Saturday’s match-up in Vermont features the Hamilton Continentals visiting the Middlebury Panthers, two of the three teams tied for third place in the NESCAC. Each team will be looking to secure a spot at the head of the conference table with Tufts and Trinity. The Continental’s team motto, “Punish With Pace,” is an apt description of the way they have played this year. Their blistering offensive attack has driven them to the NESCAC lead in points per game and scoring margin. However, that motto would work just as well for the Panthers. Middlebury is just as speedy as Hamilton, so we can expect a fast-paced affair this Saturday at 3PM.
Though Middlebury is nationally ranked (at #22) and Hamilton isn’t, they have had near identical results in NESCAC play. Each team has a NESCAC record of 3-2, and entering the contest, both teams’ last NESCAC game came against Williams, with divergent results. Hamilton handled the Ephs easily at home just two days before Middlebury got slaughtered in Williamstown. However, they also split against Bates, with opposite results, so neither team has a clear edge in the success of their in-conference play.
Regardless of the results, the games this weekend should provide us with some national and conference clarity. Of the two teams, the Panthers are the only ranked team, but at #22, a loss against an unranked opponent would likely drop them out of the top 25. However, a win for Hamilton could slide them into the national conversation. They lack the success in recent years that the other ranked NESCAC teams have, but with a win, their conference record would be an excellent 4-2, and their overall record would be 14-4, right in line with that of other ranked teams. National rankings are fun for bragging rights (and a potential at large bid) but what really counts is the NESCAC standings come playoff time.
Hamilton and Middlebury enter the game tied for third (along with Amherst) and a win for either team could help solidify home-court advantage in the playoffs. To further complicate things, Amherst is playing second place Trinity on Saturday as well. With an Amherst win, both Amherst and Trinity will share second place with the winner of Middlebury v. Hamilton. With a Trinity win, either the Continentals or Panthers will have sole control of third place. The loser of this game could suffer steep consequences, potentially falling as far as seventh place. Whatever this weekend holds will undoubtedly shake up the NESCAC standings.
Middlebury X-Factor: Perimeter Play
Middlebury, offensively, has been carried by the offensive play of their two senior backcourt star(ter)s. Matt St. Amour ’17, possibly the most dynamic scoring threat in the conference, gives defenses fits from inside and outside with his sweet shooting stroke and incisive slashing. Big games seem to get him going—so much so, that his teammates have grown accustomed to calling him “Mr. Clutch,” due to his game winners in high school and college. He scores more in conference games than any other player, averaging 22.6 per NESCAC contest (5 more than anyone else). In a crucial conference matchup like this, St. Amour would be wise to do his best Santana Moss impression.
St. Amour’s backcourt partner, Jake Brown ‘17, is not one to be taken lightly, especially coming off of a career high 31 points in his last game. He has more assists per game (6.7) than any other player in the NESCAC, and still scores ten a game.
Despite these lofty averages, setting the Cont’s ablaze will prove
no small task, as they have the manpower to counter St. Amour and Brown’s onslaught. Peter Hoffman ‘19, Hamilton’s leading scorer (16.9 points per game), is also possibly the league’s best all around defender. A springy athlete who stuffs the stat sheet by averaging about two steals, two blocks, and six rebounds is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the floor. The Cont’s, anchored by Hoffman, will have their hands full Saturday afternoon when tasked with slowing Middlebury’s potent offense.
Hamilton X Factor: Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Number
Though Middlebury probably has the edge in terms of star power and veteran leadership, Hamilton’s young guns are not to be overlooked. Freshman Kena Gilmour hasn’t started a single game this year, but he has earned more and more minutes as the season has gone on. In his last three games he is averaging 16.7 points in 21 minutes a game. He’s playing like a budding superstar and he’s getting the minutes to back it up. Hamilton’s youth movement goes beyond Gilmour, however. Star forwards Hoffmann and Andrew Groll ’19 are both sophomores, and give the Continentals a dynamic interior presence on both sides of the ball.
Who has the edge?
Hamilton is unbeaten at home. On the road they are a merely human 6-3. Although Hamilton is riding high on a three game win streak, Middlebury’s home-court advantage shouldn’t be overlooked in this matchup. Furthermore , Middlebury’s experienced players with long histories of success gives them the edge over Hamilton’s younger squad. Hamilton as a program hasn’t played in a game this meaningful in years, and obviously their players have not either. Middlebury, on the other hand, has played in games like this for years. I’ll take the Panthers at home.
The flu has been going around Middlebury the last few days, and while it has forced me to hide in my bed (or my library carrell) it has not slowed down the rapidly passing NESCAC basketball season. We’re roughly halfway through at this point and the league is really beginning to take shape. As we enter the final weeks of the season, teams are jockeying for seeding and competing to secure the last few spots in a tight playoff race. With that being said, let’s get right down to the power rankings! Of course, these rankings don’t mirror the actual standings exactly, but rather how I envision the playoff picture and final standings shaking out after the full 10 game NESCAC slate.
1.) #1 Tufts (19-0, 6-0)
Weekend Results: Defeated Wesleyan 80-45, Defeated Conn College 72-48
The Jumbos have been utterly dominant for this entire season. Another weekend of refusing to surrender 50 points in even one game has bumped their NESCAC standing to an impressive 6-0 and their overall record to an unreal 19-0. Tufts has also remained the top team in the D3hoops rankings for the entire year. The thing that really stands out about Tufts is their balanced attack. 7 different Tufts players average over 5 a game and 2 average in double figures. The go-to scorers, Michela North ’17 and Melissa Baptista ’18, are perfectly capable of carrying the entire load, as they did against Wesleyan scoring 15 and 18 respectively. But they don’t mind allowing the supporting cast to buoy the team either, evidenced on Saturday against Conn where Erica DeCandido ’20 led the Jumbos with 18 points. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait until February 4th when this team takes on the next squad on this list in a game that will probably decide who maintains home court advantage in the NESCAC playoffs.
Amherst has looked every bit as dominant as Tufts has throughout the course of the season. Playing Bowdoin this past weekend (the only other NESCAC team besides Tufts and Amherst that is ranked in the D3hoops top 25 at 21st), Amherst displayed the clear separation between themselves and the rest of the NESCAC by dominating the Polar Bears 66-45. It has always been assumed that the future Hamsters (my vote for the new Amherst mascot has officially been cast, Editor’s Note: as a lifelong Amherst resident, I would like to note that Hamsters was proposed because it is an anagram of Amherst) could trot out a talented lineup week in and week out, but this group seems particularly dangerous. The team boasts overall NESCAC leading scorer Ali Doswell ’17 who is averaging 13.7 ppg. Ali’s sister, Meredith Doswell ’17 is also the NESCAC’s 10th leading rebounder, pulling in 6.6 rpg. And no discussing of Amherst’s talent would be complete without mentioning the combination of Jaimie Renner ’17 and Hannah Hackley ’18 who are averaging 3.3 and 3.1 assists per game respectively, good for 7th and 8th in the NESCAC. This team is deep and talented and right on Tufts’ heels.
3.) Middlebury (14-3, 4-1)
Weekend Results: Defeated Williams 85-57
Big ups to the Middlebury Panthers who have finally been the team to loosen Bowdoin’s stranglehold on the number 3 spot! No one can accuse me of nepotism though as this team has certainly done enough to earn this bump up in the rankings. Middlebury absolutely dominated Williams this weekend, a team I think has the potential to make a late season run and secure a spot in the playoffs. Middlebury was clearly better though, and led throughout the game. Their dominating second quarter, in which they outscored Williams 18-5, put the game completely out of reach for the Ephs, and the 85 total points scored is Middlebury’s best scoring output of the season. In the game the Panthers shot 58 percent from three, and brought back memories of their evisceration of Wesleyan earlier this year. When their shots are falling this team is hard to beat, and when their freshman play as well as they did this weekend, the team might be unstoppable. Betsy Knox ’20 and Kira Waldman ’20 exploded in this game each garnering 17 points in the effort. Some might see Middlebury’s youth as a disadvantage, but this is a young team that plays with an old soul, and they’ll be particularly dangerous come tournament time.
