It’s not like anyone couldn’t see this coming. With Maine’s personnel, a season like the one that is mercifully nearing an end looked possible, even likely almost a year ago.
The Black Bears were already going to lose two seniors. Then Justin Edwards transferred and Alasdair Fraser opted to pursue a pro career overseas a year early, and leading three-point shooter Jon Mesghna followed them out the door. With that, the Black Bears had been gutted of talent and experience. Then junior Killian Cato missed the first semester due to academics, as if that wasn’t bad enough.
With that, it’s no surprise that Maine didn’t win a Division I game until the calendar was about to turn over into 2014. The shocker, in hindsight, is that they beat Middle Tennessee on the road; the Blue Raiders are in a four-way tie atop Conference USA.
The Black Bears weren’t necessarily going to be favorites in America East this season if Edwards, Fraser and Mesghna were back, but they might been top half team capable of getting hot in the conference tournament. Now, it would almost be a miracle if the Black Bears get past the quarterfinals of next weekend’s America East Tournament. As it is, their 4-12 finish puts them in a three-way tie at the bottom and sets up a date with Stony Brook, who in theory should dispatch them quickly.
And it’s not as if the Black Bears have been a model of tournament success lately. They enter this with a nine-game losing streak in the tournament, one that could very easily reach double digits.
You can see hints of potential with this team. You can see Shaun Lawton get to the basket and realize he has the physical gifts to be a good point guard, especially since his body can still mature. You can see Xavier Pollard being one of the better scorers in the conference, especially when he goes 6-8 from the field in the first half against UMass-Lowell. Similarly, you can see Till Gloger being one of the better frontcourt players with his ability to score in close with his body and subsequently hit from mid-range. And you can imagine what this team can be with the shooting of Zarko Valjarevic, who went down with an injury late on Thursday night.
But you can also see why this team has won just six games all year, too, and why this team won’t simply be better just from guys being a year older. Lawton picked up a technical foul late in Thursday’s game to end his night. Pollard missed all five of his shots in the second half of the same game. Gloger has a good body but averages just 3.5 rebounds per game. Valjarevic is one of the best shooters in America East, but he can be neutralized to a degree if others don’t develop.
Maine hasn’t done a lot of things well this season. Opponents shoot 47 percent from the field against them and out-rebound them at a clip of nearly seven per game. The Black Bears give the ball away almost 15 times per game, and get out-scored by just over ten per game.
The Black Bears don’t have a senior on the roster, so they should be significantly more experienced next season. But most of all, they need their holdovers to get better this off-season. Being a team of potential simply isn’t enough, and bringing everyone back isn’t necessarily ideal, especially when they come from a team that is 6-22. Granted, this season’s results don’t surprise many people, but the challenge now will be to not let this be the team’s destiny beyond this season.