Reaction to Friday’s Games
Will the Real Middlebury Please Stand Up?
You’re killing me, guys. A 9-0 start, an 0-2 start to conference play including a blowout loss to Tufts, an absolute dismantling of Wesleyan, just scraping by with a win against the conference’s only remaining winless team, and now another blowout loss to the Ephs. I was starting to think that the Tufts and Conn. games could be chalked up to having to play on Sunday and maybe that’s where Middlebury’s struggles were based, but there was no excuse for this one. Nearly a full week of rest and preparation and the Panthers just fell flat. And the game was never really close. Middlebury had the lead for all of one possession of the ball game before Williams stole it away for good with a Dan Aronowitz ’17 trey with 19:11 to go in the first half.
Obviously, I’m closer to the Middlebury team than any other in the NESCAC, and so I still have hope for this season because I understand why they’ve had some of their struggles. Matt St. Amour ’17 returned tonight but likely wasn’t at full strength and showed some rust from the three-point line, going 0-4. Captain Dean Brierley ’15, who has filled in in the starting lineup the last three games, is a capable shooter himself but St. Amour has a more dynamic offensive game when he’s good and healthy. The performance from Matt Daley ’16 was certainly promising. It’s been a month now since the athletic big man has returned to action but Coach Jeff Brown has been working him into the rotation slowly. For what reason, we don’t know. Perhaps to teach Daley a lesson or simply because Nick Tarantino ’18 had been playing consistently. However, a near double-double from Daley in just 21 minutes (a season high) might inspire Coach Brown to let Daley loose a bit more going forward. It’s worth the chance because obviously this team is not in a place right now where it can compete for the NESCAC title, and Daley could be an X-factor down the stretch. Last but not least, it was just an uncharacteristic night for Middlebury as they shot poorly from everywhere on the floor and they allowed the Ephs to shoot over 50 percent from the floor. On the season Middlebury opponents were shooting under 37 percent from the field before this game. Maybe the sloppy performance has something to do with the fact that J-term just ended for the Middlebury team. Perhaps they felt that little bit of fatigue mixed with relief that always comes with passing in a final paper or taking that final exam. But they will need to overcome distractions much more serious than that if they are going to win the NESCAC this season.
The PG Battle in Amherst is Over
Reid Berman ’17 is the real deal. I talked in the Friday Preview about how Berman was a pass-first point guard who could really grab hold of the starting job with a good performance on Friday night. Berman did pretty much exactly what he was supposed to do, dishing out 13 assists. And as advertised, he didn’t look to shoot much, only taking five shots (missing them all). Of course, Berman is not a polished product. Zero percent from the floor isn’t a good stat, no matter how many assists you tally, and he also turned the ball over six times, but he seems to be a good fit on a team with three starters who can knock down a lot of trey balls.
All Hail the Bantams
For at least one day, Trinity is the undisputed king of the ‘CAC. I doubted the Bantams going into this one, thinking that John Swords ’15 would force Trinity to take a lot of threes and I didn’t think a lot of those threes would go in. Well, I was half right. Trinity attempted 26 threes, just three short of a season high, but they were able to sink 11 of them (42.3 percent). Rick Naylor ’16 was the hero for the Bantams, scoring seven straight points, including a three at the end of regulation and four points to open the overtime period, to help clinch the victory.
Defense was the story of the night. Shot clock violations played into the narrative on both sides. Trinity forced one near the end of regulation and Bowdoin caused their own with five seconds left in overtime, but was unable to get a clean shot for the win and Bryan Hurley’s ’15 desperation three was no good as the buzzer sounded.
Ed Ogundeko ’17 continues to be a beast on the boards for Trinity. The 6’6″ forward snagged another 12 rebounds and still leads the NESCAC in rebounds per conference game despite coming off of the bench and only playing 20.5 minutes per conference game.
If there’s a downside to the Bantams thrilling victory, it might be that this game would suggest that Trinity needs an uncharacteristically efficient shooting night in order to beat the NESCAC’s best. But this is just one game, so let’s not jump to conclusions. Instead, let’s let the Bantams enjoy their time atop the heap. If we’ve learned anything in the NESCAC this season it is that no one is safe, so don’t get too comfortable up there.
