Monday was the first day of spring. I know that the weather at many NESCAC schools begs to differ, but I promise you that it’s true. Spring is a melancholy time for sports fans. On the one hand it’s baseball season. As you might know from reading literally any article ever written about baseball, spring and baseball go hand in hand. Every play in baseball begins the same way; with a pitch. Every is redeemed, much like the deadened flowers are redeemed in the spring. And here at NbN our NESCAC baseball coverage has kicked off in a big way with Devin’s preview.
But in this early spring I’m thinking about the end of something; basketball season. This year of NESCAC basketball was in many ways unprecedented for the league. Not in my memory has there been such talent across the board. While there were obviously better and worse teams, every squad this season had at least a couple moments where they blended together and sang in that way that only basketball can create. At one point there were five NESCAC teams ranked in the national top 25, and those five teams all received bids to the NCAA tournament.
This was a very literary season. We had a tragic hero find redemption in Tuft’s Tom Palleschi, who went down with a brutal knee injury during his
senior season before returning to lead Tufts to the Sweet Sixteen. We had a classic trilogy a la Lord of the Rings in Middlebury and Williams Rounds One, Two and Three. The final battle was one for the ages, a gritty war that featured unsung heroes (Bobby Casey ‘19,) star turns (Kyle Scadlock ‘19 looks like a POY favorite after his NCAA run) and several atrocious blown calls a lot of high quality basketball. Before fading down the stretch, Hamilton put the league on notice that they’re ready to make a run. They lose none of their main rotation, and Kena Gilmour ‘20 and Peter Hoffmann ‘19 are as deadly a one-two punch as there is in the league. Next year could be the year that they rise to the upper tier.
I could write one of these paragraphs about every team. That is the nature of NESCAC basketball this season and going forward; every team has SOMETHING that makes them worth watching. There’s a reason that Rory, Colby, me, Henry and all the other writers want to take time out of our diverse liberal arts college experiences to write about sports. Quite simply, it’s all interesting. But I will keep this briefer than that. Here are a few thoughts, feelings, way too early predictions and just general things I’m excited for from this season, and looking into next.
The Williams-Middlebury Rivalry is Real, Folks:
Both Williams and Middlebury will suffer huge losses come graduation. For Middlebury, Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Bryan Jones and Liam Naughton were the leaders of the team both on and off the court, and formed a back court that was unmatched in the country. Daniel Aronowitz and Cole Teal filled similar roles for Williams. Neither team will ever be able to fully replace theplayers they will say goodbye to come graduation.
But there is hope in Williamstown and Middlebury. Both teams balanced their experienced senior guard with dynamic young talent, particularly at forward. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 for Williams is a future star at center, and Scadlock is maybe the league’s best talent at the forward spot. But Middlebury is loaded too. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 became a dangerous duo this year, and Matt Folger ‘20 has First Team potential even as a sophomore. And better yet, all of these players will remember the games this year. Middlebury embarrassed Williams in the NESCAC final, and then Williams got their revenge in Pepin in the NCAA’s. Those wounds wont heal quickly, and we should be in for battles between the Ephs and Panthers for years to come.
The First Team Center Spot is Wide Open:
If you look throughout the league, the majority of the losses outside of Williams and Middlebury are big men. Tufts loses Palleschi, Bates loses both Delpeche’s, and Trinity loses Ed Ogundeko. This means that the door is ajar for new names to step forward as the beasts of the league. Early contenders would be Scadlock, Hoffmann and Joseph Kuo ‘18 of Wesleyan, but there plenty of darkhorses who could step up. McCord should get a lot of looks as part of Middlebury’s possibly less guard-oriented offense, and Williams has several young bigs who may make leaps. It will be fun to monitor who is stepping into those very big pairs of shoes.
Amherst Had Better Reload:
The Purple and White are lucky in that they keep the dynamic back court of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18. But in almost every other area they are significantly weakened. They lose their most consistent bench threat in Eric Conklin, as well as David George (center and defensive stalwart) and both their point guards. And unlike Middlebury and Williams, they did not have a lot of deeper bench players who showed the potential to fill their shoes. Amherst struggled all season with a lack of depth, and graduation will decimate that already thin bench. Amherst traditionally recruits well and has benefitted from transfers in the past. If they don’t do that quite as well this offseason, they run the risk of falling even further behind surging teams like Hamilton and Williams.
Editor’s Note: At this point, pretty much every NESCAC baseball team has had a chance to get out on the field and play some games (aside from Williams, who plays their season opener tonight). Devin Rosen is joining us for our NESCAC baseball coverage this spring, which is perfectly timed since we lose a couple writers, Colby and Rory, due to their roles on the Middlebury and Tufts baseball teams. The beginning of the NESCAC baseball season is always a mess for coverage since teams always try to cram as many games as possible into their spring breaks. Once NESCAC games roll around, we will be much more organized with our content. Until then, enjoy this preview of the NESCAC baseball season that Devin put together!
Bates opens the season with new coach Jon Martin who comes from the head coaching position at Vassar College. He looks to turn last year’s 14-21 record (4-8 in conference) into a more productive season in 2017. Helping his transition at the leadership helm are senior captains Ryan McCarthy and Brendan Fox. McCarthy has been a three year starter in the outfield for the Bobcats, and 2016 Second-Team All-NESCAC shortstop Fox looks to continue his success after hitting .377 last season. The Bates rotation and bullpen returns most of its staff and is led by Connor Speed ‘18 who looks to open the season as Bates’ number one starter. Anthony Telesca ’17 adds to the returning rotation as well providing depth in the rotation. After a break out year last season, Connor Russell ‘18 aims to round out the Bates rotation. The strong core of returning players for Bates gives the Bobcats the potential to put up a strong fight in the NESCAC this year. In his first season in Lewiston, Coach Martin will have to use his returners to help him achieve a successful season. If Fox can lead the bats, then the solid pitching staff can keep Bates in contention in the competitive NESCAC East.
Bowdoin had a decently successful 22-14 campaign last spring, but looks to avenge their 4-8 in conference record this season. To do so, however, their pitching staff must fill in the spots of two now-graduated starters who combined for over 93 innings last season. Sophomore Brandon Lopez ’19 looks to be the number one guy for the polar bears after a solid freshman season as a starter. After him, however, it seems that Coach Mike Connolly will have to find a few arms out of the large junior class to eat up innings. Sean Mullaney ’17 aims to maintain his position as the team’s consistent top hitter after having a .304 average in 115 at bats last spring. Similar to the pitching staff, the young talent on this offense will have to step up in order to compete with the rest of the NESCAC. Bowdoin showed promise in their overall record last year and aims to replicate it both in and out of conference.
Colby looks to turn their luck around after a disappointing season last spring. This task is made even tougher after graduating a First-Team All-NESCAC first baseman, Soren Hanson ’16, and a Second-Team All-NESCAC third baseman, Zach Ellenthal ‘16. Sophomore Andrew Currier looks to lead the way in doing so after posting a solid freshman spring which included 20 RBIs. The rest of the lineup will depend on hitting from other lower classmen. On the mound, the Mules graduated their number one starter, Hanson, and most reliable reliever, Tommy Forese. However, just like the lineup, young pitchers such as Brooks Parker ’19 and Will Cohen ’19 gained valuable experience in just their first spring. Look for Coach Dale Plummer to ride these young arms throughout the season while also depending on the more experienced juniors Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Bobby Forese ‘18. Colby’s lineup and pitching staff took a hit from the most recent graduating class, but look for the young Mules to step up their game. Despite a smaller presence from the senior class, the underclassmen have the potential to compete with the top teams in the NESCAC after gaining a year of valuable experience.
