Anything Can Happen: Tufts @ Hamilton Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

Tufts (17-7, 6-4) @ #15 Hamilton (21-3, 7-3), 3:00 PM, Clinton, NY

It’s finally time for the madness that is the NESCAC tournament. Last season we saw the title game between Middlebury (the #2 seed) and Williams (the #6 seed), which shows that really anything can happen. Only adding to the chaos is the fact that 5 teams tied for first place this season, giving Middlebury a road game in the first round despite being tied for first, and giving Tufts the #6 seed despite being just a single game out of first place. Many people (or just me) have likened the NESCAC tournament to FIFA’s Euro Cup – it is a smaller tournament that only covers one region, yet many people argue that it is more difficult to win the Euro Cup than the FIFA World Cup because the Euro Cup boasts a much deeper pool of teams. I would argue that the same could be said about the NESCAC – the conference consistently has more tournament teams than anyone else, and the conference tournament is certainly deeper top to bottom than the NCAA Division III tournament. As a result, the first round games are just as exciting as the later round games, especially in a season where the teams are so evenly matched. The opening round game between #3 Hamilton and #6 Tufts is one to highlight, as this season has been a bit of a role reversal for both teams:

Overview:

Hamilton comes into the matchup at #15 in the nation after finishing the season at an outstanding 21-3 mark, including 7-3 in conference play. The Continentals got off to a blistering start, coming out of the gates at 14-0 before suffering a bad loss to the eventual #1 seed Amherst. They dropped games to Bowdoin and Williams as well, placing them in the midst of the 5-way tie. In their first meeting, Hamilton traveled to Medford and handed it to the Jumbos in a 74-57 drubbing in an incredibly ugly shooting game. The star for Hamilton, sophomore Kena Gilmour ’20, had a modest game in the first meeting, netting 10 points on 2-9 shooting, while hauling in 9 boards. As a team, the Continentals lead the NESCAC in points per game (87.4), steals per game (8.8), and turnovers forced per game (18.4). This means that Hamilton will look to run and speed up the game, because the higher the score goes, the better their chances.

Kena Gilmour ’20 is becoming a star right before our eyes, but can he do it in his first playoff experience?

The story for Tufts this season has been a bit different. Although they were just a game out of first place, they finished with the #6 seed – their lowest finish since 2013-2014. What’s interesting is that had Tufts not dropped their meeting with Bates, they would have entered into a 6-way tie for first place, which is crazy to think about. Either way, here we are, with this intriguing matchup. In their regular season game with Hamilton, Vincent Pace ’18, the unquestioned star for Tufts, only put up 12 points and 6 rebounds on 3-14 from the field and 1-8 from deep. These numbers are nothing in comparison to his season line of 17.6PPG, 8.3REB/G, 40% FG. The real issue for the Jumbos was that they were outrebounded by Hamilton, 49-38. While Hamilton may have one of the biggest lineups in the league, Tufts has to be better keeping them off the boards if they want to have a chance in this one. Tufts also shot an abysmal 24% from the field, which will likely improve in this contest.

Hamilton X-Factor: F Michael Grassey ’19

Michael Grassey

The Continental lineup is stacked with scorers, and Grassey is one of them. He has had a very consistent presence all season, averaging 13.7PPG, 6.7REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42.2% 3PT. What sets Grassey apart is that he has the ability to really go off, in addition to being a consistent scoring threat. He has had three 20-plus point performances (27 vs. Conn College, 29 vs. Cazenovia, 24 vs. Utica) and can get REALLY hot from downtown. In those three games combined, he went 16-22 from behind the arc. At 6’4”, 205lbs, he is tall enough to shoot over guards, and his size makes him a prolific rebounder. Hamilton has many weapons, but if Michael Grassey ’19 can put up a big performance, they are nearly impossible to beat.

Tufts X-Factor: duo of C Luke Rogers ’21 and C Patrick Racy ’20

Patrick Racy
Patrick Racy ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics) 

As I mentioned before, Tufts struggled on the rebounding  side in their first meeting with Hamilton. Guards Vincent Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18, and Everett Dayton ‘18 provide the majority of the Jumbos’ rebounding, despite them having two large centers in their rotation. This game for Tufts will be decided by this duo because with Rogers standing at

Luke Rogers
Luke Rogers ’21 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

6’8”, 230lbs and Racy at 6’7”, 215lbs, they are huge presences in the paint. They have similar stat lines – about 5PPG, 4.5REB/G, 45% FG – and each play just under 20 minutes per game. This means that they have a similar effect, so Coach Sheldon has the option of playing them separately to always have one on the court at all times, or they could go big and put them both on the floor to match Hamilton’s size. Either way, I expect these centers to have a much larger impact in this one.

Final Thoughts:

I have to admit, all signs seem to point to Hamilton in this one. They crushed the Jumbos in their first matchup in Medford, and have seemed to play better, consistent basketball this season. This will likely be a high scoring game with the Continentals and Jumbos having the 1st and 3rd highest scoring offenses respectively. Hamilton shoots a much higher percentage from the floor, from three-point land, and from the charity stripe, which obviously gives them a huge edge. I praise the Continentals, but I have a weird feeling about this one. Their lineup is still a bit young and unproven in the postseason, and NESCAC basketball is just really weird. Vincent Pace ’18 is an absolute winner, and has proven himself capable of putting up huge performances, as he displayed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season when he put up 37 points. Hamilton may be 21-3 and #15 in the nation, but for some reason I’m not completely sold on them so I have to go with my gut feeling here. The #6 seed means nothing to the Jumbos and I believe that Pace and co. have a little bit of tourney magic in them to steal a win from the hands of the Continentals.

Vincent Pace ’18 has several clutch performances under his belt, and we think his biggest one is yet to come.

Writers Pick: Tufts 86-81

Grit N’ Grind: Middlebury @ Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

#13 Middlebury (19-5, 7-3, 5th Seed) @ Wesleyan (19-5, 7-3, 4th Seed,) February 17th, 3:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Overview:

This certainly isn’t the matchup the Panthers were expecting heading into last weekend. Before their demoralizing pair of road losses to Hamilton and Amherst, Middlebury was alone at the top of the league and needed just one win to secure at least the two seed. But after those losses, Middlebury sits in the fifth position and now has to go on the road to play a team to which they already lost. It was a perfect storm of bad news for the Panthers last weekend, and their road to a third straight NESCAC title is now the hardest one yet.

However, this is not an ideal matchup for Wesleyan either. The 13th ranked team in the country is a pretty steep task for the quarterfinals, no matter how badly they played the weekend before. Wesleyan lucked out schedule-wise in the last weekend, winning home games over Bowdoin and Colby to enter the gauntlet of 7-3 teams. This was by far the easiest weekend of any of the teams. And, although they beat the Panthers early in league play 80-70 (although it was closer than that score suggests,)  they have been inconsistent this season, especially on offense. Their worst loss of the season came to Trinity, a 73-60 debacle that made plain all of Wesleyan’s flaws. Offensively, they rely on different players every night, and lack a consistent go-to scorer. Even Jordan Bonner ‘19 has proven himself to be shaky at times. When they lose, it is simply because they cannot score.

Jordan Bonner ’19 has been a go to scorer at times for the Cardinals, but he is very streaky.

Obviously, these problems are similar to those that Middlebury has faced all season. These teams are similar in style. Both teams rely on a very strong perimeter defense and dominating the boards, leading to turnovers by their opponent and second chance points that make up for inconsistent outside shooting. Last weekend, Middlebury’s offense wasn’t exactly the problem against Hamilton. They put up 83 points and were able to score in the paint pretty easily. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s outside shooting was too much for Middlebury. It’s difficult to match three pointers with two pointers. And then against Amherst, Middlebury couldn’t get anything going offensively, much like Wesleyan against Trinity. This should be a low scoring, defensive battle. Whichever team can grind out enough baskets will win.

