UMaine men’s basketball team’s problems can still be fixed

Big problems continue for the University of Maine men’s basketball team, which is tied for seventh place in the nine-team America East with a 1-5 record and has a 2-17 mark against NCAA Division I teams.

However, there’s still time to solve the problems in the 10 remaining conference games because this team has enough talent to move up to fourth place in the conference and earn a home quarterfinal game.

Here’s a look at some of the problems and solutions.

— Maine is playing too poorly in the first half but has outscored opponents in the second half in six of its last eight games. The Black Bears can compete at a higher level in America East if they can consistently put together two strong halves and give double-figure playing minutes to eight players, instead of 12 players, which is now occurring.

When a team’s best players don’t get enough minutes they tend to try to do too much by taking themselves to the game, not letting the game come to them. It’s hard for players to establish good playing rhythm when sitting one minute during four media timeouts per half, let alone being subbed for or during one of the team’s timeouts.

The players who should be relied on for more minutes are Aaron Calixte, Ilker Er, Isaiah White and Vernon Lowndes.

Calixte, a 6-foot junior, is one of the premier point guards in the conference. He is supported by the 6-6 Er, a senior forward. Both missed most of last year with early season-ending injuries.

Er had 20 first-half points at Duke last year. He scored 23 points in Maine’s only conference win this season over Binghamton. Usually first off bench, he had 18 points in the loss to Vermont. He’s only averaging 20.6 minutes and should be starting.

White and Lowndes, both 6-5 sophomore guards, are the most athletic players on the roster and are versatile, can shoot, drive and create.

Maine should try to use Calixte and Er 35 minutes a game with 30 each to White and Lowndes and then 25 for 6-7 Andrew Fleming, who too often has been playing out of position. Then give 15 each to 6-5 Danny Evans, 6-7 Ilija Stojiljkovic and 6-8 Miks Antoms.

— The team is still doing some of the same things that have meant too many losses over the past three seasons such as overuse of the 3-point shot with 3-point attempts accounting for 43.4 percent of overall field goal attempts. That’s way too high if you’re only hitting 29 percent of your 3-point shots.

— Maine has also not developed an inside-outside game and not enough dribble penetration to get open 3-point looks. The team is relying mostly on offensive sets for back-door looks first and 3-pointers second and players decisions haven’t been productive.

The team needs more continuity on offense, with proper player floor spacing to get the ball inside, go inside-outside, and to allow more dribble penetration to determine who takes shots.

Making these changes could lead to more wins for the Maine Black Bears. The hiring this season of veteran assistant coach Bob Simon, the most experienced assistant in the program’s history with over 25 years of collegiate coaching experience, should be beneficial. His hiring was a smart move and his experience could also help turn the program around.