Defense Wins Championships: Wesleyan @ Amherst Men’s Basketball Semifinal Preview

Wesleyan (20-5, 7-3, #5 Seed) @ Amherst (17-8, 7-3 #1 Seed), 5:30 PM, Amherst, MA

Overview:

As opposed to the offense heavy three point barrage we expect in the Tufts-Hamilton game (detailed beautifully by Colby here,) this should be a gritty, defensive battle. Both these teams pride themselves on their defense. Amherst’s most impressive win of the season was a 75-49 drubbing of Hamilton in which they held the Continentals to 29.4% shooting. That game was the jumping off point for their run to the number one seed. Since then, they are 7-2 and have won their last three games, including wins over Middlebury and Williams. But their most exciting win of this hot stretch was the last one, a thrilling 71-70 win over Bowdoin in the quarterfinals. In that game, Amherst overcame a rough game from Michael Riopel ‘18 thanks to a First Team level performance from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 (22 points) and contributions from several bench players, most notably Josh Chery ‘20, who scored 11 points and hit the game winning layup with 3.4 seconds left. What this Amherst team lacks in star power they make up for in depth and heart.

Amherst’s defense is the key to their recent success.

Of course, the same can be said for Wesleyan. One of Amherst’s losses since that shellacking of Hamilton is to the Cardinals, a 71-57 road loss in which McCarthy and Riopel went 3-20 from the field. Wesleyan’s season is littered with these types of games. The dominate defensively, shut down what the opponent does best, and the offense does just enough to get by. Their quarterfinal game against Middlebury was another great example. While Jack Daly ’18 did have a nice game (20 points and six assists,) the Cardinals stifled Middlebury’s inside game, holding the dangerous forward combo of Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Adisa Majors ’18 to 6-19 shooting. Jordan Sears ’19 had 8 blocks, and with Kevin O’Brien ’19 and his army of tall, long-armed guards on the perimeter, it is nearly impossible to get into the paint and score against Wesleyan. Amherst will have to hit some threes to spread the Cardinals defense. And Wesleyan will have to do the same against Amherst. 

Key Player For Amherst: F Josh Chery ’20

Josh Chery ’20
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

As I said earlier, Chery was the hero against Bowdoin. With 5 seconds left on the clock, Chery got the ball on the right wing, drove to the rim, and finished a tough layup with 3.4 seconds left. Chery certainly wasn’t the first option,as Johnny McCarthy was lighting it up at that point, but he wasn’t the last one either. Chery has been one of the major keys to Amherst’s recent hot streak. He’s gone over double figures three times in the last four games, and has averaged 25 minutes per game over that stretch after going over 20 minutes just once all season up to that point. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, he is big and strong enough to guard multiple positions, a huge plus against Wesleyan due to the size of the Cardinal guards. He makes a huge difference on the defensive end, grabbing four steals against Williams and pulling down eight rebounds against Middlebury. And ask Bowdoin how he is finishing at the rim. One thing to watch for is his foul shooting: he’s 0-7 in the last two games. Chery is the ideal player to have on the court against Wesleyan, and, since Wesleyan has proven themselves capable of locking up Riopel and McCarthy, Chery and the rest of the bench mob are the keys to Amherst’s chances.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Nathan Krill ‘18

Nathan Krill
Nathan Krill ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The starting power forward on the “Feels Like They’ve Been in College for 2o Years” All Stars, Krill has been in this position before. However, he has never been as important to the team’s offense. Of course, they won last weekend with him only having three points, but they won’t be able to rely on Antone ’21 Walker putting up 11 off the bench and Kevin O’ Brien ’19 scoring 17. Walker is a great talent, but he is streaky, and O’Brien isn’t really a go to scorer. Krill is Wesleyan’s most dangerous pick and roll finisher. He can step behind the three point line and hit, or he can use his quickness and ball handling skills to finish at the rim. Throughout Krill’s career, this combination of skills has made him one of the hardest players to guard in the league when he’s hot. Key word: “when.” Krill has always been incredibly streaky (see his 24 points against Bowdoin versus 3 the next game against Bowdoin.) Krill only had four points in Wesleyan’s win over Amherst during the regular season, but this a whole new Amherst team. Wesleyan needs their stars to shine bright on Saturday, starting with Krill.

Final Thoughts:

Bowdoin was certainly far more skilled than your average eight seed, but Amherst still should have been able to put them away earlier. The Mammoths were uncharacteristically bad defending the three, allowing Bowdoin to shoot 10-28 from outside (and many of those misses were open looks.)  Much of Wesleyan’s offense relies on three point shooting, particularly from Jordan Bonner ’19 and Hutcherson. Amherst will have to do a better job running those two off of the three point lie than they did with Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19 and Liam Farley ’19. They will also have to contend with pick and rolls featuring either Bonner or Hutcherson and Krill. Since each of those players are dangerous shooters, the slightest defensive mistake can lead to an open three pointer. Amherst’s best defense here would be an aggressive hedge with their big men and then not switching. A switch would mean that one of Amherst’s big men would be stuck on , a mismatch in favor of Wesleyan. This is why Chery should see big minutes on Saturday, he is big enough to handle Krill and fast enough to handle Hutcherson or Bonner.

If Jordan Bonner ’19 gets hot, Amherst could be in for a long day.

In general, this game is not the best matchup for Amherst’s big men. Joseph Schneider ’19 is skilled inside, but he might get swallowed by the athleticism of Wesleyan’s front court. And with Eric Sellew ’20 out, Amherst’s big men rotation is very thin. This presents a big problem on the glass. Amherst simply must win the rebounding battle in this game. These are the two best rebounding teams in the league based on rebounding margin, and both are at their most dangerous when they get open shots off of offensive rebounds. Both these teams will be battling fiercely for rebounds, but it is more important for Amherst because they have fewer weapons on the offensive end. More of their offense is based on second chances.

All the signs point to Wesleyan in this game. They’ve had a more successful regular season, they have more weapons, and they played better in their first round game. But the game is in Amherst, and crazy things happen down there. The Mammoths are 10-2 at home this season, and have an almost supernatural knack for pulling out close games in their gym. I think most loyal readers will know how much it kills me to do this, but I have to go Amherst. Let no one call me biased again.

Writer’s Prediction: Amherst 63, Wesleyan 60 

A New Frontier: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 2/19

Stock Up

Amherst F Johnny McCarthy ‘18

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

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for McCarthy. After three years of being underrated because of Jayde Dawson’s ball dominance. In fact, he was so underrated that he entered this season a little overrated. Like Amherst as a whole, he struggled during the regular season, and for a while it seemed like he just wasn’t suited to be a number one option. But as he improved, so did Amherst. McCarthy reinvented himself as a dominant rebounder, defender and paint scorer. And, as he has done so many times over the course of his career, he saved his best for the biggest moments. With Amherst facing a challenge from the 8 seeded Bowdoin Polar Bears in the first round, McCarthy had his best game of the year. He scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. He also hit the second biggest shot of the game, a 30 footer after a broken play that put Amherst up by four in the final minutes. McCarthy and Amherst are peaking at the right time, and really, did we expect anything different?

Jordan Sears ‘19 for DPOY

I like to think that Sears read our pick of Folger, printed it out, put it up in his locker, and then read it again right before Wesleyan’s game against Middlebury. He looked like a man possessed against Middlebury, blocking eight shots (!) and snuffing out countless pick and rolls with incredible perimeter defense. Sears had four blocks in the final five minutes or so of the game, effectively snuffing out any hope Middlebury had of coming back. Sears is the definition of a difference making defender, and his performance against Middlebury pretty much guarantees him the DPOY trophy.

Jordan Sears ’19 owned the Panthers on Saturday to the degree that he is actually now President of Middlebury College.

