Through the first month of the season, New Hampshire has yet to put it together.
That’s because through a confluence of injuries and suspensions, Bill Herrion’s team has yet to really see their full team on the floor. Even though they have won six of their first 10 games, matching their start to last season where they tied the school record with 19 victories, they have missed key parts of their team through most of that time.
The distraction began at the start of the season, when juniors Joe Bramanti and Daniel Dion were each suspended the first three games for violating team policy. Junior Jaleen Smith, who is second on the team scoring 13.1 ppg and made the America East All-Tournament team last March, will serve the final game of his three game suspension on Saturday for violating team policy. Add on top of that a concussion suffered in practice by sophomore Tanner Leissner, which led to a three game absence for the 6’7″ junior who leads the team with 14.7 ppg.
“I’m little disappointed that we have not had everybody together,” Herrion said. “We are a good team right now. I thought this team, in time, would have a chance to be a really good team, but I think when you have some of these off the court distractions, it delays your progress as a team.”
“Right now I think our progress has been a little bit delayed, and to be totally honest with you, I’m not real happy with that.”
Some of their struggles have come where the Wildcats have been known to succeed: defensively. Last season they ranked fourth, allowing just 61.7 points per game, but this season – even though they rank third in the conference – it is with an astounding 72.5 points per game allowed. While they were unable to limit power conference foes like UConn and SMU from scoring, the most concerning part of Herrion’s defense has been the lapses against the likes of American and Colgate. The Eagles scored 45 second half points, while the Raiders on Sunday scored 48 to turn what were close games into double-digit margins of defeat.
“We’re having a hard time containing the ball,” Herrion said. “We’re having a hard time playing the dribble and, I don’t know if it’s because guys are afraid to foul they’re calling so many hand checks, I just don’t know what it is.”
“Then secondly, which is a concern, our post defense. I think as good as our post players are, they’re good players Iba, Tanner, Jacoby, we’ve been really kind of exposed I think defensively in the post.”
Part of that has been due to the suspensions and lack of depth Herrion has employed more zone defense early in the season, hoping to cut back on the foul calls. However teams have managed to shoot over them, making 41% of their three-pointers and 52% of their two-pointers.
Despite that, the Wildcats have proven they can score and are the only team in the conference to have five players averaging double figures. The only problem has been that those players have yet to find that cohesion for a complete game.
Whether they are able to raise the bar from their 19-win season a year ago is still to be determined, but Herrion hopes that when Smith returns Monday night that they can start the process with their first conference game three weeks away.
“Right now, we’re not ready to do that right now, I hope maybe by January or February we can be ready,” Herrion said of fuffiling their motto to raise the bar. “I think some of the distractions that we’ve had early here, we’re not ready to do that right now, so until we get all that stuff straightened out and get back to work and we’ll be fine, but we need everybody onboard.”
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.