Trinity enters the season having lost high caliber seniors from last spring including First-Team All-NESCAC catcher Scott Cullinane and Second-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Nick Pezzella, as well as their most reliable reliever Sam Jordan, all of whom contributed to a 7-5 conference record. The Bantams’ success in the NESCAC East earned them a playoff appearance, and they advanced to the NESCAC Championship game before losing to in-conference rival Tufts. Despite the talent lost, first baseman Johnny Stamatis ’19 is back after hitting .309 and earning a Second-Team All-NESCAC nod in his first college season. Another key returning bat is NbN writer and Trinity infielder Nick DiBenedetto ’17, who posted a .357 average last spring. On the other side of the roster stands Anthony Egeln Jr. ’18. He is the only returning consistent starter, but after posting a 4-2 record last spring, Egeln Jr looks to take over as the number one starter in the program. In order to keep up with the tough NESCAC East, Trinity’s young talent must replace last year’s seniors with some fluidity. The rotation’s consistency will make or break Trinity’s season as long as their bats heat up.
The Jumbos are coming off a dominating performance after achieving the best season in school history. With an 11-1 in-conference record and 35-8 overall record, Tufts returns the core of its team. 2x First-Team All-NESCAC third baseman Tommy O’Hara ‘18 leads this stacked line-up along with captain First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Harry Brown ‘17, who hit a team leading .397 average in 2016. Behind the plate, sophomore catchers Harrison Frickman and Eric Schnepf have a year under their belt after being thrusted into a timeshare of the starting role behind the plate as freshmen last season. In addition to a powerful line-up, Tufts returns most of its dominating pitching staff. Led by captains Speros Varinos ’17 and Tim Superko ‘17, the rotation looks to remain the best in the conference after posting a team ERA of 3.25, over a full run less per game than the second-best ERA in the league. Varinos, the reigning pitcher of the year, looks to best last year’s All-American performance, which included a 2.15 ERA and league-leading 79 strikeouts. He also tied fellow teammate, RJ Hall ’19 with a league-leading 7 wins. Additionally, our very own, Rory Ziomek adds depth to the staff. Tufts has the fire power to maintain their status as the best team in the league, and has their sights set on not only a NESCAC Championship, but a NCAA Regional Championship as well after coming up just short last spring.
Amherst looks to stay atop the NESCAC West this upcoming season, and the will jump on the back of First-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Jackson Volle ‘17, who had a league leading 1.79 ERA. The pitching staff aims to maintain its status as one of the best in the league, but we will have to wait to see who joins Volle atop the staff after losing a few arms to graduation. At the plate, Amherst returns two Second-Team All-NESCAC selections: shortstop Harry Roberson ’18 and outfielder Anthony Spina ‘17. Roberson had an impressive .336 average while Spina tied the league lead in homeruns with 6. Joining them in this impressive lineup are Ariel Kenney ‘18, who had a team leading 52 hits, and infielder Max Steinhorn ‘18. Outfielder Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 rounds out the lineup that hit a remarkable .316 as a group last year. Amherst has the potential to not only compete in the NESCAC, but to compete for its top spot. Volle gives them a consistently dominant starter while their lineup can hit any arm in the league. If Amherst plays up to their potential, look for them to stay atop the Conference.
Hamilton’s ferocious lineup from last season returns its top hitters, including First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, who led the conference in slugging percentage (.645) to go along with a .418 batting average. Adding even more power to the lineup is Andrew Haser ’17, who was tied for the league lead with 6 homeruns last spring. The Hamilton pitching staff is forced to replace now-graduated pitcher Cole Dreyfuss, and first in line to do so are Spencer Vogelbach ‘18 and Dan DePaoli ’18. Look for these two juniors to eat up significant innings for Coach Byrnes. Rounding out the staff is Max Jones ’19, who threw 35.2 innings with a 3.53 ERA in his freshman campaign. Hamilton’s success will depend on its lineup and rotation performing up to their potential. The experienced pitching staff will have the chance to prove they can compete with the best of the NESCAC, and the returning Continental bats have the power to hit any arm in the league. If this occurs, Hamilton will be considered a force to be reckoned with in the competitive NESCAC West.
Middlebury enters the year looking to replace its key seniors from last season. However, plenty of now-sophomores including OF Sam Graf and SS Spencer Tonies, now have a year of experience to potentially improve their campaign from last season. Junior Brendan Donohue will also look to build off his .316 season in contribution to the Panthers season. Pitching, on the other hand, seems to be a plus for the Panthers both now and in the future. Sophomore starters Colby Morris (legendary NbN writer) and John Bunting led the team in innings last season, but with Bunting having transferred, Morris will be looked to to handle even more of the load. Seniors Dylan Takamori and Tucker Meredith additionally look to contribute to the strong staff. Last season Middlebury had a 6-6 in-conference record and aims to stand over .500 this season. To do so, Coach Mike Leonard will have to depend on his pitching staff, comprised of mostly returners. If the Panther bats can stay consistent, the rotation and bullpen can keep Middlebury relevant in the NESCAC West.
The Cardinals look to repeat last year’s impressive 23-12 record along with winning the NESCAC West. Despite losing three senior bats hitting over .330, including the Player of the Year Marco Baratta, Wesleyan returns a dangerous lineup. Leading the way are two-way player Nick Miceli ’17, who is coming off a Second-Team All-NESCAC performance, and the Roxbury Latin groomed shortstop Will O’Sullivan, who hit a remarkable .370 last spring. Andrew Keith ‘19 proved his potential last season as well and looks to build on the success he enjoyed in 2016. On the mound, Wesleyan returns a solid core of three pitchers, including Miceli, who is joined by Ethan Rode ‘17 and Asher Young ‘17. These seasoned veterans should consume many of the season’s innings. Coach Mark Woodworth will ride his senior leaders throughout the season after they dominated the NESCAC West last spring. As long as his upperclassmen take charge, Wesleyan has the lineup and the rotation to compete for the NESCAC crown.
Williams aims to get over the .500 hump in NESCAC play this season, and if they do it, their efforts will be led by Second-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Luke Rodino ‘17. He is joined by fellow senior Tyler Duff ’17 as the leaders of the pitching staff. These two seniors look to guide Tom Benz ‘19, Jack Bohen ‘19 and Will O’Brien ‘19, all of whom contributed heavily during their freshman campaign. At the plate, Kellen Hatheway ’19 looks to build on a stellar first year in which he earned the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award after hitting .331 with 21 RBI’s and 24 runs scored. Joining him in the lineup are Adam Regensburg ’18 and Doug Schaffer ’18, as well as Jack Cloud ‘17, who all hit over .300. The freshmen, now sophomore class proved to have the potential to compete against the top teams in the NESCAC. This year for Williams baseball will be about how these sophomores, along with their other key returners, can perform after having last season to rebuild and come together as a group. Williams will use last year’s experience to give them a chance to improve on their record in the NESCAC.
Before we get to the Williams Final Four preview, a couple thoughts on Middlebury’s terrific season, and the legendary careers of Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17, Bryan Jones ‘17 and NbN’s own Liam Naughton ’17. One of the hardest things about writing this blog is simply remembering that the players are students. The players that we laud, criticize and analyze every week have classes and friends and social stresses and just general college things going on in addition to the sports that we value so highly. I personally can’t imagine adding an intense sports schedule to my busy academic schedule (blogging, playing video games and eating onion rings,) and we have the responsibility to remind ourselves of that while writing.
But that is also one of the best things about writing this blog. NESCAC sports are a very tight knit community (as are NESCAC colleges in general) and it’s a thrill to write about people who are also your classmates and friends. This experience has been especially real for me in the last four years. I feel very blessed to have entered Middlebury at the same time as Matt, Jake, Bryan, and Liam even more blessed now to write about them, and simply to know them.
