Quinnipiac finished the regular season 10-20 overall with a 7-11 league record and will enter the MAAC tournament as the #7 seed. The Bobcats will face off against #10 seed Siena in Thursday’s opening round at 7:00.
The Bobcats finished just 3-9 in the non-conference portion of their schedule under first-year head coach Baker Dunleavy, but got out to a 6-4 start in league play. However, Quinnipiac lost seven of eight February contests including three separate double-overtime contests as it fell out of the conversation for a tournament bye.
“It’s not a usual thing that you’ll hear a coach say that he thinks his team is getting better when you’ve lost more games than you’ve won on the back end, but I really feel like our team has progressed and gotten better,” Dunleavy said. “We’ve just really played in some tough situations. We haven’t come through in some of those tough situations with wins, but I really feel like we’ve had a lot of young guys get better, get tougher, and get more experience as they play some of their best basketball.”
Player To Watch: #1 Cameron Young, Sr. G
Quinnipiac did manage a pair of season sweeps in Dunleavy’s first year at the helm, one of which over Siena. The Bobcats pulled out a thrilling 71-70 victory at the Times Union Center on New Year’s Day behind 26 points from Cameron Young, then took care of business 76-69 in Connecticut with a balanced effort in which five players scored in double figures.
Young has been one of the most remarkable stories in college basketball this season, and a major reason why the Bobcats were able to match last season’s win total despite a slew of impactful transfers including 2017 MAAC Rookie of the Year Mikey Dixon to St. John’s and classmate Peter Kiss to Rutgers.
Young went scoreless in just eight total minutes of playing time last season, but this year paced the squad in both points (18.9 ppg) and rebounds (6.6 rpg) while adding 2.9 assists per game. The Los Angeles native has scored double figures in his last 24 games, and put together double-doubles in his last two to end the regular season.
Freshman point guard Rich Kelly has also been a pleasant surprise to the folks in Hamden. A recruit of the previous administration, Kelly’s scholarship was honored by the new regime in a decision which has paid off handsomely.
As the team’s lone true point guard this season, Kelly averaged 10.9 ppg while dishing out a team-best 4.8 apg. In the Bobcats 102-98 double-overtime loss at Fairfield on Feb. 17, Kelly became the first Quinnipiac player in over a decade to score 40 points in a game, and came up one point shy of Rob Monroe’s program record of 41 scored against Longwood on Jan. 2, 2005.
“He’s gotten more comfortable in his own skin as a college basketball player,” Dunleavy said of Kelly. “We talk all the time before games and in practice, and I’m tough on him. I say hey you’re not a freshman anymore; you’ve played too many minutes in this league to be a freshman, and he’s handled it so well. I think he’s playing his best basketball of the year right now.”
Kelly was named to the All-MAAC Rookie team, but was not the only freshman to have an impact on Quinnipiac this season. Australian native Jacob Rigoni lit up the perimeter with a stellar 44.8% shooting percentage from three-point range, making him already one of the best distance shooters in the conference. Rigoni finished the regular season averaging 9.4 ppg, good for fourth on the squad.
The Bobcats have relied heavily on the three-ball this season, but have not always been efficient on both ends of the perimeter. Quinnipiac’s 33.3% conversion rate on three-pointers during league play ranks last in the MAAC, and the Bobcats have also struggled on the defensive end, ranking 10th in the league by allowing opponents to connect on 42.2% of attempts from distance.
Inside the paint, junior Abdulai Bundu has earned the majority of starts, but senior Chaise Daniels has provided a sizeable impact off the bench. Daniels ranks second on the squad with 11.4 ppg, and has connected on 53.7% of his attempts from the field this season. On Feb. 10 at Canisius, Daniels put home 12 points to become the 13th Quinnipiac player at the Division I level to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career.
The Bobcats will face no easy task taking on Siena in a road environment at the Times Union Center for the second time this season, but strong play from a number of surprising sources has Quinnipiac in position to earn its first victory in the MAAC tournament since 2014.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.