#1 Trinity vs. #6 Wesleyan – NESCAC Semifinal Preview

The Wesleyan defense stepped up big in the Cards Quarterfinal win against Bates. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
The Wesleyan defense stepped up big in the Cards Quarterfinal win against Bates. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

This Connecticut rivalry, dubbed by some “The Battle of 91”, referring to the main highway that connects Middletown to Hartford, pits two teams that seemingly have overachieved and that have vastly different strengths against one another for the 190th time in history. Firstly, the Bantams host their first NESCAC Finals weekend since 2002, and will be looking to lean on their deep front court and hometown hero Jaquann Starks ’16 to bring just the second NESCAC Championship of the modern era (i.e. dating back to the inauguration of the NESCAC Tournament in 2000-2001) to Hartford. On the flip side, Wesleyan’s three-headed backcourt monster will look to outshoot the Bantams and move on to its first Finals in school history.

Anyone who knows anything about NESCAC basketball knows that defense is the calling card of the Trinity Bantams. This season to date, Trinity ranks first in the NESCAC in points per game allowed, first in offensive rebounds allowed, second in rebounding margin and second in field goal percentage defense. Ed Ogundeko ’17 in particular has developed into a beast on the defensive end, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game (sixth in the NESCAC) and 1.4 blocks per game (tied-fifth in the NESCAC), despite playing just 19.8 minutes per game due to the depth of big men that Trinity possesses. Tri-captain George Papadeas ’15 is one of the biggest bodies in the NESCAC and a strong defender himself, but Ogundeko has been so good this season that Papadeas has seen his minutes diminish as Ogundeko’s have grown. The other two members of the Bantams’ frontcourt, Shay Ajayi ’16 and Alex Conaway ’15, are no slouches, either. Ajayi turned in a double-double with 12 and 11 in the squad’s Quarterfinal win against Colby, and Conaway has been a consistent player all season long. The suffocating defense doesn’t stop once you get outside the paint, though. Tri-captain Hart Gliedman ’15, who dealt with a minor foot injury earlier this year but is now at 100 percent, might be the toughest perimeter defender in the NESCAC, bringing the quickness to guard point men and the size/strength combo needed to guard twos and smaller threes, as well as a wealth of experience. Gliedman spent a year at Div-I Liberty University in Virginia before transferring to Trinity, where he has made his mark as a leader on and off the court.

Captain Hart Gliedman '15 has a reputation for taking away an opponent's best scorer. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Captain Hart Gliedman ’15 has a reputation for taking away an opponent’s best scorer. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

As for the Cardinals, all year long they have lived and died by the three-pointer, taking 21.7 treys per game, a number surpassed in the NESCAC this season only by Williams and Amherst. In their eight losses Wesleyan has shot an abysmal 29.2 percent (57-195) from deep, though they’ve managed a 38.1 percent mark on the season. The point guard trio of BJ Davis ’16, Jack Mackey ’16 and Harry Rafferty ’17 run the show for Wesleyan, but forward Joe Edmonds ’17 is the team’s best three-point shooter, and the sophomore blew up for 22 points in the Cards Quarterfinal win over Bates, the second time in three games that Edmonds had eclipsed 20 points, something that he hadn’t done before this season. The biggest concern for Wesleyan is its depth. Beyond the top six in the rotation, Tim Gallivan ’15 averages 10.9 minutes per game and Chris Tugman ’15 averages 10.4 minutes per game. Beyond that, no one hits double digits in that regard, and in Wesleyan’s Quarterfinal game Joseph Kuo ’17 was the starter with the least amount of minutes played with 29. What’s the point here? That Head Coach Joe Reilly apparently doesn’t have much trust in his bench beyond Rashid Epps ’16, who has started 18 games this year but has recently come off of the bench, often in favor of Edmonds. Rafferty praised some of the role players after Wesleyan’s win over Bates. “Jordan Sears [’18] was unbelievable in the minutes he gave us, just wearing out [Bates point guard] Graham [Safford ’15]….I thought one of the other biggest difference makers was Chris Tugman. It was just such a dogfight on the boards, such a physical game, and when he came in as a big body with some huge rebounds, it was perfect energy off the bench. He completely changed the flow of the game.” Certainly, players like Sears and Tugman will have to make an impact yet again if Wesleyan is to knock off the top seed and clinch a NESCAC Championship, because it is probably too much to ask for all five starters to go beyond 30 minutes on back-to-back days.

Last time they played:

It was not long ago that these teams went head-to-head on Wesleyan’s home court in a game that the Bantams edged out 65-61 on Friday, February 6. Rick Naylor ’17 was in the midst of some of the best shooting of his life at that time, and torched the Cards for 17 points on 5-6 shooting from beyond the arch. It was an ugly shooting day for the Cardinals. Davis, in particular, struggled with a 2-10 showing from the field, but he was able to get to the line and sink 7-8 free throws on his way to 12 hard-earned points. Mackey kept Wesleyan in the game with four three pointers, but Edmons was a total non-factor. Kuo had some success inside amongst the trees, posting a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards.

The game was tight throughout with nine lead changes, eight of which came in the second half. Wesleyan was within one in the game’s final minute, but two three-point attempts clanged off of iron and the Bantams headed home with the four-point win.

Harry Rafferty '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Harry Rafferty ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jack Mackey '16 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jack Mackey ’16 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan X-Factors: Guards Harry Rafferty ’17 and Jack Mackey ’16

Gliedman is going to make Saturday Hellish for one of these two talented guards, leaving the other one with a potential quickness advantage over his defender. Trinity often has three big men on the floor, but something has to give because Wesleyan usually has three point guard-like players on the court at once. There’s no way Ajayi, despite his athleticism, can stop Mackey or Rafferty on the perimeter. This could mean more minutes for Naylor, Andrew Hurd ’16 and Chris Turnbull ’17. Will they be up to the challenge of stopping passes like this from Mackey (we had to get this in here somewhere)?