I want to single out Liam for a second. Like Bryan, he had the misfortune of entering in an incredibly strong guard class, and didn’t get a ton of minutes over the course of his first three seasons. But he never once let it get him down. He continued to work hard in practice, and was an incredible teammate for his whole career (his bench celebrations were a source of great joy for fans in the seats.) And this season he was able to provide valuable minutes off the bench when Middlebury’s guard rotation shortened up. Every team needs stars to win, but teammates like Liam are just as, if not more important.
The accolades for St. Amour and Brown have rolled in, and are deserved tenfold. Indeed, I can’t even open up my Facebook feed without seeing an article about a new award that Matt has won. But their success goes beyond awards. For four years they, along with Bryan (who had the bad luck of being in the best guard class in the country; he starts on every other NESCAC team) and Liam have represented Middlebury with flair, joy, and class. It’s been my pleasure to watch them and cover them, and it is my continued pleasure to know them.
*wipes a single tear from my eye*
Alright, on to the Ephs…Williams (23-8, 7-6, lost in NESCAC Final)
Turns out the Ephs’ blowout win over Middlebury in the regular season was not as much of a fluke as we thought. After losing to the Panthers in the NESCAC final, the Ephs took the rubber match last weekend in a game that showed just how much they have grown as a team throughout the year. Williams has always been a good shooting team, but early in the season if they weren’t hot from three, their defense wasn’t good enough to get them a win over a quality opponent. But that Williams team is long gone. Williams shot very well against Middlebury (49%, 40% from three,) but it was their defense that got them the ticket to Salem. The Ephs held Brown and St. Amour to 10-26 shooting (1-12 from three,) and held the Panthers to as a team to their lowest home scoring output of the season. Against Middlebury, Williams showed that they have everything firing on all cylinders, and are a real threat to win the National Championship.
Final Four Opponent: Augustana College Vikings (23-8, 11-5, lost in conference final)
The Vikings are similar to Williams in that they have peaked in the NCAA tournament. Neither team won their conference final, but they both have put everything together to make a Final Four run. Augustana is led by their backcourt, with guards James Johnston ‘17, Chrishawn Orange ‘19 and Dylan Sortillo ‘18 leading the team in scoring. They seem to play at a very slow pace, only averaging 77 points on only 12.3 assists per game. The Vikings shoot a very high percentage from the field (48.5%) but don’t take many shots, and therefore have low rebounding numbers. Their team leader in rebounding is Johnston at 5.4, and the next highest number is 3.6. This is good news for Williams, as rebounding is their biggest weakness (the Panthers had 20 offensive rebounds last weekend, keeping them in the game.) Williams also defends the perimeter very well, so facing another team that relies heavily on their guards should be music to their ears.
Johnston seems to be the player to watch for Augustana. At 6’5” and 190 pounds, he has terrific size at the guard position. He is their leading rebounder and second leading scorer (5.4 and 12.7 respectively,) and certainly is the best match-up on paper for Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, Williams go-to scorer. With his size and rebounding ability, he will also play a critical role in stopping Kyle Scadlock ‘19, Williams’ best big man. Johnston will be the key to Augustana’s gameplan.
X Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19
Speaking of Scadlock, he is the most important player for the Ephs tonight. Augustana, as every team must do against Williams, will try to run them off the three point line, and their slower pace could throw the Ephs off their rhythm. Additionally, they are a very deep team on the perimeter, giving them a lot of defenders to throw at Aronowitz, Cole Teal ‘17 and Bobby Casey ‘19. They do not have many defenders to throw at Scadlock. The Vikings are pretty big (they have four players over 6’7”) but not many of them play big minutes. And very few teams in the country have the versatility to keep up with Scadlock’s combination of size, quickness and skills. Scadlock’s assertiveness on offense has been a key to Williams’ run. He is averaging 17 points per game in their last seven, and his threatening inside presence opens up driving lanes and three point attempts for the guards. It is when he disappears and doesn’t look for his shot that Williams struggles. Scadlock has a great matchup tonight; if he shows up for it, Augustana is in trouble.
Other Teams in the Final Four:
#1 Whitman College Blues (31-0, 16-0, Won Conference Championship): vs Babson, 5:00 PM
As you can probably tell from their record, the Blues are the favorite to come out of this weekend as national champions. They are one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, averaging 91.8 points per game on 48% shooting. They seems to just be loaded up and down the roster with great scorers, rather than doing it with ball movement. They only average 12.5 assists per game, a shockingly low number for such a dynamic offense. They are led in scoring by National POY Candidate Tim Howell ‘18, who averages 20.4 points per game. Howell is an electric one on one scorer, and his skill off the dribble opens things up for his teammates. And they take advantage of those opportunities. Four other Whitman players score in double figures, including Jack Stewart ‘19, who shoots 42.3% from three. If you had to point to a weakness for the Blues it would be on the boards and at the foul line. Their rebound margin is only +1, a low number for such a dominant team, and they only shoot 64% from the line. But for 31 games in a row, neither of those things have mattered.
#3 Babson College Beavers (29-2, 14-1, lost to MIT in Conference Final): vs Whitman at 5:00 PM
Babson spent much of the season as the number one team in the country before dropping due to their conference final loss. But like Stella, they’ve gotten their groove back in the NCAA tournament. They scored 102 points in their Elite Eight win over Keene State, shooting 61% from the field. Stopping Babson begins and nearly ends with stopping senior guard Joey Flannery ‘17. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Flannery has the size to score inside, but is also a deadly outside shooter and ball handler. He averages 23.4 points per game and has proven himself to rise to the occasion in big games. He had 38 in their Sweet Sixteen win over Tufts. And as if that wasn’t enough, Flannery also averages 7.1 rebounds per game. But Babson isn’t a one man show. Junior guard Nick Comenale ‘18 averages 16 points per game on 42% shooting from three, and big man Isaiah Nelson ‘17 provides a valuable post scoring threat. Babson is one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. The Babson and Whitman game at 5:00 tonight should be a classic, I recommend checking it out before tuning in to Williams to support the NESCAC family.
Williams (22-8, 7-6) at Middlebury (27-3, 11-2): Pepin Gymnasium, Middlebury, VT 7:00 P.M.
What this means:
Throw out all of the statistics, the strength of schedule numbers, the bad losses, and the blowout wins. This is the Elite Eight and no matter how Williams and Middlebury got to this point in the season, they are in the NCAA quarterfinals on the road to the glory of a national championship. Expect a battle in Pepin tonight.
Williams and Midd are 1-1 against each other this year, and as Pete mentioned yesterday, the unwritten rules of pickup basketball dictate that there must be a rubber match. This is THE rubber match of all games. Both teams are coming off of relatively easy wins where they outmatched their opponents and haven’t been tested to this point in the tournament. These teams are a great match up for one another as Williams shot out of this world back in regular season NESCAC play to beat the Panthers, and Middlebury returned the favor to bring home the championship in Medford two weeks ago.
How They Got Here:
Coming off of stellar shooting performances from both Matt St. Amour ’17 and Jake Brown ’17, Middlebury looks to be firing on all cylinders as they head into the final stretch of the season. Their 4/5 rotations between Nick Tarantino ’18, Adisa Majors ’18, Matt Folger ’20, and Eric McCord ’19 has left other teams scrambling not knowing what combination of big men they are facing. McCord plays an aggressive, (sometimes out of control) game and Majors has a beautiful mid-range jumper and led the NESCAC in FG%, Tarantino is great at finishing near the rim and gets his share of offensive boards, and Folger has joined St. Amour and Brown as a splash brother with his ability to drain the long range shot. Middlebury has toppled Farmingdale St., Lycoming, and now Endicott, looking like a much better team than all three of their competitors. The closest game was surprisingly against Farmingdale as they won by just nine points after St. Amour shot just 5-18 from the field. He still added 18 points, but didn’t quite lock down the game like he did so well in both the rounds of 32 and Sweet 16. St. Amour has been playing out of this world, making Lycoming’s coaches exchange glances and shake their heads in disbelief after several of his plays. Against Lycoming, entering as the #15 team in the country, St. Amour was headed for the media table after forcing a turnover, scooped the ball with his left hand and threw it behind his back around the Warrior defender, hitting Jack Daly perfectly in stride for an and-1 basket, summing up the ridiculous nature of his senior season. The rest of the Panthers helped St. Amour out last night, shooting 41.9% from deep last night as a team. When they shoot that well, they are unstoppable.
