Defense Wins Championships: Wesleyan @ Amherst Men’s Basketball Semifinal Preview

Wesleyan (20-5, 7-3, #5 Seed) @ Amherst (17-8, 7-3 #1 Seed), 5:30 PM, Amherst, MA

Overview:

As opposed to the offense heavy three point barrage we expect in the Tufts-Hamilton game (detailed beautifully by Colby here,) this should be a gritty, defensive battle. Both these teams pride themselves on their defense. Amherst’s most impressive win of the season was a 75-49 drubbing of Hamilton in which they held the Continentals to 29.4% shooting. That game was the jumping off point for their run to the number one seed. Since then, they are 7-2 and have won their last three games, including wins over Middlebury and Williams. But their most exciting win of this hot stretch was the last one, a thrilling 71-70 win over Bowdoin in the quarterfinals. In that game, Amherst overcame a rough game from Michael Riopel ‘18 thanks to a First Team level performance from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 (22 points) and contributions from several bench players, most notably Josh Chery ‘20, who scored 11 points and hit the game winning layup with 3.4 seconds left. What this Amherst team lacks in star power they make up for in depth and heart.

Amherst’s defense is the key to their recent success.

Of course, the same can be said for Wesleyan. One of Amherst’s losses since that shellacking of Hamilton is to the Cardinals, a 71-57 road loss in which McCarthy and Riopel went 3-20 from the field. Wesleyan’s season is littered with these types of games. The dominate defensively, shut down what the opponent does best, and the offense does just enough to get by. Their quarterfinal game against Middlebury was another great example. While Jack Daly ’18 did have a nice game (20 points and six assists,) the Cardinals stifled Middlebury’s inside game, holding the dangerous forward combo of Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Adisa Majors ’18 to 6-19 shooting. Jordan Sears ’19 had 8 blocks, and with Kevin O’Brien ’19 and his army of tall, long-armed guards on the perimeter, it is nearly impossible to get into the paint and score against Wesleyan. Amherst will have to hit some threes to spread the Cardinals defense. And Wesleyan will have to do the same against Amherst. 

Key Player For Amherst: F Josh Chery ’20

Josh Chery ’20
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

As I said earlier, Chery was the hero against Bowdoin. With 5 seconds left on the clock, Chery got the ball on the right wing, drove to the rim, and finished a tough layup with 3.4 seconds left. Chery certainly wasn’t the first option,as Johnny McCarthy was lighting it up at that point, but he wasn’t the last one either. Chery has been one of the major keys to Amherst’s recent hot streak. He’s gone over double figures three times in the last four games, and has averaged 25 minutes per game over that stretch after going over 20 minutes just once all season up to that point. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, he is big and strong enough to guard multiple positions, a huge plus against Wesleyan due to the size of the Cardinal guards. He makes a huge difference on the defensive end, grabbing four steals against Williams and pulling down eight rebounds against Middlebury. And ask Bowdoin how he is finishing at the rim. One thing to watch for is his foul shooting: he’s 0-7 in the last two games. Chery is the ideal player to have on the court against Wesleyan, and, since Wesleyan has proven themselves capable of locking up Riopel and McCarthy, Chery and the rest of the bench mob are the keys to Amherst’s chances.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Nathan Krill ‘18

Nathan Krill
Nathan Krill ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The starting power forward on the “Feels Like They’ve Been in College for 2o Years” All Stars, Krill has been in this position before. However, he has never been as important to the team’s offense. Of course, they won last weekend with him only having three points, but they won’t be able to rely on Antone ’21 Walker putting up 11 off the bench and Kevin O’ Brien ’19 scoring 17. Walker is a great talent, but he is streaky, and O’Brien isn’t really a go to scorer. Krill is Wesleyan’s most dangerous pick and roll finisher. He can step behind the three point line and hit, or he can use his quickness and ball handling skills to finish at the rim. Throughout Krill’s career, this combination of skills has made him one of the hardest players to guard in the league when he’s hot. Key word: “when.” Krill has always been incredibly streaky (see his 24 points against Bowdoin versus 3 the next game against Bowdoin.) Krill only had four points in Wesleyan’s win over Amherst during the regular season, but this a whole new Amherst team. Wesleyan needs their stars to shine bright on Saturday, starting with Krill.

Final Thoughts:

Bowdoin was certainly far more skilled than your average eight seed, but Amherst still should have been able to put them away earlier. The Mammoths were uncharacteristically bad defending the three, allowing Bowdoin to shoot 10-28 from outside (and many of those misses were open looks.)  Much of Wesleyan’s offense relies on three point shooting, particularly from Jordan Bonner ’19 and Hutcherson. Amherst will have to do a better job running those two off of the three point lie than they did with Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19 and Liam Farley ’19. They will also have to contend with pick and rolls featuring either Bonner or Hutcherson and Krill. Since each of those players are dangerous shooters, the slightest defensive mistake can lead to an open three pointer. Amherst’s best defense here would be an aggressive hedge with their big men and then not switching. A switch would mean that one of Amherst’s big men would be stuck on , a mismatch in favor of Wesleyan. This is why Chery should see big minutes on Saturday, he is big enough to handle Krill and fast enough to handle Hutcherson or Bonner.

If Jordan Bonner ’19 gets hot, Amherst could be in for a long day.

In general, this game is not the best matchup for Amherst’s big men. Joseph Schneider ’19 is skilled inside, but he might get swallowed by the athleticism of Wesleyan’s front court. And with Eric Sellew ’20 out, Amherst’s big men rotation is very thin. This presents a big problem on the glass. Amherst simply must win the rebounding battle in this game. These are the two best rebounding teams in the league based on rebounding margin, and both are at their most dangerous when they get open shots off of offensive rebounds. Both these teams will be battling fiercely for rebounds, but it is more important for Amherst because they have fewer weapons on the offensive end. More of their offense is based on second chances.

All the signs point to Wesleyan in this game. They’ve had a more successful regular season, they have more weapons, and they played better in their first round game. But the game is in Amherst, and crazy things happen down there. The Mammoths are 10-2 at home this season, and have an almost supernatural knack for pulling out close games in their gym. I think most loyal readers will know how much it kills me to do this, but I have to go Amherst. Let no one call me biased again.

Writer’s Prediction: Amherst 63, Wesleyan 60 

A New Frontier: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 2/19

Stock Up

Amherst F Johnny McCarthy ‘18

Johnny McCarthy
Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for McCarthy. After three years of being underrated because of Jayde Dawson’s ball dominance. In fact, he was so underrated that he entered this season a little overrated. Like Amherst as a whole, he struggled during the regular season, and for a while it seemed like he just wasn’t suited to be a number one option. But as he improved, so did Amherst. McCarthy reinvented himself as a dominant rebounder, defender and paint scorer. And, as he has done so many times over the course of his career, he saved his best for the biggest moments. With Amherst facing a challenge from the 8 seeded Bowdoin Polar Bears in the first round, McCarthy had his best game of the year. He scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. He also hit the second biggest shot of the game, a 30 footer after a broken play that put Amherst up by four in the final minutes. McCarthy and Amherst are peaking at the right time, and really, did we expect anything different?

Jordan Sears ‘19 for DPOY

I like to think that Sears read our pick of Folger, printed it out, put it up in his locker, and then read it again right before Wesleyan’s game against Middlebury. He looked like a man possessed against Middlebury, blocking eight shots (!) and snuffing out countless pick and rolls with incredible perimeter defense. Sears had four blocks in the final five minutes or so of the game, effectively snuffing out any hope Middlebury had of coming back. Sears is the definition of a difference making defender, and his performance against Middlebury pretty much guarantees him the DPOY trophy.

Jordan Sears ’19 owned the Panthers on Saturday to the degree that he is actually now President of Middlebury College.

NCAA Representation

Last season, the NESCAC had five teams gain NCAA berths for the first time in conference history. The results this weekend are steps in the direction repeating that performance, and even make six teams a distinct possibility. Now bear with me, because this gets a little confusing. NCAA berths are decided based on the NCAA Regional Rankings, NOT the D3 Hoops Top 25. The regional rankings can be found here. As you can see, the top four teams in Northeast are all NESCAC teams. In order, they are Hamilton, Wesleyan, Williams and Middlebury. These four teams were pretty much assured of NCAA bids, regardless of their quarterfinal games. Middlebury and Wesleyan were basically playing for a home game, and Williams and Hamilton were entirely safe. Amherst was the question mark. They entered the quarterfinals eighth in the regional rankings. This is a shaky position. They certainly needed a win over Bowdoin to keep their hopes alive, but they are still on the bubble to certain degree. Their performance in the final regular season weekend, along with their win over Bowdoin, should get them a berth, giving the NESCAC, again, five NCAA teams.

Stock Down

Tufts

The Jumbos were 11th in the regional rankings. This is not a complicated position; they basically needed to win the NESCAC tournament, or AT LEAST make the final, to sneak into the NCAA’s. Their loss to Hamilton ends their season, and the excellent career of Vincent Pace ’18. Pace deserves a great deal of credit for persevering despite one of the more unlucky careers of any star in recent NESCAC memory. After a solid first season, he was dominant during his sophomore campaign, averaging 17 points per game on 50% shooting. It looked like he and Tufts were going to ride the combo of he, Hunter Sabety and Tom Palleschi to NESCAC dominance. Then Sabety transferred, and Pace suffered a nagging injury in practice that affected him for his whole junior year. His numbers fell in every catagory, and another injury to Tom Palleschi set back what was a very strong squad. And then this season, Tufts never really got going, and again struggled with injuries, to crucial bench scorers KJ Garrett ’19 and Ben Engvall ’18. Tufts, and Pace, are one of the great “what-ifs” in recent NESCAC history, but their saga is over for this season.

First Years

Many of the top first years in the conference found out that tournament ball is very different from even regular season NESCAC play. Middlebury’s Jack Farrell ’21, after a breakout 22 point game against Amherst during the final weekend, was locked up by the Cardinals to the tune of 0 points on 0-4 shooting. However, Austin Hutcherson ’21 of Wesleyan wasn’t much better, putting up 9 points on 2-10 shooting. And Amherst’s standout PG Grant Robinson ’21 was invisible, tallying three points on 1-3 shooting. All of these players looked a little taken aback at the physicality and intensity of tournament play, a very normal feeling for first years. A notable exception was Bowdoin’s underrated (but not by this blog, we love him) PG Zavier Rucker ’21, who scored 11 points and added 7 rebounds and six assists. Hutcherson is still, in my mind, the easy pick for Rookie of the Year, but it was interesting to see how all these players struggled in the their first playoff experience, and how Rucker very much did not.

Zavier Rucker ’21 was by far the most comfortable first year last weekend, and looks like a star in the making.

Upset in the Making? Bowdoin @ Amherst NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview

Bowdoin (15-8, 4-6) @ Amherst (16-8, 7-3), 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA

Overview:

Somehow Amherst ended up as the #1 seed in this tournament after looking at a 5-3 conference record going into the final regular season weekend. They knocked off Williams 72-57 and then downed Middlebury 80-68, successfully owning the teams that used to hold the #1 and #2 spots in the league. This crazy change of fortune weekend came on the heels of losses in 2/3 of their previous games, one to Tufts 60-56 and the other to Wesleyan 71-57. What once looked like a rather dismal season for the historically dominant Mammoth team has turned into one with promise for a championship and an NCAA berth as they also received votes in the last D3 National poll.

Men’s Basketball’s Win Streak Halted by Jumbos
Grant Robinson ’21 and Amherst have improved throughout the year, and seem to be peaking at the right time.

Bowdoin as the #8 seed has to be happy that they are facing Amherst. All things considered, as the last seed in these playoffs, they could easily be seeing Williams, Middlebury, or Hamilton, all more formidable on paper than the Mammoths. Yes, they are now facing the hottest team in the league dating back to the first week of February (so, yeah, just last week), however, they also have one of the most talented yet top heavy starting lineups in the league. Their roster’s make up creates a trap game here where they have a legitimate chance to knock off the top seed in the tournament. Yes, Bowdoin lost already 75-60 to Amherst just a few weeks ago, but their opponent also shot over 50% from the floor that night (7% above their season average), while their top scorers performed below their normal levels.

Amherst X-Factor: F Dylan Groff ‘19

Dylan Groff
Dylan Groff ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

This might seem like a bit of a wild-card pick, but choosing Michael Riopel of Johnny McCarthy would’ve been just a bit too boring. Amherst is likely going to win this game and that is due to their depth. Riopel and McCarthy are good, perhaps All-NESCAC good, but the Mammoths don’t have a Player of the yYear candidate like the other top teams. They do, however, have bench players who contribute and a lock down defense (second in rebounds and third in points allowed per game.) Groff contributes to this depth and added eight and 10 points in the two games last weekend, shooting 7-9 (4-6 from deep), giving his team an accurate weapon off of the bench. Amherst is at their best when they get contributions from all over their bench, and are at their worst when they rely too much on McCarthy and Riopel. Their bench is also their biggest advantage over Bowdoin, who has a lot of talent but isn’t very deep. Groff is one of the players who could help Amherst put this one away.

Bowdoin X-Factor: Hugh O’Neil

Hugh O'Neil
Hugh O’ Neil ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

With Amherst’s defense as strong as it is, O’Neil is going to need to be a force in the paint for the Polar Bears to have any chance. The leading rebounder on this team, and among the league leaders, O’Neil’s 9.0 REB/G are impressive and a necessity in his team’s playoff game. What is more questionable is his shooting ability. Although he averages a respectable 9.6 PPG, his individual contest stat lines fluctuate hugely from game to game and are a key indication of Bowdoin’s success. He shot 6-8 for 12 points against Hamilton in a big 72-68 win and shot 3-8 last weekend against Wesleyan in a 74-65 loss. While those are just two examples, generally, Bowdoin does better when O’Neil shoots more, complementing their balanced front court attack well. If he can haul in the boards, he should also have a big role shooting the ball.

Final Thoughts:

Along with O’Neil, Bowdoin also has David Reynolds, Liam Farley, and Jack Simonds leading the way for them. Each of those other three players all average over 10 PPG, and bring in over 13 rebounds and five assists combined. This gives them a dynamic starting four with guard Zavier Rucker serving as a pass first guard (3.3 A/G) with limited yet accurate shooting numbers. Their average number for rebounding and points allowed (both 7th in the NESCAC) along with good shooting numbers puts their talent level above their eighth ranking in the standings. All this to say, they are a very tough first round matchup. With three of their conference losses coming by single digit point totals, they can compete with the top teams (72-68 win against Hamilton, 72-70 loss against Midd).

David Reynolds ’20 and Bowdoin have one of the more talented starting lineups in the league, making them not a standard 8 seed.

