NESCAC East Division Winner Tufts takes on number two seeded Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC Playoffs. Tufts finished the season at an outstanding 26-7-1 (9-3 in conference) with a total run differential of +163. In conference, the Jumbos put up double the amount of runs as their opponents (92 compared to 46). However, all this success has not come easy. Tufts’ dominant weekend performances have often been accompanied by a poorly played game occasionally. In the highly-contested playoff format, the Jumbos cannot afford to dig themselves in a hole with a sloppy game to start off the postseason. Amherst, on the other hand, has been in playoff mode for two weeks now. The winner of their final weekend series against Wesleyan decided the two seed in the West Division, and Amherst prevailed. They finished the season at 19-14 overall but a solid 8-4 in conference. Interestingly enough though, their home record stood at 7-8 compared to their incredible away record at 9-1. Nonetheless, the playoffs represent the start of a new season and Amherst looks to ride their NESCAC hot streak into them. Having won the last 3 NESCAC series, the team proved to recover from the rough start and look for a win to start the postseason.
Both teams will likely throw their aces in game one of the postseason. Coincidently, these players were the two chosen as First-Team All-NESCAC last season. Speros Varinos ’17 throughout the season has proven again and again that he is the best pitcher in the NESCAC hands down. Finishing the season at 8-1 in 9 starts, Varinos led the league in wins, ERA at 1.60 and strikeouts, 68. He is our pick to win NESCACPitcher of the Year and likely will do just that, defending his title. All season, Varinos has shown his dominance and is ready to take on the Amherst lineup. Jackson Volle ’17 has put together an excellent season himself. In 7 starts, he went 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA. However, this number was weighed down by one poor start against Wesleyan in which Volle allowed 6 earned runs in his only loss. Take that start out and his ERA sits at roughly a full point lower around 1.76. Amherst looks for Volle to put together another strong performance against a talented Tufts offense.
Tufts X-Factor: Nick Falkson ‘18
Player of the Year candidate Nick Falkson has put together a phenomenal year. With depth in the infield, Coach Casey often rides the hot bat which explains why Falkson leads the team in such a category. Hitting .394/.468/.504, Falkson has consistently been one of Tufts’ best and most clutch hitters. Sitting in the heart of the lineup, he has hit in 34 runs and scored another 29. However, what stands out most about his season is the correlation between his success at the plate and team wins. In the 25 wins this season, Falkson has hit .430/.516/.540 with 31 of his 34 RBIs. In the team’s 7 losses, his averages drop significantly to .250/.240/.250. The Jumbos will look for Falkson to lead the offense in this first round matchup. If the trend continues, a big game from him could mean a Tufts win.
Amherst X-Factor: Harry Roberson ‘18
While slightly overshadowed by teammate Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Harry Roberson has been a crucial part of this Amherst lineup. Leading the team with 135 at-bats, the shortstop has hit .363/.418/.548. These hits have led to a conference leading 38 runs scored. When facing a pitcher like Varinos, runs are hard to come by, so Roberson must continue to be aggressive on the base paths. He is 8 for 8 on stolen base attempts, but has additionally hit for power. Of the seasons 49 hits, 17 have been for extra bases including 11 doubles and 4 triples. Amherst will continue to rely on Roberson for these extra base hits as they will not be able to win leaving men on base. Roberson will likely need a big game for Amherst to beat Varinos and the Tufts staff.
Despite the powerful offenses from both teams, this game will likely be a pitchers’ duel. Tufts will look to get Volle’s pitch count up and get to the bullpen while Amherst will have the same approach on their side. Either way, both teams are capable of not only winning this game, but making a run deep in the postseason. However, getting a win with their respective ace would prove to be a huge advantage in this two loss elimination format. After the grind of the regular season, both teams are ready for playoff action to get underway.
Varinos will put up another outstanding performance, but Volle will keep it close with a strong effort of his own. The Tufts lineup will then get to the Amherst bullpen late and come out on top in game one of the postseason.
This match-up has Mike Leonard’s fingerprints all over it. The former coach of Bates has reshaped the Middlebury program with the kind of efficiency usually reserved for college students with a final due the next morning. But, as evidenced by their playoff spot, Leonard didn’t leave Bates wanting for talent. Both teams are loaded with good young players, and have seen those players lead them to playoff spots that no one predicted before the season began. The teams are trending in different directions though. After a scorching 7-0 start in league play, Bates has dropped their last five, while Middlebury has played well the whole second half and finished at 8-4 in NESCAC play.
Bates’ strength all year has been their pitching. The have the second best team ERA in the league at 3.60, and during league play that number has dropped to 2.65, best in the league. They also are the third best fielding team in the league, with a .962 fielding percentage and 41 errors in 31 games. Bates doesn’t beat themselves, and is well suited to shut down the best offenses in the league. However, the Bobcats simply can’t score. They are last in the league in batting average and slugging percentage (.229 and .275 respectively.) Four of their five losses in league play have been by one run, and that trend is entirely due to an inability to get a big hit, particularly with runners in scoring position.
Middlebury has been a far more consistent team this season, but offense is certainly their strong suit. They have a .302 team average and a .434 slugging percentage, good for second and third in the league. Ryan Rizzo ‘17 sets the table at the top of the order and is a terror on the basepaths with 19 steals. And then fellow senior Jason Lock ‘17 knocks him in (30 RBI on the season.) Justin Han ‘20 provides good power with four home runs, and Sam Graf ‘19 rounds the lineup out with a combination of power, contact and speed that is rare in the league. The Panthers’ pitching was a problem early in the season, but has come together of late. Colby Morris ‘19 is coming off a Pitcher of the Week award, and Spencer Shores ‘20 has been stellar all throughout league play with a 2.29 ERA.
(Likely) Pitching Matchup:
Bates: Connor Speed ‘19 (1-5, 2.17 ERA, 40 K in 49.2 innings)
Speed gets two awards here. He is the runaway winner of the “Most Appropriate Name” award, and also the “Unluckiest Pitcher” award. He has gotten miniscule run support all season, finishing with only one win despite a 2.17 ERA. He also has gotten weirdly poor defensive effort behind him. He has allowed 25 runs on the year, and only 12 of them have been earned. All this to say that Speed is an ace; he just doesn’t have the won-loss record to back it up. He strikes out a fair amount of batters (over seven per nine innings) and has good control. Speed is one of the few pitchers in the league who have the ability to shut down an excellent Middlebury lineup.
The Panthers have a tough decision to make here. Colby Morris has had several rough performances in league play, but is the reigning Pitcher of the Week after out-dueling Tufts ace Speros Varinos ‘17 4-0 last weekend. Shores, on the other hand, has peaked in league play and has been more consistent throughout the season. But he is a first year, and starting an inexperienced pitcher in such a big game would give any coach pause. The thing that I think puts Shores over the top (in addition to the fact that he’s earned it by pitching very well) is that he is well rested. He hasn’t pitched since a rain shortened game against Bowdoin two weekends ago. Unfortunately, he did not pitch well in that game, giving up four runs in just 2.2 innings. Middlebury will have to choose between these two young starters.
Middlebury X-Factor: RP Connor Himstead ‘19 (1.56 ERA, 7 SV)
Middlebury’s starting pitching inconsistencies have been mitigated by having maybe the best closer in the league. Middlebury, like Bates, has the tendency to end up in a lot of close games, so having a closer who they can rely to hold a lead has been one of the most important parts of their season. He strikes guys out (17 in 17 innings) and only gave up 12 hits in those 17 innings as well. Bates’ terrific pitching signals a potential close game here; meaning that Himstead will get some work. He will be called on to hold a lead for Middlebury, or possibly to keep the game close to give the offense a chance to come back. Either way, he will be very important come Friday.
Bates X-Factor: OF Will Sylvia ‘20 (.306/.457/.389, 18 BB)
As I said above, Bates’ offense has been mediocre (to put it lightly) all season. Sylvia has been one bright spot. Despite being a freshman, he has shown incredible plate discipline all year and has had a hand in most of Bates’ rallies on the year. His role in the lineup in primarily as a table setter due to his ability to get on base. Unfortunately, he is often stranded on base because Bates doesn’t have a run producer who is a threat to knock him in. To score in this series, Bates will have to manufacture runs, and they certainly won’t do that without Sylvia having a big series.
The location of the game (Colby College) would seem to benefit Bates. They should bring a fairly good crowd with them, and should have less travel fatigue than the Panthers, who have a five hour drive.