Williams has several players who are threats from both long and short range. They have up and down shooting days but have been playing much closer to their season average recently, a big part of the process that
has led to their deep run into the tournament. Mike Greenman was lights out last night, showing off his handles and draining contested threes all night, dishing it out to Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz throughout the whole game. Aronowitz said after the game against Susquehanna that “when I was getting down low in the first half, my teammates were getting open on the perimeter,” showing how Susquehanna couldn’t stop the Ephs on both fronts of offense. Kyle Scadlock started getting more aggressive down low when Susquehanna’s center got into foul trouble, smartly recognizing the weakness that the big man was put into, unable to contest Scadlock’s shots. The entire Susquehanna defense was centered around stopping Scadlock, who added a triumphant turn around dunk in the second half. Despite the added attention Scadlock faced, he dropped 22 points for the Ephs. Williams offense has become multi-dimensional in this tournament.
What to Expect:
Williams survived some below average shooting numbers against Susquehanna (36.8% FG and 31.0% from deep.) Those numbers will have to improve tonight. Atypically for them, it was their defense that won them last night’s game. Ephs coach Kevin App said their defensive game plan last night was to stop the “back-breaking threes” from Susquehanna’s star point guard Steven Weidlich, who is comparable in style to Midd’s St. Amour. Now, I do believe that St. Amour has an edge over Weidlich, but the way St. Amour plays as a part of the Middlebury teams is similar to the way Weidlich played for his. Williams mixed up the man on man defense on the point guard all night, mixing in both big and small players, throwing Weidlich out of rhythm and unable to heat up from deep and
keep his team in the game late. The Ephs should use a similar strategy tonight, putting pressure on Jake Brown and Jack Daly to step up in place of the NESCAC POY. St. Amour is impossible to defend if he makes the contested shots like he did against Lycoming, but it’s better than leaving him open.
Middlebury took a 48-24 lead over Endicott to enter half time, and then came out on a 16-3 run to start the second half, finding a lead of 41 points at one point. They really weren’t tested at all in the round of 16, but did lose to Endicott earlier in the year after they were up 12 at the half on November 27th. This shows that not only did they make an adjustment this time around, but were just a far better team. Jake Brown scored 19 points last night, getting hot and attempting a few heat check threes from well beyond the arc, using the Middlebury crowd well as a momentum push for his team. The Middlebury crowds have been intimidating these past few weeks, and I wouldn’t want to be Williams heading into Pepin after having an easy go at it in terms of crowds last night. Williams brought a good fan section in their own right, not comparable to the home team, but should bring some good clean college back-and-forth banter throughout the night as the NESCAC final rematch takes place with bigger stakes this time—a ticket to the final four in Salem, VA on the line.
Every pickup basketball player knows the importance of the rubber match. If a team wins one game, and the opposing team wins the next one, it is a cardinal sin to not play that third game to determine the outright winner. No matter if you have work, class, or a hamstring that is closer to snapping than my mom when I forget to bring my dishes upstairs, you have to play the rubber match. This is the case in higher levels of basketball as well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times, with Magic taking the rubber match in 1987. Many NBA fans are praying that Lebron and the Cavs meet Steph and the Warriors for a rubber match this season. And on a smaller scale, Williams and Middlebury have a chance this weekend for a rubber match of their own. If they both win on Friday, they would match up in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with bragging rights and a trip to Salem on the line.
Middlebury (26-3, 11-2, Beat Williams in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Endicott (24-6, 15-3, lost in their Conference Final)
Middlebury has the rare chance this weekend to avenge two of their three losses. Williams of course blew out Middlebury in league play, but Endicott also bested the Panthers before league play. And the Gulls have the added honor of their win being in Pepin Gymnasium, a feat only they have accomplished in the last two years. Endicott was able to beat the Panthers at their own game; namely, guard play. Like Middlebury, the Gulls boast one of the best backcourts in the country. Max Matroni ‘17 and Kamahl Walker ‘17 combine for 32 points a game on the season, and have combined for 99 points in their two NCAA games. Against Middlebury Walker put up 28 and forced both Jack Daly ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17 into foul trouble. Endicott is one of the only teams in the country who has a backcourt that can give Middlebury guards a run for the money. Expect them to go at Daly and Brown (who will likely start the game on Walker and Matroni) early and attempt to again get them on the bench with fouls.
Endicott also attacked Middlebury on the glass. Daquan Sampson ‘17 was able to roast the Middlebury big men to the tune on 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Gulls outrebounded the Panthers overall 40-31 and had 12 offensive rebounds. Endicott matches up well with Middlebury because their team is constructed in a similar way. They have an excellent backcourt who drive the team on both ends of the floor, and the big men are effective role players who benefit a great deal from terrific guard play.
X-Factor: Eric McCord ‘19 (and the new big men)
Middlebury’s biggest improvement since that loss to Endicott is in the front court.When the two teams last met, Zach Baines and Adisa Majors ‘18 dominated the minutes at the two forward spots. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 combined to play 19 minutes and went 1-6 from the floor. Baines’ transfer has allowed McCord and Tarantino (as well as Matt Folger ‘20 and Majors off the bench) to flourish into one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. McCord in particular has blossomed, and should play a pivotal role in Middlebury’s game plan. Sampson and the rest of Endicott’s bigs are long, but they are not extremely strong, and Sampson in particular spends a considerable amount of time on the perimeter. McCord has become an effective scorer and passer in the paint, both playing off of a two man game with one of the guards or one-on-one. There is mismatch on the block that the Panthers didn’t have the personnel to exploit earlier this season. But the team is constructed differently now, and is far better suited to beat the Gulls down low if the guards play each other to a draw.
How They Lose:
We already have a blueprint for how Middlebury loses this game. Daly and Brown get into foul trouble, forcing St. Amour to expend more energy on defense chasing around either Matroni or Walker. Matroni or Walker take
advantage of this and go off. And the Endicott bigs use their length and athleticism to terrorize the Middlebury bigs on the boards. Sampson also uses his quickness to draw McCord or Tarantino out of the paint and create driving lanes and putback opportunities. Both teams have seen that this can happen. We will see on Friday if Middlebury’s new look will prevent it from happening again.
Williams (21-8, 7-6, lost to Middlebury in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Susquehanna (23-5, 11-3, lost in Conference Semifinals)
The rare team to make the Sweet Sixteen after not even making their conference championship, the River Hawks have been on something of a Cinderella run here in the NCAA tournament. They beat Eastern Connecticut State 72-67 in the round of t32, a team that beat Trinity and Amherst earlier in the season. Susquehanna is top heavy scoring wise, as the duo of Steven Weidlich ‘17 and Ryan Traub ‘18 combine to average 38 points per game (21 and 17 respectively.) No one else on their team averages more than seven. Weidlich is a Matt St. Amour type perimeter threat. A dangerous outside shooter, he connects on 39.5% of his threes and 45% of his field goals overall. However, he is also very versatile, averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 is Williams best perimeter defender (as well as best everything else) and will likely start the game on Weidlich. If he gets in foul trouble, the Ephs can be left with very few guys who create their own shots.