Unlike Bowdoin who almost won several NESCAC games, Amherst walked the walk at the end of the year and showed up to play. Their final weekend run gives them all of the momentum, a home game, and the edge in this quarterfinal matchup. As mentioned, seniors McCarthy and Riopel lead the way for this squad averaging 11.4 and 12.4 PPG, respectively, adding over 13 boards per game between the pair. Grant Robinson ’21 is a versatile ball handler for his team too, tallying over three rebounds and assists and scoring nearly 10 PPG. Experience, success, and confidence should lead Amherst to victory, despite a challenge from the underdog.

Writer’s Prediction: 78-73 Amherst

A Whole New Season: Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals Preview

The playoffs are here! As everyone anticipated prior to the season, Amherst is the top seed. However, a game always starts at 0-0, and the playoffs are no different. Anybody can win. Let’s look briefly at this weekend’s quarterfinal matchups.

1). #8 Trinity vs #1 Amherst

Courtney Erickson
Courtney Erickson ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

It is hard for me to pick Trinity in this matchup. Everything favors Amherst. Amherst is undefeated; Amherst is at home; Amherst is the number one team in the country. Don’t sleep on Bantams junior forward Courtney Erickson. She leads the Bantams in points, and has logged a ton of minutes for the team. Furthermore, she’s an incredibly efficient scoring–shooting above fifty percent from the field. Amherst, however, has an arsenal of weapons. Sophomore guard Madeline Eck has shown that she is held and shoulders that she’s the best player on the court. She’s one of the leaders in points, and facilitates the offense well.

Prediction: Amherst 60-45

2). #7 Williams vs #2 Bowdoin

Abby Kelly ’19
(Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Bowdoin really bounced back after a tough loss to Amherst midway through the season. The Polar Bears were one of the only teams this season to give the Mammoths a real challenge, as their high powered offense almost broke down Amherst’s defense. Bowdoin obviously turned the page without losing another game. Bowdoin averages an almost 82 points per game. That number is incredible in college basketball. Their high octane attack is led by Junior guard Abby Kelly, who comes off the bench but is as good a scorer as there is in the league. Williams, on the other hand, will pose a serious threat. The team is led by senior forward Kristin Fechtelkotter. She is the main component of the offense, and hopes this won’t be her lsat game. Don’t sleep on Williams, but I’m picking Bowdoin in the hopes that they’ll meet Amherst in a classic final.

Prediction: Bowdoin 75-68

3). #6 Connecticut College vs #3 Tufts

The ‘Bos have had a rocky conference season by their standards. Losses to top teams Bowdoin and Amherst didn’t feel great, but nonetheless, they’re here again in the playoffs. Anything can happen. They’re second in the conference behind Bowdoin in points, so I’m sure they’ll put up the numbers this weekend. Conn College, on the other hand, is the wildcard in this scenario. They’re not as seasoned as the top three teams, but that could be a good thing because they’re not intimidated. They score a lot of points, third in the ‘Cac’, and will provide an offensive show. I believe it’s destiny that Tufts will end up in the top three, though.

Prediction: Tufts 60-52

Tufts’ Melissa Baptista ’18 has a solid POY case, and will lead the Jumbos into the tournament.

4). #4 Middlebury vs  #5 Wesleyan

“He’s such a homer! He’s such a homer!” Get over it. I’m going with the Cards here. You know why? Because I watch sports to have fun, and enjoy it. Do I think Midd is the better team? Yes? But what’s the fun in picking the enemy over your own team. I’m rolling with Wes on this one because I believe senior forward Maddie Bledsoe will dominate the paint, and control the time of possession. I don’t care that Wes has to travel to the sticks in granola country. Go Wes. (Editor’s Note: Go Panthers.)

Prediction: Wesleyan 55-51

Handin’ Out the Hardware: Men’s Basketball Regular Season Awards

What a weekend. In addition to throwing the rankings into chaos and making all of our predictions look really dumb, last weekend’s results ruined whatever certainties there were in the awards races. But, as I’m learning in this new, post college chapter, life is about making difficult choices when there isn’t a clear answer. So here are our picks for the major end of season awards. As always, we welcome argument and debate on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Player of the Year: Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18

This is the race which was impacted most by last weekend’s games. Entering the weekend, Daly’s all around brilliance (top five in the league in points, rebounds, assists and steals) fully made up for his inconsistent shooting. He was by far the most important player on the top team in the league. But Daly’s flaws were exposed this weekend, as were Middlebury’s. After a solid game against Hamilton (15-9-6 on 5-11 shooting,) Amherst locked Daly up to the tune of 2-15 shooting with four turnovers. Everyone has bad games, but this was the biggest game of Middlebury’s season, and it came during the same weekend as star level performances from the other contenders. Kena Gilmour ‘20 had 29 against the Panthers and 22 against Williams. James Heskett ‘19 had 24 points against Hamilton in a huge win, and Bobby Casey ‘19 had 31 points against Hamilton, and nearly brought Williams back single-handedly against the Panthers during the regular season.

Jack Daly ’18 has been everything for Middlebury this season, and also we just connected on LinkedIn, so that’s pretty cool too.

However, I’m sure you can see that Daly is still our pick. Here’s the case. For all but one weekend, Daly was the best player on the best team in the league. He ran the offense, scored clutch buckets, guarded the opponent’s best player and sold hot dogs at the concession stand at halftime. He still leads the nation in assists per game at 8.5, and that is despite lacking even a consistent secondary scoring option. He deserves as much credit as any coaches for the improvement of Adisa Majors ‘18, Eric McCord ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘20. And, honestly, this is a lifetime achievement award as well as a seasonal one. Daly was underrated for his whole career by nature of playing with Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown, to the point that he wasn’t selected to any all league teams last year (a travesty that many Middlebury fans still haven’t gotten over.) For the first time in his career, Daly struggled in a big moment, but that doesn’t erase a whole season. Either Gilmour and Heskett will get theirs, and maybe even both, but this has been Daly’s year all season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Honestly the best thing about picking Folger is that it gives me an excuse to use this picture in another article.

I can already read the emails. “Pete picked two Midd players for the major awards, SHOCKER.” And like POY, this race is filled with strong contenders. Daly leads the league in steals, and Wesleyan has two very strong contenders. G Kevin O’ Brien ‘20 is a dangerous perimeter defender who uses his size and length to rack up blocks (.9 per game) and steals (1.7 per game.) And F Jordan Sears is a defensive anchor for the Cardinals in the paint. He is the only player in the top five in the league in both blocks and steals (1.5 and 1.7 respectively.) But O’Brien and Sears suffer from a similar problem to Casey and Heskett in the POY race: how do you put one over the other if their on the same team? They also suffer from the fact that Folger has been a monster. He is second in the league in blocks with 2.3 per game, and that is despite spending a lot of time guarding perimeter players. Folger is the key cog in what was an excellent Middlebury defense this season (Hamilton aside.) His ability to stay in front of smaller, quicker guards was central to the Panthers’ pick and roll defense, and he covered ground to block shots better than anyone in the league. O’ Brien and Colby’s Dean Weiner ’20 both missed time due to injury, and Folger’s dominance makes this an easy call. Bias be damned.

Coach of the Year: Williams’ Kevin App

Williams weathered a lot this season, and have Coach App to thank for their success.

