For the first time since 2012, Quinnipiac will take part in the Paradise Jam tournament. Unfortunately when the Bobcats tip off against Colorado in their opening-round game later this evening, sandy beaches and palm trees won’t be waiting just outside the doors.
Routinely held in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the last 16 years, the Paradise Jam has this year been relocated to Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA due to damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The Bobcats last took part in the Paradise Jam in 2012 when a member of the Northeast Conference. There, they took down Iona 98-92 in what was then the first meeting between the now MAAC rivals. That victory propelled Quinnipiac into a semifinal meeting against in-state powerhouse UConn where the Bobcats pushed Shabazz Napier and the Huskies to double-overtime before falling 89-83.
This year, Quinnipiac will again open with a first-time opponent when they take on Colorado Friday evening at 6 p.m. The Buffaloes enter the tournament winners of their first two games of the season over Northern Colorado and Denver.
Heading to Lynchburg, the Bobcats have already answered some questions through their home split against Dartmouth and Brown to open the year. Chaise Daniels would have to be relied upon as a solid presence in the paint on both ends of the floor, and he has proved to be just that that through the first two games of his senior year.
Daniels tallied 21 on opening night against Dartmouth, and came through with the game-winning block to seal the 78-77 victory over the Big Green. He tallied another 18 against Brown with four additional blocks, and is shooting 69% from the floor this year.
Daniels has been as-advertised, but the larger unknowns entering the year revolved around the Bobcats’ backcourt, a unit whose top returning scorer, junior Andrew Robinson, averaged just 3.8 ppg last season. However, fresh faces have emerged early in the year to fill the gaps.
Freshman Rich Kelly came in with the expectation of being thrown into the fire as the lone true point guard on the roster, and has responded admirably early in his career. The Shelton, CT native is averaging 12.5 ppg with 8.5 assists per game, but has committed eight turnovers early on.
“I think throwing him into the fire, that’s exactly what it is,” head coach Baker Dunleavy said after Monday’s loss to Brown. “It’s a tough position to be in, a young guy at the point guard position…There’s going to be an adjustment period, but while that adjustment is taking place, I think he’s trying to do everything the right way, trying to do everything the way we need him to. He’ll learn from this one. I think his overall numbers at the end ended up looking good, but he knows he’d like to have some of those turnovers back. All of us, Rich, everybody, we just have to take another step defensively.
Penn State graduate transfer Isaiah Washington has set himself apart as the team’s go-to perimeter scorer. Washington adds 13.0 ppg and has connected on 45% of his 3-point attempts thus far. Since he graduated from Penn State in three years with a redshirt season mixed in, Washington will have ample opportunity to grow into his role with the Bobcats with an additional year of eligibility in 2018-19.
Sophomore Cameron Young is not a new addition to the roster, but his enhanced role this season will provide onlookers with their first real glimpse of his ability. Young was held scoreless in just eight minutes of action all of last season, but has already notched 23 points with 15 boards over 32 minutes per game this year.
“Physical talent, length, athleticism, an overall versatile skill set,” Dunleavy said as the attributes Young presented when evaluating the roster this offseason. “The thing I’ve been happy with Cam is we’ve also tried to make some changes in his game and his mentality, and he’s been really open to being coached. That part of it I’m excited about. That’s the case for all of our guys.”
Colorado was tabbed ninth of 12 teams in a preseason PAC-12 media poll, but runs a deep lineup headlined by senior George King. King leads the Buffaloes in both scoring and rebounding early this season with 11.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg.
Right on King’s heels is talented freshman McKinley Wright IV. A former Dayton commit who sought to relocate after head coach Archie Miller took the job at Indiana this offseason, Wright is averaging 11.0 ppg with 2.5 apg as a Buffalo. Like Kelly for Quinnipiac, Wright has been given the keys to the car as Colorado’s lead point guard in just his first year of collegiate ball.
Others to average double figures early in the year include junior guard Namon Wright (10.5 ppg) who sat out last season after averaging 9.6 ppg as a sophomore at Missouri in 2015-16, and sophomore guard Deleon Brown (10.0 ppg).
“Road trips are nice because you get away from distractions,” Dunleavy said of his team’s first test away from home. “I know some of our fans are probably disappointed we’re not going to the Virgin Islands, but for our team, this is healthy. There are no distractions, we’re in Virginia, and we’re on a business trip.”
Dunleavy’s Bobcats will take on Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes Friday night at 6 p.m. with the winner slated to face the winner of the following game between Drake and Wake Forest. All Paradise Jam games can be streamed on FloHoops.com
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.