Tom Moore’s Bobcats were projected to be a year away from becoming possible favorites for a NEC title (projections were made before Quinnipiac’s announced defection to the MAAC next fall). The frontcourt is led by vociferous rebounders Ike Azotam, Jamee Jackson, and Ousmane Drame, but the backcourt – other than senior point guard Dave Johnson – is in partial rebuild mode. Despite the inexperience on the perimeter, this was a team projected by yours truly and John to finish in the upper third (aka top four) of the conference. Through 16 games however, the Bobcats have given pundits no indication that they could live up to those semi-lofty expectations. Their latest NEC home loss to Sacred Heart last Saturday bumped the Bobcats down to 1-3 in the NEC, and a stunning 5-11 overall.
The poor play has been surprising, so I decided to examine what has gone wrong in Hamden. As you’ll soon find out, it’s a myriad of issues that has plagued this team.
1) The Offense Lacks Playmakers
Anyone who’s read a prognostication of Quinnipiac this offseason has had the James Johnson graduation story rammed down their throats. It was the number one question this fall: how exactly would Tom Moore replace Johnson’s superb production on the court and his leadership off it? While an answer to the latter is difficult to ascertain without being in the locker room, statistics prove the backcourt production has taken a step back. While Zaid Hearst has seen a slight uptick in his production from his rookie campaign, he hasn’t been the player we envisioned he’d grow into. Garvey Young, who’s currently out nursing an ankle injury, is a solid, yet unspectacular veteran, who provides more value on the defensive side of the ball anyway. And the freshmen, in particular Kendrick Ray and his explosive first step, need time to fully adapt to the speed of D-I basketball. The same goes for three-point extraordinaire James Ford and the recently used Tariq Carey.
Add it all up and you have a backcourt that can be, dare I say, stagnant at times. The offensive attack lacks any kind of consistent playmaking ability – the type of playmaking skills that Johnson provided for Moore late in the game. Ray possesses the most upside of the aforementioned candidates, but as he showed in the loss to Sacred Heart (3 points, 1-9 from the floor), he’s still not ready to be counted on as a productive double-digit scorer. Someday the athletic Ray will get there, I’m confident of that, but it will take some time.
2) Missing Their Freebies
For the last two and a half seasons, the Bobcats have continually shot themselves in the foot by missing their free throws. Their early NEC season has been somewhat painful to watch, because Quinnipiac has shot a putrid 52.0% from the charity stripe. Yes, that’s 52.0% on 98 attempts. They missed 15 free throw attempts in their NEC opener in a TWO point loss to St. Francis Brooklyn. Versus Bryant, they bricked seven freebies, although the Bulldogs probably would have won the game regardless. The following Saturday, Quinnipiac only converted 14 of 27 free throw attempts in a SIX point loss to Sacred Heart. This is nothing new, and really, there isn’t much Moore can do to alleviate the pain. As long as Ike Azotam, Jamee Jackson, and Ousmane Drame continue to rack up minutes (as well they should), any coach would be foolish not to employ the “hack a Bobcat big man” strategy for easy layups and in games that go down to the wire. As this point, all Bobcat nation can do is close their eyes, cross their fingers, and hope for the best. Or at the very least, Moore could keep Jackson and his career 47.8% free throw percentage on the bench during late game situations.
3) What Happened to the Defense?
Moore’s teams have always prided themselves on playing good old hard-nosed half-court defense by contesting shots, clogging pass lanes, and dominating the defensive glass. While the rebounding has been exceptional as usual, Quinnipiac has had a hell of a time stopping the opposition from scoring. Through four conference games, Quinnipiac has allowed opponents to score 1.11 points per possession, which is the second worst (besides LIU Brooklyn of course) defense in the NEC. It’s been an early puzzling trend, especially when examining Quinnipiac’s previous body of work. In the four seasons prior, the Bobcats have held opponents to 0.94, 0.92, 0.95 and 0.95 points per possession, respectively. Also troubling is their lousy defense on the perimeter, which is allowing opponents to shoot 38.2% from behind the arc. This is essentially the same team from last season, sans Johnson who was a decent defender, so why they’ve allowed teams like Bryant and Sacred Heart to go on prolonged back-breaking second half runs is beyond me. I bet Moore is searching for an answer to that question as you read this.
Even though the last 750 words have been of the glass half-empty variety, there’s still hope for Quinnipiac. As I stated before, more conversions at the charity stripe could have changed the outcome for at least one, if not two, of the games. Also, it’s fair to expect Quinnipiac to progress back to the mean in regards to free throw shooting (they’re shooting 63.0% from the line for the season). A couple of more defensive stops on top of that and maybe, just maybe, this team can rattle off a few wins in a row.
It’s absolutely possible, but Quinnipiac needs to play better soon. In the wild wild NEC, where parity reins supreme, those “easy” victories are becoming few and far between. And if the Bobcats can’t execute better on both ends of the floor, it will be a final season to forget in the NEC for Tom Moore and company.