Losing your best player, and maybe the best player in the league, six games into the season? There’s an App for that. Losing your fifth year senior point guard and floor general in the middle of league play? There’s an App for that. Inspiring such love within your players that one of them tells this writer that they’d “take a bullet for [Coach App?] There’s an App for that. Williams had to deal with incredible adversity this season. After losing Daniel Aronowitz in the offseason, it seemed that the team would simply refocus around Kyle Scadlock ’19, the frontrunner for POY. Then Scadlock tore his ACL early in the season. No one counted Williams out totally, but it was clear that they would need to make an adjustment. Coach App did so, inserting Bobby Casey ’19 into the starting lineup and giving much of Scadlock’s responsibilities to James Heskett ’19. We all know how those two choices worked out. Casey and Heskett are one and two in league scoring, and their success allowed Williams to weather even another huge loss: that of Mike Greenman ’18, their starting point guard. The fact that the Williams offense didn’t miss a beat after losing these two huge pieces is a testament to the skill of Casey and Heskett, but even more to App’s coaching ability.

Rookie of the Year: Wesleyan G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (11.7 PTS/G, 40% 3FG, 27.4 MIN/G)

Austin Hutcherson ’21 has been Wesleyan’s best scorer at times this season, and is a huge key for them heading into the playoffs.

For years, Wesleyan had been a team that was good enough defensively to beat anyone, but struggled to score. They were just some consistent perimeter scoring away from really contending. Enter Hutcherson. He exploded for 27 points in a non-league win over Brandeis on December 9th, and since then he has had two more 20 point games and averaged nearly 15 points per game. Despite struggling from three point land lately (2-14 in his last two games,) Hutcherson has proven himself over the course of this season to be the future of the league. There are other excellent first years who start for contending teams. Middlebury’s Jack Farrall has improved every game and had 22 against Amherst. And speaking of the Mammoth’s, Grant Robinson has done an incredible job stepping in as the point guard for a demanding program. But Hutcherson has made the biggest difference for his team.

All League First Team:

Jack Daly

Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18 (15.7 PTS/G, 8.3 REB/G, 8.5 AST/G, 1.8 STL/G)

 

Kena GilmourHamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20 (17.4 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.7 STL/G, 46.4 FG)

 

 

Bobby CaseyWilliams G Bobby Casey ‘19 (16.1 PPG, 48% FG, 44.1% 3FG)

 

 

Vincent Pace

Tufts G/F Vincent Pace ‘18 (18.4 PPG, 8.2 REB/G, 2.7 AST/G)

 

 

James HeskettWilliams F James Heskett ‘19 (19.4 PPG, 3.9 REB/G, 52.6% FG, 45.6% 3FG)

 

 

All League Second Team:

Johnny McCarthy

Amherst G Johnny McCarthy ’18 (11.0 PTS/G, 7.8 REB/G, 2.9 AST/G, 1.1 STL/G)

 

Jordan BonnerWesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’19 (15.6 PTS/G, 5.0 REB/G, 36.7 3FG)

 

 

David ReynoldsBowdoin F David Reynolds ’20 (15.8 PTS/G, 47.5% FG, 43.9% 3FG)

 

 

Michael Grassey

Hamilton F Michael Grassey ’19 (13.7 PPG, 6.7 REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42% 3FG)

 

Matt Folger

Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20 (14.0 PTS/G, 7.1 REB/G, 2.3 BLK/G)

Playoff Time: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/13

I may sound like I’m beating a dead horse when I say, yet again, that the NESCAC is crazy and anyone can beat anyone. Parity has been a recurring theme in NESCAC basketball over the years, and we love to talk about how exciting this makes the league. Well, the regular season has come to a close, and this parity reared its ugly head after this weekend when the dust settled and there were five teams tied for first place. Yes you read that right. The top FIVE teams finished at 7-3 in conference, and the only thing worse than having to deal with that is the fact that Amherst came out on top. Coach Hixon and the Mammoths grabbing the #1 seed feels a lot like Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide receiving the #1 seed – literally no one wants them to win besides them and their fans, yet here they are again. Not to say that they didn’t deserve it – the Mammoths had the best record against teams tied for the top spot – but this team hasn’t been the same type of dominant that past #1 Amherst teams have been. The lack of a true standout team is sure to make the postseason as exciting as ever, so let’s see who’s trending in the right direction as we move into playoff time:

Stock Up

Amherst

I’ll start with the obvious one: the Mammoths had two HUGE victories at home this weekend in convincing fashion that ultimately gave them the top spot in the league. Michael Riopel ’18 looked every bit the star they need to make a run in the postseason. He exploded for 19 points and 8 rebounds in the rivalry win over Williams, and followed that up with a 17-point, 7-rebound effort in which he went 9-9 from the line. Johnny McCarthy ’18 also continued his dominance as a rebounder, posting 8 and 14 boards respectively. This duo will have to continue to lead the way, providing experience to an otherwise unproven lineup. The key for Amherst, however, has been their defense. They stymied two of the league’s premier offenses, holding the Ephs to a jaw-dropping 57 points and keeping the Panthers at just 68. They lack the firepower to win a shootout, so their defense has to remain strong if they want to make a run, beginning this weekend when Bowdoin comes to town.

Wesleyan

Austin Hutcherson ’21 and Jordan Bonner ’18 have Wesleyan firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs.

Defeating Bowdoin and Colby isn’t a particularly impressive weekend, but the Cardinals did what a good team should do. The reason they fall in the “stock up” column this week is because it appears as though things are coming together at the right time in Middletown. After the loss to Trinity on February 2, Wesleyan was graced with the return of point guard Kevin O’Brien ’19, who had been out for almost a month with illness. They proceeded to dominate Amherst 71-57 in what was technically a non-conference affair, and then had convincing victories over the weaker teams in the league. Nathan Krill ’18 has been a force, delivering a 17-point, 10-rebound double double against Colby and dropping 24 points on Bowdoin. First year standout Austin Hutcherson has also stepped up his game in a big way, and he looks to continue to make an impact sharing the ball, as he posted 8 assists in each of their weekend matchup. Wesleyan hosts Middlebury in the 4-5 matchup of the NESCAC tournament. The Cardinals took down the Panthers in the regular season, but this is definitely a matchup to highlight for the weekend.

Williams G Bobby Casey ’19

I’ve talked about two of the Little Three schools, so why not mention the third? It seems that every week we find either James Heskett ’19 or Bobby Casey ’19, who have taken over as the dominant scorers in Williamstown. Well, this week it’s Casey’s turn. He seemed to be the lone bright spot in the loss at Amherst, putting up 22 points on 8-16 shooting. The next day in the big win over Hamilton, Casey went off for 31 points on 8-14, including 7-10 from behind the arc. When Casey gets hot, there is seemingly no way to stop him. The good news for Williams is that they also have Heskett ’19 who has a similar effect. If they’re both off, then the Ephs are in trouble. If they’re both on, then the rest of the league needs to watch out. They should have no trouble with Trinity in their first round matchup, but you never know because things can get crazy come tourney time.

When he’s hot, Bobby Casey ’19 is an absolute nightmare from downtown.

Stock Down

Middlebury

Heading into the weekend, Middlebury controlled their own destiny, needing a win to secure the top seed. They came up empty, with two somewhat demoralizing losses to Hamilton (102-83) and Amherst (80-68). The Panthers have been one of the top scoring teams in the conference all season, but their shots simply weren’t falling this weekend. They were ice cold from beyond the three-point line, and they now find themselves last in the NESCAC in three-point shooting percentage at 31%. The scoring drought needs to come to an end if the Panthers want to have any shot at winning their matchup with the tough Wesleyan defense this weekend. It starts with the leadership of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, who are the team’s leading scorers. They were both average against Hamilton, and neither cracked double digits in the scoring column against Amherst. Middlebury is picking a bad time to go cold, but we’ll see if they can turn things around this weekend in their quarterfinal matchup.

