Runnin’ the Point: Quinnipiac men’s basketball guards gearing up for season

Logan Reardon

In college basketball, it seems as though every good team in March has two key components – strong guard play and upperclassmen leadership.

Just look at the last three national champions.

Last year for Villanova, it was junior guards Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. North Carolina had junior guards Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson. Villanova’s 2016 squad had junior guard Josh Hart and senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono steering the ship.

It’s clear that guard play is the key to success come tournament time, but is it possible for a team with young guards to make noise?

[media-credit name=”Morgan Tencza” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]That’s what the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team is going to find out. Sure, they have graduate student guard Cam Young – one of the best scorers in the MAAC – but he won’t be bringing the ball up and running the offense. That responsibility lies with sophomore guard Rich Kelly and freshman guards Tyree Pickron and Tyrese Williams.

Kelly averaged 34.2 minutes per game (MPG) last season, which means he only sat for about six minutes every game. To put it in perspective, only eight other freshmen in the country played more MPG than Kelly last season. By the end of the year, Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy was constantly saying how Kelly wasn’t a freshman anymore because of the minutes he had played.

Now in his sophomore campaign, Kelly is sensing a noticeable difference in physical state. The Bobcats have been practicing for almost a month now and he is holding up just fine.

“My body feels a lot better than it did last year,” Kelly said. “I’m able to recover a lot quicker. Last year I needed two or three days, but this year I only need one day and my body is ready to go. I’m ready to go.”

As for Pickron and Williams, things will be a bit different in their freshman season. Kelly was forced to play a ton of minutes because of transfers and overall lack of depth. Many key guards transferred from Quinnipiac when Dunleavy was hired and Kelly was basically the only true point guard left.

After a year of recruiting, the Bobcats are now loaded at guard – other freshmen guards Matt Balanc and Savion Lewis join Pickron and Williams in the backcourt. Pickron and Williams figure to get the majority of minutes at the point guard spot off the bench, though.

Kelly, the most experienced point guard on the roster, is doing all he can to help his young backcourt mates as they get up to speed on the Quinnipiac system and college basketball as a whole.

“I went through a lot of ups and downs last year,” Kelly said. “I learned a lot through failure. I’m just trying to help them learn without them having to fail so they can avoid that, but still learn their lessons.”

Pickron is a player that can play either guard spot, but he’ll be asked to run the show when Kelly sits – which, if last year is any indication, won’t be for long.

“Tyree’s a lot of fun to coach,” Dunleavy said. “He’s been really good so far. I’ve seen him play for a long time. He’s adjusted really well, he’s really coachable and he shoots the ball well. The area that the whole staff has been impressed, though, has been his willingness to defend and do other things. He’ll fit right in.”

At 6-foot-3, Pickron is slightly undersized to play the off-guard spot, but in the MAAC it can work. Last year, Quinnipiac played then-graduate student Isaiah Washington, 6-foot-4, at shooting guard alongside Kelly and the Bobcats still went deep in the MAAC tournament.

Dunleavy believes Pickron can fill Washington’s role.

“Tyree can play with other guards,” Dunleavy said. “He compliments other guards with his ability to shoot the ball. He can shoot it from very deep. He’s just solid and he’s got a toughness about him – he really plays bigger than his size. On the defensive end, he’s a guy that should give us rebounding.”

Now less than two weeks away from its season-opening date with defending national champion Villanova, Quinnipiac is strengthening up some of its weaknesses.

“With every day [our chemistry] gets better and better,” Kelly said. “Last year we were the best team possible at the end of the year, and I think it’s going to be similar this year. We’re just going to keep getting better and better.”

Over the past two Saturday’s, the Bobcats held “secret scrimmages,” playing at Delaware on Oct. 20 and hosting Princeton on Oct. 27.

“I thought the scrimmage was positive, just in the sense of being able to see us up against somebody else,” Dunleavy said after the Delaware scrimmage. “It put us in some situations that we haven’t seen in practice and under the situation where there’s some whistles. By the score, we played well, but we know we have a lot to work on. Whether you win or lose those scrimmages, you come away with new things you need to emphasize in practice.”

Now that the scrimmages are over, a week and a half of practice is all that stands between Quinnipiac and the regular season.

The game at Villanova isn’t one Quinnipiac is expected to win – or even keep close, for that matter – but nevertheless, it’ll be a huge step for the program. Playing on the national stage against one of the best programs in the country will be a test to see how far Dunleavy has truly brought this team as he kicks off his second season.

Villanova, as mentioned above, has trotted out some of the best guards in the nation over the years, including NBA players in Bridges, Brunson, Hart, Arcidiacono, Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye.

We’ll see if Quinnipiac’s young guards are up for the challenge.