Key Player for Middlebury: G Jack Farrell ‘21

Jack Farrell
jack Farrell ’21 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

Farrell was a lone bright spot for Middlebury over the weekend. He drove the ball to the basket with incredible confidence, scoring 11 against Hamilton and a career high 22 the next night against Amherst. Farrell has started every game this season, and has proved himself to be a valuable secondary ball handler and defender. Coach Brown has used him, along with fellow first year Griffin Kornaker ‘21, to give Jack Daly ‘18 the occaisional rest. However, for much of the season neither has been a consistent enough scoring option to allow Daly to be off the floor for long. But Farrell changed that last weekend. When Farrell is scoring consistently, it means he is getting to the basket, as he is still not a great outside shooter. This draws defenses into the paint, and opens up outside shots and offensive rebounding chances for the Panthers. A strong performance from Farrell would also allow Daly to ease off the throttle a bit. Daly looked exhausted against Amherst, and was trying to do too much in order to make up for the struggles of his teammates. Middlebury needs better performances across the board on Friday, especially from Daly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean scoring. He needs to score efficiently, but Middlebury’s best possible offense features Daly setting everything up and others finishing. Farrell is one of those finishers.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Jordan Sears ‘19

We gave Sears a little love in the Awards article, but he’s a dominant defender both on the perimeter and in the paint. He is the only player in the league in the top five in the league in steals and blocks, and Wesleyan’s defense (one of the best in the league) centers around his ability to guard all five positions. In fact, an apology may be in order for us not picking him for DPOY. Sears’ versatility will be even more important against Middlebury than it usually is for the Cardinals, because of how differently the Panthers are constituted now than they were when these teams first met. In that first game, the Panthers were trying to be a high octane, run and gun offense. It was one of Eric McCord’s first games back from injury, and the Panthers weren’t nearly as focused on owning the paint, preferring perimeter attacks. In essence, they played right into Wesleyan’s hands. Middlebury over the course of the season has shifted their focus to rebounding and scoring in the paint. Sears will be crucial in defending that area. Instead of using him on the perimeter, Wesleyan may put him on McCord or Adisa Majors ’18 to limit Middlebury’s post up game. Either way, Sears will be all over the court this game, and could be MVP without scoring a single basket.

Jordan Sears had 2 steals and 4 blocks last time these two teams met, including this one on Jack Daly.

X Factor: Offensive Rebounding

There are going to be a lot of missed shots in this game. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball from three for so long that one can’t even really call it a “slump” anymore: that’s just how they shoot. And Wesleyan is very streaky from three as well, and has a tendency to settle for them when the rest of their offense isn’t flowing. A lot of missed shots lead to a lot of offensive rebounds. Middlebury has dominated the boards for much of the season, and had 21 offensive rebounds the first time these two teams met. Wesleyan had only 11, but of course, they also shot a much higher percentage from the field. These are two excellent defensive teams, so the ability to get easy layups on open jump shots off of offensive rebounds could turn the tide.

Final Thoughts:

In the first meeting between these two teams, Wesleyan shot 35 foul shots and Middlebury only shot 7. Needless to say, that isn’t a very sustainable way for Middlebury to play. And even more amazingly, Jack Daly was the only Panther to attempt a foul shot. That will change on Saturday. Eric McCord ’19 is a far larger part of Middlebury’s offense now, and the team as a whole is far more focused on attacking the rim. Middlebury has to even out those free throw numbers, as that was the difference in the last game.

As we’ve noted several times throughout this season, Middlebury struggles most against teams who attack the glass as ferociously as they do, and feature multiple three point threats. Middlebury likes to play an aggressive zone defense, allowing their pesky guards like Daly, Farrell and Griffin Kornaker ’21 to really pressure the ball and create turnovers. But as Hamilton proved, teams that can put three or four outside threats on the court at once can destroy that zone with quick passes to open threes. Wesleyan is certainly able to battle Middlebury on the glass; they are second in the league in rebounding differential (Middlebury is third.) But the Cardinals can’t space the floor like Hamilton can. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is a truly dangerous sharp shooter, hitting 41% of his threes on the year (although he was 2-14 over the weekend.) Jordan Bonner ’19 is at 36% but has struggled in league play, and Nathan Krill ’18 is at 39%. Those are Wesleyan’s only real three point threats, and Krill and Bonner are both notoriously streaky. Middlebury will be able to leave non shooters, such as Sears, Kevin O’ Brien ’19 and JR Bascom, to attack those shooters off of the catch, and that zone defense should be workable, since Wesleyan doesn’t bring shooters off the bench. Middlebury would obviously prefer to be a higher seed and play at home, but this is actually a pretty good matchup for them.

Kevin O’ Brien ’19 is the point of Wesleyan’s defense on Daly.

Speaking of O ‘Brien, he is still recovering from an illness that caused him to miss much of the NESCAC season. When he’s at 100%, he is crucial to Wesleyan’s success as a floor general (5.7 AST/G) and perimeter defender. However, he is not a great shooter to begin with, and his rust has made him even less of a scoring threat. He was a huge factor in guarding Jack Daly when these two teams first played, and if he is not 100%, the Panthers should be able to attack him on both offense and defense. They can stash a defender on him, and since he isn’t an outside threat, whoever that is, be it Farrell, Matt Folger ’20 or Hilal Dahleh ’19, will be free to double Bonner and Hutcherson and play free safety for blocks and steals. Wesleyan needs O’Brien, and they need him healthy.

This is a hard game to predict, because these two teams share a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. Inconsistent scoring and three point shooting, strong rebounding and defense. Wesleyan is certainly coming into the game on a better note, but they had such an easy weekend that they might be feeling a little complacent, whereas Middlebury is most likely pretty ticked off. It shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of Middlebury’s 0-2 finish to the year that for much of the season they were the clear best team in the league, and entered last weekend fifth in the entire country. Despite their struggles and Wesleyan’s defense, I think Middlebury makes use of this week off to hammer out some issues, and regains their championship level form, taking a low scoring battle in Middletown.

Writer’s Prediction: Middlebury 70-Wesleyan 65

Entering the Belly of the Beast: Trinity @ Williams NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview

Trinity (15-9, 4-6) @ #9 Williams (19-5, 7-3), 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

Overview:

After a wild weekend of NESCAC basketball, Trinity limped into the playoffs as the #7 seed and Williams, like Middlebury, fell to the now #1 seeded Amherst Mammoths, dropping them in conference and in the national rankings. Obviously there is a big gap between Bowdoin and Trinity, the #7 and #8 teams in these playoffs and the top six teams. Bowdoin and Trinity combine for an 8-12 conference record (each 4-6 in conference), while the top six teams are all above .500. So, nabbing the #2 seed actually holds a lot of weight for the Ephs even though they missed out on hosting the NESCAC tournament (unless Amherst blows it against Bowdoin).

Kyle Padmore ’20 and his Trinity squad needs to play out of their minds to have a chance to win.

