If I may take an unprovoked jab at NESCAC football, last weekend proved why basketball is the best of the sports we cover. For all its charms and glories, NESCAC football has the tendency to devolve into Middlebury, Amherst, Trinity and Tufts sitting at the grown-ups table, while the rest of the teams hang out waiting for the leftovers. In basketball, save for a couple exceptions, any NESCAC team can beat any other on a given night. This weekend was a terrific reminder of that fact. Amherst, the number three team in the country and consensus top in NESCAC, lost both their games and now sits at #16 nationally. Like Westeros (the fictional world of Game of Thrones) NESCAC basketball is a mysterious landscape, where the characters can die- or come back to life- at a moment’s notice.
Tufts Reads NbN
You’re welcome, Jumbos fans. Clearly the Tufts players have been reading my vitriolic rants against their team, school and personalities in general, because they came to play last weekend. Their win over Middlebury was one of the best games of the young season, a 91-85 classic that was closer
than even that 6 point margin. It was their trademark balance that carried the Jumbos in that game, as every starter scored in double figures as well as KJ Garrett ‘18 off the bench. However, it should be noted that star guard Vincent Pace (who has been slowly working his way back from injury) had one of his best games of the season with 15, including 13 in the first half.
The next night against Hamilton, Tufts put up another impressive performance, stopping a red hot Hamilton team in their tracks 94-81 despite playing without Pace. Garrett again stood out, stepping in admirably for Pace with a career high 19 points on 8-11 shooting. In addition to the emergence of Garrett and the balanced scoring, the Jumbos displayed tenacious team defense, holding the two highest scoring offenses in the league to under 37% shooting. There is a new top dawg in NESCAC.
Amherst Has Some Work to Do
For there to be a new top dawg, the old top has to drink from the toilet and be put in the dawghouse. That’s pretty much akin to what Amherst did last weekend. They dropped both of their games to teams that entered without a league win. It was Amherst’s offense that let them down. It had become a worry at some points earlier in the year that Amherst relied too much on the dynamic backcourt duo of Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18. However, Amherst had played an easy enough schedule (and both were playing well enough) that the worries were put aside.
But those fears came home to roost in a big way. Wesleyan was able to let loose their whole swarm of killer perimeter defenders on Dawson and McCarthy, holding them to 8-30 shooting (2-11 from three.) And then on Sunday, Amherst’s lack of frontcourt depth got exposed, and Daniel Janel ‘17 and Zuri Pavlin ‘17 of Connecticut College roasted Amherst’s big men like chestnuts on an open fire. The two forwards combined for 40 points (20 each) and Pavlin added 13 rebounds. This was not a simple bump in the road for Amherst; they have major depth problems. Someone else needs to put the ball in the bucket for the Purple and White. This is not a NESCAC year in which a team can play two on five and expect to win.
Jack Simonds ‘19 Can Score
I know, I know, “wow Pete, the leading scorer in the league can score? Hot take, man!” But coming into the Polar Bears match-up with Williams, Simonds was only shooting 36% in league play, including a dismal 1-9 from three. It’s (relatively) easy to light up non-conference foes, but you have to prove yourself in conference play to really shine. Against Williams, Simonds did just that, putting up 33 points on 11-24 shooting. He added 7 rebounds and 5 assists, and most importantly, led Bowdoin to a critical win. In such a strong league, the difference between 0-3 and 1-2 is impossible to overstate. This was a POY-type weekend for Simonds, we’ll see if he can keep it up.
Reports of Wesleyan’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated
Count me among the people who, after Wesleyan’s lethargic 0-2 opening weekend, began to mentally dig their grave in terms of postseason play. The Cardinals simply couldn’t score enough to support their terrific defense. In essence they were a one trick pony: terrific defense that eventually could be broken down due to a lack of offensive support. But Wesleyan’s two performances this weekend saw them prove that maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Against Amherst, their defense was simply phenomenal, holding the Purple and White to 59 points on 30% shooting. And then they held Trinity to 61 points on 33% shooting the next night. As shockingly good as the Cardinal’s defense was during those two games, they were also aided by strong offensive performances from Joseph Kuo ‘17 (28 points over the weekend,) Kevin O’Brien ‘19 (19 against Amherst) and Harry Rafferty ‘17 (17 against Trinity.) If Wesleyan can get just a couple offensive sparks, their defense may be good enough for them to make some noise in the post-season.
Eric McCord Emerges
One of the fascinating subplots (to me, at least) of the season so far has been how Coach Jeff Brown manages in frontcourt in the wake of Zach Baines’ departure. He has three talented forwards in Nick Tarantino ‘18, Matt Folger ‘20, and Eric McCord ‘19. However, they all have flaws that prevent from being ready go-to big men. Tarantino starts (alongside Adisa Majors ‘18,) with Folger coming in off the bench as an offensive and rim-protection weapon. And McCord had been following Folger off the bench to add some size and rebounding strength to the lineup. But last weekend McCord showed that he might deserve a larger slice of the minutes pie. Against Tufts, McCord had 22 points and 8 rebounds and paired with Matt St. Amour ’17 to lead the Panthers back from a double digit deficit. And then he had 11 and 8 in a crucial win at Bates. McCord is very strong and has great touch inside, making him an ideal recipient of passes from Middlebury’s terrific guards. He also has shown a nice feel for interior passing with the other bigs, allowing Middlebury to run some Memphis Grizzlies-esque high-low sets. With McCord playing this well, Middlebury’s frontcourt is now a strength after being an Achilles Heel for much of the year.
It’s a big weekend around the ‘CAC, and Friday’s games will have a pretty big impact on the way Saturday’s games go. Bates, Hamilton, Middlebury and Tufts all have the pleasure of playing each other (except Bates does not play Tufts, and Hamilton does not play Middlebury), which will mean the number of undefeated NESCAC teams will dwindle to a maximum of three this weekend. On the other end of the standings, Williams, Bowdoin, and Colby are all winless in conference play, and face only other winless squads, meaning at least one of them will walk away feeling a little better about themselves this weekend. Then, there is the scrum in the middle, where Amherst, Conn, Trinity and Wesleyan will face off, with Amherst and Trin looking to jump to 3-0 while Conn and Wes are hoping to right their ships. With all that in mind, momentum is a big factor this weekend. A win Friday night bodes very well moving into Saturday’s games, while a loss could steer some teams toward panic mode. Here’s what we’ve got for Saturday’s action:
Hamilton (10-2, 2-0) at #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0), Medford, MA, 2:00 PM
Like I said, momentum is supremely important this weekend, especially in this game. Hamilton and Tufts will either be feeling good after a big Friday night win against another solid squad, or they will be disappointed with their first NESCAC loss of the season. That’s why no matter the result, it is extremely important to get out to a hot start in this game. I strongly believe that whichever team asserts their dominance early will win the game, especially if they are 3-0 while their opponent is 2-1 at tipoff. For the visiting Continentals, the key to victory is on the defensive end. Their obvious disadvantage is on the block, where Palleschi has a massive size advantage over the tall but lankier Andrew Groll ‘19. However, Palleschi alone cannot defeat the Continentals, so their focus on the defensive end should be on preventing penetration from Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18 and Everett Dayton ‘18, all of whom are very good at getting to the hooping and dishing to open shooters. Hamilton has shown that they know how to put the ball in the hoop, so it is not their offense that they should be worried about (though I do think the length of Tufts could be a bit tricky for the Hamilton guards), but rather how they are going to keep Tufts from scoring. This is going to be a big game for Peter Hoffmann ’19, who has the best combination of size and scoring ability on the Continentals’ roster, and as he goes the Hamilton offense will go. I believe that the Jumbos will get to the hoop as they usually do, but because of their size advantage across the board, I expect Hamilton to sag into the paint quite a bit. For this reason, I will warn Hamilton: do not sleep on Tufts sharpshooter Ethan Feldman ‘19. He could be deadly on Saturday.
On paper, this game looks close. The teams have similar records and have opposite strengths, which gives each team a different advantage. Middlebury’s guards are clearly their strength, while it is the post play of the Bobcats that propels them. However, I do not think this game will be nearly as close as some might project. To be honest, I’m predicting that Middlebury will roll. While Bates as the advantage down low with the Delpeche twins, these two have consistently struggled in league play throughout their NESCAC careers. While the pair has improved each season, they have not flashed the ability to take over games very often, and against an experienced Middlebury team I just don’t think this will be one of the rare occasions where they do. While the departure of Baines certainly hurts the Panthers, Nick Tarantino ‘18 is an admirable replacement, and I think he will lock down whichever Bobcat big he is matched up against. If that holds true, maybe the other Delpeche twin can go to work, but the Bobcats are going to need production out of their guards and the stingy defense of Jake Brown ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 doesn’t lead me to believe that we will see that. Middlebury should be able to keep the Bates guards in check, and if they do, the Panthers will climb onto Matt St. Amour’s back and show the Bobcats who is higher up in the feline hierarchy.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
#5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0) vs. Conn College (8-4, 2-0), New London, CT, 3:00 PM
This matchup is interesting. As Pete mentioned in his earlier article, the Purple and White (who by the way, might be called the Amherst Hamsters soon enough since hamster is an anagram of Amherst) have lost two of their last four. This couldn’t matter less to me in terms of their performance this weekend. Amherst is always one of the top couple teams in the NESCAC – they pretty much always have been with Dave Hixon at the helm. They are a very tough team to beat, but they are also generally prone to complete melts where they lose focus and lose to teams worse than them. Take last year, for example: Amherst played Wesleyan in an out-of-conference tilt and lost by 27 after beating them by 24 just three days earlier. Did this mean Wesleyan and Amherst were even teams, or that Wesleyan was better? No. It just meant that on certain nights, Amherst takes the night off. That’s what I would say happened against Springfield College in December. I have been watching Amherst College basketball my entire life. I used to wreak absolute havoc in Alumni Gymnasium, and I would watch every Amherst game. I still remember standing in the front of the Amherst student section with a couple of my friends as a 12-ish year old as Amherst took down Tufts in OT. Through the years, I have learned that you must take Amherst one game at a time. So, in this matchup, here’s what should you look for:
The matchup between Tyler Rowe ‘19 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 is the one that immediately jumps out to me. These are the two stars of their respective teams this season, and whoever wins this matchup will likely give his team what it needs to win. If I were a betting man (which I’m not, because that would be an NCAA violation), I would say that Dawson wins this battle. He is just as athletic as Rowe, but he has such a size advantage that it is tough to pick against him in this one. Dawson has 4 inches on Rowe, and though Conn does not list their weights, I would guess there is also about a 25 pound disparity between the two of them. I think Amherst would be silly not to post up Dawson at least a few times to take advantage of this mismatch. I do think Zuri Pavlin ‘17 will have a great game for the Camels, as he is much more mobile than Amherst’s David George ‘17, but I don’t think it will be enough to deal with the size advantage that Amherst possesses all over the perimeter. Between Dawson, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, Michael Riopel ‘18 and Jeff Racy ‘17, Conn will struggle to match up.