NCAA Representation

Last season, the NESCAC had five teams gain NCAA berths for the first time in conference history. The results this weekend are steps in the direction repeating that performance, and even make six teams a distinct possibility. Now bear with me, because this gets a little confusing. NCAA berths are decided based on the NCAA Regional Rankings, NOT the D3 Hoops Top 25. The regional rankings can be found here. As you can see, the top four teams in Northeast are all NESCAC teams. In order, they are Hamilton, Wesleyan, Williams and Middlebury. These four teams were pretty much assured of NCAA bids, regardless of their quarterfinal games. Middlebury and Wesleyan were basically playing for a home game, and Williams and Hamilton were entirely safe. Amherst was the question mark. They entered the quarterfinals eighth in the regional rankings. This is a shaky position. They certainly needed a win over Bowdoin to keep their hopes alive, but they are still on the bubble to certain degree. Their performance in the final regular season weekend, along with their win over Bowdoin, should get them a berth, giving the NESCAC, again, five NCAA teams.

Stock Down

Tufts

The Jumbos were 11th in the regional rankings. This is not a complicated position; they basically needed to win the NESCAC tournament, or AT LEAST make the final, to sneak into the NCAA’s. Their loss to Hamilton ends their season, and the excellent career of Vincent Pace ’18. Pace deserves a great deal of credit for persevering despite one of the more unlucky careers of any star in recent NESCAC memory. After a solid first season, he was dominant during his sophomore campaign, averaging 17 points per game on 50% shooting. It looked like he and Tufts were going to ride the combo of he, Hunter Sabety and Tom Palleschi to NESCAC dominance. Then Sabety transferred, and Pace suffered a nagging injury in practice that affected him for his whole junior year. His numbers fell in every catagory, and another injury to Tom Palleschi set back what was a very strong squad. And then this season, Tufts never really got going, and again struggled with injuries, to crucial bench scorers KJ Garrett ’19 and Ben Engvall ’18. Tufts, and Pace, are one of the great “what-ifs” in recent NESCAC history, but their saga is over for this season.

First Years

Many of the top first years in the conference found out that tournament ball is very different from even regular season NESCAC play. Middlebury’s Jack Farrell ’21, after a breakout 22 point game against Amherst during the final weekend, was locked up by the Cardinals to the tune of 0 points on 0-4 shooting. However, Austin Hutcherson ’21 of Wesleyan wasn’t much better, putting up 9 points on 2-10 shooting. And Amherst’s standout PG Grant Robinson ’21 was invisible, tallying three points on 1-3 shooting. All of these players looked a little taken aback at the physicality and intensity of tournament play, a very normal feeling for first years. A notable exception was Bowdoin’s underrated (but not by this blog, we love him) PG Zavier Rucker ’21, who scored 11 points and added 7 rebounds and six assists. Hutcherson is still, in my mind, the easy pick for Rookie of the Year, but it was interesting to see how all these players struggled in the their first playoff experience, and how Rucker very much did not.

Zavier Rucker ’21 was by far the most comfortable first year last weekend, and looks like a star in the making.

Anything Can Happen: Tufts @ Hamilton Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

Tufts (17-7, 6-4) @ #15 Hamilton (21-3, 7-3), 3:00 PM, Clinton, NY

It’s finally time for the madness that is the NESCAC tournament. Last season we saw the title game between Middlebury (the #2 seed) and Williams (the #6 seed), which shows that really anything can happen. Only adding to the chaos is the fact that 5 teams tied for first place this season, giving Middlebury a road game in the first round despite being tied for first, and giving Tufts the #6 seed despite being just a single game out of first place. Many people (or just me) have likened the NESCAC tournament to FIFA’s Euro Cup – it is a smaller tournament that only covers one region, yet many people argue that it is more difficult to win the Euro Cup than the FIFA World Cup because the Euro Cup boasts a much deeper pool of teams. I would argue that the same could be said about the NESCAC – the conference consistently has more tournament teams than anyone else, and the conference tournament is certainly deeper top to bottom than the NCAA Division III tournament. As a result, the first round games are just as exciting as the later round games, especially in a season where the teams are so evenly matched. The opening round game between #3 Hamilton and #6 Tufts is one to highlight, as this season has been a bit of a role reversal for both teams:

Overview:

Hamilton comes into the matchup at #15 in the nation after finishing the season at an outstanding 21-3 mark, including 7-3 in conference play. The Continentals got off to a blistering start, coming out of the gates at 14-0 before suffering a bad loss to the eventual #1 seed Amherst. They dropped games to Bowdoin and Williams as well, placing them in the midst of the 5-way tie. In their first meeting, Hamilton traveled to Medford and handed it to the Jumbos in a 74-57 drubbing in an incredibly ugly shooting game. The star for Hamilton, sophomore Kena Gilmour ’20, had a modest game in the first meeting, netting 10 points on 2-9 shooting, while hauling in 9 boards. As a team, the Continentals lead the NESCAC in points per game (87.4), steals per game (8.8), and turnovers forced per game (18.4). This means that Hamilton will look to run and speed up the game, because the higher the score goes, the better their chances.

Kena Gilmour ’20 is becoming a star right before our eyes, but can he do it in his first playoff experience?

The story for Tufts this season has been a bit different. Although they were just a game out of first place, they finished with the #6 seed – their lowest finish since 2013-2014. What’s interesting is that had Tufts not dropped their meeting with Bates, they would have entered into a 6-way tie for first place, which is crazy to think about. Either way, here we are, with this intriguing matchup. In their regular season game with Hamilton, Vincent Pace ’18, the unquestioned star for Tufts, only put up 12 points and 6 rebounds on 3-14 from the field and 1-8 from deep. These numbers are nothing in comparison to his season line of 17.6PPG, 8.3REB/G, 40% FG. The real issue for the Jumbos was that they were outrebounded by Hamilton, 49-38. While Hamilton may have one of the biggest lineups in the league, Tufts has to be better keeping them off the boards if they want to have a chance in this one. Tufts also shot an abysmal 24% from the field, which will likely improve in this contest.

Hamilton X-Factor: F Michael Grassey ’19

Michael Grassey

The Continental lineup is stacked with scorers, and Grassey is one of them. He has had a very consistent presence all season, averaging 13.7PPG, 6.7REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42.2% 3PT. What sets Grassey apart is that he has the ability to really go off, in addition to being a consistent scoring threat. He has had three 20-plus point performances (27 vs. Conn College, 29 vs. Cazenovia, 24 vs. Utica) and can get REALLY hot from downtown. In those three games combined, he went 16-22 from behind the arc. At 6’4”, 205lbs, he is tall enough to shoot over guards, and his size makes him a prolific rebounder. Hamilton has many weapons, but if Michael Grassey ’19 can put up a big performance, they are nearly impossible to beat.

Tufts X-Factor: duo of C Luke Rogers ’21 and C Patrick Racy ’20

Patrick Racy
Patrick Racy ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics) 

As I mentioned before, Tufts struggled on the rebounding  side in their first meeting with Hamilton. Guards Vincent Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18, and Everett Dayton ‘18 provide the majority of the Jumbos’ rebounding, despite them having two large centers in their rotation. This game for Tufts will be decided by this duo because with Rogers standing at

Luke Rogers
Luke Rogers ’21 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

6’8”, 230lbs and Racy at 6’7”, 215lbs, they are huge presences in the paint. They have similar stat lines – about 5PPG, 4.5REB/G, 45% FG – and each play just under 20 minutes per game. This means that they have a similar effect, so Coach Sheldon has the option of playing them separately to always have one on the court at all times, or they could go big and put them both on the floor to match Hamilton’s size. Either way, I expect these centers to have a much larger impact in this one.

