NESCAC East Division Winner Tufts takes on number two seeded Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC Playoffs. Tufts finished the season at an outstanding 26-7-1 (9-3 in conference) with a total run differential of +163. In conference, the Jumbos put up double the amount of runs as their opponents (92 compared to 46). However, all this success has not come easy. Tufts’ dominant weekend performances have often been accompanied by a poorly played game occasionally. In the highly-contested playoff format, the Jumbos cannot afford to dig themselves in a hole with a sloppy game to start off the postseason. Amherst, on the other hand, has been in playoff mode for two weeks now. The winner of their final weekend series against Wesleyan decided the two seed in the West Division, and Amherst prevailed. They finished the season at 19-14 overall but a solid 8-4 in conference. Interestingly enough though, their home record stood at 7-8 compared to their incredible away record at 9-1. Nonetheless, the playoffs represent the start of a new season and Amherst looks to ride their NESCAC hot streak into them. Having won the last 3 NESCAC series, the team proved to recover from the rough start and look for a win to start the postseason.
Both teams will likely throw their aces in game one of the postseason. Coincidently, these players were the two chosen as First-Team All-NESCAC last season. Speros Varinos ’17 throughout the season has proven again and again that he is the best pitcher in the NESCAC hands down. Finishing the season at 8-1 in 9 starts, Varinos led the league in wins, ERA at 1.60 and strikeouts, 68. He is our pick to win NESCACPitcher of the Year and likely will do just that, defending his title. All season, Varinos has shown his dominance and is ready to take on the Amherst lineup. Jackson Volle ’17 has put together an excellent season himself. In 7 starts, he went 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA. However, this number was weighed down by one poor start against Wesleyan in which Volle allowed 6 earned runs in his only loss. Take that start out and his ERA sits at roughly a full point lower around 1.76. Amherst looks for Volle to put together another strong performance against a talented Tufts offense.
Tufts X-Factor: Nick Falkson ‘18
Player of the Year candidate Nick Falkson has put together a phenomenal year. With depth in the infield, Coach Casey often rides the hot bat which explains why Falkson leads the team in such a category. Hitting .394/.468/.504, Falkson has consistently been one of Tufts’ best and most clutch hitters. Sitting in the heart of the lineup, he has hit in 34 runs and scored another 29. However, what stands out most about his season is the correlation between his success at the plate and team wins. In the 25 wins this season, Falkson has hit .430/.516/.540 with 31 of his 34 RBIs. In the team’s 7 losses, his averages drop significantly to .250/.240/.250. The Jumbos will look for Falkson to lead the offense in this first round matchup. If the trend continues, a big game from him could mean a Tufts win.
Amherst X-Factor: Harry Roberson ‘18
While slightly overshadowed by teammate Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Harry Roberson has been a crucial part of this Amherst lineup. Leading the team with 135 at-bats, the shortstop has hit .363/.418/.548. These hits have led to a conference leading 38 runs scored. When facing a pitcher like Varinos, runs are hard to come by, so Roberson must continue to be aggressive on the base paths. He is 8 for 8 on stolen base attempts, but has additionally hit for power. Of the seasons 49 hits, 17 have been for extra bases including 11 doubles and 4 triples. Amherst will continue to rely on Roberson for these extra base hits as they will not be able to win leaving men on base. Roberson will likely need a big game for Amherst to beat Varinos and the Tufts staff.
Despite the powerful offenses from both teams, this game will likely be a pitchers’ duel. Tufts will look to get Volle’s pitch count up and get to the bullpen while Amherst will have the same approach on their side. Either way, both teams are capable of not only winning this game, but making a run deep in the postseason. However, getting a win with their respective ace would prove to be a huge advantage in this two loss elimination format. After the grind of the regular season, both teams are ready for playoff action to get underway.
Varinos will put up another outstanding performance, but Volle will keep it close with a strong effort of his own. The Tufts lineup will then get to the Amherst bullpen late and come out on top in game one of the postseason.
As we not-so-patiently await this weekend’s playoff games, it’s time to hand out some regular season hardware. This was a particularly fun year in NESCAC baseball. In Tufts we had a juggernaut dominate the regular season in a way not seen in several years. We had Bates’ insanely hot 7-0 start to league play, followed by an insanely cold 0-5 finish. Williams made a furious run at their playoff spot, but to no avail. And on the other side of the conference, we saw a real-life Cinderella story unfold before our eyes, as Middlebury rose from years of mediocrity to become a real championship contender. We will see how those storylines shift come this weekend. In the meantime, let’s recognize the top regular season performers in the award categories. As always, these are our opinions, so we welcome and expect criticism from all sides. We also urge you to check out the midseason awards article here for more info on most of these candidates.
There are several players who could win this award. Tufts alone has three players who have the stats to contend for it in Nick Falkson ‘18, Tommy O’Hara ‘18 and Will Shackelford ‘19. However, it is precisely that lineup strength that keeps them from winning this award. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around any of those players because the rest of the lineup is so dangerous. This award is better suited for a player who dominates despite a lesser supporting cast. Enter Thanopolous. Not to diss the rest of the Amherst lineup (NbN’s own Harry Roberson ‘18 excels as a table setter at the top of the order.) But Thanopolous’ run producing is the key to Amherst’s lineup. Additionally, Amherst’s pitching has struggled mightily for most of the season. Without a strong lineup, Amherst would not even be a playoff contender, and Thanopolous is the engine that makes it all run.
Runner-Up: Tufts IF Tommy O’Hara ‘18 (.343/.503/.528, 4 HR, 35 RBI)
Unlike the Player of the Year award, this race has never been close. Varinos has dominated the league as much as any NESCAC pitcher in recent memory. He struck out double digit hitters three times in his nine starts, and the only blemish on his won-loss record came in his last start, a meaningless non-league matchup against Middlebury. Varinos combined with Tim Superko ‘17 to form the most dynamic starting pitching duo in the league. However, Tufts as a team has struggled to find an effective third starter, and even Superko posted a 3.55 ERA this season. He benefitted a great deal from Tufts’ stellar offense to post his 6-0 record. Therefore, Varinos is the key to Tufts rotation, which will be the most important factor in the playoffs as they contend with Thanopolous and the rest of Amherst’s lineup.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
Runner-Up: Trinity P Eric Mohl ‘19 (16 APP, 7-2, 2.55 ERA)
Rookie of the Year
Winner: Middlebury OF Justin Han ‘20 (.308/.411/.490, 4 HR, 13:7 BB/K)
Middlebury is both one of the best teams in the league and maybe the youngest team, a testament to the recruiting of new HC Mike Leonard and his assistant Mike Phelps. And based on this season, Justin Han looks to be the biggest prize of that strong recruiting class. He showed tremendous power, finishing second in the league with four home runs. But the thing that sets Han apart from other first year players is his maturity. He only struck out seven times all year against thirteen walks. That kind of plate discipline is uncommon among any player, let alone a rookie. His stats were also better in the elevated competition of NESCAC play. In eleven league games, he hit .324 with two home runs and nine RBI, numbers that are better than his overall stats if you project them out to the same amount of games. Han also showed a clutch gene, hitting a game winning grand slam against Amherst to help Middlebury salvage a crucial game and avoid a sweep. With Han and his classmates, Middlebury is set up to be relevant for years to come.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
*Editor’s Note: We feel bad for Lamont here. Not only does he finish second in two awards, but he has to live with a dud of an older brother (former NbM editor Adam Lamont.) We regret adding salt to that wound, and hope John doesn’t resent it too much in the future.
Runner-Up: Trinity C Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.342/.361/.465 23 RBI)
As we reach the final third of the season, a look at the NESCAC baseball landscape reveals the fierce competition throughout the conference. No team has locked up a bid and the final few weekend series’ hold more weight than ever before. Some teams are in must win situations with others have played themselves into good positions. This iteration of the Power Rankings shows movement from eight of the ten teams after a little over a week of games and a surprising weekend.
Despite a tough weekend for the Jumbos, Tufts still maintains its number one spot in the power rankings. A loss to 7-17 (2-7) Colby team brought this team back to reality after a scorching hot start including their run last season. However, still posting a 19-4-1 overall record and sitting in second place in the NESCAC East, Tufts has little reason to worry. Reigning NESCAC Pitcher of Year Speros Varinos ’17 is defending his title with an essentially perfect season thus far at 6-0 in 6 starts with a 1.50 ERA and league leading 46 strikeouts, 10 ahead of the next closest total. The lineup, hitting a combined .325, is led by Nick Falkson ’18, who is in the running for a title of his own – NESCAC Player of the Year. The infielder is hitting .402 and leading the league with 28 RBI’s. However, a crucial part of this lineup is filled with sophomores Casey Santos-Ocampo ’19 and Will Shackelford ’19 . Santos-Ocampo has provided clutch at bats and speed on the base paths, scoring 18 runs and knocking in 20 more. Shackelford has added a hot bat to his defensive soundness, hitting a phenomenal .434 with only 4 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. The Jumbos have a huge weekend series at home against Bowdoin, which could ultimately decide who makes the NESCAC playoffs, but as long as Tufts sticks to what they do best, they’ll be in a good spot heading forward toward the playoffs.
