New head coach Richard Barron is one of the more interesting stories in Division 1; he was previously the coach of the UMaine women’s basketball team from 2011-January 2017, leading the Lady Black Bears to two America East regular season titles. However, he took a medical leave of absence in 2017, and upon earning a clean bill of health, has returned to the sidelines…this time on the men’s side.
Barron takes over for Bob Walsh, who coached UMaine for four seasons, never finishing better than 8-22 overall and 4-12 in the America East (in 2015-16). The 2017-18 Black Bears finished #332 in Kenpom (out of 351 schools), which included an 84-57 loss to Central Connecticut at Detrick Gym about a year ago.
So far this season, the strides have been there, though it hasn’t shown up in the record; the Black Bears are 1-10 against Division 1 opponents, However, the lone win was fairly impressive; a double overtime home win over Fordham on December 4th. While Fordham isn’t great, they are currently 8-3 with a win over Rutgers. For a Maine program looking to gain some traction, that’s a major coup.
There were also two overtime losses, including at North Texas, which is currently 11-1 (lone loss to Oklahoma), #125 in Kenpom and one of the favorites in CUSA. In fact, of Maine’s 10 losses, only three have come by more than 20 points; at San Francisco, at Dartmouth, and at Duquesne. They’ve been in some ball games.
Barron’s success with the women’s team was largely predicated on the defensive side of the ball, and he’s brought that mindset to the men’s team. While they have struggled offensively (currently the 9th worst adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom), they’ve been solid defensively, specifically in defending the inside, mostly due to their size.
While there isn’t much depth in the backcourt, Barron has a ton of bodies up front. 6’7” junior Andrew Fleming, who is the veteran of the roster, has been playing more on the wing than he did in his first two seasons, and has seen his outside shooting improve significantly; he’s currently 11 of 28 from three (against D1 competition) after making just 11 of 49 in his first two seasons in Oreno. The local product is 2nd on the team in scoring (12.8 ppg), first in rebounds (6.2 rpg), and first in assists (3 apg). In addition to Fleming, UMaine can throw out a bevy of big guys; 6’8” Vilgot Larsson, 6’7” Ilija Stojilikovic, 6’8” Vincent Eze, and 6’8” Miks Antoms. Larsson (8.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg) and Stojilikovic (3.8 ppg and 3.2 rpg) have gotten the most PT lately, however Eze (5.3 ppg and 3.4 rpg) was a pivotal player last season after missing the year before with a hip injury, though his minutes have come down a bit this year.
In the backcourt, Isaiah White (who is also not small at 6’5”) has made quite an impact after arriving in Oreno last season from UNC Asheville. The junior wing leads the team in scoring at 14.4 ppg, though he’s not exactly been efficient; his eFG% is just 46.2%, as he’s shooting 30% from three and is taking a ton of mid-ranger jumpers (28% of his field goal attempts), making just 30% of them. However, his usage rate is an uber-high 29% (Tyler Kohl’s is 31.5%, for comparison), mostly because he’s one of the few players on the Maine roster who has the ability to create his own shot.
Senior Celio Araujo and freshman Terion Moss have split point guard duties, with Araujo getting the majority of the minutes over the past three games.
Player to Watch: Andrew Fleming
Fleming is a nice story; he’s a local kid from nearby South Paris, Maine who stepped in on Day 1 as a rotation player and has seen his game grow since then, despite having gone through a coaching change.
As an underclassmen, he was perhaps miscast as a post-player; he made just 11 three-pointers in two seasons, and did the majority of his work 15-feet and in. However, he struggled mightily in the mid-range (31% as a sophomore on 105 attempts), and wasn’t exactly efficient at the rim either (53%).
This season, as his perimeter game has improved, he’s flourishing; his eFG% is up to 52.5% compared to 41.5% last season, and he’s also been allowed to become more of a playmaker; he’s averaging 3 assists per game this season, which more than doubles his 2017-18 output.
Given his size (6’7” 222 lbs.), he’ll be a difficult guard for the majority of mid-major teams. On the flip side, however, he doesn’t exactly have the foot speed to hang with guys like Tyler Kohl and Jamir Coleman, which is why we will likely see some zone defense from Maine on Saturday afternoon.
Fleming isn’t a guy who will be a first-team All-America East player, at least not this season, but he’s a really good all-around player who is key to this rebuild.
Things to Watch
Bigs vs. Bigs
UMaine is deriving 57% of its points inside the arc, which is the 23rd highest in the nation (D1 average is 49.5%)- to say Richard Barron likes to pound the paint would be an understatement. While the Blue Devils haven't exactly been good at defending the paint, they've been ok; they're allowing teams to shoot 53% on twos. However, they are one of the best shot blocking teams in the NEC (12.4% block rate).
Plus, Donyell Marshall has a ton of roster versatility at his disposal, so don't be surprised to see him go "big" on Saturday; a lineup with Tyler Kohl, Jamir Coleman, Joe Hugley and Deion Bute all at the same time would match Maine in size, and still provide ample quickness on the floor.
Remember when all the talk was about how good of a shooting team Central Connecticut had become? Over the past four games, the Blue Devils are shooting just 27% from three (and 26% excluding the win over PSU-Wilkes Barre).
With Maine bigs clogging up the inside, and Barron likely going to a zone at least part of the time, knocking down perimeter shots will be important. The Black Bears are allowing opponents to shoot 40% from three, so the opportunities should be there.
Deion Bute has been really efficient this season; he's shooting 62% from the field, has improved his offensive rebounding (13.7%, up from 11.8% last season), and is averaging 1.5 blocks per game.
However, the 6'9" senior had knee surgery in the offseason, and is averaging fewer minutes so far this season (21.5 mpg compared to 25.1 mpg last year), and has been less involved in the offense overall (is 18% usage is much less than his 22.7% as a junior). Now part of that is presence of Ian Krishnan and Jamir Coleman, as the Blue Devils aren't requiring as much from him.
However, after sitting out the Pine Manor game due to "precautionary measures", Bute is averaging just 4 ppg in three games against Division 1 opponents. I can't help but wonder if his knee is still bothering him- or, perhaps, a different injury
Given the size the Black Bears can throw out there, getting significant minutes from CCSU's best interior player will be key.
After a rough stretch for the Blue Devils, it would be nice to see CCSU return to the form they showed back in November, when even their losses were impressive.
This is the type of game one would expect an NEC contender to win; UMaine was picked last in the America East, they have just one Division 1 win, and they're currently ranked near the bottom of D1 in all of the different ratings.
But road games are hard, man. Go ask Fordham. And honestly, we don't know which Blue Devils team we're going to get. If we are watching the team that hammered UMass-Lowell and Florida A&M back in November, I'd be hard pressed to see this one going in the loss column. But that team hasn't shown up in exactly a month.