October 22, 2012

Men's Basketball Tabbed Fourth In Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll

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2012-13 NEC Men's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll Release
2012-13 Men's Basketball All-NEC Preseason Team Release

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Quinnipiac University men's basketball team was recently selected to finish fourth in the 2012-13 Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll, announced by the league office on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at the Barclay's Center during NEC Media Day. Last season, the Bobcats finished fifth in the NEC standings and earned a trip to their third consecutive national postseason tournament. 

Fresh off their second straight NCAA Tournament bid, the Blackbirds of LIU Brooklyn claimed the top slot in the census at the strength of nine first place votes. Robert Morris finished second in the poll with three first place votes, while Wagner, Quinnipiac and St. Francis (N.Y.) round out the top five. The Pioneers of Sacred Heart were selected to finish sixth, followed by Monmouth, CCSU, Mount St. Mary's, Bryant, Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Francis (Pa.).

2012-13 Northeast Conference Men's Basketball
Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. LIU Brooklyn (9)
2. Robert Morris (3)
3. Wagner
4. Quinnipiac
5. St. Francis (N.Y.)
6. Sacred Heart
7. Monmouth
8. Central Connecticut State
9. Mount St. Mary's
10. Bryant
11. Fairleigh Dickinson
12. Saint Francis (Pa.)
( ) First Place Votes

Sophomore power forward Ike Azotam (Boston, Mass.) earned a spot on the Preseason All-NEC Team, joining LIU's Julian Boyd, SHU's Shane Gibson, RMU's Velton Jones, and LIU's Jamal Olaseware.

2012-13 Men's Basketball All-Northeast
Conference Preseason Team

1. Ike Azotam (Quinnipiac)
2. Julian Boyd (LIU Brooklyn)
3. Shane Gibson (Sacred Heart)
4. Velton Jones (Robert Morris)
5. Jamal Olaseware (LIU Brooklyn) 

The Bobcats open the 2012-13 campaign at the Connecticut 6 Classic on Saturday, November 10, 2012. Quinnipiac takes on the hosting Hartford Hawks at 3 p.m. at the Chase Family Arena in West Hartford, Conn.

Quinnipiac fans should refer to the Official Website of Quinnipiac Athletics, www.QuinnipiacBobcats.com, for any schedule changes as well as the latest news, scores and highlights. The 2012-13 Men's Basketball Schedule is also available for download at www.QuinnipiacBobcats.com for all mobile devices, including iPhones and iPads, as well as all desktop computers.

2012-13 Quinnipiac University Men's Basketball Season Outlook
The mission is simple for the 2012-13 Quinnipiac University Bobcats – The NCAA Tournament.

Led by sixth-year Head Coach Tom Moore, one of the top practitioners of mid-major basketball, this year's rendition of the Bobcats reveals towering expectations. With 18 wins in 2011-12, Quinnipiac has averaged 21 wins over the past three seasons – a mark its looks to surpass this year. The Bobcats return 10 letter-winners, five of whom have at least 20 career starting assignments on their collegiate resume, back to the line-up in 2012-13.

The optimism starts with QU's monstrous front court in Ike Azotam, Ousmane Drame and Jamee Jackson. Azotam and Drame earned 2012 All-Northeast Conference selections, while Jackson enters his final year of eligibility completely healthy after a strong offseason. Those three, along with senior point guard Dave Johnson and rising sophomore Zaid Hearst will be called upon by Moore to lead the team.

"I am extremely excited for the 2012-13 season," said Moore. "We have a nice balance of experienced youth and this might be our deepest team we've had here at Quinnipiac. The challenge before this group is to maintain our position near the top of the Northeast Conference and earn a bid to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. I believe we have the talent, work ethic and character to accomplish our goal."

A 2013 NCAA Tournament bid would be the fourth straight national playoff appearance for the Bobcats. Mixed with accomplished returners and talented newcomers, this Bobcats squad is certainly up for the challenge.

Backcourt
Big shoes need to be filled in the backcourt as the Quinnipiac Division I scoring leader must be replaced.

Two-time All-NEC honoree James Johnson wrapped up a remarkable career in 2011-12, and became the third player under Coach Moore to begin a professional stint overseas. Joining James Feldiene and Justin Rutty in the elite group, Johnson begins his professional career with Forca Lleida, a club in the LEB-Gold Division - the second tier professional basketball league in Spain.

