If we learned anything from the opening weeks of play, it’s that the Jumbos and the Camels are going to be top contenders in the NESCAC. Just to give you a taste of what they are bringing to the table, Tufts has yet to even concede a goal and Conn. has scored 14 goals in three games; I’m no math major, but I think it’s safe to say these teams are statistical studs.
Now, from these stats we can see that this matchup will be a clash of a great offense and a stubborn defense, both unwilling to concede their supremacy over the conference. As defending national champions, Tufts has its first real test and an opportunity to unnerve every other team in the NESCAC.
The key to this Jumbos team is their stellar and experienced backfield. Seniors Matt Zinner ’18, Connor Coleman ’18, and Bruce Johnson ’18 all have felt that electric and nerve-racking atmosphere present in the national championship spotlight, so it is no surprise that they have been able to keep their nerves in control in the beginning of their 2017 campaign. Not only has this defense been impenetrable, but also their opponents can’t seem to get balls on net, collecting only 6 shots on goal against this Tufts squad.
Scoring against the Jumbos is equivalent to eating a single potato chip; it’s grueling and will most likely lead to failure and/or shame. The real question for Tufts is if they will be able to manufacture goals against the Camels. Luckily, the Jumbos have sophomore Gavin Tasker ‘20 leading the charge. Tasker has scored twice this season, and will certainly be looking to add on to that this weekend. The Jumbos sport a respectable 2 goals per game, and will need to put together a clever attacking strategy in order to validate their #1 ranking.
On the opposite side of the ticket, the Conn. College Camels will be looking to overthrow the top dogs in the country. They are averaging an absurd 4.67 goals per game this season and are also padding the stats with 44 points in three games (Hamilton is 2nd with 31 points in 4 games). One can always make the argument that Conn may have not been playing the strongest competition, showing Mitchell College who the real king of New London is with an 8-1 trouncing, but nobody can knock the Camel’s confidence coming into this game. They had a decisive away win at Middlebury to start the season, and then pummeled Salem St. 4-1.
Guiding this dynamic offense are seniors Ben Highton ’18 and Ben Manoogian ’18, who have opened up to both score and assist for the Camels. Not to mention that this Conn. squad also has wonderkid and freshman Liam Noonan ’21 who is absolutely terrifying defenses with his 3 goals and 3 assists, making his team-leading point tally something to get the Jumbos worried about.
For defense, the Camels employ another young gun in freshman A.J. Marcucci ’21, who has a somewhat ridiculous save percentage at 91%. Save percentage definitely is not the most reliable statistic out there for goalies, but one as impressive as this is still worth mentioning. With defenders like Anthony Aquadro ’20 and Liam Donelan ’21 to help Marcucci out, this Conn. team gets a whole lot more intimidating.
This matchup has the potential to be the most exciting conference game of the season. Tufts will be looking to stay atop their perch, while Conn. will settle for nothing less than to shut down the Jumbo hype. Tufts better remain focused, however, as this young Camel platoon will be displaying the underdog motivation that has turned so many games.
Here we are, NESCAC football fans. Not only is this opening weekend (always exciting) but it is also the first opening weekend of the Ninth Game era, something that fans and players have wanted for a while. I would caution you to take your excitement with a grain of salt, however. This season starts a week earlier than usual. That means a week less practice time for teams to get ready for game play. I would expect these games to be somewhat sloppy, and potentially fairly low scoring. Some grizzled, older fans like my father would like that “smash-mouth football style,” but I like offense. We will see how well teams have adjusted to this new schedule. However, if it means we get to watch football earlier, I’ll gladly accept some sloppiness.
Bowdoin @ Williams, 12:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
The first kickoff of the season features two teams that are looking to put 2016 in their rearview mirror. This can only happen with a good start in 2017, so both sides should be very motivated. All eyes will be on who starts at quarterback for Williams, although sources are telling us that it will most likely be John Gannon ‘18, who is returning from missing last year with a torn ACL. A fair amount of rust is to be expected (from everyone, not just Gannon,) but if he can get into a rhythm then he has the weapons to really explode. TE Tyler Patterson ‘19 is a beast when healthy, and experienced receivers Adam Regensberg ‘’18 and Kellen Hatheway ‘19 give him a lot of options to throw to. Bowdoin’s defense wasn’t exactly world-beating last year, allowing the most rushing yards AND passing yards per game last year, but they return two stellar linebackers Latif Armiyaw ‘18 and Joe Gowetski ‘18 and will be looking to make a statement. However, I think Williams is ready to start trending upwards, and this game is the start of that.
Final Score Prediction: Williams 27, Bowdoin 10
GAME OF THE WEEK: Wesleyan @ Middlebury, 1:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
It’s not every year that a Week One game could have championship implications, but this game might. Wesleyan and Middlebury both have the returning talent to make a run at the championship, but one of them is also starting off the season 0-1. With Trinity’s level of talent and easier opening matchup, one loss might be too many to win the league outright. Therefore, we can expect both teams to be extra-fired up entering this one. Middlebury has been excellent at home over the last few years, but Wesleyan is well equipped to attack the dynamic Panther offense. The only way to beat Middlebury is to get pressure on QB Jared Lebowitz ‘18. If he has enough time, he will pick your defense apart. But when under pressure, he is prone to rushed throws and turnovers. Wesleyan’s defense is certainly athletic enough to get through the young Middlebury offensive line.
However, the Cardinals offense can be inconsistent. They lost two of the major weapons from their running attack last year in WR/RB Devin Carillo and RB Lou Stevens. Therefore, they either have to use Dario Highsmith ‘19, the new starting RB, in a much larger role or reinvent themselves as a more pass-heavy offense. If their offense struggles, Middlebury’s no-huddle offense will wear down the defense, and eventually Lebowitz will get the time he needs. And at that point, it’s game over.
