Every NESCAC game is important. That is the nature of the league; since every team (give or take a couple outliers) can get hot and pull off an upset at any time, there are few opportunities to take a game off. And as we wind down the 2016-2017 regular season, the games become even more crucial. This weekend and next, one loss can be the difference between hosting a playoff or going on the road. For some teams, it can even be the difference between making the playoffs or getting a chance to catch up on their homework. The Friday night games kick off a critical weekend, and there are some very important match-ups to keep an eye on, particularly Tufts’ game against Trinity and Bates game in Amherst.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Trinity, 7:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Although they’re still the top team in NESCAC record-wise, Tufts has some real work to do if they want to stay there. The loss of starting center and team leader Tom Palleschi ‘17 has the Jumbos reeling on both sides of the ball. Against Bates, they weren’t able to stop Marcus Delpeche ‘17, who destroyed them to the tune of 28 points on 10/16 shooting. They also settled for jumpshots, leading to a low shooting percentage (36.1%.) They then came out flat against Umass-Dartmouth, losing 91-82. Again, interior defense was a problem, as the Jumbos allowed 14 offensive rebounds and couldn’t get stops down the stretch to support their Vincent Pace-led comeback. Although it was not a league game, the Umass-Dartmouth loss in conjunction with the Bates loss point to deep problems for Tufts. They need to find a way to defend at a high level without Palleschi.
Unfortunately, Trinity is not the best team to play if interior defense is your issue. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has shown himself to be fully capable of ending a game himself if a team doesn’t have a post presence to match him (see his 20/20 game against Bowdoin earlier this year.) Marcus Delpeche proved that Tufts is vulnerable to big performances from dominant inside players. However, Trinity doesn’t exactly come into this one firing on all cylinders either. They only put up 53 points on 32% shooting against Amherst, and that’s including 19 on 8/11 shooting from Ogundeko. The rest of the team shot 11/48 from the field, which is about the same percentage that I shoot when I throw paper at my recycling bin from my bed. Both teams enter this game needing to prove themselves if they hope to contend for top spots come playoffs.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Rebounding
With Palleschi out, Tufts has a `very large hole in the middle of their defense. To fill that hole, the Jumbos will need help from up and down the roster. Of course new starter Drew Madsen ‘17 has the biggest job (particularly this weekend when he matches up with Ogundeko) but he can’t do it alone. Tufts’ guards have to take some of the rebounding load off of the suddenly-thin Tufts frontcourt. Vincent Pace ‘18 has always been adept at this, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, but he holds too much offensive responsibility to spend all his time battling Ogundeko in the paint. KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18 will have to use their size and strength to crash the boards, freeing up Pace to carry the offense and taking pressure off Tufts’ untested big men.
Trinity X-Factor: Anyone Besides Ogundeko
I apologize for sounding like a broken record here, but Trinity needs a second scoring option. Amherst was able to basically dare anyone else on the Bantams roster to beat them, and no one else could. Chris Turnbull ‘17 has shot well from three on the year at 43%, but has a tendency to disappear in big games and struggles to score inside. The same goes for Jeremy Arthur ‘19, who has struggled in league play. Eric Gendron ‘18 represents another candidate to be the Christopher to Ogundeko’s Tony Soprano. Gendron has averaged 11.2 points per game on 43% shooting in league play. To knock off Tufts, Trinity will need solid games from at least one (and more likely two or three) of those possible second bananas.
From a playoff seeding standpoint, Trinity probably needs this game more. At 4-2, they are currently mired in the swamp of teams behind Tufts. Furthermore, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of those teams. After Tufts they still have Hamilton, Middlebury and Bates, all of whom will be battling hard for the best possible playoff spot. I could see Trinity playing very well in these last four games and setting themselves up for a long playoff run. However, I could also see them falling back in the face of this tough schedule. This game is a terrific chance for them to kick this tough stretch off right.