Trinity was on a bit of a hot streak entering last weekend, knocking off Wesleyan 73-60 and losing to Middlebury by just six (87-81), but fell flat against both Tufts (76-71)  and Bates (65-48) who is now in their offseason. The Bantams had 17 turnovers in their game against the Bobcats, five over their season average. They were outscored by 12 in the second half and were destined for defeat thanks to a 12-13 free throw shooting performance from their opponent. They will need to play more disciplined basketball and shoot how they did against Wesleyan (9-18 3-PT) to have a chance against Williams. Williams, similarly, had won five in a row and 7/8 games before they lost a game they were expected to win against Amherst. They lost by a score of 72-57 to the Mammoths and  shot just 27.6% from deep, much lower than their 35.8% season average that ranks third in the NESCAC. They shot just 33.9% overall in the game and didn’t have a single player haul in more than six boards. 

Donald Jorden ’21

Trinity X-Factor: Donald Jorden ‘21

Eric Gendron is going to need to play the game of his career for the Bantams to win—there is no denying that. But he can’t win the game alone. He will need members of his supporting cast, namely Donald Jorden, a first-year bench player, to come up clutch in a key situation to keep this Trinity team in contention. Although he only averages 4 PPG on the season, he has shot 16-19 in his last four games, tallying 16 points against Wesleyan in the Bantams’ best win of the year. If he can play an equally big role and everything else goes perfectly, then Trinity could have a chance to upset the #9 team in the country—if they don’t show up to play at all.

Williams X-Factor: Bobby Casey

Bobby Casey ’19

While James Heskett is a potential player of the year, Casey has been the MVP of their last two games. The senior has scored a combined 53 points in his games against Amherst and Hamilton, shooting 16-30 total and a blistering 10-18 from deep. He is averaging 16.1 points per game on the season but really broke out right before the playoffs. If he plays anything like he did against Hamilton (31 points, 7-10 3-PT), then the Ephs should control this game from start to finish.

Final Thoughts:

It is no secret that Trinity is the heavy underdog in this game as they already lost 75-58 in their meeting earlier this year. Williams is deeper, has played better against better teams, and obviously has a better record. They are playing at home and are comfortable with their position, hoping to snag a home weekend in the semis if Bowdoin can upset Wesleyan. Trinity should be weary but know that they have nothing to lose.

Williams has few holes, but Cole Teal’s shooting of late hasn’t made his teammates celebrate like they are in this picture.

Some things to note for this game are that Williams has a struggling player in their starting lineup and could lead to a double team on defense on either Bobby Casey or James Heskett. This flawed player is Cole Teal who has shot 1-17 in his last two games. You read that right. 1-17. That isn’t good and certainly contributed to Williams’ loss against Amherst. That kind of inefficiency led to many wasted possessions for the Ephs and if the Bantams are on fire—as they need to be—it could certainly play into an upset factor.

Even though on the season Williams is also ever so slightly better defensively than Trinity, racking up 0.2 more rebounds per game and 0.4 more steals per game on average than the Bantams. This is another reason that Donald Jorden could come in to be a key player as he racked up 10 rebounds in his big game against Wesleyan, as many as any Williams player has had combined in their last two games. Williams still has the edge by a large margin in this game, but Trinity could put up a fight in their best case scenario.

Writer’s Prediction: 79-64 Williams

Upset in the Making? Bowdoin @ Amherst NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview

Bowdoin (15-8, 4-6) @ Amherst (16-8, 7-3), 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA

Overview:

Somehow Amherst ended up as the #1 seed in this tournament after looking at a 5-3 conference record going into the final regular season weekend. They knocked off Williams 72-57 and then downed Middlebury 80-68, successfully owning the teams that used to hold the #1 and #2 spots in the league. This crazy change of fortune weekend came on the heels of losses in 2/3 of their previous games, one to Tufts 60-56 and the other to Wesleyan 71-57. What once looked like a rather dismal season for the historically dominant Mammoth team has turned into one with promise for a championship and an NCAA berth as they also received votes in the last D3 National poll.

Men’s Basketball’s Win Streak Halted by Jumbos
Grant Robinson ’21 and Amherst have improved throughout the year, and seem to be peaking at the right time.

Bowdoin as the #8 seed has to be happy that they are facing Amherst. All things considered, as the last seed in these playoffs, they could easily be seeing Williams, Middlebury, or Hamilton, all more formidable on paper than the Mammoths. Yes, they are now facing the hottest team in the league dating back to the first week of February (so, yeah, just last week), however, they also have one of the most talented yet top heavy starting lineups in the league. Their roster’s make up creates a trap game here where they have a legitimate chance to knock off the top seed in the tournament. Yes, Bowdoin lost already 75-60 to Amherst just a few weeks ago, but their opponent also shot over 50% from the floor that night (7% above their season average), while their top scorers performed below their normal levels.

Amherst X-Factor: F Dylan Groff ‘19

Dylan Groff
Dylan Groff ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

This might seem like a bit of a wild-card pick, but choosing Michael Riopel of Johnny McCarthy would’ve been just a bit too boring. Amherst is likely going to win this game and that is due to their depth. Riopel and McCarthy are good, perhaps All-NESCAC good, but the Mammoths don’t have a Player of the yYear candidate like the other top teams. They do, however, have bench players who contribute and a lock down defense (second in rebounds and third in points allowed per game.) Groff contributes to this depth and added eight and 10 points in the two games last weekend, shooting 7-9 (4-6 from deep), giving his team an accurate weapon off of the bench. Amherst is at their best when they get contributions from all over their bench, and are at their worst when they rely too much on McCarthy and Riopel. Their bench is also their biggest advantage over Bowdoin, who has a lot of talent but isn’t very deep. Groff is one of the players who could help Amherst put this one away.

Bowdoin X-Factor: Hugh O’Neil

Hugh O'Neil
Hugh O’ Neil ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

With Amherst’s defense as strong as it is, O’Neil is going to need to be a force in the paint for the Polar Bears to have any chance. The leading rebounder on this team, and among the league leaders, O’Neil’s 9.0 REB/G are impressive and a necessity in his team’s playoff game. What is more questionable is his shooting ability. Although he averages a respectable 9.6 PPG, his individual contest stat lines fluctuate hugely from game to game and are a key indication of Bowdoin’s success. He shot 6-8 for 12 points against Hamilton in a big 72-68 win and shot 3-8 last weekend against Wesleyan in a 74-65 loss. While those are just two examples, generally, Bowdoin does better when O’Neil shoots more, complementing their balanced front court attack well. If he can haul in the boards, he should also have a big role shooting the ball.

Final Thoughts:

Along with O’Neil, Bowdoin also has David Reynolds, Liam Farley, and Jack Simonds leading the way for them. Each of those other three players all average over 10 PPG, and bring in over 13 rebounds and five assists combined. This gives them a dynamic starting four with guard Zavier Rucker serving as a pass first guard (3.3 A/G) with limited yet accurate shooting numbers. Their average number for rebounding and points allowed (both 7th in the NESCAC) along with good shooting numbers puts their talent level above their eighth ranking in the standings. All this to say, they are a very tough first round matchup. With three of their conference losses coming by single digit point totals, they can compete with the top teams (72-68 win against Hamilton, 72-70 loss against Midd).

David Reynolds ’20 and Bowdoin have one of the more talented starting lineups in the league, making them not a standard 8 seed.

Unlike Bowdoin who almost won several NESCAC games, Amherst walked the walk at the end of the year and showed up to play. Their final weekend run gives them all of the momentum, a home game, and the edge in this quarterfinal matchup. As mentioned, seniors McCarthy and Riopel lead the way for this squad averaging 11.4 and 12.4 PPG, respectively, adding over 13 boards per game between the pair. Grant Robinson ’21 is a versatile ball handler for his team too, tallying over three rebounds and assists and scoring nearly 10 PPG. Experience, success, and confidence should lead Amherst to victory, despite a challenge from the underdog.

