New Look NESCAC: 5 NESCAC Basketball Talking Points for Thanksgiving

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

Eric Savage ’20 has been an absolute force for the Jumbos so far (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

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

Matt Folger ’20 is as good a scorer as anyone in the league (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

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.

 

Flamin’ Hot Takes: Women’s Basketball Weekend One Review

NESCAC women’s basketball kicked off its 2017-2018 campaign with a great set of games last weekend. In preparation for conference games that will start up in the next couple of weeks, each team played non-conference opponents. Here are my hot takes:

Hot Take 1: Amherst and Tufts will be really good

Melissa Baptista
Melissa Baptista ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

If you were reading my women’s soccer articles in the fall, you witnessed how many times I picked the underdog to defeat Williams, who is now in the Final Four. Each time I picked the opponent, Williams proved me wrong. I feel like Amherst and Tufts are the basketball versions of Williams. They’ve both ended up at the top of the league many of the previous seasons. They’re similar to the Spurs and Patriots: they’re consistently very good without much flash. Amherst has lost Ali Doswell ‘17, who was nominated for the DIII player of the year for the 2016-2017 season, and was an All-American. Doswell’s 13.2 PPG and stellar three-point percentage will be missed. Amherst, per usual, will utilize the ‘next person up’ mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Doswell’s loss will be felt, but with two convincing non league wins, I think Amherst will enter league play with the assumption that the squad can go all the way again this year. Tufts, on the other hand, is returning Melissa Baptista ‘18. Similar to Doswell, Baptista started every game for the ‘Bos. She comes off a season where she averaged around thirteen points per game, an All-American selection, and was a threat everywhere on the court. Tufts is already 2-0 on the young season, and I would expect Amherst and Tufts to be at the top when it’s all said and done.

Hot Take 2: It’s going to be a long winter in Lewiston

The Bates Bobcats dropped its opening two non league games last weekend. Everyone has a different mentality when it comes to these games. Obviously, the NESCAC playoffs are determined by a team’s NESCAC record. Every competitor, however, wants to win each game he or she plays in. Therefore, Bates’ two opening losses should raise major red flags. The NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country for DIII in all sports. Losing to non-NESCAC teams isn’t a good statistic. It won’t get any easier for Bates down the road with games against Maine NESCAC rivals on the horizon. Defense for Bates was the major inhibiting factor last year keeping the team from a successful seasons. Giving up eighty-five points to Smith on Sunday isn’t a good sign that they’ve made significant improvements on the defensive side of the game. If Smith puts up that many points, imagine what will happen when Amherst, Tufts, or Bowdoin comes to town. It’s early in the season, but Bates needs to turn it around soon. Nina Davenport ‘18 is one of the best shooters in the conference. She will be one of the difference makers for Bates this season. If she sets the example of focusing on defense just as much as (or more than) offense, the hot take could be wrong.

Nina Davenport ’18 is the key to Bates’ season.

Hot Take 3: Contrary to popular belief, defense still wins championships

The Golden State Warriors have made people believe that the way to win championships and create the ultimate basketball franchise is through quick transitions threes. Daryl Morey, the GM for the Houston Rockets, was the first man in the NBA to use the ‘Moneyball’ approach in basketball. If you watch a Rockets game, you will observe that there are no midrange jump shots, but only dunks/layups and threes (i.e. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan wouldn’t be a system fit). In the era of offense in the NBA, the score of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship was 52-29 Amherst over Tufts. The top two scoring and three point percentage leaders from last season weren’t from Tufts or Amherst. If you want to beat Tufts or Amherst, you have to match their defensive mentality and efficiency. Bates, Colby, and all the other teams who were below .500 last year can put the ball in the basket. However, they couldn’t play the defense that those two outstanding teams could. I think all the teams that will post a record above .500 this year will be great defensive teams that value defense more than flashy offense.