Andrew Hurd '16
Andrew Hurd ’16

Trinity X-Factor: Point Guard Andrew Hurd ’16

I get the feeling that the opposing strengths of these two teams leans in favor of Wesleyan, and for that reason it will be crucial for Hurd to step up and play big for the Bantams. Starks gets a lot of credit for leading the Bantams offense, but Hurd is actually the team’s top assist man with 3.0 per game. He will often replace Starks on the court, but when they are on the floor together Hurd does most of the initiating of the offense, and they figure to be active together for a lot of this game in order to matchup with Wesleyan’s guards. Hurd will have to play solid basketball on both ends of the floor for the Bants to hold off the visiting Cardinals.

Three Questions:

1. Is Joseph Kuo ’17 ready for a bruising?

Ogundeko and Papadeas are two of the strongest big men in the NESCAC, and maybe in all of D-III. Ogundeko has really evolved as player since NESCAC play started. Kuo is the only real big man that Wesleyan rolls out on a regular basis. Expect Tugman and Gallivan to get some extra minutes in order to give Kuo a breather, but the sophomore is going to have to play big to keep Wesleyan in this one.

2. Which game does Trinity decide to play?

The one where they score in the 80s and 90s and just outshoot their opponents, or the one like the 71-69 win over Williams where the teams shot a combined 37.1 percent from the field, 25 percent from deep and 54.8 percent from the stripe?

The beauty for the Bantams is that they know they can win both ways, but I don’t think they want to get into a shootout. As a rule, Trinity likes low-scoring games.

As Starks put it in an interview with contributor Carson Kenney, “As usual we have been focusing on defense. We know that Wesleyan is a good shooting team. So our game plan is simply make them take tough, contested shots and don’t give them anything free and easy. If we take away their three point shooters I feel it will be tough for them to beat us. If we don’t do that then we will have a tough time beating them.”

3. What the heck are Trinity Days?

Well since we fancy ourselves journalists we went ahead and found out. Trinity students get two days off each semester around a weekend (how the College decides those days is beyond me) and it just so happened that Thursday and Friday of this week were off for all students. So, a lot of students are home for a long weekend. How many will come back early to cheer on their Bants is an important question. A lot of alums should still make Oosting pretty full, but there’s nothing better than a student section at a college basketball game.

What to Expect

Expect the game that the Bantams want to play; slow, tough and physical. Wesleyan is going to be hard-pressed to get any points in the paint, which will mean a lot of three-pointers and long jumpers, but Trinity won’t allow for many offensive rebounds. The Bantams will then look to chuck the ball into the paint and let the big men work.

The matchup will really come down to how well Wesleyan shoots the ball, and Wesleyan Head Coach Joe Reilly agrees. “[The reality of the NESCAC tournament is it’s going to be a team that shoots the ball well from the perimeter,” Reilly said. My mind is saying Trinity will win this one. They’ve beaten Wesleyan before, they’ve been the best team all year and they’re at home. But they’ve also won a lot of close games and barely squeaked by #8 Colby in the Quarterfinals. They haven’t been a dominant top seed, and with the Cards flying high I think they have a good shot at the upset. Damn the mind, my heart is going with Wesleyan. And isn’t heart what the playoffs are all about?

Prediction: Wesleyan 75 – Trinity 70

#2 Bowdoin vs. #5 Amherst: NESCAC Semifinal Preview

While Connor Green is in the forefront of our minds, the battle between David George and John Swords also looms large. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
While Connor Green ’16 is in the forefront of our minds, the battle between David George ’17 and John Swords ’15 also looms large. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

The late game Saturday pits two teams in Bowdoin and Amherst that played some of their best basketball of the season in the quarterfinals. The Polar Bears overcame the hot shooting of Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 because of great games from both John Swords ’15 and Lucas Hausman ’16. Meanwhile, the Lord Jeffs’ second game against Tufts was the exact opposite of the first one with Amherst routing the Jumbos in Medford. Connor Green ’16 is absolutely on fire scoring the ball averaging 28.2 PPG in his last five games against NESCAC opponents.

 Last time they played: 81-66 Amherst

These two met the first time in Amherst on Saturday, January 31. The Lord Jeffs held a double-digit lead for part of the first half, but the Polar Bears fought back to make it only a three point deficit at halftime. Hausman kept Bowdoin in the game with 15 points, but Green was even better with 17 first half points. Early in the second, Green took over for Amherst and scored 15 points in the first 7:22 of the half to push the Amherst lead up to 14 points. Bowdoin would never truly threaten again with the Amherst lead never getting below nine, and the Jeffs were able to coast to a comfortable victory. Hausman also scored only four second half points. Johnny McCarthy ’18 deserves credit for slowing down Hausman, and the freshman had a pretty good game besides just his defense, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Both teams shot awfully from the free throw line as the Jeffs were a putrid 10-23 (43.5 percent) and Bowdoin shot 10-18 (55.6 percent).

Keep in mind that Bowdoin was coming off of an overtime game against Trinity the night before and was playing on the road. That might have contributed to them shooting only 2-15 from three. Still, Amherst matches up very well with Bowdoin because their two best defensive players, McCarthy and David George ’17, correspond perfectly with Bowdoin’s two biggest weapons, Swords and Hausman. Both teams have gone 5-1 since their first game and seem to have figured out exactly how to play with each other.

Bryan Hurley '15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Bryan Hurley ’15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Bowdoin X-factor: Point Guard Bryan Hurley ’15

Swords and Hausman are definitely Bowdoin’s two most important players, but Hurley is a very close third. The Watertown, MA native does a little bit of everything for Bowdoin, but he is most effective when he is put into pick-and-roll situations. Hurley is particularly adept at getting the ball to Swords up high where the big man can throw down easy dunks. In conference play his assist-to-turnover ratio was 3.1. After putting a slow start to the season behind him, Hurley now is confident about getting into the lane and absorbing contact. Amherst is unlikely to let Hausman win the game by himself so Hurley will have to shoot the ball well from both beyond the arc and at the rim. Though he is a mostly pass-first point guard, Hurley tends to pick his spots to attack. He is never afraid to shoot from deep and will often take contested jump shots if he is ‘feeling it.’

