The Rise of the Bobcats: Men’s Basketball Game of the Week Preview

Bates (9-9, 2-3) @ #14 Wesleyan (14-4, 3-2), 7:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Bates vs. Tufts was a worthy contender for game of the week, but due to Bates’ victory over the Jumbos last weekend, they are the team to beat for Wesleyan. Bates sits in ninth place in the standings, seemingly stuck in the abyss of basketball irrelevance. However, Tufts, who Bates beat 77-75, is sitting in third place at 3-2—only one game ahead of the Bobcats. Indeed, Bates is actually a huge wild card right now in terms of playoff seeding. They could spoil some better teams rankings, and if they can win this one and take down Trinity, they are assured of a playoff spot. This cramming of the standings shows the remarkable parity of the conference and how so much is left to chance with half of the regular season remaining. Not only are there solid teams sitting on the outside looking in, but there are perennial powers just one game out of the similar irrelevance that Bates is facing. This matchup puts power against bottom feeder, while the end result could completely flip the switch on their places in the standings, playoff potential, and power rankings.

Overview:

While Bates is only 2-3 in conference, they have already played Tufts, Midd, and Williams, with their only bad loss coming against Colby. Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, and Nick Lynch ’19 are all above average for the conference at their position and are threats on both sides of the ball against what has been an inconsistent Wesleyan team. Regardless of how their shooting accuracy has fluctuated recently, the Cardinals still have only lost to Williams in OT and #16 Hamilton. Therefore, they will compete independent of shooting struggles and can compete with any team in the nation, giving them a clear edge against a Bates team fighting to get into the conversation of relevance.

Wesleyan X-Factor: Passing Game

With O’ Brien out, role players like Elijah Wilson will be responsible for keeping the ball moving and keeping turnovers down against Bates.

Wesleyan is last in the NESCAC with just 14.6 assists per game, leading to a lower shooting percentage (45.9%) than their overall record would indicate. They have had some real duds in terms of ball distribution, like against Hamilton, where they recorded just seven assists on the night, no more than one for any player. The assist numbers were similar in their narrow win over Amherst, with just 10 total assists for the team. While not a clear indication of success, more assists should correlate to better possessions and better shots which should improve the shooting percentage and limit the unusual poor performances from the star players who get caught trying to do too much. Distribution has seen a steep decline since team leader Kevin O’Brien ’19 went down with an injury, taking away 6.5 assists per contest which are heavily missed of late. Jordan Sears ’18 has been taking his place in the starting lineup, putting up five assists in a blowout win over Conn College, but otherwise not having a similar impact to O’Brien. Sears and the first year stand out Austin Hutcherson (second on the team in assists with 2.2 per contest) are going to be the keys to keeping the ball away from Bates.

Bates X-Factor: G Tom Coyne ‘20

Tom Coyne
Tom Coyne ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

In their mid-season defining win against Tufts, Coyne came off the bench to shoot 4-5 from deep, tallying up those 12 points in just 21 minutes played. He electrified the Bobcats and will be a key piece to their performance against Wesleyan. While Jeff Spellman leads the team with 17.0 PPG, Coyne is second with 13.4 PPG. A recent move out of the starting lineup has taken a chunk out of his shot totals for game which rose as high as 20 in a non-conference game against Brandeis, but his sharp-shooting is still one of the biggest parts of the Bobcats’ success. His accuracy will be the biggest unknown of the game as he will be needed for Bates, ranked ninth in the conference in PPG at 73.3 to keep up with Wesleyan’s diverse scoring arsenal. This underdog team is also ranked 10th in 3PT shooting percentage at 32.1%, in line with Coyne’s season average, and if he didn’t shoot well above that against the Jumbos, his team would be sitting at 1-4 overall in NESCAC play. Although he moved to the bench, he still has a large stake in influencing the outcome of the game and he will need to be ready to go for the 9th place team to have a shot to win.

Final Thoughts:

Last time I previewed one of Wesleyan’s games, I highlighted Jordan Bonner’s downturn in scoring efficiency. Since then (right before their 76-70 loss to Hamilton), he has decreased his shooting attempts per game, handing more to Nathan Krill and Austin Hutcherson. While Krill and Hutcherson have both been excelling recently, combining for 33 points and 13 boards against Amherst two weekends ago, they shot poorly against Hamilton, going 5-22 combined. That weekend was the last time the Cardinals played a solid team as they easily rolled over Conn College last weekend and dominated in their non-conference games. In a game where Bates’ leading scorer Spellman could take over the scoreboard, the trio of Bonner, Krill, and Hutcherson will need to be on their A-game from the field.

Bates should be greedy to attack another top-dawg in the NESCAC after falling in the week’s Power Rankings from eighth on 1/17 to ninth after their upset of Tufts. While most of the stuff Pete writes is controversial in some way, it is hard for me to see how a team goes down after beating a team ranked above them (Editor’s Note: Rude.) Nevertheless, this is another chance for the Bobcats to prove their haters wrong with Spellman and Nick Lynch leading the way in scoring and on defense. Lynch, like Coyne, has a huge responsibility, albeit Lynch’s on defense. Lynch leads the Bates team with 8.5 boards per game with Coyne coming in behind him with just 4.2 rebounds per game. Lynch will need to matchup against Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill who hauls in over nine boards of his own. The two 6’7” bigs will be another marquee matchup in this already loaded contest. Bates is not expected to win and needs to do everything right as they did against Tufts and then some to pull it out, but if they do they immediately become a real threat to other top NESCAC teams.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan 77-71

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