Congratu-EPHING-Lations: Women’s Soccer NESCAC Finals Recap

Sunday afternoon’s Williams versus Tufts game was one for the ages. The favored Williams College Ephs came into the game against Tufts with pure confidence after a 3-0 trouncing of the Jumbos in October. The game, however, did not start out in the Ephs’ favor. The key to the game for Williams was to establish an early lead, and rely on their stellar defense that carried them all year.

Nature, on the other hand, had a different idea. High winds blew both teams off their game, but it seems like the conditions affected Williams more. Coaches will always tell their players when they’re making excuses about the weather that both teams are playing in the same conditions. The team that best adapts to the unfortunate conditions is normally the one that capitalizes. Tufts was that team. At the very beginning of the second half, it was the Jumbos who tallied the first goal. Alessandra Sadler’s ‘18 goal put Tufts in the driver’s seat early in the second half. The minutes that followed stunned me: the Ephs looked like a deer caught in the headlights. They’re so used to playing with a lead that the 1-0 deficit made them reminisce about the collapse against Trinity last year in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, in any time of distress, you will turn to people whom you depend on. Natasha Albaneze ‘18 took control of the game, and kept the ball from the Eph’s defensive side of the field. This action allowed the Ephs to put the peddle to the metal, and register many shots on goal on the Jumbo keeper Emily Bowers ‘19. One of the fundamental principles of soccer is that shots on goal is one of the most important aspects of the game. In football, a team that goes 0-2 in the redzone is deemed a team that can’t execute in the clutch. In soccer, the shots on goal wear down a keeper and a defense–even if they don’t initially go in. It didn’t seem early on that the shots were wearing down Bowers at all. Finally, Natalie Turner-Wyatt ‘19 evened the game near the end of the second half off a Bowers’ rebound. Again, this goal was a product of shots on net. Bowers’ rebound control was stellar all game, but there’re some shots that a keeper has to make a desperation save on. Turner-Wyatt controlled the rebound, and potted a goal to tie the game up.

Natasha Albaneze ’18 controlled the game from midfield and allowed the Ephs to finally break through.

With only nine minutes left in regulation time, the Jumbos were on their heels. Out of the nine minutes left, at least seventy-five percent of them were in the Jumbos’ defensive side of the field. Of that seventy-five percent, there was a good minute that the ball danced around the goal line, only to be cleared by the defenders. Then, this one sequence of events was one of the greatest sports moments I’ve seen in my life. This moment goes up with Jordan’s crossover game winner against Utah, Julian Edelman’s catch against Atlanta in the Super Bowl, and Jeter’s flip to nail Giambi at the plate in the 2001 ALDS in Oakland.

Tufts keeper Emily Bowers ’19 played an unbelievable game, keeping the vaunted Ephs offense at bay as long as she could.

The ball was being played in the box by the Ephs, and the Jumbo defenders seemed like they couldn’t clear it. Bowers made a save on an Eph shot, but gave up a juicy rebound. Bowers and the majority of the Jumbo defenders were cut off the left of my computer screen, while the ball trickled to a Albaneze with a wide open cage. She planted her left foot, swung her hips, and the inside of her right foot crushed the soccer ball and the Ephs into what seemed like a NESCAC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Like Sinon climbing out of the Trojan horse, Bowers  magically reappeared on my computer screen to make the save of the year with her outstretched left arm. Regulation came to a close, and overtime started with Williams still holding the momentum. Alison Lu ‘20 received a pass from Albaneze only four minutes into the overtime period and calmly chipped in a goal past Bowers to crown the Ephs NESCAC champions. An anticlimactic ending to a fantastic game.

I would personally like to thank all the women playing soccer in the NESCAC this year. Without them, there would be no game. They’ve proved that any team can win on any given day. Congratulations to the Ephs (ugh from a Wesleyan perspective). They truly deserve the title as league champions. Good luck Williams in the DIII tournament, and to any other NESCAC team that gets a bid! Again, thank you for such an incredible season, and I can’t wait for the 2018 campaign.