have been playing Division I ball longer without playing in the tournament. They include Army, The Citadel, Northwestern, St. Francis (N.Y.) and William & Mary, all of which joined the Division I ranks in 1948.
Centenary elevated to Division I in 1960, while the University of New Hampshire joins UMaine in its dubious distinction since 1962.
UMaine’s best opportunity came in 1994, when coach Rudy Keeling’s squad played in the then-North Atlantic Conference championship game in Philadelphia against Drexel. The Dragons, led by future longtime NBA player Malik Rose, beat the Black Bears 86-78.
South Dakota did not take long, in the grand scheme of things, to accomplish the feat as the Jackrabbits did not become a full Division I member until the 2008-09 season.
California has produced the most Division I men’s tourney participants with 189, followed by Pennsylvania (176), North Carolina (167) and Texas (147).
AE champs have UMaine ties
The University of Vermont men and the University at Albany women emerged victorious Saturday during the America East Basketball Championship title games.
Both the Catamounts and the Great Danes have coaches with connections to the University of Maine.
Vermont’s coaching staff includes former UMaine player and assistant coach Chris Markwood of South Portland, while the Albany women are coached by former Black Bears assistant Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.
Second-seeded Vermont won its fifth league title since 2003 on Saturday with a 51-43 victory at top-seeded Stony Brook. Becker joins former Northeastern coach Karl Fogel in becoming only the second first-year men’s coach to direct his team to the America East championship.
Vermont (23-11) is a No. 16 seed and travels to Lamar, another 16 seed, on Wednesday for the right to face No. 1 seed North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Region at Chapel Hill, N.C.
Markwood left the Black Bears last spring to join the staff of John Becker, who was hired to replace Mike Lonergan.
Coach Ted Woodward’s UMaine men gave Vermont all it could handle in the America East quarterfinals on March 3 before the Catamounts posted a 50-40 victory over the Bears. UMaine was without leading scorer Gerald McLemore (17 points per game) because of injury.
The second-seeded Albany women claimed the school’s first-ever conference basketball crown Saturday in Albany with a 69-61 victory over No. 5 Maryland Baltimore County.
The Great Danes (23-9), who are enjoying the program’s first 20-win season since joining the Division I ranks, are a No. 14 seed and face defending national champion Texas A&M, seeded third, in the NCAAs.
Abrahamson-Henderson spent two seasons at UMaine (1992-94) on the staff of former head coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie. She has helped turn around the Albany program, leading the Great Danes to a 16-14 record and a league quarterfinal appearance during her first season (2010-11).
Most of Albany’s key contributors during Abrahamson-Henderson’s first two seasons were recruited by the previous coach, Trina Patterson.
3 AE men’s teams in postseason
For only the third time in league history, America East will have three men’s teams competing in postseason play this season.
In addition to Vermont, Stony Brook and Albany also have received invitations to continue their respective seasons.
The Seawolves, who claimed the AE regular-season championship, are bound for the National Invitation Tournament. Stony Brook (22-9) is a No. 8 seed and travels to top-seeded Seton Hall in a Tuesday first-round contest.
The Great Danes have been selected to play in the College Insider Tournament. Albany (19-14) plays host to Manhattan College in a first-round game Wednesday.
America East previously sent three teams to the postseason in 2005 and 2010.