Note: This is Vincent Simone’s first post on Big Apple Buckets. Vincent is a new writer on the site and will be posting occasionally on Quinnipiac and beyond.
The Bobcats called the NEC home for the past 15 years, ever since Quinnipiac made the move to Division I athletics in 1998. The NEC provided Quinnipiac with the opportunity to develop into a legitimate Division I basketball program. From there the Bobcats were able to recruit a different class of player, appeal to coaches like Tom Moore, and provided the figurative rock on which the TD Bank Sports Center was built (the literal rock being York Hill).
But now it is time to thank the NEC for all it has given Quinnipiac and turn toward a future in the MAAC. What exactly does this change bring? What makes the MAAC so much more appealing than the NEC? Much like the NEC provided Quinnipiac the opportunity to develop a Division I program; the MAAC provides the opportunity to take that program to the next level.
While the Bobcats are now on the radar of a wider group of recruits, they will have to deal with new challenges in appealing to those potential players. No longer is the TD Bank Sports Center the premier home arena in the conference. Monmouth’s Multipurpose Activity Center was the only NEC arena that rivaled the Bank, and the Hawks make the move to the MAAC alongside the Bobcats. Siena’s Times Union Center and Fairfield’s Webster Bank Arena also both outclass the Bank. Quinnipiac will be going from having far and away one of the top two arenas in the conference to arguably being third or fourth (which admittedly is still pretty good).
The most important opportunity the MAAC presents to Quinnipiac is the chance to make a consistent impact in the postseason. Quinnipiac departed the NEC without having accomplished the ultimate goal: Getting a bid to the NCAA tournament. The NEC is strictly a one-bid league, which means the only way to make it into the NCAA tournament is to be the last team standing at the end of the postseason tournament. Despite reaching the NEC semifinals four of the last five years and hosting a championship game in 2010, the Bobcats were never able to accomplish that goal. If there is any regret in leaving the NEC, it is in never hanging a postseason championship banner in the rafters of TD Bank.
The move to the MAAC changes all that. While the MAAC is also a one-bid league most years, it is at least possible to make the tournament as an at-large team. Only Manhattan in 1995 and Iona in 2012 have been able to do so, but the tantalizing possibility exists.
The conference tournament itself takes on another form in the MAAC. Rather than taking the top eight teams in the conference and playing a standard tournament with the top seed hosting each matchup, the MAAC holds a neutral-site tournament with every team in the conference invited. In 2014 this tournament will be held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, MA before moving back to Albany for 2015-2017. The Bobcats are now geographically the closest team in the conference to Springfield, and I anticipate a sea of gold making the trek to the MassMutual Center come March.
Exciting times lie ahead for the Bobcats. The MAAC is the next step in a journey that is only just beginning. This current team is set up well to make the transition to the MAAC, with big men Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame leading a squad that has been ranked in the top two in the country in rebounding over the last four years. I hope one day the Bobcats will achieve their goal of playing with the best of the best in the NCAA tournament. Hopefully that time comes soon and Quinnipiac can make the MAAC proud.