DURHAM, N.H. – There are challenges, and then there’s what New Hampshire is going through and has in front of them. Nine straight losses, which is the Wildcats’ current streak after dropping a 62-48 decision to Dartmouth at home on Wednesday, appear to be just the beginning of them.
Can things get worse? They might before they get better largely because of personnel, and it’s not just who they don’t have right now.
“What’s really disappointing to me,” said head coach Bill Herrion, “is we have players that are getting an unbelievable opportunity, especially young players, at this early stage of their college basketball careers, and they don’t seem to understand and grasp how great of an opportunity it is and to understand how to go out on the court at this level and compete.”
The Wildcats were out-rebounded 39-22 on Wednesday night, with the Big Green posting a 23-11 edge in the second half. That’s a sign of not competing enough inside, as well as the foul trouble their frontcourt players got into even while playing a lot of zone defense.
Wednesday night, the Wildcats started three freshmen. While all have good bodies and look like they have some potential, they all have a ways to go. Williams Gabriel and Jacoby Armstrong were both limited by foul trouble on Wednesday night. The potential upshot is that playing now will help them develop later, but another season with a lot of losses isn’t desirable, either. Additionally, right now it’s clear that the learning curve for those freshmen is steep.
Herrion said some of the younger players don’t yet understand the urgency they need to have in practice. They haven’t yet figured out that you play the way you practice. This team has been practicing for a couple of months now, and some still haven’t figured out what the coaching staff is trying to do.
“We’re not a good practice team right now,” said senior guard Jordon Bronner. “Coach stops every five seconds because guys are messing up, guys don’t know what to do. That’s not the sign of a good basketball team.”
Things were already bad enough with the Wildcats in the midst of their losing streak when Chris Pelcher went down. Pelcher is still in a boot and on crutches, so he’s certainly not coming back anytime soon; right now the best guess is about a month. He was off to a terrific start, giving them the inside scorer and post presence they had sorely lacked during Herrion’s tenure.
As has often been the case, the Wildcats will defend anyone, but offense has been a challenge. They are holding opponents to over 40 percent shooting on the season, but they are making less than 41 percent of their own shots. Take out Pelcher and his 55.6 percent conversion rate, and the remaining players are shooting well below 40 percent. That’s how hard this is going to be, especially since Pelcher’s absence doesn’t just take away 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game; it also takes away a player who draws a lot of defensive attention for them to play off of.
“We’re just getting these dry spells on offense, where they score, we can’t score, they score, we can’t score, then the lead gets to nine, ten, 11, 12, and now you’re just fighting for your life,” said Herrion. “We just don’t have a lot of offensive bullets right now.”
Wednesday night, the Wildcats took a 28-27 lead early in the second half. Dartmouth responded by scoring the next 12 points, and from there the game was almost over. The Wildcats were never really able to get back in it after that. They got within eight when they broke the run, but that lasted for less than a minute, and they were never within single digits the rest of the way.
The Wildcats haven’t been embarrassed thus far. Only three of their losses have been by double digits, one of them just barely as they dropped a 71-61 decision at Yale. They even played Marquette to a 58-53 game in Milwaukee, although the Golden Eagles have been a bit of a disappointment thus far. But there’s a difference between not being out of a game and winning. That may get illustrated more as they have to go to Rhode Island and Towson to close out 2013, and have a matchup with Brown, who has a big frontcourt, still left before only conference games remain.
Since taking over more than eight years ago, Herrion has had a major league challenge on his hands. This is a tough place to win for a lot of reasons, and his struggles illustrate that as no one in the business thinks Herrion isn’t an excellent coach even now. Mention his name to another coach, and nothing but sincere respect comes out without any prompting. With the personnel he has, including the frontcourt anchor who will be out for a while longer, this challenge might see things get worse before they get better.