As we not-so-patiently await this weekend’s playoff games, it’s time to hand out some regular season hardware. This was a particularly fun year in NESCAC baseball. In Tufts we had a juggernaut dominate the regular season in a way not seen in several years. We had Bates’ insanely hot 7-0 start to league play, followed by an insanely cold 0-5 finish. Williams made a furious run at their playoff spot, but to no avail. And on the other side of the conference, we saw a real-life Cinderella story unfold before our eyes, as Middlebury rose from years of mediocrity to become a real championship contender. We will see how those storylines shift come this weekend. In the meantime, let’s recognize the top regular season performers in the award categories. As always, these are our opinions, so we welcome and expect criticism from all sides. We also urge you to check out the midseason awards article here for more info on most of these candidates.
There are several players who could win this award. Tufts alone has three players who have the stats to contend for it in Nick Falkson ‘18, Tommy O’Hara ‘18 and Will Shackelford ‘19. However, it is precisely that lineup strength that keeps them from winning this award. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around any of those players because the rest of the lineup is so dangerous. This award is better suited for a player who dominates despite a lesser supporting cast. Enter Thanopolous. Not to diss the rest of the Amherst lineup (NbN’s own Harry Roberson ‘18 excels as a table setter at the top of the order.) But Thanopolous’ run producing is the key to Amherst’s lineup. Additionally, Amherst’s pitching has struggled mightily for most of the season. Without a strong lineup, Amherst would not even be a playoff contender, and Thanopolous is the engine that makes it all run.
Runner-Up: Tufts IF Tommy O’Hara ‘18 (.343/.503/.528, 4 HR, 35 RBI)
Unlike the Player of the Year award, this race has never been close. Varinos has dominated the league as much as any NESCAC pitcher in recent memory. He struck out double digit hitters three times in his nine starts, and the only blemish on his won-loss record came in his last start, a meaningless non-league matchup against Middlebury. Varinos combined with Tim Superko ‘17 to form the most dynamic starting pitching duo in the league. However, Tufts as a team has struggled to find an effective third starter, and even Superko posted a 3.55 ERA this season. He benefitted a great deal from Tufts’ stellar offense to post his 6-0 record. Therefore, Varinos is the key to Tufts rotation, which will be the most important factor in the playoffs as they contend with Thanopolous and the rest of Amherst’s lineup.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
Runner-Up: Trinity P Eric Mohl ‘19 (16 APP, 7-2, 2.55 ERA)
Rookie of the Year
Winner: Middlebury OF Justin Han ‘20 (.308/.411/.490, 4 HR, 13:7 BB/K)
Middlebury is both one of the best teams in the league and maybe the youngest team, a testament to the recruiting of new HC Mike Leonard and his assistant Mike Phelps. And based on this season, Justin Han looks to be the biggest prize of that strong recruiting class. He showed tremendous power, finishing second in the league with four home runs. But the thing that sets Han apart from other first year players is his maturity. He only struck out seven times all year against thirteen walks. That kind of plate discipline is uncommon among any player, let alone a rookie. His stats were also better in the elevated competition of NESCAC play. In eleven league games, he hit .324 with two home runs and nine RBI, numbers that are better than his overall stats if you project them out to the same amount of games. Han also showed a clutch gene, hitting a game winning grand slam against Amherst to help Middlebury salvage a crucial game and avoid a sweep. With Han and his classmates, Middlebury is set up to be relevant for years to come.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
*Editor’s Note: We feel bad for Lamont here. Not only does he finish second in two awards, but he has to live with a dud of an older brother (former NbM editor Adam Lamont.) We regret adding salt to that wound, and hope John doesn’t resent it too much in the future.
Runner-Up: Trinity C Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.342/.361/.465 23 RBI)
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.
I know that they just had a pretty ugly loss to UMass Dartmouth two nights ago to follow up their lapse in Lewiston, but the Jumbos maintain a tenuous hold on the top spot. It’s not an excuse but rather a glaring truth: the Jumbos miss their big man. Guess where Bates is strongest? The post. So, while a shooting line 36.1/18.5/53.6 is pretty inexcusable, that along with a missing Palleschi, along with Bates hosting a NESCAC game at Alumni Gymnasium is the perfect storm for a Bobcats win. Meanwhile, Bates shot 43.8/50.0/81.8. Again, not excusable numbers to allow by the Jumbos defense, but I still think this game was a fluke and that the Jumbos are deserving of this spot. That being said, they head to Trinity and then Amherst this weekend, their biggest test of the year thus far. Trinity poses another match-up nightmare down low, so Drew Madsen ‘17 and Pat Racy ‘20 are going to have to step up on the defensive end. And Amherst, well, it’s just Amherst. You can never overlook that team. This weekend will be a very telling one for Coach Sheldon’s squad. Is Tufts tough or fake tough?
2.) #23 Wesleyan (16-4, 4-3)
Wesleyan decided to try to be a bit sneakier this weekend by bringing Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench. Guess what – their sneak attack worked! It actually worked so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Joe Reilly tries it again on Friday against Williams. Kuo dominated to the tune of 20 points on 10-16 shooting in his newly developed sixth man role, just punishing the bigs of Conn College. Jordan Bonner ‘19 also qualifies for being credited with a stellar performance off the bench, as he put up 23 points, primarily on the back of his three-point shooting. I’d also like to say that while Nathan Krill ‘18 might be the craziest kid on the court in the NESCAC, he might also be the toughest. His presence on the court is not only electric from a fan’s perspective (I watched an incredible double technical occur between Krill and Tufts’ Ben Engvall ‘18 last week), but also in terms of contributions to Wesleyan’s system. The Cards rely on his grit on the boards and on loose balls, as the attention he draws opens the floor up for other guys to succeed. Wesleyan is beatable for sure, but they are a tough match-up for whoever draws the corresponding seed in the NESCAC tournament.
3.) #16 Middlebury (16-3, 4-2)
Middlebury has been very consistent this year aside from their blowout loss to Williams a week and a half ago. Pete was an emotional wreck following that loss, but the Panthers bounced back this weekend and smacked the living daylights out of Hamilton. Simply put, Middlebury posted video game numbers on the poor Continentals, shooting an ungodly 62.0/59.3/91.7 on the day. While I don’t anticipate Middlebury achieving another 115-point performance in a NESCAC game, they have consistently shared the ball better than the rest of the conference, resulting in league-leading numbers in both assists and shooting percentage. While Jake Brown ‘17 doesn’t shoot the most efficiently on the Midd roster, he is largely responsible for the team’s shooting. Not only does he lead the team (and league) in assists, but Brown’s ability to penetrate and force help out of opposing defenders leads to open shots 2-3 passes down the line. This should be a pretty straightforward weekend for Middlebury, but if they drop one to either Colby or Bowdoin then maybe they’ve got some more glaring issues than I have realized.
4.) #11 Amherst (14-4, 4-2)
While Middlebury has been mostly consistent all season, Amherst has not been, which explains my ranking them lower than both Middlebury and Wesleyan in the Power Rankings despite being a higher national seed. Every team in the conference has some bad losses, but Amherst’s back-to-back losses to Wesleyan and Conn College are of some concern. However, it’s not just Amherst’s losses that keep me on edge. To follow up that 0-2 weekend, Amherst had to put together quite the comeback against lowly Bowdoin at home in order to sneak away with a win. While I am used an Amherst that blows most teams out (as are most people probably), they still rebounded from the aforementioned three game stretch with a string of solid victories. As we all know, Colby has been the doormat of the NESCAC this year so far, but Amherst still needed to win convincingly and they did. Williams, though not in the top half of the NESCAC this year, is a solid team and is Amherst’s hated rival, so an 8-point mid-week is impressive. Then, the most telling is the 66-53 W against Trinity. Amherst hosted the Bantams and beat them at their own game, holding Trinity to just 53 points (!!) on 32.2% shooting while allowing just 1-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The usual suspects (Jayde Dawson ‘17, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and Michael Riopel ‘18), led the way for Coach Hixon in the scoring department and the ex-LJs got it done. Like Tufts, this coming weekend is the most telling of the season for Amherst as they host Bates and the Jumbos themselves. A 2-0 weekend would tell us what the rest of the league fears: that Amherst is back.
