Here's another in the series looking back, and ahead, at conference teams ... with a caveat: your Hoopscribe has not personally seen MAAC newcomers Quinnipiac and Monmouth. Reports on those programs comes from research and several interviews with coaches and/or school publicists.
Up now ...
2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in the Northeast Conference (tied for 6th place in the 12-team league), 15-16 overall.
2012-13 RECAP: An up-and-down year, one of peaks and valleys for the Bobcats. The team went through a tough non-league schedule with a 4-7 mark, losing to, among others, UConn, George Mason, Lehigh, Vermont and Boston University. Then came a 2-5 start to NEC play before Quinnipiac kicked it into gear with an 8-1 stretch. Then came a two-point loss to Central Connecticut, another win and, finally, a regular-season ending setback at the hands of LIU-Brooklyn. LIU Brooklyn then finished off the Bobcats' season with a 91-83 decision in the first round of the NEC's post-season tournament.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: That late-season run showed what the Bobcats were capable of at their best, and included a two-point victory over regular-season NEC champion Robert Morris after Quinnipiac trailed by five points with just over seven minutes remaining. The Bobcats also had a nice non-league victory over UAlbany, which put up 24 victories. The team didn't have a true signature star (senior-to-be forward Ike Azotam's 13.6 points per game led the team), but it did have one thing it did extremely well. Quinnipiac outrebounded opponents by an average of 10.4 per game, the second-best positive differential on the Division I level this past season. The 6-foot-7 Azotam, who had 10 double-doubles, averaged 7.9 rebounds per outing, while junior-to-be 6-9 forward Ousmane Drame averaged 7.3. They were one of the best front-court tandems in the NEC. Graduated point guard Dave Johnson was a good distributor, averaging 4.1 assists per contest.
WHAT WENT WRONG: As good as Azotam was last year, it was a drop-off from the previous season when he averaged 15.8 and 9.5 (30th-best rebounding total nationally) as a sophomore. Statistically, the defense wasn't as good (allowing 71.6 points per game, 290th of 343 Division I teams nationally) as it was the previous year. And, while the Bobcats ruled the backboards with their rebounding efficiency, they lacked in other categories. Only two teams nationally got fewer steals per game, and only 23 teams nationally made fewer 3-point shots. The 15-16 overall record came on the heels of a three-year stretch in which the team averaged 21 victories per year and had been to three consecutive national post-season tournaments (NIT, CBI, CIT). Quinnipiac was just good enough to be competitive on any given night, but not quite good enough to get over the top, with six of its seven conference losses by single digits, and two of those by two points. How close was it to a better season? It was only one victory shy of finishing in a tie for second place in the conference standings.
WHAT'S AHEAD: It should be a smooth transition from the NEC to the MAAC, and Quinnipiac should be competitive right away. It has a very good coach in place in Tom Moore, entering his seventh year with the program after 13 seasons as an assistant at UConn, and he just signed a contract extension through the 2017-18 season. The only real significant loss is graduated point guard Dave Johnson, although two key reserves (Jamee Jackson and Garvey Young) are also gone. But, five key players are back, led by Azotam and Drame up front. The team often went with three guards last season, with current junior Zaid Hearst (10.8 points) and senior Shaq Shannon (6.7) as the returning starters. The main issue will be replacing Johnson at the point. Candidates are Shannon and incoming transfer Umar Shannon, a 5-11 former standout at league rival St. Francis who averaged 11.2 points and 3.3 assists per game. Shannon graduated from St. Francis and comes to the Bobcats as an immediately eligible grad student. Three solid freshmen, 5-10 guard Kasim Chandler, 6-8, 240-pounder Aula Sumbry and 6-6 small forward Alain Chigha, also join the program and all could get into the playing group.
PREDICTION FOR 2013-13: Hard to envision the Bobcats supplanting the likely top three of Manhattan, Iona and Canisius. But, they'll definitely be in the mix within the next group. The likelihood is a finish between fourth and sixth place.