As NESCAC season swiftly approaches tonight, we decided to get some of our staff members involved in this week’s power rankings. Everyone should feel pretty comfortable about the top team, but after that there was a huge amount of disagreement through the middle of the ranks which, I believe, is a testament to the depth in the league this season. On the other hand, it is probably also a result of a lot of impressive records against mediocre competition. That being said, the NESCAC continues to be one of the best Division-III hoops leagues in the nation, and we don’t see that changing any time soon.
(Contributors to the rankings: AD = Adam Dulsky; SM = Sean Meekins; AL = Adam Lamont; PL = Pete Lindholm)
1. Middlebury (9-0)
Adam, Pete, and I agree that the Panthers appear to be the class of the ‘CAC this season. Has this team returned to the level that the program was at from 2008-2013 when it lost 18 games over the course of five seasons? Probably not. I think that if Ryan Sharry, Andrew Locke, Nolan Thompson and the rest of the 2010-11 squad walked into Pepin in their prime they would dispatch the current edition of the Panthers with relative ease. But this team is no pushover, and in what appears to be a slightly down year for the usual suspects in Amherst and Williams, Middlebury could just grab its third NESCAC title.
For me personally, this ranking was less about the 9-0 record than the fact that I’ve felt since the preseason that this was a championship-worthy roster, and with the promising early season play of a few youngsters and the recent return of Matt Daley ’16, this team is only getting stronger.
2. Amherst (8-2)
Amherst and Williams will always gain respect just based on the name, but this team looks pretty good on the floor in its own right. In watching Amherst back in early December, we had some concerns about their perimeter defense.
Story in this one early is that Brandeis is having no trouble penetrating in one-on-one situations.
— Nothing But NESCAC (@CACSportsBlog) December 10, 2014
Amherst is still allowing too many points per game (eighth in the NESCAC with 67.2), but NESCAC Rookie of the Year candidate Johnny McCarthy ’18 is a defensive force, leading the NESCAC in steals per game to date, and David George ’17 is still fantastic at discouraging points at the rim, so it’s curious that the Lord Jeffs have allowed so many points. What they are great at, though, is scoring. When they match up with our number one team, Middlebury, it will be a must-watch just for the ability of everyone involved to put the ball in the hoop.
3. Bates (9-2)
I like Bates more than most at this point in the season. Am I just jumping on the hype train? Maybe. But it seems like senior leader Graham Safford ’15 has elevated his game both on the stat sheet and in terms of his intangibles, and has really become a Kizel/Toomey type of transcendent player. In terms of numbers, he has improved on his field goal and three point percentages while also racking up almost two more assists per game. I think Safford leads the Bobcats deep into the NESCAC tournament.
4. Williams (9-3)
I know Ephs’ fans are sick of hearing it, but imagine if they still had Duncan Robinson. That would be scary. Even without Robinson, Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 and Dan Wohl ’15 are just filling it up. Both are above 19.0 points per game. Rooke-Ley is like Ray Allen from the line right now, which you should read more about here. Wohl is not only one of the league’s best sharp shooters, but the 6’6″ guard/forward leads the league in defensive rebounds. The one thing this team lacks is depth, as six players chew up most of the minutes for first-year coach Kevin App. Perhaps to say that the team lacks depth is the wrong way to word it, because a lot of those bench guys could get big minutes elsewhere around the league, but it could cause a problem if one of the Ephs’ stars were to go down with an injury because his replacement would lack experience. Take Rooke-Ley for example, who was only able to play 10 minutes in Williams’ last game against Endicott because of a minor injury. Unfortunately, Rooke-Ley has a long injury history at Williams, so we have to hope that nothing more serious materializes for the senior.
5. Trinity (10-2)
With the Bantams it comes down to whether or not you believe that this uptick in scoring is for real, or if they will return to their anemic offensive ways once the competition stiffens up. I think they will regress some, but Jaquann Starks ’16 is a much better offensive player than he was last year, as is Shay Ajayi ’16, someone I thought could break out for the Bantams before the season began. I think this middle of the pack prediction is pretty accurate, and I could see them stealing a game in the NESCAC tournament on the road.
6. Wesleyan (10-2)
As we mentioned a few days ago, Wesleyan is off to an historic start to the season.
ICYMI: Wesleyan is 10-2, only the 10th time in 113 seasons that the Cardinals have had 10 wins and less than 3 losses
— Nothing But NESCAC (@CACSportsBlog) January 5, 2015
Guard Harry Rafferty ’17 has become less of a distributor and more of a scorer, leading the Cardinals in points per game. He and Jack Mackey ’16 make for a scary three-point duo. Rashid Epps ’16 has continued his maturation, averaging nearly a double-double so far this season, and Joseph Kuo ’17 is a force inside, turning away more than one shot per game. There’s a lot of experience on this roster, so even though this level of success is new to this Cardinals’ roster, they should be able to stay competitive throughout conference play.
7. Bowdoin (8-3)
I ranked Bowdoin much higher than the rest of the crowd. Even Lamont, a Polar Bear himself, had Bowdoin down a few notches more than I did. But this is a team with NCAA tournament experience, and I think the presence of John Swords ’15 gives them a chance to win any game, on top of the continued strong play of point guard Bryan Hurley ’15, who I think will continue to get better and more comfortable as he gets further away from the knee surgery that kept him out for most of last season.
8. Hamilton (10-2)
Hamilton fans aren’t going to like this one. The Continentals are 10-2 and we have them ranked eighth? Well the fact of the matter is that as much as we’ve talked about soft early season schedules for NESCAC teams this year, Hamilton might take the cake. Their best win came at home by just four points to 8-5 Lycoming. Joseph Lin ’15, Peter Kazickas ’15 and Ajani Santos ’16 have all taken huge steps forward this season, but there’s not much production coming after the starting five.
9. Colby (7-5)
It will hurt me if this team fails to make the playoffs, both because they are fun to watch and I have a few personal connections to the team. But they just don’t play any defense, which is key in conference play. Opponents are shooting 41.5 percent from the floor against the Mules, and Colby has the second-worst rebounding margin in the NESCAC. They really miss power forward Patrick Stewart ’16 and the defensive presence he helped bring besides Chris Hudnut ’16. If they can’t remedy these issues then they can say good bye to their chances of playing into late February.
10. Conn College (7-4)
Conn has actually bounced back well statistically from the graduation of Matt Vadas ’14, as the Camels are averaging 71.9 points per game, actually up from last year’s 69.3 points per game. But those points aren’t coming efficiently at all, as Conn has the league’s worst shooting percentage. But be patient Camels fans. There are five first years getting double digit minutes, the team’s best player, Zuri Pavlin ’17, is but a sophomore, and Bryan Gross ’15, currently getting under 10 minutes per game, is the only senior on the roster. So there will be better times ahead.
11. Tufts (4-7)
What can we say about the Jumbos this season? Despite so much potential before the year began, exactly what we feared might happen has come to fruition. Like in years past, Tufts just can’t put the pieces together. Last year it was injuries to Tom Palleschi ’17 and Ben Ferris ’15. This year it’s simply ineffectiveness. Guys that formerly were money from beyond the arc have completely lost the ability to hit threes, Ferris looks like a shell of his Rookie of the Year Award-winning self, Palleschi is still shaking off the rust and it appears that coach Bob Sheldon can’t find a lineup he likes because almost the entire roster is getting into most games. The lone bright spot is the continued production of Hunter Sabety ’17. With him, Palleschi and guards Tarik Smith ’17, Stephen Haladyna ’16 and Vinny Pace ’18 back for 2015-16, the story will be the same next season. Loads of potential, but when will it come together for Tufts?