The Ancient Battle: Williams at Amherst Quarterfinals Preview

#6 Williams (17-7, 5-5) at #3 Amherst (17-6, 7-3), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Amherst, Massachusetts

Overview:

It is so, so, so fitting that the Amherst-Williams rivalry gets to play out in the first round of the NESCAC tournament this weekend. As a little kid, I grew up attending Amherst basketball games. I idolized the likes of Andrew Olson ‘08 and Dan Wheeler ‘07 while I demonized the dreaded Williams squad and their silly cow mascot. I think I still have a shirt at home (far too small at this point) that reads “Eph, it’s what’s for dinner” with a picture of an Eph on the end of a fork. Yes, I grew up hating Williams, but since I arrived at Tufts I’ve lacked that ‘rival’ feeling for the Ephs and have flipped the script on my feelings for Amherst. That being said, real recognize real – Amherst is very, very good, especially when it comes time for the NESCAC basketball tournament. Given recent history and this season as a whole, this is a TOUGH match-up for Williams. Then again, Williams has had quite a bit of success in the NESCAC tournament as well, and the NESCAC trophy is no stranger to Williamstown.

Dating back to 2001, Amherst has won the most NESCAC championships: seven. Second place? Williams, who has four. However, Williams’ success comes earlier in the 21st century – the Ephs actually haven’t won the conference championship since 2010, and the last two times they were in the finals (2013, 2014), they lost to none other than Amherst. Over the past 16 years, in fact, Amherst has only failed to move past the semifinals three times. This means that if Amherst makes the finals, they are more likely to win the title game than to lose it. If Williams wants to reverse the direction of the rivalry, today is a good place to start.

Amherst X-Factor: Guard Michael Riopel ‘18

Michael Riopel ’18
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

If there was a 6th Man of the Year award, I would vote for Riopel 11 times out of 10. At 6’5”, his ability to come off the bench and either shoot the trey ball or get to the rack puts a lot of pressure on smaller and bigger guards alike that draw the short straw and have to match up with him. The junior has been fine against Williams this year, but I’m still waiting for him to light it up. He will likely be faced with a combination of Aronowitz, Teal, and Chris Galvin ‘18, all of whom he can take advantage of in different ways. After his two great performances against Williams, I would suspect that the Ephs will be in a crazy help defense to neutralize Dawson’s drives to the hoop. If this is the case, look for Rio to drain a few from downtown.

Williams X-Factor: Guard Cole Teal ‘18

Cole Teal ’18
(Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams needs a strong performance from Teal today, end of story. I don’t know if it was due to injury or something, but the nine minutes that Teal played in game two of the season series left the Williams offense in quite the rut. The way that the Ephs jack up threes, they can’t afford to be without their purest shooter, and Teal needs to show up. If he can get one or two to drop early, Amherst will have a much harder time staying in front of Casey and Aronowitz. It will also give sophomore Kyle Scadlock more room to work down in the post on Amherst’s Jacob Nabatoff ‘17. Defensively, however, Teal needs to be just as much of a workhorse. The Ephs cannot withstand strong performances from all three of Amherst’s top scorers – Dawson, McCarthy and Riopel – so Teal is going to need to play lockdown D on one of the latter two. Even if McCarthy or Riopel gets their points, as long as Teal makes it tough for them, he’s doing his job. Amherst isn’t the most selective team offensively, so if Teal can even make it a tad more difficult for them, Williams has a shot to pull of the upset. That being said, he can’t just play one side of the court – Teal needs to show up on both offense and defense if the Ephs are to have a chance.

Recent History:

Both of the Amherst-Williams matchups this year have ended in eight-point victories for Amherst. The first, a non-conference tilt played in Williamstown, was a tale of two very different teams. Amherst spread the floor and spread their scoring, taking the pressure off of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 for a change (though the two still scored 19 and 15 respectively). Coach Hixon only sent eight different players out on the floor for Amherst, but it was enough, and after a run to begin the second half, Amherst was able to maintain their lead and hold off the admirable efforts out of Cole Teal ‘18 and Dan Aronowitz ‘17. The two studs from Williams went off, netting 26 and 21 respectively, but unfortunately the rest of their team left their offense in the locker room. The Williams bigs struggled, resulting in a 80-72 loss for the Ephs.

In round two of this historic rivalry, the Purple and White hosted the Ephs in Amherst, this time ending in a 72-64 Amherst W. While Aronowitz again stepped up to the challenge, Teal barely saw the floor, and the Ephs just didn’t have enough firepower to match the Amherst attack. Bobby Casey ‘19 had an inefficient 11 points, and freshman Matt Karpowicz (who I am saying will undoubtedly be an All-NESCAC performer is junior year, if not next year), had a solid game with 12 points of his own. Unfortunately for Williams, that was it offensively, and Amherst walked away with a 2-0 lead in the season series after another strong performance from Dawson.

Final Thoughts:

This is a big mismatch at first glance, but these two teams are actually fairly similar. They both place a great deal of their offense in the hands of two terrific perimeter players (McCarthy and Dawson for Amherst and Aronowitz and Teal for WIlliams.) And they both lack consistent scoring inside, as their frontcourt rotations are filled with young players who haven’t stepped up to this point.

Williams offense will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to pull off the upset.

Williams matches up fairly well with Amherst defensively. Teal and Aronowitz are both long, rangy defenders who can give problems to Dawson and McCarthy. However, what I think will doom Williams in this game is a lack of depth. Aronowitz and Teal have proven themselves capable of playing great games on both sides of the ball against Amherst, but it they’re busy chasing around Dawson and McCarthy all day, who else is going to score for the Ephs? Amherst is also too reliant on their two best players, but Riopel and Eric Conklin ’17 are ready to take some pressure off. Williams will need to have another game like they did against Middlebury, in which every player is cooking from three. It’s happened before, but I don’t see it happening again.

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

Can Hamilton Topple Tufts?: Hamilton at Tufts Quarterfinals Preview

#8 Hamilton (16-8, 4-6) at #1 Tufts (19-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

(Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

When Tufts clinched the top seed in the NESCAC tournament last Friday they had plenty of reason for celebration – this is the first time in school history that Tufts has earned the number one seed in the NESCAC tournament. Despite the terrific achievement, however, the Jumbos still waited until Sunday afternoon before they learned who they would be hosting in the NESCAC quarterfinals. I’m sure Coach Sheldon was watching Williams intently in their game against Bates to see if they had made any adjustments since Tufts bullied them on Friday, and indeed they did. The Ephs pulled out a three point victory in Lewiston, boosting their place in the standings and leaving Hamilton to walk into the hornet’s nest that is Cousens Gymnasium. As a Tufts student myself, I can admit that attendance at sporting events in Medford is pretty inconsistent. After last year’s playoff runs by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams though, I would expect that a doubleheader split between the two teams would provoke quite a turnout today. We will see I guess. It took a few straight years of success for Warriors fans to jump on the bandwagon, but maybe Jumbo Nation will support their squad more faithfully than the frontrunning fans of Golden State. If so, lookout Hamilton.

While Tufts is stepping into the playoffs coming off of one of their best games of the season, the Continentals enter this game in the opposite fashion of Tufts. Hamilton got swept by Amherst and Trinity in the last weekend of NESCAC play to cap off a pretty poor stretch in which the team lost four of their five conference games during the second half of the NESCAC season. Coach Stockwell can’t be thrilled by the way his team limped into the playoffs, but guess what, this is NESCAC basketball and ANYTHING can happen. Just two years ago, Wesleyan ran through the tournament as the #6 seed to earn the NESCAC title and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it. Regardless of how they got in, Hamilton is in the tourney, and they have the tools to make a sneaky run if they execute properly.

 

Last time they met

Throughout the first half, the game was pretty back and forth, but with a couple minutes to go until the break, Hamilton lost their focus. Down just five with 2:22 left before the halftime whistle, the Continentals turned the ball over three times, allowing Tufts to go on an 8-2 run to extend the lead to 11 heading into the second half. Though Tarik Smith ‘17, Eric Savage ‘20 and Ben Engvall ‘18 had very respectable games, it was KJ Garrett ‘18 who stole the show for the ‘Bos – the transfer junior put up 19 points on 8-11 shooting to lead the Jumbos to victory. Peter Hoffmann ‘19 put forth a valiant effort on the Hamilton side of the ball with 22 points of his own, but many of his teammates struggled to find the bottom of the net, nullifying the sophomore’s success scoring the rock. While he didn’t have a great game, Tom Palleschi ‘17 was in the lineup for the Jumbos back in January when these two first met, so Andrew Groll ‘19 definitely had a different matchup to deal with than he will have today. Groll was part of a small supporting cast for Hoffmann in meeting numero uno, so it will be up to Drew Madsen ‘17 to shut him down this afternoon.

