Entering the 2016-2017 season, the University of Maine men’s basketball team had more experience than the women’s program.
The men had one senior, three junior college players, two redshirt freshmen, a junior transfer, a junior starting point guard, two returning sophomores who had played a lot of minutes and only two new freshmen, one who had played at prep school.
Conversely, the women featured only one returning senior starter, along with one junior transfer, and seven international freshmen.
It looked like it could be a season in which the struggling men’s program would do better than the consistently successful women’s program.
But that certainly did not materialize as the women went 18-16 overall, 9-7 in the America East conference, 7-8 in nonconference games, 2-1 in the tourney and advanced to the conference championship game where they were beaten by Albany.
The men’s team compiled a 6-25 overall record, was 3-13 in the conference, 3-11 in nonconference games and was ousted in the first round of the America East tourney.
The women’s 18 wins this season surpassed the men’s total wins for their past three seasons of 17 wins.
The men did lose two starters to injuries during the season, junior point guard Aaron Calixte and junior forward Ilker Er.
The women’s season became more challenging than having just inexperienced international players adjust to college play when head coach Richard Barron was indefinitely sidelined in January due to illness and associate head coach Amy Vachon took over.
After watching all the men’s and women’s games online this past season, I have compiled a list of some important questions that need to be answered as the teams look to next season.
For both teams:
— Will the coaches still allow the players to decide who shoots, from where and when, or will both change that offensive philosophy to improve both teams 40 percent field goal and 30 percent 3-point shooting percentages?
— Will the teams go inside more to develop solid inside-outside games?
— Will they both use more than eight players who average double-figure minutes?
– Will the teams improve their 65 percent foul shooting?
For the women’s team:
— Will Barron return?
— Who will replace Sigi Koizar as team leader and point guard?
— Will the frontcourt players learn to seal their defenders, ask for the ball, signal when they want the ball and when they get the ball on the blocks, consistently converting high-percentage shots?
For the men’s team:
— Will there be players transferring from this year’s team?
— Will leading scorer Wes Myers, who was involved in a locker room altercation late in the season, return next season?
— Why did the three players, who were suspended when the Myers incident occurred because they initially gave a different version of what happened, not serve longer suspensions?
— Will the team recruit a 6-foot-9, 240-pound post player?
— Why is the program so injury-prone?
Answering all those questions could determine how each team does next season.
For the women’s team, filling Koizar’s huge void and getting point production from the inside players are critical. Those factors could determine if the team returns to the conference final for the third consecutive year.
For the men’s team, head coach Bob Walsh likely needs his team to compile a .500 record in conference play for UMaine to renew his contract, which will be in its final year. A quarterfinal win in the league tourney would be a good goal to reach.
Bob Cimbollek is a retired high school basketball coach and athletic director.