Players to Watch
1. Guard Joseph Lin ’15 (Hamilton)
Hamilton has given Middlebury a tough time in these teams’ last two matchups, Middlebury is going to be angry and Lin and Co. got Friday off so they’re going to be fresh. The student body is on vacation in Middlebury so it won’t be a particularly boisterous crowd, and I think that could benefit Lin, who had his worst conference game so far in the Hamilton win over Williams last week. I think Lin bounces back despite Middlebury’s tough defense. This is somewhat of a gut call, but if there’s one reason that I think Lin could have a big game it’s simply that I don’t see anyone else in the Hamilton starting five drawing a favorable matchup. Not that Lin vs. Jake Brown ’17 is an easy assignment for Lin to score on, but I think the Continentals lean heavily on the senior guard in this one and that he rises to the occasion.
2. Center John Swords ’15 (Bowdoin)
Last night Swords was more active and engaged on the offensive end than he has looked in a lot of games recently shooting it 13 times, a season high. Unfortunately he made only six, a terrible night considering his usual shooting percentages. Still, the Polar Bears would be happy to have Swords shoot so often every game. How Swords’ minutes get managed today will be fascinating to watch. He played a season high 41 minutes against Trinity, a very physical team. Bowdoin does not really have another player who can keep David George ’17 off of the offensive boards for Amherst so they are going to need their big guy to play a lot. Whether Swords is physically up for it is a big question. If he is not then the Polar Bears will need to dig deep if they want to avoid an 0-2 weekend.
3. Guard Harry Rafferty ’17 (Wesleyan)
Like Wesleyan as a team, at times Rafferty looks like one of the finer guards in the conference who is especially lethal from downtown. Then he also has games where he struggles to find his rhythm. Yesterday, Rafferty came off the bench, something he has done a couple of other times only to return to the starting lineup the next game. He played well coming off the pine with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. That was not enough for Wesleyan to overcome a huge night from Graham Safford ’15. Rafferty has become more of a straight scorer this year, so making him the primary scorer off the bench is not actually a crazy idea. He and Tarik Smith ’17 could end up locking horns on both ends of the floor if both of them come off the bench. That two guards so talented are both filling a reserve role makes for an interesting storyline to watch today.
Game of the Day: Bowdoin (13-5, 4-2) at Amherst (13-5, 3-3), 3:00 PM
I get the feeling that this will be the closest of the five games to be played today and tomorrow. After Bowdoin lost the nail-biter with Trinity yesterday this game took on a lot more meaning for the Polar Bears, who could go from potential number one seed to middle of the pack over the course of two days if they lose to the Lord Jeffs. As mentioned above, the Swords-George matchup should be a good one, but the most interesting battles to watch will not be when the ball is in either player’s hands, but rather the fights for rebounds. Both players are defense-first and are top five in both rebound and blocks per game. Offensively, both players are very efficient, so something will have to give in this matchup.
Amherst’s biggest challenge will be stopping explosive guard Lucas Hausman ’16. The kid just keeps getting better and does most of his damage inside the arc or at the free throw line. The Lord Jeffs have had some difficult stopping guard penetration this season and have committed the third-most personal fouls per game in the NESCAC. Those two factors combined could mean a lot of trips to the line for Hausman, a 91.1 percent free throw shooter who went 13-13 from the stripe against Trinity last night. We will see some combination of Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Connor Green ’16 lined up with Hausman. Whether either player can slow down the Bowdoin scoring machine could be the difference in this game.
Another interesting matchup occurs at the point guard position, where both teams employ Rajon Rondo-like playmakers. Hurley and Berman are both looking to pass first, the latter almost to a fault, so it should be fun watching them attack one another possession after possession. Hurley obviously gives up some size to Berman, but that shouldn’t be much of a disadvantage in this game seeing as Berman is unlikely to rise and fire, meaning that Hurley could have one of his best defensive games of the season today.
I missed on my prediction yesterday when I stated that Bowdoin would win by 10 over the Bantams, and today I’m going to have to pick against the Polar Bears. Especially given Amherst’s home court advantage, I think the Lord Jeffs win on a couple late free throws by Green. Keep in mind, though, that Amherst lacks a dead eye free throw shooter like Hausman. Green is the best from the stripe and he is shooting under 75 percent. I think he comes up clutch today, but the opportunity is there for Bowdoin to foul early and capitalize on some missed front ends of a one-and-one. Nevertheless, the pick is in: Amherst by five.
Enjoy all the games today.