Hoops are here: Take two

By on November 6, 2018

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team has some lofty goals this year. For the first time in a while, though, that ultimate goal is realistic.

“At the end of the year, I just [want] to hold that MAAC trophy,” Quinnipiac senior forward Abdulai Bundu said of what he wants to accomplish in his final season. “I came here my freshman year and I’ve seen this place do a complete 180 [since then]. At the end of the year, I [want to be able to say I] started a legacy.”

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
After a surprising run to the MAAC semifinals last March at the tournament in Albany, there is no limit to what this team can do. The Bobcats weren’t a great team last year – finishing just 12-21 overall and 7-11 in the MAAC – but they improved as the season wore on. Quinnipiac was picked to finish last (11th) in the MAAC last year before the season and it ended up seventh.

That was all last year. Things are different now.

In the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, released on Oct. 23, Quinnipiac was voted to finish tied for third in the conference with three-time defending champion Iona. The only teams ahead of Quinnipiac were Rider and Canisius, the latter of whom Quinnipiac upset in the MAAC Tournament last season.

Graduate student guard Cam Young and sophomore guard Rich Kelly were also recognized in the poll. Young, who broke Quinnipiac’s single-season scoring record in 2017-18, was a First-Team All-MAAC pick while Kelly was named to the Third-Team All-MAAC.

None of this happens, though, without Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy, who is entering his second season at the helm.

In a recent piece by The Athletic, senior writer Brian Hamilton listed 30 up-and-coming college basketball coaches to keep an eye on over the next few years. The list included assistant coaches from the staff’s of Villanova, Duke, Louisville, Gonzaga and Michigan – five schools that have made Final Four appearances in the last several years. Tucked in the middle of all that was Dunleavy, a former Villanova assistant himself.

“No, the 12-win first season with the Bobcats wasn’t ideal,” Hamilton wrote. “And the program may not even be the favorite in the MAAC this season. But Dunleavy has more to work with this year – including a potential all-conference guard in Cameron Young – and realistically this is about improving the program just enough that it backs up the 36-year-old’s impeccable Villanova pedigree.”

As Hamilton mentioned, Young will be at the forefront of everything the Bobcats are trying to accomplish this season. His story is well-documented – he played two years of junior college ball, came to Quinnipiac for his junior year and played eight total minutes for former Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore and then went off for 622 total points in his senior campaign with Dunleavy as his coach.

Young thought last season was the end. Players in the NCAA are granted four years of eligibility, but can be granted a fifth year if they miss a season due to injury or don’t play a certain amount of minutes. After petitioning to the NCAA, it ruled that Young’s junior season at Quinnipiac was a redshirt year and he was given one more shot.

“I was excited,” Young said when asked his reaction to the news. “Coming off a pretty good season last year I was just excited to get back with the team and get ready to make another run.”

Young was strong in nearly all aspects of the game last season. Scoring is obviously what he’s known for, but he also led the team in rebounding at 6.8 per game and was second in assists at 2.8 per game. He did struggle in some areas, finishing second on the team with 2.8 turnovers per game and shooting just 30.3 percent from 3-point range. He could be even better this season if he improves as a ball handler and shooter.

“I’m excited about the opportunity as a coach to take his game to the next level,” Dunleavy said. “We all know he can score, but we’re trying to help him become a more well-rounded player before he leaves here. It’s just an awesome opportunity as a coach.”

Young, too, knows that his game can be improved.

“I’m just trying to be as versatile as I can be,” Young said. “Late in the season people started forcing me left, so I’ve been working on my left hand. Also shooting the three better.”

At 6-foot-6, Young is one of the bigger guards on a team filled with backcourt depth. Dunleavy will likely use a lot of three-guard – and sometimes even four-guard – lineups.

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
“We’re going to play a lot of guard-heavy lineups, so we’re going to need to finish possessions on the defensive end,” Dunleavy said. “Our forwards – [junior] Kevin Marfo and Abdulai Bundu – are as good of rebounders as you’ll find, but we can’t just leave them on an island. Our guards are capable and they just have to be willing to get in there and mix it up.”

