Rivalry Week: Williams @ Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

#11 Williams (12-3, 3-1) @ #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1), Saturday, January 20, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Overview:

The Ephs and the Panthers have become the NESCAC equivalent of the Cavs and Warriors in recent years. The teams met three times last season, including for the NESCAC Championship and in the NCAA Elite Eight. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, beating Middlebury in Pepin Gymnasium to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have carried over that success into this season. They are each ranked in the top 20 in the country, and have battled it out for the top spot in the league all season, along with Wesleyan and Hamilton.

However, both teams are far from unbeatable. Williams is without their star player, Kyle Scadlock ’19, for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Middlebury’s shooting struggles are starting to become incredibly worrying. Middlebury’s NESCAC loss is to Wesleyan, whom Williams beat for their best win. And Williams’ lone NESCAC loss is to Tufts, whom Middlebury just beat handily at home for their best win. All this is to say that both these teams are again tremendously evenly matched, and this game should have huge ramifications for league standings and the playoff picture overall.

Middlebury X-Factor: G Max Bosco ’21

Max Bosco ’21
(Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

At first glance, this pick might seem to be coming out of left field. Bosco has played fewer minutes than his fellow first year guards Jack Farrell ’21 and Griffin Kornacker ’21, primarily due to his smaller stature and struggles to create shots for others off the dribble. Farrell and Kornacker are both miles ahead of Bosco defensively at this point, and Joey Leighton ’20 is certainly more confident offensively. But Bosco can really shoot the ball. He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances yet, but his stroke is as sweet as anyone’s. Middlebury is the worst three point shooting team in the league, and second worst overall from the field. The clutch heroics of Jack Daly and excellent team defense will not be able to save the Panthers against Williams; they have to hit some outside shots to match Williams’ three point heavy attack. Bosco is capable of doing so. Additionally, his defensive struggles will not be as pronounced against the Ephs. Bobby Casey ’20 and Mike Greenman ’18, and even Cole Teal ’18, are an excellent group of players, but they are not large. Casey and Teal will be handled by Daly and Hilal Dahleh ’19, leaving Bosco matched with the 5’8″ Greenman. Bosco has a great opportunity this game to do what he does best; hit shots.

Williams X-Factor: F Matt Karpowicz ’20

We gave Karpowicz a lot of love in the stock report earlier this week, and that’s not just because he wrote some average football articles for us in the fall. Karpowicz is often unstoppable on the block, shooting 73% from the field, almost all in the paint. He splits time with Michael Kempton ’19, another very large person. As longtime reader Howard Herman pointed out, the two players offer very different looks for the offense. Kempton is a distributor, averaging 2 assists per game despite only playing 15 minutes. However, he is not a scoring threat, only shooting 42% from the field. Karpowicz is a game-changing scorer, and draws a lot of attention on the block, freeing up dominant shooters like Casey and James Heskett ’19. Indeed, in Williams’ closer games he ends up playing most of the crunch time minutes. I expect Middlebury to get a far heavier dose of Karpowicz than Kempton. Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ’18 is a great athlete, but struggles with strong post scorers who can back him down and neutralize his length and leaping ability. And Adisa Majors ’18 is simply undersized, no matter which big man Williams has in. This means that Eric McCord ’19 is the guy, and has to avoid the foul trouble that hurt him against Albertus Magnus. In a game in which Middlebury must game plan heavily for Casey and Heskett, Karpowicz is the guy for whom Middlebury has no answer for on their roster.

Expect Matt Karpowicz to far exceed is 15 minutes per game on Saturday.

Final Thoughts:

James Heskett is certainly on the short list for Player of the Year, along with his teammate Bobby Casey, Jack Daly and Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour. He’s very long, with a gorgeous jump shot and incredible quickness for his size. Indeed, he’s been arguably the best shooter in the league this season, hitting 51% from the field and 43% from three. Luckily for Middlebury, however, they have one of the only players in the league who can match his skill set, if not his efficiency, in Matt Folger ’20. Along with the rest of the Panthers, Folger’s shooting numbers have taken a hit of late, but he is still a deadly scorer inside and out. And more importantly for this match up, he is miles ahead of Heskett defensively. Heskett’s skill set and athleticism have not yet translated to that end, as he averages just 0.3 blocks per game and 0.9 steals. Even more jarring is that he averages just 3.8 rebounds a night, despite being 6’8.” Folger, on the other end, has clearly focused on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the league in blocks at 2.4, and grabs 8.1 rebounds a night. If Folger can outscore Heskett, Middlebury has a good chance to win.