Final Thoughts:

I have to admit, all signs seem to point to Hamilton in this one. They crushed the Jumbos in their first matchup in Medford, and have seemed to play better, consistent basketball this season. This will likely be a high scoring game with the Continentals and Jumbos having the 1st and 3rd highest scoring offenses respectively. Hamilton shoots a much higher percentage from the floor, from three-point land, and from the charity stripe, which obviously gives them a huge edge. I praise the Continentals, but I have a weird feeling about this one. Their lineup is still a bit young and unproven in the postseason, and NESCAC basketball is just really weird. Vincent Pace ’18 is an absolute winner, and has proven himself capable of putting up huge performances, as he displayed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season when he put up 37 points. Hamilton may be 21-3 and #15 in the nation, but for some reason I’m not completely sold on them so I have to go with my gut feeling here. The #6 seed means nothing to the Jumbos and I believe that Pace and co. have a little bit of tourney magic in them to steal a win from the hands of the Continentals.

Vincent Pace ’18 has several clutch performances under his belt, and we think his biggest one is yet to come.

Writers Pick: Tufts 86-81

Grit N’ Grind: Middlebury @ Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

#13 Middlebury (19-5, 7-3, 5th Seed) @ Wesleyan (19-5, 7-3, 4th Seed,) February 17th, 3:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Overview:

This certainly isn’t the matchup the Panthers were expecting heading into last weekend. Before their demoralizing pair of road losses to Hamilton and Amherst, Middlebury was alone at the top of the league and needed just one win to secure at least the two seed. But after those losses, Middlebury sits in the fifth position and now has to go on the road to play a team to which they already lost. It was a perfect storm of bad news for the Panthers last weekend, and their road to a third straight NESCAC title is now the hardest one yet.

However, this is not an ideal matchup for Wesleyan either. The 13th ranked team in the country is a pretty steep task for the quarterfinals, no matter how badly they played the weekend before. Wesleyan lucked out schedule-wise in the last weekend, winning home games over Bowdoin and Colby to enter the gauntlet of 7-3 teams. This was by far the easiest weekend of any of the teams. And, although they beat the Panthers early in league play 80-70 (although it was closer than that score suggests,)  they have been inconsistent this season, especially on offense. Their worst loss of the season came to Trinity, a 73-60 debacle that made plain all of Wesleyan’s flaws. Offensively, they rely on different players every night, and lack a consistent go-to scorer. Even Jordan Bonner ‘19 has proven himself to be shaky at times. When they lose, it is simply because they cannot score.

Jordan Bonner ’19 has been a go to scorer at times for the Cardinals, but he is very streaky.

Obviously, these problems are similar to those that Middlebury has faced all season. These teams are similar in style. Both teams rely on a very strong perimeter defense and dominating the boards, leading to turnovers by their opponent and second chance points that make up for inconsistent outside shooting. Last weekend, Middlebury’s offense wasn’t exactly the problem against Hamilton. They put up 83 points and were able to score in the paint pretty easily. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s outside shooting was too much for Middlebury. It’s difficult to match three pointers with two pointers. And then against Amherst, Middlebury couldn’t get anything going offensively, much like Wesleyan against Trinity. This should be a low scoring, defensive battle. Whichever team can grind out enough baskets will win.

Key Player for Middlebury: G Jack Farrell ‘21

Jack Farrell
jack Farrell ’21 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

Farrell was a lone bright spot for Middlebury over the weekend. He drove the ball to the basket with incredible confidence, scoring 11 against Hamilton and a career high 22 the next night against Amherst. Farrell has started every game this season, and has proved himself to be a valuable secondary ball handler and defender. Coach Brown has used him, along with fellow first year Griffin Kornaker ‘21, to give Jack Daly ‘18 the occaisional rest. However, for much of the season neither has been a consistent enough scoring option to allow Daly to be off the floor for long. But Farrell changed that last weekend. When Farrell is scoring consistently, it means he is getting to the basket, as he is still not a great outside shooter. This draws defenses into the paint, and opens up outside shots and offensive rebounding chances for the Panthers. A strong performance from Farrell would also allow Daly to ease off the throttle a bit. Daly looked exhausted against Amherst, and was trying to do too much in order to make up for the struggles of his teammates. Middlebury needs better performances across the board on Friday, especially from Daly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean scoring. He needs to score efficiently, but Middlebury’s best possible offense features Daly setting everything up and others finishing. Farrell is one of those finishers.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Jordan Sears ‘19

We gave Sears a little love in the Awards article, but he’s a dominant defender both on the perimeter and in the paint. He is the only player in the league in the top five in the league in steals and blocks, and Wesleyan’s defense (one of the best in the league) centers around his ability to guard all five positions. In fact, an apology may be in order for us not picking him for DPOY. Sears’ versatility will be even more important against Middlebury than it usually is for the Cardinals, because of how differently the Panthers are constituted now than they were when these teams first met. In that first game, the Panthers were trying to be a high octane, run and gun offense. It was one of Eric McCord’s first games back from injury, and the Panthers weren’t nearly as focused on owning the paint, preferring perimeter attacks. In essence, they played right into Wesleyan’s hands. Middlebury over the course of the season has shifted their focus to rebounding and scoring in the paint. Sears will be crucial in defending that area. Instead of using him on the perimeter, Wesleyan may put him on McCord or Adisa Majors ’18 to limit Middlebury’s post up game. Either way, Sears will be all over the court this game, and could be MVP without scoring a single basket.

Jordan Sears had 2 steals and 4 blocks last time these two teams met, including this one on Jack Daly.

X Factor: Offensive Rebounding

There are going to be a lot of missed shots in this game. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball from three for so long that one can’t even really call it a “slump” anymore: that’s just how they shoot. And Wesleyan is very streaky from three as well, and has a tendency to settle for them when the rest of their offense isn’t flowing. A lot of missed shots lead to a lot of offensive rebounds. Middlebury has dominated the boards for much of the season, and had 21 offensive rebounds the first time these two teams met. Wesleyan had only 11, but of course, they also shot a much higher percentage from the field. These are two excellent defensive teams, so the ability to get easy layups on open jump shots off of offensive rebounds could turn the tide.

Final Thoughts:

In the first meeting between these two teams, Wesleyan shot 35 foul shots and Middlebury only shot 7. Needless to say, that isn’t a very sustainable way for Middlebury to play. And even more amazingly, Jack Daly was the only Panther to attempt a foul shot. That will change on Saturday. Eric McCord ’19 is a far larger part of Middlebury’s offense now, and the team as a whole is far more focused on attacking the rim. Middlebury has to even out those free throw numbers, as that was the difference in the last game.

As we’ve noted several times throughout this season, Middlebury struggles most against teams who attack the glass as ferociously as they do, and feature multiple three point threats. Middlebury likes to play an aggressive zone defense, allowing their pesky guards like Daly, Farrell and Griffin Kornaker ’21 to really pressure the ball and create turnovers. But as Hamilton proved, teams that can put three or four outside threats on the court at once can destroy that zone with quick passes to open threes. Wesleyan is certainly able to battle Middlebury on the glass; they are second in the league in rebounding differential (Middlebury is third.) But the Cardinals can’t space the floor like Hamilton can. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is a truly dangerous sharp shooter, hitting 41% of his threes on the year (although he was 2-14 over the weekend.) Jordan Bonner ’19 is at 36% but has struggled in league play, and Nathan Krill ’18 is at 39%. Those are Wesleyan’s only real three point threats, and Krill and Bonner are both notoriously streaky. Middlebury will be able to leave non shooters, such as Sears, Kevin O’ Brien ’19 and JR Bascom, to attack those shooters off of the catch, and that zone defense should be workable, since Wesleyan doesn’t bring shooters off the bench. Middlebury would obviously prefer to be a higher seed and play at home, but this is actually a pretty good matchup for them.

Kevin O’ Brien ’19 is the point of Wesleyan’s defense on Daly.

