By Sam Donnelly
UNH will take the court on Saturday for its season opener at Boston College. The off-season has felt long for both head coach Bill Herrion and the returning players from last season. The Wildcats finished 6-24, their worst finish under head coach Bill Herrion. In terms of last season, Herrion makes one thing clear, they are moving forward.
“I don’t want to go back,” Herrion said. “We really haven’t talked much about last year. We want to leave that in the rear view mirror.”
Despite the rough season for the team as a whole, there were plenty of positives. All of the true freshmen were forced to play big-time minutes due to the absence of veterans for injuries.
This is something that Herrion and his players know will really help them down the line this season. “They got great experience,” Herrion said. “They are more experienced sophomores then most. Our guys have been in games and learned a lot.”
In the past, the Wildcats have revolved their offense around on big man inside and work around him. This year the Wildcats have two sophomores and two true freshmen playing in the frontcourt. The offense has taken a new shape, and it is much more guard-oriented.
“We have multiple guys that can handle the ball,” Herrion said. “We are running more ball screens and taking people off the dribble. I like what we have on the perimeter.”
Another strength of the Wildcat guards is the depth. They will return sophomores Jacoby Armstrong, who averaged 7.7 points per game in 2013 and Daniel Dion. The Wildcats have six legitimate guards and, because of the speed the Wildcats play at, they will need to play multiple guys.
“We are pressing more [on defense],” Herrion said. “Guys will get gassed and we will have to get fresh bodies in. I think we have the depth in the backcourt to do that.”
Although the Wildcats have a new look offensively, their strengths will remain the same. The Wildcats will continue to focus on defense. Whether it is man-to-man or zone, the Wildcats have always ranked high in the America East for points allowed per game.
“We are always going to guard,” Herrion said. “That is something we will always do.”
The Wildcats will take on ACC opponent Boston College, who is not only talented, but also extremely tall. Junior Dennis Clifford stands at 7 feet, 1 inch, while sophomore Will Magarity, cousin of the UNH women’s coach Maureen Magarity, is 6 feet, 11 inches. This is size the Wildcats will not see during games in America East conference play, but on Friday they have to try and stop it.
“We can’t simulate that in our own practices,” Herrion said. “In our man-to-man defense we are going to have to make him kick it out. We might have to play some zone because of their size.”
Although the Wildcats lack legitimate size up front, the big men can dribble the ball and play from the outside, something junior forward Frank Okeke thinks will work to their advantage.
“Their bigger, slower guys can’t guard as well on the outside,” Okeke said. “Our guards can attack off the dribble. On defense, we can double team them quickly and use that to our advantage.”
Inside the paint isn’t the only place the Wildcats have to worry. BC junior guard Olivier Hanlan is an all-ACC guard that is dangerous when both driving the lane and shooting from the perimeter. The task guarding Hanlan is something the Wildcats are extremely aware of.
“For 40 minutes, we have to be aware of where he is,” senior guard Tommy McDonnell said. “He is one of the best guards in one of the best conferences in college basketball. Defensively, we just have to try and stop him.”
Although this is an ACC team that has plenty of talent, the Wildcats have had several close games in the past few years against power-conference teams. Last season, UNH went to Marquette and lost by five points. The year before, the Wildcats went to UConn and took the Huskies down to the wire, only to lose by eight.
“Win, lose or draw, this game is not going to define our season,” Herrion said. “We go into every game believing that we can win. It is going to be difficult, it’s the ACC. We know we have our hands full, but I don’t worry about our defense and how hard we will work.”
The Wildcats will finish up this week of practice before heading down to Boston College for a game scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in the Conte Forum.