Ike Azotam carries a double-double per night potential into his senior season, Quinnipiac's first in MAAC. (Photo courtesy of the Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network)
Earlier today, we profiled Monmouth University and how the Hawks would adjust to their new home in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference as King Rice's team acclimates itself to the MAAC. Monmouth is of course not coming alone, as Quinnipiac University has jumped ship from the Northeast Conference as well, bringing the MAAC to Hamden, Connecticut and giving the other nine institutions (not counting Monmouth) a chance to experience the TD Bank Center for the first time as its arena instantly becomes one of the best in the conference, as well as its band, who will make Hartford Whalers fans wax nostalgic with its rendition of "Brass Bonanza." The Bobcats also have a de facto homecourt advantage by virtue of being the closest school to the MAAC Tournament site in Springfield, and here is a closer look at the team that earned a reputation for being one of the more physical units in the NEC:
As a former Jim Calhoun assistant, Tom Moore brings a hard-nosed approach to practices, and the physicality the Bobcats bring to the court every night is strikingly reminiscent to that of the Huskies teams Calhoun coached to three national championships before his medically-induced retirement last year. Moore is also the second-longest tenured coach in the conference, trailing only John Dunne of Saint Peter's University. Assistant coaches Sean Doherty and Eric Eaton are just as vital to the Bobcat program, with Eaton's work in developing forwards such as Justin Rutty, Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame ranking as one of the most underrated efforts in the nation. Finally third assistant Scott Burrell, whose NBA career is most notable for his tenure alongside Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning with the then-Charlotte Hornets, provides a valuable voice on the coaching staff, and one who can show Quinnipiac's players how to get to the NBA rather than just telling them.
The Bobcat backcourts over the years have always ranked near the best in the Northeast Conference, and even with the loss of Dave Johnson, the guards in Hamden will still lean toward the top half of the MAAC. Junior Zaid Hearst, the team's second-leading scorer this past season, will bring his 35 percent shooting from three-point range back to team with senior Shaq Shannon and Saint Francis University transfer Umar Shannon, (no relation) both of whom will likely replace Johnson at the point after racking up 65 assists on the bench last season. Quinnipiac has always managed to get far more out of their players than most of their counterparts, and Evan Conti will be Exhibit A of this player development, as the junior from Bayside is on the precipice of a breakout season that would be even bigger than his coming-out party last season, when the Holy Cross product averaged nearly nine points per game and ten in NEC play. Sophomores Kendrick Ray and James Ford, who were integral pieces to Moore's backcourt depth last year, will only see their roles and minutes increase this season, especially against teams the likes of Iona and Canisius, whose guards rank among the best in the league.
Quinnipiac loses swingmen Garvey Young and James Jackson, but the Bobcats will not see their frontcourt sacrificed much after that. Long defined as one of the more physical teams in the NEC, Quinnipiac will likely inherit that title in the MAAC sooner rather than later, and it would not be a stretch to see the Bobcats lead the conference in rebounding right away. Senior forward Ike Azotam, who averages close to a double-double per night, should instantly become a factor in the paint as he goes up against fellow bigs such as Rhamel Brown and Ashton Pankey of Manhattan, as well as Iona's David Laury and 6-10 center Adam Kemp of Marist. Ousmane Drame, a Boston native like Azotam, enters his junior season on the heels of a sophomore campaign that saw him average over nine points and seven rebounds per contest for a Bobcat team that gave LIU Brooklyn all it could handle in their NEC Tournament quarterfinal matchup at the Wellness Center. However, the depth inside is a major dropoff after the top two, as top returning holdovers Justin Harris and Marquis Barnett combined to average just eleven minutes per game.
Shack Scott, who verbally committed to Quinnipiac, decided to go to Iona instead, leaving 5-10 point guard Kasim Chandler of Newark as the Bobcats' lone first-year player this season. As mentioned before, Umar Shannon transferred in from Saint Francis University, and is eligible to play right away since he graduated early.
Quinnipiac is better suited for immediate success in the MAAC than Monmouth is. In fact, the Bobcats could easily finish as high as third in the conference based on preliminary projections, but could even end up as low as seventh or eighth. The physicality and durability of Azotam and Drame will help Tom Moore's team win close games, which were commonplace in last year's MAAC, but the key for them will be keeping them out of foul trouble. Against some of the smaller lineups, the Bobcats will be able to get away with playing four guards if desired, and will even have an advantage on the wing with Hearst and Conti at times. Ideally, Quinnipiac will likely finish in the top five of the standings and rank near the top of the league in rebounding, providing a worthy incentive for their fans to turn the MassMutual Center in Springfield into a sea of blue and gold.