Trinity

Jeremy Arthur ’19 is one of Trinity’s only consistent offensive threats.

The Bantams are one of the streakiest teams out there. They’ve taken down Amherst and Wesleyan, but they’ve also lost to Bates and Colby. They struggled mightily this weekend, getting trounced by Bates, then dropping a tight contest to Tufts. They certainly lack a true star player, although Jeremy Arthur ’19 and Eric Gendron ’18 provide most of the scoring. There isn’t much to say about Trinity other than that they’re a scary first round matchup. If the shots are falling, they are very tough to beat because they play exceptional defense at times. They are essentially a giant question mark, but are definitely not to be taken lightly as they are capable of stealing a win in Williamstown.

Maine Schools

Well, it was a tough year for the three Maine schools who finished 7th, 9th, and 10th respectively. Bowdoin still has a chance to make a run, but all in all, the NESCAC’s northernmost schools were as cold as their weather. That said, these schools have shown promise. Bowdoin made the playoffs, and their best players are David Reynolds ’20, Jack Simonds ’19, Hugh O’Neil ’19, Jack Bors, and Zavier Rucker ’21. Bates narrowly missed a playoff birth, losing the three-way tie with Trinity and Bowdoin, and they are lead by Jeff Spellman ’20, Nick Gilpin ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, Nick Lynch ’19, Tom Coyne ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. Colby only has two seniors (neither of whom play a huge amount of minutes) and two juniors (only one of whom plays a decent amount of minutes), so there are also lead by breakout underclassmen Sam Jefferson ’20, Dean Weiner ’19, Matt Hanna ’21, and Ethan Schlager ’20. Things looked a bit bleak this year, but this could potentially just be the calm before the storm for the CBB Consortium.

Bowdoin is the only Maine school in the tournament.

Someone’s Gotta Lose: Women’s Basketball Game of the Week Preview

#3 Bowdoin vs #1 Amherst: 1/27, 3 PM, Amherst, MA

The Bowdoin Polar Bears will be traveling to Amherst, Massachusetts, to square off in a battle of unbeatens. After Saturday, there will likely be only one unbeaten team left in the conference. Amherst has been the top team in the league for a while, and Bowdoin attempts to dethrone them of that title. Here is a preview of the game of the week starting with a breakdown of each team, a coaching comparison, key players comparison, a final word, and my prediction:

#3 Bowdoin (18-0 overall, 4-0 conference):

General Statistics:

Bowdoin has the most potent offense in the league averaging 86 ppg, 20 apg, 40% 3pt, and 48% from the field. They haven’t played a very strong schedule relative to Amherst. Bowdoin elected to stay local during winter break, while Amherst traveled across the country to face top talent. Bowdoin currently ranks #3 in the country, and could jump to #1 if they can pull out the victory.

Offensive Breakdown:

Bowdoin has a wealth of scoring in which no one player dominates like Bates’ Davenport. Instead, the top scorer (Abby Kelly ’19)  doesn’t even break fifteen points per game. Kelly, along with Kate Kerrigan ’18 (more on her below) each average double figures, and Bowdoin has four more players averaging over seven points per game. This will put pressure on Amherst’s defense because limiting one player’s offense won’t ensure a victory. The assists and three point percentage convey Bowdoin’s strong offensive playmakers and a diversity of assets.

Abby Kelly ’19 is Bowdoin’s leading scorer, and one of the more efficient outside shooters in the league.

Defensive Breakdown:

Even though Bowdoin has been known for its offense this year, a strong case for Bowdoin’s success originates from its defensive play. The Polar Bears only allow 46 ppg and 32% from the field. However, these numbers can be skewed due to weaker opponents. The only major challenge was Tufts in early January, and Bowdoin dominated the ‘Bos on both ends of the floor— beating them by twelve.

#1 Amherst (18-0 overall, 4-0 conference):

General statistics:

Amherst brings a strong offense, but not nearly as prolific as Bowdoin. Amherst averages 65 ppg, 14 apg, 34% 3pt, 43% from the field. Take the difference in statistics with a grain of salt because of the strength of schedule difference. Amherst traveled to Nevada and California to compete against better talent than Bowdoin. In addition, Amherst is ranked #1 in the country. The only close game for the squad was a nine point win over archrival Williams.

Offensive breakdown:

Like Bowdoin, there’s no unbelievable scorer that can take over the game. There are several scorers who average over 10 ppg (Madeline Eck ’20 and Hannah Fox ’20) that provide consistent offense. This bodes well for Amherst because there’s no one scorer who can be shut down; the scoring well won’t dry up. I think that Amherst’s offense will be their best defense in defending Bowdoin. That is, Amherst will want to control the time of possession. They won’t take many quick threes in transition, and will set up their halfcourt offense looking for buckets inside the arc. This ball control will slow down Bowdoin, and possibly get them out of their comfort zone.

Defensive Breakdown:

Defense wins championships, and Amherst’s defense has gotten them two. They only allow 39 ppg with 28% shooting. Those are incredibly low numbers. How do they do it? Fundamentals. Amherst has an uncanny ability to make the opposing offense take bad shots. This comes from limiting second chance opportunities, and closing out hard on shooters. Amherst is certainly athletic, but they win because of disciplined fundamentals and technique.

Amherst is the most dominant defense in the country, and has won 51 games in a row because of it.

Coaching Comparison:

There’s no doubt that both coaches are up for NESCAC coach of the year. The influence these coaches bring to their respective programs cannot be understated. College kids can get demotivated during the late days of December and early January. Non-winter athletes aren’t on campus, and first semester has concluded. Since basketball has a heavy game schedule, one would think that a bad game for one of these programs could occur. Especially because Amherst is #1, and Bowdoin is #3, they have bullseyes on their backs. G.P. Gromacki of Amherst and Adrienne Shibles of Bowdoin have guided their teams to perfect seasons so far. Gromacki is a two time national champion at Amherst— compiling an unheard of 313-24 record. Shibles’ career at Bowdoin has been stellar as well. Shibles has a 212-60 record at Bowdoin. Bowdoin has always put a good squad on the court, but Shibles has brought it to a new level. The Saturday game will provide a challenge for both teams, since they play another important conference game on Friday. I’m sure that strong coaches like Shibles and Gromacki will stress the importance of the Friday games. In so many sports there are instances in which the favored team loses to the underdog due to looking too far forward. The Pittsburgh Steelers provided an example to us this season of how a very good team can lose. The Bowdoin vs Amherst game will inevitably be close, so coaching will be the difference maker. Gromacki has obviously be there before, but Shibles doesn’t lack any experience either.

Player Comparison: Madeline Eck (Amherst) vs Kate Kerrigan (Bowdoin)

Madeline Eck
Madeline Eck ’20 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

In sports, trying to play to the opponent’s weakness can be detrimental. Teams should always go with their strengths (aka my best against your best). I know teams love to exploit matchups, but at the end of the day, it’s your best player taking the final shot no matter who’s guarding him or her. Enter Madeline Eck ’20 and Kate Kerrigan ’18. I keep referencing Nina Davenport from Bates because she’s such an outstanding scorer, but Eck and Kerrigan are equally as vital to their team as Davenport is even though they don’t put up those insane numbers. Both Eck and Kerrigan put over ten points a game, but most importantly, they dominate areas besides scoring. Kerrigan has two Defensive Player of the Year awards under her belt already, and could add an overall POY trophy this year if she keeps this up. She averages nearly five assists per game, top

Kate Kerrigan
Kate Kerrigan ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

s in the league, and shoots almost 40% from three and 56% overall from the field. And Eck has raised her game in the big moments, averaging nearly 17 points per game in NESCAC play. She can be a dominant defender as well, averaging 1.2 steals per game. Coach Gromacki and Coach Shibles trust that their respective players will make the play with the ball in their hands. A stat that stands out to me is that both players rebound the ball very well for guards. The ability to play great defense, and finish the defensive play by snatching the rebound is crucial. This matchup of guards is one to look forward to.

