The New Hampshire Wildcats have lost all but three of their games this season with one more non-conference game to go. Somehow, they’re still winning the respect of opposing coaches in the process.
"They’re tough," Niagara head coach Chris Casey said. "I know what their record is, but they’re tough and they’re well coached."
With the exception of Texas (78-60), the Wildcats have managed to keep games close until the end. UNH is a team that lives and dies with its senior forward, Tanner Leissner. He is the only player who has started every game and has led the team through all the different lineup changes.
"[Leissner’s] really good," Casey said. "He’s a problem because he can score from the perimeter, shooting the ball. He can drive the ball. He’s very physical and tough around the basket. He’s a problem."
Leissner is one of the best basketball players New Hampshire has ever had. That may not be saying much considering the Wildcats have never played in the NCAA Tournament, but Leissner is averaging 18.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and became the fifth player in school history to reach the 1,500-career-point mark against Boston University at the end of November.
However, the Wildcats can only run him in isolation at the post for so much. It seems that even when Leissner fills up the stat sheet, New Hampshire still loses. While UNH is tied for 23rd in the nation in rebounds per game, the Wildcats are at the bottom of the nation in assists per game. The Wildcats have made comebacks before and have led at halftime, but more often than not, have failed to close the deal in the game’s final minutes.
"It’s really frustrating," Leissner said. "In the past, we’ve closed games like these out."
The NCAA basketball season is meaningless for many mid-major programs until the conference tournaments begin. Even with Albany and Vermont as the front-runners, there may still be a chance for the Wildcats to turn it around during the conference slate of the schedule and make a run in the America East Tournament.