Runnin’ the Point: Finding a third option

By on January 22, 2019

In Argentina, they say it takes two to tango. In the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), it takes three.

The Iona Gaels have won the men’s basketball MAAC Tournament for the past three years. In each of those years, the Gaels had at least three players average 11 points per game (PPG). To win in the MAAC, you need a clear-cut No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 option to bring home the trophy.

The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team has the first two options covered – it’s the third one that the Bobcats are struggling to find.

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
First off, there’s graduate student guard Cam Young – a player that’s played remarkably this season. When he bursted onto the scene last winter (18.8 PPG, Second-Team All-MAAC), no one saw it coming. He played eight minutes total – yes, total – the year prior and his game was a mystery. In his second real season in Hamden, Young has gotten even better.

Young has improved his scoring average (18.8 to 19.9), field goal percentage (.422 to .438), 3-point percentage (.303 to .398), free throw percentage (.754 to .771) and steals per game (1.3 to 1.6). By the way, he’s currently at 960 career points – just 40 shy of 1,000 – and he’s done it in just 56 career games (only 50 without the six scoreless games he played in 2016-17). 

All in all, the Los Angeles native has proved he can be a No. 1 option on a MAAC championship-level team.

The No. 2 option? That’s sophomore point guard Rich Kelly.

The Shelton, Connecticut native – who was named to the MAAC All-Rookie team last season – missed the first five games of the season due to a sprained MCL. In those five games, the Bobcats went 2-3 and had three games with fewer than 10 team assists. Since Kelly’s return (12 games), the Bobcats are 6-6 with just one game with fewer than 10 assists (and it came in his first game back).

“He makes players around him better, that’s his major talent,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “He allows Tyrese Williams to step back to the 2, where he’s more comfortable. He allows Cam Young to play more off-the-ball, where he’s more comfortable. It’s a domino effect. His presence allows everyone to play more to their strengths.”

The team is different offensively with Kelly…running the point (wink wink).

“Rich is playing great, he’s playing great basketball right now,” Dunleavy said after the loss to Niagara on Saturday.

Outside of his passing, Kelly has improved as a scorer in his second season. Similar to Young, Kelly has upped his scoring average (11.1 to 12.3), field goal percentage (.390 to .436), 3-point percentage (.317 to .429) and free throw percentage (.774 to .800).

So, there you have it. Young (19.9 PPG) and Kelly (12.3 PPG) are the No. 1 and No. 2 options. They’ve done it consistently all year long.

The problem? Nobody knows who the No. 3 is.

Quinnipiac has four players averaging between seven and nine points, but none higher than that (besides Young and Kelly). Sophomore forward Jacob Rigoni (8.8 PPG), freshman guard Tyrese Williams (8.6 PPG), junior forward Kevin Marfo (7.4 PPG) and junior guard Travis Atson (7.2 PPG) have all shown flashes of being that third guy, but no one has done it consistently.

Rigoni was expected to potentially be the third guy this year, but his jumper hasn’t been nearly as reliable as it was during his freshman season. Last season, Rigoni started 14 of the final 15 games of the year and averaged 11.7 PPG over that stretch. He ended the season averaging 9.8 PPG as a freshman, so an increase in production was expected. Instead, it’s been the opposite.

Aside from the PPG decrease, Rigoni has lowered his field goal percentage (.459 to .387), 3-point percentage (.455 to .355) and rebounding (3.8 to 3.5). Not the kind of trajectory that Bobcat fans wanted to see out of the Aussie in year two.

“I think we can just remind him how good he is,” Kelly said earlier in the season after Rigoni was held scoreless in a game. “He knows he’s one of the hardest-working guys on the team. Over the long-run the shots will fall and he’ll be fine.”

If he can get hot at the end of the season like he did last year, there’s still a chance he can serve as that third option.

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
Williams is another strong candidate to fill the role, but he has to shoot the ball more efficiently. He’s third on the team in field goals attempted per game (7.9), but he shoots just 37.8 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from deep. Not far off Rigoni’s numbers, actually, in terms of percentages.

Rigoni and Kelly both found their stride down the stretch of their freshman seasons last year, so the hope is that Williams can do the same.

If he can increase efficiency heading toward February and March, there’s still a chance he can serve as that third option.

Marfo is currently injured, nursing a partially torn meniscus. He’s participating in some team activities and is expected to return within the next few weeks. But even when he returns, he shouldn’t be expected to be a viable third option.

As a big man in a guard-heavy offense, Marfo has only averaged 4.8 shot attempts per game in the 12 games he’s played. He’ll likely be eased back into the rotation when he returns, and then the MAAC Tournament will be approaching once he’s fully healthy (if all goes according to plan). Marfo’s job when he returns for the rest of the season is mainly going to be rebounding, as his team-leading 9.3 rebounds per game have been missed since he went down.

Lastly, there’s Atson. He began his first season in Hamden hot, but he’s since cooled off. In the first 12 games of the season (6 starts), he scored in double figures eight times. But in the last five games, he’s reached that mark just once.

That makes nine times that he’s reached double figures in 17 games, which isn’t bad, but it’s not a No. 3 option. The other, much bigger problem is that Atson has gone scoreless in four games this season, including three times in the past seven games.

Quinnipiac is 5-4 in games where Atson reaches double figures, but just 3-4 when he doesn’t. The Bobcats have won five out of the last six times he’s hit that mark. Atson becoming the No. 3 option consistently might just be the key. But based on his recent play, it’s tough to rely on that when he has games where he can’t score.

It’s a difficult proposition, but one of those four guys is going to have to step up if the Bobcats have MAAC Championship aspirations – which we all know they do.

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