Men's Basketball Slated Fifth In 2011-12 NEC Preseason Poll

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SOMERSET, N.J. – The Quinnipiac University men's basketball team was recently selected to finish fifth in the 2011-12 Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll, as announced by the league office on Wednesday, November 2, 2011. Last season, the Bobcats finished second in the NEC standings and earned a trip to their second consecutive national postseason tournament.  

Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament bid in 14 years, the Blackbirds of Long Island claimed the top slot in the census. LIU returns 6-7 junior Julian Boyd, CBSSports.com's NEC Preseason Player of the Year pick, who averaged 13 points and 8.9 boards per game in 2010-11, second in the league in rebounding only to QU's Justin Rutty.

Joining Boyd on the Preseason All-Conference Team is Bobcats' guard James Johnson (Queens, N.Y), who returns for his senior season. Last year's leading scorer, Ken Horton of Central Connecticut, LIU's Jamal Olasewere and Wagner's Tyler Murray round out the team of five.     

Long Island captured 10 first-place votes, leaving two votes to Robert Morris. The Colonials were slated second in the poll, followed by Central Connecticut State, Wagner and Quinnipiac to round out the top five.

2011-12 Northeast Conference
Men's Basketball Preseason Poll

1. Long Island (10)
2. Robert Morris (2)
3. Central Connecticut State
4. Wagner
5. Quinnipiac
6. Mount St. Mary's
7. Bryant
8. Sacred Heart
9. Saint Francis (PA)
10. Monmouth
11. St. Francis (NY)
12. Fairleigh Dickinson

2011-12 Northeast Conference
Men's Basketball Preseason All-Conference Team

Julian Boyd, Jr, F, Long Island
Ken Horton, Sr, F, Central Connecticut State
James Johnson, Sr, G, Quinnipiac
Tyler Murray, Sr, G, Wagner
Jamal Olasewere, Jr, F, Long Island

QU Season Outlook

The 2011-12 Quinnipiac University Men's Basketball Team has reloaded after a pair of 20-win seasons and national postseason tournament berths. Already in a good spot with seven players returning and a probable starting five in place, the Bobcats welcome eight new players this season.

Back from last year's starting five are guard James Johnson and forward Jamee Jackson. Johnson has been a constant contributor for the Bobcats since his arrival in Hamden in 2008-09. He's started every game the Bobcats have played in his time on York Hill and has scored 1,218 points in his three years, more than any other player in their freshman, sophomore and junior seasons in Quinnipiac Division I history. The heart and soul of the Bobcats will take aim at Rob Monroe's '05 program Division I record of 1,685 points this season.

Jackson is a force on the block for the Bobcats, both offensively and defensively. He averaged 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in starting all 32 contests for the Bobcats last season. He also contributed a team-high 38 blocks for a 1.19 blocks per game average, good for seventh in the Northeast Conference. A high-riser with unlimited athletic ability, Jackson is always a threat on the offensive glass for put-backs, with nearly half of his rebounds from a year ago coming on the offensive end.

The Bobcats will also welcome the returns of Dave Johnson, Ike Azotam and Kevin Tarca, while enjoying the Quinnipiac debuts of transfers Garvey Young and Austin Alecxih. Johnson has been a two-year contributor for Quinnipiac, bringing 5.7 points, 3.5 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game to the table as a sophomore. Azotam is the Bobcats' top returning rebounder, grabbing 5.4 boards per contest to go along with 5.1 points per game as a freshman.

Young and Alecxih both had to sit out the 2010-11 season as transfers from other NCAA Division I institutions. Young was an All-America East Defensive Team member as a sophomore at Vermont. His ability at 6-foot-5 to defend bigger guards on the perimeter paired with the lock-down defense of James Johnson should give the Bobcats perhaps their best perimeter defense in Tom Moore's tenure at the helm.  The 6-foot-6 Alecxih, a sophomore transfer from UNC Asheville, is a spot-up shooter on the wing who will give Moore one more perimeter option.