Traub is a very effective frontcourt partner for Weidlich. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he is a load underneath and creates match up problems for
Williams’ series of skinny big men. He is also tremendous around the rim, shooting 57.4% from the field. He can step outside the arc (40% in a limited sample size,) and anchors a defense that only allows 41% shooting to opponents on the season. Williams three point heavy attack is not conducive to defensive struggles, therefore Susquehanna matches up well with the Ephs. Weidlich and Traub will try to occupy Aronowitz and Kyle Scadlock ‘19, while the rest of the River Hawks run the Ephs off of the three point line.
X Factor: Mike Greenman ‘17
As I mentioned above, Aronowitz and Scadlock, Williams’ two most important players, will both likely have difficult defensive assignments. Therefor Williams will at times need someone else to create shots for themselves and others. That is where Greenman comes in. The senior point guard can be an electric scorer (see his 7-9 three point shooting performance against Becker in the first round,) and can be an effective passer (11 assists last round against Scranton.) If Susquehanna tries to slow the game down and pound the ball into Traub, Greenman will be largely responsible for keeping Williams’ pace and energy up without turning the ball over. He has played two of the best games of his career in this tournament, largely explaining Williams impressive blowout wins in the first two rounds. He will be just as important in this game, and maybe even more so.
How They Lose:
NESCAC fans have seen throughout the season how Williams loses. If they are not hitting threes, they generally don’t win. The three point shot is the key to everything the Ephs try to do on offense. It opens up driving lanes for Aronowitz and Scadlock, post ups for big men off the bench like Michael Kempton ‘19, and it forces defenders to overplay on the perimeter, opening up the backdoor cuts that killed Middlebury during their regular season loss to Williams. The Ephs simply don’t have enough shot creators to overcome a shooting slump. Aronowitz is a terrific player but his burden is at times too great, and Scadlock is prone to disappearing in big spots. Their game becomes something of a “Chuck and Run” style, with contested threes being taken too quickly. Williams lives by the three and dies by the three, and living has been very good lately. Let’s hope it continues into Saturday, because, as all basketball fans know, there’s nothing better than a rubber match.
#13 Tufts (20-6) at #3 Babson (25-2), 8:00pm Friday, March 10, Wellesley, MA
For the majority of the season, Babson was ranked #1 in the nation with their lone loss coming at the hands of Amherst in a #1 vs. #2 matchup. On February 26, after beating MIT just eight days earlier, Babson fell to the engineers in the NEWMAC Tournament Finals. To be fair, the Beavers were plagued by injury in this game: starters Sam Bohmiller ‘17 and Bradley Jacks ‘18 both sat out, leaving Babson with a relatively short bench. Nonetheless, Babson let the top seed in the tournament slip away from them, leaving them a tougher road than they likely would have had otherwise.
A hot Keene State (19-9) team took down Amherst in the opening round, and then toppled #5 Ramapo in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16. The Owls will match up with #2 Christopher Newport (25-2), who advanced to the Sweet 16 with little difficulty, in the earlier game tonight. This is an intriguing game in its own right, but since this is a NESCAC blog, I will be focusing on tonight’s matchup: Tufts vs. Babson.
Last Time They Met
The Jumbos met Babson in the finals of the Big 4 Challenge on December 3 and fell victim to the heartless assassin Joey Flannery ‘17. Flannery had a ridiculous 42 points that night leading his team to a 91-78 victory. Tufts’ strategy of locking down Nick Comenale ‘18 worked decently well – the junior had 14 points on just 3-8 shooting with 5 turnovers – however, this gameplan allowed Flannery to completely take the reigns,
something he’s very accustomed to doing. Additionally, Isaiah Nelsen ‘17 and Jacks worked well in tandem, combining for 30 points on 13-23 shooting. Tom Palleschi ‘17 led the way for the Jumbos, scoring 16 while grabbing 9 boards. Ben Engvall ‘18 and Vince Pace ‘18 were the only two other Tufts players to contribute double-digits in scoring, in large part because Tufts struggled as a team from deep, shooting just 6-22 from long-range. Nonetheless, Tufts was able to keep the Babson lead to just 8-10 points most of the way, but they were never able to recover from a very slow start. In the end, Flannery was just too much for the ‘Bos, and Babson was able to pull away a bit at the end. Don’t expect Tufts to show any fear entering this game, however – there is definitely some bad blood in this one. The game was pretty chippy throughout, with lots of physical play and trash talk going both ways. Then, with the game clearly out of reach, Coach Sheldon called off the dogs, yelling to the Tufts players on the court “no more fouls!” when Babson grabbed a defensive rebound with 25 seconds left. With the ball in his hands, Flannery heard this, ran out on the break, looked back to make sure no Tufts players were trailing him, and slammed home a dunk to rub salt in the wound. He then ran back up the court trash talking a couple Jumbos that he passed by. Don’t think that Tufts doesn’t want revenge for the way this game went.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Vince Pace ‘18
Throughout the 2016-2017 season, Pace has been very streaky. He has had some awesome games, namely the game that got the Jumbos here, in which he scored a career-high 37 points on 12-17 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, he has also struggled at times, such as in the NESCAC semis, when he went just 1-7 shooting with 5 points. Last time Tufts faced Babson, Pace was still not fully healthy, as he was working his way back to normal minutes from the ACL tear he suffered last spring. This time he has a full season under his belt. The fact is, when Pace plays well, it’s rare that Tufts loses, so they need him to show up in this one. The smaller Nick Comenale should be matched up against Pace defensively, so Pace needs to use his size advantage. Most importantly, if Pace can get going with one or two early threes, Tufts will be in good shape.
Babson X-Factor: Forward Isaiah Nelsen ‘17
Isaiah Nelsen is one of the best big men that Tufts has faced this year. He is big, strong and athletic; he can hit mid-range jumpers; he partners very well with another solid forward, Bradley Jacks; and most importantly, Nelsen is the third option for the Beavers offensively. With all these factors working to his advantage, Nelsen is primed to go off. Last time these two matched up, Nelsen shot 8-12 for 20 points to go along with 13 rebounds, presenting a constant threat to the Tufts defense. With the ever present three-point threats of Comenale and Flannery on the court, the Tufts big men will be required to deal with Nelsen one on one. If Palleschi, Drew Madsen ‘17, and Pat Racy ‘17 can shut down Nelsen, the Jumbos have a very good chance in this one. However, if it comes at the cost of allowing Babson’s guards to light up the scoreboard, Tufts might not get the result they desire.
1.) How will Tufts limit Joey Flannery?
I say limit because frankly, I don’t see anyone actually stopping Flannery in the NCAA tournament. He’s just too much of a bucket-getter. Tufts’ best chance is if they limit Flannery to under 20 points. Theoretically, the way the Jumbos switch screens defensively should prevent Flannery from getting open three-pointers, although that didn’t quite pan out in December. I would guess Everett Dayton ‘18 will be tasked with guarding Flannery. Dayton’s combination of length, athleticism and basketball IQ makes him the most viable option to make Flannery work for his points.
2.) Who else will step up for the Jumbos?
Since December 3, 2016, the Tufts basketball team has evolved immensely. Dayton has become a much more capable scorer and playmaker. KJ Garrett ‘18 has emerged as a huge offensive threat over the second half of the season, primarily by using his advantage in athleticism to get offensive rebounds and get out in transition. Palleschi and Engvall both have double-digit potential as well. However, my guess would be that Tarik Smith ‘17 is the one to have a big game for Tufts. He was their leading scorer throughout the regular season, and he showed around this time last year that he is a big game player. Smith thrives when he can get to the hoop and draw fouls, as he is very good at hanging in the air and finishing through contact. Any one of these guys can score the basketball, but my guess is Smith will be the guy the media is asking about in the postgame interviews.
3.) Which team’s post players will perform the best?