Trinity looked good against Williams last weekend, and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 looked VERY good. His stat line speaks for itself, but Ogundeko’s physicality is what sets him apart from other big men in this league, which is why I think he will have a solid day against Joseph Kuo ‘17 of the Cardinals. However, I do not think he will have the same type of day that he did against Williams, as Kuo is a very solid big man in his own right. This will be a back and forth matchup on the low block, which is why I am cancelling out these two when making my prediction. This game will be won by the perimeter players. As always, Trinity will slow the game down and work out of the halfcourt set primarily, which means Wesleyan’s discipline and communication on defense is key. Trinity turns the ball over more than anyone else in the league, so if Wes can turn TOs into points, they will be in very good shape. However, that means they will have to take care of the ball themselves – Wesleyan turns the ball over the second most. Offensively, Wesleyan should try to get into the paint more often, and stop hucking up threes. As they learned last weekend, three-point shots are not their strength, getting into the paint is. Wesleyan is a lot deeper at the guard spots than Trinity, so if they can get to the rack and force the Bantams to foul, the Cardinals are in good shape. However, if they fall into the trap of shooting a million threes again, then Trinity will be able to contain the weapons of the Wesleyan offense. This game is a toss up, as I think the two are very evenly matched and a lot of how this game plays out depends on gameplan, but I think Wesleyan edges Trinity in a tight one.
Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan
Williams (11-3, 0-2) at Bowdoin (8-6, 0-2), Brunswick, ME, 6:00 PM
The rare NESCAC Saturday night game holds an interesting matchup between the Ephs and the Polar Bears, one which Williams must win if they want a shot at finishing in the top half of playoff teams in the NESCAC this year. However, early in the season it is also a pretty crucial game for Bowdoin if they want to crack the playoffs this year. With what appears to be the rise of Hamilton and Bates, Bowdoin needs to beat some playoff-caliber teams, and Williams would definitely be a nice win to write home about. However, I think this is a tough matchup for the Polar Bears for a few reasons. First of all, Bowdoin is best when Jack Simonds ‘19 has a mismatch. Williams doesn’t give him that, because Kyle Scadlock ‘19 is every bit as big and is every bit as athletic, so this is not going to be a game where Simonds completely takes over. Secondly, the weakness is Williams is down low, and unfortunately for Bowdoin, that is also their weakness. I will say, sophomore Hugh O’Neil has done a nice job under the hoop for the Polar Bears this year, but he is not going to single-handedly lead his team to a win. Thirdly, Williams has a stronger and deeper cast of guards than Bowdoin. Bobby Casey ‘19, Cole Teal ‘18, and Dan Aronowitz ‘17 provide a plethora of options for the Ephs offensively, and they are complemented by forward Scadlock. The matchups will be interesting, and I think the Ephs can exploit them no matter how Bowdoin chooses to play it. Assume Simonds guards Aronowitz – that leaves Scadlock with a huge mismatch down low, and doesn’t really slow down Aronowitz that much either. Assume Simonds guards Scadlock – Scadlock still outsizes Simonds, and Aronowitz has an even more favorable matchup on the perimeter. I don’t really see a way that Bowdoin can slow down the Williams attack in this one, which is why I think Williams should win pretty handily.
The opening weekend of NESCAC play was one of extremes. No team finished 1-1, marking out a clear top and bottom tier. Five teams sit at 2-0,and five teams sit at 0-2, with Trinity and Amherst lucking out with only one game over the first weekend and sitting at 1-0. Obviously it’s too early to make assumptions about whether the tiers we see right now will last throughout the season, but there are some interesting threads that should be monitored going forward. Will Middlebury be fine even without Zach Baines? Will Wesleyan make the tournament? Is Ed Ogundeko Shaq’s son? All these stories and more will continue into Friday night’s games, so let’s get into them.
Writer’s Note: This article is a little rushed as I had to spend most of the day yesterday apologizing to various fans for Rory putting Amherst at #1 in the Power Rankings even though they’ve lost two of four. So just keep that in mind.
GAME OF THE WEEK: #15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0) @ #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0)
7:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
First of all, this is obviously going to be a difficult game for me. On one side we have Middlebury, which is of course my hometown, and watching the basketball team as I grew up has been arguably the most influential factor in becoming the person I am today. And on the other side we have Tufts, the team I hate with all my heart. The list of wrongs done unto me by Tufts University is too long and horrible to replicate here on a family blog. I’ll just say that Tufts is the Count Olaf to my Baudelaire children; constantly destroying everything I hold dear out of pure malice and spite.
That said, this should be a spectacular game. Tufts and Middlebury are both coming off very impressive opening weekends, and their strong play has been reflected in their respective climbs in the national rankings. As usual, Middlebury owes much of their success to their incredible backcourt, and particularly to the triumphant return of Matt St. Amour’s shooting stroke. After a prolonged slump, St. Amour catapulted himself back into the POY race with 52 points over the two games, including 31 in Sunday’s win over Connecticut College. More importantly, St. Amour got his buckets very efficiently, shooting 10-19 from three and needing only 30 shots to garner his 52 points. Middlebury has done a tremendous job winning games during St. Amour’s slump, but it was about time he carried them again.
Tufts made quick work of the Maine teams in the opening weekend, besting Bowdoin and Colby easily. They did it with balance; no single player had more than 20 points, but 7 players had more than 10. Tarik Smith ‘17 had a nice weekend after an inconsistent start to the season, adding a new weapon to the Jumbos’ arsenal. It was crucial for Tufts to have a good weekend starting off the year, as they had a couple bad losses to Babson and UMASS Boston that had cooled some people on their league standing. However, they had the easiest weekend of any top tier teams. This game is their first big test since Babson, and should reveal a great deal about how high the Jumbos can fly this season.
For Middlebury it has to be transition, and I mean that in multiple senses of the word. The Panthers must continue to excel in their fast-paced, perimeter orientated style on both sides of the ball. As our blogfathers Panther Nation pointed out, Middlebury may well have the best backcourt in the country, and they need to continue that excellent play to weather a lack of front court depth, at least offensively.
Speaking of the front court, that brings me to the second type of transition that will determine Middlebury’s success. Earlier this week it was announced that talented forward Zach Baines ‘19 made the decision to transfer to Occidental College in Los Angeles. This is a tremendous blow to the Panthers, as Baines was both their most versatile defender (other than Jack Daly ‘18) and a dangerous offensive weapon who was just beginning to realize his potential. His loss will obviously affect Middlebury on the court in the ways we saw last weekend. The guards, especially less prolific scorers Jake Brown ‘17 and Daly, will need to be more aggressive shooting the ball, and forwards Nick Tarantino ‘18, Matt Folger ‘20 and Eric McCord ‘19 will all compete for minutes and touches alongside Adisa Majors ‘18. It will be a fascinating subplot to follow throughout Middlebury’s season as to which big man emerges as the starter out of those three. But Middlebury will need to respond to Baines’ loss off the court as well. It can be very difficult to lose a teammate midway through the year, and no one would blame the Middlebury players for being a little down. However, they can’t afford to let it affect them against Tufts. Middlebury’s experienced leaders like Brown, St. Amour and Daly will have to handle the transition for Middlebury this weekend, in more ways than one.
For Tufts, it is more simple. Vincent Pace ’18 has to get going. A legit POY candidate when healthy, Pace has struggled for much of the season, shooting only 42% from the field and 32% from three. Admittedly he hasn’t had to play big minutes that often yet as he recovers from a knee injury, but if Tufts wants to remain in the top tier they need the old Pace back. The Jumbos can’t rely on a big weekend from Tarik Smith, as Middlebury defends the perimeter better than anyone. Tufts will need Pace’s versatile scoring ability and ball handling if they hope to knock the Panthers off track, and indeed will need it for the rest of the league play. The toughest games are still ahead.
Tom Palleschi ‘17 for Tufts has definite strength mismatches against both Tarantino and Folger. This means that we may see more of Eric McCord than the other two. If that’s the case, Middlebury may be in trouble from a fast break standpoint. The great benefit of both Tarantino and Folger is that they are weapons in transition. They can both shoot (although Folger is more of three point threat,) and they run the floor like deer. McCord is much stronger and possibly a better one-on-one matchup for Palleschi, but Middlebury sacrifices some fast break potential with him on the floor. McCord got exposed a bit by Connecticut College in terms of moving his feet defensively, and Tufts should look to do the same by putting him the pick and roll and getting him out on the break.
That said, I don’t see that Tufts has an answer for Middlebury’s guards. St. Amour is better at getting himself involved even when he’s not shooting well than Jack Simonds ‘19 for Bowdoin, and Daly and Brown are forming into an excellent offensive duo in addition to their terrifying defense. Middlebury matches up very well with Pace and Smith, and Palleschi has not yet shown himself to be capable of taking over a game.
Writers Pick: Middlebury
#5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0) @ Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2)
7:00 PM, Middletown, Connecticut
Amherst took the opening battle in the ancient Jeff-Ephs war, beating Williams in Williamstown 80-72 in a game that they had in hand throughout. They relied heavily on their dynamic backcourt of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, who combined for 34 points and were the only starters in double figures. The game also featured the return of the Amherst bench, as Michael Riopel ‘18, Reid Berman ‘17 and Eric Conklin ‘17 combined for 30 points and carried the offense for large stretches. One thing to watch for Amherst is their low assist numbers. They only had 9 against Williams, and 7 of those came from the three bench players. They did a nice job exploiting mismatches against the Ephs, particularly McCarthy and Conklin, but against an elite defense like Wesleyan, they may need a more sustainable style, especially since Wesleyan has a stable of long, athletic guards to throw at Dawson.
For Wesleyan, this game is as close to a must-win as one can have in the second week of league play. Wesleyan dropped both their games last weekend, on the road to Middlebury and Hamilton. Wesleyan’s elite defense broke down for them in both games, giving up 83 and then 92, but it was a simple lack of offense that really did them in. Shooting 34% from the field won’t win you any games in a deep league like the NESCAC. Wesleyan particularly needs more consistency from their guards. Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17 combined for 31 against Middlebury, but couldn’t hit water from a boat against Hamilton, shooting 3-18 from the field. Wesleyan matches up very well defensively with Amherst, as Rafferty, Green and Kevin O’Brien ‘19 provide a nice rotation to throw at McCarthy and Dawson. And the floor spacing ability of Nathan Krill ‘19 could draw David George ‘17 from the paint, opening up driving lanes. But Krill has to control his emotions enough to stay on the floor (something he decidedly couldn’t do against Middlebury,) and Wesleyan has to drive in those lanes and make shots. If they don’t their chances of making the tournament could be in serious doubt.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
Hamilton (10-2, 2-0) @ Bates (11-3, 2-0)
7:00 PM, Lewiston, Maine
This is about as exciting a matchup as you can have from two unranked teams. Hamilton solidified their rollicking, offense-filled march to NESCAC relavance by handling both Connecticut College and then-#9 Wesleyan at home by scores of 86-70 and 92-76. The Continentals get their buckets in a variety of ways and from a variety of sources. They are led in scoring and on defense by sophomore forward Peter Hoffmann ‘19, so averages 17 a game and put up 21 (and seven blocks) against Conn College. But when Hoffmann struggled his way to 7 against Wesleyan, they more than picked up the slack. Andrew Groll ‘19 put up 20 points and 14 rebounds, and and super-subs Tim Doyle ‘19 and Kena Gilmour ‘20 led a bench attack that put up 38 points. Hamilton is young and loaded with talent, and the rest of the league should definitely be on notice.
