DURHAM, N.H. – Just three years removed from a five-win season, University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s basketball head coach Bill Herrion says he believes the program has been building toward this season. Highlighted by two Preseason All-Conference selections, the reigning America East Rookie of the Year and the addition of elite 3-point shooting, Herrion and the Wildcats will need to learn how to live with a target on their back in the America East this season.
“Our expectations are high,” Herrion stated ahead of the team’s first game with Saint Joseph’s.
After retaining all but two players from last season’s roster, Herrion believes the identity of his team will be experience this time around. The Wildcats have seven upperclassmen on the roster not including sophomore guards Blondeau Tchoukuiegno and Nick Johnson who are now in their third season in the program.
Herrion thinks this team has a chance to compete for a conference title after being chosen third in the preseason poll, but he not ready to crown them as champions just yet.
“Just because you feel that way, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen that way,” said Herrion. “But with the strides we’ve made the last few years, I do think that’s the next step. Our goal is always to try and win this thing and go to the first NCAA Tournament in the history of UNH basketball, but a lot of things have to happen between now and March.”
He went on to explain that a lot of times championship teams are veteran teams. In a closed scrimmage with Sienna, Herrion said he used a rotation of nine veteran players meaning that some of the younger guys may have to wait their turn.
At the forefront of the veterans are senior forwards Jayden Martinez and Nick Guadarrama. The duo will be one of the most versatile in the conference coming off a First Team All-Conference selection for Martinez and a second team selection for Guadarrama after last season. Guadarrama led the team in points averaging 14.0 per game. Martinez led in rebounds per game with 8.5, shooting 47.7% from the field and 42.2% from downtown – the best mark in the conference.
The backcourt of UNH will be filled out by Tchoukuiegno and Johnson who were each featured on last season’s All-Rookie Team. The pairing combined for a total of seven Rookie of the Week honors in the conference – four for Johnson and three for Tchoukuiegno. Johnson went on to be named America East Rookie of the Year.
One of the biggest questions for the team ahead of the season was who the backup point guard to Tchoukuiegno would be. The obvious choice likely would have been Marque Maultsby who had handled much of the point guard duties two seasons ago and the beginning portion of last year. Maultsby left the team late last season, however, and transferred to North Carolina Central University. With the emergence of Tchoukuiegno, Maultsby saw a decline in minutes towards the end of the season which could have been a motive for the transfer.
With the departure of Maultsby, Herrion says the team will lean on sophomore transfer Marco Foster as the backup point guard. Foster is transferring from Division II Oklahoma Christian University where he scored 15.4 points per game, shot 45.1% from the field and 42.8% from behind the arc.
A player that Herrion may be most excited to watch this season is junior transfer Sloan Seymour. Herrion has raved about forward’s combination of size and shooting ability this offseason. Seymour, who stands at 6-foot-9, is a transfer from George Washington and previously Sienna where he broke the first-year record for 3-pointers with 94.
The Wildcats were previously a team who lacked 3-point shooting – ranking seventh in the conference last season – but didn’t have the size to keep up with bigger frontcourts in the conference. This is no longer the case.
Outside of senior big man Tayler Mattos (6-foot-11) who serves a more traditional role, the Wildcats will be able to mix and match any combination of four forwards who can score from most areas on the floor. Guadarrama (6-foot-5), Martinez (6-foot-7), Seymour (6-foot-9) and sixth-year Chris Lester (6-foot-7) will pose as matchup nightmares for a lot of teams.
Senior Qon Murphy and graduate student Josh Hopkins will serve as the team’s scoring wings potentially as a part of the second unit depending on how Herrion chooses to use Seymour out of the gate. Murphy was third on the team in scoring last year averaging 8.6 points. He’s not a pure shooter but has proven he’ll be one of the most athletic players on whatever court he steps onto this season.
Hopkins appeared in just four games last season while battling injury. He returns as one of the team’s most reliable 3-point shooters. In his short stint last season, he shot 43.8% from three.
Heading into the first couple weeks of the season fans can expect starting lineups including Tchoukuiegno and Johnson at guard, Guadarrama and Martinez at forward while experimenting with three potential players for the fifth spot. Murphy, Seymour and Mattos are all expected to get serious minutes this season and will likely be in the running for the final spot in the starting five. Seymour may take a little more time to integrate himself after being held out of the team’s first two closed scrimmages due to eligibility issues. Mattos would likely be more of a matchup-based insertion.
New Hampshire will begin to sort this out on Tuesday, Nov. 9 when they welcome Division III Saint Joseph’s into Lundholm Gymnasium. Over the last five seasons when the Wildcats have opened against a DIII opponent they’ve won by an average score of 94.8-47.2.
Photo courtesy of Gil Talbot