You Don’t Want That Three Peat: Middlebury Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Middlebury Panthers

2016-2017 Record: 27-4, 8-2, won NESCAC championship, lost to Williams in Elite Eight

Projected 2017-2018 Record: 22-7, 8-2

Key Losses:

G Jake Brown ‘17 (11.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.4 STL/G)

G Matt St. Amour ‘17 (21.8 PPG, 4.6 REB/G, 3.1 AST/G, 40.8 % 3PFG)

G Bryan Jones ‘17 (5.6 PPG, 37% 3PFG)

Projected Starting Lineup:

G: Jack Daly ‘18 (12.1 PPG, 6.5 REB/G, 5.9 AST/G, 1.9 STL/G)

Jack Daly
Jack Daly ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Aside from Editor in Chief, my most important job at this blog is the president of the Jack Daly fan club. Daly has long been the Kevin Jonas to St. Amour and Brown’s Joe and Nick–almost (and maybe even as) talented, but under the radar. But now he gets a solo act. Scoring is not his specialty, but he will be asked to be more aggressive in creating his own shot to replace some of St. Amour’s possession-saving shots. But Daly has already proven that he can fill it up when the team needs it. He had a buzzer beater in the holiday tournament last season, and in the NCAA game against Williams he had 23 points, while Brown and St. Amour both struggled. He will have to shoot higher than 31% from three, but he improved in league play last season despite a an awkward jump shot. What really sets him apart, however, is everything else besides scoring. There might be no greater triple double threat in the league. He led Middlebury in rebounding last season, (6.5) despite being a good six inches shorter than Nick Tarantino (6’3″ in the program? Alright Jack.) And he finished in the top three in the league in both assists and steals. He fills the stat sheet like no one else. Middlebury might have had the three best guards in the league on their team last season, and it’s possible that the best one is the one that stayed.

G: Hilal Dahleh ‘19 (4.7 PPG, 1.7 REB/G, 39% FG)

Hilal Dahleh
Hilal Dahleh ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

This second guard spot is maybe the biggest question mark for the Panthers. Daly should effectively mitigate the loss of Brown at the point, but Middlebury’s success last season stemmed from having multiple guards who could initiate the offense, guard threats on the opposing team, and create shots for themselves. There’s a lot of competition for this spot. Sophomores Perry Delorenzo ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘19 are excellent shooters, as is precocious first year Max Bosco. Perhaps the best candidate among the first years to jump into this spot would be first year Jack Ferrall. A tremendous athlete, Ferrall projects as an elite defender with finishing skills that transcend his height. But his shooting is not as far along as any of the other guards.

The person who best allows the Panthers to continue playing the way they want is Hilal Dahleh. In his first year, he impressed with his terrific defense and feel for the game, despite struggling with his shot. He was projected to be a major factor last season, but suffered a back injury in the preseason which forced him out for the entire year. But he has worked his way back into playing shape, and should enter the season at 100%. At 6’3”, he has terrific size for the position, and his long arms allow him to be a good complimentary defender to Daly. The key for him will be hitting shots. He has to be an offensive threat out of the two guard spot for the Middlebury offense to function. If he struggles shooting the ball to start off the year, there are several shooters on the bench who are ready to go.

F: Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)

Matt Folger
Matt Folger ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

This spot is also up for debate, as if any of the other guards besides Dahleh impress enough in the preseason, they could slide into the starting lineup, with Dahleh at the three and Folger at the four. But Folger’s starting spot is far from in doubt, and having him at the three opens up a world of possibilities. There’s more on him below so I won’t say too much here, but there are few players in the league with his combination of height and perimeter skills. Teams can’t put a guard on him, as he has good post footwork and can shoot right over the top of them. But very few big men can keep up with his speed and ball handling, and he draws a center away from the basket. This opens up driving lanes for any of the speedy Middlebury guards. If at all possible, the Panthers should try to play Folger here at the three to create mismatches all over the floor.

F: Adisa Majors ‘18 (9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB/G, 54% FG)

Adisa Majors
Adisa Majors ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Majors has carved out a nice spot for himself here in Middlebury. His style in the post is best described as “Elephant in a China Shop,” but his 54% field goal percentage speaks to its effectiveness. His 15-foot jumper is perfect for playing in a guard-heavy offense, and he has gotten himself into good enough shape to beat most big men down the court. He has developed into the perfect big man for Jack Daly. Defensively, he has made great strides, but still gets into trouble when switched onto opposing guards. Eric McCord ‘19 is less of a liability in this area, and is a better passer out of the post as well. But he hasn’t practiced yet this season, so right now Majors is the guy. He will need to continue to earn his time, as a three guard lineup with Folger at the four is entirely possible. But then again, he’s done that his whole career.

F: Nick Tarantino ‘18 (6.8 PPG, 6.0 REB/G, 0.9 BLK/G, 60% FG)

Nick Tarantino
Nick Tarantino ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Tarantino was an embodiment of one of the strangest developments of Middlebury’s season last year. In the first half, Middlebury was getting killed on the glass and in the paint defensively, and it looked as if the forward rotation would spoil the incredible perimeter play and lead to an early tournament exit. But around the beginning of league play, Tarantino, McCord and Majors turned it on and became one of the more threatening units in the league. Tarantino was especially impressive. He shot 59% from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds a game, becoming the kind of imposing threat that Middlebury needed to have controlling the paint. And this season he should only get better as the established starter. As a recruit he was touted as being an outside threat, but he has (mercifully) left that behind in favor of a springy, jump hook-based post game. His most underrated skill is his passing, as he and McCord have developed a nice chemistry on high low actions, taking advantage of both of their heights to see over the defense.

Speaking of defense, that is where he must improve. Despite his long arms, height and jumping ability, he still averaged less than one block per game last season. Folger is a great shot blocker, but when Tarantino is in Folger will most likely be on the perimeter. Tarantino must become a more imposing defensive force for Middlebury. When McCord comes back, some minutes at this spot will go to him, but they are at their best when playing together, so Tarantino should see consistent minutes all season.

Key Player:

F Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)

If Middlebury hopes to continue the frantic, perimeter-heavy style of play that has won them back-to-back NESCAC championships, Folger must take a big leap forward. He certainly has the talent to. At 6’8”, he is tall enough to be a menace in the paint on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of being a dominant interior force last season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game despite limited minutes, and he has terrific touch around the rim on offense, shooting 60% on two point field goals. But it’s his perimeter skills at that height that make him one of the most talented players in the league. He has very quick feet and long arms, enabling him to guard players of all different positions. Middlebury will ask him to do a great deal of this, as many lineups for the Panthers will feature him at the small forward spot alongside more traditional big men such as McCord, Tarantino or Adisa Majors ‘18.

Matt Folger ’20 has the skills to be one of the league’s best in his second season,

Folger also will take on much more responsibility as a three point threat. Middlebury’s guard-heavy recruiting class suggests that they want to continue to run and shoot three pointers often. This is difficult to do when you graduate your three best outside shooters, including one of the best in the country. Folger’s form is beautiful, and his success inside the arc and at the foul line (80%) serve as evidence to his great touch, but he only shot 28% from three last season. Of course it takes most first years time to adjust to the college game (Middlebury loyalists will remember that Matt St. Amour struggled from three for most of his first two years) but Folger doesn’t have that luxury this season. He will be asked to live up to his considerable potential this year, and if he does, an All-NESCAC selection is not out of the realm of possibility.

Everything Else:

Middlebury’s goal, like the rest of the league’s, is to beat Williams. They’re the preseason number one, and they’re the team that knocked the Panthers out in the NCAA tournament last season. The way that Middlebury is going at the Ephs is by matching their size and positional versatility. Daly has long been the best defender in the league in terms of guarding all positions; he is the only point guard in the league who can guard power forwards effectively, and will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of size or position. With the forward rotation of Folger, Tarantino, Majors and McCord, and terrific defensive guards in Dahleh and Daly (say that three times fast) the Panthers have the ability to play a lineup big enough to bang on the glass with Williams without sacrificing too much speed. Another factor in this equation is first year forward Ryan Cahill ‘21. He is another big man who is far more mobile than his size would lead you to believe, and is already a threat from outside. He will be in the rotation as long as McCord is out, and maybe beyond that.

Middlebury could also match Williams by playing small and running them off the floor, but there are more question marks there. Coach Brown’s focus in the offseason for recruiting was certainly guards, and he has brought in an excellent class. We have already discussed Farrell’s two way potential, but the second unit of guards runs deeper than just him. Bosco is one of the best shooters in the class, regardless of team. His release is lightning fast, and he is very advanced at finding his spot and finishing over size. Defensively he projects as a liability right now due to his own diminutive stature, so he is better suited at the moment to be shot of caffiene off the bench, a la Bryan Jones.

Delorenzo and Leighton also figure to fight for minutes, and as always, whichever one of them is hitting shots will determine who sits higher in the rotation. Much of Middlebury’s second unit play will be guard-heavy, three point barrages, but they could also easily trot out a three guard starting lineup, with Bosco or Delorenzo joining Dahleh and Daly in the back court. With Folger at the four and  Tarantino, Majors or McCord (when he returns from injury) at the five this lineup would be very difficult to defend. However, the would be worse on the boards and overall easier to score on, especially for larger lineups like Williams’.

Middlebury has reloaded this season, but there are a lot of red flags. Daly has the highest amount of responsibility of any point guard in the league. He has to run a high paced offense, while working in many new players and guarding the best player on the other team. He doesn’t have a proven backup, although Dahleh, Farrell and Bosco are all capable of bringing the ball up. They will run a lot of the second unit offense. But with that said, there’s no way that Middlebury isn’t worse without Daly on the floor. He might set minutes records this season, and there’s no guarantee that he can sustain his impossible hustle while having the ball in his hands so often.

Jack Daly is an all around star, but he’s never been “the man” before. Can he lead a team and continue his signature brand of basketball?

The lack of three point shooting is also worrying. The three graduated seniors were the three best outside shooters on a team that didn’t exactly light it up for much of the season. Middlebury got in a lot of trouble when teams could pack the paint against them and force them into congested shots in the paint. That’s what Williams did in the NCAA tournament. Daly will have to shoot better than 31%; if teams can go under picks and play off him, the offense stalls out at the top of the key. Folger’s 28% is unacceptable for a guy with such pretty form, and he represents the biggest outside weapon in the projected starting lineup. And Bosco, Delorenzo and Leighton will have to live up to their billing as bombers. Middlebury can no longer rely on St. Amour to get them a shot in failed possessions, other guys have to step up.

