Maine’s Division III basketball teams begin play this week. This looks to be a strong year in women’s basketball, with local teams returning most of their starters. Last year, only Bowdoin reached the NCAA tournament. Among the men’s teams, St. Joseph’s and Bowdoin are expected to be the best of the area teams.

Here is a look at the four local men’s and women’s teams:

WOMEN

BOWDOIN

Coach: Adrienne Shibles (fourth year, 70-18)

Last year: 24-6, 6-3 NESCAC; reached NCAA Round of 16

Strengths: Bowdoin returns three starters, including second-leading scorer Jill Henrikson of Bath and point guard Kaitlin Donahoe, and its top three players off the bench. This is a veteran team, with five seniors.

Question: How will the Polar Bears replace leading scorer Katie Bergeron?

Outlook: Bowdoin, ranked 14th in the d3hoops.com poll, should return to the NCAAs, but defending national champion Amherst should rule the NESCAC again.

ST. JOSEPH’S

Coach: Mike McDevitt (19th year, 356-138)

Last year: 18-9, 9-3 GNAC

Strengths: The Monks are loaded, with their top six scorers returning, led by 6-foot-1 Ashley Geel of St. George, 5-10 Megan McDevitt of Cumberland, and 6-foot Abby Young of North Yarmouth and 5-9 Allie Parent of Camden. MacKenzie Dufour of Augusta led the team in assists last year.

Question: Can St. Joseph’s overcome local rivals USM and UNE, or GNAC champion Emmanuel?

Outlook: In his third year back as head coach, McDevitt has built the Monks into a conference contender.

UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND

Coach: Anthony Ewing (fifth year, 80-34)

Last year: 24-7, 12-1 CCC; won ECAC tournament

Strengths: Top scorer Kelley Paradis of Newport, top rebounder Beth Suggs of Bath and assists leader Margo Russell of Madison return, along with fellow starter Kari Pelletier of South Paris. Guard Lauren Rousseau of Biddeford has transferred from USM.

Question: Where will UNE replace the 59 3-pointers from Carrie Bunnell?

Outlook: UNE beefed up its nonconference schedule and looks to return to the Coastal Commonwealth Conference title game, where it lost by two points to Salve Regina.

SOUTHERN MAINE

Coach: Gary Fifield (24th season, 580-106)

Last year: 18-11, 11-3 Little East; ECAC tournament runner-up

Strengths: USM returns several regulars, including leading scorer and rebounder Courtney Cochran, guards Renee Nicholas of Sebago, Haley Jordan of Falmouth, Nicole Garland of Portland and point guard Erin McNamara.

Question: Can the Huskies replace playmaker Kaylie DeMillo?

Outlook: With a strong mix of veterans and new players, the Huskies should be a Little East contender, with an eye on returning to the NCAAs.

MEN

BOWDOIN

Coach: Tim Gilbride (27th year, 364-272)

Last year: 14-10, 3-6 NESCAC

Strengths: Forward Will Hanley (6-7) is back after a monster junior season (19.8 points, 11.3 rebounds). Two other starters return.

Question: How do the Polar Bears replace two guards who were 1-2 on the team in assists and 3-pointers?

Outlook: Bowdoin will again be competitive with its nonconference schedule, but could run into trouble against NESCAC foes.

ST. JOSEPH’S

Coach: Rob Sanicola (ninth year, 139-80)

Last year: 20-8, 14-2 GNAC

Strengths: Four starters return from a team that had the best regular-season record in the conference, including top-scoring guards Zach O’Brien and Chris Petzy.

Question: Can the Monks keep pouring in 3-pointers (240 last year) despite the graduation of Tyler Kelly (84 3s)?

Outlook: St. Joseph’s looks ready to return to the GNAC title game, where it lost to Johnson & Wales.

UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND

Coach: Jason Mulligan (fifth year, 54-52)

Last year: 4-21, 2-11 CCC

Strengths: Six of nine regulars return, including top scoring guards Charles Fenner and Marcus Winn, and top rebounder Ryan Knotek.

Question: How will the Nor’easters get back to their winning ways?

Outlook: UNE improved during the second half of last season and can only hope that trend continues.

SOUTHERN MAINE

Coach: Karl Henrikson (ninth year, 65-142)

Last year: 10-5, 2-12 Little East

Strengths: The Huskies return point guard Mike Poulin (67 assists), shooting guard Chris Pagentine (9 ppg) and 6-5 post player Jeremy Jackson.

Question: With the Huskies saying goodbye to four players who averaged 8.3 points or more, where will the scoring come from?

Outlook: USM finished 1-10 in it last 11 games, and now begins this season with eight new players. The Huskies will have to gel quickly.

– Kevin Thomas, Staff Writer