Back for More: Williams Men’s Basketball 2018 Preview

Williams College Ephs:

The success of the 2017 Williams season will be difficult to replicate, but the Ephs can do it. Coming off of a cinderella run to the Final Four as an at large team, kocking off Middlebury 79-75, the Ephs lost just one major part of their team. Referring to Daniel Aronowitz as ‘just one’ is a modest way to put it, seeing as he led the team in points per game (17.3), three pointers per game (2.1), and minutes per game (29.8). He was the leader, heart and soul, and mesh player of the Williams offense, able to drive to the hoop and shoot the deep shots. Luckily for Williams, they have depth and saw six returning players start 14 games or more, with James Heskett as the likely replacement in the small forward position. Both the sophomore and junior classes in this team are looking to break out with forward Kyle Scadlock leading the way. Scadlock had a monster performance in the sweet-16 round against Susquehanna last year, dominating the floor with his size and athleticism, dunking triumphantly en route to a 22 point, 12 rebound double-double. He is likely to take Aronowitz’s spot as the on court leader of the team despite only being a junior. Guard Cole Teal ’18 is the only senior returning starter, boding well for the longevity of the Ephs’ success. Aronowitz’s leadership will continue to work its magic this year as the departed Eph provided these young players—all underclassmen last year except for Teal—with experience and a base for how to conduct their business. After playing with such an experienced NESCAC veteran, they will not let their youth show.

Matthew Karpowicz and company are excited about where they stack up headed into the season

Teal is joined by fellow returners PG Bobby Casey ’19 and Center Marcos Soto ’19. Michael Kempton will look to make a push for additional playing time at center too after losing his starting spot to Soto halfway through the season.MbN’s own C Matthew Karpowicz ’20 will also challenge for playing time after putting up double digit point totals in several NESCAC games in under ten minutes played. A wild card for this team is Henry Feinberg ’20 who broke his hand in 2017 and was hampered by injury but is a physical, defensively oriented SF with the size to make an impact in the paint. With so many returners and options, Coach Kevin App should play 10-11 players significantly this year and might not need one player to replace Aronowitz. The Ephs’ depth and past experience should carry them early in the season, and if the junior class develops into the cohesive force they are capable of, they will be tough to shut down. They are ranked #3 in the country by D3hoops.com going into the 2018 season and are capable of making a return trip to the Final Four.

Projected Record: 21-3, 9-1

2016-2017 Record: 23-9, 5-5, Lost in NESCAC Finals, Lost in Final Four

Head Coach: Kevin App, 4th year, 53-29 (Through 2017)

Returning Starters:

Guard Bobby Casey ‘19 (8.5 PPG; 2.2 A/G; 38.4% FG; 2.2 REB/G)

Guard Cole Teal ‘18 (9.7 PPG; 3.5 REB/G; 38.9% 3-PT)

Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19 (12.9 PPG; 6.3 REB/G; 53.6% FG)

Center Marcos Soto ’19 (5.4 PPG, 2.6 REB/G; 50.4% FG)

Key Losses:

Guard/Forward Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 (17.3 PPG; 37.3% 3-PT; 6.2 REB/G)

Starting Lineup:

Guard Bobby Casey ‘19

Bobby Casey ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Contrary to many of the NESCAC PGs, Casey doesn’t control the Ephs offensive attack in that he has modest scoring and assisting numbers. He does, however, set the pace of the offense bringing the ball up the court and doesn’t force opportunities. The one fault is that he only shot 38.4% from the field, a number significantly lower than many of his teammates’ marks. If he can improve on his shooting and ball distribution, he could really make a leap in his junior season, especially with Aronowitz gone. Despite Aronowitz’s position as more of a small forward, he ended up controlling the ball on offense most of the time, and because Scadlock is more of a PF, Casey should have an increased role in the attack this year. Coach App doesn’t think one player will replace Aronowitz’s production, something that will lead to much more balance in the front court this year for the Ephs instead of an offense centered around Aronowitz. Casey will help balance this effort and increase his offensive production this year.

Guard Cole Teal ‘18

Cole Teal ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Teal is the leader by elimination of this team as he is the only senior returning starter. While Scadlock will lead the team on the court due to his physical dominance, Teal will be the off the court leader, captain, and one of the top scorers. In fact, I predict he will be the second leading scorer behind Scadlock, not bold considering he ranked second last year. However, he won’t be particularly helpful in replacing Aronowitz’ rebounding. Instead, I think Scadlock and the trio of Williams centers will take on the bulk of the rebounding with Teal focussing more on 3-PT production as he will be the go to outside shooter for the Ephs. After losing Aronowitz, the leading 3-PT scorer of 2017, James Heskett and Teal will need to step up, and with more experience, Teal could see a drastic increase in scoring opportunity from downtown.

Forward James Heskett ‘19 

James Heskett ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Heskett will likely see the bulk of the starts here because G Mike Greenman was more of a sixth man and Bobby Casey’s sub. This is the position left by Aronowitz, and although Greenman made 15 starts last year, he played PG when he saw his time. Of course against a smaller lineup, coach App could roll with three guards, but Heskett fits into this spot much better. Heskett’s 6’8″ length will be yet another weapon for the Ephs on both sides of the ball. Although he didn’t start in a single game last year, he had a consistent role off the bench, averaging 20 minutes per game, 7.2 PPG, and 2.8 REB/G. He shot lights out from deep, to a tune of 43.6%, but didn’t attempt as many shots as Aronowitz or Teal. He lacks the experience of some of the other players but could make a big jump in his junior season as the door is wide open for him.

Forward Kyle Scadlock ’19 

Kyle Scadlock ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Scadlock is the future MVP of this team and is on my projected All-NESCAC second team. He influences the game in unique ways with his size and impressive ups, able to shoot well from the field and take over a game. He had a remarkable breakout period in the playoffs, throwing down some deafening dunks, exciting his fans, and putting up huge numbers against ranked teams. He’s not always going to have the ball in hands as he is more of a power forward, but he should dominate down low. His weakness is his outside shooting, turning in low 3-PT numbers and free throw stats (56.7%). If he could shoot from deep, he might turn into the NESCAC’s Lebron, but he has a ways to go. His potential is through the roof, but let’s not forget that for the bulk of the season, he played like his final stat line suggested (8.5 PPG, 5.0 REB/G)—solid but not a game changer. I’m betting that breaking out in the playoffs against tougher competition is no coincidence though. He improved from the charity stripe, from deep, and down low all at the right time and will bring that into the 2018 season.

Center Marcos Soto ’19

Marcos Soto ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

The big man spot on the Williams team is filled by a combination of Soto, Michael Kempton, and Matthew Karpowicz. As Kempton and Soto saw the bulk of the playing time, they are likely the starters—at least for the preseason. Soto made a transition into a starting role over the second half of the season, effectively winning the majority of the playing time from Kempton, but didn’t dominate by any means. He rarely scored double digit points or collected over four rebounds despite 17.2 minute per game. Kempton ran into similar troubles, averaging under four points and rebounds per game. Granted, neither big man shot the ball much (less than seven times per game, combined) and both shot over 50% from the field. This says that they didn’t need to score and didn’t try to–not exactly a fault. They never really controlled the ball off the glass though, and because of that, Williams didn’t have any players in the top-10 in NESCAC rebounding and finished tenth overall with 37 boards per game. They don’t play with a traditional center, but unless one of these two steps up, they could be usurped by Karpowicz who has a much higher ceiling.

X-Factor: Center Matthew Karpowicz

Matthew Karpowicz ’20 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

As mentioned above, Kempton and Soto lack the big game capabilities that top NESCAC centers have. Karpowicz has that potential, scoring double digit points in three conference games where he played less than ten minutes (vs Amherst, Trinity, and Colby). He averaged 4.2 PPG and 2.1 REB/G in just 7.2 minutes per contest in 2017, showing the ability to breakout if given a chance to start. His rebounding could really be what sets him up as the X-Factor here, as Williams has plenty of scoring weapons, but little defensive prowess other than Scadlock. His 2.1 REB/G in such limited playing time projects to over eight in a full game. If Karpowicz can break out, given the depth in the other four positions, the Ephs will be nearly unstoppable.

Everything Else:

Due to the depth of this team, there should be ample opportunity for different players to show what they’ve got. This means that 10-11 players should receive significant time in many different lineups. Especially in the early season, Karpowicz and others in the 2020 class should be able to step up and earn some playing time even with the experience of the other players. Henry Feinberg will be one of the guys looking to make a leap from obscurity in his sophomore year into the small forward position, offering a different look from Heskett. He should be the first wing off of the bench, bolstering the front court on defense. Scadlock will dominate the front court of Williams, finding plenty of chances early on to take over games. This is exciting for Williams as they could soon find their next superstar heading into a season with lofty expectations. They’re ranked as the highest team in the NESCAC after making an improbable run into the NCAA tourney.

Scadlock will have plenty of moments like this in 2018

While they lost in the NESCAC championship to Midd, eventually knocking them off in the elite-8—not too shocking of an upset—I didn’t even think they would get an at large bid. Of course, I failed to consider the importance of making the run to the conference championship, but they only went 5-5 in conference and started off badly (1-4 in NESCAC play to start 2017), jeopardizing a chance to even get into the postseason. They proved that they deserved to get the call to the tourney and then some, showcasing talent and depth—most of which returns for the 2018 season. Unlike Tufts, Trinity, Wesleyan, and Middlebury who lost so many key components of their teams, Williams is sitting pretty with four familiar places in their starting lineup. I hear they have been practicing their dance moves. March Madness, here they come; NESCAC teams, watch out.

Williams Coach Kevin App doesn’t have much to worry about–his team’s talent should carry the Ephs deep into the playoffs

Four’s A Crowd: Williams Final Four Preview (and Middlebury Love-Fest)

Before we get to the Williams Final Four preview, a couple thoughts on Middlebury’s terrific season, and the legendary careers of Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17, Bryan Jones ‘17 and NbN’s own Liam Naughton ’17. One of the hardest things about writing this blog is simply remembering that the players are students. The players that we laud, criticize and analyze every week have classes and friends and social stresses and just general college things going on in addition to the sports that we value so highly. I personally can’t imagine adding an intense sports schedule to my busy academic schedule (blogging, playing video games and eating onion rings,) and we have the responsibility to remind ourselves of that while writing.

Brown, Jones, Naughton and St. Amour led Middlebury to back to back NESCAC Championships, an Elite Eight run, and too many great moments to count.

But that is also one of the best things about writing this blog. NESCAC sports are a very tight knit community (as are NESCAC colleges in general) and it’s a thrill to write about people who are also your classmates and friends. This experience has been especially real for me in the last four years. I feel very blessed to have entered Middlebury at the same time as Matt, Jake, Bryan, and Liam even more blessed now to write about them, and simply to know them.

I want to single out Liam for a second. Like Bryan, he had the misfortune of entering in an incredibly strong guard class, and didn’t get a ton of minutes over the course of his first three seasons. But he never once let it get him down. He continued to work hard in practice, and was an incredible teammate for his whole career (his bench celebrations were a source of great joy for fans in the seats.) And this season he was able to provide valuable minutes off the bench when Middlebury’s guard rotation shortened up. Every team needs stars to win, but teammates like Liam are just as, if not more important.

The accolades for St. Amour and Brown have rolled in, and are deserved tenfold. Indeed, I can’t even open up my Facebook feed without seeing an article about a new award that Matt has won. But their success goes beyond awards. For four years they, along with Bryan (who had the bad luck of being in the best guard class in the country; he starts on every other NESCAC team) and Liam have represented Middlebury with flair, joy, and class. It’s been my pleasure to watch them and cover them, and it is my continued pleasure to know them.

*wipes a single tear from my eye*

Alright, on to the Ephs…Williams (23-8, 7-6, lost in NESCAC Final)

Turns out the Ephs’ blowout win over Middlebury in the regular season was not as much of a fluke as we thought. After losing to the Panthers in the NESCAC final, the Ephs took the rubber match last weekend in a game that showed just how much they have grown as a team throughout the year. Williams has always been a good shooting team, but early in the season if they weren’t hot from three, their defense wasn’t good enough to get them a win over a quality opponent. But that Williams team is long gone. Williams shot very well against Middlebury (49%, 40% from three,) but it was their defense that got them the ticket to Salem. The Ephs held Brown and St. Amour to 10-26 shooting (1-12 from three,) and held the Panthers to as a team to their lowest home scoring output of the season. Against Middlebury, Williams showed that they have everything firing on all cylinders, and are a real threat to win the National Championship.

