A graduating senior core will prompt new faces to progress for Quinnipiac next season, but Tom Moore is optimistic about what lies ahead for Bobcats. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)
What started as a potentially promising season for Quinnipiac led to one of adversity after Giovanni McLean, the Bobcats' highly touted junior college transfer, was declared ineligible, leaving head coach Tom Moore without the experienced point guard he had hoped would run the offense of a team that came within just two wins of a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in its first season in the league.
Yet, as Moore's teams have always had a knack for doing over his eight-year tenure in Hamden, the Bobcats soldiered on, finishing 15-15 and sixth in the MAAC when things could have fared much worse after an 0-4 start to conference play.
"We were sort of an interesting group all season," Moore assessed in retrospect. "I said this all year, we were both very old and very young, all at the same time. In our top nine, we had four seniors, four freshmen, and a junior at the end of the year, and that led to the positives of having senior experience and leadership, but there were times where we looked very inexperienced."
Upon losing their first four MAAC games, Quinnipiac rebounded to win eight of the next eleven, but quickly regressed as the stretch run ensued, losing four of their final five to finish with a 9-11 mark going into the conference tournament. In their only contest in Albany, the Bobcats got 27 points and 23 rebounds from Ousmane Drame, but were done in by a scorching three-point shooting display from Marist, who pulled off the upset before losing to eventual MAAC champion Manhattan in the quarterfinals.
"I was proud of how we picked ourselves up and inserted ourselves into the discussion a little bit after that start," Moore admitted. "I think we relied on what we do well, and our defense was very good, but the offensive improvement and offensive execution down the stretch of games wasn't at the level to get us to the top of the league."
With that said, Moore now pilots a makeover of sorts entering his ninth season at the helm. Gone will be Drame, the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and second team all-conference selection this past season, as well as stalwart guards Zaid Hearst and Evan Conti, as well as versatile senior forward Justin Harris. But despite what would appear to be a massive loss on paper, the Bobcats' coach; even when cautiously warning that there would be more variables on his roster than in years past, displayed the stout optimism and eagerness in putting his new product on the floor that would be expected of all branches of the Jim Calhoun coaching tree.
"I'll tell you what," Moore stated, "it is the most number of unknowns that we've had going from one year to the next in all eight of my years I've been here. We got Chaise Daniels a lot of minutes, we got Ayron Hutton a lot of minutes, and we got James Ford a lot of minutes, in terms of underclassmen. Overall, we made good strides this year in terms of getting these younger guys' feet wet, but it's going to be interesting. I think next year, we'll be more reliant on our entire team until we sort of figure out roles."
With McLean, Quinnipiac would get a third guard to join Hutton and Ford in the backcourt, while Daniels and the combination of Samuel Dingba and Alain Chigha can be expected to see an increase in minutes. Even though no one on the Bobcat roster is currently a household name, Moore is okay with that, steadfast in his belief that some of the natural talent on his team will eventually emerge.
"There won't be anyone on our team that will come in first or second team preseason all-MAAC," he mentioned as a de facto disclaimer, "because we just don't have the resume to be considered. But I do believe a couple of these guys will emerge as those types of guys by the end of it."
It is this collection of parts that will build on a program that has won at least 15 games in each of Moore's eight seasons, one that has been renowned for its aggressive rebounding tactics. However, the most intriguing piece to the puzzle will be the flexibility that Moore can apply to in-game strategy and the combinations he puts together.
"The thing I'm excited about," he offered, "from an X-and-O standpoint, is I do expect us to be a little bit more creative defensively, and I think I'll experiment more defensively with this group. We've been pretty vanilla over the last couple of years in terms of how we approached you defensively on a game-to-game situation. I think we can experiment more with this group, in terms of defending the full court and the half court a little bit more, and secondly, we've got a whole lot of offensive improvement that we have to make, that we've already begun with the guys that are here now."
Quinnipiac's roster is still, admittedly, a couple of pieces away from being finalized, but the multifaceted possibilities the finished product will bring on has Moore invigorated to begin the offseason once more, fueled by the natural sense of renewed hope that the period in between "One Shining Moment" and the start of practice cultivates.
"I'm excited," he reiterated. "I don't think there will be one position right now that will be set in stone. These are the types of challenges that really, as a coach, I think sometimes get you more charged up sometimes than when you have six or seven returning guys that are pretty much established."