4.) #21 Bowdoin (13-3, 3-2)
Weekend Results: Lost to Amherst 66-45, Defeated Trinity 76-61
I opened my first power rankings by declaring that Bowdoin might be better than either Tufts or Amherst, and ummm I think I was wrong. Bowdoin hasn’t been able to scratch out a win in either game with the top two teams in the conference, losing to Tufts in a close affair and being blown out by Amherst.. While holding serve against the rest of the conference is certainly impressive, it will do little good for a team with championship aspirations at the end of the season. The Polar Bears’ consistent problem in these big games has been their inability to score. In their three losses on the season, Bowdoin is only averaging 50 points (44 if we only include NESCAC losses) a sharp downturn from their season average of 73.5 ppg. It can’t be denied that Bowdoin has played a difficult early season schedule, so I’d say there is a decent chance they run the table in their last 5 games with their only real remaining test against Middlebury on February 4th (what a day of basketball that will be). Even if the Polar Bears are 8-2 entering the conference tournament, I think it will be very hard for them to triumph over Tufts or Amherst.
5.) Tie between Colby (9-8, 2-3), Trinity (11-6, 2-3) and Conn College (12-6, 2-4)
Editor’s note: cop out indeed, Liam.
I know it’s a cop out but none of these teams have given me any reason to place one in front of the other. Trinity was 2-1 heading into the weekend before losing to both Colby and Bowdoin. Colby, meanwhile, has a bad loss to Bates who is distinctly below these three teams, and was absolutely crushed by Amherst, but of course they did beat Trinity. And Conn seems to be a new team each time they take the floor. They smoked Bates, and then looked completely helpless against Amherst. After the top four teams their is a steep and dramatic drop off, and nobody in this second group really has shown that they belong atop it. Conn might have the weakest case, having already been absolutely blown out by Amherst and Tufts, but then again, that’s Amherst and Tufts. Colby only lost to Tufts by 12, but has been blown out by both Bowdoin (who they still have to face in NESCAC play) and Amherst. Trinity has solid wins over Conn College and was 9-2 coming in to NESCAC play, but then they got blown out by Colby. Of course Trinity has Courtney Erickson ’19 who is the 5th leading scorer in the NESCAC, but Conn has Mairead Hynes ’18 who is making a strong case for player of the year. No matter how you slice it, these three teams are confusing and difficult to sort out. This weekend, Colby and Trinity both play top flight competition, and Conn should secure a win over lowly Wesleyan. Hopefully these games will help us suss out this absolute mess of a five seed.
8.) Williams (12-7, 2-4)
Weekend Results: Defeated Hamilton 69-52, Lost to Middlebury 85-57
I feel that Williams is certainly talented enough to challenge some of the higher level teams in this conference, but they just haven’t played to that potential. Stomping Hamilton is great, but if you can’t follow that up by at least showing up to play against Middlebury, the win on Friday begins to ring more hollow. There are signs up of hope though. The team is 2-4 and 3 of those losses have come against Middlebury, Bowdoin, and Amherst, 3 of the top 4 teams in the conference. Of course, the other loss came against Colby, but quiet – this is confusing enough as it is. Four games remain for the Ephs, and 3 of them (at Wesleyan, at Conn, and home against Bates) look extremely winnable. Williams could squeak to 5-5 by the end of the season and that would likely be good enough to secure a playoff spot. If that happens, this team could certainly be dangerous. They already have a top 8 defense in the conference, and if their offense can step up heading into the latter part of the season this is a team that I bet most upper seeds would be loathe to see in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs. Look for Amanni Fernandez ’18 to step up in the coming weeks to take some of the scoring load off of the shoulders of Devon Caveney ’17.
9.) Bates (5-12, 2-4)
Weekend Results: Lost to Conn College 87-69, Lost to Wesleyan 62-58
Initially, things were looking up for the Bobcats. After Friday January 13th they were 2-1 in the conference and looking to shock the world against the Middlebury Panthers. Instead they were blown out against the Panthers that Saturday and stumbled to an 0-2 mark this weekend. With one of those losses coming against last place Wesleyan, and the other to a team in Conn that the Bobcats had been neck and neck with in the playoff race (they of course still have the same record, the NESCAC is kooky) this weekend has to be a double punch in the gut for this team. 3-3, which would be their record if they had managed to eke out 1 win this weekend is a lot better than 2-4, and with games still in the future against Tufts and Amherst, Bates is seeing their playoff chances slip away. The game against Trinity also won’t be a cakewalk, and Williams is still on their schedule. A trip to the NESCAC playoffs, which even last weekend I thought was a distinct possibility, is looking more and more like a pipe dream. Of course, if player of the year candidate Allie Coppola ’17 or her partner in crime Nina Davenport ‘18 have anything to say about it the Bobcats shouldn’t be counted as dead yet. Hopefully the two can combine a stellar performance one of these days instead of just trading off who gets to score the most points each game.
10.) Hamilton (8-9, 1-4)
Weekend Results: Lost to Williams 69-52
The only reason Hamilton isn’t last on this list is because they beat the team that is. Of course, with Wesleyan putting it together and beating Bates this past weekend, Hamilton has to be worried that their tenuous grasp on the “Not the Worst” medal is slipping. Hamilton’s biggest problem is by far their offense. Their defense ranks in the top 6 of the league, but their offense is tied for the second worst mark in the conference at generating points per game. A lot of this can be blamed on their shooting. They shoot a woeful 36 percent overall from the field, and a paltry 27 percent from 3. They also don’t get to the charity stripe nearly enough, having made the second least amount of free throws through their first 5 games. Here’s a positive though: this team is super young. Like crazy young for a team in the NESCAC. Of their top four scorers, 3 are sophomores or freshman, and the other, Lauren Getman, is still only a junior. Six Continentals average more than 20 minutes a game and only one is a senior. Three are either sophomores or freshman. This is a young team with a ton of potential. Yes, there have been and will continue to be growing pains this year, but an already upper tier defense, combined with assured offensive growth, could put the Continentals in a dangerous position in coming years.
11.) Wesleyan (7-10, 1-5)
Weekend Results: Lost to Tufts 80-45, Defeated Bates 62-58
And with that every single NESCAC team has secured a win in conference play! The Cardinals have to feel good getting that monkey off their back heading into the second half of conference play. The Cardinals’ final four games comes against Conn, Williams, Bowdoin, and Colby, and with how inconsistent some of those teams have been, sneaking a few more wins in is not outside of the realm of possibility. Wesleyan also has to be thrilled that their best player is Tara Berger who is only a sophomore. The star forward has been averaging 10.3 PPG to go along with 8.2 REB/G – good for third in the conference. Wesleyan’s leading scorer, guard Olivia Gorman, is also only a sophomore, and only one senior is in Wesleyan’s regular rotation. Much like Hamilton, if this team continues to grow they might be dangerous next year or a little further down the line.
Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3) @ Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4), New London, CT 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 28th
The “Battle for Connecticut” is not, as I originally thought, a sci-fi movie about 30-foot tall white families duking it out in Hartford. It is instead this game, which features two teams sitting in precarious positions in the league rankings. Connecticut College has a couple impressive wins under their belt, an overtime thriller over Amherst, and a demolition of Bates in Alumni Gym. But they also have four losses and have shown an inability to score against elite defenses (see their 70-52 loss to Trinity.) And Wesleyan is certainly an elite defense. It has been that side of the ball that allowed them to recover from their 0-2 start. The Cardinals are now 3-3, and gave Tufts their toughest test of league play so far in a 77-73 loss. They only allow opponents to shoot 34.7% from the field, which is among the national leaders and leads the conference by a considerable margin. The Camels will need to prove that they can score against the best in order to have a chance in this game.