Writer’s Prediction: 78-73 Amherst

A Whole New Season: Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals Preview

The playoffs are here! As everyone anticipated prior to the season, Amherst is the top seed. However, a game always starts at 0-0, and the playoffs are no different. Anybody can win. Let’s look briefly at this weekend’s quarterfinal matchups.

1). #8 Trinity vs #1 Amherst

Courtney Erickson
Courtney Erickson ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

It is hard for me to pick Trinity in this matchup. Everything favors Amherst. Amherst is undefeated; Amherst is at home; Amherst is the number one team in the country. Don’t sleep on Bantams junior forward Courtney Erickson. She leads the Bantams in points, and has logged a ton of minutes for the team. Furthermore, she’s an incredibly efficient scoring–shooting above fifty percent from the field. Amherst, however, has an arsenal of weapons. Sophomore guard Madeline Eck has shown that she is held and shoulders that she’s the best player on the court. She’s one of the leaders in points, and facilitates the offense well.

Prediction: Amherst 60-45

2). #7 Williams vs #2 Bowdoin

Abby Kelly ’19
(Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Bowdoin really bounced back after a tough loss to Amherst midway through the season. The Polar Bears were one of the only teams this season to give the Mammoths a real challenge, as their high powered offense almost broke down Amherst’s defense. Bowdoin obviously turned the page without losing another game. Bowdoin averages an almost 82 points per game. That number is incredible in college basketball. Their high octane attack is led by Junior guard Abby Kelly, who comes off the bench but is as good a scorer as there is in the league. Williams, on the other hand, will pose a serious threat. The team is led by senior forward Kristin Fechtelkotter. She is the main component of the offense, and hopes this won’t be her lsat game. Don’t sleep on Williams, but I’m picking Bowdoin in the hopes that they’ll meet Amherst in a classic final.

Prediction: Bowdoin 75-68

3). #6 Connecticut College vs #3 Tufts

The ‘Bos have had a rocky conference season by their standards. Losses to top teams Bowdoin and Amherst didn’t feel great, but nonetheless, they’re here again in the playoffs. Anything can happen. They’re second in the conference behind Bowdoin in points, so I’m sure they’ll put up the numbers this weekend. Conn College, on the other hand, is the wildcard in this scenario. They’re not as seasoned as the top three teams, but that could be a good thing because they’re not intimidated. They score a lot of points, third in the ‘Cac’, and will provide an offensive show. I believe it’s destiny that Tufts will end up in the top three, though.

Prediction: Tufts 60-52

Tufts’ Melissa Baptista ’18 has a solid POY case, and will lead the Jumbos into the tournament.

4). #4 Middlebury vs  #5 Wesleyan

“He’s such a homer! He’s such a homer!” Get over it. I’m going with the Cards here. You know why? Because I watch sports to have fun, and enjoy it. Do I think Midd is the better team? Yes? But what’s the fun in picking the enemy over your own team. I’m rolling with Wes on this one because I believe senior forward Maddie Bledsoe will dominate the paint, and control the time of possession. I don’t care that Wes has to travel to the sticks in granola country. Go Wes. (Editor’s Note: Go Panthers.)

Prediction: Wesleyan 55-51

Handin’ Out the Hardware: Men’s Basketball Regular Season Awards

What a weekend. In addition to throwing the rankings into chaos and making all of our predictions look really dumb, last weekend’s results ruined whatever certainties there were in the awards races. But, as I’m learning in this new, post college chapter, life is about making difficult choices when there isn’t a clear answer. So here are our picks for the major end of season awards. As always, we welcome argument and debate on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Player of the Year: Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18

This is the race which was impacted most by last weekend’s games. Entering the weekend, Daly’s all around brilliance (top five in the league in points, rebounds, assists and steals) fully made up for his inconsistent shooting. He was by far the most important player on the top team in the league. But Daly’s flaws were exposed this weekend, as were Middlebury’s. After a solid game against Hamilton (15-9-6 on 5-11 shooting,) Amherst locked Daly up to the tune of 2-15 shooting with four turnovers. Everyone has bad games, but this was the biggest game of Middlebury’s season, and it came during the same weekend as star level performances from the other contenders. Kena Gilmour ‘20 had 29 against the Panthers and 22 against Williams. James Heskett ‘19 had 24 points against Hamilton in a huge win, and Bobby Casey ‘19 had 31 points against Hamilton, and nearly brought Williams back single-handedly against the Panthers during the regular season.

Jack Daly ’18 has been everything for Middlebury this season, and also we just connected on LinkedIn, so that’s pretty cool too.

However, I’m sure you can see that Daly is still our pick. Here’s the case. For all but one weekend, Daly was the best player on the best team in the league. He ran the offense, scored clutch buckets, guarded the opponent’s best player and sold hot dogs at the concession stand at halftime. He still leads the nation in assists per game at 8.5, and that is despite lacking even a consistent secondary scoring option. He deserves as much credit as any coaches for the improvement of Adisa Majors ‘18, Eric McCord ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘20. And, honestly, this is a lifetime achievement award as well as a seasonal one. Daly was underrated for his whole career by nature of playing with Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown, to the point that he wasn’t selected to any all league teams last year (a travesty that many Middlebury fans still haven’t gotten over.) For the first time in his career, Daly struggled in a big moment, but that doesn’t erase a whole season. Either Gilmour and Heskett will get theirs, and maybe even both, but this has been Daly’s year all season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Honestly the best thing about picking Folger is that it gives me an excuse to use this picture in another article.

I can already read the emails. “Pete picked two Midd players for the major awards, SHOCKER.” And like POY, this race is filled with strong contenders. Daly leads the league in steals, and Wesleyan has two very strong contenders. G Kevin O’ Brien ‘20 is a dangerous perimeter defender who uses his size and length to rack up blocks (.9 per game) and steals (1.7 per game.) And F Jordan Sears is a defensive anchor for the Cardinals in the paint. He is the only player in the top five in the league in both blocks and steals (1.5 and 1.7 respectively.) But O’Brien and Sears suffer from a similar problem to Casey and Heskett in the POY race: how do you put one over the other if their on the same team? They also suffer from the fact that Folger has been a monster. He is second in the league in blocks with 2.3 per game, and that is despite spending a lot of time guarding perimeter players. Folger is the key cog in what was an excellent Middlebury defense this season (Hamilton aside.) His ability to stay in front of smaller, quicker guards was central to the Panthers’ pick and roll defense, and he covered ground to block shots better than anyone in the league. O’ Brien and Colby’s Dean Weiner ’20 both missed time due to injury, and Folger’s dominance makes this an easy call. Bias be damned.

Coach of the Year: Williams’ Kevin App

Williams weathered a lot this season, and have Coach App to thank for their success.

Losing your best player, and maybe the best player in the league, six games into the season? There’s an App for that. Losing your fifth year senior point guard and floor general in the middle of league play? There’s an App for that. Inspiring such love within your players that one of them tells this writer that they’d “take a bullet for [Coach App?] There’s an App for that. Williams had to deal with incredible adversity this season. After losing Daniel Aronowitz in the offseason, it seemed that the team would simply refocus around Kyle Scadlock ’19, the frontrunner for POY. Then Scadlock tore his ACL early in the season. No one counted Williams out totally, but it was clear that they would need to make an adjustment. Coach App did so, inserting Bobby Casey ’19 into the starting lineup and giving much of Scadlock’s responsibilities to James Heskett ’19. We all know how those two choices worked out. Casey and Heskett are one and two in league scoring, and their success allowed Williams to weather even another huge loss: that of Mike Greenman ’18, their starting point guard. The fact that the Williams offense didn’t miss a beat after losing these two huge pieces is a testament to the skill of Casey and Heskett, but even more to App’s coaching ability.