Final Four Opponent: Augustana College Vikings (23-8, 11-5, lost in conference final)

Jacob Johnston ’17
(Courtesy of Augustana Athletics)

The Vikings are similar to Williams in that they have peaked in the NCAA tournament. Neither team won their conference final, but they both have put everything together to make a Final Four run. Augustana is led by their backcourt, with guards James Johnston ‘17, Chrishawn Orange ‘19 and Dylan Sortillo ‘18 leading the team in scoring. They seem to play at a very slow pace, only averaging 77 points on only 12.3 assists per game. The Vikings shoot a very high percentage from the field (48.5%) but don’t take many shots, and therefore have low rebounding numbers. Their team leader in rebounding is Johnston at 5.4, and the next highest number is 3.6. This is good news for Williams, as rebounding is their biggest weakness (the Panthers had 20 offensive rebounds last weekend, keeping them in the game.) Williams also defends the perimeter very well, so facing another team that relies heavily on their guards should be music to their ears.

Johnston seems to be the player to watch for Augustana. At 6’5” and 190 pounds, he has terrific size at the guard position. He is their leading rebounder and second leading scorer (5.4 and 12.7 respectively,) and certainly is the best match-up on paper for Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, Williams go-to scorer. With his size and rebounding ability, he will also play a critical role in stopping Kyle Scadlock ‘19, Williams’ best big man. Johnston will be the key to Augustana’s gameplan.

X Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19

Kyle Scadlock
Kyle Scadlock ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Speaking of Scadlock, he is the most important player for the Ephs tonight. Augustana, as every team must do against Williams, will try to run them off the three point line, and their slower pace could throw the Ephs off their rhythm. Additionally, they are a very deep team on the perimeter, giving them a lot of defenders to throw at Aronowitz, Cole Teal ‘17 and Bobby Casey ‘19. They do not have many defenders to throw at Scadlock. The Vikings are pretty big (they have four players over 6’7”) but not many of them play big minutes. And very few teams in the country have the versatility to keep up with Scadlock’s combination of size, quickness and skills. Scadlock’s assertiveness on offense has been a key to Williams’ run. He is averaging 17 points per game in their last seven, and his threatening inside presence opens up driving lanes and three point attempts for the guards. It is when he disappears and doesn’t look for his shot that Williams struggles. Scadlock has a great matchup tonight; if he shows up for it, Augustana is in trouble.

Other Teams in the Final Four:

#1 Whitman College Blues (31-0, 16-0, Won Conference Championship): vs Babson, 5:00 PM

Tim Howell
Tim Howell ’18 (Courtesy of Whitman Athletics)

As you can probably tell from their record, the Blues are the favorite to come out of this weekend as national champions. They are one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, averaging 91.8 points per game on 48% shooting. They seems to just be loaded up and down the roster with great scorers, rather than doing it with ball movement. They only average 12.5 assists per game, a shockingly low number for such a dynamic offense. They are led in scoring by National POY Candidate Tim Howell ‘18, who averages 20.4 points per game. Howell is an electric one on one scorer, and his skill off the dribble opens things up for his teammates. And they take advantage of those opportunities. Four other Whitman players score in double figures, including Jack Stewart ‘19, who shoots 42.3% from three. If you had to point to a weakness for the Blues it would be on the boards and at the foul line. Their rebound margin is only +1, a low number for such a dominant team, and they only shoot 64% from the line. But for 31 games in a row, neither of those things have mattered.

#3 Babson College Beavers (29-2, 14-1, lost to MIT in Conference Final): vs Whitman at 5:00 PM

Joey Flannery
Joey Flannery ’18 (Courtesy of Babson Athletics)

Babson spent much of the season as the number one team in the country before dropping due to their conference final loss. But like Stella, they’ve gotten their groove back in the NCAA tournament. They scored 102 points in their Elite Eight win over Keene State, shooting 61% from the field. Stopping Babson begins and nearly ends with stopping senior guard Joey Flannery ‘17. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Flannery has the size to score inside, but is also a deadly outside shooter and ball handler. He averages 23.4 points per game and has proven himself to rise to the occasion in big games. He had 38 in their Sweet Sixteen win over Tufts. And as if that wasn’t enough, Flannery also averages 7.1 rebounds per game. But Babson isn’t a one man show. Junior guard Nick Comenale ‘18 averages 16 points per game on 42% shooting from three, and big man Isaiah Nelson ‘17 provides a valuable post scoring threat. Babson is one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. The Babson and Whitman game at 5:00 tonight should be a classic, I recommend checking it out before tuning in to Williams to support the NESCAC family.

Can the Jumbos Trample the Ephs?: Williams at Tufts NESCAC Semifinal Preview

Vinny Pace ’18 looks to lead the Jumbos to Sunday’s NESCAC Championship game (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

#6 Williams (18-7, 5-5) at #1 Tufts (20-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 25, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Though they made it to this weekend last year, Tufts once again has a chance to win their first NESCAC Championship this weekend. The difference is that Tufts is hosting the remainder of the tournament this year, something the Jumbos have never done before. Just a couple weeks ago, Tufts hosted the Ephs in the very same Cousens Gymnasium that tomorrow’s game will be played in. As a Jumbos superfan, I can proudly say that Tufts smacked Williams in that game, but that does not mean Saturday’s matchup will be a rout. Honestly, I see this game going down to the wire, especially after watching Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19 step up the way they did against their rivals. I am anticipating similar performances out of these two studs, and NESCAC hoops fans should be prepared for a barn burner out of the first game of the doubleheader.

 

Last Time They Met:

Dan Aronowitz ’17 is hoping to bounce back after a tough game against the Jumbos two weeks ago (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

As mentioned above, the February 10th matchup between these two squads was not very close. Tufts walked away with a 93-68 victory catalyzed by their 18 three-pointers. With a silent first half, Eric Savage ‘20 came out of the locker room as a different beast in the second half, dropping 17 in 12 minutes of action. Now that sounds pretty good, but until you realize how he scored those 17 points, it’s just that – good. From the 12:06 mark to 6:42 left in the game, Savage knocked down five straight threes. He finally showed the crowd that he is a mere mortal on his next attempt, but that ~5 ½ minute stretch pretty much sums up the entire game. Tufts couldn’t miss from three. Meanwhile, Williams struggled from deep, much more than the box score shows at least. Sure, they ended up 8-25 from beyond the arc, but seven of those makes came in the second half when playing out the rest of the game was simply a formality. The Ephs were 1-9 from three in the first half, clearly missing Cole Teal ‘18, who sat out with some sort of illness. Tufts never trailed or allowed Williams to tie the game up after the first basket of the game, proving their pure dominance on that day.

 

Last Year:

Stephen Haladyna ’16 became a superstar in Tufts’ playoff run last year (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Tufts played Williams in their last game of the 2015-2016 regular season just like they did this year, only to face them again a week later in the NESCAC quarterfinals. In game one at Williams, Tufts escaped with a gritty four point victory on the backs of Tom Palleschi ‘17 and Stephen Haladyna ‘16 despite a valiant effort out of Aronowitz. The playoff game the following weekend featured a much more balanced Tufts attack, with four of the five starters scoring in double-digits. Aronowitz did all he could, dropping 32 while just one of his teammates reached the double-digit mark, but at the end of the day, Tufts was too much, and they once again walk away with a victory, this time by six points. The two games featured much of the same type of strategy, but differed in who produced. If history has any bearing on tomorrow’s game, we will likely see similar strategy to their first meeting of the season, i.e. attempts by both teams to prove their dominance behind the three-point line, a lot of halfcourt offense and a much more conscious effort to share the wealth offensively by Tufts than Williams.

 

Williams X-Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19

Kyle Scadlock ’19 dominated in the 2nd half against Amherst last week – Williams needs a similar performance tomorrow (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Last time these two played, I predicted that Cole Teal would be the x-factor and he didn’t step on the court, so I could be very, very off on this prediction. However, Scadlock has been playing some of his best basketball recently, and he is a big reason why Amherst was able to pull off the upset against Amherst last weekend. 14 of Scadlock’s 16 points came in the second half last Saturday, including a 7-0 run by the sophomore himself that gave the Ephs a nine point lead. Williams never looked back after Scadlock’s two minute stretch of dominance, and his emphatic dunk with nine seconds left capped off a well-deserved Williams victory. Against the Jumbos, the forward played pretty well, scoring 15 on 7-10 shooting, and with the post presence of the host team laden with injuries, a strong performance from Scadlock could be the difference. Not only can Scadlock take advantage of a size advantage on offense, but his success doing so will force the Jumbos to sag in to help, leaving shooters open on the perimeter. Aronowitz cannot shoulder the entire load in this game, so Scadlock needs to step up unlike his performance in the playoff matchup between these two sides last year.

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard Ben Engvall ‘18

Tufts guard Ben Engvall ’18 is known for gritty transition buckets like this one (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

What’s one word I would use to describe Ben Engvall? Tough. The kid does not back down on the court, and that is going to be key against Williams. With Madsen banging around with a mix of Williams centers on the boards, Engvall is likely going to be tasked with keeping Scadlock in check. If he can keep Scadlock off the boards and force him into tough shots on the offensive end, Tufts will be in very good shape. Offensively, Engvall thrives off of fastbreak buckets, especially after an opposing team basket. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard necessarily, but these transition hoops are momentum plays, especially when he can turn them into and-one opportunities (which he does quite often). In the halfcourt offense, Engvall is a bit more limited. He is a good shooter that has shown the ability to knock down big shots, and when defenders close out poorly on him, the junior can get to the hoop. If Engvall can put up his standard 8-12 points, grab 5-6 boards and give Scadlock a hard time, Tufts should be golden.

 

Three Questions:

Will Dan Aronowitz go off?

I’m leaning towards yes. Aronowitz is a senior captain and Williams needs to win this tournament if they want to make an NCAA appearance. He showed last weekend that he means business, and the last time he played a playoff game in Cousens he put on a clinic. The reason I’m only leaning and not taking a stronger stance on this question is due to matchups. Tufts switches everything amongst their four non-post players, which makes it difficult to get open for opposing players. When Aronowitz does find the ball (which he inevitably will), he will likely see a combination of Vinny Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18 (assuming Pat Racy ‘20 is back and healthy), Everett Dayton ‘18 and Eric Savage. The length of all these guys, especially Pace and Dayton, is an issue, and the athleticism between the latter three guys will present problem for Aronowitz. Still, Aronowitz is one of the best players in the conference. I don’t think he’ll shrink in the bright lights of his biggest game since he became ‘the guy’ for the Ephs.

 

Will Tufts get a crowd?

As I mentioned before last weekend’s game versus Hamilton, the Tufts crowd is inconsistent at best. Despite the quarterfinal game being the slowest, most boring conference game that I have watched since I arrived at Tufts, it was still disappointing that the Tufts student population couldn’t bring forth a better effort for their Jumbos in the playoffs. The reason this question matters, however, is because at times, the Tufts crowd can be a huge factor. When Tufts faced Williams in the quarterfinals last year, for example, the crowd was completely into it. Every time Bobby Casey ‘19 touched the ball, “BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY,” echoed through Cousens. I’m not saying the chanting did or did not affect Casey, but he was 3-9 from the field with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 turnovers. You tell me. In any event, the crowd only increased in size throughout the Tufts NCAA tournament run last season, and I have a feeling that the thirst to be part of a championship run could bring the Jumbo faithful down to Cousens on Saturday.

 

Will Tufts have more than one big man?

Honestly, I’m not sure, but it matters one way or the other. Drew Madsen does not demand the ball offensively like Palleschi or even Racy. Madsen gets his points more primarily off drive and dish plays or put backs. This means the Tufts offense is much more reliant on its wing players, but the important thing to remember is that the ‘Bos have spread the ball around very evenly when they’ve been successful. While it’d obviously be great to have Racy and Palleschi back, the Jumbos are in fine shape with just Madsen, it just changes the strategy a bit. Instead of pounding the ball into the post, Tufts will rely more heavily on pick and rolls and drive and kick plays. If they shoot like they did last time Williams visited Medford, the Jumbos have nothing to fear, but I don’t quite seeing them hit 18 three-pointers. The one-post lineup worked against Williams last time – will it work again?

 

Summary

Overall, I simply believe that Tufts has too many weapons for the Ephs. Every guard in the lineup has a different skillset, which equally as unique as it is deadly. I know that Williams is hot right now, and I’m not counting them out, but Tufts is the better team, and at home I don’t think they will flop like Amherst did.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

The Ancient Battle: Williams at Amherst Quarterfinals Preview

#6 Williams (17-7, 5-5) at #3 Amherst (17-6, 7-3), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Amherst, Massachusetts

Overview:

It is so, so, so fitting that the Amherst-Williams rivalry gets to play out in the first round of the NESCAC tournament this weekend. As a little kid, I grew up attending Amherst basketball games. I idolized the likes of Andrew Olson ‘08 and Dan Wheeler ‘07 while I demonized the dreaded Williams squad and their silly cow mascot. I think I still have a shirt at home (far too small at this point) that reads “Eph, it’s what’s for dinner” with a picture of an Eph on the end of a fork. Yes, I grew up hating Williams, but since I arrived at Tufts I’ve lacked that ‘rival’ feeling for the Ephs and have flipped the script on my feelings for Amherst. That being said, real recognize real – Amherst is very, very good, especially when it comes time for the NESCAC basketball tournament. Given recent history and this season as a whole, this is a TOUGH match-up for Williams. Then again, Williams has had quite a bit of success in the NESCAC tournament as well, and the NESCAC trophy is no stranger to Williamstown.

Dating back to 2001, Amherst has won the most NESCAC championships: seven. Second place? Williams, who has four. However, Williams’ success comes earlier in the 21st century – the Ephs actually haven’t won the conference championship since 2010, and the last two times they were in the finals (2013, 2014), they lost to none other than Amherst. Over the past 16 years, in fact, Amherst has only failed to move past the semifinals three times. This means that if Amherst makes the finals, they are more likely to win the title game than to lose it. If Williams wants to reverse the direction of the rivalry, today is a good place to start.

Amherst X-Factor: Guard Michael Riopel ‘18

Michael Riopel ’18
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

If there was a 6th Man of the Year award, I would vote for Riopel 11 times out of 10. At 6’5”, his ability to come off the bench and either shoot the trey ball or get to the rack puts a lot of pressure on smaller and bigger guards alike that draw the short straw and have to match up with him. The junior has been fine against Williams this year, but I’m still waiting for him to light it up. He will likely be faced with a combination of Aronowitz, Teal, and Chris Galvin ‘18, all of whom he can take advantage of in different ways. After his two great performances against Williams, I would suspect that the Ephs will be in a crazy help defense to neutralize Dawson’s drives to the hoop. If this is the case, look for Rio to drain a few from downtown.

Williams X-Factor: Guard Cole Teal ‘18

Cole Teal ’18
(Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams needs a strong performance from Teal today, end of story. I don’t know if it was due to injury or something, but the nine minutes that Teal played in game two of the season series left the Williams offense in quite the rut. The way that the Ephs jack up threes, they can’t afford to be without their purest shooter, and Teal needs to show up. If he can get one or two to drop early, Amherst will have a much harder time staying in front of Casey and Aronowitz. It will also give sophomore Kyle Scadlock more room to work down in the post on Amherst’s Jacob Nabatoff ‘17. Defensively, however, Teal needs to be just as much of a workhorse. The Ephs cannot withstand strong performances from all three of Amherst’s top scorers – Dawson, McCarthy and Riopel – so Teal is going to need to play lockdown D on one of the latter two. Even if McCarthy or Riopel gets their points, as long as Teal makes it tough for them, he’s doing his job. Amherst isn’t the most selective team offensively, so if Teal can even make it a tad more difficult for them, Williams has a shot to pull of the upset. That being said, he can’t just play one side of the court – Teal needs to show up on both offense and defense if the Ephs are to have a chance.

Recent History:

Both of the Amherst-Williams matchups this year have ended in eight-point victories for Amherst. The first, a non-conference tilt played in Williamstown, was a tale of two very different teams. Amherst spread the floor and spread their scoring, taking the pressure off of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 for a change (though the two still scored 19 and 15 respectively). Coach Hixon only sent eight different players out on the floor for Amherst, but it was enough, and after a run to begin the second half, Amherst was able to maintain their lead and hold off the admirable efforts out of Cole Teal ‘18 and Dan Aronowitz ‘17. The two studs from Williams went off, netting 26 and 21 respectively, but unfortunately the rest of their team left their offense in the locker room. The Williams bigs struggled, resulting in a 80-72 loss for the Ephs.

In round two of this historic rivalry, the Purple and White hosted the Ephs in Amherst, this time ending in a 72-64 Amherst W. While Aronowitz again stepped up to the challenge, Teal barely saw the floor, and the Ephs just didn’t have enough firepower to match the Amherst attack. Bobby Casey ‘19 had an inefficient 11 points, and freshman Matt Karpowicz (who I am saying will undoubtedly be an All-NESCAC performer is junior year, if not next year), had a solid game with 12 points of his own. Unfortunately for Williams, that was it offensively, and Amherst walked away with a 2-0 lead in the season series after another strong performance from Dawson.

Final Thoughts:

This is a big mismatch at first glance, but these two teams are actually fairly similar. They both place a great deal of their offense in the hands of two terrific perimeter players (McCarthy and Dawson for Amherst and Aronowitz and Teal for WIlliams.) And they both lack consistent scoring inside, as their frontcourt rotations are filled with young players who haven’t stepped up to this point.

Williams offense will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to pull off the upset.

Williams matches up fairly well with Amherst defensively. Teal and Aronowitz are both long, rangy defenders who can give problems to Dawson and McCarthy. However, what I think will doom Williams in this game is a lack of depth. Aronowitz and Teal have proven themselves capable of playing great games on both sides of the ball against Amherst, but it they’re busy chasing around Dawson and McCarthy all day, who else is going to score for the Ephs? Amherst is also too reliant on their two best players, but Riopel and Eric Conklin ’17 are ready to take some pressure off. Williams will need to have another game like they did against Middlebury, in which every player is cooking from three. It’s happened before, but I don’t see it happening again.

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

NESCAC the Third: Weekend Preview Part Two

Tyler Rowe ’19 is going to need to keep up his hot streak this weekend for the Camels (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics).

As Rory pointed out in the Friday preview, the third weekend is often a pivotal one for playoff chances. An 0-2 weekend this late in the season can be damning for post-season hopes, and that is only exacerbated by how strong the league is this year. Teams like Williams, Colby and yes, even Amherst need strong weekends to keep their playoff hopes alive, or reassert their place at the top of the league.

 

GAME OF THE WEEK – SUNDAY: Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) at Williams (12-4, 1-3): Sunday, 1/22, Williamstown, MA, 2:00 PM

Overview:

Will I choose Middlebury as the Game of the Week in every preview? Probably. But this game deserves must-watch status. Not only is it a rivalry game pitting two of the most successful teams of the last decade against each other, it features two of the best scorers in the league in Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Daniel Aronowitz ‘17. And it should end before the Patriots game starts, so no worries there.

Middlebury and Williams enter the game on very different footing in the league. Middlebury is 3-1, and was very close to pulling out a win at Tufts. Williams, on the other hand, comes in at 1-3 and has looked like one of the bottom teams in the league. For much of the post-Michael Mayer era, Williams has been a highly dangerous and successful 3-and-D team, relying on outside shooting and strong perimeter defense to remain a contender in the NESCAC. But the Ephs haven’t been able to put together those two components of their machine yet this year. Despite taking the most three point shots in the league by a considerable margin, they have the third-lowest percentage. The defense is still strong from a numbers standpoint, but they have been exploitable by patient offenses, allowing the third-highest shooting percentage to their opponents in the league. Williams might not have the personnel to continue playing their patented style, but they could prove that idea very wrong with a win over the Panthers.

 

X-Factors:

Eric McCord is a BODY down low, and the Panthers have really enjoyed his recent success (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

We’ve been writing a great deal lately about how the forward rotation of Matt Folger ‘20, Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘19 has given the Panthers an interior presence that many felt they’d be lacking this year. But in this game, I see the guards off the bench as being a crucial factor in Middlebury’s game plan. Williams will undoubtedly attempt to use the three point shot as a way to counteract Middlebury’s quick-strike offense. And if they’re hitting those shots, the Panthers may need some firepower from the outside to match them. That’s where the guards come in. The primary outside threat off the bench for Middlebury is Bryan Jones ‘17, who played some nice minutes early in the season but has shot just 5-18 in conference play. Recently, freshman guard Joey Leighton ‘20 has shot very well, entering the rotation just before league play and hitting 44% of his three pointers. Senior Liam Naughton and freshman Perry Delorenzo are also options, but haven’t played much in tight spots. Middlebury may need Jones and Leighton in particular to be scoring threats to open the floor for the three starting guards and the post players.

Williams’ big man rotation is a key for them as well. It is very telling that in Williams’ only NESCAC win thus far, a 72-66 road win over Colby, they got 33 points from their four forwards. In the other games, Williams has received a shocking lack of production from the frontcourt, on both sides of the ball. Williams is the second worst rebounding team in the league, and neither James Heskett ‘19 nor Matt Karpowicz ‘20 nor Marcos Soto ‘19 has been nearly consistent enough offensively to worry opposing teams. If Williams is to match Middlebury’s newfound interior presence, they will need good production from at least two of those bench players, as well as starters Kyle Scadlock ‘19 and Michael Kempton ‘19.

 

Final Thoughts:

This is a critical game for Williams, who is drifting dangerously close to falling out of contention for a top four seed. They have traditionally enjoyed a huge home court advantage, and have beaten Middlebury in some classics in Williamstown over the last few seasons, particularly in tournament play. But they need more than history on their side on Sunday. They need their role players like Cole Teal ‘17 and Heskett to hit some threes, and they need Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Scadlock to play like stars. Aronowitz in particular should be key, as he will probably be matching St. Amour for much of the game. He has to at least play him to a draw if the Ephs have a shot.

Middlebury wins this one on paper. They have far more offensive weapons on the perimeter, and should be able to crash the boards against Williams’ frontcourt. However, Williams’ style of play is by nature unpredictable. If they are hitting threes, they can hang with anyone in the country, and it will be Middlebury’s job to run them off the line and into the paint, where they are far less proficient at finishing over size.

 

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

 

Connecticut College (10-5, 1-3) at Tufts (13-2, 4-0): Medford, MA, 3:00 PM

Basking in the glow of their new standing at the top of the Power Rankings, Tufts has taken the league by storm, winning their first four NESCAC games. They still haven’t quite gotten POY-level production from Vincent Pace ‘18, but KJ Garrett averaged 15 PPG over the two games last weekend, giving them a valuable offensive weapon off the bench. The Jumbos still have problems in the post, as Tom Palleschi ‘17 has struggled offensively for much of the season. That said, Tufts has plenty of weapons ready to pick up the slack.

Connecticut College has a lot of momentum entering this weekend. They shocked Amherst last Sunday, owning the paint en route to an 83-76 OT win. The Camels were able to lock down Jayde Dawson ‘18 as well as any team has this year, holding him to 9 points on 4-10 shooting. That suggests that they should be well-equipped to handle Pace, who showed signs against Middlebury that he’s rounding back into form. They also got 40 points and 18 rebounds collectively from senior forwards Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17. Tufts showed against Middlebury that strong post players can give them problems, as Eric McCord emerged against them with 22 points. Therefore, Connecticut College has the tools to pull off another upset, but I don’t see it happening.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

Wesleyan (14-3, 2-2) at Bates (12-4, 3-1): Lewiston, ME, 3:00 PM

Salim Green ’19 rises up for a jump shot over an opposing defender (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

I’m setting the over/under for total points in this game at 105, as arguably the two best defenses (and least consistent offenses) in the league square off in what may come to be known as “The Battle of the Bricks.” Wesleyan looked to be nearly dead after starting off 0-2, but roared back with two straight wins over Amherst and Trinity. Wesleyan’s elite defense was on full display in both games, holding the two teams to an average of 60 PPG. They finally received some offensive firepower from Kevin O’ Brien ‘19, and Harry Rafferty ‘17 too, an encouraging sign. To win at Bates, they will need one of those two, or Salim Green ‘19 (finally got his name right) to shoot well from the perimeter, as Bates’ interior defense is often pretty much impenetrable.

Bates has been one of the surprises of the season thus far, sitting at 3-1 with a quality home win over Hamilton under their belt. Their success has obviously been chiefly due to the Delpeche twins, who combine for 27 PPG and 19 REB/G. Additionally, Malcolm leads the league in blocks at over 3 per game. The Delpeches are the keys to Bates’ offense and defense, but freshman transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been pivotal in giving the Bobcats a perimeter threat off the bench. He had 30 points over the weekend. Bates should give Wesleyan a heavy dose of both Delpeche brothers, putting a tremendous defensive burden on Nathan Krill ‘19 and Joseph Kuo ‘17. Taking Bates’ lyric little bandbox of a home court into account, I see the towering twins leading Bates to another impressive home win.