Also joining the Bobcats will be a host of incoming recruits. Forwards Marquis Barnett, Ousmane Drame and Justin Harris are all 6-foot-8 or taller, giving the Bobcats added depth up front. Alex Jackson will be a versatile threat at 6-foot-5, possessing the capability to play both inside and outside. Guards Evan Conti, Nate Gause, Zaid Hearst, Terrance Bobb-Jones and T'ziah Wood-Smith will give the Bobcats added depth in the backcourt.

Backcourt

Offensively and defensively for the Bobcats, everything starts with James Johnson. The Bobcats' leading scorer a year ago at 16.1 points per game, Johnson finished his junior year among the top players in the NEC in eight of 13 statistical categories. He led the league in three-point field goals made per game (2.63) and was third in both steals per game (1.59) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.33). He ranked fifth in scoring (16.1), seventh in both free-throw percentage (.814) and minutes per game (33.94), 11th in three-point field-goal percentage (.373) and 14th in assists per game (3.50). Named the league's top playmaker by Lindy's entering last season, Johnson didn't disappoint in being named to the All-League First Team at the year's end.

"I am very excited about the versatility and the mix of experience and youth in our backcourt," remarked Head Coach Tom Moore. "Our guards will be led by James Johnson, who has already had such an incredible career in his first three years here. He returns off a First Team All-NEC season and should be a serious candidate for Conference Player of the Year. He has embraced the role of being our best perimeter defender along with emerging as our best perimeter offensive player. His versatility, toughness, and work ethic have allowed him to flourish as both a point guard and shooting guard during his time here."

Dave Johnson once again provided a spark off the bench as a sophomore. The diminutive guard contributed 5.7 points, 3.5 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game. Perhaps the highlight of his season came at rival Central Connecticut. In a game that would likely decide the No. 2 seed in the NEC Tournament and accompanying home-court advantage in two tournament games, Johnson scored a career-high 17 points on 5-for-6 shooting and 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in a one-point victory, 68-67, in New Britain. A true point guard, Johnson has become known for his quick dishes through miniscule passing lanes.

"Dave Johnson should have an expanded role this season as he builds off a breakthrough sophomore season," commented Moore. "Dave has great vision and terrific feel as a passer in both transition opportunities and in the half court. He has also improved his consistency as a reliable three-point shooter."

Young started 50 of 64 games played at Vermont in his freshman and sophomore years before transferring to Quinnipiac. He earned America East All-Tournament Team recognition as the Catamounts won the 2010 America East Championship, while earning All-America East Defensive Team honors for his effort in the regular season. He was also named to the 2009 America East All-Rookie Team. Young is attempting to become one in a rare group to guide two different mid-major programs to the NCAA Tournament.

"Garvey Young brings a great deal of winning experience after starting for two seasons on highly successful University of Vermont teams that qualified for National post-season tournaments," said Moore. "Garvey is an elite defender at this level, able to guard point guards through power forwards.  I am very excited about what he'll bring to our program on the defensive and offensive ends of the court and as a leader in the locker room."

After a year at UNC Asheville and another year practicing with the Bobcats, Moore hopes Alecxih can add another perimeter shooter to his offensive arsenal. Along with Kevin Tarca, entering his final year of eligibility, who brings leadership and tenacity to this year's team. "Austin Alecxih is one of our hardest workers and should really help our outside shooting and Kevin is a senior who has been an incredible addition to our program, contributing in so many ways with his consistency and toughness every day in practice," Moore commented.

Newcomers Conti, Gause, Hearst and Wood-Smith round out the backcourt options for Moore's team. Conti is a 6-foot-3 guard out of Holy Cross High School in Flushing, N.Y. He ranks fifth all-time at Holy Cross with 1,120 career points and grabbed nearly 600 rebounds in his high school career for Coach Paul Gilvary's Knights. He averaged nearly 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game as a senior, earning Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) First Team recognition while leading the Knights to a 17-12 record.