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard KJ Garrett ‘18

KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

In Palleschi’s absence, Garrett has stepped up in a big way for Tufts. Some might even say he’s stepped up in a Jumbo way. Just kidding, that would be the corniest pun ever, nobody would ever say that. But the point remains, Garrett’s play has elevated as Palleschi’s absence has necessitated, and Coach Sheldon is going to need a strong effort out of the junior again against Hamilton. Just last week, Garrett averaged 18 points over two games, knocking down 13-15 field goals and 7-7 three-point attempts! That’s incredible efficiency. What makes Garrett so tough is that he is leaps and bounds beyond virtually every opponent in terms of athleticism, so he is able to get out in transition and also crash the boards. Meanwhile, he has snuck up as a pretty deadly three-point shooter. His strategy of playing the snake in the grass on a team full of shooters seems to be working out for him. Garrett is getting good shots and nailing them. If he plays well, the Jumbos win, end of story.

 

Hamilton X-Factor: Guard/Forward Michael Grassey ‘19

Michael Grassey ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Last time he faced the ‘Bos, Grassey struggled. He shot just 2-7 for six points before fouling out, a performance that is far from the norm for the combo guard. As mentioned above, Hoffmann lacked the necessary reinforcements to outduel the Jumbos in January, but if Grassey can get back to standard partner-in-crime form, these two sophomores just might be able to topple top-seeded Tufts. Grassey is by far the best outside shooter on Hamilton’s roster and frankly put, he is going to need to drill some of the open shots opportunities he gets from Hoffman and Kena Gilmour ‘20 off of drive-and-kicks. Additionally, Grassey could do the Continentals a huge favor by demonstrating the ability to get to the rack early in the game. Without Palleschi, and potentially Pat Racy ‘20, who didn’t play last weekend for Tufts, Madsen is the lone big man left on the top seed’s roster. This predicament makes foul trouble a grave concern, and one that Madsen needs to be ultra weary of. If Grassey can get to the paint once or twice early, the Jumbos will sag and he will get open shots from the perimeter. The sophomore’s performance is crucial for Hamilton in this one.

 

Everything Else

While the two X-factors I’ve listed above are going to have crucial impacts (either positive or negative) on this game, both teams are going to need a full team effort to pull off the W. Hamilton is not as a deep a team as Tufts, so their stars – Hoffman, Grassey, Groll and Gilmour – need to perform, while their role players – Doyle, Dwyer, Pucci – need to excel as well. Although Tufts is used to not having Palleschi at this point, the way they have powered through his injury is by playing as a team, not by playing as a handful of individuals. Tufts’ best games have come when they have had four or five players score in double-digits. Today is no different, the Jumbos need a team effort. X-factor Garrett has the luxury of being able to lean on a deeper cast than X-factor Grassey does. Vinny Pace ‘18, Tarik Smith ‘17, Ben Engvall ‘18, Everett Dayton ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20… all these guys know how to score, and all of them have pulled the sled at different points this year. It’s just a matter of who is going to rise to the occasion at tipoff today.

With all the scorers this game has to offer, I don’t quite anticipate this being a low-scoring affair. If the Jumbos get hot from three like they did against Williams last week, they could run away with it. If the Continentals can force Tufts into contested shots however, they’ll be able to get out on the break just like they want to. The winner of this game is going to be the team that can hinder the other team’s offensive strategy. Because both teams want to get out in transition, offense will start on defense in this game, and an extra-high emphasis should be placed on rebounding the basketball. Both teams feature guards that are strong on the glass, so it will be a matter of grit to see who wins the battle on the boards. While this should definitely be a good game, on that is much closer than the seeding implies, I don’t see Tufts losing this one, especially not on their home court. Tufts is too deep and Hamilton just isn’t. The Continentals are trending upward, but I don’t think this is their year.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Who’s Ready For Playoff Hoops: Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals

Meredith Doswell ’17 and company look to repeat as NESCAC Tournament Champions in 2017 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).

Wow, what a final weekend of basketball! Tons of movement in the lower half of the bracket really shook up the first round matchups and left us primed for an exciting first round of the NESCAC playoffs. My apologies to the the teams from Wesleyan, Hamilton, and Trinity. You all had really fun seasons and all look ready to make major moves in the conference next year. Unfortunately, the clock has run out on this season for these three teams, and with them missing the playoffs, we’re down to our final eight. Eight very good teams stand before me, but only one can be America’s next top model! No, that’s not right… only one can be the NESCAC champion! Yeah, that’s it. Below you’ll find my prediction for all four games this weekend as well as a brief description of what that could mean for the semi-finals and finals in two weeks. Here we go!

1. Amherst (24-0, 10-0) vs. 8. Bates (8-15, 3-7)

I had faith in the Bobcats to sneak out a win against the rapidly falling Ephs from Williams last weekend, but Bates was walloped and dropped all the way from a potential 6 seed, to the 8 seed. And for their failure they are punished! Bates is coming up against a team that has to be considered the best in the country at this point in Amherst. The Purple have been on a tear all year, easily dispatching every opponent they’ve come across to the tune of a 24-0 record. The two sides met just a couple weeks ago in Lewiston and Amherst cruised to victory, winning 75-37. Bates’ workhorse, Allie Coppola ’17, certainly did her part in that game scoring 10 points, but she can’t singlehandedly carry the Bobcats to victory against a team as good as Amherst. She’s going to need help, particularly from the bench and from her usual partner in crime, leading scorer Nina Davenport ’18. Those two will have to play out of their minds just to keep this game close. I just don’t see it happening though. Look for Amherst to dominate this one on both ends of the floor and win.

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

2. Tufts (23-1, 9-1) vs. 7. Williams (15-9, 4-6)

Jennie Mucciarone ’18 has been a spark plug off the bench for the Jumbos all season (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Williams beat Bates last Sunday to secure their place in the NESCAC tournament, but their weekend was all good. On Friday the Ephs were blasted 61-27 on their home court by the same Jumbos that they’ll have to play Friday. The Ephs are a talented team, but they’ve struggled this year against superior competition, losing to every single team currently ranked higher than them in the NESCAC tournament. Tufts, meanwhile, has been either the best, or second best, team in the country for the whole year. If your only loss on the season is a 1 point nail biter to the number 1 team in the nation, then you have to consider that season a rousing success. The key to Tufts’ dominance has been their defense. They surrender a stingy 42.2 points per game to their opponents, and only allow them to shoot 31.4 percent from the field. A Williams team that is decidedly average on the offensive side of the ball and has struggled all year against teams as talented as Tufts, probably won’t see much success in this game. Tufts should cruise to victory and set their sights on returning to the NESCAC semi-finals and finals. Of course, I said Williams wouldn’t even make this tournament so what do I know?

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

3. Bowdoin (20-3, 8-2) vs. 6. Conn College (16-8, 4-6)

Marle Curle ’17 and the Polar Bears are ready for playoff action to start tomorrow (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics).

A disappointing final weekend that saw them finish 0-2 dropped Conn from the five seed down to six. If they had managed to beat Colby on Friday they would be heading to Middlebury to visit me and the rest of the Panthers this Saturday instead of slogging to Maine to play the Polar Bears. I mention this because the Polar Bears have been nigh on unbeatable at home. Bowdoin is 7-1 at home with their only loss coming to Amherst. Their only other loss in NESCAC play was a tough 3 point defeat at the hands of Tufts. Everyone else has folded before Bowdoin, who defeated Conn just last week, in Brunswick 68-49. Conn was surely missing the presence of Payton Ouimette ’19, who has been out since late January. If the Camels are to have any hope of beating the Polar Bears then Mairead Hynes ’18 and Liz Malman ’17 will need to step up. Look for Bowdoin to continue their offensive dominance though. They’ve scored the most points per game in the NESCAC for the year with 74.9, and shoot the best from deep, bombing away at a 37. 6 percent clip. This will be a tough matchup for Conn who surrenders the third most points per game in the league. Sorry for not being exciting, but I can’t see the underdogs from New London pulling this one out. Bowdoin wins and begins preparations for the semi-finals by halftime of this game.

Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin

4. Middlebury (17-7, 6-4) vs. 5. Colby (12-11, 4-6)

Alex Huffman ’19 will lead the Panthers in their matchup against the Colby Mules this weekend (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Call me biased, or a homer, or Liam, or whatever you want, but this has got to be the game of the week. Not only is this super exciting for me, since both the men’s and women’s teams are hosting quarterfinal games for the first time in my years here at Midd, but it also should be exciting for anybody who is a fan of basketball. These two teams provided us with a great game earlier this year, that eventually went into overtime before Middlebury caught fire and won 64-49. Its strange to see a game become so lopsided in overtime but don’t let that fool you, this was a hard fought game all the way through. Middlebury led by 10 at the half, but Colby dominated the second frame of the game and won the fourth quarter 17-9 to even force the overtime. Middlebury caught fire from three in this game as well, shooting 6-15 on the night. The real place where Middlebury has an advantage, and this was displayed in the overtime, is their depth. Middlebury is comfortable bringing five, and sometime even six, different players off their bench. A total of seven different Panthers have managed to crack the starting lineup this year. Colby, on the other hand, relies heavily on their top seven players to get the job done and goes deeper into their bench only sparingly. If this game is another close contest, look for Middlebury’s depth to shine and help them put away the game. Conversely, if Colby can get a good performance from Haley Driscoll ’18 then they have a real puncher’s chance in the game. Additionally, the Mules should focus on shutting down the electric Sarah Kaufman ’18 in this game. In losses Kaufman is only scoring 5.2 points per game, while in wins she is amassing 15.4 ppg. When Kaufman is on, the Panthers go, when she’s off, they falter. I see Middlebury winning another tight contest and advancing to the semi-finals, but the Mules will be no pushover thats for sure.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

 

Sorry, I’ve been boring. I’ve picked the top four seeds all to advance and nary an upset in sight. Of course, while upsets are fun, I’m not going to go against logic here. None of the top 3 teams in the conference have lost to anybody but each other, and all three have gotten into the habit of blowing out their conference competition. Meanwhile Middlebury, only has one loss to a non-top three team, a fluky loss to Hamilton that Sarah Kaufman did not play in. The conference this year has been harshly divided into tiers. The upper tier has absolutely dominated the lower tier, and looks poised to continue that domination into the tournament. If my predictions are all correct, then the semi-finals will take place in Amherst next weekend. Amherst will play Middlebury and Tufts will play Bowdoin, and from there I’d say we’re poised for a rematch of last year’s final between Amherst and Tufts. Of course, several things in this first round could change that. A determined Conn College team might shock the Polar Bears and open the door for Middlebury or someone else to take on Tufts in the semi-finals. The Mules of Colby might kick the Panthers early and revisit the semifinals much like last year. Bates might put the fear of god into Amherst and rattle their confidence. Who knows!? We’ll just have to tune in this weekend to find out!

The Battle for Connecticut: NESCAC Quarterfinal, #5 Trinity at #4 Wesleyan

#5 Trinity (15-9, 6-4) at #4 Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4), Saturday, 3:00 PM, Middletown, Connecticut

(Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Taking a glance at season-long statistics, when Trinity heads to Middletown this Saturday to play Wesleyan, they’ll be facing an equal opponent. Wesleyan has allowed just over 66 points per game this winter. Trinity’s competition has put up an average of 65.5. While Wesleyan is averaging just over 76 points a game, which is four more than the Bantams, both teams are shooting 40% from the field, and from deep, both Wesleyan and Trinity are shooting 35% and 35.2% respectively. Where the disparity between the two lies – so that I can have a take on the game, rather than just throwing evidence in front of you that says the game will be a tie – is in the final stretch of the regular season.

After a last-second OT win at Amherst, Wesleyan coasted through Bowdoin and Colby – as expected, I should add – with 93-73 and 83-67 wins at home. In both those games, 4 of Wesleyan’s five starters scored in double figures. Wesleyan, who it seems can depend on consistent output from senior and member of the 1,000 point club Harry Rafferty, as well as from fellow senior Joseph Kuo, who is on the brink of membership, as he currently sits with 978 career points. This streak of balanced perimeter scoring bodes well for the Cardinals, especially against a Trinity defense that allowed Bates to shoot 46.7% from the field, and Middlebury to shoot 57% from the field and 52% from deep. The Cardinals’ chances look good if they can get balanced offensive production, especially because they can rely on strong perimeter defense.

The Cardinals are going to need a big game out of Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Lianne Yun/Wesleyan Athletics).

The Cardinals held a perimeter-scoring heavy Amherst to shooting just 32% from deep, while Bowdoin shot 34%, and Colby, despite an absolute lights out first half, were cooled down by the Cardinals to shoot just over 35% from beyond the arc. Yet the thing that makes this matchup so interesting is that Trinity knows that they can’t beat Wesleyan by jacking up threes, and they wouldn’t have tried to anyways. Wesleyan’s biggest weakness is rebounding, and they’ll need solid performances on the glass from more than just Kuo and Jordan Sears, who pulled down 11 against Bowdoin, if they hope to match Trinity’s far-from-secret weapon. If the Bantams are to win this game, it will be on the shoulders of senior Ed Ogundeko.

That sounds like an aggressive take, but it’s certainly not a hot one. The senior forward has led Trinity in either points, rebounds, or both in every one of the Bantam’s wins since mid-December. He pulled down 23 boards against Williams. He had 20 points and 20 boards in a win over Bowdoin. But in Trinity’s 97-80 loss in Middlebury this past weekend, Ogundeko was only good for 14 points and 9 boards. This is still a solid line, but it shows that Trinity’s success is contingent on his individual domination, especially on the glass. When Wesleyan and Trinity squared off earlier in the season, the senior POY candidate had only 8 rebounds, and the Cardinals won the game 65-61.

Look for sophomore Jeremy Arthur to step up in this battle for Connecticut (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

Saturday’s game will be won or lost on the glass. Wesleyan will look to defend well, and they certainly hope for the balanced production they’ve been getting from their starters over the course of their current three game win streak. The question is Ogundeko. If he isn’t attacking under the rim, or the likes of Jeremy Arthur and Chris Turnbull aren’t pulling the ball down, then perhaps Wesleyan won’t need anyone to step up and grab 10 boards. But if Trinity can command the paint while the ball stays down low, Wesleyan will need some serious hustle for their perimeter D to have the impact it does against less-aggressive opponents. Wesleyan’s perimeter play against Trinity’s strength in the paint should combine for one heck of a first round matchup.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan   

We’re Talking About Playoffs?!: Bates at Middlebury Preview

#7 Bates (15-9, 4-6) @ #2 Middlebury (21-3, 8-2), 2:00 PM, Middlebury, Vermont

(Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Overview:

Going into last Sunday’s Williams-Bates game, Middlebury had a chance to play Bates, Williams or possibly Hamilton depending on the outcome. Bates drew the short straw, dropping the game 65-62 and now has to play maybe the hottest team in the country. And what’s worse, the Panthers will be at home with all the students back. In order to have a chance in this game, Bates will need to slow Middlebury down, get terrific performances from both Delpeches and their perimeter players, and also catch Middlebury on an off-shooting night (something they haven’t truly had since they lost to Williams.) It’s a tall order, but stranger things have happened.

Middlebury X-Factor: Bryan Jones ‘18

Bryan Jones ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Jones has been one of the biggest surprises of league play, averaging nearly 10 points per game. His 53% shooting from three leads the league during NESCAC play. He has given the Panthers backcourt, already extremely lethal, another weapon. His deadeye shooting has made it impossible for teams to load up on Matt St. Amour ‘17 on the perimeter, opening up driving lanes for him and also Jack Daly ‘18 and Jake Brown ‘17. It is due in large part to Jones being a threat that all the Middlebury guards’ stats have jumped up in league play.

However, Jones struggled on Tuesday against Plattsburgh State. Starting in place of Jake Brown, Jones shot 2-11 from the field and 0-5 from three. It was a surprising return to the inconsistency that has dogged Jones throughout his career, and inconvenient timing for its reappearance at that. If Brown misses more time, Middlebury can’t afford to give stronger defensive teams than Plattsburgh the ability to trap St. Amour on the perimeter, taking away his three point shots and much-improved mid-range game. While Jack Daly ‘18 is more than capable of handling point guard responsibilities in Brown’s absence (by “more than capable,” I mean “flirts with a triple-double”) he is not quite a three point threat. Jones doesn’t have to be white hot, but he needs to give Bates a reason to guard him or else the Panthers could be in for a long night.

