Before we get into this recap, some congratulations are in order. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury G Jack Daly ’18 became the program’s all time assists leader with 558, breaking the previous record (553 by Jake Wulfin ’13) early in the second half. As we all know, this blog is basically a Jack Daly fan page, so we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Panther senior. With that out of the way, it was a pretty conventional weekend in NESCAC, setting up a wild final regular season weekend. The only major upset was Trinity knocking off Wesleyan 73-60 (we’ll get to that.) Here are some things to watch for in this coming weekend.
Hamilton, Weathering Adversity
In the wake of Hamilton’s amazing season this year, people have forgotten that they had a similarly hot start last year. In 2016-2017, they entered league play at 12-3, and many experts, particularly the one you’re reading right now, thought they were making a leap. Then they lost 3 straight NESCAC games and never recovered, finishing 4-6 in the league and losing in the first round of the tournament. And, after their 75-49 drubbing at the hands of Amherst and another bad loss to Bowdoin it looked like they might be heading towards a similar fate. But they have impressively righted the ship. They’ve won three league games in a row, including a dominant win over Tufts on Saturday. These wins have been of a different nature than their 15-0 start. Hamilton’s defense has gone from somewhat indifferent to excellent in recent games. Against Tufts, they held Vincent Pace ’18, one of the hottest players in the league, to 3-14 shooting from the field. All of the young players who got Hamilton off to such a good start last year have gained a lot of maturity in the last 12 months, and it has allowed them to weather the storm and keep their chances for the #1 seed alive.
Trinity’s Three Point Shooting
As I mentioned earlier, Trinity’s win over Wesleyan was the biggest upset of the weekend. At 4-4 in the league, Trinity desperately needed that win in order to stay ahead of the the Maine teams in the playoff race. But Wesleyan’s dominant defense seemed like it would to be too much for Trinity’s often shaky offense to overcome. Three point shooting changed that. Trinity went 9-18 from three, including 7-9 from Jeremy Arthur ’18 and Eric Gendron ’19. Trinity was the number one seed not too long ago, but if they want any hope of winning this year’s tournament, they will need to keep teams honest from the three point line. This game, against one of the truly elite defenses in the league, showed that they can do that. Teams should be worried about playing Trinity in the quarterfinals. Middlebury F Adisa Majors ‘18
Majors made the biggest shot of Middlebury’s season thus far, a 15-footer with 5 seconds left to beat Bowdoin. Had the Panthers lost to Bowdoin, they would be tied for the top spot with Hamilton and Williams. But Majors gave them sole possession of the top seed, and now they basically control their own destiny, with an enormous matchup with Hamilton looming. However, Majors’ great weekend wasn’t just comprised of that game winner. He had ten points overall against Bowdoin, and is averaging nearly ten on over 50% shooting in his last three. When Majors is playing well, Middlebury’s rotation of forwards is nearly impossible to handle, because each offers a different skill set. Eric McCord ’19 is a beast, ripping offensive rebounds away and using his strength to finish inside. Nick Tarantino ’18 is long and athletic, and uses that to beat people down the floor and finish above the rim. And Majors is an excellent finisher who can step out to the midrange. Majors has had a huge role in Middlebury’s current 9 game winning streak, and has them poised to host the tournament.
The Jumbos have gone from contenders for the top seed to struggling to stay in the top five. They play just Trinity this weekend, and if they lose, they could end up as the seventh seed. How did this happen? Simple: shooting. In Tufts’ last three league games, they are shooting under 20% from three. You just can’t win like that. Vincent Pace ’18 is a star, but defenses are able to focus all their energy on him and no one around him is scoring well enough to take the pressure off. However, Middlebury has had the same problems surrounding Jack Daly, and yet the Panthers are 7-1 in the league. Tufts doesn’t have the defense and rebounding tenacity to make up for their scoring struggles. They get out-rebounded by 1 rebound per game in league play, while Middlebury out-rebounds opponents by 11. In Pace, Tufts will often have the best player on the court, but he needs help.
Hamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20
One of the most impressive things about Hamilton’s recent strong play is that it has coincided with struggles from Gilmour, their best player. Gilmour is shooting just 39% overall in league play, and against Tufts he shot 2-9 from the field. Only a sophomore, Gilmour may starting to experience the fatigue that often comes from playing so many more minutes than in his rookie season, and his minutes last weekend (21 and 23 respectively) show the coaching staff trying to manage it. But he will need to play better in Hamilton’s enormous matchup against Middlebury on Friday. The Panthers have the depth to match Hamilton’s versatile offense; Hamilton will need to be able to rely on Gilmour to get a shot for himself or someone else in a one-on-one matchup. It will be a great learning experience for the future star to try this against Jack Daly, and if he does it, the league could be his earlier than expected.