First and foremost, I want to thank all of our readers who followed us so faithfully during the fall and early on here in the winter. We know that most of you are just like us, NESCAC students with a love of sports and a desire to see their classmates, peers and friends compete and succeed on the field. If you’ve been reading the blog closely these last couple months, you will know that I had the pleasure of spending this past semester in Sydney, Australia.
As a consequence, I could only follow the football and basketball action from afar and only contribute sporadically to the blog’s content. But I’m back now, ready to bring you even more analysis and opinion right here on Nothing but NESCAC, as the dramatic ‘CAC basketball season unfolds. Again, thank you for reading, and we hope you continue to do so.
Let’s get on to this week’s power rankings.
1. Bates (7-0)
It pains me to slot the Bobcats ahead of my very own Panthers, but Bates has simply been the most impressive team so far. They took down a Babson team early in the season that just dismantled the suddenly reeling (is that too strong a word?) Amherst Lord Jeffs and has wins over Bowdoin and Tufts as well. They’ve already shown that they are the team to beat in the CBB with two wins by a combined 26 points. And both Delpeche brothers have taken steps forward and become solid compliments to the likes of Graham Safford ’15, Mike Boornazian ’16 and guard Billy Selmon ’15. What’s more, the ghost of that Safford three to win the game at Middlebury last season still haunts my dreams. This team has it all. Experience, height, three point shooting (though Safford and Boornazian have started off slow in that regard), and something to prove after going 1-9 in the NESCAC last season.
2. Middlebury (7-0)
Middlebury has had some close calls already against questionable opponents (UNE and Skidmore), but they’ve found a way to win and that’s all that matters. This is a team that I believe will get better as the year progresses, as Jake Brown ’17 becomes even more comfortable as the point man, Matt St. Amour ’17 gets further removed from his knee surgery, Jack Daly ’18 gains more experience and, fingers crossed, Matt Daley ’16 gets healthy and realizes the potential that he has flashed the past two seasons. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 and Hunter Merryman ’15 are doing their part, but the team is lacking an inside presence on both ends, something we knew would be a question mark before the season started.
3. Bowdoin (5-3)
This might surprise some, as there are two teams with only two losses, but there is a method to the madness. Two of the Polar Bear’s losses came to very strong teams in Bates and Babson, which are a combined 15-1, and as we know the only loss between them came when the Bobcats topped the Beavers. The loss to Colby isn’t a great one, but I believe it was just a hiccup. Remember, this was an NCAA tourney team last year that brought back an MVP candidate in the seven footer John Swords ’15. The health concerns we had now look foolish, as Swords is playing upwards of 29 minutes per game. With him on the floor, Bowdoin has a chance against anyone.
4. Williams (7-2)
Seven straight wins is a good way to start turning heads. With all the departures and two losses to open the season, this team could have gone into panic mode quickly. But then the Ephs proceeded to launch an offensive assault, scoring at least 82 points in the next six games. However, they allowed 69+ in five of those six games. I think it’s clear that this team is going to be fine offensively, but like Middlebury the biggest question is an inside presence on defense that can discourage shooters in the lane. That’s something that all the teams above the Ephs (with the exception of Middlebury until Daley gets healthy) all have.
5. Amherst (5-2)
Three days ago, Amherst might have had a claim to the top spot on this list, but I’m not here to talk about the past. The Lord Jeffs are still among the most talented squads in the NESCAC, but they are struggling to put it all together right now. Against Brandeis their perimeter defense was mediocre. The Judges were able to run a simple three-man weave at the three-point line until one of their guards was able to catch a defender napping and drive the lane (they also shot nearly 60 percent from deep, but a lot of those were way too wide open). Coach David Hixon will likely make sure that doesn’t become a trend, but for now it’s a concern. What’s more, defensive star David George ’17 barely saw the floor down the stretch of that game as Amherst needed to score points quick. George is a great rim protector, but he can’t be a liability on the offensive end if this team is going to be next-level.
6. Wesleyan (6-2)
The Cardinals have won handily in most of their victories, and competed in both losses, losing in OT to Williams and by eight to Curry. This team’s strength is a defense that ranks third in the NESCAC, but Wesleyan suffers from a lack of depth. Six players are averaging over 20 minutes per game, and after that no one tops 11 minutes. On the flip side they do have great balance in that group with four players in double digits scoring and a fifth, Jack Mackey ’16, averaging 9.9 points per game. Besides that OT loss against Wesleyan, we do not have much to go off of for this team.
7. Trinity (7-2)
The Bantams have a defense that has been just slightly more successful than the Cardinals, and because of their stinginess last season there’s reason to believe that the D will once again be very legit. On offense, the Bantams feature a lot of solid but unspectacular pieces. Their best strategy will be to milk clock and trust that they can shut opponents down. But will that be enough against the high-powered attacks of Middlebury, Williams and Amherst?
8. Colby (6-3)
As expected, Chris Hudnut ’16 is playing at an All-NESCAC First Team level, averaging a double-double thus far. What is surprising is how far teammate Luke Westman ’16 has raised his game. Last year, Westman was quiet but deadly, averaging 9.5 points per game on 65 percent shooting while tallying a 1.75 assist-to-turnover ratio. The junior point guard has upped the ante, however, becoming more efficient and taking better control of the ball, averaging 12.2 points per game (second on the team) on 68.2 percent shooting (incredible for a guard) and posting a 2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. This team is loaded with offensive weapons, but are sort of the anti-Trinity, as they are allowing the second-most points in the league. Defense wins championships, fellas, and as fun as the Mules are to watch, they haven’t yet figured that out.
9. Conn College (5-3)
It’s been a bumpy start for the Camels, but the St. Joseph’s win was a good one and with three straight W’s, hopefully the team can get on track. Bo McKinley ’16 is doing a good job running the point and shooting the three, and Zuri Pavlin ’17 is a beast, as expected, averaging a double-double. But two exciting freshmen have come on and made this team dangerous. Six-foot-five Isaiah Robinson ’18 tops the teams in minutes and provides another big body in the Conn frontcourt, while Lee Messier ’18 has proven to be a sharpshooter from deep and leads the team in scoring. This young duo should only get better, making the Camels a candidate to play spoiler either late in the season or possibly in the first round of the NESCAC tourney.
10. Hamilton (7-2)
Hart who? The Continentals are 7-2! Hope abounds in Clinton. But wait, not so fast. Not only is Hamilton on a two-game skid, but only one of those seven wins came against a team that currently has a winning record, and the competition doesn’t get much better before the Continentals open up conference play against Amherst. As I predicted before the season started, Ajani Santos ’16 has really elevated his game, leading the team in scoring and and shooting almost 57 percent from the floor, but Zander Wear ’18 has not mad the immediate impact that we hoped he would, and overall there’s just a gap between Hamilton and the top tier of the NESCAC.
11. Tufts (3-6)
Despite all the optimism with the return of Tom Palleschi ’17 and the promise of a healthy starting five that couldn’t get on the court at the same time last year for very long, we were skeptical before the season started about whether this team would be as good on the court as it was on paper. Unfortunately, in the past few seasons the Jumbos have just been one of those teams that can’t match its talent with its performance. As the only team in the NESCAC with a losing record right now, Tufts was a default choice for the bottom spot in these rankings. They still have the talent to rise quickly through the ranks, and two former NESCAC Rookie of the Years, as well as one of the league’s most dynamic big men in Hunter Sabety ’17, but for right now they look doomed to another disappointing season.