UMBC Moves To 4-0 With Victory Over Kennesaw State

By Corey Johns, So Much Sports Baltimore

Who would have thought a year ago anybody would be talking about a 4-0 UMBC season in 2016? Especially considering Kennesaw State had a player score 31 points (Kendrick Ray) and another post a 14-point, 15-rebound double-double (Aubrey Williams) and as a team shot 48.4% from the floor, it seemed unlikely they would be headed there either. But the Retrievers were unstoppable offensively themselves and beat the Owls 93-85 to stay unbeaten to start the season. Continue reading “UMBC Moves To 4-0 With Victory Over Kennesaw State”

What’s Wrong with the Quinnipiac Bobcats?

Tom Moore’s Bobcats were projected to be a year away from becoming possible favorites for a NEC title (projections were made before Quinnipiac’s announced defection to the MAAC next fall). The frontcourt is led by vociferous rebounders Ike Azotam, Jamee Jackson, and Ousmane Drame, but the backcourt – other than senior point guard Dave Johnson – is in partial rebuild mode. Despite the inexperience on the perimeter, this was a team projected by yours truly and John to finish in the upper third (aka top four) of the conference. Through 16 games however, the Bobcats have given pundits no indication that they could live up to those semi-lofty expectations. Their latest NEC home loss to Sacred Heart last Saturday bumped the Bobcats down to 1-3 in the NEC, and a stunning 5-11 overall.

The poor play has been surprising, so I decided to examine what has gone wrong in Hamden. As you’ll soon find out, it’s a myriad of issues that has plagued this team.

1) The Offense Lacks Playmakers
Anyone who’s read a prognostication of Quinnipiac this offseason has had the James Johnson graduation story rammed down their throats. It was the number one question this fall: how exactly would Tom Moore replace Johnson’s superb production on the court and his leadership off it? While an answer to the latter is difficult to ascertain without being in the locker room, statistics prove the backcourt production has taken a step back. While Zaid Hearst has seen a slight uptick in his production from his rookie campaign, he hasn’t been the player we envisioned he’d grow into. Garvey Young, who’s currently out nursing an ankle injury, is a solid, yet unspectacular veteran, who provides more value on the defensive side of the ball anyway. And the freshmen, in particular Kendrick Ray and his explosive first step, need time to fully adapt to the speed of D-I basketball. The same goes for three-point extraordinaire James Ford and the recently used Tariq Carey.

Add it all up and you have a backcourt that can be, dare I say, stagnant at times. The offensive attack lacks any kind of consistent playmaking ability – the type of playmaking skills that Johnson provided for Moore late in the game. Ray possesses the most upside of the aforementioned candidates, but as he showed in the loss to Sacred Heart (3 points, 1-9 from the floor), he’s still not ready to be counted on as a productive double-digit scorer. Someday the athletic Ray will get there, I’m confident of that, but it will take some time.

2) Missing Their Freebies
For the last two and a half seasons, the Bobcats have continually shot themselves in the foot by missing their free throws. Their early NEC season has been somewhat painful to watch, because Quinnipiac has shot a putrid 52.0% from the charity stripe. Yes, that’s 52.0% on 98 attempts. They missed 15 free throw attempts in their NEC opener in a TWO point loss to St. Francis Brooklyn. Versus Bryant, they bricked seven freebies, although the Bulldogs probably would have won the game regardless. The following Saturday, Quinnipiac only converted 14 of 27 free throw attempts in a SIX point loss to Sacred Heart. This is nothing new, and really, there isn’t much Moore can do to alleviate the pain. As long as Ike Azotam, Jamee Jackson, and Ousmane Drame continue to rack up minutes (as well they should), any coach would be foolish not to employ the “hack a Bobcat big man” strategy for easy layups and in games that go down to the wire. As this point, all Bobcat nation can do is close their eyes, cross their fingers, and hope for the best. Or at the very least, Moore could keep Jackson and his career 47.8% free throw percentage on the bench during late game situations.

3) What Happened to the Defense?
Moore’s teams have always prided themselves on playing good old hard-nosed half-court defense by contesting shots, clogging pass lanes, and dominating the defensive glass. While the rebounding has been exceptional as usual, Quinnipiac has had a hell of a time stopping the opposition from scoring. Through four conference games, Quinnipiac has allowed opponents to score 1.11 points per possession, which is the second worst (besides LIU Brooklyn of course) defense in the NEC. It’s been an early puzzling trend, especially when examining Quinnipiac’s previous body of work. In the four seasons prior, the Bobcats have held opponents to 0.94, 0.92, 0.95 and 0.95 points per possession, respectively. Also troubling is their lousy defense on the perimeter, which is allowing opponents to shoot 38.2% from behind the arc. This is essentially the same team from last season, sans Johnson who was a decent defender, so why they’ve allowed teams like Bryant and Sacred Heart to go on prolonged back-breaking second half runs is beyond me. I bet Moore is searching for an answer to that question as you read this.

