I couldn't figure out a way to introduce this post, so instead I posted the banner for New Hampshire's website. When did lightning become related to friggin' Wildcats? Do they like to release their wildcats in storms? And while we're on the topic of things making sense, does New Hampshire (and Villanova and Arizona and a bunch more) just not care that wildcats only live in Europe, Asia, and Africa? There are no American wildcats - that's like Maryland being named the Lions (I'm looking at you, Southeast Louisiana).
With the terrible naming and weird logo out of the way, this New Hampshire team isn't half-bad, particularly by their standards. A school dominated by their hockey program (no, really), NH's basketball program has radically improved from their previously awful standards, moving up to a 14-16 season last year. Obviously, that's not great for most, but it's nice progress for NH. To add to that nice year, they only lost one starter from last season.
Unfortunately, that sole starter was star guard Tyrece Gibbs, who led the Wildcats in scoring with 14.6 a game. Finding a replacement for him was objective A in the Granite State, and they'll turn to returning guards Alvin Abreu and Tyrone Conley, who sometimes rotate between the 2 and 1 spots. Conley was the more dangerous one, but Abreu was far more consistent. A very talented freshman, Chandler Rhoads, will also start at a guard spot. While that gives them three legitimate scoring options on the perimeter, it also means they have a small lineup, going 6-4 / 6-2 / 6-2.
Joining them is 6-9 center Dane DiLiegro, who averaged about 5 and 7 last year, and 6-5 PF Radar Onguetou, who put up 5 points and 5 rebounds a game. Onguetou started last year, but is expected to take a back seat to the bigger Brian Benson, who averaged 2 and 3. Regardless, having three starter-level bigs is a nice luxury, especially when flanked by quite a few other quality role player big men, like New Hampshire has.
UNH's first game was an absolute blowout - 91-45 - but I wouldn't read too much into it. They played a below-average Division III team in Suffolk; even then, Suffolk was playing this game as an exhibition. Still, in that game, a few things showed: first, that the aforementioned Chandler Rhoads can light it up - he had 15, and led the Wildcats in scoring alongside DiLiegro, who proved he can be an impact big man. Even with those minor developments, I wouldn't expect UNH to present much of a problem, at least not significantly more than Fairfield.
To recap: UNH has a very strong guard base with three legitimate scoring options from the perimeter. Unfortunately for them, that means they go small, which plays right into Maryland's small-playing hands. They do have a quality big man in DiLiegro, who could present a problem for Maryland's freshmen, but the rest of the frontcourt is mostly depth, not impact players. They're better than the 14 wins they had last year, but not by a huge amount.
My prediction: New Hampshire stays within striking distance early, but Maryland doesn't start slow this time and never trails.