James Heskett and Matt Folger are the crucial matchup to watch.

Rebounding may well be the key to Middlebury’s chances in this game. The Panthers are a bona fide dominant team on the glass. Their numbers are skewed by pulling down a ridiculous 70 against Tufts, but they still lead the league in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and are second in rebounding margin. Williams is towards the bottom of the league in all of those categories. For a team that struggles shooting like Middlebury does, offensive rebounds are a must have statistic, and were what kept them in the game against Tufts until they pulled away in the second half. Williams is a team Middlebury can bully on the glass, creating second chances if shots aren’t falling.

Last thing: this could be a huge game for Jack Daly. He historically raises his game against Williams, but this isn’t just his already covered “clutch gene.” Williams doesn’t really have an answer for his strength at the guard spots. Greenman is far too small, and Bobby Casey isn’t particularly strong  defensively. In fact, Williams doesn’t have a single player averaging more than one steal per game. Even their big men are occaisionally timid inside, with the notable exception of Karpowicz. This means that Daly is usually able to get to the basket easily against the Ephs. He’ll draw attention to the paint, and he’s the best in the country at finding open players once he gets around the basket. The key will be how many shots those players can hit.

Writer’s Prediction: 

No longtime readers will be surprised by this, but I think Middlebury, on the backs of Jack Daly and an assuredly raucous home crowd, pulls this one out.

Middlebury 75, Williams 71

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

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

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

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

This Week: @ Amherst

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

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

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

This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury

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

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

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

This Week: vs. Williams

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

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

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

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

This Week: vs. Bates

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

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

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

This Week: vs. Conn College

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

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

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

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

This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton

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

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

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

This Week: Non-Conference

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

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

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

This Week: @ Tufts

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

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

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

Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby

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

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

Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity

This Week @ Bowdoin

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

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

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

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

This Week: @ Wesleyan

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

Muddying the Water: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/16

Muddying the Water: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/16

This week we got everything we expect out of a weekend of NESCAC basketball: absolutely no clarity in the standings. We got no help this week trying to decide who is better than who, but this is what we love about our conference. Wesleyan looked like they were ready to make a jump to the top but has struggled recently, Middlebury is too hot and cold for us to get a read on, and we still don’t find ourselves completely sold on Hamilton. It’s still too early in the year for us to identify any major trends, and the standings don’t give us much to work with yet. I guess that leaves it up to the analysts to decide what’s really going on in the NESCAC this week:

Stock up

Middlebury F Eric McCord ‘19

Eric McCord
Eric McCord ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

In a league devoid of elite big men, McCord ’19 has been a consistent force down low for the Panthers. After starting off the season injured and struggling a bit as he worked his way back into shape, McCord had a breakout weekend, particularly against Tufts.  On a team that has several perimeter scoring threats, McCord makes his living on the glass and in the paint. He had himself a huge game in a win over the Jumbos, netting 13 points and hauling in 15 rebounds. Tufts came into the game hot after taking down Williams on Friday night for their 9th straight victory, so this was a statement win by the Panthers. The big man duo of Nick Tarantino ’18 and Eric McCord ’19 certainly don’t get a ton of press  on a team with Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, but they understand their role, and McCord especially has them emerging as one of the most efficient front courts in the NESCAC.

