After last season, Maine head coach Bob Walsh and his staff decided to make one dramatic change.
The Black Bears decided to embrace an up tempo system, playing to an adjusted tempo of 78.4 possessions through their first 18 games this season, the third highest total in the country according to KenPom.
“When we brought in the kids that we did and we looked at our roster, quite honestly, you look at our league and we felt like we could be different by playing fast,” Walsh said. “We felt like it would be fun. It would be the best way to get the most out of our guys and I think at least offensively you see that this year, but it would also be something that coaches and teams in our league had to prepare for.”
The difference in tempo from last season to this season is 7.7 more possessions per game, the biggest difference of all 351 Division I teams according to KenPom.
“This is how we want to play, this is how we like to coach, this is how our kids like to play,” Walsh said. “We don’t have a goal to be at a certain number pace-wise on the KenPom stats, we just want to increase possessions through our pace in practice, in games and take advantage of our depth.”
How the Maine staff undertook this revolution from last season to now started in the spring. In July Walsh and assistant Zak Boisvert went to Iona; who have ranked in the top 50 in tempo in each of the last six seasons under head coach Tim Cluess. Boisvert worked for Cluess during the 2012-13 season as an assistant coach, when the Gaels last made the NCAA tournament and ranked eighth in the country in adjusted tempo. Walsh and Boisvert drove down prior to a summer recruiting period and spent time at Iona with Cluess and associate head coach Jared Grasso to learn about creating an up tempo system.
“He could’ve sat there for weeks and talked about it,” Walsh said of Cluess. “He’s really got a brilliant mind when it comes to that stuff, he’s not afraid to do things differently.”
Last season Maine’s highest possession game was an 80 possession overtime loss to Army. This season the Black Bears have played eight games over that mark, winning three of them. Maine ranks second to Stony Brook amongst America East teams in scoring with 77.1 points per game, but still has a ways to go offensively, as they have produced only seven games over a point per possession.
“I’m pleasantly surprised with the confidence that we’re playing with and the way we’re playing together on offense,” Walsh said adding that injuries to freshman Isaac Vann (right ankle) and sophomore Kevin Little have slowed their growth. “We feel like we’re just getting most of our team on the court together to the point where we can use our depth and play different combinations together. I don’t think we’re nearly as good as we can be offensively.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.