New faces look to elevate men’s basketball

By on November 10, 2016

A new season offers new opportunities for the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team. The Bobcats are looking to bounce back this winter following a disappointing 9-21 season having added six new faces to the roster.

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In the MAAC preseason coaches poll announced in October, the Bobcats were projected to finish the season 10th out of 11 teams in the conference, only finishing ahead of Niagara.

Entering his ninth season, head coach Tom Moore said although his team is aware of the ranking, the group is concentrating on more important matters.

“We came out and addressed it, but it’s not something that consumes us on a daily basis,” Moore said. “We’re trying to come together as a group because we have six new faces with eight returning guys, and we need to all get on the same page as quickly as possible. That is what takes up all our focus and energy right now.”

While the coaches were quick to move on, several players appear to be using the ranking as motivation for the upcoming season.

“Coach reminded us where we’ve been picked in the MAAC,” junior forward Chaise Daniels said. “I think that’s fuel to the fire. Coming off a bad season, I think we needed to be reminded that we have a lot to prove.”

Quinnipiac lost its last five games to end last season, including a 60-57 defeat to Rider in the MAAC Tournament. The close loss was one in a common thread for the team, which lost six games by fewer than five points over the season.

Moore was adamant about his expectations of his reinvigorated squad going into the 2016-2017 campaign.

“This is going to be our most challenging season in my 10 years here because last year was the first year we really stepped backwards,” Moore said. “The biggest thing in college basketball is you don’t want to stay down. You have to get up as quickly as possible. We have to reclaim a swagger about ourselves, and it’s a lot to ask, but that’s life. We put ourselves in this situation, and we have to fight our way out of it.”

Looking to put last season behind them, the Bobcats look to build a framework for success and find a new identify for the program to wipe the slate clean.

“Last year we lost ourselves along the way, losing a couple tough games here and there without self-discipline on and off the court,” senior guard Daniel Harris said. “This year we’ve really honed in on making sure we do the right things at the right times. That means making sure that we are self-disciplined in our dorms, in the arena and in the games.”

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After a long off-season and a new appearance, Quinnipiac will have to adjust to losing two key seniors, Giovanni McLean and James Ford Jr. In his only year as a Bobcat, McLean led the team with 12.9 points and 3.2 assist per game as the primary ball handler. Ford was the only player to start all 30 games for the Bobcats and ended his four-year career by averaging 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in his final season.

Harris, the team’s top returning scorer from last season, will surely be taking on a leadership role for the Bobcats.

“They were really good leaders for us, especially with their age and maturity,” Harris said. “Only being here for one year and coming from a junior college, those are some big shoes to fill. I think everyone will help guide the new players and I’ve taken on that challenge from day one when we started in the summer. I’m not going to say it’s been easy, but working with these guys every day is exciting.”

With the addition of six players, Moore will be looking specifically at the newcomers to make an impact immediately. The head coach expressed his impression of the potential candidates to pick from.

“I think James Ford defensively on the perimeter will be missed, but I think Phil Winston has a chance to be the closest thing to him defensively,” Moore said. “With Gio [McLean] gone, we will miss his shot-making ability, and I think Reggie Oliver could be a guy that has capabilities to fill that void.”

Phil Winston and Oliver both come from junior colleges with junior statuses and will be expected to play a key role for the Bobcats this season.

“Phil Winston and Reggie Oliver are good players, and I’m excited to play with them,” Daniels said. “In our first scrimmage, we played pretty well together, so I’m excited to see how it goes.”

Last year at Howard College in Texas, he averaged 18.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and shot a deadly 41.6 percent from three-point range.

“Personally, I’m looking to just get these guys the ball a lot and get the energy going for the whole game,” Oliver said. “As a team, we’re looking to run it as much as possible. We want to run it down people’s throats and take their hearts away.”

Although the coaches usually go the traditional route in recruiting high school players, the team has had success when adding transfers in the past. Harris and senior forward Donovan Smith arrived from junior colleges last year and are hopeful to improve their game this season with the addition of six players who’ve had a similar journey to Quinnipiac.

“Last year, the league looked older and more talented than we were,” Moore said. “We thought we needed to get older and the junior college route was the way to go. We’ve always had good luck with JuCo guys. I think they’ll contribute right away.”

While the transition is a challenge, Harris believes it can help a player and a team when a junior college player pans out.

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“Basketball-wise, the speed of the game is a lot faster, and there’s a lot more detail involved to win one game,” Harris said. “We understand some of the challenges they’ve faced coming here and I’ve really tried to show them that it’s not the same, and it’s a lot harder, but it’s still doable. They can come in and make a big impact, and that’s what they’re brought in here for. I think all four of them can do that.”

Aside from the junior college additions, the Bobcats also added two freshman guards, Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss, to the fold. Dixon and Kiss have been drawing rave reviews from both coaches and teammates since their arrival.

“They’ve both been very impressive,” Moore said. “Both are young and have a lot to learn just like every freshman in the country, but they have talent and they’re competitive. They’ve got good ball-handling skills and can certainly shoot it.”

The whole team agrees that the work these young players are putting in has not gone unnoticed.

“I like the freshmen. They work hard and they have a real work ethic, such as being able to get in the gym when we don’t have practice,” Smith said. “I like how they’ve been getting in and doing the extra work. I wish I could be here for another four years just to see them grow as players and as people.”

Although Quinnipiac has established itself as a national powerhouse in rebounding, the Bobcats have made it clear to address their weaknesses. The two most prominent areas of improvement the team must focus are taking better care of the ball and taking higher quality shots. The Bobcats collectively shot below 40 percent from the floor last season and averaged over 15 turnovers a game. For Harris, experience is the most valuable asset.

“Chaise [Daniels] is the only one with Division-I experience for more than one year,” Harris said. “I think experience is our biggest weakness. Me and Donovan played last year, but that’s only one year. There’s also the JuCo guys and our freshmen who haven’t played in a game yet, and then there’s [Aaron and Andrew Robinson] who haven’t played a ton of minutes.”

While the majority of opposing teams in the conference have key returning players, the Bobcats will be scrambling to build chemistry.

“Experience is a big component. You’ll see that in the beginning of the year when we’re learning how to play together and gaining that experience,” Harris said. “As the year goes on, you’ll see our experience catching up with teams like Monmouth and Siena, who have a whole starting lineup returning. That’s the difference, but it’s a weakness that we can definitely overcome and still be successful.”

All in all, the Bobcats have clearly set their sights on one thing.

“Any Division-I team wants to win a championship,” Harris said. “Winning a MAAC championship is our expectation. It’s going to be a long year, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, but our team has a really good chance. We have the talent at every position one through five to be very successful.”

The team will open its season at home on Saturday, Nov. 12 against University of Vermont. The Bobcats lost 83-70 in their only matchup last year and will be looking for redemption.

“The biggest thing I’m concerned with going into that game is our defensive discipline and offensively, our ability to play fast, yet still under control,” Moore said. “Those are the two things I would be most concerned with because Vermont is going to be an older team that has shared more experiences. We have enthusiasm, talent and depth, but we don’t have the crunch time togetherness yet, nor the attention to detail late in shot clocks. We’ll improve on that in time.”

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