Bates’ surprising run to relevance has been accomplished in almost the exact opposite way from Hamilton’s. They have ridden a punishing defense led by Malcolm Delpeche ‘17, who leads the league in blocks, and his twin brother Marcus, who is no defensive slouch himself. The towering Delpeche brothers allow Bates to play very aggressively on the perimeter, as either side has an eraser to wipe away their mistakes. Offensively, Bates sort of figures it out as they go. The Delpeche brothers are the keys to the offense as well, combining for 27.5 points per game. Additionally, they draw double teams in the post, leading to open three point shots. However if the pair of big men are struggling from the field, Bates doesn’t have a lot of depth to pick up the slack. They needed a stunning 23 point outburst from Tom Coyne ‘20 (who played just two minutes the night before) to scrape out 64-59 win over Bowdoin. This game is a classic good offense-good defense matchup, and factoring in the youth of Hamilton and the tremendous homecourt advantage that Bates enjoys in Alumni Gym, I see the Bobcats taking it.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Trinity (9-5, 1-0) @ Connecticut College (8-4, 0-2)
7:00 PM, New London, Connecticut
All season it has seemed like Trinity was one other scoring option away from continuing their control of the NESCAC regular season. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has been a total monster all season, sitting at fourth in scoring at 17.1 PPG and first in rebounding at 10.7 REB/G. But he couldn’t do it alone, and Trinity entered league play at 8-5, the most losses in the league. However, the weekend showed that Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Jeremy Arthur ‘19 have the potential to be fine running mates for Big Ed. But it also showed that on some level he can do it himself. In a non league tilt against Pine Manor, Turnbull and Arthur combined for 34 points on 11-17 shooting, providing and excellent side hustle for Ogundeko’s 24 points and 12 rebounds. In Trinity’s win over Williams last Sunday, Turnbull and Arthur cooled off a bit, but were still able to combine for 24 points. Ogundeko did the rest, dominating the game to the tune of 15 points and 23 rebounds. Ogundeko may well be able to carry his team to the tournament, but if Arthur and Turnbull can really get going, it may be the NCAA tournament as well as the NESCAC.
Connecticut College had their carriage turn back into a pumpkin over the course of the weekend. After a tough loss to Hamilton in a battle of the Cinderellas, they had to make the long drive to Vermont only to fall to Middlebury 97-89. (Sidenote, Battle of the Cinderellas might be a great movie idea. Every Cinderella ever comes together and fights each other for the title. My money is Brandi.) Zuri Pavlin ‘17, the Camels’ leading rebounder and scorer, battled a mysterious injury throughout the weekend, but even with him Connecticut may simply not have enough weapons to match up in the league this year. Fortunately for them, Trinity often struggles offensively as well. This game has the potential to keep Conn College’s tournament hopes alive, but I don’t see Ed Ogundeko letting that happen.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Williams (11-3, 0-2) @ Colby (7-6, 0-2)
7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine
Much like Wesleyan, Williams is drifting dangerously close to the edge of “must-win” territory They drew a tough opening draw in facing then #3 Amherst to lead off league play, and dropped that game 80-72. They then dropped their second game to Trinity 65-63, an ugly offensive performance from a team that has prided itself on offensive efficiency over the last few years. Williams needs more from everybody, but Kyle Scadlock ‘19 had a particularly disappointing weekend. Amherst and Trinity were able to load up on star forward Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, leading to big games from Cole Teal (26 against Amherst) and Bobby Casey (21 against Trinity.) However, those two key players can’t seem to get hot at the same time, and Scadlock hasn’t been nearly aggressive enough to help Aronowitz make up for it. He only took 11 shots over the whole weekend, less than many NESCAC students do at one pregame. If Williams has any hope of climbing out of this whole, they will need him to live up to his potential and be a viable second scoring option behind Aronowitz.
Colby faces a similar situation to Williams in that simply no one on their team is shooting well enough. After a hot start to the season, Patrick Stewart ‘17 has been mired in a slump that is mirrored by his teammates. Over the weekend they shot under 38% from the field in both games, and under 30% from three. Unless the Mules get magically hot, it’s hard to imagine them pulling off the upset against the Ephs, who should be hungry to send a message to the league that they are still alive.
This was a very fun weekend of NESCAC basketball. There were some predictable results, some upsets, and some up-and-comers made statements. I’ll save my talking for the individual team write-ups, but this league looks pretty competitive after the first weekend. Time will tell, but it’s good to see that the depth of the NESCAC is here to stay. Enjoy the power rankings.
1.) #5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0)
Amherst was one of two teams with just one win this weekend, but that is also because they were one of two teams with just one game. The Purple and White took down hated-rival Williams on Friday night 80-72 behind the play of usual suspects Jayde Dawson ‘17 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, who had 19 and 15 points respectively. However, as is also the norm with Amherst, it was a full team effort that powered them to victory – six total players had eight points or more, and Coach Hixon received 30 points off the bench. Meanwhile, Williams had more of a two-pronged attack between Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Cole Teal ‘18. Aronowitz put up what has become his standard 21-point/6-rebound performance, while Teal provided the Ephs with a deep threat, knocking down six three-pointers en route to 26 points on 9-16 shooting. Despite Teal’s efforts, it was the three-ball that killed the Ephs, as they were unable to keep up with Amherst’s deep-threat: Amherst hit 11 threes, while Williams sunk just eight, which proved to be the difference in the game. The Amherst offense was clicking on all cylinders on Friday, earning them the #1 nod in the power rankings.
2.) #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0)
Tufts got back to playing the type of basketball they know how to play this weekend with two pretty stress-free wins over Bowdoin and Colby. Tom Palleschi ‘17 and Tarik Smith ‘17 led the way for the Jumbos: Palleschi earned a double-double on Friday night with 16 points and 11 boards, which he followed up with a 10-point/9-rebound performance at Colby on Saturday. Meanwhile, Smith, who has consistently been the leader of the Jumbo offense this season, put up 17/6/7 on Friday and 11/7/3 on Saturday. Smith has been there for Tufts thus far, and different guys have rotated in with big games here and there, but Coach Sheldon has to be happy to see Palleschi starting to get hot. More importantly, as a team the Jumbos scored 82 points in the paint this weekend (out of 161 total points). That is a great sign for a team that plays best when they get to the basket. One Achilles Heel for Tufts is their performance from the charity stripe. Though the Jumbos are often towards the top of the league in free throw attempts, they are currently shooting 67.4% from the line, good for the second worst mark in the league. However, there may be a correlation here between poor free throw shooting and winning games, because Amherst is ranked last in the league in free throw percentage – I may be onto something here…In any event, with Tufts’ fast-paced offense and ridiculous number of FGA/G (~64), increasing that FT percentage by even a few percentage points could be the difference down the stretch of a couple tight games this weekend.
3.) #15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0)
Now I still don’t know the reason why, but some interesting news about Middlebury Basketball came to me NBN over the weekend (which Colby mentioned yesterday in his weekend review): Zach Baines is no longer a Panther. I don’t know why this is the case, and I don’t quite possess the sources that Chris Broussard and Adam Schefter do, so I don’t know if I’ll ever hear the full story. However, what I can tell you is that Baines is now an Occidental College Tiger
It’s unclear at this point how this will affect Middlebury in the long-run, but I can tell you this much: it did not affect them this weekend. The Panthers put up one of their most complete team performances of the season against Wesleyan on Friday, something that Wesleyan just couldn’t match. While their scoring was pretty widespread, Middlebury excelled on the defensive end by baiting Wesleyan into bad shots and feasting on their carelessness with the ball, the combination of which led to the eventual 18-point blowout. Saturday proved to be just as impressive for Midd, however this was more of a show of their offensive prowess than their defensive play. While the Panthers allowed a number of Camels to score pretty frequently, Middlebury really stuck it to Conn’s defense, especially Matt St. Amour ‘17, who followed up his 21-point performance on Friday with a 31-point special on Saturday. Frankly, the Panthers just shot the lights out, which was largely a result of their comfort sharing the rock. The 97-89 victory capped a nice weekend for the Panthers, who now head into their biggest test yet at Tufts on Friday.
4.) Hamilton (10-2, 2-0)
Well, well, well, it appears Hamilton is for real for real. The Continentals led the NESCAC in scoring before the break, which I thought was due to a less difficult out of conference schedule than some other teams play. I was wrong. Hamilton posted a pair of 16-point victories this weekend against Conn (86-70) and Wesleyan (92-76), proving that they are in fact ready to make a push in the ‘CAC. Their 87.3 PPG leads the league, while they do so at a pretty efficient rate of 47.5% shooting. Though they are a big deep threat, Hamilton has shown the ability to hit open shots from outside at times, allowing them to get into the paint, an area where they do quite a bit of damage. This past weekend’s success stemmed from an even distribution of scoring, as six players scored in double-digits on Friday and four did on Saturday, including two players off the bench each day. The trust of this young squad in one another screams maturity, and it certainly bodes well for the Continentals moving forward. They will face two other 2-0 squads this weekend at Bates and Tufts, which will be a big test for the Hamilton youth.
5.) Trinity (9-5, 1-0)
Like last year, the Bantams looked a lot more impressive on the opening weekend of NESCAC play than they did during their non-conference schedule. As predicted, Trinity kept their sole contest of the weekend low-scoring, beating Williams by a score of 65-63 in Williamstown. On the year, Trinity is allowing just 66.4 PPG, while they are scoring 74.7. Seems like a formula for success, right? Well, their lack of playmakers definitely pointed towards a lower scoring output this weekend against the Ephs, but their ability to force Williams into tough shots is what won Trinity the game. They held Teal to just 3 points on 0-4 shooting, and Aronowitz was only able to drop 10 on the stingy Bantams defense. Meanwhile, Trinity’s slow-it-down style on offense proved to be very effective. While the Bants didn’t shoot the ball exceptionally well, they turned the ball over just 9 times. If Trinity can continue to take care of the ball like this and avoid empty trips on the offensive end, they are going to be alright. Oh, and I guess I should mention that NESCAC POW Ed Ogundeko ‘17 scored 15 and grabbed 23 boards. Not too shabby, Ed. If Ogundeko can maintain his high level of play, Trinity will continue to rack up wins against teams that lack a dominant big man.
6.) Bates (11-3, 2-0)
I honestly feel like this is too high for Bates, but until they prove to be unfit for the position, I can’t argue that Bates is deserving of the #6 ranking in the power rankings. Bates took care of business at Colby and at Bowdoin this weekend. Though the opponents are not the most impressive, any time you can sweep a road trip in the NESCAC, you are doing something right. The outside shooting on Friday night was pretty remarkable, as the Bobcats drained 9-19 three-pointers en route to a 13-point victory. Add that to their solid defense and the Colby game had ‘Bates W’ written all over it. On Saturday, the offense was stifled by the Bowdoin D a bit, but Tom Coyne ‘20 stepped up in a big way by adding 23 points for the Bobcats. Despite these two solid victories, one thing jumps out as a concern about Bates in the long-run. First of all, they don’t really get to the free throw line. Bates only shot 22 free throws this weekend – that is bad. On a team where your two big men are supposed to be the dominant forces, it’s just unacceptable to only be attempting 11 FTA/G in NESCAC play. You can’t argue that it was the matchups either, because while Bates is tied for most games played in the conference, they have attempted the second-least free throws in the league! Bates is not going to beat teams in transition, and frankly, they have no desire to (they scored zero fastbreak points this weekend). That’s fine. But Bates cannot rely on the three-ball like they have so far as they face more and more teams that are very familiar with their style of play. Bates is doing fine for now, but they are going to need a more consistent effort out of their interior players if they want to make things happen throughout the rest of the NESCAC season.
