Last season: 14-16 (8-8 America East), lost in America East semifinals to Binghamton.
Head coach: Bill Herrion, three seasons, 33-56 record (20-28 AE), 281-224 lifetime (123-55 AE).
Departing players: Tyrece Gibbs, Eric Gilchrese, Abby Kabba, Rony Tchatchoua.
Arriving players: Chris Matagrano, Ferg Myrick, Chandler Rhoads.
Expected starting lineup (position, name, year, 2008-09 stats):
G Chandler Rhoads, freshman, no previous college experience
G Alvin Abreu, junior, 12.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.2 APG
G Tyrone Conley, junior, 8.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.5 APG
F Radar Onguetou, senior, 5.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 APG
C Dane DiLiegro, junior, 5.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 0.8 SPG
Player to watch: Alvin Abreu. Abreu established himself as a volume scorer in his freshman year. While the volume remained intact in 2008-09, the then-sophomore guard frequently struggled from long range, limiting his efficiency despite significant improvement inside the arc. With leading scorer Tyrece Gibbs now a graduate, the Wildcats need Abreu to recapture his stroke and become a player who couples efficiency and volume. Having a true point guard, Chandler Rhoads, in the starting lineup should yield more high-percentage opportunities for Abreu -- it's Abreu's responsibility to convert those opportunities.
Biggest strength: Defensive rebounding. Albany gets all the attention for its rebounding prowess, but few teams in America East clean the defensive glass as well as New Hampshire. The Wildcats recovered 71 percent of opponents' missed shots last season, and both of the parties primarily responsible for that success, Dane DiLiegro and Radar Onguetou, are back. In addition, DiLiegro's backup in the low post, Brian Benson, is a strong defensive rebounder, and several Wildcat guards do a good job grabbing boards at the defensive end. Losing Tyrece Gibbs, himself an excellent defensive rebounder, will likely cause UNH's performance in this category to slip somewhat, but New Hampshire's rebounding should still be the strength of its defense.
Biggest weakness: Free throw disparity. The Wildcats can be offensively challenged at times, especially when their volume scorers go cold from the field. UNH is able to stay in games where the offense isn't producing by contesting initial shot attempts and limiting second-chance opportunities. In games like these, a large free throw disparity can render the contest impossible to win, yet far too often UNH fouls early and often without finding ways to draw fouls on the other end of the court. The problem is particularly noticeable on the defensive end, where both DiLiegro and Onguetou are prone to foul trouble, keeping them on the bench and severely limiting the Wildcats' effectiveness on the interior. In many respects the Wildcats play good fundamental defense, but playing defense without fouling is important, and there's yet to be an indication New Hampshire can do that.
Guards: Abreu improved from 2-point range last season, adding a key element to his game. As a freshman, Abreu was a dangerous 3-point shooter, but he was one-dimensional, connecting at an ugly 35.8 percent clip from shorter distances. While Abreu's long-range accuracy slipped last season, it's reasonable to expect his improvement on 2-point shots will be sustained. If Abreu can find his old form for perimeter shots without losing the ability to hit midrange baskets and finish at the rim, losing Tyrece Gibbs' scoring contributions will be easier to swallow. Abreu is also one of the few Wildcats capable of getting to the free throw line with regularity -- he drew more than twice as many fouls as he committed and led the team in free throw attempts with 97.
Tyrone Conley's game is in many ways similar to Abreu's. Conley attempts slightly more threes than twos, and takes a significant portion of the team's shots despite not being very efficient. However, like Abreu, the potential for greatness is clearly visible. Conley uses his athleticism to his advantage, allowing him to elevate over defenders when releasing his shot. Unlike Abreu, Conley rarely makes an appearance at the free throw line
Chandler Rhoads arrives as one of New Hampshire's most heralded recruits of recent years and is expected to make an immediate impact at the point guard position. Rhoads is a natural fit to run the offense, but brings some scoring ability as well. The freshman has excellent size for the position -- he stands 6-foot-4 -- as well as strength and athletic ability. Rhoads is able to get to the rim as well as create opportunities for others. While there may be an adjustment period early in the season, Rhoads should be a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year and help mitigate the loss of Eric Gilchrese to graduation.
Russell Graham earned rotation minutes as a freshman last year, and while Rhoads may hold a spot in the starting lineup, Graham is expected to provide more valuable minutes off the bench. At 6 feet even, Graham is shorter than Rhoads but is an excellent defender. That defensive effort is what earns Graham minutes, as it certainly isn't his offensive talents. Graham shot just 33.3 percent from the field, is a poor free throw shooter, and isn't notable for his rebounding or ability to create. UNH's off-guards like to shoot, so Graham won't be asked to shoulder a heavy offensive burden while on the floor; in that context, he provides value as a defense/energy substitute.