Score Prediction: Middlebury 31, Wesleyan 28
Hamilton @ Tufts, 1:00 PM, Medford, MA
This game has by far the highest upset potential of any this weekend, and I’m jumping on it. Hamilton returns a great deal of their much-improved offense from last year, including quarterback Kenny Gray ‘20, who impressed many with his poise as a first year last season. The defense is far newer, but they benefit this week from facing a Tufts team that graduated most of their offense from last year. Of course, that offense came in the form of one man, RB Chance Brady, who dominated the league like Tecmo Bo Jackson last year. It will take a great deal of work for Tufts to adjust to life without Brady. I think they’re up to the task, but the shortened preseason will cost them here in Week One.
Final Score Prediction: Hamilton 17, Tufts 14
Bates @ Amherst, 1:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This game features the return of Amherst QB and POY candidate Reece Foy ‘18, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. And not only do the Mammoths get Foy back, they return red zone weapon Jack Hickey ‘19 at running back. Hickey scored seven touchdowns last year, and seems poised to break out as a star this year in a wide open race for First Team RB. Amherst also returns star WR Bo Berluti ‘20. The Mammoth’s offense is ready to break out after struggling at times last season, and a strong defense puts Amherst back towards the top of the preseason rankings. Bates returns a great deal of talent as well. QB Sandy Plaschkes ‘18 has been solid for years, but has to raise his game in this game, and this season, if Bates wants to compete with teams like Amherst. Bates has the talent to make it a game, but Amherst is back and there’s nothing the Bobcats can do about it.
Final Score Prediction: Amherst 28, Bates 17
Colby @ Trinity, 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT
There are teams that have a chance to take Trinity down this season, and games in which they could struggle. Colby is not that team, and this is not that game. Trinity brings back QB Sonny Puzzo 18, RB Max Chipouras ‘19 and WR Bryan Viera ‘18. In other words, they bring back arguably the best in the league at three skill positions. This bodes well for Trinity’s offense. Colby, on the other hand, lost their biggest weapon in Sebastian Ferrall ‘19. They do return a great deal of talent on defense, especially in the secondary and at linebacker. If everything goes perfectly for the Mules, they put up a great performance on defense and only lose by one touchdown. Unfortunately, the team that beats Trinity this season will have to beat them in a shootout, not a defensive battle.
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.
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.
Every pickup basketball player knows the importance of the rubber match. If a team wins one game, and the opposing team wins the next one, it is a cardinal sin to not play that third game to determine the outright winner. No matter if you have work, class, or a hamstring that is closer to snapping than my mom when I forget to bring my dishes upstairs, you have to play the rubber match. This is the case in higher levels of basketball as well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times, with Magic taking the rubber match in 1987. Many NBA fans are praying that Lebron and the Cavs meet Steph and the Warriors for a rubber match this season. And on a smaller scale, Williams and Middlebury have a chance this weekend for a rubber match of their own. If they both win on Friday, they would match up in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with bragging rights and a trip to Salem on the line.
Middlebury (26-3, 11-2, Beat Williams in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Endicott (24-6, 15-3, lost in their Conference Final)
Middlebury has the rare chance this weekend to avenge two of their three losses. Williams of course blew out Middlebury in league play, but Endicott also bested the Panthers before league play. And the Gulls have the added honor of their win being in Pepin Gymnasium, a feat only they have accomplished in the last two years. Endicott was able to beat the Panthers at their own game; namely, guard play. Like Middlebury, the Gulls boast one of the best backcourts in the country. Max Matroni ‘17 and Kamahl Walker ‘17 combine for 32 points a game on the season, and have combined for 99 points in their two NCAA games. Against Middlebury Walker put up 28 and forced both Jack Daly ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17 into foul trouble. Endicott is one of the only teams in the country who has a backcourt that can give Middlebury guards a run for the money. Expect them to go at Daly and Brown (who will likely start the game on Walker and Matroni) early and attempt to again get them on the bench with fouls.
Endicott also attacked Middlebury on the glass. Daquan Sampson ‘17 was able to roast the Middlebury big men to the tune on 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Gulls outrebounded the Panthers overall 40-31 and had 12 offensive rebounds. Endicott matches up well with Middlebury because their team is constructed in a similar way. They have an excellent backcourt who drive the team on both ends of the floor, and the big men are effective role players who benefit a great deal from terrific guard play.
X-Factor: Eric McCord ‘19 (and the new big men)
Middlebury’s biggest improvement since that loss to Endicott is in the front court.When the two teams last met, Zach Baines and Adisa Majors ‘18 dominated the minutes at the two forward spots. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 combined to play 19 minutes and went 1-6 from the floor. Baines’ transfer has allowed McCord and Tarantino (as well as Matt Folger ‘20 and Majors off the bench) to flourish into one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. McCord in particular has blossomed, and should play a pivotal role in Middlebury’s game plan. Sampson and the rest of Endicott’s bigs are long, but they are not extremely strong, and Sampson in particular spends a considerable amount of time on the perimeter. McCord has become an effective scorer and passer in the paint, both playing off of a two man game with one of the guards or one-on-one. There is mismatch on the block that the Panthers didn’t have the personnel to exploit earlier this season. But the team is constructed differently now, and is far better suited to beat the Gulls down low if the guards play each other to a draw.
How They Lose:
We already have a blueprint for how Middlebury loses this game. Daly and Brown get into foul trouble, forcing St. Amour to expend more energy on defense chasing around either Matroni or Walker. Matroni or Walker take
advantage of this and go off. And the Endicott bigs use their length and athleticism to terrorize the Middlebury bigs on the boards. Sampson also uses his quickness to draw McCord or Tarantino out of the paint and create driving lanes and putback opportunities. Both teams have seen that this can happen. We will see on Friday if Middlebury’s new look will prevent it from happening again.