Wesleyan X-Factor: Jordan Sears ‘18
It’s not a coincidence that Wesleyan has won both the league games that Sears has started. At 6’5″ and 200 pounds, Sears is defensive and rebounding menace, averaging 1.2 blocks and 4.6 rebounds per game despite only playing 17 minutes. He has started against Trinity and Bates, who boast the two best big men in the league in Ed Ogundeko and Malcolm Delpeche respectively. Sears was the key to not letting those stars own the paint against Wesleyan. I would expect him to play a similar role against Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17, Connecticut College’s two excellent forwards.
Sears’ starting spot has another benefit for the Cardinals in that it pushes Nathan Krill ‘18 to the bench. That may read like a jab at Krill, but let me explain. Krill may well be Wesleyan’s best offensive player, but his volatile temper makes it difficult for him to remain on the floor at times. Bringing him off the bench makes it easier for Coach Reilly to control his star forward. It also gives the often-dead Wesleyan second unit some needed scoring punch, and allows Krill to beat up on slower second unit players. Sears starting has been a key to Wesleyan’s turnaround.
Connecticut College X-Factor: Isaiah Robinson ‘18
Wesleyan is a team that will try to beat you up, particularly in the paint. Connecticut College is well equipped to hit back, but they will also need to hit from the perimeter, as Wesleyan has shown themselves to not be able to keep up in a faster paced offensive game. Robinson combines those two responsibilities. Robinson is 6’5” and built like a linebacker, giving him more than enough strength to push back when Krill and Joseph Kuo ‘17 try to body him in the paint. But he also has quick feet and can stretch the floor, shooting 38.6% from three. Robinson will need to be an offensive threat in this game to pull the Wesleyan big men away from the basket and open things up for Pavlin and Janel to do their work inside. And he may also draw the critical task of getting in Nathan Krill’s head and forcing him into foul trouble.
Who Needs it More:
Wesleyan has done a terrific job climbing back into the upper half of the league, and of course needs to continue playing well in order to stay there. This is a crucial game for them, as they travel to Williams and Amherst next weekend. They need the freedom to lose one of those games and still be in contention for a high seed. But Connecticut College still needs this one more. In the ever-shifting NESCAC landscape, the difference between 3-4 and 2-5 is difficult to overstate. The Camels have done great work getting over the…barrier (not going to make the “hump” pun again) and being relevant this season, but this game is the key to them remaining there.
Starting Jordan Sears has freed up Nathan Krill and strengthened Wesleyan’s defense in the paint against elite big men, but it also puts more pressure on the perimeter players in the starting lineup. Sears is aggressively non-threatening on offense, allowing opposing teams to sag off on him and double the primary ball handlers Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17. This has forced Kevin O’Brien ‘19 to step up as a scoring threat. He has done this admirably at times, scoring 20 and 19 back-to-back against Hamilton and Amherst. When teams leave Sears alone and key in on Green and Rafferty, O’Brien has to be ready to step up and be a scoring threat, or else Wesleyan simply doesn’t have enough offense.
Three point shooting will be the most important stat for Connecticut College in this game. They can’t beat Wesleyan in bar-room brawl in the paint, the Cardinals’ win over Trinity proved that no one can. They need to stretch the floor and speed the Wesleyan up. They have showed the tendency to make mistakes on offense and defense when they are forced the play faster than their preferred pace. Lee Messier ‘18 will need to shoot a little better than his 33% yearly rate, and Robinson and David Labossiere ‘19 will also need to knock a couple down.
Wesleyan comes into this game with all the momentum, and would probably be favored in Vegas if bookies out there cared about NESCAC sports at all. But Connecticut College matches up very well with the Cardinals. They have outside threats to spread out the Wesleyan defense, and forwards who can bang with the Special K’s (Kuo and Krill.) This should be hard fought, low scoring battle, featuring a lot of rebounds and fouls. In other words, a terrific viewing experience, and Wesleyan’s specialty. I think the Cardinals pull it out.
Both Amherst and Trinity come in to this matchup riding three game winning streaks. Amherst most recently took down conference rival Williams in a non-conference matchup while Trinity took down non-conference opponent Vassar on the road. Amherst holds a better record at 13-4 compared to the Bantam’s 13-6 mark. Conference play has been a different story however, with Trinity 4-1 and Amherst 3-2 during NESCAC weekends. The preseason #1, Amherst has been shaky in the new year. Two conference losses had the Purple and White reeling until they posted (shaky) back to back wins over Bowdoin and Colby. Trinity began conference play by squeaking out a two point W over Williams. They then handled Conn College by double figures before jumping out to a 21PT halftime lead against Colby and beating Bowdoin by 18. Given that both teams have played the same conference opponents, it is fair to say that Trinity has looked like the better team. In the words of Bill Parcells, “You are what your record says you are.” Given Amherst’s recent scoring woes and Trinity’s stifling defense (a ridiculous 57.8PTS/Game in the offense-happy NESCAC), this game should be a rather low-scoring affair. Amherst has a chance to reclaim their spot among the NESCACs elite while Trinity can put to bed the claims that they are just beating up on the NESCAC cellar-dwellers.
Amherst’s X-Factor: Backup Point Guard-Reid Berman ’17
Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jonny McCarthy ’18 have proven to be two consistent scorer’s for Amherst all year long. In a potentially season-saving win over Bowdoin, Dawson carried the team with a game-high 27 and McCarthy clinched it with a buzzer beating three. The problem has been finding consistent options outside of these two. Enter Berman (RB12). One of the surprises of the most recent Williams matchup was his season-high 12 points on an efficient 5-9 shooting. A pass-first PG who has struggled shooting the ball thus far, Berman sometimes plays as if there only his teammates can see the basket. A more aggressive Berman could give the second unit an additional scoring punch while also opening up other guys. He does not need to be the scoring threat that Dawson is, but showing Trinity that he is willing to shoot it would spread the defense allowing more open looks for guys like Jeff Racy ’17, Jacob Nabatoff, ’17, and Michael Riopel ’18.
Trinity’s X-Factor: C Ed Ogundeko
People may say, “Hey, isn’t it kind of obvious that Trinity’s best player would be an important player in this game? Do you think you are making some big statement? Who let’s you write for this site anyway?” All great questions. Yes, to beat good teams, your best players need to play well. Yes, someone else will need to step up. But when it comes to beating a perennial NESCAC powerhouse in their own building, where they haven’t lost in over 2 years, your star has to be even that much better. Ogundeko has the ability to impose his will on a game averaging 17 PTS and just under 11 boards a game. In fact, the last team to come out of LeFrak with a W included a second-year Ogundeko who had 9 PTS and 16 rebounds in the game. The outcome of this game will depend largely on Trinity’s star big man. As Ogundeko goes, so will the other Bantams.
Can Amherst get the deep ball going again?
Since the old calendars were thrown out and were replaced with the 2017 version, Amherst has shot just 30% from beyond the arc. While this has not deterred them from continuing to take
them (only Colby shoots more per game), it has lowered their offensive output. They have plenty of capable shooters, but have been able to consistently knock down shots. Sometimes the pause between first and second semester can break up a team’s rhythm and I think this is part of the Purple and White’s struggles. A return to the monotony of classes, practice, sleep may allow for Amherst to play a little looser and return to early season form. The team is due for a barrage from the outside. Look out for this, especially if the first few shots start falling. As the old saying goes, “sometimes shooters just need to see one go in the net.”