The coaching change, however, should benefit the Panthers. Leonard might be able to give scouting reports on his former players, including likely starter Connor Speed. Middlebury’s reliance on first years may help them as well, as Bates will not have as much information on them as they do on the older players.
I think the game will remain close the whole time, as the strong pitching of both teams should keep the offenses at bay. However, Bates does not have the offense to break the game open, while Middlebury does.
As the final weekend series approach, the races for playoff bids are tightening up. Bates and Tufts battle for the top rank in the East while Amherst and Middlebury currently sit atop the West. Wesleyan, however can get back in the running for a spot in the postseason with a series win. Some seniors will say goodbye to NESCAC play and others will continue to fight for a championship. Check out the key players to watch for in this final NESCAC regular season weekend.
Bates @ Tufts
Bates: Connor Speed ‘18
Speed’s record does not even come close to representing the impressive season he has put together. Bates, despite a Division leading 7-2 record, have failed to give Speed the run support he deserves, resulting in a 1-3 record for the Bobcats’ number one starter. Speed has thrown a team high 35.2 innings in 7 starts. In these appearances, he has allowed only 10 earned runs for a 2.52 ERA. He has also struck out 33 batters, which stands at 6th in the league. The junior has compiled a solid season thus far, but his biggest start of the year is this weekend against the strong Tufts team only one game behind Bates in the standings. Speed looks to reproduce his outing against Bowdoin in which he went 8 innings strong giving up only 2 earned runs. His start will be critical for the Bobcats if they want to maintain their number one seed for the postseason.
Tufts: Ian Kinney ‘18
The Tufts pitching staff has been highlighted by reigning Pitcher of the Year Speros Varinos ‘17, who is likely to defend his title this spring. Behind him are pitchers Tim Superko and R.J. Hall, who have also put together solid seasons. However, a major key in the Jumbos success, is reliever Ian Kinney. He has consistently come out of the bullpen whenever needed and pitched well. Tied in 5th with 12 appearances, only one behind the league lead, Kinney has solidified himself as one of the best closers in the NESCAC. In these 12 appearances, Kinney has put together 4 saves, also one behind the league lead. He has pitched 18.1 innings with a 2.95 ERA and 21 strikeouts giving an outstanding 10.31 K/9 ratio. In this highly competitive weekend series, Tufts will need their number one reliever to continue his success. With much on the line, look for Coach Casey to use Kinney in tough situations and to close out tight games.
Colby @ Bowdoin
Colby: Ryder Arsenault ‘17
In a lineup that has only hit .257 as a team, the Mules are looking for any bat to get hot. Arsenault, leading the team in at bats, has the potential to be that bat. Having reached base in six consecutive games, the lineup looks toward their senior leader to continue his streak in the series against Bowdoin. While his stats so far this season don’t necessarily pop out to the naked eye, Arsenault has shown his versatility throughout the year. His 109 at bats not only lead the team, but is second in the Conference, showing his durability. Additionally, while hitting a modest .275, Arsenault also stands second in the league for Sacrifice Flies. Also, even with all his plate appearances, the center fielder has only hit into one double play. Overall, Arsenault has done a little bit of everything for this struggling Colby offense. If he can pick it up, the Mules may be able to rally around their senior and score some runs against Bowdoin.
Bowdoin: Sawyer Billings ‘18
Billings has quietly put together a solid year at the plate despite the team hitting .259. Having played in 21 of the team’s 26 games, the utility player has hit .313 in 64 at bats. From those plate appearances, he has scored 9 runs, one behind the team lead as well as team leading 8 doubles. The Polar Bears hope that Billings can replicate his performance against Trinity this upcoming series against Colby. The junior went 5-9 with 4 runs and 5 RBI’s against the Bantams, while hitting 4 of his season total of 8 doubles. These at bats contributed heavily in the Bowdoin sweep over their opponent. A similar trend occurred against Tufts; if Billings hits well, the Polar Bears come out victorious. In their two loses, he went 0-5, but in the team’s win, the utility player went 2-4 with a run scored. Bowdoin hopes that Billings has himself a big weekend as they look to win the series.
Williams @ Hamilton
Williams: Jack Cloud ‘17
Kellen Hatheway has gotten all the attention after his Rookie of the Year performance last season and now his bid for NESCAC Player of the Year. However, Cloud has been nothing short of excellent all season as well. The outfielder in his final season has put together 89 at bats in the two-hole resulting in a .337 average. He has scored 25 runs, or 15% of the teams total this season. For in-conference games, his 13 runs lead the league. Cloud has also shown speed on the base paths, with team leading 7 steals and 2 triples. He has shown consistency too, as the outfielder has reached base in 20 of the 22 games he has appeared in this season, getting at least one hit in 17 of them. Despite being eliminated from playoff contention, Williams looks to win the final NESCAC series of the year. If Cloud’s success continues, they should be able to do so. In terms of extra motivation, the senior will look to put his final stamp on NESCAC play this weekend against division opponent Hamilton.
Hamilton: Finlay O’Hara ‘17
Finlay O’Hara has put together an impressive year, proving that he and fellow starter Dan DePaoli ’18 are one of the most dominant starting duos in the NESCAC. He has eight appearances with six starts totaling 36 innings exactly on the season so far, showing his versatility as a key arm for the Hamilton staff. For instance, he made a relief appearance in game 1 against Amherst in last weekend’s series, and then made the next day. His six starts have resulted in only a 3-2 record, but his ERA is a low 2.50. Not a strikeout pitcher, O’Hara has used his defense to get him out of jams. Without any chance for a playoff bid, Hamilton will play the rest of the season for seniors such as O’Hara in this upcoming series. In his last season on the bump, the senior looks to continue his success in his final NESCAC weekend start.
Amherst @ Wesleyan
Amherst: Zach Horwitz ‘20
Amherst is currently tied for first in the tough NESCAC West Division and can claim sole position of the one-seed with a sweep of Wesleyan. However, if they are swept, the team loses any shot of a bid and eliminated from contention. And the key player for this team is a freshman. Horwitz, despite being a rookie, has stepped up this year for Amherst. The team was looking for arms after successful veteran Jackson Volle ’17 and Horwitz did just that. Having pitched 26 innings (second to Volle), Horwitz has gone 2-0 in two starts with nine total appearances. The lefty has gained the trust of Coach Hamm, who will need him in this crucial weekend. Horwitz has done more than just pitch though. Also a first baseman, he has compiled 30 at bats and including a homerun and a triple. The rookie has proven he can contribute to the team in multiple ways, all of which will be needed this weekend. Horwitz’s success can drive this Amherst team right into the postseason.
Wesleyan: Matt Jeye ‘18
Wesleyan’s offense has failed to live up to expectations this season. After dominating NESCAC pitchers last season and returning key bats, the Cardinals have only hit .283 this spring. However, Matt Jeye ’18 has consistently given power to the heart of the lineup. In 102 at bats so far, Jeye leads the team in both triples and homeruns. His homerun total is second among NESCAC hitters. However, what stands out most is Jeye’s ability to knock in runs. His total of 28 RBI’s is team leading by 8 and 3rd in the conference. Pitchers must be careful with Jeye at the plate as he easily has the power to get in scoring position or send home a run. The outfielder has accumulated 32 hits total which gives him an average of .314. His slugging percentage has risen to .480. Wesleyan needs to win the series this weekend to still have a chance to earn a postseason spot. To do so, the Cardinals will have to rely on Jeye’s bat to lead the offense against a tough Amherst squad.
Bowdoin (6-9, 0-0) @ Bates (7-5, 3-0) – Waterville, ME – Friday, 3:00pm, Saturday 12:00pm and 2:30pm
Bates looks to continue their hot start in conference play after sweeping Colby last weekend, despite having a weak 4-5 out of conference record. The Bobcat staff has been sharp, especially returning starters Connor Speed ’18 and Anthony Telesca ’17, who have ERA’s of 2.18 and 1.80 respectively. Out of the bullpen, Justin Foley ’19 has asserted himself as one of Coach Martin’s reliable options pitching 10 innings in 4 appearances. Meanwhile, closer Matt Doyle ’17 has been shut down with 5.2 scoreless innings. However, for Bates to have a chance to win to this weekend’s series, their lineup must hit better than the .241 team average from the first 12 games. The lone standout bat for the Bobcats is outfielder John Dinucci ’17, who is hitting a clean .400 in 40 at bats. The power in the lineup comes mostly from Dan Trulli ’19 who has made his presence felt with 2 HRs already in the season. Overall, Bates must look to support their strong arms with run support to win the weekend series.