Johnny McCarthy '18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Amherst X-factor: Shooting Guard Johnny McCarthy ’18

The presumed NESCAC Rookie of the Year will guard Hausman, the clear leader right now for NESCAC Player of the Year. This will be a fun battle to watch all afternoon. McCarthy tied for the league lead in steals because of his outstanding length. He has exceptional timing as a defender and his quickness allows him to guard anyone from point guards to small forwards. The freshman is no defensive specialist though. He finished third on the team in scoring with 10.6 PPG, but his offensive game slipped later in the season. He shot only 33.3 percent from the field in conference games. His offensive game is predicated on rhythm which is one of the reasons why he struggles from the free throw line despite being a confident shooter. Despite his struggles, McCarthy led the Jeffs in minutes despite there being a bevy of talented perimeter players on the roster.

Three Questions

1. Can David George ’17 guard John Swords ’15 one-on-one?

Swords had his best offensive game of the season last week going 10-10 from the field, but George will present much more of a challenge. In their two match-ups so far, George has done a good job of pushing Swords out of the paint. The sophomore has gained a lot of strength though he still gives up a good deal of weight to Swords. The best way to defend Swords is to keep him from getting the ball in a deep position. If Swords gets the ball close to the basket, it is virtually impossible to stop him. Even though George has the length and ability to block Swords, the 7’0″ footer is too patient with the ball. The Amherst big man doesn’t need to stop Swords completely. George just has to limit him and make other players on Bowdoin beat the Jeffs.

2. Is Connor Green ’16 unguardable against a zone defense?

Last week we broke down how Bowdoin’s zone works with players scrambling on the perimeter. It works for the most part, but as Rooke-Ley showed in the first half, a knockdown shooter can neuter the effectiveness of it. In the second half Bowdoin adjusted and made sure to communicate so that somebody was always on Rooke-Ley. Though Rooke-Ley is a better pure shooter, Green might be an even harder task to guard because he shoots his three pointers from so freaking far away. Honestly, he regularly pulls the trigger from a couple of feet beyond the NBA three point line. When he gets into the zone, literally everything he throws up goes in, even if he needs to bank in a three. Zones, even ones as flexible as Bowdoin’s, do not account for someone stretching the floor like Green does. Expect Green to get and take some open looks from way out early.

Jake Donnelly '16 gets Connor Green '16 and Johnny McCarthy '18 in the air. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Jake Donnelly ’16 gets Connor Green ’16 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 in the air. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

3. Which role player will step up?

Even though both team’s rely on their stars heavily for scoring, secondary players will have to make shots as well. For Amherst those plaers are Jeff Racy ’17 and Jayde Dawson ’18. Racy is a straight shooter who made the second most threes per game in conference play. He gets a lot of open looks because of all the attention given to McCarthy and Green. Dawson meanwhile has never really figured out how to play within the Amherst system, but he is still so talented that he can go on short stretches where he looks like one of the best players on the floor. Meanwhile the two guys to keep an eye on for Bowdoin are Matt Palecki ’16 and Liam Farley ’18. A big part of Palecki’s improved play this season is his ability to hit threes as the power forward. Farley is a talented freshman who can force bad shots and have careless turnovers but also represents Bowdoin’s best scoring option off the bench. The stars will dominate most of the game, but how those players fill in the shadows is also important.

What to Expect

Amherst just looked incredible last weekend in blowing out Tufts. There is no question that they are the more talented team top-to-bottom. Yet you could easily argue that Bowdoin has the better point guard, better center and better pure scorer. The thing is that all three of Hurley, Swords and Hausman will have to play well for Bowdoin to win. The Jeffs certainly need Green to have a good performance, but they can survive any other player struggling because there are so many others capable of stepping up. Expect a game of runs with one team jabbing and the other answering back.

We have alluded to Hausman heavily throughout the preview but haven’t talked much about him specifically. He was special against Williams throwing up a relatively quiet 37. The Jeffs have to work to keep him off of the free throw line and out of transition because he is pretty much automatic in those situations. Point guard Reid Berman ’17 has to use his size and strength advantage over Hurley to force his way into the lane and make Swords guard him. That will draw in the defense and leave Racy or Green open on the perimeter. Nobody shot or made as many as threes as the Jeffs did in NESCAC play. With Swords in the middle of the Bowdon defense, they are likely to bomb away early and often.

Dave Hixon and Tim Gilbride are the two best in-game coaches in the NESCAC. The game might come down to who makes the better halftime adjustment. Hixon has been to tons of NESCAC semifinals, but he has rarely had a team this young. The veteran Polar Bears have never made it this far in the tournament. The recent Bowdoin success has come mostly at home and they haven’t played a NESCAC opponent away from Brunswick since they last met Amherst. This game is close to a toss-up. We give the slightest of edges to Bowdoin because Swords is such a difference maker in the middle.

Prediction: Bowdoin 82 – Amherst 78

On the Outside Looking (L)in: Hamilton Season Wrap Up

Hamilton fell short all too often this season. The Conts nearly knocked off Bates on the road in early February, but eventually lost 73-71. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
Hamilton fell short all too often this season. The Conts nearly knocked off Bates on the road in early February, but eventually lost 73-71. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Season Record: 14-10 (2-8), missed NESCAC Tournament

For a team that lost the NESCAC’s top scorer, Matt Hart, to transfer and a couple of critical players to graduation, to start this season 7-0 and then 10-2 seemed a miracle to some, which I’m sure was some motivation to the Continental players. All they heard all of season was about how the program was going to take a major step back with the departure of Hart, and yet the Conts came out firing, something that wasn’t missed by their former teammate.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, it all came crashing down after the first NESCAC game of the season. At the time, it seemed like a small hiccough because the Continentals played Amherst so tightly, and the play of captain Joseph Lin ’15 was a hot topic, as well.