Who else scores for Trinity?
Coming off his lowest scoring output since Dec. 10th, expect Ed Ogundeko to get his. As previously mentioned however, somebody else will have to score for the offensively challenged Bantams. Senior F Chris Turnbull ’17 is the second leading scorer on the team at over 11PPG and offers one option. However, he has been inconsistent of late. In his last 5 games, Turnbull has scored 0, 13, 13, 3, and 17 points respectively. He shoots it at almost 46% from range so Amherst will look to chase him off the 3PT line. Senior Jeremy Arthur and Junior Eric Gendron both average around 9PTS a game and will need to keep this up on Saturday. Also, look out for Freshman Christian Porydzy, who has seen very limited action but is shooting an impressive 67% from 3PT land and in a game like this, one or two big threes can be the difference.
Who Rebounds the Basketball?
It may seem mundane, but rebounds are the beginning of a possession and in a game where scoring may be at a premium, every possession will be key. Trinity leads the NESCAC in rebounding margin at over 5 a game while Amherst has been slightly out rebounded by opponents with a margin of -0.6 a game. In Amherst’s last loss at home, 3 of Ogundeko’s 16 rebounds came on the offensive end. Offensive rebounds often lead to outback layups and are demoralizing for the defensive unit. Amherst will look to seasoned veteran David George ’17 to keep Ogundeko off the boards. Amherst relies heavily on momentum and needs to control the glass. Trinity will look to exploit this and create extra possessions to supplement their initial offense. The Battle of the Boards may very well determine the victor.
Trinity’s defense poses a bad matchup for the suddenly struggling Amherst offense. At 4-1, the Bantams have proven themselves in the league and are the last team to leave Amherst with a win. That being said, Amherst is primed for a breakout game. Although Amherst has looked sluggish for the past couple weeks, this team does know how to win big games (see: Babson). As a team that has been together and seen it all, it sometimes takes a little extra to get them buzzing. With the students back on campus, expect LeFrak to be rocking for this one. Amherst’s offense is a little too much for the Bantams to keep up and the Purple and White take this one 77-71.
Bowdoin (9-8, 1-4) at Colby (7-9, 0-5), Waterville, ME 3:00 PM, Saturday January 28th
The Mules and Polar Bears have a few similarities heading into this weekend’s battle for the north. Both finished in a tie at 4-6 in NESCAC last year, squeaking into the playoffs, and are both currently on the outside looking in at the playoff race. The two last place teams find themselves grasping for any sign of life at this halfway point in the conference season, and it’s pretty safe to say that the loser of this match-up will be left out of the postseason. Two 0-2 performances for the Maine squads last weekend further dashed their hopes, and both should throw everything they have at their lone game this time around. A six point loss to Williams is the closest Colby has come to a win in conference, while Bowdoin has put together a few more dynamic performances such as their two point loss to Amherst this weekend. The Polar Bears also possess the ‘CAC’s leading scorer, Jack Simonds ‘19. Can the Mules win some pride with the in-state victory? Can Bowdoin sneak into the playoffs?
Tipping the Scales:
Jack Simonds leads the NESCAC with 20.9 ppg but scored a meager nine against Trinity in a 71-53 loss. He went just 3-10 from the field, giving him unquestionably his worst game of the season. Should Bowdoin fans worry that their sophomore star won’t be the same in the second half? Not exactly. He might erupt against the Mules after a week of not playing, as he has some solid scoring pieces around him to divert Colby’s defensive efforts. The main reason for this anomaly (other than simply an off night) is that Trinity allows the fewest points per game in the conference at just 63.8. Given that Bowdoin scores the fewest points in the league in their five game NESCAC sample size, it stands to reason that Simonds wouldn’t go off against the Bantams. If Simonds shows up like usual and the Polar Bears respond the way they did against Amherst, Colby could be in big trouble.
Still on the topic of shooting, the Mules chuck up threes at a high rate (3rd most in the league), but only drain them at a 33% clip. Patrick Stewart ’17 is the leading scorer, shoots 6.7 3pt/g, but would score nearly ten points without shooting any. Teammate Ethan Schlager ’20 has really come on of late and could give his squad an advantage if he is the one throwing shots up from deep as in conference he scores nearly 10 ppg off of 3’s alone and is doing so at a 57.1% rate. Did somebody say Steph Curry in the making? The Splash brother did go to a small liberal arts college, after all.
Colby’s X-Factor – Keeping the score down:
In the Mules’ only win against a NESCAC opponent this year, the end score was 55-54. Granted, this was in a non-conference matchup against Bates, but the Bobcats shot just 30.6% from the field. In five league contests so far, Colby’s opponents have shot a scorching 45.2% from the field, which isn’t making comebacks any easier. With Simonds looming in front of them, Colby will need to neutralize a game-deciding performance. Simonds’ 32 point performance against Williams would be the deciding factor if he replicated it in this matchup, so Stewart will have a pivotal role as the team’s leading scorer (15.9 PPG) and rebounder (6.3 REB/G).
Bowdoin’s X-Factor – Get Simonds the ball:
While Hugh O’Neil ‘19, Tim Ahn ‘19, and Neil Fuller ‘17 all had solid games in the win against Williams two weeks ago, Simonds was the real hero. He did go a little Carmelo Anthony and hog the ball, but unlike the Knicks’ has-been, Simonds still dished out five assists while totaling 32 points on 24 shots and grabbing seven boards. He also went 7-8 from the line. Jack Bors ‘19 has been hot and cold recently with a solid game against Amherst, while O’Neil and company have potential but are not as reliable as the scoring champ. The game changing performance will need to come from Simonds, but will he bring it?
Who needs it more?
There’s no easy answer here—both teams are desperate. A loss will likely push one team to the bottom of the division for good as Williams and Conn College have both shown that they are capable the last few weeks. These teams both have a lot to prove, and this week won’t show the playoff teams anything important. This week is all about survival, and whichever team wins will survive for another week, with playoff hopes a little bit brighter.
Who has the edge?
Bowdoin’s lone conference win gives them a clear edge against Colby here. A two point loss to Amherst (ranked #14 currently) shows that they can compete, but can they win? My prediction is that—yes—they will win against the 0-5 Mules, but they will need a solid game to do so. Simonds and company show more depth than the other Maine team and have a better track record to show.
Colby is no doubt the underdog here, and they are going to need Stewart to shoot efficiently and make an impact on the boards. Meanwhile Schlager has to chip in offensively in order to steal this one. Joe Connelly ’17 needs to step up too, as he has made just four shots from the field in his last four NESCAC games – this has to change to get this team in the win column. If Colby is going to win, it’ll be this week, but they need the perfect storm.
Bowdoin beat the Ephs by 10, who then beat Middlebury by 24. By the transitive property, Bowdoin beat Middlebury if you pay attention to things like that. More impressively (and realistically), three of five conference games have been close for the Polar Bears (including a five point loss to Bates), giving them consistently competitive games. Though their 64-66 loss to Amherst came as a result of a blown double-digits lead, this close game against a strong team shows that Bowdoin can play ball. Colby has only kept one of their five NESCAC games within six points and have been blown out in several non-conference game this year. Bowdoin should take care of business against their Maine rival.
I say this knowing my reputation as a writer prone to hyperbole, but this may well have been the most difficult Power Rankings I’ve ever written. Aside from Tufts at the top and Colby at the bottom, there are literally no spots on this list about which I’m totally confident, and I’ve changed my mind on each of the middle nine teams approximately 750 times. Williams’ demolition of Middlebury threw the rankings (and my mood over the weekend) into disarray, as did Wesleyan’s continued come-up and Amherst’s shaky performance against Bowdoin. All this serves to say that I’m CERTAINLY wrong about at least 5 of these spots, and I know you readers will let me know which ones.
