Saturday, May 17, 2014

Team Report: Quinnipiac Men Set For More Success

Here's another in the "Team Report" series taking a look back at the recently concluded season for conference teams and a crystal-ball look ahead at what might happen in the future.

Up now ...


2013-14 RECORD: 14-6, tied for third in MAAC play; 20-12 overall.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A lot, and much of it unexpected from a team moving up from the Northeast Conference that was picked to finish seventh by MAAC coaches in their preseason prediction poll. But, the Bobcats showed the benefits of bringing trench warfare to the paint area. No conference team was more physical, and that had noticeable benefits, including an amazing per-game 11.8 edge in total rebounds. How good was that? Only good enough to lead the country by more than two per game. The second-best rebounding team nationally was Kentucky. Quinnipiac, not surprisingly, had the MAAC's top two rebounders in 6-foot-9 junior Ousmane Drame (13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds per game) and 6-7 senior Ike Aotam (16.2, 10.2). Azotam leaves as the program's all-time leading Division I rebounder with 1,043. And, Drame is already the program's leading shot-blocker (128) entering his senior season. But, they weren't alone in securing missed shots. Junior guard Zaid Hearst, at just 6-4, fit the play-hard mold as well as anyone in the league, and grabbed 6.6 rebounds per contest (while scoring 15.5). Even Evan Conti, mostly a reserve guard, chipped in at 3.9 rebounds per game. He also averaged 5.1 points, but improved as the year progressed and averaged 8.3 over the team's final 14 games. The Bobcats showed they belonged in the MAAC right away, even before league play with an impressive early non-conference victory over eventual NCAA Tournament team UAlbany. And, then, it got off to a 6-2 league start that included victories over Iona and Manhattan, the eventual top two finishers. It was more of the same after that with an 8-2 run (including a second victory over Manhattan) that pushed Q's record to 14-4 and in contention for a second-place finish before back-to-back regular-season losses came against Siena and Marist. Then came a nice quarterfinal-round win over Niagara in the MAAC Tournament before the magic against eventual MAAC tourney champ Manhattan finally ended. The Bobcats legitimately went nine deep with one of the league's deepest roster. Umar Shannon, a graduate-school transfer from St. Francis (14.3 ppg.) made significant contributions, as did senior Shaq Shannon (6.1, 3.6). And, 5-10 frosh point guard Kasim Chandler, looked to be one of the best young backcourt additions to the conference, and came up big at the end with a 14-point, 7 assist/1 turnover performance in the loss to Manhattan. The season was good enough for a national post-season tournament berth in the College Tournament (CIT)

WHAT WENT WRONG: Despite the depth, some injuries were a factor. Third-leading scorer Umar Shannon (14.3) suffered a late-season knee injury and did not play in the team's final four contests. Drame also had a slight knee issue, missed two late-season games and wasn't 100 percent for a few games after that. And, Chandler missed nine late-season games with an injury. Clearly that affected the Bobcats, who lost their final two regular-season contests to miss out on a chance to finish second in the final standings. Shannon's loss was a big one. And, while big and strong definitely worked there was a noticeable lack of quickness as evidenced by the team getting just 3.6 steals per game, the lowest average on the Division I level. Quinnipiac also lacked a veteran floor general. Chandler, the freshman who was best suited for the position, was an on-the-job trainee just finding his way before he missed nine games with injury. He led the team in assists with just 2.7 per contest. And, then, came the cruelest blow of all: a 69-68 heartbreaking loss to Yale in the first round of the CIT. Quinnipiac was holding a one-point lead with eight seconds left when Chandler was fouled and made one of two shots to push the advantage to 68-66. And, then, Yale sank a game-winning three-pointer with a second remaining to steal the victory.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Probably more good things, and more effective physical play despite the loss of the bruising Azotam. Both Shannons will also be gone, and all of that leaves a good sized hole up front and significant losses in the backcourt. Quinnipiac, though, should capably survive thanks to its depth from this past season. Drame, who combines strength and athleticism, is arguably the league's best returning big man, an all-but certain first-team all-preseason pick and could contend for Player of the Year honors. Chandler flashed his capabilities often enough to indicate he'll become one of the MAAC's better guards over the next three seasons and certainly ready to shoulder a bigger load right from the start of the upcoming season. And, Hearst is another first-team preseason candidate who is universally respected for his hard and effective playing style. That trio ranks with nearly any top three at any other league program. Conti's late-season success indicates he'll step into a bigger role. Freshman 6-8 forward A.J. Sumbry only played 9.1 minutes per game, but showed signs he can fit into the team's physical style of play. And, James Ford, a 6-4 sophomore sharpshooter, averaged 4.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in just 12 minutes per game and looks ready to step up, too. The team's top newcomer appears to be point guard Giovanni McLean, who originally committed to Oklahoma before there was some confusion over the interpretation of a Big 12 league rule regarding the number of consecutive semesters a player had to spend at a junior college before enrollment that would have made McLean ineligible there. But the rule in question is specific only to the Big 12 and doesn’t apply to the MAAC. McLean averaged 16.8 points and 7.4 assists per game last season at Westchester Community College, playing at the top JC level, and should be an immediate contributor.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Considerable personnel losses, but more than enough coming back to expect another season not much different from the past one. Expect another 20 victories overall and a top-five finish in MAAC play. There doesn't appear to be a clear-cut front-runner yet for the 2014-15 season, and the Bobcats certainly appear to be in the upper group of four or five teams. Quinnipiac could easily contend for the regular-season title, particularly if McLean is as good as expected. The team will probably be predicted, in the preseason poll, for either third or fourth. Expect that, and maybe better.

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