Bowdoin enters the weekend as the only team in the NESCAC East to have not played a NESCAC game after their out-of-conference double header at Amherst last weekend was postponed. The Polar Bears look to get a good start to what will inevitably be a competitive Division, especially as the season progresses. After having played 14 games with a 6-8 record, Coach Connolly proved to have confidence deep into his pitching staff. 9 of Bowdoin’s arms have thrown for 6+ innings, 6 of which have thrown 10. Additionally, in the 14 games, Connolly has slated 9 different starting pitchers. Underclassmen Brandon Lopez ’19 and Justin Schachter ’20 have stood out, undefeated in their 3 combined starts and both with ERA’s under 3. Out of the bullpen, Connor Rooney ’18 has thrown 6.2 innings while giving up only 1 earned run. This staff looks to continue its success against a struggling Bates lineup. However, Bowdoin’s lineup doesn’t look too much better. Cody Todesco ’19 leads the team in batting average at .346, but the bats around him haven’t put up much support. Everyday infielder Evann Dumont-LaPointe has been the Polar Bears’ most consistent hitter with a .295 average in a team-leading 44 at bats. Just like Bates, Bowdoin must rely on their pitching staff – especially its depth – in the weekend series. If the Polar Bear bats can score a decent number of runs, their staff should be able to lead them to a series win.
The weekend’s matchup between Bates and Bowdoin will likely be a low-scoring series. Each game will be a pitcher’s duel with Bates likely throwing their strong proven arms and Bowdoin continuing to use the different strengths of the entire staff. The key factor in this match up for both teams includes efficient hitting. The team that leaves less men on base will have a greater chance of taking this series.
Colby looks to avenge last weekend after getting swept by Bates. On the bright side for the team, however, is that the core upperclassmen bats are off to a hot start at the plate. Matt Treveloni ‘18, Ryder Arsenault ’17 and Andrew Della Volpe ’17 lead the team in batting average, all hitting .344 or better. Arsenault, leading the team with 49 at bats, has also shown the most power, hitting 4 doubles. Contrasting from Bates/Bowdoin, Colby’s pitching has been far from spectacular. Coach Plummer is still looking to find his third starter behind Brooks Parker ’19 and Bobby Forese ’18, and thus has started 5 other arms. Taking advantage of the opportunity is Roxbury Latin alum John Baron ’18 who has a 1-1 record after two starts and holds a strong 2.35 ERA. For Colby to compete with a tough Trinity team this weekend, their pitching staff must keep their opponents off the bases. The 24 walks that Colby’s pitchers tallied during their double header on Sunday is something that can be fixed, and if it is, Colby will fare much better on the mound. The Mules’ lineup has the potential to hit their way for a win or two, so the pitching staff just needs to do their part.
After dropping 2 of 3 games to a strong Tufts team last weekend, Trinity aims to bring its in-conference record to or above .500 with a series win against Colby. Nick Dibenedetto ’17 can certainly help them do that. After picking up where he left off last season, he is hitting a solid .407 with 19 RBI’s and 13 BB’s. Also off to a hot start is rookie catcher Alex Rodriguez (yes – that is his name) who has solidified himself as one of the top hitting catchers in the league early in his career. The rest of the Bantam bats have followed suit as 7 hitters are hitting above .300 with over 30 at bats each. This is all considering that Trinity faced the reigning pitcher of the year along with the rest of the strong Tufts staff last weekend. Offensively, this is a very talented team. The staff of the Bantams did not pitch to the same caliber as Tufts last weekend, however. After giving up 23 runs in the finale against Tufts, the team ERA is 6.22. Erik Mohl ’19 has been the most consistent arm for Coach Adamski, giving the team 19 innings in 10 appearances with a 3.32 ERA. However, Adamski seems adamant on maintaing a consistent set of starters, as 4 pitchers have 3 or 4 starts each compared to 3 for the rest of the staff combined. Trinity will put up runs, so if their staff keeps their opponent run total to a minimum, the Bantams will have a great chance to take a series win this weekend.
Contrasting the Bates vs Bowdoin series, this NESCAC match-up will be a shoot-out. Led by Dibenedetto, the Trinity offense look to continue their hot streak and put up high scores. Colby has the same game plan: rely on hitting. These high scoring games will depend on how effective each pitching staff can be. Whatever team can strand opposing runners on base will be victorious in this series.
Middlebury (3-8, 0-3) @ Amherst (5-6, 0-0) – Amherst, MA – Friday, 4:00pm – Saturday 12:00pm and 2:30pm
While Middlebury did lose all 3 games of last weekend’s matchup to Williams, two of them were one run games. They look to put that in the past and put together a win in this series. A key player to help the Panthers do that is Jason Lock ’17. The senior has gotten off to an extremely hot start hitting .432 with 7 doubles and 19 RBI’s. Classmate Ryan Rizzo has also put together a solid start to the season with a .386 average, and Middlebury has also gotten help from rookie Justin Han ’20 who has taken on a starting role in the infield. The Middlebury pitching staff, on the other hand, has had a shaky at the start of this season. Coach Leonard has heavily relied on his starters throughout the first 11 games. Colby Morris ’19 has thrown a team leading 18.1 innings and is only one of four pitchers on the team with over 7 innings pitched. Middlebury’s arms will have to step up their game all around in order to win the series against a tough Amherst squad.
Amherst enters the weekend as the only team in the NESCAC West without an in-conference game. Unfortunately, the recently renamed Mammoths have compiled a 5-6 record, which is not quite up to their expectations. Despite hitting a phenomenal .358 as a team, the 6.17 team ERA has led the Amherst to a below .500 record. This incredible hitting is led by Ryan Hardin, who is hitting a clean .500 in 30 at-bats. However, don’t let his start take your attention away from 4 other players on the team – Anthony Spina ’17, Harry Roberson ’18, Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Max Steinhorn ’18 – who are all hitting over .400. Roberson is also leading the league with 10 doubles. Even freshman catcher Severino Tocci has contributed to the hitting spree with a .381 average. These bats have gotten very little support from their pitching staff. However, Zach Horwitz ’20 has proved to be a bright spot in an otherwise underperforming bullpen. The rookie has pitched a team leading 13 innings with a 2.08 ERA. Additionally, Jackson Volle has continued his dominance with a 2-0 record in two starts and a 1.69 ERA. Behind Volle and Horwitz, the Amherst arms must keep the Middlebury offense in check to win this series, as the offense will continue to put up runs.
This series will come down to Middlebury’s ability to hit the back end of Amherst’s staff. The Panthers will need to keep up with Amherst’s power offense. However, if their starters pitch to their potential, Middlebury has a chance to compete for a series win. The series will come down to the ability of the pitching staffs to control the opponent’s offense.
Wesleyan (11-4, 2-0) @ Williams (8-2, 3-0) – Williamstown, MA – Friday, 4:00pm – Saturday, 1:00pm and 3:30pm
Wesleyan has gotten off to successful start with a 11-4 overall record and a 2-0 in-conference record (Saturday’s game against Hamilton was postponed). Their offense has continued its proven success with 7 bats hitting over .300, two of which have an average of over .400 – Danny Rose ’19 and Jonny Corning ’20. What is most impressive about this team feat is that 5 of these 7 players are only sophomores or freshman. Wesleyan also demonstrated power with Ryan Earle ’19 and Nick Miceli ’17 hitting 2 HR’s apiece. The Wesleyan offense looks like it will be powerful now and in the future. While the Cardinal offense is clearly doing well, their pitching staff makes a case for strength of the team. Miceli gets it done on the mound as well, leading the team with 4 starts and 23 innings pitched. However, Ethan Rode has been the star of the Wesleyan staff. He is 3-0, having pitched 21.2 innings with an astounding 0.83 ERA. The Cardinals also have the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week Mike McCaffrey who ranks third in the conference with 23 strikeouts. Coach Woodworth has used his staff well, spreading out innings and building trust in his full staff. If Wesleyan continues their play into the weekend series, they have a good chance of coming out on top.