Bates has been the San Antonio Spurs of the NESCAC so far this spring. They have no league leaders and no standout superstar, but are a fundamentally sound team. The Bobcats get the job done, which is why they jump to number two in this week’s power rankings. Holding Conference best 6-0 record, Bates has its eyes set on the playoffs. A convincing sweep of Bowdoin, in which the staff allowed only 8 runs total,
proved that Bates is ready to compete with the higher echelon of the conference and make some noise in the postseason. The Bobcats will rely on their pitching staff to do so. With a league leading team ERA of 3.12 (2.47 in conference), this staff has to potential to shut down any offense in the league. Only giving up slightly over 3 runs a game has allowed the team to win 11 of 16 so far despite their struggling offense. However, these numbers come with a big asterisk, as their two series sweeps have come against weaker offenses in Colby and Bowdoin. Look for Connor Speed ’18 to lead the staff as the team aims to continue their dominance on the mound. For now though, Bates has put themselves in a good position for a postseason bid.
Wesleyan holds a slim .5 game lead in the West Division and are tasked with facing a hot Middlebury squad this weekend. So far this season has been not up to Wesleyan’s standards at the plate. Hitting a mediocre .291, the Cardinal bats look to heat up to their potential as the season progresses. Will O’Sullivan ’17 is starting the charge hitting an impressive .360 and team leading 8 doubles. Adding power to lineup is Junior Matt Jeye ’18 who is tied for the league lead with 3 homeruns. On the mound, the Cardinals have been consistent if anything as they have been racking up strikeouts. In conference, they strike out 7.30 batters per nine innings – nearly a strikeout an inning. Leading the bullpen is two-way player Ryan Earle ’19 who has a league leading 4 saves along with a minimal 1.06 ERA. Wesleyan hasn’t had exactly the start they were expecting but have been playing well enough to stay atop a tight division. As the Cardinal bats start hitting up to their potential, look for this team to be dangerous towards the end of the season.
Since last power rankings, Amherst has gone 4-0 including a sweep against a tough Williams squad. This is partly in thanks to the recent success of its lineup. In his last season, Yanni Thanopoulos is in the running for NESCAC Player of the Year, hitting .400 with 26 RBI’s. Harry Roberson has also contributed power to the lineup slugging an impressive .627 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 homeruns. However, despite hitting a conference best .330, Amherst has only a .500 record at 10-10. This is due entirely to their disastrous pitching. The staff has a combined 5.82 ERA (which has improved since last week), which includes 9 homeruns and nearly 200 hits in only 173.1innings. The only bright spot is consistent starter Jackson Volle ’17 who has gone 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA in team leading 24.2 innings pitched. Volle has kept this Amherst team relevant with his impressive performances and routine domination of the NESCAC bats. After him though, Amherst’s arms need to step up their game. With a dangerous lineup, this team is never out of any game, but in order to keep their current postseason bid, Amherst will need to find support from their staff.
Williams has had a similar start to the season as Amherst. Their offense is hard to stop, with a team average of .310. Kellen Hatheway ‘19, one year removed from his NESCAC Rookie of the Year campaign now is gunning for NESCAC Player of the Year. The sophomore is hitting a conference leading .446 highlighted by 7 doubles and 3 triples. He has additionally added 7 stolen bases to his outstanding numbers. Not to be shadowed by the young star, Junior Jack Roberts ’18 has put together a solid season at the plate as well hitting .391 for the Williams squad. However, despite this strong lineup, Williams has struggled due to the inconsistency of the rotation. The 4.72 team ERA shows the difficulty Williams arms have had. The reason behind this though, could be due to Coach Barrale’s decision to ride his young arms. Standout rookie John Lamont ’20 has had a very successful start to the season, having gone 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA. Additionally, classmate Kyle Dean ’20 has proven he can compete with the best of the ‘CAC, as he has gone 17.2 innings giving up only 2 runs. Williams’s success depends heavily on its young core, but the veterans, especially in the bullpen need to perform for Williams to compete with the top of the league.
Middlebury’s sweep of Hamilton gave them a much-needed jump in the West Division. The Panthers in-conference and overall record perfectly reflect the games they’ve played so far. Sitting one game above and below .500, respectively, Middlebury has kept their games close, as 15 of the 19 games played have been decided by 3 or less runs. New coach Mike Leonard has relied on his senior talent in Jason Lock ’17 and Ryan Rizzo ’17, who are hitting .397 and .355 respectively. These leaders are the heart of a productive Middlebury lineup (hitting .313 as a team.) Similar to other teams in the Conference, Middlebury has found that its weakness is in the pitching staff. The Panthers have the second worst ERA in the NESCAC for both in-conference and overall play. The star in the rotation has been freshman Spencer Shores ’20 who has gone 2-0 in 28.2 innings pitched with a 2.51 ERA. It will take a strong performance for the rest of the season, but Middlebury is back in the race for one of the two playoff spots in the West Division. If the veterans in the rotation can sharpen their game, Middlebury can sneak its way into the postseason.
Bowdoin is quietly riding a 5 game winning streak going into a crucial matchup against Tufts this weekend. Included in this streak is a sweep of Trinity College which brought their in-conference record to 3-3, only one game behind Tufts for the second spot in the division. The winner of this series will have control over the second bid for the playoffs. Bowdoin’s success has not come from any star power, but just clutch play and solid pitching. All three Trinity games were close, despite a lineup that is hitting is measly .270 and has scored only 83 runs in 23 games. Brandon Lopez ’19 is by far the team’s MVP thus far. He is one of the few Polar Bears who has found success at the plate, hitting .328 with team leading 10 RBI’s. Lopez also has led the pitching staff with a 3-0 record and a 1.29 ERA. Behind him is Max Vogel-Freedman ’18 who has a 2.16 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. This Bowdoin staff has brought the team into the race for a playoff bid. Their in-conference ERA sits at a meager 2.68. However, the Polar Bear arms will face their toughest test yet against the dynamic Tufts offense. Winning the series against Tufts would solidify Bowdoin’s relevancy in NESCAC baseball.
Trinity lost a tough series to Bowdoin, which severely hurt their opportunity for a playoff bid and dropped them steeply in the power rankings. A lot must go Trinity’s way, starting with a series sweep over first place Bates this upcoming weekend. To complete this daunting task, the Bantams must hit a hot streak at the plate. After Brendan Pierce ’18, this lineup, while it certainly can hit, doesn’t have too much power in their bats. Trinity must string together hits and not leave men on base. When the offense is rolling, it is usually due to senior Nick Dibenedetto ’17. His season has satisfied the high expectations going into the year. He is hitting .366 with a .512 slugging percentage. On the bump, Erik Mohl ’19 has put together a breakout year thus far. In his 12 appearances, Mohl has a 6-1 record and a 2.62 ERA in team high 34.1 innings. After the sophomore, however, Trinity has run into issues. Coach Bryan Adamski continues his search for a solution, as 10 pitchers in the staff have 7 or more appearances. While unlikely to earn a playoff bid after losing the series to Bowdoin, Trinity has the potential to shake up the standings with the potential talent on the team.
Hamilton’s out-of-conference record, 11-7, varies drastically from their in-conference record, 0-5. This slow start has already dug them a deep hole in the tough West Division. The future doesn’t look too bright either as the team’s top six hitters are graduating this spring. One of them, Kenny Collins ‘17 has shown his versatility hitting .400 while also leading the league with 15 stolen bases (caught only once). Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 has also put together a strong final season, hitting .387. The pitching staff is in a much different position. After Finlay O’Hara ’17 who has a 1.50 ERA, the rest of the rotation and bullpen is returning next season. Dan DePaoli ’18 has put together a successful season behind O’Hara. However, his 2.21 ERA has resulted in a mediocre 3-3 record. Hamilton is better suited off getting young guys experience for next season, as this year’s team will likely miss out on the playoffs.
Despite stealing a game against a strong Tufts team, Colby has struggled in conference play, compiling a 2-7 record. This record, is described perfectly by the run differential in these game: -40. One of the major factors in this statistic is the inability of the Mules team to hit the ball. The team is hitting a mere .265, despite junior Matt Treveloni’s efforts at the plate, hitting .353. In order to climb out of last place, the Mules bats must heat up. On the opposite side, the Colby staff has shown some bright spots. First year player Taimu Ito ’20 has impressed with team leading 27 innings pitched and a 3.33 ERA. Additionally, John Baron ’18 has relied on his curveball to pitch 14.2 innings with a 1.84 ERA. However, the relative success of the Mules’ bullpen hasn’t been enough to make up for an inefficient offense. A four game series against Williams is approaching and Colby will look to get out of last in the East with a series win.
