There are no “must-win” games on Dec. 4 in college basketball, especially if you’re in a one-bid league. But Sunday’s home game against Marist might have been a “really want” contest for Quinnipiac.
The Bobcats came in at 1-5, and although they had played an extremely difficult schedule, three of those defeats came at home. After several years of contending, both in the NEC and MAAC, Quinnipiac suffered through a miserable 9-21 campaign in 2015-16, a campaign where even their ninth straight season of ranking in the top 10 nationally couldn’t save them.
With all due respect to Marist, it is a bit of a cautionary tale for Quinnipiac, now on its third coach in five years in Mike Maker, who is attempting to slowly dig out of a hole that hit rock bottom with a 1-29 campaign in 2009-10 and hasn’t come close to a winning season since. Every losing season the Bobcats have, the harder it will be to reverse the downward momentum.
“We’re very much a work in progress as far as our self-belief,” Moore said. “We have 11 of our 13 scholarship guys are in their first or their second year here. Last year, they weren’t a part of a super successful team so they saw more adversity than they saw winning. So handing a 17-point lead going down to five is not something we’re good at right now. We stayed together and we answered today. We kept grinding and got it back to where we were comfortable.”
A loss Sunday would push Quinnipiac to 0-2 in the MAAC with both losses at home (while making Marist 2-0 and two games ahead of them already). And the Bobcats answered the call Sunday, making five of their first six shots and never trailing in a 77-63 victory. For a team picked 10th in the MAAC, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but there was a little bit of a confident swagger detected in the Bobcats, and they’ll need it to try to climb back up the MAAC ladder without slipping further.
“We’re fighting to find our identity,” sophomore Alain Chigha, who played 21 minutes off the bench, said. “We’re trying to come together as a team, so being able to come out with a win like this is special, because nothing comes easy in this league.”
Said Moore: “To go into that locker room after the game with a win is a totally different feeling for these kids. We have to accelerate the learning process and the winning accelerates that more than anything, because if you don’t win, lack of belief sets in and it gets a little dicey. If we’re going to keep going to the well for emotion and energy, they have to feel wins, too, so we can keep going to that effectively.”
What else did we learn Sunday at the TD Bank Sports Center?
- Making shots is usually the key
We’ve talked a lot about Quinnipiac’s two-point shooting last season, because it was historically poor (38.3%), but a full two percentage points behind the other 350 teams in Division I. Sunday, the Bobcats were 15-25, and have climbed up to 43.9% (299th) for the season.
While having effective post players is a factor, guards that can finish (or get fouled, which does not count as a shot attempt) at the rim is equally important. Moore may have unearthed two in freshmen Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss, who combined to shoot 11-18 inside the arc Sunday. Kiss is at 48.0% and Dixon 48.8% in the early season, which if those numbers hold, would be better than anyone on last year’s roster.
Mikey Dixon to the rack again! He has 14 on the day. pic.twitter.com/w1y4DoESI6
— QU Men’s Basketball (@QU_MBB) December 4, 2016
Again, 299th out of 351 teams doesn’t sound like much, but baby steps.
“We have a few more guys that can answer and finish this year, I think,” Moore said. “It’s not always off great offense. It can come in many different ways. At Quinnipiac games the last couple years, it was like: they’re going to miss the outside shot, then put four guys on the glass, and their best offense is a second shot. With this group, I don’t feel like our best offense is our second shot right now.”
2) Great job by Quinnipiac defense, too
After expected losses to Duke and Rhode Island, Marist had topped 1.00 points per possession in six straight games before being held to 0.88 ppp Sunday. Quinnipiac, which has traditionally been at the bottom of the forcing turnovers rankings, had nine steals and Marist ended up with 16 turnovers (22.2%). We know Quinnipiac will likely do pretty well on the boards, so if they can do that consistently and not stretch its defense too far, it should be OK.
Meanwhile, Marist (4-5, 1-1), which went 13-26 at the free throw line, has to find a way to protect the paint consistently. Brian Parker came in as their leading rebounder and had a team-leading six in this game, which is good for Parker, but he is a 6’2” guard. So maybe that had a little to do with Quinnipiac’s shooting success, too?
“We made a couple of defensive mistakes in the first half and they missed shots, but for the most part, positionally, we were where we were supposed to be. We knew who everyone was, and where they were, and that’s key,” Moore said.
3) Last of the early conference play
This was the last (well, after Siena and Rider meet Monday) of the early December MAAC games as the league will go back to an 18-game conference schedule next season. From a media perspective, I like it because it gives a little added emphasis to break the non-conference monotony of the first couple months of the campaign, but it’s not really fair to the coaches to: a) have conference games so early in the process; and b) have 20 games be conference contests, taking away much-needed flexibility in the non-conference campaign.
So, until next time, goodbye early MAAC conference tilts.