NESCAC Idol: Middlebury vs. Trinity Semifinal Preview

#2 Middlebury (22-3, 8-2) vs #5 Trinity (16-9, 6-4),

Overview:

Image result for sanjaya malakar
We are all responsible for allowing this to happen.

In Season Six of American Idol, the immortal Sanjaya Malakar defied everyone’s expectations to reach the top seven despite having literally no discernable singing talent whatsoever. Every week millions of fans would say “this must be the week he’s going home.” And every week he would survive.

Trinity is the Sanjaya of the NESCAC tournament. Every year they seem less and less qualified to hang with Middlebury and Tufts in the top tier, and every year somehow they’re in the mix at the end of the season. They have nine losses this season! And yet here we are, writing about Trinity as a contender for the NESCAC crown. The Bantams “won” their first round game against Wesleyan 51-49 on a game winner from Ed Ogundeko ‘17. I use the quotation marks there because Wesleyan is just as responsible for losing that game as Trinity is for winning it. Trinity only shot 28% from the floor, which should never, ever result in win. The Bantams will not be able to survive a shooting night like that against Middlebury.

The Panthers are looking to be the Jordin Sparks (an unstoppable juggernaut bulldozing all pretenders out of the way) to Trinity’s Sanjaya . They have been playing as well as any team in the country as of late, but have hit a bit of a speed bump due to Jake Brown’s ankle injury. They beat Bates in the opening round, but their vaunted offense was considerably less volatile with the absence of Brown. They needed Matt St. Amour ‘17 to continue his transformation into a literal flamethrower to survive the Bobcats. Brown’s status is still uncertain, giving Trinity a thin path to victory. However, even without Brown, the Panthers should take care of business.

How Trinity Can Win:

If Brown does play, he will most likely not be his usual electric self.

Therefore the Bantams should still look to get either Jack Daly ‘18 or St. Amour in foul trouble. Daly and Brown are 1A and 1B in terms of NESCAC point guards in my opinion, so the Panthers are still fine ball handler-wise when one of them is out. However, St. Amour is not a point guard, so if

Matt St. Amour ’17 is averaging nearly 31 points per game over his last four. If they want to win, Trinity will have to limit him by forcing him to bring the ball up or getting him in foul trouble.

Brown is limited and Daly is in foul trouble, Middlebury will not be able to play nearly as fast as they want. And if St. Amour is in foul trouble, the Panthers have tremendous issues finding outside shooting threats. Bryan Jones ‘17 has come back down to earth a bit and is obviously not nearly as adept at creating his own shot as St. Amour. Middlebury offense is electric due to its three-headed dog of terrific guards. They’re already down one; if Trinity can take away another they have a good chance.

The common thinking is that the way to beat Middlebury is to slow the game down. Trinity certainly tried to do that in their regular season loss to the Panthers. However, they weren’t able to make enough shots to make up for it. If you take 25 seconds on every possession and then miss a three, what have you really accomplished? Trinity tried to pound the ball into Ed Ogundeko, but the Panthers were willing to double him from pretty much anywhere, and held him to 14 points and 9 rebounds. Trinity had success against the Panthers in the second half running halfcourt sets, as the Panthers defense is geared towards creating havoc more than it is fundamental soundness. The Bantams need to make sure they focus more on running good offense and hitting shots than aimlessly taking the air out of the ball.

How Middlebury Can Win:

Obviously the beginning, middle and end to any book on how to beat Trinity would read “Stop Ogundeko.” The Panthers had an excellent game plan against him in the regular season. They doubled him on almost every post catch, as Trinity lacked the outside threats to force the Middlebury guards to stay home. Their game plan was so successful that Ogundeko only played 7 minutes in the second half, a bold strategy from Coach Cosgrove that didn’t seem to pay off. Trinity will probably try to involve Ogundeko in the pick and roll more, as the Panther bigs had trouble keeping up with him as a roll man in the second half. But Middlebury will most likely keep the same strategy and force other Trinity players to make shots.

Middlebury X-Factor: Jake Brown’s Ankle

Jake Brown ’17 is a steady hand at the wheel for Middlebury
(Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury’s offense didn’t miss a beat against Trinity during the regular season without Brown, but it suffered in the second half against Bates. It’s often Brown’s flashy play that draws a lot of the attention, but he is also a very careful leader of the Middlebury offense. Jack Daly is a terrific point guard, but has shown himself to be turnover prone when running the show on his own. And the Brown/Daly duo allows Matt St. Amour to avoid bringing the ball up entirely. This is by far the best case scenario for the Panther offense. St. Amour is at his best when running off screens and attacking off the ball. If he is forced to bring it up, he has to expend more energy and doesn’t have as much freedom. Middlebury proved they can beat Trinity without Brown, but they are immensely better with him on the floor, and his absence would provide Trinity with a much larger window to victory.

Trinity X-Factor: Jeremy Arthur ‘19

Jeremy Arthur
Jeremy Arthur ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

The bottom line is that someone has to hit shots for the Bantams. Arthur was the only person who really played well against Middlebury, scoring 19 points and hitting 4-9 from three. Arthur presents something of a match-up problem for Middlebury, as he is big enough to give guards trouble and fast enough to give bigs trouble. His combination of driving ability and outside shooting make it tough for Middlebury to double off of Ogundeko with his man. He will need to have another terrific game to force Middlebury guard Ogundeko one-on-one at times.

Final Thoughts:

If Brown is indeed out or heavily limited, Middlebury’s forward rotation will be especially crucial. They are obviously a key on defense no matter what. Eric McCord ‘19 is strong enough to hold his own on the block with Ogundeko, and Nick Tarantino ‘18 uses his long arms to challenge Ogundeko’s hook shots. Adisa Majors ‘17 has come back into the fold lately, and offers Coach Brown a third big to throw at Ogundeko defensively. One of those three will need to have a big game on offense as well, and it goes without saying that they’ll all need to hit the boards hard.

Trinity guard Langdon Neal ‘17 is critical for the Bantams. His tenacious on ball defense is their most valuable weapon in slowing down whichever Panther guard is pushing the ball up the floor. However, he needs to make sure he keeps consistent effort. Too many times would he start off a possession with a burst of energy, only to have Jack Daly break him down and get an easy look for a teammate or himself. Defense is not a matter of playing hard for five or six seconds; it’s about constant effort, even if that means slowing down a bit at the start.

Ed Ogundeko ’17 (#52) is the key to Trinity’s offense and defense; Middlebury’s gameplan on both ends will focus on him.

Trinity has a good chance to win this game, particularly if Jake Brown is still out of commission. They need to slow down the game, yes, but more simply than that they have to make the shots they get. It won’t help to slow down their possessions so much that they’re throwing up prayers at the end of the shot clock. Middlebury just needs to stay steady and not get dragged into a boxing match with the Bantams, and they should advance to a second straight NESCAC final.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

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