Final Words:

Bowdoin hasn’t been in a close game yet, winning all of their games by at least ten points (by the way, an absolutely absurd stat.) However, this level of dominance could hurt them in playing against a really good team like Amherst. Like Bill Belichick says, ‘sixty minutes.’ Bowdoin needs to play a full game in order to beat Amherst. If Bowdoin wants to be the best, they have to beat the best. Amherst has proven that they’re the best, so it’s up to Bowdoin to dethrone them.

Prediction:

The game will be tight. It’s a very good defense matched up with an incredibly potent offense. I’m not sure if Bowdoin will be able to put up the points they normally do against a tough defense like Amherst. However, Bowdoin has been proving doubters wrong all year. I’m taking Bowdoin over Amherst this year because I believe it’s their year to make a serious bid at a national championship.

Score Prediction: 68-64 Bowdoin

Halfway There: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/25

What a week, what a week. Tom Brady and the polarizing Patriots calmly came back from down 10 in fourth quarter of the AFC championship and my very own Bobcats edged Tufts on a game winner with just seconds remaining. Life is good. Anyways, in what was a one-game week for every team in the NESCAC (besides Trinity who was idle), we actually got to see a decent amount of action. Williams and Middlebury clashed in another battle of the titans, Bates took down the suddenly struggling Jumbos, and Amherst either proved that Hamilton isn’t as good as we thought or that the Mammoths are better than we thought. Who knows. The upcoming week should tell a lot as we get past the halfway point in the season, but at the moment there is much to sort through.

  1.     #10 Middlebury (14-3, 4-1)

Last week: 70-66 W vs. Williams

This week: @ Trinity

As seen in this week’s stock report, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ’19 were highlights in the huge win over Williams this past week. Jack Daly ’18 had another good game, but his 8 turnovers were a bit frightening. Anyone can beat anyone in this league, so he’ll definitely need to be a bit sharper as we move forward. Middlebury appears to be finding their identity, so the rest of the conference should be very, very afraid. The Panthers will likely take care of business this week against Trinity to remain on the throne, but stay tuned to see if the Bantams are able to give them a scare.

  1.     #16 Hamilton (16-1, 3-1)

Last week: 75-49 L @ Amherst

This week: @ Bowdoin, @ Colby

We all knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when. The loss to Amherst was embarrassing (to say the least), but it was just one game. Everyone is bound to lose at some point, but it’ll be important to see how Hamilton responds this week against the bottom half of the league. Kena Gilmour ’20 has been a stud, but he needs to do more than the 7-point, 3-rebound effort he put up against Amherst if the Continentals are going to win in a league driven by star power. His supporting cast is there, but Gilmour has to lead the way. Their three-point shooting numbers have also taken a dip recently, which seemed inevitable, but we’ll see if Hamilton can regain their footing.

  1.     #15 Williams (14-4, 3-2)

Last week: 70-66 L @ Middlebury

This week: @ Trinity

James Heskett ’19 is making a strong case for best scorer in the league, as he still put up 19 against Middlebury despite a slow start shooting the ball. The Panthers were able to slow down the sharpshooting duo of Heskett and Bobby Casey ’19 just enough to pull off the huge win. Williams was held to just 35.9% from the field, which was really the best indication of how that game against Middlebury went. They simply weren’t hitting shots, and that’s not how you beat the best teams. I don’t believe there is much cause for worry despite the Ephs losing two of their last three NESCAC games. Look for Coach App to get them back on track with their only matchup this week on the road against Trinity.

James Heskett may well be the Player of the Year.
  1.     #14 Wesleyan (13-4, 3-2)

Last week: 89-51 W vs. Conn College

This week: vs. Bates, vs. Tufts

Wesleyan did what they needed to do in a trouncing of Conn College. This weekend will be very telling of a Cardinals squad that has been tough to get a read on. Bates is coming off a big win and have shown that they’re capable of competing, whereas Tufts is reeling after losing two of their last three. Kevin O’Brien ’19 hasn’t played in almost three weeks, and we don’t have word as to why, but this is a big blow. Wesleyan is very dependent on O’Brien both as an elite defender and as a point guard. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is doing a nice job filling in, but the Cardinals are hurting from the loss of O’Brien. They have a lot to prove this weekend, so keep an eye on the results from Middletown.

  1.     Tufts (13-5, 3-2)

Last week: 77-75 L vs. Bates

This week: @ Conn College, @ Wesleyan

Despite Vincent Pace ‘18 looking like frontrunner for POY, Tufts has struggled recently. They lost to Middlebury last week in an ugly game, and then were nudged by Bates, 77-75 this past weekend. Bates played well and has shown glimpses of outstanding basketball, but has been inconsistent, and that was a game that the Jumbos definitely should have won. Conn College should be a relatively easy win for Tufts, but Saturday they’ll be tested yet again versus a hard-to-read, but talented Wesleyan team. That matchup will help show who’s ready to take a leap, and who’s going to stay in the middle. There really is no rest for the weary in the NESCAC.

  1.     Amherst (10-6, 2-2)

Last week: 75-49 W vs. Hamilton

This week: @ Colby, @ Bowdoin

Amherst looked like the Goliath they always have been in a trampling of Hamilton. Johnny McCarthy ’18 put up a monster 12-point, 15-rebound double-double, providing the lead role, as he needs to for this Mammoth squad. There hasn’t been a ton of help from the supporting cast, however Eric Sellew ’20 has been provided a solid third option alongside McCarthy and Michael Riopel ’18. They are an absolute nightmare on defense as they showed against the Continentals, and this will be important to help keep their offense in games. If the Mammoths cruise to two victories this weekend, maybe it’s time for us to start giving them another look.

Michael Riopel ’18 has been one of the more efficient scorers in the league, and looks to bring Amherst back to the top tier.
  1.     Trinity (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: non-conference

This week: vs. Williams, vs. Middlebury

Trinity, much like Wesleyan, has been puzzling to figure out. A few weeks ago, they took down Amherst. More recently they dropped a game to Colby, only scoring 51 points. I guess what they have shown is that if they come to play, they’re capable of competing, but if they don’t show up, they roll over. This is an unfortunate outlook given that they’re taking on Williams and Middlebury this week. Regardless, they are a team with a lot of athleticism who has the ability to show up and give anyone a game. Things could get even more blurry in the NESCAC if the Bantams steal one this weekend, so fear the chicken.

  1.     Bowdoin (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: 83-77 W vs. Colby

This week: vs. Hamilton, vs. Amherst

Bowdoin has a promising overall record at 13-4, but they haven’t proven anything yet in conference play. They beat Bates and now Colby, but fell to Tufts and Trinity, which really doesn’t tell us too much. Reigning player of the week David Reynolds ’20 provides another go-to guy along with Jack Simonds ’19, and has now found his way into the starting lineup. He torched Colby to the tune of 29 points and 8 rebounds, while going 11-21 from the field, including 6-9 from deep. Reynolds adds to this potent Polar Bear offense that averages over 80 points per game. This will be a telling weekend, as Hamilton and Amherst each give Bowdoin a chance to prove something to the rest of the league.