Speaking of O ‘Brien, he is still recovering from an illness that caused him to miss much of the NESCAC season. When he’s at 100%, he is crucial to Wesleyan’s success as a floor general (5.7 AST/G) and perimeter defender. However, he is not a great shooter to begin with, and his rust has made him even less of a scoring threat. He was a huge factor in guarding Jack Daly when these two teams first played, and if he is not 100%, the Panthers should be able to attack him on both offense and defense. They can stash a defender on him, and since he isn’t an outside threat, whoever that is, be it Farrell, Matt Folger ’20 or Hilal Dahleh ’19, will be free to double Bonner and Hutcherson and play free safety for blocks and steals. Wesleyan needs O’Brien, and they need him healthy.

This is a hard game to predict, because these two teams share a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. Inconsistent scoring and three point shooting, strong rebounding and defense. Wesleyan is certainly coming into the game on a better note, but they had such an easy weekend that they might be feeling a little complacent, whereas Middlebury is most likely pretty ticked off. It shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of Middlebury’s 0-2 finish to the year that for much of the season they were the clear best team in the league, and entered last weekend fifth in the entire country. Despite their struggles and Wesleyan’s defense, I think Middlebury makes use of this week off to hammer out some issues, and regains their championship level form, taking a low scoring battle in Middletown.

Writer’s Prediction: Middlebury 70-Wesleyan 65

Handin’ Out the Hardware: Men’s Basketball Regular Season Awards

What a weekend. In addition to throwing the rankings into chaos and making all of our predictions look really dumb, last weekend’s results ruined whatever certainties there were in the awards races. But, as I’m learning in this new, post college chapter, life is about making difficult choices when there isn’t a clear answer. So here are our picks for the major end of season awards. As always, we welcome argument and debate on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Player of the Year: Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18

This is the race which was impacted most by last weekend’s games. Entering the weekend, Daly’s all around brilliance (top five in the league in points, rebounds, assists and steals) fully made up for his inconsistent shooting. He was by far the most important player on the top team in the league. But Daly’s flaws were exposed this weekend, as were Middlebury’s. After a solid game against Hamilton (15-9-6 on 5-11 shooting,) Amherst locked Daly up to the tune of 2-15 shooting with four turnovers. Everyone has bad games, but this was the biggest game of Middlebury’s season, and it came during the same weekend as star level performances from the other contenders. Kena Gilmour ‘20 had 29 against the Panthers and 22 against Williams. James Heskett ‘19 had 24 points against Hamilton in a huge win, and Bobby Casey ‘19 had 31 points against Hamilton, and nearly brought Williams back single-handedly against the Panthers during the regular season.

Jack Daly ’18 has been everything for Middlebury this season, and also we just connected on LinkedIn, so that’s pretty cool too.

However, I’m sure you can see that Daly is still our pick. Here’s the case. For all but one weekend, Daly was the best player on the best team in the league. He ran the offense, scored clutch buckets, guarded the opponent’s best player and sold hot dogs at the concession stand at halftime. He still leads the nation in assists per game at 8.5, and that is despite lacking even a consistent secondary scoring option. He deserves as much credit as any coaches for the improvement of Adisa Majors ‘18, Eric McCord ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘20. And, honestly, this is a lifetime achievement award as well as a seasonal one. Daly was underrated for his whole career by nature of playing with Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown, to the point that he wasn’t selected to any all league teams last year (a travesty that many Middlebury fans still haven’t gotten over.) For the first time in his career, Daly struggled in a big moment, but that doesn’t erase a whole season. Either Gilmour and Heskett will get theirs, and maybe even both, but this has been Daly’s year all season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Honestly the best thing about picking Folger is that it gives me an excuse to use this picture in another article.

I can already read the emails. “Pete picked two Midd players for the major awards, SHOCKER.” And like POY, this race is filled with strong contenders. Daly leads the league in steals, and Wesleyan has two very strong contenders. G Kevin O’ Brien ‘20 is a dangerous perimeter defender who uses his size and length to rack up blocks (.9 per game) and steals (1.7 per game.) And F Jordan Sears is a defensive anchor for the Cardinals in the paint. He is the only player in the top five in the league in both blocks and steals (1.5 and 1.7 respectively.) But O’Brien and Sears suffer from a similar problem to Casey and Heskett in the POY race: how do you put one over the other if their on the same team? They also suffer from the fact that Folger has been a monster. He is second in the league in blocks with 2.3 per game, and that is despite spending a lot of time guarding perimeter players. Folger is the key cog in what was an excellent Middlebury defense this season (Hamilton aside.) His ability to stay in front of smaller, quicker guards was central to the Panthers’ pick and roll defense, and he covered ground to block shots better than anyone in the league. O’ Brien and Colby’s Dean Weiner ’20 both missed time due to injury, and Folger’s dominance makes this an easy call. Bias be damned.

Coach of the Year: Williams’ Kevin App

Williams weathered a lot this season, and have Coach App to thank for their success.

Losing your best player, and maybe the best player in the league, six games into the season? There’s an App for that. Losing your fifth year senior point guard and floor general in the middle of league play? There’s an App for that. Inspiring such love within your players that one of them tells this writer that they’d “take a bullet for [Coach App?] There’s an App for that. Williams had to deal with incredible adversity this season. After losing Daniel Aronowitz in the offseason, it seemed that the team would simply refocus around Kyle Scadlock ’19, the frontrunner for POY. Then Scadlock tore his ACL early in the season. No one counted Williams out totally, but it was clear that they would need to make an adjustment. Coach App did so, inserting Bobby Casey ’19 into the starting lineup and giving much of Scadlock’s responsibilities to James Heskett ’19. We all know how those two choices worked out. Casey and Heskett are one and two in league scoring, and their success allowed Williams to weather even another huge loss: that of Mike Greenman ’18, their starting point guard. The fact that the Williams offense didn’t miss a beat after losing these two huge pieces is a testament to the skill of Casey and Heskett, but even more to App’s coaching ability.

Rookie of the Year: Wesleyan G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (11.7 PTS/G, 40% 3FG, 27.4 MIN/G)

Austin Hutcherson ’21 has been Wesleyan’s best scorer at times this season, and is a huge key for them heading into the playoffs.

For years, Wesleyan had been a team that was good enough defensively to beat anyone, but struggled to score. They were just some consistent perimeter scoring away from really contending. Enter Hutcherson. He exploded for 27 points in a non-league win over Brandeis on December 9th, and since then he has had two more 20 point games and averaged nearly 15 points per game. Despite struggling from three point land lately (2-14 in his last two games,) Hutcherson has proven himself over the course of this season to be the future of the league. There are other excellent first years who start for contending teams. Middlebury’s Jack Farrall has improved every game and had 22 against Amherst. And speaking of the Mammoth’s, Grant Robinson has done an incredible job stepping in as the point guard for a demanding program. But Hutcherson has made the biggest difference for his team.

