Last week I simply mentioned the trend of each remaining team going into the playoffs, however, it’s safe to assume that all teams coming off a playoff win have their stock trending upwards. There were some unexpectedly tight games like Middlebury vs. Bates and Williams vs. Amherst, the latter of which is our first upset of the 2017 postseason. Now Williams has to travel to Tufts to face the top dog, while Middlebury takes on Trinity in what could be Bantam legend Ed Ogundeko’s last time dominating on the college court. It all begins at 2 pm on Saturday.
Jake Brown’s Ankle (hopefully)
Last time Trinity played Middlebury, Brown played just two minutes due to his ankle injury that happened at the end of the Amherst game. If he is back, the Bantams have a whole lot more to fear. Brown might not lead the team in scoring, but he leads the team and the league in assists with 6.4 per game. He controls the game, and sets the offensive tempo for the Panther offense. This injury put Midd at a severe disadvantage against Bates, but even if he plays in a limited capacity, the Panthers should have a comparative advantage to the last time they faced off against the Connecticut squad. Brown sat out all of the last two games and if set to play this weekend, giving Middlebury all of their weapons ready to go for the semifinals. While the Panthers managed to cruise to a 17 point win pretty much without Brown on February 11th against Trinity, they looked rushed and disorganized at times against Bates. The Panthers might be able to get by against the Bantams without their senior leader, but winning two games this weekend will surely be more difficult in his absence. It was definitely the right call to have Jake rest last weekend. The Panthers are rolling full steam ahead into this weekend, and whatever version of Brown they get, they’ll look better than last weekend if he’s on the court.
Kyle Scadlock and Williams’ Clutch Play
Williams was up just one point at the end of the first half and led 45-43 with 11:27 to go before Scadlock went on a personal 7-0 run on the Purple and White to essentially ice the game. After gaining the 52-43 lead, Scadlock’s run catalyzed the Ephs, who didn’t lead by less than 10 the rest of the way until Amherst scored a last second garbage time three pointer. Scadlock added the finishing touches on the upset performance with a monstrous dunk with nine seconds to go, vaulting Williams into the semis. While I sort of called the upset win by saying it could easily happen — not exactly a vote of confidence, I should add — Williams proved many doubters wrong by demonstrating their hot shooting in a big game situation. Their 47.2% from the field last weekend was just above their season average of 46.5%, which was good for second in the league. While Williams’ shooting is usually up and down, this was a much more dependable performance and something that the Ephs could bring again on Saturday. The duo of Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz has something to prove, and only time will tell whether they really have ice in their veins.
Clearly the Jumbos had to make an adjustment after losing star center Tom Palleschi (who we have mentioned in every article since then). The Jumbos’ loss to Amherst 84-71 on February 4th was a wake up call, showing exactly what was missing from their lineup. Drew Madsen, who for a time was Tufts’ only remaining healthy big man, is no longer looked to to put up big numbers on the offensive end. Instead, Coach Sheldon plays to Madsen’s strengths and utilizes him in more of a defensive/rebounding capacity, allowing bench players to step up. Since that Amherst game, Ethan Feldman has played more minutes, lighting it up. He is 13-22 shooting in his last three games, averaging 13.0 PPG. Everett Dayton has also had a scoring increase, getting 12 against Hamilton despite taking less shots than he had been before the Amherst game. Bottom line is the Jumbos made a great adjustment to their style of play and Coach Sheldon has been a big part of it. No matter how hobbled they are, Tufts is going to be a force this weekend in their home gym.
Trinity was ice cold last weekend and were lucky that Wesleyan also couldn’t shoot. Had it not been for great ball control, the Bantams would’ve have a tough reality to face as 27.9% FG rarely wins games. Trinity shot just 2-14 from three-point range, which played a big part in a lowly 51 points against the Cardinals. They were over 20 points below their season average and barely saved themselves with their high volume of free throw shooting (15-22). With all of that said, the fact that they managed to win on such a poor day bodes well for this weekend. If they can manage to get some more buckets, their defense is strong enough to give them a chance against the Panthers. Ed Ogundeko had an equally terrible shooting day, but his eight points are his lowest by far this season when he has played normal minutes. However, Ogundeko is likely to have a big day with the Bantams’ backs against the wall. Since the Bantams allow the fewest points on defense in the NESCAC at 64.9, if they can figure out what went wrong on February 11th (97 points allowed to Midd) and they recall how to score efficiently, they’ll have a fighting chance.
NESCAC’s NCAA Hopes
While Middlebury, Tufts, and Amherst are all still in the D3Hoops top 25, it’s clear that 2016 offered a better shot at a NESCAC national championship. Without their star player Palleschi, Tufts will have a tough time against the top D3 teams. Middlebury looks great, but Brown’s ankle injury leaves some doubt as to whether he will be back to 100% this season, and it just makes me cringe to think of how good they would be if Zach Baines was still there. Amherst looked terrible recently against Williams and Middlebury and while they might still get a bid to the tourney, they can’t be expected to go far with their inconsistent play. Wesleyan just dropped out of the top 25 and will be a long shot to get an at large bid with their first round exit in the conference tournament, and both Trinity and Williams likely won’t go to the dance without automatic bids. Let’s hope one team puts it all together this weekend and throughout March, because nobody wants to see #1 ranked Babson win it.