For those of us that made it out of the library, we saw a pretty exciting week as far as preseason NESCAC basketball goes. The week featured two non-conference, conference games: Colby topped Bowdoin, 89-84 in a high scoring affair, while Wesleyan needed more than just 40 minutes to edge Williams, 72-67, on the road in Williamstown. This week there were fewer extraordinary individual performances, so much of the focus is on the teams as a whole, with much focus on the two aforementioned games. As we eagerly await the start of true conference play, let’s take a long about who is trending up and who is trending down after this exciting week:
Going into the year, we weren’t sure what to expect of this Cardinal team who lost three underclassmen, to go along with two graduating seniors. Even when they started 5-0, none of those five wins stood out as particularly impressive. This all changed on Saturday after they took down the no. 3 nationally-ranked Ephs in overtime. Although it won’t count towards the NESCAC standings, this is a very impressive win for Wesleyan. Winning a game against a team of this caliber on the road is not only a resume-booster, but it should give this unproven lineup a huge dose of confidence. The Cardinals are aided by reigning NESCAC player of the week, Jordan Bonner ’19 who dominated against Williams, and has emerged as the top scoring threat in Middletown. They also boast one of the league’s most efficient players in Kevin O’Brien ’19, who averages 10.8PPG, 7REB/G, and 5.8 AST/G, while shooting 62.5% from the field. This type of efficiency will be key for Wesleyan if they would like to stand atop the conference, or even the Little Three, by the end of the season.
Last week we mentioned Bates and Bowdoin as Maine schools that were on a bit of a tear, and now we can add Colby to the list. They welcomed the Polar Bears to Waterville and put on quite a performance. I’m not a betting man (in compliance with NCAA rules of course), but if I were, I would say that Bowdoin was probably the favorite in this one, entering the game undefeated and ranked #22 nationally. It was a very tight game the entire way, but the Mules simply shot too well to lose this one. They shot 48.4% from the field, they were 13-32 (40.6%) from beyond the arc en route to a 5-point victory. Their style of play is very offense-oriented and they like to shoot A LOT. However, their pass-first mentality places them first in the league with 20.3 assists per game. They also love to crash the boards, specifically on offense. They are in the middle of the pack (5th) in the conference in total rebounds, but second in offensive rebounds. Colby very much subscribes to living and dying via the three-point shot, but it has worked thus far, as they are second in threes per game. The Mules are very fun to watch, so stay tuned to see how they fare over the next few weeks.
This is a much more scrutinized topic in NESCAC football, especially with the conference’s basketball being much deeper, but it does seem that year-in and year-out we see more or less the same teams at the top. It was exciting to see both Wesleyan and Colby (underdogs per se) take down higher ranked teams and show that anything can happen on any given night in the ‘CAC. I am about as big a NESCAC fan as they come, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have any evidence to back up my claim that the NESCAC is the best conference in the NCAA. 11 of the last 14 Division III Final Fours® have featured at least one team from the NESCAC, and there are no other conferences at any other division that can say the same. Hopefully the new NESCAC-ESPN deal gets off the ground, so we can start airing games that are played at this high of a level. Until then.
Williams’ little three chances
The mighty Ephs have shown us that they are vulnerable, and Wesleyan showed what it takes to defeat them. The Cardinals stymied the Ephs on defense, holding them to 23-62 (37.1%) from the field and 9-33 (27.3%) from 3-point land. It didn’t get any better from the charity stripe, where Williams went 12-23, good for 52.2%. They were not turning the ball over at a particularly high rate, but their poor showing from the field resulted in a season-low 11 assists. Wesleyan’s defensive effort was superb, and I’m confident the Ephs will bounce back, but this result was pretty shocking considering they came in at #3 in the nation. That said, this was officially a non-conference game, and teams aren’t expected to be in top shape on December 1st. Williams simply has much more to prove with after the first blemish of their season, especially with another non-conference matchup with Amherst looming. With Wesleyan showing that they aren’t messing around and Amherst playing well out of the gates, the Little Three crown will be a lot tougher to grab than we may have thought at the beginning of the year.
Johnny McCarthy as a POY candidate
As a writer, I take pride in my work, and I’m also willing to admit when I was wrong. In the case of McCarthy, it does appear that I was wrong when I discussed him as a possible POY candidate. Nothing against McCarthy or Amherst, because they are off to a great start, appearing at no. 21 in the nation this week. Simply put, Amherst is too balanced for McCarthy to stand out as a candidate for this prestigious award. He is putting up 8.5PPG, 6.0Reb/G, and 2.3AST/G, which are all solid numbers, but not enough to place him under POY consideration. The Mammoths have such a large rotation of players that play at a high level, so no individual is truly standing out. Again, this is not meant to take any jabs at the Mammoths who have being playing really good basketball, but it is interesting to see who will take a step forward once they get to the more difficult portion of their schedule.