Young and Kelly will likely start alongside 6-foot-5 junior guard Travis Atson, 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Jacob Rigoni and either 6-foot-7 Bundu or 6-foot-8 Marfo.

Atson and Marfo are both new to the active roster in 2018-19. They both transferred to Quinnipiac last year and, due to NCAA regulations, were forced to redshirt for one season before coming back to play. As redshirts, they were allowed to practice with the team, but not suit up for games.

“There’s naturally going to be a little bit more of a purpose toward some of the intricacies of what we’re doing because they can play games now,” Dunleavy said. “A lot of their responsibilities last year were to be more scout team just because they couldn’t play. But all along they were picking up our core values, our principles.

“Both of those guys are coming back, maybe not with the experience of a guy who played last year, but they’re certainly not like newcomers. They know what we’re doing.”

Atson didn’t get to practice much last season, as he tore his ACL in early October, costing him the year of practice.

“I officially came back when summer practices started,” Atson said. “I’ve just been grinding all summer, getting back into things. It feels great. It’s been a long time sitting out all year just rehabbing, so now getting back into it feels amazing.”

Marfo, who averaged 2.7 points per game (PPG) and 2.8 rebounds per game (RPG) in 23 games as a freshman at George Washington, is expected to fill the void left down low after Chaise Daniels’ (‘18) graduation. Marfo and Bundu are the only two true big men on this roster. They will likely split time pretty evenly, but one of them will be in the game at all times.

“We all got a job, everyone has a different role,” Marfo said. “I just have to do what they tell me to do. The coaches know what’s best so we just have to listen to them and pretty much just go from there.”

Rigoni, who will play a lot of small-ball four, was a pleasant surprise as a freshman last season. He scored in double figures in just one of his first 10 games, but he accomplished that feat in 15 of the Bobcats’ final 22 games to finish the year. He shot 45.5 percent (75-for-165) from deep, good for third in the MAAC and the only freshman in the top-10.

“Taking the next step as a defender,” Dunleavy said when asked what Rigoni needs to improve this season. “And then expand his game to know how he can contribute to the game when teams take away his shot.”

Dunleavy is hoping to get another crop of freshman contributors this season. None of them are likely to play as much as Kelly (34.2 minutes per game [MPG]) or Rigoni (26.0 MPG), but they still have a shot to play.

Freshmen guards Tyree Pickron and Tyrese Williams are expected to be key guards off the bench along with senior guards Andrew and Aaron Robinson. The other freshmen on the roster are guards Savion Lewis and Matt Balanc.

Pickron appears the most ready of the freshmen to get major minutes. His capability to play either guard spot and to rebound has Dunleavy excited.

“Tyree can play with other guards,” Dunleavy said. “He compliments other guards with his ability to shoot the ball. He can shoot it from very deep. He’s just solid and he’s got a toughness about him – he really plays bigger than his size (6-foot-3). On the defensive end, he’s a guy that should give us rebounding.”

Quinnipiac’s season tips off on Saturday, Nov. 10 on the road against defending national champion Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, home of the NBA’s 76ers. Dunleavy’s ties with that program (former player and assistant coach there) led to this matchup. Villanova has won two of the last three national championships, so this is about as a good of a test as any to open the season. This is undoubtedly the best team Quinnipiac will play all season.

“No matter who you play in game one, it’s just a feeling out process,” Dunleavy said. “You don’t really know how your team is, so I’m just excited to see how we compete. Regardless of who we’re going to play, I’m excited to see us out there on an NBA court, playing in that environment and seeing how we respond.”

Between the women’s program’s perennial dominance and the much-improved men’s team, the basketball buzz is palpable at Quinnipiac. This season, Quinnipiac realistically could make the NCAA Tournament. Think about telling someone that in March of 2017.

 

PREDICTION

22-10 overall, 13-5 MAAC

MAAC championship game loss

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