The losses look huge on paper. St. Amour is one of the best NESCAC players of the last 20 years, and Brown wasn’t far behind him. Bryan Jones was a force off the bench, and even Liam Naughton hit a couple big shots and was huge for team chemistry. But they retained a great deal of talent as well. The forward rotation was a strength at the end of last season, and all of those players are back and a year more experienced. With a big starting five that looks more Division One than NESCAC, Middlebury should be able to cure much of rebounding woes that once plagued them. The keys to Middlebury’s chances at a three-peat lie on the perimeter. They need Daly and Folger to up their scoring averages and three point percentages considerably, and for Delorenzo, Ferrall, Dahleh, Bosco and Cahill to be threats off the bench. The Panthers enter the season eighth in the country and third in the NESCAC, behind Williams and Tufts. It’s possible that at the end of the year, we will look back on that and laugh at how low they were. But it’s also possible that we shake our heads and wonder why they were so high. I think it will be the former, but, as always, I’m biased.

NESCAC Tournament Roundup

Middlebury ran through the NESCAC tournament en route to their second straight NESCAC title (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Williams at Tufts:

The Ephs kept their late season magic going against the Jumbos in a David (Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19) meets Goliath matchup in Medford, MA. Williams played just like they did against Amherst the weekend before – they put up solid, yet repeatable shooting numbers (46.8% FG, 32.0% 3-point, and 71.4% FT) which allowed them to build a steady lead in the second half. Tufts shot just 37.3% FG in this semifinal with their five starters going 11-34 from the field and 4-18 from deep, significantly worse than their bench. Everett Dayton ‘18, Vinny Pace ‘18, and Drew Madsen ‘17 were stopped from putting up any real rebounding numbers while Scadlock and Aronowitz ran the floor effectively for the Ephs. The Jumbos got away from their game plan as a result of their poor shooting, as just three players were able to score in double-digits. This came in stark contrast to the recently balanced Jumbo offense. Mike Greenman was able to do what the Jumbos couldn’t and controlled the offensive side of the ball for the underdogs with nine assists, a key to Williams’ success. High percentage shots stemmed from their balanced and efficient attack, and five Ephs tallied double-digit points as a result. Williams built their lead in the second half, and a quick three by Greenman with 3:58 to go put the Williams lead out of reach. While this game appeared to be a bit one sided, it was tied at 65 with 4:23 to go. Isn’t that exactly how many points Tufts scored? It is. Williams ended the game on a 16-0 run, capitalizing on free throws and protecting the ball. Tufts, on the other hand, finished the game on an 0-8 shooting run (including free throws). It’s definitely concerning for the Jumbos that they couldn’t muster any sort of last minute comeback in their home gym in a playoff game, but maybe Tom Palleschi ‘17 will be able to change that. Early in the season there is no question that Tufts was the top dawg in the NESCAC, as beating Middlebury didn’t surprise anybody. However, they limp into the NCAA tournament off of a loss without any guarantees from their star senior Palleschi. Palleschi played eight minutes against Williams, the first action he’s seen since January 20th. If he can return to form and play significant minutes his defensive presence will be a huge upgrade for the Jumbos.

 

Trinity at Middlebury:

Matt Folger ’20 pulls down a rebound (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Double-teaming Ed Ogundeko ‘17 was Middlebury’s formula to beating the Bantams. It worked. Ogundeko was forced to shoot without a clear look at the basket and couldn’t do enough with the ball when he had it. His 1-11 shooting left Trinity without any hope, as Eric McCord ‘19, Nick Tarantino ‘18, and Adisa Majors ‘18 played tough basketball to grind out a win. Unlike most Trinity games, Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Eric Gendron ‘18 shot well and carried the Bantam offense, which usually would spell out a big win for this team, but without the addition of Ogundeko’s ~17 PPG average, there was a big piece missing. Majors’ nine boards, McCord’s five, and Tarantino’s eight were enough to give the Panthers a presence down low that was willing to scrap for every possession. McCord plays dangerously at times, often making unnecessary foul (he had four on Saturday), but it was just the right style of play to slow down Ogundeko, who is used to having his way with NESCAC opponents. Matt St. Amour ‘17 did his thing, and even though he only had 18 points (haha, only), he shot the ball efficiently. Jake Brown ‘17 had the chance to shake off the rust from his recent spell on the bench with ankle injury. Brown came back in full force, competing for 31 minutes and getting his feet wet before the championship. Matt Folger ‘20 was huge off the bench for Midd as the first year Panther went 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from deep, totaling 11 points. For Trinity, Turnbull’s 23 points were the most he had scored since November 22nd. While the senior did everything he could to carry the Bantams in the big anomaly of a game for Ogundeko, it would turn out to be his last college performance. While it was a tough last game for Ogundeko, he still led the league in REB/G this year, averaged a double-double, and finished in Trinity’s top ten all-time for rebounding. What a career. For Midd, the fun was only just beginning.

 

Williams at Middlebury:

 

There’s no question that Williams kept their magic going into Sunday’s contest as they took a quick lead on the favored Panthers. In fact, a four point Williams lead and just three points out of Matt St. Amour at the half would’ve shocked anybody. Kyle Scadlock lit up the scoreboard for 15 in the opening frame, shooting 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from the charity stripe, with James Heskett ‘19 going 3-3 FG and 2-2 from deep en route to a perfect eight points. Scadlock added ten first half rebounds, enough to carry the Ephs to a 40-36 early lead that gave them hope that they could put a ring on after the season. Unfortunately for the Ephs, they weren’t able to hold off St. Amour the whole game, as this game was a tale of two halves. In fact, St. Amour went off in the second half and you wouldn’t even be able to tell he started off slowly unless you took a closer look at the box score. St. Amour dropped 17 after the break, going 6-9 in FGs and 4-7 in 3’s. Scadlock still put up a solid nine points in the second, but only had one rebound as Williams got dominated in the paint. Seven Panthers had three or more rebounds in the second half compared to just two for Williams, leading to a 26-13 boards advantage for Midd. Midd took 11 more shots in the second half and Williams shot to the tune of a terrible 20.0%. While the underdogs came out firing, their cinderella story came to an end. Middlebury simply couldn’t be held back for a whole 40 minutes. The 48-22 line in the second half shows what kind of team Middlebury is—which bodes well for the Panthers heading into the NCAA tournament. Those games always seem to come down to the final seconds. Clutch is the name of the game and Williams couldn’t keep it going throughout the contest.

 

With that being said, Williams played well enough to earn them an at large bid, along with three other NESCAC teams: Amherst, Tufts, and Wesleyan. Winning the NESCAC earned Middlebury the conference’s automatic bid. Five teams from one conference are in the NCAA tournament. That is an absurd number of NCAA tournament teams from the NESCAC. Five teams is nearly half of the conference. There are only 64 teams in the tournament so therefore the NESCAC makes up just under 8% of the bracket. Talk about conference depth. It’s time to go dancing.

Revenge, Thy Name is NESCAC: Middlebury vs. Williams Final Preview

#2 Middlebury (23-3, 8-2) vs. #6 Williams (19-7, 5-5): 12:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Overview:

And then there were two. Middlebury and Williams meet today at noon to decide the NESCAC Championship. The game is a rematch of one of the most surprising results of the regular season. In the game in Williamstown, the Ephs blasted the Panthers 89-65 in Middlebury’s only truly disappointing performance of the season. As is usually the case when the Ephs win, they were very hot from three, shooting 13-27. And they held Middlebury, the leading field goal shooting team in the league, to 40% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from three. You can bet the Panthers will be looking to avenge their embarrassing performance, but Williams might just hold the keys to slowing down Middlebury’s ride to a second straight title.

Middlebury X-Factor: Close-outs

Much of Williams’ offensive strategy is based off of attacking perimeter closeouts. If a player doesn’t get out quickly enough on a three point shooter, you can bet that shot is going up, and they have more than enough outside threats to make that offense pay off. But if the closeout comes too fast, they can drive past and kick to an open three point shooter when the defense collapses. This also opens up the backdoor cuts that they love so much. As the player with the ball drives past his man, the help man is distracted, allowing his defender to cut backdoor for a layup. Middlebury’s close-outs were very shoddy in the loss in Williamstown: today they will have to come out quickly but also solidly, keeping good guarding position. If they can do that Williams will struggle to score, as they lack great one-on-one scorers outside of Daniel Aronowitz ‘17.

Williams X-Factor: James Heskett ‘19

James Heskett
James Heskett ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

As I mentioned above, Williams lacks players who can break down perimeter defenders one on one if the defender has a solid close-out. Against Middlebury in the regular season, Heskett begged to differ. He put up 19 points on 5-10 shooting, and went 3-4 from three. At 6’8”, Heskett is too long to be guarded by any of Middlebury’s three guards, but is quick enough and a good enough shooter and ball handler to be a matchup issue for Eric McCord ‘19, Adisa Majors ‘18 or Nick Tarantino ‘18. The best match-up for him on Middlebury is probably Matt Folger ‘20, Folger looked very comfortable in the semifinal against Trinity, scoring 8 points in a row during the second half en route to 11 points. However, the NESCAC final is still a big stage for a freshman. Heskett’s combination of size and skill might force Coach Brown to play Folger a little more than he’d like. And if he doesn’t, Heskett could be a huge factor this afternoon.

Final Thoughts:

Middlebury has to be encouraged by what they saw from Jake Brown ‘17 against Trinity. After missing the first round game against Bates with a high ankle sprain, Brown played 31 minutes against Trinity. His stats weren’t tremendous (the sloppy nature of the game kept everyone’s stats pretty low) but he looked to be moving well, and his presence allowed Middlebury to push the pace in the second half and avoid falling into too much of a barfight with the Bantams.

Jake Brown scored 23 points and dished out six assists in the win.
Jake Brown ’17 is one of the keys to Middlebury’s effort to take home a second straight NESCAC championship;

Brown’s health will be even more crucial in this game. Williams is a perimeter-centric team, which means that Middlebury’s two terrific perimeter defenders (Brown and Jack Daly ‘18) will be tasked with slowing down the ball movement and outside shooting of the Ephs. Additionally, Brown is a needed offensive weapon for Middlebury. The Ephs will try to load up on St. Amour, so Brown will probably get some good looks from three. He and Bryan Jones ‘17 need to be threats from their to open up the floor for St. Amour. Eric McCord also will probably have a strength advantage over whoever is guarding him. If Middlebury can space the floor well enough, they should look to go to him in the post early and often.