Williams (21-8, 7-6, lost to Middlebury in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Susquehanna (23-5, 11-3, lost in Conference Semifinals)
The rare team to make the Sweet Sixteen after not even making their conference championship, the River Hawks have been on something of a Cinderella run here in the NCAA tournament. They beat Eastern Connecticut State 72-67 in the round of t32, a team that beat Trinity and Amherst earlier in the season. Susquehanna is top heavy scoring wise, as the duo of Steven Weidlich ‘17 and Ryan Traub ‘18 combine to average 38 points per game (21 and 17 respectively.) No one else on their team averages more than seven. Weidlich is a Matt St. Amour type perimeter threat. A dangerous outside shooter, he connects on 39.5% of his threes and 45% of his field goals overall. However, he is also very versatile, averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 is Williams best perimeter defender (as well as best everything else) and will likely start the game on Weidlich. If he gets in foul trouble, the Ephs can be left with very few guys who create their own shots.
Traub is a very effective frontcourt partner for Weidlich. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he is a load underneath and creates match up problems for
Williams’ series of skinny big men. He is also tremendous around the rim, shooting 57.4% from the field. He can step outside the arc (40% in a limited sample size,) and anchors a defense that only allows 41% shooting to opponents on the season. Williams three point heavy attack is not conducive to defensive struggles, therefore Susquehanna matches up well with the Ephs. Weidlich and Traub will try to occupy Aronowitz and Kyle Scadlock ‘19, while the rest of the River Hawks run the Ephs off of the three point line.
X Factor: Mike Greenman ‘17
As I mentioned above, Aronowitz and Scadlock, Williams’ two most important players, will both likely have difficult defensive assignments. Therefor Williams will at times need someone else to create shots for themselves and others. That is where Greenman comes in. The senior point guard can be an electric scorer (see his 7-9 three point shooting performance against Becker in the first round,) and can be an effective passer (11 assists last round against Scranton.) If Susquehanna tries to slow the game down and pound the ball into Traub, Greenman will be largely responsible for keeping Williams’ pace and energy up without turning the ball over. He has played two of the best games of his career in this tournament, largely explaining Williams impressive blowout wins in the first two rounds. He will be just as important in this game, and maybe even more so.
How They Lose:
NESCAC fans have seen throughout the season how Williams loses. If they are not hitting threes, they generally don’t win. The three point shot is the key to everything the Ephs try to do on offense. It opens up driving lanes for Aronowitz and Scadlock, post ups for big men off the bench like Michael Kempton ‘19, and it forces defenders to overplay on the perimeter, opening up the backdoor cuts that killed Middlebury during their regular season loss to Williams. The Ephs simply don’t have enough shot creators to overcome a shooting slump. Aronowitz is a terrific player but his burden is at times too great, and Scadlock is prone to disappearing in big spots. Their game becomes something of a “Chuck and Run” style, with contested threes being taken too quickly. Williams lives by the three and dies by the three, and living has been very good lately. Let’s hope it continues into Saturday, because, as all basketball fans know, there’s nothing better than a rubber match.
#2 Middlebury (23-3, 8-2) vs. #6 Williams (19-7, 5-5): 12:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
And then there were two. Middlebury and Williams meet today at noon to decide the NESCAC Championship. The game is a rematch of one of the most surprising results of the regular season. In the game in Williamstown, the Ephs blasted the Panthers 89-65 in Middlebury’s only truly disappointing performance of the season. As is usually the case when the Ephs win, they were very hot from three, shooting 13-27. And they held Middlebury, the leading field goal shooting team in the league, to 40% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from three. You can bet the Panthers will be looking to avenge their embarrassing performance, but Williams might just hold the keys to slowing down Middlebury’s ride to a second straight title.
Middlebury X-Factor: Close-outs
Much of Williams’ offensive strategy is based off of attacking perimeter closeouts. If a player doesn’t get out quickly enough on a three point shooter, you can bet that shot is going up, and they have more than enough outside threats to make that offense pay off. But if the closeout comes too fast, they can drive past and kick to an open three point shooter when the defense collapses. This also opens up the backdoor cuts that they love so much. As the player with the ball drives past his man, the help man is distracted, allowing his defender to cut backdoor for a layup. Middlebury’s close-outs were very shoddy in the loss in Williamstown: today they will have to come out quickly but also solidly, keeping good guarding position. If they can do that Williams will struggle to score, as they lack great one-on-one scorers outside of Daniel Aronowitz ‘17.
Williams X-Factor: James Heskett ‘19
As I mentioned above, Williams lacks players who can break down perimeter defenders one on one if the defender has a solid close-out. Against Middlebury in the regular season, Heskett begged to differ. He put up 19 points on 5-10 shooting, and went 3-4 from three. At 6’8”, Heskett is too long to be guarded by any of Middlebury’s three guards, but is quick enough and a good enough shooter and ball handler to be a matchup issue for Eric McCord ‘19, Adisa Majors ‘18 or Nick Tarantino ‘18. The best match-up for him on Middlebury is probably Matt Folger ‘20, Folger looked very comfortable in the semifinal against Trinity, scoring 8 points in a row during the second half en route to 11 points. However, the NESCAC final is still a big stage for a freshman. Heskett’s combination of size and skill might force Coach Brown to play Folger a little more than he’d like. And if he doesn’t, Heskett could be a huge factor this afternoon.
Middlebury has to be encouraged by what they saw from Jake Brown ‘17 against Trinity. After missing the first round game against Bates with a high ankle sprain, Brown played 31 minutes against Trinity. His stats weren’t tremendous (the sloppy nature of the game kept everyone’s stats pretty low) but he looked to be moving well, and his presence allowed Middlebury to push the pace in the second half and avoid falling into too much of a barfight with the Bantams.
Brown’s health will be even more crucial in this game. Williams is a perimeter-centric team, which means that Middlebury’s two terrific perimeter defenders (Brown and Jack Daly ‘18) will be tasked with slowing down the ball movement and outside shooting of the Ephs. Additionally, Brown is a needed offensive weapon for Middlebury. The Ephs will try to load up on St. Amour, so Brown will probably get some good looks from three. He and Bryan Jones ‘17 need to be threats from their to open up the floor for St. Amour. Eric McCord also will probably have a strength advantage over whoever is guarding him. If Middlebury can space the floor well enough, they should look to go to him in the post early and often.