1.) #4 Tufts (15-2, 6-0)
It’s become very clear at this point that Tufts has some kind of “Angels in the Outfield” type mojo going on. After dealing with junior guard Vincent Pace’s inconsistency following a return from injury, star center Tom Palleschi ‘17 went down with a knee injury. Now obviously this blow knocked Tufts
off pace (pun 100% intended) right? Wrong. The Jumbos didn’t miss a beat over the weekend, taking care of Wesleyan and Connecticut College in two very impressive performances. They were able to match Wesleyan’s defensive intensity even following Palleschi’s injury, winning 77-73 in a hard fought game. And then they ran the Camels out of the gym, putting up 100 points on 58.5% shooting in a game where Tarik Smith ’17 only played 6 minutes (the reason why is unknown to us at this point). Tufts has everything working right now, and may well be able to survive their series of injuries, but three straight road matchups in league play will be a very tough test for the Jumbos. We’ll see how these rankings look in two weeks.
2.) #25 Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3)
Now here’s where it gets complicated. Wesleyan was dead in the water after the first weekend, but has gone 3-1 since. What sets them apart from the many other teams in the running for this spot is the quality of those wins. They beat Amherst and Trinity back to back last weekend, and then Bates in Lewiston on Saturday. They also played very well in a 77-73 loss to Tufts. The Cardinals still struggle to string together solid offensive possessions, but it seems that every game they get just enough of an offensive spark to let their defense carry them. They have received more consistent play from Nathan Krill ‘18, a terrific offensive player who often has trouble staying on the floor due to his struggles to control himself (he received a tech and eventually fouled out against Tufts). Krill wasn’t a weapon in their early loss to Middlebury, but if he is able to remain on the court during league play, the Cardinals could send a message in the coming weeks.
3.) Hamilton (13-4, 3-2)
The Continentals also benefit a great deal in these rankings from Williams’ performance against Middlebury. Hamilton pasted Williams at home last Saturday 94-76, getting 22 and 21 from Kena Gilmour ‘20 and Peter Hoffmann ‘19. Hoffmann was also a terror defensively, adding 3 blocks and 3 steals. Hamilton is a dynamic offensive team with a variety of weapons, but they can lag on the defensive end, as they did in their losses to Tufts and Bates. They still don’t have a quality road win on their resume, but they have the chance to pick one up this Saturday in Middlebury.
4.) #22 Middlebury (14-3, 3-2)
Speaking of the Panthers, their drive to a second straight championship hit a classic New England frost heave in Williamstown this weekend. The Ephs took it to the Panthers 89-65, in one of the more surprising results of the season. Middlebury simply had nothing working. Interestingly, they got a nice performance out of Matt St. Amour (24 on 9/18 shooting.) But the depth problems that we all feared when Zach Baines transferred reared their heads for the first time, as the rest of the team shot under 35% from the field. Defense was also a major problem for the Panthers, as they were repeatedly a step slow closing out on Williams’ legion of shooters. The Ephs exposed many of Middlebury’s flaws, and they have a lot of work to do in order to maintain a spot in the top tier of the league.
5.) Trinity (13-6, 4-1)
The Bantams sit at second in the league, having started off at 4-1 despite having only scored over 70 points twice over the course of league play. This of course has a lot to do with their terrific defense, anchored by possible Player of the Year AND Defensive Player of the Year winner Ed Ogundeko ‘17. But it also has something to do with the quality of their competition. Their four wins have come over the four bottom teams in the league, record-wise (although Williams’ performance against Middlebury makes that win much more impressive.) Trinity still struggles to find consistent secondary scoring options to lessen the burden on Ogundeko. They have the toughest weekend coming up by far, traveling to Amherst on Friday before playing Tufts on Saturday. Both games offer them the chance to pick up the signature win that they still lack.
6.) #14 Amherst (13-4, 3-2)
Amherst was offered the chance to recover from their 0-2 performance two weekends ago with a relatively easy slate. They had home games against Bowdoin and Colby, two teams that have struggled this year. And yet, they failed to truly recover their pre-league play form. They were trailing Bowdoin by double digits pretty much the whole way, needing another takeover from Jayde Dawson ‘18 and a buzzer-beating 30-footer from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 to survive 66-64. They took care of business the next night against Colby, but the fact remains that Amherst has lacked depth and consistent effort so far in NESCAC play.
7.) Williams (13-6, 2-4)
Yes, Williams made Middlebury look like my U-12 AAU team on Saturday (Wildcats for life, baby.) But the question remains as to whether that game says more about Williams or about Middlebury. The Ephs 3-and-D style finally paid off for them, as they went 13-27 from three and held the vaunted Panther offense to just 65 points, their lowest scoring output of the season. They also finally received production from the frontcourt, as Marcos Soto ‘19 and James Heskett ‘19 combined for 38 points on 7-10 shooting from three. This is an unsustainable amount of production, but the confidence boost could lead to good numbers for the rest of the year for those two. Another performance like this one tonight against Amherst would put the Ephs fully back on track.
8.) Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4)
At 2-4 in the league, the Camels aren’t in a great spot. But they have played a little better than that record would indicate. They have a win over Amherst under their belt, and have played four of their six games on the road, including a very tough Hamilton/Middlebury combo on the opening weekend. They now have three of their last four games at home. All four are winnable games, as they play three of the four lowest teams in the league record-wise and Wesleyan at home. The Camels still have a chance to get over the hump.
9.) Bates (13-6, 3-3)
The vaunted home court advantage that Bates has enjoyed over the last few years seems to have vanished. The Bobcats have lost three in a row in league play, all at home. They have gotten very little offensive production in those games, averaging under 65 points per game. They simply have not surrounded the Delpeche brothers with enough perimeter production to discourage teams from doubling whichever one of them has the ball. Bates still boasts an elite defense and has the chance to make a huge statement this coming Saturday when they host Tufts, but they seem to be in serious trouble, as they still have to play Tufts, Amherst and Trinity.
10.) Bowdoin (1-4, 9-8)
The Polar Bears’ early win over Williams is now a signature performance, and they had another against Amherst well within their reach last weekend. But Jayde Dawson happened, and now Bowdoin sits at 1-4 in a league in which a comeback is very difficult. Their offense is pretty much entirely predicated on how well Jack Simonds ‘19 (the leading scorer in the league) plays, but their biggest flaw is on the boards. Bowdoin is the only team in the league that averages less rebounds per game than their opponent, a weakness that Ed Ogundeko exploited to the tune of 22 points and 20 rebounds last weekend in Bowdoin’s loss to Trinity. The Polar Bears don’t seem to have quite enough scoring or rebounding to compete in the league this year.
11.) Colby (0-5, 8-9)
0-5 in league play is not quite where the Mules wanted to be at this point in the season. They simply do not have enough offense to compete with the rest of the teams. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four (and also was terrific with Ian McKellan in “Waiting for Godot”), but he carries too large an offensive burden, leading to poor shooting percentages and efficiency numbers. I’m sure they’ll be able to grab a win or two somewhere, it’s just that kind of year in NESCAC. But at this point it’s hard to imagine them in the the tournament.
Happy Monday everyone! Though Wall Street may have kept its doors locked over the weekend, the NESCAC Men’s Basketball market was fully open. We witnessed upsets, disappointments, and heroics characteristic of only this, the most solid and well-rounded conference in the country. Though your shares in the DOW Industrial or the NASDAQ may not have traded at all, there were some surprising changes in the stock of NESCAC hoops this weekend. Trade offs that may very well shape the outlook of the conference, and thus the national tournament as a whole, as we move ever deeper into the cold recesses of January.