5.) Trinity (13-7, 4-2)
You won’t believe I’m saying this, but this weekend is a very telling weekend for Trinity (mix up your damn phrasing, Rory!!!). Seriously though, the Bants can more or less take the reigns with a sweep of Tufts and Bates this weekend, and they have a very good chance to do so. While they took the L this weekend to Amherst, that was a very good loss for Trinity. I don’t mean this necessarily in the way they played was good and they just got a couple bad bounces (-5 turnover differential, relying far too heavily on one player offensively, terrible shooting across the board), but in the sense that the Bantams proved a couple things to themselves. First of all, they proved that they can take advantage of mismatches in the post against good teams. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 had 19/11 and held David George to 6/4. Secondly, they proved that even shooting as poorly from deep as they did (1-14), they could still find themselves in the game until free throws put them away at the end. Looking ahead to Friday, Ogundeko has a highly favorable matchup against Tufts, and if he gets some efficient support offensively from the guards, Big Ed will have a chance to dominate. Bates is a tougher matchup for Trinity, but again, success is going to be reliant on the guard-play of the Bantams, specifically Langdon Neal ‘17 and Chris Turnbull ‘17.
6.) Bates (15-6, 4-3)
My friend from Bates (who for clarification, is unassociated with the Bates Men’s Basketball team except as a fan), has been describing the Bobcats to me as the hottest team in the ‘CAC this week. While a 3-game winning streak (just one conference game) following a 3-game losing streak (all conference games) does not scream “on fire” to me, I will say that Bates made Tufts look foolish on Saturday. While poor shooting is generally a reflection of both teams and not just tough defense, Bates forced Tufts into difficult shots and dominated them offensively. The Bobcats, especially Jerome Darling ‘17, put on a clinic on how to shoot three-pointers. They also shot 18-22 from the free throw line, which played a huge part in helping them seal the deal. I will say, however, that I think Bates should be concerned about this win giving them false confidence for a number of reasons. First of all, it took one of the worst shooting performances of the season for them to topple Tufts. The Bobcats also allowed their opponents to shoot 28 free throws, something that I don’t think I’ve seen a team do in a win that didn’t involve any overtime. Bates, a team whose system involves two big men, allowed Tufts, a team whose system involves just one big man (and lacked their starting big man), to beat them on the boards by seven. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 pulled the weight with 28/11, rightfully earning him NESCAC POW honors, his twin brother Malcolm proved to be pretty ineffective on Saturday, shooting 2-10 from the field and grabbing just three boards. Bates NEEDS these two to work in tandem on the boards at the very least, but it would be a big boost for them if they could have the twins both scoring effectively.
7.) Hamilton (14-5, 3-3)
Hamilton is a solid team. They’ve got some great young talent, and I think they are going to get even better in the next couple years. Right now, however, it is mostly potential that they possess, and they are vulnerable in a few different aspects, the first of which is down in the post. While Andrew Groll ‘19 is a solid player and a tenacious rebounder, he is also really the only real presence down on the block for the Continentals. While they have some size in their perimeter players (Joe Pucci ‘18 – 6’6”, Peter Hoffmann – 6’5”), Hamilton can get exposed on the boards and in the paint at times, especially against teams with solid post players and bigger guards. In NESCAC losses, they have allowed 40.66 PPG in the paint, showing that conference opponents know
how to expose this glaring hole in Hamilton defense. The emergence of Kena Gilmour ‘20 as of late is definitely encouraging, and he is a prime candidate to win Rookie of the Year, but aside from Gilmour the offensive production off the bench is limited at best. Hamilton has the weapons to surprise some teams come tournament time, but they still need to qualify. Ending the season with 4 tough conference games leaves a lot up in the air as to what will happen, but it is worth noting that the last two are against Trinity and Amherst.
8.) Williams (14-6, 2-4)
Williams has surprised me so far this year, and not in a good way. With the weapons that Williams returned at the beginning of the year, I thought for sure that they would be in the top half of the NESCAC standings battling for home court advantage in the playoffs. Now, here we are six games into the NESCAC season and Williams is ranked eighth in the conference standings. While the Ephs have been decent offensively, the Ephs just simply haven’t done enough to stop opposing players from scoring. Part of this is due to their post presence, or lack thereof, which rears its head on the boards and in the paint. Yes, Williams can get hot, especially from beyond the arc, and when they do they certainly have what it takes to win (see: Middlebury), but their lack of consistency is a problem, and is also the reason that they are a bubble playoff team.
9.) Conn College (12-8, 2-5)
Speaking of inconsistency…Conn has shown that they can really, really good at times. Unfortunately for the Camels, those times are few and far between. Wins against Amherst and Bates definitely show promise, but double-digit losses to Hamilton, Trinity, Tufts and Wesleyan leave young NESCAC bloggers wondering who the Camels really are. The issue, in my opinion, is that they have too many guys that want to be “the guy,” and while that’s a harsh critique, there’s definitely an argument there. In NESCAC play, Conn shoots just 39.7% from the field and 31.2% from beyond the arc. Keeping those percentages in mind and then take a look at shot totals. They’ve taken the second most shots and the fourth most three-pointers. Yes, they have played seven conference games while some have played just six, but still, the lack of offensive efficiency that the Camels boast has to be at least a bit concerning. To go along with their poor shooting, Conn allows their opponents to shoot the highest percentage in NESCAC play…not exactly a recipe for success. I’m not saying Conn can’t make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they manage to fumble the opportunity to close the season playing Williams, Bowdoin and Colby, the three worst teams in the league besides the Camels.
10.) Colby (10-9, 1-5)
They’re on the board! Colby grabbed their first win of the NESCAC season this weekend as they hosted rival Bowdoin in one of the best games of the weekend. Patrick Stewart ‘17 played like a damn All-Star, netting 28 points to lead the way for the Mules, and Sam Jefferson ‘20 showed the age is just a number, adding a nice 17 points of his own. The Mules owned the arc and drained 12 threes on the day (albeit on 32 attempts) to propel them to victory. Though they haven’t necessarily looked like a playoff team this year, Colby is on the bubble as this win brings them just one shy of Williams, the current eighth place team. It’s a tough road ahead for Colby, but maybe they can pull this off!
11.) Bowdoin (10-9, 1-5)
Bowdoin gave Colby their first loss of the NESCAC season this weekend to extend their NESCAC skid to three straight losses. Like I feared at the beginning of the season, Bowdoin is just far too reliant on Jack Simonds ‘19, so when he only put up 13 points against the Mules, Bowdoin was in trouble. They did get an outstanding performance from Jack Bors ‘19, who tallied 24 points on 8-12 shooting (5-8 from three-point land), but it was the inability of the Polar Bears to defend the three-point line themselves that buried them in Waterville. Bowdoin couldn’t quite pull off the upset at Amherst a couple weeks ago, but they’ll have a few more upset opportunities before the season is over as they face Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Conn to wrap up NESCAC play. If they want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to win at least a couple of these games.
The opening weekend of NESCAC play was one of extremes. No team finished 1-1, marking out a clear top and bottom tier. Five teams sit at 2-0,and five teams sit at 0-2, with Trinity and Amherst lucking out with only one game over the first weekend and sitting at 1-0. Obviously it’s too early to make assumptions about whether the tiers we see right now will last throughout the season, but there are some interesting threads that should be monitored going forward. Will Middlebury be fine even without Zach Baines? Will Wesleyan make the tournament? Is Ed Ogundeko Shaq’s son? All these stories and more will continue into Friday night’s games, so let’s get into them.
Writer’s Note: This article is a little rushed as I had to spend most of the day yesterday apologizing to various fans for Rory putting Amherst at #1 in the Power Rankings even though they’ve lost two of four. So just keep that in mind.