The intrigue here is the strategic difference between these two sides in the way that they utilize their big men. Babson generally plays both Jacks and Nelsen at the same time. Tufts pretty much never has more than one big man on the court. While a ton of the scoring in this game will be done by perimeter players (I would guess the majority of it), this battle on the block could determine which team moves on to the Elite 8. Rebounding the basketball is HUGE in this game for Babson. If Jacks (who I assume will have a mix of Engvall/Garrett guarding him) can take advantage of his matchup on the boards, Babson has a big advantage. If he can create some extra possessions for the Beavers, the fight for rebounds between Nelsen and Palleschi/Madsen/Racy will be even more important for the Jumbos. As for scoring the ball, Tufts has to keep the Babson big men in check. They can’t allow 30 points out of this duo again, they just can’t. A big game offensively from Palleschi would pay huge dividends for Tufts, and would put even more pressure on the likes of Flannery and Comenale to put the ball in the bucket.
Williams was on a real hot streak until they ran into Middlebury. They toppled Amherst and Tufts, both NCAA tournament teams, and then lost to the #6 team in the country—not exactly a surprise. What this means is that they have a real shot at making a run, and their recent performances against top competition bodes well heading into the tournament. Playing in their home gym this weekend should help, and the thrills of a late season run leading to an at-large bid have the Ephs changing into their best dancing shoes. It’s finally March, after all.
How They Got Here
Of course a 5-5 league record reached by a late season run means Williams really started off slowly. After back-to-back losses to Bowdoin and Hamilton, the Ephs finished 7-3 to earn the trip to the tournament. With some pretty discouraging losses, Williams needed every win along that stretch, as the committee saw their victories against Middlebury, Tufts, Amherst and Wesleyan (all tournament teams) as pretty impressive. After all, the Ephs went 4-2 against ranked NCAA tournament teams in the last month of the season – they deserved to get a shot at the national title. Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz put up big numbers last weekend, coming in clutch with 19 boards and 33 points combined against Tufts. The peak of the Williams style of play was reached against Midd on January 22 when they spread the ball around and were able to work as a cohesive unit. They out-rebounded Middlebury 43-25, giving themselves a big advantage in ball control. With Aronowitz and Scadlock both playing big roles in the rebounding department, Williams often holds the ball longer than opponents, but shooting is their wild card. Of late, they have been hovering around their season average of 46.1% field goal shooting which is second in the NESCAC to Middlebury. They shot nearly 60% FG and 50% from three against the Panthers on January 22 though, and if they put up some of those numbers, they will win any game.
How They Lose
When Williams shoots like they did against Middlebury the first time they played, they are unbeatable. However, if they shot 48.1% from deep in that game and were at 33.6% beyond the arc on the season, they must’ve had some duds to regress their total back to earth. In their blowout loss against Tufts, the Ephs still shot 46.8% FG but just 32% from deep, not terrible, but chucking up 25 threes gave the Jumbos too many easy possessions. They led the NESCAC in 2017 with 735 threes attempted, but were just tenth in efficiency. When the Ephs try to replicate their three point success from January 22, they are vulnerable to quick runs from opponents. They need to rely on their ability to get to the rack, an area where they don’t lapse nearly as often. This will give them more of a possibility for second chance points.
Becker College Hawks (19-8, 15-3)
Becker had a great conference record, but limped to a 4-5 record against teams not in the NECC conference. They don’t have any common opponents with Williams, but Becker went 1-2 against Southern Vermont, a team that went 1-2 against NESCAC opponents this season. Becker also got blown out by Babson 91-57, again not a shock because the (at the time) #3 team in the country was a huge favorite, but Williams competed against teams of similar stock. Becker also doesn’t have any wins against teams that received votes or are in the top 25, while Williams has five. Becker’s strength of schedule is much weaker than that of the Ephs, and they wouldn’t have made the tournament without the NECC conference crown. Obviously with such little similarities between the Hawks and a NESCAC team, Williams can’t sleep on them, so here’s a little bit about who they are: Sophomore Kareem Davis was just named NECC tournament MVP and averages 17.0 PPG, shoots 41.1% from deep (about 10 PPG from that range), and averages 3.1 REB/G, 3.7 AST/G, and 1.1 STL/G. Kyle Credle, the team’s point guard, is the senior leader of the team and gets buckets, good for 18.2 PPG with 3.9 AST/G. Samuel Durodola is the best player on the court as he scored 19 per game and hauls in 10.7 REB/G. Durodola also has put up a handful of games with 28-34 points, so the Ephs need to be aware of his ability to go off. Williams will need to use their length to body up Durodola – he is just 6’4’’ and is the biggest man on the Hawks’ roster.
Oswego State (21-6, 15-3)
Each team on the other side of the bracket is much stronger than Becker. Oswego State just won the SUNYAC regular season and postseason, and are ready to make a run here in March. They received ten votes for the NCAA top 25 on February 27th (Williams received 20 for reference) and were 1-1 against NESCAC opponents, albeit in Colby and Hamilton—not exactly the top of the league. Brian Sortino is their leading scorer with 21.6 PPG. The senior point guard can really light it up when he gets hot, and he could easily match Williams’ Scadlock or Aronowitz in a second round matchup. Just recently, Sortino went off for 48 against Buffalo State. Additionally, he dished out 4.6 AST/G. The offense runs through Sortino, whether he’s scoring or just being a playmaker. Jameer Ferebee and Ian Schupp are the next leading scorers for Oswego, tallying 12.5 and 12.3 PPG, respectively. Their big rebounder is Mykelle Krecko who brings in 9.6 boards per game. He has played limited minutes lately, but he can really get going when given the opportunity. The 6’10’’ big man is at his third school in four years and seems to finally be settling in with the Lakers.
Scranton (21-6, 11-3)
Scranton, like Oswego, received 15 votes in the top 25 last week and they look like a pretty even matchup for the Ephs if the two end up facing each other. Earlier in the year, they beat Cabrini (who is in the Middlebury regional), beat Emory (in the Texas Lutheran regional), beat #17 Susquehanna twice, and lost to #11 Neumann. Their strength of schedule certainly rivals that of a NESCAC team. The Royals have experience against strong opponents, and they have experience winning. They just took home the Landmark conference tournament title to give them an automatic bid, and they’re ready to keep up their streak. John Vitkus led the team with 16.9 PPG and 8.3 REB/G, and is very dangerous on the block. The senior center is a long 6’9’’ and is very consistent offensively, putting up double digit points in all but two games. Their second leading scorer and point guard, Ethan Danzig, is a sharp shooting threat. Although he only scores 12.1 PPG, he drains 43.8% of his three pointers so opposing defenders cannot leave him open on the perimeter. The Scranton team will be a tough opponent for anyone they face. They are well balanced just like Williams, and they are battle tested. Williams would be put to the test against the Royals if they played them in round two on Saturday.
Pete previewed the opening rounds for Amherst and Middlebury this morning, so I will do my best to follow in his footsteps with some intel on Tufts and Wesleyan. Both teams earned at-large bids despite earlier than expected exits from the NESCAC tournament, a testament to their consistency and the strength of the conference. Let’s see what each team’s chances to escape their pod are like.
#14 Tufts (20-6, 9-3)
While they slipped towards the end of the season, particularly in their unimpressive performance in the NESCAC semis, Tufts is in a fine spot. They didn’t earn the top seed in the NESCAC tournament by accident. In fact, aside from Middlebury, I would say that Tufts has the best chance to make a deep run in the tournament because of their depth, especially on the perimeter. If not for the dominance of the Tufts Women’s Basketball Team, the men would be hosting the opening round this weekend instead of St. John Fisher, so don’t sleep on the Jumbos for that reason. Tom Palleschi should be in better health this weekend than he was against Williams last weekend (he logged just 8 minutes), which definitely bodes well for Tufts.