All League First Team:

Jack Daly

Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18 (15.7 PTS/G, 8.3 REB/G, 8.5 AST/G, 1.8 STL/G)

 

Kena GilmourHamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20 (17.4 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.7 STL/G, 46.4 FG)

 

 

Bobby CaseyWilliams G Bobby Casey ‘19 (16.1 PPG, 48% FG, 44.1% 3FG)

 

 

Vincent Pace

Tufts G/F Vincent Pace ‘18 (18.4 PPG, 8.2 REB/G, 2.7 AST/G)

 

 

James HeskettWilliams F James Heskett ‘19 (19.4 PPG, 3.9 REB/G, 52.6% FG, 45.6% 3FG)

 

 

All League Second Team:

Johnny McCarthy

Amherst G Johnny McCarthy ’18 (11.0 PTS/G, 7.8 REB/G, 2.9 AST/G, 1.1 STL/G)

 

Jordan BonnerWesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’19 (15.6 PTS/G, 5.0 REB/G, 36.7 3FG)

 

 

David ReynoldsBowdoin F David Reynolds ’20 (15.8 PTS/G, 47.5% FG, 43.9% 3FG)

 

 

Michael Grassey

Hamilton F Michael Grassey ’19 (13.7 PPG, 6.7 REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42% 3FG)

 

Matt Folger

Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20 (14.0 PTS/G, 7.1 REB/G, 2.3 BLK/G)

The Big One: Middlebury @ Hamilton Game of the Week Preview

Whatever the schedule makers did this season, they should do it every year. This has the potential to be one of the most exciting NESCAC weekends I can remember. Almost every game has major playoff ramifications. On Friday, Williams and Amherst match up with Williams needing a win to keep their hopes of hosting alive, and Trinity travels to Lewiston in a game that could pretty much decide the final playoff spot. And on Saturday, Wesleyan and Bowdoin battle for their playoff lives, and Amherst plays Middlebury in a game that they will probably need to win in order to ensure an NCAA bid. But the biggest game is on Friday night, as Middlebury travels to Hamilton in a matchup of the top two teams in the regional rankings.

#5 Middlebury (18-3, 7-1) @ #15 Hamilton (19-2, 6-2), 7:00 PM, Clinton, NY

Overview:

If Middlebury pulls this game out, they will pretty much clinch the number one seed and hosting duties in the NESCAC tournament. They will be the only team with one loss, and even if they drop their Saturday matchup with Amherst and end up at 8-2, they will hold the tie breaker with both Williams and Hamilton. If Hamilton wins, their Saturday game with Williams becomes enormous, as they could host themselves due to the tie breaker over Middlebury. But If Williams wins, Middlebury would still host, providing Williams beat Amherst on Friday and Middlebury beats Amherst on Saturday. *Exhales.*  Clearly this is a huge weekend in which every game has playoff ramifications, making it a very difficult weekend in which to pick a Game of Week. In fact, there are so many great games that there is a little rivalry game on Friday and it still isn’t the GOTW. But it’s not often that the top two teams in the regional rankings have a chance to decide the number one seed.

Jack Daly has the Panthers rolling to the fifth spot in the national poll.

This game is fascinating for more than just rankings. It is a matchup between two teams that love to play fast. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball at times, but owns the boards and dominates on defense. Hamilton, on the other hand, is the top three point shooting team and scoring offense in the league. Middlebury relies heavily on POY frontrunner Jack Daly ‘18 for pretty much everything, on both sides of the ball. The senior star will most likely guard Hamilton’s leading scorer and future of the league Kena Gilmour ‘20. As we outlined in the Stock Report, the Continentals have been playing well despite recent struggles from Gilmour, but against the elite teams they will play this weekend (Middlebury and then Williams,) they will need someone to get them a clutch bucket. That has to be Gilmour. This game may well be the biggest in the history of the Hamilton basketball program, and could put them on the map. Now how’s that for a hype machine?

Middlebury X-Factor: F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Chuck Norris ’75/Matt Folger ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

This is not my most inventive pick (that honor would have to go to Max Bosco ‘21,) but Folger’s versatility is will be absolutely critical in this game. Even though Hamilton’s offense has slumped slightly in league play, they are still dangerous, especially from the outside. Surprisingly close games against Bates and Bowdoin (and a scary almost comeback by Williams) has shown that Middlebury is susceptible to teams that shoot well from the outside. Middlebury hasn’t hit many threes of their own lately, and basic math tells us that it’s hard to match threes with twos. Middlebury has to hit at least a couple threes of their own to match any runs by Hamilton, and Folger is one of the guys who is supposed to do it. He has struggled mightily from outside in league play, shooting under 30% from downtown. Jack Daly will be somewhat occupied while he chases around Gilmour, so Middlebury will need their second option to be available to create offense.

As important as Folger’s shooting will be, his defense may be even more so. Folger is the most dangerous shot blocker in the league, and his quickness and athleticism makes him valuable on the perimeter as well. Against Bowdoin, he did an excellent job locking down Jack Simonds ‘19, and helped out Daly quite a bit on Tufts’ Vincent Pace as well. However, Middlebury has struggled this season when faced with athletic power forwards, a position that Hamilton is loaded at. In addition to Gilmour, Hamilton’s top scorers are Peter Hoffmann ‘19 and Michael Grassey ‘19, two athletic forwards who excel in the paint.. Folger will probably switch off between those players when he is in the game and needs to do a good job on them, because Middlebury doesn’t have an answer other than him. His rebounding will also be valuable. This is a game in which Middlebury should own the boards, and Folger, at 7.3 per game, is one of the Panthers best rebounders. It’s playoff time in the NESCAC, and in the playoffs stars wins. Folger has the skills to be a star: time to start playing like one.

Hamilton X-Factor: F Andrew Groll ‘19

Andrew Groll
Andrew Groll ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

As I mentioned earlier, the blueprint for beating Middlebury is to hit threes and win (or at least not lose embarrassingly) the rebounding battle. Hamilton has plenty of three point shooting. Guards Tim Doyle ‘19 and Joe Pucci ‘18 both shoot nearly 40%, and F Michael Grassey ‘19 is one of the more underrated scorers in the league, putting up 15 points per game on 51/41/80 shooting. The rebounding is where Hamilton has more work to do, and where Groll comes in. At 6’8”, Groll is the only true big in Hamilton’s rotation, and is an elite rebounder in limited minutes. He’s averaging 6.3 rebounds per game in just over 15 minutes. And, more importantly for this matchup, 2.3 of those rebounds are offensive. Hamilton will need people to mix it up underneath with Middlebury’s big men, especially Eric McCord ‘19, who has been eating rebounds for breakfast lately. The way that Middlebury wins is by getting teams that like offense (such as Williams) to play ugly, and they are certainly good enough to do that to Hamilton. The Continentals have to be ready to match them, and Groll is their best bet.

Final Thoughts:

Hamilton’s defense can be just as explosive as their offense. Hamilton leads the league in steals at 8.9 per game, and their fast paced offense means that those turnovers become points almost immediately. This activity, particularly on the part of Hamilton’s guards, means they are well suited to handle Jack Daly. Like Wesleyan did earlier this year, Hamilton has the ability to throw multiple long, athletic defenders at Daly, which will make his operations in the paint difficult. One of these guards is Joe Pucci ‘18. If I were to pick a second X-Factor for Hamilton, it would be Pucci. At 6’7”, he is one of the biggest guards in the league, and will spend a great deal of time on the Middlebury star. Gilmour is the best matchup athletically, but Hamilton would be smart to try to keep him fresh for the offensive end, and will probably hide try to hide him on G Jack Farrell ‘21.

Joe Pucci ’18 will be more valuable for his offense than his defense on Friday.

This means that Farrell’s activity will be important. We know Hamilton will make Jack Daly play defense, but Middlebury must do the same to Gilmour. Farrell had a breakout game against Trinity (16 points,) but overall has not been very threatening to opposing defenses. He is a better ball handler and defender than any of the guards off the bench, but if this game gets higher scoring than Middlebury would like, Joey Leighton ‘20 might be a better option, to ensure that Gilmour has to play defense.

Last season, Hamilton came in to Middlebury’s gym with a lot of hype (mostly from us) as “the next big thing” in the league. Then the Panthers ran them out of the gym 115-82, and the Continentals never recovered, losing in the first round of the tournament. Hamilton is now even more obviously “the next big thing” in the league: Pucci is the only senior in their rotation. But Middlebury is still “the big thing,” and they match up very well with Hamilton. The Panthers will bring Hamilton’s high octane attack down to their gritty level, and end up hosting the NESCAC tournament.