Rookie of the Year: Wesleyan G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (11.7 PTS/G, 40% 3FG, 27.4 MIN/G)

Austin Hutcherson ’21 has been Wesleyan’s best scorer at times this season, and is a huge key for them heading into the playoffs.

For years, Wesleyan had been a team that was good enough defensively to beat anyone, but struggled to score. They were just some consistent perimeter scoring away from really contending. Enter Hutcherson. He exploded for 27 points in a non-league win over Brandeis on December 9th, and since then he has had two more 20 point games and averaged nearly 15 points per game. Despite struggling from three point land lately (2-14 in his last two games,) Hutcherson has proven himself over the course of this season to be the future of the league. There are other excellent first years who start for contending teams. Middlebury’s Jack Farrall has improved every game and had 22 against Amherst. And speaking of the Mammoth’s, Grant Robinson has done an incredible job stepping in as the point guard for a demanding program. But Hutcherson has made the biggest difference for his team.

All League First Team:

Jack Daly

Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18 (15.7 PTS/G, 8.3 REB/G, 8.5 AST/G, 1.8 STL/G)

 

Kena GilmourHamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20 (17.4 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.7 STL/G, 46.4 FG)

 

 

Bobby CaseyWilliams G Bobby Casey ‘19 (16.1 PPG, 48% FG, 44.1% 3FG)

 

 

Vincent Pace

Tufts G/F Vincent Pace ‘18 (18.4 PPG, 8.2 REB/G, 2.7 AST/G)

 

 

James HeskettWilliams F James Heskett ‘19 (19.4 PPG, 3.9 REB/G, 52.6% FG, 45.6% 3FG)

 

 

All League Second Team:

Johnny McCarthy

Amherst G Johnny McCarthy ’18 (11.0 PTS/G, 7.8 REB/G, 2.9 AST/G, 1.1 STL/G)

 

Jordan BonnerWesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’19 (15.6 PTS/G, 5.0 REB/G, 36.7 3FG)

 

 

David ReynoldsBowdoin F David Reynolds ’20 (15.8 PTS/G, 47.5% FG, 43.9% 3FG)

 

 

Michael Grassey

Hamilton F Michael Grassey ’19 (13.7 PPG, 6.7 REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42% 3FG)

 

Matt Folger

Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20 (14.0 PTS/G, 7.1 REB/G, 2.3 BLK/G)

Playoff Time: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/13

I may sound like I’m beating a dead horse when I say, yet again, that the NESCAC is crazy and anyone can beat anyone. Parity has been a recurring theme in NESCAC basketball over the years, and we love to talk about how exciting this makes the league. Well, the regular season has come to a close, and this parity reared its ugly head after this weekend when the dust settled and there were five teams tied for first place. Yes you read that right. The top FIVE teams finished at 7-3 in conference, and the only thing worse than having to deal with that is the fact that Amherst came out on top. Coach Hixon and the Mammoths grabbing the #1 seed feels a lot like Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide receiving the #1 seed – literally no one wants them to win besides them and their fans, yet here they are again. Not to say that they didn’t deserve it – the Mammoths had the best record against teams tied for the top spot – but this team hasn’t been the same type of dominant that past #1 Amherst teams have been. The lack of a true standout team is sure to make the postseason as exciting as ever, so let’s see who’s trending in the right direction as we move into playoff time:

Stock Up

Amherst

I’ll start with the obvious one: the Mammoths had two HUGE victories at home this weekend in convincing fashion that ultimately gave them the top spot in the league. Michael Riopel ’18 looked every bit the star they need to make a run in the postseason. He exploded for 19 points and 8 rebounds in the rivalry win over Williams, and followed that up with a 17-point, 7-rebound effort in which he went 9-9 from the line. Johnny McCarthy ’18 also continued his dominance as a rebounder, posting 8 and 14 boards respectively. This duo will have to continue to lead the way, providing experience to an otherwise unproven lineup. The key for Amherst, however, has been their defense. They stymied two of the league’s premier offenses, holding the Ephs to a jaw-dropping 57 points and keeping the Panthers at just 68. They lack the firepower to win a shootout, so their defense has to remain strong if they want to make a run, beginning this weekend when Bowdoin comes to town.

Wesleyan

Austin Hutcherson ’21 and Jordan Bonner ’18 have Wesleyan firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs.

Defeating Bowdoin and Colby isn’t a particularly impressive weekend, but the Cardinals did what a good team should do. The reason they fall in the “stock up” column this week is because it appears as though things are coming together at the right time in Middletown. After the loss to Trinity on February 2, Wesleyan was graced with the return of point guard Kevin O’Brien ’19, who had been out for almost a month with illness. They proceeded to dominate Amherst 71-57 in what was technically a non-conference affair, and then had convincing victories over the weaker teams in the league. Nathan Krill ’18 has been a force, delivering a 17-point, 10-rebound double double against Colby and dropping 24 points on Bowdoin. First year standout Austin Hutcherson has also stepped up his game in a big way, and he looks to continue to make an impact sharing the ball, as he posted 8 assists in each of their weekend matchup. Wesleyan hosts Middlebury in the 4-5 matchup of the NESCAC tournament. The Cardinals took down the Panthers in the regular season, but this is definitely a matchup to highlight for the weekend.

Williams G Bobby Casey ’19

I’ve talked about two of the Little Three schools, so why not mention the third? It seems that every week we find either James Heskett ’19 or Bobby Casey ’19, who have taken over as the dominant scorers in Williamstown. Well, this week it’s Casey’s turn. He seemed to be the lone bright spot in the loss at Amherst, putting up 22 points on 8-16 shooting. The next day in the big win over Hamilton, Casey went off for 31 points on 8-14, including 7-10 from behind the arc. When Casey gets hot, there is seemingly no way to stop him. The good news for Williams is that they also have Heskett ’19 who has a similar effect. If they’re both off, then the Ephs are in trouble. If they’re both on, then the rest of the league needs to watch out. They should have no trouble with Trinity in their first round matchup, but you never know because things can get crazy come tourney time.

When he’s hot, Bobby Casey ’19 is an absolute nightmare from downtown.

Stock Down

Middlebury

Heading into the weekend, Middlebury controlled their own destiny, needing a win to secure the top seed. They came up empty, with two somewhat demoralizing losses to Hamilton (102-83) and Amherst (80-68). The Panthers have been one of the top scoring teams in the conference all season, but their shots simply weren’t falling this weekend. They were ice cold from beyond the three-point line, and they now find themselves last in the NESCAC in three-point shooting percentage at 31%. The scoring drought needs to come to an end if the Panthers want to have any shot at winning their matchup with the tough Wesleyan defense this weekend. It starts with the leadership of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, who are the team’s leading scorers. They were both average against Hamilton, and neither cracked double digits in the scoring column against Amherst. Middlebury is picking a bad time to go cold, but we’ll see if they can turn things around this weekend in their quarterfinal matchup.

Trinity

Jeremy Arthur ’19 is one of Trinity’s only consistent offensive threats.

The Bantams are one of the streakiest teams out there. They’ve taken down Amherst and Wesleyan, but they’ve also lost to Bates and Colby. They struggled mightily this weekend, getting trounced by Bates, then dropping a tight contest to Tufts. They certainly lack a true star player, although Jeremy Arthur ’19 and Eric Gendron ’18 provide most of the scoring. There isn’t much to say about Trinity other than that they’re a scary first round matchup. If the shots are falling, they are very tough to beat because they play exceptional defense at times. They are essentially a giant question mark, but are definitely not to be taken lightly as they are capable of stealing a win in Williamstown.

