Bright future for men’s hoops

Lenny Neslin

The men’s basketball team left a hungry crowd at the TD Bank Sports Center in despair after missing out on a bite of March Madness by two points. Though the seniors in the crowd – or those who watched the championship game on ESPN2 – have every right to mourn the loss, underclassmen should be very excited for the future.

Days after the loss in the championship game, Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said the crowd got so loud it actually hindered his offense. At the beginning of the year, this team was begging for fans to show up.

The turnaround in attendance shows how important it was to have a breakout season like theirs was. That’s what an undefeated regular season at home can do.

Last Wednesday’s National Invitation Tournament appearance gave a glimpse of how next year’s team will take shape. Top-seeded Virginia Tech won by 20 points, but Moore opted to bench seniors – and key cogs – Jeremy Baker and James Feldeine for the majority of the second half. He realized there would be a changing of the guard next season.

Of course, beating Robert Morris and a bid to the dance would have helped put Quinnipiac on the map, but competing in the program’s first national tournament, the NIT, was a big first step toward that goal. The national recognition was a huge confidence booster to the fans as well as undecided recruits.

Moore and assistants Scott Burrell, Sean Doherty and Eric Eaton have brought in an overload of talent in just two recruiting classes, excluding this year’s highly touted talent pool.

Ike Azotam, Tevin Baskin and Dominique Langston are expected to lead the freshman class.

Two of Moore’s recruits, guards Dave and James Johnson, showed flashes of brilliance this season. Moore said Dave Johnson has the highest basketball IQ on the team – and he’s only a freshman. James Johnson emerged this season as the third scoring option behind Feldeine and Justin Rutty, and he’s the most durable guard in the conference, according to Moore.

Rutty, the NEC Player of the Year, will be a senior next year. So will Deontay Twyman, who gave the Bobcats their last lead of the season with a pivotal 3-pointer late in the championship game.

The returning core, the best recruiting class yet and emergence of fans make the Bobcats bound for another crack at breaking into March Madness.