Bates X-Factor: Jeff Spellman ‘20

Jeff Spellman ’20 chases down a loose ball (Courtesy of Bates Athletics).

Spellman, a transfer who arrived shortly before league play began, is a similar player to Jones but has recently been trending in a different direction. He sits third in the league overall in three point percentage at 41.7%, but has only shot 30.8% in league play. Against Williams he shot just 4-11 from the field and 1-7 from three. He did add 7 assists, but without his jumpshot Bates has very little offense outside of post-ups from the Delpeches. Pounding the ball into the post is an effective way to slow down the game, which is certainly the impulse when game-planning against Middlebury. But if Bates doesn’t have any outside shooting threats around their Twin Peaks (reboot 2017 let’s goooooo), the Panthers will do just what they did to Ed Ogundeko – swarm them whenever they get the ball, creating turnovers and forced, empty possessions. Spellman will be the key in taking away this part of Middlebury’s defensive gameplan.

How Bates Can Win:

They need to find someway to keep the score low. Middlebury is averaging 99 points per game in league play at home, and put up 97 against Trinity even without Brown. The natural way to do this would be to pound the ball on offense, taking time off the shot clock and preventing Middlebury’s offense from getting the ball. They have the ability to do this thanks to the Delpeches. Having two big men who are threats to score on the block prevents Middlebury from doubling big-to-big, and should create open threes or one-on-one post-ups. Bates will have to be raining fire from outside to make this strategy work, or else Middlebury’s offense is certainly fast enough to make up for lost time.

On defense, Bates will have to take away the three point shot. By jumping Matt St. Amour on the perimeter, they will take away his three-pointer and funnel him towards the Delpeches, who are both dangerous shot blockers. With Jack Daly, they will most likely leave him alone from three. However, it will be imperative to guard him one-on-one. St Amour will of course require double teams, but leaving a man open when Daly has the ball is asking for a bucket. He’s too good a passer, and Middlebury’s big men are getting too good at finishing at the rim to be left alone. Daly beating men off the dribble also creates open three-point shots. If Bates can take away those threes and funnel drives towards the Delpeches (particularly Malcolm), that leaves Middlebury pull-up, midrange jump-shots. These are inefficient shots, and will allow the Delpeches to own the boards. Bates is certainly an underdog here, but there’s a thin path to victory for them.

How Middlebury Can Win

I’m having trouble finding an answer for this other than “continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing.” Middlebury’s offense has reached a level lately that few NESCAC teams have ever achieved, but their defense on the interior has finally caught up. Middlebury is always going to give up points because of their fast paced offense (quick shots=long rebounds, fast breaks for the other team) but they have quietly gotten very good in the half court. The guards have of course always been excellent, but the big men have improved leaps and bounds, especially Eric McCord ‘19. McCord has become very quick on rotations and hedging the pick and roll, and provides a nice fundamental counterpart to Nick Tarantino’s athleticism. Interior defense will be the key to Middlebury’s strategy in this game, as the Delpeches are the key to Bates’ offense. I expect Middlebury to double heavily on either Delpeche from the perimeter on defense, and dare Bates’ guards to make threes. On offense, all the Panthers need to do is more of the same. Run, hit shots and move the ball around the perimeter until a lane opens up.

Final Thoughts

Although Bryan Jones and Jeff Spellman are undoubtedly the lead guards off the bench for their respective teams, the other members of the bench mobs deserve credit. Crowd favorite (and NbN writer, no big deal) Liam Naughton has clawed his way into the rotation as a steadying senior presence on the court, as well as a three point threat. He will be important in the tournament, as the other two guards off the bench are freshmen Joey Leighton and Perry Delorenzo, neither of whom are quite ready for tournament time. On Bates’ side, the most obvious next threat is Jerome Darling ’17, who has demonstrated his explosiveness scoring the rock a handful of times this season. His biggest performance of the year came in the upset of Tufts, in which Darling 4-9 three-pointers en route to 21 points. Bates could definitely use another superhero performance from Darling this weekend. Elsewhere, the Bobcats will look to Quinlan Leary ‘17 ( a summer camp teammate of yours truly), who has recently moved into the starting lineup to replace Nick Gilpin ‘20, giving Bates more experience and strength on the perimeter. In addition to the need for threes from Spellman, Bates will need Leary, Gilpin, or other guards like Shawn Strickland ‘18 or Justin Zukowski ‘18 to give them surprise firepower off the bench. Basically, everything needs to go right for Bates to have a chance, while Middlebury just needs to keep playing their game.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

Love (and Playoffs) are in the Air: Stock Report 2/14

And then there were eight. The NESCAC field is narrowed down to the quarterfinals of the conference as three squads have fallen into the abyss of the offseason. For some, their college careers are over, for others, ultimate glory awaits. While I like to think NBN is pretty democratic in our reporting, I’m not going to spend much time on Colby, Bowdoin, or Conn College as it’s safe to say that their stocks are all down with their failure to make the conference tournament.

I’ll focus on the stocks of the collective other eight teams, ordered by their first round playoff match-ups this weekend in the highly anticipated start to the March Madness merry-go-round as the dominoes are starting to fall towards the national championship. 

Hamilton (15-8, 4-6) – Stock Down

Hamilton started out hot in the NESCAC season at 3-2, a 1-4 finish heading into the playoffs isn’t what the Continentals had in mind. Consecutive losses to Amherst and Trinity were expected at this point, but still pivotal for this team as they are now stuck with #1 seed Tufts. While this is actually more favorable a match-up than if against Middlebury or even Amherst, Hamilton seems to be scrambling to figure a plan of attack out. Switching up their starting lineup against Amherst didn’t do the trick as Carlos Fineman and Kyle Pitman had little production. They don’t have the same consistent output from Tim Doyle, Joe Pucci, or Andrew Groll as they did earlier in the year and are increasingly reliant on freshman sixth-man standout Kena Gilmour who is now second on the team in PPG with 13.3. Peter Hoffmann is still doing well but without the whole starting five shooting well, they will have a tough time in Medford.

#17 Tufts (19-5, 8-2) – Stock Up

While beating Williams isn’t something that will necessarily improve Tufts’ national ranking, it is a big confidence booster heading into this weekend. After weeks of struggles since Tom Palleschi’s injury, the Jumbo’s finally put it all together against a NESCAC playoff team. In their #1 seed clinching win the Jumbo’s showed the depth and difference in style needed to take them all the way. Since their big man has gone down, Tufts’ identity as a team has shifted. They needed to find a rebounder to replace their center, but Drew Madsen hasn’t stepped up into the same role. Against Williams, they managed to play a different type of game, losing the rebounding struggle (35-32) to the Ephs, but nailing shots with great accuracy at 50% from deep  and 52.4% from the field. Eric Savage, KJ Garrett, and Ethan Feldman all had double digit points off of the bench, and in order to keep their NESCAC championship hopes alive, the Jumbos will have to keep seeing production from non-starters. Hamilton hasn’t been playing well, but they have still had great moments this year. However, if Tufts brings the same accuracy as this weekend they will be in good shape.

Trinity (15-9, 6-4) – Stock down

 Though Middlebury is seeded higher than Trinity, a poor showing on Saturday must’ve had to sting. After losing to Midd in the NESCAC playoffs last year, the first rematch brought on that familiar feeling of defeat. A 14 point halftime deficit was too much to overcome as Langdon Neal and Eric Gendron couldn’t stop Matt St. Amour. While Wesleyan’s guards aren’t as quick and don’t have as nice of a jump shot as St. Amour, they played exceptionally against Amherst last week and if the Bantams stay as a team ruled by one player, Ed Ogundeko, then they could give up a couple 20-spots to Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien. Ogundeko only had nine boards against Midd and only had eight last time they played Wesleyan. Without a big game from Ogundeko, the Bantams don’t have a great shot at winning, so he needs to play like it’s the finals and get some help from his teammates for a change. I’d say they are an underdog, but everybody knows #5 seeds always win in tournaments (see: my D1 bracket from last year.)

Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4) – Stock Up

The Cardinals did nothing wrong this past weekend, but Colby and Bowdoin were heavily predicted wins and won’t change their stock at all. A home game against Trinity offers a rematch of the January 14th game that Wesleyan won 65-61. After beating Amherst in OT last Tuesday, riding a three game win streak into the playoffs is the best case scenario this team could see. While their win against Amherst isn’t technically a league game (the NESCAC is weird) it still showed enough to bump this squad’s stock up. Their perimeter defense against Amherst was great, helping to limit them to just 37.7% from the field and 32.0% from three point range, but their lack of rebounds is still concerning. Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien are rolling recently, with Jordan Bonner adding a double-double against the Purple and White. While their early season turbulence is behind them, the Cardinals still need to neutralize Ed Ogundeko to take their quarterfinal game. If they can defend the outside like they did against Amherst, while keeping Ogundeko near the eight rebounds he got against them on Jan. 14th, then they could dribble straight into the semifinals.

 #13 Middlebury (20-3, 8-2) – Stock Up

Matt St. Amour
Matt St. Amour ’17 might have ended the Player of the Year conversation with his 31 and 28 points in Middlebury’s two games last weekend.

Midd knocked off higher ranked Amherst and put down Trinity in back to back home games, giving them a share for the league’s best record and the #2 seed in the ‘CAC tourney. They forced some key turnovers late in the second half against Amherst and forced them to shoot from deep, creating a quick scoring gap after the Purple and White’s missed opportunities. Eric McCord was able to body up Ogundeko against Trinity and Matt St. Amour continued to do his thing and make ridiculous jump shots with no angle on the hoop. Let’s hope Jake Brown’s twisted ankle doesn’t slow him down as this team is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, and with Palleschi’s injury for Tufts, there is no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t be the favorite heading into the quarterfinal games. 

Bates (15-9, 4-6) – Stock Down

Bates did not help themselves out last weekend. Instead of finishing in conference at 5-5, heading into the playoffs with a confidence boosting win and a matchup against a lower seed in Amherst, they travel to snowy Vermont to take on Middlebury in what should be a loud and packed gym. The Delpeche twins had noteworthy senior seasons, but they couldn’t get it going last time against the Panthers and couldn’t find a way to win against the Ephs. Williams didn’t really stop the twins, but since nobody else on Bates showed up to play, the two on five game didn’t fare in the Bobcats’ favor. Without monster performances from the Delpeches this weekend, others like Jeff Spellman (1-7 from three on Saturday) and Nick Gilpin (29 minutes, two points) are going to have to step up in a major way and drain some shots. 

#8 Amherst (17-6, 7-3) – Stock Down

Jayde Dawson ’18 surveys the court against Tufts.

Despite their (unreasonably in our eyes) high national ranking, Amherst played sloppy basketball against Middlebury last weekend. Getting their pockets picked and missing straight on unguarded threes spelled out their doom as any comeback attempt was quickly halted by quick and concise offensive execution. Lacking major power down low, Amherst is going to need to hit their open shots as Michael Riopel and Jayde Dawson didn’t get their inner Steph Curry going on last weekend. Despite Dawson’s 24 points, he had slow second half production and performed in waves that hurt the Purple and White when they needed to go on a run. They were able to turn it around against Hamilton as Dawson found his shot going 6-8 from deep and Riopel added a 3-5 line, but lack of consistency is deadly in the playoffs. They better find a way to keep replicating their A game.

Williams (17-7, 5-5) – Stock Up

The Ephs suffered a beatdown against Tufts, but an expected loss won’t hurt them too much. Finishing at 5-5 coming from nowhere to reach the .500 mark in NESCAC bodes well for the confidence of a young team heading into an underdog stretch run. Their narrow win over Bates put them in the conversation as a bracket-buster even in a road game at Amherst. If Daniel Aronowitz can rain fire like he did against Bates (8-10 FG and 3-5 from deep) to match Johnny McCarthy and if Cole Teal can put up a double double to match Jayde Dawson, then anything is possible. Everybody likes a good upset and I nearly counted Williams out of the playoff race a while back. A 5-5 team against a 7-3 team? It seems like that kind of upset happens all the time. It might not be quite that simple, but the Ephs have weapons and it is the playoffs.

 Conn College (13-10, 3-7), Colby (10-14, 1-9), Bowdoin (12-11, 3-7)

Their seasons are over and stocks are down.

The Last Chance Before the (NESCAC) Dance: Saturday/Sunday Preview, 2/12

Tarik Smith ’17 and Tufts clinched the regular season title for the first time in school history last night in their win over Williams (Courtesy of Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Editor’s note: this article was written before Friday’s games and therefore does not take the Friday results into account.

Colby at Wesleyan

The 2016-17 season has been a tough one for Colby. They’re 1-7 in conference and haven’t had a realistic shot of making the playoffs for at least a couple of weeks. At this point, they’re only playing for their dignity. Wesleyan on the other hand, could vault themselves into a top four seed with a couple of wins this weekend. Colby only has a single player averaging at least 8 points a game in Senior Patrick Stewart, and he gets 16.3. Unfortunately for Colby, Stewart hasn’t had the weapons around him to make the Mules much of a threat. Wesleyan, on the other hand, has benefited from a balanced attack with five players scoring ten points per contest. Backing up their offense has been their stifling defense, which allows their opponents to shoot a league leading (and second in all of DIII) 35% from the field. Colby’s only shot here is to capitalize on Wesleyan’s propensity to turn the ball over as they do so a NESCAC leading 15.4 times per game. If the Mules can convert sloppy turnovers into fast breaks, they could pick up a couple of easy buckets and score without bearing the brunt of Wesleyan’s stingy defense. However, chances are, this is not going to happen, and Colby (with a Friday loss) will end the season with a single NESCAC victory. :’(

Pick: Wesleyan

Bowdoin at Connecticut College

This season, Bowdoin’s Forward Jack Simonds ‘19 has been phenomenal. He’s averaging nearly 19 points per game and he’s dropped 30+  four times this season. Don’t forget, he’s only a sophomore. He has carried a huge load for his team, leading the NESCAC in minutes played. However, as a whole Bowdoin has not been able to put together wins as often as they’d like. The Polar Bears are in line to finish with one of the three worst records in the NESCAC. Looking at the home team, Conn hasn’t been much better; they too have a very slim chance of making the playoffs, and have only fared one game better than the Polar Bears this season. Though this game may not matter for the playoffs, a win would allow either team to end their season on a positive note. Despite Bowdoin’s lack of success in the win column, they don’t foul, and they don’t turn the ball over. Their team is young and there should be optimism moving forward. They’re going up against a Conn team who’s used to taking their lumps (pun intended) as the Camels are last in the ‘CAC in FG defense and they give up the most points per game. I think Bowdoin’s defensive struggles  put Jack Simonds in a great position to lead his team to end the season on a positive note and possibly hang up his fifth 30-spot, despite losing five of their last six NESCAC games. Bowdoin has a terrific scorer in Simonds who I think gives them the edge over the Camels.

Pick: Bowdoin

Trinity at Middlebury

This is probably the best Saturday matchup as both teams are in the top half of the NESCAC and enter the game with their best players being tried and true veterans. Shout it from the mountaintops Panther fans, like the Chicago Cubs, you are good. Entering the weekend, they’ve won 5 in a row and have shown no signs of slowing down, vaulting themselves into the conversation for best team in the NESCAC. This charge has been led by their incredibly potent backcourt play. In their senior campaign, backcourt duo Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown have been dynamite. St. Amour leads the NESCAC in scoring (20.6 PPG) and Brown holds the conference lead in assists (6.7 AST/G). Trinity, on the other hand, has probably the most prolific double double machine in the NESCAC in Ed Ogundeko ‘17, who averages 17.7 and 11.5 from the center position. Without a real rim protecting big the Panthers can lean on, Ogundeko is liable to cause some havoc in the paint on Saturday. Trinity likely will not be able to outscore Middlebury’s uptempo attack, so they’ll need to find a way to either slow them down and take them out of their rhythm or try to coax the Panthers into some sloppy play. The latter is unlikely since Middlebury holds the best turnover ratio in the conference, so Trinity’s best bet to limit Middlebury’s outside attack is to try to control the tempo early and pound the ball inside to their star. With Middlebury at home and on such a roll, I think Brown and St. Amour get a little saucy and lead the Panthers to victory in Hartford.