Tufts hasn’t clinched anything either. Although they’re 6-1 now, Middlebury has been playing better than them lately, and Amherst always seems one strong game away from returning to the top. Both those teams have a chance of winning out, and therefore could take the top spot away from Tufts. The Jumbos need to figure out a way to survive without Palleschi, or their season could end disappointingly early. And unfortunately for Tufts, I don’t think this is the game in which they figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Hamilton @ Bowdoin, 7:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Although Hamilton is certainly loaded with talent, they are very young. Middlebury showed the rest of the league just how much that matters last weekend. The Panthers threw up a cool 115 points against the Continentals, and pressured them into 19 turnovers. Hamilton is 0-3 on the road in league play, a stat which makes sense considering that the vast majority of their rotation is composed of sophomores (and freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20.) Hamilton has to grow up fast this year if they want to keep any hope of hosting a playoff game.
Bowdoin comes off giving Colby their first win last weekend in a surprisingly thrilling game. Bowdoin fell 87-82, despite 24 points off the bench from Jack Bors ‘19.Jack Simonds ‘19 has fallen from the league lead in scoring. This may be good for Bowdoin’s offense, as it now looks considerably more balanced than it did early on, but they need to be able to rely on Simond to get them a bucket when needed. I don’t see the Polar Bears being able to catch up to Hamilton like Middlebury did.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Middlebury @ Colby, 7:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Middlebury was unrecognizable against Hamilton and Keene if you watched their performance against Williams. Middlebury’s offense has been balanced and deadly, leading the league in points, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage during league play. The Panthers have particularly benefited from the play of Jake Brown ‘17. Longtime readers will know that my lifelong conquest has been to get Jake Brown on the First Team, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll have to take my battle straight to the Supreme Court. Brown leads the league in assists and averages 11.7 points per game, developing a deadly pull up jump shot which has added a whole new dimension to his game and the Middlebury offense. With Matt St. Amour leading the league in scoring, Brown hitting his jump shots and Jack Daly doing pretty much everything else, the Panthers might well be the best team in the league in the wake of Tufts’ struggles.
Colby also enters this game with momentum. They picked up an emotional first win of the season against Bowdoin. They owe the win primarily to Patrick Stewart ‘17, who went Green Room on the Polar Bearswith 28 points on 8/14 shooting. Colby will most likely try to follow Williams’ formula for beating the Panthers. They will shoot a lot of threes and stack the paint, daring the Panthers to match them from outside. Unfortunately, they’re not good enough from three or on defense to make that strategy work for them. Middlebury should take this one easily.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Bates @ Amherst, 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This is another game which has major playoff implications. Amherst has been inconsistent this season, but the existentially depressing fact remains that they’re 4-2 and are within striking distance of the top spot thanks to Palleschi’s injury. Amherst still has offensive struggles, but they have quietly developed an excellent defense to make up for it. They gave up under 70 points to both Trinity and Williams last weekend, and can still rely on Jayde Dawson ‘18 to bail them out in close games. Amherst is not pretty this year, but if they can keep winning it could work out for them. Also important to note; they are 12-0 at home this season.
Bates is not pretty either, but they are well equipped to give Amherst’s offense fits. The Delpeche brothers are adept at clogging up driving lanes, which should limit the amount of space that Dawson and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 have to score. And on offense, Bates has lately been hitting just enough threes to give the Delpeche brothers some help. Amherst doesn’t exactly have a stable of big men to throw at Malcolm and Marcus, so I see the Bobcats upsetting Amherst at home.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Wesleyan @ Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Wesleyan appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. They put up maybe their best offensive performance of the season against Connecticut College, scoring 85 points on 48.3% shooting. The Cardinals have been experimenting with different starting lineups, and brought Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench against the Camels. They had tried this with Nathan Krill ‘18 earlier. This gives Kuo the freedom to beat up on second unit big men and gives them the freedom to play a more mobile starting lineup with Jordan Sears ‘18 acting as a small ball, defensive-minded center. With Williams perimeter-oriented big men, watch for this lineup change to continue.
Williams hasn’t played a league game since their shellacking of Middlebury, but dropped a non-league matchup to Amherst last week. In that game, they got 26 from Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, but little else, losing 72-64. The Ephs have yet to replicate the shooting display they presented Middlebury, and the top field goal percentage defense in the country isn’t a great team to get hot against . This should be a low scoring matchup, with Wesleyan slowing down the pace and pounding the ball into Kuo and Nathan Krill ‘18. Wesleyan is simply better at winning low-scoring, ugly games.
Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan