The University of Maine men’s basketball team posted a 3-27 record this season under new head coach Bob Walsh after last year’s team compiled a 6-23 mark. Both teams lost in the quarterfinal round of the America East tourney.
Maine returned four starters: senior 3-point specialist Zarko Valjarevic (6-foot-4) and juniors Till Gloger (6-9) in the post, guard Shaun Lawton (6-5) at guard, and and power forward Ethan Mackey (6-7). Also returning with playing experience were junior center Stefan Micovic (6-8), and a group of sophomores that included swingman Garet Beal (6-6), guard Troy Reed-Knight (6-0), post player Erik Nissen, (6-9), center Christian Ejiga (6-8), and swingman Marko Pirovic (6-7).
Two freshmen recruits were brought in, point guard Aaron Calixte (5-11) of Lee Academy Prep and shooting guard Kevin Little (6-0) of New York. Three walk-on players, freshman guard Garvey Melmed (6-1) of Old Town, senior guard Peter Westra (6-5) and sophomore guard CJ Ward (5-11), both from Massachusetts, were added to the roster.
This is what the new staff had to work with: 10 returning veterans, four starters, average 3-point shooting, good size in the frontcourt but little point production, a defense that gave up 82.9 points per game and lack of depth at point guard.
Calixte and Little were recruited to fill the guard needs.
Injuries, personal absences, illness (46 total games missed) and a key player leaving (Mackey) were tough for a new staff as the team’s development and cohesiveness were slowed.
The emphasis from the beginning was improving the defense.The philosophy seemed to be that if the players played the defense desired, the offense was theirs.
Defensively, Maine allowed 74.8 ppg, a decrease of 8.1. The Black Bears scored 60.4 ppg, compared to 72.1 a game last year, a decrease of 11.7 points.
Maine’s field goal defense was 49.1 percent: 37.6 against the 3-pointer and 55.9 against 2-pointers.
Maine shot 40.5 percent from the floor: 32.3 for 3-pointers and 45.5 for 2-pointers.
One area that improved was foul shooting, 67.8 to 72.6 percent, but the Bears didn’t get to the line enough to take advantage of this as they only attempted 14.7 foul shots per game.
After watching most of Maine’s games online and evaluating its stats, here are some areas the coaching staff should address for next season:
— Gloger should get more touches in the post. He averaged only 8.9 shots per game while making 52.6 percent of his shots and 77.6 of his foul shots, averaging 11.5 ppg.
— The frontcourt players, Gloger, Ejiga and Nissen, need to improve as much as the guards and two of the three should be on the court at the same time. Maine got outrebounded 6.7 a game and only averaged 21.9 defensive boards and gave up 10 offensive a game.
— Don’t rely so much on the 3-pointer. A total of 38.8 percent of Maine’s shots were 3-pointers. The Bears need to help their defense more by taking more time off their shot clock and reduce opponents possessions.
— If the defense is not showing enough improvement, then don’t let the offense continue to run free-lance dribble drive, 1-on-1 and 2-on-2.
— Offensive tempo needs to be controlled with continuity sets, good player spacing to get the ball inside more, better shot selection, and higher percentage shots. The system, not the players, should determine the shots attempted.
— A big, back-to-the-basket post player needs to be recruited.
While some of Maine’s top high school players — Messalonskee’s Nick Mayo, Winslow’s Justin Martin, Houlton’s Kyle Bouchard, Falmouth’s Jack Simonds and Hampden’s Zach Gilpin (Bridgton Academy Prep) — could have made solid contributions to the Maine basketball program, the team still should show vast improvement next season.
The Bears are losing just one senior and will have 12 players returning, including four starters. They will also benefit from four athletic freshman recruits.
Answer to last week’s trivia question: Has any high school player ever scored the first two points of each quarterfinal, semifinal and final in Eastern Maine Tournament games? Answer: yes, and I will reveal the player next week.