University of Maine Men's Basketball head coach Richard Barron looks out over the court during a game on Nov. 9. Credit: Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via AP

With four games left on its non-conference schedule, the rebuilding University of Maine men’s basketball team literally has no place to go but up.

The Black Bears, who are 2-5 overall but 0-5 against NCAA Division I competition, are ranked 358th and last among all Division I teams, according to the first NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings of this season released this week.

This marks the fourth season of the NET rankings, which replaced the Ratings Percentage Index as the primary sorting tool for selection and seeding for the NCAA Tournament. They have two components: a strength-of-schedule factor called the Team Value Index and the other is a net efficiency rating adjusted for strength of opponent and location for all games played.

The NET rankings, which are updated daily, are based only on the games played this season and have two components: One is a strength-of-schedule factor called the Team Value Index and the other is a net efficiency rating adjusted for strength of opponent and location – home, away or neutral site – for all games played.

UMaine, whose roster has nine new players this season in addition to a new coaching staff under head coach Richard Barron, was one of 22 teams listed as winless in the NCAA NET rankings through Wednesday’s games.

The Black Bears had played the fewest number of Division I games among any of those programs, as their sixth and seventh games were victories over two non-Division I programs, the University of Maine at Farmington and the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

Three of their early losses came in “guarantee games” at upper-level Division I programs Virginia Tech, Colorado and Bradley for which the underdog UMaine was paid by those schools to play on the road in exchange for guaranteeing the larger-conference schools an additional home game to generate revenue.

Teams are rewarded in the rankings for beating quality opponents, particularly away from home. Each opponent is placed into one of four quadrants based on their NET ranking and whether the game is played at home, on the road or at a neutral site. Quad 1 teams are the highest-ranked opponents, with Quad 4 opponents the lowest ranked.

UMaine is 0-4 against DI foes on the road and 0-1 at home. The Black Bears have one loss against a Quad 1 opponent (at Virginia Tech, 7-3, NET Ranking #34 through Wednesday), one loss in Quad 2 (at Colorado, 7-3, NET #120), one loss in Quad 3 (at Bradley, 3-6, NET #228), and two Quad 4 losses (home against Central Connecticut State, 2-7, NET #340 and at Columbia, 2-7, NET #350).

The other half of the rankings measure teams on an efficiency standpoint from offense to defense. UMaine’s five losses have come by an average margin of 26.0 points, as the Black Bears have scored an average of 50.8 points per Division I game while yielding an average of 76.8 points.

The team immediately in front of UMaine in the NET rankings, No. 357 Eastern Illinois, is 2-8 overall but 0-8 in Division I play with two home losses, one neutral-site defeat and five road losses. The Panthers are 0-2 against Quad 1 teams, 0-1 in Quad 4 and 0-5 in Quad 4, including a 64-62 neutral-site loss to the University of Albany in UMaine’s America East Conference.

Eastern Illinois has scored an average of 51.1 points against its Division I foes while allowing an average of 71.4 points in those games for an average margin of minus-20.3 points per game, 5.7 points better than UMaine.

Among other America East teams, the University of Vermont was 5-4 against Division I foes with a NET ranking of 110 through Wednesday, followed by New Hampshire (3-3, NET #163), UMass Lowell (4-4, NET #170), Maryland Baltimore County (4-4, NET #195), Stony Brook (4-4, NET #204), New Jersey Institute of Technology (4-3, NET #250), Hartford (1-7, NET #269), Binghamton (1-6, NET #305), and UAlbany (1-7, NET #327).

UMaine has four non-conference games remaining, three against Division I opponents, The Black Bears trek to Hamden, Connecticut, on Saturday to face Quinnipiac (4-4, NET #252), then will host Division III University of New England on Dec. 18 at Memorial Gymnasium in Orono.

The Black Bears conclude non-conference play against Merrimack (3-6, NET #272) at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center on Dec. 21 and with a fourth guarantee game at Rutgers (4-4, NET #217) on Dec. 29. UMaine begins America East play at NJIT on Jan. 2, 2022.

Arizona is the top-ranked team in the NET men’s basketball rankings as of Thursday morning, followed by Purdue, Louisiana State, Houston and Baylor.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...