However, talent and flexibility on the perimeter put the Bobcats in great position to fill the void of the potent scorer. Seniors Dave Johnson and Garvey Young along with sophomore Zaid Hearst and Evan Conti headline the returning perimeter players. Coach Moore also welcomes four new guards aboard, who hope to make an immediate impact in their inaugural seasons.

"We have a good group of backcourt guys who will all share the load of replacing James Johnson," said Moore. "Our seniors Dave Johnson and Garvey Young have been integral parts of our three straight national postseason tournament bids. They bring experience and a presence to our team, while Zaid Hearst and Evan Conti had strong freshman seasons and have improved greatly over the summer. Our key recruiting focus in the 2012 class was to better our guard play and we feel the four young men we brought in will all help us a great deal."

Dave Johnson emerged as a premier point guard in the NEC last season. He averaged 8.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, while shooting a team-best 77.6 percent from the charity stripe. Johnson also shined defensively with a career-high 32 steals. The Jackson, N.J. native looks to take more initiative on the offensive end this time around after proving last year that he was more than capable. Johnson's signature performance came against Saint Francis (Pa.) when he torched the Red Flash for a career-high 19 points.

Zaid Hearst averaged 7.2 points per game as a freshman while shooting 35.7 percent from long range and 73.2 percent from the free-throw line in 2011-12. Hearst really blossomed in the final six games of the season, averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds when it mattered most. The stretch included a 19-point, eight-rebound performance at LIU Brooklyn and his first career double-double at Penn in the first round of the CBI Invitational.

Also returning to the backcourt is Garvey Young, who enters his second and final season with the Bobcats. Young, a transfer from Vermont back in 2009, battled injury through much of the 2011-12 campaign. The Washington, D.C. native averaged 5.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, including a season-high 14 points against the Terriers.

Evan Conti rounds out the returning guards for Quinnipiac. Conti backed up Johnson at the point guard position in 2011-12, playing in 29 games, and averaging 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. In the team's final game of the season in the CBI Tournament, Conti flourished in his first career start with 14 points and four rebounds against the Quakers.

Junior transfer Shaq Shannon and freshmen Tariq Carey, Kendrick Ray and James Ford make up the recruiting class for Coach Moore. Shannon brings the most experience after a two-year stint with Connors State Junior College in Warner, Oklahoma. In his final season, he averaged 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, leading the Cowboys to a 22-8 record and a trip to the NJCAA Region II Quarterfinals.

Carey, a 6-2 guard from Newark, N.J., comes to Quinnipiac from Newark Eastside and perennial powerhouse St. Anthony's. He led St. Anthony's to a perfect 32-0 record in 2011-12, as the team garnered the nation's #1 ranking at the end of the season. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Ford, a 6-3 guard from Hopewell, Va., completed a prolific career at Quality Education Academy (QEA) in Winston-Salem, N.C. Ford led the Pharaoh's to a 23-6 record last season, including a 9-1 mark in GCHSAA competition. Ford averaged a team-best 18.5 points, six rebounds and five assists per game.

Wrapping up the freshmen class is Kendrick Ray, a 6-0 guard from Middletown, N.Y., who enjoyed a terrific career with the Middletown Bears in New York. In his final season, Ray averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game en route a Section 9 First Team All-Star selection.

Frontcourt
Quinnipiac presents arguably the most formidable frontcourt in the Northeast Conference with the return of Ike Azotam, Jamee Jackson and Ousmane Drame. If that's not enough, add sophomores Marquis Barnett and Justin Harris into the mix, granting the Bobcats a front line that averages 6-8, 235 pounds. However this group brings more than size to the table in 2012-13 season, as Coach Moore calls this bunch his most talented unit since taking over the program.   

"I absolutely love the potential of our frontcourt," Moore said. "This is clearly the deepest five-man rotation we've had since I've been at Quinnipiac. Ike Azotam emerged as one of the most consistent and explosive forwards in the NEC as just a sophomore, while Ousmane Drame established himself as a dominant low-post presence in limited minutes as a freshman. Jamee Jackson was on his way to an incredible junior season when a foot injury wiped out most of his last three months. I'm expecting him to be a great leader and have a terrific senior season. Sophomores Marquis Barnett and Justin Harris give us great depth in the front court."