 

Writer’s Pick: Bates

 

Colby (7-7, 0-3) at Amherst (10-4, 1-2): Amherst, MA, 3:00 PM

Well if they lose this one, there’s officially a crisis in Amherst. The Purple and White have lost two in a row, both to teams that hadn’t won a game in league play entering their match-up. Amherst’s problems have been copiously and gleefully documented on this blog, but they boil down to a lack of dimensionality on offense. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 have too much responsibility, allowing teams like Wesleyan to load up on them and dare other players to beat them. Colby probably doesn’t have quite enough perimeter depth to make use of this gameplan, but other teams have certainly taken notes on what Wesleyan and Conn College did to Amherst last weekend.

Patrick Stewart ’17 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics).

Colby may be the only team that played worse than Amherst last weekend. At 0-3 in the league, they are carving out a niche as the bottom team in a very strong league. Colby simply doesn’t have enough weapons to hang with the top teams in the league. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four, but like McCarthy and Dawson, he often carries an unreasonable burden for the Mules, yet with less of a supporting cast around him than the two Amherst guards. Amherst should use this game to get back on track, and ideally find a little more depth on offense.

 

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2) at Trinity (10-6, 2-1): Hartford, CT, 3:00 PM

This game is a matchup of stars. Jack Simonds ‘19 and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 would be my top two POY candidates at this point in the season, due to their importance to their respective teams. Bowdoin for the most part goes as far as Simonds can carry them, as was proven by his electric 32 point performance in their lone NESCAC win over Williams. This game will be an excellent test of Simonds’ scoring chops in league play, as Trinity boasts an elite defense anchored by, who else, Ed Ogundeko.

Ogundeko may carry an even heavier load for Trinity than Simonds does for Bowdoin. In addition to being the key to the offense, he leads the league (and by nature of the transitive property, the team as well) in rebounding, and may be the one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the league. Players are straight-up terrified of shooting layups against him, which is heavily responsible for Trinity being among the league leaders in most defensive catagories. Bowdoin, on the other hand, is the worst rebounding team in the league. This could well be another 20-20 game for Big Ed, and if that’s the case, I see Trinity taking the win at home.

 

Writer’s Pick: Trinity

The Year of The Jumbo?: Power Rankings 1/19

KJ Garrett ’18 made a splash off the bench this weekend for the Jumbos with 30 points on 13-18 shooting (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

This weekend brought tight games, upsets, and standings shake-ups. Some players rose to the occasion in times of need, while others shrunk from the spotlight. One thing that is certain about the NESCAC this year is that it is competitive through and through. Here are this week’s power rankings:

1.) #4 Tufts (13-2, 4-0)

Tufts’ victories against Middlebury and Hamilton cemented them at the top spot this week as the only undefeated team in NESCAC competition. Tufts barely beat Middlebury, up by just one point with 21 seconds remaining, but were able to make their free throws and keep the lead in what could be a playoff preview. Other than their two back to back losses to #1 Babson (then #2) and UMass-Boston on December 3rd and 6th, the Jumbos have been perfect all season and are now the highest ranked team (#4) in the conference after Amherst’s two losses this past weekend. The Middlebury game was a great display of Tufts’ balance as all five starters scored double-digit points, with Everett Dayton leading the way with 16. Tom Palleschi continued his hot play and had a well rounded game with three blocks, three assists, six boards, and 10 points. Eric Savage went off against Hamilton on Saturday with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and a season high in boards that shows how versatile this Tufts team is and why they shouldn’t have many issues this weekend against a resurgent Wesleyan team and a decent Conn College team. Tufts should continue to climb in the national rankings.

2.) #15 Middlebury (13-2, 3-1)

The Panthers would be #1 if Eric McCord made a final minute layup and they held on afterwards in Medford last Friday, yet the Jumbos held off McCord and Middlebury to give Midd their first loss in conference play. With that being said, Middlebury has found something in McCord that can help fill the hole that Zach Baines left when he departed from Vermont. McCord broke out against the Jumbos as he matched his season high in rebounds with eight and found a new season high of points with 22, 10 more than his previous high. He then added 11 points and six rebounds against Bates on Saturday, really cementing himself as the sixth man and as a force in the paint as the 6’7’’/255 pound beast is now a force to be reckoned with. Coach Brown also has to be happy that Nick Tarantino ’18 is holding his own in the starting lineup after struggling his first few starts beginning on December 29th. He has averaged nearly 10 rebounds and 10 points a game these last three contests and is shooting at over 50% in those games too, much better than the 1-6 he went against the Camels. Williams should be another team that the Panthers beat so long as these guys continue to produce – Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown can do the rest.

3.) #16 Amherst (10-4, 1-2)

Yes, Amherst got swept this past weekend and are still ranked 3rd this week. Unfair? Maybe but they are still one of just four nationally ranked NESCAC teams and did knock off #1 Babson earlier in the season. Now, they lost to Wesleyan last Friday who was ranked earlier in the year and desperately needed the win in their home gym to remain relevant in the NESCAC. However, a 14 point loss to an unranked team isn’t really indicative of a championship caliber season. On top of that, Jayde Dawson had the best game and he did not play well. He did score 17, but 6-19 from the field and 1-7 from 3-point range is 2016 Kobe-esque in his send off game. Amherst followed up Friday with an OT loss to Conn College, who hasn’t been overly impressive thus far, giving the Camels their first ‘CAC win of the year. This is not a good sign for the Purple and White. Johnny McCarthy played well and got back to his consistent form with 19 points after just five against the Cardinals. So while Amherst might no longer host the NESCAC tournament, they are in no danger of falling out of the playoff race. They need to get it together this weekend against Bowdoin and Colby as a loss to either will certainly boot them out of the top-25 and push them farther down the power rankings.

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

A Delpeche sandwich means a job well-done (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen).

I’ll admit that I either underestimated the Bobcats or overestimated the Continentals. I fully expected Bates to fall to Hamilton last weekend, but here they are at #4 in the rankings already with three wins in conference, more than all of last year. Their performance so far has all but cemented them as a NESCAC playoff team. Bates defended four of six of Hamilton’s big scoring threats well (Gilmour, Doyle, Pucci, and Groll) which forced PG Jack Dwyer to shoot more than he generally likes to. While this allowed Dwyer to score a season high of 19, the other key players found themselves neutralized, allowing the Delpeche twins to have a day. Marcus scored 17 and hauled in 14 boards and Malcolm scored 12 and had 17 rebounds of his own. Jeff Spellman was a key player off of the bench too as he added 16 points in 25 minutes. Bates also played Middlebury in a tight game, falling behind early but clawing their way to within a 10 point margin by the end. Marcus Delpeche found less shooting success in this contest and Middlebury controlled the rebounds (45-31), giving the Panthers an upper hand, especially in the first half. Bates should beat Conn College on Friday if they keep playing with this intensity and their matchup against Wesleyan will tell who should be higher in the rankings.

5.) Wesleyan (13-3, 2-2)

Two shocking losses to open up conference play and drop the Cardinals out of the top-25 were not part of the plan. These 18 and 16 point losses to Middlebury and Hamilton respectively had to hurt, but Wesleyan really bounced back against previously #5 Amherst and a solid Trinity team at home, preventing a bottom half ranking this week. The victory over Amherst is especially surprising. Amherst had been dominant all year up until that point and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. But Wesleyan’s defense shined on Friday, holding the Purple and White to just 30% shooting from the field and 24.1% from beyond the arc. Kevin O’Brien led the way with 19 points, nine boards, four assists, four steals, and two blocks. Jordan Sears also had a big 10 rebounds off of the bench and Amherst just couldn’t put anything together. The most remarkable stat from the weekend is that both O’Brien and Joseph Kuo had more rebounds at 11 and 10 respectively than Ed Ogundeko did, who had just eight on Saturday. Kuo also added 14 points and the Cardinals narrowly pulled out the win, reestablishing themselves as a contender. They have a tough weekend against Tufts and Bates and if they can go 1-1 that should be considered a success.

6.) Hamilton (11-4, 2-2)

I’m a big fan of the Continentals’ resurgence similar to Bates from last place to a position of relevance in the conference. Their youth will still shine through from time to time as consistency and closing out games is a big focus for the team, but at 2-2 they still have a lot of potential upward mobility ahead of them if they seize the opportunity. Dwyer showed last weekend against Bates that when other teammates get shut down he can still shoot, although it wasn’t quite enough on the road on Friday. They did keep the game close and nearly managed to come back, but Kena Gilmour, Joe Pucci, and Andrew Groll weren’t themselves as they shot a combined 6-24. Their loss against Tufts was expected, but Groll and Gilmour had bounce back games while Pucci and Jack Dwyer couldn’t get it going. Tufts’ 46.3% from the field is what killed the Continentals. They will need a strong game, especially defensively, if they want to beat a desperate Williams team.

7.) Trinity (10-6, 2-1)

Jeremy Arthur ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

While the gap between Trinity and Hamilton and Wesleyan isn’t huge, their two conference wins against Williams and Conn College are hardly justification for a higher spot. Their loss to Wesleyan cemented them at #7 this week, and barring upset wins elsewhere in the conference, wins against Colby and Bowdoin this weekend shouldn’t move them too much higher. Ogundeko is averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.6 boards, top-5 in the league in both. However, Ogundeko showed against Wesleyan that he is human as he was out rebounded by two Cardinals. The Bantams are reliant on him to dominate in the paint as potential dud performances like Chris Turnbull’s against Conn College (0-7, zero points) could put easy wins in jeopardy. Despite the winning conference record, Trinity has issues as Langdon Neal hasn’t been too impressive shooting the ball, averaging just over four points in NESCAC games. Also, Trinity’s bench hasn’t produced much at all and compared to Middlebury and Hamilton’s bench players as an example, the Bantams don’t compare. Look for them to win this weekend but the Bowdoin game could be closer than people expect for the third place NESCAC team.

8.) Conn College (10-5, 1-3)

Erasing a 17 point halftime deficit against Amherst bodes well for the Camels heading into the rest of the season. They just saved their NESCAC first half with that win as an 0-4 start could’ve sent them towards the offseason as playoffs would be a much tougher achievement at that point. 1-3 still isn’t good, but knocking off any ranked team is a feat worth mentioning. They played Middlebury closely on January 7th, lost big to both Trinity and Hamilton, and won by seven in OT to the Purple and White. Last weekend was a tale of two different Conn College teams. While the Camels usually rule the rebounds due to two big men, Daniel Janel and Zuri Pavlin (Pavlin recently broke the Conn College all time rebounding record), the pair notched only nine combined boards against Trinity compared to Ogundeko’s 12. On top of that David Labossiere shot just 2-8, Colin Pascoe didn’t take a shot, Isaiah Robinson only scored two points compared to his normal 9.5…you get my point. When that many players have down games, this team likely isn’t going to win. However, like they showed against Amherst, when both of their big men have incredible games, they win. It’s a tale of consistency and for a team that lost so many close games in the final minutes a year ago, they should be sick of these ups and downs. Not so bold prediction: anytime Janel and Pavlin score 20 each and have 18 rebounds combined, they’ll win. This weekend will be a good test to see is they can keep pace with the big dogs as Bates and Tufts are both challenges steep challenges, especially in those rowdy environments.

9.) Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2)

The Polar Bears have the NESCAC scoring leader in Jack Simonds (21.9 ppg) and they can shoot as Hugh O’Neil ranks fourth in FG% (57.9%) and David Reynolds ranks fourth in 3PT% (43.3%). O’Neil is also in the top five in rebounds with 9.6 per game, but other than that, Bowdoin doesn’t have a whole lot going there way. The game against Tufts summarized this well as those three accounted for 25/42 rebounds, 40/54 points, and the rest of the team shot 6-30 from the field. Against Bates, again, these three were the only ones to score in double digits, had the majority of the rebounds, and only lost by five. While it was a close game, Bowdoin needs another element to complement these guys as the load can’t all fall on their shoulders. Neil Fuller could be that guy – he put up 10 against Williams along with five rebounds, helping out Bowdoin’s big three despite Reynolds’ down game. Of course, they will have a good chance if Simonds drops 32 every contest. This team needs more balance, and if they continue playing more like they did against the Ephs, they should have a better shot at making the playoffs.

10.) Williams (12-4, 1-3)

Williams’ only conference win came against Colby who is right below them in the rankings, so it doesn’t say too much. It’s hard to believe but the Ephs were ranked this season in what seems like ages ago. Their recent drop off is a product of better competition in the conference and the lack of a big rebounding presence. Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz are their best chance at matching the league’s best, but a team high of 6.0 reb/g isn’t exactly noteworthy in a positive light. To emphasize this further, Ogundeko hauled in 23 rebounds against Williams, and while Aronowitz had a great game and had a double-double, they simply couldn’t stop the Bantam’s big man. In a two point loss like that, every possession is key, and if they could’ve gotten some offensive boards they would’ve been able to get over the hump. It was the same story against Bowdoin as the Polar Bears hauled in 40 rebounds compared to just 27 for the Ephs, while no individual had more than five and they had just six offensive rebounds. Williams can score well – Aronowitz, Scadlock, and Cole Teal all score over 10 per game – but unless they can stop other teams from controlling the ball, they won’t make the playoffs.

