To Study or Not To Study: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 12/12

This past Saturday, I got to travel to Colby to watch Bates take on the Mules in Waterville. Bates pulled off the win, 82-79 in a tightly contested matchup that I believe was an instant classic. In front of an unusually raucous crowd for this early in the year, the two teams put on a show. This game had absolutely everything. We saw Matt Hanna hit four consecutive threes and give the crowd an awesome, Russell Westbrook-esque celebration. We saw the players getting chippy. We saw the fans getting chippy. We saw the lead never get above 3 for either team in the final 12 minutes of the game (until Bates hit a few free throws at the very end). We saw a technical foul. We saw Tom Coyne bank home two three pointers from 30+ feet to seal the win for the Bobcats. It was the stuff of legends.

That is what NESCAC basketball is all about. There is nothing like getting to travel to any school for a game and watch their loyal fans pack the gym to watch more drama than a Shakespearean tragedy. Fortunately truth is stranger than fiction, and we get an entire season of games featuring players whose legacies will surely outlast those of Macbeth or Hamlet. Anyways, let’s take a look at how foul or fair each team is looking heading into exam week and a blissfully long winter break.:

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Bates G Tom Coyne ’20

Tom Coyne
Tom Coyne ’20 can score as well as anyone. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates got a chance to play both Colby and Bowdoin this week, and each time Coyne put on a show. Despite the 70-63 loss against Bowdoin, he led the game in points with 22, and grabbed 9 rebounds. In the 82-79 win against Colby, he went off for a career-high 30 points on 11-16 from the field, including 6-8 from three-point range. One of the greatest things about the game against Colby was that for the final minutes of the game, the players on the court were Nick Gilpin ’20, Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. This lineup is one that has already shown improvements this year, and they will get to see three full seasons playing on the floor together. Bates is only getting better from here as Coach Furbush has the pieces he needs to develop and build around for the future.

Middlebury F Nick Tarantino ’18

Nick Tarantino
Nick Tarantino ’18 is an absolute beast in the paint (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury has been on a tear this season, starting off 6-0 and receiving the #2 national ranking in last week’s poll. They have many weapons, but senior Nick Tarantino ’18 has stood out as exceptional recently. He recorded a double-double against Endicott (an NCAA tournament team from last season), putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds, while dishing out 4 assists. In their last game against national #16 Skidmore (another 2017 NCAA tournament team), he channeled his inner-Ed Ogundeko, posting 20 points (on 9-13 shooting) and 17 rebounds. This type of production is ridiculous alongside weapons like Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. The Panthers are showing us yet again why they belong in the conversation not only for best in the NESCAC, but potentially best in the nation.

Tufts G Vincent Pace ’18

 

Vincent Pace ’18 is definitely living up to his POY-candidate hype (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 is recovering his pre-injury form. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Selected as NESCAC Player of the Week, Pace led the struggling Jumbos to a much-needed 2-0 week. He torched Emerson to the tune of 30 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 13-21 from the field. Pace tied the game with a three, then hit the game winning layup with under a minute left as the ‘Bos erased a 16-point second half deficit. Against UMass-Boston, he guided Tufts to a jaw-dropping 29-1 lead with 13 points and 7 rebounds on the way to a 73-58 win. He has clearly developed as the top scoring threat for a team that looks to gain some traction as they head out to Los Angeles to take on a few of the Claremont schools. If he continues this type of performance and the Jumbos continue to improve, Pace certainly remains in the conversation for NESCAC POY.

Hamilton

The Continentals are now 8-0 (tied for the best record in the NESCAC) and have been playing incredibly well this season. To be honest I believe they deserve a little more credit, only receiving 18 votes in the last national rankings. Only three of their eight wins have been decided by less than 10 points. They are blowing teams out, and putting up a lot of points in the process. Kena Gilmour ’20 leads the team with 17.4PPG and 7REB/G, and Michael Grassey ’19 has shown that he is a huge piece of this Continentals team. Grassey ’19 is putting up 14.1 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds,C especially having huge games against Utica and Eastern. Keep an eye on this underrated and young Hamilton squad, because they are a force to be reckoned with in New York.

Kena Gilmour ’20 is one of the most exciting players in the league.

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Conn College

It has been a tough stretch for the Camels, who are in the midst of a three game losing streak. They lost to both Mitchell and Western New England, neither of whom is particularly good. They sit at 4-5, which makes them the only NESCAC team below .500, with Bates having the second worst record at 5-2. Not to say that they don’t have any good players, because David Labossiere is averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. They are suffering from the loss of Tyler Rowe ’19, who was 4th in the NESCAC in scoring, but transferred to Western Connecticut this year. Conn College still has matchups with City College of New York and Maine Presque-Isle before they gear up for their first conference matchup with Middlebury. Hopefully the Camels start to turn things around because you never know what can happen in NESCAC play.

Williams’ Title Chances

In the wake of Scadlock’s injury, a lot of weight will fall on PG Bobby Casey’s (19) shoulders.
 Things took a turn for the worst in Williamstown last week when Kyle Scadlock ’19 suffered a torn ACL in the first half of their game against Westfield State. Obviously, this is a crushing blow to both Williams and the league as a whole. Scadlock is one of the most exciting players in the league, as well as the  team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Williams is certainly still one of the best teams in the conference and perhaps the nation, but they have a much steeper hill to climb now. Look for players like Bobby Casey ’19 Michael Kempton ’20 to take on bigger roles, as well as forward James Heskitt ’19. Heskitt may be best suited to take on some of Scadlock’s myriad responsibilities both offensively and defensively, as he is another versatile forward with quick feet. It will take a team effort for Williams to keep pace with Middlebury, Tufts and suddenly hot teams like Wesleyan or Hamilton. Scadlock is only a junior, so hopefully he will return to full health so that we can see what Williams is truly capable of. Best of luck on a speedy recovery, Kyle.

Cold Weather, Hot Takes on NESCAC Women’s Basketball

To quote Game of Thrones, ‘winter is here.’ NESCAC women’s basketball is already in full swing with an onslaught of non league games. While these games don’t go into the record books for NESCAC standings, they are nevertheless very important, so that each teams starts the season on the right foot. There have been some surprises thus far, and there are teams that have played like I predicted. Let’s take a look at my three hot takes going into winter break:

Bowdoin is Now a Top Dog

Tufts and Amherst dominated the spotlight in everyone’s preseason power rankings. Their incredible success last year deservingly gave them the top two spots of the standings in predictions for this season. However, something is going on in Brunswick, ME. The Bowdoin Polar Bears are 8-0. One of those wins was an thirty-four point trouncing over the Colby Mules. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I predicted Bowdoin to be very good; I didn’t predict them to be this good. The Polar Bears as a team led the NESCAC in all relevant offensive categories. While questions can be raised as to whether or not Bowdoin can actually beat Tufts and Amherst, there’s no question that the Polar Bears are a force to be reckoned with. They average an incredible eighty-four points per game as a team, with four players who average double figures in points: Taylor Choate ‘19, Kate Kerrigan ‘18, Lauren Petit ‘18, and Abby Kelly ‘19.

Taylor Choate ’19 is just one of the players who have led Bowdoin to a dominant start.