How They Got Here
Like I mentioned above, Tufts’ depth is what they hang their hats on. They generally play 9-10 deep, allowing Coach Sheldon to see who has the hot hand that day and alter the minute distribution accordingly. In the second half, KJ Garrett and Everett Dayton have really taken the reigns offensively in the absence of Palleschi, and Second Team All-NESCAC selection Tarik Smith has continued his steady production from the point guard slot. The spurtability of Eric Savage, Ethan Feldman and Thomas Lapham has been a big boost for the ‘Bos off the bench. Vinny Pace has been a tad inconsistent this year, but his potential to explode offensively is a constant threat for opposing defenses. Given their athletic, guard-heavy lineup, the Jumbos play best when they get out in transition. They are maybe the best team in the league at converting quick hitters off an opposing team basket due to their ability to handle the ball and push the tempo at 1-4, and sometimes even 1-5 when they go small with Garrett at the 5-position.
How They Lose
The biggest area of focus for Tufts should be on the boards and in the paint. Without Palleschi, they have lost their best rebounder, often forcing Ben Engvall and KJ Garrett to match up with much bigger players. While the two are very solid rebounding guards, Pat Racy and Drew Madsen are both smaller than Palleschi, leaving the Tufts lineup at a disadvantage due to the overall lack of size they are rolling out there. Additionally, Palleschi is the biggest shot blocking presence on the roster, and even if he is feeling better this weekend than last, I doubt that his knee will be healthy enough for him to impact shots in the paint the same way that he used to. We saw Williams take advantage of this last weekend, especially Kyle Scadlock, who had 20 and 11 in that semifinal game. Williams outscored Tufts 32-8 in the paint, which points to another vulnerability of the Jumbos – their halfcourt offense. Tufts is SO much better when they can get fastbreak points. They are deep enough that fatigue is not a factor, and it leaves them with many more open threes. The three-pointers that the Jumbos generate out of their halfcourt offense are often forced, leading to low shooting percentages and poor offensive displays. It all starts with the Jumbos controlling the paint – if they can force jumpers out of their opponents, then they will have more opportunities to get out and run.
Salem State (17-10, 9-3)
The Vikings boast a three-pronged attack that features guard Shaquan Murray (15.9 PPG), center Marcus Faison (15.1 PPG) and guard Alex Santos (11.8 PPG). Murray is a premier ball handler who excels at getting to the basket. He is small and quick, and knows how to maneuver in the paint to get good shots. Faison is the Salem State post presence, but he is listed at just 6’5”/215, something the Jumbos NEED to take advantage of. However, thinking back to UMass Boston and Sam Freeman, undersized bigs seem to do well against Tufts, and Faison’s 11.1 rebounds per game seems to indicate that he is primed for a big game tonight. Finally, Santos is the shooter of the bunch. He is a bit bigger than Murray, but he’ll be smaller than most of the Tufts guards. If Tufts can get a hand in Santos’ face, they should be able to keep him in check.
St. John Fisher (22-5, 15-1)
St. John Fisher put together nearly a flawless conference season, losing just one game en route to the Empire 8 championship crown. As has been the case all season, one of their two studs took over and brought the Cardinals to victory in the finals. Tyler English dropped 21 points on Stevens in that game, and he poses a similar threat to Tufts because of his length on the perimeter. However, it’s Cardinal big man and leading scorer Keegan Ryan that should scare the Jumbos the most if the two match up in the round of 32. At 6’8”/235 and average 18.6 points/8.7 rebounds, Ryan is geared to expose Tufts where they have the least depth. Fortunately for Tufts, St. John Fisher does not shoot well from the perimeter. Given their size and athleticism amongst their guards, Tufts definitely holds the advantage in this regard. Nonetheless, Ryan has proven that he can change games single handedly, and if they match up, Tufts could be on upset alert.
St. Lawrence (20-6, 13-3)
Despite a first round exit in the Liberty League conference tournament, St. Lawrence is a solid team. Their conference features two other NCAA tournament teams in Union and Skidmore, so St. Lawrence is tested against good competition. The Saints love to run, and the spread out their scoring very nicely. Led by 6’8” forward Riley Naclerio, who scores 19.1 PPG, the Saints have a formidable counter to St. John Fisher’s big man. To complement Naclerio, Kyle Edwards scores 16.8 PPG, yet Edwards does much of his damage from deep. He’s a 40% three-point shooter who has proven time and again that he is willing to take the big shot for the Saints. St. Lawrence also has two other double-digit scorers that help balance their offense, and given their versatility, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints pull off an upset in tonight’s game.
Wesleyan (19-6, 6-5)
The Cardinals slide into the tournament after a conference season that did not live up to the hype that they generated in the first half of their season. 11-1 heading into their first NESCAC game, Wesleyan seemed to be overlooked. However, that opening weekend resulted in two back-to-back blowout losses coming at the hands of Middlebury and Hamilton. The Cardinals turned things around, at that point, winning 8 of their last 11 with all three of their losses coming by 4 points or less. Wesleyan, like Tufts, is a very balanced team. They are led by Second Team All-NESCAC guard Harry Rafferty, who is one of four Cardinals to average 10+ PPG. Unfortunately for Wesleyan, they were missing one of their studs, Jordan Bonner, for a large part of the middle of their season. Luckily, he returned for their last 9 games, and he performed exceptionally well down the stretch. Injury struck again late in the season when Salim Green missed 5 games, but he returned in time for the playoffs. Unfortunately, he was not his old self, logging a scoreless 17 minutes of action. Wesleyan is a very, very good team, but they haven’t been fully healthy in quite some time. We’ll see if they can get back to their standard form soon.
How They Got Here
Unlike Tufts, Wesleyan is not a team that is going to push the tempo, at least not to the same extent as the Jumbos. The Cardinals enjoy success when they are able to get the ball into the post to Joseph Kuo. Kuo is a fully capable scorer with his back to the basket, but he is also a solid passer. Because of his size, teams sometimes try to collapse into the paint to clog up the middle. When Rafferty, Bonner, and Nathan Krill all shoot pretty well from beyond the arc, and when the Cards take care of the ball and take smart shots, their offense runs very smoothly. That being said, this is a defense-first team. Wesleyan is in my eyes the grittiest team in the NESCAC, led by Krill in this regard. He is the scrappiest forward in the league, willing to do anything to get his team a W. Allowing just 65.8 PPG, Wesleyan thrives when they are disciplined defensively. It’s games where they get in foul trouble or fail to stop opposing fast breaks that Wesleyan struggles. Luckily for them, that doesn’t happen very often.
How They Lose
When Wesleyan is stagnant offensively, it’s because they are not moving the ball enough. They are prone to falling victim to an overload of one-on-one offense at times, and when they do, their shot selection suffers. Effective penetration turns into drives into traffic; open threes turn into contested ones; drive and kicks turn into forced 10-12 footers. This can’t happen if Wesleyan hopes to advance far in this tournament. Luckily for the Cardinals, they did a pretty good job of limiting these lapses over the course of the season, but the NCAA tournament, the margin of error is always slimmer.
After finishing behind both Skidmore and St. Lawrence in the Liberty League regular season standings, the Dutchmen pretty much had to win their conference tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Well, Union did just that. They won 110-108 in double OT against St. Lawrence in the conference semifinals, and then came back three days later to post another win against Hobart on their way to the conference title. They’re led by Deshon Burgess, who was named to the D3hoops.com Naitonal Team of the Week last week, scored 34 points (including the game-winning three with 0.9 seconds left in the second overtime period against St. Lawrence, only to follow it up with 33 points in the finals. He leads the team with 19.8 PPG, and is clearly stepping up when his team needs it most. Wesleyan needs to look out for Burgess if they hope to make it out of round one.