Based on the match-ups, I would pick Middlebury in this game 8 times out of 10. But that’s what I said before the regular season game too, and look what happened there. Williams has all the sports-movie momentum in the world right now, and the re-emergence of Kyle Scadlock ‘19 as a terrifying two-way threat gives them a dimension they didn’t have against Middlebury earlier in the year. However, I still think Middlebury pulls it out. The Panthers should recognize the Ephs; they’re doing the same thing Middlebury did in the tournament last year. Therefore they should know what to do with them.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

NESCAC Play Begins: Part Two

Joseph Kuo ’17 has a been a force for Wesleyan so far, and he will be needed big time this weekend (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics/Lianne Yun).

Being a Tufts student, I think it’s important that my first order of business is to address the elephant in the room. Pete definitely hates Tufts, no matter how much he denied it yesterday in his preview of today’s games. To be honest, I don’t blame him, it’s just his Middlebury inferiority complex kicking in. Take it easy on him, guys, Middlebury Athletics is all he has. That being said, whoever made this comparison between Pete and Skip Bayless in the comment section: bravo.

More importantly, let’s take a look at the Saturday/Sunday games. Overall, the contests appear to be a bit less interesting than Friday’s games, but it’s the opening weekend of NESCAC play – anything can happen.

 

Saturday Games

GAME OF THE DAY: #9 Wesleyan @ Hamilton, 3:00 PM, Clinton, NY

Overview:

I would guess that most Cardinals fans looked past this game on their schedule due to Hamilton’s performance in recent years. For Wesleyan’s sake, I hope the players are not looking past this game. Obviously, they’ve got a battle on Friday night against Middlebury, but this new and improved Hamilton squad can definitely take advantage of that. Hamilton has been led by a cast of youngsters thus far, and this early season matchup is vital if these pups want to prove they can hang with the big dogs. Last year, the Continentals took Wesleyan to overtime before losing 82-76, and it actually took some clutch free throws by Wesleyan’s Joseph Kuo ‘17 down the stretch to avoid losing in regular time. Impressive performances will surely attract more attention to Michael Grassey ‘19 and Jack Dwyer ‘18 from the Wesleyan defense on Saturday, who had 16 a piece last year. It was the seniors that led the way for the Cardinals, as BJ Davis, Jack Mackey, and Joe Edmonds combined for 42 of Wesleyan’s 82 points. While this Wesleyan team has certainly figured things out so far this year on their way to a #9 national ranking, they will need someone besides Kuo to embrace the moment and put the ball in the bucket on Saturday if they want to keep up with high-scoring Continentals.

 

X-factors:

It has been Wesleyan’s depth and balance that has proven quite effective so far this year, but against this young Hamilton team, senior leader Harry Rafferty is going to need to take the reigns. Throughout his career, Rafferty has been a threat whenever he throws on the black and red jersey, and one main reason for that is because of his outside shooting. Take a second and digest this: Rafferty has shot 106 times this season, and while he is shooting 39.6% from the field, this number is somewhat skewed. Of those 106 shots, Rafferty has attempted 77 three-pointers. The senior shoots 37.7% from the field (29-77), which means he has hit as many threes as he has taken twos. That’s a bit ridiculous. If that’s the way Wesleyan’s offense works, great, but this clearly gives Hamilton an idea of how to play Rafferty: run him off the three-point line. Rafferty’s production is very important in this game, so if he is unwilling to move off the arc, Wesleyan could be in trouble.

 

For the home team, success is going to be dependent on the ability (or inability) to stop Kuo down low. That’s where Andrew Groll ‘19 steps in. Groll is a 6’7” forward that dominates the boards, pulling down 7.4 REB/G, which is right on pace with Kuo’s 7.3 REB/G. They both average over 2 offensive rebounds, so the key for Groll on the boards is making sure that Kuo is unable to provide his team with these extra opportunities. Defensively, Groll faces a tall task due to the innate ability of getting to the hoop that Wesleyan’s perimeter players possess. Wesleyan’s quartet of sophomore guards (Salim Green ‘18, Jordan Bonner ‘18, Kevin O’Brien ‘18, and Andrew Gardiner ‘18) can all drive the ball to the rim, which will force Groll to decide whether he is going to help off of Kuo or stay at home. It’s Groll’s decision-making and execution in these situations that will determine whether or not the Cardinals eat Hamilton alive in the paint.

 

Final Thoughts:

One of the most interesting dynamics of this game is the difference in offensive pace. Hamilton averages about eight points more per game than Wesleyan, and though they have played two less games than Wes, the Continentals shoot a higher percentage from the field and from deep. The biggest offensive advantage that I see for Wesleyan is their knack for getting to the foul line. Wesleyan shoots more free throws than any other team in the league, with about 26 per game, as opposed to Hamilton’s 23. They both shoot just about 70% from the strike, so in a close game (as I expect this to be), those 3 extra free throws could be crucial. Both teams are pretty deep, but Hamilton’s scoring is much more top-heavy than Wesleyan’s. If one of their big-time scorers like Peter Hoffmann ‘19 or Michael Grassey ‘19 gets in foul trouble, Wesleyan may be able to pull away. This will be a tough and physical game that depends highly on execution down the stretch. For this reason, I’m giving Wesleyan the advantage. They have simply had more experience in these types of games.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

 

#8 Tufts @ Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME

This game could go one of two ways, and it’s all about which Tufts team shows up. Throughout this season, it has been a tale of two teams. The Tufts that walked into the gym against MIT and WPI was legit. They shot well, they had 32 and 35 points off the bench respectively, and they forced their opponents into difficult shots. Then there is the Tufts team that made an appearance against UMass Boston. They were outrebounded by a significantly smaller team, they had more turnovers than their opponents (albeit by just 1 turnover), and they allowed UMB’s center to dominate them. This Jumbos team is good because they are deep, but when they don’t get production from their bench, they simply aren’t as good a team. Now, it’s definitely worth noting that Vinny Pace ‘18, Tufts’ best scorer, was coming off the bench until the UMB game, but overall, they just need more consistency. Colby may be able to capitalize on this, but their margin of error is slim. Colby ranks last in the conference in scoring with just 70.7 PPG, a product of their league-worst shooting percentage and shot attempt numbers. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is currently the only double-digit point-getter on the Mules’ side of the ball, and that will be an issue against Tufts who has pretty favorable match-ups on their own offensive end. I don’t see Colby slowing down the Tufts offense too much, but you never know. Maybe the Mules will take down the #8 Jumbos. I’m not banking on that.

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

Bates @ Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME

Every year, I wait for NESCAC play before judging Bates because every year, their out of conference schedule is filled with teams that I know little to nothing about. However, I was impressed by Bates’ win against Brandeis recently, and before that they blew out Framingham State like they were supposed to. Maybe Bates is better than I predicted? Though both were non-conference games, Bates has fared 1-1 against NESCAC opponents this season with a buzzer-beater loss to Colby and a 14-point win against Bowdoin. Bowdoin will certainly be looking for revenge this time around, and so will Jack Simonds ‘19, who was held to just 12 points the first time these two met. Simonds, as anyone reading this blog knows, is Bowdoin’s leading scorer, and also the NESCAC’s leading scorer, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into success for the Polar Bears. I knew at the beginning of the season that Bowdoin would struggle if they didn’t diversify their scoring, and it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen in league-play unless they get some other guys involved in the offense. This is partly because Bowdoin’s defense is pretty porous. They allow the second-most PPG in the ‘CAC, and against Bates, they allowed the Bobcats’ starting lineup to tally 62 of their 74 points. The key for Bowdoin this time around is forcing the Bates bench to score. However, the Bobcats are in luck, as newly found offensive weapon Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been playing very well recently. Per usual, it’s up to the twin towers of Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche to anchor the load offensively. If these two dominate like last time (combined for 37 points), then Bates is in good shape. If not, then Simonds might just will Bowdoin to the promised land in this in-state rivalry.

Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin

 

Conn College @ #22 Middlebury, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Unlike Pete, I’m able to write about Middlebury in less than twelve lengthy paragraphs, so enjoy this conciseness for a change. Conn-Midd is another subtle yet intriguing game, one which strongly resembles the Wesleyan-Hamilton matchup. Conn College has been gaining steam the last couple years, and they hope that this is finally the year they get over the hump (lol, camels). Middlebury, on the other hand, is looking to once again get off to a hot start in conference play just a year after I called them a rebuilding team and one without playoff hopes. This, of course, propelled the Panthers not only into the playoffs but also the the NCAA tournament after winning the NESCAC championship. En garde, Middlebury. In any event, I see one clear problem for Conn, and that is their defense. Middlebury has offensive weapons – namely, Matt St. Amour. The Panthers have compiled some nice wins against Southern Vermont and Skidmore already, but they did so with Zach Baines ‘17 in the lineup. As Pete mentioned, Midd is likely without Baines and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 this weekend, which makes their bench much thinner. This bodes well for Conn, a team that will either be thirsty for a win after a tough loss to Hamilton, or thirsty to continue their win streak after a solid win against Hamilton. Either way, they will be THIRSTY, and it is up to Middlebury’s guards to stave off the likes of Tyler Rowe ‘19 and David Labossiere ‘19, two of Conn’s top weapons. Meanwhile, Adisa Majors ‘18 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 will be tasked with stopping Conn’s rock, Zuri Pavlin ‘17, who leads the Camels in scoring and is 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding (2nd in overall rebounding). This should be a good one, and we will see how real Conn is on Saturday. I think the thirst is real, and Conn sneaks out of Vermont with a W.