7.) Williams (11-3, 0-2)
Williams was dealt a tough hand to start conference play, and they were not able to perform. On Friday night, the Ephs lost a close battle to Amherst simply because they allowed Amherst to outshoot them on the perimeter. Teal did all he could, but the Ephs simply couldn’t muster up the same type of outside shooting that their bitter rival did. Williams also did a pretty poor job of getting to the foul line, attempting just 12 free throws compared to Amherst’s 20, and if not for the ugly performance of the Purple and White at the free throw line, this game probably wouldn’t have been too close. It was a completely different story on Sunday, Williams simply couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from three-point range, shooting a measly 26.1% from beyond the arc. The issue for Williams right now is that their big men are not doing their job as well as they could be. The Ephs were posted a rebounding margin of -14 on the weekend, highlighting their shortcomings inside. There are some positives, however. Williams played two very strong teams this weekend. Amherst is ranked #5 in the nation, while Trinity is starting to come into their own as of late and just so happens to be the biggest matchup nightmare that Williams will encounter in Ogundeko. While this doesn’t make Williams feel better, necessarily, it makes their losses more understandable. Another encouraging sign is that Bobby Casey ‘19 stepped up on Sunday when Teal and Aronowitz didn’t, so they have other guys that can get the job done. Williams is still growing, and once they learn to put it all together, they will be very good.
8.) Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2)
Now I admit, Hamilton and Middlebury are two of the better teams in this league, but getting blown out by 18 in the NESCAC opener is not ideal. Wesleyan, a team that had looked pretty dominant through their first 11 games, has now fallen into a three-game slide. Against Middlebury, the root of Wesleyan’s problems was their inability to take care of the rock. 21 turnovers and a -8 turnover margin is not conducive to winning basketball games, plain and simple. Not to mention they shot 4-17 from deep. You know that saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, Wesleyan, your jump shots were broken beyond repair on Friday night – when that is the case, you’ve gotta take the ball to the hoop, especially when it’s working! Aside from those four threes, every single point was scored in either the paint or at the free throw line. It was pretty much the same story on Saturday against Hamilton: 5-17 from beyond the arc, 53 points at either the free throw line or in the paint, and an L in the turnover battle. It may not be the change Wesleyan needs, but it couldn’t hurt to mix in a mid-range jumper from time to time. Or just to stop shooting threes altogether. Wesleyan is best when they go to the rim, and I think they need to do so this weekend if they want to bounce back from their 0-2 start.
9.) Conn College (8-4, 0-2)
Now I admit, Hamilton and Middlebury are two of the better teams in this league, but getting blown out by 16 in the NESCAC opener is not ideal. Wait, didn’t I just write that about Wesleyan? The answer is yes, but that’s because the two had pretty similar opening NESCAC weekends. Like Wesleyan, Conn lost to Hamilton and Middlebury this weekend. Unlike Wesleyan, however, they managed to keep the game against Middlebury pretty close. Conn also couldn’t hit water from a boat on Friday, shooting 5-25 from three, but they turned it around on Saturday against Middlebury, shooting 10-27, leading to a much higher scoring and closer game. There are two areas that I’m most impressed by in Conn. First, they are second in the league in assists, showing a willingness and ability to share the ball and play as a team. As a result, there is no single Camel that scores far more than the rest, but rather there is a 6-player cluster scoring between 9.7 and 13.7 PPG. Second, Conn is also ranked second in offensive rebounds, demonstrating their competitive desire and toughness. While this Camels roster is still flooded with youth, they are working very hard, which is going to pay off at some point. They had a tough opening weekend, but Conn is undoubtedly a playoff contender.
10.) Bowdoin (8-6, 0-2)
Like I foresaw, Bowdoin’s lack of depth is already proving to be somewhat of an issue. While David Reynolds ‘20 is proving to be a pretty significant contributor for the Polar Bears, it stems more from a necessity than a bonus. The starting lineup is struggling to support Jack Simonds ’19 in the scoring department, and as we saw on Friday, when teams shut down Simonds, they shut down the Polar Bears. Simonds was held to 11 points on 4-11 shooting against Tufts, and the other four starters combined for just 20 points. Had Reynolds not come off the bench and dropped 14, this could have been an even wider margin than the 23 point deficit the Polar Bears ended up with when the final buzzer sounded. On Saturday, the scoring was a little more evenly spread, but on their better offensive day of the weekend, Bowdoin scored just 59 points. This could stem from the -10 rebounding differential the Polar Bears ended up with. They just weren’t able to put together a complete game this weekend, which is why they ended up with an 0-2 conference record. It doesn’t Bowd (bode) well for the Polar bears this weekend as they host Williams, who is equally hungry for a win.
11.) Colby (7-6,0-2)
After beating the Bobcats on a buzzer beater in a non-conference contest back in December, the Mules threw up a goose egg this weekend and received two tallies in the L-column with losses to Bates and Tufts. In their two weekend games, Colby shot 18-69 from deep. 69 three-point attempts in two games! That’s ludicrous. Especially when you shoot just 26.1% from three on the weekend, it’s just bananas to imagine jacking up that many shots from beyond the arc. No wonder they only went to the foul line 15 times this weekend. Don’t let their 14-point loss to Tufts fool you either, this game was not close. Tufts was up by 33 at one point, but they got lazy and let Colby creep back a bit – this game was never in question though. Colby has the worst field goal percentage in the NESCAC, and that is not going to change if they don’t improve their shot selection. It could be a long year for the Mules unless they make some big changes offensively.
Winning on the road in the NESCAC is certainly no picnic. In fact, it might be the opposite of a picnic. First of all, you’re inside, there are no tasteful blankets spread in a beautiful field, and rarely does your host offer you a sandwich or even a glass of lemonade. Usually visiting teams on a given NESCAC weekend feel fortunate to escape 1-1 and if they manage to go 2-0 a celebration is certainly in order. This weekend in women’s basketball didn’t exactly follow the trend I just played out above. Of the 10 games this weekend visiting teams managed to eke out 5 wins, good for a .500 record on the weekend. Of course though, there were upsets and blowouts and tight games, and certainly plenty of movement in our power rankings! Let’s get right down to it.
Tufts, who remains at the top of D3hoops poll as well as our own, had one of the tougher slates of games this weekend if only because they played Bowdoin to open their NESCAC play. I had speculated in my previous column that Bowdoin could be the best team in the NESCAC heading into conference play, despite having losses while Tufts and Amherst remained undefeated. Well, apparently I annoyed the Jumbos who outlasted the Polar Bears in what could certainly be described as a rock fight. Neither team shot better than 31 percent from the field for the game and there were a total 52 turnovers over the course of the game. Tufts was able to control the ball a little bit better, only turning it over 22 times to Bowdoin’s 30. After this hard fought game Tufts returned to form against a determined Colby team, outshooting, out rebounding, and out assisting the visiting Mules. Tufts won’t fall from this top spot until they lose a game, but a weaker bench (only mustering 9 points in the game against Bowdoin) and questionable rebounding (were out-rebounded by 8 by the Polar Bears) are cause for concern for the Jumbos. Their defense is top notch, and it will carry them a long way this season, so if the Jumbos can figure out some of these smaller issues they will be close to unstoppable.
2.) Amherst (13-0, 1-0)
Results: Defeated Williams 76-44
Amherst coasted to victory in their only NESCAC action of the weekend, dominating the Ephs and retaining their number 2 overall spot in this list and in the D3hoops rankings. Amherst led 50-19 at the half and was able to ease into a sure victory, looking dominant on both ends of the floor. Amherst is particularly impressive in the paint where they battered Williams for 46 points and managed to secure a +14 rebounding margin. This is par for the course for Amherst, who leads the NESCAC in average rebounds per game. 11 members of the Amherst team managed to score and 4 of their 5 starters scored in double digits, illustrating their depth and balanced style of play. Before the NESCAC season started Hannah Hackley ’18 had been one of the preeminent threats for Amherst but she was outshone in this game by both Emma McCarthy ’19 and Ali Doswell ’17 who scored 15 and 18 points respectively. I was worried about Amherst’s lack of depth but in this game they proved me totally wrong.
3.) Bowdoin (11-2, 1-1)
Results: Lost to Tufts 46-43, defeated Bates 70-58
As I mentioned earlier no team should be ashamed to go 1-1 in the NESCAC on a road weekend. That being said I’m sure the Polar Bears will be disappointed that they couldn’t upset Tufts and prove they belonged in the same conversation as the two teams ahead of them. We’ve already discussed the Tufts game above, but it’s worth reiterating that Bowdoin shot horrendously in this game. Barely cracking 30 percent from the field does not bode well for the team when facing elite defenses like Tufts. The fact that Bowdoin (now ranked 19th in the D3hoops national poll) relied on 21 of their 43 points from bench player Abigail Kelly ‘19 is also cause for concern. Of course, these fears could have been alleviated by shellacking Bates on Saturday, but Bowdoin needed a dominant fourth quarter to escape the lowly Bobcats by 12. Bowdoin shot better in this game (38% from the field), but to truly challenge the teams above them Bowdoin will need to up that number considerably and continue to dominate the glass (they finished the weekend with a +20 rebounding margin).
4.) Williams (11-3, 1-1)
Results: Lost to Amherst 76-44, defeated Trinity 68-54
Losing to the second ranked team in the country is hardly something to cry about, but Williams has to worry over the fact that they were absolutely blown out by Amherst. The 32 point defeat to Amherst was Williams worst lost on the season and snapped an impressive 4 game winning streak. Of course, the Ephs bounced back on Sunday defeating Trinity away from home 68-54. Trinity, whom I had ranked 4th in my preseason rankings. Trinity is a talented team and Williams clearly outperformed them. The defense was particularly impressive, holding Trinity to a measly 28.6% from the floor and forcing the Bantams to commit 13 turnovers. In both games Williams was led in scoring by the tandem of Devon Caveney ’17 and Amanni Fernandez ‘18, who combined to score 60 points on the weekend. The biggest problem for Williams is that their bench only produced 25 points through the entire weekend, this will need to improve in the coming weeks.
5.) Middlebury (10-2, 2-0)
Results: Defeated Wesleyan 76-63, defeated Conn College 58-56
I wrote in the preview that Middlebury’s biggest weakness was their occasionally anemic offense. I seemed to have struck a chord with a Panther or two as they scored their most points of the season on Friday against Wesleyan and eclipsed 70 points for the first time since the second game of the season. The Panthers were of course led by NESCAC player of the week Sarah Kaufman ’18, who tied a school record with 7 threes against Wesleyan and then made the game winning shot against Conn the next day. Kaufman led the team in scoring both days and was a force to be reckoned with. Middlebury has to be feeling good about securing two difficult road wins early in the year. If Kaufman continues to play this week Middlebury might be able to scare Tufts on Friday night and should defeat Bates on Saturday. 3-1 or 4-0 after two weekends in the NESCAC would be huge for the program and a massive confidence boost for the team.
6.) Conn College (10-3, 1-1)
Results: Defeated Hamilton 70-53, lost to Middlebury 58-56
Conn gets bumped up a spot here due to Trinity falling so heavily to Williams. The Camels did little to impress this weekend, defeating a team they should beat in Hamilton and falling in a close game to a team apparently on the rise in Middlebury. The Camels again relied heavily on their two go-to players Mairead Hynes ’18 and Payton Ouimette ’19. Hynes led the team in scoring both games and Ouimette was the second leading scorer in both games as well. Conn will need to find a reliable third option to continue a string of positive performances in NESCAC play. Liz Malman ’17 might just be that third option, but we will have to see who the Camels lean on as the season moves forward. The most glaring issue for the Camels came on the glass: Conn was out rebounded in both games this weekend, and that will need to change sooner rather than later if Conn has hopes of obtaining a NESCAC title.
7.) Trinity (9-3, 0-1)
Results: Lost to Williams 68-54
Only having one game in a weekend would seem like a positive for a team, but the Bantams seemed lethargic in their Sunday defeat at the hands of Williams, so perhaps the extra day did more harm than good. The game would have been even more of a blowout if Erica Junquet ’19, who had only averaged 7.8 points per game, hadn’t exploded for 17. As mentioned previously, Trinity was held to a paltry 28 percent from the field and was decisively out rebounded by the Ephs. Trinity’s starters, only one of whom managed to crack double digits in points scored, will need to step up for this team to remain competitive in the NESCAC. Home games next weekend against Wesleyan and Conn College should be a great opportunity for this team to get back on track and prove they’re legit.
