The Black Bears ready themselves for its final two contests before the New Year as the team takes part in the Dr. Pepper Classic in Chattanooga Tenn., on Dec. 29-30. Maine's opening round game will take place against (8-4) Middle Tennessee and they will finish up, either in the consolation game or the championship contest against Grand Canyon University or Chattanooga on Dec. 30. Sunday's game is slated for a 4:30 p.m. start time while Monday's start time is TBD.
LAST TIME OUT
The Black Bears allowed 30 second chance points against Providence as the Friars controlled the glass, winning 94-70, at the Dunkin Donuts Center, in Providence, R.I. last Saturday afternoon. The loss brought Maine into the Christmas break with a 1-9 record while Providence improves to 10-2.
The Friars controlled the Black Bears in the paint as Providence outrebounded Maine 46-23 in the losing effort, which is the largest rebounding deficit that Maine has had all season long.
Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts led the way for the Providence offense as they accounted for a combined 44 of the 94, Providence points. The duo both tallied 22 total points while Batts, went over the 1,000-point mark for his career with his effort.
As a team, Maine shot an impressive 50 percent but the defense allowed Providence to best that mark as the Friars shot 51 percent for the game.
SCOUTING THE BLUE RAIDERS
Middle Tennessee enters the Dr. Pepper Classic with an 8-4 record having staggered the wins and losses through the last five games. The Blue Raiders started the season on a four-game winning streak but have gone .500 in their last eight contests.
Middle Tennessee State relies heavily on the offensive prowess of Shawn Jones who leads in three of major categories for the Blue Raiders. Jones averages 13.4 points, 7.7 boards per game and has 15 blocks on the season, pacing the Blue Raiders in all three statistics.
Tweety Knight is the other category leader as the senior guard leads the team in assists per game with 4.8 helpers and leads in the larceny push as he averages 2.0 steals per contest.
The Blue Raiders are outscoring their opponents by 8.3 points per game on average while maintaining a healthy advantage in rebounding with a +7.5 margin between rebounds per game for and against.
This is the first meeting between these two teams in the series history.
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. 28)
• Shaun Lawton is now ranked 27th in the nation in steals per game with a 2.33 mark, he was was previously 29th.
• Lawton is ranked 87th in the country in total steals with 21.
• Zarko Valjarevic ranked 31st and 33rd in 3-pointers made per game (3.00) and 3-pointer percentage (.448)
• Valjarevic is also slotted in at 65th in the nation in total treys made nailing 30 so far this season.
• Maine is now tied for 43rd in the country in steals per game with 8.0 per contest.
• The Black Bears are ranked within the top-100 teams in the country (95th) in assists per game, averaging 14.4 per game.
America East Rankings (as of Dec. 28)
• Maine is the No. 2 scoring offense in the conference with 76.4 points per game while they rank as the league's eighth scoring defense letting up 90 ppg.
• Maine ranks third in the league in field goal percentage with a .447 mark
• Ranked No. 2 in fewest turnovers (137) and third in fewest fouls (214)
• Lawton is both 3rd in the AE in assists (4.8) and first in steals (2.3).
• Valjarevic is the conference's deadliest 3-point shooter ranking first in 3-pointers per game (3.00), 3-point percentage (.448) and 3-pointers made (30)
• Lawton is ranked second in the conference in both assist turnover ratio (1.68) and assists per game (4.7)
• Team Quick Hit Rankings:
• 1st in assists per game (14.4)
• 2nd in assist turnover ratio (1.05)
• 2nd in fewest turnovers (137)
• 2nd in steals per game (8.0)
• 2nd in total steals (80)
• 2nd in turnover margin (-0.2)
• 3rd in 3-pointers per game (6.4)
• 3rd in total assists (144)
THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
The Black Bears have gotten off to a 1-9 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 nine of those losses the Black Bears failed to get out of the first frame with the advantage. Opponents have outscored the Black Bears 447-362 in the first half as the Black Bears are averaging just 36.2 points scored through those 10 games. Meanwhile opponents have averaged 44.7 points in the opening half. Black Bears hasn't fared much better in the second half as the team has been outscored 453-396, averaging 39.6 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 nine times this year and it's no surprise that all nine of those games went into the loss column. The team needs to improve its boards-margin (-10.9) in order to come away with wins. The Black Bears have been out rebounded by single-digits three of the last six games but have only managed more boards than their opponents just once.