With Jack Simonds ’19 struggling from the field, Reynolds has become the real star of the Polar Bears.
  1.     Bates (9-9, 2-3)

Last week: 77-75 W @ Tufts

This week: @ Wesleyan, @ Conn College

Bates picked up a signature win on the road at Tufts on a wild Nick Gilpin ’20 layup with 8 seconds left. This is the type of game that shows how dangerous Bates can be, and that they are a force to be reckoned with. The only reason they fall this week is because of a poor out of conference effort, and two losses to Bowdoin this season. Or maybe because I want my Bobcats to prove something with a few big wins. Either one. James Mortimer ’21 has found a spot in the starting lineup and has added a huge spark to this young Bobcat lineup. His size and shooting ability allow him to be tough on both ends of the court, and make him very versatile. If the Tufts game was any indication, we should see the Bobcats rise in the rankings as they have two big games in Connecticut this week.

  1.  Colby (10-7, 1-3)

Last week: 83-77 L @ Bowdoin

This week: vs. Amherst, vs. Hamilton

The Mules had a chance to move up when they traveled to Brunswick, but came up short and ultimately remain just above the basement of the league. Colby isn’t a bad team by any means, but they just lack the star power to compete with the top teams. They have good players (see Dean Weiner ’19), but they lack a pure scorer who can take over games. The win over Trinity is certainly a good one and a building point, but at the moment, the Mules have a long way to climb. They could make things more interesting this weekend by sneaking away with a win when they host the Mammoths and Continentals.

  1.  Connecticut College (6-11, 0-5)

Last week: 89-51 L @ Wesleyan

This week: vs. Tufts, vs. Bates

Nothing has gotten better for the poor Camels, who were housed by Wesleyan this past weekend. At this point, they’re planning for the future in New London, and we could potentially start to see different schemes and different guys getting involved for Conn College. Then again, the ‘CAC is weird and you never know what could happen on a given day. The best I can say is that Conn is a trap game, however they are yet to do any of this alleged trapping, so it is hard to even give them that. Bates and Tufts come to town this weekend, so hopefully things start to look up for the Camels.

NESCAC’S Most Wanted: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/17

Finally the order of teams is starting to have some clarity. Hamilton finally saw their first ranked opponent in Wesleyan and took care of business, cementing themselves as the team to beat at this point without a blemish on their record. Middlebury knocked off Tufts who knocked off Williams, putting into question the 2-5 spots in these rankings. However, this weekend should bring more clarity as Williams’ true talent level without Kyle Scadlock will be tested against Middlebury. The teams in the bottom half have largely only played each other, with Trinity looking like the “best of the rest.”

1. #14 Hamilton (14-0, 3-0)

Last Week: 76-70 W vs. Wesleyan, 102-77 W @ Conn College

This Week: @ Amherst

And now they are legit. After knocking off Wesleyan at home, the Continentals are proven to be the real deal. While this spot at the top of the Power Rankings may be temporary, their spot in the D3 Top 25 is well deserved despite an easy preseason schedule. Wesleyan was the first difficult NESCAC opponent that Hamilton beat (Trinity and Conn are the other two), and with Wesleyan’s opening weekend win against Middlebury, Hamilton is further cemented as a real NESCAC contender. Their game against Amherst should be a high scoring win with a large margin of victory if all else remains the same with Kena Gilmour the centerpiece of Hamilton’s offense. He poured in 20 points in a defensive heavy game against the Cardinals despite only shooting 1-7 from deep.

2. #11 Williams (12-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 69-63 L vs. Tufts, 79-68 W vs. Bates

This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury

There is no doubt that Williams is weaker without Kyle Scadlock, however, they have managed to show their depth and remain afloat thus far in NESCAC play. They went from NESCAC favorites to just another team in the running for the title, seeing their first loss at the hands of Tufts this past weekend. In Scadlock’s place, Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19 continuebear the brunt of the scoring load as Casey scored 11 and Heskett 21 in the loss against the Jumbos. Heskett added 23 against Bates in the following game, settling in as a reliable power forward that Williams will need down the stretch.

3. #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 82-76 W vs. Bates; 78-63 W vs. Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Williams

Jack Daly ’18 continues to dish and drive to the rim as Middlebury’s balanced offense before was too much to overcome for both Bates and Tufts. While the Bates game ended up only being a six point win—closer than expected—Daly dropped 26 points, nine boards, and eight assists, a stat line we are becoming all too familiar with. Matt Folger is a lengthy player who can shoot from deep, accompanied by Joey Leighton and Hilal Dahleh on the perimeter. Nick Tarantino, Eric McCord on fire in the paint of late, and Adisa Majors all play down low and bring in the boards evenly, while G Jack Farrell ’21 is playing a lot like Jake Brown ’17 from a season ago, distributing and opening things up on the wings and for Daly. Middlebury will need to find some three point shooting from somewhere, however, if they want to continue winning.

Jack Daly ’18 had another game winner last night against Albertus Magnus, and is carrying the panthers despite struggling with his outside shot.

4. Tufts (12-4, 3-1)

Last Week: 69-63 W @ Williams, 78-63 L @ Middlebury

This Week: vs. Bates

Their win against Williams put them in a position to surpass Wesleyan in the rankings, beating what was previously the best team in the conference. Tufts’ size and athleticism are their greatest strengths, led by Vincent Pace ’18, Eric Savage ’18, and KJ Garrett ’19 who was all over the floor against Middlebury. Pace slipped a bit last weekend, shooting 5-21 against Williams and 1-9 against Middlebury. Lucky for him, Garrett emerged as a potential force going forward, scoring 20 and bringing down nine boards against the Panthers in just his fourth game of the season. After increasing his workload to 24 minutes last Saturday, he should play an even bigger role against Bates this coming weekend.

5. #19 Wesleyan (11-3, 2-2)

Last Week: 76-70 L @ Hamilton, 70-66 W @ Amherst

This Week: vs. Conn College

Austin Hutcherson
Austin Hutcherson ’21 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan is in danger of falling in the rankings after an 1-1 weekend which dropped them farther down in the national rankings. While they lost to a team ranked above them now, they needed to beat Hamilton to cement themselves as a real championship contender. They should roll over Conn College this weekend, but after narrowly beating the falling Amherst Mammoths, they should be a bit worried going forward. Jordan Bonner ’19 still hasn’t quite found his shot, shooting 3-9 against Amherst, and despite first year Austin Hutcherson’s 19 points and solid shooting, Kevin O’Brien did not play and needs to make it back into the lineup quickly for the Cardinals to have a chance.

6. Amherst (9-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 72-57 W vs. Conn College, 70-66 L vs. Wesleyan

This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton

A sub .500 conference record at this point with their only win against the lowly Camels is not a good start for a formerly great Amherst team. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Michael Riopel ’18 are still leading the way in scoring, but they need more depth in order to compete against the likes of Middlebury, Williams, and Middlebury as Riopel is the only Mammoth with the ability to shoot the deep ball. While they rank second in the conference in rebounding per game, they are in the bottom half in scoring and need to improve going forward.

7. Trinity (11-4, 2-2)

Last Week: 73-68 W @ Bowdoin, 61-51 L @ Colby

This Week: Non-Conference

The bottom half of these rankings get pretty confusing as Trinity’s overall record helps them out here, however, a loss to Colby certainly dampens their overall legitimacy as any sort of contender. They had some terrible individual performances in the road game last weekend as Jeremy Arthur put up a complete dud, going 0-10 shooting, Eric Gendron 2-8 FG, and Kyle Padmore 0-3 FG. There isn’t a whole lot else to say, they need to make more baskets to win games and 31.3% overall in the contest isn’t going to cut it. They should press the reset button this weekend without a NESCAC game and look to bounce back the following weekend.