Rebounding has paved the path to success for Quinnipiac, a philosophy that Coach Moore has infused into his players. One player in particular in 6-7 power forward Ike Azotam, who is on pace to break Justin Rutty's NEC Career Rebounding record. Azotam led the league in rebounding and ranked amongst the nation's leaders for much of the 2011-12 campaign. He averaged 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds, accounting for 14 double-doubles, another NEC best. Azotam has been regarded as a player to watch across the Northeast Conference this season.

Plagued by injury for much of 2011-12, Jamee Jackson returns healthier and stronger than ever for his senior season according to Athletic Trainer Cemi Abreu and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Brijesh Patel. Jackson averaged 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 18 games a year ago, statistics that unjustly disclose his capabilities on the court. Early in the season, the Newark, N.J. native put together a career-high 21 point, nine rebound performance against Bryant and a 20 point, seven rebound effort at Colgate.

Ousmane Drame adapted quickly to collegiate basketball and went on to complete one of the finest rookie seasons in Quinnipiac history. The 6-9 forward averaged 6.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last year, breaking two freshman records en route to an All-NEC Rookie Team selection. Drame passed Azotam and Rutty for most rebounds by a rookie (232) and shattered the record for blocked shots (29) in his inaugural campaign. He posted double figures in nine games, while shooting a respectable 48.7 percent from the floor.  

Marquis Barnett and Justin Harris also return for their second seasons after coming off the bench in 2011-12. Barnett averaged 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds in 16 games, while Harris boasted 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in 19 appearances. Both will likely see increased minutes as sophomores.

The Schedule
Four teams that advanced to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, a premiere early-season tournament featuring traditional national power programs in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and a fourth straight appearance to the annual Connecticut 6 Classic highlight the 2012-13 Quinnipiac University men's basketball schedule.

"Our goal each year is to play a non-conference schedule that prepares us for the Northeast Conference regular-season," said Coach Moore. "By playing meaningful games against NCAA Tournament caliber teams and nationally-recognized programs, we hope to challenge our guys by providing them with quality opponents each time we take the floor. A highly-competitive schedule is part of the Quinnipiac University basketball experience."

The regular-season tips off on Saturday, November 10 with a game at Hartford in the Connecticut 6 Classic. Previously hosted by Mohegan Sun in years past, the 2012 event marks the first time the invitational will take place at a participating members' venue. Joining the Bobcats and the Hawks in West Hartford, Conn. will be Yale, Sacred Heart, Fairfield and Central Connecticut State. QU and Hartford kickoff the tournament at 3 p.m.; followed by SHU and Yale, and then the nightcap between Fairfield and CCSU. 

Quinnipiac then endures a quick turnaround two days later with their home-opener against American, before traveling to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. On Thursday (Nov. 15), the Bobcats open the 2012 Paradise Jam - the first in-season, invitational tournament in Bobcats history. Quinnipiac will take on Iona College in the opening round on Friday (Nov. 16) at the Sports and Fitness Center at University of Virgin Islands. Depending on the result, the Bobcats face its second opponent - either Connecticut or Wake Forest - Saturday (Nov. 17) or Sunday (Nov. 18). 2011 National Champion and Big East powerhouse UConn won the Paradise Jam back in 2008, while the ACC's Wake Forest will make its first-ever appearance in the invitational. The other side of the bracket features first round matchups: New Mexico vs. Illinois-Chicago and Mercer vs. George Mason.

After that, the Bobcats continue their tough non-conference slate which features seven opponents, including 2012 NCAA participants, Lehigh and Vermont. Come January, the all-important Northeast Conference schedule starts three days into the New Year. Quinnipiac plays nine NEC opponents at the TD Bank Sports Center, highlighted by 2012 NEC Champions LIU Brooklyn and continued rivalries against intrastate foe Central Connecticut and Robert Morris.

The 2013 Northeast Conference Tournament will once again feature the league's top eight teams in a single-elimination playoff. The tourney opens on Wednesday, March 6 with the quarterfinals, followed by the semifinals on Saturday, March 9 and the finals on Tuesday, March 12. The finals will be televised on ESPN with the winner earning a trip to the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Contact: Tony Distasio; ardistasio@quinnipiac.edu