• Improve from the stripe: Maine also needs to improve from the free throw line as they maintain a .631 percentage from the stripe. Meanwhile opponents are hitting .737 of their free throw chances. Maine is 0-8 so far when their opponent makes more free throws.
The Black Bears are coming to the end of what has been a challenging non-conference slate and it should serve Maine moving forward. The combined record of the nine division I teams the squad faces before getting into America East play is 66-36 so far this season and has a .647 win percentage. Of those nine teams, only one has a record below .500, as Army is 3-7.
Maine's offense has been above average so far this season, averaging 75.8 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 16.7 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 13.7. Both Zarko Valjarevic and Shaun Lawton round out the top four with the junior from Belgrade, Serbia averaging 13.4 and Lawton averaging 10.0.
The Black Bears are taking time this non-conference season to get to know their lineup. Through 10 games, Maine has sent out eight different starting lineups. Some of this has been due to injuries to key players but for the most part Maine is continuing to work out the kinks of a young team in the first half of the season. The Black Bears feature 10 players that have started at least one contest in 2013-14.
Kilian Cato rejoins the team after sitting out the first half of the season due to academic ineligibility. Cato will provide needed depth and experience as the junior has played in 35 games in his Black Bear career. His best season came in his freshman year as he played in 26 games. He averaged 3.9 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per contest. His 6-7 frame should help the Black Bears in the rebounding category, which has been the squad's weakest link so far this season.
EJIGA MAKES AN IMPACT
On a team that is starved for presence in the paint; Black Bear fans should be thrilled to see the improvement of freshman Christian Ejiga. The first-year player has struggled to stay healthy so far this year but against Providence the freshman from Lagos, Nigeria played in 18 minutes, recorded a career-high eight points shooting 4-of-6 and grabbed two rebounds. His score line was the best he's had all season and shows that the Black Bears might have another weapon to put out there.
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 averaged 18.0 points per game along with 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 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 16.7 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 .465 (30-of-67).
Sophomore Shaun Lawton has been a key player for Maine this season both providing key offense from the bench as well as filling in for injured Black Bears. He first came in for Xavier Pollard who exited the Fisher game with an injury and missed two contests and also filled in for a banged up Garet Beal and has been an asset ever since.
Lawton has been an assist and steals leader for Maine as he ranked second in the conference in assists per game (4.7) and first in America East in steals per game (2.3). Lawton's propensity for stealing the basketball also has him ranked on the national stage as he is tied for 27th in the nation in steals per game.
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 have done a nice job stealing the basketball in 2013-14. Maine holds a +0.9 steals margin in their games as they have tallied 80 steals and have limited opponents to 71, making for a 8.0-7.1 steals per-game-average ratio. Shaun Lawton leads the steal parade recording 21 in eight games.
PROTECT THE ROCK
The Black Bears have protected the basketball through 10 games as the squad currently averages just 13.7 turnovers a game while their competitors also average 13.5. Their best game of holding onto the basketball was in its game against NJIT as the team only gave it away 10 times.
REBOUNDING THE KEY
The Black Bears have been up-and-down in the rebounding department so far in 2013-14. Maine enters the contest averaging 32.9 rebounds while allowing opponents to take down 43.8.
That's why it should come as no surprise that in the games that the team has been out rebounded it is 0-9. Meanwhile in its lone win of the season, the Black Bears controlled the glass and recorded the win.
Currently Xavier Pollard has been the Black Bears best at coming down with the ball. He currently paces all Black Bears in boards per game with 5.1.