#11 Williams (12-3, 3-1) @ #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1), Saturday, January 20, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
The Ephs and the Panthers have become the NESCAC equivalent of the Cavs and Warriors in recent years. The teams met three times last season, including for the NESCAC Championship and in the NCAA Elite Eight. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, beating Middlebury in Pepin Gymnasium to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have carried over that success into this season. They are each ranked in the top 20 in the country, and have battled it out for the top spot in the league all season, along with Wesleyan and Hamilton.
However, both teams are far from unbeatable. Williams is without their star player, Kyle Scadlock ’19, for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Middlebury’s shooting struggles are starting to become incredibly worrying. Middlebury’s NESCAC loss is to Wesleyan, whom Williams beat for their best win. And Williams’ lone NESCAC loss is to Tufts, whom Middlebury just beat handily at home for their best win. All this is to say that both these teams are again tremendously evenly matched, and this game should have huge ramifications for league standings and the playoff picture overall.
Middlebury X-Factor: G Max Bosco ’21
At first glance, this pick might seem to be coming out of left field. Bosco has played fewer minutes than his fellow first year guards Jack Farrell ’21 and Griffin Kornacker ’21, primarily due to his smaller stature and struggles to create shots for others off the dribble. Farrell and Kornacker are both miles ahead of Bosco defensively at this point, and Joey Leighton ’20 is certainly more confident offensively. But Bosco can really shoot the ball. He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances yet, but his stroke is as sweet as anyone’s. Middlebury is the worst three point shooting team in the league, and second worst overall from the field. The clutch heroics of Jack Daly and excellent team defense will not be able to save the Panthers against Williams; they have to hit some outside shots to match Williams’ three point heavy attack. Bosco is capable of doing so. Additionally, his defensive struggles will not be as pronounced against the Ephs. Bobby Casey ’20 and Mike Greenman ’18, and even Cole Teal ’18, are an excellent group of players, but they are not large. Casey and Teal will be handled by Daly and Hilal Dahleh ’19, leaving Bosco matched with the 5’8″ Greenman. Bosco has a great opportunity this game to do what he does best; hit shots.
Williams X-Factor: F Matt Karpowicz ’20
We gave Karpowicz a lot of love in the stock report earlier this week, and that’s not just because he wrote some average football articles for us in the fall. Karpowicz is often unstoppable on the block, shooting 73% from the field, almost all in the paint. He splits time with Michael Kempton ’19, another very large person. As longtime reader Howard Herman pointed out, the two players offer very different looks for the offense. Kempton is a distributor, averaging 2 assists per game despite only playing 15 minutes. However, he is not a scoring threat, only shooting 42% from the field. Karpowicz is a game-changing scorer, and draws a lot of attention on the block, freeing up dominant shooters like Casey and James Heskett ’19. Indeed, in Williams’ closer games he ends up playing most of the crunch time minutes. I expect Middlebury to get a far heavier dose of Karpowicz than Kempton. Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ’18 is a great athlete, but struggles with strong post scorers who can back him down and neutralize his length and leaping ability. And Adisa Majors ’18 is simply undersized, no matter which big man Williams has in. This means that Eric McCord ’19 is the guy, and has to avoid the foul trouble that hurt him against Albertus Magnus. In a game in which Middlebury must game plan heavily for Casey and Heskett, Karpowicz is the guy for whom Middlebury has no answer for on their roster.
James Heskett is certainly on the short list for Player of the Year, along with his teammate Bobby Casey, Jack Daly and Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour. He’s very long, with a gorgeous jump shot and incredible quickness for his size. Indeed, he’s been arguably the best shooter in the league this season, hitting 51% from the field and 43% from three. Luckily for Middlebury, however, they have one of the only players in the league who can match his skill set, if not his efficiency, in Matt Folger ’20. Along with the rest of the Panthers, Folger’s shooting numbers have taken a hit of late, but he is still a deadly scorer inside and out. And more importantly for this match up, he is miles ahead of Heskett defensively. Heskett’s skill set and athleticism have not yet translated to that end, as he averages just 0.3 blocks per game and 0.9 steals. Even more jarring is that he averages just 3.8 rebounds a night, despite being 6’8.” Folger, on the other end, has clearly focused on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the league in blocks at 2.4, and grabs 8.1 rebounds a night. If Folger can outscore Heskett, Middlebury has a good chance to win.
Rebounding may well be the key to Middlebury’s chances in this game. The Panthers are a bona fide dominant team on the glass. Their numbers are skewed by pulling down a ridiculous 70 against Tufts, but they still lead the league in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and are second in rebounding margin. Williams is towards the bottom of the league in all of those categories. For a team that struggles shooting like Middlebury does, offensive rebounds are a must have statistic, and were what kept them in the game against Tufts until they pulled away in the second half. Williams is a team Middlebury can bully on the glass, creating second chances if shots aren’t falling.
Last thing: this could be a huge game for Jack Daly. He historically raises his game against Williams, but this isn’t just his already covered “clutch gene.” Williams doesn’t really have an answer for his strength at the guard spots. Greenman is far too small, and Bobby Casey isn’t particularly strong defensively. In fact, Williams doesn’t have a single player averaging more than one steal per game. Even their big men are occaisionally timid inside, with the notable exception of Karpowicz. This means that Daly is usually able to get to the basket easily against the Ephs. He’ll draw attention to the paint, and he’s the best in the country at finding open players once he gets around the basket. The key will be how many shots those players can hit.
No longtime readers will be surprised by this, but I think Middlebury, on the backs of Jack Daly and an assuredly raucous home crowd, pulls this one out.
Middlebury 75, Williams 71