Pick: Middlebury

Amherst at Hamilton

This game is undoubtedly a huge undertaking for the Continentals. Amherst has had an excellent regular season and they are sitting pretty for home-court in at least the first round of the playoffs. Their leading scorer is Guard Jayde Dawson ’18, who’s getting almost 18.6 per contest in under 30 minutes of action. Despite his prolific scoring, he’s only started two games this year, and that’s not a knock on him, it just goes to show how deep this team is. Also, wing Johnny McCarthy ’18 is coming off of a Player of the Week award averaging 15.5 points and 13.5 boards. He’s one of the best rebounders in the NESCAC, averaging 8 per game on the year, especially impressive considering he spends much of his time around the perimeter. Hamilton’s wing play has been equally impressive. Underclassmen Peter Hoffman ’19, Michael Grassey ’19, and Kena Gilmour ’20 all present significant threats on the wing for the Continentals. All have been solid, but Hoffman’s performances have been consistently above and beyond. Another great rebounding and scoring wing, he has reached double digit scoring in all but two games this year and shoots 55.8% from the field. Hamilton is a strong team and has been even better at home, but Amherst’s consistency and pedigree is hard to deny. In a couple years, as Hamilton’s young stars mature, and their bench gets deeper, this might be a different story. However, as long as Amherst brings their A game, they should be able to come out on top.

Pick: Amherst

Williams at Bates

In Sunday’s only game, two middling teams meet in icy Maine to try to right their ships. Both teams are likely playoff bound, but are neck and neck for the opportunity to avoid juggernaut Tufts in the first round. Bates’ success this season is due in large part to their literal twin towers. Twin big men, Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche ’18, put up nearly 30 points and 20 boards between the two of them, and both rank in the top five of NESCAC rebounding. They are a force to be reckoned with, as just a couple weeks ago, Marcus was named the NESCAC player of the week. These two should be a tough challenge for Williams to handle come Sunday for the Ephs. Though they tote a near seven-footer in sophomore Michael Kempton, he lacks the athleticism and identical twin to contain them both. Every time I watch Williams I come away with more confusion than clarity as to their level of play because they play very slowly, but take so many threes (almost half of their total field goal attempts). Generally speaking, the less you play in transition, the harder it is to get good looks at three pointers because you allow the defense to get set. Despite this, the Ephs continue to fire away in their half-court sets and still make a somewhat respectable 35% as a team. With an impressive win against Amherst, and a confounding loss to Bowdoin, it’s really hard for me to tell where they stand. Williams is gonna take their threes, but they’ll need to figure out how to contain Bates’ inside threat. If the Ephs can drain from beyond the arc, they’ll have a great chance to win, but I think Bates’ home-court advantage and opportunity for rest while Williams plays on Friday should set them up for a victory on Sunday.

Pick: Bates

Let’s Find Out Where Everyone Lines Up: Friday Preview 2/10

Eric Savage ’20 gets a tip-in against Middlebury earlier in the year (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Bowdoin (11-10, 2-6) at Wesleyan (17-5, 4-4), February 10, 7:00 PM, Middletown, Connecticut

If you are a Wesleyan Cardinal, it is imperative that you understand that this game is a trap game. While Bowdoin is just over .500 and only have two wins in league play, nothing is guaranteed in terms of playoffs just yet. While it seems like Wesleyan is all set to make the playoffs, they are not. Bowdoin can sweep this weekend and find their way into the NESCAC tournament, and if a Polar Bear sweep coincides with a Cardinal goose egg, Wesleyan will be mighty disappointed come Sunday. However, I don’t think that is going to happen, and here is why:

Tim Ahn ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics).

Wesleyan just has too many defensive weapons to counteract the offensive threats on Bowdoin. I believe that Wes is one of the toughest matchups of the year for Jack Simonds. The combo of Jordan Bonner ‘19 and Kevin O’Brien ‘19 gives Simonds two different looks defensively which should stifle his ability to find open space. Meanwhile, Joseph Kuo ‘17 has all the tools he needs to shut down Hugh O’Neil down low, which puts a lot of responsibility on the remaining four Bowdoin guards of Tim Ahn ‘19, David Reynolds ‘20, Liam Farley ‘19 and Jack Bors ‘19. It will certainly help Bowdoin if Salim Green ‘19 is still out of the Wesleyan lineup tonight, but Harry Rafferty ‘17 is a very good perimeter defender in his own right, so this game is going to be no easy task for the Polar Bears.

The biggest advantage for the Cardinals comes in the matchup at the forward spot. Nathan Krill ‘18 has turned into a dynamic offensive player this year. He crashes the boards hard, he shoots threes, he gets in the heads of opposing players…he’s all over the place. Krill has a clear advantage against Neil Fuller ‘17, and if he can take over like he has shown that he can at times, then I don’t see the Polar Bears keeping up with Wesleyan. Who knows though, Bowdoin are playing for their playoff lives after all, and the ‘backs against the wall’ mentality has prompted teams to victory before…

 

Bowdoin is 2-6 in league play.

Their Win-Loss ratio in league play is 1:3.

Combine 1:3 and you get 13.

Flip 13 and you get 31.

31, 3-1.

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the finals.

 

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

Colby (10-12, 1-7) at Connecticut College (12-9, 2-6), February 10, 7:00 PM, New London, Connecticut

Colby is already out of playoff contention, so this game comes strictly as a potential spoiler game for the Mules. That means that Conn NEEDS to take this game seriously from the tip and put away Colby ASAP. While they are not going to be in the NESCAC tournament, I’m sure that the fellas from Waterville would still love to add to their win total before they close the book on the 2016-2017 season. How is Conn going to do this?

Well, first of all, they are going to do the opposite of what they did against Williams and actually get a hand up on three-point shooters. In conference play, Williams has hit the most threes, but Colby is only four makes behind them in that category. It’s important to note that Colby doesn’t exactly shoot the most accurately behind the arc (31.8% in conference play), but regardless, they are going to pull the trigger if they are given space.

Secondly, Tyler Rowe ‘19 is going to take his shots, and if Colby wants to knock the Camels out of playoff contention, forcing the sophomore point guard into low percentage shots is a good idea. Rowe shoots a lot, but it is often his efficiency that determines the success of the Conn offense, so whoever matches up with Rowe needs to make him either give up the ball or force him to make difficult shots. The rest of the Conn offense is threatening, but sporadic. Lee Messier ‘18, Zuri Pavlin ‘17, David Labossiere ‘19 and a few others have all gone off here and there, but it’s hard to predict who is going to step up in any one game for the Camels. That’s why stopping Rowe should be the focus of the Colby defense. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have it in them to do so. Furthermore, Conn was embarrassed last Sunday, and they have been waiting all week for this opportunity to redeem themselves.

 

Writer’s Pick: Conn College

Trinity (14-8, 5-3) at Hamilton (15-6, 4-4), February 10, 7:00 PM, Clinton, New York

Trinity is playing better basketball of late, while Hamilton’s ship has been sinking, and I think that each team is going to keep trending in their respective direction tonight. While Hamilton scores 87.6 PPG (league leading), Trinity allows just 64.7 PPG (league leading), and I’m thinking that in this case Trinity’s impenetrable defense has a much better matchup than Hamilton’s fast paced offense. The Continentals actually have a solid counter to the Ed Ogundeko ‘17 attack of Trinity, but the guards of Hamilton don’t do a great job of getting high percentage shots at times. This is where Trinity’s in-your-face defense is set up for success. Against Trinity, the game plan needs to be to 1.) protect the ball 2.) take smart shots, and 3.) get to the foul line. While the Continentals do get the foul line the second most in NESCAC play, they also turn the ball over the second most in conference, which should give the Bantams a good chance to grab a W on the road in their fight for home-court advantage in the quarterfinals. I don’t think Hamilton’s offense is quite as full of firepower as their numbers imply.