GAME OF THE WEEK: #15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0) @ #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0)
7:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
First of all, this is obviously going to be a difficult game for me. On one side we have Middlebury, which is of course my hometown, and watching the basketball team as I grew up has been arguably the most influential factor in becoming the person I am today. And on the other side we have Tufts, the team I hate with all my heart. The list of wrongs done unto me by Tufts University is too long and horrible to replicate here on a family blog. I’ll just say that Tufts is the Count Olaf to my Baudelaire children; constantly destroying everything I hold dear out of pure malice and spite.
That said, this should be a spectacular game. Tufts and Middlebury are both coming off very impressive opening weekends, and their strong play has been reflected in their respective climbs in the national rankings. As usual, Middlebury owes much of their success to their incredible backcourt, and particularly to the triumphant return of Matt St. Amour’s shooting stroke. After a prolonged slump, St. Amour catapulted himself back into the POY race with 52 points over the two games, including 31 in Sunday’s win over Connecticut College. More importantly, St. Amour got his buckets very efficiently, shooting 10-19 from three and needing only 30 shots to garner his 52 points. Middlebury has done a tremendous job winning games during St. Amour’s slump, but it was about time he carried them again.
Tufts made quick work of the Maine teams in the opening weekend, besting Bowdoin and Colby easily. They did it with balance; no single player had more than 20 points, but 7 players had more than 10. Tarik Smith ‘17 had a nice weekend after an inconsistent start to the season, adding a new weapon to the Jumbos’ arsenal. It was crucial for Tufts to have a good weekend starting off the year, as they had a couple bad losses to Babson and UMASS Boston that had cooled some people on their league standing. However, they had the easiest weekend of any top tier teams. This game is their first big test since Babson, and should reveal a great deal about how high the Jumbos can fly this season.
For Middlebury it has to be transition, and I mean that in multiple senses of the word. The Panthers must continue to excel in their fast-paced, perimeter orientated style on both sides of the ball. As our blogfathers Panther Nation pointed out, Middlebury may well have the best backcourt in the country, and they need to continue that excellent play to weather a lack of front court depth, at least offensively.
Speaking of the front court, that brings me to the second type of transition that will determine Middlebury’s success. Earlier this week it was announced that talented forward Zach Baines ‘19 made the decision to transfer to Occidental College in Los Angeles. This is a tremendous blow to the Panthers, as Baines was both their most versatile defender (other than Jack Daly ‘18) and a dangerous offensive weapon who was just beginning to realize his potential. His loss will obviously affect Middlebury on the court in the ways we saw last weekend. The guards, especially less prolific scorers Jake Brown ‘17 and Daly, will need to be more aggressive shooting the ball, and forwards Nick Tarantino ‘18, Matt Folger ‘20 and Eric McCord ‘19 will all compete for minutes and touches alongside Adisa Majors ‘18. It will be a fascinating subplot to follow throughout Middlebury’s season as to which big man emerges as the starter out of those three. But Middlebury will need to respond to Baines’ loss off the court as well. It can be very difficult to lose a teammate midway through the year, and no one would blame the Middlebury players for being a little down. However, they can’t afford to let it affect them against Tufts. Middlebury’s experienced leaders like Brown, St. Amour and Daly will have to handle the transition for Middlebury this weekend, in more ways than one.
For Tufts, it is more simple. Vincent Pace ’18 has to get going. A legit POY candidate when healthy, Pace has struggled for much of the season, shooting only 42% from the field and 32% from three. Admittedly he hasn’t had to play big minutes that often yet as he recovers from a knee injury, but if Tufts wants to remain in the top tier they need the old Pace back. The Jumbos can’t rely on a big weekend from Tarik Smith, as Middlebury defends the perimeter better than anyone. Tufts will need Pace’s versatile scoring ability and ball handling if they hope to knock the Panthers off track, and indeed will need it for the rest of the league play. The toughest games are still ahead.
Tom Palleschi ‘17 for Tufts has definite strength mismatches against both Tarantino and Folger. This means that we may see more of Eric McCord than the other two. If that’s the case, Middlebury may be in trouble from a fast break standpoint. The great benefit of both Tarantino and Folger is that they are weapons in transition. They can both shoot (although Folger is more of three point threat,) and they run the floor like deer. McCord is much stronger and possibly a better one-on-one matchup for Palleschi, but Middlebury sacrifices some fast break potential with him on the floor. McCord got exposed a bit by Connecticut College in terms of moving his feet defensively, and Tufts should look to do the same by putting him the pick and roll and getting him out on the break.
That said, I don’t see that Tufts has an answer for Middlebury’s guards. St. Amour is better at getting himself involved even when he’s not shooting well than Jack Simonds ‘19 for Bowdoin, and Daly and Brown are forming into an excellent offensive duo in addition to their terrifying defense. Middlebury matches up very well with Pace and Smith, and Palleschi has not yet shown himself to be capable of taking over a game.
Writers Pick: Middlebury
#5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0) @ Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2)
7:00 PM, Middletown, Connecticut
Amherst took the opening battle in the ancient Jeff-Ephs war, beating Williams in Williamstown 80-72 in a game that they had in hand throughout. They relied heavily on their dynamic backcourt of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, who combined for 34 points and were the only starters in double figures. The game also featured the return of the Amherst bench, as Michael Riopel ‘18, Reid Berman ‘17 and Eric Conklin ‘17 combined for 30 points and carried the offense for large stretches. One thing to watch for Amherst is their low assist numbers. They only had 9 against Williams, and 7 of those came from the three bench players. They did a nice job exploiting mismatches against the Ephs, particularly McCarthy and Conklin, but against an elite defense like Wesleyan, they may need a more sustainable style, especially since Wesleyan has a stable of long, athletic guards to throw at Dawson.
For Wesleyan, this game is as close to a must-win as one can have in the second week of league play. Wesleyan dropped both their games last weekend, on the road to Middlebury and Hamilton. Wesleyan’s elite defense broke down for them in both games, giving up 83 and then 92, but it was a simple lack of offense that really did them in. Shooting 34% from the field won’t win you any games in a deep league like the NESCAC. Wesleyan particularly needs more consistency from their guards. Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17 combined for 31 against Middlebury, but couldn’t hit water from a boat against Hamilton, shooting 3-18 from the field. Wesleyan matches up very well defensively with Amherst, as Rafferty, Green and Kevin O’Brien ‘19 provide a nice rotation to throw at McCarthy and Dawson. And the floor spacing ability of Nathan Krill ‘19 could draw David George ‘17 from the paint, opening up driving lanes. But Krill has to control his emotions enough to stay on the floor (something he decidedly couldn’t do against Middlebury,) and Wesleyan has to drive in those lanes and make shots. If they don’t their chances of making the tournament could be in serious doubt.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
Hamilton (10-2, 2-0) @ Bates (11-3, 2-0)
7:00 PM, Lewiston, Maine
This is about as exciting a matchup as you can have from two unranked teams. Hamilton solidified their rollicking, offense-filled march to NESCAC relavance by handling both Connecticut College and then-#9 Wesleyan at home by scores of 86-70 and 92-76. The Continentals get their buckets in a variety of ways and from a variety of sources. They are led in scoring and on defense by sophomore forward Peter Hoffmann ‘19, so averages 17 a game and put up 21 (and seven blocks) against Conn College. But when Hoffmann struggled his way to 7 against Wesleyan, they more than picked up the slack. Andrew Groll ‘19 put up 20 points and 14 rebounds, and and super-subs Tim Doyle ‘19 and Kena Gilmour ‘20 led a bench attack that put up 38 points. Hamilton is young and loaded with talent, and the rest of the league should definitely be on notice.