Monday was the first day of spring. I know that the weather at many NESCAC schools begs to differ, but I promise you that it’s true. Spring is a melancholy time for sports fans. On the one hand it’s baseball season. As you might know from reading literally any article ever written about baseball, spring and baseball go hand in hand. Every play in baseball begins the same way; with a pitch. Every is redeemed, much like the deadened flowers are redeemed in the spring. And here at NbN our NESCAC baseball coverage has kicked off in a big way with Devin’s preview.
But in this early spring I’m thinking about the end of something; basketball season. This year of NESCAC basketball was in many ways unprecedented for the league. Not in my memory has there been such talent across the board. While there were obviously better and worse teams, every squad this season had at least a couple moments where they blended together and sang in that way that only basketball can create. At one point there were five NESCAC teams ranked in the national top 25, and those five teams all received bids to the NCAA tournament.
This was a very literary season. We had a tragic hero find redemption in Tuft’s Tom Palleschi, who went down with a brutal knee injury during his
senior season before returning to lead Tufts to the Sweet Sixteen. We had a classic trilogy a la Lord of the Rings in Middlebury and Williams Rounds One, Two and Three. The final battle was one for the ages, a gritty war that featured unsung heroes (Bobby Casey ‘19,) star turns (Kyle Scadlock ‘19 looks like a POY favorite after his NCAA run) and several atrocious blown calls a lot of high quality basketball. Before fading down the stretch, Hamilton put the league on notice that they’re ready to make a run. They lose none of their main rotation, and Kena Gilmour ‘20 and Peter Hoffmann ‘19 are as deadly a one-two punch as there is in the league. Next year could be the year that they rise to the upper tier.
I could write one of these paragraphs about every team. That is the nature of NESCAC basketball this season and going forward; every team has SOMETHING that makes them worth watching. There’s a reason that Rory, Colby, me, Henry and all the other writers want to take time out of our diverse liberal arts college experiences to write about sports. Quite simply, it’s all interesting. But I will keep this briefer than that. Here are a few thoughts, feelings, way too early predictions and just general things I’m excited for from this season, and looking into next.
The Williams-Middlebury Rivalry is Real, Folks:
Both Williams and Middlebury will suffer huge losses come graduation. For Middlebury, Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Bryan Jones and Liam Naughton were the leaders of the team both on and off the court, and formed a back court that was unmatched in the country. Daniel Aronowitz and Cole Teal filled similar roles for Williams. Neither team will ever be able to fully replace theplayers they will say goodbye to come graduation.
But there is hope in Williamstown and Middlebury. Both teams balanced their experienced senior guard with dynamic young talent, particularly at forward. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 for Williams is a future star at center, and Scadlock is maybe the league’s best talent at the forward spot. But Middlebury is loaded too. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 became a dangerous duo this year, and Matt Folger ‘20 has First Team potential even as a sophomore. And better yet, all of these players will remember the games this year. Middlebury embarrassed Williams in the NESCAC final, and then Williams got their revenge in Pepin in the NCAA’s. Those wounds wont heal quickly, and we should be in for battles between the Ephs and Panthers for years to come.
The First Team Center Spot is Wide Open:
If you look throughout the league, the majority of the losses outside of Williams and Middlebury are big men. Tufts loses Palleschi, Bates loses both Delpeche’s, and Trinity loses Ed Ogundeko. This means that the door is ajar for new names to step forward as the beasts of the league. Early contenders would be Scadlock, Hoffmann and Joseph Kuo ‘18 of Wesleyan, but there plenty of darkhorses who could step up. McCord should get a lot of looks as part of Middlebury’s possibly less guard-oriented offense, and Williams has several young bigs who may make leaps. It will be fun to monitor who is stepping into those very big pairs of shoes.
Amherst Had Better Reload:
The Purple and White are lucky in that they keep the dynamic back court of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18. But in almost every other area they are significantly weakened. They lose their most consistent bench threat in Eric Conklin, as well as David George (center and defensive stalwart) and both their point guards. And unlike Middlebury and Williams, they did not have a lot of deeper bench players who showed the potential to fill their shoes. Amherst struggled all season with a lack of depth, and graduation will decimate that already thin bench. Amherst traditionally recruits well and has benefitted from transfers in the past. If they don’t do that quite as well this offseason, they run the risk of falling even further behind surging teams like Hamilton and Williams.
Last week I simply mentioned the trend of each remaining team going into the playoffs, however, it’s safe to assume that all teams coming off a playoff win have their stock trending upwards. There were some unexpectedly tight games like Middlebury vs. Bates and Williams vs. Amherst, the latter of which is our first upset of the 2017 postseason. Now Williams has to travel to Tufts to face the top dog, while Middlebury takes on Trinity in what could be Bantam legend Ed Ogundeko’s last time dominating on the college court. It all begins at 2 pm on Saturday.
Jake Brown’s Ankle (hopefully)
Last time Trinity played Middlebury, Brown played just two minutes due to his ankle injury that happened at the end of the Amherst game. If he is back, the Bantams have a whole lot more to fear. Brown might not lead the team in scoring, but he leads the team and the league in assists with 6.4 per game. He controls the game, and sets the offensive tempo for the Panther offense. This injury put Midd at a severe disadvantage against Bates, but even if he plays in a limited capacity, the Panthers should have a comparative advantage to the last time they faced off against the Connecticut squad. Brown sat out all of the last two games and if set to play this weekend, giving Middlebury all of their weapons ready to go for the semifinals. While the Panthers managed to cruise to a 17 point win pretty much without Brown on February 11th against Trinity, they looked rushed and disorganized at times against Bates. The Panthers might be able to get by against the Bantams without their senior leader, but winning two games this weekend will surely be more difficult in his absence. It was definitely the right call to have Jake rest last weekend. The Panthers are rolling full steam ahead into this weekend, and whatever version of Brown they get, they’ll look better than last weekend if he’s on the court.
Kyle Scadlock and Williams’ Clutch Play
Williams was up just one point at the end of the first half and led 45-43 with 11:27 to go before Scadlock went on a personal 7-0 run on the Purple and White to essentially ice the game. After gaining the 52-43 lead, Scadlock’s run catalyzed the Ephs, who didn’t lead by less than 10 the rest of the way until Amherst scored a last second garbage time three pointer. Scadlock added the finishing touches on the upset performance with a monstrous dunk with nine seconds to go, vaulting Williams into the semis. While I sort of called the upset win by saying it could easily happen — not exactly a vote of confidence, I should add — Williams proved many doubters wrong by demonstrating their hot shooting in a big game situation. Their 47.2% from the field last weekend was just above their season average of 46.5%, which was good for second in the league. While Williams’ shooting is usually up and down, this was a much more dependable performance and something that the Ephs could bring again on Saturday. The duo of Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz has something to prove, and only time will tell whether they really have ice in their veins.
Clearly the Jumbos had to make an adjustment after losing star center Tom Palleschi (who we have mentioned in every article since then). The Jumbos’ loss to Amherst 84-71 on February 4th was a wake up call, showing exactly what was missing from their lineup. Drew Madsen, who for a time was Tufts’ only remaining healthy big man, is no longer looked to to put up big numbers on the offensive end. Instead, Coach Sheldon plays to Madsen’s strengths and utilizes him in more of a defensive/rebounding capacity, allowing bench players to step up. Since that Amherst game, Ethan Feldman has played more minutes, lighting it up. He is 13-22 shooting in his last three games, averaging 13.0 PPG. Everett Dayton has also had a scoring increase, getting 12 against Hamilton despite taking less shots than he had been before the Amherst game. Bottom line is the Jumbos made a great adjustment to their style of play and Coach Sheldon has been a big part of it. No matter how hobbled they are, Tufts is going to be a force this weekend in their home gym.
Trinity was ice cold last weekend and were lucky that Wesleyan also couldn’t shoot. Had it not been for great ball control, the Bantams would’ve have a tough reality to face as 27.9% FG rarely wins games. Trinity shot just 2-14 from three-point range, which played a big part in a lowly 51 points against the Cardinals. They were over 20 points below their season average and barely saved themselves with their high volume of free throw shooting (15-22). With all of that said, the fact that they managed to win on such a poor day bodes well for this weekend. If they can manage to get some more buckets, their defense is strong enough to give them a chance against the Panthers. Ed Ogundeko had an equally terrible shooting day, but his eight points are his lowest by far this season when he has played normal minutes. However, Ogundeko is likely to have a big day with the Bantams’ backs against the wall. Since the Bantams allow the fewest points on defense in the NESCAC at 64.9, if they can figure out what went wrong on February 11th (97 points allowed to Midd) and they recall how to score efficiently, they’ll have a fighting chance.