Based on the match-ups, I would pick Middlebury in this game 8 times out of 10. But that’s what I said before the regular season game too, and look what happened there. Williams has all the sports-movie momentum in the world right now, and the re-emergence of Kyle Scadlock ‘19 as a terrifying two-way threat gives them a dimension they didn’t have against Middlebury earlier in the year. However, I still think Middlebury pulls it out. The Panthers should recognize the Ephs; they’re doing the same thing Middlebury did in the tournament last year. Therefore they should know what to do with them.
#6 Williams (18-7, 5-5) at #1 Tufts (20-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 25, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
Though they made it to this weekend last year, Tufts once again has a chance to win their first NESCAC Championship this weekend. The difference is that Tufts is hosting the remainder of the tournament this year, something the Jumbos have never done before. Just a couple weeks ago, Tufts hosted the Ephs in the very same Cousens Gymnasium that tomorrow’s game will be played in. As a Jumbos superfan, I can proudly say that Tufts smacked Williams in that game, but that does not mean Saturday’s matchup will be a rout. Honestly, I see this game going down to the wire, especially after watching Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19 step up the way they did against their rivals. I am anticipating similar performances out of these two studs, and NESCAC hoops fans should be prepared for a barn burner out of the first game of the doubleheader.
Last Time They Met:
As mentioned above, the February 10th matchup between these two squads was not very close. Tufts walked away with a 93-68 victory catalyzed by their 18 three-pointers. With a silent first half, Eric Savage ‘20 came out of the locker room as a different beast in the second half, dropping 17 in 12 minutes of action. Now that sounds pretty good, but until you realize how he scored those 17 points, it’s just that – good. From the 12:06 mark to 6:42 left in the game, Savage knocked down five straight threes. He finally showed the crowd that he is a mere mortal on his next attempt, but that ~5 ½ minute stretch pretty much sums up the entire game. Tufts couldn’t miss from three. Meanwhile, Williams struggled from deep, much more than the box score shows at least. Sure, they ended up 8-25 from beyond the arc, but seven of those makes came in the second half when playing out the rest of the game was simply a formality. The Ephs were 1-9 from three in the first half, clearly missing Cole Teal ‘18, who sat out with some sort of illness. Tufts never trailed or allowed Williams to tie the game up after the first basket of the game, proving their pure dominance on that day.
Tufts played Williams in their last game of the 2015-2016 regular season just like they did this year, only to face them again a week later in the NESCAC quarterfinals. In game one at Williams, Tufts escaped with a gritty four point victory on the backs of Tom Palleschi ‘17 and Stephen Haladyna ‘16 despite a valiant effort out of Aronowitz. The playoff game the following weekend featured a much more balanced Tufts attack, with four of the five starters scoring in double-digits. Aronowitz did all he could, dropping 32 while just one of his teammates reached the double-digit mark, but at the end of the day, Tufts was too much, and they once again walk away with a victory, this time by six points. The two games featured much of the same type of strategy, but differed in who produced. If history has any bearing on tomorrow’s game, we will likely see similar strategy to their first meeting of the season, i.e. attempts by both teams to prove their dominance behind the three-point line, a lot of halfcourt offense and a much more conscious effort to share the wealth offensively by Tufts than Williams.
Williams X-Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19
Last time these two played, I predicted that Cole Teal would be the x-factor and he didn’t step on the court, so I could be very, very off on this prediction. However, Scadlock has been playing some of his best basketball recently, and he is a big reason why Amherst was able to pull off the upset against Amherst last weekend. 14 of Scadlock’s 16 points came in the second half last Saturday, including a 7-0 run by the sophomore himself that gave the Ephs a nine point lead. Williams never looked back after Scadlock’s two minute stretch of dominance, and his emphatic dunk with nine seconds left capped off a well-deserved Williams victory. Against the Jumbos, the forward played pretty well, scoring 15 on 7-10 shooting, and with the post presence of the host team laden with injuries, a strong performance from Scadlock could be the difference. Not only can Scadlock take advantage of a size advantage on offense, but his success doing so will force the Jumbos to sag in to help, leaving shooters open on the perimeter. Aronowitz cannot shoulder the entire load in this game, so Scadlock needs to step up unlike his performance in the playoff matchup between these two sides last year.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Ben Engvall ‘18
What’s one word I would use to describe Ben Engvall? Tough. The kid does not back down on the court, and that is going to be key against Williams. With Madsen banging around with a mix of Williams centers on the boards, Engvall is likely going to be tasked with keeping Scadlock in check. If he can keep Scadlock off the boards and force him into tough shots on the offensive end, Tufts will be in very good shape. Offensively, Engvall thrives off of fastbreak buckets, especially after an opposing team basket. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard necessarily, but these transition hoops are momentum plays, especially when he can turn them into and-one opportunities (which he does quite often). In the halfcourt offense, Engvall is a bit more limited. He is a good shooter that has shown the ability to knock down big shots, and when defenders close out poorly on him, the junior can get to the hoop. If Engvall can put up his standard 8-12 points, grab 5-6 boards and give Scadlock a hard time, Tufts should be golden.
Will Dan Aronowitz go off?
I’m leaning towards yes. Aronowitz is a senior captain and Williams needs to win this tournament if they want to make an NCAA appearance. He showed last weekend that he means business, and the last time he played a playoff game in Cousens he put on a clinic. The reason I’m only leaning and not taking a stronger stance on this question is due to matchups. Tufts switches everything amongst their four non-post players, which makes it difficult to get open for opposing players. When Aronowitz does find the ball (which he inevitably will), he will likely see a combination of Vinny Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18 (assuming Pat Racy ‘20 is back and healthy), Everett Dayton ‘18 and Eric Savage. The length of all these guys, especially Pace and Dayton, is an issue, and the athleticism between the latter three guys will present problem for Aronowitz. Still, Aronowitz is one of the best players in the conference. I don’t think he’ll shrink in the bright lights of his biggest game since he became ‘the guy’ for the Ephs.
Will Tufts get a crowd?