Amherst came into the weekend on a two game skid, fresh off conference losses to Wesleyan and Conn. They almost blew it again on Friday against a then 1-2 Bowdoin. With 5:46 left in the game, the Polar Bears led Amherst 60-47. A former national number one on the brink of its third straight conference loss, Amherst proceeded to go on a 14 point run over the next five minutes to take a short-lived lead. The Polar Bears clawed back into it, until a buzzer beater three from Johnny McCarthy ’18 set Amherst over Bowdoin, the kind of electrifying jolt that can get any good team out of a rut. All season, Amherst’s pitfall has been an over reliance on McCarthy and Jayde Dawson ’17 for scoring, which makes them predictable and easy to defend. And although this premise was true in the game against Bowdoin, on Saturday Amherst had 4 starters score in double figures as they cruised to an 81-67 victory over a reeling Colby. The once-presumed Lords of NESCAC hoops may have finally made something click.
Ed Ogundeko’s Player of the Year Hopes
Like Amherst, Trinity had a two win weekend, with an 65-56 victory over Colby, and a 71-53 domination of Bowdoin. Ogundeko has been excellent all year in his senior season. His 17.3 points per game, 10.9 boards per game, and field goal percentage of 60.4% have him ranked fourth, first, and second respectively in the conference. He was hampered by foul trouble against the Mules on Friday, and so only poured in 14 points and grabbed 7 boards. The real reason Ogundeko’s stock is trading up following the weekend, is because of his performance Saturday against Bowdoin, in a head to head with fellow POY candidate Jack Simonds ’19. Where Simonds was only good for 8 points in 31 minutes, Ogundeko pulled down 20 rebounds, dropped 20 points on 10 of 15 from the field, and had 3 towering blocks in his 27 minutes in Oosting Gymnasium. Should the debate at the end of the year come between the Trinity Senior and Bowdoin’s Simmons, Ogundeko certainly has put a defining stamp on his candidacy for Player of the Year.
Despite having only one game this weekend, Hamilton rebounded nicely following losses to a well-defending Bates squad, and to Tuft’s versatile O, with a 94-76 thumping of Williams on Friday evening. Williams may not be in its strongest form of late, but they defend the perimeter nicely, and shoot well enough, or often enough at least (they lead the league in three point attempts) to beat just about anyone. Hamilton shot 47% from the field, outrebounded Williams 45-35, and played solid fundamental hoops, dishing out 20 assists in the win.
Rookie of the Year candidate Kena Gilmour also seems to be hitting his stride, as he scored 22 points in 23 minutes on 6 of 7 shooting from beyond the arc. In beating an Ephs team that yesterday crushed Middlebury – with whom Hamilton is tied for 3rd in the conference – the young Continentals have positioned themselves nicely heading into a pivotal matchup with the panthers this upcoming weekend in Vermont.
Midd’s Scoring Balance
With a lineup of some of the better offensive producers in the league – especially with an explosive point guard like Jake Brown ’17 – one would assume that, despite a relative unevenness in stats, a team like the panthers would produce somewhat evenly across the board. With the recent loss of Zach Baines however, that assumed equality of defensive prowess and scoring ability has been put to the test, and on Sunday against Williams that test was failed. Brown had 10 points and only 3 assists in 34 minutes for Midd, and Matt St. Amour ’17 dropped 24 in an 89-65 loss. I wish I could credit this schralping to my highschool friend Kyle Scadlock ’19, who scored 6 and pulled down 7 boards for the Ephs, but Middlebury’s tremendous inefficiency has to be attributed to the lack of production of virtually anyone besides St. Amour. The 3 Panther starters aside from St. Amour and Brown combined for 13 points, and the bench was good for only 18. This weekend will be a good test for the Panthers, as they face a Hamilton team that beat Williams soundly on Friday.
Colby hasn’t scored more than 70 points in a conference game this season. Though they may be 2nd in the conference in 3 pointers made, and first in attempts, the Mules are still 7th in the ‘CAC in 3-point percentage, shooting just 31.9% from beyond the arc. This is indicative of not only a team in desperation, but also of a team that’s spending a lot of time playing catch up. It’s no wonder that the Mules are 0-5. It may seem unfair to categorize a a formerly winless team as losing stock, but considering another 2 loss weekend from the boys in Waterville, I don’t see any other way to mark the trajectory of both their play and their position than as downward.
As Rory pointed out in the Friday preview, the third weekend is often a pivotal one for playoff chances. An 0-2 weekend this late in the season can be damning for post-season hopes, and that is only exacerbated by how strong the league is this year. Teams like Williams, Colby and yes, even Amherst need strong weekends to keep their playoff hopes alive, or reassert their place at the top of the league.
GAME OF THE WEEK – SUNDAY: Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) at Williams (12-4, 1-3): Sunday, 1/22, Williamstown, MA, 2:00 PM
Will I choose Middlebury as the Game of the Week in every preview? Probably. But this game deserves must-watch status. Not only is it a rivalry game pitting two of the most successful teams of the last decade against each other, it features two of the best scorers in the league in Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Daniel Aronowitz ‘17. And it should end before the Patriots game starts, so no worries there.
Middlebury and Williams enter the game on very different footing in the league. Middlebury is 3-1, and was very close to pulling out a win at Tufts. Williams, on the other hand, comes in at 1-3 and has looked like one of the bottom teams in the league. For much of the post-Michael Mayer era, Williams has been a highly dangerous and successful 3-and-D team, relying on outside shooting and strong perimeter defense to remain a contender in the NESCAC. But the Ephs haven’t been able to put together those two components of their machine yet this year. Despite taking the most three point shots in the league by a considerable margin, they have the third-lowest percentage. The defense is still strong from a numbers standpoint, but they have been exploitable by patient offenses, allowing the third-highest shooting percentage to their opponents in the league. Williams might not have the personnel to continue playing their patented style, but they could prove that idea very wrong with a win over the Panthers.
We’ve been writing a great deal lately about how the forward rotation of Matt Folger ‘20, Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘19 has given the Panthers an interior presence that many felt they’d be lacking this year. But in this game, I see the guards off the bench as being a crucial factor in Middlebury’s game plan. Williams will undoubtedly attempt to use the three point shot as a way to counteract Middlebury’s quick-strike offense. And if they’re hitting those shots, the Panthers may need some firepower from the outside to match them. That’s where the guards come in. The primary outside threat off the bench for Middlebury is Bryan Jones ‘17, who played some nice minutes early in the season but has shot just 5-18 in conference play. Recently, freshman guard Joey Leighton ‘20 has shot very well, entering the rotation just before league play and hitting 44% of his three pointers. Senior Liam Naughton and freshman Perry Delorenzo are also options, but haven’t played much in tight spots. Middlebury may need Jones and Leighton in particular to be scoring threats to open the floor for the three starting guards and the post players.
Williams’ big man rotation is a key for them as well. It is very telling that in Williams’ only NESCAC win thus far, a 72-66 road win over Colby, they got 33 points from their four forwards. In the other games, Williams has received a shocking lack of production from the frontcourt, on both sides of the ball. Williams is the second worst rebounding team in the league, and neither James Heskett ‘19 nor Matt Karpowicz ‘20 nor Marcos Soto ‘19 has been nearly consistent enough offensively to worry opposing teams. If Williams is to match Middlebury’s newfound interior presence, they will need good production from at least two of those bench players, as well as starters Kyle Scadlock ‘19 and Michael Kempton ‘19.
This is a critical game for Williams, who is drifting dangerously close to falling out of contention for a top four seed. They have traditionally enjoyed a huge home court advantage, and have beaten Middlebury in some classics in Williamstown over the last few seasons, particularly in tournament play. But they need more than history on their side on Sunday. They need their role players like Cole Teal ‘17 and Heskett to hit some threes, and they need Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Scadlock to play like stars. Aronowitz in particular should be key, as he will probably be matching St. Amour for much of the game. He has to at least play him to a draw if the Ephs have a shot.
