Baker Dunleavy goes into fourth year at Quinnipiac having to replace Rich Kelly and Kevin Marfo, but with experience to contend in MAAC’s upper echelon. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
Not often does a program needing to replace both of its leading scorers project itself to not lose much of a step the following season, but by the same token, not every program possesses a cadre of well-rounded experience at every position to mitigate such significant departures.
Such is life at Quinnipiac, where despite the graduate transfers of Rich Kelly and Kevin Marfo, head coach Baker Dunleavy is in high spirits as he enters his fourth season at the helm of the Bobcats, a team who had a first-round bye in last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, but was unable to take the floor before the remainder of the season was canceled on the evening of March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was such a unique situation in terms of timing, because the NBA had their situation with Rudy Gobert Wednesday night,” Dunleavy said of the confluence of events that ultimately sacrificed March Madness just as it was heating up. “We were just kind of sitting on pins and needles watching other teams and leagues make decisions knowing we were the game at night. I think we all had a feeling it was going to get canceled, but we were all just kind of hoping, somehow, we’d be able to do it.”
“For us, we had a guy like Aaron Falzon, who came and helped our program so much in one year, and really wanted to be a part of a postseason run. We just felt awful for him and all the seniors across the NCAA who didn’t get to have a sense of closure.”
Falzon, along with Kelly and Marfo — who decided to spend their final years of eligibility at Boston College and Texas A&M, respectively — are no longer in Hamden, but with that said, the cupboard remains very well stocked for a roster whose reliance on senior wing Jacob Rigoni and junior combo guard Tyrese Williams becomes heavier, but smoother with the return of one of the MAAC’s deepest and most versatile supporting casts.
“When we came here and took this program over three years ago, the first full recruiting class we brought in are the guys that are going to be third-year players for us,” said Dunleavy. “That’s Tyrese Williams, Savion Lewis, Matt Balanc, Tyree Pickron. We really want to invest in those guys, and then obviously, having a senior leader coming back like Jacob Rigoni — who was on the preseason all-conference team last year and should be again this year, and is an incredible leader — you build around what you’ve got, and I think we have a lot. And we’re excited about what we have. We have a lot to work with, that’s for sure.”
In Rigoni, Quinnipiac has a battle-tested veteran who now shifts from the role of third option to the likely focal point of the Bobcats’ offense, a change his coach feels he is more than suited to undertake.
“I have no doubt,” Dunleavy said of Rigoni’s ability to be the primary aggressor. “I think we’ve really benefited from having a lot of options offensively for us the last few years, and he’s been a guy that’s sacrificed in terms of role, touches, and this year, he’ll have to take a heavy load of our offense — not just shooting threes, but being more of a guy that we play through — and I think he’s really excited to do that. He’s ready for it.”
“Tyrese Williams will be an integral part of what we do, a guy that we play through, a go-to guy that’s going to have the ball in his hands. That much, we know. When he’s played really well for us, our record is off the charts, and it’s not a matter of playing well or poorly, it’s his aggressiveness. That’s going to have to be the case this year.”
Seven-footer Seth Pinkney and swingman Brendan McGuire both return for their sophomore seasons — the former expected to be more of a game-changing rim protector, the latter now 100 percent again after playing the final two months of last year with a separated shoulder — and will mentor a quartet of freshmen headlined by Jamil Riggins of Philadelphia, who redshirted, as well as New England guard Bol Akot. All in all, the sum of Quinnipiac’s parts combined to form a talented nucleus, which Dunleavy believes will take the next step in much the same vein his previous squads have, a nod to the Bobcat staff’s knack for player development.
“I’m confident in this group’s ability to compete in this league,” he asserted. “Our biggest goal is to be a two-way team, a team that can be a top 5 offense and a top 5 defense by the end of the year. If you’re those things, you’re going to be there with a chance in the end.”