Saturday, January 27, 2018

Quinnipiac progressing ahead of schedule, with more improvement still to come

Baker Dunleavy has guided Quinnipiac to six MAAC wins in a season where few expected Bobcats to contend in conference. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

UNIONDALE, NY -- Picked last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason coaches' poll in October, very few expected Quinnipiac to be relevant this late in the season, if at all.

But with six wins in their first ten league games, good enough for fifth place in the MAAC standings and the first-round tournament bye that comes with it, the Bobcats have crept up on the competition and cynics alike, with eight more games to further an overachieving success story.

"I really believe in the progress," head coach Baker Dunleavy said after Quinnipiac made its trip to Nassau Coliseum a winning one Saturday, defeating Fairfield for their third straight win to firmly position themselves among the MAAC's top half. "We've been working at it, and as a coach, it's fun to see the progress."

But when assessing his program's performance to date, the former Jay Wright disciple was not inclined to rest on his laurels.

"I don't want it to be the end-all, be-all," Dunleavy said of the Bobcats' beginning to conference play. "The most difficult part of our schedule is probably ahead of us. It's the way you measure success and progress, and it's good for our guys to feel it, it's great for us to reap some benefits from our work. I'm proud of our record. We know with a couple of bounces here and there, it could be different, but we're getting better."

Evidence of an improvement is prevalent in a number of areas, but most notably in close games. Before MAAC play began, Quinnipiac was a respectable 3-3 in games decided by five points or less. Since then, they have reeled off four wins in a row in that department, including Saturday's affair in which Fairfield battled back from an 11-point deficit to raise the tension down the stretch.

"I think this league has a reputation for producing close games," Dunleavy said. "There's no quit in any team, whether you're up or down. Everybody's fighting back. For us, there's some games that we win by one or two, but we've also had some games where we steal them. More important than the score is just identifying the issues and just getting better at them. I think we are getting better, and I'm happy with that."

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