Middlebury wins this one on paper. They have far more offensive weapons on the perimeter, and should be able to crash the boards against Williams’ frontcourt. However, Williams’ style of play is by nature unpredictable. If they are hitting threes, they can hang with anyone in the country, and it will be Middlebury’s job to run them off the line and into the paint, where they are far less proficient at finishing over size.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Connecticut College (10-5, 1-3) at Tufts (13-2, 4-0): Medford, MA, 3:00 PM
Basking in the glow of their new standing at the top of the Power Rankings, Tufts has taken the league by storm, winning their first four NESCAC games. They still haven’t quite gotten POY-level production from Vincent Pace ‘18, but KJ Garrett averaged 15 PPG over the two games last weekend, giving them a valuable offensive weapon off the bench. The Jumbos still have problems in the post, as Tom Palleschi ‘17 has struggled offensively for much of the season. That said, Tufts has plenty of weapons ready to pick up the slack.
Connecticut College has a lot of momentum entering this weekend. They shocked Amherst last Sunday, owning the paint en route to an 83-76 OT win. The Camels were able to lock down Jayde Dawson ‘18 as well as any team has this year, holding him to 9 points on 4-10 shooting. That suggests that they should be well-equipped to handle Pace, who showed signs against Middlebury that he’s rounding back into form. They also got 40 points and 18 rebounds collectively from senior forwards Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17. Tufts showed against Middlebury that strong post players can give them problems, as Eric McCord emerged against them with 22 points. Therefore, Connecticut College has the tools to pull off another upset, but I don’t see it happening.
I’m setting the over/under for total points in this game at 105, as arguably the two best defenses (and least consistent offenses) in the league square off in what may come to be known as “The Battle of the Bricks.” Wesleyan looked to be nearly dead after starting off 0-2, but roared back with two straight wins over Amherst and Trinity. Wesleyan’s elite defense was on full display in both games, holding the two teams to an average of 60 PPG. They finally received some offensive firepower from Kevin O’ Brien ‘19, and Harry Rafferty ‘17 too, an encouraging sign. To win at Bates, they will need one of those two, or Salim Green ‘19 (finally got his name right) to shoot well from the perimeter, as Bates’ interior defense is often pretty much impenetrable.
Bates has been one of the surprises of the season thus far, sitting at 3-1 with a quality home win over Hamilton under their belt. Their success has obviously been chiefly due to the Delpeche twins, who combine for 27 PPG and 19 REB/G. Additionally, Malcolm leads the league in blocks at over 3 per game. The Delpeches are the keys to Bates’ offense and defense, but freshman transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been pivotal in giving the Bobcats a perimeter threat off the bench. He had 30 points over the weekend. Bates should give Wesleyan a heavy dose of both Delpeche brothers, putting a tremendous defensive burden on Nathan Krill ‘19 and Joseph Kuo ‘17. Taking Bates’ lyric little bandbox of a home court into account, I see the towering twins leading Bates to another impressive home win.
Well if they lose this one, there’s officially a crisis in Amherst. The Purple and White have lost two in a row, both to teams that hadn’t won a game in league play entering their match-up. Amherst’s problems have been copiously and gleefully documented on this blog, but they boil down to a lack of dimensionality on offense. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 have too much responsibility, allowing teams like Wesleyan to load up on them and dare other players to beat them. Colby probably doesn’t have quite enough perimeter depth to make use of this gameplan, but other teams have certainly taken notes on what Wesleyan and Conn College did to Amherst last weekend.
Colby may be the only team that played worse than Amherst last weekend. At 0-3 in the league, they are carving out a niche as the bottom team in a very strong league. Colby simply doesn’t have enough weapons to hang with the top teams in the league. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four, but like McCarthy and Dawson, he often carries an unreasonable burden for the Mules, yet with less of a supporting cast around him than the two Amherst guards. Amherst should use this game to get back on track, and ideally find a little more depth on offense.
This game is a matchup of stars. Jack Simonds ‘19 and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 would be my top two POY candidates at this point in the season, due to their importance to their respective teams. Bowdoin for the most part goes as far as Simonds can carry them, as was proven by his electric 32 point performance in their lone NESCAC win over Williams. This game will be an excellent test of Simonds’ scoring chops in league play, as Trinity boasts an elite defense anchored by, who else, Ed Ogundeko.
Ogundeko may carry an even heavier load for Trinity than Simonds does for Bowdoin. In addition to being the key to the offense, he leads the league (and by nature of the transitive property, the team as well) in rebounding, and may be the one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the league. Players are straight-up terrified of shooting layups against him, which is heavily responsible for Trinity being among the league leaders in most defensive catagories. Bowdoin, on the other hand, is the worst rebounding team in the league. This could well be another 20-20 game for Big Ed, and if that’s the case, I see Trinity taking the win at home.
Williams (12-4, 1-3) at Hamilton (11-4, 2-2), Clinton, NY, 7:00 PM
The Ephs and Continentals enter as the only two NESCAC West men’s basketball squads not ranked in the NCAA’s top 25. They also come into the contest with similarly strong records. Williams has the slight edge here at 12-4 compared to Hamilton’s 11-4, but they have gone a meek 1-3 against conference opponents compared to Hamilton’s 2-2. Obviously, this is a small sample size and just a one game difference, but these teams have clearly started their seasons similarly. In terms of personnel, the teams again, appear to be equals considering their balanced offensive attacks, since both teams have at least three players averaging double digits, led by one, scoring approximately 17 per contest. Though a quick look at the teams’ scoring breakdowns fails to reveal any real differences between the two, a deeper dive into each team’s makeup can help us start to understand how the two teams will look when they play each other in Clinton, New York on Friday.
The pace at which each team plays could not be more different. For starters, Williams always goes with one center, usually 6’ 10” Michael Kempton ’19, whereas Hamilton does not have a single center listed on their roster. Williams, for an average of 17 minutes per conference game, chooses to go with size in order to maximize their interior defense and rebounding, in lieu of speed, by playing Kempton in the middle. Meanwhile, Hamilton has made the best of what they’ve recruited. Not having a player over 6’7”, they take more shots and score more points than anyone in the ‘CAC. They even have the best scoring margin in the NESCAC (top 15 in DIII), outscoring their opponents by 13.3 points per game. At the same time though, they give up the third most points in the conference and shoot a middling 45.1% from the field. Williams, on the other hand, takes the fewest shots in the NESCAC, but is more efficient when doing so, shooting a conference-second-best 47.1% from the field. Looking ahead to the matchup, when Hamilton will try to turn everything into a fastbreak and run as much as possible, Williams will do their best to slow the game down and make it a halfcourt game.
X-Factor – A Continental Eruption:
In order to come out successful, Williams will need to make sure they prevent any one Hamilton player from going off. When looking at Hamilton’s squad, they have a few names who have the potential to produce some fireworks on Friday night. The most likely and obvious threat is Peter Hoffman—the Continental’s most consistent scoring threat, leading the team with 16.9 per game. He can get to the line (5.5 FT’s per game), and stroke it from downtown, shooting a blistering 44% from outside. Another player to watch is Michael Grassey ’19, Hoffman’s long-range-gunning partner on the wing. Another threat from beyond the arc, Grassey takes 6.1 trey balls per game and shoots a very formidable 39.6%. If Grassey manages to get hot from beyond the arc, he is liable to double his 15.5 points per game.
