ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine went into the 2012-2013 season with two of the top players in the America East Conference.
What the Black Bears (11-19 overall, 6-10 AE) lacked was enough experience and depth to complement Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser and make a run at the league title.
UMaine’s season ended Saturday night with a 50-49 quarterfinal loss to host Albany at the America East tournament. It was the eighth consecutive postseason loss for the Bears under head coach Ted Woodward.
Woodward, in his ninth season, has a 111-155 (.417) career record at UMaine. His only playoff win came in the 2005 quarterfinals. He has two years left on a three-year contract extension ($100,000 per year) he signed in November 2011.
Despite Woodward’s mark of 23-36 the past two seasons, UMaine athletics director Steve Abbott said Woodward’s job is safe.
Having lost five seniors, including three regulars who accounted for 39 percent of the team’s scoring and 40 percent of its minutes played, UMaine built around junior post player Fraser and sophomore guard Edwards.
The dynamic Edwards led the league in scoring at 16.7 points per game and averaged 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.9 steals. He committed 119 turnovers (4.1 per game).
Fraser’s polished post moves netted him 13.4 ppg and he paced UMaine with 8.1 rpg. He shot 49 percent from the field, despite frequently being double-teamed.
Both were all-conference, second-team selections.
The Bears returned a solid senior starter in all-defensive pick Mike Allison (6.5 ppg), who was a solid rebounding (7.3 rpg) and shot-blocking (a league-best 1.7 per game) presence.
Classmate Jon McAllian of Bangor (1.5 ppg), a shooting guard, had a limited role.
The rest of the team’s limited returning experience came from blossoming sophomore point guard Xavier Pollard and classmate Kilian Cato, a forward who played sparingly this season.
Pollard’s strong, aggressive play made him a two-way force. He averaged 9.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals.
UMaine was boosted by the emergence of sophomore 3-point shooting specialist Zarko Valjarevic (8.4 ppg, .338 3-pt. field-goal percentage), who logged only 24 minutes as a freshman, along with steady early contributions from junior transfer Jon Mesghna (6.6 ppg, .383 3-pt. pct.), another perimeter shooter.
However, the Bears shot only 29 percent from long range.
The Bears’ other three notable contributors were freshman backups. Till Gloger (2.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg) was the third man in the post rotation, while Shaun Lawton (3.3 ppg) spelled the 1-2 guard duo of Edwards and Pollard.
Dimitry Akanda-Coronel (3.4 ppg) provided occasional minutes coming off the bench at the small forward or third guard spot.
Sophomore transfer Leon Cooper Jr. was forced to leave the team because of an undisclosed illness, while freshman forward Stefan Micovic, redshirt freshman forward Ethan Mackey and walk-on freshman guard Luke Hetterman of Bangor rounded out the roster.
As a result, UMaine’s defensive effectiveness and offensive production waned significantly once Woodward had to call on his bench.
UMaine showed flashes of excellence, posting nonconference wins over the likes of Colonial Athletic Association finalist Northeastern and NCAA tourney-bound Florida Gulf Coast. The Bears also beat AE foes Albany, Vermont, Hartford and Boston University — all at home.
Yet UMaine’s inconsistencies were evident in losses to bottom-dweller Binghamton, New Hampshire (twice) and Maryland Baltimore County. The Bears went 1-7 in league road games and 3-14 overall away from Orono.
Perhaps the Bears’ most glaring weakness throughout the season was its 3-point defense. In America East play, UMaine allowed opponents to shoot a league-worst 38 percent from the arc.
They ranked seventh, giving up 67.1 points per contest overall.
Opponents often were able to beat the Bears down the floor in transition. Those with some power and depth in the post also were able to get the UMaine frontcourt into foul trouble, hampering their defensive effectiveness.
The Bears compounded their 3-point shooting woes (93-for-297) by converting only 63 percent of their free throws in conference action.
UMaine was at its best in transition, getting a rebound and a quick outlet to Pollard or Edwards, both of whom were adept at attacking the basket off the dribble. Yet that same aggressiveness often led to turnovers and/or player-control fouls.
The pair racked up 223 assists, but committed 204 turnovers.
UMaine should be much improved next season. Fraser returns to patrol the post, while Edwards and Pollard may well be the league’s best guard tandem, especially if they can continue to augment their perimeter scoring.
Gloger was a dependable backup who will be called upon to tighten up his defense and provide some weak-side scoring to complement Fraser. Valjarevic and Mesghna must be able to connect more consistently from 3-point range and hold their own defensively.
With no other proven frontcourt player in the fold, the Bears are likely to rely on a guard-heavy lineup. Lawton has quick hands on defense but must refine his ballhandling and decision-making to keep turnovers to a minimum.
Coronel is another tall guard who appears to have good potential.
Question marks include finding a role for Cato, getting significant improvement from freshman forward Micovic and establishing whether Cooper can return healthy and contribute.
From a recruiting standpoint, UMaine should be seeking a big man who can provide a physical presence. Jonesport-Beals star Garet Beal, a 6-5 guard/forward, is the lone commitment heading into the late signing period that starts in April.