11.) Colby (7-7,0-3)

0-3 is obviously a tough start for any team, but especially for the underdog. Colby has a lot of ground to make up over these next few weeks as at least three or four wins will be needed to sneak into the NESCAC playoff picture. They have kept all three losses within 15 points, but Patrick Stewart is just about the only bright spot here. The senior is averaging 16.2 ppg while the next closest player is at just 7.9 ppg. His 6.2 rebounds also lead the team, and nobody has more than Joseph Connelly’s 2.4 a/g, which isn’t exactly impressive. First year Ethan Schlager has played well in conference games, with 11.3 ppg over these three contest in just 21.0 min/g, and the Mules will need more help from him and other rookies Ronan Schwarz and Sam Jefferson if they are going to have a chance at climbing out of the cellar. Away games at Trinity and Amherst are going to be tough contests, and I’d be shocked if they pulled off an upset.

Weekend Preview 2 Part 2: Saturday’s Games

Zuri Pavlin lifts (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)

It’s a big weekend around the ‘CAC, and Friday’s games will have a pretty big impact on the way Saturday’s games go. Bates, Hamilton, Middlebury and Tufts all have the pleasure of playing each other (except Bates does not play Tufts, and Hamilton does not play Middlebury), which will mean the number of undefeated NESCAC teams will dwindle to a maximum of three this weekend. On the other end of the standings, Williams, Bowdoin, and Colby are all winless in conference play, and face only other winless squads, meaning at least one of them will walk away feeling a little better about themselves this weekend. Then, there is the scrum in the middle, where Amherst, Conn, Trinity and Wesleyan will face off, with Amherst and Trin looking to jump to 3-0 while Conn and Wes are hoping to right their ships. With all that in mind, momentum is a big factor this weekend. A win Friday night bodes very well moving into Saturday’s games, while a loss could steer some teams toward panic mode. Here’s what we’ve got for Saturday’s action:

 

Hamilton (10-2, 2-0) at #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0), Medford, MA, 2:00 PM

Like I said, momentum is supremely important this weekend, especially in this game. Hamilton and Tufts will either be feeling good after a big Friday night win against another solid squad, or they will be disappointed with their first NESCAC loss of the season. That’s why no matter the result, it is extremely important to get out to a hot start in this game. I strongly believe that whichever team asserts their dominance early will win the game, especially if they are 3-0 while their opponent is 2-1 at tipoff. For the visiting Continentals, the key to victory is on the defensive end. Their obvious disadvantage is on the block, where Palleschi has a massive size advantage over the tall but lankier Andrew Groll ‘19. However, Palleschi alone cannot defeat the Continentals, so their focus on the defensive end should be on preventing penetration from Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18 and Everett Dayton ‘18, all of whom are very good at getting to the hooping and dishing to open shooters. Hamilton has shown that they know how to put the ball in the hoop, so it is not their offense that they should be worried about (though I do think the length of Tufts could be a bit tricky for the Hamilton guards), but rather how they are going to keep Tufts from scoring. This is going to be a big game for Peter Hoffmann ’19, who has the best combination of size and scoring ability on the Continentals’ roster, and as he goes the Hamilton offense will go. I believe that the Jumbos will get to the hoop as they usually do, but because of their size advantage across the board, I expect Hamilton to sag into the paint quite a bit. For this reason, I will warn Hamilton: do not sleep on Tufts sharpshooter Ethan Feldman ‘19. He could be deadly on Saturday.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

#15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0) at Bates (11-3, 2-0), Lewiston, ME, 3:00 PM

On paper, this game looks close. The teams have similar records and have opposite strengths, which gives each team a different advantage. Middlebury’s guards are clearly their strength, while it is the post play of the Bobcats that propels them. However, I do not think this game will be nearly as close as some might project. To be honest, I’m predicting that Middlebury will roll. While Bates as the advantage down low with the Delpeche twins, these two have consistently struggled in league play throughout their NESCAC careers. While the pair has improved each season, they have not flashed the ability to take over games very often, and against an experienced Middlebury team I just don’t think this will be one of the rare occasions where they do. While the departure of Baines certainly hurts the Panthers, Nick Tarantino ‘18 is an admirable replacement, and I think he will lock down whichever Bobcat big he is matched up against. If that holds true, maybe the other Delpeche twin can go to work, but the Bobcats are going to need production out of their guards and the stingy defense of Jake Brown ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 doesn’t lead me to believe that we will see that. Middlebury should be able to keep the Bates guards in check, and if they do, the Panthers will climb onto Matt St. Amour’s back and show the Bobcats who is higher up in the feline hierarchy.

 

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

 

#5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0) vs. Conn College (8-4, 2-0), New London, CT, 3:00 PM

This matchup is interesting. As Pete mentioned in his earlier article, the Purple and White (who by the way, might be called the Amherst Hamsters soon enough since hamster is an anagram of Amherst) have lost two of their last four. This couldn’t matter less to me in terms of their performance this weekend. Amherst is always one of the top couple teams in the NESCAC – they pretty much always have been with Dave Hixon at the helm. They are a very tough team to beat, but they are also generally prone to complete melts where they lose focus and lose to teams worse than them. Take last year, for example: Amherst played Wesleyan in an out-of-conference tilt and lost by 27 after beating them by 24 just three days earlier. Did this mean Wesleyan and Amherst were even teams, or that Wesleyan was better? No. It just meant that on certain nights, Amherst takes the night off. That’s what I would say happened against Springfield College in December. I have been watching Amherst College basketball my entire life. I used to wreak absolute havoc in Alumni Gymnasium, and I would watch every Amherst game. I still remember standing in the front of the Amherst student section with a couple of my friends as a 12-ish year old as Amherst took down Tufts in OT. Through the years, I have learned that you must take Amherst one game at a time. So, in this matchup, here’s what should you look for:

 

The matchup between Tyler Rowe ‘19 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 is the one that immediately jumps out to me. These are the two stars of their respective teams this season, and whoever wins this matchup will likely give his team what it needs to win. If I were a betting man (which I’m not, because that would be an NCAA violation), I would say that Dawson wins this battle. He is just as athletic as Rowe, but he has such a size advantage that it is tough to pick against him in this one. Dawson has 4 inches on Rowe, and though Conn does not list their weights, I would guess there is also about a 25 pound disparity between the two of them. I think Amherst would be silly not to post up Dawson at least a few times to take advantage of this mismatch. I do think Zuri Pavlin ‘17 will have a great game for the Camels, as he is much more mobile than Amherst’s David George ‘17, but I don’t think it will be enough to deal with the size advantage that Amherst possesses all over the perimeter. Between Dawson, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, Michael Riopel ‘18 and Jeff Racy ‘17, Conn will struggle to match up.

 

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

Trinity (9-5, 1-0) at Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2), Middletown, CT, 3:00 PM

Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

Trinity looked good against Williams last weekend, and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 looked VERY good. His stat line speaks for itself, but Ogundeko’s physicality is what sets him apart from other big men in this league, which is why I think he will have a solid day against Joseph Kuo ‘17 of the Cardinals. However, I do not think he will have the same type of day that he did against Williams, as Kuo is a very solid big man in his own right. This will be a back and forth matchup on the low block, which is why I am cancelling out these two when making my prediction. This game will be won by the perimeter players. As always, Trinity will slow the game down and work out of the halfcourt set primarily, which means Wesleyan’s discipline and communication on defense is key. Trinity turns the ball over more than anyone else in the league, so if Wes can turn TOs into points, they will be in very good shape. However, that means they will have to take care of the ball themselves – Wesleyan turns the ball over the second most. Offensively, Wesleyan should try to get into the paint more often, and stop hucking up threes. As they learned last weekend, three-point shots are not their strength, getting into the paint is. Wesleyan is a lot deeper at the guard spots than Trinity, so if they can get to the rack and force the Bantams to foul, the Cardinals are in good shape. However, if they fall into the trap of shooting a million threes again, then Trinity will be able to contain the weapons of the Wesleyan offense. This game is a toss up, as I think the two are very evenly matched and a lot of how this game plays out depends on gameplan, but I think Wesleyan edges Trinity in a tight one.

 

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

 

Williams (11-3, 0-2) at Bowdoin (8-6, 0-2), Brunswick, ME, 6:00 PM

The rare NESCAC Saturday night game holds an interesting matchup between the Ephs and the Polar Bears, one which Williams must win if they want a shot at finishing in the top half of playoff teams in the NESCAC this year. However, early in the season it is also a pretty crucial game for Bowdoin if they want to crack the playoffs this year. With what appears to be the rise of Hamilton and Bates, Bowdoin needs to beat some playoff-caliber teams, and Williams would definitely be a nice win to write home about. However, I think this is a tough matchup for the Polar Bears for a few reasons. First of all, Bowdoin is best when Jack Simonds ‘19 has a mismatch. Williams doesn’t give him that, because Kyle Scadlock ‘19 is every bit as big and is every bit as athletic, so this is not going to be a game where Simonds completely takes over. Secondly, the weakness is Williams is down low, and unfortunately for Bowdoin, that is also their weakness. I will say, sophomore Hugh O’Neil has done a nice job under the hoop for the Polar Bears this year, but he is not going to single-handedly lead his team to a win. Thirdly, Williams has a stronger and deeper cast of guards than Bowdoin. Bobby Casey ‘19, Cole Teal ‘18, and Dan Aronowitz ‘17 provide a plethora of options for the Ephs offensively, and they are complemented by forward Scadlock. The matchups will be interesting, and I think the Ephs can exploit them no matter how Bowdoin chooses to play it. Assume Simonds guards Aronowitz – that leaves Scadlock with a huge mismatch down low, and doesn’t really slow down Aronowitz that much either. Assume Simonds guards Scadlock – Scadlock still outsizes Simonds, and Aronowitz has an even more favorable matchup on the perimeter. I don’t really see a way that Bowdoin can slow down the Williams attack in this one, which is why I think Williams should win pretty handily.

 

Writer’s Pick: Williams

2 NESCAC, 2 Weekend: A Preview of Friday’s Games

The opening weekend of NESCAC play was one of extremes. No team finished 1-1, marking out a clear top and bottom tier. Five teams sit at 2-0,and five teams sit at 0-2, with Trinity and Amherst lucking out with only one game over the first weekend and sitting at 1-0. Obviously it’s too early to make assumptions about whether the tiers we see right now will last throughout the season, but there are some interesting threads that should be monitored going forward. Will Middlebury be fine even without Zach Baines? Will Wesleyan make the tournament? Is Ed Ogundeko Shaq’s son? All these stories and more will continue into Friday night’s games, so let’s get into them.

Writer’s Note: This article is a little rushed as I had to spend most of the day yesterday apologizing to various fans for Rory putting Amherst at #1 in the Power Rankings even though they’ve lost two of four. So just keep that in mind.

GAME OF THE WEEK: #15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0)  @ #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0)

7:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Overview:

“NESCAC Skip Bayless” will be my Twitter handle within the fortnight.

First of all, this is obviously going to be a difficult game for me. On one side we have Middlebury, which is of course my hometown, and watching the basketball team as I grew up has been arguably the most influential factor in becoming the person I am today. And on the other side we have Tufts, the team I hate with all my heart. The list of wrongs done unto me by Tufts University is too long and horrible to replicate here on a family blog. I’ll just say that Tufts is the Count Olaf to my Baudelaire children; constantly destroying everything I hold dear out of pure malice and spite.

That said, this should be a spectacular game. Tufts and Middlebury are both coming off very impressive opening weekends, and their strong play has been reflected in their respective climbs in the national rankings. As usual, Middlebury owes much of their success to their incredible backcourt, and particularly to the triumphant return of Matt St. Amour’s shooting stroke. After a prolonged slump, St. Amour catapulted himself back into the POY race with 52 points over the two games, including 31 in Sunday’s win over Connecticut College. More importantly, St. Amour got his buckets very efficiently, shooting 10-19 from three and needing only 30 shots to garner his 52 points. Middlebury has done a tremendous job winning games during St. Amour’s slump, but it was about time he carried them again.