As I mentioned before last weekend’s game versus Hamilton, the Tufts crowd is inconsistent at best. Despite the quarterfinal game being the slowest, most boring conference game that I have watched since I arrived at Tufts, it was still disappointing that the Tufts student population couldn’t bring forth a better effort for their Jumbos in the playoffs. The reason this question matters, however, is because at times, the Tufts crowd can be a huge factor. When Tufts faced Williams in the quarterfinals last year, for example, the crowd was completely into it. Every time Bobby Casey ‘19 touched the ball, “BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY,” echoed through Cousens. I’m not saying the chanting did or did not affect Casey, but he was 3-9 from the field with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 turnovers. You tell me. In any event, the crowd only increased in size throughout the Tufts NCAA tournament run last season, and I have a feeling that the thirst to be part of a championship run could bring the Jumbo faithful down to Cousens on Saturday.
Will Tufts have more than one big man?
Honestly, I’m not sure, but it matters one way or the other. Drew Madsen does not demand the ball offensively like Palleschi or even Racy. Madsen gets his points more primarily off drive and dish plays or put backs. This means the Tufts offense is much more reliant on its wing players, but the important thing to remember is that the ‘Bos have spread the ball around very evenly when they’ve been successful. While it’d obviously be great to have Racy and Palleschi back, the Jumbos are in fine shape with just Madsen, it just changes the strategy a bit. Instead of pounding the ball into the post, Tufts will rely more heavily on pick and rolls and drive and kick plays. If they shoot like they did last time Williams visited Medford, the Jumbos have nothing to fear, but I don’t quite seeing them hit 18 three-pointers. The one-post lineup worked against Williams last time – will it work again?
Overall, I simply believe that Tufts has too many weapons for the Ephs. Every guard in the lineup has a different skillset, which equally as unique as it is deadly. I know that Williams is hot right now, and I’m not counting them out, but Tufts is the better team, and at home I don’t think they will flop like Amherst did.
I’ve been pretty bad about predicting the correct winners for games in my last few pieces, and I’m not sure how much better I’m going to get. The nature of the league this year is too unpredictable and the parity between teams is too small to know who is going to show up. Wesleyan had a huge drop off earlier in the year and have since come roaring back, Middlebury has been consistent in every game except in a blowout loss to Williams, Tufts lost to Bates, albeit without their best player, and Amherst has had their share of duds too. Trinity and Bates seem to be just sticking around, winning against weaker opponents, save the upset win over Tufts. Those are the top six teams in the league, all riding this rollercoaster of a NESCAC season. What does it all mean with just 3-4 conference games left for each squad? The top seed is the ultimate prize to host the playoffs, but once the postseason begins, it’s anybody’s to take.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Amherst, 3:00 PM, Amherst, MA
Tom Palleschi ‘17 has been a big focus in the last few mentions of Tufts basketball. The All-NESCAC big man’s absence leaves a big vulnerability down low. Amherst doesn’t have a player like Bates’ Marcus Delpeche, but Johnny McCarthy will still pose a rebounding threat. The Jumbo’s two straight losses are unexpected and clearly a result of their starting center going down, but if they can manage to right the ship against Trinity, they could easily bring the fire back to Amherst. At 6-1 in NESCAC, the Jumbos are comfortable in first place, but hosting the NESCAC tournament isn’t to be taken lightly. The home field advantage could easily slip from Tufts’ grasp if Ogundeko dominates on Friday, bringing in a must-win situation against the Purple and White.
If the NESCAC basketball season is an amusement park, with each team as its own dipping, twisting, and turning rollercoaster, then Amherst is the Tower of Terror. At fourth in this week’s power rankings and #11 nationally, there are conflicting opinions as to how legit this team is. Losses to Conn College and Wesleyan nearly derailed their NESCAC season, but a four game hot streak has put them within striking distance of the top spot if the ball rolls their way this weekend. Johnny McCarthy ’18 is going to be huge this weekend, and as the #1 rebounder with 8.8 REB/G and a 46.4 FG% in conference, Tufts is going to have a lot to handle without their star player. Center Drew Madsen ’17 will have a lot to handle.
Tufts X-Factor: Drew Madsen ‘17
Perhaps Madsen will be a bigger make-or-break player against Trinity’s Ogundeko, but he might just have the length to handle McCarthy against Amherst. In his four starts at center these past two weeks, he is averaging just over five PPG and five REB/G. His shooting isn’t the issue here—the guards will need to pick up the slack as Pete mentioned in Part One. He needs to bring down the boards to replace Palleschi’s 7.2 REB/G and 2.6 blk/g in conference. Madsen will come in key on defense as McCarthy could have a huge game if left free in the paint. Delpeche’s 28 points can’t be repeated here as Tufts has been ice cold from 3-point range of late. Madsen certainly doesn’t need to play as well as Palleschi, but if he can stop Amherst’s top threat, then Vincent Pace can do his thing and carry the Jumbos again offensively.
Amherst X-Factor: Jayde Dawson
While McCarthy is Amherst’s most dynamic player, Dawson’s team leading 17.0 PPG in NESCAC games drives the offense.In Amherst’s worst loss of the season against Conn College, Dawson scored just nine points. In all of their other ‘CAC games, he hasn’t scored less than 13, with 17 and 21 in their last two games. He had four steals in a two point win against Bowdoin and four more against Trinity and could have a big rebounding day against the hobbled Jumbos. McCarthy should be big down low on Saturday, but Dawson will have to keep up with Pace as I’m not fully convinced Amherst deserves their #11 ranking at this point in the season.
Both teams will walk into Saturday’s matchup after a good test the day before. Bates and Trinity could easily knock off both teams, leaving this as a battle for seeding with so few games to play. Trinity should be a great test for Tufts, offering a similar big threat to Delpeche, which could better prepare them for an Amherst team that hasn’t beaten anybody in the top seven except for Trinity. In that lone win against Trinity, the Bantams shot just 7.1% from three (1-14), more a sign of bad shooting than good defense, a clear anomaly. Their loss to Conn College and their two point win against last place Bowdoin really stick out as reasons why the Purple and White won’t win despite Palleschi’s absence.