 

Writer’s Pick: Trinity

Williams (16-6, 4-4) at Tufts (18-5, 7-2), February 10, 7:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Tufts has the chance to snag the top seed with an Amherst loss this weekend, but they need to do their part and win tonight for that to help them. Without Palleschi, and potentially without Pat Racy ‘20 who sat out on Tuesday night against Pine Manor, the Jumbos could be down to just a single big man in Drew Madsen ‘17. However, Williams is one of the better teams to be down to a single big man against since they do not possess a dominant post player themselves. Tufts is the best rebounding team in league play, and that’s because everyone chips in, especially Vinny Pace ‘18 and KJ Garrett ‘18, who each average over 6 boards per league contest. As long as the Tufts guards do their part rebounding the basketball, Tufts won’t miss Racy on the glass. So what does Williams need to do to win? Hit their threes. I don’t know whether it is that Tufts has very forgiving rims or that everyone just loves playing in the bowl-shaped Cousens Gymnasium, but for one reason or another every game at Tufts seems to feature a dominant three-point shooting performance. Cole Teal ‘18 has gotta get going tonight if the Ephs want to win, and Coach App is going to need a strong performance out of Dan Aronowitz ‘17 as well. This could be a barn burner, but Tufts is 9-1 at home this year so I’m going with the Jumbos.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Game of the The Week: Amherst @ Middlebury, February 10

Amherst (16-5, 6-2) @ Middlebury (18-3, 6-2), Friday, February 10th, 7:00 PM, Middlebury, Vermont

Overview:

Almost four years to the day from Friday, Middlebury and Amherst faced off in a very similar situation.

Joey Kizel and Willy Workman each had 30 in the classic 2013 Amherst vs. Middlebury match-up.

The two teams entered the game in contention for the top seed in the conference tournament, and as two of the top 15 teams in the country. Amherst was still led by two elite guards in Willy Workman and Aaron Toomey, and Middlebury still relied on terrific backcourt depth, with Nolan Thompson, Joey Kizel and Jake Wolfin leading the Panthers to several NCAA berths in a row. The game featured a double digit comeback from the Panthers, a game-tying three off an intentional missed free throw for Amherst, three overtimes and an alien invasion (okay not the last one.) The then-Lord Jeffs emerged victorious 104-101 after the third overtime, having combined with Middlebury to produce one of the all-time classics in NESCAC basketball history. And as if that wasn’t enough history, get this:  I wasn’t at the game because I had a high school game…AGAINST MATT ST. AMOUR. Spooky right?

Middlebury and Amherst have played several other terrific games, both in the regular season and the tournament. So it’s certainly fair to expect a tightly contested game in Pepin Gymnasium on tonight. However, both teams have weaknesses that the other side could use to win the game running away. This game is a quintessential game of the week because it should be a classic on paper, but either side could come out on fire and put the game away before it even starts.

Amherst’s Biggest Weakness: Frontcourt Production

This game may well feature the two best backcourts in the country. But both teams, and particularly Amherst, feature frontcourts that often struggle to keep up. Throughout this season Amherst has struggled to find an effective scoring option outside of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and forwards have been the main culprit in that lack of production. Senior David George ‘17 is too often a non-factor on offense, allowing the opposing center to clog the driving lanes that Dawson and McCarthy love to exploit. Jacob Nabatoff ‘17 has been inconsistent, shooting under 40% from the field. It has generally been Eric Conklin ‘17 who has provided a frontcourt spark for Amherst, averaging 8 points per game on 60% shooting. Middlebury defends very well on the perimeter, so this is a game in which Amherst will need some production out of these big men to take the pressure off of McCarthy and Dawson.

Middlebury’s Biggest Weakness: Shot Blocking

The Panthers play with breakneck pace on both offense and defense. This means that the Panthers look to force a lot of turnovers on the perimeter, but give up some points as a result of gambling for steals. That’s okay as long as the offense is picking up the slack, but if Middlebury isn’t hitting early they can give up points in a hurry (see the first half of their game against Tufts.) This tendency to give up big runs is caused partially by this fast paced style, but it is also due to a lack of intimidating interior defense. Big man Eric McCord ‘19 has improved leaps and bounds as the season has gone on in terms of moving his feet on pick and rolls, but he simply is not atheltic enough to be a shot blocking threat. Nick Tarantino ‘18 is a terrific athlete, but his timing on block attempts is a little off, and his rebounding responsibilities draw him away from the shot. Matt Folger ‘20 is Middlebury’s only dangerous shot blocker, but he makes too many freshman mistakes in terms of help rotations and silly fouls to play big minutes in crucial games like this one. Teams that have slowed Middlebury down, like Williams and more recently Colby, have had success in limiting Middlebury’s offense. If Amherst tries to slow down Middlebury on both ends of the ball, the Panthers will need to guard inside as well as on the perimeter, and that means blocking some shots.

Amherst’s Biggest Strength: Clutch Play

Jayde Dawson ’18 is one of the best closers in the league.

Amherst only scores 73 points per game during league play, which is sixth best in the conference. Throughout the season they have struggled to score efficiently, and have several times found themselves in the position where they need a game-tying or winning shot. Enter Jayde Dawson. Dawson has game-winners against Babson (#2 in the country at the time and Amherst’s most impressive win thus far) and Bowdoin, and is arguably the best in the league at taking over a game when his team needs him the most. But Johnny McCarthy also has a couple big shots under his belt, including a ludicrous 28 footer to tie the game against Bowdoin, setting up Dawson’s game winner. If the recent history between these teams holds true, this game will come down to the wire. Amherst must like their personnel in that eventuality.

Middlebury’s Biggest Strength: Ball Movement and Security

As you may have heard me say once, twice or thirty times, the only better guards than Middlebury’s trio in America are the Power Rangers. Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 have the Panthers leading the league in assists.

Jack Daly ’18 helps the Panthers move the ball effectively on offense, the key to their high octane style. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

But more impressive than that is their turnover ranking. Middlebury has the third fewest turnovers in the league, which is amazing considering how fast they play and how much they look to move the ball. At their peak, there’s no team in the league that can stop the Panther offense due to how well they move the ball and shoot from the perimeter. When they struggle, it is because they have stopped whipping the ball around on the perimeter and are settling for jump shots. Middlebury must have confidence in their ball movement, as Amherst will certainly attempt to slow them down and force them to play half court offense.

Amherst X-Factor: Michel Riopel ‘18

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

Middlebury is too good a team for Dawson and McCarthy to drag Amherst to victory like Murthaugh and Riggs in Lethal Weapon. They’ll need some back-up, and Riopel is the perfect candidate. A 48% three point shooter, Riopel is deadly from outside. But he is more than just a three point specialist. Earlier this week in a loss to Wesleyan, Riopel put up 16 points and 9 rebounds on just 8 shots. This efficiency is what makes him such an effective third option alongside Dawson and McCarthy, both of whom have the tendency to become volume scorers when they, and the team, are struggling. However, Riopel will need to become more aggressive in this game. Middlebury is well equipped to handle Dawson and McCarthy, which means Riopel should have some opportunities to create for himself. Eight shots will be too few for him in this game.

Middlebury X-Factor: Zone Defense

Middlebury’s defensive strategy can be likened to the Joker’s strategy for taking over Gotham in The Dark Knight: sew chaos and discord wherever they can. One of the ways that Middlebury toys with opposing offenses is by switching from man defense to zone with little warning. The Panthers don’t need a timeout to set up the offense, they can do it as the other team brings the ball up. This can really shake an opposing offense, forcing them to switch their game plan on the fly. Middlebury’s perimeter players are excellent zone defenders, as Brown and St. Amour are adept at playing passing lanes while Daly hounds whoever has the ball. The big men in the back are getting better at challenging shots at the rim without fouling, particularly McCord. Amherst is not a tremendously threatening three point shooting team, save Riopel and McCarthy, so a zone might be a good strategy for Middlebury employ. If they can shut down McCarthy and Dawson’s lanes to the rim, Amherst will have great difficulty finding other ways to score.

Seeding Implications:

Both Middlebury and Amherst are in contention for the top seed in the league tournament. However, Tufts is also in the mix, but it is Amherst who controls their own destiny in terms of attaining the number one seed. If Amherst wins both, they get the top seed. If Tufts wins and Amherst loses at least one, then it will be the Jumbos who have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Finally, if Middlebury wins both and Tufts loses tonight, then Middlebury will be top dawg in the NESCAC tournament. In order to control their destiny for the the number one seed in the league tournament, everyone needs to win tonight. Then we’ll seed what happens tomorrow.

Final Thoughts:

Middlebury matches up very well with Amherst on paper. In Daly, Brown and St. Amour, the Panthers have the perimeter depth needed to hang with Dawson and McCarthy. However, McCarthy’s size and strength presents something of a matchup issue. Daly is probably best-suited to match McCarthy, leaving St. Amour or Brown to guard Dawson. Dawson’s hard-driving style creates the worry that he will get Brown or St. Amour in foul trouble, which would hinder Middlebury’s offense tremendously. This is why I could see the Panthers playing a great deal of zone in this game.