Tufts made quick work of the Maine teams in the opening weekend, besting Bowdoin and Colby easily. They did it with balance; no single player had more than 20 points, but 7 players had more than 10. Tarik Smith ‘17 had a nice weekend after an inconsistent start to the season, adding a new weapon to the Jumbos’ arsenal. It was crucial for Tufts to have a good weekend starting off the year, as they had a couple bad losses to Babson and UMASS Boston that had cooled some people on their league standing. However, they had the easiest weekend of any top tier teams. This game is their first big test since Babson, and should reveal a great deal about how high the Jumbos can fly this season.

X-Factors

For Middlebury it has to be transition, and I mean that in multiple senses of the word. The Panthers must continue to excel in their fast-paced, perimeter orientated style on both sides of the ball. As our blogfathers Panther Nation pointed out, Middlebury may well have the best backcourt in the country, and they need to continue that excellent play to weather a lack of front court depth, at least offensively.

Speaking of the front court, that brings me to the second type of transition that will determine Middlebury’s success. Earlier this week it was announced that talented forward Zach Baines ‘19 made the decision to transfer to Occidental College in Los Angeles. This is a tremendous blow to the Panthers, as Baines was both their most versatile defender (other than Jack Daly ‘18) and a dangerous offensive weapon who was just beginning to realize his potential. His loss will obviously affect Middlebury on the court in the ways we saw last weekend. The guards, especially less prolific scorers Jake Brown ‘17 and Daly, will need to be more aggressive shooting the ball, and forwards Nick Tarantino ‘18, Matt Folger ‘20 and Eric McCord ‘19 will all compete for minutes and touches alongside Adisa Majors ‘18. It will be a fascinating subplot to follow throughout Middlebury’s season as to which big man emerges as the starter out of those three. But Middlebury will need to respond to Baines’ loss off the court as well. It can be very difficult to lose a teammate midway through the year, and no one would blame the Middlebury players for being a little down. However, they can’t afford to let it affect them against Tufts. Middlebury’s experienced leaders like Brown, St. Amour and Daly will have to handle the transition for Middlebury this weekend, in more ways than one.

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

For Tufts, it is more simple. Vincent Pace ’18 has to get going. A legit POY candidate when healthy, Pace has struggled for much of the season, shooting only 42% from the field and 32% from three. Admittedly he hasn’t had to play big minutes that often yet as he recovers from a knee injury, but if Tufts wants to remain in the top tier they need the old Pace back. The Jumbos can’t rely on a big weekend from Tarik Smith, as Middlebury defends the perimeter better than anyone. Tufts will need Pace’s versatile scoring ability and ball handling if they hope to knock the Panthers off track, and indeed will need it for the rest of the league play. The toughest games are still ahead.

Final Thoughts:

Tom Palleschi ‘17 for Tufts has definite strength mismatches against both Tarantino and Folger. This means that we may see more of Eric McCord than the other two. If that’s the case, Middlebury may be in trouble from a fast break standpoint. The great benefit of both Tarantino and Folger is that they are weapons in transition. They can both shoot (although Folger is more of three point threat,) and they run the floor like deer. McCord is much stronger and possibly a better one-on-one matchup for Palleschi, but Middlebury sacrifices some fast break potential with him on the floor. McCord got exposed a bit by Connecticut College in terms of moving his feet defensively, and Tufts should look to do the same by putting him the pick and roll and getting him out on the break.

That said, I don’t see that Tufts has an answer for Middlebury’s guards. St. Amour is better at getting himself involved even when he’s not shooting well than Jack Simonds ‘19 for Bowdoin, and Daly and Brown are forming into an excellent offensive duo in addition to their terrifying defense. Middlebury matches up very well with Pace and Smith, and Palleschi has not yet shown himself to be capable of taking over a game.

Writers Pick: Middlebury

#5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0) @ Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2)

7:00 PM, Middletown, Connecticut

Amherst huddles to discuss strategy during their win over Williams. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Amherst took the opening battle in the ancient Jeff-Ephs war, beating Williams in Williamstown 80-72 in a game that they had in hand throughout. They relied heavily on their dynamic backcourt of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, who combined for 34 points and were the only starters in double figures. The game also featured the return of the Amherst bench, as Michael Riopel ‘18, Reid Berman ‘17 and Eric Conklin ‘17 combined for 30 points and carried the offense for large stretches. One thing to watch for Amherst is their low assist numbers. They only had 9 against Williams, and 7 of those came from the three bench players. They did a nice job exploiting mismatches against the Ephs, particularly McCarthy and Conklin, but against an elite defense like Wesleyan, they may need a more sustainable style, especially since Wesleyan has a stable of long, athletic guards to throw at Dawson.

For Wesleyan, this game is as close to a must-win as one can have in the second week of league play. Wesleyan dropped both their games last weekend, on the road to Middlebury and Hamilton. Wesleyan’s elite defense broke down for them in both games, giving up 83 and then 92, but it was a simple lack of offense that really did them in. Shooting 34% from the field won’t win you any games in a deep league like the NESCAC. Wesleyan particularly needs more consistency from their guards. Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17 combined for 31 against Middlebury, but couldn’t hit water from a boat against Hamilton, shooting 3-18 from the field. Wesleyan matches up very well defensively with Amherst, as Rafferty, Green and Kevin O’Brien ‘19 provide a nice rotation to throw at McCarthy and Dawson. And the floor spacing ability of Nathan Krill ‘19 could draw David George ‘17 from the paint, opening up driving lanes. But Krill has to control his emotions enough to stay on the floor (something he decidedly couldn’t do against Middlebury,) and Wesleyan has to drive in those lanes and make shots. If they don’t their chances of making the tournament could be in serious doubt.

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

Hamilton (10-2, 2-0) @ Bates (11-3, 2-0)

7:00 PM, Lewiston, Maine

Andrew Groll
Andrew Groll ’19 had a terrific weekend for Hamilton and also took home the “NESCAC player most likely to secretly be 39 years old” award. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

This is about as exciting a matchup as you can have from two unranked teams. Hamilton solidified their rollicking, offense-filled march to NESCAC relavance by handling both Connecticut College and then-#9 Wesleyan at home by scores of 86-70 and 92-76. The Continentals get their buckets in a variety of ways and from a variety of sources. They are led in scoring and on defense by sophomore forward Peter Hoffmann ‘19, so averages 17 a game and put up 21 (and seven blocks) against Conn College. But when Hoffmann struggled his way to 7 against Wesleyan, they more than picked up the slack. Andrew Groll ‘19 put up 20 points and 14 rebounds, and and super-subs Tim Doyle ‘19 and Kena Gilmour ‘20 led a bench attack that put up 38 points. Hamilton is young and loaded with talent, and the rest of the league should definitely be on notice.

Bates’ surprising run to relevance has been accomplished in almost the exact opposite way from Hamilton’s. They have ridden a punishing defense led by Malcolm Delpeche ‘17, who leads the league in blocks, and his twin brother Marcus, who is no defensive slouch himself. The towering Delpeche brothers allow Bates to play very aggressively on the perimeter, as either side has an eraser to wipe away their mistakes. Offensively, Bates sort of figures it out as they go. The Delpeche brothers are the keys to the offense as well, combining for 27.5 points per game. Additionally, they draw double teams in the post, leading to open three point shots. However if the pair of big men are struggling from the field, Bates doesn’t have a lot of depth to pick up the slack. They needed a stunning 23 point outburst from Tom Coyne ‘20 (who played just two minutes the night before) to scrape out 64-59 win over Bowdoin. This game is a classic good offense-good defense matchup, and factoring in the youth of Hamilton and the tremendous homecourt advantage that Bates enjoys in Alumni Gym, I see the Bobcats taking it.

Writer’s Pick: Bates

Trinity (9-5, 1-0) @ Connecticut College (8-4, 0-2)

7:00 PM, New London, Connecticut

Ed Ogundeko
Ed Ogundeko ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

All season it has seemed like Trinity was one other scoring option away from continuing their control of the NESCAC regular season. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has been a total monster all season, sitting at fourth in scoring at 17.1 PPG and first in rebounding at 10.7 REB/G. But he couldn’t do it alone, and Trinity entered league play at 8-5, the most losses in the league. However, the weekend showed that Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Jeremy Arthur ‘19 have the potential to be fine running mates for Big Ed. But it also showed that on some level he can do it himself. In a non league tilt against Pine Manor, Turnbull and Arthur combined for 34 points on 11-17 shooting, providing and excellent side hustle for Ogundeko’s 24 points and 12 rebounds. In Trinity’s win over Williams last Sunday, Turnbull and Arthur cooled off a bit, but were still able to combine for 24 points. Ogundeko did the rest, dominating the game to the tune of 15 points and 23 rebounds. Ogundeko may well be able to carry his team to the tournament, but if Arthur and Turnbull can really get going, it may be the NCAA tournament as well as the NESCAC.

Cind 1997.jpg
With Whoopi as her trainer, Brandi will take the Battle of the Cinderellas easily.

Connecticut College had their carriage turn back into a pumpkin over the course of the weekend. After a tough loss to Hamilton in a battle of the Cinderellas, they had to make the long drive to Vermont only to fall to Middlebury 97-89. (Sidenote, Battle of the Cinderellas might be a great movie idea. Every Cinderella ever comes together and fights each other for the title. My money is Brandi.) Zuri Pavlin ‘17, the Camels’ leading rebounder and scorer, battled a mysterious injury throughout the weekend, but even with him Connecticut may simply not have enough weapons to match up in the league this year. Fortunately for them, Trinity often struggles offensively as well. This game has the potential to keep Conn College’s tournament hopes alive, but I don’t see Ed Ogundeko letting that happen.

Writer’s Pick: Trinity

Williams (11-3, 0-2) @ Colby (7-6, 0-2)

7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine

Cole Teal ’17 was a bright spot for Williams, pouring in 26 points in their loss to Amherst. (courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Much like Wesleyan, Williams is drifting dangerously close to the edge of “must-win” territory  They drew a tough opening draw in facing then #3 Amherst to lead off league play, and dropped that game 80-72. They then dropped their second game to Trinity 65-63, an ugly offensive performance from a team that has prided itself on offensive efficiency over the last few years. Williams needs more from everybody, but Kyle Scadlock ‘19 had a particularly disappointing weekend. Amherst and Trinity were able to load up on star forward Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, leading to big games from Cole Teal (26 against Amherst) and Bobby Casey (21 against Trinity.) However, those two key players can’t seem to get hot at the same time, and Scadlock hasn’t been nearly aggressive enough to help Aronowitz make up for it. He only took 11 shots over the whole weekend, less than many NESCAC students do at one pregame. If Williams has any hope of climbing out of this whole, they will need him to live up to his potential and be a viable second scoring option behind Aronowitz.

Colby faces a similar situation to Williams in that simply no one on their team is shooting well enough. After a hot start to the season, Patrick Stewart ‘17 has been mired in a slump that is mirrored by his teammates. Over the weekend they shot under 38% from the field in both games, and under 30% from three. Unless the Mules get magically hot, it’s hard to imagine them pulling off the upset against the Ephs, who should be hungry to send a message to the league that they are still alive.

Writer’s Pick: Williams

An Intriguing Start: Week 1 Power Rankings 1/12

Johnny McCarthy ’18 was up to his old tricks this weekend leading Amherst to a 1-0 start in conference play (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).

This was a very fun weekend of NESCAC basketball. There were some predictable results, some upsets, and some up-and-comers made statements. I’ll save my talking for the individual team write-ups, but this league looks pretty competitive after the first weekend. Time will tell, but it’s good to see that the depth of the NESCAC is here to stay. Enjoy the power rankings.

1.) #5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0)

Amherst was one of two teams with just one win this weekend, but that is also because they were one of two teams with just one game. The Purple and White took down hated-rival Williams on Friday night 80-72 behind the play of usual suspects Jayde Dawson ‘17 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, who had 19 and 15 points respectively. However, as is also the norm with Amherst, it was a full team effort that powered them to victory – six total players had eight points or more, and Coach Hixon received 30 points off the bench. Meanwhile, Williams had more of a two-pronged attack between Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Cole Teal ‘18. Aronowitz put up what has become his standard 21-point/6-rebound performance, while Teal provided the Ephs with a deep threat, knocking down six three-pointers en route to 26 points on 9-16 shooting. Despite Teal’s efforts, it was the three-ball that killed the Ephs, as they were unable to keep up with Amherst’s deep-threat: Amherst hit 11 threes, while Williams sunk just eight, which proved to be the difference in the game. The Amherst offense was clicking on all cylinders on Friday, earning them the #1 nod in the power rankings.