Maine Schools

Well, it was a tough year for the three Maine schools who finished 7th, 9th, and 10th respectively. Bowdoin still has a chance to make a run, but all in all, the NESCAC’s northernmost schools were as cold as their weather. That said, these schools have shown promise. Bowdoin made the playoffs, and their best players are David Reynolds ’20, Jack Simonds ’19, Hugh O’Neil ’19, Jack Bors, and Zavier Rucker ’21. Bates narrowly missed a playoff birth, losing the three-way tie with Trinity and Bowdoin, and they are lead by Jeff Spellman ’20, Nick Gilpin ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, Nick Lynch ’19, Tom Coyne ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. Colby only has two seniors (neither of whom play a huge amount of minutes) and two juniors (only one of whom plays a decent amount of minutes), so there are also lead by breakout underclassmen Sam Jefferson ’20, Dean Weiner ’19, Matt Hanna ’21, and Ethan Schlager ’20. Things looked a bit bleak this year, but this could potentially just be the calm before the storm for the CBB Consortium.

Bowdoin is the only Maine school in the tournament.

The Big One: Middlebury @ Hamilton Game of the Week Preview

Whatever the schedule makers did this season, they should do it every year. This has the potential to be one of the most exciting NESCAC weekends I can remember. Almost every game has major playoff ramifications. On Friday, Williams and Amherst match up with Williams needing a win to keep their hopes of hosting alive, and Trinity travels to Lewiston in a game that could pretty much decide the final playoff spot. And on Saturday, Wesleyan and Bowdoin battle for their playoff lives, and Amherst plays Middlebury in a game that they will probably need to win in order to ensure an NCAA bid. But the biggest game is on Friday night, as Middlebury travels to Hamilton in a matchup of the top two teams in the regional rankings.

#5 Middlebury (18-3, 7-1) @ #15 Hamilton (19-2, 6-2), 7:00 PM, Clinton, NY

Overview:

If Middlebury pulls this game out, they will pretty much clinch the number one seed and hosting duties in the NESCAC tournament. They will be the only team with one loss, and even if they drop their Saturday matchup with Amherst and end up at 8-2, they will hold the tie breaker with both Williams and Hamilton. If Hamilton wins, their Saturday game with Williams becomes enormous, as they could host themselves due to the tie breaker over Middlebury. But If Williams wins, Middlebury would still host, providing Williams beat Amherst on Friday and Middlebury beats Amherst on Saturday. *Exhales.*  Clearly this is a huge weekend in which every game has playoff ramifications, making it a very difficult weekend in which to pick a Game of Week. In fact, there are so many great games that there is a little rivalry game on Friday and it still isn’t the GOTW. But it’s not often that the top two teams in the regional rankings have a chance to decide the number one seed.

Jack Daly has the Panthers rolling to the fifth spot in the national poll.

This game is fascinating for more than just rankings. It is a matchup between two teams that love to play fast. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball at times, but owns the boards and dominates on defense. Hamilton, on the other hand, is the top three point shooting team and scoring offense in the league. Middlebury relies heavily on POY frontrunner Jack Daly ‘18 for pretty much everything, on both sides of the ball. The senior star will most likely guard Hamilton’s leading scorer and future of the league Kena Gilmour ‘20. As we outlined in the Stock Report, the Continentals have been playing well despite recent struggles from Gilmour, but against the elite teams they will play this weekend (Middlebury and then Williams,) they will need someone to get them a clutch bucket. That has to be Gilmour. This game may well be the biggest in the history of the Hamilton basketball program, and could put them on the map. Now how’s that for a hype machine?

Middlebury X-Factor: F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Chuck Norris ’75/Matt Folger ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

This is not my most inventive pick (that honor would have to go to Max Bosco ‘21,) but Folger’s versatility is will be absolutely critical in this game. Even though Hamilton’s offense has slumped slightly in league play, they are still dangerous, especially from the outside. Surprisingly close games against Bates and Bowdoin (and a scary almost comeback by Williams) has shown that Middlebury is susceptible to teams that shoot well from the outside. Middlebury hasn’t hit many threes of their own lately, and basic math tells us that it’s hard to match threes with twos. Middlebury has to hit at least a couple threes of their own to match any runs by Hamilton, and Folger is one of the guys who is supposed to do it. He has struggled mightily from outside in league play, shooting under 30% from downtown. Jack Daly will be somewhat occupied while he chases around Gilmour, so Middlebury will need their second option to be available to create offense.

As important as Folger’s shooting will be, his defense may be even more so. Folger is the most dangerous shot blocker in the league, and his quickness and athleticism makes him valuable on the perimeter as well. Against Bowdoin, he did an excellent job locking down Jack Simonds ‘19, and helped out Daly quite a bit on Tufts’ Vincent Pace as well. However, Middlebury has struggled this season when faced with athletic power forwards, a position that Hamilton is loaded at. In addition to Gilmour, Hamilton’s top scorers are Peter Hoffmann ‘19 and Michael Grassey ‘19, two athletic forwards who excel in the paint.. Folger will probably switch off between those players when he is in the game and needs to do a good job on them, because Middlebury doesn’t have an answer other than him. His rebounding will also be valuable. This is a game in which Middlebury should own the boards, and Folger, at 7.3 per game, is one of the Panthers best rebounders. It’s playoff time in the NESCAC, and in the playoffs stars wins. Folger has the skills to be a star: time to start playing like one.

Hamilton X-Factor: F Andrew Groll ‘19

Andrew Groll
Andrew Groll ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

As I mentioned earlier, the blueprint for beating Middlebury is to hit threes and win (or at least not lose embarrassingly) the rebounding battle. Hamilton has plenty of three point shooting. Guards Tim Doyle ‘19 and Joe Pucci ‘18 both shoot nearly 40%, and F Michael Grassey ‘19 is one of the more underrated scorers in the league, putting up 15 points per game on 51/41/80 shooting. The rebounding is where Hamilton has more work to do, and where Groll comes in. At 6’8”, Groll is the only true big in Hamilton’s rotation, and is an elite rebounder in limited minutes. He’s averaging 6.3 rebounds per game in just over 15 minutes. And, more importantly for this matchup, 2.3 of those rebounds are offensive. Hamilton will need people to mix it up underneath with Middlebury’s big men, especially Eric McCord ‘19, who has been eating rebounds for breakfast lately. The way that Middlebury wins is by getting teams that like offense (such as Williams) to play ugly, and they are certainly good enough to do that to Hamilton. The Continentals have to be ready to match them, and Groll is their best bet.

Final Thoughts:

Hamilton’s defense can be just as explosive as their offense. Hamilton leads the league in steals at 8.9 per game, and their fast paced offense means that those turnovers become points almost immediately. This activity, particularly on the part of Hamilton’s guards, means they are well suited to handle Jack Daly. Like Wesleyan did earlier this year, Hamilton has the ability to throw multiple long, athletic defenders at Daly, which will make his operations in the paint difficult. One of these guards is Joe Pucci ‘18. If I were to pick a second X-Factor for Hamilton, it would be Pucci. At 6’7”, he is one of the biggest guards in the league, and will spend a great deal of time on the Middlebury star. Gilmour is the best matchup athletically, but Hamilton would be smart to try to keep him fresh for the offensive end, and will probably hide try to hide him on G Jack Farrell ‘21.

Joe Pucci ’18 will be more valuable for his offense than his defense on Friday.