These four upperclassmen have set the tone for the team. While the competition they’ve played isn’t as stout as it will be when conference games kick in, boasting a perfect record is obviously a great sign for the squad. These four women have been there and done it before, so when times get inevitably tough down the stretch, look for them to push the team over the hump. The team will kick off league play on January 5th against Bates, and will play the Jumbos the following night. Rest assured, the polar bears will take one game at a time, but they have to be looking forward to Tufts. That’s their opportunity to show the world that Bowdoin has arrived.

Wesleyan Will be Better than Last Year (#RollCards #DirtyBirds)

It’s really tough to say how well a team will do after non-conference games. It’s clear that the NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country. I watched Wes beat a team by sixty-six points last weekend. There’s not much secret to the success of NESCAC teams: the women just play at a quicker, higher, stronger (or Citius, Altius, Fortius just in case my high school Latin teachers are reading this) pace. Wesleyan was 1-9 last year in league play, but I think they’ll be better after watching them a bit this year. The team is always up on the bench–showing how well they support one another, and how badly they want to win. The team is led by Olivia Gorman ‘19, who averages around twelve points per game. The Cards look like they’ve been infused with new energy and talent. Emma Roush ‘21 leads all freshmen in scoring (7.0 PPG), and offers a tough, scrappy play style on both ends of the court. Good teams need players like these: Draymond Green of the Warriors and Marcus Smart for the Celtics contribute far more than the box score reveals. Defense translates to offense with these players, and it starts with their hustle. Roush is no different. Wesleyan got a wake up call, however, after they were smacked by Amherst. It didn’t count in the conference standings, but it shows that Wesleyan still isn’t at peak performance yet.

Nina Davenport is the Devin Booker of the NESCAC. MVP?

Nina Davenport ’18 is one of the most dynamic scorers the league has seen in a long time.

Nina Davenport ‘18 of the Bates Bobcats is putting up MVP like numbers. She averages around twenty-two points per game, and adds seven rebounds per contest too. Enter Devin Booker. Booker, a guard for the Phoenix Suns, puts up unbelievable numbers. He’s a lights out shooter, good slasher, and an all around incredible scorer. Davenport reminds me of Booker because she’s a good shooter, but she gets to the cup too; she scores in a variety of ways. Sounds all positive, right? Except for the fact that the Suns aren’t good. Neither is Bates. Bates is the only team in the NESCAC with a losing record thus far. That statistic would be fine if we were talking about games against Bowdoin, Amherst, and Tufts, but these are non-league opponents. Bates should be crushing them. As a result, it’s tough for me to justify saying that Davenport is the MVP. Yes, she puts up MVP numbers, but an MVP can’t be on a bad team in my opinion. Take a player like Maddie Bledsoe of Wesleyan. She’s a walking double-double averaging eleven rebounds and ten points per game. Granted Wesleyan won’t finish atop the league, but I think they’ll be the biggest turnaround team this year. Bates doesn’t look like they’ll turn it around. I’m not saying that Bledsoe will be the MVP, but that player should come from a team that’s playing well.

Upset Alert: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 12/5

For those of us that made it out of the library, we saw a pretty exciting week as far as preseason NESCAC basketball goes. The week featured two non-conference, conference games: Colby topped Bowdoin, 89-84 in a high scoring affair, while Wesleyan needed more than just 40 minutes to edge Williams, 72-67, on the road in Williamstown. This week there were fewer extraordinary individual performances, so much of the focus is on the teams as a whole, with much focus on the two aforementioned games. As we eagerly await the start of true conference play, let’s take a long about who is trending up and who is trending down after this exciting week:

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Wesleyan’s legitimacy

Kevin O’Brien ’19 is emerging as one of the best all around players in the league, and has Wesleyan rising in the rankings.

Going into the year, we weren’t sure what to expect of this Cardinal team who lost three underclassmen, to go along with two graduating seniors. Even when they started 5-0, none of those five wins stood out as particularly impressive. This all changed on Saturday after they took down the no. 3 nationally-ranked Ephs in overtime. Although it won’t count towards the NESCAC standings, this is a very impressive win for Wesleyan. Winning a game against a team of this caliber on the road is not only a resume-booster, but it should give this unproven lineup a huge dose of confidence. The Cardinals are aided by reigning NESCAC player of the week, Jordan Bonner ’19 who dominated against Williams, and has emerged as the top scoring threat in Middletown. They also boast one of the league’s most efficient players in Kevin O’Brien ’19, who averages 10.8PPG, 7REB/G, and 5.8 AST/G, while shooting 62.5% from the field. This type of efficiency will be key for Wesleyan if they would like to stand atop the conference, or even the Little Three, by the end of the season.

Colby

Last week we mentioned Bates and Bowdoin as Maine schools that were on a bit of a tear, and now we can add Colby to the list. They welcomed the Polar Bears to Waterville and put on quite a performance. I’m not a betting man (in compliance with NCAA rules of course), but if I were, I would say that Bowdoin was probably the favorite in this one, entering the game undefeated and ranked #22 nationally. It was a very tight game the entire way, but the Mules simply shot too well to lose this one. They  shot 48.4% from the field, they were 13-32 (40.6%) from beyond the arc en route to a 5-point victory. Their style of play is very offense-oriented and they like to shoot A LOT. However, their pass-first mentality places them first in the league with 20.3 assists per game. They also love to crash the boards, specifically on offense. They are in the middle of the pack (5th) in the conference in total rebounds, but second in offensive rebounds. Colby very much subscribes to living and dying via the three-point shot, but it has worked thus far, as they are second in threes per game. The Mules are very fun to watch, so stay tuned to see how they fare over the next few weeks.

NESCAC parity

This is a much more scrutinized topic in NESCAC football, especially with the conference’s basketball being much deeper, but it does seem that year-in and year-out we see more or less the same teams at the top. It was exciting to see both Wesleyan and Colby (underdogs per se) take down higher ranked teams and show that anything can happen on any given night in the ‘CAC. I am about as big a NESCAC fan as they come, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have any evidence to back up my claim that the NESCAC is the best conference in the NCAA. 11 of the last 14 Division III Final Fours® have featured at least one team from the NESCAC, and there are no other conferences at any other division that can say the same. Hopefully the new NESCAC-ESPN deal gets off the ground, so we can start airing games that are played at this high of a level. Until then.

Zavier Rucker ’21 is one of the talented young players that are helping less established teams make runs this season.

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Williams’ little three chances

The mighty Ephs have shown us that they are vulnerable, and Wesleyan showed what it takes to defeat them. The Cardinals stymied the Ephs on defense, holding them to 23-62 (37.1%) from the field and 9-33 (27.3%) from 3-point land. It didn’t get any better from the charity stripe, where Williams went 12-23, good for 52.2%. They were not turning the ball over at a particularly high rate, but their poor showing from the field resulted in a season-low 11 assists. Wesleyan’s defensive effort was superb, and I’m confident the Ephs will bounce back, but this result was pretty shocking considering they came in at #3 in the nation. That said, this was officially a non-conference game, and teams aren’t expected to be in top shape on December 1st. Williams simply has much more to prove with after the first blemish of their season, especially with another non-conference matchup with Amherst looming. With Wesleyan showing that they aren’t messing around and Amherst playing well out of the gates, the Little Three crown will be a lot tougher to grab than we may have thought at the beginning of the year.

Johnny McCarthy as a POY candidate

Amherst’s strong start this year has been a team effort; it’s about the name on the front, not the one on the back.

