Our effort so far this basketball season has been a little bit lacking, I will admit. As happens with this stuff, school work is getting priority over NESCAC sports blogging (somehow my mom thinks one is more important than the other. Imagine that!). Luckily, I’ve got a little window to give a quick overview of where teams are right now before they take their holiday break. I haven’t seen every single team play yet but I’m getting there.
1. Amherst (7-0)
The only undefeated team left in the league, Amherst is playing more to the level of their talent this year than it did last. As hinted at in the beginning of the year, Coach Dave Hixon has decided to go to a lineup of four shooters surrounding one big man for long stretches, including the starting lineup. He has done this type of lineup in years past, and the Jeffs don’t actually give up a lot in size since Jeff Racy ’17, Michael Riopel ’18, and Johnny McCarthy ’18 all go 6’5″or 6’6″. They are outscoring teams by 24.7 ppg so far, but a lot of that is because when it is a blowout late, Amherst’s back of the bench is still better than the teams they have played so far. Don’t get too excited when the Jeffs blow out teams by 30 because of that depth factor.
2. Wesleyan (7-1)
As many expected, the two finalists from the NESCAC championship game a year ago are the class of the league, with the Cardinals showing that their late run last year was no fluke. Their only loss to Lyndon State is a puzzling one, but it was in the first game of the season and by just two points, 80-78, so we will let that one slide. The balanced attack of last year where anybody could be the leading scorer for a given game has yielded to an attack led by BJ Davis ’16 who is averaging 19.7 ppg on 52.4 percent shooting. Davis has also kept his assist and turnover rate at the exact same as last year, so the ball being in his hands a lot has been a good thing. He also was responsible on Saturday for the game winning shot against Williams.
— Wesleyan Basketball (@WesleyanHoops) December 7, 2015
3. Tufts (6-2)
Nobody plays a harder season opening schedule, and the Jumbos have walked the tightrope to get to 6-2. Three of their wins have come by three points or less, though one of their losses is also by only three points. At this point last year, against a similarly difficult schedule, Tufts was 2-6 (many of those losses were close, too). Turning those close losses into wins I think is a factor of the Jumbos’ perimeter players becoming the leaders scoring-wise. It is easier to get baskets at the end of games with guards than big men. Vincent Pace ’18 (18.3 ppg) is becoming that go-to guy on the perimeter, and other guys like Tarik Smith ’17, Ryan Spadaford ’16 and Stephen Haladyna ’16 give more scoring punch out there. That has made the lack of scoring from star center Tom Palleschi ’17 (11.0 ppg) not too much of an issue.
4. Colby (5-1)
The Mules might chafe at this spot since their only loss was in overtime in the first game of the year, but they also needed a Ryan Jann ’16 three to beat a 2-5 Regis team by a point. I got to see them play on Saturday against Bowdoin, and the skill on offense is there to play with anyone. All five starters are threats to score the ball, and they do a great job of moving the ball. They lead the league with 19.5 apg, and the return of forward Patrick Stewart ’16 as someone capable of filling it up from deep is a big help. I worry about their defense which is the third-worst in ppg with 76.3. Some of that is because Colby likes to play at a fast pace, but it is still frustrating that a team with five seniors can’t play better team defense.
5. Williams (5-2)
Only one member of the rotation is a senior, two of the three top scorers are freshmen, and two starting guards are injured. Yet the Ephs are 5-2 and had an early 16-point lead over Wesleyan before ultimately losing on that BJ Davis shot. Starting point guard Mike Greenman ’17 could be back for their next game, and shooting guard Chris Galvin ’18 is also supposed to be back after Christmas. I suppose it’s better for the Ephs to be injured early on, as it’s allowing more young players to get minutes. Their game tomorrow against Springfield, a team that beat Trinity, will be another good benchmark for the young team.