Gause is a 6-foot-3 guard from Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) High School. He was named all-league, all-section and all-state after averaging 23 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game as a senior for the Pioneers. The Poughkeepsie Journal honored Gause with its player of the year award after he led Coach Brian Laffin's Poughkeepsie squad to a 21-1 record. He also earned the MVP of Large Schools Award. NYHoops.com ranked Gause the fourth-best player in the area, behind three players who committed to Big East and Big 12 schools.

A 6-foot-4 guard, Hearst averaged 16.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game as a senior after posting averages of 18.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game as a junior for Coach Jeff Ruskin at the Salisbury School. Hearst earned New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Class A First Team honors in his final year at Salisbury. He was named All-Western New England First Team in 2010, before earning Hoop Group Southern Invitational Jam Fest All-Star status the following summer, playing for Mid-Atlantic Select. He was also named to the Hoop Group Summer Classic East All-Tournament Team. New England Recruiting Report named Hearst the No. 8 prospect in Connecticut and the No. 28 recruit in New England for 2011.

The 6-foot-4 Wood-Smith rounds out the backcourt options for Coach Moore, coming to Quinnipiac after leading Baldwin High School to a 14-4 record and earning all-county honors.

"All of our new guys bring something to the table that can help us win this year, said Moore. "Zaid Hearst is an extremely hard worker with a college-ready body who can already defend and rebound at a high level and Evan Conti has been a nice addition offensively as both a shooter and passer," said Moore. "T'ziah Wood-Smith has brought good enthusiasm and athleticism to our team already, while Nate Gause is a gifted offensive player who has a knack for making jump shots and already has good feel scoring in the mid-range area."

Frontcourt

The duo of Jamee Jackson and Ike Azotam will form one of the more formidable inside tandems in the Northeast Conference this season. The duo got the opportunity to learn from perhaps the most dominant big man in the history of the Northeast Conference in Justin Rutty, and is now prepared to step out of his shadow.

Jackson averaged 6.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game as a sophomore. Quick off his feet, his blocked shots often led the Bobcats' fast break and resulted in game-changing momentum in 2010-11. In his first game without Rutty due to an injury to the senior mentor, Jackson poured in 20 points and added five rebounds in a 72-70 victory at Monmouth. Included in the career-high point production was a free throw to put the Bobcats on top for good.

"I am very excited about the potential of our frontcourt as they continue to develop and take on the challenge of replacing Justin Rutty," said Moore. "Jamee Jackson has incredible potential and athleticism and has done good things with his opportunities as both a freshman and a sophomore.  I am certain he will make another big step in his development this season as a junior. He combines great size, length, and quickness into a 6-7 package that can be very difficult to handle in the NEC."

Azotam's production as a freshman can best be quantified by comparing his numbers to those of Rutty as a freshman. While Rutty posted 5.1 rebounds per game, including 2.29 per game on the offensive glass, Azotam grabbed 5.4 boards, including 2.35 offensive rebounds per game last season. Azotam saw action in 31 of 32 games for the Bobcats as a freshman, starting six times. He averaged 5.1 points and blocked 13 shots. He compiled two double-doubles, including career highs of 16 points and 13 rebounds, Feb. 9 against Sacred Heart.

"Ike Azotam had a very impressive freshman season a year ago and I am looking forward to similar improvement with him as he matures and gets more minutes," Moore remarked. "He is a good finisher and instinctive rebounder with long arms and quick hops. Statistically, his rebounding and scoring numbers match up very well to those posted by Justin Rutty in his freshman year."

Barnett, Drame, Alex Jackson, Harris and Terrance Bobb-Jones round out the low-point players for this year's squad. Barnett is a 6-foot-8 forward with a reputation for rebounding and shot blocking out of Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, N.Y. A third team All-Queens selection by the New York Post, Barnett helped the Judges to an undefeated season in Queens AA and a spot in the PSAL Class AA semifinals. After contributing five points, seven rebounds and four blocks per game as a junior for a Judges team that reached the PSAL Championship Game at Madison Square Garden, Barnett upped his numbers to 8.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per game in helping Coach Ron Naclerio's team to a 28-3 record as a senior.

