It has been several days since the University of Maine women’s basketball team’s embarrassing 90-44 loss to Quinnipiac in the WNIT, but questions on how it occurred continue to resonate.
After all, Maine was ranked 60th in the RPI and its conference was ranked 16th, while Quinnipiac was 87th in the RPI and its conference ranked 23rd.
There were several reasons behind the loss, starting with the Black Bears being victims of their own success. They were an overachieving group that couldn’t always match other teams’ talent levels but made up for it by being hard-working, coachable and team-oriented with a strong understanding of the game.
The seniors turned the program around after going 4-24 as freshmen and then 17-15 as sophomores before two consecutive regular-season conference co-championships.
Nothing came easy while moving from the bottom to the top of the America East conference.
Two years ago they finished in a tie for first place with Albany and they won the tiebreaker by beating higher conference standing teams and gained the home court if they reached the tourney championship game.
However, the Black Bears were upset by the Hartford Hawks in the AE semifinals and lost at Villanova 71-60 in a WNIT first-round game.
This season, Maine and Albany each compiled a 15-1 league record and tied for the conference regular season championship.
Ultimately, a coin toss would have been fairer than what was used to break the tie, and the game ended up in Albany, a factor that contributed to Maine’s loss and what must have caused a drop in morale entering its WNIT game.
Head-to-head competition couldn’t be used to break the tie between Albany and Maine. They couldn’t go to conference wins as both beat the same teams. Instead of going to point differential, which Maine would have won by seven points, America East went with the poor decision of using RPI: Albany ranked 44th and Maine was 60th.
RPI isn’t fair, as teams don’t play identical non-conference opponents.
The Black Bears had to go to Albany for the tourney final, where they played before a smaller crowd. That wouldn’t had occurred if the game was in Maine, even though they would have played at Alfond Arena in Orono because there was a scheduling conflict at Maine’s home court in Bangor, the Cross Insurance Center, site of a rodeo competition.
After losing to Albany, 59-58, Maine received an automatic berth to the WNIT, where, if using RPI and attendance to determine a home berth, Maine should have received a home site. The Black Bears averaged 2,000 fans a game and Quinnipiac 494.
Some speculated that Maine didn’t get the home court because Wednesday was the only available day at the CIC and it would make too much of a quick travel turnaround for the opponent. If I’m making the decision, and the CIC isn’t available, then I’d still try to get the game in Maine, such as Alfond Arena, Augusta or Portland, where fans will still turn out to support their state team.
But no, the game ends up in Hamden, Connecticut, and it appeared that the seniors were physically and emotionally drained for the game, and given some of the factors I’ve mentioned, it’s understandable.
Maine shouldn’t be judged on the basis of this one game, as the loss is more disappointing to the players than it is to their fans.
To top it all off, Temple won its first-round WNIT game and if Maine had won, it would have hosted a second-round game.
The team deserved better; instead it ended up having a truly maddening March.