No Easy Games in the NESCAC: Weekend Preview 1/15/16

Another weekend of NESCAC basketball is ready to fascinate minds around the world. (Courtesy of Bates College)
Another weekend of NESCAC basketball is ready to fascinate minds around the world. (Courtesy of Bates College)

I’m a young pup of  22 years old, and I didn’t have the slightest idea about NESCAC basketball until just a few years ago. However, I think that the league is as good from top to bottom as it has ever been. When you have the defending champions Wesleyan (who as we know brought everyone on the roster back) nearly go 0-2 in the first weekend against two teams that missed the NESCAC tournament last year, the depth of the league is clear. That depth means that teams can’t dig themselves too big of a hole if they want to make the NESCAC tournament. The three 0-2 teams (Williams, Colby, and Hamilton) all have to face big challenges this weekend.

Three to Watch

  1. Center Chris Hudnut ’16 (Colby): It’s hard to believe, but both Williams and Colby are winless coming into tonight making this almost a must win for both teams. Colby had the more disappointing weekend seeing their 10 game winning streak go up in smoke on the road. To get back on track, the Mules need to have their man in the middle carry the load. Hudnut was a total non-factor last weekend scoring just 4.5 PPG in the two losses. He didn’t even score in the first half of the game against Bates. Hudnut has had some big games this year, but against the Mules’ top opponents he has had subpar performances. He has to play better against Williams, a team that, even with Ed Flynn ’16 playing better, is weak defensively inside. Hudnut was missing shots he normally makes last weekend. I’m guessing he makes more of those tonight.
  2. Center Ed Ogundeko ’17 (Trinity): Few players looked as impressive as Ogundeko did last weekend. The junior carried the Bantams with 21 points on 9-13 shooting and 11 rebounds. Most impressive was the control that Ogundeko played with (something his teammate Shay Ajayi ’16 could take notes on). The broad-shouldered big man used his positioning to get good looks down low that he finished with good touch. What proved that he was really locked in was the two jumpshots from the top of the key that he knocked down no problem. Tonight, the Bantams face Conn College in a game that will be a great measuring stick for the Camels. Saturday, Trinity faces Wesleyan who bounced the Bantams from the NESCAC tournament last year. Ogundeko, averaging 14.3 PPG and 11.7 RPG, needs to keep getting double-doubles this weekend.
  3. Guard Jack Mackey ’16 (Wesleyan): BJ Davis ’16 has risen to leading man status for the Cardinals, but he can’t do it alone obviously. Mackey has had a really slow start to the year because of injury problems. Last weekend Mackey had two of his better games scoring the ball averaging 14.0 PPG, but it did take him 14 shots in both games to do that. Almost everything for Mackey is coming on the perimeter which is why he is shooting 0.6 free throws per game, an awfully low number for a point guard. His rebounding numbers are also down from a year ago. The guard is one of the toughest players in the NESCAC, and that tenacity is a huge source of the edge that Wesleyan plays with. Now he needs to get back to playing as well as he is capable of.

Biggest Game: Wesleyan (12-2, 1-1) at Amherst (11-1, 1-0). Tonight at 7:00 PM

Guys, I’m a little bit worried about Wesleyan. I was expecting after their loss to Middlebury last Friday to come out firing against Hamilton, but they barely eeked out an overtime victory. Now they have to go on the road to Amherst and Trinity, the hardest possible weekend the NESCAC can offer. Let’s not forget that before they got really hot at the end of the year and won the NESCAC tournament, Wesleyan was a 3-5 team heading into the final weekend last season. And yes, they ran through non-conference play, but they didn’t have any great wins in that stretch.

What was concerning about last weekend was the lack of defense and the inability to dictate the pace, especially against Middlebury. The Cardinals are built to win games played in the high 50s with Davis making the big shots at the end of games. A team with so many seniors should not have to worry about a team as young as Middlebury imposing their style on a game, but that is exactly what happened last Friday. Nate Krill ’18 who was injured all of last year, has been a great addition as the backup big man, and the depth for the Cardinals is better than it was a year ago. The problem is that makes it harder for Coach Mike Reilly to find the right combination of players any given night.

On the other side, Amherst is sure to be out for revenge for last year’s championship loss. This team is playing better than it was last year, and with all the talent they have it is always going to feel like they have another gear to reach. I just don’t know if we will ever see that gear be reached for any significant length of time. The pieces don’t all fit together quite right for them. They might lead the league as a team in assists, but aside from backup point guard Reid Berman ’17, everybody on the roster is more comfortable looking for their own shot than finding a teammate.

For a team as talented as Amherst is, they are weirdly reliant on the three pointer. They have made more as a team than anybody else in the NESCAC, even though they have played less games than everyone else. Jeff Racy ’17 is a dead-eye assassin, but both Connor Green ’16 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 are streaky shooters.  Wesleyan is hoping that they can force a reprisal of the championship game when Racy, Green, and McCarthy combined to shoot 3-20 from deep. The likelihood of that is not good, and I think that Amherst rolls in this one.

Upset Alert: Tufts (11-2, 2-0) at Hamilton (7-6, 0-2). Saturday at 3:00 PM

After the perfect storm of a weekend that the Jumbos had to open the season, they almost feel primed for a letdown. You might have thought I would pick Middlebury to upset Tufts, given how the Panthers already pulled a fast one on Wesleyan. But the Jumbos are going to be ready for that one tonight. Yet, after the game tonight, Tufts will have to drive a few hours through sleepy upstate New York to get to Hamilton for their game tomorrow. The gym at Hamilton is notorious for having subpar crowds, so it’s going to be sleepy there too.

Throw in the possibility of Hamilton getting hot from deep, and suddenly the possibility of an upset starts to crystallize. What if Ajani Santos ’16 shows up like he did against Conn College and puts Tom Palleschi ’17 into foul trouble? What if the Jumbos simply aren’t as good on the road as they are in Medford? Odds are that Vincent Pace ’18, Tarik Smith ’17, and Stephen Haladyna ’16 are too much on the perimeter for the Continentals to handle. I’m just saying that this is the NESCAC where (almost) anything is possible.

You can get our predictions on every game tonight over on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/CACSportsBlog

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