NESCAC’s NCAA Hopes
While Middlebury, Tufts, and Amherst are all still in the D3Hoops top 25, it’s clear that 2016 offered a better shot at a NESCAC national championship. Without their star player Palleschi, Tufts will have a tough time against the top D3 teams. Middlebury looks great, but Brown’s ankle injury leaves some doubt as to whether he will be back to 100% this season, and it just makes me cringe to think of how good they would be if Zach Baines was still there. Amherst looked terrible recently against Williams and Middlebury and while they might still get a bid to the tourney, they can’t be expected to go far with their inconsistent play. Wesleyan just dropped out of the top 25 and will be a long shot to get an at large bid with their first round exit in the conference tournament, and both Trinity and Williams likely won’t go to the dance without automatic bids. Let’s hope one team puts it all together this weekend and throughout March, because nobody wants to see #1 ranked Babson win it.
And then there were eight. The NESCAC field is narrowed down to the quarterfinals of the conference as three squads have fallen into the abyss of the offseason. For some, their college careers are over, for others, ultimate glory awaits. While I like to think NBN is pretty democratic in our reporting, I’m not going to spend much time on Colby, Bowdoin, or Conn College as it’s safe to say that their stocks are all down with their failure to make the conference tournament.
I’ll focus on the stocks of the collective other eight teams, ordered by their first round playoff match-ups this weekend in the highly anticipated start to the March Madness merry-go-round as the dominoes are starting to fall towards the national championship.
Hamilton (15-8, 4-6) – Stock Down
Hamilton started out hot in the NESCAC season at 3-2, a 1-4 finish heading into the playoffs isn’t what the Continentals had in mind. Consecutive losses to Amherst and Trinity were expected at this point, but still pivotal for this team as they are now stuck with #1 seed Tufts. While this is actually more favorable a match-up than if against Middlebury or even Amherst, Hamilton seems to be scrambling to figure a plan of attack out. Switching up their starting lineup against Amherst didn’t do the trick as Carlos Fineman and Kyle Pitman had little production. They don’t have the same consistent output from Tim Doyle, Joe Pucci, or Andrew Groll as they did earlier in the year and are increasingly reliant on freshman sixth-man standout Kena Gilmour who is now second on the team in PPG with 13.3. Peter Hoffmann is still doing well but without the whole starting five shooting well, they will have a tough time in Medford.
#17 Tufts (19-5, 8-2) – Stock Up
While beating Williams isn’t something that will necessarily improve Tufts’ national ranking, it is a big confidence booster heading into this weekend. After weeks of struggles since Tom Palleschi’s injury, the Jumbo’s finally put it all together against a NESCAC playoff team. In their #1 seed clinching win the Jumbo’s showed the depth and difference in style needed to take them all the way. Since their big man has gone down, Tufts’ identity as a team has shifted. They needed to find a rebounder to replace their center, but Drew Madsen hasn’t stepped up into the same role. Against Williams, they managed to play a different type of game, losing the rebounding struggle (35-32) to the Ephs, but nailing shots with great accuracy at 50% from deep and 52.4% from the field. Eric Savage, KJ Garrett, and Ethan Feldman all had double digit points off of the bench, and in order to keep their NESCAC championship hopes alive, the Jumbos will have to keep seeing production from non-starters. Hamilton hasn’t been playing well, but they have still had great moments this year. However, if Tufts brings the same accuracy as this weekend they will be in good shape.
Trinity (15-9, 6-4) – Stock down
Though Middlebury is seeded higher than Trinity, a poor showing on Saturday must’ve had to sting. After losing to Midd in the NESCAC playoffs last year, the first rematch brought on that familiar feeling of defeat. A 14 point halftime deficit was too much to overcome as Langdon Neal and Eric Gendron couldn’t stop Matt St. Amour. While Wesleyan’s guards aren’t as quick and don’t have as nice of a jump shot as St. Amour, they played exceptionally against Amherst last week and if the Bantams stay as a team ruled by one player, Ed Ogundeko, then they could give up a couple 20-spots to Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien. Ogundeko only had nine boards against Midd and only had eight last time they played Wesleyan. Without a big game from Ogundeko, the Bantams don’t have a great shot at winning, so he needs to play like it’s the finals and get some help from his teammates for a change. I’d say they are an underdog, but everybody knows #5 seeds always win in tournaments (see: my D1 bracket from last year.)
Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4) – Stock Up
The Cardinals did nothing wrong this past weekend, but Colby and Bowdoin were heavily predicted wins and won’t change their stock at all. A home game against Trinity offers a rematch of the January 14th game that Wesleyan won 65-61. After beating Amherst in OT last Tuesday, riding a three game win streak into the playoffs is the best case scenario this team could see. While their win against Amherst isn’t technically a league game (the NESCAC is weird) it still showed enough to bump this squad’s stock up. Their perimeter defense against Amherst was great, helping to limit them to just 37.7% from the field and 32.0% from three point range, but their lack of rebounds is still concerning. Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien are rolling recently, with Jordan Bonner adding a double-double against the Purple and White. While their early season turbulence is behind them, the Cardinals still need to neutralize Ed Ogundeko to take their quarterfinal game. If they can defend the outside like they did against Amherst, while keeping Ogundeko near the eight rebounds he got against them on Jan. 14th, then they could dribble straight into the semifinals.
#13 Middlebury (20-3, 8-2) – Stock Up
Midd knocked off higher ranked Amherst and put down Trinity in back to back home games, giving them a share for the league’s best record and the #2 seed in the ‘CAC tourney. They forced some key turnovers late in the second half against Amherst and forced them to shoot from deep, creating a quick scoring gap after the Purple and White’s missed opportunities. Eric McCord was able to body up Ogundeko against Trinity and Matt St. Amour continued to do his thing and make ridiculous jump shots with no angle on the hoop. Let’s hope Jake Brown’s twisted ankle doesn’t slow him down as this team is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, and with Palleschi’s injury for Tufts, there is no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t be the favorite heading into the quarterfinal games.
Bates (15-9, 4-6) – Stock Down
Bates did not help themselves out last weekend. Instead of finishing in conference at 5-5, heading into the playoffs with a confidence boosting win and a matchup against a lower seed in Amherst, they travel to snowy Vermont to take on Middlebury in what should be a loud and packed gym. The Delpeche twins had noteworthy senior seasons, but they couldn’t get it going last time against the Panthers and couldn’t find a way to win against the Ephs. Williams didn’t really stop the twins, but since nobody else on Bates showed up to play, the two on five game didn’t fare in the Bobcats’ favor. Without monster performances from the Delpeches this weekend, others like Jeff Spellman (1-7 from three on Saturday) and Nick Gilpin (29 minutes, two points) are going to have to step up in a major way and drain some shots.
#8 Amherst (17-6, 7-3) – Stock Down
Despite their (unreasonably in our eyes) high national ranking, Amherst played sloppy basketball against Middlebury last weekend. Getting their pockets picked and missing straight on unguarded threes spelled out their doom as any comeback attempt was quickly halted by quick and concise offensive execution. Lacking major power down low, Amherst is going to need to hit their open shots as Michael Riopel and Jayde Dawson didn’t get their inner Steph Curry going on last weekend. Despite Dawson’s 24 points, he had slow second half production and performed in waves that hurt the Purple and White when they needed to go on a run. They were able to turn it around against Hamilton as Dawson found his shot going 6-8 from deep and Riopel added a 3-5 line, but lack of consistency is deadly in the playoffs. They better find a way to keep replicating their A game.
Williams (17-7, 5-5) – Stock Up
The Ephs suffered a beatdown against Tufts, but an expected loss won’t hurt them too much. Finishing at 5-5 coming from nowhere to reach the .500 mark in NESCAC bodes well for the confidence of a young team heading into an underdog stretch run. Their narrow win over Bates put them in the conversation as a bracket-buster even in a road game at Amherst. If Daniel Aronowitz can rain fire like he did against Bates (8-10 FG and 3-5 from deep) to match Johnny McCarthy and if Cole Teal can put up a double double to match Jayde Dawson, then anything is possible. Everybody likes a good upset and I nearly counted Williams out of the playoff race a while back. A 5-5 team against a 7-3 team? It seems like that kind of upset happens all the time. It might not be quite that simple, but the Ephs have weapons and it is the playoffs.
Conn College (13-10, 3-7), Colby (10-14, 1-9), Bowdoin (12-11, 3-7)
Editor’s note: this article was written before Friday’s games and therefore does not take the Friday results into account.
