Fans of NESCAC basketball have enjoyed a level of talent this season that has possibly never been matched in the history of the league. And on Monday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the league with four at large bids, in addition to Middlebury’s guaranteed spot for winning the conference tournament. Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan and Tufts join the Panthers, giving the ‘CAC one of the strongest showings of any conference in the country. Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll be giving you the lowdown on where each team finds themselves in their quest for a national title.
#6 Middlebury (24-3, 11-2)
As the number one seed and outright winner of the conference, Middlebury is in a terrific position to make a deep tournament run. The Panthers should be hosting (as long as they keep winning) until the tournament shifts to Salem. However, the Panthers certainly shouldn’t be looking ahead, as they have a tough opening weekend to contend with. They open on Friday against Farmingdale State, a team that tries to run the floor in much the same way that Middlebury does. And Lycoming and Cabrini, the two other teams in the bracket, are strong teams with tournament pedigree.
How They Got Here:
Middlebury is of course driven by their three guards. Matt St. Amour ‘17 was recently crowned NESCAC Player of the Year after averaging 22 points per game in the season and almost 25 per game in league play. His midrange game, once a major weakness, has become positively deadly, and he has carried Middlebury through a late season injury to Jake Brown ‘17. Speaking of Brown, the recently named All NESCAC Second Team point guard is the key to Middlebury’s fast paced offense and defense. He has also made himself into a key outside threat for Middlebury, shooting 37% from three. And Jack Daly ‘18 had been flying under the radar until Brown went down. But stepping up and running the offense in Brown’s absence has given viewers a newfound appreciation for Daly. If there’s a play that shifts the game in Middlebury’s favor, the odds are good that Jack Daly is involved.
How They Lose
Middlebury’s guards are pretty much locks to get their numbers. The Panthers struggle when their big men aren’t involved in the offense and when the other team gets hot from three. If Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 aren’t threats on the offensive end, then teams can focus on the guards and force Middlebury to play halfcourt, perimeter-oriented basketball. Farmingdale State is a fast break team, but they don’t shoot very well from three (33.5% on the year.) However, they do rebound very well thanks to big men George Reifenstahl ‘19 and Wendell Irvine ‘17, both of whom average over 9 rebounds per game. Therefore the Middlebury big men will have to do a good job on the boards and also assert themselves on offense, not just against Farmingdale but (ideally) throughout the tournament.
Farmingdale State (19-7, 14-2)
Farmingdale has overcome a strong start to really control their league. They won their tournament on a game winner from Reifenstahl, who along with Irvine and guard Ali Mableton ‘19 earned all conference honors. The Rams look to run, but can be careless on offense, shooting only 43% from the field and turning the ball over a whopping 18 times per game. Middlebury should be able to exploit this carelessness, and will need to work on shutting down Reifenstahl and Irvine.
#15 Lycoming (23-4, 13-3)
Lycoming and Middlebury would be a fascinating Saturday match-up. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 25 pretty much all year and now sit at 15 heading into tournament play. They are led by David Johnson ‘17 who, despite being 5’9,” averages 14 points per game and shoots an amazing 48.7% from three. Lycoming overall shoots threes very well (37% as a team,) so Middlebury will have to run them off the line much like they did in the second half against Williams in the NESCAC final.
Cabrini (19-7, 15-3)
Cabrini is led by junior center Tyheim Monroe, who is two spots ahead of Matt St. Amour in scoring in the nation (23rd, at 22.1 points per game) and leads the nation in rebounds per game at 15.7. Monroe plays 36 minutes a game, and the vast majority of their offensive sets run through him. Middlebury will probably employ a similar swarming defensive strategy that they used on Ed Ogundeko to beat Trinity in the quarterfinals. But Monroe is the type of player who could carry a team to an upset against the Panthers.
Amherst (17-7, 8-4)
After starting the season as the number one team in the country, Amherst enters tournament play outside the national rankings. This is due to inconsistent play all season, culminating in a quarterfinal loss to hated rival Williams. Therefore, Amherst has a tough road to travel if they hope to redeem their disappointing NESCAC season with a long tournament run.
How They Got Here
As most readers of this blog probably know, Amherst is led by their excellent backcourt. Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 were Second and First Team All NESCAC selections respectively, and combined to average over 33 points per game. Additionally, junior guard Michael Riopel averages 10 points per game and shoots 48% from three, giving Amherst a needed outside threat to take some pressure off of Dawson and McCarthy. The Purple and White are at their best when Dawson and McCarthy are dominating the opposing backcourt, giving Riopel open looks.
How They Lose
Unfortunately Amherst has little else outside of their backcourt. They struggle to get contributions from any forwards, and Riopel and even McCarthy can be too passive. This forces Dawson to play hero ball, and he can shoot Amherst out of games when he does that. In their loss to Williams, Dawson shot 3-19, while Riopel and McCarthy combined to take only 16 shots. It’s hard to figure out how to divide up blame in that situation (is Dawson playing selfishly or do the other players need to be more assertive?), but either way Amherst has some serious problems. They ultimately seem to lack the necessary depth to compete against elite competition.
Keene State (19-9, 10-4)
The Owls, who knocked Middlebury out last year, had something of a Cinderella run to the final of their conference tournament before losing 72-70 to Eastern Connecticut. They have two First Team All Conference performers in Matt Ozzella ‘17 and Ty Nichols ‘19, but also have three other players scoring in double figures. This is the kind of depth that could give top-heavy Amherst fits, particularly in the front court. Amherst plays the Owls tonight at 5:30.
Misericordia (20-7, 9-5)
A contender for the “College Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Song From Les Miserables” award, Misericordia won their conference tournament and has a lot of momentum heading into the NCAAs. They are led by terrific all around guard Jason Kenny ‘19, who put up a 21/4/4 line on nearly 50% shooting from the field and 41% from three. But the Cougars have three other double figure scorers and shoot the three at 37% as a team. Again, this is the kind of depth that Amherst really struggles with, especially since they have some, uh, disinterested defenders on their roster.
#5 Ramapo (25-2, 16-2)
The host team and number 5 team in the country, Ramapo is certainly the favorite to come out of this weekend. They are led in scoring by Thomas Boncum ‘18 (17.7 ppg,) but they are a terrific team top to bottom. They shoot 50.7 from the field and 41% from three as a team, which point to a tremendously efficient offensive strategy. Their average margin of victory is a whopping 14.4 points per game, and they out-rebound opponents by 7 boards per game, an area in which Amherst tends to struggle. Ramapo is a legit title contender, and Amherst may not be able to run with them even if they survive Keene State tonight.