Writer’s Prediction: 77-73 Middlebury

Other Friday Games:

# 8 Williams (18-4, 6-2) @ Amherst (14-8, 5-3), 7:00 PM

Connecticut College (6-15, 0-8) @ Bowdoin (14-7, 3-5), 7:00 PM

Wesleyan (17-5, 5-3) @ Colby (10-12, 1-7), 7:00 PM

Trinity (15-7, 4-4) @ Bates (11-12, 3-6), 7:00 PM

Nearing the End: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 2/6

Before we get into this recap, some congratulations are in order. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury G Jack Daly ’18 became the program’s all time assists leader with 558, breaking the previous record (553 by Jake Wulfin ’13) early in the second half. As we all know, this blog is basically a Jack Daly fan page, so we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Panther senior. With that out of the way, it was a pretty conventional weekend in NESCAC, setting up a wild final regular season weekend. The only major upset was Trinity knocking off Wesleyan 73-60 (we’ll get to that.) Here are some things to watch for in this coming weekend.

Stock Up

Hamilton, Weathering Adversity

In the wake of Hamilton’s amazing season this year, people have forgotten that they had a similarly hot start last year. In 2016-2017, they entered league play at 12-3, and many experts, particularly the one you’re reading right now, thought they were making a leap. Then they lost 3 straight NESCAC games and never recovered, finishing 4-6 in the league and losing in the first round of the tournament. And, after their 75-49 drubbing at the hands of Amherst and another bad loss to Bowdoin it looked like they might be heading towards a similar fate. But they have impressively righted the ship. They’ve won three league games in a row, including a dominant win over Tufts on Saturday. These wins have been of a different nature than their 15-0 start. Hamilton’s defense has gone from somewhat indifferent to excellent in recent games. Against Tufts, they held Vincent Pace ’18, one of the hottest players in the league, to 3-14 shooting from the field. All of the young players who got Hamilton off to such a good start last year have gained a lot of maturity in the last 12 months, and it has allowed them to weather the storm and keep their chances for the #1 seed alive.

Trinity’s Three Point Shooting

As I mentioned earlier, Trinity’s win over Wesleyan was the biggest upset of the weekend. At 4-4 in the league, Trinity desperately needed that win in order to stay ahead of the the Maine teams in the playoff race. But Wesleyan’s dominant defense seemed like it would to be too much for Trinity’s often shaky offense to overcome. Three point shooting changed that. Trinity went 9-18 from three, including 7-9 from Jeremy Arthur ’18 and Eric Gendron ’19. Trinity was the number one seed not too long ago, but if they want any hope of winning this year’s tournament, they will need to keep teams honest from the three point line. This game, against one of the truly elite defenses in the league, showed that they can do that. Teams should be worried about playing Trinity in the quarterfinals.                                                                                                                                                                                                Middlebury F Adisa Majors ‘18

Adisa Majors
Adisa Majors ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Majors made the biggest shot of Middlebury’s season thus far, a 15-footer with 5 seconds left to beat Bowdoin. Had the Panthers lost to Bowdoin, they would be tied for the top spot with Hamilton and Williams. But Majors gave them sole possession of the top seed, and now they basically control their own destiny, with an enormous matchup with Hamilton looming. However, Majors’ great weekend wasn’t just comprised of that game winner. He had ten points overall against Bowdoin, and is averaging nearly ten on over 50% shooting in his last three. When Majors is playing well, Middlebury’s rotation of forwards is nearly impossible to handle, because each offers a different skill set. Eric McCord ’19 is a beast, ripping offensive rebounds away and using his strength to finish inside. Nick Tarantino ’18 is long and athletic, and uses that to beat people down the floor and finish above the rim. And Majors is an excellent finisher who can step out to the midrange. Majors has had a huge role in Middlebury’s current 9 game winning streak, and has them poised to host the tournament.

Stock Down

Tufts

The Jumbos have gone from contenders for the top seed to struggling to stay in the top five. They play just Trinity this weekend, and if they lose, they could end up as the seventh seed. How did this happen? Simple: shooting. In Tufts’ last three league games, they are shooting under 20% from three. You just can’t win like that. Vincent Pace ’18 is a star, but defenses are able to focus all their energy on him and no one around him is scoring well enough to take the pressure off. However, Middlebury has had the same problems surrounding Jack Daly, and yet the Panthers are 7-1 in the league. Tufts doesn’t have the defense and rebounding tenacity to make up for their scoring struggles. They get out-rebounded by 1 rebound per game in league play, while Middlebury out-rebounds opponents by 11. In Pace, Tufts will often have the best player on the court, but he needs help.

Hamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20

One of the most impressive things about Hamilton’s recent strong play is that it has coincided with struggles from Gilmour, their best player. Gilmour is shooting just 39% overall in league play, and against Tufts he shot 2-9 from the field. Only a sophomore, Gilmour may starting to experience the fatigue that often comes from playing so many more minutes than in his rookie season, and his minutes last weekend (21 and 23 respectively) show the coaching staff trying to manage it. But he will need to play better in Hamilton’s enormous matchup against Middlebury on Friday. The Panthers have the depth to match Hamilton’s versatile offense; Hamilton will need to be able to rely on Gilmour to get a shot for himself or someone else in a one-on-one matchup. It will be a great learning experience for the future star to try this against Jack Daly, and if he does it, the league could be his earlier than expected.

Kena Gilmour ’20 is the future of the league, and his future could arrive on Friday against Middlebury.

Better Late than Never: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/31

Stock Up

Jack Daly’s Foul Shooting

Jack Daly ‘18 has, by far, the most responsibility on his team of any player in the league. He plays around 35 minutes a game, handles the ball 90% of the time and guards the best player on the opposing team. And this responsibility only increases late in games, when every part of the offense runs through him. Of course, this makes his foul shooting incredibly important. More often than not, he is the one that teams will be fouling at the end of close games. So when he was struggling from the line, it was a HUGE problem for Middlebury. Overall, Daly is at 68% from the line, and underwent a 7-17 mess early in the season. But, as he so often does, Daly has raised his game when it counts. In league play, he is shooting 77% from the line, and single-handedly won Middlebury’s game against Trinity at the line with an amazing 18-20 showing. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, last night he iced Keene State as well, going 8-8. Daly is the guy Middlebury will have at the line in big moments, and the way he’s shooting right now, Middlebury wouldn’t have it any other way.

Daly is dominating the league right now, and that dominance is finally extending to the foul line.

Amherst in League Play

I don’t think we’ll ever have a NESCAC season without Amherst in the mix. After looking nearly dead for much of the season, the Mammoths have roared (trumpeted?) back to life, winning three straight NESCAC games, including blowouts over Hamilton and Bowdoin. Amherst relies mostly on an excellent defense to win games; they are third in the league (behind Wesleyan and Trinity) in opponents PPG and FG%. But their offense is beginning to come around as well. Michael Riopel ‘18 is one of the deadliest three point shooters in the league, but has diversified his game nicely and is dangerous inside the arc as well. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 has had a fascinating career arc, and has reinvented himself again as a gritty paint presence and dominant rebounder. But the key to Amherst’s success (and failure early in the season) is their supporting cast. When Amherst wins, it is because guys like Grant Robinson ‘21, Eric Sellew ‘20 and Fru Che ‘21 are all contributing. Amherst needs the help, and lately they have been getting it. However, they still have yet to play Middlebury, Wesleyan or Williams in league play, so we may well be writing a different article about them in a couple weeks.

Stock Down

The NbN Curse

It’s starting to look like the best thing for a team’s chances this year is to not be hyped up by this blog. We put Hamilton at number one in the Power Rankings when they were 15-0 and demolishing all comers like Darth Maul, and since then they’ve lost two league games and needed overtime to beat Colby. Their vaunted offense has produced 71 PPG on under 40% shooting in the last four games, and they still have to play Tufts, Williams and Middlebury. Hamilton could fall out of the top 5, and it might all our fault. And as if hamstringing Hamilton wasn’t enough, we did a whole Game of the Week about how Bates was making a move, and then they went out and got cracked by a struggling Wesleyan team 68-50. They shot 33% from the field and 25% from three, and didn’t look especially like a team ready to make a move. If they don’t grab one upset this weekend (either Hamilton or Amherst,) they might not make it to the postseason at all. We apologize in advance to anyone who we write about this week.

