For the Wildcats, it is a start of something new: new season, new players and new expectations.
UNH is coming off its best season in program history. Head coach Bill Herrion, junior forward Tanner Leissner and junior guard Keon Burns met with the media on Wednesday and discussed the upcoming 2016-17 basketball season. But before discussing this upcoming season, one must look back on the past season in order to understand where this year’s Wildcats stand.
The Wildcats finished the 2015-16 season with a 20-13 record under Herrion, the first time in school history the team has reached the 20-win plateau. This was in large part to the huge contribution Tanner Leissner made during the season. The co-captain led the team in points per game with 15.9 and was second in rebounds with 7.3 per game in the 30 games he played.
Even with the historic record, however, UNH only went as far at the quarterfinals of America East playoffs where they lost to Vermont 53-63. Despite the playoff finish, UNH reached a new level and will have to set higher goals in order to match last season. When asked about last season’s success, Herrion said that he and his team knows that a new season means new expectations.
“I think our goals and expectations are different now. We never been in this position of having this success and having good players back,” Herrion said. “Now we have teams trying to chase [us]. We’ve always been chasing everybody…but now we’re in new territory.”
Those new set of expectations seems to translate to the team. How the players are going to reach their goals is not necessarily all on the court game planning. For Leissner, team chemistry will be the key to reaching the goals the Wildcats have.
“We have more trust in each other. Just playing alongside someone for two to three years really builds our chemistry,” Leissner said. “It’s going to be exciting to go to battle with these guys again. I’m excited to see where it take us.”
It’s not just the UNH players and coaches who know about the goals and the hype coming into the new season. UNH was selected second overall in the America East Preseason Poll coming behind first-place Vermont. When asked about if the preseason poll holds weight, coach Herrion was quick to downplay the significance.
“I don’t think preseason polls mean a heck of a lot,” Herrion said. “I told my players that the only poll that matters the most is the one in March. That is the poll we’re most concerned about.”
“It’s definitely a compliment to us and to the work we put in,” Burns said on the significance of the poll. “But it is tough and coach talks to us about how the expectations are raised and how there is a target on out back which is definitely true.”
Even with the optimism and hope, UNH is not without its flaws. The Wildcats will be starting the season without Jacoby Armstrong. The senior forward was third in team points per game (11.0), fourth in rebounding (5.3) and second in field goal percentage (.461). Coach Herrion disclosed very little as to why Armstrong would not be playing.
“Jacoby Armstrong got an indefinite suspension for violation of team policy,” Herrion said. “We’re going to leave at that and address it later when he is clear to play.”
UNH will face Lesley University Friday, Nov.11 at Lundholm Gymnasium at 1 p.m. to kick off the start of the regular season.