2.) #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0)

Tufts got back to playing the type of basketball they know how to play this weekend with two pretty stress-free wins over Bowdoin and Colby. Tom Palleschi ‘17 and Tarik Smith ‘17 led the way for the Jumbos: Palleschi earned a double-double on Friday night with 16 points and 11 boards, which he followed up with a 10-point/9-rebound performance at Colby on Saturday. Meanwhile, Smith, who has consistently been the leader of the Jumbo offense this season, put up 17/6/7 on Friday and 11/7/3 on Saturday. Smith has been there for Tufts thus far, and different guys have rotated in with big games here and there, but Coach Sheldon has to be happy to see Palleschi starting to get hot. More importantly, as a team the Jumbos scored 82 points in the paint this weekend (out of 161 total points). That is a great sign for a team that plays best when they get to the basket. One Achilles Heel for Tufts is their performance from the charity stripe. Though the Jumbos are often towards the top of the league in free throw attempts, they are currently shooting 67.4% from the line, good for the second worst mark in the league. However, there may be a correlation here between poor free throw shooting and winning games, because Amherst is ranked last in the league in free throw percentage – I may be onto something here…In any event, with Tufts’ fast-paced offense and ridiculous number of FGA/G (~64), increasing that FT percentage by even a few percentage points could be the difference down the stretch of a couple tight games this weekend.

3.) #15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0)

Now I still don’t know the reason why, but some interesting news about Middlebury Basketball came to me NBN over the weekend (which Colby mentioned yesterday in his weekend review): Zach Baines is no longer a Panther. I don’t know why this is the case, and I don’t quite possess the sources that Chris Broussard and Adam Schefter do, so I don’t know if I’ll ever hear the full story. However, what I can tell you is that Baines is now an Occidental College Tiger

It’s unclear at this point how this will affect Middlebury in the long-run, but I can tell you this much: it did not affect them this weekend. The Panthers put up one of their most complete team performances of the season against Wesleyan on Friday, something that Wesleyan just couldn’t match. While their scoring was pretty widespread, Middlebury excelled on the defensive end by baiting Wesleyan into bad shots and feasting on their carelessness with the ball, the combination of which led to the eventual 18-point blowout. Saturday proved to be just as impressive for Midd, however this was more of a show of their offensive prowess than their defensive play. While the Panthers allowed a number of Camels to score pretty frequently, Middlebury really stuck it to Conn’s defense, especially Matt St. Amour ‘17, who followed up his 21-point performance on Friday with a 31-point special on Saturday. Frankly, the Panthers just shot the lights out, which was largely a result of their comfort sharing the rock. The 97-89 victory capped a nice weekend for the Panthers, who now head into their biggest test yet at Tufts on Friday.

 

4.) Hamilton (10-2, 2-0)

Well, well, well, it appears Hamilton is for real for real. The Continentals led the NESCAC in scoring before the break, which I thought was due to a less difficult out of conference schedule than some other teams play. I was wrong. Hamilton posted a pair of 16-point victories this weekend against Conn (86-70) and Wesleyan (92-76), proving that they are in fact ready to make a push in the ‘CAC. Their 87.3 PPG leads the league, while they do so at a pretty efficient rate of 47.5% shooting. Though they are a big deep threat, Hamilton has shown the ability to hit open shots from outside at times, allowing them to get into the paint, an area where they do quite a bit of damage. This past weekend’s success stemmed from an even distribution of scoring, as six players scored in double-digits on Friday and four did on Saturday, including two players off the bench each day. The trust of this young squad in one another screams maturity, and it certainly bodes well for the Continentals moving forward. They will face two other 2-0 squads this weekend at Bates and Tufts, which will be a big test for the Hamilton youth.

 

5.) Trinity (9-5, 1-0)

Ed Ogundeko (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Like last year, the Bantams looked a lot more impressive on the opening weekend of NESCAC play than they did during their non-conference schedule. As predicted, Trinity kept their sole contest of the weekend low-scoring, beating Williams by a score of 65-63 in Williamstown. On the year, Trinity is allowing just 66.4 PPG, while they are scoring 74.7. Seems like a formula for success, right? Well, their lack of playmakers definitely pointed towards a lower scoring output this weekend against the Ephs, but their ability to force Williams into tough shots is what won Trinity the game. They held Teal to just 3 points on 0-4 shooting, and Aronowitz was only able to drop 10 on the stingy Bantams defense. Meanwhile, Trinity’s slow-it-down style on offense proved to be very effective. While the Bants didn’t shoot the ball exceptionally well, they turned the ball over just 9 times. If Trinity can continue to take care of the ball like this and avoid empty trips on the offensive end, they are going to be alright. Oh, and I guess I should mention that NESCAC POW Ed Ogundeko ‘17 scored 15 and grabbed 23 boards. Not too shabby, Ed. If Ogundeko can maintain his high level of play, Trinity will continue to rack up wins against teams that lack a dominant big man.

 

6.) Bates (11-3, 2-0)

Tom Coyne had a big weekend for the Bobcats (Courtesy of Bates Athletics).

I honestly feel like this is too high for Bates, but until they prove to be unfit for the position, I can’t argue that Bates is deserving of the #6 ranking in the power rankings. Bates took care of business at Colby and at Bowdoin this weekend. Though the opponents are not the most impressive, any time you can sweep a road trip in the NESCAC, you are doing something right. The outside shooting on Friday night was pretty remarkable, as the Bobcats drained 9-19 three-pointers en route to a 13-point victory. Add that to their solid defense and the Colby game had ‘Bates W’ written all over it. On Saturday, the offense was stifled by the Bowdoin D a bit, but Tom Coyne ‘20 stepped up in a big way by adding 23 points for the Bobcats. Despite these two solid victories, one thing jumps out as a concern about Bates in the long-run. First of all, they don’t really get to the free throw line. Bates only shot 22 free throws this weekend – that is bad. On a team where your two big men are supposed to be the dominant forces, it’s just unacceptable to only be attempting 11 FTA/G in NESCAC play. You can’t argue that it was the matchups either, because while Bates is tied for most games played in the conference, they have attempted the second-least free throws in the league! Bates is not going to beat teams in transition, and frankly, they have no desire to (they scored zero fastbreak points this weekend). That’s fine. But Bates cannot rely on the three-ball like they have so far as they face more and more teams that are very familiar with their style of play. Bates is doing fine for now, but they are going to need a more consistent effort out of their interior players if they want to make things happen throughout the rest of the NESCAC season.

 

7.) Williams (11-3, 0-2)

Williams was dealt a tough hand to start conference play, and they were not able to perform. On Friday night, the Ephs lost a close battle to Amherst simply because they allowed Amherst to outshoot them on the perimeter. Teal did all he could, but the Ephs simply couldn’t muster up the same type of outside shooting that their bitter rival did. Williams also did a pretty poor job of getting to the foul line, attempting just 12 free throws compared to Amherst’s 20, and if not for the ugly performance of the Purple and White at the free throw line, this game probably wouldn’t have been too close. It was a completely different story on Sunday, Williams simply couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from three-point range, shooting a measly 26.1% from beyond the arc. The issue for Williams right now is that their big men are not doing their job as well as they could be. The Ephs were posted a rebounding margin of -14 on the weekend, highlighting their shortcomings inside. There are some positives, however. Williams played two very strong teams this weekend. Amherst is ranked #5 in the nation, while Trinity is starting to come into their own as of late and just so happens to be the biggest matchup nightmare that Williams will encounter in Ogundeko. While this doesn’t make Williams feel better, necessarily, it makes their losses more understandable. Another encouraging sign is that Bobby Casey ‘19 stepped up on Sunday when Teal and Aronowitz didn’t, so they have other guys that can get the job done. Williams is still growing, and once they learn to put it all together, they will be very good.

 

8.) Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2)

Now I admit, Hamilton and Middlebury are two of the better teams in this league, but getting blown out by 18 in the NESCAC opener is not ideal. Wesleyan, a team that had looked pretty dominant through their first 11 games, has now fallen into a three-game slide. Against Middlebury, the root of Wesleyan’s problems was their inability to take care of the rock. 21 turnovers and a -8 turnover margin is not conducive to winning basketball games, plain and simple. Not to mention they shot 4-17 from deep. You know that saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, Wesleyan, your jump shots were broken beyond repair on Friday night – when that is the case, you’ve gotta take the ball to the hoop, especially when it’s working! Aside from those four threes, every single point was scored in either the paint or at the free throw line. It was pretty much the same story on Saturday against Hamilton: 5-17 from beyond the arc, 53 points at either the free throw line or in the paint, and an L in the turnover battle. It may not be the change Wesleyan needs, but it couldn’t hurt to mix in a mid-range jumper from time to time. Or just to stop shooting threes altogether. Wesleyan is best when they go to the rim, and I think they need to do so this weekend if they want to bounce back from their 0-2 start.

 

9.) Conn College (8-4, 0-2)

Now I admit, Hamilton and Middlebury are two of the better teams in this league, but getting blown out by 16 in the NESCAC opener is not ideal. Wait, didn’t I just write that about Wesleyan? The answer is yes, but that’s because the two had pretty similar opening NESCAC weekends. Like Wesleyan, Conn lost to Hamilton and Middlebury this weekend. Unlike Wesleyan, however, they managed to keep the game against Middlebury pretty close. Conn also couldn’t hit water from a boat on Friday, shooting 5-25 from three, but they turned it around on Saturday against Middlebury, shooting 10-27, leading to a much higher scoring and closer game. There are two areas that I’m most impressed by in Conn. First, they are second in the league in assists, showing a willingness and ability to share the ball and play as a team. As a result, there is no single Camel that scores far more than the rest, but rather there is a 6-player cluster scoring between 9.7 and 13.7 PPG. Second, Conn is also ranked second in offensive rebounds, demonstrating their competitive desire and toughness. While this Camels roster is still flooded with youth, they are working very hard, which is going to pay off at some point. They had a tough opening weekend, but Conn is undoubtedly a playoff contender.

 

10.) Bowdoin (8-6, 0-2)

Like I foresaw, Bowdoin’s lack of depth is already proving to be somewhat of an issue. While David Reynolds ‘20 is proving to be a pretty significant contributor for the Polar Bears, it stems more from a necessity than a bonus. The starting lineup is struggling to support Jack Simonds ’19 in the scoring department, and as we saw on Friday, when teams shut down Simonds, they shut down the Polar Bears. Simonds was held to 11 points on 4-11 shooting against Tufts, and the other four starters combined for just 20 points. Had Reynolds not come off the bench and dropped 14, this could have been an even wider margin than the 23 point deficit the Polar Bears ended up with when the final buzzer sounded. On Saturday, the scoring was a little more evenly spread, but on their better offensive day of the weekend, Bowdoin scored just 59 points. This could stem from the -10 rebounding differential the Polar Bears ended up with. They just weren’t able to put together a complete game this weekend, which is why they ended up with an 0-2 conference record. It doesn’t Bowd (bode) well for the Polar bears this weekend as they host Williams, who is equally hungry for a win.

 

11.) Colby (7-6,0-2)

After beating the Bobcats on a buzzer beater in a non-conference contest back in December, the Mules threw up a goose egg this weekend and received two tallies in the L-column with losses to Bates and Tufts. In their two weekend games, Colby shot 18-69 from deep. 69 three-point attempts in two games! That’s ludicrous. Especially when you shoot just 26.1% from three on the weekend, it’s just bananas to imagine jacking up that many shots from beyond the arc. No wonder they only went to the foul line 15 times this weekend. Don’t let their 14-point loss to Tufts fool you either, this game was not close. Tufts was up by 33 at one point, but they got lazy and let Colby creep back a bit – this game was never in question though. Colby has the worst field goal percentage in the NESCAC, and that is not going to change if they don’t improve their shot selection. It could be a long year for the Mules unless they make some big changes offensively.

An Opening Salvo: Weekend Preview Part One

Bobby Casey is willing to go to the end of the earth and back to get Williams a win over hated-rival Amherst. That, and this picture was too good not to include (sorry Bobby). (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Remember early in the season when we thought the league might be less chaotic this season? We were wrong. For the first time ever, there are five NESCAC teams in the D3Hoops.com Top 25, with Middlebury (22) and Williams (25) joining Amherst (3), Tufts (8) and Wesleyan (9) after impressive tournament wins coming back from break. And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Amherst and Wesleyan both lost on Tuesday night, throwing both the NESCAC and national rankings into a state of chaos mirrored only by the American political climate. And to add still ANOTHER layer of intrigue, four of the five ranked teams face each other on Friday night, kicking off what promises to be a spectacular season of league games. Amherst and Williams renew the biggest little rivalry in sports, and Middlebury takes on Wesleyan at home in a game that I think I might just try to attend if I’m not too busy. Oh yeah, and the other teams play too. Let’s break down those two marquee match-ups, and the rest of the games around the league.