8.) Hamilton (7-5, 1-1)
Results: Lost to Conn College 70-53, defeated Wesleyan 48-46
Hamilton is one team that stayed pat during the weekend’s slate of games. The Continentals were really outclassed by the Camels on Friday night. Their defense struggled to slow down Conn, who shot over 50 percent from the field for the game. Hamilton also relied heavily on their bench for their offense as two of their starters failed to reach the 5-point mark on the game, and only one starter managed to sneak into double digits. Falling behind 35-9 at one point in the first half really illustrated the difficulty this team had in scoring the ball. The team came back nicely on Saturday defeating Wesleyan on the road. Holding the Cardinals to 23.8 percent from the field was key to their victory since the starters struggled to generate points for the Continentals, who relied on 22 points from their bench to put away the struggling team from Wesleyan. Hamilton is a fringe playoff team that needs their stars to produce for the rest of the NESCAC season to ensure their position in the conference and not let their season end in disappointment.
9.) Bates (4-9, 1-1)
Results: Defeated Colby 64-57, lost to Bowdoin 70-58
Bates, in my preseason rankings, was definitely the bottom team. They were the only squad with a losing record and had struggled to score or play defense. A strong showing this weekend, however, has catapulted the Bobcats up several spots. Allie Coppola ’17 led the Bobcats to their upset of Colby by notching a career high 24 points. She also added in 16 rebounds just for good measure. That was the real key to Bates’ victory over Colby – absolute dominance on the boards. They finished with a rebounding margin of +21, and pulled in 44 rebounds overall. The team also had a strong showing against the highly regarded Bowdoin, keeping the game close until the Polar Bears were able to pull away in the fourth quarter. Coppola added 10 rebounds and 5 assists in this game to cap off her already stellar weekend of play. Bates will need to limit their turnovers (they averaged 20 per game for the weekend) if they want to remain competitive in NESCAC play and keep moving their way up in the rankings.
10.) Colby (6-6, 0-2)
Results: Lost to Bates 64-57, Lost to Tufts 70-58
Colby is surely disappointed after an 0-2 start to the season. The Mules were hammered on the boards this weekend, losing the rebounding battle by a whopping 25 rebounds over the course of two games. Colby also had a hard time generating points off their bench, only scoring 12 total this past weekend. And to add onto the rest of their struggles, their defense was certainly below average. Tufts managed to shoot 50 percent against the Mules while Bates managed to score on 40 percent of their shots. Colby’s team relies heavily on a couple of their starters to generate nearly all of their offense. This weekend it was the stellar play of Katie McCrum ’19 who dropped 22 points on Tufts (6-8 from three-point territory) and 11 on Bates. The Mules will need their star, Haley Driscoll ’18 to step up in the coming weeks after a disappointing weekend point total of just 20.
11.) Wesleyan (5-7, 0-2)
Results: Lost to Middlebury 76-63, Lost to Hamilton 48-46)
Wesleyan surely hoped a couple early home games would help propel them into the discussion as a potential playoff team, but their disappointing results from the weekend seem to indicate otherwise. While Wesleyan isn’t the only winless team in league-play ) Colby and Trinity are right there with them), they have to be upset that they couldn’t hold serve at home even one time this past weekend. The loss to Middlebury is understandable. It’s hard to beat a team when one player knocks down 7 three pointers by herself, but the Hamilton loss has to be truly heartbreaking considering the team led for the entire first half before a lackluster third quarter allowed the Continentals to creep back into and eventually steal the game. But Wesleyan fans should not despair just yet. Though they bring up the bottom of the rankings after the first week of play, the teams below the top three in the league are so close in talent and skill level that a late season run could catapult any number of stragglers into the playoff field. Of course, Wesleyan will need to right the ship quickly. Games against the juggernaut that is Amherst and the hungry-for-their-own-NESCAC-win Trinity Bantams next weekend will need the Cardinals’ full attention.
As a first year student it seems fitting that my first article for the site is the top five freshmen in NESCAC Men’s Basketball. The ‘CAC this year is home to some seriously prolific upperclassmen hoopers, but in a matter of months many of their careers will be over. Who is to fill their shoes?
That is unfortunately a question for another day. There is no doubt that some of the names in this article have the potential to be among the conference’s next great players, but you will not be reading about Kena, Matt, David, Sean, and Eric because of what they may do in the future. They are the subject of this writer’s first piece, because of the impact they have on the court today and into the postseason.
Kena Gilmore – Hamilton – An early rookie of the year pick by many, the 6’3 guard is averaging 10.7 points in just 16.3 minutes per game. This high volume scoring has him ranked 3rd in the entire conference in points per 40 minutes. He seems to have found his role coming off the bench, as his ability to score and do so quickly make him a perfect sparkplug for the Continentals offense. He showed the ability to find the net early in the season with a 26 point showing against Clarkson, but he seems to be hitting his stride right as we move into the heart of conference play. He’s put up double figures in all of Hamilton’s last four games, including a win over then ninth-ranked Wesleyan.
Matt Folger – Middlebury – Most 6’8 forwards who can shoot are just that; forwards who can also shoot (i.e. Lebron James.) Though the Lebron comparison is of course a reflection of my Cleveland-ness – and maybe of my concerns following a 2 point game from Kyle Korver – Folger is a shooter who is also a forward. Though his minutes thus far are not outstanding, and his scoring average of 5.7 PPG is tempered by time on the bench early in the season, the freshman is establishing himself as a reliable shooter and quick scorer coming off the bench. Just last week his 5 consecutive points solidified a Middlebury lead which would eventually become a victory over Conn. Folger is trending upward in terms of minutes, attempts, points, and thus confidence. He can become a real asset for the Panthers as the season continues to creep onward, especially if he continues to shoots 52% from the field.
David Reynolds – Bowdoin – As I’m sure you’ve read on this website time and time again, it seems like there’s always a league-leading scorer in Brunswick. David Reynolds may very soon be that man. He is an aggressive scorer, averaging 11.6 points per game, a league high among freshmen, but what’s really telling is his average of ten shot attempts per game. Jacking up shots at such a rate – though it’s far from Melo-like, which is a good thing – shows confidence beyond any freshmen trying to find his identity at the college level. Reynolds played his way into a starting spot against UMaine Preque Isle. Though the Owls may not be the Jumbos or the Panthers, getting the nod from Tim Gilbride shows that the confidence the 6’5 guard/forward has had in himself seemingly all season is matched by those around him.
Sean Gilmore – Colby – David Reynolds gets a lot of credit for earning a starting spot for Bowdoin, and this isn’t to take away from the accomplishment, heck, I rode the bench all fall (coach if you’re reading that wasn’t a complaint) but Gilmore, a 6’7 forward from San Francisco, has been the lone freshman in the league to consistently see the floor from tip-off this season. He’s started 10 of 13 games. Though he’s only averaging 16.5 minutes a game, a result of inconsistent scoring, Gilmore has shown the ability to come up big in close games. He scored 18 in a four point loss to Oswego St. and dropped 17 in a season-opening 97-96 win over Pine Manor. Not bad for a Golden State fan. The Mules will certainly need some more big performances from Gilmore in upcoming conference play.
Eric Savage – Tufts – The 6’3 guard is averaging just below 8 points in 17.5 minutes a game. Yet both averages are misleading, as Bob Sheldon has been using the Jumbo in an off and on manner. He’s had some weaker games (not scoring against Framingham State), but when Savage is playing in the manner that his last name would indicate, he can be a streaky hot scorer from the wing. He put in 18 pts against FDU-Florham early this winter. Though his minutes have been inconsistent, he’s been earning more and more of them as the season has progressed, even when he hasn’t been scoring much, which points to his solid perimeter defense. I’ll try to resist the urge to make any more last name puns, but if the freshmen keeps playing hard and finds his stride, an already formidable Tufts squad can become even more Savage. Oops.
I swear every January the number of people in the gym triples, perfectly suffocating me as I workout in preparation for the upcoming baseball season. While I’m sure Hamilton and Bates hit the weight room before January 1st, 2016, their resolutions might have been to work a little harder. The two fish at the bottom of the food chain in 2016 now find themselves atop the NESCAC standings? How could that be? Well we have only played two games so I’ll try not to get over-excited, although I do love a good underdog story. Each squad shows clear improvement with Bates’ Delpeche twins holding it down at the rim, leading the Bobcats in nearly all relevant statistical categories (27.5 PPG; 18.7 REB/G; 4.3 BLK/G combined) and Hamilton’s maturity after a rebuilding year with a young team in 2016. I’ll go into why I think the Continentals’ success is more sustainable, and what else is going on as we enter another pivotal weekend of conference play.
Top Dogs still on top
I’m not really going to give Amherst and Tufts a whole lot of attention here, just because they are performing exactly how everyone thought they would. The top two teams in the league (based on national ranking at 5 and 6, respectively) haven’t slipped up much and should have telling weekends ahead as Amherst should beat Wesleyan based on the Cardinals’ past couple of games and Tufts should be slightly favored against Middlebury at home but in a near push. Tufts doesn’t really have one superstar emerging, but really puts up a team effort with all starters between 6.9 and 12.9 PPG and nobody over 7 REB/G or 4 AST/G. Tufts’ only real flawed performance came during a two point loss to UMass Boston while the other was against #1 ranked Babson. Amherst, like Tufts, has had a couple tough games coming in a loss to Eastern Connecticut state and a one point loss to Springfield, however they bested Babson in 2OT to show that they are the real deal. While Middlebury (ranked #15) has less losses than the Jumbos and Purple & White, it seems like the polls are pretty accurate at this point with little disparity between the top NESCAC teams.
Can you believe that in the last national poll Wesleyan was ranked #9 in the country and now they are out of the top 25? Two bad losses to Middlebury and Hamilton, both by over 15 points, have taken them out of early championship discussions. Their overall record is still 11-3 but a three game losing streak is not the note that they wanted to start the NESCAC season on (note: the first game of that streak was against Rhode Island College, not a NESCAC opponent). This is happening because of a number of factors, one being that Jordan Bonner ’19 hasn’t played since Nov. 27. But since they continued to win without Bonner, clearly that isn’t the root cause. In their loss to Rhode Island College, Salim Green ‘18, Harry Rafferty ‘17, and Kevin O’Brien ‘18, usually reliable starters, went just 3-19 for six points. In the next game against Middlebury, they turned the ball over 21 times and shot just 34.4% from the field. Against Hamilton, the last place finisher in the ‘CAC in 2016, the Cardinals shot just 35.3% from the field while Green, Rafferty, and Joseph Kuo shot 4-27. There are quite a few things going on in Connecticut, and Wesleyan needs to figure them out quickly because Amherst will eat the Cardinals alive on Friday if they don’t.
Ogundeko’s surprising dominance
It might come across as peculiar why I used described Ed’s dominance as surprising. Yeah, he is the best rebounder in the ‘Cac and up there with D3’s best. But 23 rebounds in one game? I don’t care who it is, that is a surprising number. He was like a skeeball machine swallowing up boards against the Williams Ephs, who recently dropped out of D3hoops’ top 25. Nobody else had more than five rebounds for the Bantams and without him it’s safe to say it would’ve been a blowout favoring the Williamstown squad. Trinity also showed in the first game that they don’t need to rebuild (as I expected) as they narrowly edged Williams 65-63, another strong team that is 11-3. The Bantams should continue to perform so long as Ogundeko carries the team, but they will be tested against Conn College on Friday and Wesleyan on Saturday.
