A step in the right direction.
That is the way UNH head coach Bill Herrion feels about the 2015-16 season for his basketball team. The Wildcats set a school record with 20 wins and received a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) for the second year in a row. In the CIT, the Wildcats grabbed their first post season victory in program history by defeating Fairfield 77-62. The Wildcats met the expectations of the public, but what Herrion and the team really want is a taste of the NCAA tournament. With the season over, the question becomes simple: What do the Wildcats need to do to get to the big dance?
“We have to start talking about what it is going to take for us to take the next step,” Herrion said. “It starts with the off-season. We have to get stronger physically. We also need our skill development to improve.”
If the expectations going into the 2015-16 season were big, next year’s expectations are going to be colossal. The Wildcats return all their players except one, Ronnel Jordan. Transfer Jordan Reed from Rice is now eligible to play and the Wildcats have already locked up two recruits for next season. John Ogwuche is a 6-foot, 3-inch guard from Greenforest Christian Academy in Georgia and Luke Rosinski, who stands at 6-feet, 8-inches, played at Kimball Union Academy and is formally from Derry, New Hampshire. The addition of Reed, Ogwuche and Rosinsk is huge for the Wildcats and can help solve plenty of problems.
“I thought there were two areas where we got hurt this year in upper level games,” Herrion said. “When teams went after us physically we had a little bit of trouble. We also had some lack of depth and weren’t as deep a basketball team as I would have liked. With recruiting next year and the players coming back we will be a deeper team next year.”
The pressure is certainly on the Wildcats next season. From the student body, who has thirsted for a good basketball program for so long, to the coaches and players, expectations will be at an all-time high and the America East is watching.
The league, who has been dominated by Stony Brook, Albany and Vermont, is now seeing impactful seniors like Jameel Warney of Stony Brook, Peter Hooley of Albany, and Ethan O’Day of Vermont depart due to gradation. Unlike most teams around the league, the Wildcats return with most of their fire power. They have the targets on their back…or maybe it’s a little more than that.
“We are the bulls-eye,” Herrion said. “Nobody can relax. Nobody can get comfortable with where they are at and a where we are as a team. I think that’s the most important thing.”
The Wildcat’s season came to an end on Saturday when they fell to Coastal Carolina in the second round of the CIT. The team met on Monday and will take the next two weeks off from all organized basketball activity.
“They’re very tired,” Herrion said. “It’s been a long year and they’ve done a great job. They deserve some time away from the court.”
Unlike last offseason, UNH is injury free. Joe Bramanti, who required knee surgery last offseason, is healthy and will be a full participant in the offseason. Although the team has a two-week break from organized basketball activities, Herrion is putting them to work in another area.
“We are going to get into the weight room next Monday,” Herrion said. “We are going to get right to work on our bodies.”
The team will continue to work until classes end in May. They will take a month off before returning for summer school and more individual work. Although the season is over, the path to an America East Championship and a bid to the big dance starts now. One thing is clear: The Wildcats are ready.
“I think going into next season we are going to be a good basketball team,” Herrion said. “We are probably going to be highly rated in our league to start the year, but that doesn’t really mean anything. The next step we want to take is to be in a championship game with a chance to go to the NCAA tournament. We have the pieces in place.”