Colby at Wesleyan
The 2016-17 season has been a tough one for Colby. They’re 1-7 in conference and haven’t had a realistic shot of making the playoffs for at least a couple of weeks. At this point, they’re only playing for their dignity. Wesleyan on the other hand, could vault themselves into a top four seed with a couple of wins this weekend. Colby only has a single player averaging at least 8 points a game in Senior Patrick Stewart, and he gets 16.3. Unfortunately for Colby, Stewart hasn’t had the weapons around him to make the Mules much of a threat. Wesleyan, on the other hand, has benefited from a balanced attack with five players scoring ten points per contest. Backing up their offense has been their stifling defense, which allows their opponents to shoot a league leading (and second in all of DIII) 35% from the field. Colby’s only shot here is to capitalize on Wesleyan’s propensity to turn the ball over as they do so a NESCAC leading 15.4 times per game. If the Mules can convert sloppy turnovers into fast breaks, they could pick up a couple of easy buckets and score without bearing the brunt of Wesleyan’s stingy defense. However, chances are, this is not going to happen, and Colby (with a Friday loss) will end the season with a single NESCAC victory. :’(
Bowdoin at Connecticut College
This season, Bowdoin’s Forward Jack Simonds ‘19 has been phenomenal. He’s averaging nearly 19 points per game and he’s dropped 30+four times this season. Don’t forget, he’s only a sophomore. He has carried a huge load for his team, leading the NESCAC in minutes played. However, as a whole Bowdoin has not been able to put together wins as often as they’d like. The Polar Bears are in line to finish with one of the three worst records in the NESCAC. Looking at the home team,Conn hasn’t been much better; they too have a very slim chance of making the playoffs, and have only fared one game better than the Polar Bears this season. Though this game may not matter for the playoffs, a win would allow either team to end their season on a positive note. Despite Bowdoin’s lack of success in the win column, they don’t foul, and they don’t turn the ball over. Their team is young and there should be optimism moving forward. They’re going up against a Conn team who’s used to taking their lumps (pun intended) as the Camels are last in the ‘CAC in FG defense and they give up the most points per game. I think Bowdoin’s defensive strugglesput Jack Simonds in a great position to lead his team to end the season on a positive note and possibly hang up his fifth 30-spot, despite losing five of their last six NESCAC games. Bowdoin has a terrific scorer in Simonds who I think gives them the edge over the Camels.
Trinity at Middlebury
This is probably the best Saturday matchup as both teams are in the top half of the NESCAC and enter the game with their best players being tried and true veterans. Shout it from the mountaintops Panther fans, like the Chicago Cubs, you are good. Entering the weekend, they’ve won 5 in a row and have shown no signs of slowing down, vaulting themselves into the conversation for best team in the NESCAC. This charge has been led by their incredibly potent backcourt play. In their senior campaign, backcourt duo Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown have been dynamite. St. Amour leads the NESCAC in scoring (20.6 PPG) and Brown holds the conference lead in assists (6.7 AST/G). Trinity, on the other hand, has probably the most prolific double double machine in the NESCAC in Ed Ogundeko ‘17, who averages 17.7 and 11.5 from the center position. Without a real rim protecting big the Panthers can lean on, Ogundeko is liable to cause some havoc in the paint on Saturday. Trinity likely will not be able to outscore Middlebury’s uptempo attack, so they’ll need to find a way to either slow them down and take them out of their rhythm or try to coax the Panthers into some sloppy play. The latter is unlikely since Middlebury holds the best turnover ratio in the conference, so Trinity’s best bet to limit Middlebury’s outside attack is to try to control the tempo early and pound the ball inside to their star. With Middlebury at home and on such a roll, I think Brown and St. Amour get a little saucy and lead the Panthers to victory in Hartford.
Amherst at Hamilton
This game is undoubtedly a huge undertaking for the Continentals. Amherst has had an excellent regular season and they are sitting pretty for home-court in at least the first round of the playoffs. Their leading scorer is Guard Jayde Dawson ’18, who’s getting almost 18.6 per contest in under 30 minutes of action. Despite his prolific scoring, he’s only started two games this year, and that’s not a knock on him, it just goes to show how deep this team is. Also, wing Johnny McCarthy ’18 is coming off of a Player of the Week award averaging 15.5 points and 13.5 boards. He’s one of the best rebounders in the NESCAC, averaging 8 per game on the year, especially impressive considering he spends much of his time around the perimeter. Hamilton’s wing play has been equally impressive. Underclassmen Peter Hoffman ’19, Michael Grassey ’19, and Kena Gilmour ’20 all present significant threats on the wing for the Continentals. All have been solid, but Hoffman’s performances have been consistently above and beyond. Another great rebounding and scoring wing, he has reached double digit scoring in all but two games this year and shoots 55.8% from the field. Hamilton is a strong team and has been even better at home, but Amherst’s consistency and pedigree is hard to deny. In a couple years, as Hamilton’s young stars mature, and their bench gets deeper, this might be a different story. However, as long as Amherst brings their A game, they should be able to come out on top.
Williams at Bates
In Sunday’s only game, two middling teams meet in icy Maine to try to right their ships. Both teams are likely playoff bound, but are neck and neck for the opportunity to avoid juggernaut Tufts in the first round. Bates’ success this season is due in large part to their literal twin towers. Twin big men, Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche ’18, put up nearly 30 points and 20 boards between the two of them, and both rank in the top five of NESCAC rebounding. They are a force to be reckoned with, as just a couple weeks ago, Marcus was named the NESCAC player of the week. These two should be a tough challenge for Williams to handle come Sunday for the Ephs. Though they tote a near seven-footer in sophomore Michael Kempton, he lacks the athleticism and identical twin to contain them both. Every time I watch Williams I come away with more confusion than clarity as to their level of play because they play very slowly, but take so many threes (almost half of their total field goal attempts). Generally speaking, the less you play in transition, the harder it is to get good looks at three pointers because you allow the defense to get set. Despite this, the Ephs continue to fire away in their half-court sets and still make a somewhat respectable 35% as a team. With an impressive win against Amherst, and a confounding loss to Bowdoin, it’s really hard for me to tell where they stand. Williams is gonna take their threes, but they’ll need to figure out how to contain Bates’ inside threat. If the Ephs can drain from beyond the arc, they’ll have a great chance to win, but I think Bates’ home-court advantage and opportunity for rest while Williams plays on Friday should set them up for a victory on Sunday.
I’ve been pretty bad about predicting the correct winners for games in my last few pieces, and I’m not sure how much better I’m going to get. The nature of the league this year is too unpredictable and the parity between teams is too small to know who is going to show up. Wesleyan had a huge drop off earlier in the year and have since come roaring back, Middlebury has been consistent in every game except in a blowout loss to Williams, Tufts lost to Bates, albeit without their best player, and Amherst has had their share of duds too. Trinity and Bates seem to be just sticking around, winning against weaker opponents, save the upset win over Tufts. Those are the top six teams in the league, all riding this rollercoaster of a NESCAC season. What does it all mean with just 3-4 conference games left for each squad? The top seed is the ultimate prize to host the playoffs, but once the postseason begins, it’s anybody’s to take.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Amherst, 3:00 PM, Amherst, MA
Tom Palleschi ‘17 has been a big focus in the last few mentions of Tufts basketball. The All-NESCAC big man’s absence leaves a big vulnerability down low. Amherst doesn’t have a player like Bates’ Marcus Delpeche, but Johnny McCarthy will still pose a rebounding threat. The Jumbo’s two straight losses are unexpected and clearly a result of their starting center going down, but if they can manage to right the ship against Trinity, they could easily bring the fire back to Amherst. At 6-1 in NESCAC, the Jumbos are comfortable in first place, but hosting the NESCAC tournament isn’t to be taken lightly. The home field advantage could easily slip from Tufts’ grasp if Ogundeko dominates on Friday, bringing in a must-win situation against the Purple and White.
If the NESCAC basketball season is an amusement park, with each team as its own dipping, twisting, and turning rollercoaster, then Amherst is the Tower of Terror. At fourth in this week’s power rankings and #11 nationally, there are conflicting opinions as to how legit this team is. Losses to Conn College and Wesleyan nearly derailed their NESCAC season, but a four game hot streak has put them within striking distance of the top spot if the ball rolls their way this weekend. Johnny McCarthy ’18 is going to be huge this weekend, and as the #1 rebounder with 8.8 REB/G and a 46.4 FG% in conference, Tufts is going to have a lot to handle without their star player. Center Drew Madsen ’17 will have a lot to handle.
