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America East to alter men’s basketball tournament format

BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett | BDN
BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett | BDN
UMaine men's basketball head coach Ted Woodward hollers to his players during first half action against UNH at Orono on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013.
By Pete Warner, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The America East Conference has restructured the format of its postseason men’s basketball tournament starting with the 2014-2015 season.

The league will shelve the single-site format in favor of holding all three rounds of the tournament on the home courts of the higher-seeded teams.

That means the top four regular-season teams will play host to quarterfinal contests and the remaining highest two seeds will play on their home courts in the semifinals. The surviving top seed will then earn the right to play the championship game at home.

“It gives every team an opportunity, depending on their seeding, to host one, two or three games,” said University of Maine head coach Ted Woodward. “It’s something that provides a lot of excitement for all the schools.”

The format also means teams that earn the higher seeds won’t be forced to go play elsewhere and face an opponent that, despite being a lower seed, enjoys a home-court advantage.

“It rewards the higher-seeded teams in the league,” Woodward said.

In a press release, America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said the move is “protecting our strongest teams and giving them the best opportunity to advance to the NCAA tournament with the highest seed possible.”

The move also should result in significantly increased tournament revenue for the conference, since more teams will be playing in front of their own fans.

Quarterfinal games will be played the Wednesday after completion of the regular season, with the semifinals scheduled the following Sunday and the title game slated six days later on ESPN2.

The change was proposed by the league’s coaches, then endorsed by athletic directors and school presidents in June. America East has not used this postseason arrangement since 1995.

In the last 10 seasons, the men’s regular-season champion has won the tournament title only five times. The host team for the first three rounds has won the championship just once in that time.

However, the team that has earned the right to host the title contest has won eight of the last 10 years. Albany did so last season.

The UMaine men have never won a league regular-season or tourney championship.

In March, for the fifth consecutive season, the early rounds of both the men’s and women’s tournaments will be played at the same site. The University at Albany’s SEFCU Arena will host the event for the second year in a row.

The America East women’s championship is expected to retain the existing format.

UMaine teams begin practice

The level of intensity has picked up significantly inside Memorial Gymnasium during the last 10 days.

That’s because the University of Maine men’s and women’s basketball teams have begun preseason practices in earnest.

The men, coached by Woodward, opened first on Sept. 27, while the women’s team of coach Richard Barron had its first official practice on Saturday.

“It’s two to three weeks earlier than what we’ve done in the past,” Woodward said of the full-squad practices. “It’s nice to get them together on the practice floor.”

Teams previously had to wait until Oct. 15 to begin full practices, but Woodward explained a new NCAA rule allows teams to start 42 days prior to their first game. Teams may only practice 30 times during that time period.

“I’m happy the NCAA decided to go that way,” Woodward said. “I think it makes sense and I think it’s good for the student-athletes.”

The extra practice sessions will be especially important for this Black Bear men’s team. UMaine does not have any seniors on the roster, which also includes only two junior scholarship players.

The Bears have six freshmen along with a redshirt freshman and four sophomores.

“The new rule has allowed us to space some things out and do some great things teaching,” Woodward said. “We’re not trying to cram everything in, in three weeks’ time.”

Woodward and his staff must rebuild after the premature departure of three seniors, including top scorers Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser, the loss of two players to graduation and one academic suspension.

The 10th-year coach is enjoying this year’s group and its particular attributes.

“We have guys that understand the game and have that toughness to them,” Woodward said. “We’ve got a very nice chemistry to us, guys who really love the game and work hard.”

He pointed out some of the newcomers have international experience, which should help them make the transition to Division I.

Woodward is particularly pleased about the group’s collective skills playing away from the basket.

“We’re a little bigger and more interchangeable on the perimeter,” he explained. “We’ve got more ballhandling and shooting and a little more skill.”

The 14-man roster includes three non-scholarship players in sophomore Ethan Mackey, junior Luke Hetterman of Bangor and freshman Mitch Worcester of Washburn.

The men play an exhibition game against McGill on Oct. 26, while the women debut with a Nov. 2 exhibition contest with New Brunswick.

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