Hamilton dropped its first four conference games, burying itself in a hole that it would not recover from. A 67-64 win over Williams kept the Continentals’ hopes alive, and two subsequent out-of-conference wins got the team’s confidence up, but after that four more conference losses put the nail in the coffin. Hamilton was able to end its season on a high note, though, with a fairly drama-free victory over Conn. College that began in a very unorthodox way. But more on that later.

High Point: 46-44 win at Hobart Sunday, January 4

Hamilton played five teams this season who made it into the final public NCAA Regional Rankings, which are used to determine at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament. Trinity, Amherst, Bates and Bowdoin all got the best of the Conts, but Hamilton was able to squeak out a win against East Region Hobart, which finished the season at 18-8 and now is hoping for an at-large bid that is unlikely to come. Still, to win a back-and-forth, ugly game on the road against a team that is on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament seemed like a statement win at the time for Hamilton.

Joseph Lin (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Joseph Lin (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

MVP: Joseph Lin ’15

This is an easy pick. If there was such an award, Lin would likely garner the Most Improved Player in the NESCAC award. Lin came off the bench mostly last season, and played 21.8 minutes per game, tallying 5.6 PPG on 40.2 percent shooting, 24.5 percent from deep and 66.7 percent from the line, 2.6 RPG, 1.8 APG and a 1.4 A/TO ratio. In 2014-15 those numbers improved drastically: 29.2 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 45.5 percent FG, 38.5 percent 3PT, 74.7 percent FT, 2.7 RPG, 6.4 APG, 2.3 A/TO.

Lin worked his way into the starting lineup a few weeks before conference play began and became a mainstay in the starting five, distributing well to shooters Peter Kazickas ’15 and Jack Donnelly ’16 and inside to Ajani Santos ’16, earning a Player of the Week Honor along the way. Sadly, Lin’s season ended on crutches after he went down at Bates on February 7. In a nice gesture, Lin was able to grab one last basket in a Continentals uniform in his final game.

Player to Watch in 2014-15: Zander Wear ’18

Santos and Donnelly are known commodities at this point, but the real wild card for Hamilton will be the improvement of the near-seven-footer Wear. Listed at 6’11”, 245 lbs., Wear has better size than any big man in the NESCAC next season. The youngster appeared in 20 games, though he didn’t see very many minutes, and really didn’t do much in his short stints on the court. However, there is plenty of time for him to work on his footwork and skills before next season, and the kid is not afraid of contact, if his high school recruiting video is any indication:

How often do you see highlight tapes start with a player taking a bunch of charges?

A la John Swords ’15 for Bowdoin, Wear is a rare commodity that few teams can boast of and could single-handedly make the Continentals a contender next season.

Camels Can’t Get Over the Hump: Conn College Season Wrap-Up

Lee Messier '18 was one of several freshmen to play heavy minutes this season. (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)
Lee Messier ’18 was one of several freshmen to play heavy minutes this season. (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)

Season Record: 7-16 (0-10), missed NESCAC Tournament

The Camels finished up the season with a 7-16 overall record and 0-10 in conference play. It was a rough season to say the least. After starting out strong, the team went into a landslide starting against Bowdoin on January 9. They had some extremely close battles, including a nail biter against Williams on February 13, which they lost 83-81. However, the team is holding their heads high and Head Coach Tom Satran summed up the story of the season nicely after the loss to Williams. “Our team is really improving despite our record. We all feel terrible we couldn’t finish them off tonight but we are getting better every time out.” Freshmen like Lee Messier ’18, Isaiah Robinson ’18 and Alex Tonhazy ’18 came in and made immediate impacts which adds to the team’s talent base. The team is young and inexperienced in such a tough division, but they finished the season on a strong note and the young players believe that the losses will be a learning experience for what hopefully becomes a powerhouse team in the future. Every contributor will return next season for the Camels.

High Point: Winter Break Trip

The Camels practicing in the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke.
The Camels practicing in the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke.

On the Winter Break trip to North Carolina, the team practiced at Duke University in Cameron Indoor Stadium. On the trip, the team went 1-1 with a loss to Methodist 76-59 and a huge win against William Peace 88-69, in which Messier dropped 17 points and Zuri Pavlin ’17 recorded a double-double. Freshman Justin Holmes ’18 said that “the team was able to bond over the trip and [he] could feel the team’s chemistry improve on and off the court when [they] returned to school.” A win over Coast Guard right after the team got back from the trip brought the Camels record to 7-4, but that would be their last win all season.

MVP: Power Forward Zuri Pavlin ’17

Pavlin, only in his second year, had another remarkable season pulling down rebounds. As a freshman, he recorded 249 rebounds, setting a single season school mark in 2014. This season, he broke his record from last season with 265 boards. He now finds himself in the nation’s top five in rebounding, averaging 11.5 RPG. That mark was also the highest in the NESCAC.  He was close to setting another school rebounding record on February 7 against Trinity where he had 21 rebounds, only one short of the record set in 1995. Although he is listed at only 6’5″, Pavlin is tough to handle on the interior given his strength. He has also made improvements on the rest of his game and shot 51 percent from the field and lead the team in scoring with 13.7 PPG.

Player to watch: Guard Lee Messier ’18

Freshman guard Lee Messier made his mark in the NESCAC in his first season with the Camels. Messier, who appeared on our early season Freshman Update, averaged 12.7 points per game. Unfortunately, Messier injured himself after 17 games, missing the majority of conference play. Messier shot 39.4 percent from the field and an impressive 35.4 percent from three-point range, knocking down 40 triples. Having him around to provide spacing in the middle for Pavlin and company will be huge for Conn constructing an effective offense. He is one of nine freshmen on the roster whom Coach Satran must be thrilled to have for three more years.

