Monday, January 27, 2014

Quinnipiac Proving Critics Wrong With 7-3 MAAC Start

Once an assistant to Jim Calhoun at UConn, Tom Moore has come a long way, turning Quinnipiac from Division I also-ran to MAAC contender. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

When making the jump to the MAAC from the Northeast Conference, Quinnipiac's physical, rebounding-oriented style seemed somewhat out of place for their new home, a league whose history was predicated on guard-heavy offenses and uptempo scoring attacks.

Therefore, their ranking in the preseason coaches' poll was one that fans in Hamden had not been accustomed to seeing after their long run among the NEC elite.

"We always have a chip on our shoulder," senior forward Ike Azotam said after the Bobcats picked up their seventh MAAC victory in ten conference games, a 90-86 overtime win at Manhattan that gave Quinnipiac a regular season sweep of Steve Masiello's Jaspers, the No. 1 selection in the poll. "We were picked seventh, and we're going to carry that with us all season."

Through the first half of their conference schedule, the chip on Quinnipiac's collective shoulders has grown larger each week, from their thrashing of reigning MAAC champion Iona and first win over Manhattan at home earlier this month, then avenging upset losses to Rider and Saint Peter's with yesterday afternoon's second Manhattan win; a victory that leaves one of the two MAAC newcomers at 7-3 through ten games of league play, tied with Manhattan for third place, one game back of the tie for the lead. By the way, the Bobcats' next game is Thursday night at home against Canisius and Billy Baron, whose Player of the Year frontrunner status has lifted the Golden Griffins to an 8-2 start in a league that is nothing like the NEC, no disrespect intended.

"It seems like we're facing guys two, three inches taller, and probably 20 percent more athletic," Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said when asked of his initial impressions of the MAAC. "Every good experience that you have, you try to build on it and draw as much from it as you can."

Halfway through the MAAC schedule, the Bobcats have had their share of good experiences, particularly yesterday's win, which came without Ousmane Drame after the junior forward missed his second consecutive game due to a sprained knee. With a 3-1 record against Manhattan and Iona, who were picked first and second in the MAAC poll, respectively, Quinnipiac now has to be included among the contenders for a regular season championship, even before their much-anticipated showdown with Canisius in three nights.

"Wins come in all shapes and sizes," Moore said after his team sealed what could be considered their signature victory this season, "but you won't get many regular season wins that are more satisfying than this. I was talking with my staff about road wins and what I've been part of, even when I was an assistant at UConn. This might be the best one of my career."

Despite the win, the man largely responsible for making it happen realizes there is still more to accomplish.

"It's definitely a good win," Zaid Hearst, who recorded 25 points and 10 rebounds, said after the game. "We wanted to bounce back from the Iona game. That last game, that wasn't us. We're nowhere near satisfied. We know where we want to be."

With another ten conference games remaining before the league tournament in Springfield, it certainly looks like more people will be finding out exactly where it is that the Bobcats are looking to go.

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