Tufts also has had it pretty rocky of late with their tough loss to Bates, but if they can figure out how to play without Palleschi—it makes sense that it would take a few games—then they should be able to handle Amherst. The #9 team in the country is much more deserving of their ranking than Amherst—and if not for their center’s injury, they would be a clear favorite. The level of play of both teams will be much clearer after Friday’s match ups, but for now I still think the Jumbos can figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
Middlebury @ Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
While I haven’t been accurate on my predictions, I really think the Panthers are going to win this one. Last place Bowdoin against #16 Middlebury doesn’t leave a lot to fear as a Midd fan, but Jack Simonds always poses a big threat. Simonds’ ridiculous point totals have come down to earth a bit recently with just eight and 13 against Trinity and Colby, but others have stepped up. Jack Bors had a huge 24 point outburst against Colby and added 19 more in a win against Husson, although neither opponent is as strong as the Panthers.
With Bryan Jones’ blowup performance against Hamilton last weekend, Middlebury added another big offensive weapon. Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Jack Daly, Adisa Majors and now Eric McCord and Jones? The Panthers have a plethora of offensive and defensive weapons that led to 115 points against a good team, and they could easily put up triple digits against the Polar Bears. If Bors and Simonds have the games of their lives and Middlebury forgets how to shoot, then it could be close…maybe.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Hamilton @ Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Hamilton was really starting to emerge as a potential contender, and then they had to go and lose by 33 to Middlebury. Ouch. That game definitely put a lot of question as to how the Continentals can hold up against the stronger league opponents, but at 3-3, they are still sticking around. Bowdoin should pose a similar threat to the Continentals as the Mules will, so my pick in this one will be the same as Pete’s for Hamilton’s Friday game.
Colby did put up a solid and surprising performance against Bowdoin with Patrick Stewart putting up 28 points out of nowhere. Stewart should be rested heading into the weekend, playing just 13 minutes in a blowout win against Southern Maine, and if he can get it going, maybe Colby can too. Hamilton has lost all of their games on the road this year and their starters played terribly against the Panthers last weekend. Kena Gilmour could crack the starting lineup soon enough as his 19 points on 19 shots last weekend were both team highs, with only one starter, Andrew Groll, putting up double digit points. I’m still a big fan of Hamilton’s even depth and Jack Dwyer’s court vision, but he needs to play better than he did last weekend. Hamilton is the favorite here, but they aren’t a lock.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Bates @ Trinity, 3:00 PM, Hartford, CT
This should be a great matchup between three of the best big men in the NESCAC. Marcus Delpeche showed his star talent last weekend and Ed Ogundeko shows it nearly every game. Neither team has really been able to separate themselves from the middle of the pack and neither has a ton of offensive depth. Malcolm Delpeche offers another star rebounding presence and is a good scorer too—just short ofMarcus’ scoring and rebounding, and averages 3.5 BLK/G to lead the league. Bates should have an upper hand in the boards department with two of the top five rebounders in the league, but Trinity has potential big game players who don’t always show up.
Eric Gendron and Chris Turnbull have traded off with good performances the past two games while Jeremy Arthur has really hit a wall lately. Gendron and Turnbull are going to need to bring it and are the keys to the Bantams’ game as Marcus should match Ogundeko and Malcolm should be a big advantage to the Bobcats. Coming off an upset win against Tufts (and maybe another upset win against Amherst?) the Bobcats will be ready to go. If it wasn’t for their loss to Conn College earlier this year I would say Bates should definitely be ahead of Trinity in the power rankings. It should be a close one, but Bates should pull it out.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Conn College at Williams, 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
I don’t think I’ve been giving the Camels quite as much credit as they deserve. I keep knocking on teams that have lost to them as they were upset losses, but Conn has pretty much lost to everybody they were expected to lose to. What I mean is they have really only played good teams. Wins against Bates and Amherst are huge for this team heading into the playoff run as this game against the Ephs has huge playoff implications. Currently at 2-4, Williams holds the final spot in the NESCAC playoffs, but at 2-5 the Camels are clawing at that eighth spot. With their final three games against Williams, Colby, and Bowdoin, the Camels could easily end up 5-5.
Williams offers a typically confusing case for the NESCAC. A blowout win against Middlebury really confuses me. The Ephs shot a blistering hot 58.5 FG% and 48.1% from deep, shown to be unsustainable against Amherst where they really fell back to earth. Zuri Pavlin and Daniel Janel down lost coupled with Tyler Rowe and Lee Messier offer a much more consistent arsenal of weapons that should be able to knock off the Ephs. No doubt the Williams team could pull this game off, but this is Conn’s easiest conference game thus far and they have played nearly every team closely.
Every NESCAC game is important. That is the nature of the league; since every team (give or take a couple outliers) can get hot and pull off an upset at any time, there are few opportunities to take a game off. And as we wind down the 2016-2017 regular season, the games become even more crucial. This weekend and next, one loss can be the difference between hosting a playoff or going on the road. For some teams, it can even be the difference between making the playoffs or getting a chance to catch up on their homework. The Friday night games kick off a critical weekend, and there are some very important match-ups to keep an eye on, particularly Tufts’ game against Trinity and Bates game in Amherst.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Trinity, 7:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Although they’re still the top team in NESCAC record-wise, Tufts has some real work to do if they want to stay there. The loss of starting center and team leader Tom Palleschi ‘17 has the Jumbos reeling on both sides of the ball. Against Bates, they weren’t able to stop Marcus Delpeche ‘17, who destroyed them to the tune of 28 points on 10/16 shooting. They also settled for jumpshots, leading to a low shooting percentage (36.1%.) They then came out flat against Umass-Dartmouth, losing 91-82. Again, interior defense was a problem, as the Jumbos allowed 14 offensive rebounds and couldn’t get stops down the stretch to support their Vincent Pace-led comeback. Although it was not a league game, the Umass-Dartmouth loss in conjunction with the Bates loss point to deep problems for Tufts. They need to find a way to defend at a high level without Palleschi.
