ON CAMPUS A look at the area college sports scene

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quinnipiac men picked 5th in the NEC

Justin Rutty is gone and, according to the Northeast Conference preseason coaches’ poll, so, too, are the lofty expectations for the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team.
Quinnipiac, the unanimous choice to win the 2010-11 NEC title, was picked fifth in this season’s poll.

“Looking at the teams and who everyone has coming back, that’s probably where we should be picked,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said. “You could say we’re in a rebuilding mode. We have nine new players to go with our core of four players.”

Last year’s conference champ, Long Island, was picked to repeat its title. The Blackbirds went 27-6 last year. Robert Morris, who eliminated Quinnipiac in the NEC tournament for the second year in a row, was picked second followed by Central Connecticut State. Wagner was picked fourth and Sacred Heart was picked to finish eighth.

“This is the best the league has been in the 10 years that I’ve been here,” LIU coach Jim Ferry said. “We didn’t talk about winning a championship, we just want to finish in the top four to have a chance to win it.”

Quinnipiac has earned postseason tournament bids the past two seasons racking up 45 wins in the process. Rutty, one of the league’s top players for the past few seasons, is now playing professionally in Europe. That will put a great deal of the team’s promise in the hands of point guard James Johnson.

Johnson was selected to the preseason all-conference team along with CCSU’s Ken Horton, LIU’s Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere and Wagner’s Tyler Murray.
Johnson still faces possible suspension from the team for his involvement in an assault that is still pending in the courts. Moore would not say if Johnson would be available for the team’s season-opener on Nov. 11 in the Connecticut 6 tournament.

Johnson is perhaps the league’s most important player. He led Quinnipiac in scoring last season, is an unflappable point guard and is its best defensive player.
Filling Rutty’s shoes won’t be an easy task but Quinnipiac does have Ike Azotam and Jamee Jackson returning to the front court. The pair hope to maintain the Bobcats’ fierce identity of rebounding. The Bobcats have ranked amongst the nation’s leaders in rebounding average for the past three years and Moore said they outrebounded Northeastern by 17 in a recent scrimmage.

Jackson and Azotam both played well when Rutty missed seven games down the stretch last season due to injury.

“It was good for Jamee to be thrown into the fire last year,” Moore said. “He responded a bit. He had 20 points at Monmouth the night we heard that Justin was going to be out for a while. It was good for Jamee to take the lead and his numbers went up and that’s been explained to him and is going to be explained to him again as the season approaches.”

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