A short disclaimer before this article: This month of non-league games doesn’t really matter. Obviously it’s better to be undefeated (like Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Hamilton) than 4-5 (like Connecticut College) but for the most part the competition is lower-quality than league play. Come January, rotations, league leaders and indeed these rankings will all change pretty much immediately. But I haven’t written anything in forever and I’m already impossibly bored here at home, so let’s round out 2017 with these premature and probably inaccurate rankings. As always, feel free to kill me for them in the Twitter dm’s.
1) #2 Middlebury (6-0)
The Jack Daly ‘18 show has been incredible to witness this season. Daly is fourth in the leangue in scoring (17.5) first in rebounding (10.0) and first in assists (9.2.) Leading the league in rebounding and assists is simply ridiculous; I can’t remember it happening at any level of college basketball. But Middlebury’s undefeated record despite playing arguably the hardest non-conference schedule (Skidmore and Endicott were both tournament teams last year) is do in large part to the supporting cast as well. Matt Folger ‘20 is making a leap, averaging 17 points per game and contending for DPOY with 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. And the other guard spots, vacated by St. Amour and Brown, have been filled admirably by a committee. Hilal Dahleh ‘19 gets healthier every game after missing all of last season with a back injury, and has averaged 13 PPG on 8-13 three point shooting over his last three games. And first year Jack Farrell ‘21 just broke out with a 22 point showing against Skidmore. Add in fellow first year (and Hogwarts student) Griffin Kornacker ’21 and the experienced frontcourt rotation of Tarantino, McCord and Majors, and Middlebury is loaded. The Panthers play two more tournament teams in Swarthmore and York before league play begins, but they’re certainly riding high at the moment.
2) #14 Wesleyan (8-0)
Wesleyan is attempting to win despite not following the “run and shoot threes” style that the Warriors have made the norm throughout basketball. The Cardinals are fifth in the conference in scoring at 81 PPG and have taken the fewest threes with 153. And yet, they sit at 8-0 and beat Williams in Williamstown. How? One word: defense. Well actually, two word: defense and Bonner. They are averaging a ridiculous 11.5 steals per game, far and away tops in the league and have five players averaging at least one per game. They also lead the league in blocks per game at 6.5 and are second to Amherst in opponents points per game. But Wesleyan’s defense is always good, and it hasn’t always translated to success. This year, at least so far, Wesleyan finally has the go-to scorer they’ve lacked in recent years in Jordan Bonner ‘19. Bonner is averaging 17.5 PPG and has four 20 point games already. As Amherst gets into league play and the games get closer, they will need Bonner to get buckets at the end of games. The defense can take care of the rest.
3) #5 Williams (8-1)
Obviously, the Ephs’ strong start has been overshadowed by the loss of star forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19 to a torn ACL. Scadlock was building a POY case when he went down, and his injury is sad both for Williams and for the league as whole. But don’t count them out just yet. Williams is very deep, especially at forward, and have shown the signs of being able to weather this storm. Since Scadlock got hurt, they have relied largely on James Heskitt ‘19 and Bobby Casey ‘19 to pick up the offensive load. Both players have averaged over 15 points per game since his injury. And Williams’ greatest strength has always been the size that they bring off the bench. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 is a terrible sportswriter, but he’s one of the best players in the league to come off the bench. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start in league play, or at least see an increase in minutes when Williams faces other big teams like Middlebury and Amherst. Williams is still one of the teams to beat.
4) #23 Amherst (7-1)
Here’s a ranking I might get killed for if the Amherst football parents are any indication. The Mammoths are well on their way to making all of us look dumb for thinking they might be down this year. They are 8-1, and have the best scoring defense in the league at 61 PPG, a huge reversal from last year’s team. But it should be pointed out that they are continuing the time-honored Amherst tradition of playing a terrible non-conference schedule. The Mammoths haven’t played any tournament teams yet this season, a fact that contributes somewhat to their terrific team stats. Indeed, it’s hard to get a read on Amherst’s key players because they’ve played some many blowouts in which everyone on the roster sees time. However, the struggles of Johnny McCarthy ‘18 cannot be explained by inconsistent minutes. McCarthy, who was expected to make a POY-type leap this year, is averaging 10 points per game on 38% shooting, 21% from three. Michael Riopel ‘18 and stellar first year Fru Che ‘21 have picke up the slack, but in league play, star power helps. Maybe McCarthy needed Jayde Dawson more than we thought, or maybe he’s just waiting until they need him more, but Amherst can’t compete with Middlebury if McCarthy isn’t an offensive threat.