Even though the last 750 words have been of the glass half-empty variety, there’s still hope for Quinnipiac. As I stated before, more conversions at the charity stripe could have changed the outcome for at least one, if not two, of the games. Also, it’s fair to expect Quinnipiac to progress back to the mean in regards to free throw shooting (they’re shooting 63.0% from the line for the season). A couple of more defensive stops on top of that and maybe, just maybe, this team can rattle off a few wins in a row.

It’s absolutely possible, but Quinnipiac needs to play better soon. In the wild wild NEC, where parity reins supreme, those “easy” victories are becoming few and far between. And if the Bobcats can’t execute better on both ends of the floor, it will be a final season to forget in the NEC for Tom Moore and company.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

Observations and quotes from Quinnipiac’s practice

Recently, I traveled to Hamden to watch the Quinnipiac Bobcats practice. It was my first time meeting Tom Moore, who in Connecticut and the NEC, has a bit of a target on his back from fans of other nearby schools. Maybe people are envious of his recent success, contract, or perhaps the beautiful TD Banknorth Arena has them jealous. No matter how much you dislike Moore and his program though, critics simply can’t ignore Quinnipiac’s recent success. In the past three seasons, Moore has a NEC regular season championship and an average of 21 wins per season.

Below you’ll find my random thoughts and several quotes from my hour plus conversation with Moore.

– Zaid Hearst was impressive in practice. His practice intensity and confidence shooting the mid-range jumper stood out the most to me. About a month ago, I identified Hearst as one of my breakout candidates, and really, this practice reiterated my belief in him. Moore has been impressed with Hearst’s work ethic, since his strong finish last season.

“To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have said [Hearst is ready] in January, but he got better as the year went on,” said Moore. “The thing I love about [Hearst] is he took that ending and from April to now, no one in our program has worked harder. He’s just one of those kids – like James Johnson was – you don’t have to force to the gym and you don’t have to beg him to the gym. He just works, so his body is great right now, his toughness is great right now, and his game is improving all of time.”

– While Hearst is the leading candidate to replace most of Johnson’s production on the court, Moore expects multiple guys on the team to replace Johnson’s leadership. Seniors Dave Johnson and Jamee Jackson, Ike Azotam, and Hearst were quickly identified as those guys. The thing that worries Moore the most, however, is who will step up late in the game and become that go-to-guy when the Bobcats need a bucket. It’s a big time concern for Moore.

“The ability at the end of games and at big times in the shot clock where [James Johnson] wanted the ball and guys were used to deferring a bit, and he was always willing to take those shots. So I don’t know [who will fill that role]. I hope that’s something that evolves, because we brought in some real talent on the perimeter, but it’s inexperienced talent.”

– Speaking of perimeter talent, Kendrick Ray’s athleticism and James Ford’s perimeter stroke grabbed my attention. The 6-foot-3 Ray is a terrific leaper, and he should make an impact on the floor as a combo guard. Moore would like to ease Ray’s role early on, mainly by playing him off-the-ball, rather than backing up starting PG Dave Johnson. James Ford has a real opportunity to fill a long range shooting niche as a freshman. Quinnipiac struggled last year shooting behind the arc, so Ford’s energy and shooting prowess could find him time right away. At practice, even Ford’s contested misses found the inside of the rim more often than not. This kid can flat out shoot.

“He is our most natural three-point shooter right now,” said Moore in regards to Ford. “I have to make sure he keeps thinking like a three-point shooter and we’ve been really impressed by him.”

– There’s always one player on the team that challenges a coaching staff, and that player for Quinnipiac is 6-foot-9 center Ousmane Drame. Drame is a physical speciman in the NEC, so now the struggle for Moore is to reve up his competitive fire. The beast in the paint lacks intensity at times, and at one point during practice, Drame was told by Moore to leave the scrimmage and sit on the sidelines (6-foot-3 guard Evan Conti came in for Drame and had to guard Azotam, which as you could imagine was wildly entertaining to watch). When talking about Drame, Moore proclaimed how much he loves to coach talented and intelligent players such as Drame. Yet Moore is still trying to tweak and push the right buttons when it comes to handling his big forward.

“[Drame] was a guy – watching him in July [during the recruiting period] – that I loved,” said Moore. “But because of his body language – it can be a little casual and he can stand a lot off the ball – he was one of those guys that the more I saw him, the more convinced I was of his talent, but the more concerned I was with [Drame’s competitive] fire. But I just felt that he was so talented, that when we got him in the program it could really work.”

Moore also reiterated that he expects Drame to have a “monster season.”

– Moore also expects big things out of the versatile Jamme Jackson, who sat out of practice with a minor groin injury. Last season, Jackson suffered a freak injury in the warmup line before Niagara when he awkwardly landed on a ball he had just dunked. Before then, Jackson had an impressive three game stretch where he averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. If healthy, Moore plans to give his senior forward big time minutes in the frontcourt along with Drame and Azotam.

“Jamee’s been a monster so far,” said Moore. “In my opinion, he’s the most athletic and hardest playing inside player in this league. I feel like I’m sitting on a secret right now, because he was just getting to that point last season before he broke the bone in his foot on December. He can play low post guys, move them off the block, alter their shot, he can do anything you need out of a low post guy. He can also guard fours that pick and pop.”