Writer’s Pick: Conn College

 

Sunday Game

Trinity @ #25 Williams, 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

Ed Ogundeko ’17 hits a runner (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

Looking at these two teams’ overall performances thus far, this game shouldn’t be too close. Trinity has been unimpressive, and Williams has been pretty damn impressive. But basketball is a game of matchups, and the fact is, Trinity matches up well against Williams. Williams’ strength is in their guards. They shoot A LOT of threes, the most in the league actually, but they haven’t exactly shot well from beyond the arc so far. The Ephs hit just 33.5% of their threes, but they have some great shooters (see: Cole Teal ‘18), so these shots are going to start dropping sooner rather than later. Where the Ephs are somewhat lacking is down low, but Kyle Scadlock ‘19 has been a formidable big so far in his sophomore campaign, and he ranks second in scoring on the Williams roster behind POY candidate Dan Aronowitz ‘17. Trinity, on the other hand, is weaker on the perimeter and stronger inside. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has been the primary source of consistency for the Bantams, and he should beat up on Williams’ rotation of centers. If the Bants pound the ball down to Ogundeko and get him to the free throw line, it will force Williams to sag in off of Trinity’s shooters, which could be deadly. Expect senior Chris Turnbull to have a day for Trinity on the offensive end. All in all, however, I think Aronowitz will feast on Trin – he should have a field day on pretty much any matchup that gets thrown at him, kind of like he’s done all year. The potent Williams attack will be too much for the Bantams.

Writer’s Pick: Williams

The Return of the ‘CAC (Sports Blog): Five Talking Points Regarding NESCAC Basketball

Zach Baines helped Middlebury hold on to beat RPI 79-72 on Tuesday.
 Thanksgiving break was an exciting time for a lot of people. Rory got weirdly competitive with his mom, I watched 3 seasons of VEEP in four days, and there were also a couple NESCAC basketball games that we should mention. The upper crust of the league continued to play well for the most part (although Middlebury had a wakeup call that we will get to momentarily), while Bowdoin and Connecticut College continued to rise from the lower ranks. There are star performances to be discussed, questions to be raised, predictions to get wrong, and it’s just really good to be back. We’re rested, refreshed and 10 to 15 pounds heavier, so let’s get down to it with this week’s talking points.
Connecticut College
Terrible nickname, good team? Connecticut College has appeared ready to make a leap for several years now. A win over eventual champion Middlebury last season marked the Camels as a potential Cinderella team, but they never again reached that point, missing the tournament entirely. But so far they have looked very much like the team that shocked the Panthers in 2016. Senior forward (and charter member of the ‘How Long Has He Been in College’ All Star Team) Zuri Pavlin has held down the boards and provided a strong post presence with averages of 12 points and 11 rebounds per game. Indeed, the Camels have done much of their damage in the paint, averaging 84 points per game despite only making 7 threes per game (third to last in the league) and shooting 65% from the line. It is very possible that Connecticut College’s success is unsustainable once league play begins, as their poor shooting could cost them in close games. But it is also possible that the Camels are over the hump (I’m so sorry) and will contend for the rest of the year.

 

The Delpeches

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Which is Malcolm and which is Marcus?

A brilliant and handsome basketball analyst predicted before the season began that, if Bates had any hopes of contending in the league this season, the Delpeche twins would have to combine to carry the team on their shoulders. Alright fine, not exactly a brilliant insight. “Oh really Pete? For a team to be good, the two best players have to be good? You’re a genius!” But the fact remains Malcolm and Marcus are putting up the best twin performance since Mary Kate and Ashley Olson in Full House. The Brothers Delpeche have combined to average 31 points and 22 rebounds per game, and Malcolm is the early leader for Defensive Player of the Year thanks to his 4 blocks per night average. The joint success of Malcolm and Marcus has Parent-Trapped (because they’re twins!) opponents on both ends, and if they keep it up, Bates could turn some heads come league play.

Wesleyan’s Bench

Salim Green
Salim Green ’19 (Courtesy Wesleyan Athletics)

To use an understatement. the Cardinals appear to be weathering the departures of Rashid Epps and BJ Davis fairly well. Wesleyan has jumped out to a 5-0 start, using a balanced attack led by senior forward Joseph Kuo. However, what sets Wesleyan apart from some of the other top teams in the league is their deadly second unit. Sophomore guard Salim Green is the most explosive sixth man in the league, average 12.4 in 24 minutes. Fellow guard Jordan Sears ‘18 and forward PJ Reed ‘17 follow Green and give coach Joe Reilly maybe the most versatile second unit in the league, along with Amherst. Green in particular will clearly push for starters’ minutes as the season goes on, but keeping him on the bench could be a lethal weapon for the Cardinals.

Middlebury

The Panthers have hit a bump in their road to a second consecutive league title. On Sunday they blew a 17 point lead and dropped a heartbreaker at home to an excellent Endicott team 93-89, and on Tuesday night they again threatened to lose a double digit lead at home before big plays by Matt St. Amour ‘17, Zach Baines ‘19 and Adisa Majors ‘18 led them to a 79-72 win over RPI. The main problems for the Panthers have been defensive, as a lack of communication and poor rebounding led to many easy looks and second chances in both games. Middlebury has also had virtually no bench production. The second unit has only scored 15 points total in the last two games. This is partially due to the loss of Hilal Dahleh ‘19 with a back injury, but Middlebury desperately needs some life off the bench. It is of course beneficial in the long run for the Panthers to work out these kinks by playing good teams before league play begins, but Middlebury has some real problems to solve before Amherst and Tufts come calling.

Peter Hoffmann ‘19

Peter Hoffmann
Peter Hoffmann ’19 (Courtesy Hamilton Athletics)

Hamilton has been another team off to a surprisingly hot start in 2016, and that is thanks in large part to the play of sophomore Peter Hoffmann. After missing the first two games, Hoffmann has come in and dropped 20 points and 5 rebounds per game, as well as 3.3 steals. A versatile forward, Hoffmann does most of his damage in the paint and from the mid-range. Interestingly, he has struggled tremendously from the line, shooting only 45% despite attempting nearly 8 per game. That number will have to improve, or else he may have the ignomious status of being both Hamilton’s best player and biggest liability come league play.

Home is Where the Heart Is: Middlebury Basketball Season Preview

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Middlebury will look to recreate this picture in the 2016-2017 season.

Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively,  not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us.

Writer’s’ Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I love Middlebury Basketball more than I do several of my relatives. I try my best to write every article without bias, but I may slip up.  Feel free to let me know if I do!

Projected Record: 8-2

Middlebury enjoyed a return to glory in 2015-2016, winning the league championship just a year after failing to make the tournament. The Panthers overcame a slow start in non-conference games (they were just 6-6 entering NESCAC play) and an insanely uneven home/road split.  The Panthers only played eight home games all of last season.  Eight!  They were home less than Lucas’ parents in Stranger Things. Anyway, the Panthers’ success was largely due to the stellar play of senior guards Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17, as well as the emergence of junior forward Adisa Majors ‘18. Majors and St. Amour both mirrored the Panthers’ season: they struggled early in the year before turning it on in NESCAC play. St. Amour was honored with First Team All NESCAC and Second Team All Region hardware, while Majors was content to just get his job done with very little fanfare.

Luckily for the Panthers and unluckily for the rest of the league, the Panthers return nearly all of the team that came within two points of reaching the NCAA quarterfinals. Center Matt Daley was a force in the middle for the team when he was on the court, which was not extremely often, but his absence should open up minutes for talented young forwards Zach Baines ‘19 and Eric McCord ‘19, as well as freshman Matt Folger ‘20, who has impressed in training camp.  Middlebury’s strength is of course in their backcourt, where tri-captains St. Amour, Brown and Jack Daly ‘18 bring leadership, experience, defensive intensity, scoring and really any other buzzword you can think of that a basketball team needs. The Panthers are both experienced and youthful, stout defensively and explosive on offense, and should enter the season as strong candidates to repeat as league champions.

2015-2016 Record: 18-11, 6-4, won the NESCAC Championship, lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament

Coach: Jeff Brown, 20th year, 309-185

Returning Starters:

Guard Matt St. Amour ‘17 (19.5 PPG, 5.2 REB/G, 2.3 A/G, 40.1% 3PT)

Guard Jake Brown ‘17 (10.0 PPG, 5.1 A/G, 1.6 STL/G)

Guard Jack Daly ‘18 (7.1 PPG, 4.8 A/G, 1.6 STL/G)

Forward Adisa Majors ‘18 (7.2 PPG, 3.8 REB/G, 55.4% FG)

Key Losses:

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“Bruh, THOSE shoes with THAT uniform? C’mon now.” Middlebury will miss both Connor Huff’s contributions on the court and his keen and sassy fashion sense off of it.

Forward Matt Daley ‘16 (11.7 PPG, 7.4 REB/G, 57.8% FG)

Forward Connor Huff ‘16 (4.7 PPG, 3.4 REB/G, 0.4 BLK/G)

 

Projected Starting Lineup:

Guard Jake Brown ‘17

Jake Brown
Jake Brown ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

For most of his career, Brown has been heavily underrated among NESCAC basketball analysts (us here at NbN included) due to his lack of scoring punch. An inconsistent jump shot kept Brown’s scoring numbers down, which often plays an unfortunately large role in determining postseason accolades in the NESCAC. But any observer of the Panthers over Brown’s career will know that his ferocious on ball defense and relentless pace have pushed the Panthers to become the explosive team they are today. There have been so many times where a team’s point guard has made a few nice plays, and Brown simply turns up the intensity and makes him look like Michael J Fox BEFORE he becomes the Wolf in Teen Wolf. Crucially, his fast pace and flashy style have not translated to an excessive amount of turnovers. His 2.6 A/TO ratio was among the best in the league, which is amazing considering the risks he takes with the ball. As you will learn from any five minute conversation with Brown, he needs to average 15 PPG and 6 assists to end the year with both 1000 points and the Middlebury assists record. If he can improve his jumpshot even further, driving lanes with open up for him as defense have to play him further out. Combine this with an increase in scoring chances due to the departure of Matt Daley, and those statistics are not out of the running. And neither is his long sought after NESCAC First Team Appearance.