Bates got bodied by Wesleyan last weekend, and it’s all our fault.

Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20 (on offense)

One of the reasons for Jack Daly’s insane amount of responsibility on offense is that Folger, Middlebury’s best scorer (better than Daly even when he’s got it all working) has been really struggling shooting the ball. In league play, Folger is shooting just 36% from the field and 25% from three. Sophomores often struggle to maintain their improvement over their first season into NESCAC play (Matt St. Amour is a good recent example for Middlebury) and Folger is certainly having trouble dealing with increased defensive attention. The emergence of Eric McCord ‘19 as a dominant post scorer has forced Folger to try and create more on the perimeter, a place where he is still not very comfortable. However, he is also simply missing good looks. They will start to fall. And Folger deserves commendation, even during this slump, for his defensive intensity. His case for DPOY has only gotten stronger during the NESCAC season. He is second in the league in blocks and ninth in rebounds during league play, and his versatility has been the key to Middlebury’s seven game winning streak despite a team wide shooting slump. Against Williams, Middlebury’s biggest win of the year, Folger had four blocks and a steal, including an earth-shattering rejection on Matt Karpowicz that I still think about every night before bed. Folger will start hitting shots, and when he puts that together with his defensive dominance, watch out.

(Editor’s Note: Folger broke out a little bit last night against Keene State, putting up 22 points on 8-12 shooting, although still just 1-4 from three.)

The Rise of the Bobcats: Men’s Basketball Game of the Week Preview

Bates (9-9, 2-3) @ #14 Wesleyan (14-4, 3-2), 7:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Bates vs. Tufts was a worthy contender for game of the week, but due to Bates’ victory over the Jumbos last weekend, they are the team to beat for Wesleyan. Bates sits in ninth place in the standings, seemingly stuck in the abyss of basketball irrelevance. However, Tufts, who Bates beat 77-75, is sitting in third place at 3-2—only one game ahead of the Bobcats. Indeed, Bates is actually a huge wild card right now in terms of playoff seeding. They could spoil some better teams rankings, and if they can win this one and take down Trinity, they are assured of a playoff spot. This cramming of the standings shows the remarkable parity of the conference and how so much is left to chance with half of the regular season remaining. Not only are there solid teams sitting on the outside looking in, but there are perennial powers just one game out of the similar irrelevance that Bates is facing. This matchup puts power against bottom feeder, while the end result could completely flip the switch on their places in the standings, playoff potential, and power rankings.

Overview:

While Bates is only 2-3 in conference, they have already played Tufts, Midd, and Williams, with their only bad loss coming against Colby. Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, and Nick Lynch ’19 are all above average for the conference at their position and are threats on both sides of the ball against what has been an inconsistent Wesleyan team. Regardless of how their shooting accuracy has fluctuated recently, the Cardinals still have only lost to Williams in OT and #16 Hamilton. Therefore, they will compete independent of shooting struggles and can compete with any team in the nation, giving them a clear edge against a Bates team fighting to get into the conversation of relevance.

Wesleyan X-Factor: Passing Game

With O’ Brien out, role players like Elijah Wilson will be responsible for keeping the ball moving and keeping turnovers down against Bates.

Wesleyan is last in the NESCAC with just 14.6 assists per game, leading to a lower shooting percentage (45.9%) than their overall record would indicate. They have had some real duds in terms of ball distribution, like against Hamilton, where they recorded just seven assists on the night, no more than one for any player. The assist numbers were similar in their narrow win over Amherst, with just 10 total assists for the team. While not a clear indication of success, more assists should correlate to better possessions and better shots which should improve the shooting percentage and limit the unusual poor performances from the star players who get caught trying to do too much. Distribution has seen a steep decline since team leader Kevin O’Brien ’19 went down with an injury, taking away 6.5 assists per contest which are heavily missed of late. Jordan Sears ’18 has been taking his place in the starting lineup, putting up five assists in a blowout win over Conn College, but otherwise not having a similar impact to O’Brien. Sears and the first year stand out Austin Hutcherson (second on the team in assists with 2.2 per contest) are going to be the keys to keeping the ball away from Bates.

Bates X-Factor: G Tom Coyne ‘20

Tom Coyne
Tom Coyne ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

In their mid-season defining win against Tufts, Coyne came off the bench to shoot 4-5 from deep, tallying up those 12 points in just 21 minutes played. He electrified the Bobcats and will be a key piece to their performance against Wesleyan. While Jeff Spellman leads the team with 17.0 PPG, Coyne is second with 13.4 PPG. A recent move out of the starting lineup has taken a chunk out of his shot totals for game which rose as high as 20 in a non-conference game against Brandeis, but his sharp-shooting is still one of the biggest parts of the Bobcats’ success. His accuracy will be the biggest unknown of the game as he will be needed for Bates, ranked ninth in the conference in PPG at 73.3 to keep up with Wesleyan’s diverse scoring arsenal. This underdog team is also ranked 10th in 3PT shooting percentage at 32.1%, in line with Coyne’s season average, and if he didn’t shoot well above that against the Jumbos, his team would be sitting at 1-4 overall in NESCAC play. Although he moved to the bench, he still has a large stake in influencing the outcome of the game and he will need to be ready to go for the 9th place team to have a shot to win.

Final Thoughts:

Last time I previewed one of Wesleyan’s games, I highlighted Jordan Bonner’s downturn in scoring efficiency. Since then (right before their 76-70 loss to Hamilton), he has decreased his shooting attempts per game, handing more to Nathan Krill and Austin Hutcherson. While Krill and Hutcherson have both been excelling recently, combining for 33 points and 13 boards against Amherst two weekends ago, they shot poorly against Hamilton, going 5-22 combined. That weekend was the last time the Cardinals played a solid team as they easily rolled over Conn College last weekend and dominated in their non-conference games. In a game where Bates’ leading scorer Spellman could take over the scoreboard, the trio of Bonner, Krill, and Hutcherson will need to be on their A-game from the field.

Bates should be greedy to attack another top-dawg in the NESCAC after falling in the week’s Power Rankings from eighth on 1/17 to ninth after their upset of Tufts. While most of the stuff Pete writes is controversial in some way, it is hard for me to see how a team goes down after beating a team ranked above them (Editor’s Note: Rude.) Nevertheless, this is another chance for the Bobcats to prove their haters wrong with Spellman and Nick Lynch leading the way in scoring and on defense. Lynch, like Coyne, has a huge responsibility, albeit Lynch’s on defense. Lynch leads the Bates team with 8.5 boards per game with Coyne coming in behind him with just 4.2 rebounds per game. Lynch will need to matchup against Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill who hauls in over nine boards of his own. The two 6’7” bigs will be another marquee matchup in this already loaded contest. Bates is not expected to win and needs to do everything right as they did against Tufts and then some to pull it out, but if they do they immediately become a real threat to other top NESCAC teams.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan 77-71

Halfway There: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/25

What a week, what a week. Tom Brady and the polarizing Patriots calmly came back from down 10 in fourth quarter of the AFC championship and my very own Bobcats edged Tufts on a game winner with just seconds remaining. Life is good. Anyways, in what was a one-game week for every team in the NESCAC (besides Trinity who was idle), we actually got to see a decent amount of action. Williams and Middlebury clashed in another battle of the titans, Bates took down the suddenly struggling Jumbos, and Amherst either proved that Hamilton isn’t as good as we thought or that the Mammoths are better than we thought. Who knows. The upcoming week should tell a lot as we get past the halfway point in the season, but at the moment there is much to sort through.