Tufts X-Factor: Drew Madsen ‘17
Perhaps Madsen will be a bigger make-or-break player against Trinity’s Ogundeko, but he might just have the length to handle McCarthy against Amherst. In his four starts at center these past two weeks, he is averaging just over five PPG and five REB/G. His shooting isn’t the issue here—the guards will need to pick up the slack as Pete mentioned in Part One. He needs to bring down the boards to replace Palleschi’s 7.2 REB/G and 2.6 blk/g in conference. Madsen will come in key on defense as McCarthy could have a huge game if left free in the paint. Delpeche’s 28 points can’t be repeated here as Tufts has been ice cold from 3-point range of late. Madsen certainly doesn’t need to play as well as Palleschi, but if he can stop Amherst’s top threat, then Vincent Pace can do his thing and carry the Jumbos again offensively.
Amherst X-Factor: Jayde Dawson
While McCarthy is Amherst’s most dynamic player, Dawson’s team leading 17.0 PPG in NESCAC games drives the offense.In Amherst’s worst loss of the season against Conn College, Dawson scored just nine points. In all of their other ‘CAC games, he hasn’t scored less than 13, with 17 and 21 in their last two games. He had four steals in a two point win against Bowdoin and four more against Trinity and could have a big rebounding day against the hobbled Jumbos. McCarthy should be big down low on Saturday, but Dawson will have to keep up with Pace as I’m not fully convinced Amherst deserves their #11 ranking at this point in the season.
Both teams will walk into Saturday’s matchup after a good test the day before. Bates and Trinity could easily knock off both teams, leaving this as a battle for seeding with so few games to play. Trinity should be a great test for Tufts, offering a similar big threat to Delpeche, which could better prepare them for an Amherst team that hasn’t beaten anybody in the top seven except for Trinity. In that lone win against Trinity, the Bantams shot just 7.1% from three (1-14), more a sign of bad shooting than good defense, a clear anomaly. Their loss to Conn College and their two point win against last place Bowdoin really stick out as reasons why the Purple and White won’t win despite Palleschi’s absence.
Tufts also has had it pretty rocky of late with their tough loss to Bates, but if they can figure out how to play without Palleschi—it makes sense that it would take a few games—then they should be able to handle Amherst. The #9 team in the country is much more deserving of their ranking than Amherst—and if not for their center’s injury, they would be a clear favorite. The level of play of both teams will be much clearer after Friday’s match ups, but for now I still think the Jumbos can figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
Middlebury @ Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
While I haven’t been accurate on my predictions, I really think the Panthers are going to win this one. Last place Bowdoin against #16 Middlebury doesn’t leave a lot to fear as a Midd fan, but Jack Simonds always poses a big threat. Simonds’ ridiculous point totals have come down to earth a bit recently with just eight and 13 against Trinity and Colby, but others have stepped up. Jack Bors had a huge 24 point outburst against Colby and added 19 more in a win against Husson, although neither opponent is as strong as the Panthers.
With Bryan Jones’ blowup performance against Hamilton last weekend, Middlebury added another big offensive weapon. Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Jack Daly, Adisa Majors and now Eric McCord and Jones? The Panthers have a plethora of offensive and defensive weapons that led to 115 points against a good team, and they could easily put up triple digits against the Polar Bears. If Bors and Simonds have the games of their lives and Middlebury forgets how to shoot, then it could be close…maybe.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Hamilton @ Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Hamilton was really starting to emerge as a potential contender, and then they had to go and lose by 33 to Middlebury. Ouch. That game definitely put a lot of question as to how the Continentals can hold up against the stronger league opponents, but at 3-3, they are still sticking around. Bowdoin should pose a similar threat to the Continentals as the Mules will, so my pick in this one will be the same as Pete’s for Hamilton’s Friday game.
Colby did put up a solid and surprising performance against Bowdoin with Patrick Stewart putting up 28 points out of nowhere. Stewart should be rested heading into the weekend, playing just 13 minutes in a blowout win against Southern Maine, and if he can get it going, maybe Colby can too. Hamilton has lost all of their games on the road this year and their starters played terribly against the Panthers last weekend. Kena Gilmour could crack the starting lineup soon enough as his 19 points on 19 shots last weekend were both team highs, with only one starter, Andrew Groll, putting up double digit points. I’m still a big fan of Hamilton’s even depth and Jack Dwyer’s court vision, but he needs to play better than he did last weekend. Hamilton is the favorite here, but they aren’t a lock.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Bates @ Trinity, 3:00 PM, Hartford, CT
This should be a great matchup between three of the best big men in the NESCAC. Marcus Delpeche showed his star talent last weekend and Ed Ogundeko shows it nearly every game. Neither team has really been able to separate themselves from the middle of the pack and neither has a ton of offensive depth. Malcolm Delpeche offers another star rebounding presence and is a good scorer too—just short ofMarcus’ scoring and rebounding, and averages 3.5 BLK/G to lead the league. Bates should have an upper hand in the boards department with two of the top five rebounders in the league, but Trinity has potential big game players who don’t always show up.
Eric Gendron and Chris Turnbull have traded off with good performances the past two games while Jeremy Arthur has really hit a wall lately. Gendron and Turnbull are going to need to bring it and are the keys to the Bantams’ game as Marcus should match Ogundeko and Malcolm should be a big advantage to the Bobcats. Coming off an upset win against Tufts (and maybe another upset win against Amherst?) the Bobcats will be ready to go. If it wasn’t for their loss to Conn College earlier this year I would say Bates should definitely be ahead of Trinity in the power rankings. It should be a close one, but Bates should pull it out.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Conn College at Williams, 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
I don’t think I’ve been giving the Camels quite as much credit as they deserve. I keep knocking on teams that have lost to them as they were upset losses, but Conn has pretty much lost to everybody they were expected to lose to. What I mean is they have really only played good teams. Wins against Bates and Amherst are huge for this team heading into the playoff run as this game against the Ephs has huge playoff implications. Currently at 2-4, Williams holds the final spot in the NESCAC playoffs, but at 2-5 the Camels are clawing at that eighth spot. With their final three games against Williams, Colby, and Bowdoin, the Camels could easily end up 5-5.
Williams offers a typically confusing case for the NESCAC. A blowout win against Middlebury really confuses me. The Ephs shot a blistering hot 58.5 FG% and 48.1% from deep, shown to be unsustainable against Amherst where they really fell back to earth. Zuri Pavlin and Daniel Janel down lost coupled with Tyler Rowe and Lee Messier offer a much more consistent arsenal of weapons that should be able to knock off the Ephs. No doubt the Williams team could pull this game off, but this is Conn’s easiest conference game thus far and they have played nearly every team closely.
Every NESCAC game is important. That is the nature of the league; since every team (give or take a couple outliers) can get hot and pull off an upset at any time, there are few opportunities to take a game off. And as we wind down the 2016-2017 regular season, the games become even more crucial. This weekend and next, one loss can be the difference between hosting a playoff or going on the road. For some teams, it can even be the difference between making the playoffs or getting a chance to catch up on their homework. The Friday night games kick off a critical weekend, and there are some very important match-ups to keep an eye on, particularly Tufts’ game against Trinity and Bates game in Amherst.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Trinity, 7:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Although they’re still the top team in NESCAC record-wise, Tufts has some real work to do if they want to stay there. The loss of starting center and team leader Tom Palleschi ‘17 has the Jumbos reeling on both sides of the ball. Against Bates, they weren’t able to stop Marcus Delpeche ‘17, who destroyed them to the tune of 28 points on 10/16 shooting. They also settled for jumpshots, leading to a low shooting percentage (36.1%.) They then came out flat against Umass-Dartmouth, losing 91-82. Again, interior defense was a problem, as the Jumbos allowed 14 offensive rebounds and couldn’t get stops down the stretch to support their Vincent Pace-led comeback. Although it was not a league game, the Umass-Dartmouth loss in conjunction with the Bates loss point to deep problems for Tufts. They need to find a way to defend at a high level without Palleschi.
Unfortunately, Trinity is not the best team to play if interior defense is your issue. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has shown himself to be fully capable of ending a game himself if a team doesn’t have a post presence to match him (see his 20/20 game against Bowdoin earlier this year.) Marcus Delpeche proved that Tufts is vulnerable to big performances from dominant inside players. However, Trinity doesn’t exactly come into this one firing on all cylinders either. They only put up 53 points on 32% shooting against Amherst, and that’s including 19 on 8/11 shooting from Ogundeko. The rest of the team shot 11/48 from the field, which is about the same percentage that I shoot when I throw paper at my recycling bin from my bed. Both teams enter this game needing to prove themselves if they hope to contend for top spots come playoffs.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Rebounding
With Palleschi out, Tufts has a `very large hole in the middle of their defense. To fill that hole, the Jumbos will need help from up and down the roster. Of course new starter Drew Madsen ‘17 has the biggest job (particularly this weekend when he matches up with Ogundeko) but he can’t do it alone. Tufts’ guards have to take some of the rebounding load off of the suddenly-thin Tufts frontcourt. Vincent Pace ‘18 has always been adept at this, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, but he holds too much offensive responsibility to spend all his time battling Ogundeko in the paint. KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18 will have to use their size and strength to crash the boards, freeing up Pace to carry the offense and taking pressure off Tufts’ untested big men.
