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Quinnipiac will get a true test of where it stands in the MAAC this week as they play host to two of the league’s top programs in Iona and Manhattan. Picked in the preseason coach’s poll as the top two teams in the MAAC, the Gaels and Jaspers each enter their contests against Quinnipiac undefeated in league play.
Iona – Monday, Jan. 6th
The Gaels enter Monday night’s matchup with one of the top offenses in the country. Iona is ranked in the top 25 nationally in points per game, assists per game, and field goal percentage. Averaging 83.1 ppg compared to the Bobcats’ 77.3, this is by far the most potent offense Quinnipiac has faced this season. (Iona also ranks 18th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.)
Quinnipiac has faced three other offenses ranked in the top 100 nationally in scoring so far this season – Maine (77.3 ppg), Rider (78.2 ppg), and Oregon State (77.1 ppg). Despite having a poor defensive game in their loss at Rider, the Bobcats held Maine and Oregon State below their average scoring output and have allowed a combined average of just 75.7 ppg to those three opponents.
Iona’s game is all about pushing the ball up the court and hitting their 3-point attempts. The Gaels have been extremely efficient in executing this game plan so far this season, as they rank 15th in the nation with a 41.3% conversion rate from behind the arc. Senior Sean Armand leads the Gaels with 21.3 ppg on nearly 51% shooting and 44.6% from 3-point range. Quinnipiac is conceding 34.7% to their opponents on shots from downtown, but they have seen only 173 attempts so far this year, the 13th fewest in the nation.
In contrast, Quinnipiac’s game centers on their rebounding prowess, powered by starting forwards Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame. Both Azotam (10.7 rpg) and Drame (8.3 rpg) should be tough to handle inside. Iona’s David Laury (7.8 rpg) represents the only true obstacle down low for the Gaels. If Laury ends up in foul trouble at any point in the game, the Bobcats could have a field day on the boards. Iona has been out-rebounded in their last 7 contests and 9 of 12 overall. Even in their recent 118-92 drubbing of Niagara Saturday afternoon, seemingly the only thing the Gaels didn’t do right was rebound the ball as they lost the battle of the boards 39-34. In that game the Purple Eagles were able to grab almost half (47.7%) of their misses, which helped them at least try and keep up offensively.
The matchup against the Gaels will give a good indication of how Quinnipiac stands up to a high-powered offense. The Bobcats struggled the last few years with the fast-moving offense of LIU Brooklyn during their time in the NEC. If they have learned from that experience, they should prevail Monday night. If not, they may have a new rival to keep up with in their new conference.
Manhattan – Thursday, Jan. 9th
The Manhattan Jaspers will enter Hamden Thursday evening undefeated on the road, on an eight game winning streak overall and holding a perfect 4-0 record in MAAC play. Led by senior guard George Beamon, the Jaspers match up much more evenly with the Bobcats than the Gaels. While Iona plays a small lineup, Manhattan boasts a formidable inside presence in forwards Ashton Pankey and Rhamel Brown as well as a versatile backcourt which includes senior Michael Alvarado in addition to the always-dangerous Beamon.
Scoring at a clip of 77.9 ppg, Manhattan’s offense is more in line with the numbers put up by Maine, Rider, and Oregon State. As mentioned earlier, the one game of those three Quinnipiac let get away from them defensively was the loss at MAAC foe Rider. (Though certainly a dangerous and top 100 offense according to KenPom.)
In that loss, the Bobcats allowed three Broncs to score over 20 points each – one forward (Daniel Stewart) and two guards (Anthony Myles and Jimmie Taylor). Thursday night’s matchup in Hamden has the potential to follow a similar tune. Beamon is an all-conference player and has the ability to go off on any given night while Alvarado plays a stellar supporting role with the ability to drive to the basket and either finish at the rim or dish the ball out to an open man.
Brown will be the toughest interior presence Quinnipiac has had to deal with all year. Any past concerns about the senior forward’s fitness level are behind him as he has had a prolific year blocking shots. Brown is averaging 4.0 blocks per game this year and has blocked 52 shots total. In comparison Quinnipiac, despite their formidable frontcourt which once again has them ranked second in rebounding nationally, has just 51 blocks as a team. It is yet to be determined whether Azotam or Drame will have the pleasure of being matched up against Brown, but no matter who goes against him it’s sure to be a war underneath the basket.
Manhattan was picked as the preseason favorite to take the MAAC crown, and for good reason. Their ability to score in the backcourt combined with their size underneath the basket should provide the Bobcats with a formidable challenge. Although Quinnipiac holds a clear advantage in rebounding based on the numbers (46.3 rpg vs 37.5 rpg), the Jaspers may have the best chance at ending Quinnipiac’s streak of 44 straight games without being out-rebounded.
There is much uncertainty involved in changing conferences. New opponents, new arenas, and new game plans dominate the conversation when talking about a move like Quinnipiac made this summer, but uncertainty still prevails until the games are actually played. This week’s pair of games against the top two teams in the league will finally show us all where Quinnipiac stands in the ranks of the MAAC.
Vincent Simone will be chronicling Quinnipiac’s move to the MAAC and helping cover the conference this season for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone