All Roads Go Through Amherst: NESCAC Semifinals and Finals Preview

 

Emma McCarthy ’19 and Amherst are set to host this weekend’s NESCAC semifinals and finals in hopes of repeating as NESCAC champs (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).

I need to open this piece by apologizing to everybody who is a fan of Middlebury athletics. In the fall I picked the Middlebury women’s soccer team to win the NESCAC tournament, they were bounced in the semifinal. Last week, I picked the women’s basketball team to beat Colby and advance to the semifinals. They too, were defeated. Clearly, Liamstradamus, as I lovingly called myself earlier, is cursed. Please forgive me. Regardless of my personal failings though, and there are many, the world kept spinning and NESCAC basketball kept churning along. We’re down to four remaining teams, a final four if you will, and they’re squaring off this weekend in the semifinals and finals, hosted in Amherst. Before we get to the predictions for this weekend, let’s take a look back at the weekend that got us here.

 

NESCAC Quarterfinals Recap

1. Amherst defeated 8. Bates 76-35

Amherst continued their undefeated season with a thorough dismantling of the team from Lewiston. A surprise tournament appearance was the culmination of an up and down season for the Bobcats who finished the year 8-17 overall. The game was basically over as soon as it began, with Amherst jumping to a commanding 22-5 lead after just one quarter of play. Although Bates played a good second quarter, the lead continued to grow until Amherst had run them out of the gym. The big story coming from the game though was the disturbing play of Nina Davenport ’18, who fouled out after only playing 3 total minutes. Without their leading scorer, the Bobcats were forced to lean heavily on their four other starters who recorded 37, 35, 38, and 31 minutes as a unit. Amherst relied on Emma McCarthy ’19 who turned in a 19-point and 9-rebound performance.

 

2. Tufts defeated 7. Williams 58-40

Michela North ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Tufts remained hot on Amherst’s heels with a convincing victory over a talented Williams team. Tufts, the number three team in the most recent D3hoops poll, had a 14-point lead at halftime and never looked back as they closed out this quarterfinal battle. Michela North ’17 led all scorers with 14 points, while two other Jumbos contributed 11 points as the team advanced. Williams shot themselves in the foot with 23 turnovers, and they also struggled to rebound the ball, getting outrebounded by five. The Ephs were much closer in other statistical categories. The Jumbos barely outshot Williams in terms of percentage, and the Ephs also generated 16 points in the paint, a solid number for the team. Again, I have to come back to them getting absolutely killed by turnovers. Tufts attempted 22 more shots than the Ephs as a result of the extra possessions. That disparity is nearly impossible to overcome for a poor shooting team like Williams.

 

3. Bowdoin defeated 6. Conn College 72-47

Bowdoin continued their string of impressive performances with an evisceration of the visiting Camels. The Polar Bears have now climbed to number 17 in the latest D3hoops poll and look poised to make some noise in the national tournament. Despite trailing after one quarter of play, the Bowdoin refused to give up and stormed back to take the lead by halftime. A dominant third quarter put the game out of reach and ended the hopeful Camels’ season. Bowdoin managed to get 15 players into the game and saw production spread across the starters and bench units that entered the game. Marle Curle ’17 and Taylor Choate ’19 scored in double digits, but also contributed four and five rebounds respectively, as well as three assists each. Bowdoin is playing dominant basketball right now and looks just as impressive as their record would indicate.

 

5. Colby defeated 4. Middlebury 48-39

I hate to say I told you so, but I did and I don’t hate it so… I told you so. Sarah Kaufman ’18 has been Middlebury’s engine all year. In wins she has averaged over 15 points a game, in losses she has struggled to crack 5. Colby clearly keyed in on Kaufman, forcing her into contested looks and limiting her to only 10 points on 3-7 shooting. Middlebury’s depth, which I lauded last weekend as one of their strengths, collapsed in the quarterfinals. The bench unit is largely comprised of first years and the intensity in a do or die NESCAC playoff game is definitely a step up from a normal regular season contest. Colby was carried by the duo of MK Caverly ’17 and Haley Driscoll ’18 who scored 18 and 12 points respectively. Middlebury is surely disappointed in this loss. They’ve been a dominant unit all season and outrebounded and assisted the Mules, but it was in vain. Their season ends, and the Mules trot off to their second straight NESCAC semifinal appearance.

 

NESCAC Semifinals Preview

So, with the quarterfinals out of the way all we have left is one action packed weekend of semifinals and final to tide us over until the NCAA tournament begins. Amherst, Tufts, and Bowdoin are all, in my mind, locks to make the NCAAs regardless of the outcome this weekend, but if Colby wants to keep playing they’re going to have to find a way to win two games against some really tough competition. So, let’s take a look at the Mules’ chances this coming weekend.

 

1. Amherst vs. 5. Colby

 

The Mules are going to need a big game out of Haley Driscoll ’18 if they are to have a shot against Amherst on Saturday (Courtesy of Colby Athletics).

Although Colby looked good this weekend in dispatching the Panthers, taking on this team from Western Mass is an entirely differently animal. When the two teams met in late January, Amherst dominated the game and strolled out with a convincing 69-43 victory. The biggest problem for Colby will be their ability to score. Holding Amherst down is difficult, they’ve only scored less than 50 points twice this year, and one of those games was the rock fight they had with Tufts a couple weekends ago. Colby is the ninth best offense in the NESCAC in terms of scoring offense and didn’t even crack 50 in their win this past weekend against Middlebury. As the Mules’ leading scorer and rebounder Driscoll will have to put on an absolute show for Colby to have any chance in this game. Additionally, Colby will need to find a way to shut down Amherst’s three point attack. Amherst is one of the best shooting teams in the conference, but Colby is one of the best at defending the three point line. A big game from Driscoll, combined with limiting Amherst’s three point opportunities will be the key to success for the Mules. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening. Amherst is too deep, too talented, and too consistent to lose this game. They beat Colby and advance to the finals with a dominating win.

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

2. Tufts vs. 3. Bowdoin

Taylor Choate ’19 and Bowdoin are hoping for revenge against Amherst after their previous meeting this season (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics).

This game should be much more exciting than the Amherst vs. Colby game. Bowdoin has been playing some of their best basketball as of late. They’ve won 9 straight games since their loss to Amherst, and the average margin of victory in those games has been an impressive 26 points. Yes, this also includes the 40-point demolitions of fellow semifinalist, Colby, and Hamilton, who nearly missed the tournament. Tufts, meanwhile, has been winning all year. That’s it, Tufts just wins. They’re 24-1 and their only loss has come to undefeated Amherst. Any year when you can put together 24 wins is surely a successful one, but I’m sure Tufts is itching to avenge their 1-point losses to Amherst earlier this year and in the NESCAC finals last year. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll get the chance. Bowdoin is my pick for this game and I’ll tell you why. The last time these two teams played Tufts narrowly defeated Bowdoin 46-43. But there were a couple of factors in that game that indicate to me that it was an anomaly. Firstly, Bowdoin averages only 15 turnovers per game this year, in their first matchup with Tufts they coughed up the rock 30 times. Secondly, Bowdoin is at their best when they can spread the ball around and get everyone involved. No Polar Bear averages more than 10 points per game, and 8 average more than 5. In their games against Tufts, Bowdoin relied heavily on one player, Abigail Kelly ’19, who scored 21 points. The next highest scoring Polar Bear was Ally Silfen ’17 with 8. And thirdly, Bowdoin shot only 30 percent from the field in that game, while their season average is second best in the conference at 43.3. Of course, I would be remiss to exclude the possibility that Tufts might have just forced this upon Bowdoin in their first game. Tufts is very good at forcing turnovers, generating 22.4 a game. Their exceptional defense also allows just 31.5% shooting and only 42.1 points per game. The Jumbos are a very talented team and certainly, as the two seed, enjoy some sense of favoritism in this game. I just think that given Bowdoin’s recent show of excellence, the strange nature of their first game against Tufts, and the fact that this game is being played in Amherst rather than Medford, the situation is ripe for Bowdoin to sneak a win from the mighty Jumbos and leap into the conference finals.

Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin

 

NESCAC Finals Prediction

Wow that was a long one. Sorry about that I got a little caught up. Let’s move on and take a look at my presumptive finals matchup, Amherst vs. Bowdoin, since I won’t have time to churn out another article between Saturday and Sunday.

 

1. Amherst vs. 3. Bowdoin

The last time these two teams squared off Amherst ran away with the game, winning 66-45 on Bowdoin’s home court. I wrote afterward that Bowdoin had to be perturbed that they looked so helpless against the upper echelons of the conference. Since that game however, Bowdoin has been on a tear, winning their last nine. While Bowdoin has stepped up their game as of late, Amherst is continuing their routine of absolute dominance. 25-0 does not happen by accident. A near unanimous position atop the national top 25 is no fluke either. Right now, Amherst is the favorite in every game they play, and the same is true in this game. This game could certainly come down to a 3 point competition. These teams are numbers one and two in the league in total three-pointers made (Amherst being one and Bowdoin being two). In terms of percentage, Bowdoin is best in the league with Amherst claiming the second spot. The real difference between the two comes when defending the 3 point line. Bowdoin is a middling 3 point defensive team, in terms of both total makes conceded and percentage allowed. Amherst, on the other hand, is the best team in the league in terms of  three-point defense, conceding the least amount of made threes and forcing their opponents to shoot the worst percentage in the league. Amherst’s league topping defense in points allowed per game will also have to shut down Bowdoin’s league-best offense in terms of points scored per game. Bowdoin’s hope has to be that this game turns into a shootout. The Polar are an extremely balanced scoring team, perhaps the most in the league. They have to hope their shooters, Lauren Petit ’18, Kate Kerrigan ’18, Curle and Kelly can outshoot Amherst for a full 40 minutes. On the other side though is the NESCAC’s fifth-leading scorer Ali Doswell ’17 and her cohort of talented teammates. Emma McCarthy ’19 and Hannah Hackley ’18 could have huge games to power the purple, and don’t sleep on Ali’s twin sister Meredith Doswell ’17, the team’s 4th leading scorer and 2nd leading rebounder to quietly propel her team to victory. I think Amherst has enough firepower to defend their NESCAC crown.

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

As this weekend draws closer and we begin to wrap-up an exciting season of basketball, I’d just like to thank everybody who has read even one of these articles. They’ve been fun to write and have certainly allowed me to become more accustomed with the women’s side of the NESCAC, something I rarely get to do as a player for the men’s team (Coach won’t let me watch the women’s games on my phone on the bench, which is just ridiculous. C’mon, Coach, it’s 2017). I’m looking forward to seeing how this weekend turns out. I am sad my friends on the Middlebury women’s team couldn’t make it this far, but we’re still left with four great teams and two more hair raising games of NESCAC basketball. So, let’s all enjoy the weekend and watch some of the best teams in the country duke it out one last time!

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