Wesleyan F Nathan Krill ‘18

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

We have talked a lot this year about Jordan Bonner ’19 and Kevin O’Brien ’19 making the difference for this Cardinal squad. It’s time to talk about Nathan Krill ’18, because he is showing that Wesleyan is more than just those two players. Krill isn’t a super star by any means, but he is producing exactly at the level that he needs to be as a role player for this team. Against Hamilton, Krill netted 9 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, then followed that up with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double in a huge win over Little Three rival Amherst. Krill has historically been a very streaky player, capable of both monster games and derailing the whole team with poor shooting and attitude. This season has seen him stay within himself more, a good sign for the Cardinals. Wesleyan needs to step it up a bit following their big win over Middlebury, and perhaps this will be fueled by Krill  expanding his role a bit, because he has shown us that he is capable of doing so.

Stock down

Wesleyan’s Ascension

A few week’s ago, I wrote about how Wesleyan had begun to prove themselves, and they looked like the class of the NESCAC. Well, here I am, doubting everything I once said. After the Cardinals defeated the mighty Ephs on the road, in overtime, when they still had Kyle Scadlock, they looked like they were ready to compete for a championship. They have still given us plenty of reasons to believe they’re legit (see Nathan Krill ’18), but it is hard to really decide where they fall amongst the NESCAC’s elite. They were able to beat Amherst and Middlebury, two very legit wins, but they also fell to Hamilton and Williams the second time in the game that counted. The Cardinals are definitely a team capable of beating anyone (as they showed against Middlebury), but they aren’t quite ready to say that they’re here to stay at the top of the league, especially with Hamilton ascending and Middlebury figuring themselves out a bit against Tufts.

Wesleyan has fced down NESCAC’s best, and come out with a 2-2 record. That’s good, but they’re still not a guaranteed #1.

Williams’ Big Man Battle

The Ephs had a tough weekend, falling at home to Tufts in a hard fought game before taking care of Bates the following day. The Jumbos are a very good team, and Williams isn’t in the “stock down” category for any reason other than the fact that their frontcourt situation is as confusing as the plot of Inception. Matt Karpowicz ’20 and Michael Kempton ’19 make up undoubtedly the largest big man duo in the league, with Karpowicz standing at 6’8”, 250lbs and Kempton at 6’10”, 235lbs. From an outsider’s perspective, it is a mystery why Karpowicz isn’t seeing more time. Take this past weekend for instance; Karpowicz had 9 points, 10 rebounds against Tufts and 10 points, 11 rebounds against Bates. Kempton had 4 points, 3 rebounds against Tufts and 2 points, 3 rebounds against Bates. Karpowicz shot 67%, Kempton shot 38%. These numbers were all while both Kempton and Karpowicz were playing nearly identical minutes. This weekend was a microcosm for the entire year, because Karpowicz is obviously the more athletic and talented player, yet Kempton starts and splits the minutes. Williams isn’t playing especially poorly at the moment, but it is confusing why they wouldn’t use Matt Karpowicz ’20 more to bring themselves to a higher level.

Matt Karpowicz ’20 is one of the most talented big men in the league.

Perfection on the Line: Men’s Basketball Game of the Week

#14 Wesleyan (10-2, 1-1) @ #18 Hamilton (12-o, 1-0), 7:00 PM, Clinton, NY

And as we dive into the second weekend of NESCAC play there is already a game that will test two teams’ long term capabilities. Hamilton and Wesleyan are due to square off in this marquee matchup on Friday January 12th in Clinton, NY. The home team, Hamilton, has dominated their non-conference schedule and carried that momentum into their first NESCAC game against Trinity, and Wesleyan conquered the mighty Middlebury Panthers and nearly toppled Williams in an OT loss last weekend. In what has been an obscure first conference weekend in terms of power rankings (although you can read all about how Cameron deciphered last weekend’s results in the 1/10 rankings here:) this game should help clear up what the tumultuous beginning has left unclear, and be our best evidence yet as to whether or not Hamilton is legit.

Wesleyan relies on a dominant defense and timely scoring from players like Kevin O’Brien ’19.