This means that Farrell’s activity will be important. We know Hamilton will make Jack Daly play defense, but Middlebury must do the same to Gilmour. Farrell had a breakout game against Trinity (16 points,) but overall has not been very threatening to opposing defenses. He is a better ball handler and defender than any of the guards off the bench, but if this game gets higher scoring than Middlebury would like, Joey Leighton ‘20 might be a better option, to ensure that Gilmour has to play defense.

Last season, Hamilton came in to Middlebury’s gym with a lot of hype (mostly from us) as “the next big thing” in the league. Then the Panthers ran them out of the gym 115-82, and the Continentals never recovered, losing in the first round of the tournament. Hamilton is now even more obviously “the next big thing” in the league: Pucci is the only senior in their rotation. But Middlebury is still “the big thing,” and they match up very well with Hamilton. The Panthers will bring Hamilton’s high octane attack down to their gritty level, and end up hosting the NESCAC tournament.

Writer’s Prediction: 77-73 Middlebury

Other Friday Games:

# 8 Williams (18-4, 6-2) @ Amherst (14-8, 5-3), 7:00 PM

Connecticut College (6-15, 0-8) @ Bowdoin (14-7, 3-5), 7:00 PM

Wesleyan (17-5, 5-3) @ Colby (10-12, 1-7), 7:00 PM

Trinity (15-7, 4-4) @ Bates (11-12, 3-6), 7:00 PM

The Home-Court Battle; Power Rankings 2/8

And after a long and exciting, up and down, confusing at times regular season, we are headed into the final weekend before the playoffs. With all teams only having either one or two more NESCAC games, Bates is the odd man out in the playoffs, looking in with a must win game against Trinity. They either need to beat Trinity and have the Bantams lose again to Tufts or need Bowdoin to lose out after a tough weekend against Conn and Wesleyan. That just leaves the matter of seeding. The top five spots could be completely flipped come playoff time as Middlebury, Hamilton, Amherst, and Williams all clash in some mix of games, with Wesleyan finishing their schedule out with some easier games. While Midd controls its own destiny, they are playing two locked in playoff teams that both want not only higher seeds, but a chance to host the NESCAC tournament. Time to lock in fans, March is coming quickly and everybody wants a ticket to title-town.

1. #5 Middlebury (19-3, 7-1)

Last Week: 72-70 W vs. Bowdoin; 75-56 W vs. Colby

This Week: @ Hamilton, @ Amherst

Although the end result of last weekend was of no surprise, the favored Panthers narrowly escaped with a victory against Bowdoin, relying on a last minute shot from Adisa Majors to break the tie. While Bowdoin’s players certainly aren’t chumps and are likely going to be a tough first round game for either Midd or Williams, Middlebury should be expected to play better the next time around. The Panthers, while rolling and climbing in the national rankings every week, are missing just one part of their game—three point shooting. They racked up just a 25.9% success rate against the Polar Bears, with no player shooting over 33% individually from deep. This is a glaring problem as they could struggle against sharp shooting teams like Williams later on in the season—winning their earlier matchup due to an explosion from Joey Leighton. The Panthers are still rolling and are the team to beat, but they could fall to Hamilton this weekend if they get out shot on the road.

Cole Teal and the Ephs are surging towards the playoffs

2. #8 Williams (18-4, 6-2)

 

Last Week: 77-49 W vs. Colby; 72-55 W vs. Bowdoin

This Week: @ Amherst; @ Hamilton

Another easy weekend has Williams getting closer and closer to Midd in these rankings. Their improving versatility, shooting diversity, and high margins of victory are convincing in how deserving they are to be considered the best team. They whooped Colby and shot well from the field and from deep, but against Bowdoin, like Middlebury, they were stifled from deep with Bobby Casey going just 1-10 from beyond the arc. This looks like more of an outlier and due to some good defense this past weekend from Bowdoin, but James Heskett can’t do it all himself in the playoffs. This weekend will bring out the best in these top two teams, revealing which is the strongest heading into the playoffs with each squad set to face the same opponents.

3. #15 Hamilton (19-2, 6-2)

Last Week: 57-74 W @ Tufts; 89-57 W @ Bates

This Week: vs. Middlebury; vs. Williams

A blowout win against Bates and another one against Tufts has me convinced that Hamilton has successfully rebounded heading into the playoffs. While they certainly put some doubt into my mind after losing two conference games in a row, their win against the Jumbos who knocked off Amherst shows that they are still a top notch team in the conference. Now, the switch isn’t flipping on and off every time the Continentals win or lose, and I don’t think they are as strong as Midd or Williams, but they are a top four team and have a shot to compete for a ring which is all any team can ask for. They kept it simple against the Jumbos, played aggressively, and shot their way to victory from the charity stripe, going 26-33, good for almost 80%. They played great defense, out-rebounded the Jumbos, and pushed them to shoot brutally from the field. Hamilton evenly dispersed their scoring and even saw a lackluster performance from star player Kena Gilmour, showing their depth and potential heading into a pivotal weekend against these top two teams. Time to see how the Continentals can compete against the top dawgs.

4. #22 Wesleyan (17-5, 5-3)

Last Week: 60-73 L @ Trinity

This Week: @ Colby, @ Bowdoin

Both good and bad came from this past weekend for the Cardinals. While they saw a disappointing loss against Trinity in an important game for their playoff seeding, they also saw the return of starting PG Kevin O’Brien, just in time for the playoffs. Although he needed to work back into the lineup slowly, going from 13 to 31 minutes played in the two games last weekend, he should be primed to get back to his usual role in these games that Wesleyan should win. The loss against Trinity resulted from a 5-26 three point shooting performance and a lights out performance from the Bantams. I don’t expect this to happen again, seen in their exclamatory win against the Mammoths, featuring more efficient shooting from Wesleyan’s three best shooters, and a strong near double-double from O’Brien.

Jordan Bonner and his teammates are happy to have Kevin O’Brien back.

5. Amherst (14-8, 5-3)

Last Week: 56-60 L @ Tufts; 80-61 W @ Bates

This Week: vs. Williams; vs. Middlebury

On the both sides of the surging Amherst team’s win against Bates were two bad losses. The Mammoths, looking like a championship contender of late, came up with two duds, one against a struggling Tufts team and the other to a strong Wesleyan team, but by a whopping 24 points. Against the Jumbos, albeit a close game where neither team pulled away, the Mammoths simply showed they weren’t exceptional. They were unable to distinguish themselves from a team that has been up and down all year and as a result are no longer in the top four championship contenders. Against Wesleyan in a non-conference mid-week game on February 6th, they shot terribly, going 21-76 (27.6%), and collected just 36 rebounds. Grant Robinson was the only starter to score double digit points and without some bigger performances, they won’t be able to best the star power of any of the top four teams.

6. Tufts (16-7, 5-4)

Last Week: 60-56 W vs. Amherst; 74-57 L vs. Hamilton

This Week: vs. Trinity

KJ Garrett has remained a non-factor in recent games, even in their much needed win against Amherst. Vincent Pace carried the Jumbos with his 27 points and eight rebounds, accounting for nearly half of their scoring. Without a similar performance against Hamilton, Tufts had no shot, shooting just 24.1% overall and a pathetic 15.4% from deep, lacking scorers, depth, rebounding, and enough oomph to make it past the quarterfinals of the NESCAC tournament.

7. Bowdoin (14-7, 3-5)

Last Week: 70-72 L @ Middlebury; 55-72 L @ Williams

This Week: vs. Conn, vs. Wesleyan

While I continue to reiterate how Bowdoin has a strong starting lineup with several star quality players, David Reynolds, Jack Simonds, and Hugh O’Neil weren’t able to carry the Polar Bears past the top two teams. They nearly knocked off the Panthers, showing how they could give teams fits in the playoffs and be an upset contender. They added in another solid performance from Liam Farley who shot 6-11 for 17 points against Midd. They do still lack a strong presence in the post, with none of their players racking up over eight rebounds in the close loss, outmatched by Eric McCord, Jack Daly, and Adisa Majors. They could pull it together in time for playoff weekend, and could climb up the rankings quickly if they can knock of Wesleyan this weekend.

