Men's Basketball: Wildcats still have room to improve despite success

Bret Belden

By Sam Donnelly, Staff Writer

After a rocky January for the Wildcats, UNH seemed to turn it around by winning three in row over quality opponents, Binghamton, UMass Lowell and Vermont, who at the time was undefeated in conference play. UNH has nearly doubled its win total from last year and are currently standing at 11-9, with a record of 4-3 in America East, which is good enough to put the Wildcats in fifth place.

With the new format of the league this season, the first round of the America East tournament will be set up like the National Invitation Tournament. The top four teams will have home-court advantage in the first round and from that point, games are played at the home court highest seed throughout the tournament.

“If we want to make the tournament, and we do, we need to win our conference games,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “[We need to] set ourselves up well for the tournament. I think the kids are in a good place but we need to improve.”

The Wildcats success has come in many different places, but perhaps the most surprising is the contribution the team has received from freshman forward Tanner Leissner.

“We knew he was a good player when we signed him,” Herrion said. “I don’t think we knew he would have this much of an impact as a freshman. His consistency has been unbelievable.”

Leissner has started every game this season and led the team in scoring (12.9 points a game) and rebounding (6.8 rebounds a game). Leissner has also won the America East rookie of the week three times this season, including twice in the past two weeks. Despite all his success, Herrion is worried about one stat: Leissner leads the team in minutes played with 32.1 minutes per game.

“We are a little concerned that we have to rely on him so much this year,” Herrion said. “We hope he doesn’t run out of gas in February … we are a little concerned about that.” 

“To win in this league you have to show up every game,” Herrion said. “It’s a road game and those are always a challenge.”

As for the Wildcats being successful, Herrion makes it very clear that they simply aren’t there yet.

“I still think we are a work in progress,” Herrion said. “I still think we are a team that has a lot of room to improve and get better. The two things we want to accomplish are to get better everyday and win every next conference game.”

The Wildcats return home Saturday to play conference powerhouse Stony Brook. The game will be in Lundholm Gymnasium and tip off is at 7 p.m.

“The one thing this team has unlike other teams we’ve had here … these guys are resilient,” Herrion said. “They don’t panic.”

Follow Sam Donnelly on Twitter at @Sam17don