On the surface, the NESCAC tournament is an easy thing to get into. Eight of 11 teams make it, so you have a 73 percent chance at the start of the season. This year though … some very good teams are going to be on the outside looking in. Just so we are completely clear, the top six teams (Trinity, Amherst, Middlebury, Tufts, Wesleyan and Williams) have all clinched playoff spots. Here is how the standings for the final five teams look. Included is their record versus the other four teams because of the importance of tiebreakers.
7. 3-5 Connecticut College Camels (2-0. Beat Bates and Hamilton)
8. 2-6 Bowdoin Polar Bears (2-1. Beat Bates and Colby, lost to Hamilton)
9. 2-6 Colby Mules (1-2. Beat Hamilton, lost to Bowdoin and Bates)
10. 2-6 Hamilton Continentals (1-3. Beat Bowdoin, lost to Conn, Bates, and Colby)
11. 2-7 Bates Bobcats (2-2. Beat Colby and Hamilton, lost to Conn and Bowdoin)
Going through the potential scenarios for each team making the playoffs is tiresome and nearly impossible. Instead, I’m going to rank the teams in likelihood to make the playoffs and make the case for and against them making the playoffs. To be clear, two of these five teams are making the NESCAC tournament.
1. Conn College Camels
This week’s opponents: Friday at Colby, Saturday at Bowdoin
Why they make it: The case for the Camels being the most likely team to make the playoffs is simple: they need to win just one game to guarantee they make it. Even if they lose both games, they have a chance if things break right. Conn College could easily be off the bubble at this point, but they have lost three NESCAC games by six points combined. The Camels have a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double figures in conference play. They are the most talented and balanced of these five teams, and that talent will be enough to pull out one game against Colby and Bowdoin.
Why they don’t make it: A very young team with two freshmen among their top players have to go on the road all the way to Maine and win against teams much more experienced than them in these situations. Conn College has never been in this spot before. How they react down the stretch of a close game is a question mark, but remember that they lost the game last Sunday down the stretch. Another problem besides inexperience is that they are allowing the second most points per game in conference games. Both Bowdoin and Colby are good offensive teams capable of making these games into track meets.
2. Colby Mules
This week’s opponents: Friday vs. Conn College, Saturday vs. Wesleyan
Why they make it: Of these five teams, I think Colby has the best chance of going 2-0 and securing their spot without having to worry about tiebreakers. They have lost four of their NESCAC games by an average of 2.7 points, and they have been banged up for much of the season, too. With five seniors in the starting lineup, nobody has more motivation than them to take care of business and get into the NESCAC tournament. Their talent is obvious given that they beat Amherst and came close to beating Middlebury last weekend, too. Chris Hudnut ’16 is also playing better in the last few weeks than he has all season.
Why they don’t make it: Alright, so while they lost a bunch of close games, the two games Colby actually won were by two and four points, respectively. They needed a near miracle in the final 15 seconds of regulation against Hamilton to pull out that game. The Mules just play close games. They rank ninth in NESCAC games in both points scored and allowed per game. Their bench lacks any consistent scorer, and they have no backup big men meaning they rely on Patrick Stewart ’16, Sam Willson ’16 and Hudnut to stay out of foul trouble.
3. Bowdoin Polar Bears
This week’s opponents: Friday vs. Wesleyan, Saturday vs. Conn College
Why they make it: I mean, the team with the presumptive NESCAC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year can’t really miss the playoffs can they? Well, they won’t if Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 score like they are capable of this weekend. Simonds seemed to be hitting a little bit of a freshman wall, but he has put that idea to bed with 23 and 27 point performances the past two games. The Polar Bears probably still need one more player to step up in some way, be it rebounding, assisting, or scoring. My money is on one of the other seniors, point guard Jake Donnelly ’16 or Matt Palecki ’16, being that guy. Playing at home in the Morrell Madhouse (no one calls it that but me), where Bowdoin is 6-3, also helps a little bit.
Why they don’t make it: The problems the Polar Bears have had all season (rebounding and defense along with an offense too reliant on individual scoring) are still there. The Polar Bears have allowed the most points per game, 84.8, and have the worst rebounding margin, -5.9, of anybody in conference games. Both those marks are also well below anybody else. The possibility of Wesleyan crushing Bowdoin on the glass this weekend is a very real one. The Polar Bears also have allowed teams to shoot a whopping 43.0 percent from three point land.
4. Bates Bobcats
This week’s opponents: Sunday at Williams
Why they make it: I sort of like the match-ups for Bates against Williams. They can put Mike Boornazian ’16 on Dan Aronowitz ’17 to slow down the Ephs’ leading scorer. Malcolm and Marcus Delpeche ’17 should have the advantage on the interior, and the Bobcats have plenty of other bodies to throw into the mix also. The Ephs aren’t a real high scoring team, and a few easy buckets for Bates in transition could have an outsized effect if it’s a low scoring affair. Don’t forget that Bates had a four game winning streak in the beginning of January with three of those wins vs. winning teams. The Bobcats can play a little ball.
Why they don’t make it: First, the Bobcats only have one game left, making Williams a must win. And even that isn’t a guarantee of a spot. Second, Bates has to do it on the road away from their preferred environs in Lewiston. Third, they have lost seven of their last eight games with the only win coming against a subpar Maine-Farmington team. I worry about where the scoring comes from given the struggles of Boornazian to be efficient. A big question mark is sharpshooter Josh Britten ’16, who sat out against Bowdoin on Tuesday.
5. Hamilton Continentals
This week’s opponents: Friday at Trinity, Saturday at Amherst
Why they make it: The Continentals are hot, baby! They had a two game winning streak going until their overtime loss to Colby last Sunday. Freshman big man Andrew Groll ’19 has played better as the season has gone along, averaging 12.3 ppg on 53.6 percent shooting in NESCAC games. Both center Ajani Santos ’16 and shooting guard Michael Grassey ’19 had season high performances in points last weekend. Of these five teams, the Continentals have been playing the best basketball as of late.
Why they don’t make it: I feel like I’ve said this a thousand times this season, but it doesn’t get any harder than going on the road to play Trinity and Amherst. Both the Bantams and Purple and White (please choose a new mascot soon Amherst. Don’t forget the Dorsets!) have plenty to play for still so the Continentals won’t get any breaks. The Continentals beat Middlebury so they have that notch in their belt, but it will take a near perfect game for them to get a win this weekend. The athleticism mismatch between the Continentals and their opponents is a significant one.
Disclaimer: I will be yelling/chanting/clapping as loud as possible at both Bowdoin games this weekend. Most of the time it will be in support of the Polar Bears, but other times it won’t. I mean opposing players no disrespect and want nothing but the best for you, but I hope you miss every shot against Bowdoin.
– Adam Lamont