  1.     #10 Middlebury (14-3, 4-1)

Last week: 70-66 W vs. Williams

This week: @ Trinity

As seen in this week’s stock report, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ’19 were highlights in the huge win over Williams this past week. Jack Daly ’18 had another good game, but his 8 turnovers were a bit frightening. Anyone can beat anyone in this league, so he’ll definitely need to be a bit sharper as we move forward. Middlebury appears to be finding their identity, so the rest of the conference should be very, very afraid. The Panthers will likely take care of business this week against Trinity to remain on the throne, but stay tuned to see if the Bantams are able to give them a scare.

  1.     #16 Hamilton (16-1, 3-1)

Last week: 75-49 L @ Amherst

This week: @ Bowdoin, @ Colby

We all knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when. The loss to Amherst was embarrassing (to say the least), but it was just one game. Everyone is bound to lose at some point, but it’ll be important to see how Hamilton responds this week against the bottom half of the league. Kena Gilmour ’20 has been a stud, but he needs to do more than the 7-point, 3-rebound effort he put up against Amherst if the Continentals are going to win in a league driven by star power. His supporting cast is there, but Gilmour has to lead the way. Their three-point shooting numbers have also taken a dip recently, which seemed inevitable, but we’ll see if Hamilton can regain their footing.

  1.     #15 Williams (14-4, 3-2)

Last week: 70-66 L @ Middlebury

This week: @ Trinity

James Heskett ’19 is making a strong case for best scorer in the league, as he still put up 19 against Middlebury despite a slow start shooting the ball. The Panthers were able to slow down the sharpshooting duo of Heskett and Bobby Casey ’19 just enough to pull off the huge win. Williams was held to just 35.9% from the field, which was really the best indication of how that game against Middlebury went. They simply weren’t hitting shots, and that’s not how you beat the best teams. I don’t believe there is much cause for worry despite the Ephs losing two of their last three NESCAC games. Look for Coach App to get them back on track with their only matchup this week on the road against Trinity.

James Heskett may well be the Player of the Year.
  1.     #14 Wesleyan (13-4, 3-2)

Last week: 89-51 W vs. Conn College

This week: vs. Bates, vs. Tufts

Wesleyan did what they needed to do in a trouncing of Conn College. This weekend will be very telling of a Cardinals squad that has been tough to get a read on. Bates is coming off a big win and have shown that they’re capable of competing, whereas Tufts is reeling after losing two of their last three. Kevin O’Brien ’19 hasn’t played in almost three weeks, and we don’t have word as to why, but this is a big blow. Wesleyan is very dependent on O’Brien both as an elite defender and as a point guard. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is doing a nice job filling in, but the Cardinals are hurting from the loss of O’Brien. They have a lot to prove this weekend, so keep an eye on the results from Middletown.

  1.     Tufts (13-5, 3-2)

Last week: 77-75 L vs. Bates

This week: @ Conn College, @ Wesleyan

Despite Vincent Pace ‘18 looking like frontrunner for POY, Tufts has struggled recently. They lost to Middlebury last week in an ugly game, and then were nudged by Bates, 77-75 this past weekend. Bates played well and has shown glimpses of outstanding basketball, but has been inconsistent, and that was a game that the Jumbos definitely should have won. Conn College should be a relatively easy win for Tufts, but Saturday they’ll be tested yet again versus a hard-to-read, but talented Wesleyan team. That matchup will help show who’s ready to take a leap, and who’s going to stay in the middle. There really is no rest for the weary in the NESCAC.

  1.     Amherst (10-6, 2-2)

Last week: 75-49 W vs. Hamilton

This week: @ Colby, @ Bowdoin

Amherst looked like the Goliath they always have been in a trampling of Hamilton. Johnny McCarthy ’18 put up a monster 12-point, 15-rebound double-double, providing the lead role, as he needs to for this Mammoth squad. There hasn’t been a ton of help from the supporting cast, however Eric Sellew ’20 has been provided a solid third option alongside McCarthy and Michael Riopel ’18. They are an absolute nightmare on defense as they showed against the Continentals, and this will be important to help keep their offense in games. If the Mammoths cruise to two victories this weekend, maybe it’s time for us to start giving them another look.

Michael Riopel ’18 has been one of the more efficient scorers in the league, and looks to bring Amherst back to the top tier.
  1.     Trinity (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: non-conference

This week: vs. Williams, vs. Middlebury

Trinity, much like Wesleyan, has been puzzling to figure out. A few weeks ago, they took down Amherst. More recently they dropped a game to Colby, only scoring 51 points. I guess what they have shown is that if they come to play, they’re capable of competing, but if they don’t show up, they roll over. This is an unfortunate outlook given that they’re taking on Williams and Middlebury this week. Regardless, they are a team with a lot of athleticism who has the ability to show up and give anyone a game. Things could get even more blurry in the NESCAC if the Bantams steal one this weekend, so fear the chicken.

  1.     Bowdoin (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: 83-77 W vs. Colby

This week: vs. Hamilton, vs. Amherst

Bowdoin has a promising overall record at 13-4, but they haven’t proven anything yet in conference play. They beat Bates and now Colby, but fell to Tufts and Trinity, which really doesn’t tell us too much. Reigning player of the week David Reynolds ’20 provides another go-to guy along with Jack Simonds ’19, and has now found his way into the starting lineup. He torched Colby to the tune of 29 points and 8 rebounds, while going 11-21 from the field, including 6-9 from deep. Reynolds adds to this potent Polar Bear offense that averages over 80 points per game. This will be a telling weekend, as Hamilton and Amherst each give Bowdoin a chance to prove something to the rest of the league.

With Jack Simonds ’19 struggling from the field, Reynolds has become the real star of the Polar Bears.
  1.     Bates (9-9, 2-3)

Last week: 77-75 W @ Tufts

This week: @ Wesleyan, @ Conn College

Bates picked up a signature win on the road at Tufts on a wild Nick Gilpin ’20 layup with 8 seconds left. This is the type of game that shows how dangerous Bates can be, and that they are a force to be reckoned with. The only reason they fall this week is because of a poor out of conference effort, and two losses to Bowdoin this season. Or maybe because I want my Bobcats to prove something with a few big wins. Either one. James Mortimer ’21 has found a spot in the starting lineup and has added a huge spark to this young Bobcat lineup. His size and shooting ability allow him to be tough on both ends of the court, and make him very versatile. If the Tufts game was any indication, we should see the Bobcats rise in the rankings as they have two big games in Connecticut this week.

  1.  Colby (10-7, 1-3)

Last week: 83-77 L @ Bowdoin

This week: vs. Amherst, vs. Hamilton

The Mules had a chance to move up when they traveled to Brunswick, but came up short and ultimately remain just above the basement of the league. Colby isn’t a bad team by any means, but they just lack the star power to compete with the top teams. They have good players (see Dean Weiner ’19), but they lack a pure scorer who can take over games. The win over Trinity is certainly a good one and a building point, but at the moment, the Mules have a long way to climb. They could make things more interesting this weekend by sneaking away with a win when they host the Mammoths and Continentals.

  1.  Connecticut College (6-11, 0-5)

Last week: 89-51 L @ Wesleyan

This week: vs. Tufts, vs. Bates

Nothing has gotten better for the poor Camels, who were housed by Wesleyan this past weekend. At this point, they’re planning for the future in New London, and we could potentially start to see different schemes and different guys getting involved for Conn College. Then again, the ‘CAC is weird and you never know what could happen on a given day. The best I can say is that Conn is a trap game, however they are yet to do any of this alleged trapping, so it is hard to even give them that. Bates and Tufts come to town this weekend, so hopefully things start to look up for the Camels.