Trinity X-Factor: Anyone Besides Ogundeko
I apologize for sounding like a broken record here, but Trinity needs a second scoring option. Amherst was able to basically dare anyone else on the Bantams roster to beat them, and no one else could. Chris Turnbull ‘17 has shot well from three on the year at 43%, but has a tendency to disappear in big games and struggles to score inside. The same goes for Jeremy Arthur ‘19, who has struggled in league play. Eric Gendron ‘18 represents another candidate to be the Christopher to Ogundeko’s Tony Soprano. Gendron has averaged 11.2 points per game on 43% shooting in league play. To knock off Tufts, Trinity will need solid games from at least one (and more likely two or three) of those possible second bananas.
From a playoff seeding standpoint, Trinity probably needs this game more. At 4-2, they are currently mired in the swamp of teams behind Tufts. Furthermore, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of those teams. After Tufts they still have Hamilton, Middlebury and Bates, all of whom will be battling hard for the best possible playoff spot. I could see Trinity playing very well in these last four games and setting themselves up for a long playoff run. However, I could also see them falling back in the face of this tough schedule. This game is a terrific chance for them to kick this tough stretch off right.
Tufts hasn’t clinched anything either. Although they’re 6-1 now, Middlebury has been playing better than them lately, and Amherst always seems one strong game away from returning to the top. Both those teams have a chance of winning out, and therefore could take the top spot away from Tufts. The Jumbos need to figure out a way to survive without Palleschi, or their season could end disappointingly early. And unfortunately for Tufts, I don’t think this is the game in which they figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Hamilton @ Bowdoin, 7:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Although Hamilton is certainly loaded with talent, they are very young. Middlebury showed the rest of the league just how much that matters last weekend. The Panthers threw up a cool 115 points against the Continentals, and pressured them into 19 turnovers. Hamilton is 0-3 on the road in league play, a stat which makes sense considering that the vast majority of their rotation is composed of sophomores (and freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20.) Hamilton has to grow up fast this year if they want to keep any hope of hosting a playoff game.
Bowdoin comes off giving Colby their first win last weekend in a surprisingly thrilling game. Bowdoin fell 87-82, despite 24 points off the bench from Jack Bors ‘19.Jack Simonds ‘19 has fallen from the league lead in scoring. This may be good for Bowdoin’s offense, as it now looks considerably more balanced than it did early on, but they need to be able to rely on Simond to get them a bucket when needed. I don’t see the Polar Bears being able to catch up to Hamilton like Middlebury did.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Middlebury @ Colby, 7:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Middlebury was unrecognizable against Hamilton and Keene if you watched their performance against Williams. Middlebury’s offense has been balanced and deadly, leading the league in points, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage during league play. The Panthers have particularly benefited from the play of Jake Brown ‘17. Longtime readers will know that my lifelong conquest has been to get Jake Brown on the First Team, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll have to take my battle straight to the Supreme Court. Brown leads the league in assists and averages 11.7 points per game, developing a deadly pull up jump shot which has added a whole new dimension to his game and the Middlebury offense. With Matt St. Amour leading the league in scoring, Brown hitting his jump shots and Jack Daly doing pretty much everything else, the Panthers might well be the best team in the league in the wake of Tufts’ struggles.
Colby also enters this game with momentum. They picked up an emotional first win of the season against Bowdoin. They owe the win primarily to Patrick Stewart ‘17, who went Green Room on the Polar Bearswith 28 points on 8/14 shooting. Colby will most likely try to follow Williams’ formula for beating the Panthers. They will shoot a lot of threes and stack the paint, daring the Panthers to match them from outside. Unfortunately, they’re not good enough from three or on defense to make that strategy work for them. Middlebury should take this one easily.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Bates @ Amherst, 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This is another game which has major playoff implications. Amherst has been inconsistent this season, but the existentially depressing fact remains that they’re 4-2 and are within striking distance of the top spot thanks to Palleschi’s injury. Amherst still has offensive struggles, but they have quietly developed an excellent defense to make up for it. They gave up under 70 points to both Trinity and Williams last weekend, and can still rely on Jayde Dawson ‘18 to bail them out in close games. Amherst is not pretty this year, but if they can keep winning it could work out for them. Also important to note; they are 12-0 at home this season.
Bates is not pretty either, but they are well equipped to give Amherst’s offense fits. The Delpeche brothers are adept at clogging up driving lanes, which should limit the amount of space that Dawson and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 have to score. And on offense, Bates has lately been hitting just enough threes to give the Delpeche brothers some help. Amherst doesn’t exactly have a stable of big men to throw at Malcolm and Marcus, so I see the Bobcats upsetting Amherst at home.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Wesleyan @ Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Wesleyan appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. They put up maybe their best offensive performance of the season against Connecticut College, scoring 85 points on 48.3% shooting. The Cardinals have been experimenting with different starting lineups, and brought Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench against the Camels. They had tried this with Nathan Krill ‘18 earlier. This gives Kuo the freedom to beat up on second unit big men and gives them the freedom to play a more mobile starting lineup with Jordan Sears ‘18 acting as a small ball, defensive-minded center. With Williams perimeter-oriented big men, watch for this lineup change to continue.
Williams hasn’t played a league game since their shellacking of Middlebury, but dropped a non-league matchup to Amherst last week. In that game, they got 26 from Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, but little else, losing 72-64. The Ephs have yet to replicate the shooting display they presented Middlebury, and the top field goal percentage defense in the country isn’t a great team to get hot against . This should be a low scoring matchup, with Wesleyan slowing down the pace and pounding the ball into Kuo and Nathan Krill ‘18. Wesleyan is simply better at winning low-scoring, ugly games.
I know that they just had a pretty ugly loss to UMass Dartmouth two nights ago to follow up their lapse in Lewiston, but the Jumbos maintain a tenuous hold on the top spot. It’s not an excuse but rather a glaring truth: the Jumbos miss their big man. Guess where Bates is strongest? The post. So, while a shooting line 36.1/18.5/53.6 is pretty inexcusable, that along with a missing Palleschi, along with Bates hosting a NESCAC game at Alumni Gymnasium is the perfect storm for a Bobcats win. Meanwhile, Bates shot 43.8/50.0/81.8. Again, not excusable numbers to allow by the Jumbos defense, but I still think this game was a fluke and that the Jumbos are deserving of this spot. That being said, they head to Trinity and then Amherst this weekend, their biggest test of the year thus far. Trinity poses another match-up nightmare down low, so Drew Madsen ‘17 and Pat Racy ‘20 are going to have to step up on the defensive end. And Amherst, well, it’s just Amherst. You can never overlook that team. This weekend will be a very telling one for Coach Sheldon’s squad. Is Tufts tough or fake tough?
2.) #23 Wesleyan (16-4, 4-3)
Wesleyan decided to try to be a bit sneakier this weekend by bringing Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench. Guess what – their sneak attack worked! It actually worked so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Joe Reilly tries it again on Friday against Williams. Kuo dominated to the tune of 20 points on 10-16 shooting in his newly developed sixth man role, just punishing the bigs of Conn College. Jordan Bonner ‘19 also qualifies for being credited with a stellar performance off the bench, as he put up 23 points, primarily on the back of his three-point shooting. I’d also like to say that while Nathan Krill ‘18 might be the craziest kid on the court in the NESCAC, he might also be the toughest. His presence on the court is not only electric from a fan’s perspective (I watched an incredible double technical occur between Krill and Tufts’ Ben Engvall ‘18 last week), but also in terms of contributions to Wesleyan’s system. The Cards rely on his grit on the boards and on loose balls, as the attention he draws opens the floor up for other guys to succeed. Wesleyan is beatable for sure, but they are a tough match-up for whoever draws the corresponding seed in the NESCAC tournament.
3.) #16 Middlebury (16-3, 4-2)
Middlebury has been very consistent this year aside from their blowout loss to Williams a week and a half ago. Pete was an emotional wreck following that loss, but the Panthers bounced back this weekend and smacked the living daylights out of Hamilton. Simply put, Middlebury posted video game numbers on the poor Continentals, shooting an ungodly 62.0/59.3/91.7 on the day. While I don’t anticipate Middlebury achieving another 115-point performance in a NESCAC game, they have consistently shared the ball better than the rest of the conference, resulting in league-leading numbers in both assists and shooting percentage. While Jake Brown ‘17 doesn’t shoot the most efficiently on the Midd roster, he is largely responsible for the team’s shooting. Not only does he lead the team (and league) in assists, but Brown’s ability to penetrate and force help out of opposing defenders leads to open shots 2-3 passes down the line. This should be a pretty straightforward weekend for Middlebury, but if they drop one to either Colby or Bowdoin then maybe they’ve got some more glaring issues than I have realized.
