ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS — In his last few years at UConn, Tom Moore felt like a woman in her late 30s.
Don’t know where this is going? Perhaps that analogy merits some sort of explanation.
“I had been an assistant (at UConn) for 13 years,” Moore said Sunday morning. “You talk about women having a biological clock to have a baby. I felt that it was my time (to become a head coach).”
Regarded as an ace recruiter who helped lure NBA talent to Storrs, Moore had been on several interviews before he decided on Quinnipiac, a relatively new Division I program that the pieces — facilities, budget, support from the administration — to take a step forward.
So far, so good for Moore, who, like many in the Jim Calhoun coaching tree, has branched off to his own Division I job. Quinnipiac, which faces UConn tonight in the Paradise Jam semifinal (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network), has posted back-to-back 20-win seasons and has significantly upgraded its talent. Still, the Bobcats have fallen short of Moore’s one and only short-term goal.
“Just to go to an NCAA tournament,” Moore said. “This school so deserves one and is so ready for one. I felt like when they hired me to do this job, that’s part of what they hired me for. I put a lot of internal pressure on myself to that.”
For three seasons, Quinnipiac has been good enough to fulfill that goal: The Bobcats fell 52-50 to Robert Morris in the 2010 Northeast Conference championship game, the potential game-winning 3-pointer blocked with 10 seconds remaining. In the past two years, Quinnipiac has reached the league semifinals only to come up two points shy against Robert Morris in 2010-11 and three points short versus top seed Long Island last March.
That’s life in the Northeast Conference, a league that simply does not receive at-large NCAA bids. It’s like this: You play the 30-game regular season to find a spot in the league tournament. From there, as Moore has learned, an entire season can hinge on one possession.
“Coach (Howie) Dickenman is a valued friend of mine, and I remember watching his great—and I mean truly great—Central teams going 18-0 or 17-1,” Moore said. “And I remember going ‘he’s not going to get a bid unless he wins these 120 minutes.’ My stomach used to churn for him, and now I’m here in the exact same situation.”
So tonight’s game versus UConn — just the fourth of the year for both teams — will by no means decide the future of Quinnipiac basketball.
But, from an exposure standpoint, it can sure help.
Twelve hours before tip-off, Tom Moore was interviewed by CBS Sports Network, the network that will nationally broadcast tonight’s Paradise Jam semifinal matchup: The basketball Beast of the Northeast against a private school from Hamden with a 6,000 undergraduate enrollment and zero NCAA tournament appearances. The name “Quinnipiac” probably means very little outside of our Northeast college hoops bubble, and this game — UConn is the only ranked team Moore has faced in his tenure — could play a part in changing that.
“We’ve talked about enjoying the experience (at the Paradise Jam), what a great commitment it is from the administration but we also talk about the history of Quinnipiac basketball,” Moore said.
As of now, that’s a pretty short conversation.
“Some people wouldn’t have thought 10, 11, 12, 15 years ago that we would be in the NIT or the CIT or been in a tournament like this,” Moore said. “Coaches are impatient. We like to have it happen right away, but it doesn’t always work like that.”