Guard Matt St. Amour ‘17

Matt St. Amour
Matt St. Amour ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Quick story about Matt St. Amour: His and my respective small Vermont high schools played each other twice a year during our careers. We weren’t exactly rivals on the court (he scored over 2,000 points and I think my grand total added up to somewhere in the 30-35 range) but I always secretly enjoyed watching him, even though he had a tendency to light us up. During our senior years, my high school was enjoying a pretty solid season, while Matt’s team was riding entirely on his shoulders. We entered our game against them with total confidence that we would win. Matt tossed up a triple double with a stat line of 43-12-15 and 6 steals. And those numbers don’t even do justice to how well he shot in that game: he was throwing up shot from the top row of the bleachers and finding nothing but the net. We did not win, but we did all leave with tremendous respect for Matt St. Amour. NESCAC teams probably left last season with a similar feeling, as St. Amour averaged nearly 20 points per game, to go along with five rebounds, three assists and a league leading 2.1 steals per game. He gained a reputation as something of a streaky shooter from inside the arc, shooting only 40% from the field, but from three he was deadly at 41%. And to go beyond those numbers, he was very rarely open as the only true outside threat on the court for Middlebury. Many of his shots were heavily contested, and he showed a definite knack for making the play that turns out to win the game (or literally does, as his buzzer beater against Skidmore shows.) St. Amour belongs on a very short list for POY contenders, and I like to think that he warmed up for it by lighting up the Middlebury Tigers. You’re welcome, Matt.

Guard Jack Daly ‘18

Jack Daly
Jack Daly ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Rounding out the trio of guards is Jack Daly. This is going to sound like I’m plagiarizing Dick Vitale when he talks about any Duke players, but Daly is truly one of the toughest, smartest guards in the league, and one of the strongest with the ball as well. Armed with an ugly (but more effective than it looks) jumpshot and a variety of tricky change-of-pace moves with the ball, Daly proved himself towards the end of the season to be effective at getting into the paint and drawing fouls or dishing out assists. He also drastically improved his finishing at the rim over the course of last season, shooting 44.5% from the field, pretty good for a guard who struggled to hit outside shots. Daly’s greatest asset to Middlebury, however, is his rebounding. He averaged 5.8 rebounds per game during the regular season, and ten per game during Middlebury’s final four playoff games (the two NESCAC tournament games and then the two in the NCAA’s.) Daly’s prowess on the boards is what allows the Panthers to get away with starting three guards, two of whom are not tremendous outside threats. Daly can play much larger than his size on defense and run the offense to perfection, making him possibly the most valuable player on the team.

Forward Zach Baines ‘19

Zach Baines
Zach Baines ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

I’m going to talk more about Baines in the next session of this preview, but here’s the lowdown: Baines has the potential this season to be one of the most destructive defensive forces in the league. Middlebury plays frantic defense that is predicated on the three guards pressuring intensely on the perimeter. A side effect of this style is that it can lead to guards breaking the pressure and getting to the basket. That’s where Baines comes in. His wingspan, athleticism and timing make him a deadly rim protector for the Panthers, which is an area that they have struggled in ever since the graduation of Ryan Sharry in 2011. He is also quick enough to switch onto guards on the pick and roll, making him a deadly defensive weapon. He is no slouch offensively either, but I will discuss that more below.

Forward Adisa Majors ‘18

Adisa Majors
Adisa Majors ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

At the beginning of last season, Majors was solidly glued to the to back end of the rotation. By the end of the season he was throwing up 15-10 in NESCAC playoff games and basically just bullying smaller chumps in the post a la Boogie Cousins. What happened in that space in between? Firstly, Majors quite literally worked his butt off. He didn’t lose any strength, which is the key to his game, but his physical condition improved to the point that he could chase every rebound with tremendous abandon. Secondly, he got a little lucky. Several of the forwards who began the season ahead of him on the depth chart, such as Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘20, played inconsistently enough that Majors simply ate up their playing time. Matt Daley also missed some time, giving Majors his original chance to start. Majors’s game can best described as “delicate chaos.” He careens around the paint like a bull sometimes, leaving bodies of his teammates and opponents alike in his wake. However, he also has a soft touch around the rim and from the line, shooting foul shots at a 75% clip. The center position may be something of a revolving door for the Panthers, as McCord, Tarantino and talented freshman Matt Folger will all push for minutes. But for now, Majors holds down the fort.

Breakout Player: Forward Zach Baines ‘18

As I mentioned above, Baines belongs high on the list of preseason contenders for Defensive Player of the Year. But all this hype about his defense shouldn’t have the effect of discounting his offensive potential. In addition to being a real threat to dunk on someone every time he gets in the paint, Baines has a very soft touch from about 15 feet and in. He shot 46.4 % from the floor last year, and his jumping ability allows him to get off shots in the paint that other players simply cannot. He also has good mechanics on his shooting stroke, suggesting that a more consistent jumpshot is in his future. If he can make steps in that direction this year, a stat line of 15/10/3 blocks and 50% shooting is a very real possibility for Baines, and that would put him squarely in the conversation for Player of the Year.

Everything Else:

Between St. Amour, Brown and Daly, Middlebury has the best backcourt we’ve seen in recent NESCAC memory. However, one thing they do not provide in spades is outside shooting. St. Amour is obviously deadly, but neither Brown nor Daly is much of a three point threat. This is what makes Middlebury’s second unit guards so important. Sophomore Hilal Dahleh ‘19 has a sweet left handed stroke and showed excellent composure off the bench last season. He will need to be a major offensive weapon off the bench, particularly from three, if the Panthers hope to repeat as champions and make a deep NCAA run. Senior Bryan Jones has shown himself to be capable of being a major offensive force, but he needs to be more conistant in order to really make a difference.  There are two intruiging freshmen who could also provide some spacing for the Panthers in Matt Folger and Perry Delorenzo ‘20. Folger is a prototypical NESCAC stretch four, except for his height. At 6’8”, he has the size to eventually be an interior force as well as a good shooter. Delorenzo is true local; his mother is legendary field hockey coach at Middlebury Katherine Delorenzo, and he has a sweet shooting stroke. Jones and Delorenzo will jockey for playing time all season, with outside shooting being the main factor that sets one above the other.

As I mentioned earlier, the “center” position is something of an unknown for Middlebury following the departure of Matt Daley. Adisa Majors played very well at the end of last season, but it is very possible that he reached his ceiling in terms of offensive production. If so, that ceiling is considerably lower than that of Nick Tarantino ‘18 or Matt Folger ‘20, both of whom are more athletic and can stretch the floor with jump shots. It is quite possible that Middlebury’s best lineup next season will be a hyper small, poor man’s version of the Golden State Warriors famed “Lineup of Death.” This would feature the starting backcourt of Brown, Daly and St. Amour, with Dahleh using his length to guard a four and Baines roaming the paint as a hyper quick five. This would obviously sacrifice a lot in terms of size, but Daly and St. Amour are both excellent rebounders as guards, as is Baines at a forward. Every position could switch adequately on pick and rolls, and the speed and ball movement on offense would be beautiful to watch. Look for the Panthers to break out this lineup in order to counteract a lack of size in comparison to Amherst and Tufts.

Middlebury’s highly uneven home/road split from last season evens out this season, as the Panthers play 13 home games and 11 road ones, rather than 9 and 15, like last season. This seems relevant, as Middlebury was 9-0 at home last season. The Panthers are a good team anywhere, but in front of the Pepin crowd they tend to reach another level. If they can play well enough during the regular season to host the NESCAC tournament, Middlebury fans could be in for a very long season, and I mean that in the best possible sense of that phrase.

The D3Hoops.com top 25 list was released last week, with Amherst opening the season at #1 and Tufts just behind them at number five. Middlebury is far down the list at #24, despite beating Amherst on the road in the NESCAC final last year. This is not an injustice per se. Amherst made the NCAA Final Four last season, and Tufts the Elite Eight. However, it does bring another example of Middlebury being slept on by the powers-that-be. Middlebury has the experience, drive and talent to end the season at number one on that poll, and no one should be surprised if they pull it off.

 

Cinderella’s Last Dance: Middlebury’s Season in Review

Matt St. Amour '17 lead Middlebury with 19.5 ppg this season, second-most in the NESCAC. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
Matt St. Amour ’17 lead Middlebury with 19.5 ppg this season, second-most in the NESCAC. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

Let’s begin at the beginning.

With the team’s top two scorers graduating from the season before, I figured that Middlebury might go through some transition time as it tried to discover its new identity. Expectations around the program were low considering the scoring exodus. Still, after a ninth-place finish in the NESCAC a season ago, and my perception that as talented as Dylan Sinnickson ’15 and Hunter Merryman ’15 were that they had a tendency to stall the offense, my sense was that there was nowhere to go but up, but in my most optimistic vision the Panthers were still packing it up after a loss in a road playoff game.

The season-opening loss to Baldwin Wallace wasn’t too upsetting. Baldwin was an 18-9 team a year ago and already had two games under its belt before meeting up with Middlebury. It was the six-point loss to lowly St. Lawrence the next night that got me worried. A week later, after getting a W against SUNY-New Paltz on a Tuesday, Middlebury faced its toughest early season opponent in then-No. 25 Oswego St. I was just hoping that the Panthers would be competitive. They were not, and lost 70-55. After a loss to Skidmore a week later that made Middlebury 3-5, with two of those wins against Johnson St., I was ready to throw in the towel. I knew it was a tough early season schedule, entirely on the road with two teams hovering near the bottom of the D3Hoops Top 25. Still, they gave me little reason to believe that a turnaround was imminent.

Apparently, all the Panthers needed to do was go home.

The next game was a 22-point win over Castleton St. Then the Panthers destroyed Plattsburgh St. 71-49, and that was the first real eye-opener. Plattsburgh finished the season ranked No. 23, and even though they weren’t ranked at the time, it was known that they were a solid team, and Middlebury blew them out. One of the Cardinals top guards was out, but that doesn’t make up for the 22-point beatdown that the Panthers laid on them. At tough battle on the road at Endicott, who finished 19-11 this year, was encouraging. Than another easy win against Southern Vermont (24-4). SVC is no team to scoff at, either. (If you don’t know about that program’s rise, you should check out how they got to where they are here.) They play an easy schedule, but they also just played Tufts to the buzzer, losing by two in the NCAA First Round.