As a writer, I take pride in my work, and I’m also willing to admit when I was wrong. In the case of McCarthy, it does appear that I was wrong when I discussed him as a possible POY candidate. Nothing against McCarthy or Amherst, because they are off to a great start, appearing at no. 21 in the nation this week. Simply put, Amherst is too balanced for McCarthy to stand out as a candidate for this prestigious award. He is putting up 8.5PPG, 6.0Reb/G, and 2.3AST/G, which are all solid numbers, but not enough to place him under POY consideration. The Mammoths have such a large rotation of players that play at a high level, so no individual is truly standing out. Again, this is not meant to take any jabs at the Mammoths who have being playing really good basketball, but it is interesting to see who will take a step forward once they get to the more difficult portion of their schedule.

How Can You Have the Library Blues With so Much Basketball?: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 11/29

There’s lots of excitement in the 2018 basketball preseason, much of it developing this past week. With winter now in full force, NESCAC gyms should be a great sanctuary to escape the cold weather (and the library) at the end of the semester. Go out, see some of these big ballers, and look for these storylines as you forget about those upcoming finals.

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Maine Basketball

While schools so close to the North Pole should be expected to excel at winter sports, Bowdoin and Bates each had noteworthy weekends. Apparently Cameron’s article (http://nothingbutnescac.com/?p=5443) put the Bobcat offense into high gear as G Jeff Spellman played the Grinch and stole the game away from the U of New England. Spellman dropped 38 points on the way to the 107-103 win, carrying the team. The ceiling was much higher for Spellman in the game too as he shot 0-5 from beyond the arc, making it plausible that if the improves his deep shooting, his 20.5 PPG scoring pace is sustainable in NESCAC play. Reserves Eli Frater (8-10 FG, 3-5 3 PT) and James Mortimer (5-9 FG, 5-6 3 PT) also shot lights out and tallied 19 and 13 points, respectively. Considering the pair didn’t even start, they could see drastically increased roles as the season goes on. Mortimer is also a first year and should develop into a deadly weapon as a ‘3’ player (Small Forward) at 6’4”, finding plenty of room from that range. The Bobcats now sit at 3-1 after a brutal opening loss to Trinity (80-52), bouncing back nicely as they continue to develop their younger players following the loss of the famed scoring and defensive animals, the Delpheche twins, Malcolm and Marcus ’17.

Jeff Spellman ’20 had 38 points against UNE, the highest total in the league thus far.

For Bowdoin, scoring in 2017 wasn’t their biggest issue as they rostered the league leader in scoring for much of the year in Jack Simonds. Simonds finished his sophomore season ranked third in the conference with 19.0 PPG which was much lower than his preseason average, dropping off in NESCAC play. He is off to another hot start in 2018, leading Bowdoin to an unprecedented 22nd national ranking. While he is only averaging 15.8 PPG through the Polar Bears’ 5-0 start, he is joined by David Reynolds and Hugh O’Neil in double digit points, with 15.2 and 11.2, respectively. O’Neil leads the defensive effort, completing a double-double average with 10.8 REB/G while Simonds averages 6.8 and Reynolds averages 6.0. This is turning into a team with a three headed scoring and defensive monster—good for depth against the NESCAC opponents that usually had their way with this team in 2017.

Jack Daly’s POY Hopes

Jack Daly
Jack Daly ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

With Midd alumnus and 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year, Matt St. Amour ’17, tearing it up in an Irish professional league , his former teammate is looking to take his place at the top of the conference totem pole. Daly is surging to start the season, showing that he was more than the Robin to the dynamic duo that Midd had last year. He is having a Russell Westbrook like breakout year (St. Amour wasn’t exactly the same as KD and they are actually still friends, but it’s close enough), filling all areas of the stat sheet. Daly averages 19.5 PPG, but this guard isn’t just scoring. Contrary to many NESCAC guards that either score or assist, Daly is doing both. He is dishing the ball around like crazy, averaging 8.8 AST/G. Contrary to many NESCAC guards that are either too small to rebound or leave it up to the forwards and center, Daly is a force down low. He is leading the NESCAC with 11.5 REB/G. This is ridiculous. The NESCAC’s Russell Westbrook is flourishing as the newly minted Panther leader and should have all of his opponents quaking in their KDs.

Kyle Scadlock and My Credibility

In my season preview for Williams basketball  I couldn’t stop raving about the potential for Kyle Scadlock, and after a blistering start, I’m happy to say “I told you so.” There probably weren’t many people who doubted the prediction for his breakout season after a breakout performance in the playoffs, but his NESCAC Co-Player of the Week nod for the opening conference release was a great start. He leads the NESCAC through the limited sample size in points per game at 21.8, hauling in 9.4 rebounds per game. He is answering Williams’ rebounding issues from last year and is shooting lights out in the process. While the Ephs are already a deep team, if he continues to stay on superstar pace, then they won’t miss their dearly departed Daniel Aronowitz ’17 nearly as much as expected.

Kyle Scadlock ’19 is tearing up the league, just as we predicted.

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Middlebury 2021 Guards

While Jack Daly is carrying the Panthers, they still need to be a deeper team come NESCAC play as Daly could just get double-teamed. They lost two starters in Jake Brown and the aforementioned St. Amour, and need their first year players to step up in their stead. Hilal Dahleh ’19 is a refreshing sight for Panther fans after missing 2017 with a back injury and Matt Folger is going to blossom into a star, but Midd still needs Jack Farrell ’21 and Max Bosco ’21 to do better than they have the last two games. They shot just a 3-15 against Johnson State and 1-10 against Endicott. They played much better in their first two games, but if they continue on this trend then Joey Leighton ’20 will likely see an increased role off of the bench.

Tufts’ Power Ranking

No, these aren’t power rankings, but I’m putting Tufts in a ‘stock down’ category which represents how their ranking has fallen. They play a tough preseason schedule, sure, but back to back losses to Washington (Mo.) and MIT brought them to below .500 overall before their win against WPI. Now, Eric Savage is living up to the lore of his name with 20.8 PPG and 11.0 REB/G, followed closely in each category by Vincent Pace. However, there is a steep drop off in production outside of this pair. While that can be expected when one of two players usually has the ball, they need to spread the love around or the Jumbos will continue to fall to deeper teams. They are LAST—yes, you read that correctly, Tufts basketball is last—in the NESCAC standings. They are the only team not above .500 overall, speaking not only to the crazy success of this conference but also how even though Tufts is not actually last on the proverbial basketball power rankings, there are ample teams nipping at their heels heading into the games that are more important.

New Look NESCAC: 5 NESCAC Basketball Talking Points for Thanksgiving

As the opening weekend of NESCAC basketball comes to a close, we start to see some early headlines. Yes, this is a very small sample size so obviously a lot can and will change, but what better way to spend your Thanksgiving break than over-analyzing NESCAC basketball? That’s what we do at my house at least. We’ve already seen some monstrous individual performances, well-balanced team efforts, and generally A LOT of points put up. Granted, NESCAC schools almost always beat up on their non-conference opponents, finishing the weekend at a combined 20-2, however one of those losses was Bates to Trinity, so someone had to lose that game, and the other was Tufts to no. 9 nationally ranked Wash. U on the road by just 4 points. With this in mind, let’s take a look at 5 talking points to help steer conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table away from Colin Kaepernick and back in the right direction:

1: Eric Savage is the real deal

Eric Savage ’20 has been an absolute force for the Jumbos so far (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

This weekend we saw three absolutely dominant performances, two of which were somewhat expected: Kyle Scadlock (24PPG, 11REB/G, 53.6% FG, 85% FT) and Jack Daly (17.5PPG, 10.5REB/G, 9AST/G, 52.2% FG). The third huge performance of the weekend, and the surp came as a bit of a surprise in Eric Savage ’20 from Tufts. The aptly named Savage has been just that – tied for the league lead with Scadlock at 24PPG – yet also averaging 14REB/G and 6.5AST/G, both good for 2nd in the conference. What makes these numbers especially notable is that Tufts played easily the hardest opening-weekend schedule, taking down a good Webster team before falling in a close game to a Wash. U team that we will likely see in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, Savage will have to continue putting up numbers similar to these in order to warrant POY consideration especially only being a sophomore, but now we’re able to see how high the ceiling is for him.

2: Bates’ offense needs help

While my bias leads me to believe that Bates is simply undergoing an identity crisis after playing their first two games without the Delpeche twins in five years, frankly, their offense has not been good. Although the loss of the twins is a somewhat valid excuse, losing to Trinity by 28 in their opening game is inexcusable. Fortunately, they were able to salvage total embarrassment by hanging on to a 72-69 victory in overtime against a weak Maine Maritime team. Their defense hasn’t been great, certainly not terrible, however it is the offense that needs a shake up. The Bobcats come in at dead last in the league in points per game, field goal percentage, assists, and rebounds. It doesn’t take an expert to know that this is not good. Interestingly, Bates actually averages the second fewest turnovers in the league. This means that they are simply just not getting good shots, so look for Coach Furbush to continue trying new offenses to see what clicks before we get into conference play.

3: Amherst’s balance

I was hesitant to include this one because we saw nearly the exact same trend at the start of last season – Amherst beats up on their perennially easy first weekend teams, and nearly everyone on their team gets good minutes. Because they used so much of their bench, their stats are a bit skewed at this point, and they will start to use fewer guys once they start to figure out who they are this season. With that in mind, they have still played an incredibly balanced brand of basketball (I’m no English major but I’m pretty sure that’s called an alliteration). The Mammoths have 10 players averaging between 5 and 12 points per game, 8 players averaging between 3 and 8 rebounds per game, and 5 players averaging between 2 and 4 assists per game. This balance is outrageous and with Amherst only having two seniors, it is good to see their younger guys starting to fill roles in a lineup that lost a lot from last season. We will see if they can continue this when their competition picks up.

4: Trinity’s defense looks like that of the Boston Celtics

The Bantam defense looks to take a leap this year, and they are off to a great start in doing just that. They were able to win the Maine Maritime tournament in an easy fashion while holding their opponents to 59 points per game, second to only Amherst. I will say the same thing about Trinity that I said about Amherst: they played a relatively weak schedule this weekend, squaring off against Bates who is undergoing an identity crisis, and Wheelock who is nothing special either. That said, they held their opponents to an abysmal 29.8% from the field including 18.4% from behind the arc. This is honestly a testament to their coaching because they find a way to get a hand up and contest just about every shot, making it brutal for their opponents to get good looks. Without the individual superstar that they have had in the past few seasons, the Bantams will continue to rely on their very good defense to keep them in games.

5: Youth movement across the league

Matt Folger ’20 is as good a scorer as anyone in the league (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The most exciting headline of the weekend is certainly the new wave of names across the stat leaderboards in the NESCAC. In fact, 8 of the top 10 leading scorers from this weekend were either a sophomore or junior, and as a fan of the conference as a whole, this is great news. Almost every team has asked one or a few underclassmen to step into larger roles to fill a void left on their team, and these underclassmen have performed admirably. There are a ton of juniors who have already made an impact and will continue to do so, but certainly keep an eye on sophomores such as Eric Savage (Tufts), Jeff Spellman (Bates), Kena Gilmour (Hamilton), and Matt Folger (Middlebury) not only as dark horse scoring title candidates for this year, but POY candidates a year or two down the road.

Thanksgiving is a crazy time – seeing family, catching up on work, starting to think about exams (that word itself just makes me cringe), and many, many other things, but the thrill of the NESCAC basketball season is finally upon us. For us NESCAC students, this means an absurdly long and dark winter, but it also means packing every last person possible into each of our respective gyms to cheer on our most beloved basketball teams. There is something in everyone that makes us inherently proud of where we go to school, and basketball manifests this sentiment better than anything. This is the beginning of an awful and amazing time of year and I don’t know about anyone else, but I couldn’t be more excited.

 

The Best Offense is a Good Defense: 2017-2018 Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Wesleyan Cardinals

2016-2017 Record: 19-7 (8-5 conference)

The Cardinals started their season with 11 straight wins before being slowed down by the grind of the NESCAC conference schedule. They lost to Trinity in the NESCAC quarters, before ending their season against Union (NY) in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

Projected 2017-2018 Record: 18-6 (7-6 conference)

Amherst gets some redemption this season against a Wesleyan squad that beat them twice last winter.

Key Losses

Harry Rafferty (13 PPG, 2.2 AST/G, 38% 3FG) –

A veteran guard who started every game his senior season, and 77 of his 103 collegiate appearances, the Cardinals will most definitely miss his floor presence and lifetime 40% shooting.

Joseph Kuo (11.8 PPG, 7.2 REB/G, 49% FG) –

Wesleyan will be missing their paint beast in Kuo. Though his numbers aren’t astounding – Kuo averaged just over 7 rebounds and 12 points a game – he started essentially every game for the past 3 seasons, and any team can’t but miss such a reliable presence, especially in a paint protector like Kuo. The Cardinals do, however, have another veteran down low, in senior Nathan Krill, and, as the 6-7 vet JR Bascom has stepped in to fill Kuo’s shoes, Wesleyan looks to continue their streak of solid defense from last year.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Thanks to an endless streak of midterms and papers in the green mountains, this writer has the benefit of Wesleyan’s having already played in, and won, the Herb Kenny Tip-Off tournament. So my starting lineup predictions have some, albeit limited, historical basis.

F JR Bascom ’18 (4.7 PPG, 3.4 REB/G, 53.8% FG)

JR Bascom
JR Bascom ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Though he played just 9 minutes against Mitchell, Bascom has the benefit of a rather guard-heavy Wesleyan roster. He’s had the career trajectory of a player who’s had to earn his minutes, and this season the waiting looks to pay off. Bascom played in 26 games last season, but started only one. This year he’s charged taking over for the graduated Joseph Kuo, so look for Bascom in the introductions this year. He’s 7-8 shooting so far this young season, and looks to be playing with the poise and confidence afforded to a man of his experience.

F Nathan Krill ’18 (9.6 PPG, 6.2 REB/G, 0.9 BLK/G)

Nathan Krill
Four years, four different hairstyles for Nathan Krill ’18. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The 6-7 senior and chief contender for the annual “Feels Like He’s Been Here for 35 Years” award is off to hot start to the year. After an 11-point, 8 rebound performance to start the year against Anna Maria, Krill dropped 22 on 9-14 shooting against Mitchell on Saturday. He capped his 20-minute double-double with 16 boards, earning Krill the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament MVP. Krill was in and out of the starting lineup last season, but any forward who takes 9 threes in 27 minutes is feeling mighty confident. If Krill keeps playing with the confidence he absolutely deserves to be playing with, look for him to step into the role of a real impact player this season.

G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (N/A)

Austin Hutcherson
Austin Hutcherson ’21 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The freshman played his way into a starting spot after the season opener against Anna Maria, where he scored 9 points on 11 attempts from the field. Look for the Jersey Boy Hutcherson and senior Jordan Sears to both be in and out of the starting 5, but I put my money on Hutcherson, who’s a lanky 6-6, winning the position battle. In Wesleyan’s 107-64 romping of Mitchell, Hutcherson had 13 points on 6-13 shooting. The biggest struggle for any freshman is adjusting to the speed and increased physicality of the college game. It often means a hit to the confidence early on, but clearly Hutcherson’s deflected the confidence blow, because he’s shooting the ball plenty, and doing it successfully.

G/F Jordan Bonner ’19 (12.8 PPG, 5.2 REB/G)

Jordan Bonner
Jordan Bonner ’19

Bonner is Wesleyan’s go-to man. The 6-4 junior guard emerged as a big-time scorer last season for the Cardinals, hitting a buzzer beater against Amherst to send the game, one he sealed with a pair of clutch free-throws, to overtime. He averaged 13 points a game last season, and though his 5.2 rebounds a game is middling, Bonner has bounce, and is capable of producing double-double performances. Though he’s a more than capable scorer, and will be looked to as such, look for Bonner to crank it up a notch this season on the glass in big time conference games this year.

G Kevin O’Brien ’19 (8.3 PPG, 6.5 REB/G, 4.3 AST/G, 1.5 STL/G)

Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O’Brien ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

O’Brien will run Wesleyan’s offense from the point. The 6-5 junior is a supersized point guard, and uses it to bully smaller players. He averaged  nearly 7 rebounds per game last season in his 26 starts, and also uses his height to see over the defense to make tough passes. But his most important job is kickstarting Wesleyan’s notorious D. O’Brien averaged 1.5 steals a game last year, and is an absolute menace in the pick and roll, due again to his size. O’Brien can legitimately switch onto any position and not give up too much size. You can tell from the stats above that O’Brien is one of the best all around players in the league. But in the absence of shooter Harry Rafferty, O’Brien will be looked at more and more to put up points. He’s certainly capable of it. He scored consistently last season, and was 8-8 with 16 points against Mitchell last weekend. Look for O’Brien as Wesleyan’s lock-down man and floor general this year.

Breakout Player: Austin Hutcherson ’21

The beauty of Wesleyan’s team this year is that almost every stud, or even starter, was, by the end of the year last year, someone coach Joe Reilly looked to consistently and with confidence. Austin Hutcherson is the lone complete newcomer to the floor, and it’s a position that hasn’t appeared to intimidate him in the slightest. Through Wes’s 2-0 start to the season, Hutcherson has shot 4-11 and 6-13 respectively. It’s a volume that tells me he’s playing with the earnest fire of a newcomer to NESCAC hoops, but also with the confidence of someone who’s played at Wesleyan’s level before. I think 2 or 3 more games are all that’s needed to cement Hutcherson’s swagger, and after that, watch out.

Everything Else:

As always, the key to this Wesleyan lineup is their defense. Wesleyan may be the closest team in the league to the new NBA ideal of a position-less, switch heavy lineup. Forwards Nathan Krill and JR Bascom are highly skilled and have very quick feet, and their guards Bonner, Hutcherson and O’ Brien run 6’4″, 6’5″ and 6’6″ respectively. Welseyan’s lineup is supersized and quick, making pick and rolls against them tremendously difficult. Their guards are tall enough to guard bigs in the post, and the bigs are quick enough to not get killed by guards on the perimeter. Wesleyan has the personnel to be an elite defensive unit.

Wesleyan’s defense has always been their calling card, this season maybe most of all.

Offense is far more of a question mark. They lost their best shooter in Rafferty, and their go to scorer on the block in Kuo. They are left with a lot of defensive players who haven’t proven themselves as scorers. Bonner is the only returning player who was a reliable scoring threat last season. This is one of the reasons that O’Brien is so important. He showed great vision last season, and should turn that vision to more scoring this year. The early returns on O’Brien and Hutcherson are encouraging, but the season doesn’t start until league play anyways.

Final Hot Take:

Hot or not so hot I’m not sure, but Wesleyan’s always deep field of talent this year is both filled with earnestness and experience. They’ve got the talent to score a TON, and if they defend consistently, I see Wesleyan playing deep into both the NESCAC and national tournaments this winter.

 

Flamin’ Hot Takes: Women’s Basketball Weekend One Review

NESCAC women’s basketball kicked off its 2017-2018 campaign with a great set of games last weekend. In preparation for conference games that will start up in the next couple of weeks, each team played non-conference opponents. Here are my hot takes:

Hot Take 1: Amherst and Tufts will be really good

Melissa Baptista
Melissa Baptista ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

If you were reading my women’s soccer articles in the fall, you witnessed how many times I picked the underdog to defeat Williams, who is now in the Final Four. Each time I picked the opponent, Williams proved me wrong. I feel like Amherst and Tufts are the basketball versions of Williams. They’ve both ended up at the top of the league many of the previous seasons. They’re similar to the Spurs and Patriots: they’re consistently very good without much flash. Amherst has lost Ali Doswell ‘17, who was nominated for the DIII player of the year for the 2016-2017 season, and was an All-American. Doswell’s 13.2 PPG and stellar three-point percentage will be missed. Amherst, per usual, will utilize the ‘next person up’ mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Doswell’s loss will be felt, but with two convincing non league wins, I think Amherst will enter league play with the assumption that the squad can go all the way again this year. Tufts, on the other hand, is returning Melissa Baptista ‘18. Similar to Doswell, Baptista started every game for the ‘Bos. She comes off a season where she averaged around thirteen points per game, an All-American selection, and was a threat everywhere on the court. Tufts is already 2-0 on the young season, and I would expect Amherst and Tufts to be at the top when it’s all said and done.

Hot Take 2: It’s going to be a long winter in Lewiston

The Bates Bobcats dropped its opening two non league games last weekend. Everyone has a different mentality when it comes to these games. Obviously, the NESCAC playoffs are determined by a team’s NESCAC record. Every competitor, however, wants to win each game he or she plays in. Therefore, Bates’ two opening losses should raise major red flags. The NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country for DIII in all sports. Losing to non-NESCAC teams isn’t a good statistic. It won’t get any easier for Bates down the road with games against Maine NESCAC rivals on the horizon. Defense for Bates was the major inhibiting factor last year keeping the team from a successful seasons. Giving up eighty-five points to Smith on Sunday isn’t a good sign that they’ve made significant improvements on the defensive side of the game. If Smith puts up that many points, imagine what will happen when Amherst, Tufts, or Bowdoin comes to town. It’s early in the season, but Bates needs to turn it around soon. Nina Davenport ‘18 is one of the best shooters in the conference. She will be one of the difference makers for Bates this season. If she sets the example of focusing on defense just as much as (or more than) offense, the hot take could be wrong.

Nina Davenport ’18 is the key to Bates’ season.

Hot Take 3: Contrary to popular belief, defense still wins championships

The Golden State Warriors have made people believe that the way to win championships and create the ultimate basketball franchise is through quick transitions threes. Daryl Morey, the GM for the Houston Rockets, was the first man in the NBA to use the ‘Moneyball’ approach in basketball. If you watch a Rockets game, you will observe that there are no midrange jump shots, but only dunks/layups and threes (i.e. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan wouldn’t be a system fit). In the era of offense in the NBA, the score of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship was 52-29 Amherst over Tufts. The top two scoring and three point percentage leaders from last season weren’t from Tufts or Amherst. If you want to beat Tufts or Amherst, you have to match their defensive mentality and efficiency. Bates, Colby, and all the other teams who were below .500 last year can put the ball in the basket. However, they couldn’t play the defense that those two outstanding teams could. I think all the teams that will post a record above .500 this year will be great defensive teams that value defense more than flashy offense.

The Future is Now: Bowdoin Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Bowdoin Polar Bears

2016-2017 Record: 12-11; 3-7 in NESCAC (failed to reach NESCAC playoffs)

2017-2018 Projected Record: 5-5 in NESCAC

Key Losses:

Neil Fuller ‘17 (4.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)

Fuller started every game for the Polar Bears last year, and was a consistent and experienced player. His leadership and poise will definitely be missed by a Polar Bears team that struggled with consistency last year. Luckily, Bowdoin returns most of their major contributors outside of Fuller.

Tim Ahn ‘19 (6.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 5.4 APG, 25 steals)

Ahn departs due to an academic semester abroad. Ahn led the Polar Bears in steals and assists last season, and was a quick and reliable ball handler. The Bears have some depth at guard, including three new first-year recruits.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 (N/A)

Zavier Rucker
Zavier Rucker ’21 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Not much information is available about Zavier Rucker, but all signs point to him being in the starting lineup on day 1. He’s a gritty, hard-working player capable of playing multiple positions, and he hails from the Taft School. Coaches and veterans have said that Rucker may not light up the stat sheet, but will take care of the ball and serve as an elite on-ball defender. This is an area in which the Polar Bears struggled, so the addition of Rucker will perhaps boost Bowdoin in much needed areas.

Guard Liam Farley ‘18

Liam Farley
Liam Farley ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

A 6’5” senior from the Windy City, Farley has been a staple of the Bowdoin Basketball team since his first year. He’s a proven shooter from the outside, and has also shown the ability to get to the hoop. Depending on their approach, the Polar Bears may want Farley to drive to the hoop, and draw defenders away from their other shooters. Whether or not he can do this remains to be seen.

Forward David Reynolds ‘20

David Reynolds
David Reynolds ’20 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Reynolds made a pretty big splash in his first season with the Polar Bears, despite injury. He averaged 10.3 points per game and 21.5 minutes per game. He had good chemistry with Simonds, and was a solid interior defender as well. He’ll see a big uptick in minutes this year, and since he’s returning from injury, that may be a storyline to take note of. More on Reynolds below.

Forward Jack Simonds ‘19

Jack Simonds
Jack Simonds ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Mr. Maine, and Mr. Reliable. An early (and accurate) candidate for NESCAC Player of the Year, Simonds has been a flat-out stud for the Polar Bears the past two years. He really does it all: shoots, drives to the hoop, defends well – he’s really a ‘jack’ of all trades (haha!). Though his average scoring dropped from 19 PPG in 2015-2016 to 16 PPG in 2016-2017, Simonds has shown no signs of slowing down. He will handle the ball consistently, and will be called upon to make things happen late in games. Simonds averaged the 6th most minutes per game in the NESCAC last season, so longevity may be a lingering issue for Simonds and the Polar Bears. If he can remain healthy and consistent (and I think he will), he will continue his trend of putting up big numbers for the Polar Bears. He is the real deal, and the team’s centerpiece.

Forward Hugh O’Neil ‘19

Hugh O'Neil
Hugh O’Neil ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

O’Neil saw a big increase in minutes last year, and he delivered solid interior defense and scoring. His 9.8 rebounds per game was good for second in the NESCAC. His transition into a starting role last year satisfied everyone’s hopes of O’Neil emerging into a beast on the boards. All signs indicate that trend continuing this season. At 6’7”, O’Neil may often be a bit smaller than his matchup, but that shouldn’t hurt his ability to use his quickness to score and grab rebounds down low.

Breakout Player: David Reynolds ‘20

Reynolds battled with injury last year, yet was able to produce in big ways when he was on the court. Sources tell me he’s healthier and stronger than ever now. He’ll most likely find himself in a starting role with a chance to showcase his scoring abilities early and often. If all goes right for Reynolds and the Polar Bears, he will complement Simonds’s scoring load and serve as another player opposing defenses need to worry about. His game resembles Simonds’ to some degree in its versatility. He shot nearly 40% from three last year on four attempts per game, but also uses his size to finish inside and from mid-range. Like I said before, his health was the question last year, and that was the only thing standing in the way of a really stellar freshman season. This year, Reynolds seems ready to shoulder a heavy workload, and with his athleticism and scoring ability, he should be a major contributor for the Polar Bears.

Season Outlook:

Bowdoin reeled a bit last year after losing Lucas Hausman, finishing tied for 9th in the NESCAC. In that season, though, Bowdoin coaches were forced to thrust players into unfamiliar roles and hope to get production. This year, on the other hand, Bowdoin will be returning most of its starters / key contributors, so there should be fewer instances of ‘growing pains.’ With a solid core consisting of Farley, Simonds, and O’Neil, this team should be in sync consistently and compete hard in every game they play.

Simonds has proven that he thrives in the spotlight and enjoys being ‘the guy’ for Bowdoin. His leadership and nasty scoring abilities must be on full display if Bowdoin is to make some noise in the league this year. Bowdoin will also need strong years from fellow captains Farley and O’Neil.

The Bowdoin bench will be captained by Blake Gordon ‘18, who can be deadly from three-point range. Beyond that, though, the Bowdoin bench has some question marks. Jack Bors ‘19 figures to be a regular presence off the bench, like in previous years, but could also figure into the starting lineup at the question-mark point guard spot. The Polar Bears have 5 new first year players, so odds are some of them will see decent time and be forced to contribute off the bench. Just who that will be remains to be seen. I mentioned Rucker as a likely first-year contributor, but he’ll need a solid supporting cast.

Bowdoin will need to take down perennial foes Amherst and Bates this year if they are to shake up the NESCAC leaderboards. They will need to get into a groove offensively and muster better on-ball defense if they want to compete with the teams at the top of the league.  If the Polar Bears can spread scoring evenly and have certain guys step up when called upon, this season could be a success. This team has a very solid core of junior and sophomore players, and a promising collection of first-years. After adding several more wins to their total this year, I think Bowdoin has a solid foundation to compete in the NESCAC for years to come.

A Mammoth Shakeup: 2017-2018 Amherst Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Amherst College Mammoths

2016-2017 Record: 17-8, 7-3, lost to Williams in first round of NESCAC Tournament, earned NCAA Berth (lost to Keene State)

2017-2018 Projected Record: 18-6, 5-5

Key Losses:

G Jayde Dawson (19.1 PPG, 2.6 AST/G, 1.2 STL/G)

F Eric Conklin (8.3 PPG, 59% FG, 4.7 REB/G)

F David George (6.2 PPG, 6.6 REB/G, 2.2 BLK/G)

Introduction:

It’s hard to even write the phrase “Amherst might be down this year,” but it could be true. In an offseason marked by the graduation of one of the best senior classes in recent league history, Jayde Dawson’s loss looms very large. Dawson, for better or worse, carried Amherst last year, finishing second in the league in scoring and closing out several games with clutch shots. Of course, he also shot them out of some close games, to the chagrin of Mammoth fans. But Amherst has the perimeter scoring to replace Dawson. Johnny McCarthy has long looked ready to be a number one option, and Michael Riopel may be the best outside shooter in the league. The losses that will hurt the Mammoths more are in the frontcourt. Eric Conklin was an excellent post scorer who gave Amherst the opportunity to play inside-out with him and Riopel, and George, for all his offensive liabilities, anchored a solid defense. In a league in which two of the three pre-season top teams (Middlebury and Williams) have supersized lineups, losing your two best big men isn’t a great recipe for success.  Add in solid point guard Reid Berman and stretch four Jacob Nabatoff, and Amherst is faced with replacing four starters and a sixth man. Coach David Hixon (who is closing in  has been known for his ability to reload quickly, and Amherst again has one of the best recruiting classes in the conference, but this year will be a challenge even for him.

Projected Starters:

G Vic Sinopoli ’19 (1.2 PPG, 4.8 MIN/G, 3:1 A/TO)

Vic Sinopoli
Vic Sinopoli ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

This spot is a huge question mark for Amherst. Last year, Reid Berman offered a steady hand at the position, but ball handling and creating duties were pretty much  handled by Dawson or McCarthy. As Amherst’s early exit in the playoffs showed, this is not a particularly sustainable method. Sinopoli played very few minutes as a sophomore last season, but runs the offense well and has the experience that Coach Hixon always prizes. However, first year Grant Robinson ’20 is chomping at the bit for this spot. Robinson offers a higher ceiling than Sinopoli. A speed demon with great court vision, he could take ball handling duties away from McCarthy and bring the Amherst offense to a more organic level than they reached last season. Their tournament this weekend will be a fascinating chance to see who impresses the most at the one.

G Michael Riopel ’18 (10.2 PPG, 47.4% 3FG, 0.8 STL/G)

Michael Riopel
Michael Riopel ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

There’s more on Riopel below in the Breakout Player section, but you can see from his stat line above what he brings to this team; shooting. Riopel is as consistent a shooter as there is in the league. But he is far from a one trick pony. At 6’5,” he can guard multiple positions, and rebounds very well (3.9 REB/G last season despite varying minutes.) Riopel is freed up this season, and a huge breakout is possible.

G/F Johnny McCarthy ’18 (14.2 PPG, 8.0 REB/G, 46% FG, 34% 3FG)

Johnny McCarthy
Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

For much of his career, people have discussed McCarthy like he was the victim of some horrible tragedy. “Poor McCarthy, he’ll never get the touches he deserves playing next to Jayde Dawson.” This was a dumb take. Never mind that the defensive attention Dawson drew made much of McCarthy’s drives to the rim far more open than they will be this year, but McCarthy still got twelve shots and six threes per game. But nevertheless, this year McCarthy gets his chance to be a solo act. He should be aided by a starting role and more minutes for Riopel (more on him later,) whose outside shooting should keep driving lanes open. But McCarthy hasn’t shown himself to be a great passer yet in his career. He only averaged two assists against 1.8 turnovers last year. If Amherst hopes to have a more ball movement-centric offense this season without Dawson’s one-on-one skills, that will have to start with McCarthy, their best player and, finally, their go-to-guy.

F Eric Sellew ’20 (2.5 PPG, 9.3 MIN/G)

Eric Sellew
Eric Sellew ’20 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Sellew is another player who didn’t get many minutes last season due to Amherst’s short rotation. But with George and Conklin gone, Sellow is set to have his moment in the sun. A prototypical stretch four, Sellow has been working this off-season at stretching his range behind the arc, a prerequisite for this spot in Amherst’s perimeter-based offense. As a regular contributor last season, Sellew has a clear first crack at this starting spot, but he is not without competition. Junior Dylan Groff ’19 has made tremendous strides during training camp, and Fru Che, a first year, has impressed as well. Sellew has to be an offensive threat for the Mammoths to have enough firepower to keep up with Williams, Tufts and Middlebury.

C Joseph Schneider ’19 (2.1 PPG, 4.6 MIN/G)

Joseph Schneider
Joseph Schneider ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Schneider is a fascinating player, and could be the key to Amherst making the jump from “fine” to “good” or even from “good” to “great.” At 6’10” and with a tremendous wingspan, Schneider is one of the biggest players in the league, and offers a nice centerpiece to what is a very long Amherst lineup. He got little to no playing time last year behind George, Conklin and Nabatoff, but projects as a key cog in the offense this season. He has good footwork and hands, and his size alone should make him something of a shot-blocking threat. Amherst has succeeded in the past with four perimeter players and a traditional center, so the lack of outside from shooting from him and backup CJ Bachman ’19 shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If Schneider can be a real threat the way Conklin was last year, Amherst could be in business.

Breakout Player: G Michael Riopel ’18 

As I mentioned above, Riopel is a deadeye shooter. But he won’t be able to rely the constant double teaming of McCarthy and Dawson this season. Of course, McCarthy will still demand a great deal of defensive attention, but teams will still make sure to leave a good defender on Riopel. If he is going to make a leap, it will have to be as a ball handler and driver. He showed signs of being able to that last season, shooting nearly 50% from two point land overall. But during league play, he made only one non-three pointer per game. He needs to at least develop a midrange pull-up game to contend with players running him off the three point line. And with his height, he has the potential to finish at the rim too. Amherst’s offense last season was often stagnant, with far too much one on one play. The loss of Dawson should improve that, but scoring will be a problem, and Riopel is crucial to solving it.

Michael Riopel ’18 will need to become more of an all around threat to make up for the loss of Dawson.

Everything Else:

I hesitate to use the term “rebuilding year” for the Mammoths. They still have McCarthy, one of the three or four most skilled players in the league, as well as Riopel. A better term might be “retooling.” Amherst is faced with the task of changing their entire style of play. Although much of the criticism of Jayde Dawson was alarmist, he did force the Mammoths to play a slower style of basketball than they would like. This season, the Mammoths look poised to play a ball movement-heavy, 3-and-D type of game that should at least be more fun to watch, and possibly more successful as well. Riopel and McCarthy are the key to this offense, but the retooling has occurred mostly in their supporting cast. Sellow and Groll are stretch fours whom Amherst will use mostly on the perimeter. And G Tommy Mobley ’20, after barely playing during his first year, will get serious minutes and three point looks.

This new, aggressive style should apply on defense as well. After relying largely on David George to make up for gambling on the perimeter, Amherst is now playing a switchier lineup, with a focus on the perimeter. Riopel and McCarthy have elite size and length for their position, as does Sinopoli. And of course, Schneider is one of the bigger players in the league. He will be a key. If he is a liability in the pick and roll, teams like Middlebury and Williams will be able to roast him with their skilled perimeter bigs. But if they play a smaller player, they will severely lack rim protection. There’s a chance that Amherst’s off-season losses hurt them on defense more than offense.

Amherst has retooled with Williams in mind, as every team in the league has had to do this off-season.

Amherst is one of the harder teams in the league to project. They lost an almost impossibly high percentage of their scoring and minutes in the off-season. For any other team, this would be a death sentence, and this preview would be about them looking towards 2018-2019. But this is Amherst we’re talking about. They always seem to find a way to be there at the end of the season. And, with a far more sustainable (and young) offense, Amherst is in a position to be there in the future as well.

