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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Quinnipiac men’s basketball looks to outperform expectations

New head coach, veteran roster kicks off its 2023-24 season against Coast Guard on Nov. 6.
Peyton McKenzie
Graduate guard Matt Balanc was named to the All-MAAC Preseason First Team on Oct. 17.

A new-look Quinnipiac men’s basketball team will step onto the court when the season gets underway Nov. 6. 

It’s not just the roster departures, but also new head coach, Tom Pecora, who took over after Baker Dunleavy stepped down as head coach in April. 

The Bobcats saw forward Ike Nweke and guard Tyrese Williams graduate and guards Dezi Jones, Tymu Chenery and Luis Kortright all enter the transfer portal and find new homes. 

But it all starts with Pecora. New to the role, but not the program. 

“I think (the team’s enthusiasm) about the transition (has been good),” Pecora said at the MAAC Preseason Media Day on Oct. 17. “Coach Dunleavy moving on to an administrative role down at Villanova, the opportunity of them taking in the changes and minor differences going on, and the way we do our day-to-day business, both on and off the court, has been great.” 

On April 13, Dunleavy decided to step down from the helm as the Bobcats’ head man. Within hours, Dunleavy accepted the newly-created general manager job at his alma mater Villanova, and associate head coach Pecora was promoted. 

The Bobcats have equal parts experience and youth, led by graduate guards and captains Matt Balanc and Savion Lewis. Those two in the backcourt — likely the starting one and two guards — give a sense of familiarity to the floor. 

“I’m trying to add a level of passing, with the team we have right now, there’s a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” Balanc said at the MAAC Preseason Media Day on Oct. 17. “Being able to get other people involved is something I can definitely add to my game. I work on it every game.”

The returns of redshirt senior forward J.J. Riggins, senior forward Paul Otieno and junior guard/forward Alexis Reyes also fill in the slots. Otieno had a great first season in Hamden after transferring from JUCO. Reyes spreads the floor and will get an uptick in minutes, especially late in games.

Last year, the second half of the season was always the Bobcats’ kryptonite. Large leads would dwindle and more often than not, the team would implode and lose in the final minutes. As the team moves to a smaller, more fast paced offense, the scoring should continue in the late-game moments, rather than fall flat. Replacing both Jones and Kortright, two of Quinnipiac’s most important ball handlers, won’t be as hard as one would expect.

As Lewis returns to full strength following an Achilles tear in December 2022, it should take the load off of the frontcourt that was expected to stuff the statsheet early and often last season.

Senior forward Elijah Taylor, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, will not be on the roster this season. The Notre Dame transfer stepped away from the program on Monday for personal/family reasons, as announced by the team. He will retain his athletic scholarship, but will not play.

Quinnipiac was selected to finish fifth in the preseason poll, a projection that seems fitting for where the team is right now. In addition, both Balanc and Otieno were named to All-MAAC First and Second Teams, respectively.

“I like to do the little stuff more,” Balanc said. “That’s the stuff that wins games. Everyone can score the ball, but when you have people diving on the floor, rebounding, defending, that’s the stuff that … really wins games and championships.”

The newcomers, likely to fill a more rotational role to begin the season, all plug different holes on the floor.

The biggest acquisition Pecora got includes a defending national champion in redshirt senior forward Richie Springs. Despite limited playing time with UConn last season, he joins the Bobcats as one of the premier incoming big man transfers in recent memory. Other transfers include junior guard Doug Young — who is expected to contribute heavily all year long — senior guard Arion Lewis and sophomore forward Amarri Tice, all giving Quinnipiac the ability to space the floor playing small ball.

Incoming freshmen, including forward Rihards Vavers, guard Khaden Bennett and guard/forward Daemar Kelly, are all going to be in the rotation. Maybe not instantly and maybe not in a premier role, but the depth of this team will catapult the Bobcats to where they want to be.

“When you step on the court for practice, when you step on the court for games, it’s about what you bring to the table every single day,” Balanc said. “The consistency and the work that you put into the practices is really important. When you teach that to the younger guys … it can trickle down the players on the roster.”

On paper, the team is solid. But that’s just on paper. They were more than solid last season — the Bobcats started 9-3, including major upsets against Rhode Island and Montana State — but the wear and tear of the conference slate bled them dry late in games.

The team’s historic undefeated stretch to begin out-of-conference play gave false hope heading into the MAAC schedule. Yet, the team competed and stayed competitive before an abysmal season-ending upset at the hands of Marist last March.

“Hope springs eternal this time of year for every team,” Pecora said. “It’s going to be a wide-open season, I don’t think there will be many games that’ll be considered upsets.”

The 2023-24 slate begins like last year’s did, with an easy schedule to ease the Bobcats in. Four home games against Coast Guard (Nov. 6), CCSU (Nov. 10), Albany (Nov. 19) and Stonehill (Nov. 26) are all meant to boost the team prior to conference play. Non-MAAC play will conclude with a high-octane battle at Florida on Dec. 30, the most prolific opponent the Bobcats will face.

The MAAC slate starts with a trip to western New York to face Canisius and Niagara on Dec. 1 and Dec. 3. Quinnipiac will then head into the conference games full steam, hosting Rider on Jan. 5.

Add in the outside roster turnover within the conference (Iona and Fairfield both went through coaching changes) and the Bobcats should look to compete for their first MAAC title come March.

“You go through a preseason and you’re really preparing for conference play,” Pecora said. “We’re going to play multiple defenses, in the past, we’ve been more of just a solid man-to-man team. I think our experience — having these players with veteran minutes — that travels and that allows you to find ways to win you games on the road.”

But just like last season — and the years past — this Quinnipiac team will be an enigma to watch, one way or another.

“There’s nothing we’d rather have than to bring (the MAAC championship) back onto our campus,” Pecora said. “We’re going to work our tail off preparing for it … They’re doing a great job.”

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About the Contributors
Ethan Hurwitz
Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor
Peyton McKenzie
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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    richard kirpasNov 9, 2023 at 6:27 pm

    Tom is a well respected leader, with the experience we need.