5) Hamilton (8-0)
Hamilton always gets us with this trick. They play great before league play, and everyone (especially me) gets all excited thinking they might finally be ready to challenge the big boys. Then they get smoked in NESCAC games. At the risk of falling into that trap again, Hamilton has look REALLy good thus far. They are averaging 95 points per game (albeit against the same level of competition as Amherst) and lead the league in shooting, both overall and from three. Hamilton has one thing that they didn’t have last year, however, when they started strong and then faded spectacularly in league play: experience. All the young players that made Hamilton exciting last year are a year older and have improved noticably. Michael Grassey ‘19 has become a deadly three point shooter and overall scorer, and the backcourt of Tim Doyle ‘18 and retired mobster Joe Pucci ‘19 shoots over 50% from three and provides leadership. But Hamilton’s star is Kena Gilmour ‘20. Gilmour averages 17 points and seven rebounds per game, and is exactly the kind of versatile, athletic wing that tends to dominate NESCAC (see Bowdoin’s Lucas Hausman.) This has been said each of the last three seasons, but this might be Hamilton’s year.
6) Tufts (7-3)
Expected to compete for the league title at the beginning of the year, Tufts is just now getting healthy and rounding into form. They have three losses, but two of them came in their first three games and both were against tournament teams (MIT and WashU-St. Louis.) Since those games, they are 6-1. Tufts has been without two key contributors all season in KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18. Both players made a big difference last season, and has led to a crisis of depth for Tufts. The Jumbos rely heavily on Vincent Pace ‘18 and Eric Savage ‘18 to carry the offense. The senior duo has combined to average 33 points per game, 19 of those coming from Pace. As Amherst proved last year, relying too much on two players is not a sustainable way to win NESCAC games. Defenses are too good; Wesleyan, Amherst, Williams and Middlebury all have enough depth to throw multiple defenders at both guys. Tufts will need one or both of Savage and Garrett to return during league play if they hope to live up to preseason expectations.
7) Bowdoin (8-2)
There was brief pandamonium (or should I say…Polar Bear-monium? I shouldn’t? Okay) a few weeks ago when Bowdoin briefly climbed as high as number 22 in the national rankings. Back-to-back losses to Colby and St. Joseph’s ended that brief love affair. But as Landry Clarke must have thought after Tyra dumped him, just because it was brief doesn’t mean it was a fluke, and it doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. Bowdoin has a lot of talent. David Reynold’s ‘20 is a bona-fide super sub, averaging 15 points per game on over 50% shooting off the bench. First year guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 is shooting 66.7% from the field and has turned what was expected to be a weak spot (PG) into a strength. And Hugh O’Neil ‘19 provides size and toughness inside. Jack Simonds ‘19 still hasn’t gotten going, only shooting 39% from the field and 28% from three. He seems to be having a little trouble meshing with a suddenly-balanced team, after being very much the go-to guy last season. Once he figures it out, Bowdoin really could be scary.
8) Trinity (6-2)
As always, it’s hard to get a read on the Bantams. After losing Ed Ogundeko, Trinity has gotten off to a solid 6-2 start. However, they got pasted by Nichols, their best opponent by far, 89-75. In that game, as well as their other loss to Western Connecticut, they showed many of the offensive problems that have plagued previous Trinity teams. Those problems are primarily related to floor spacing. The Bantams are the second worst three-point shooting team in the league, trailing only Bates. Their leading three point shooter (and overall scorer) is Jeremy Arthur ‘19, and he shoots only 36%. When Trinity plays against good defenses who can handle their size inside, those teams can pack the paint and Trinity really struggles to score. Arthur has been a good player for a while and is flourishing without Ogundeko, but Trinity won’t win league games if they don’t find someone else to hit some threes.
9) Bates (5-2)
Bates is shooting, as a team, 38% from the field and 24.5% from three. According to my “Basketball For Dummies” reference book, that is not very good. It speaks very highly of their defense that they are 5-2 despite shooting that poorly. They force nearly 17 turnovers per game, and allow teams to shoot almost as poorly as they do from three at 27%. Bates has relied largely on that defense and the clutch play of Jeff Spellman ‘20, who is averaging over 18 points per game. Most of those came in a 38 point outburst against UNE, but he has shown a knack for getting a big hoop when they need one most. Obviously, during league play, they will have to shoot better than this, or else teams will pack the paint even more than they will against Trinity.
10) Colby (6-2)
Colby may be the team that has the fairest gripe with these rankings. They have a 6-2 record and a signature win over Bowdoin. And yet here they are, two places behind the Polar Bears. In contrast with the Bobcats, much of Colby’s success is due to their three-point shooting. Colby shoots 34% from three, which isn’t amazing, but their numbers are slightly skewed by two games where they shot 22%. Colby is also young. Their leading scorer is impressive first year Michael Hanna ‘21, who averages over 13 PPG. Colby has a chance to contend for the CBB title, and maybe climb into the tournament.
11) Connecticut College (4-5)
David Laboissiere ‘19 (don’t ask me to pronounce that) has put up one of the most efficient first months we’ve seen in a while. He leads the league in scoring at 18.3 points per game, and is shooting 52% from the field and 51% from three. Unfortunately, he’s not getting a ton of help. And his team’s record reflects that. They are a league-worst 4-5, and have lost three in a row heading into break. The main culprit is certainly turnovers. They average 19 per game, by far the most in the league. They do try to play fast, which leads to some sloppiness, but that is simply not a sustainable way to play. In NESCAC play, Labossiere won’t be able to bail them out every night.