Williams, just like their opponent, comes in hot this weekend after sweeping Middlebury on their way to an 8-game winning streak after losing their first two games by a combined total of 3 runs. This streak shows that no matter the opponent, Williams has given themselves a chance to win. Leading the pack is Kellen Hatheway ’19 who hasn’t skipped a beat since last season, hitting a remarkable .488 so far in 2017. Like their opponent this weekend, the Ephs have 7 bats hitting over .300 with a team average of .343. One of those players is NESCAC Player of the Week Doug Schaffer, who went 5-8 with 5 walks which leads to a .769 OBP for the series. On the other side, Coach Barrale has shown confidence in his freshman arms. Sean Hager ’20, Kyle Dean ’20 and John Lamont ’20 have combined for 31.2 innings and have a cumulative 2.56 ERA. Dean leads the pack with a 0.90 ERA. Guiding these rookie pitchers are seniors Luke Rodino and Tyler Duff who have combined for another 30 innings themselves. Both look to continue their run as starters for the Williams team. Williams has the talent to compete with a tough Wesleyan squad, but their freshmen need to continue their success to do so. If this Williams team plays up to their potential, they can win the series.
This series will certainly be a close one. Both teams are hot and will be looking to keep their streaks going. The two sides have strong offenses and an efficient staff. All three games will likely be close and decided in the final innings. Wesleyan’s bats need to stay productive and their bullpen needs to be effective to win the series. On the other side, Williams’ underclassmen must continue their success to keep up with a tough Cardinal squad and take the series.
Before we get to the Williams Final Four preview, a couple thoughts on Middlebury’s terrific season, and the legendary careers of Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17, Bryan Jones ‘17 and NbN’s own Liam Naughton ’17. One of the hardest things about writing this blog is simply remembering that the players are students. The players that we laud, criticize and analyze every week have classes and friends and social stresses and just general college things going on in addition to the sports that we value so highly. I personally can’t imagine adding an intense sports schedule to my busy academic schedule (blogging, playing video games and eating onion rings,) and we have the responsibility to remind ourselves of that while writing.
But that is also one of the best things about writing this blog. NESCAC sports are a very tight knit community (as are NESCAC colleges in general) and it’s a thrill to write about people who are also your classmates and friends. This experience has been especially real for me in the last four years. I feel very blessed to have entered Middlebury at the same time as Matt, Jake, Bryan, and Liam even more blessed now to write about them, and simply to know them.
I want to single out Liam for a second. Like Bryan, he had the misfortune of entering in an incredibly strong guard class, and didn’t get a ton of minutes over the course of his first three seasons. But he never once let it get him down. He continued to work hard in practice, and was an incredible teammate for his whole career (his bench celebrations were a source of great joy for fans in the seats.) And this season he was able to provide valuable minutes off the bench when Middlebury’s guard rotation shortened up. Every team needs stars to win, but teammates like Liam are just as, if not more important.
The accolades for St. Amour and Brown have rolled in, and are deserved tenfold. Indeed, I can’t even open up my Facebook feed without seeing an article about a new award that Matt has won. But their success goes beyond awards. For four years they, along with Bryan (who had the bad luck of being in the best guard class in the country; he starts on every other NESCAC team) and Liam have represented Middlebury with flair, joy, and class. It’s been my pleasure to watch them and cover them, and it is my continued pleasure to know them.
*wipes a single tear from my eye*
Alright, on to the Ephs…Williams (23-8, 7-6, lost in NESCAC Final)
Turns out the Ephs’ blowout win over Middlebury in the regular season was not as much of a fluke as we thought. After losing to the Panthers in the NESCAC final, the Ephs took the rubber match last weekend in a game that showed just how much they have grown as a team throughout the year. Williams has always been a good shooting team, but early in the season if they weren’t hot from three, their defense wasn’t good enough to get them a win over a quality opponent. But that Williams team is long gone. Williams shot very well against Middlebury (49%, 40% from three,) but it was their defense that got them the ticket to Salem. The Ephs held Brown and St. Amour to 10-26 shooting (1-12 from three,) and held the Panthers to as a team to their lowest home scoring output of the season. Against Middlebury, Williams showed that they have everything firing on all cylinders, and are a real threat to win the National Championship.
Final Four Opponent: Augustana College Vikings (23-8, 11-5, lost in conference final)
The Vikings are similar to Williams in that they have peaked in the NCAA tournament. Neither team won their conference final, but they both have put everything together to make a Final Four run. Augustana is led by their backcourt, with guards James Johnston ‘17, Chrishawn Orange ‘19 and Dylan Sortillo ‘18 leading the team in scoring. They seem to play at a very slow pace, only averaging 77 points on only 12.3 assists per game. The Vikings shoot a very high percentage from the field (48.5%) but don’t take many shots, and therefore have low rebounding numbers. Their team leader in rebounding is Johnston at 5.4, and the next highest number is 3.6. This is good news for Williams, as rebounding is their biggest weakness (the Panthers had 20 offensive rebounds last weekend, keeping them in the game.) Williams also defends the perimeter very well, so facing another team that relies heavily on their guards should be music to their ears.
Johnston seems to be the player to watch for Augustana. At 6’5” and 190 pounds, he has terrific size at the guard position. He is their leading rebounder and second leading scorer (5.4 and 12.7 respectively,) and certainly is the best match-up on paper for Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, Williams go-to scorer. With his size and rebounding ability, he will also play a critical role in stopping Kyle Scadlock ‘19, Williams’ best big man. Johnston will be the key to Augustana’s gameplan.
X Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19
Speaking of Scadlock, he is the most important player for the Ephs tonight. Augustana, as every team must do against Williams, will try to run them off the three point line, and their slower pace could throw the Ephs off their rhythm. Additionally, they are a very deep team on the perimeter, giving them a lot of defenders to throw at Aronowitz, Cole Teal ‘17 and Bobby Casey ‘19. They do not have many defenders to throw at Scadlock. The Vikings are pretty big (they have four players over 6’7”) but not many of them play big minutes. And very few teams in the country have the versatility to keep up with Scadlock’s combination of size, quickness and skills. Scadlock’s assertiveness on offense has been a key to Williams’ run. He is averaging 17 points per game in their last seven, and his threatening inside presence opens up driving lanes and three point attempts for the guards. It is when he disappears and doesn’t look for his shot that Williams struggles. Scadlock has a great matchup tonight; if he shows up for it, Augustana is in trouble.
Other Teams in the Final Four:
#1 Whitman College Blues (31-0, 16-0, Won Conference Championship): vs Babson, 5:00 PM
As you can probably tell from their record, the Blues are the favorite to come out of this weekend as national champions. They are one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, averaging 91.8 points per game on 48% shooting. They seems to just be loaded up and down the roster with great scorers, rather than doing it with ball movement. They only average 12.5 assists per game, a shockingly low number for such a dynamic offense. They are led in scoring by National POY Candidate Tim Howell ‘18, who averages 20.4 points per game. Howell is an electric one on one scorer, and his skill off the dribble opens things up for his teammates. And they take advantage of those opportunities. Four other Whitman players score in double figures, including Jack Stewart ‘19, who shoots 42.3% from three. If you had to point to a weakness for the Blues it would be on the boards and at the foul line. Their rebound margin is only +1, a low number for such a dominant team, and they only shoot 64% from the line. But for 31 games in a row, neither of those things have mattered.
#3 Babson College Beavers (29-2, 14-1, lost to MIT in Conference Final): vs Whitman at 5:00 PM
Babson spent much of the season as the number one team in the country before dropping due to their conference final loss. But like Stella, they’ve gotten their groove back in the NCAA tournament. They scored 102 points in their Elite Eight win over Keene State, shooting 61% from the field. Stopping Babson begins and nearly ends with stopping senior guard Joey Flannery ‘17. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Flannery has the size to score inside, but is also a deadly outside shooter and ball handler. He averages 23.4 points per game and has proven himself to rise to the occasion in big games. He had 38 in their Sweet Sixteen win over Tufts. And as if that wasn’t enough, Flannery also averages 7.1 rebounds per game. But Babson isn’t a one man show. Junior guard Nick Comenale ‘18 averages 16 points per game on 42% shooting from three, and big man Isaiah Nelson ‘17 provides a valuable post scoring threat. Babson is one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. The Babson and Whitman game at 5:00 tonight should be a classic, I recommend checking it out before tuning in to Williams to support the NESCAC family.
Williams (22-8, 7-6) at Middlebury (27-3, 11-2): Pepin Gymnasium, Middlebury, VT 7:00 P.M.
What this means:
Throw out all of the statistics, the strength of schedule numbers, the bad losses, and the blowout wins. This is the Elite Eight and no matter how Williams and Middlebury got to this point in the season, they are in the NCAA quarterfinals on the road to the glory of a national championship. Expect a battle in Pepin tonight.