Still, looking at the full body of work coming into conference play, Middlebury was 6-6, and they had yet to inspire a ton of confidence in anyone watching them. With the NESCAC opener set to take place against Wesleyan in early January, and the Cardinals’ BJ Davis ’16 suddenly looking like a POY candidate, Panthers’ fans weren’t feeling too great. Then Middlebury went on the road and absolutely ran away from Wesleyan in the second half after falling behind early. It wasn’t necessarily an aha! moment. The Panthers lost the next night at Conn College. From that point on, it was a constant struggle and battle to be consistent. Injuries and illness riddled the Middlebury roster throughout the season. Matt Daley ’16 was in and then out of the lineup, and at times looked like he was playing at 50 percent. The frontcourt was constantly rotating. Head Coach Jeff Brown couldn’t figure out whether his freshman trio was going to start or play 15 minutes or not play at all. The only guarantee all season long was the play of the starting backcourt. Matt St. Amour ’17, Jake Brown ’17 and Jack Daly ’18 started 86 of 87 possible games (the only one missed was Brown on Senior Night, when he came off the bench to play 34 minutes). The three could not complement each other any better, and with another year of growth ahead of them, the sky is the limit for the 2016-17 Panthers’ squad.

Highlight Moment: 81-79 win over Amherst in the NESCAC Championship, Sunday February 28


The Panthers really backed their way into a NESCAC Tournament home game. Losing – badly – to Trinity and Amherst on the last weekend of conference play should have cost Middlebury that privilege, but Wesleyan had an even worse weekend, falling to Colby and Bowdoin. So, coming into the tournament, expectations remained low for the Panthers. Even if they got by Wesleyan, the thinking went, there was no way they could upset Trinity, who hosted the tournament, and beating Amherst was a pipe dream. Somehow, though, the stars aligned. Daley had the best weekend of his career against the Bantams and No Mascots. The big man had 34 points on 14-18 (77.8 percent) shooting, and most importantly was in the game for 27 and 28 minutes, providing an imposing post presence. It took a poorly-timed carry from Johnny McCarthy ’18 in transition to really put the nail in the coffin against Amherst, but whether it was the right call or not, Middlebury was cutting the nets moments later for the third time in program history, and the one that, though he wouldn’t admit, has to be particularly sweet for Jeff Brown. Not only was it a statement performance a year after missing the NESCAC Tournament, but coaching your own nephew to a conference title has to be pretty sweet.

Team MVP: PG Jake Brown

Matt St. Amour was the leading scorer, First-Team All-NESCAC honoree and First Team All-NbN recipient; Jack Daly emerged as a great perimeter defender; I will still maintain that Matt Daley is the most talented big man in the NESCAC and he played awesome at times; Adisa Majors ’18 stepped up and proved that he’s a viable starter in this league; but despite all of that, Jake Brown was the most valuable and important player for Middlebury this season. He’s the best point guard in the NESCAC. His game is not yet complete. He struggles from the free throw line, and I think he will still make an improvement from the three-point line next season, but everything else he does is elite. The ball handling wows spectators. The defense is tenacious and frustrating for opposing guards. The transition game is nearly flawless. And he got to a new level of swagger this season that made clear why he was elected a captain by his teammates. In the Panthers’ NCAA Second Round loss, it was Brown who nailed a clutch three-pointer to give them a chance on the final play in a one-possession game. If he continues to play like this, and even makes marginal improvements next season, it will be a shame if he isn’t recognized as a NESCAC First Teamer.

Biggest Surprise: The Emergence of Forward Adisa Majors

Majors came completely out of nowhere this season to become an interior force. As a freshman, the 6’5″ 210-pounder was sparsely used, only seeing limited action in 12 games. His skills and athleticism were both far off from allowing him to play a significant role. The one thing he had going for him was some natural size, but even that seemed to work against him as he lacked the quickness necessary to be effective.

All of that changed between last season and this. Majors’ game blossomed in every facet, and physically he transformed himself. Reportedly a health nut, Majors came into the season in fantastic shape and looking much stronger. He added a 15-foot jumper to his game. And the best part about watching him play is his energy. Majors has one of those motors that never stops. The big man finished the season as the team’s fifth-leading scorer at 7.2 ppg, but it was during a stretch of six NESCAC games in February – often without a healthy Matt Daley – that Majors proved he belonged, averaging 14.0 ppg while shooting 68.6 percent and grabbing 6.3 rpg.

Most Interesting Stat: Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown and Jack Daly finished the season first, second and third in the NESCAC in steals per game.

St. Amour paced the league with 1.8 steals per game, while Brown and Daly just eked by a couple of others who averaged, when rounded, 1.6 steals per game. Middlebury’s defense was tenacious, and more than anything it was just constant effort that lead to all of those steals. Credit needs to be given to the frontcourt, as well, for tipping post feeds that the guards were able to collect. St. Amour, Brown and Daly were also great at having active hands when sinking into the paint. Having this crew coming back gives Middlebury fans hope that the Panthers can once again be productive next year.

NCAA First Round Preview: Middlebury vs. #24 Salisbury

Here's an artsy photo of Jake Brown '17. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
Here’s an artsy photo of Jake Brown ’17. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

The Middlebury Panthers and Salisbury Sea Gulls are both dancing, but they got here in very different ways. Middlebury finished the season 17-10, and needed an incredible run through the NESCAC tournament to get into the NCAAs. Salisbury, on the other hand, fell in heartbreaking manner in the Capital Athletic Conference championship game against No. 4 Christopher Newport. The Sea Gulls (21-6, 13-5) beat just about everyone but CNU this season, losing to the CAC conference champs three times and twice in overtime, including in the championship. They didn’t think they’d be returning to the Little Dance, one year after making it and falling to Trinity in the Second Round, but the committee was kind and Salisbury is back.

Both teams’ seasons were on almost equivalent paths until the final minutes of their respective championship games. While a shocking carry call on Amherst’s Johnny McCarthy ’18 gave Middlebury the ball and essentially iced the game, an even more mind-blowing push call against Salisbury’s Kyle Savercool ’16 at the buzzer sounded sent CNU to the foul line for the win. Check out the video here, and you decide if Savercool (#15) shoved anyone.

Anyway, enough about how they got here. As Salisbury first year coach Andrew Sachs told me, “We are in [and] that’s all that matters.” Sachs comes to Salisbury, his alma mater, after six years at Bethany College and five at Holy Cross. As our loyal readers, you’ve heard plenty about what Middlebury can and can’t do, but you must be wondering just how good Salisbury is. That’s the beauty of D-III, that teams from outside of one’s region are often a complete mystery, and that can make for some pretty exciting games.

The first thing to know about the Sea Gulls is that their best player, Wyatt Smith, has been out all season with an injury. Smith was a 14.7 ppg forward last year, shooting at 58.6 percent and tearing down almost eight board per game, and had 37 points on 16-20 shooting last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. According to Sachs, Smith was indisputably the best player in the CAC. Whether that’s true or not, that assessment speaks to the accomplishment of Salisbury to get to this point without such an important player. In his place forward Gordon Jeter ’17, the team’s only All-CAC honoree, has emerged as the leading scorer, but even calling Jeter a forward is a bit misleading. The Sea Gulls have been outsized pretty much every game this year. Jeter stands at a slender 6’6″, 185 lbs, and is the team’s five-man, if you insist on putting a number on it. He’s very athletic and long, and is the focal point of the Sea Gulls’ offense via the pick and roll. More on that later.

The second thing to know about Salisbury is that they rank second in Division-III at 60.3 ppg allowed. Salisbury will try to break the rhythms of their opponents. They will press and play zone. And they will double everything in the post. And I mean everything. If Jeter has to play man one-on-one on Matt Daley ’16, this game is going to be over quick, so quick rotations are going to be incredibly important for Salisbury.

Salisbury X-factors: G Justin May ’16 and F Chad Barcikowski ’18

I’ll be honest, in my conversation with Coach Sachs, the names May and Barcikowski didn’t come up once. May has served as the team’s sixth man all year, playing 17.1 mpg and scoring 6.7 ppg. I don’t even know what his skill set is like. The same applies to Barcikowski, who’s playing 12.2 mpg and scoring 6.0 ppg. What I do know is that the Sea Gulls have played with an eight-man rotation all season, and now one of those eight, back up Jordan Brooks ’18, is out with an injury and won’t return unless Salisbury is able to make a deep run in the tournament. The Sea Gulls will need to get some quality minutes off of the bench. The saving grace is that they might be aided some by the media timeout structure of the NCAA Tournament – timeouts after 16, 12, eight and four minutes in each half.

Middlebury X-factor: C Matt Daley ’16

Here's a kind of blurry but still sweet photo of Matt Daley '16. (Courtesy of Jeff Patterson)
Here’s a kind of blurry but still sweet photo of Matt Daley ’16. (Courtesy of Jeff Patterson)

Sorry, everyone, back to the well here, but honestly, if Daley goes to work this game is over. He’s got more height than anything Salisbury can throw at him, and not only can he put up double digit points, he might approach 10 assists if he can effectively pass out of those double teams in the post. Defensively, Daley will have to hedge aggressively when Jeter sets screens for the ball handler. And even against the press, Daley will be key because the Panthers will look to get the ball to him in the middle to break the pressure. Adisa Majors ’18 and Connor Huff ’16 will be just as important filling in that role when Daley takes a breather.

Three Questions

1. Will Salisbury get hot from deep?

The Sea Gulls shot 24.9 three pointers per game this season, right around 50th in the nation, making 9.0 per game, which ranks 48th in the country. They don’t necessarily live and die by the three, but everyone that steps on the court for them is a threat to shoot it. All five starters are in the 30-40 percent range, and May is just above 40 percent. Middlebury isn’t a big jump shooting team, and only Matt St. Amour ’17 can really get them back in a game if they fall behind, so an early barrage from Salisbury could make things difficult for the Panthers.

2. Who can take care of the ball?

As mentioned, Salisbury is great at stopping opposing offenses, and part of that is forcing turnovers, having caused 500 turnovers this season. The Panthers, with their reputation for harassing other NESCAC teams and getting steals, caused 401 turnovers. Coach Sachs is a terrific defensive coach. He’s had really good defensive teams in the past, leading the country in steals one year at Bethany. Still, Middlebury has Jake Brown ’17, whom Sachs believes is the best point guard Salisbury has faced all season. Will the Sea Gulls be able to rattle Brown?

3. Is the spotlight too big?

Middlebury assuaged my fears that they might shrink in the moment with their victory in the NESCAC tournament, but the NCAAs are, of course, a different animal. Salisbury has been here before, losing to Trinity in the Second Round a year ago. No one from Middlebury has played in the NCAA Tournament. The current seniors got to step on the court in the final seconds as North Central was laying the smack down in the Elite Eight in 2013, but that’s it. Now, it’s a neutral site, so the crowd won’t be a factor, but there’s no denying the added pressure of an NCAA Tournament game. On the flip side, for Middlebury, they weren’t even supposed to be here As Jack Daly ’18 put, “I feel like we’re playing with house money right now.”

