University of Maine senior point guard Dor Saar drives to the basket and puts up a shot during a game earlier this season at the University of Albany. Photo provided by University of Maine athletics

If the University of Maine women’s basketball team continues to cruise through the America East Conference regular season, it will ensure a bye to the semifinals of the conference tournament. On Thursday, America East announced its basketball tournament format for the 2021 conference tournament.

The Black Bears (12-1 overall, 9-1 in the America East) are in first place in the conference.

The women’s basketball championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m., Friday, March 12 and will be televised on ESPNU. The men’s championship is scheduled for 11 a.m., Saturday, March 13 and will air on ESPN2.

Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon said she is not concerned with the conference tournament yet.

“We are not thinking about the playoffs. We are just working day by day and trying to stay healthy and get better,” Vachon said in a statement provided by the university.

All teams with at least 12 Division I games will qualify for the conference tournament. The top two seeds will earn byes to the championship week round. Maine and Stony Brook (6-2) are the top two seed on the women’s side. On the men’s side, the top two are Maryland-Baltimore County (6-2) and Vermont (7-3). The UMaine men are 2-7 and currently ranked ninth in the conference.

The remaining teams will compete in playoff pods hosted by the No. 3 and 4 teams. Each playoff pod winner will advance to the championship round, at a predetermined campus site. With no more than 50 people allowed at any indoor even held in the state, it is unlikely the Black Bears would host the championship round, even if they continue to hold the top seed.

“While our playoff format has been a great success the last several years, this year calls for something different and these measures will best position our teams from a health and safety perspective,” America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in a news release provided by the conference. “It’s critical that we balance the competitive aspects of championship planning while ensuring our teams can participate in a safe manner. We believe this approach will position us well in that regard while giving us flexibility if adaptation is necessary.”

The UMaine winter sports season is currently on pause, in response to COVID-19 cases within the department. The women’s basketball team is scheduled to resume play Feb. 6 at home against UMass-Lowell. The men’s basketball team has not played since a Jan. 17 loss at Vermont. It is scheduled to play at UMass-Lowell Feb. 6.

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