Williams and Midd are 1-1 against each other this year, and as Pete mentioned yesterday, the unwritten rules of pickup basketball dictate that there must be a rubber match. This is THE rubber match of all games. Both teams are coming off of relatively easy wins where they outmatched their opponents and haven’t been tested to this point in the tournament. These teams are a great match up for one another as Williams shot out of this world back in regular season NESCAC play to beat the Panthers, and Middlebury returned the favor to bring home the championship in Medford two weeks ago.
How They Got Here:
Coming off of stellar shooting performances from both Matt St. Amour ’17 and Jake Brown ’17, Middlebury looks to be firing on all cylinders as they head into the final stretch of the season. Their 4/5 rotations between Nick Tarantino ’18, Adisa Majors ’18, Matt Folger ’20, and Eric McCord ’19 has left other teams scrambling not knowing what combination of big men they are facing. McCord plays an aggressive, (sometimes out of control) game and Majors has a beautiful mid-range jumper and led the NESCAC in FG%, Tarantino is great at finishing near the rim and gets his share of offensive boards, and Folger has joined St. Amour and Brown as a splash brother with his ability to drain the long range shot. Middlebury has toppled Farmingdale St., Lycoming, and now Endicott, looking like a much better team than all three of their competitors. The closest game was surprisingly against Farmingdale as they won by just nine points after St. Amour shot just 5-18 from the field. He still added 18 points, but didn’t quite lock down the game like he did so well in both the rounds of 32 and Sweet 16. St. Amour has been playing out of this world, making Lycoming’s coaches exchange glances and shake their heads in disbelief after several of his plays. Against Lycoming, entering as the #15 team in the country, St. Amour was headed for the media table after forcing a turnover, scooped the ball with his left hand and threw it behind his back around the Warrior defender, hitting Jack Daly perfectly in stride for an and-1 basket, summing up the ridiculous nature of his senior season. The rest of the Panthers helped St. Amour out last night, shooting 41.9% from deep last night as a team. When they shoot that well, they are unstoppable.
Williams has several players who are threats from both long and short range. They have up and down shooting days but have been playing much closer to their season average recently, a big part of the process that
has led to their deep run into the tournament. Mike Greenman was lights out last night, showing off his handles and draining contested threes all night, dishing it out to Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz throughout the whole game. Aronowitz said after the game against Susquehanna that “when I was getting down low in the first half, my teammates were getting open on the perimeter,” showing how Susquehanna couldn’t stop the Ephs on both fronts of offense. Kyle Scadlock started getting more aggressive down low when Susquehanna’s center got into foul trouble, smartly recognizing the weakness that the big man was put into, unable to contest Scadlock’s shots. The entire Susquehanna defense was centered around stopping Scadlock, who added a triumphant turn around dunk in the second half. Despite the added attention Scadlock faced, he dropped 22 points for the Ephs. Williams offense has become multi-dimensional in this tournament.
What to Expect:
Williams survived some below average shooting numbers against Susquehanna (36.8% FG and 31.0% from deep.) Those numbers will have to improve tonight. Atypically for them, it was their defense that won them last night’s game. Ephs coach Kevin App said their defensive game plan last night was to stop the “back-breaking threes” from Susquehanna’s star point guard Steven Weidlich, who is comparable in style to Midd’s St. Amour. Now, I do believe that St. Amour has an edge over Weidlich, but the way St. Amour plays as a part of the Middlebury teams is similar to the way Weidlich played for his. Williams mixed up the man on man defense on the point guard all night, mixing in both big and small players, throwing Weidlich out of rhythm and unable to heat up from deep and
keep his team in the game late. The Ephs should use a similar strategy tonight, putting pressure on Jake Brown and Jack Daly to step up in place of the NESCAC POY. St. Amour is impossible to defend if he makes the contested shots like he did against Lycoming, but it’s better than leaving him open.
Middlebury took a 48-24 lead over Endicott to enter half time, and then came out on a 16-3 run to start the second half, finding a lead of 41 points at one point. They really weren’t tested at all in the round of 16, but did lose to Endicott earlier in the year after they were up 12 at the half on November 27th. This shows that not only did they make an adjustment this time around, but were just a far better team. Jake Brown scored 19 points last night, getting hot and attempting a few heat check threes from well beyond the arc, using the Middlebury crowd well as a momentum push for his team. The Middlebury crowds have been intimidating these past few weeks, and I wouldn’t want to be Williams heading into Pepin after having an easy go at it in terms of crowds last night. Williams brought a good fan section in their own right, not comparable to the home team, but should bring some good clean college back-and-forth banter throughout the night as the NESCAC final rematch takes place with bigger stakes this time—a ticket to the final four in Salem, VA on the line.
#13 Tufts (20-6) at #3 Babson (25-2), 8:00pm Friday, March 10, Wellesley, MA
For the majority of the season, Babson was ranked #1 in the nation with their lone loss coming at the hands of Amherst in a #1 vs. #2 matchup. On February 26, after beating MIT just eight days earlier, Babson fell to the engineers in the NEWMAC Tournament Finals. To be fair, the Beavers were plagued by injury in this game: starters Sam Bohmiller ‘17 and Bradley Jacks ‘18 both sat out, leaving Babson with a relatively short bench. Nonetheless, Babson let the top seed in the tournament slip away from them, leaving them a tougher road than they likely would have had otherwise.
A hot Keene State (19-9) team took down Amherst in the opening round, and then toppled #5 Ramapo in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16. The Owls will match up with #2 Christopher Newport (25-2), who advanced to the Sweet 16 with little difficulty, in the earlier game tonight. This is an intriguing game in its own right, but since this is a NESCAC blog, I will be focusing on tonight’s matchup: Tufts vs. Babson.
Last Time They Met
The Jumbos met Babson in the finals of the Big 4 Challenge on December 3 and fell victim to the heartless assassin Joey Flannery ‘17. Flannery had a ridiculous 42 points that night leading his team to a 91-78 victory. Tufts’ strategy of locking down Nick Comenale ‘18 worked decently well – the junior had 14 points on just 3-8 shooting with 5 turnovers – however, this gameplan allowed Flannery to completely take the reigns,
something he’s very accustomed to doing. Additionally, Isaiah Nelsen ‘17 and Jacks worked well in tandem, combining for 30 points on 13-23 shooting. Tom Palleschi ‘17 led the way for the Jumbos, scoring 16 while grabbing 9 boards. Ben Engvall ‘18 and Vince Pace ‘18 were the only two other Tufts players to contribute double-digits in scoring, in large part because Tufts struggled as a team from deep, shooting just 6-22 from long-range. Nonetheless, Tufts was able to keep the Babson lead to just 8-10 points most of the way, but they were never able to recover from a very slow start. In the end, Flannery was just too much for the ‘Bos, and Babson was able to pull away a bit at the end. Don’t expect Tufts to show any fear entering this game, however – there is definitely some bad blood in this one. The game was pretty chippy throughout, with lots of physical play and trash talk going both ways. Then, with the game clearly out of reach, Coach Sheldon called off the dogs, yelling to the Tufts players on the court “no more fouls!” when Babson grabbed a defensive rebound with 25 seconds left. With the ball in his hands, Flannery heard this, ran out on the break, looked back to make sure no Tufts players were trailing him, and slammed home a dunk to rub salt in the wound. He then ran back up the court trash talking a couple Jumbos that he passed by. Don’t think that Tufts doesn’t want revenge for the way this game went.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Vince Pace ‘18
Throughout the 2016-2017 season, Pace has been very streaky. He has had some awesome games, namely the game that got the Jumbos here, in which he scored a career-high 37 points on 12-17 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, he has also struggled at times, such as in the NESCAC semis, when he went just 1-7 shooting with 5 points. Last time Tufts faced Babson, Pace was still not fully healthy, as he was working his way back to normal minutes from the ACL tear he suffered last spring. This time he has a full season under his belt. The fact is, when Pace plays well, it’s rare that Tufts loses, so they need him to show up in this one. The smaller Nick Comenale should be matched up against Pace defensively, so Pace needs to use his size advantage. Most importantly, if Pace can get going with one or two early threes, Tufts will be in good shape.
