As the opening weekend of NESCAC basketball comes to a close, we start to see some early headlines. Yes, this is a very small sample size so obviously a lot can and will change, but what better way to spend your Thanksgiving break than over-analyzing NESCAC basketball? That’s what we do at my house at least. We’ve already seen some monstrous individual performances, well-balanced team efforts, and generally A LOT of points put up. Granted, NESCAC schools almost always beat up on their non-conference opponents, finishing the weekend at a combined 20-2, however one of those losses was Bates to Trinity, so someone had to lose that game, and the other was Tufts to no. 9 nationally ranked Wash. U on the road by just 4 points. With this in mind, let’s take a look at 5 talking points to help steer conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table away from Colin Kaepernick and back in the right direction:
1: Eric Savage is the real deal
This weekend we saw three absolutely dominant performances, two of which were somewhat expected: Kyle Scadlock (24PPG, 11REB/G, 53.6% FG, 85% FT) and Jack Daly (17.5PPG, 10.5REB/G, 9AST/G, 52.2% FG). The third huge performance of the weekend, and the surp came as a bit of a surprise in Eric Savage ’20 from Tufts. The aptly named Savage has been just that – tied for the league lead with Scadlock at 24PPG – yet also averaging 14REB/G and 6.5AST/G, both good for 2nd in the conference. What makes these numbers especially notable is that Tufts played easily the hardest opening-weekend schedule, taking down a good Webster team before falling in a close game to a Wash. U team that we will likely see in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, Savage will have to continue putting up numbers similar to these in order to warrant POY consideration especially only being a sophomore, but now we’re able to see how high the ceiling is for him.
2: Bates’ offense needs help
While my bias leads me to believe that Bates is simply undergoing an identity crisis after playing their first two games without the Delpeche twins in five years, frankly, their offense has not been good. Although the loss of the twins is a somewhat valid excuse, losing to Trinity by 28 in their opening game is inexcusable. Fortunately, they were able to salvage total embarrassment by hanging on to a 72-69 victory in overtime against a weak Maine Maritime team. Their defense hasn’t been great, certainly not terrible, however it is the offense that needs a shake up. The Bobcats come in at dead last in the league in points per game, field goal percentage, assists, and rebounds. It doesn’t take an expert to know that this is not good. Interestingly, Bates actually averages the second fewest turnovers in the league. This means that they are simply just not getting good shots, so look for Coach Furbush to continue trying new offenses to see what clicks before we get into conference play.
3: Amherst’s balance
I was hesitant to include this one because we saw nearly the exact same trend at the start of last season – Amherst beats up on their perennially easy first weekend teams, and nearly everyone on their team gets good minutes. Because they used so much of their bench, their stats are a bit skewed at this point, and they will start to use fewer guys once they start to figure out who they are this season. With that in mind, they have still played an incredibly balanced brand of basketball (I’m no English major but I’m pretty sure that’s called an alliteration). The Mammoths have 10 players averaging between 5 and 12 points per game, 8 players averaging between 3 and 8 rebounds per game, and 5 players averaging between 2 and 4 assists per game. This balance is outrageous and with Amherst only having two seniors, it is good to see their younger guys starting to fill roles in a lineup that lost a lot from last season. We will see if they can continue this when their competition picks up.
4: Trinity’s defense looks like that of the Boston Celtics
The Bantam defense looks to take a leap this year, and they are off to a great start in doing just that. They were able to win the Maine Maritime tournament in an easy fashion while holding their opponents to 59 points per game, second to only Amherst. I will say the same thing about Trinity that I said about Amherst: they played a relatively weak schedule this weekend, squaring off against Bates who is undergoing an identity crisis, and Wheelock who is nothing special either. That said, they held their opponents to an abysmal 29.8% from the field including 18.4% from behind the arc. This is honestly a testament to their coaching because they find a way to get a hand up and contest just about every shot, making it brutal for their opponents to get good looks. Without the individual superstar that they have had in the past few seasons, the Bantams will continue to rely on their very good defense to keep them in games.
5: Youth movement across the league
The most exciting headline of the weekend is certainly the new wave of names across the stat leaderboards in the NESCAC. In fact, 8 of the top 10 leading scorers from this weekend were either a sophomore or junior, and as a fan of the conference as a whole, this is great news. Almost every team has asked one or a few underclassmen to step into larger roles to fill a void left on their team, and these underclassmen have performed admirably. There are a ton of juniors who have already made an impact and will continue to do so, but certainly keep an eye on sophomores such as Eric Savage (Tufts), Jeff Spellman (Bates), Kena Gilmour (Hamilton), and Matt Folger (Middlebury) not only as dark horse scoring title candidates for this year, but POY candidates a year or two down the road.
Thanksgiving is a crazy time – seeing family, catching up on work, starting to think about exams (that word itself just makes me cringe), and many, many other things, but the thrill of the NESCAC basketball season is finally upon us. For us NESCAC students, this means an absurdly long and dark winter, but it also means packing every last person possible into each of our respective gyms to cheer on our most beloved basketball teams. There is something in everyone that makes us inherently proud of where we go to school, and basketball manifests this sentiment better than anything. This is the beginning of an awful and amazing time of year and I don’t know about anyone else, but I couldn’t be more excited.