ORONO, Maine — The 2013-2014 season is likely to go down as one of the worst in the 94-year history of the University of Maine men’s basketball program.
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears are preparing for this weekend’s America East championship hoping to take the sting off a season during which they have posted a 6-22 overall record (.214 winning percentage) and a 4-12 conference mark.
UMaine’s six wins, one of which came against NAIA member Fisher College of Boston, would be the lowest single-season total since 1956-57 (6-14).
UMaine is the No. 7 seed in the tournament and will face No. 2 Stony Brook in Saturday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal at SEFCU Arena on the University at Albany campus.
The Black Bears have dropped eight consecutive America East playoff games, as UMaine last won a postseason contest in 2005, Woodward’s first season.
UMaine has never won a conference title and, according to thesportsarsenal.com, is among 16 programs (New Hampshire is another) that have been in Division I for at least 30 years and have not earned the right to compete in the NCAA tournament.
The 50-year-old Woodward’s future with the program could be in jeopardy. Last April, Woodward met with UMaine President Paul Ferguson and then-athletics director Steve Abbott to discuss the direction of the program.
Anecdotally, sentiment among fans seems to be that a change of leadership is needed to help put UMaine back on a winning course.
Brian MacLeod of Falmouth, co-creator of the “Fill The Steins” blog ( www.fillthesteins.com), put forth that argument in a letter to the editor published by the Bangor Daily News in Monday’s editions.
“As a sports fan of the university, nothing would give me greater joy than to see a team go to the NCAA tournament,” MacLeod, a 2001 UMaine graduate, said on Tuesday.
“With Karlton Creech coming in from a basketball school (North Carolina), there’s a window here to make a change. if you look at an objective performance evaluation, there’s cause for a change to be made,” he added.
Creech, the new director of athletics, began his duties on Feb. 10. When asked about Woodward’s situation, he said only that he will sit down with all UMaine head coaches upon completion of their respective seasons.
“My plan is, at the end of every season, with every program, to do a thorough evaluation, a kind of state of the program,” Creech said. “That’s a comprehensive look at where we are. Wins and losses are a part of that; they’re not the only factor in that equation. A lot of it’s to do with community service, academics, compliance, momentum, recruiting.”
Woodward’s UMaine contract pays him just under $100,000 per year. In 2011, he received a three-year extension that takes him through June 30, 2015.
Thus, if university administrators wanted to make a coaching change, UMaine would have to pay Woodward one year’s salary to buy out his contract.
Last spring, UMaine paid $190,000 in privately raised funds from Ferguson’s discretionary account to sever ties with men’s ice hockey coach Tim Whitehead. However, with the university facing an $11 million budget shortfall, buying out Woodward might be politically unpopular and the fervor for firing him hasn’t seemed to reach the level it did for Whitehead last season when fans created a Facebook page advocating his firing.
The UMaine men have had a difficult time bouncing back after a 2012-2013 season during which they lost one senior starter (Mike Allison) to graduation and two all-conference players — one to Kansas State and the other to professional ball in Germany.
The Black Bears, who were 11-19 last season, have struggled with a roster that includes only three upperclassmen and no seniors. There have been four sophomores and four freshmen in UMaine’s regular rotation.
UMaine ranks first in America East in scoring (72.8 points per game) and assists (14.6), but is last in scoring defense (83.0 ppg), field-goal-percentage defense (.471) and rebounding margin (minus-7.1).
In the latest Rating Percentage Index numbers released by the NCAA on March 3, UMaine was ranked No. 332 among 349 Division I men’s programs. The RPI is used by the NCAA to select and rank teams for its championships.
UMass Lowell, a newcomer to America East this season, was a first-year participant at the Division I level. By comparison the River Hawks, who were not eligible for the league tourney or NCAA postseason play, had a 10-18 record (8-8 AE) this season.
UMass Lowell is No. 280 in the RPI.
Woodward has been a member of the UMaine men’s staff since 1996, when he joined John Giannini as the top assistant and recruiting coordinator. He became the head coach in 2004.
Woodward’s teams have posted an overall record of 117-177 (.398 winning percentage) and a 65-97 conference mark (.401). His best two seasons, and the only ones at or above .500 — either overall or in league play — came in 2009-10 (19-11) and 2010-11 (15-15).
The Black Bears were the No. 3 America East tournament seed both seasons, but lost their quarterfinal contests.
In the three seasons since, UMaine has a composite record of 29-58 and a league record of 16-32. During that same span, the Bears were 3-22 against teams that finished among the top four in the conference standings.
Woodward’s program also has endured several notable player departures.
Last spring, all-conference guard Justin Edwards announced his intention to transfer to Kansas State and all-league forward Alasdair Fraser opted to sign a pro contract in Germany rather than return for his senior season.
Junior transfer Jon Mesghna also transferred to Division II Montana-Billings.
In 2011, former AE all-rookie pick Murphy Burnatowski transferred to Colgate, where he averaged 16.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in his last two seasons.
Mark Socoby of Bangor stepped away from the game in 2008 before his eligibility had expired.
UMaine has produced several all-conference picks during Woodward’s tenure, including Edwards (2013), Fraser (2012, 2013), Gerald McLemore (2010-2012), Troy Barnies (2011), Sean McNally (2010), Socoby (2008), Kevin Reed (2005, 2007), Ernest Turner (2006) and Joe Campbell (2005).
However, the Black Bears have been unable to establish themselves as legitimate America East contenders.