Babson X-Factor: Forward Isaiah Nelsen ‘17
Isaiah Nelsen is one of the best big men that Tufts has faced this year. He is big, strong and athletic; he can hit mid-range jumpers; he partners very well with another solid forward, Bradley Jacks; and most importantly, Nelsen is the third option for the Beavers offensively. With all these factors working to his advantage, Nelsen is primed to go off. Last time these two matched up, Nelsen shot 8-12 for 20 points to go along with 13 rebounds, presenting a constant threat to the Tufts defense. With the ever present three-point threats of Comenale and Flannery on the court, the Tufts big men will be required to deal with Nelsen one on one. If Palleschi, Drew Madsen ‘17, and Pat Racy ‘17 can shut down Nelsen, the Jumbos have a very good chance in this one. However, if it comes at the cost of allowing Babson’s guards to light up the scoreboard, Tufts might not get the result they desire.
1.) How will Tufts limit Joey Flannery?
I say limit because frankly, I don’t see anyone actually stopping Flannery in the NCAA tournament. He’s just too much of a bucket-getter. Tufts’ best chance is if they limit Flannery to under 20 points. Theoretically, the way the Jumbos switch screens defensively should prevent Flannery from getting open three-pointers, although that didn’t quite pan out in December. I would guess Everett Dayton ‘18 will be tasked with guarding Flannery. Dayton’s combination of length, athleticism and basketball IQ makes him the most viable option to make Flannery work for his points.
2.) Who else will step up for the Jumbos?
Since December 3, 2016, the Tufts basketball team has evolved immensely. Dayton has become a much more capable scorer and playmaker. KJ Garrett ‘18 has emerged as a huge offensive threat over the second half of the season, primarily by using his advantage in athleticism to get offensive rebounds and get out in transition. Palleschi and Engvall both have double-digit potential as well. However, my guess would be that Tarik Smith ‘17 is the one to have a big game for Tufts. He was their leading scorer throughout the regular season, and he showed around this time last year that he is a big game player. Smith thrives when he can get to the hoop and draw fouls, as he is very good at hanging in the air and finishing through contact. Any one of these guys can score the basketball, but my guess is Smith will be the guy the media is asking about in the postgame interviews.
3.) Which team’s post players will perform the best?
The intrigue here is the strategic difference between these two sides in the way that they utilize their big men. Babson generally plays both Jacks and Nelsen at the same time. Tufts pretty much never has more than one big man on the court. While a ton of the scoring in this game will be done by perimeter players (I would guess the majority of it), this battle on the block could determine which team moves on to the Elite 8. Rebounding the basketball is HUGE in this game for Babson. If Jacks (who I assume will have a mix of Engvall/Garrett guarding him) can take advantage of his matchup on the boards, Babson has a big advantage. If he can create some extra possessions for the Beavers, the fight for rebounds between Nelsen and Palleschi/Madsen/Racy will be even more important for the Jumbos. As for scoring the ball, Tufts has to keep the Babson big men in check. They can’t allow 30 points out of this duo again, they just can’t. A big game offensively from Palleschi would pay huge dividends for Tufts, and would put even more pressure on the likes of Flannery and Comenale to put the ball in the bucket.
Williams was on a real hot streak until they ran into Middlebury. They toppled Amherst and Tufts, both NCAA tournament teams, and then lost to the #6 team in the country—not exactly a surprise. What this means is that they have a real shot at making a run, and their recent performances against top competition bodes well heading into the tournament. Playing in their home gym this weekend should help, and the thrills of a late season run leading to an at-large bid have the Ephs changing into their best dancing shoes. It’s finally March, after all.
How They Got Here
Of course a 5-5 league record reached by a late season run means Williams really started off slowly. After back-to-back losses to Bowdoin and Hamilton, the Ephs finished 7-3 to earn the trip to the tournament. With some pretty discouraging losses, Williams needed every win along that stretch, as the committee saw their victories against Middlebury, Tufts, Amherst and Wesleyan (all tournament teams) as pretty impressive. After all, the Ephs went 4-2 against ranked NCAA tournament teams in the last month of the season – they deserved to get a shot at the national title. Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz put up big numbers last weekend, coming in clutch with 19 boards and 33 points combined against Tufts. The peak of the Williams style of play was reached against Midd on January 22 when they spread the ball around and were able to work as a cohesive unit. They out-rebounded Middlebury 43-25, giving themselves a big advantage in ball control. With Aronowitz and Scadlock both playing big roles in the rebounding department, Williams often holds the ball longer than opponents, but shooting is their wild card. Of late, they have been hovering around their season average of 46.1% field goal shooting which is second in the NESCAC to Middlebury. They shot nearly 60% FG and 50% from three against the Panthers on January 22 though, and if they put up some of those numbers, they will win any game.
How They Lose
When Williams shoots like they did against Middlebury the first time they played, they are unbeatable. However, if they shot 48.1% from deep in that game and were at 33.6% beyond the arc on the season, they must’ve had some duds to regress their total back to earth. In their blowout loss against Tufts, the Ephs still shot 46.8% FG but just 32% from deep, not terrible, but chucking up 25 threes gave the Jumbos too many easy possessions. They led the NESCAC in 2017 with 735 threes attempted, but were just tenth in efficiency. When the Ephs try to replicate their three point success from January 22, they are vulnerable to quick runs from opponents. They need to rely on their ability to get to the rack, an area where they don’t lapse nearly as often. This will give them more of a possibility for second chance points.
Becker College Hawks (19-8, 15-3)
Becker had a great conference record, but limped to a 4-5 record against teams not in the NECC conference. They don’t have any common opponents with Williams, but Becker went 1-2 against Southern Vermont, a team that went 1-2 against NESCAC opponents this season. Becker also got blown out by Babson 91-57, again not a shock because the (at the time) #3 team in the country was a huge favorite, but Williams competed against teams of similar stock. Becker also doesn’t have any wins against teams that received votes or are in the top 25, while Williams has five. Becker’s strength of schedule is much weaker than that of the Ephs, and they wouldn’t have made the tournament without the NECC conference crown. Obviously with such little similarities between the Hawks and a NESCAC team, Williams can’t sleep on them, so here’s a little bit about who they are: Sophomore Kareem Davis was just named NECC tournament MVP and averages 17.0 PPG, shoots 41.1% from deep (about 10 PPG from that range), and averages 3.1 REB/G, 3.7 AST/G, and 1.1 STL/G. Kyle Credle, the team’s point guard, is the senior leader of the team and gets buckets, good for 18.2 PPG with 3.9 AST/G. Samuel Durodola is the best player on the court as he scored 19 per game and hauls in 10.7 REB/G. Durodola also has put up a handful of games with 28-34 points, so the Ephs need to be aware of his ability to go off. Williams will need to use their length to body up Durodola – he is just 6’4’’ and is the biggest man on the Hawks’ roster.
Oswego State (21-6, 15-3)
Each team on the other side of the bracket is much stronger than Becker. Oswego State just won the SUNYAC regular season and postseason, and are ready to make a run here in March. They received ten votes for the NCAA top 25 on February 27th (Williams received 20 for reference) and were 1-1 against NESCAC opponents, albeit in Colby and Hamilton—not exactly the top of the league. Brian Sortino is their leading scorer with 21.6 PPG. The senior point guard can really light it up when he gets hot, and he could easily match Williams’ Scadlock or Aronowitz in a second round matchup. Just recently, Sortino went off for 48 against Buffalo State. Additionally, he dished out 4.6 AST/G. The offense runs through Sortino, whether he’s scoring or just being a playmaker. Jameer Ferebee and Ian Schupp are the next leading scorers for Oswego, tallying 12.5 and 12.3 PPG, respectively. Their big rebounder is Mykelle Krecko who brings in 9.6 boards per game. He has played limited minutes lately, but he can really get going when given the opportunity. The 6’10’’ big man is at his third school in four years and seems to finally be settling in with the Lakers.
Scranton (21-6, 11-3)
Scranton, like Oswego, received 15 votes in the top 25 last week and they look like a pretty even matchup for the Ephs if the two end up facing each other. Earlier in the year, they beat Cabrini (who is in the Middlebury regional), beat Emory (in the Texas Lutheran regional), beat #17 Susquehanna twice, and lost to #11 Neumann. Their strength of schedule certainly rivals that of a NESCAC team. The Royals have experience against strong opponents, and they have experience winning. They just took home the Landmark conference tournament title to give them an automatic bid, and they’re ready to keep up their streak. John Vitkus led the team with 16.9 PPG and 8.3 REB/G, and is very dangerous on the block. The senior center is a long 6’9’’ and is very consistent offensively, putting up double digit points in all but two games. Their second leading scorer and point guard, Ethan Danzig, is a sharp shooting threat. Although he only scores 12.1 PPG, he drains 43.8% of his three pointers so opposing defenders cannot leave him open on the perimeter. The Scranton team will be a tough opponent for anyone they face. They are well balanced just like Williams, and they are battle tested. Williams would be put to the test against the Royals if they played them in round two on Saturday.