Overview:

Wesleyan sits at 14th and Hamilton at 18th in the national poll. One year removed from being a disappointing last seed in the NESCAC playoffs, the Continentals are living up to their incredible talent this season. With versatile scorers like Michael Grassey ’19 and Peter Hoffmann ’19 surrounding stud Kena Gilmour ’20, Hamilton has, on paper, the strongest starting five in the league. Wesleyan, who was more expected to succeed in 2018, is also deep with experienced talent and their position in 2017 as a NESCAC semifinalist and NCAA tournament team would’ve favored them in this game a month ago. However, following losses in two of the Cardinals’ last three games, the home Hamilton squad can hardly be considered an underdog. After returning all of their 2017 starters, the system is in place for Hamilton’s continued success and it shows in their balanced stat sheet and in their win over Trinity last weekend 78-55. And Trinity beat Amherst the previous day 69-63, proving that they weren’t going to just roll over. Wesleyan has weapons on all parts of the floor too, although Jordan Bonner ’19 has seemed to have lost a bit of accuracy shooting lately. Hamilton averages almost 95 points per game, but they should be limited by Wesleyan’s defense, ranking third in rebounds, turnovers, and points allowed per game (64.5) in the conference. 

Wesleyan X-Factor: G Jordan Bonner ’19

Jordan Bonner
Jodan Bonner ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

I’m not trying to pick on Bonner here, as we already did that a little bit in our most recent stock report, but in the last five games (Wesleyan is 3-2 in that span, including their only losses), his shooting totals have fallen off of the table. The stock report discusses his ridiculous 10-33 performance, looking like Kobe during his retirement tour, but that isn’t the only blemish. Cumulatively in the last five games, Bonner is 22-71 from the field (31%) and 10-40 from beyond the arc (25%). He started off the year hot and owns respectable numbers from the entire season (40% FG; 33.8% 3 PT), but the league is littered with players who started off hot and then fell off the face of the earth once league play began and defenses adjusted. Sure, Wesleyan has Kevin O’Brien ’19, Nathan Krill ’18, and Austin Hutcherson ’21 who are having solid seasons, but Bonner still leads the team in points at 16.9 PPG, and if he doesn’t improve his shooting given the pure volume of attempts he takes, Hamilton’s offense will be too much to overcome.

Hamilton X-Factor: G Kena Gilmour ‘20

Kena Gilmour
Kena Gilmour ’20 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Albeit not a particularly exciting pick, Gilmour completes the matchup to watch of this game. Likely to guard Bonner for at least part of the contest, the Continental scoring leader should have his hands full if he is to help limit the Wesleyan offense. With two blocks and eight rebounds against Trinity last weekend, Gilmour is nearly as much of a defensive force as an offensive one, leading his team with 18.5 PPG. In this breakout season, his shooting numbers have been excellent, at 37% 3 PT on the season and over 50% from the field, he is nearly a lock to score over 20 points, tipping the scales in favor of the home team. Gilmour is the catalyst of the offense that ranks ninth in the nation in points per game and will see his toughest test this weekend against a strong Wesleyan defense. This matchup should reveal just how legit Hamilton’s offense is, and if Gilmour rolls on, the team will too.

Final Thoughts:

Despite being one of only four undefeated teams remaining in all of Division 3 basketball, Hamilton still has not joined the teams that are considered the ‘real deal.’ The Continentals are top-10 in the nation in two statistical categories, including the aforementioned points, along with scoring margin (8th). And yet, they still have to prove themselves in league play. This is their chance, and boy do they have the tools. They play as a unit, and after developing together for a season, now that all of their starters are back for a second season, they should be able to maintain this success into at least a top-4 NESCAC finish. I’ve been on the Hamilton train since the beginning of the 2017 season–showing that I was a bit premature with my support–and am a believer that they are a force to be reckoned with. However, they will be heavily tested by the best teams in the conference.

While I have talked plenty about Hamilton’s hot start, I need not forget that Wesleyan knocked off former national #2 Middlebury, and came dang close to doing the same against Williams. Kevin O’Brien is the most dynamic player on the court for either side in this game, averaging over six assists and rebounds per game, while also shooting at a 61.7 clip. Despite only averaging 8.4 PPG, he is certainly capable of scoring more, showing in 16 and 18 point performances earlier this year against Mitchell and Nichols, respectively, settling into a more pass happy role ever since. If Bonner continues to struggle with accuracy, look for O’Brien to pick up the intensity and bear some of the scoring burden. The Cardinals have undoubtedly played a harder schedule thus far, but despite their opponents, their 78.9 PPG average doesn’t quite keep up with the 94.8 PPG of Hamilton. So, two questions remain: Will Wesleyan’s defense be able to stifle the Hamilton offense? Do Hamilton fans understand how hot their team has started off and how to give them an edge in their home gym (this is a challenge)? I say no, and yes.