4.) #11 Amherst (14-4, 4-2)
While Middlebury has been mostly consistent all season, Amherst has not been, which explains my ranking them lower than both Middlebury and Wesleyan in the Power Rankings despite being a higher national seed. Every team in the conference has some bad losses, but Amherst’s back-to-back losses to Wesleyan and Conn College are of some concern. However, it’s not just Amherst’s losses that keep me on edge. To follow up that 0-2 weekend, Amherst had to put together quite the comeback against lowly Bowdoin at home in order to sneak away with a win. While I am used an Amherst that blows most teams out (as are most people probably), they still rebounded from the aforementioned three game stretch with a string of solid victories. As we all know, Colby has been the doormat of the NESCAC this year so far, but Amherst still needed to win convincingly and they did. Williams, though not in the top half of the NESCAC this year, is a solid team and is Amherst’s hated rival, so an 8-point mid-week is impressive. Then, the most telling is the 66-53 W against Trinity. Amherst hosted the Bantams and beat them at their own game, holding Trinity to just 53 points (!!) on 32.2% shooting while allowing just 1-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The usual suspects (Jayde Dawson ‘17, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and Michael Riopel ‘18), led the way for Coach Hixon in the scoring department and the ex-LJs got it done. Like Tufts, this coming weekend is the most telling of the season for Amherst as they host Bates and the Jumbos themselves. A 2-0 weekend would tell us what the rest of the league fears: that Amherst is back.
5.) Trinity (13-7, 4-2)
You won’t believe I’m saying this, but this weekend is a very telling weekend for Trinity (mix up your damn phrasing, Rory!!!). Seriously though, the Bants can more or less take the reigns with a sweep of Tufts and Bates this weekend, and they have a very good chance to do so. While they took the L this weekend to Amherst, that was a very good loss for Trinity. I don’t mean this necessarily in the way they played was good and they just got a couple bad bounces (-5 turnover differential, relying far too heavily on one player offensively, terrible shooting across the board), but in the sense that the Bantams proved a couple things to themselves. First of all, they proved that they can take advantage of mismatches in the post against good teams. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 had 19/11 and held David George to 6/4. Secondly, they proved that even shooting as poorly from deep as they did (1-14), they could still find themselves in the game until free throws put them away at the end. Looking ahead to Friday, Ogundeko has a highly favorable matchup against Tufts, and if he gets some efficient support offensively from the guards, Big Ed will have a chance to dominate. Bates is a tougher matchup for Trinity, but again, success is going to be reliant on the guard-play of the Bantams, specifically Langdon Neal ‘17 and Chris Turnbull ‘17.
6.) Bates (15-6, 4-3)
My friend from Bates (who for clarification, is unassociated with the Bates Men’s Basketball team except as a fan), has been describing the Bobcats to me as the hottest team in the ‘CAC this week. While a 3-game winning streak (just one conference game) following a 3-game losing streak (all conference games) does not scream “on fire” to me, I will say that Bates made Tufts look foolish on Saturday. While poor shooting is generally a reflection of both teams and not just tough defense, Bates forced Tufts into difficult shots and dominated them offensively. The Bobcats, especially Jerome Darling ‘17, put on a clinic on how to shoot three-pointers. They also shot 18-22 from the free throw line, which played a huge part in helping them seal the deal. I will say, however, that I think Bates should be concerned about this win giving them false confidence for a number of reasons. First of all, it took one of the worst shooting performances of the season for them to topple Tufts. The Bobcats also allowed their opponents to shoot 28 free throws, something that I don’t think I’ve seen a team do in a win that didn’t involve any overtime. Bates, a team whose system involves two big men, allowed Tufts, a team whose system involves just one big man (and lacked their starting big man), to beat them on the boards by seven. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 pulled the weight with 28/11, rightfully earning him NESCAC POW honors, his twin brother Malcolm proved to be pretty ineffective on Saturday, shooting 2-10 from the field and grabbing just three boards. Bates NEEDS these two to work in tandem on the boards at the very least, but it would be a big boost for them if they could have the twins both scoring effectively.
7.) Hamilton (14-5, 3-3)
Hamilton is a solid team. They’ve got some great young talent, and I think they are going to get even better in the next couple years. Right now, however, it is mostly potential that they possess, and they are vulnerable in a few different aspects, the first of which is down in the post. While Andrew Groll ‘19 is a solid player and a tenacious rebounder, he is also really the only real presence down on the block for the Continentals. While they have some size in their perimeter players (Joe Pucci ‘18 – 6’6”, Peter Hoffmann – 6’5”), Hamilton can get exposed on the boards and in the paint at times, especially against teams with solid post players and bigger guards. In NESCAC losses, they have allowed 40.66 PPG in the paint, showing that conference opponents know
how to expose this glaring hole in Hamilton defense. The emergence of Kena Gilmour ‘20 as of late is definitely encouraging, and he is a prime candidate to win Rookie of the Year, but aside from Gilmour the offensive production off the bench is limited at best. Hamilton has the weapons to surprise some teams come tournament time, but they still need to qualify. Ending the season with 4 tough conference games leaves a lot up in the air as to what will happen, but it is worth noting that the last two are against Trinity and Amherst.
8.) Williams (14-6, 2-4)
Williams has surprised me so far this year, and not in a good way. With the weapons that Williams returned at the beginning of the year, I thought for sure that they would be in the top half of the NESCAC standings battling for home court advantage in the playoffs. Now, here we are six games into the NESCAC season and Williams is ranked eighth in the conference standings. While the Ephs have been decent offensively, the Ephs just simply haven’t done enough to stop opposing players from scoring. Part of this is due to their post presence, or lack thereof, which rears its head on the boards and in the paint. Yes, Williams can get hot, especially from beyond the arc, and when they do they certainly have what it takes to win (see: Middlebury), but their lack of consistency is a problem, and is also the reason that they are a bubble playoff team.
9.) Conn College (12-8, 2-5)
Speaking of inconsistency…Conn has shown that they can really, really good at times. Unfortunately for the Camels, those times are few and far between. Wins against Amherst and Bates definitely show promise, but double-digit losses to Hamilton, Trinity, Tufts and Wesleyan leave young NESCAC bloggers wondering who the Camels really are. The issue, in my opinion, is that they have too many guys that want to be “the guy,” and while that’s a harsh critique, there’s definitely an argument there. In NESCAC play, Conn shoots just 39.7% from the field and 31.2% from beyond the arc. Keeping those percentages in mind and then take a look at shot totals. They’ve taken the second most shots and the fourth most three-pointers. Yes, they have played seven conference games while some have played just six, but still, the lack of offensive efficiency that the Camels boast has to be at least a bit concerning. To go along with their poor shooting, Conn allows their opponents to shoot the highest percentage in NESCAC play…not exactly a recipe for success. I’m not saying Conn can’t make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they manage to fumble the opportunity to close the season playing Williams, Bowdoin and Colby, the three worst teams in the league besides the Camels.
10.) Colby (10-9, 1-5)
They’re on the board! Colby grabbed their first win of the NESCAC season this weekend as they hosted rival Bowdoin in one of the best games of the weekend. Patrick Stewart ‘17 played like a damn All-Star, netting 28 points to lead the way for the Mules, and Sam Jefferson ‘20 showed the age is just a number, adding a nice 17 points of his own. The Mules owned the arc and drained 12 threes on the day (albeit on 32 attempts) to propel them to victory. Though they haven’t necessarily looked like a playoff team this year, Colby is on the bubble as this win brings them just one shy of Williams, the current eighth place team. It’s a tough road ahead for Colby, but maybe they can pull this off!
11.) Bowdoin (10-9, 1-5)
Bowdoin gave Colby their first loss of the NESCAC season this weekend to extend their NESCAC skid to three straight losses. Like I feared at the beginning of the season, Bowdoin is just far too reliant on Jack Simonds ‘19, so when he only put up 13 points against the Mules, Bowdoin was in trouble. They did get an outstanding performance from Jack Bors ‘19, who tallied 24 points on 8-12 shooting (5-8 from three-point land), but it was the inability of the Polar Bears to defend the three-point line themselves that buried them in Waterville. Bowdoin couldn’t quite pull off the upset at Amherst a couple weeks ago, but they’ll have a few more upset opportunities before the season is over as they face Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Conn to wrap up NESCAC play. If they want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to win at least a couple of these games.