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Early season grades for the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team

Photo Courtesy Quinnipiac Athletics

By: Ryan Chichester

The Bobcats are in the middle of an 11-day break from the hardwood, and have instead been hard at work in the classroom for final exams, which have finally come to a close.

As the team awaits their final grades for their classes, they can glance over this report card of their performance over the first 10 games of the season. As it stands now, the Bobcats are 3-7 after losing a heart-breaker on the road against Hartford. Much like any other rebuild, the Bobcats have shown flashes of brilliance, like in their win against UMass, and have laid an egg in losses against Maine and Brown. There is still plenty of work for Baker Dunleavy and company to do, but flashes of potential can be seen if you look past their overall record.

Broken up into relevant sections, here are the Bobcats’ grades for the first “semester” of the season, with just two games to go before MAAC play begins:

Coaching

The biggest storyline heading into the season was the head coaching debut of Baker Dunleavy, who brought a National Championship and generations of basketball experience with him. Despite the impressive resume, none of it came as a head coach, and we now have a small sample size of Dunleavy’s performance so far.

Dunleavy has done a solid job with his own recruits, particularly with the evolution of freshman Rich Kelly, and players he inherited from the Tom Moore era, like Cameron Young. Kelly had plenty of struggles early in the season, turning the ball over a combined 11 times in the Bobcats’ first two losses of the year. Dunleavy kept his freshman in the starting lineup at one of the game’s most demanding positions, and his patience and commitment to the young guard is starting to pay off, as Kelly just earned MAAC Rookie of the Week honors on Monday.

While Dunleavy has shown patience with his underclassmen, he has placed a heavy emphasis on accountability, even with his seasoned veterans. Senior Chaise Daniels entered the game at Hartford as the team’s leading scorer, but recent expressions of on-court frustration showed themselves again as Daniels picked up a technical foul and simply had poor body language on the court. Dunleavy wasted no time pulling Daniels and finishing the game without him. Daniels is no longer with the team for the time being, but Dunleavy has expressed his support for Daniels, while showing his commitment to the culture he is trying to build in Hamden. In a rebuilding season like this, the record feels like an afterthought. The important thing is, positive strides can be seen.

Grade: B

Freshmen

Dunleavy deserves credit for sticking through Kelly’s tough start, but Kelly himself deserves some praise as well. Kelly closed the Paradise Jam with an 18-point performance against Liberty after converting just one field goal against Wake Forest the day before. The Bobcats lost to Liberty despite Kelly’s solid outing, but the freshman used his play as a solid foundation to steadily improve his game, eventually culminating into a career night against Columbia to give the Bobcats their first road win of the season. Kelly finished with 22 points and the last 8 points of the game for the Bobcats, including the game-winning layup with four seconds left.

Easily forgotten in the thrilling win over Columbia was the play of freshman Jacob Rigoni, particularly in the first half. The Australian native finished his career-night with 20 points, and hit four of his six three-point attempts. Rigoni was scoring at will, whether it was a catch-and-shoot from downtown or a mid-range jumper off the dribble. If he can play with that kind of confidence each night, he will be a force when MAAC play begins.

Rigoni hasn’t always expressed that confidence this season, but his 50 percent field goal percentage shows he should be more aggressive on the offensive end. He entered the Finals Week breaking averaging just over five points per game while averaging 13.6 minutes off the bench. We can’t grade players only on their best performance, but when these freshmen are on top of their game, it’s awfully fun to watch. Their slow starts to the season have to be taken into account, but it often comes with the territory of being a freshman.

Grade: B-

Robinson brothers

Let’s combine the siblings, considering they are relied upon for very similar roles. Both Aaron and Andrew Robinson are brought in off the bench to stretch the floor and knock down threes, which both have done this season, especially Andrew, who is shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc this season. His performance against Hartford was disappointing after finishing 0-5 from three, and almost all of them were ill-advised, tightly-contested shots. Given his performance leading up to Hartford, we can consider that an outlier for now.

It took a few games for Aaron to enter the rotation, but his performance against UMASS (eight points, 3-4 from the field) helped the Bobcats secure their most impressive win of the season so far. He hasn’t shot the three as effectively as his brother, but his rebounding efficiency has been a pleasant surprise for Dunleavy. Robinson has grabbed 19 rebounds compared to his brother’s 23, but Aaron has done it in half the minutes. They key for the duo will be to know when they don’t have their shot, and seek out more open looks.

Grade: B+

Veteran backcourt

The duo of Isaiah Washington and Cameron Young may be upperclassmen, but Washington is in his first year as a Bobcat since transferring from Penn State, while Young is in a starting role after playing just eight minutes last season.

Young is arguably the best story of the Bobcats’ season so far, exploding from a bench fixture in his junior year to the team’s leading scorer this season after a career-high 27 points at Hartford. It was the third time this season that Young scored over 25 points in a game. When he gets going, not many can stop him. He shows great control on his drives to the basket, and has been brilliant absorbing contact at the rim to get to the foul line.

The only knock on Young so far is that when he is off, he’s really off. In the only three games this season where Young failed to finish in double figures, he has shot a combined 4-28 from the field. However, even when Young is struggling to score, he can still crash the glass and grab a rebound, as he leads the team with 6.3 rebounds per game. Simply put, nobody could have seen this type of production from Young so early in the season.

Many may have thought it would be Washington leading the Bobcat offense, at least after watching him drop 18 points in the season opener against Dartmouth. Washington was clearly feeling it from the floor, but lost that touch quickly. In the five games following the Dartmouth win, Washington shot just 9-43 from the floor. He was better against Hartford, but Washington needs to find some consistency on the offensive end.

Grade: Young , A- / Washington, C

Alain Chigha

Chigha has started every game for the Bobcats, and likely will continue to do so with Daniels no longer on the roster for the time being. However, had Daniels remained on the team and cleaned up his behavior, a case could have been made to give Chigha’s spot to Abdulai Bundu, as Chigha has struggled so far this season. The graduate student is averaging 2.4 points per game while playing 17 minutes per contest. The low scoring number isn’t the end of the world, but Chigha has to be more active on the glass, as he is averaging just 2.6 rebounds per game through the season’s first 10 games.

Chigha is active on the defensive end, and had an impressive seven steals against Maine, but the Bobcats would benefit if Chigha could improve on the offensive end, especially at the free throw line, where he has made just two of his 10 foul shots. His pair of misses at the charity stripe against Colorado set up a buzzer-beating three by the Buffaloes, and heartbreak for the Bobcats. That can’t happen again.

Grade: C-

Abdulai Bundu

On the other side of the spectrum, Bundu has been one of the best Bobcats from the free throw line this season, shooting 73 percent at the charity stripe. The junior didn’t miss a foul shot until the end of the fourth game of the season, against Wake Forest at the Paradise Jam.

Bundu has also been one of the most active Bobcats on the defensive end, providing a spark off the bench and averaging over five rebounds while playing 17 minutes per game. When Bundu was called upon after Daniels was taken out, he responded with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, a season-high for Bundu. He will need to show up offensively more often now that Daniels and his 13.7 points per game are no longer accounted for.

Grade: B

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