Zach Baines and the NESCAC have a breakup
The Panthers have hit another bump in their road to a second consecutive league title. Zach Baines is no longer ‘out indefinitely’ as Pete put it. He is definitely out. Baines transferred to Occidental College in the SCIAC conference in sunny Southern California after eight games this season, all of which he started. The high flying sophomore forward averaged 13.8 PPG and 6.8 REB/G in the early season and he will be sorely missed down the stretch run, giving Nick Tarantino ’18 a lot of weight to carry after taking over in the starting lineup. Vermont is cold and dark, and it won’t be shorts weather until April. I have no idea why he would leave such a place. Good luck to Baines and the Tigers, they got a good one.
Hamilton is ready to make their move
Hamilton continued their hot start against Wesleyan last weekend, winning by a score of 92-76 to improve to 10-2 overall and 2-0 in conference. Jack Dwyer continues to shine as a distributing point guard that doesn’t like to shoot. He is third in the NESCAC with 5.8 AST/G but only averages 7.5 PPG. The Continentals recently got guard Tim Doyle ’19 back from injury and the double-digit performances that he and Kena Gilmour’s ’20 contributed off the bench against Wesleyan highlights their depth and how ready they are to take on the league after a tough campaign a season ago. Their matchup against Bates should show that they are closer to championship caliber than the Maine squad, and playing Tufts should be at the least a growing experience in what has the appearance of a trap game for the Jumbos in their home gym.
Being a Tufts student, I think it’s important that my first order of business is to address the elephant in the room. Pete definitely hates Tufts, no matter how much he denied it yesterday in his preview of today’s games. To be honest, I don’t blame him, it’s just his Middlebury inferiority complex kicking in. Take it easy on him, guys, Middlebury Athletics is all he has. That being said, whoever made this comparison between Pete and Skip Bayless in the comment section: bravo.
More importantly, let’s take a look at the Saturday/Sunday games. Overall, the contests appear to be a bit less interesting than Friday’s games, but it’s the opening weekend of NESCAC play – anything can happen.
GAME OF THE DAY: #9 Wesleyan @ Hamilton, 3:00 PM, Clinton, NY
I would guess that most Cardinals fans looked past this game on their schedule due to Hamilton’s performance in recent years. For Wesleyan’s sake, I hope the players are not looking past this game. Obviously, they’ve got a battle on Friday night against Middlebury, but this new and improved Hamilton squad can definitely take advantage of that. Hamilton has been led by a cast of youngsters thus far, and this early season matchup is vital if these pups want to prove they can hang with the big dogs. Last year, the Continentals took Wesleyan to overtime before losing 82-76, and it actually took some clutch free throws by Wesleyan’s Joseph Kuo ‘17 down the stretch to avoid losing in regular time. Impressive performances will surely attract more attention to Michael Grassey ‘19 and Jack Dwyer ‘18 from the Wesleyan defense on Saturday, who had 16 a piece last year. It was the seniors that led the way for the Cardinals, as BJ Davis, Jack Mackey, and Joe Edmonds combined for 42 of Wesleyan’s 82 points. While this Wesleyan team has certainly figured things out so far this year on their way to a #9 national ranking, they will need someone besides Kuo to embrace the moment and put the ball in the bucket on Saturday if they want to keep up with high-scoring Continentals.
It has been Wesleyan’s depth and balance that has proven quite effective so far this year, but against this young Hamilton team, senior leader Harry Rafferty is going to need to take the reigns. Throughout his career, Rafferty has been a threat whenever he throws on the black and red jersey, and one main reason for that is because of his outside shooting. Take a second and digest this: Rafferty has shot 106 times this season, and while he is shooting 39.6% from the field, this number is somewhat skewed. Of those 106 shots, Rafferty has attempted 77 three-pointers. The senior shoots 37.7% from the field (29-77), which means he has hit as many threes as he has taken twos. That’s a bit ridiculous. If that’s the way Wesleyan’s offense works, great, but this clearly gives Hamilton an idea of how to play Rafferty: run him off the three-point line. Rafferty’s production is very important in this game, so if he is unwilling to move off the arc, Wesleyan could be in trouble.
For the home team, success is going to be dependent on the ability (or inability) to stop Kuo down low. That’s where Andrew Groll ‘19 steps in. Groll is a 6’7” forward that dominates the boards, pulling down 7.4 REB/G, which is right on pace with Kuo’s 7.3 REB/G. They both average over 2 offensive rebounds, so the key for Groll on the boards is making sure that Kuo is unable to provide his team with these extra opportunities. Defensively, Groll faces a tall task due to the innate ability of getting to the hoop that Wesleyan’s perimeter players possess. Wesleyan’s quartet of sophomore guards (Salim Green ‘18, Jordan Bonner ‘18, Kevin O’Brien ‘18, and Andrew Gardiner ‘18) can all drive the ball to the rim, which will force Groll to decide whether he is going to help off of Kuo or stay at home. It’s Groll’s decision-making and execution in these situations that will determine whether or not the Cardinals eat Hamilton alive in the paint.
One of the most interesting dynamics of this game is the difference in offensive pace. Hamilton averages about eight points more per game than Wesleyan, and though they have played two less games than Wes, the Continentals shoot a higher percentage from the field and from deep. The biggest offensive advantage that I see for Wesleyan is their knack for getting to the foul line. Wesleyan shoots more free throws than any other team in the league, with about 26 per game, as opposed to Hamilton’s 23. They both shoot just about 70% from the strike, so in a close game (as I expect this to be), those 3 extra free throws could be crucial. Both teams are pretty deep, but Hamilton’s scoring is much more top-heavy than Wesleyan’s. If one of their big-time scorers like Peter Hoffmann ‘19 or Michael Grassey ‘19 gets in foul trouble, Wesleyan may be able to pull away. This will be a tough and physical game that depends highly on execution down the stretch. For this reason, I’m giving Wesleyan the advantage. They have simply had more experience in these types of games.
Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan
#8 Tufts @ Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME
This game could go one of two ways, and it’s all about which Tufts team shows up. Throughout this season, it has been a tale of two teams. The Tufts that walked into the gym against MIT and WPI was legit. They shot well, they had 32 and 35 points off the bench respectively, and they forced their opponents into difficult shots. Then there is the Tufts team that made an appearance against UMass Boston. They were outrebounded by a significantly smaller team, they had more turnovers than their opponents (albeit by just 1 turnover), and they allowed UMB’s center to dominate them. This Jumbos team is good because they are deep, but when they don’t get production from their bench, they simply aren’t as good a team. Now, it’s definitely worth noting that Vinny Pace ‘18, Tufts’ best scorer, was coming off the bench until the UMB game, but overall, they just need more consistency. Colby may be able to capitalize on this, but their margin of error is slim. Colby ranks last in the conference in scoring with just 70.7 PPG, a product of their league-worst shooting percentage and shot attempt numbers. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is currently the only double-digit point-getter on the Mules’ side of the ball, and that will be an issue against Tufts who has pretty favorable match-ups on their own offensive end. I don’t see Colby slowing down the Tufts offense too much, but you never know. Maybe the Mules will take down the #8 Jumbos. I’m not banking on that.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
Bates @ Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Every year, I wait for NESCAC play before judging Bates because every year, their out of conference schedule is filled with teams that I know little to nothing about. However, I was impressed by Bates’ win against Brandeis recently, and before that they blew out Framingham State like they were supposed to. Maybe Bates is better than I predicted? Though both were non-conference games, Bates has fared 1-1 against NESCAC opponents this season with a buzzer-beater loss to Colby and a 14-point win against Bowdoin. Bowdoin will certainly be looking for revenge this time around, and so will Jack Simonds ‘19, who was held to just 12 points the first time these two met. Simonds, as anyone reading this blog knows, is Bowdoin’s leading scorer, and also the NESCAC’s leading scorer, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into success for the Polar Bears. I knew at the beginning of the season that Bowdoin would struggle if they didn’t diversify their scoring, and it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen in league-play unless they get some other guys involved in the offense. This is partly because Bowdoin’s defense is pretty porous. They allow the second-most PPG in the ‘CAC, and against Bates, they allowed the Bobcats’ starting lineup to tally 62 of their 74 points. The key for Bowdoin this time around is forcing the Bates bench to score. However, the Bobcats are in luck, as newly found offensive weapon Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been playing very well recently. Per usual, it’s up to the twin towers of Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche to anchor the load offensively. If these two dominate like last time (combined for 37 points), then Bates is in good shape. If not, then Simonds might just will Bowdoin to the promised land in this in-state rivalry.
Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin
Conn College @ #22 Middlebury, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
Unlike Pete, I’m able to write about Middlebury in less than twelve lengthy paragraphs, so enjoy this conciseness for a change. Conn-Midd is another subtle yet intriguing game, one which strongly resembles the Wesleyan-Hamilton matchup. Conn College has been gaining steam the last couple years, and they hope that this is finally the year they get over the hump (lol, camels). Middlebury, on the other hand, is looking to once again get off to a hot start in conference play just a year after I called them a rebuilding team and one without playoff hopes. This, of course, propelled the Panthers not only into the playoffs but also the the NCAA tournament after winning the NESCAC championship. En garde, Middlebury. In any event, I see one clear problem for Conn, and that is their defense. Middlebury has offensive weapons – namely, Matt St. Amour. The Panthers have compiled some nice wins against Southern Vermont and Skidmore already, but they did so with Zach Baines ‘17 in the lineup. As Pete mentioned, Midd is likely without Baines and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 this weekend, which makes their bench much thinner. This bodes well for Conn, a team that will either be thirsty for a win after a tough loss to Hamilton, or thirsty to continue their win streak after a solid win against Hamilton. Either way, they will be THIRSTY, and it is up to Middlebury’s guards to stave off the likes of Tyler Rowe ‘19 and David Labossiere ‘19, two of Conn’s top weapons. Meanwhile, Adisa Majors ‘18 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 will be tasked with stopping Conn’s rock, Zuri Pavlin ‘17, who leads the Camels in scoring and is 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding (2nd in overall rebounding). This should be a good one, and we will see how real Conn is on Saturday. I think the thirst is real, and Conn sneaks out of Vermont with a W.
Writer’s Pick: Conn College
Trinity @ #25 Williams, 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Looking at these two teams’ overall performances thus far, this game shouldn’t be too close. Trinity has been unimpressive, and Williams has been pretty damn impressive. But basketball is a game of matchups, and the fact is, Trinity matches up well against Williams. Williams’ strength is in their guards. They shoot A LOT of threes, the most in the league actually, but they haven’t exactly shot well from beyond the arc so far. The Ephs hit just 33.5% of their threes, but they have some great shooters (see: Cole Teal ‘18), so these shots are going to start dropping sooner rather than later. Where the Ephs are somewhat lacking is down low, but Kyle Scadlock ‘19 has been a formidable big so far in his sophomore campaign, and he ranks second in scoring on the Williams roster behind POY candidate Dan Aronowitz ‘17. Trinity, on the other hand, is weaker on the perimeter and stronger inside. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has been the primary source of consistency for the Bantams, and he should beat up on Williams’ rotation of centers. If the Bants pound the ball down to Ogundeko and get him to the free throw line, it will force Williams to sag in off of Trinity’s shooters, which could be deadly. Expect senior Chris Turnbull to have a day for Trinity on the offensive end. All in all, however, I think Aronowitz will feast on Trin – he should have a field day on pretty much any matchup that gets thrown at him, kind of like he’s done all year. The potent Williams attack will be too much for the Bantams.