8. Bates (8-6, 1-1)

Last Week: 82-76 L @ Middlebury, 79-68 L @ Williams

This Week: @ Tufts

James Mortimer
James Mortimer ’21 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates put up two decent performances against the NESCAC’s best teams, narrowly losing to Midd and competing against the Ephs. James Mortimer ’18 and Jeff Spellman ’20 are a great 1-2 punch, combining for 41 points against the solid Panther defense. Max Hummel added 13 off the bench, and despite not doing well the next game against Williams with just three points in 15 minutes, has shown some promise. Spellman is the leader of this team and a work horse, putting up 24 the next day against the Ephs and playing over 30 minutes in four games straight. He has the ability to win this team enough games to make it to the playoffs, and in March, anything can happen.

9. Bowdoin (10-4, 1-2)

Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby

Losing to a reeling Trinity team certainly won’t aid the Polar Bears going forward. Jack Simonds ’19, as always, can put up huge scoring numbers, supported by David Reynolds’ shooting and Hugh O’Neil’s impressive defense in the paint (17 rebounds against the Bantams). The Polar Bears have good overall numbers as a team and were really hurt by poor three point shooting numbers against Tufts (sub 25%) and heavy turnovers against Trinity—15 compared to the Bantams’ six. Look for the weapon heavy Bowdoin team to start climbing the rankings soon.

10. Colby (10-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity

This Week @ Bowdoin

Colby got a huge win against Trinity to put themselves on the board and in the conversation of relevance for the NESCAC playoffs. While it was a low scoring affair, featuring some awful shooting from Trinity, some of that had to be attributed to the Mule defense, right? Double-doubles from both Dean Weiner ’19 and Sam Jefferson ’20 are a great sign going forward, giving the Mules reason to believe that they can compete with some of the stronger teams.

Sam Jefferson ’20 is putting up a very solid season for the gritty Mules.

11. Conn College (6-10, 0-4)

Last Week: 72-57 L @ Amherst, 102-77 L @ Hamilton

This Week: @ Wesleyan

Conn College is beginning to look like a guaranteed win for other NESCAC teams after several blowout games to begin their 2018 conference campaign. In their most recent game, allowing more than 100 points to Hamilton, they clearly had little defense and were nearly out of the game from the beginning. David Labossiere ’19 is doing all he can to prevent the Camels from remaining in the cellar, dropping 18 points and seven boards in that loss, although he is pretty helpless after four losses by over 20 points in NESCAC play.

Hot Seat/Cool Throne: Women’s Basketball 1/12

Hot Seat:

1). Non-League Games: I remember every high school baseball season we would play a few 4:45 non-league games against a teams that weren’t in our league, so they basically had nothing to lose. To this day I question why we would play these games; the 4:45 start time was later than most of our games were, and we would start pitchers who could barely touch seventy-five in order to save our best for the league games. I know coaches schedule these games for more competition, but the talent gap is normally large in either direction. Amherst defeated Lehman College on Saturday by a score of 79-26. Why schedule this game? For Amherst, the only gain is giving bench players some time against some sub par competition (I apologize for possibly offending any Lehman College alumni). However, Amherst’s starters are so good that the best competition for the bench players stems from scrimmages against starters in practice. It just seems like a complete waste of time to play a game that yielded a fifty-three point differential. I know there’s a need for non-league games, but there has to be a smaller talent gap in these contests because it doesn’t seem like anything’s being accomplished with such blowouts. Amherst versus Lehman is only one of the many examples of non-league demolitions this season.

 

2). League Competition: The impending arrival of NESCAC games brought excitement to me, and the entire sports community. I expected close games with juggernauts such Tufts, Bowdoin, and Amherst. I was wrong. The first weekend provided less than stellar competition. There was only one game with a five point or fewer score differential. Williams versus Wesleyan finished 69-64 in the Ephs’ favor. I have two confessions here: first, I wrote in power rankings last week that Williams wasn’t playing very well. To my credit, they weren’t. Like I wrote, when the going gets tough, Williams always pulls through; it’s inevitable. Williams’ bench dominated Wesleyan’s—outscoring them 20-6. Championship teams have great benches, and Williams has proven that they’re here for the long haul. My second confession is I thought once NESCAC games began, we’d see more nail-biters. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet, but hopefully we will this weekend  (Game of the Week will appear later in the article).

3). Road Teams: The road teams during the kickoff weekend for NESCAC women’s basketball posted a stellar 2-8 record. The average fan might wonder why this is the case.  It’s not like teams are playing against the Seahawks’ 12th man, or facing the diehard, rabid Tampa Bay Rays fan base (please note my sarcasm). But as any high school or college athlete understands that playing on the road affects his or her routine. The bus ride has an effect; the visitors’ locker room feels different; the playing condition inevitably is alien. The two road victors were Connecticut College over Williams and Tufts over Colby. The Tufts’ win shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Jumbos shot 45% to Colby’s 28%. Jac Knapp, who shot 100% from the field, set the tone  capitalizing off of Mule turnovers. The squad scored twenty-two points from Colby turnovers. Conn’s victory over Williams is more of a shocker. I think Conn could be poised to make a playoff run with a conference record of 1-1, and should be in the mix for the long haul because of its mental toughness from winning in enemy territory.

Conn College pulled out a very impressive road win last weekend, knocking off Trinity 74-63.

Cool Throne:

1). Must-Wins This Early in the Season (Game of the Week): Williams at Tufts should be an intriguing matchup this weekend. Williams really has nothing to lose in this one. They’re traveling to face a favored Tufts team. I don’t think many people expect Williams to win especially on the road. Tufts, on the other hand, symbolically can’t afford to lose this game. Coming off a beat down at the hands of the Bowdoin Polar Bears, the Jumbos come into this weekend with a 1-1 conference record. What has to concern Tufts head coach Carla Berube is the lack of points scored in the paint. Bowdoin outscored Tufts 32-16 in the paint, which shows that Tufts needs to get better at driving to the basket, and converting high percentage shots. A loss this weekend— causing the Jumbos to move to 1-2 in the conference— would lengthen the gap between the second and third seed in the conference. Tufts plays Middlebury the following day, so the ‘Bos have a lot to prove going into this weekend.

Coach Berube should be able to use her experience at UCONN under Geno himself to keep Tufts dominant. Click this image for a link to a great ESPN article on the connection.

2). Bowdoin’s Clutch Gene: Bowdoin dominated the entire second half against Tufts last weekend. The first half was close, but Bowdoin really pulled away in the second. I wrote last week that Bowdoin strives to break into the upper tier of the league with Tufts and Amherst. The second half of the game proved to me that Bowdoin has the clutch gene. I don’t know in years past if Bowdoin could’ve put Tufts away in the second half. Just mentally facing squads like Tufts and Amherst is daunting, but Bowdoin proved they can not only compete, but win at the highest level. They’re now the team that has the NBC Sunday Night Football time slot; they’re primetime. Bowdoin will visit Amherst on January 27th. Bowdoin’s insane eighty-six points per game is obviously an impressive stat (more points are generally better in basketball) but it also raises a red flag for me. Bowdoin is used to playing fast, so if Amherst slows the game down and controls the tempo, Bowdoin will have a lot of trouble adjusting. There’s a lot of time between now and the 27th, however, so we’ll see if Bowdoin and Amherst remain undefeated in the league.