Inconsistency a Constant for the Ephs: Williams Season Wrap-up

Dan Wohl '15 and Ryan Kilcullen '15 enjoyed their best statistical seasons as seniors. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Dan Wohl ’15 and Ryan Kilcullen ’15 enjoyed their best statistical seasons as seniors. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Record: 15-10 (5-5), lost to #2 Bowdoin in the NESCAC Quarterfinals

2013-2014 saw the Ephs come within a buzzer-beater of winning the National Championship, but expectations were much lower entering the season because of the departure of coach Mike Maker, transfer of Duncan Robinson ’17, and graduation of Michael Mayer ’14 and Taylor Epley ’14. The Ephs started the season with two bad losses. Then they righted the ship and went on a 10-2 stretch where their two losses came by a combined four points to Trinity and WPI who are now a combined 41-9. Dan Wohl ’15 stepped up to be the leader for Williams and was playing like one of the best players in the country.

However, an injury to sniper Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 was a major contributing factor to the Ephs never winning two games in a row in the 2015 calendar year. The Ephs were simply never able to play consistently because they relied so much on making shots from the perimeter. Center Ryan Kilcullen ’15 had by far his best season as an Eph offensively, but he was never a great interior defender or rebounder. Williams finished the conference season with a -10 rebounding margin, by far the worst margin in the NESCAC. Mike Greenman ’17 and Dan Aronowitz ’17 stepped into starting roles as sophomores, but Kevin App still had to rely heavily on his starting five. The Ephs led at halftime in their quarterfinal game against Bowdoin, but they ran out of steam and got outscored by 20 points in the second half. Now the Ephs will lose Kilcullen, Wohl and Rooke-Ley to graduation meaning their roster will look completely different than the one that nearly won a National Championship last season.

High Point: Victory over Amherst 71-70 on January 10

This wasn’t the best game that Williams played (that would be their rout of Middlebury a few weeks ago), but this game was everything you could ask for from the best rivalry in the NESCAC. The Ephs were coming off a crushing double OT loss the night before to Trinity and Rooke-Ley was injured so it would not have been surprising to see Williams struggle. Instead, Wohl played an incredible game finishing with 28 points and role players like Darrias Sime ’16 and Cole Teal ’18 stepped up big time. The Ephs were down eight with under four minutes to go, but they outscored Amherst 14-5 over the final 3:39 to pull out the win. Kilcullen’s three with under 10 seconds left won it for the Ephs, and the Williams faithful spilled out onto the court. At this point in the season the Ephs looked like they were in great shape. This was the conclusion of their 10-2 run mentioned above. The schedule looked easier going forward and we all knew Rooke-Ley would come back soon. Unfortunately, Williams never was able to play two good games in a row from that point forward.

MVP: Forward Dan Wohl ’15

One of the first things you have to consider about Wohl is that he was the fourth option for Williams just a year ago. Wohl still had 12.9 PPG and 6.0 RPG and we expected him to carry a heavy load all season. For most of the season, he did more than just bear the load as he was the best player in the conference and looked like a shoo-in for POY honors at the end of January. However, he struggled just a little bit down the stretch and will probably have to settle for First Team All-NESCAC. He still had an incredible season. Along with Rooke-Ley, Wohl tied for second in scoring in the conference with 19.7 PPG. He was far and away the best rebounder on Williams finishing with 8.6 RPG. Wohl leaves as the 13th all-time leading scorer for Williams, a somewhat amazing achievement considering he was only ever targeted for shots this season.

Player to Watch: Forward Dan Aronowitz ’17

Just like Wohl did this season, Aronowitz will become the go-to guy for Williams next season. Kevin App is unlikely to ask Aronowitz to do as much as Wohl did in 2014-15. Still, we got a glimpse of what Aronowitz can do when Rooke-Ley was injured and Williams needed a second scorer besides Wohl. He averaged 14.8 PPG on 39.7 percent shooting in the five games that Rooke-Ley was injured. Aronowitz will need to work on putting on a little more weight which will help him deal with contact when he drives the lane and when he guards bigger players. The present returning talent to Williamstown next season will struggle without the departing seniors unless players like Aronowitz make big leaps in 2015-2016. A strong freshman class in Kevin App’s first recruiting efforts would also be a huge boon.

Injuries Derail Mules: Colby Season Wrap-up

Ryan Jann '16 emerged as one of the best shooting guards in the NESCAC (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Ryan Jann ’16 emerged as one of the best shooting guards in the NESCAC (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Record: 13-12 (4-6), lost to #1 Trinity 66-63 in NESCAC Quarterfinals

Colby entered the season hoping to jump up into the higher echelon of the NESCAC because they returned everybody from their 2013-2014 team. Yet, even before the season started, the Mules lost their starting power forward Patrick Stewart ’16 for the season due to a back injury. Despite that, the Mules started the NESCAC season 3-0 before losing two consecutive close games. Then center Chris Hudnut ’16, who was having a NESCAC POY-type season, suffered a knee injury before the Amherst game that ended his campaign. Without their projected starting frontcourt, the Mules went 1-4 in the final weeks of the conference season, but they got into the NESCAC tournament by virtue of a big victory over Middlebury. They almost overcame their big size disadvantage at #1 Trinity and had a chance to win the game in the final seconds. Though injuries ended up cutting short Colby’s season, the Mules saw their starting backcourt of Ryan Jann ’16 and Luke Westman ’16 progress a good deal. Those two combined are the best duo of guards returning next year except for maybe Jack Mackey ’16 and BJ Davis ’16 of Wesleyan.

Season High Point: Victory over Hamilton 75-70 on January 16

The Colby student section came out in force during parts of the season. (Courtesy of CentralMaine.com)
The Colby student section came out in force during parts of the season. (Courtesy of CentralMaine.com)

After beating the Continentals, Colby was in sole possession at 3-0 of first place in the NESCAC for about twenty hours before they fell to Williams the next day. The Mules played a favorable schedule early, but any three game winning streak in the NESCAC this season was an accomplishment. The hot start to the conference season saw Hudnut score over 20 points in every game while Westman shot an absurd 88 percent from the floor and averaged 15.3 PPG. The winning streak also caught the attention of the Colby student body who began to be more of a presence at home games. Unfortunately for Colby, the fall from this point was swift as the Mules finished the season 3-7 over their next 10 games.

