The Last Chance Before the (NESCAC) Dance: Saturday/Sunday Preview, 2/12

Tarik Smith ’17 and Tufts clinched the regular season title for the first time in school history last night in their win over Williams (Courtesy of Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Editor’s note: this article was written before Friday’s games and therefore does not take the Friday results into account.

Colby at Wesleyan

The 2016-17 season has been a tough one for Colby. They’re 1-7 in conference and haven’t had a realistic shot of making the playoffs for at least a couple of weeks. At this point, they’re only playing for their dignity. Wesleyan on the other hand, could vault themselves into a top four seed with a couple of wins this weekend. Colby only has a single player averaging at least 8 points a game in Senior Patrick Stewart, and he gets 16.3. Unfortunately for Colby, Stewart hasn’t had the weapons around him to make the Mules much of a threat. Wesleyan, on the other hand, has benefited from a balanced attack with five players scoring ten points per contest. Backing up their offense has been their stifling defense, which allows their opponents to shoot a league leading (and second in all of DIII) 35% from the field. Colby’s only shot here is to capitalize on Wesleyan’s propensity to turn the ball over as they do so a NESCAC leading 15.4 times per game. If the Mules can convert sloppy turnovers into fast breaks, they could pick up a couple of easy buckets and score without bearing the brunt of Wesleyan’s stingy defense. However, chances are, this is not going to happen, and Colby (with a Friday loss) will end the season with a single NESCAC victory. :’(

Pick: Wesleyan

Bowdoin at Connecticut College

This season, Bowdoin’s Forward Jack Simonds ‘19 has been phenomenal. He’s averaging nearly 19 points per game and he’s dropped 30+  four times this season. Don’t forget, he’s only a sophomore. He has carried a huge load for his team, leading the NESCAC in minutes played. However, as a whole Bowdoin has not been able to put together wins as often as they’d like. The Polar Bears are in line to finish with one of the three worst records in the NESCAC. Looking at the home team, Conn hasn’t been much better; they too have a very slim chance of making the playoffs, and have only fared one game better than the Polar Bears this season. Though this game may not matter for the playoffs, a win would allow either team to end their season on a positive note. Despite Bowdoin’s lack of success in the win column, they don’t foul, and they don’t turn the ball over. Their team is young and there should be optimism moving forward. They’re going up against a Conn team who’s used to taking their lumps (pun intended) as the Camels are last in the ‘CAC in FG defense and they give up the most points per game. I think Bowdoin’s defensive struggles  put Jack Simonds in a great position to lead his team to end the season on a positive note and possibly hang up his fifth 30-spot, despite losing five of their last six NESCAC games. Bowdoin has a terrific scorer in Simonds who I think gives them the edge over the Camels.

Pick: Bowdoin

Trinity at Middlebury

This is probably the best Saturday matchup as both teams are in the top half of the NESCAC and enter the game with their best players being tried and true veterans. Shout it from the mountaintops Panther fans, like the Chicago Cubs, you are good. Entering the weekend, they’ve won 5 in a row and have shown no signs of slowing down, vaulting themselves into the conversation for best team in the NESCAC. This charge has been led by their incredibly potent backcourt play. In their senior campaign, backcourt duo Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown have been dynamite. St. Amour leads the NESCAC in scoring (20.6 PPG) and Brown holds the conference lead in assists (6.7 AST/G). Trinity, on the other hand, has probably the most prolific double double machine in the NESCAC in Ed Ogundeko ‘17, who averages 17.7 and 11.5 from the center position. Without a real rim protecting big the Panthers can lean on, Ogundeko is liable to cause some havoc in the paint on Saturday. Trinity likely will not be able to outscore Middlebury’s uptempo attack, so they’ll need to find a way to either slow them down and take them out of their rhythm or try to coax the Panthers into some sloppy play. The latter is unlikely since Middlebury holds the best turnover ratio in the conference, so Trinity’s best bet to limit Middlebury’s outside attack is to try to control the tempo early and pound the ball inside to their star. With Middlebury at home and on such a roll, I think Brown and St. Amour get a little saucy and lead the Panthers to victory in Hartford.

Pick: Middlebury

Amherst at Hamilton

This game is undoubtedly a huge undertaking for the Continentals. Amherst has had an excellent regular season and they are sitting pretty for home-court in at least the first round of the playoffs. Their leading scorer is Guard Jayde Dawson ’18, who’s getting almost 18.6 per contest in under 30 minutes of action. Despite his prolific scoring, he’s only started two games this year, and that’s not a knock on him, it just goes to show how deep this team is. Also, wing Johnny McCarthy ’18 is coming off of a Player of the Week award averaging 15.5 points and 13.5 boards. He’s one of the best rebounders in the NESCAC, averaging 8 per game on the year, especially impressive considering he spends much of his time around the perimeter. Hamilton’s wing play has been equally impressive. Underclassmen Peter Hoffman ’19, Michael Grassey ’19, and Kena Gilmour ’20 all present significant threats on the wing for the Continentals. All have been solid, but Hoffman’s performances have been consistently above and beyond. Another great rebounding and scoring wing, he has reached double digit scoring in all but two games this year and shoots 55.8% from the field. Hamilton is a strong team and has been even better at home, but Amherst’s consistency and pedigree is hard to deny. In a couple years, as Hamilton’s young stars mature, and their bench gets deeper, this might be a different story. However, as long as Amherst brings their A game, they should be able to come out on top.

Pick: Amherst

Williams at Bates

In Sunday’s only game, two middling teams meet in icy Maine to try to right their ships. Both teams are likely playoff bound, but are neck and neck for the opportunity to avoid juggernaut Tufts in the first round. Bates’ success this season is due in large part to their literal twin towers. Twin big men, Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche ’18, put up nearly 30 points and 20 boards between the two of them, and both rank in the top five of NESCAC rebounding. They are a force to be reckoned with, as just a couple weeks ago, Marcus was named the NESCAC player of the week. These two should be a tough challenge for Williams to handle come Sunday for the Ephs. Though they tote a near seven-footer in sophomore Michael Kempton, he lacks the athleticism and identical twin to contain them both. Every time I watch Williams I come away with more confusion than clarity as to their level of play because they play very slowly, but take so many threes (almost half of their total field goal attempts). Generally speaking, the less you play in transition, the harder it is to get good looks at three pointers because you allow the defense to get set. Despite this, the Ephs continue to fire away in their half-court sets and still make a somewhat respectable 35% as a team. With an impressive win against Amherst, and a confounding loss to Bowdoin, it’s really hard for me to tell where they stand. Williams is gonna take their threes, but they’ll need to figure out how to contain Bates’ inside threat. If the Ephs can drain from beyond the arc, they’ll have a great chance to win, but I think Bates’ home-court advantage and opportunity for rest while Williams plays on Friday should set them up for a victory on Sunday.

Pick: Bates

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