Bates’ surprising run to relevance has been accomplished in almost the exact opposite way from Hamilton’s. They have ridden a punishing defense led by Malcolm Delpeche ‘17, who leads the league in blocks, and his twin brother Marcus, who is no defensive slouch himself. The towering Delpeche brothers allow Bates to play very aggressively on the perimeter, as either side has an eraser to wipe away their mistakes. Offensively, Bates sort of figures it out as they go. The Delpeche brothers are the keys to the offense as well, combining for 27.5 points per game. Additionally, they draw double teams in the post, leading to open three point shots. However if the pair of big men are struggling from the field, Bates doesn’t have a lot of depth to pick up the slack. They needed a stunning 23 point outburst from Tom Coyne ‘20 (who played just two minutes the night before) to scrape out 64-59 win over Bowdoin. This game is a classic good offense-good defense matchup, and factoring in the youth of Hamilton and the tremendous homecourt advantage that Bates enjoys in Alumni Gym, I see the Bobcats taking it.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Trinity (9-5, 1-0) @ Connecticut College (8-4, 0-2)
7:00 PM, New London, Connecticut
All season it has seemed like Trinity was one other scoring option away from continuing their control of the NESCAC regular season. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has been a total monster all season, sitting at fourth in scoring at 17.1 PPG and first in rebounding at 10.7 REB/G. But he couldn’t do it alone, and Trinity entered league play at 8-5, the most losses in the league. However, the weekend showed that Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Jeremy Arthur ‘19 have the potential to be fine running mates for Big Ed. But it also showed that on some level he can do it himself. In a non league tilt against Pine Manor, Turnbull and Arthur combined for 34 points on 11-17 shooting, providing and excellent side hustle for Ogundeko’s 24 points and 12 rebounds. In Trinity’s win over Williams last Sunday, Turnbull and Arthur cooled off a bit, but were still able to combine for 24 points. Ogundeko did the rest, dominating the game to the tune of 15 points and 23 rebounds. Ogundeko may well be able to carry his team to the tournament, but if Arthur and Turnbull can really get going, it may be the NCAA tournament as well as the NESCAC.
Connecticut College had their carriage turn back into a pumpkin over the course of the weekend. After a tough loss to Hamilton in a battle of the Cinderellas, they had to make the long drive to Vermont only to fall to Middlebury 97-89. (Sidenote, Battle of the Cinderellas might be a great movie idea. Every Cinderella ever comes together and fights each other for the title. My money is Brandi.) Zuri Pavlin ‘17, the Camels’ leading rebounder and scorer, battled a mysterious injury throughout the weekend, but even with him Connecticut may simply not have enough weapons to match up in the league this year. Fortunately for them, Trinity often struggles offensively as well. This game has the potential to keep Conn College’s tournament hopes alive, but I don’t see Ed Ogundeko letting that happen.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Williams (11-3, 0-2) @ Colby (7-6, 0-2)
7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine
Much like Wesleyan, Williams is drifting dangerously close to the edge of “must-win” territory They drew a tough opening draw in facing then #3 Amherst to lead off league play, and dropped that game 80-72. They then dropped their second game to Trinity 65-63, an ugly offensive performance from a team that has prided itself on offensive efficiency over the last few years. Williams needs more from everybody, but Kyle Scadlock ‘19 had a particularly disappointing weekend. Amherst and Trinity were able to load up on star forward Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, leading to big games from Cole Teal (26 against Amherst) and Bobby Casey (21 against Trinity.) However, those two key players can’t seem to get hot at the same time, and Scadlock hasn’t been nearly aggressive enough to help Aronowitz make up for it. He only took 11 shots over the whole weekend, less than many NESCAC students do at one pregame. If Williams has any hope of climbing out of this whole, they will need him to live up to his potential and be a viable second scoring option behind Aronowitz.
Colby faces a similar situation to Williams in that simply no one on their team is shooting well enough. After a hot start to the season, Patrick Stewart ‘17 has been mired in a slump that is mirrored by his teammates. Over the weekend they shot under 38% from the field in both games, and under 30% from three. Unless the Mules get magically hot, it’s hard to imagine them pulling off the upset against the Ephs, who should be hungry to send a message to the league that they are still alive.
By popular demand (Pete’s note: pretty sure I’m the only one who even requested this,) here are the first NBN power rankings of the 2016-2017 basketball season. I have finals to study for, so I’m not going to spend time on a long-winded intro. NESCAC basketball has been great so far, but I just can’t wait for January so that we can see where everyone actually stacks up. Now, here are the rankings at a point in the season that is far too early to make rankings.
1.) Amherst (8-0, 0-0)
They’re the number one team in the country, and they’re obviously the number one team in NESCAC as well. Amherst has been dominant so far this year against mostly far inferior competition, but they have also picked up the most impressive win in the country so far in a double-overtime thriller against #2 Babson last week. While Babson’s Joey Flannery ‘17 dropped 42 to put away Tufts just a few weeks prior, Amherst was able to withstand Flannery’s 41 thanks to some late-game heroics from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘17. Though it wasn’t the most efficient 32 (13-30 from the field), Dawson showed that he could put the ball in the basket when it counted. He’s now third in the league with 18.3 PPG, the leading scorer for Coach Hixon’s team. Amherst relies on Dawson and McCarthy primarily on offense, but the rest of their scoring is spread pretty evenly between the seven other players averaging 12+ minutes per game. Balance, balance, balance – that is what Amherst is about at this point in the year
2.) Wesleyan (9-0, 0-0)
Speaking of balance, Wesleyan is displaying just that through their first nine games. The Cardinals have four players averaging double-digits so far (Jordan Bonner, Salim Green, Harry Rafferty, and Joseph Kuo), and three others averaging over 7.0 PPG (Nathan Krill, Andrew Gardiner, and Kevin O’Brien). This widespread attack has given opposing defenses headaches, and these headaches have even carried over to the other end of the court. Wesleyan is allowing the fewest points per game so far this season. They’re not blocking an ungodly amount of shots, they’re not forcing a ridiculous amount of turnovers, the Cardinals are just baiting their opponents into tough shots, leading to league-bests in opponent’s FG% (34%) and opponent’s three-point FG% (28.5%). They also took down a strong Williams team at home on December 3rd, showing that the Cardinals are far from rebuilding, as we thought they might this year.
3.) Middlebury (7-1, 0-0)
If you’ve been keeping up with our sparsely posted articles, you know a lot about the Panthers since the Middlebury section takes up half of every one of Pete’s articles. Like Pete noted on Monday, the Panthers are a very solid 7-1 right now, with their lone loss coming to Endicott, who only just dropped out of the Top 25. What concerns me in the long run for Middlebury is that they allow opponents to shoot 42.5% from the field, the worst mark in the league. However, Middlebury’s own shooting percentage, 49.7%, goes for the best shooting efficiency in the league, so the Panthers will probably be alright. One reason they shoot so well is because they lead the league in assists. They are the only team in the NESCAC who can boast 20+ AST/G. If Jake Brown ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 remain among the ranks of the top 5 dime-droppers in the conference, Middlebury will be pretty tough to shut down offensively.
4.) Tufts (8-2, 0-0)
I’m not saying I jinxed the Jumbos in my most recent post, but I’m not not saying it. As soon as I posted about how Tufts and Amherst deserved more credit for their play, Tufts nearly gave away a game to Brandeis, they got worked by Joey Flannery and the Babson Beavers, and then lost on a buzzer beater to a far less talented UMass-Boston team. Nonetheless, Tufts bounced back against Wentworth on Saturday with a nice 15-point victory led by a four-pronged attack of Vinny Pace ‘18, Tarik Smith ‘17, Everett Dayton ‘18, and Tom Palleschi ‘17. One of the issues in their slide last week was that they relied far too heavily on Pace to bail them out, an issue that started all the way back against WPI. Well, Dayton must have realized this as well, because in the last two games he has gone for 16 and 14 points while shooting 50% from the field. If the Jumbos want to stop dropping in the rankings, Tufts is going to need Dayton to keep playing well, because so far they have lacked the consistent offensive punch in the interior that they possessed last winter.
5.) Williams (8-1, 0-0)
I feel bad putting the Ephs in the five spot since their only loss came against #22 Wesleyan, but for a very young Williams team, things are looking good so far. Dan Aronowitz ‘17 is leading the way once again for Coach App’s squad with 18.6 PPG, 2.2 AST/G, and 4.3 REB/G, and he has positioned himself nicely in the Player of the Year race as we head into winter break. Aronowitz is aided primarily by Cole Teal ‘18 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19 on the offensive end, while Bobby Casey ‘19 and James Heskett ‘19 have also chipped in quite a bit. The post is what we figured would be the weak spot for the Ephs, and in their lone loss to Wesleyan, they were outscored 34-18 in the paint. Now I know that not all points in the paint come via post players, but lack of an imposing defensive presence down low begs questions about whether Williams will be able to maintain their current success. If they can figure it out, however, the Ephs will be alright.
6.) Hamilton (6-2, 0-0)
I’ll be honest, Hamilton has been the biggest surprise for me so far this season. I know they have not been too competitive in NESCAC play in recent years, but I truly believe this is a different Continentals team than we’ve seen in awhile. The Hamilton offense is led by a very young cast: Tim Doyle ‘19 (20.0 PPG, note that Doyle has only played in three of Hamilton’s eight games), Peter Hoffman ‘19 (16.3 PPG), and Michael Grassey ‘19 (16.0 PPG) do the bulk of the damage, while Kena Gilmour ‘20 also chips in with 10.0 PPG. The Continentals are a pretty solid rebounding team, led by Grassey and Andrew Groll ‘19, who are 7th and 9th in the NESCAC respectively. Hamilton is one of the youngest teams in the league, but they were last year as well, which allowed the class of 2019 to gain valuable on-court experience. I think that Hamilton will have at least one big upset this year, but I don’t think they’re quite mature enough to topple some of the beasts at the top of the conference. I suppose we’ll see when league action begins.
7.) Conn College (7-1, 0-0)
Conn College looked pretty good at this point last season, but they fell off when NESCAC play rolled around as they were unable to finish some games the way they wanted to. However, Conn looks to be a much more cohesive unit thus far, and they’ve been scoring in bunches this year. The Camels lead the league with 86.8 PPG, and it has a full team effort on the offensive end as six (!!) different Conn players are averaging at least 11 PPG through their first eight contests. However, one cause of concern, and maybe where the challenges of NESCAC play will catch up to Conn, is that their bench is not very deep. It’s more or less a seven man rotation for Conn, which will be thin when conference action begins in January. Additionally, the Camels are fully reliant on their ability to score the ball – they are last in the league in points allowed, and as we saw against Wesleyan, when Conn doesn’t score well, they don’t play as well (Pete’s Note: Pretty sure this is how it works for most teams.) Conn looks to be a potential threat as of now, but unless they figure out their defense they will struggle in NESCAC play.
8.) Trinity (5-4, 0-0)
Very classic Trinity allowing just 64.8 PPG so far, but what’s a bit uncharacteristic is that they have not had the scoring to reward their defense. I will admit, their losses have not been the worst defeats in the history of Division III hoops – Southern Vermont was an NCAA tournament team last winter and Susquehanna is currently ranked 18th in the country, but regardless, I think the Bantams are scarily dependent on Ed Ogundeko ‘17. Trinity plays 9-10 deep, but Ogundeko is the only consistent scorer, and when he struggles, so does the team. In two of his three lowest scoring games, Trinity has lost. Their biggest issue offensively is without a doubt ball control. The Bantams are committing a dreadful 19.8 TO/G,and if this type of sloppy ball security continues, it would be hard-pressed to envision Trinity in the playoffs.
9.) Bowdoin (5-3, 0-0)
Though Bowdoin looked very pretty solid early on, it has become clear after eight games that this team is completely reliant on Jack Simonds ‘19. To a certain extent, this is fine – Simonds does lead the NESCAC in scoring after all, with 23.6 PPG – but it is to the point where Bowdoin refuses to even take him off the court. Simonds plays 35.1 minutes on average…I believe that that’s simply an unsustainable amount of playing time. What’s worse, Bowdoin doesn’t really have anyone else who can take over the scoring duties if he has an off day, and in the one game the sophomore scored less than 19 points (he scored 12), Bates handed Bowdoin their biggest loss of the season. The Polar Bears are just not that deep, and while Simonds has explosive potential on the offensive end, relying on one player is generally not the formula for success in the NESCAC.
10.) Bates (5-3, 0-0)
Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche are currently leading the Bobcats with 15.0 and 13.3 PPG respectively. Marcus is also second in the conference in rebounding (10.5 REB/G) while Malcolm is tied for fourth (9.4 REB/G), and Malcolm leads the NESCAC with 3.3 BLK/G. With all these positive signs, I can’t help but think back to previous years where the Delpeche twins have been solid during the non-conference portion of their schedules and then fallen off once January rolled around, but I’m hoping that this is the year that the two finally get over the hump and lead Bates back to the playoffs. The Bobcats did trounce Bowdoin by 14 last week, but they then suffered a devastating loss to Colby on Saturday after the Mules’ Patrick Stewart ‘17 converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 0.2 seconds left in regulation. Bates is a decent defensive team, but they rank last in points scored, so expect Bates to show off their Lewiston toughness come conference play.
11.) Colby (5-4, 0-0)
After losing what feels like a million seniors that graduated in May, the Mules are young. Really young. They only have two seniors and two juniors. They have eight (yes, eight) freshmen. So as not to leave out the class of 2019, I’ll note that there are three sophomore Mules on their roster, but I think my point is clear – this team lacks maturity, and that is one of the most important features for a NESCAC basketball team. Patrick Stewart ‘17, however, has captain(Kirk)ed Colby this season to the tune of 16.2 PPG. Unfortunately, he’s really been the only consistent threat for Colby, leading to some pretty inconsistent play. When the Mules took on Bowdoin in a nonconference matchup (who obviously know each other pretty well), Stewart was just 2-18 from the field with 7 points. Conference opponents are going to be able to shut down Stewart, so someone else is going to need to pull some of the scoring load. In each of their four losses, Colby has been outscored in the paint. That’s only happened one time when Colby has won, so they’re either going to need to figure out how to keep teams out of the paint, or they are going to have to start shooting higher than 32.8% from three-point land.
Week Five featured arguably the most surprising result of the season thus far, with Wesleyan affirming their status as a big time contender by shutting out Amherst 20-0. It feels strange to be writing an article about NESCAC football without Amherst in the top three, but it’s always nice to try new things so let’s see if I can get through it. The status quo held up in the rest of the league, with Trinity and Middlebury remaining undefeated and no real surprises in the lower levels. Now without further dudes (cred to Family Guy), let’s get into the Week Five Power Rankings:
1.) Trinity (5-0)
To shamelessly borrow from Rory’s flawless research, Trinity has scored between 36 and 38 points every week this season. Of course, the other end of that stick is that they have yet to play any of the other top teams in the league. Their only quality win thus far is a 36-28 home win over Tufts, which was an impressive performance to be sure, but not as impressive as Wesleyan or Middlebury’s wins over Amherst. The Bantams have arguably the three best teams to close out the season, starting with a home game against Middlebury next week that might very well determine the league championship. Right now Trinity is the best team in the league, with quarterback (and legendary Chicagoan racketeer) Sonny Puzzo ’18 and running back Max Chipouras ’19 both standing as legit POY candidates. But things could look very different by the end of the season.
2.) Middlebury (5-0)
Last week the Panthers got moved down in the rankings two days after scoring 49 points on the road. Predictably, they had some gripes, expressed to me in loud voices in the dining hall as I walked back to my table with my chicken and peas. However, the Panthers got off to a slow start again this week against one of the lesser teams in the league, trailing Bates 9-0 at the end of the first quarter before rattling off 28 points in a row to put the game away. Quarterback Jared Lebowitz ‘18 struggled early, throwing two interceptions (although heavy rain may have contributed to the early sloppiness). The Panthers have now started very slowly in the last two weeks against two teams that are far from Trinity’s level. These mistakes haven’t mattered against Williams or Bates, but one against Trinity could cost them the NESCAC championship.
3.) Wesleyan (4-1)
Welcome to the top three, Wesleyan! We’ve been expecting you (here Trinity and Middlebury open the doors to the exclusive “NESCAC Upper Tier” night club, where T-Pain is playing 24/7 and there’s no need to do homework on Saturdays.) Wesleyan’s defense has been their calling card this season, giving up only 7.2 points per game. However, their offense has stepped up at times as well. QB Mark Piccirillo ‘19 hasn’t committed a turnover yet this season, and running back committee Lou Stevens ‘17, Dario Highsmith ‘20 and Devin Carrillo ‘17 have given the Cardinals a dynamic running game. We went most of this season thinking that Wesleyan wasn’t dynamic enough to overcome the offensive firepower of the top teams, but they made us all look pretty foolish last weekend.
4.) Tufts (4-1)
A side effect of the Wesleyan win over Amherst is that Tufts’ win over them in Week One is now a quality win. The Jumbos have been quietly playing pretty well this season at 4-1, but their quarterback inconsistencies have kept them squarely out of the top tier. However, Chance Brady proved this weekend that sometimes it doesn’t matter who your quarterback is, so long as you have Smash Williams 2.0 as your running back. Brady ran away (pun intended) with Offensive Player of the Week honors, putting up 157 yards and four touchdowns. Brady is the type of player that can carry a team, and he has the chance to really seal up that reputation next week against Amherst.
5.) Amherst (3-2)
I expected myself to feel very gratified at the prospect of writing a Power Rankings in which I get the pleasure of putting Amherst outside the top three. It’s something that I have never gotten to do, as Amherst had never lost a football game in my college career prior to this season. But faced with this opportunity, I feel less gratification and more melancholy. Stories simply aren’t that fun if there’s no villain. Imagine if Darth Vader got demoted for failing twice on the Death Star (I mean honestly, the rebels blow up the first one, so he builds the same ship that can be destroyed in the same way? Just poor logistical planning) and becomes a Storm Trooper. Or if Voldemort had to retake Beginning Potions. That is how the league without Amherst dominating feels right now. Amherst probably has lost the chance to finish at the top this season, as Middlebury and Trinity will most likely not lose another game other than whoever loses their match-up next weekend. The best they can do now is play out the season and prepare their youngsters to restart the dynasty next season.
6.) Colby (2-3)
The Mules have been battling Bates all season for “Best of the Rest” status, and they took a big step towards sealing that title with a 27-7 shellacking of Hamilton. Colby’s defense has been a hallmark of their success this season, and this weekend’s performance was no different. They forced three turnovers, including a fumble that was then returned for a touchdown. Colby has already played (and lost to) Amherst, Middlebury and Wesleyan, meaning that they have three winnable games left. The Mules have a good shot at finishing the season .500 or better, which would be a major accomplishment for a program that has struggled mightily for the last few years.
7.) Bates (1-4)
Bates came out very aggressive against the Panthers this weekend, and led 9-0 after the first quarter. Unfortunately, the Bobcats’ season-long issue of putting together multiple strong drives reared its head again. After a 48 yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, the Bobcats didn’t score again for the rest of the game, while the Panthers rattled off four touchdowns and put the game far out of reach. Bates has shown flashes of contention this season, but seem to lack the consistency to make themselves anything more than those brief moments of sunlight on a dark and cloudy day.
8.) Hamilton (1-4)
After the end of last season, in which Hamilton won two of their last three games, many experts (meaning me) thought that they might be primed for a big step forward this season. However, the Continentals have not quite lived up to their early season promise. An exciting win over Bowdoin aside, Hamilton has looked very much like the team they have been the last three seasons. This weekend’s 27-7 loss to Colby was the pinnacle of this disappointing season; Colby is a team that Hamilton simply has to beat if they want to climb out of their perennial losing reputation.
9.) Williams (0-5)
Williams has shown signs of life in the last few weeks, particularly against Middlebury two weekends ago. However, they also battled Tufts for most of the first half last weekend, and have by and large acquitted themselves well this season, when taking into account the coaching upheaval of the off-season. The Ephs appear to have discovered a star in versatile end Tyler Patterson ‘19, and have a golden opportunity against Hamilton next weekend to come away with a huge moral victory.
10.) Bowdoin (0-5)
Bowdoin has given up an average of 481 yards per game this season. That’s 100 yards more than Williams, and by far the worst in the league. The Polar Bears have been lost at sea on defense for much of 2016, floating on stranded icebergs from the melting Poles. They do have Bates and Colby left on their schedule, giving them two chances to come out of this season with at least a win. But as of now, they’re the underdogs in even those match-ups.
Just about every game last night carried with it an exciting storyline. Wesleyan toppled a Top-25 team for the second game in a row. Trinity barely snuck by Colby, dropping the Mules to 0-4 in NESCAC play. Conn won again, and with three wins are probably just one more victory away from guaranteeing a playoff bid. Amherst took care of business versus Bowdoin – no matter how great Lucas Hausman ’16 is, the Polar Bears don’t have enough weapons to compete. Williams over Hamilton was the one game that went pretty much as expected and told us very little about either team. Today’s games carry just as much weight and intrigue.
Tufts at Conn College, 1:00 PM, New London, CT
Tufts and Conn are teams with identical records going in opposite directions, though to be fair they started at opposite ends of the spectrum. Tufts has now lost two OT games to Middlebury and Wesleyan, while Conn continues to win close game after close game. The Jumbos looked hectic in the OT period against Wesleyan, marking the second overtime period where Tufts fell apart at the seams. Vinny Pace ’18 on three occasions in the overtime found himself in the air with no idea where to pass it. Tom Palleschi ’17 missed an ugly three. And there was no coordination on offense as the seconds ticked away.
That being said, the Jumbos have all the talent in the world and will be tough to defend. On the opposite end, Conn PG Tyler Rowe ’19 has emerged as a future star. The matchup between him and Tarik Smith ’17 will be a great one. Still, when I look at every position in the lineup, the Jumbos seem to have the edge. Conn’s best chance will be to do some work in the frontcourt between Zuri Pavlin ’17 and Dan Janel ’17, because Tufts lacks frontcourt depth.
Prediction: Tufts 81 – Conn 78
Bates at Wesleyan, 3:00 PM, Middletown, CT
The Cards look to be figuring it out, but let’s not forget that one week ago they were coming off of a 26-point loss to Amherst and looked like a ship without a rudder. They have not fixed their biggest issue – three-point shooting. The Cardinals have made just 12 of their last 80 (15.0 percent) attempts dating back to that loss to Amherst, and 31 of their last 146 attempts (21.2 percent). Against Tufts last night Wesleyan shot 3-21 (14.3 percent) from three point land, 13-27 (48.1 percent) from the free throw line, and turned the ball over 22 times.
Yet somehow, the Cards won, and surprisingly it was by dominating the frontcourt. Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 are known commodities, but Nathan Krill ’18 has started to play some important minutes. This year’s Wesleyan team is deep, a far cry from last year’s squad that ran only six deep. They’ve gone through a lot of growing pains, but I think they’re going to be better than last year’s team once they get through the kinks, and this game should be a comfortable win because Bates is not playing well right now.
Prediction: Wesleyan 75 – Bates 64
Trinity at Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
The Bantams certainly don’t win pretty, but they do win as they escaped against Colby 62-60. Trinity will look to get the ball inside a lot today, something they failed to do last night finishing the night with just 8 free throws as a team. Frontcourt depth behind Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’17 remains a concern. Primary backup Connor Merinder ’19 could really use a breakout game to get more confidence going down the stretch. Otherwise the Bantams are in danger of Ogundeko getting into foul trouble.