– Jackson will be part of a deep frontcourt that also includes Justin Harris (who displayed a solid 15 foot jumper) and Marquis Barnett. In the backcourt, there appears to be a three-way competition for playing time between Evan Conti, freshman Tariq Carey, and Shaq Shannon. Expect Moore to ride the hot hand among those three in-season.

And there you have it. 1000 words and I’ve barely mentioned All-NEC preseason first team selection Ike Azotam. The junior will continue to command the ball in the post, and has developed a quick-release jump hook. A season of 17 ppg/10 rpb/1.2 bpg from Azotam is not out of the question.

Add it all up, and you have a legit contender in the NEC. Perhaps this season, Quinnipiac will find some of the luck needed to represent the NEC in the NCAA tournament.

Quinnipiac targets their backcourt of the future in the 2012 class

Quinnipiac Bobcats, 18-14 (10-8 NEC), Lost Semifinals of NEC Tournament to LIU

Players Lost:
G James Johnson –16.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.3 spg, All-NEC 2nd Team Selection
G Kevin Tarca – 6 games played
F Alex Jackson (transfer) – 1.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg
G Terrace Bobb-Jones (transfer) – 9 games played, 0.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg
G Nate Gause (transfer) – 3.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg

Incoming Recruits:
Tariq Carey, 6’2” G – St. Anthony High (NJ)
Kendrick Ray
, 6’0” PG – Middletown High (NY)
James Ford
, 6’4” G – Quality Education Academy (NC)
Shaquille Shannon, 6’3” G – Conners State Junior College (OK)

The 2011-12 season for the Quinnipiac Bobcats played out much like every other season under head coach Tom Moore. Quinnipiac once again led the NEC in rebounding, played stout defense, and found themselves with a realistic chance to capture their first ever NEC tournament title.  But as was the case for the past few years, Quinnipiac lacked the offensive firepower late in critical games to push them over the top.  To exacerbate the problem, the Bobcats will have to move on this offseason without their leading scorer and captain, James Johnson.  With this in mind, Moore recruited an impressive haul of guards, which should help temper the loss of Johnson and improve their offensive efficiency in the long run.

Perhaps the best-known recruit out of the group is 6-foot-2 guard Tariq Carey.  Carey chose Quinnipiac thanks to the persistence of Moore, despite receiving interest from Auburn, Clemson, and Boston University, just to name a few.  Carey makes his living penetrating into the lane and finishing around the rim.  The 180-pound Carey isn’t afraid of contact, although he’ll definitely need to add bulk and be a bit more cautious when facing stronger collegiate competition.  In addition, his ball control and passing skills are above average, which sets Carey up as a combo guard in year one for the Bobcats.  The outside shot is something the Carey needs to work on, but for now he could serve as a valuable contributor off the bench.  With more opportunity, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if he lands in the starting lineup and on the All-NEC Rookie Team at season’s end.

Another recruit who should see meaningful minutes in the Bobcat backcourt is point guard Kendrick Ray, who committed to Quinnipiac last September.  Kendrick, the younger brother of the former Villanova standout Allen Ray, is known to facilitate and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates, thanks to his excellent court vision and tight handle.  Ray can also push the ball well in transition – an attribute that should come in handy for a team that rebounds the ball exceptionally well on the defensive end.  Ray projects as the Bobcat’s future floor general, but for now, he’ll gain valuable experience as senior Dave Johnson’s back-up.

After signing Carey and Ray, Quinnipiac had filled all their available scholarships until two more opened up with the transfers of Alex Jackson and Terrace Bobb-Jones.  As a result, Moore used the opportunity to further solidify his backcourt of the future, by recently signing under-the-radar prospects James Ford and Shaquille Shannon.

Ford possesses good athleticism and can score a variety of ways, but it may be his outstanding range that’s his best skill.  Ford’s ability to drain it from downtown should help a Quinnipiac club that finished in the bottom half of the NEC in three-point percentage last season.  With James Johnson’s departure, only Zaid Hearst, Dave Johnson, and Garvey Young remain as Quinnipiac’s competent long-range shooters, therefore Ford has an opportunity to play the niche role of a reliable shooter off the bench in his freshman season.

Little is currently known about Shannon, as the only junior college recruit in the group.  What is known is Shannon (besides having an awesome name) has the potential to be lock-down defender, which is quite the asset considering the many talented wing players that reside in the NEC.  It’s unknown how much he’ll contribute right away, and with the Bobcat’s deep rotation, it may make sense if Moore redshirts Shannon for a season before donning the blue and gold.

Overall, Tom Moore has to be pleased with his latest recruiting class.  Obviously, Quinnipiac wants to compete for a Northeast Conference title now, and will, but the 2013-14 season may serve as the Bobcat’s best chance to capture that elusive championship.  By then, veterans Ike Azotam, Ousmane Drame, and Zaid Hearst supplemented with the upside of this 2012 recruiting class may have Quinnipiac fans celebrating in Hamden, some day soon.

Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart and Northeast Conference men’s basketball on Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter here.