GAME OF THE WEEK: #3 Amherst @ #25 Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Overview:

Image result for globo gym purple cobras
I’m not saying that Amherst reminds me of the Purple Cobras…but I am saying it and have said it several times in the past on this very blog.

NESCAC’s version of the Average Joes-Globo Gym rivalry returns on Friday night, as Williams and Amherst square off in as important a game as one can hope for in the opening weekend of league play. After opening the season at #1 in the country and looking fairly unstoppable over the first couple weeks, Amherst has dropped two out of their last three. The chief reasons for their sudden mortality are on offense. They turned the ball over 17 times in their loss to Eastern Connecticut on Tuesday, and shot only 36% in a loss to Springfield last week. The depth the people raved about for Amherst early in the season is in disarray. Eric Conklin is the only bench player who has made a difference for Amherst lately, as his minutes have jumped up due to the inconsistent (to be diplomatic) play of starting center David George ‘17. Amherst has too often relied on the volume scoring of Jayde Dawson and the efficiency of Johnny McCarthy to keep them in games.

Williams comes in on almost the exact opposite track. Impressive wins over Hope and Mount Union in the Mount Union Classic vaulted the Ephs into the top 25, and they maintained their position with a (somewhat lackluster) 74-62 win over Oneonta St. on Tuesday. In a departure from the last few years, the Ephs have recently won despite poor showings from three point land. Williams is hovering around 28% in their last three games, and yet they are 3-0. This is due to an excellent team defense, and honestly, the play of sophomore forward Kyle Scadlock. After a slow start to the year, Scadlock has averaged 19 PPG in the last three, bringing to life the star leap that some projected after an impressive freshman year. Shooting struggles aside, Williams has to love the spot they’re in entering league play, and Amherst certainly shouldn’t be thrilled with theirs.

X-Factors

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Coach David Hixon diagramming a play during an Amherst timeout.

For Amherst it has to be pure, elemental anger. Yeah they’ve lost a couple games, but every team will at some point. But to be the pre-season #1 and have to hear idiot pundits like myself and even their own fans cry gloom and doom must royally tick them off. Williams is an excellent team, but this is Amherst basketball we’re talking about here. They were #1 for a reason: they have loads of good players, and they are coached by the legendary David Hixon, who is certainly capable of whipping these guys into shape. A rivalry win in the opening weekend of league play would be a delicious way to remind the league why they were at the top in the first place.

Cole Teal
Cole Teal ’17 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams has been winning without three point shooting, but that will get far more difficult to do against elite opponents like Amherst. The Ephs will have trouble getting good looks in the paint against Amherst’s length, meaning that perimeter shots will have to make up the difference. Additionally, Williams does not match up well defensively with Dawson and McCarthy, the backcourt that makes Amherst’s engines run. Therefore, Williams will have to hit some threes to keep pace. This makes Cole Teal ‘17 a major key (shout out: DJ Khaled) to this game, and to the remainder of the season. Teal is capable of insane hot streaks and insane cold streaks, but lately he has been doing far more of the latter. He was quiet in Mt. Union, shooting just 1-5 over the two games, but he bounced back with a nice night against Oneonta, tallying 15 points on 3-5 shooting from deep. Teal will need to be hot against Amherst both to score from the perimeter and open up the middle for Scadlock and Aronowitz.

Final Thoughts

Both teams have struggled to find production at the five this season. Williams has spun their “Random Center” wheel several times this season, but so far none of them have been winners. Meanwhile, David George of Amherst has been like the parents from Stranger Things: there in person, but pretty lackluster and ignores a lot of responsibilities. This should lead to a tight, high scoring game, one that I would tend to favor Williams in, as they’re at home. But Williams has no answer for McCarthy and Dawson, both of whom can swing a game themselves. It’s a toss up at this point, the best possible projection for a rivalry game of this magnitude.

Writer’s Pick: Williams.

#9 Wesleyan @ #22 Middlebury: 7:00 PM, Middlebury, Vermont

Overview:

Image result for breakaway by kelly clarkson
Wesleyan will be trying to finally BREAK AWAY from Middlebury on Friday night.

Middlebury has not lost to Wesleyan since 2004. Let that sink in. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Matt St. Amour was 10 years old. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, the greatest song of all time (and my go-to karaoke song) “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson had just been released. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Mel Gibson was still a marketable movie star. That said, Wesleyan looked poised to break that streak until Tuesday night. After starting off 11-0 and beating #4 Marietta, Wesleyan was knocked off pace by Rhode Island College 62-55. The loss to RIC featured many of the problems that have plagued Wesleyan in league play over the last few years, namely a lack of offensive firepower and shot-making down the stretch. Standout guards Harry Rafferty ‘17 and Salim Green ‘19 combined for 2 points on 1-15 shooting, numbers that many experts have referred to as “bad.” Wesleyan will not win if they don’t get production from the perimeter, and Middlebury is arguably the best perimeter defensive team in the league. Additionally, the loss of defensive stopper PJ Reed will hurt Wesleyan’s efforts to slow down the run-and-gun Panther offense.

Middlebury enters league play with momentum, but some depth problems. Sophomore guard Hilal Dahleh remains out with a back injury, and forward Zach Baines ‘17 will likely miss the weekend as well. These are two valuable weapons that the Middlebury offense will dearly miss, particularly from a floor-spacing perspective. However, in the Staten Island Tournament of Heroes (DOPE name for a tournament by the way,) Middlebury weathered those losses and a prolonged shooting slump from Matt St. Amour ‘17 to win the championship and vault into the top 20. They owe their success to a two-game stretch of excellent defense, and the heroics of Jack Daly ‘18, who continued his low-key All-League candidacy with a buzzer beater over #17 Illinois-Wesleyan (as well as 14/7/7.5 averages.) In Staten Island, Middlebury showed the toughness to rise to the top of the loaded NESCAC, but they will need to hit outside shots more conistently to beat the elite Wesleyan defense.

X-Factors:

While Daly and St. Amour were certainly the MVPs of Middlebury’s tournament, it was contributions from the bench that allowed the Panthers to weather tough shooting from the starters. And the stand-out player from the Middlebury bench was freshman forward Matt Folger.

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

Folger is an excellent shooter who had threes in both games of the tournament, but defensively was where he really set himself apart. The lanky forward had four blocks over the two games, including three in the championship. Folger’s combination of size, athleticism and timing make him the interior defensive force that Middlebury has been lacking. He and Nick Tarantino will be crucial in stopping Wesleyan’s post duo of Joseph Kuo ‘17 and Nathan Krill ‘18.

 

Wesleyan’s defense is far from in doubt. They are the number one field goal defense in the country, and boast a perimeter defense that is uniquely able to shut down Middlebury’s three-headed dog of excellent guards. However, Wesleyan simply has to score, and the person most responsible for that is Salim Green ‘19. Green is an exceptional defender, but Middlebury is too deep and fast for Wesleyan to pound the ball and win 55-50. Green will need to score and push the pace if Wesleyan has any hope of ending their 11 year losing streak against the Panthers.

Final Thoughts:

Of all the teams in the league, Middlebury may be the best equipped to handle the indefinite losses of Dahleh and Baines. They have great chemistry and experienced leaders at the helm, as well as a deep bench that is rounding into shape at exactly the right time. But “handling” losses isn’t the same as fixing the holes they create. Middlebury is vulnerable right now, particularly in outside shooting and interior defense. These are the areas that Wesleyan will look to exploit on Friday night. However, Wesleyan has no chance if they shoot anything like the way they did on Tuesday. Someone besides Joseph Kuo needs to put the ball in the basket for the Cardinals, or else their league season will look very different from their first 12 games.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

#8 Tufts @ Bowdoin: 7:00 PM, Brunswick, Maine

Of course I hate Tufts, a six fingered man from Tufts killed my father.

I was going to let Rory handle this one, since according to an intrepid commenter I “hate Tufts,” but I think I’ll be able to handle it. I certainly do not hate Tufts, I just left them off the Awards Preview because none of their individual players have stood out yet from a postseason honors standpoint. That could certainly change in league play, particularly as Vincent Pace ‘18 gets healthier and healthier. Pace returned early in the season from a knee injury, and is still rounding himself back into form. When 100% he is certainly one of the best all around players in the league, capable of leading Tufts to a NESCAC title. This opening weekend will be a good test of just how ready he is to take on a heavy minutes load.

Bowdoin, on the other hand, has their star very much ready to go. Jack Simonds ‘19 is leading the league in scoring at 23.3 PPG, and the Polar Bears for the most part rise as far as he can take them. However, on Tuesday night they had a nice win over Bridgewater State despite Simonds having “only” 17. Sophomore guard Jack Bors had 23 off the bench, and forward Neil Fuller ‘17 added 15. We haven’t seen this balance from Bowdoin yet this year, and if it continues in league play, Bowdoin could definitely make some noise. Tufts has a huge edge in this game, but don’t count the Polar bears out just yet.

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Bates @Colby: 7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine

Jeff Spellman
Jeff Spellman ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

With the Brothers Delepche manning the middle, Bates was always scary defensively. But transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has given the Bobcats some needed offensive punch off the bench. Spellman was a fairly sought after D1 recruit coming out of high school, and committed to Stonehill College. However, he transferred to Bates before playing at all, and immediately hurt his ankle. The 6’2” guard made his NESCAC debut against Farmingdale State on the 29th, and had 13 points off the bench on Tuesday in a big road win against Brandeis. With a terrific defense and a revitalized offense, Bates is looking a little scary.

Entering their non-conference matchup with Bates on December 10th, Colby had lost four out of five and appeared to be carving out a spot at the bottom of the league. But they pulled out a gritty win in that game, and then another in their first game back against UMaine-Farmington. Like the Starship Enterprise, Colby is led by Patrick Stewart ‘19, who averages over 16 points per game. This game might not be critical at the top of the standings come the end of the season, but it is certainly a matter of pride for the Maine rivalries, and also will help determine which of these teams  (if any) make the final cut for the NESCAC playoffs.

Writer’s pick: Bates

Connecticut College @ Hamilton:

This game will fly under the radar due to the Middlebury-Wesleyan and Williams-Amherst games, but it is quietly a fascinating match-up that could have major ramifications at the end of the year. Connecticut College has played with tremendous balance all season. They have four players averaging over 10 points per game, including the front-runner for the made-up NESCAC Sixth Man of the Year award in Isaiah Robinson ‘18. Robinson averages 10 per game off the bench on 45.2% shooting from three. Robinson’s offense off the bench has been critical in Connecticut College’s success, as an efficient offense has masked a mediocre defense at times for the Camels.

Speaking of efficient offenses, Hamilton leads the league in points per game at 87, and is third in shooting percentage at 48.3. The Continentals are led by a trio of stellar sophomores. Peter Hoffmann, Michael Grassey and and Tim Doyle all average over 13 points a game and shoot over 50% from the field. This youth is obviously a benefit, as this core could make Hamilton a player for the next couple years at least. However, it may also hurt them during league play. These players are not used to playing meaningful minutes in league play; Hamilton was not a contender during their freshman campaign. Connecticut College is older and more experienced (though still pretty young), and that could help them if this game comes down to the wire. Additionally, Hoffmann, Hamilton’s leading scorer and best defender, is only shooting 47.2% from the foul line. If the game is close in the final minutes, Connecticut College may try to exploit this, forcing Hamilton to choose whether or not to have him on the floor.

Writer’s Pick: Hamilton

Trinity @ Pine Manor: 3:00 PM, Brookline, Massachusetts

Writing about a non-league game after all this excitement makes me a little bit tired, but I’m going to write through it because #BlogIsLife. Pine Manor has had an uneven start to the season, standing at 7-4. Their only other NESCAC matchup was an early season 97-96 loss to Colby. However, from my extensive research on their season (a cursory glance at their website,) Pine Manor looks to be a pretty tough matchup for Trinity. They play at a blinding pace, taking 81 shots per game, which is a full 22 (!) more than the infamously slow Bantams. This game looks like it will be less of a basketball game and more of an ideological debate regarding the nature of the sport.

Speaking of Trinity, they have been one of the toughest teams to figure out in the early months of the season. They started off the year losing three of four, and then a nice win over Springfield (three straight NCAA berths, has beaten Amherst and Conn College) made it appear that they had righted the ship. But they followed that up with a terrible loss to Susquehanna and another loss against a very good Eastern Connecticut team, and they were back down again. And finally, they just put up by far their best performance of the year against Plattsburgh, scoring 107 points and shooting 66% from the field. The Bantams have struggled to find any consistent perimeter scoring around center Ed Ogundeko, but against Plattsburgh they proved that they can beat anyone when they have it. This game will be a crucial final tuneup for Trinity as they look to make a run in league play.

Writer’s Pick: Pine Manor