Pete previewed the opening rounds for Amherst and Middlebury this morning, so I will do my best to follow in his footsteps with some intel on Tufts and Wesleyan. Both teams earned at-large bids despite earlier than expected exits from the NESCAC tournament, a testament to their consistency and the strength of the conference. Let’s see what each team’s chances to escape their pod are like.
#14 Tufts (20-6, 9-3)
While they slipped towards the end of the season, particularly in their unimpressive performance in the NESCAC semis, Tufts is in a fine spot. They didn’t earn the top seed in the NESCAC tournament by accident. In fact, aside from Middlebury, I would say that Tufts has the best chance to make a deep run in the tournament because of their depth, especially on the perimeter. If not for the dominance of the Tufts Women’s Basketball Team, the men would be hosting the opening round this weekend instead of St. John Fisher, so don’t sleep on the Jumbos for that reason. Tom Palleschi should be in better health this weekend than he was against Williams last weekend (he logged just 8 minutes), which definitely bodes well for Tufts.
How They Got Here
Like I mentioned above, Tufts’ depth is what they hang their hats on. They generally play 9-10 deep, allowing Coach Sheldon to see who has the hot hand that day and alter the minute distribution accordingly. In the second half, KJ Garrett and Everett Dayton have really taken the reigns offensively in the absence of Palleschi, and Second Team All-NESCAC selection Tarik Smith has continued his steady production from the point guard slot. The spurtability of Eric Savage, Ethan Feldman and Thomas Lapham has been a big boost for the ‘Bos off the bench. Vinny Pace has been a tad inconsistent this year, but his potential to explode offensively is a constant threat for opposing defenses. Given their athletic, guard-heavy lineup, the Jumbos play best when they get out in transition. They are maybe the best team in the league at converting quick hitters off an opposing team basket due to their ability to handle the ball and push the tempo at 1-4, and sometimes even 1-5 when they go small with Garrett at the 5-position.
How They Lose
The biggest area of focus for Tufts should be on the boards and in the paint. Without Palleschi, they have lost their best rebounder, often forcing Ben Engvall and KJ Garrett to match up with much bigger players. While the two are very solid rebounding guards, Pat Racy and Drew Madsen are both smaller than Palleschi, leaving the Tufts lineup at a disadvantage due to the overall lack of size they are rolling out there. Additionally, Palleschi is the biggest shot blocking presence on the roster, and even if he is feeling better this weekend than last, I doubt that his knee will be healthy enough for him to impact shots in the paint the same way that he used to. We saw Williams take advantage of this last weekend, especially Kyle Scadlock, who had 20 and 11 in that semifinal game. Williams outscored Tufts 32-8 in the paint, which points to another vulnerability of the Jumbos – their halfcourt offense. Tufts is SO much better when they can get fastbreak points. They are deep enough that fatigue is not a factor, and it leaves them with many more open threes. The three-pointers that the Jumbos generate out of their halfcourt offense are often forced, leading to low shooting percentages and poor offensive displays. It all starts with the Jumbos controlling the paint – if they can force jumpers out of their opponents, then they will have more opportunities to get out and run.
Salem State (17-10, 9-3)
The Vikings boast a three-pronged attack that features guard Shaquan Murray (15.9 PPG), center Marcus Faison (15.1 PPG) and guard Alex Santos (11.8 PPG). Murray is a premier ball handler who excels at getting to the basket. He is small and quick, and knows how to maneuver in the paint to get good shots. Faison is the Salem State post presence, but he is listed at just 6’5”/215, something the Jumbos NEED to take advantage of. However, thinking back to UMass Boston and Sam Freeman, undersized bigs seem to do well against Tufts, and Faison’s 11.1 rebounds per game seems to indicate that he is primed for a big game tonight. Finally, Santos is the shooter of the bunch. He is a bit bigger than Murray, but he’ll be smaller than most of the Tufts guards. If Tufts can get a hand in Santos’ face, they should be able to keep him in check.
St. John Fisher (22-5, 15-1)
St. John Fisher put together nearly a flawless conference season, losing just one game en route to the Empire 8 championship crown. As has been the case all season, one of their two studs took over and brought the Cardinals to victory in the finals. Tyler English dropped 21 points on Stevens in that game, and he poses a similar threat to Tufts because of his length on the perimeter. However, it’s Cardinal big man and leading scorer Keegan Ryan that should scare the Jumbos the most if the two match up in the round of 32. At 6’8”/235 and average 18.6 points/8.7 rebounds, Ryan is geared to expose Tufts where they have the least depth. Fortunately for Tufts, St. John Fisher does not shoot well from the perimeter. Given their size and athleticism amongst their guards, Tufts definitely holds the advantage in this regard. Nonetheless, Ryan has proven that he can change games single handedly, and if they match up, Tufts could be on upset alert.
St. Lawrence (20-6, 13-3)
Despite a first round exit in the Liberty League conference tournament, St. Lawrence is a solid team. Their conference features two other NCAA tournament teams in Union and Skidmore, so St. Lawrence is tested against good competition. The Saints love to run, and the spread out their scoring very nicely. Led by 6’8” forward Riley Naclerio, who scores 19.1 PPG, the Saints have a formidable counter to St. John Fisher’s big man. To complement Naclerio, Kyle Edwards scores 16.8 PPG, yet Edwards does much of his damage from deep. He’s a 40% three-point shooter who has proven time and again that he is willing to take the big shot for the Saints. St. Lawrence also has two other double-digit scorers that help balance their offense, and given their versatility, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints pull off an upset in tonight’s game.
Wesleyan (19-6, 6-5)
The Cardinals slide into the tournament after a conference season that did not live up to the hype that they generated in the first half of their season. 11-1 heading into their first NESCAC game, Wesleyan seemed to be overlooked. However, that opening weekend resulted in two back-to-back blowout losses coming at the hands of Middlebury and Hamilton. The Cardinals turned things around, at that point, winning 8 of their last 11 with all three of their losses coming by 4 points or less. Wesleyan, like Tufts, is a very balanced team. They are led by Second Team All-NESCAC guard Harry Rafferty, who is one of four Cardinals to average 10+ PPG. Unfortunately for Wesleyan, they were missing one of their studs, Jordan Bonner, for a large part of the middle of their season. Luckily, he returned for their last 9 games, and he performed exceptionally well down the stretch. Injury struck again late in the season when Salim Green missed 5 games, but he returned in time for the playoffs. Unfortunately, he was not his old self, logging a scoreless 17 minutes of action. Wesleyan is a very, very good team, but they haven’t been fully healthy in quite some time. We’ll see if they can get back to their standard form soon.
How They Got Here
Unlike Tufts, Wesleyan is not a team that is going to push the tempo, at least not to the same extent as the Jumbos. The Cardinals enjoy success when they are able to get the ball into the post to Joseph Kuo. Kuo is a fully capable scorer with his back to the basket, but he is also a solid passer. Because of his size, teams sometimes try to collapse into the paint to clog up the middle. When Rafferty, Bonner, and Nathan Krill all shoot pretty well from beyond the arc, and when the Cards take care of the ball and take smart shots, their offense runs very smoothly. That being said, this is a defense-first team. Wesleyan is in my eyes the grittiest team in the NESCAC, led by Krill in this regard. He is the scrappiest forward in the league, willing to do anything to get his team a W. Allowing just 65.8 PPG, Wesleyan thrives when they are disciplined defensively. It’s games where they get in foul trouble or fail to stop opposing fast breaks that Wesleyan struggles. Luckily for them, that doesn’t happen very often.
How They Lose
When Wesleyan is stagnant offensively, it’s because they are not moving the ball enough. They are prone to falling victim to an overload of one-on-one offense at times, and when they do, their shot selection suffers. Effective penetration turns into drives into traffic; open threes turn into contested ones; drive and kicks turn into forced 10-12 footers. This can’t happen if Wesleyan hopes to advance far in this tournament. Luckily for the Cardinals, they did a pretty good job of limiting these lapses over the course of the season, but the NCAA tournament, the margin of error is always slimmer.
