Taking the next step: Quinnipiac men’s basketball look to fulfill high preseason expectations


Connor Lawless

Redshirt senior guard Matt Balanc averaged 14.6 points per game in 2021-22, earning All-MAAC Third Team honors.

Connor Wilson, Contributing Writer

 Quinnipiac men’s basketball team quickly realized the harsh reality they were facing: its season was over.

The then-No. 11 Bobcats ended the year on a high note, upsetting No. 6 Marist and No. 3 Siena before falling to No. 2 Saint Peter’s, a squad that would go on to not only win the MAAC Tournament, but make a run all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

Head coach Baker Dunleavy wasn’t surprised by his team’s efforts in Atlantic City.

“I think the main positive take away from the season was how we finished and also the mentality we were able to keep all the way through,” Dunleavy said.

Entering his sixth season in Hamden, Dunleavy has a career 66-81 record, but things are looking up this year thanks to a combination of experienced veterans and newcomers to the program.

“One thing about our roster that I really like is that we can go somewhat big, with a guy like (graduate student forward) Ike Nweke at the four,” Dunleavy said. “We can also size down and be versatile and go a little bit smaller.”

Nweke is one of the headliners of a solid transfer class for the Bobcats. The graduate transfer forward from Columbia brings the experience the staff has been searching for.

Dunleavy also secured a pair of higher major players to come to Hamden. Sophomore wing Alexis Reyes is a New England native who played at East Carolina last season and helps improve the perimeter shooting depth for the Bobcats. Notre Dame transfer and junior forward Elijah Taylor also joined the team, but will miss the entire season after suffering a torn ACL.

“We’ll miss Elijah,” Dunleavy said. “He’s got a long road ahead in terms of rehabbing his ACL, but he has all the resources here to do that and he’ll attack it. He’ll do great.”

These three transfers will play alongside junior forwards JJ Riggins and Paul Otieno in the frontcourt. Riggins is beginning his fourth season with the program and Otieno is in his first season after transferring in from Kilgore College in Texas.

With the frontcourt consisting of mostly transfers and newcomers, the backcourt is the opposite. Quinnipiac is returning six guards from last season, all of which have the ability to contribute.

Some of those guards already have received accolades this season. Redshirt senior Matt Balanc was named to the Preseason All-MAAC First Team and junior guard Dezi Jones was named to the third team.

Dunleavy thinks highly of his backcourt and believes that they could be the key to the team’s success this year. He has a good reason to think this, as five of the six returning guards averaged at least eight points per game last season.

“I thought last year towards the end of the year Dezi Jones was one of the better point guards in our league,” Dunleavy said. “Obviously Matt was pretty consistent throughout the season.”

Outside of the two preseason All-MAAC guards, the remainder of the depth is made up by a pair of perimeter threats in junior Tymu Chenery and graduate student Tyrese Williams and a pair of ball handlers in junior Luis Kortright and redshirt senior Savion Lewis.

Lewis suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in December last season against Manhattan, but appears to be ready to go once the new season begins.

“He’s been a total warrior in his approach,” Dunleavy said of Lewis. 

With a healthy Lewis competing with Jones for the starting point guard spot, Dunleavy is put in a challenging situation, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be lying if I told you we have it all mapped out exactly as it will be,” Dunleavy said. “As you see from last year, you’re not always going to have everybody available to you the whole year. You’d love it, but it’s not realistic. So it’s good to have depth in that position.” 

When it comes to the rest of the conference, the Bobcats were picked fourth in the preseason poll, their highest positioning since they were picked to finish third in 2019-20.

Iona, Manhattan and Rider were the three teams named ahead of Quinnipiac. The Gaels lost a lot of their talent from last year, but still return a solid core and are led by Rick Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach with two NCAA Tournament championships. Rider is returning four starters from a team that, like Quinnipiac, also advanced to the MAAC semifinals last season.

Manhattan, on the other hand, recently fired their head coach Steve Masiello and as a result many players have entered the transfer portal, including preseason MAAC Player of the Year Jose Perez, who has since transferred to West Virginia.

With all the preseason hype around the program, it will be interesting to see how the Bobcats respond. They open up their season Nov. 7, on the road against Rhode Island.