X-Factor – Ephs’ From Deep:
Though Williams plays such a slow game, they take more three-pointers than the rest of the NESCAC; good for 15th in all of DIII. Also, despite connecting on a relatively average 34.3% of them, nearly half of their total field goal attempts come from long range. If they want to put the Continentals on their heels, it would serve them well to take a couple extra triples during shootaround. Increasing their three-point efficiency will prove a tall task against Hamilton’s stingy perimeter-D, which has limited conference opponents to the third lowest three-point shooting percentage in the NESCAC. Opposing teams make just 27.4% of their threes when facing the Continentals. If the Ephs want a chance at trampling the Continentals, they are simply going to need to make their outside shots.
Who needs it more?
Since it’s so early in the season, and the two teams are neck and neck at this point, a win here could firmly position one team over the other in the NESCAC standings. With six NESCAC games remaining apiece, each team’s playoff fate is still far from set in stone. A loss for Hamilton would make them 2-3 in conference play and leave them on the outside looking in on the NESCAC’s elite. However, a win would push them over .500 and on track to finish with a top 5 seed in the playoffs. For Williams, the stakes are more dire because taking an L could cement their spot (with a Connecticut College win at Bates) as the second worst squad in the NESCAC. However, a W would put them just a game under .500 in conference play and right in the middle of the pack as we approach the midway point of league play.
Who has the edge?
Hamilton’s strengths put them in great position to secure a win on Friday night. The fact that they have successfully limited opponents’ success from beyond the arc and have multiple players with breakout potential bodes well for the Buff and Blue. Meanwhile, the Ephs attempt threes in bunches, they don’t usually shoot them very efficiently. However, if they can get hot from three—and they have the room for improvement to do so—they have a chance to score in bunches. In regards to Williams’ propensity for allowing big games from individual scorers, they are coming off of a loss when Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19 torched them for 33 points, 11 more than his season average. However, this is likely more of the exception than the rule because at no other time this season has Williams allowed an opposing player to reach even 20 points in an Eph loss. Also, Hamilton fans emboldened by their excellent point-differential—among other eye-popping overall stats—should temper their expectations. Although Dion Waiters would have you believe otherwise, sometimes buckets do, in fact, lie.
Hamilton has had three wins by a total margin of 105 points against teams that have a combined 6-46 record. If Williams is able to connect with regularity from beyond the arc, they have a chance to steal a win on the road. However, if they are unable to find the range, and any Continental gets hot, they could find themselves in a hole that they are unable to climb out of.
This weekend is a very important weekend across the board in the NESCAC. Tufts is thinking about remaining undefeated in the ‘CAC, while Colby looks to achieve their first conference W. Amherst and Hamilton are both looking to put halts to their 2-game skids as Conn College hopes to knock off at least one other team towards the top of the NESCAC standings. The great thing about the third weekend of NESCAC play is that everyone is still in the running, but the unfortunate aspect of this is that some hopes of a playoff berth will likely be all but destroyed by Sunday. One of our newest writers, Cooper, is going to be putting out his game of the week preview for Williams-Hamilton later in the day, but here are the rest of Friday’s game previews.
There are definitely plenty of arguments for this to be the game of the week based on the two sides facing off, it’s just pretty tough(t) to make that call when there are so many good teams playing tonight. A few storylines of the game to keep in mind for in Medford tonight:
1.) Will Vinny Pace ‘18 play? He exited last Friday’s game with what looked like a rolled ankle of some sort and did not play on Saturday. Losing him for this weekend will definitely change the Jumbo gameplan, but they have already exemplified their depth, so maybe it won’t hurt them too much. This is definitely an interesting storyline to watch. 2.) Who wins the matchup between Joseph Kuo ‘17 and Tom Palleschi ‘17? It was a battle last year on the low block between these two, with Kuo putting up 20/8 and Palleschi tallying 19/5. The Cardinals just edged the Jumbos in OT, but without BJ Davis ‘16 and Rashid Epps ‘16 to dice up the Tufts defense, Wesleyan is going to need to figure out how they are going to put points on the board. 3.) Can Wesleyan’s bench match the production of the Tufts bench? Last weekend KJ Garrett ‘18 stormed off the Tufts bench and dropped 11 points on Middlebury on Friday, only to drop another 19 against Hamilton on Saturday. The Jumbos have also seen strong contributions from Eric Savage ‘20 (who will start if Pace is out) and Thomas Lapham ‘18 lately. Meanwhile, Wesleyan relies very heavily on their starting five for their point production. Jordan Sears ‘18 is going to need to have a big game for the Cardinals in order to help them keep up on the offensive end. All in all, I think Tufts is a much deeper and more well-rounded team than Wesleyan, and their balance has propelled them to their hot start. Nonetheless, they will need their A Game in order to come out on top tonight.
This is sneaky a huge game for both teams. Bowdoin is looking to show that they belong in the discussion, and a win on the road against an Amherst team that started the year ranked #1 in the nation would not be a bad way to show that they deserve more credit. On the other side of the scorer’s table, Amherst is reeling, and this is a bounce-back game that they desperately need. Frankly, Amherst’s issue is their over-reliance on Jayde Dawson and Johnny McCarthy. Both players are very talented, there is no arguing that, but they are both at their best when they are not the only scoring options. Jeff Racy ‘17 and Michael Riopel ‘18 need to have big games tonight and Amherst needs to bury Bowdoin in order to show that last week was nothing more than a fluke for the Purple and White. However, they are also going to need to neutralize the threat of Jack Simonds ‘19, who will be thirsting for a win against Coach Hixon and company. Amherst has the personnel to do it – McCarthy matches up very well against Simonds. McCarthy is long, athletic, and will not be intimidated by Simonds’ uncommon combination of size and quickness. McCarthy can play super aggressively on defense if David George ‘17 steps up and defends the paint like we know he can, but if the David George of last weekend shows up (the one who got dominated by Joseph Kuo and Zuri Pavlin), then Amherst might have trouble with the Polar Bears. Still, I think Amherst figures it out and gets the W tonight.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
Conn College (10-5, 1-3) at Bates (12-4, 3-1), Lewiston, ME, 7:00 PM
This is quite the trap game for Bates, who has been pretty hot so far this year. Conn, however, is coming off a big upset vs. Amherst last weekend in which they showed both their depth and their versatility. This game is
going to be won down low. If the Brothers Delpeche can dominate the paint and keep Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17 off the boards, things look good for the Bobcats. On the other hand, if the two Camels combine for 40/18 like they did against Amherst, I just don’t think that Bates has the firepower on the perimeter to withstand the Conn attack. The Delpeche twins NEED to have a big game in this one. Additionally, Bates needs Jeff Spellman ‘20 to have a strong game off the bench. Conn can usually count on Isaiah Robinson ‘18 for 8-10 points off the bench, so Bates’ freshman phenom needs to counteract that bench play with his own contributions. I know the Bates gymnasium is known as one of the toughest places to play in the ‘CAC, but I think that between the play of the Conn big men and the ever-consistent Tyler Rowe ‘19, the Camels will leave Lewiston with an upset win.
This one looks to be the most uneven game of the weekend, as Trinity appears to be the much stronger team this year. First and foremost, Colby just doesn’t really have anyone that can match up with Ed Ogundeko ‘17 down low. That’s just a fact. Ogundeko, who is 5th in the league in scoring (17.3 PPG) and leads the league in rebounding (10.3 REB/G), should feast on the Mules inside. Mix Ogundeko’s overwhelming presence with the consistent play of perimeter threats Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Jeremy Arthur ‘19, and this game reeks of a big Trinity win. On the other half of the court, I think Colby will struggle to score the ball. Trinity is known as one of the stingiest defenses in the league for a reason (65.4 OPPG), and when mixed with Colby’s league-worst 70.6 PPG, I just don’t think the Mules really have a shot in this one.