As Quinnipiac begins MAAC Tournament, Tom Moore has been vocal about Bobcats needing to regain their defensive identity ahead of Thursday's matchup with Niagara. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
Known for its aggressiveness on the defensive end and a take-no-prisoners style of rebounding, Quinnipiac has seen an unfortunate lapse in that department at the worst possible time, resulting in six consecutive losses to end what looked like a season of upward mobility when the Bobcats were 7-7 in conference play and in the mix for a first-round bye in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship.
"In the last three weeks, I've lost my marbles," head coach Tom Moore quipped when searching for an answer to address where Quinnipiac went wrong, and how to fix the inefficiency before the Bobcats take the floor at the Times Union Center against ninth-seeded Niagara in a 5 p.m. tipoff for the right to meet regular season champion Monmouth in the quarterfinals. "We've done a lot of film work and tried to tweak a lot of things. You can't totally abandon your offensive end, but we'll put 80 percent of our time, I think, into defense. It's scout-specific stuff that we need a lot of, but it's also core principle stuff that we've seen, breakdowns in particular, in the last couple of weeks."
The Bobcats have received all-league-worthy contributions from likely Rookie of the Year Mikey Dixon and freshman classmate Peter Kiss to spearhead the backcourt resurgence in Hamden, but a third key to that renaissance has been junior college transfer Phil Winston, who will run the offense from the point guard position and will be tasked with the order of matching his counterpart, Kahlil Dukes.
"His assist-to-turnover ratio has been terrific since we reinserted him into the starting lineup," said Moore of Winston. "Over the balance of February, he's done a great job at protecting the ball and he frees up Mikey and Pete to do less ball handling."
"He brings a toughness and competitive fire to us that is very good, and it's needed," Moore continued. "It's hard to do what he's done this year when you start and you don't play particularly well, and all of a sudden, you've got a freshman that takes your starting spot. Then you go into mothballs while we try to figure everything out, and then you get resurrected. He stayed ready throughout that time."
The backcourt battle is not the only war that must be won if Quinnipiac is to seek a third victory against the Purple Eagles this season, there is also the clash between Chaise Daniels and Dominic Robb, the latter being the MAAC's top shot blocker this season. But at the end of the day, it comes down to execution for 40 minutes, and Moore is confident that his team can pull through.
"Once you get to a conference tournament, as everybody knows, the energy level and excitement sort of ratchets up a couple of notches," he said. "We're excited about the game against Niagara, just really excited to get in front of a great fan base up in Albany and play as well as we can possibly play."