Prediction

On paper, I think Middlebury has the upper hand. They have way more size, and I think their skill in transition bodes well for breaking the Salisbury press. Sure, the Sea Gulls are athletic 1-5 and can be difficult to cover, but there are no slow, lumbering bodies in the Middlebury rotation, either. Daley is almost ideal to cover Jeter on the pick-and-roll, and Zach Baines ’19 will be a good defender off the bench to challenge three pointers. Furthermore, Middlebury played better competition in the NESCAC than Salisbury faced in the CAC. Sachs admitted as much. Still, there remains the fact that the Sea Gulls steal the ball a million times per game. They’re so disciplined defensively, and what if Daley can’t pass the ball out of the post? What if they get hot from three? What if Brown has a few ugly turnovers?

In the end, though, I’m going with the team that Dave McHugh of D3Hoops.com dubbed the Cinderella of the tournament, Middlebury. (You can check out Dave’s conversation with Jeff Brown from yesterday here at the 1:07 mark, although his dubbing of Middlebury as the Cinderella came in the midst of Monday’s four hour bracket breakdown. I dare you to listen to that whole thing.) Being so close to the team might have blinded me, but it also has made me acutely aware of how much better they are with Daley on the floor and healthy. They’re closer to a 20-7 type of team than the 17-10 team they finished the season as. I’m giving Middlebury the edge in a game that plays closer to the Salisbury pace and remains tight, but the Panthers’ experience on the road (only nine games at home this season) will pay off.

Prediction: Middlebury 69 – Salisbury 62

Eye on Saturday

Hypothetically, if Middlebury pulls out the win, they’ll be playing the winner of the host Stockton University and Keene St, whom Middlebury beat by nine back in February. I’ll be honest with you, Keene St. is a major underdog in this one, and if they pull off the upset I’m putting a hefty sum on the Panthers to cruise into the Sweet 16. However, I doubt that happens, and Middlebury would have to play the host on Saturday. The second day of the first weekend is all about heart and grit, because teams don’t have much time at all to game plan. Bates needed an overtime period to beat Stockton at the Ospreys’ gym last year in the Second Round, but only two Stockton starters from that game are back this year. The numbers actually have them pegged as a pretty similar team to Salisbury in that they shoot a lot of threes, make them at a respectable but not incredible rate, keep teams to under 65 points and force other teams to turn the ball over, but don’t have a ton of height and struggle rebounding the ball. With that being the case, I like the Panthers chances to sneak into the Sweet 16, but as is always the case in Division-III, it’s damn near impossible to predict, so let’s just enjoy the show.

NESCAC Semifinal Preview: #4 Middlebury at #1 Trinity

Shay Ajayi '16 is playing the best basketball of his Trinity career, and the Bantams are looking to win their second NESCAC title. (Courtesy of David B. Newman/Trinity Athletics)
Shay Ajayi ’16 is playing the best basketball of his Trinity career, and the Bantams are looking to win their second NESCAC title. (Courtesy of David B. Newman/Trinity Athletics)

The Trinity Bantams have had a lot of recent success against Middlebury. For what it’s worth the Bants outlasted Middlebury 90-85 a season ago. More relevant, of course, was the 97-86 beatdown that Trinity slapped on the Panthers two weekends ago. I know it was only an 11-point victory, but I do think the word “beatdown” is appropriate. Firstly, 97 points is a ridiculously high number. Secondly, Trinity lead by 18 with just over six minutes to go, and only a barrage of three-pointers from backup guard Bryan Jones ’17 kept it from being embarrassing for Middlebury. So that does not bode well for the Panthers.

Here’s why that doesn’t matter, though. Firstly, Adisa Majors ’18 has been very good all season long, but let’s be honest, just two weeks ago he was still somewhat of a novelty, with only four double digit scoring performances all season. Then he put up 18 against Amherst on 7-8 shooting and 15 at Trinity, and after another 18 in just 19 minutes against Wesleyan in the NESCAC Quarters, Majors has officially become someone you game plan against. Secondly, Matt Daley ’16 is healthy(-ish). Yes, Daley only played five minutes against Wesleyan, but that doesn’t mean he can’t put up a double-double on Saturday. The theme for Panthers Head Coach Jeff Brown all season has been to ride whatever is working on a given day, which is why all 12 active Panthers were in the game in the first half against Wesleyan. Bottom line, it just wasn’t working for Daley, but it very well might be this weekend, and the Majors-Daley combo has a lot of potential. Thirdly, and lastly, while all of the remaining teams have plenty of motivation in their search for a NESCAC crown, Middlebury has a little extra something on the line. Without a sweep this weekend, the Panthers will be playing golf come Monday (as the saying goes – believe me, no one’s playing golf in Middlebury, VT on Monday). The other three teams are locks to be playing NCAA games. Will that make a difference? I don’t know, but there’s no danger of Middlebury looking past this weekend.

Last time they played – Trinity 97 – Middlebury 86, Feb. 13 at Trinity

After seven minutes, Middlebury was up by three, 14-11. That was nice. Then Trinity took the lead. Then it was 10 at halftime. Then it was quickly 15. And Middlebury chipped back a little bit. But then it was 18 after a Langdon Neal ’17 jumper. Trinity shot the lights out, going 34-61 (55.7 percent) from the field, 8-18 (44.4 percent) from deep and 21-27 (77.8 percent) at the line.

“I just think we did well making shots. We were comfortable shooting the ball, we did a good job getting the ball inside to our big guys, and they did a good job taking the ball to the basket.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove

Middlebury just couldn’t get stops. Trinity didn’t let Matt St. Amour ’17 get many looks from three (just 0-2), something they have to replicate on Saturday. Jaquann Starks ’16 couldn’t miss (6-10 FG, 4-6 3PT). And Trinity shared the ball exceptionally well with 22 assists, up from their 16.5 average. The Bantams played a complete game, and Middlebury just could not hang.

Middlebury X-factor: F Zach Baines ’19 

Zach Baines '19 electrified the Middlebury crowd last Saturday with high-flying blocks and his pregame dunks. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
Zach Baines ’19 electrified the Middlebury crowd last Saturday with high-flying blocks and pregame dunks. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

You think you’ve arrived, kid? Think again. Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’16 probably form the best frontcourt combo in the NESCAC. “They’re two of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached, and they keep coming every day to get better,” said Trinity coach James Cosgrove. For Middlebury, their frontcourt is constantly in flux. Daley, Connor Huff ’16, Majors, Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Baines have all started there. One thing that I feel fairly confident in, though, is that Baines will get a lot of minutes and they will be at the four. Which means – have you been following along? – he will have to defend Ajayi. In case you forgot, Ajayi is a senior, averaging 14.1 ppg, with NCAA Elite Eight experience. That is a tall order for Baines. He gives up an inch or two to Ajayi, but makes up for that with his length. I believe that he’s the only big man Middlebury has that can guard Ajayi at the perimeter, but he lacks the size (read: weight) to stop Ajayi when he gets around the rim. He will need help from Majors, Huff and Daley, but Baines is going to be a key in slowing down Ajayi and putting a hand in his face.

Trinity X-factor: PG Andrew Hurd ’16

Hurd leads the NESCAC with a 3.5 A/TO ratio, which is sixth in all of Division-III as of Thursday. On the flip side, Middlebury is the best in the NESCAC at forcing turnovers with 15.1 takeaways per game. Last time they played, Hurd has six assists and no turnovers. So that’s it, just do what you do, Drew. These backcourts are so evenly matched – St. Amour, Jake Brown ’17 and Jack Daly ’18 vs. Hurd, Starks and Rick Naylor ’16. You basically have a classic “true” point guard, a high volume shooter and defender/occasional scorer on both sides of the balance sheet. That’s why a pristine game from Hurd could be the difference, elevating Trinity’s backcourt and supporting a frontcourt that already has the advantage.

Three Questions

1. Can you shut down Matt St. Amour twice in one season?

My instincts say “no”, but I’ve been wrong once or twice before. St. Amour gets a lot of his threes in transition, not from traditional set plays. The Panthers, as we know, like to run, and sometimes St. Amour gets lost in transition. Now, if you shoot the ball like Trinity did last time, there aren’t many opportunities to run for the other team. So, in reality, offense, and offensive rebounding, is the best defense for the Bantams in this game. Put the ball in the hoop, stop transition looks, and St. Amour will be relegated to a free throw shooter like he was in the last meeting between these two teams.

2. How does Trinity Coach James Cosgrove exploit the frontcourt advantage?

The Bantams will work the ball through Ogundeko often, but backing him up against Matt Daley (6’8″) or Majors (210 pounds) isn’t likely to be the best strategy. I think the obvious answer is to pull out the four man with Ajayi, which isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. Whenever the Panthers have two true bigs in the game – not Baines, who’s a stretch four – Trinity has to take advantage. Therefore, I don’t think Middlebury will play with two bigs very often, but the combos of Daley-Majors, Majors-Huff and some McCord sprinkled in will definitely occur.

3. Will any of the Middlebury bench players get hot in the first half?

Last meeting, it was Jones in the second half who got hot, but as mentioned, every one gets a shot in the first half on this Panthers team. Maybe it will be Jones (who’s dealing with sickness this week), maybe it will be Hilal Dahleh ’19 and his sweet lefty stroke, maybe Liam Naughton ’17 could drain a couple of quick threes, but someone is going to need to sneak a few buckets while the Bantams aren’t looking. Middlebury has had one consistent scorer all year, and even though we think that Majors can be counted on, that still only leaves two guys who can put the ball in the hoop more than twice a game. That makes defensive assignments pretty easy. Someone else needs to take some pressure off the Middlebury duo of St. Amour and Majors. And don’t let Trinity get up at half. With that defense (38.2 field goal percentage against; second in Division-III), good luck coming back. The only teams to trail Trinity at half and come back to win were the somewhat anomalous Eastern Connecticut (down by six), No. 16 Susquehanna (down by one) and No. 21 Plattsburgh St. (down by two) back in December and early January. So basically unless you’re a ranked team down by one or two points or from Eastern Connecticut you aren’t coming back on this team.