Unfortunately, Trinity is not the best team to play if interior defense is your issue. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has shown himself to be fully capable of ending a game himself if a team doesn’t have a post presence to match him (see his 20/20 game against Bowdoin earlier this year.) Marcus Delpeche proved that Tufts is vulnerable to big performances from dominant inside players. However, Trinity doesn’t exactly come into this one firing on all cylinders either. They only put up 53 points on 32% shooting against Amherst, and that’s including 19 on 8/11 shooting from Ogundeko. The rest of the team shot 11/48 from the field, which is about the same percentage that I shoot when I throw paper at my recycling bin from my bed. Both teams enter this game needing to prove themselves if they hope to contend for top spots come playoffs.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Rebounding
With Palleschi out, Tufts has a `very large hole in the middle of their defense. To fill that hole, the Jumbos will need help from up and down the roster. Of course new starter Drew Madsen ‘17 has the biggest job (particularly this weekend when he matches up with Ogundeko) but he can’t do it alone. Tufts’ guards have to take some of the rebounding load off of the suddenly-thin Tufts frontcourt. Vincent Pace ‘18 has always been adept at this, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, but he holds too much offensive responsibility to spend all his time battling Ogundeko in the paint. KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18 will have to use their size and strength to crash the boards, freeing up Pace to carry the offense and taking pressure off Tufts’ untested big men.
Trinity X-Factor: Anyone Besides Ogundeko
I apologize for sounding like a broken record here, but Trinity needs a second scoring option. Amherst was able to basically dare anyone else on the Bantams roster to beat them, and no one else could. Chris Turnbull ‘17 has shot well from three on the year at 43%, but has a tendency to disappear in big games and struggles to score inside. The same goes for Jeremy Arthur ‘19, who has struggled in league play. Eric Gendron ‘18 represents another candidate to be the Christopher to Ogundeko’s Tony Soprano. Gendron has averaged 11.2 points per game on 43% shooting in league play. To knock off Tufts, Trinity will need solid games from at least one (and more likely two or three) of those possible second bananas.
From a playoff seeding standpoint, Trinity probably needs this game more. At 4-2, they are currently mired in the swamp of teams behind Tufts. Furthermore, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of those teams. After Tufts they still have Hamilton, Middlebury and Bates, all of whom will be battling hard for the best possible playoff spot. I could see Trinity playing very well in these last four games and setting themselves up for a long playoff run. However, I could also see them falling back in the face of this tough schedule. This game is a terrific chance for them to kick this tough stretch off right.
Tufts hasn’t clinched anything either. Although they’re 6-1 now, Middlebury has been playing better than them lately, and Amherst always seems one strong game away from returning to the top. Both those teams have a chance of winning out, and therefore could take the top spot away from Tufts. The Jumbos need to figure out a way to survive without Palleschi, or their season could end disappointingly early. And unfortunately for Tufts, I don’t think this is the game in which they figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Hamilton @ Bowdoin, 7:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Although Hamilton is certainly loaded with talent, they are very young. Middlebury showed the rest of the league just how much that matters last weekend. The Panthers threw up a cool 115 points against the Continentals, and pressured them into 19 turnovers. Hamilton is 0-3 on the road in league play, a stat which makes sense considering that the vast majority of their rotation is composed of sophomores (and freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20.) Hamilton has to grow up fast this year if they want to keep any hope of hosting a playoff game.
Bowdoin comes off giving Colby their first win last weekend in a surprisingly thrilling game. Bowdoin fell 87-82, despite 24 points off the bench from Jack Bors ‘19.Jack Simonds ‘19 has fallen from the league lead in scoring. This may be good for Bowdoin’s offense, as it now looks considerably more balanced than it did early on, but they need to be able to rely on Simond to get them a bucket when needed. I don’t see the Polar Bears being able to catch up to Hamilton like Middlebury did.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Middlebury @ Colby, 7:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Middlebury was unrecognizable against Hamilton and Keene if you watched their performance against Williams. Middlebury’s offense has been balanced and deadly, leading the league in points, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage during league play. The Panthers have particularly benefited from the play of Jake Brown ‘17. Longtime readers will know that my lifelong conquest has been to get Jake Brown on the First Team, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll have to take my battle straight to the Supreme Court. Brown leads the league in assists and averages 11.7 points per game, developing a deadly pull up jump shot which has added a whole new dimension to his game and the Middlebury offense. With Matt St. Amour leading the league in scoring, Brown hitting his jump shots and Jack Daly doing pretty much everything else, the Panthers might well be the best team in the league in the wake of Tufts’ struggles.
Colby also enters this game with momentum. They picked up an emotional first win of the season against Bowdoin. They owe the win primarily to Patrick Stewart ‘17, who went Green Room on the Polar Bearswith 28 points on 8/14 shooting. Colby will most likely try to follow Williams’ formula for beating the Panthers. They will shoot a lot of threes and stack the paint, daring the Panthers to match them from outside. Unfortunately, they’re not good enough from three or on defense to make that strategy work for them. Middlebury should take this one easily.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Bates @ Amherst, 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This is another game which has major playoff implications. Amherst has been inconsistent this season, but the existentially depressing fact remains that they’re 4-2 and are within striking distance of the top spot thanks to Palleschi’s injury. Amherst still has offensive struggles, but they have quietly developed an excellent defense to make up for it. They gave up under 70 points to both Trinity and Williams last weekend, and can still rely on Jayde Dawson ‘18 to bail them out in close games. Amherst is not pretty this year, but if they can keep winning it could work out for them. Also important to note; they are 12-0 at home this season.
Bates is not pretty either, but they are well equipped to give Amherst’s offense fits. The Delpeche brothers are adept at clogging up driving lanes, which should limit the amount of space that Dawson and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 have to score. And on offense, Bates has lately been hitting just enough threes to give the Delpeche brothers some help. Amherst doesn’t exactly have a stable of big men to throw at Malcolm and Marcus, so I see the Bobcats upsetting Amherst at home.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Wesleyan @ Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Wesleyan appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. They put up maybe their best offensive performance of the season against Connecticut College, scoring 85 points on 48.3% shooting. The Cardinals have been experimenting with different starting lineups, and brought Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench against the Camels. They had tried this with Nathan Krill ‘18 earlier. This gives Kuo the freedom to beat up on second unit big men and gives them the freedom to play a more mobile starting lineup with Jordan Sears ‘18 acting as a small ball, defensive-minded center. With Williams perimeter-oriented big men, watch for this lineup change to continue.