To stop the Bantams inside, Bowdoin needs a team effort, especially rebounding the ball. The Polar Bears sorely miss John Swords ’15 in that category, but they still should be doing a better job boxing out as a team. The individual offensive brilliance of Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 had the Polar Bears up on Amherst. It’s possible that great performances from those two today are enough, but I think the Bantams defense is too stout.
Prediction: Trinity 73 – Bowdoin 67
Amherst at Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME
The good news for Colby is that Patrick Stewart ’16 played 31 minutes last night and Chris Hudnut ’16 returned in limited action to score 8 points. The bad news is they need a massive upset to avoid an 0-5 conference start. Ryan Jann ’16 had an off night against the Bantams going 0-7 from the field, and the Mules need him to make tough shots. Colby is getting healthy, but they might not be getting there fast enough to help today.
Connor Green ’16 looked like his old self scoring 27 points against Bowdoin. Amherst in the second half was sending three guys to crash the offensive boards, and the leaping ability of guys like Green and Michael Riopel ’18 made a difference. Whatever Amherst found in the second half last night needs to carry over to today. An engaged and aggressive Amherst team is a terror for the rest of the league because of the athleticism and size the roster has. Barring Colby hitting everything from three today, Amherst gets the job done.
Prediction: Amherst 82 – Colby 71
Williams at Middlebury, Sunday 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
This is the only game this weekend besides Tufts vs. Conn College that features two above .500 teams in conference. The Ephs are now riding a three game winning streak, but the three games all came at home against Hamilton, Bowdoin, and Colby. Those three have a combined conference record of 1-12. The scores of those game are also remarkable similar: 75-66 over Colby, 76-65 over Bowdoin, and 73-63 over Hamilton. The other constant in those games was Dan Aronowitz ’17, who averaged 21.0 PPG and 10.3 RPG over the three game stretch. Aronowitz is much more of a threat from three this season, and the Panthers need to keep an eye on him at all times.
Middlebury won’t have played in over a week when they take the court tomorrow, and that time off has given them plenty of time to get ready for the Ephs. The Panthers strength recently has been great depth. Guys like Adisa Majors ’18 and Bryan Jones ’17 have been coming off the bench and giving an instant lift to the team. Their depth helps to keep the Panthers fresh since they are constantly pushing the ball up the court. Williams has the discipline and personnel to counter that transition offense, however. Sometimes basketball is just about who hits shots and who misses them, and if that is the case in this one then I like Williams in a squeaker.
After the slight miscarriage that was opening weekend in the NESCAC, we actually get a full slate of weekend series, though there are still some more cosmetic changes because of the weather. But still, it’s baseball! For real! Alas, no games in Maine yet. One can only dream.
With Tufts having the weekend off, the remaining four East Division teams are tangling in series that will start the process of figuring out where exactly where each of them stands relative to each other.
The biggest series is out west with Williams taking on Wesleyan. The Ephs swept Middlebury to once again at least appear to have a shot at challenging Amherst or Wesleyan for the second playoff spot. A year ago with the Ephs at 4-2 in league after taking one game from Amherst, the Cardinals put their foot down and swept Williams to take control of the West and end the playoff chances for the Ephs. This year, Williams is hoping for at least one win against the Cardinals. However, beating this Wesleyan team is one tall task.
Three to Watch
1. Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 (Wesleyan): We love two sport athletes, and Davidson is one of the many at Wesleyan right now. However, not many athletes boast squash and baseball as their two sports. After spending the winter as the number one for the squash team, he has transitioned seamlessly to baseball. In his junior year he has elevated his game to another level at shortstop. A year after hitting only .273 with one homer, Davidson has mashed three home runs on his way to a team high .415 BA. Davidson combines with Andrew Yin ’15 to make one of the best double-play combos in the NESCAC.
2. Starting Pitcher Scott Goldberg ’15 (Colby): Colby fans should not be too concerned at all with his 6.23 ERA. He dominated in his first two starts in Florida before having one very bad start. I put more stock into his 5 inning, 10 strikeout start against Hamilton than his 3 inning, 8 earned runs one against Castleton State. He is striking out a ton of hitters so far too which is good news. Goldberg should get the ball this afternoon in the NESCAC season opener against the Bantams. Last year against Trinity he didn’t make it through five innings, but Colby got the win in his start.
3. Left fielder Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 (Amherst): The sophomore is building on a very productive freshman year that saw him get on-base at .375 clip and steal 13 bases. Now after hitting only one extra base hit in 2014, Thanopoulos has two home runs and six extra-base hits total to date. On Wednesday in Amherst’s tuneup game against Bates, he went 2-4 and stole two bags to confirm that he is still very much a threat on the base paths. Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is going to continue to steal the headlines, but Thanopoulos has proven that there are two very capable outfielders with four syllable last names in the Jeffs outfield.
Middlebury (0-9, 0-3) at Amherst (7-6, 0-0). Games played at Auburn High
Friday 7:00 PM: Eric Truss ’15 vs. John Cook ’15. Saturday 3:00 PM: Cooper Byrne ’15 vs. Keenan Szulik ’16. Robert Erickson ’18 vs. Jackson Volle ’17.
Not too much to say here. Hard to pick in favor of the Panthers until we see them win a game. Truss against Cook is a clear mismatch in the first game, but in the other two the Panthers will have a shot. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 is a game decision for this one. Amherst has looked a little shaky so far, and their 10-9 win over Bates wasn’t too reassuring. They committed four errors (three by their middle infielders) to allow five unearned runs to score. They can overcome those types of errors against Middlebury.
Amherst sweeps series.
Colby (9-3, 0-0) at Trinity (8-5, 0-0)
Friday 3:00 PM: Scott Goldberg ’15 vs. Sean Meekins ’15. Saturday 12:00 PM: Greg Ladd ’15 vs. Jed Robinson ’16. Saturday 2:30 PM: TBD vs. Chris Speer ’17
Two teams who we have not heard too much from to this point are certainly feeling that they have a chance at the playoffs in the East. The rotation for the Bantams has been amazing with the four pitchers with the most innings pitched all having an ERA below 1.00. The bullpen has been much more of an adventure which has held the Bantams back a little bit. Meekins and Robinson have matured into a very good duo. For the Mules, Goldberg and Ladd are missing their running mate Soren Hanson ’16 who was injured earlier in the year.
The weakness of both teams is their offense so expect a low scoring series. In the end, the loss of Hanson for Colby swings things just enough for the Bantams who will win their first NESCAC series since 2013.
Trinity wins two of three
Bates (5-5, 0-0) at Bowdoin (6-10, 1-2): Games played at Franklin Pierce.
Sunday 1:00 PM: TBD vs. Henry Van Zant ’15. Sunday 3:30 PM: TBD vs. Harry Ridge ’16
The final game of this series is being postponed for later which might benefit Bates in the short run but Bowdoin in the long run. The Bates staff is still very unsettled with a bunch of arms still clamoring for innings. Expect a lot of different pitchers to throw multiple innings as manager Mike Leonard will not allow the Bowdoin hitters to see pitchers multiple times. In the long run, Van Zant can now start two of the games in this series for Bowdoin depending on when the final game is rescheduled for.
Winning at least one game is a must for Bowdoin to stay near .500 in conference. Bates must be itching to play this weekend after only playing four games since February 21. These are two very familiar foes who have to travel to an unfamiliar locale in Franklin Pierce.
Teams split the doubleheader
Series of the Weekend: Williams (6-5, 3-0) at Wesleyan (9-4, 0-0)
Friday 4:00 PM: Thomas Murphy ’15 vs. Nick Cooney ’15. Saturday 1:00 PM: Luke Rodino ’17 vs. Gavin Pittore ’16. Saturday 3:30 PM Dan Smith ’16 vs. Sam Elias ’15.
All three games will be played in Middletown because there is still some snow in Williamstown, but the change of venue is not a big one as the Saturday doubleheader was already planned for historic Andrus Field.