Writer’s Pick: Hamilton 86-83

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

Hot Seat:

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

 

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

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

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

Cool Throne:

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

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

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

 

No One’s Rising: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/9

An unnamed coach recently told me that this NESCAC season is the most wide-open one he’s seen in years. And it’s really true; there is no clear cut number one, and even the Maine teams had moments of excellent play. If anything, the first weekend raised more questions rather than providing answers.

Stock Up

Williams G Bobby Casey ‘19

Bobby Casey
Bobby Casey ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

We’ve written quite a bit about how F James Heskett ‘19 has elevated his game to help the Ephs overcome a potentially devastating injury to Kyle Scadlock ‘19, but we might have been missing the biggest (height nonwithstanding) factor. Casey is in the midst of one of the most efficient shooting seasons the league has seen in several years. He’s shooting 50% from the field and 49% from three. And he’s raising his game when it matters most. In Williams’ impressive 2-0 weekend, Casey was in an absolute zone. He was 18-23 from the field, including a 12-16 mark from downtown. He added four rebounds and two blocks in their win over Wesleyan, the biggest win of any team last weekend. If Casey can continue to raise his game in league play under these strenuous circumstances, an All NESCAC selection is not impossible.

Hamilton (potentially)

The Continentals are to me what Robin Wright is to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. They always lead me on and make me believe that this is the year, and then they disappoint me. But, at the risk of getting fooled again, this might be the year that Hamilton and I have a “smart” child together. The Continentals are still undefeated, and passed their first mini NESCAC test by trashing Trinity 78-55 on Sunday. They were able to weather an uncharacteristically average shooting night (40% from the field, 30% from three) and used their versatile defense to pick up 10 steals and hold Trinity to  just 34.4% shooting. This game was Hamilton’s third straight with at least 10 steals. Creating turnovers is an essential part of their high octane offense, as it allows them to get out on the break and get layups and easy three pointers. The fact that they did it well in league play is a great sign for them, and a bad sign for the rest of the league.

Kena Gilmour ’20 had 23 points against Trinity, and has Hamilton (maybe) poised to ascend to the top of the league.

Stock Down

Middlebury’s Offense

The Panthers dropped the marquee matchup against Wesleyan 80-70, and correspondingly dropped 12 spots in Top 25, from 4 to 16. And it is Middlebury’s offense that deserves most of the blame for their struggles. Offense hasn’t been something Middlebury has had to worry about in several years, but they have real problems finding scoring behind Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. Daly’s three point shot, while better than people give him credit for, is still not a consistent enough weapon for teams to really worry about it. They’d rather go under ball screens and give him jump shots. And Folger’s ball handling isn’t good enough yet for him to punish quickness mismatches on the perimeter. His terrific midrange game allows him to score without getting to the basket, but he isn’t utilizing his full range of skills, and when he isn’t hitting jump shots Middlebury’s offense is troublingly stagnant. This forces Daly to try and do too much at the rim.

There are a few candidates who may have to step up if Middlebury wants to remain in the top tier. G Hilal Dahleh struggled mightily against Wesleyan (3-15 FG) and needs to be at least a spot-up threat, if not more, for Middlebury to beat the best NESCAC teams. And then there are the first years. G Jack Farrell ’21 has hit a shooting wall. He is a valuable defender, but Middlebury may want to consider starting Joey Leighton ’20 (40% from three) to provide more outside punch. A potential wild card is the sweet shooting G Max Bosco ’21. He has looked far more confident in the last few games, and his offensive ceiling is the highest of any of the first years. Middlebury has to, and probably will, figure something out. But it had better be soon.