Colbey Santos, like Graham, is another valuable defender. Santos is 6-foot-5 and can defend a variety of positions. Like many of the Wildcats, Santos' shot distribution is weighted heavily toward 3-point attempts, and like many Wildcats, he isn't very successful in his attempts. Santos did make 4-of-5 threes in a 17-point performance when UNH lost to Binghamton in the conference semifinals last March, but on the season he was just 23-of-85 from long range. As a wing defender Santos is probably New Hampshire's best option. If Santos remains an inefficient shooter, he still offers value as a solid defender off the bench; if his shot improved over the offseason, he may be something more.
Ryan Herrion, Bill Herrion's son, joined the team last fall as a walk-on. Herrion was a heralded player while in high school -- he was named First-Team All-State in New Hampshire -- but for the Wildcats he appeared in just eight games, with his only six points coming in the season opener against Division-III Suffolk. With five guards ahead of him on the depth chart, Herrion is unlikely to contribute this season.
Forwards: Radar Onguetou played just four games as a sophomore due to injury, but in 2008-09 he rebounded to post solid numbers. Onguetou's raw statistics are those of a solid but unspectacular power forward -- just over five per game in both points and boards -- but those numbers are affected by playing time. The 6-foot-5 forward averaged less than 25 minutes per game, depressing his value. When on the court, Onguetou's relatively strong free throw shooting and ability to get to the line make him a useful offensive player for his limited touches; without the ball, he is an adept rebounder at both ends of the floor. While Onguetou is not likely to be a major part of the Wildcats' offense, he is a solid starter who plays to his strengths and helps New Hampshire on both ends of the floor.
Brian Benson is four inches taller than Onguetou but 15 pounds lighter. As a result, the lanky sophomore brings some skills to the forward position that Onguetou cannot -- specifically, shot-blocking. However, Benson's high free throw rate (33 free throws versus 41 field-goal attempts) is mitigated by poor free throw shooting, and unlike his senior counterpart, Benson is not particularly competent passing out of the post (just four assists in nearly 300 minutes). A strong rebounder, Benson figures to be the first forward off the bench for the Wildcats.
Ferg Myrick is a 6-foot-6 freshman arriving in Durham by way of Philadelphia. Onguetou and Benson are both power forward-types, but Myrick profiles as a small forward. Myrick was a dangerous scorer, capable of getting to the rim or knocking down jumpers from all over the court. In addition to scoring, Myrick's game is diverse: he's a reasonably good ball-handler, rebounded well in high school, blocks the occasional shot, and gets to the free throw line. As a freshman, he should see some time spelling either of UNH's two starting off-guards, but Myrick's game is that of a small forward -- expect to see him near the hoop more than occasionally, particularly on offense.
James Valladares was a limited contributor in his sophomore year. He appeared in just 13 games after playing in 26 his freshman year. Valladares did little to distinguish himself with more substantial playing time in 2007-08 -- while Valladares should see some sporadic playing time, don't expect him to play enough minutes to significantly impact the Wildcats' season.
Centers: Dane DiLiegro will not lead the Wildcats in points, yet in many ways he can be considered New Hampshire's best player. As a sophomore, DiLiegro was UNH's best rebounder, shot over 50 percent from the field, and played solid fundamental defense -- when he wasn't in foul trouble. DiLiegro's twin Achilles heels are a tendency to foul and free throw shooting. The 6-foot-9 center committed nearly twice as many fouls as he drew and missed nearly half of his free throws. Those extra fouls DiLiegro commits also keep him from logging 30 or 35 minutes per game. Rebounding and interior defense are the foundation of a solid front court; giving away free opportunities to the opponent is a defense's undoing. DiLiegro represents his team's biggest strength and its biggest weakness -- if he can find a way to stay on the court, the Wildcats' frontcourt will immediately improve.
Chris Matagrano is the third freshman on New Hampshire's roster. Matagrano arrives as somewhat of a project -- he has the size to be a force on the interior and is very active in the paint but doesn't necessarily have the polish to be an immediate force at the Division-I level. To be fair, few big men are particularly effective as freshmen, and with several capable players on the roster in frontcourt positions, he shouldn't need to play well right away. Expect to see more of him down the road.
Outlook: Every year there's someone who picks the Wildcats as a team capable of surprising people. This year certainly isn't an exception -- most of last year's strengths should be intact. Rebounding and solid fundamental defense are the foundation of many excellent teams. The problem is that the Wildcats' weaknesses are still intact. There are too many inefficient shooters taking the bulk of New Hampshire's shots and too many unnecessary fouls committed. The players responsible for those issues are still on the roster. In some cases, those players are being asked to take on increased roles. UNH needs its major contributors to refine their games. Otherwise, the Wildcats will remain dangerous but flawed -- in other words, average.