University of Maine men's head coach Richard Barron speaks to an official during a December 2019 basketball game against Connecticut. Credit: Jessica Hill / AP

The University of Maine men’s basketball team will seek to prove the rest of America East wrong if and when it gets the opportunity to play this winter.

The Black Bears were tied with Binghamton for ninth place in the 10-school league in the annual conference preseason coaches poll.

UMaine’s conference schedule tentatively is set to begin with games Dec. 19-20 at Hartford, but the final decision as to if and when the Black Bears play rests with university president Joan Ferrini-Mundy.

Vermont, which finished 26-7 overall and 14-2 in AE regular-season play last winter, was voted the preseason top seed in America East for the fifth straight year. The Catamounts join Kentucky from the Southeastern Conference as the only current NCAA Division I teams nationwide to earn that lofty preseason status from their leagues five years in a row.

Vermont won the regular-season title last winter and advanced to the conference championship game, which was canceled due to COVID-19. The Catamounts received eight first-place votes while Maryland Baltimore County (16-17, 8-8 AE) earned the other two first-place votes and finished second in the preseason balloting for the second straight year.

New Hampshire (15-15, 8-8 in 2019-20), was seeded third, followed by UAlbany (14-18, 7-9), Stony Brook (20-13, 10-6), Hartford (18-15, 9-7), UMass Lowell (13-19, 7-9), newcomer New Jersey Institute of Technology (9-21, 6-10 Atlantic Sun Conference) and UMaine (9-22, 5-11) and Binghamton (10-19, 4-12) tied for ninth.

UMaine coach Richard Barron returns to a youthful club with just four upperclassmen on its 17-player roster.

The squad also features one redshirt sophomore, five sophomores, one redshirt freshman and six freshmen.

The Black Bears are expected to be led by captains Stephane Ingo, a redshirt sophomore forward from Mississauga, Ontario, and Solomon Iluyomade, a redshirt junior from London, England. Other upperclassmen are senior forwards Vilgot Larsson and Miks Antoms and redshirt junior guard Mykhailo Yagodin.

Senior forward Nedeljko Prijovic, another captain and UMaine’s top returning scorer from last winter (10.7 points per game), left the program late last month due to family issues related to COVID-19 and the uncertainty surrounding the college basketball season.

Prijovic, who is on track to graduate at the end of the semester, plans to pursue a professional basketball career in his native Serbia in order to provide financial support to his family.

The America East schedule involves a full, double round-robin schedule consisting of 18 conference games for each program. The format consists of nine weekend series, with most contests scheduled to be played on Saturday and Sunday as teams host the same opponent on back-to-back days.

UMaine is scheduled to play its first home games Jan. 2-3, 2021, against New Hampshire, with other home series against Binghamton (Jan. 23-24), UAlbany (Feb. 6-7) and Stony Brook (Feb. 27-28).

Other road trips for the Black Bears are at NJIT (Jan. 9-10), Vermont (Jan. 16-17), UMBC (Jan. 30-31) and Mass Lowell (Feb. 18-19).

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...