 

Is This The Year?:2017 Hamilton Men’s Basketball Preview

2016-17 Record: 16-8 (4-6 NESCAC); lost to Tufts in NESCAC quarterfinals

2017-18 Projected Record: 17-7 (4-6 NESCAC)

Key Losses:

G Kyle Pitman ’17 (13.8 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.9 APG)

G/F Wes Wilbur ’17 (11.3 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.5 APG)

F Carlos Fineman ’17 (8.2 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.6 APG)

Projected Starters:

Jack Dwyer ’18 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G Jack Dwyer ’18 (26.0 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 5.4 APG)

Now in his fourth year at Hamilton, Dwyer has been a key contributor to the team since his freshman year. As one of two seniors in the starting lineup and as the point guard, Dwyer has the team’s biggest leadership role. However, he is up to the task as he has played floor general for the Continentals since his freshman season. He averaged 18 minutes a game off the bench as a freshman, with 3.8 points and 3.6 assists per game. The 5-10 point guard moved to a starting role in his sophomore season, improving to 11 points and 5.5 assists per game. Dwyer will have to improve on his 39.2 shooting percentage from last season, the second lowest on the team. He had a bit of a down year in stats as well last season, averaging 7.7 and 5.4, but should be ready to come back in full force this season. Dwyer is in the starting lineup for experience, but it should be noted that this spot will likely belong to Kena Gilmour ’20 sooner rather than later. Gilmour had a spectacular freshman season, averaging 12 points per game on 48% shooting in just 18 minutes. Dwyer provides an experienced counterpart to Gilmour’s potential, but potential will most likely win out.

Andrew Groll ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

F Andrew Groll ’19 (22.3 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.8 APG)

Groll got to Hamilton two years ago and started right away, averaging 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his freshman season. He picked up right where he left off the next year, averaging 8.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. At 6-7, Groll is the tallest player on Hamilton’s roster and could be due for a breakout junior season. If he can get into double digits, the Continentals could make a run for the top half of the NESCAC. There are several facets of his game that could easily get him over that mark. He shoots 44.8 percent which is low for a big man and will need to get that number up to 50 percent. He also has made a surprising 7 of 15 shots from behind the arc, which means he could have the potential to expand his game and shoot more three-pointers. Finally, Groll only shot 75 percent from the line and could also improve in that category. If Groll can make slight improvements in those three parts of his game, he could see some double-doubles this season.

Peter Hoffman ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G/F Peter Hoffmann ’19 (28.3 MPG, 16.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.2 APG)

Hoffman also started right away for the buff and blue, and averaged 12.7 points and 4.3 rebounds his freshman season. He saw a nice uptick in production last year, averaging 16.7 points, fifth in the NESCAC, and 5.6 rebounds per game. He also made an impressive 42.2 percent of shots from behind the 3-point arc. It’s hard to ask more from the NESCAC’s fifth scorer, but as Hamilton’s best player Hoffman might need to increase his production for the Continentals to improve this season. He will likely see another increase in minutes and if he can increase his point total by even one basket a game, it could make the difference.

Michael Grassey ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G/F Michael Grassey ’19 (23.6 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.4 APG)

Hailing from Winchester, Massachusetts, Grassey had a solid freshman season, averaging 9.4 points and 5 rebounds in 20 appearances off the bench. He earned a starting spot in his sophomore season, increasing his production to 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. His 82.1 percent career average from the free throw line leads the team. Grassey led the team in scoring several times last season, and it will be important for him to take next steps to help lighten Hoffman’s load. He also will need to continue to contribute on the boards despite his 6-4 stature. Grassey is an all around tough player and is in many ways the heart and soul of the 2017-18 Continentals.

Joe Pucci ’18 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G/F Joe Pucci ’18 (24.1 MPG, 6.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)

The other senior on the team, Pucci, may not contribute as much on the stat sheet but is a leader both in the clubhouse and on the court. He averaged 6 points last season, a solid improvement from 5.3 points in his sophomore year. If he can find double figures a few times this season, it will certainly help the Continentals take more teams to the wire than last season. Again, part of Hamilton’s success relies on lightening the dependence on Hoffman. If Pucci can step up with more points, the Continentals will be rolling deep into the NESCAC playoffs.

Key/Breakout Player: Peter Hoffmann ’19

Hamilton has a deep starting lineup, but the offense runs through Hoffman and will depend on his production this season. The team was 8-2 when he scored 20 points or more, so if he can increase his production by the slightest amount, Hamilton should contend for the top half of the NESCAC. As stated before, the junior from Putnam Valley is likely to see even more time on the court. This is because his responsibilites for Hamilton are on both sides. He is their best scorer, using his size and touch to either post up smaller players or take forwards off the dribble. And defensively, he is their best rim protector, averaging nearly 2 blocks and two steals per game (1.9 and 1.7. respectively.) He will get the defensive assignment against many of the best scorers in the league, and will likely be asked to score 20 points as well. If he does this and Hamilton takes a leap forward in the tournament, Player of the Year is very much in the realm of possibility.

Key game: Friday, February 2nd at Bates

Hamilton has two Friday-Saturday road trips back to back in late January and early February. They will want to go 2-2 in that stretch, and three or even four losses could derail their season. Hamilton plays an unbalanced home and road schedule in the NESCAC, in fact, with six games on the road compared to just four at home. Last season, Bates’s 83-78 win ended a six-game Hamilton win streak. Although they recovered two games later with wins over SUNY Polytechnic and Williams, they certainly wish they could have that one back.

New Coach: Sherry Dobbs

Adam Stockwell added Sherry Dobbs to his staff this offseason, replacing Bryan Mathews who took an assistant job at Southern Virginia. Dobbs most recently coached as an assistant on the St. Lawrence staff, leading them to a 20-7 record and an NCAA Division III tournament appearance. Before that he spent 13 years at the head position for SUNY Potsdam where he got as far as the NCAA quarterfinals in 2005.

Season Outlook:

After a solid improvement from 2015-16’s 11-13 record, Hamilton finished 2016-17 at eighth place in the NESCAC. With only three seniors on the roster, the Continentals are still a young team and have a lot of promise for the future. However, the junior class of Hoffman, Grassey and Groll means they also have the ability to win now and could pose a serious threat to some of the NESCAC’s top half teams. It has been a theme of the last few seasons in the NESCAC that Hamilton is a threat. Last season it seemed imminent that the Continentals would use their immense potential to come for the top teams. This paranoia reached its peak following their upset of nationally ranked Wesleyan. However, they weren’t able to sustain that momentum, in large part due to that same youth. Four of their six NESCAC losses last season were decided by double digits, suggesting that, once they fell behind, they didn’t feel ready to come back.

Kena Gilmour
Kena Gilmour ’20 was Rookie of the Year last season, and could make a further leap this year.

On paper, this season has a chance to be different. Hamilton is kind of the Milwaukee Bucks of the NESCAC, in that they shy away traditional positions in favor of length and versatility. Hoffman, Grassey and Gilmour are all long, athletic players who can guard multiple positions and score from all over the court. As I said above, Hoffmann is the key to this team, but Gilmour may be the co-key. Gilmour has the potential to be a transcendent creator off the dribble, which Hamilton lacks right now. His relentless driving to the basket will open up lanes for Hoffmann, Grassey and Groll to either cut or pop out for three. If Gilmour makes another leap as a sophomore, Hamilton could finish in the top four. Not a typo, it’s very possible. But to do this, they must find a way to stay in games and not let teams pull away. Their previously mentioned unbalanced schedule will make for a tough season, but they might have the most returning talent in the league, and didn’t lose their best player (unlike Williams, Middlebury or Trinity.) This could be Hamilton’s year, but again, we said that last year.