#13 Rochester (21-4, 10-4)
Despite posting a better overall record than in-conference foe Washington (Mo.), the Yellow Jackets faltered at the very end of their season, posting back-to-back losses, allowing WashU to take the conference crown. Rochester has three primary weapons, but it’s Sam Borst-Smith that leads the way offensively. A 41% three-point shooter, Borst-Smith scores 16.0 PPG, good enough to take home the UAA MVP trophy this season. Mack Montague and Zach Ayers are the other two biggest producers on the offensive end for Rochester, averaging 15.6 and 12.0 PPG respectively. However, Rochester seems like a very top-heavy lineup. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked for them this year, but in the NCAA tournament, depth is generally what breeds success. Don’t be surprised if Rochester is upset in the opening weekend.
Albertus Mangus (23-4, 16-2)
Winners of their last nine, Albertus Mangus is coming into the tournament scorching hot. However, the GNAC isn’t necessarily the most impressive basketball conference in the country. The Falcons won the GNAC Championship handily against a mediocre Lesley squad, but it was their slimmest margin of victory in the GNAC tournament – just 18 points. Their run and gun offense is led by Jaqhawn Walters and Grant Ellis, who score 20.7 and 19.4 PPG respectively. Because of the lack of competition in their conference, it’s tough to gauge how good Albertus Mangus actually is, but they certainly have some competent scorers.
Fans of NESCAC basketball have enjoyed a level of talent this season that has possibly never been matched in the history of the league. And on Monday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the league with four at large bids, in addition to Middlebury’s guaranteed spot for winning the conference tournament. Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan and Tufts join the Panthers, giving the ‘CAC one of the strongest showings of any conference in the country. Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll be giving you the lowdown on where each team finds themselves in their quest for a national title.
#6 Middlebury (24-3, 11-2)
As the number one seed and outright winner of the conference, Middlebury is in a terrific position to make a deep tournament run. The Panthers should be hosting (as long as they keep winning) until the tournament shifts to Salem. However, the Panthers certainly shouldn’t be looking ahead, as they have a tough opening weekend to contend with. They open on Friday against Farmingdale State, a team that tries to run the floor in much the same way that Middlebury does. And Lycoming and Cabrini, the two other teams in the bracket, are strong teams with tournament pedigree.
How They Got Here:
Middlebury is of course driven by their three guards. Matt St. Amour ‘17 was recently crowned NESCAC Player of the Year after averaging 22 points per game in the season and almost 25 per game in league play. His midrange game, once a major weakness, has become positively deadly, and he has carried Middlebury through a late season injury to Jake Brown ‘17. Speaking of Brown, the recently named All NESCAC Second Team point guard is the key to Middlebury’s fast paced offense and defense. He has also made himself into a key outside threat for Middlebury, shooting 37% from three. And Jack Daly ‘18 had been flying under the radar until Brown went down. But stepping up and running the offense in Brown’s absence has given viewers a newfound appreciation for Daly. If there’s a play that shifts the game in Middlebury’s favor, the odds are good that Jack Daly is involved.
How They Lose
Middlebury’s guards are pretty much locks to get their numbers. The Panthers struggle when their big men aren’t involved in the offense and when the other team gets hot from three. If Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 aren’t threats on the offensive end, then teams can focus on the guards and force Middlebury to play halfcourt, perimeter-oriented basketball. Farmingdale State is a fast break team, but they don’t shoot very well from three (33.5% on the year.) However, they do rebound very well thanks to big men George Reifenstahl ‘19 and Wendell Irvine ‘17, both of whom average over 9 rebounds per game. Therefore the Middlebury big men will have to do a good job on the boards and also assert themselves on offense, not just against Farmingdale but (ideally) throughout the tournament.
Farmingdale State (19-7, 14-2)
Farmingdale has overcome a strong start to really control their league. They won their tournament on a game winner from Reifenstahl, who along with Irvine and guard Ali Mableton ‘19 earned all conference honors. The Rams look to run, but can be careless on offense, shooting only 43% from the field and turning the ball over a whopping 18 times per game. Middlebury should be able to exploit this carelessness, and will need to work on shutting down Reifenstahl and Irvine.
#15 Lycoming (23-4, 13-3)
Lycoming and Middlebury would be a fascinating Saturday match-up. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 25 pretty much all year and now sit at 15 heading into tournament play. They are led by David Johnson ‘17 who, despite being 5’9,” averages 14 points per game and shoots an amazing 48.7% from three. Lycoming overall shoots threes very well (37% as a team,) so Middlebury will have to run them off the line much like they did in the second half against Williams in the NESCAC final.
Cabrini (19-7, 15-3)
Cabrini is led by junior center Tyheim Monroe, who is two spots ahead of Matt St. Amour in scoring in the nation (23rd, at 22.1 points per game) and leads the nation in rebounds per game at 15.7. Monroe plays 36 minutes a game, and the vast majority of their offensive sets run through him. Middlebury will probably employ a similar swarming defensive strategy that they used on Ed Ogundeko to beat Trinity in the quarterfinals. But Monroe is the type of player who could carry a team to an upset against the Panthers.
Amherst (17-7, 8-4)
After starting the season as the number one team in the country, Amherst enters tournament play outside the national rankings. This is due to inconsistent play all season, culminating in a quarterfinal loss to hated rival Williams. Therefore, Amherst has a tough road to travel if they hope to redeem their disappointing NESCAC season with a long tournament run.
How They Got Here
As most readers of this blog probably know, Amherst is led by their excellent backcourt. Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 were Second and First Team All NESCAC selections respectively, and combined to average over 33 points per game. Additionally, junior guard Michael Riopel averages 10 points per game and shoots 48% from three, giving Amherst a needed outside threat to take some pressure off of Dawson and McCarthy. The Purple and White are at their best when Dawson and McCarthy are dominating the opposing backcourt, giving Riopel open looks.
How They Lose
Unfortunately Amherst has little else outside of their backcourt. They struggle to get contributions from any forwards, and Riopel and even McCarthy can be too passive. This forces Dawson to play hero ball, and he can shoot Amherst out of games when he does that. In their loss to Williams, Dawson shot 3-19, while Riopel and McCarthy combined to take only 16 shots. It’s hard to figure out how to divide up blame in that situation (is Dawson playing selfishly or do the other players need to be more assertive?), but either way Amherst has some serious problems. They ultimately seem to lack the necessary depth to compete against elite competition.
Keene State (19-9, 10-4)
The Owls, who knocked Middlebury out last year, had something of a Cinderella run to the final of their conference tournament before losing 72-70 to Eastern Connecticut. They have two First Team All Conference performers in Matt Ozzella ‘17 and Ty Nichols ‘19, but also have three other players scoring in double figures. This is the kind of depth that could give top-heavy Amherst fits, particularly in the front court. Amherst plays the Owls tonight at 5:30.
Misericordia (20-7, 9-5)
A contender for the “College Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Song From Les Miserables” award, Misericordia won their conference tournament and has a lot of momentum heading into the NCAAs. They are led by terrific all around guard Jason Kenny ‘19, who put up a 21/4/4 line on nearly 50% shooting from the field and 41% from three. But the Cougars have three other double figure scorers and shoot the three at 37% as a team. Again, this is the kind of depth that Amherst really struggles with, especially since they have some, uh, disinterested defenders on their roster.
#5 Ramapo (25-2, 16-2)
The host team and number 5 team in the country, Ramapo is certainly the favorite to come out of this weekend. They are led in scoring by Thomas Boncum ‘18 (17.7 ppg,) but they are a terrific team top to bottom. They shoot 50.7 from the field and 41% from three as a team, which point to a tremendously efficient offensive strategy. Their average margin of victory is a whopping 14.4 points per game, and they out-rebound opponents by 7 boards per game, an area in which Amherst tends to struggle. Ramapo is a legit title contender, and Amherst may not be able to run with them even if they survive Keene State tonight.