While much has been said in the last week about NESCAC men’s basketball (5 teams in the top 25 as of the writing of this piece), the women’s branch of the NESCAC has been gearing up for the beginning of their own conference schedule. With 10 of the 11 teams boasting winning records going into conference play this weekend the next couple weeks are sure to be filled with exciting games and action. But, before the games start, I need to make some predictions as I am prone to do. I’m choosing to write this article in a power ranking format where each team will be positioned based on where I project them to finish in the final standings.
#1 Tufts (Record: 10-0)
Tufts is currently ranked number 1 in the D3 hoops most recent women’s top 25 poll, so thusly they will occupy the top spot here. While Tufts doesn’t score at the rate of their NESCAC competition, averaging 64.5 points a game, their real strength lies in their defense. They are notoriously stingy allowing only 42.5 points a game. The Tufts anchor right now has to be senior center Michela North ’17. She is averaging 10.1 ppg and 7.8 rpg leading her team in both categories. Until someone unseats the Jumbos, who have been blowing people out by an average margin of victory of 21.9 PPG, they will remain at the top of this list.
#2 Amherst (10-0)
Amherst is right on Tufts’ tail in both the D3 Hoops rankings and in these ranking where they occupy the same position: number two. Amherst’s offense has been flat out dominant this year. They are second in the NESCAC in ppg with 78.2 and in field goal percentage where they shoot a blistering 45.2 percent from the field. They also lead the NESCAC in 3pt percentage bombing away with a 37.3 percent success rate. Don’t knock the other aspects of Amherst’s game though. They lead the NESCAC in rebounding margin and are second in points allowed per game. The standout right now is junior guard/forward Hannah Hackley ’18. The Westford, Massachusetts product is averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. The only knock right now on Amherst is a slight worry about their lack of depth. They only have one senior on the team and rely heavily on their first 6 players. Of course, benches will shorten during the NESCAC season anyway and Amherst has proven in the past to be able to win with almost any collection of players, so they’re certainly looking forward to this season.
#17 Bowdoin (10-1)
Bowdoin, in many ways has been the best team in the NESCAC this year, but they have a loss so for now we’re dropping them below Tufts and Amherst. Even their loss though, a 70-62 overtime defeat to Claremont, can be excused at least partially as it was their first game after their Christmas break. Bowdoin leads the NESCAC in scoring so far averaging a stunning 80.7 points per game. They aren’t sacrificing efficiency though as they also lead the league in field goal percentage at 46.3 percent and surrender the fewest turnovers per game, only 13.7. Kate Kerrigan ’18 has been key to Bowdoin’s explosive early season play. The 5’7” guard leads her team in points a game with 10.5, and she is second in rebounding and third in assists. She’s also tied for the team lead in steals with 1.5 a game. However, it’s Kerrigan’s shooting prowess that really shines through. She’s shooting over 55 percent from both the field and the three point line while also leading her team in field goals attempted per game. Bowdoin will certainly challenge Amherst and Tufts this year and seems poised to threaten either team come NESCAC championship time. Their Friday night tilt at Tufts should be a wild one.
After the top three teams, the league becomes much tighter. Four teams have two losses and all have also won at least 8 games. Trinity gets the nod here though as they combine a top four scoring offense with a top 5 defense. They have also been particularly dominant on the boards averaging a rebounding margin of 11.8 good for second in the league. After losing their season opener Trinity rattled off 8 straight wins and have displayed a potent offense, averaging 15.6 assists a game and shooting over 40 percent from the field. There are some concerns regarding their average of 17.2 turnovers per game, a number the coaching staff will surely hope to limit moving forward. Trinity relies heavily on sophomore center Courtney Erickson ’19 who is the only Bantam averaging double digits in points per game with 13.3. Her rebounding has also been excellent where she averages 7.4 per game. Trinity will have a chance to secure the number four spot this weekend when they play the next team on this list.
Williams is hot on Trinity’s heels for the fourth spot in the conference through the first 12 games of the season. Williams has proven that they can win both tight, ugly games (44-40 over Smith College) and in blowouts (66-46 over Springfield College). They also already have a quality win against a NESCAC opponent defeating Wesleyan in their Little 3 rivalry game 64-59. To maintain this position Williams will have to rely on a stingy defense that only allows 52.9 point per game. They are also third in the conference in field goal percentage defense forcing teams into shooting only 32 percent from the field. Much of Williams’ success will rely on Devon Caveney ’17. The 5’7 guard leads her team in scoring and stealing and is second on her team in assists per game with 2.7. Her coaches and teammates surely hope her three point shooting will improve (only 24.5 percent through 11 games) as NESCAC play begins and defenses tighten up.
Conn College (9-2)
Conn College has leapt out to an excellent start. One of their two losses came against Babson, a fringe top 25 team, and the loss was only by 9 points. Conn College has relied heavily on their offense, averaging 71.9 points per game, good for third in the league. Unfortunately their defense has been porous at times. They surrender 57.5 points a game, the second worst tally in the league, but this might be due to their high octane style of play. The Camels are second in the league in total field goals attempted and the gap between themselves and the third place team in nearly 50 shots. Conn relies heavily on two players Mairead Hynes ‘18 and Payton Ouimette ’19. Combined, the two are averaging 24.1 points per game and 16.7 rebounds. Hynes has also added 1.6 steals and nearly a block a game for good measure. The Camels’ hopes rest on the shoulders of these two and the rest of their starting five who have started all 11 games so far and are the only players averaging more than 20 minutes per game.
Middlebury has jumped out to a fast start and is looking to assert themselves as one of the better teams in the league. Much like several other teams on this list, Middlebury will live and die on the back of their defense. The Panthers currently allow a measly 47.5 points per game, good for third in the league, boast the fourth best rebounding margin in the league with 10.0, and only allow their opponents to shoot 33.7 percent from the field, good for fourth in the league. While the team’s defense has been commendable, their offense has struggled to consistently generate points. They rank in the bottom 4th of the league in points per game, assists per game, and field goal percentage. In their only two losses of the year the Panthers have failed to reach 50 points and struggled significantly from the field. A great deal of Middlebury’s offense comes from only 3 players, Colleen Caveney ’19, Catherine Harrison ’19, and Sarah Kaufman ’18, who are averaging 13.1, 10.0, and 9.7 points per game respectively. Caveney has been particularly impressive this year, averaging 4.3 rebounds per game, 1.4 steals, and shooting more than 44 percent from three on the season. Middlebury will have to step up their game on the offensive side of the ball to challenge for a spot at the top of the conference.
Hamilton started the season slowly, losing their first three games, but rebounded quickly and have gone 5-1 in the interim, hoping to continue that string of success in NESCAC play. Hamilton is a middling team in the conference on both offense and defense. They rank sixth in points scored per game and eighth in points allowed, but are the 5th best rebounding team in the conference based on rebounding margin with 8.3. Hamilton has also held their opponents to only 33.9 percent from the field and have also pressured opposing ball handlers well forcing 16.1 turnovers a game. Hamilton places a lot of their offensive burden on Lauren Getman ’18 the only player averaging double figures in points per game with 11.4. Getman has also been Hamilton’s leading rebounder on the year with 6.6 per game. The team as a whole has shot well from three, making these shots at a 33.3 percent clip, and Getman has been no exception shooting 55.6 percent from three on two attempts per game. Hamilton must hope for growth during NESCAC play from their second leading scorer Mackenzie Aldridge ’20 to challenge for a higher spot in the conference.
Colby ranks lower than Hamilton here due, at least partially, due to their propensity to get blown out when they lose. In all four of their losses Colby has fell by a double digit margin, and in two losses the margins were 20 and 22. Of course, one of those losses was in a non-conference battle with Bowdoin but that doesn’t bode well for a team hoping to remain competitive in the NESCAC after their trip to the semi-finals of the conference tournament last year. Colby has struggled on the boards compared to their NESCAC counterparts, only tallying a margin of 5.7 which is eighth in the league. Colby has also struggled to generate turnovers and allows their opponents to shoot 36 percent from the field, the second worst rating in the league. Where the defense has struggled, the offense has been at least serviceable. They average a middling 60.1 points per game, and have been the 6th most efficient team in the conference shooting 38.6 percent from the field. Haley Driscoll ‘18 has been the Mules’ bread and butter this year. The 5’11 center from Bedford, New Hampshire has been averaging 11.7 points per game and pulling 6.4 rebounds per game. She has also added 1.1 steals per game. Driscoll will need to carry much of the load for the Mules going forward.
Wesleyan has played five games on the road in there first ten matchups, compared to only three at home, and have gone 1-4 in those games (the other two games were at neutral sites). They are certainly hoping an end of season slate that features seven home games will lead to more winning. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that will mean stepping up their play on both sides of the ball. They are currently 9th in the league in both points scored per game and points allowed per game, and are worst in the league in both field goal percentage and three point percentage. They are also ninth in the league in assists per game and average the most turnovers per game in the league. The Cardinals will certainly need Maeve Vitale ’18 to step up in a major way during conference play. The 5’8 guard is averaging 10.7 points per game on 38.9 percent shooting, while also draining 36.2 percent of her three pointers on more than five attempts per game. Vitale is also pulling down 5.6 rebounds and securing 1.9 steals per game, good for second and first on her team respectively. She’s all over the place for the Cardinals, but someone is going to need to step up and help her out if they want to climb the standings.
Bringing up the rear of our first power ranking on the Bates Bobcats who have stumbled early in the season to a 3-8 record. Unfortunately for Bates it is hard to focus on just one issue with this team. They are last in the NESCAC in both points scored per game and points and allowed. They also struggle with field goal percentage defense and their rebounding margin of 0.1 per game is the only NESCAC average less than 1. The only two meaningful statistical categories where Bates ranks in the top 8 of the league are assists per game where they rank eighth, and three point percentage where they rank sixth on the third most attempts. Bates also lacks depth, 6 players average more than 20 minutes per game and after than only one player averages more than 10 (Madeline Foote ’19, who averages 10.1). Allie Coppola ’17 has been one of the few consistent bright spots for the Bobcats, playing and starting all 11 games. She is also averaging 9.7 points per game, 9 rebounds per game, and 2.5 assists per game, good for second, first, and second on her team respectively. Things won’t get any easier for the Bobcats in the coming weeks as they play #17 Bowdoin and then travel to play Hamilton and Middlebury next weekend.
Remember early in the season when we thought the league might be less chaotic this season? We were wrong. For the first time ever, there are five NESCAC teams in the D3Hoops.com Top 25, with Middlebury (22) and Williams (25) joining Amherst (3), Tufts (8) and Wesleyan (9) after impressive tournament wins coming back from break. And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Amherst and Wesleyan both lost on Tuesday night, throwing both the NESCAC and national rankings into a state of chaos mirrored only by the American political climate. And to add still ANOTHER layer of intrigue, four of the five ranked teams face each other on Friday night, kicking off what promises to be a spectacular season of league games. Amherst and Williams renew the biggest little rivalry in sports, and Middlebury takes on Wesleyan at home in a game that I think I might just try to attend if I’m not too busy. Oh yeah, and the other teams play too. Let’s break down those two marquee match-ups, and the rest of the games around the league.