What to Expect

Expect Trinity to go back to Ajayi as much as possible. Jack Daly and Jake Brown should keep Starks in check for the most part, but Ajayi is a match up nightmare.

“I think for us, defensively, the matchup with Ajayi is really a challenging one,” Panthers coach Jeff Brown said. “In the past he played quite a bit of perimeter. The last couple of seasons he played a lot of the three-spot. So he’s one of those inside-outside forwards who’s extremely athletic, and with some of our post players it’s a tough cover.”

Coach Brown wants to switch more on the perimeter, something that Colby did well in the first half of last week’s Quarterfinal when they held Trinity to 19 points, and throw some different looks at the Bantams. I think we see a good deal of 3-2 zone to limit Trinity’s looks from three. I’ve yet to mention Eric Gendron ’18, but his 44.1 three point percentage ranks fifth in the NESCAC. You can’t let him get hot, either. “[Gendron’s one that really kind of concerns me off of the bench,” Coach Brown said. Middlebury needs to force stops to create transition buckets.

On the other end, if the Panthers can’t get going in transition, they’re in for a long afternoon. Trinity is obviously very tough and physical in the half court defensively, and I don’t think Middlebury can play that way for 40 minutes. Majors has the size to do it, but even that is outweighed (literally and figuratively) by the presence of Ogundeko. Look for St. Amour to try to get going early and give Middlebury a lead with a couple of threes. Baseline screens and hand offs for Number 11 will be a common sight.

“He’s dynamite shooting the ball.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove on Middlebury guard Matt St. Amour

As far as the NESCAC goes, Middlebury ranks first in offensive turnovers (i.e. fewest turnovers) and Trinity ties for fourth. On the flip side, Middlebury has forced the most turnovers per game (15.1) and Trinity has forced the fourth most turnovers per game. Something has to give. In a game of this intensity, with these stakes, I think the defense wins out. Not that it will be sloppy – these point guards are too good for that – but I envision a lot of fast-paced basketball which tends to result in some silly turnovers. Therefore, ball control is key. Don’t make mistakes with the ball. For Trinity, the key is to beat up on the Middlebury bigs. For Middlebury, the key is similar. Use Trinity’s aggressiveness against them. Middlebury’s not a very good free throw shooting team, but St. Amour (who takes 5.4 free throws per game, third in the NESCAC) is great from the stripe (81.5 percent), and forcing the Trinity forwards into foul trouble will change the game.

Additionally, Trinity has home court working heavily in their favor. They should have some boisterous crowds this weekend, unlike last when most of the students were gone because there was no class on Monday and Tuesday of that week. The Bantams have been tough to topple at home, going 11-1, that one loss coming against Amherst, and Trinity coach James Cosgrove is aware of the benefit of playing at home.

“It’s always nice to be playing at home. I think we feel real comfortable here. We’ve done some nice things here over the last couple of years.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove

Furthermore, the first time the Panthers step onto the court in Hartford will be an hour or so before game time. As a team, they chose not to take advantage of an early morning shoot around time slot. Whether that decision will pay off or not remains to be seen. Of course, Middlebury was on the Oostings hardwood two weeks ago, but they might want to forget about that.

In case you missed it over the last two-plus years, I’m a big Middlebury fan, and my co-editor, Adam Lamont, is a big Bowdoin guy. We’re both students, and we’re not afraid to let you know when we have a rooting interest. Despite all that, I can’t pick the Panthers in this game. Forgive me, guys, but you made me look foolish two weeks ago when I gave you the nod to win at least one against Amherst and/or Trinity. I won’t be fooled again. I hope I’m wrong, but Trinity just looks too good. They’re 12 for their last 14. One of those was against Amherst (the other was against 11-14 Merchant Marine – one of those mysteries where you chalk it up to being a full moon, Friday the 13th and everyone on the team taking part in a mirror-smashing party while walking under a step ladder … okay it wasn’t actually Friday the 13th). Point being, I just think Trinity will win. Prove me wrong, boys. I want to keep watching Middlebury basketball for a few more weeks.

Prediction: Trinity 76 – Middlebury 70

Home Teams Sweep Weekend: Stock Report 2/22

Connor Green '16 played like a superstar with 29 points in Amherst's Quarterfinal victory on Saturday. (Courtesy of NESCAC.com)
Connor Green ’16 played like a superstar with 29 points in Amherst’s Quarterfinal victory on Saturday. (Courtesy of NESCAC.com)

What has appeared to be a pretty chaotic NESCAC season suddenly got a lot more clear when the top four teams all pulled out wins in the NESCAC quarterfinals. It wasn’t that clear cut, considering that Colby led Trinity for a good 30 minutes of their game and Bowdoin was down three points with under six minutes to play. Still, the top four teams won, and a big reason for that is the impact of home court advantage.

Trinity, Amherst, Tufts and Middlebury combined to go 18-2 in their NESCAC home games. And those two losses both came at the hands of a fellow top four team with the Bantams knocking off the Jumbos in Medford and Amherst beating Trinity in Hartford. The biggest upsets of the regular season all came on the road: Middlebury falling to Hamilton, Colby topping Amherst, and Bowdoin getting the best of Wesleyan (not that big of an upset in hindsight but still).

Winning on the road is hard, even when there aren’t big raucous crowds to deal with. Athletes are creatures of comfort, and whether it’s the ability to have the same pregame routine or the familiarity of shooting in your home gym, teams undoubtedly do better at home at this level. As an aside, this makes Wesleyan’s championship run last year with two road and one neutral site wins all the more impressive.

Stock Up

SG Matt St. Amour ’17 and PF Adisa Majors ’18 (Middlebury)

Pepin Gymnasium was ROCKING on Saturday, and these two were supplying a lot of the fuel for the crowd to feed off of. After two subpar shooting performances last weekend, St. Amour did not hesitate from long distance early scoring 19 points in the first half as the Panthers built a substantial lead. As he cooled off in the first half, Majors took over, scoring 16 enormous second half points. Eleven of those points came in the final 5:30 of the game. After Nathan Krill ’18 pulled Wesleyan to within five points at 68-63, Majors scored the next six points for the Panthers to get the lead back up to 74-65. The difference in play from Majors this season from last year when he was a seldom used backup has been incredible. The sophomore works his butt off, has a really nice touch around the rim, and is a great mid-range shooter.

Forward Connor Green ’16 (Amherst)

Green has OWNED the Polar Bears over the past two seasons. In four games against Bowdoin, he averaged 24.0 ppg. That includes a clunker in the NESCAC semifinals last year when he had just seven points on 3-14 shooting. That didn’t matter though as Amherst won that game easily 76-56. In the other three games, Green has been sizzling hot from deep, going 19-36 (52.8 percent) on what have been very high difficulty shots. On Saturday, Green finished with 29 points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. His big performance helped Amherst overcome subpar games from Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jeff Racy ’17. I have no idea how Green is going to play next weekend: he could either shoot Amherst out of the tournament or carry them to a NESCAC title. Regardless, I think that Saturday reminded us that he is still Amherst’s best scorer, and it clinched Green’s spot on the All-NESCAC First Team.

Tufts’ Offensive Balance

It is no secret that the Jumbos work their offense through Tom Palleschi ’17, but the junior center is not capable of being the scoring threat that some of the perimeter scorers in the league can be. The offense for Tufts works because all five starters are capable of creating their own shot. And even though Palleschi doesn’t shoot threes very often, he is shooting 45.5 percent from three this season. That means that every Tufts starter is also capable of hitting the three. That puts a lot of strain on a defense. On Saturday, four of the five Jumbo starters were in double figures (the other, Ryan Spadaford ’16, had 8 points), and each of them made a three pointer to boot. The downside for Tufts is that their bench has become somewhat of a non-factor down the stretch. That starting five will have to carry them next weekend.

Stock Down

Wesleyan Cardinals

What a weird season for Wesleyan. They were great against an admittedly soft non-conference schedule to rip off an 11-game winning streak heading into the conference season. Then they started 1-3 in NESCAC before winning their next five games (all vs. NESCAC teams) at home. Would it surprise you if I told you the Cardinals losses in their final three games were all on the road? Wesleyan was #7 in the last regional rankings, and it’s extremely unlikely they get an at-large bid.

On Saturday the fight that Wesleyan possesses was clear even though they fell short. They got a big performance from Harry Rafferty ’17 to come back in the second half. The game looked to be over with just over a minute left and Middlebury holding a nine-point lead. Then BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16 hit two absolutely ridiculous threes to pull the lead back to five points. However, that was as close as Wesleyan would get. The season didn’t go quite as planned for the defending champions, but you have to admit that they went down fighting.

Williams Passing

Some fans of the Ephs have been bemoaning the combined inability of Williams to get assists and not turn the ball over for much of the season. And I haven’t bought into those complaints until Saturday. In the second half, there was a stretch when Williams seemed to be turning the ball over on every possession. And when they didn’t, they weren’t able to generate any good shots. The Ephs finished the game with 15 turnovers and 10 assists. For the season, Williams finished last in the NESCAC averaging as a team 13.4 apg. The offense that Coach Kevin App runs is one predicated on constant cutting and screening, but it wasn’t great at creating good looks inside. The Ephs instead took a lot of threes, the second most in the NESCAC. The return of PG Mike Greenman ’17 from injury next season will do this offense a lot of good.

Colby Seniors

Expectations for Colby were high entering the season. The six Colby seniors were all good NESCAC players, and Chris Hudnut ’16 is one of the five best players in the league when healthy. On the other hand, all this class has to show on a NESCAC level is four consecutive eighth place finishes and subsequent first round exits. A bunch of factors held the Mules back the last two seasons, and there is no denying that Colby was a good team this year capable of knocking off anybody. On the other hand, the Mules failed to ever really deliver on their promise as a team. Now that this group of seniors is graduating, the Mules are going to be in deep trouble next season.

The game against Trinity was a microcosm of that promise. They were in control for much of the game, leading by as many as 12 points. Ultimately, the Bantams came back and enforced their will in the second half. Colby was bothered by the defensive intensity of Trinity, and on the other end they forced just one turnover from the Bantams in the half. What doomed the Mules was that Trinity went back to what works for them: being physical and getting inside. In the first half Trinity shot zero free throws (neither did Colby which is somewhat incredible). However, in the second half the Bantams got to the line 20 times and made 16 of them.