Team MVP: Point Guard Luke Westman ’16

Westman wins MVP because he was the most consistent player for the Mules, but he was never the most dominant player for them. Hudnut would have won this award easily if he had stayed healthy all year, and Jann was the team’s most important player after Hudnut went down. Westman was the steady hand that kept Colby moving in the right direction. The biggest difference for Westman from a year ago is that he scored nearly four more PPG while somehow increasing his already ridiculous field goal percentage. He finished the season with 13.1 PPG on 73.2 percent shooting which would have been the best percentage in the country if he had made 0.2 more field goals per game in order to qualify for the NCAA statistics. At this point, it looks like Westman will never develop an outside shot, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a valuable player for Colby.

Player to Watch for 2015-16: Power Forward Patrick Stewart ’16

Though he missed all of this season, reports are that Stewart will be back next season ready to make an impact. Sam Willson ’16 stepped up and played very well in replacing Stewart, but the Mules still missed the presence of their second leading rebounder and best three point shooter from last season. Stewart shot 43.3 percent from three a season ago while making nearly two three-pointers a game. Having Willson, Stewart and Hudnut all healthy will be a boon for Head Coach Damien Strahorn. He will be able to fashion some three-way rotation to keep each of them fresh during games. Since the Mules will lose perimeter contributors Connor O’Neil ’15 and Shane Rogers ’15, Colby might even go big and play all three for short stretches. Stewart is just one part of an incredibly deep class of current juniors who will be hungry to end their Colby careers on a high note next season.

A Tale of Two Seasons: Middlebury Season Wrap Up

Coaches Jeff Brown, Kyle Dudley and Russ Reilly have some coaching up to do if Middlebury is going to return to the NESCAC tournament next season. (Courtesy of Kyle Finck/Middlebury Campus)
Coaches Jeff Brown, Kyle Dudley and Russ Reilly have some coaching up to do if Middlebury is going to return to the NESCAC tournament next season. (Courtesy of Kyle Finck/Middlebury Campus)

Record: 17-7 (4-6), missed NESCAC Tournament

The last time there was a NESCAC basketball tournament that didn’t feature the Middlebury Panthers, JT was bringing sexy back, “Brokeback Mountain” got snubbed from the Best Picture trophy, and I was still leaving games to read Harry Potter in the athletic director’s office because the timeout buzzer scared me. Lots of things have changed since then, chief among them the expectations surrounding the Middlebury team. In 2006, Middlebury’s absence wasn’t given a second thought save for a loyal core of fans; now it’s one of the main casual conversation topics in the town.

This was an all around strange season for the Panthers, mirroring the craziness of the NESCAC at large. Following a 9-0 start and a big road win against Plattsburgh State, the Panthers went just 8-7 the rest of the way, with a 4-6 league record (0-5 on the road). Lead to the Panthers’ decline were a lack of interior presence and inconsistent outside shooting, allowing teams to clog the paint and prevent Middlebury’s deadly transition attack from gelling. Inconvenient injuries to Matt Daley ’16, Jack Daly ’18 and Matt St. Amour ’17, as well as a strange team-wide gastro outbreak that affected the Bates-Tufts weekend, also contributed to the Panthers’ inconsistent season.

High Point 

Middlebury’s best performance of the year was their 97-60 shellacking of Wesleyan at home, a loss which, in a cruel twist, seems to have propelled Wesleyan to a strong finish and inspired them to beat Williams on the final weekend, knocking Middlebury out. However, the high point of the year, (in my bitter, vengeance-crazed eyes, at least) was the 82-69 win over hated rival Amherst and their coach David “Dracula” Hixon on senior night in Pepin. Although Middlebury had already been eliminated from the tournament, the Panthers played with an intensity and team focus that had been lacking from many big games, including the must win game two nights before against Trinity. Hunter Merryman ’15 had one of his best games of the season with 24 points, including 4-5 from three, and the two Matts flashed some of what Panther fans can hopefully expect next season with 14 and 18 points respectively. Most importantly for the players themselves, it was the first win for a senior class that had gone 0-4 against the Lord Jeffs, including two losses their freshman year by two points each, one in overtime, the other for the NESCAC title; an incredible triple-overtime loss at home two years ago in which Willy Workman ’13 had to make his first free throw and intentionally miss his second, grab the rebound and finish a lay-in to force the third OT, which Aaron Toomey ’14 then sealed with a three-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining; and a blowout 84-67 loss on the last NESCAC regular season game day last year that seemed to suggest that Middlebury had fallen from its once-elite level. The game against Amherst, while melancholy in some respects, was a feel-good end to a difficult and somewhat star-crossed season, and the same can be said for this senior class, and was a reminder that Middlebury is a tournament program team that shouldn’t be absent from postseason proceedings for long.

Team MVP: Dylan Sinnickson ’15 

At times this season Dylan Sinnickson was a one-man show for the Panthers, even though his scoring slipped down the stretch. (Courtesy of Michael O'Hara/Middlebury Campus)
At times this season Dylan Sinnickson was a one-man show for the Panthers, even though his scoring slipped down the stretch. (Courtesy of Michael O’Hara/Middlebury Campus)

One of the great thrills of watching Middlebury this season was seeing the breathtaking athleticism of Sinnickson finally manifest itself into a starring role. Sinnickson finished the season with 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, good for fourth and second in the league, and teamed with Jake Brown ’17 for a couple of alley-oops that shattered several crusty old Vermonters’ carefully maintained indifference about dunks. Even when he struggled with his jump shot, his voracious rebounding was essential for Middlebury in some tough games where their other rebounders were non-existent. Sinnickson was asked to carry a very heavy load this season on the perimeter due to the outside shooting struggles of Brown and St. Amour (and Merryman for a stretch) and this caused his numbers to drop in league play, but his intensity, passion and absurd highlight potential were never questioned and always admired. Interestingly, Sinnickson has another year of NCAA eligibility left stemming from an arm injury that caused him to miss his entire sophomore season. I’m sure I could raise enough money in town to buy him a Hummer to get to and from classes if he stayed, but let’s keep that between us.