Wesleyan F Jordan Bonner ’19

Jordan Bonner
Jordan Bonner ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

While Wesleyan had a pretty good weekend, including a win over Middlebury, Bonner came back down to earth in a big way. In their loss to Williams, he took an unfathomable 18 the pointers and made only five, a stat that confuses me more every time I read it. He was 10-33 from the field overall. And then against Middlebury, he pretty much disappeared, shooting 1-5 from the floor for 7 points. Obviously they won, which bodes well for their ability to succeed without the consistent scoring Bonner had thus far provided, but Wesleyan has collapsed recently in NESCAC play due to a lack of crunch time scoring. If Bonner can’t score efficiently against NESCAC defenses, Wesleyan may not be able to hang with Tufts and Williams.

Here at Last: Wesleyan vs. Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

Ah we’re finally here – the start of conference games. Despite there only being one remaining unblemished team in the NESCAC, we see four schools in the top 25, with several others just outside. Although there are only two games this weekend (Wesleyan competing in both) that feature both teams within the top 25, there are some huge games between schools traditionally viewed as “bottom-tier” looking to climb the totem pole. Getting off to a good start is vital in a conference where everyone only plays each other once, and these early season games will start to give some shape to the standings. It’s never easy to pick a game-of-the-week because they’re all  important, but the matchup between Wesleyan and Middlebury on Saturday is about as big an opening-weekend game as they come. The Cardinals play the host this time, seeking their first win over the Panthers in 13 years. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the battle for the most average mascot in the NESCAC (and the top spot in the league:)

Overview

Wesleyan enters this game at 14th in the latest national poll, despite a tough

Kevin O’Brien ’19 and Jordan Bonner ’19, seen here apparently judging someone for their shoe choice, are responsible for much of Wesleyan’s offense.

loss last week to a good, yet struggling Springfield squad after a 9-0 start to the season. They square off with Williams on Friday night in a rematch of an epic battle from before the holiday break, so the result of that will certainly give us more indication of how the Cardinals will look for their showdown with Middlebury. The win over Williams was easily their biggest win of the season so far, being that it was on the road and pre-Scadlock injury. They haven’t had a particularly challenging schedule otherwise, but they have still looked very tough nonetheless. The Cardinals distribute their scoring fairly evenly, but they have found the star power they were searching for in Jordan Bonner ’19, who has been huge in filling the scoring void left by the graduation of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Harry Rafferty ’17. However, Coach Reilly’s squad really prides themselves on their defense, only allowing 62.8 points per game, good for first in the conference. This stingy defense will be crucial in stopping a high-powered offense like that of Middlebury, so look for the Cardinals to try and slow the game down, forcing the Panthers into half court sets and making them work for every basket.

Wesleyan X-Factor: G Kevin O’Brien ’19

Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O’Brien ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Being the fundamentally sound, defensive-minded team that they are, Kevin O’Brien ’19 is exactly what Coach Reilly could ask for. Despite only averaging 9 points per game, O’Brien shoots 63% from the field, which places him at 4th in the conference. This essentially means that he doesn’t shoot often, but when he does, it goes in. In order to keep up with an offense like Middlebury’s, he will have to continue this type of offensive efficiency. While he may not be a huge scorer, O’Brien fills out the stat sheet in nearly every other way possible. He comes in at 2nd in the NESCAC in assists per game (6.3), 8th in blocks per game (1.2), and he leads the league in steals per game (2.2). The focus for O’Brien will be on not turning the ball over, because he also leads the league with 4.4 turnovers per game. If he is able to control the ball, the efficiency that he provides will make the Cardinals very difficult to stop on the offensive end. On the other side of the ball, O’Brien’s 6’5”, 200lb frame makes him the ideal size to defend just about any position on the court. However, being one of the league’s premier defensive players, he will likely be given the task of dealing with Jack Daly, which is a very tall order. If he can stop or even slow down Daly, it will put Wesleyan in an excellent position to come out on top. A lot is going to be asked of Kevin O’Brien this weekend, but it is no secret that the Cardinals will only be able to fly as high as he can take them.

