By SAM DONNELLY
The Wildcats season to this point can be boiled down to one word. Interesting. The UNH men’s basketball team has a 12-9 record and a 5-3 conference record. They have won five of their last six games and currently sit in the fourth position in the America East Standings. All of those things sound good right? Well here’s the downside.
The improvement, at least by the record, hasn’t come. This time last season the Wildcats were in the same position at 13-9. The three teams above the Wildcats are their three conference losses (Stony Brook, Vermont, Albany). The Wildcats played close on the road at Albany, losing in overtime 80-75, but at home against Vermont and Stony Brook, that wasn’t the case.
UNH lost 80-50 to Stony Brook and on Monday night lost 66-50 at the hands of Vermont. What is the trend in those losses? Shooting. In those two games the Wildcats shot a combined 29 percent from the field and made just six three-pointers on 29 attempts.
“I think the next step that our basketball needs to take is a sense of urgency in those games,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “We have to be able to put the ball in the hoop in these big games. I think we missed a lot of easy shots.”
Herrion used a lack of motivation as a reason that the Wildcats have lost. They might be a top-four program, but in the eyes of Herrion, the Wildcats aren’t one of the elite programs in America East.
“We haven’t answered the bell in a couple of upper level games this year,” Herrion said. “Stony Brook came in here. Manhandled us. Vermont came in here. Manhandled us.”
Last season the Wildcats were able to beat both Stony Brook and Vermont at Lundholm and put themselves in a solid position. The question becomes, what is different this season? The answer is that the Wildcats aren’t catching anyone by surprise. Which is a gift and a curse.
“Now we aren’t an underdog,” Herrion said. “Now we are a respected team in this league and I don’t think anybody is sleeping on us. What we haven’t figured out yet is that the Stony Brooks and Vermonts come in and physically go after you. The great teams bring it every night.”
The Wildcats may not be the underdog anymore, but at this point in the season, some of the players feel like that is the mentality the team needs to find again in order to be successful.
“There was a feeling every single time we stepped on that court that we were the underdog,” senior captain Joe Bramanti said. “Right now it doesn’t feel that way. We have to re-find that somehow. We need to pull it out of people.”
The Wildcats will play Vermont and Stony Brook on the road this time. They will host Albany. For UNH to truly contend for an America East title and an NCAA tournament birth, those games will be hugely important.
“The tournament is the thing that really matters for us,” Bramanti said. “With these next nine games we can focus in on what we really need to and hopefully get on a roll.”
That winning mentality seemed to work as the Wildcats travelled down to UMBC and were able to escape with an 84-81 win on the back of Jaleen Smith’s 21 point performance. The Wildcats shot the ball well, making 10 threes and shooting just under 45 percent. UNH now has eight days off before heading to Binghamton on Feb 6.
For more on the men’s basketball team, follow Sam on Twitter, @Sam17Don.
Underdogs no more
By SAM DONNELLY