Player to Watch: Matt Daley 

Matt Daley has the potential to dominate the NESCAC next season. Wait, where have we heard that before? (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Matt Daley has the potential to dominate the NESCAC next season. Wait, where have we heard that before? (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Several players for Middlebury will need, and seem poised, to make leaps next season. Brown needs to develop a more threatening jump shot, Nick Tarantino ’18 (happy birthday, by the way, Nick) will assume much heavier rebounding duties, and sophomore guard St. Amour (who averaged nearly 20 points per game over the last five games) can and has to continue to develop as an all-around threat. However, Middlebury’s success next season hinges on junior center Matt Daley. When fully healthy, Daley offers a combination of size and nimbleness that screams First Team All-NESCAC. Fans saw this potential in that glorious final game against Amherst, when Daley put up 14 points, 11 boards and three blocks and basically took David George’s ’17 soul like the monsters in the live action Scooby Doo movies. However, Panther fans have never seen a fully healthy season from Daley, and for most of this season he was either hurt or tentative in his recovery. If Daley can remain healthy for all of next season the balance of power in NESCAC could shift back to Middlebury, making this year a one-time break from the tournament and starting another decade of success.

Fantasy Basketball Is Like Little League, Everybody Wins: Fantasy Report 2/24

We are pretty late with the final fantasy roundup of the season, so just to be clear – these statistics are from the final regular season weekend of conference play. The Quarterfinals that took place on Saturday had no impact on our fantasy matchup.

Heading into last weekend, I held a 5-3 advantage over Adam, but many of those leads were by the slimmest of margins. For instance, I was up just 19 assists, 1.1 percent from the stripe, 1.9 percent from the field and a measly one rebound.

Thinking that I would be able to hold onto my percentage advantages on the strength of Luke Westman ’16 and Lucas Hausman ’16, in addition to a couple of efficient big men, I threw all my efforts into the rebounding category believing that it would make the ultimate difference.

Also, with Joseph Lin ’15 unfortunately suffering a season-ending injury, I had to drop my team’s namesake, and in Lin’s place I slotted in Ryan Jann ’16, a good rebounding guard who could also hit some threes for me. I decided to roll with the resurgent Matt Daley ’16, double-double machine that he is. It killed me to sit Connor Green ’16, but he only had one game this weekend. It turned out to be a great performance, but I had to give the nod to the two Mules guards and Hausman.

Position Lord of the ‘CAC (Adam) Lin and Tonic (Joe)
G H. Rooke-Ley L. Westman
G G. Safford R. Jann
G J. Brown L. Hausman
F J. Swords Mal. Delpeche
F Mar. Delpeche M. Daley
F T. Palleschi D. George
F J. Kuo Z. Pavlin
Bench J. McCarthy H. Merryman
Bench D. Wohl C. Green
Bench A. Santos J. Starks

I was able to lock up rebounds, the only category that I thought I was in danger of losing, thanks to 20+ rebounds from Daley, David George ’16 and Zuri Pavlin ’17. I had a shot at steals being down just seven, but Adam beat me in that category this week. What I didn’t anticipate was the abysmal performance my team put together from the line. Those same three big men combined to go 21-36 (58.3 percent) from the stripe. So what appeared to be my strength ended up costing me big time.

Week Five

Category Lord of the ‘CAC Lin and Tonic Leader
Points 148 221 Joe
Assists 34 32 Adam
Rebounds 72 105 Joe
Steals 13 11 Adam
Blocks 17 14 Adam
FT% 75.5% (37/49) 68.0% (51/75) Adam
FG% 40.9% (52/127) 52.9% (31/153) Joe
3PT Made 7 8 Joe

As you will see below, Adam edged me out in free throw percentage. And there you have it. A rotten 4-4 tie. This leaves a worse taste in my mouth than the Graham Safford ’15 jumper at the end of the game that put the nail in the Middlebury coffin in 2014. I guess there’s nothing to do about it now, though. I suppose we now have to turn out attention to the so-called “real” basketball games coming up this weekend.

Category Lord of the ‘CAC Lin and Tonic Leader
Points 977 1120 Joe
Assists 159 176 Joe
Rebounds 490 524 Joe
Steals 82 73 Adam
Blocks 82 62 Adam
FT% 74.3% (231/311) 73.9% (317/429) Adam
FG% 44.9% (340/758) 48.5% (399/823) Joe
3PT Made 85 48 Adam

Final: Tie 4-4

Last Chance to Buy or Sell: Stock Report 2/22

The disappointment was evident for Adam Philpott '15 and Co. after the loss on Saturday, but Bates still resides on the Pool C bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
The disappointment was evident for Adam Philpott ’15 and Co. after the loss on Saturday, but Bates still resides on the Pool C bubble for the NCAA Tournament. (Courtesy of Daryn Slover for Bates College)

It was a wild quarterfinals Saturday in the NESCAC, and we laid out our initial reactions in this video Saturday night, but we’ve now had a bit of time to digest all the action and think about how those results will impact Championship Weekend. We had two games go as expected with #1 Trinity and #2 Bowdoin sealing victories, and two underdogs win on the road in hostile environments.

Stock Up

The NbN Team

I got so caught up in the excitement of Saturday’s games that I almost didn’t realize that as a team we went 4-0 in our predictions, and Adam’s snipe of the Wesleyan upset was really impressive. He almost pinned the score, too. Obviously, no one wants to read about us, they want to read about the players. But I thought we deserved a quick little pat on the back, so excuse our self-indulgence.

