It’s a light weekend around the NESCAC as teams take on their usual travel partners, meaning there are no Friday games and a full slate Saturday afternoon. The heavyweight bout of the day is clearly Amherst at Trinity, a game in which the winner will have the inside track on hosting the NESCAC Semis and Finals. For everyone else, this is a critical weekend midway through the NESCAC season. A loss for a 3-3 team like Conn, Wesleyan or Williams makes any chance of hosting a NESCAC playoff game nearly disappear. A loss for a 1-4 squad like Bowdoin or Colby might knock them out of the playoff picture completely.
Three to Watch
Middlebury Center Matt Daley ’16
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Daley could be one of the best big man in the NESCAC if he wasn’t hurt so often. Right now he’s coming back from a foot injury, and he played just 33 minutes in two games this past week. However, the Panthers have been off since Tuesday, so there is hope that he’s been able to rest up enough to be ready to go against Hamilton. When he plays, Daley is a beast, averaging 12.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg in 22.3 mpg. For what it’s worth, he ranks eighth in the league in points per 40 minutes, and the guys around him on the rebounding leaderboard are all playing more minutes, with the exception of Eg Ogundeko ’17, who’s just a freak on the boards. For Hamilton, Andrew Groll ’19 has had a strong debut season, but can he slow down the nifty Daley? This will be a fun matchup to watch.
Colby Seniors Luke Westman and Ryan Jann
If you read Adam’s stock report or my power ranks this week, you know that we’re drinking the Kool-Aid on Colby right now. Still, though the Mules are sitting at 1-4 in conference and now need to go on the road and get a win in Brunswick where Bowdoin is also 1-4. This game will be huge for both teams, because it could serve as a tie-breaker in a potential tie for one of the last playoff spots. In some ways, Colby is the best offensive team in the league. The Mules have the best field goal and three point shooting percentages. As we know, though, defense is not their strong suit. That’s why Ryan Jann and Luke Westman will be crucial in defending reigning scoring champ Lucas Hausman ’16. It will have to be a team effort to stop Hausman and his sidekick Jack Simonds ’19, but last time these two teams met it was mainly Jann with a little bit of Westman sprinkled in defending Hausman. Hausman scored 22 points in that game, but it took him 22 shots, and Colby won. That game was in Waterville, though, and in their three NESCAC road games so far Colby has yet to get a win.
Wesleyan Guard Jack Mackey ’16
We’ve talked about the fluctuation in the Wesleyan lineup and how they’ve had to deal with injuries, but it looks like the Cardinals are just starting to get in a groove. They were finally able to make some shots from deep in their last game against Bates (mainly thanks to BJ Davis ’16). The key for them, I believe, will be getting production out of Mackey, Joe Edmonds ’16, Harry Rafferty ’17 once again, but Mackey in particular because he’s recently returned to the starting lineup and is playing big minutes once more. He’s only shooting 25.7 percent from three point land, but I believe that’s primarily an injury-related issue. He’s a much better shooter than that, and last season he did a lot of damage from behind the arc. If Mackey’s going well, stopping him and Davis together will be a nightmare.
Upset Alert: Middlebury (11-7, 4-1) at Hamilton (9-9, 0-5), 3 PM, Hamilton, NY
I’m just going to keep slighting my Panthers because it seems to motivate them. Seriously, though, there really aren’t any other options. I’d be shocked by a Bates victory over Tufts, Wesleyan is a favorite over Conn but not by much, and Colby-Bowdoin and Amherst-Trinity are even match ups. The Continentals took Middlebury to OT last year in Pepin, and they are an interesting team. I don’t think Hamilton will win, but it is a long road trip to upstate New York and there’s the potential for the Panthers to write this one off before it even starts. In terms of match ups, Middlebury has the advantage across the board, so it would take a great game from someone on Hamilton for the Conts to pull it off.
Game of the Week: Amherst (15-3, 4-1) at Trinity (14-5, 5-0), 3 PM, Hartford, CT
I think that these are easily the two most talented teams in the league, and, going by record, they’re also the best, but I do feel much more confident about the Bantams than I do about Amherst. Trinity has an identity and is full steam ahead. Amherst seems to suffer from inconsistency and lack of focus. How else do you go from beating Wesleyan by 26 to squeaking by Conn by two then getting rocked by Wesleyan by 27, then a week later dropping a road game at Colby then squashing Williams by 21, all within a 13-day stretch. I hate to beat a dead horse, but part of the issue is the two-headed monster at point guard. Both Jayde Dawson ’18 and Reid Berman ’17 are awesome at times, but I think there is also some element of Dawson hearing footsteps at times. In Amherst’s loss at Colby, Dawson went extremely cold and finished 3-18 from the field. Berman ended up running the point for most of the game. There’s really no better solution than to let hot hand play, but it’s an interesting storyline to watch.
Matchup to watch: Ed Ogundeko vs. David George ’17
Ogundeko’s transformation from rebounding horse to all-around star has been fun to watch, and one that we’ve long hoped George would make. Still, George is an incredible rim protector, averaging 2.3 blocks per game. I can’t wait to see Ogundeko try to go to work against George, and it will absolutely be a physical battle for rebounds. Ogundeko is going to have to set the tone for Trinity. Overall, Amherst is an underrated defensive team, and are holding opponents to an incredible 26.5 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. That means the Bantams have to get the ball inside.
Prediction: Trinity 65 – Amherst 60
It’s unfortunate for the Bantams that this isn’t a Friday night game, when student crowds are usually the most boisterous. Nevertheless, being at home is going to be a boost for Trinity who is 8-0 at home this year. Will that be enough to stop Amherst? I think yes, though I could see Amherst running away if Dawson is hot, Jeff Racy ’16 makes a bundle of threes and George can slow down Ogundeko. I like the matchups for the Bantams, though. It may actually be a good move for Coach James Cosgrove to sit Ogundeko when George is on the floor and try to match him up with Eric Conklin ’17, a worse defender but better scorer. Shay Ajayi ’16 will have to shut down either Connor Green ’16 or Johnny McCarthy ’18, no small feat, but one that he can accomplish. How Trinity stops the man not being defended by Ajayi is the question. If there’s one thing I believe about Trinity, though, it’s that they can defend anyone.
Middlebury 80 – Hamilton 66
Tufts 88 – Bates 70
Wesleyan 69 – Conn College – 62
Colby 78 – Bowdoin 66