6. Trinity (4-2)
Maybe this is a little bit of a disappointing start for the Bantams, but they had some questionable non-conference losses last year also and then went 9-1 in the NESCAC. Neither of their losses are particularly bad, and Coach Jim Cosgrove is also playing a very deep rotation at this point of the season. At a glance, the statistics for their big three of Ed Ogundeko ’17, Jaquann Starks ’16, and Shay Ajayi ’16 aren’t great. Then you realize that none of them is averaging more than 25.0 mpg. So while Ogundeko’s 12.5 rpg is already fantastic, it becomes flat out ridiculous when converted to per 40 minutes: 21.0 with the next closest player at 15.7 rebounds per 40 minutes. The bottom line is the Bantams have the best scoring defense and second-best rebounding margin so far. They are going to be good come NESCAC games.
7. Bowdoin (4-3)
My dear Polar Bears could have really used that win over Colby Saturday, and even though seven feels low, this is a good team, albeit with some potentially killer faults. Two of their three losses are by a combined six points. Lucas Hausman ’16 is a menace, but he isn’t a superhero. Colby did a good job in their win over the Polar Bears of harassing him and not allowing him to get to his favorite spots. Hausman still had 22 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there. For me, I’m interested to see how the identity of the team evolves. Will they become run-and-gun, completely abandoning the ethos of last year, or will they try to still retain some of that defensive identity?
8. Bates (4-2)
Bobcats fans might be a little mad at me for putting Bowdoin over them, but the Bobcats don’t have as good a win as Bowdoin does over Babson, though that Babson loss looks worse and worse every time a NESCAC team wins in overtime against the Beavers. Anyways, the loss of Graham Safford ’15 has not hurt this team offensively at all. Bates is averaging 86.8 ppg, second best in the NESCAC. Mike Boornazian ’16 is the man leading the way with 15.5 ppg. Most encouraging is that the three-point production of not only Safford but also Billy Selmon ’15 and Adam Philpott ’15 has been replaced by guys like Shawn Strickland ’18 and Josh Britten ’16. Britten barely played at all last year, and his shooting is valuable to open up space inside for the Bobcats.
9. Conn College (5-2)
Guess what, the Camels are hot right now! They’ve won five games in a row, and they just had their best win of the season over a 6-3 Eastern Connecticut team that beat Trinity earlier this week. Point guard Tyler Rowe ’19, who had 22 vs. Eastern Connecticut, has very quickly become a starter and is providing a huge spark with 12.3 ppg and 3.1 apg. David Labossiere ’19 is playing so well that the coaching staff can’t keep him off the court, and he just started his first game of the season. Some players are taking smaller roles because of it, but the Camels are playing well together. And don’t look now, but they play vs. Hamilton and Middlebury, the two teams below them in our rankings, in the first weekend of NESCAC play. Could they really open 2-0 in the NESCAC?
— Conn College MBB (@Camel_Hoops) December 11, 2015
10. Hamilton (5-3)
The Continentals are 5-3 even though they are essentially playing without their top three scorers from last year. I say essentially because Ajani Santos ’16 is actually still on the roster and playing, but he is averaging just 1.6 ppg. He has actually been playing more and even got the start last game against Hobart. However, he scored just two points and continues to be somewhat of a mystery. If he is able to get everything straightened out, he would join Peter Hoffmann ’19 and the others on this young nucleus to make a pretty intriguing team. As it is, without him Hamilton is reliant almost entirely on perimeter scoring.
11. Middlebury (4-5)
Do I think Middlebury is the worst team in the NESCAC … well maybe, actually. At this point I can’t put them above anybody. Two of their five wins are blowouts against an 0-8 Johnson State team, but there are a couple of close losses to RPI and Skidmore. The statistics say that Middlebury is 4-5, but again that is colored by those two games vs. Johnson State. Granted, I’ve only been able to watch them for stretches online, but what I’ve seen hasn’t looked great. They have nobody who can score inside besides Matt Daley ’16, and nobody besides Matt St. Amour ’17 looks to be an average or better three point shooter. And they’re young. Daley and Connor Huff ’16 are the only seniors making an impact. We’ll see.