A good deal of players for Wesleyan have yet to hit their stride. Neither Cooney nor Pittore boast a spectacular ERA, but some of that is because of the caliber of teams they pitched against earlier in the year. Meanwhile Donnie Cimino ’15 has not looked like his usual self in his first baseball action since breaking his jaw last summer. He should get back on track as he gets more at-bats. That a good deal of Wesleyan stars are not playing great but the team is still playing well is not a surprise given the depth of talent. Remember too that a good deal of this team played some high level baseball this summer in the Cape Cod league and beyond.
Williams feels confident after managing to sweep Middlebury, but they needed a walk-off win in the first game to make it happen. As mentioned in our season preview, the Eph hitters were shut down against Wesleyan in 2014. A repeat of that spells doom for them. While Jack Roberts ’17 is smoking the ball, Jack Cloud ’17 and Luke Pierce ’15 are both mired in slumps that are keeping the Williams offense from working on all cylinders.
Something tells me that Wesleyan is ready to show the NESCAC just how good they are going to be this weekend. The Ephs will play well, but their best chance of winning is Murphy throwing a gem on Friday. Against a lineup as deep as Wesleyan’s that is very difficult.
Tufts is the best team in the league, Bates is in danger of the same free fall as last year, and Wesleyan might be good, but they can’t compete with the NESCAC’s best.
All of these arguments could be made after this weekend, but could also also look foolish in another week. Consider this: at this point last week Middlebury was in the process of being exposed as soft. The Panthers responded with a 2-0 weekend, including the best half played by any NESCAC team this season in the first half against Wesleyan on Friday night. We still do not know much about how the league is going to shake out.
What is clear is that all of the chaos has hurt the NESCAC’s reputation nationally. For the first time since 2002, no NESCAC team was in the D3Hoops Top 25 released on Monday. Amherst and Trinity received a couple of votes each, but it will take a team stringing together a couple of weeks without losing before someone will claw back into the poll. The chances of multiple NESCAC teams making the tournament continue to fade as the committee sees the wide-openness as mediocrity.
Hard Non-Conference Schedules: Colby and Tufts entered conference play with a combined record of 11-12, but so far the two are 6-1 in conference play, with the Jumbos the most impressive team thus far in NESCAC play. Both coaches, Damien Strahorn for Colby and Bob Sheldon for Tufts, went out of their way to schedule hard teams out of conference. The combined records of the teams Colby and Tufts lost to is 126-52 (.710 winning percentage), and that record includes a 4-10 Maine-Farmington team which Colby lost to without Chris Hudnut ’16. Both teams now have turned the corner and for now are at the top of the league standings. Tufts in particular looked poised down the stretch against Trinity after losing a number of close games early in the season. Keep in mind that this stock is only up in the short term. The hard early schedule could come back to hurt both teams. Unless either team wins out in the regular season and wins a game or two in the NESCAC tournament, their chances of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament remains slim.
Class of 2016: Two weeks ago we noted how the current senior class could end with only two players crossing the 1,000 point mark. Last week saw two current juniors, Chris Hudnut ’16 (Colby) and Connor Green ’16 (Amherst) cross the same mark.
Mike Boornazian ’16 (Bates) has 794 points currently and looks like a lock to reach 1,000 points. A recent explosion in points from Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin) means that with 630 points right now, he appears likely to cross the mark as well. Meanwhile, Luke Westman ’16 (Colby) is averaging 14.0 PPG while shooting an UNREAL 74.8 percent from the field. Westman never shoots from outside, but even still to shoot that well around the rim is exceptional, especially for a guard. Trinity is powered by their duo of Shay Ajayi ’16 and Jaquann Starks ’16. The junior class is not as deep or as star studded as the 2014 or possibly 2017 class, but it’s not far off, either.
Point Guard Tarik Smith ’17 (Tufts): A lot of different players have elevated their play in conference for the Jumbos, but Smith has unquestionably had the biggest impact. In three conference games Smith is averaging 17.3 PPG on the absurd shooting percentage slashline of 68.4/83.3/95.5. He scored nine points in the second half against Trinity, including the game sealing free throws in the waning seconds. However, big questions remain. First, there is zero percent chance Smith continues to shoot this well from deep and at the charity stripe so his efficiency is sure to go down. Second, this scoring binge is coming out of nowhere. In non-conference play Smith averaged 6.0 PPG and reached double digits only twice. Finally, Smith is only averaging one turnover per game during this stretch but is averaging over two per game on the year. But note that before conference play began, Smith had started all 11 games at the point for the Jumbos, while he has come off the bench in each NESCAC game so far. There is a chance that Smith moving out of the starting lineup has taken pressure off of him. More likely, Smith played a great three games, but regardless his play is representative of a wider trend for Tufts.
Traditional Powers: The Big Three of the NESCAC (Williams, Amherst, and Middlebury) are each sitting in the middle of the pack at 2-2. All three lost huge senior classes, but that does not fully explain how far back to the pack they have fallen. Consider that since 2001-2002 season, one of those three won the NESCAC regular season crown by going either undefeated or having only one loss. Since Middlebury still has to play Amherst and Williams, it is possible that all three finish with at least three losses. All three teams are more than talented enough to win the NESCAC tournament, but their rosters are not as flawless as in years past.
Wesleyan: As someone who was in the front row of the Wesleyan bandwagon, this was a very hard week. First the Cardinals went up to Amherst in a non-conference game and forgot how to shoot from deep in the process of a 21-point loss. Then after going up early in the first half against Middlebury 14-13, Wesleyan let up a 38-10 run by the Panthers to go into the half down 27 points. Their normally stout defense was unable to find a way to slow down any aspect of the Middlebury attack. Things got out of control quickly as the home Panthers just got in an offensive roll. Sixteen turnovers, with each starter having at least two, also was not helpful.
Now Wesleyan is 1-2 in conference, and because of their schedule, they have to go on the road for five of their final seven conference games. The Cardinals just rebounded with a nice win last night over Baruch, but they now face an uphill battle in conference play.
Point Guard Graham Safford ’15 (Bates): Though a bit simplistic, as Safford goes, so go the Bobcats. Last Tuesday in order to keep him rested, Bates coach Jon Furbush did not play Safford at all, but the results this weekend were subpar. Safford scored 12.0 PPG on only 26 percent shooting, and he did not make a single two-point field goal against Trinity. Not coincidentally, Bates went 0-2 against Trinity and Amherst. Those are two very hard road games, but Tufts also went 2-0 as Bates’ road partner this weekend. The Bobcats need their leading man to figure out how to avoid another late season slide. Last season Safford had a similar falloff with his overall points per game 4.4 higher than his conference average while his shooting percentage plummeted at the same time. Keeping him fresh is crucial, and Bates might need to rely on Billy Selmon ’15 to become the primary ball handler for short stretches.
The last few years have seen schools improve in leaps and bounds in terms of providing highlights and content on their websites. The biggest difference is of course Northeast Sports Net which provides quality webcasts and commentators for not only football but a lot of other sports as well. Because NSN has the tapes of games in storage, school are able to use them for more highlight packages. These help make the game come alive for alumni and parents unable to attend games in person. Also schools now publish much of the information you would normally find in a game program online a few days beforehand. Below are highlights of games and some weekend previews.
Interesting to hear at the end of the video Coach EJ Mills reference not managing the end of the game. We think that refers to Nick Kelly ’17 scoring a touchdown instead of going down at the one yard line with about a minute left.
In addition, the Amherst website had a great article on Amherst lineman Max Lehrman ’15, Scott Mergner ’15, and Jonathan Woodrow ’15 that you can find here.
Bates- Preview of this weekend’s game against Tufts.
Hamilton- If you haven’t checked out Hamilton’s new football fan site, here is the link
Middlebury- Local Vermont TV station WPTZ has highlights of the Middlebury-Wesleyan game.
Tufts-Highlights of the streak busting win are on the Tufts website.
Trinity- Trinity has a preview of this weekend’s showdown against Williams.