Quinnipiac Eager to Build on Success in the MAAC

After their third 20-win season in the last five years, Tom Moore’s Quinnipiac Bobcats are ready to learn from their first year in the MAAC and use those lessons to achieve greater success in 2015.

Led by the senior duo of Ousmane Drame and Zaid Hearst, the Bobcats are poised to make their presence known in the MAAC once again. Bolstered by the additions of five newcomers including junior college transfer Giovanni McLean, Moore’s squad will look to once again prove they belong in the upper echelon of the conference.

“The biggest thing we took out of last year is the belief that we belong in the league,” Moore said. “A year ago at this time it was a great unknown. Everyone involved in this program understood how good these teams in the MAAC were. We were confident because we know we were good and we knew we were tough and we were confident it would equate, but you’re never really sure. I know people have picked us around third, fourth, or fifth in the league, and I know we’re going to be in that conversation again as one of the better teams in the league.”

With the graduation of Umar Shannon and Ike Azotam last spring, Quinnipiac loses two of its three leading scorers from last season. Shannon’s dynamic 3-point shooting (36%) allowed the Bobcats to stretch the floor last year. Potential candidates to replicate this dynamic are Hearst, James Ford, and the transfer McLean. Azotam led the team in scoring last season with 16.5 ppg, but his shoes will largely be filled by Drame, who now steps into the role of big man on campus.

“You just take for granted how many easy baskets Ike could get for you over the course of a game,” Moore said of his former forward. “We didn’t have a lot of runs against us a year ago where we just got smacked around. One reason for that was because of how easily Ike could score off bullying someone in the lane or grabbing an offensive rebound and sometimes you take that for granted as a coach.”

The Bobcats’ depth could turn from their weakest trait last year to their biggest strength this year. After suffering a slew of injuries down the stretch last season, Moore has brought in a fresh class of recruits to resupply his squad and ensure his team has fit bodies late in the season.

“The new guys all look like they’ll be able to do something this year,” Moore said of his newcomers. “Gio has a head start on the other four because he’s older, but they’ve all got a chance to help in some way, shape or form. When you have a deep team of returning guys and you add five new people, they’ll be good.”

Sophomore Kasim Chandler will play a key role in making sure the Bobcats continue their progress towards a MAAC championship. (photo courtesy: Stockton Photo)

Kasim Chandler emerged as a solid point guard option for the Bobcats during his freshman year. Chandler averaged 8.1 ppg and 2.7 apg while splitting time at the point with seniors Umar and Shaq Shannon before a toe injury forced him to miss the final month of the season. Chandler returned for the MAAC tournament and helped the Bobcats remain competitive with eventual champion Manhattan during much of their semifinal game.

With the pair of Shannons moving on, Chandler will move into a more prominent role, but he likely won’t hold sole possession of the spotlight at the point. While expected to be one of the team’s top scorers, McLean also projects to be a viable option at point guard for the Bobcats this year. Moore not only expects the duo to share time at the point, but is also enthusiastic about deploying both guards in tandem.

“I like the idea of two point guards,” Moore said. “We did that a lot at UConn and they just won a National Championship a year ago with two point guards. I don’t think those two will get in their way if they have to play together; they’re both too good to limit them to just 40 minutes. I think we’re going to have to look at ways to get them both on the court and having them share.”

McLean, a former Oklahoma commit, is the first example of what life in the MAAC means to Quinnipiac from a recruiting standpoint. A conflict with a Big 12 rule, which would have forced McLean to sit out a year at Oklahoma, led to him deciding to shift his commitment to Quinnipiac.

“It’s been quite obvious so far with the level of kids we’ve been able to get involved in since we’ve joined the MAAC,” Moore said of the recruiting trail. “We were just involved with a kid who scheduled four visits. It was three Atlantic-10 schools and us. We feel the package we have here we can recruit against the Atlantic-10. We don’t feel like we can beat them regularly, but we only have to beat them once every five or six kids to land that impact player.”

Quinnipiac opens the 2014-15 season with a matchup against local rival Yale, who ended their season in the College Insider Tournament in March. The game comes as part of the Connecticut 6, which will be hosted for the first time on the Bobcats’ home court.

“Quinnipiac loves this stuff,” Moore said. “I’m going to appeal to the Quinnipiac community to come out and support it because it’s a fun night and it’s going to be an exciting atmosphere in here. The local community has done a great job coming out for us, so that will be fun.”

Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac and the MAAC for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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