Men's Basketball Hosts Army and UMPI In Final Homestand Before Holiday Break
The Maine men's basketball team hosts two home games before the holiday break when Army and UMPI come to town on Dec. 13 and 15, respectively. The Black Bears host the Black Knights at the Cross Insurance Center on Dec. 13 starting at 6 p.m. While the Owls visit Orono, Maine on Sunday for a 2 p.m. showdown in Memorial Gymnasium.
LAST TIME OUT
Junior guard Xavier Pollard had another strong day but it wasn't enough as No. 12/14 Connecticut defeated Maine, 95-68, at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., on Friday night. Pollard recorded his third career 20-point game, pacing the Black Bears with 20 points as Maine drops to 1-7.
The Black Bears were overpowered by a Connecticut offense that flourished from beyond the arc shooting 56 percent from 3-point land, knocking down 14 treys.
Maine shot 40 percent from the field and was led by Pollard's 20 points. Zarko Valjarevic was the only other Black Bear to reach double-figures as he tallied 13 for the game.
Maine came into the game struggling in the rebound department but the squad did a better job in this contest as they were edged by the Huskies, 38-30.
Black Bears will next be in action for a two-game slate next weekend when Maine hosts Army on Dec. 13 and University of Maine Presque Isle on Dec. 15. Friday's contest will start at 6 p.m. while Sunday's will start at 2 p.m.
SCOUTING THE BLACK KNIGHTS
Army enters the contest with a 2-6 record but having won its last contest against St. Francis Brooklyn, 67-54. That win snapped what was a five-game losing streak for the Black Knights.
Army is paced by Kyle Wilson who averages 16.5 points per contest while Kevin Ferguson is next in line, scoring 10 points per game.
Patrolling the glass for Army is Ferguson who averages 6.0 rebounds per game while Dylan Cox is the primary assist-man tallying 2.87 assists per game.
As a team, Army averages 71.8 points per game while allowing opponents 78.5 points per contest. Like the Black Bears, the team struggles coming away with rebounds as the squad is -4.2 in rebounding margin with a ratio of 34.2-38.5 (on average).
SERIES HISTORY BLACK KNIGHTS
The Black Bears trail the short series history between these two teams as Army has won both contests and lead, 2-0. The latest game came last season when Black Bears fell in West Point, N.Y., losing to the Black Knights, 96-67.
In the only other meeting the Black Bears fell to a Bob Knight led Army squad, also in West Point, in 1969, losing the contest 69-42.
Junior Xavier Pollard has proved to be a big part of the Black Bear offense so far this year. Since coming back from an early season injury the junior from Bronx, N.Y., has played in three games and has averaged 18.6 points per game along with seven rebounds and 4.6 assists per contest. He also tallied the team's first double-double of the season when he tallied 18 points and 11 rebounds against NJIT on 12/4/13. Pollard currently leads the team with 16.6 points per game.
Zarko Valjarevic has made a name for himself in college basketball for being a 3-point specialist and both the NCAA and America East rankings suggest just that. Valjarevic is currently ranked 31st in the country in made treys with 3.00 per contest while he also ranked first in the conference in the same category. Valjarevic also leads the team in percentage form beyond the arc, shooting .421 (24-of-57).
RANKING THE BLACK BEARS
While the Black Bears have struggled against a tough non-conference slate so far, Maine does rank fairly highly in many categories, in both the NCAA and the America East conference.
NCAA Rankings (as of Dec. 12)
• Shaun Lawton is tied for 43rd in the nation in steals per game with 2.29, was previously 23rd.
• Zarko Valjarevic is tied for 31st in the country in made 3-pointers per averaging 3.00 per contest.
• Maine is tied for 31st in the country along with Saint Louis and Gardner-Webb for steals per game with 8.5 per contest.
America East Rankings (Coming into the week/as of Dec. 12)
• Maine is the No. 2 scoring offense in the conference with 76.0 points per game while they rank as the league's ninth scoring defense letting up 89.5 ppg.
• Maine ranks fifth in the league in field goal percentage with a .432 mark
• Black Bear are fourth in the conference in rebounding averaging 34.1 per game.
• Maine ranks No.1 in assists (14.9 apg), No. 2 in steals per game (8.5), first in turnover margin (+0.75) and first assist/turnover ratio (1.1)
• Shaun Lawton is both 2nd in the AE in assists (5.0) and first in steals (2.3).
• Zarko Valjarevic is first in the conference in 3-pointers made per game with 3.0 per contest.
THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
The Black Bears have gotten off to a 1-7 start so far this year, and in order to turn it around the Black Bears need to improve in several categories. Here is how the stats suggest the Black Bears turn it around
• Get Off To A Fast Start: The Black Bears have only once taken a lead into halftime this year and in all seven of those losses the Black Bears failed to get out of the first frame with the advantage. Opponents have outscored the Black Bears 345-285 in the first half as the Black Bears are averaging just 35 points scored through those eight games. Meanwhile opponents have averaged 43.1 points in that opening half. Black Bears have fared far better in the second half as the team has only been outscored 371-323, averaging 40 points in that second frame.
• Rebound From Poor Rebounding: Maine's Achilles heal so far this season has been cleaning up the glass. They've been outrebounded seven times this year and it's no surprise that all seven of those games went into the loss column. The team needs to improve its boards-margin (-10.2) in order to come away with wins. The Black Bears have been out rebounded by single-digits three of the last four games but have only managed more boards their opponents just once.
• Improve from the stripe: Maine also needs to improve from the free throw line as they maintain a .620 percentage from the stripe. Meanwhile opponents are hitting .730 of their free throw chances. Maine is 0-6 so far when their opponent makes more free throws.
The Black Bears are midway through what has been a challenging non-conference slate and it doesn't look to get any easier for Maine. The combined record of the 11 teams the squad faces before getting into America East play is 66-38 so far this season and has a .634 win percentage. In those 11 teams have only two DI teams have a record below .500, as this weekends opponent Army is 2-6 while Dartmouth is 3-4.
Maine's offense has been above average so far this season, averaging 76 points per contest and the Black Bears now have a quartet of players averaging double-digit points. Leading the charge is Xavier Pollard who averages 16.6 points per game while the former points leader, Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, who started the season with 10-or-more points through his first five games of the season, averages 15.3. Both Zarko Valjarevic and Shaun Lawton round out the top four with the junior from Belgrade, Serbia averaging 13.6 and Lawton averaging 11.1
Xavier Pollard recorded the team's first double-double of the season as he recorded 18 points and 11 rebounds in the team's second meeting against NJIT. It's the first double-double since last season when Pollard scored 15 points and 12 assists vs. Siena (11/25/12), while it's the last points/rebound double-double since Troy Barnies accomplished the feat against New Hampshire on Jan. 25, 2011. This was Pollard's second career double-double.
The Black Bears are taking time this non-conference season to get to know their lineup. Through eight games, Maine has sent out seven different starting lineups with the only repeat starting five coming against NJIT on Dec. 4, as the Black Bears put out the starting five they began with in the season opener. Some of this is due to an injury to Xavier Pollard, suffered earlier in the year; otherwise nine different Black Bears have seen the starting lineup.