Amherst Center David George ’17

Back to business now. George was an animal on Saturday. I don’t know if the big man reads the blog, but maybe he got a little riffed that I called out his offensive game in my Amherst-Tufts preview. Well, touché, my friend. George went 6-13 from the field and 7-8 from the stripe for 19 points in addition to 10 rebounds and two rejections. He was able to stay out of foul trouble, as well, which shouldn’t go overlooked given the Twin Towers with which he was forced to match up (though Hunter Sabety ’17 was far below 100 percent). As I said in the game preview, a productive George arguably makes Amherst the favorite for the NESCAC Championship. He will need to play well against Bowdoin’s seven-footer, John Swords ’15, and if the Lord Jeffs get through that game he will have another tall order if he goes against the strong Trinity frontcourt. If Wesleyan were to pull off another upset and meet Amherst in the championship George will still be an x-factor because the Cardinals’ strength is the backcourt, meaning George would have the opportunity to dominate.

Class of 2016 Player of the Year Candidates: Lucas Hausman ’16 and Connor Green ’16

Adam wrote earlier this year about the talented junior class in the NESCAC this year when Green topped 1,000 points in his career, and the class of 2016 has not slowed down, especially not these two. I think writer Peter Lindholm described it best via Twitter:

Hausman has now claimed a commanding lead in the scoring race, and will almost definitely end up with the crown unless he goes ice cold this weekend. His point totals since January 24 at Colby: 24, 30, 19, 32, 21, 44, 16, 17 and 37. And he’s not a phenomenal outside shooter. He gets most of his buckets by getting into the lane, drawing contact and finishing contested shots. When he gets to the line he is nearly automatic (88.0 percent on the year). And he’s been Bowdoin’s only consistent scorer all season.

Green’s advantage is his size and ability to rebound. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Dan Wohl ’15 are the only perimeter players with more rebounds than Green. Green also stretches the floor a little better as he’s knocking down over 40 percent of his trey balls.

Both of these guys are phenomenal players capable of taking over games, and I expect fireworks when they go at it on Saturday.

Wesleyan Forward Joe Edmonds ’16

Head Coach Joe Reilly has settled on a starting five that rarely leaves the floor. All fives of Reilly’s starters against Bates played at least 29 minutes, and for Edmonds, who has started 14 of 25 games this year, that was his third consecutive game starting and playing over 30 minutes. His two highest-scoring games have come over that stretch as well. The Cardinals essentially run out three point guards in Harry Rafferty ’17, BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16, so there are a lot of drive and kick opportunities, and Edmonds, as the best three point shooter on the roster, really has the ability to make an impact for the Cardinals. He did just that in the win over Bates, leading the Cards with 22 points and going 5-6 from deep.

Stock Down

Offense of the Trinity Frontcourt

Trinity was looking unbeatable recently, coupling a suddenly explosive offense with its usual lockdown D, but the Bantams put up a mediocre 66 points against a Colby team whose tallest impact player, besides Sam Willson ’16, is its point guard, Luke Westman ’16. The combination of Alex Conaway ’15, George Papadeas ’15, Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’17 isn’t exactly known for its collective offensive skill set, and the big guys didn’t play badly on Saturday (combined 11-22 from the field), but each and every one of them had size and strength advantages over their defenders and didn’t dominate like they should have. Down the stretch Ogundeko made a big impact with 11 points in the second half, but he was the only one to make a difference. The defense is fine, and will still give the Bantams a chance to win it all, but they will need some low-post scoring to win two games next weekend.

Amherst Guard Jeff Racy ’17

Since exploding for 30 points on 10-14 three-point shooting at Conn. College on February 6, Racy is 9-27 (33.3 percent) from deep. For a 41.3 percent three-point shooter on the season, that is not so great. I had Racy as my x-factor in the Lord Jeffs’ matchup with Tufts. As it turned out they didn’t need much from Racy as the game was over before it even started, but going forward, Green and Racy are the only guys that scare opposing defenses when they rise up from beyond the arch, so Amherst needs Racy to get hot once again.

Wesleyan Point Guard Triumvirate

Mackey and the Cards pulled off the big upset against the Bobcats, despite poor shooting from the Wesleyan guards. (Courtesy of Daryn Slover for Bates College)
Mackey and the Cards pulled off the big upset against the Bobcats, despite poor shooting from the Wesleyan guards. (Courtesy of Daryn Slover for Bates College)

Mackey made it into our Stock Up section last week, and he had another fine game on Saturday against Bates (18 points, 7-18 FG, 4-12 3PT FG, 6 rebounds), but his running mates, Davis and Rafferty, were anemic on the offensive end. They’re both really quality shooters so to see them go so cold was a surprise. I have a lot of concerns for Wesleyan this weekend. They’re undersized on the perimeter, they rely on the three-point shot, they have little depth, and they don’t have a clear go-to guy that they can hand the ball to at the end of a game. Of course that’s not always necessary. I’m sure that any of the trio would be comfortable with the ball in his hands in the final seconds. But Coach Joe Reilly is leaning so heavily on this group that I doubt that they can sustain a high level of play for the 80 minutes that will be necessary to take home the crown this weekend. Furthermore, their games are too similar. Davis brings a bit more quickness and driving ability to the floor than the others, Rafferty is a lefty and a really smooth shooter with range and Mackey likes to shoot off the dribble, but when it comes down to it they are all point guards who want to score the basketball. The unconventional lineup can cause problems against some opponents, but when it doesn’t work out you can have stat lines like the combined 11-36 (30.6 percent) from the field that Mackey, Davis and Rafferty put together on Saturday.

NESCAC Quarterfinal Video Recap

In case you didn’t get a chance to watch all four NESCAC games today, we made a quick recap video with our analysis and thoughts on each of the games. Then at the end of the game we look forward to next weekend and the semifinal games.

Also, apologies for you having to look at Joe’s face for almost the entire video. I forgot to switch the camera views between us until the very end.