GAME OF THE WEEK: #3 Amherst @ #25 Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, Massachusetts
NESCAC’s version of the Average Joes-Globo Gym rivalry returns on Friday night, as Williams and Amherst square off in as important a game as one can hope for in the opening weekend of league play. After opening the season at #1 in the country and looking fairly unstoppable over the first couple weeks, Amherst has dropped two out of their last three. The chief reasons for their sudden mortality are on offense. They turned the ball over 17 times in their loss to Eastern Connecticut on Tuesday, and shot only 36% in a loss to Springfield last week. The depth the people raved about for Amherst early in the season is in disarray. Eric Conklin is the only bench player who has made a difference for Amherst lately, as his minutes have jumped up due to the inconsistent (to be diplomatic) play of starting center David George ‘17. Amherst has too often relied on the volume scoring of Jayde Dawson and the efficiency of Johnny McCarthy to keep them in games.
Williams comes in on almost the exact opposite track. Impressive wins over Hope and Mount Union in the Mount Union Classic vaulted the Ephs into the top 25, and they maintained their position with a (somewhat lackluster) 74-62 win over Oneonta St. on Tuesday. In a departure from the last few years, the Ephs have recently won despite poor showings from three point land. Williams is hovering around 28% in their last three games, and yet they are 3-0. This is due to an excellent team defense, and honestly, the play of sophomore forward Kyle Scadlock. After a slow start to the year, Scadlock has averaged 19 PPG in the last three, bringing to life the star leap that some projected after an impressive freshman year. Shooting struggles aside, Williams has to love the spot they’re in entering league play, and Amherst certainly shouldn’t be thrilled with theirs.
For Amherst it has to be pure, elemental anger. Yeah they’ve lost a couple games, but every team will at some point. But to be the pre-season #1 and have to hear idiot pundits like myself and even their own fans cry gloom and doom must royally tick them off. Williams is an excellent team, but this is Amherst basketball we’re talking about here. They were #1 for a reason: they have loads of good players, and they are coached by the legendary David Hixon, who is certainly capable of whipping these guys into shape. A rivalry win in the opening weekend of league play would be a delicious way to remind the league why they were at the top in the first place.
Williams has been winning without three point shooting, but that will get far more difficult to do against elite opponents like Amherst. The Ephs will have trouble getting good looks in the paint against Amherst’s length, meaning that perimeter shots will have to make up the difference. Additionally, Williams does not match up well defensively with Dawson and McCarthy, the backcourt that makes Amherst’s engines run. Therefore, Williams will have to hit some threes to keep pace. This makes Cole Teal ‘17 a major key (shout out: DJ Khaled) to this game, and to the remainder of the season. Teal is capable of insane hot streaks and insane cold streaks, but lately he has been doing far more of the latter. He was quiet in Mt. Union, shooting just 1-5 over the two games, but he bounced back with a nice night against Oneonta, tallying 15 points on 3-5 shooting from deep. Teal will need to be hot against Amherst both to score from the perimeter and open up the middle for Scadlock and Aronowitz.
Both teams have struggled to find production at the five this season. Williams has spun their “Random Center” wheel several times this season, but so far none of them have been winners. Meanwhile, David George of Amherst has been like the parents from Stranger Things: there in person, but pretty lackluster and ignores a lot of responsibilities. This should lead to a tight, high scoring game, one that I would tend to favor Williams in, as they’re at home. But Williams has no answer for McCarthy and Dawson, both of whom can swing a game themselves. It’s a toss up at this point, the best possible projection for a rivalry game of this magnitude.
Middlebury has not lost to Wesleyan since 2004. Let that sink in. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Matt St. Amour was 10 years old. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, the greatest song of all time (and my go-to karaoke song) “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson had just been released. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Mel Gibson was still a marketable movie star. That said, Wesleyan looked poised to break that streak until Tuesday night. After starting off 11-0 and beating #4 Marietta, Wesleyan was knocked off pace by Rhode Island College 62-55. The loss to RIC featured many of the problems that have plagued Wesleyan in league play over the last few years, namely a lack of offensive firepower and shot-making down the stretch. Standout guards Harry Rafferty ‘17 and Salim Green ‘19 combined for 2 points on 1-15 shooting, numbers that many experts have referred to as “bad.” Wesleyan will not win if they don’t get production from the perimeter, and Middlebury is arguably the best perimeter defensive team in the league. Additionally, the loss of defensive stopper PJ Reed will hurt Wesleyan’s efforts to slow down the run-and-gun Panther offense.
Middlebury enters league play with momentum, but some depth problems. Sophomore guard Hilal Dahleh remains out with a back injury, and forward Zach Baines ‘17 will likely miss the weekend as well. These are two valuable weapons that the Middlebury offense will dearly miss, particularly from a floor-spacing perspective. However, in the Staten Island Tournament of Heroes (DOPE name for a tournament by the way,) Middlebury weathered those losses and a prolonged shooting slump from Matt St. Amour ‘17 to win the championship and vault into the top 20. They owe their success to a two-game stretch of excellent defense, and the heroics of Jack Daly ‘18, who continued his low-key All-League candidacy with a buzzer beater over #17 Illinois-Wesleyan (as well as 14/7/7.5 averages.) In Staten Island, Middlebury showed the toughness to rise to the top of the loaded NESCAC, but they will need to hit outside shots more conistently to beat the elite Wesleyan defense.
While Daly and St. Amour were certainly the MVPs of Middlebury’s tournament, it was contributions from the bench that allowed the Panthers to weather tough shooting from the starters. And the stand-out player from the Middlebury bench was freshman forward Matt Folger.
Folger is an excellent shooter who had threes in both games of the tournament, but defensively was where he really set himself apart. The lanky forward had four blocks over the two games, including three in the championship. Folger’s combination of size, athleticism and timing make him the interior defensive force that Middlebury has been lacking. He and Nick Tarantino will be crucial in stopping Wesleyan’s post duo of Joseph Kuo ‘17 and Nathan Krill ‘18.
Wesleyan’s defense is far from in doubt. They are the number one field goal defense in the country, and boast a perimeter defense that is uniquely able to shut down Middlebury’s three-headed dog of excellent guards. However, Wesleyan simply has to score, and the person most responsible for that is Salim Green ‘19. Green is an exceptional defender, but Middlebury is too deep and fast for Wesleyan to pound the ball and win 55-50. Green will need to score and push the pace if Wesleyan has any hope of ending their 11 year losing streak against the Panthers.
Of all the teams in the league, Middlebury may be the best equipped to handle the indefinite losses of Dahleh and Baines. They have great chemistry and experienced leaders at the helm, as well as a deep bench that is rounding into shape at exactly the right time. But “handling” losses isn’t the same as fixing the holes they create. Middlebury is vulnerable right now, particularly in outside shooting and interior defense. These are the areas that Wesleyan will look to exploit on Friday night. However, Wesleyan has no chance if they shoot anything like the way they did on Tuesday. Someone besides Joseph Kuo needs to put the ball in the basket for the Cardinals, or else their league season will look very different from their first 12 games.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
#8 Tufts @ Bowdoin: 7:00 PM, Brunswick, Maine
I was going to let Rory handle this one, since according to an intrepid commenter I “hate Tufts,” but I think I’ll be able to handle it. I certainly do not hate Tufts, I just left them off the Awards Preview because none of their individual players have stood out yet from a postseason honors standpoint. That could certainly change in league play, particularly as Vincent Pace ‘18 gets healthier and healthier. Pace returned early in the season from a knee injury, and is still rounding himself back into form. When 100% he is certainly one of the best all around players in the league, capable of leading Tufts to a NESCAC title. This opening weekend will be a good test of just how ready he is to take on a heavy minutes load.
Bowdoin, on the other hand, has their star very much ready to go. Jack Simonds ‘19 is leading the league in scoring at 23.3 PPG, and the Polar Bears for the most part rise as far as he can take them. However, on Tuesday night they had a nice win over Bridgewater State despite Simonds having “only” 17. Sophomore guard Jack Bors had 23 off the bench, and forward Neil Fuller ‘17 added 15. We haven’t seen this balance from Bowdoin yet this year, and if it continues in league play, Bowdoin could definitely make some noise. Tufts has a huge edge in this game, but don’t count the Polar bears out just yet.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
Bates @Colby: 7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine
With the Brothers Delepche manning the middle, Bates was always scary defensively. But transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has given the Bobcats some needed offensive punch off the bench. Spellman was a fairly sought after D1 recruit coming out of high school, and committed to Stonehill College. However, he transferred to Bates before playing at all, and immediately hurt his ankle. The 6’2” guard made his NESCAC debut against Farmingdale State on the 29th, and had 13 points off the bench on Tuesday in a big road win against Brandeis. With a terrific defense and a revitalized offense, Bates is looking a little scary.
Entering their non-conference matchup with Bates on December 10th, Colby had lost four out of five and appeared to be carving out a spot at the bottom of the league. But they pulled out a gritty win in that game, and then another in their first game back against UMaine-Farmington. Like the Starship Enterprise, Colby is led by Patrick Stewart ‘19, who averages over 16 points per game. This game might not be critical at the top of the standings come the end of the season, but it is certainly a matter of pride for the Maine rivalries, and also will help determine which of these teams (if any) make the final cut for the NESCAC playoffs.
Writer’s pick: Bates
Connecticut College @ Hamilton:
This game will fly under the radar due to the Middlebury-Wesleyan and Williams-Amherst games, but it is quietly a fascinating match-up that could have major ramifications at the end of the year. Connecticut College has played with tremendous balance all season. They have four players averaging over 10 points per game, including the front-runner for the made-up NESCAC Sixth Man of the Year award in Isaiah Robinson ‘18. Robinson averages 10 per game off the bench on 45.2% shooting from three. Robinson’s offense off the bench has been critical in Connecticut College’s success, as an efficient offense has masked a mediocre defense at times for the Camels.
Speaking of efficient offenses, Hamilton leads the league in points per game at 87, and is third in shooting percentage at 48.3. The Continentals are led by a trio of stellar sophomores. Peter Hoffmann, Michael Grassey and and Tim Doyle all average over 13 points a game and shoot over 50% from the field. This youth is obviously a benefit, as this core could make Hamilton a player for the next couple years at least. However, it may also hurt them during league play. These players are not used to playing meaningful minutes in league play; Hamilton was not a contender during their freshman campaign. Connecticut College is older and more experienced (though still pretty young), and that could help them if this game comes down to the wire. Additionally, Hoffmann, Hamilton’s leading scorer and best defender, is only shooting 47.2% from the foul line. If the game is close in the final minutes, Connecticut College may try to exploit this, forcing Hamilton to choose whether or not to have him on the floor.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Trinity @ Pine Manor: 3:00 PM, Brookline, Massachusetts
Writing about a non-league game after all this excitement makes me a little bit tired, but I’m going to write through it because #BlogIsLife. Pine Manor has had an uneven start to the season, standing at 7-4. Their only other NESCAC matchup was an early season 97-96 loss to Colby. However, from my extensive research on their season (a cursory glance at their website,) Pine Manor looks to be a pretty tough matchup for Trinity. They play at a blinding pace, taking 81 shots per game, which is a full 22 (!) more than the infamously slow Bantams. This game looks like it will be less of a basketball game and more of an ideological debate regarding the nature of the sport.
Speaking of Trinity, they have been one of the toughest teams to figure out in the early months of the season. They started off the year losing three of four, and then a nice win over Springfield (three straight NCAA berths, has beaten Amherst and Conn College) made it appear that they had righted the ship. But they followed that up with a terrible loss to Susquehanna and another loss against a very good Eastern Connecticut team, and they were back down again. And finally, they just put up by far their best performance of the year against Plattsburgh, scoring 107 points and shooting 66% from the field. The Bantams have struggled to find any consistent perimeter scoring around center Ed Ogundeko, but against Plattsburgh they proved that they can beat anyone when they have it. This game will be a crucial final tuneup for Trinity as they look to make a run in league play.