Originally hailing from the small West African country of Guinea, Drame earned NEPSAC Class AA Third Team in his prep year at Marianapolis Prep, averaging 12.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. In his senior year of high school, he produced 15.1 points, 14.3 rebounds, 6.2 blocks and 3.2 assists while shooting 58 percent from the floor in leading New Mission High School to the 2010 Massachusetts Division 4 State Championship. He scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds en route to MVP honors in the State Championship Game against Boston Cathedral, and was named Massachusetts Division 4 and Boston City League Player of the Year for Coach Cory McCarthy's team.

Jackson is a 6-foot-5 junior college transfer from Frederick (Md.) Community College who will have three years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the past year due to injury. A versatile athlete at 6-foot-5, Jackson is a mismatch against shorter small forwards while his quickness and shooting ability provide problems for bigger power forwards. As a freshman at FCC, Jackson averaged 19.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting 32 percent from long range. He was named first team All-Maryland JUCO, first team All-Region XX and honorable mention All-National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Jackson led FCC to the first Region XX Tournament Championship in the history of the school.

Harris is a 6-foot-8 forward from Paterson, N.J., who was a 1,000-point scorer at Paterson Catholic. He averaged nearly 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per game as a senior, leading Coach Greg Barnes' Paladins to a league championship and a 15-9 record. Harris was named All-League and All-County in both his junior and senior seasons. He averaged 12.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in 2009-10, leading Paramus Catholic to the Bergen County and League Championships with a 22-4 overall record.

Bobb-Jones is a 6-4 forward with tremendous rebounding ability in the small forward role. He comes from Delcastle Tech in Delaware, where he averaged over 20 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in his senior year. Bobb-Jones easily surpassed the 1,000 career-point mark and was noted as one of the top 10 players in the state.

"Alex Jackson brings versatility and toughness as a small forward and possible under-sized power forward. Our new guys up front also all have a skill set that I think can help us right away, commented Moore. "Ousmane Drame is a long, lefty inside player with very good hands, touch, and passing ability and Marquis Barnett is a strong, physical inside player who can really rebound the ball in traffic and defends the post with very good toughness for a freshman. Justin Harris has done a great job improving his body and conditioning and is very smart at both ends of the floor in the lane, while Terrance Bobb-Jones is a very physical, athletic small forward who can really defend and rebound as well as bring a toughness to our program."

Schedule

In search of a third straight national postseason tournament berth and another 20-win season, Moore has lined up an exciting schedule for the 2011-12 season. Home contests against local rival Yale, 2011 America East Champion Boston University, Navy and Niagara highlight the non-conference schedule. In addition to an always-competitive Northeast Conference docket, the Bobcats face 2011 MAAC Regular Season Champion Fairfield in the Third Annual Connecticut 6 Classic at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., and travel to American, Lehigh, Hartford, Vermont and Massachusetts.

"I am excited about our 2011-12 schedule, as we feel we've lined up a nice collection of some of the strongest basketball and academic schools in the Northeast," said Moore. "Our non-conference opponents include Atlantic 10 power, UMass, and conference champions Fairfield from the MAAC and Boston University from the America East."

Quinnipiac has led the Northeast Conference in average home attendance in each of the last two years, and three of Moore's four seasons at the helm, creating a strong home-court advantage for the Bobcats. The increased fan support during the past two seasons has resulted in a 30-7 (.811) record for Quinnipiac at the TD Bank Sports Center.  

"As we prepare to try to qualify for a third straight national postseason tournament, I am proud of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and basketball fans in the New Haven area who have helped Quinnipiac lead the NEC in average home attendance in three of the last four years. The loyal support and enthusiasm they have brought to the TD Bank Sports Center has certainly helped us win over 80 percent of our home games in the last two seasons."

The Bobcats' quest for their second NEC regular-season title begins on Friday, November 11th at Mohegan Sun Arena. Quinnipiac will take on Fairfield in the Connecticut 6 Classic at 5:30 p.m.

Contact: Tony Distasio; Ardistasio@quinnipiac.edu