After finishing behind both Skidmore and St. Lawrence in the Liberty League regular season standings, the Dutchmen pretty much had to win their conference tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Well, Union did just that. They won 110-108 in double OT against St. Lawrence in the conference semifinals, and then came back three days later to post another win against Hobart on their way to the conference title. They’re led by Deshon Burgess, who was named to the D3hoops.com Naitonal Team of the Week last week, scored 34 points (including the game-winning three with 0.9 seconds left in the second overtime period against St. Lawrence, only to follow it up with 33 points in the finals. He leads the team with 19.8 PPG, and is clearly stepping up when his team needs it most. Wesleyan needs to look out for Burgess if they hope to make it out of round one.
#13 Rochester (21-4, 10-4)
Despite posting a better overall record than in-conference foe Washington (Mo.), the Yellow Jackets faltered at the very end of their season, posting back-to-back losses, allowing WashU to take the conference crown. Rochester has three primary weapons, but it’s Sam Borst-Smith that leads the way offensively. A 41% three-point shooter, Borst-Smith scores 16.0 PPG, good enough to take home the UAA MVP trophy this season. Mack Montague and Zach Ayers are the other two biggest producers on the offensive end for Rochester, averaging 15.6 and 12.0 PPG respectively. However, Rochester seems like a very top-heavy lineup. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked for them this year, but in the NCAA tournament, depth is generally what breeds success. Don’t be surprised if Rochester is upset in the opening weekend.
Albertus Mangus (23-4, 16-2)
Winners of their last nine, Albertus Mangus is coming into the tournament scorching hot. However, the GNAC isn’t necessarily the most impressive basketball conference in the country. The Falcons won the GNAC Championship handily against a mediocre Lesley squad, but it was their slimmest margin of victory in the GNAC tournament – just 18 points. Their run and gun offense is led by Jaqhawn Walters and Grant Ellis, who score 20.7 and 19.4 PPG respectively. Because of the lack of competition in their conference, it’s tough to gauge how good Albertus Mangus actually is, but they certainly have some competent scorers.
Fans of NESCAC basketball have enjoyed a level of talent this season that has possibly never been matched in the history of the league. And on Monday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the league with four at large bids, in addition to Middlebury’s guaranteed spot for winning the conference tournament. Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan and Tufts join the Panthers, giving the ‘CAC one of the strongest showings of any conference in the country. Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll be giving you the lowdown on where each team finds themselves in their quest for a national title.
#6 Middlebury (24-3, 11-2)
As the number one seed and outright winner of the conference, Middlebury is in a terrific position to make a deep tournament run. The Panthers should be hosting (as long as they keep winning) until the tournament shifts to Salem. However, the Panthers certainly shouldn’t be looking ahead, as they have a tough opening weekend to contend with. They open on Friday against Farmingdale State, a team that tries to run the floor in much the same way that Middlebury does. And Lycoming and Cabrini, the two other teams in the bracket, are strong teams with tournament pedigree.
How They Got Here:
Middlebury is of course driven by their three guards. Matt St. Amour ‘17 was recently crowned NESCAC Player of the Year after averaging 22 points per game in the season and almost 25 per game in league play. His midrange game, once a major weakness, has become positively deadly, and he has carried Middlebury through a late season injury to Jake Brown ‘17. Speaking of Brown, the recently named All NESCAC Second Team point guard is the key to Middlebury’s fast paced offense and defense. He has also made himself into a key outside threat for Middlebury, shooting 37% from three. And Jack Daly ‘18 had been flying under the radar until Brown went down. But stepping up and running the offense in Brown’s absence has given viewers a newfound appreciation for Daly. If there’s a play that shifts the game in Middlebury’s favor, the odds are good that Jack Daly is involved.
How They Lose
Middlebury’s guards are pretty much locks to get their numbers. The Panthers struggle when their big men aren’t involved in the offense and when the other team gets hot from three. If Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 aren’t threats on the offensive end, then teams can focus on the guards and force Middlebury to play halfcourt, perimeter-oriented basketball. Farmingdale State is a fast break team, but they don’t shoot very well from three (33.5% on the year.) However, they do rebound very well thanks to big men George Reifenstahl ‘19 and Wendell Irvine ‘17, both of whom average over 9 rebounds per game. Therefore the Middlebury big men will have to do a good job on the boards and also assert themselves on offense, not just against Farmingdale but (ideally) throughout the tournament.
Farmingdale State (19-7, 14-2)
Farmingdale has overcome a strong start to really control their league. They won their tournament on a game winner from Reifenstahl, who along with Irvine and guard Ali Mableton ‘19 earned all conference honors. The Rams look to run, but can be careless on offense, shooting only 43% from the field and turning the ball over a whopping 18 times per game. Middlebury should be able to exploit this carelessness, and will need to work on shutting down Reifenstahl and Irvine.
#15 Lycoming (23-4, 13-3)
Lycoming and Middlebury would be a fascinating Saturday match-up. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 25 pretty much all year and now sit at 15 heading into tournament play. They are led by David Johnson ‘17 who, despite being 5’9,” averages 14 points per game and shoots an amazing 48.7% from three. Lycoming overall shoots threes very well (37% as a team,) so Middlebury will have to run them off the line much like they did in the second half against Williams in the NESCAC final.
Cabrini (19-7, 15-3)
Cabrini is led by junior center Tyheim Monroe, who is two spots ahead of Matt St. Amour in scoring in the nation (23rd, at 22.1 points per game) and leads the nation in rebounds per game at 15.7. Monroe plays 36 minutes a game, and the vast majority of their offensive sets run through him. Middlebury will probably employ a similar swarming defensive strategy that they used on Ed Ogundeko to beat Trinity in the quarterfinals. But Monroe is the type of player who could carry a team to an upset against the Panthers.
Amherst (17-7, 8-4)
After starting the season as the number one team in the country, Amherst enters tournament play outside the national rankings. This is due to inconsistent play all season, culminating in a quarterfinal loss to hated rival Williams. Therefore, Amherst has a tough road to travel if they hope to redeem their disappointing NESCAC season with a long tournament run.
How They Got Here
As most readers of this blog probably know, Amherst is led by their excellent backcourt. Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 were Second and First Team All NESCAC selections respectively, and combined to average over 33 points per game. Additionally, junior guard Michael Riopel averages 10 points per game and shoots 48% from three, giving Amherst a needed outside threat to take some pressure off of Dawson and McCarthy. The Purple and White are at their best when Dawson and McCarthy are dominating the opposing backcourt, giving Riopel open looks.
How They Lose
Unfortunately Amherst has little else outside of their backcourt. They struggle to get contributions from any forwards, and Riopel and even McCarthy can be too passive. This forces Dawson to play hero ball, and he can shoot Amherst out of games when he does that. In their loss to Williams, Dawson shot 3-19, while Riopel and McCarthy combined to take only 16 shots. It’s hard to figure out how to divide up blame in that situation (is Dawson playing selfishly or do the other players need to be more assertive?), but either way Amherst has some serious problems. They ultimately seem to lack the necessary depth to compete against elite competition.
Keene State (19-9, 10-4)
The Owls, who knocked Middlebury out last year, had something of a Cinderella run to the final of their conference tournament before losing 72-70 to Eastern Connecticut. They have two First Team All Conference performers in Matt Ozzella ‘17 and Ty Nichols ‘19, but also have three other players scoring in double figures. This is the kind of depth that could give top-heavy Amherst fits, particularly in the front court. Amherst plays the Owls tonight at 5:30.
Misericordia (20-7, 9-5)
A contender for the “College Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Song From Les Miserables” award, Misericordia won their conference tournament and has a lot of momentum heading into the NCAAs. They are led by terrific all around guard Jason Kenny ‘19, who put up a 21/4/4 line on nearly 50% shooting from the field and 41% from three. But the Cougars have three other double figure scorers and shoot the three at 37% as a team. Again, this is the kind of depth that Amherst really struggles with, especially since they have some, uh, disinterested defenders on their roster.
#5 Ramapo (25-2, 16-2)
The host team and number 5 team in the country, Ramapo is certainly the favorite to come out of this weekend. They are led in scoring by Thomas Boncum ‘18 (17.7 ppg,) but they are a terrific team top to bottom. They shoot 50.7 from the field and 41% from three as a team, which point to a tremendously efficient offensive strategy. Their average margin of victory is a whopping 14.4 points per game, and they out-rebound opponents by 7 boards per game, an area in which Amherst tends to struggle. Ramapo is a legit title contender, and Amherst may not be able to run with them even if they survive Keene State tonight.