Christian Porydzy ’20 and the Bantams are getting hot at the right time.

8. Trinity (15-7, 4-4)

Last Week: 82-65 W @ Conn; 73-60 W vs. Wesleyan

This Week: @ Bates; @ Tufts

An undefeated weekend all but secured Trinity’s place in the playoffs as they surged to an upset win against #22 Wesleyan. If they beat Bates, they clinch their place in the postseason and will be riding the hot hands of Donald Jorden, Eric Gendron, and Jeremy Arthur. The trio combined to shoot 16-24 in the contest and added 17 rebounds (10 by Jorden) to put them over the edge against the Cardinals. Four of their starters combined for 15 assists and they put together a balanced effort on all sides of the floor. Tufts should be weary of the Bantams this weekend, and so should the top seeds as they could pose a potential threat with their end of season momentum. They aren’t close to the level of the top teams, but they have to be happy with where they have come from a few weeks ago.

9. Bates (11-12, 3-6)

Last Week: 57-89 L vs. Hamilton; 61-80 L vs. Amherst

This Week: vs. Trinity

Two brutal losses all but ended Bates’ chances of securing any games beyond the regular season even though they have some promising tools. Jeff Spellman and Nick Lynch really didn’t show up against Amherst and didn’t do Bates any favors as they descended into obscurity. They now face a do-or-die situation against Trinity and need help to reach the playoffs. While unlikely, they better bring their A-game and hope that the home crowd can supply some extra juice as they will need it.

10. Colby (10-12, 1-7)

Last Week: 49-77 L vs. Amherst; 56-75 L @ Middlebury

This Week: vs. Wesleyan, vs. Conn

Once again, there aren’t a whole lot of positives here for the Mules, headed towards the offseason and a losing record. They have some promising youth and could head on a Hamilton-like path in the future, but have some serious work to do in the meantime. Luckily for the Mules, they should have a good shot to end their season on a win for senior night against the Conn Camels. It’s the little things.

11. Conn College (6-15, 0-8)

Last Week: 65-82 L vs. Trinity

This Week: @ Bowdoin; @ Colby

It seems the Camels have squandered a great season from David Labossiere and a recent surge from Dan Draffan. Labossiere averages about 17 PPG and Draffan is up to over 14 PPG and nearly six rebounds per game. While they might not win against any NESCAC teams, at least they tried.

Nearing the End: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 2/6

Before we get into this recap, some congratulations are in order. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury G Jack Daly ’18 became the program’s all time assists leader with 558, breaking the previous record (553 by Jake Wulfin ’13) early in the second half. As we all know, this blog is basically a Jack Daly fan page, so we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Panther senior. With that out of the way, it was a pretty conventional weekend in NESCAC, setting up a wild final regular season weekend. The only major upset was Trinity knocking off Wesleyan 73-60 (we’ll get to that.) Here are some things to watch for in this coming weekend.

Stock Up

Hamilton, Weathering Adversity

In the wake of Hamilton’s amazing season this year, people have forgotten that they had a similarly hot start last year. In 2016-2017, they entered league play at 12-3, and many experts, particularly the one you’re reading right now, thought they were making a leap. Then they lost 3 straight NESCAC games and never recovered, finishing 4-6 in the league and losing in the first round of the tournament. And, after their 75-49 drubbing at the hands of Amherst and another bad loss to Bowdoin it looked like they might be heading towards a similar fate. But they have impressively righted the ship. They’ve won three league games in a row, including a dominant win over Tufts on Saturday. These wins have been of a different nature than their 15-0 start. Hamilton’s defense has gone from somewhat indifferent to excellent in recent games. Against Tufts, they held Vincent Pace ’18, one of the hottest players in the league, to 3-14 shooting from the field. All of the young players who got Hamilton off to such a good start last year have gained a lot of maturity in the last 12 months, and it has allowed them to weather the storm and keep their chances for the #1 seed alive.

Trinity’s Three Point Shooting

As I mentioned earlier, Trinity’s win over Wesleyan was the biggest upset of the weekend. At 4-4 in the league, Trinity desperately needed that win in order to stay ahead of the the Maine teams in the playoff race. But Wesleyan’s dominant defense seemed like it would to be too much for Trinity’s often shaky offense to overcome. Three point shooting changed that. Trinity went 9-18 from three, including 7-9 from Jeremy Arthur ’18 and Eric Gendron ’19. Trinity was the number one seed not too long ago, but if they want any hope of winning this year’s tournament, they will need to keep teams honest from the three point line. This game, against one of the truly elite defenses in the league, showed that they can do that. Teams should be worried about playing Trinity in the quarterfinals.                                                                                                                                                                                                Middlebury F Adisa Majors ‘18

Adisa Majors
Adisa Majors ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Majors made the biggest shot of Middlebury’s season thus far, a 15-footer with 5 seconds left to beat Bowdoin. Had the Panthers lost to Bowdoin, they would be tied for the top spot with Hamilton and Williams. But Majors gave them sole possession of the top seed, and now they basically control their own destiny, with an enormous matchup with Hamilton looming. However, Majors’ great weekend wasn’t just comprised of that game winner. He had ten points overall against Bowdoin, and is averaging nearly ten on over 50% shooting in his last three. When Majors is playing well, Middlebury’s rotation of forwards is nearly impossible to handle, because each offers a different skill set. Eric McCord ’19 is a beast, ripping offensive rebounds away and using his strength to finish inside. Nick Tarantino ’18 is long and athletic, and uses that to beat people down the floor and finish above the rim. And Majors is an excellent finisher who can step out to the midrange. Majors has had a huge role in Middlebury’s current 9 game winning streak, and has them poised to host the tournament.

Stock Down

Tufts

The Jumbos have gone from contenders for the top seed to struggling to stay in the top five. They play just Trinity this weekend, and if they lose, they could end up as the seventh seed. How did this happen? Simple: shooting. In Tufts’ last three league games, they are shooting under 20% from three. You just can’t win like that. Vincent Pace ’18 is a star, but defenses are able to focus all their energy on him and no one around him is scoring well enough to take the pressure off. However, Middlebury has had the same problems surrounding Jack Daly, and yet the Panthers are 7-1 in the league. Tufts doesn’t have the defense and rebounding tenacity to make up for their scoring struggles. They get out-rebounded by 1 rebound per game in league play, while Middlebury out-rebounds opponents by 11. In Pace, Tufts will often have the best player on the court, but he needs help.

Hamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20

One of the most impressive things about Hamilton’s recent strong play is that it has coincided with struggles from Gilmour, their best player. Gilmour is shooting just 39% overall in league play, and against Tufts he shot 2-9 from the field. Only a sophomore, Gilmour may starting to experience the fatigue that often comes from playing so many more minutes than in his rookie season, and his minutes last weekend (21 and 23 respectively) show the coaching staff trying to manage it. But he will need to play better in Hamilton’s enormous matchup against Middlebury on Friday. The Panthers have the depth to match Hamilton’s versatile offense; Hamilton will need to be able to rely on Gilmour to get a shot for himself or someone else in a one-on-one matchup. It will be a great learning experience for the future star to try this against Jack Daly, and if he does it, the league could be his earlier than expected.

Kena Gilmour ’20 is the future of the league, and his future could arrive on Friday against Middlebury.