Williams hasn’t played a league game since their shellacking of Middlebury, but dropped a non-league matchup to Amherst last week. In that game, they got 26 from Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, but little else, losing 72-64. The Ephs have yet to replicate the shooting display they presented Middlebury, and the top field goal percentage defense in the country isn’t a great team to get hot against . This should be a low scoring matchup, with Wesleyan slowing down the pace and pounding the ball into Kuo and Nathan Krill ‘18. Wesleyan is simply better at winning low-scoring, ugly games.
Bowdoin (9-8, 1-4) at Colby (7-9, 0-5), Waterville, ME 3:00 PM, Saturday January 28th
The Mules and Polar Bears have a few similarities heading into this weekend’s battle for the north. Both finished in a tie at 4-6 in NESCAC last year, squeaking into the playoffs, and are both currently on the outside looking in at the playoff race. The two last place teams find themselves grasping for any sign of life at this halfway point in the conference season, and it’s pretty safe to say that the loser of this match-up will be left out of the postseason. Two 0-2 performances for the Maine squads last weekend further dashed their hopes, and both should throw everything they have at their lone game this time around. A six point loss to Williams is the closest Colby has come to a win in conference, while Bowdoin has put together a few more dynamic performances such as their two point loss to Amherst this weekend. The Polar Bears also possess the ‘CAC’s leading scorer, Jack Simonds ‘19. Can the Mules win some pride with the in-state victory? Can Bowdoin sneak into the playoffs?
Tipping the Scales:
Jack Simonds leads the NESCAC with 20.9 ppg but scored a meager nine against Trinity in a 71-53 loss. He went just 3-10 from the field, giving him unquestionably his worst game of the season. Should Bowdoin fans worry that their sophomore star won’t be the same in the second half? Not exactly. He might erupt against the Mules after a week of not playing, as he has some solid scoring pieces around him to divert Colby’s defensive efforts. The main reason for this anomaly (other than simply an off night) is that Trinity allows the fewest points per game in the conference at just 63.8. Given that Bowdoin scores the fewest points in the league in their five game NESCAC sample size, it stands to reason that Simonds wouldn’t go off against the Bantams. If Simonds shows up like usual and the Polar Bears respond the way they did against Amherst, Colby could be in big trouble.
Still on the topic of shooting, the Mules chuck up threes at a high rate (3rd most in the league), but only drain them at a 33% clip. Patrick Stewart ’17 is the leading scorer, shoots 6.7 3pt/g, but would score nearly ten points without shooting any. Teammate Ethan Schlager ’20 has really come on of late and could give his squad an advantage if he is the one throwing shots up from deep as in conference he scores nearly 10 ppg off of 3’s alone and is doing so at a 57.1% rate. Did somebody say Steph Curry in the making? The Splash brother did go to a small liberal arts college, after all.
Colby’s X-Factor – Keeping the score down:
In the Mules’ only win against a NESCAC opponent this year, the end score was 55-54. Granted, this was in a non-conference matchup against Bates, but the Bobcats shot just 30.6% from the field. In five league contests so far, Colby’s opponents have shot a scorching 45.2% from the field, which isn’t making comebacks any easier. With Simonds looming in front of them, Colby will need to neutralize a game-deciding performance. Simonds’ 32 point performance against Williams would be the deciding factor if he replicated it in this matchup, so Stewart will have a pivotal role as the team’s leading scorer (15.9 PPG) and rebounder (6.3 REB/G).
Bowdoin’s X-Factor – Get Simonds the ball:
While Hugh O’Neil ‘19, Tim Ahn ‘19, and Neil Fuller ‘17 all had solid games in the win against Williams two weeks ago, Simonds was the real hero. He did go a little Carmelo Anthony and hog the ball, but unlike the Knicks’ has-been, Simonds still dished out five assists while totaling 32 points on 24 shots and grabbing seven boards. He also went 7-8 from the line. Jack Bors ‘19 has been hot and cold recently with a solid game against Amherst, while O’Neil and company have potential but are not as reliable as the scoring champ. The game changing performance will need to come from Simonds, but will he bring it?
Who needs it more?
There’s no easy answer here—both teams are desperate. A loss will likely push one team to the bottom of the division for good as Williams and Conn College have both shown that they are capable the last few weeks. These teams both have a lot to prove, and this week won’t show the playoff teams anything important. This week is all about survival, and whichever team wins will survive for another week, with playoff hopes a little bit brighter.
Who has the edge?
Bowdoin’s lone conference win gives them a clear edge against Colby here. A two point loss to Amherst (ranked #14 currently) shows that they can compete, but can they win? My prediction is that—yes—they will win against the 0-5 Mules, but they will need a solid game to do so. Simonds and company show more depth than the other Maine team and have a better track record to show.
Colby is no doubt the underdog here, and they are going to need Stewart to shoot efficiently and make an impact on the boards. Meanwhile Schlager has to chip in offensively in order to steal this one. Joe Connelly ’17 needs to step up too, as he has made just four shots from the field in his last four NESCAC games – this has to change to get this team in the win column. If Colby is going to win, it’ll be this week, but they need the perfect storm.
Bowdoin beat the Ephs by 10, who then beat Middlebury by 24. By the transitive property, Bowdoin beat Middlebury if you pay attention to things like that. More impressively (and realistically), three of five conference games have been close for the Polar Bears (including a five point loss to Bates), giving them consistently competitive games. Though their 64-66 loss to Amherst came as a result of a blown double-digits lead, this close game against a strong team shows that Bowdoin can play ball. Colby has only kept one of their five NESCAC games within six points and have been blown out in several non-conference game this year. Bowdoin should take care of business against their Maine rival.