ORONO, Maine — It is going to be a long, challenging nonconference season for University of Maine basketball teams.
The Black Bear women’s squad not only must try to incorporate nine freshmen into its ranks, they will have to do so on the road.
UMaine plays only 10 home games this season at Alfond Arena and will contest 12 of its first 14 games outside of Orono.
Coach Richard Barron explained the Dead River Co. Classic, which has become a Thanksgiving break tradition in Orono, will not be held in 2012.
“We had anticipated having the tournament, but somebody dropped out at a late date where it was too late to fill anybody, so that cost us a [home] game,” said Barron.
Instead, UMaine will play Virginia Commonwealth, which was scheduled to play in the tournament, in a home-and-home series this season.
The Black Bears are working on getting a few more nonconference home games in the future.
“You can’t make teams come to Maine,” Barron said. “In order to try to start getting home games, we had to work on starting home-and-homes on the road. That’s a big part of it.”
The Bears’ nonconference schedule includes seven teams that ranked in the top 125 of the NCAA Rating Percentage Index (RPI) at the end of last season. Among those, four are top-95 programs.
And even if UMaine plays Wofford and Ohio University in its two tourney appearances, the average RPI of the 12 schools is 162. The top foes include James Madison (No. 29), Florida Gulf Coast (59), Syracuse (69), VCU (95), Towson (113) and Auburn (119).
“Ten teams on our schedule have a composite RPI of 80. It’s extremely challenging,” said Barron, who hopes he can help the players maintain an even keel during the baptism by fire.
“It’s my hope that we learn how to compete in the nonconference schedule and we learn how to win in the conference and we’re at our peak in March,” he added.
Barron believes if UMaine can show some promise early in the season, that will build anticipation among Black Bear fans for the start of conference play in January.
The UMaine men’s team will be similarly challenged with another nonleague schedule laden with road contests.
Coach Ted Woodward’s ballclub will play nine of its first 13 games away from Orono and will have only 12 home games, including two at Memorial Gym, all season.
“It’s been that way for a while,” he said, noting “Quinnipiac and Dartmouth will be back up here next year.”
The men’s schedule also is built around some financial guarantee games, such as those at Seton Hall and Florida State, which bring in valuable revenue for the athletic department.
“It may be a little more extreme at Maine, but really at our level of basketball, the mid-major level, when you’re playing guarantee games, your schedule’s sometimes going to be unbalanced,” Woodward said.
The Black Bear men don’t appear to have quite as daunting a nonconference slate in terms of power rankings. Their opponents ended the 2011-12 season with an average RPI of 191.
However, Florida State is ranked No. 25 in the country in two major polls. Other high-RPI teams on the schedule include No. 70 Seton Hall and No. 111 Duquesne.
“It’s business as usual,” Woodward said.
The women’s team opened its season Friday with a 71-41 loss to Auburn at North Carolina State’s Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Classic, while the men tip off Saturday in a 7 p.m. game at Ivy League member Dartmouth.
The UMaine women play their home opener Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. against Syracuse, while the Black Bear men make their home debut Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. against Brown.