Johnny McCarthy ’18 will force the Panthers out of their most comfortable match-ups.

Middlebury is tremendous at home, but they have the misfortune of catching the campus during a break, so the student section won’t be quite as rowdy as one might imagine for such a crucial matchup. However, the home court advantage is still going to be crucial. Amherst has had an absurd home/road split this season (15 home/6 road) and are only 2-4 away from LeFrak this year. Middlebury has shown themselves to be a team that rises to the occasion at home, and I see them doing it again on Friday night.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

It’s Not Too Late for the Stock Report: 2/10

Jayde Dawson ’18 drives to the hoop (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).It’

I know, I know, I’ve been slacking this week and it’s about time I got around to writing the stock report. The truth is, the job search is no joke, and so I’ve let my NESCAC basketball writing fall behind a bit. However, that does not mean that this past weekend was uneventful. There was movement at the top of the ‘CAC as well as the bottom, and while many of the matchups seemed to be shaping up to be barn burners, only a couple games actually ended up coming down to the wire.

I’m gonna do this stock report a little differently this week in order to incorporate some sort of rankings as well. No individual players are going to be snagging ‘stock up’ or ‘stock down’ mentions, but instead each projected playoff team (projections are being made by me, and me alone) will be given its own stock report. Then we will put out a pre-tournament power rankings next week. I will give each team’s stock report in order of last week’s power rankings, so don’t read too deeply into the order of teams listed. No playoff seed is yet set, so predicting which seed each team will get seems a bit futile at this point.

 

#17 Tufts (18-5, 7-2)Stock down

Friday was actually a pretty surprising win out of the Jumbos in my eyes. Down to just a pair of big men, I anticipated that the Jumbos would struggle with Ed Ogundeko ‘17 and as a result would struggle overall. Well, I was half right – Ogundeko dummied the ‘Bos to the tune of 23 points and 21 rebounds, largely due to the foul trouble that Drew Madsen ‘17 found himself in, forcing Coach Sheldon to roll out some pretty small lineups, but a foursome of solid performances by Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20 and KJ Garrett ‘18 allowed Tufts to withstand the Bantam attack. However, they did not play very well, and while they ended up winning in overtime, their 61% shooting from the free throw line was concerning to say the least. Tufts failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities to close out the game, and this carried into Saturday’s game when Amherst punished Tufts for poor decision making. The lack of Tom Palleschi ‘17 is concerning to say the least, not just because of the threat that he provides when the ball is in his hands, but also because of the way that he opens up the floor for his teammates. Tufts needs a big bounceback performance against Williams or they could be in trouble come NESCAC tournament time.

 

Wesleyan (17-5, 4-4)Stock down

The Cardinals had just one conference game this weekend and they dropped the ball. Concerning performance from Joseph Kuo ‘17, Kevin O’Brien ‘17, and Nathan Krill ‘18 could not be outdone by the stellar play of Harry Rafferty ‘17, and the absence of Salim Green ‘19 also hurt quite a bit. Wesleyan played pretty well defensively besides demonstrating that they are prone to foul trouble, but their own poor offensive play resulted in a tough L against the Ephs. Unfortunately, Wesleyan’s better game since last week came in a non-conference game against Amherst in which they eked out a 73-72 victory in OT. The whole starting lineup played a bit better and the scoring was much more well rounded. Still, Wesleyan simply hasn’t been shooting the ball well as of late, and they are going to need to find a way to get better shots moving forward or they could see a disappointing finish.

 

#13 Middlebury (18-3, 6-2)Stock unchanged

I am not saying that Middlebury did nothing well this weekend, but it should not exactly come as a surprise that they blew out Colby and Bowdoin. Middlebury has been one of if not the most consistent team in the league this year, and the Panthers should be considered the best team in the NESCAC at the moment. Now, the rankings change like the breeze in NESCAC basketball, but whether or not they end up with the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Middlebury has to be considered the favorite right now. Tonight’s matchup with Amherst will say tell us a lot about the Panthers, but they are in very good shape right now.

 

#8 Amherst (16-5, 6-2)Stock up

Despite the Tuesday loss to Wesleyan, Amherst’s performance this weekend is much more important. A nine-point victory against Bates was expected but still impressive, and on senior day, the ex-LJs showed Tufts who is the boss with a commanding 13-point victory. Despite it being senior day, however, it was the juniors who pave the way against the Jumbos. Jayde Dawson ‘18, Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Michael Riopel ‘18 all poured in double-digits points to lead the way for Amherst and give them a very good chance to grab the #1 seed in NESCACs this weekend. Riopel was especially impressive from the outside, and he has been arguably the best 6th man in the ‘CAC all season long. Amherst looks to be back, folks. A win at Middlebury would confirm that.

 

Trinity (14-8, 5-3)Stock up

Though Trinity lost a game that Tufts was desperately trying to hand them on Friday, they bounced back on Sunday and dominated the Bobcats with their highest-scoring game in conference play this year. Defensively, there is no one I’d be more scared of the Trinity right now, and if not for an egregious amount of fouls on Friday (30 total, resulting in 41 free throws for Tufts), the Bantams might have walked away with two wins this weekend. Offensively, Trinity definitely relies a little too heavily on Ogundeko, but they are so much better when they can get production from a number of other guys. Widespread offensive firepower has to be the focus for the Bantams this weekend and in the playoffs. Their seeding is completely determined by their performances at Hamilton and Middlebury this weekend, but if Trinity can walk away 2-0 they would be in phenomenal shape in the NESCACS.

 

Bates (15-8, 4-5)Stock down

Bates laid an egg this weekend, and it got worse and worse as the weekend went on. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 has emerged as the clear star of the team, his teammates have not quite been able to pull the rest of the weight. Defensively, you just can’t let Jayde Dawson get to the free throw line 14 times in a game. It’s simply not a recipe for success. The Bates guards just need to do a better job of stopping penetration, which has been a common theme for them all year long. Then, to follow up a subpar defensive performance, the Bobcats allowed Trinity to put up their highest point total of the year? Not good. Bates needs to be hitting their stride at this point in the year, not regressing, and what they showed this weekend is not quite ideal. Bates has a great chance to bounce back against Williams on Sunday, but it will be their ability to guard the arc, not the paint necessarily, that determines the outcome against the Ephs.

 

Hamilton (15-6, 4-4)Stock down

Hamilton had a great opportunity to gain some ground in the NESCAC standing this past weekend. Though they didn’t exactly shoot themselves in the foot, they also didn’t quite take advantage of a weekend where they played Bowdoin and Colby, who were the two bottom teams in the ‘CAC heading into the weekend. Bowdoin guard Jack Bors ‘19 had a heck of a game against the Continentals, abusing the Hamilton backcourt and exposing some real holes in the Hamilton defense in the process.  On the positive side, Hamilton freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20 had a very strong performance as he has done consistently throughout NESCAC play. The freshman had another solid game against Colby and is my prediction for Rookie of the Year at this point. As a whole, the Continentals bounced back well against Colby, especially in terms of forcing Colby into difficult shots, but their erratic performance on the defensive side of the ball worries me heading into the playoffs next weekend.

 

Williams (16-6, 4-4) Stock up

After a gritty win against Wesleyan on Friday night, Williams brought in reinforcements and put a BEATDOWN on Conn College on Sunday, 100-piecing them in a 37-point victory. The Conn victory was led by the three-point attack of the Ephs, as they drained 15-34 from deep in the game. More importantly, however, Williams outrebounded Conn by 15, which gave them many more scoring opportunities throughout the contest. Given that they did pretty much everything right on Sunday, let’s focus on the Wesleyan game. Williams did not shoot the ball particularly well from three against Wesleyan, hitting just 6-29 from deep. What the did do well, however, was attack the paint and get to the foul line much more consistently than the Cardinals. Dan Aronowitz ‘17 came to play in this one, and the Ephs are going to need him to do so again in Medford tomorrow when they take on the Jumbos.

 

Conn College (12-9, 2-6), Colby (10-12, 1-7), Bowdoin (11-10, 2-6)

Things could change for either Conn College or Bowdoin this weekend, but as of now, Colby is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Conn and Bowdoin both need to sweep the weekend, but they also match up on Saturday, so only one of two really has a shot. They need one of the current 4-win teams to lose out, and even then, the tiebreakers might not play out in their favor. I suspect that the eight other teams will be in the NESCAC playoffs this year, not Conn, not Colby, and not Bowdoin.