Middlebury X-Factor: F Nick Tarantino ’18

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

While both Wesleyan and Middlebury are led by stellar backcourts, it is the play of forward Nick Tarantino ’18 that will decide the game for the Panthers. Tarantino fills out his big man duties averaging 8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, but in order to take down the Cardinals on the road, more will be expected of him. His season average is 8.8 points per game, however he has given us glimpses of what he is capable of, putting up 17 points against Endicott and 20 versus Skidmore, both of whom were NCAA tournament teams from last season. The closest thing to a true big man that Wesleyan has is freshman Jordan James ’21, who is still learning the ins and outs of college basketball. At 6’7”, 205lbs, Tarantino isn’t considered a “center” per se, he will have to both bang around down low with James, and step outside on forward Nathan Krill ’18 who is capable of stepping back and knocking down threes. To this point, Tarantino has seen 20 minutes of action per game, but now that conference play has started, it will be important to see if he can get enough rest to play an efficient 25-30 minutes. If he can play good post defense, rebound, and score when he’s asked to in these extended minutes, it is hard to envision Wesleyan being able to slow down yet another outstanding Panther team.

Final Thoughts

This matchup will help us answer the age-old question that the Joker posed at the end of The Dark Knight – what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The contrasting styles of these two teams could not be more obvious: Wesleyan lives by the adage that defense wins championships, whereas Middlebury employs the run-and-gun strategy that has brought them so much success over the years. My guess is that this game will get a bit higher scoring than Wesleyan would like, and they will not get to enjoy their home-court advantage to its fullest extent with no students back on campus yet. Each of these teams has a game on Friday that will factor in, with Wesleyan hosting Williams and Middlebury traveling to New London to take on Conn College. The fact that Wesleyan has a much more difficult Friday night game plays heavily to the Panthers’ advantage, as they will look to get out to a big lead over the Camels, and rest up for the next day. I believe that the star power of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20 will prove to be too much for the Cardinals to handle, and Wesleyan will have to wait yet another year to try and take down the mighty Panthers.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury 82-75

Chaos at the Top: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/5

The last week has been a fascinating one from a power rankings perspective. The preseason top two teams, Middlebury and Williams, both suffered losses in which multiple pervasive problems were revealed. Amherst has also been struggling, while surprise teams like Bowdoin and Hamilton have continued to play well. The league is very hard to read heading into NESCAC play, and that’s definitely a good thing. Let’s get to the rankings.

1: #14 Wesleyan (9-1)

The Cardinals have two of the best wins in the league, over #11 Williams in a non conference game and over #21 Nichols. Wesleyan’s defense has always been dominant, but in recent years they have lacked the outside shooting (and scoring overall) to compete with the elite NESCAC teams like Middlebury, Williams and Amherst. This season, they have been able to score when they need to. Jordan Bonner ‘19 (16.8 PPG) has had a lot to do with this, but Austin Hutcherson ‘21 has emerged lately as the kind of X-Factor that could carry Wesleyan to the top of a wide-open league. In a three game stretch that featured wins over Vassar, Brandeis and Fitchburg State, Hutcherson had 14, 27 and 14 with 12 three pointers. However, he was held to zero points during Wesleyan’s loss to an inferior Springfield team on Tuesday night. That loss featured many of the scoring woes that have plagued the Cardinals in recent years, so it seems that Hutcherson will be a crucial factor in determining whether their success will continue in NESCAC play. A back-to-back home matchup with Williams and Middlebury this weekend will be the best possible test of Wesleyan’s legitimacy.

Austin Hutcherson ’21 could throw his name right into the ROY race with some strong NESCAC performances.

2: Tufts (9-3)

Don’t look now, but Tufts is figuring it out. They’ve won five games in a row, and are the hottest team entering league play outside of undefeated Hamilton. Cam wrote a good deal about them in the Stock Report, but the return of KJ Garrett ‘18 makes the Jumbos dangerous again as contenders for the league crown. An electric athlete who can score in bunches and defend multiple positions, Garrett is the kind of player who can swing games all by himself on either end of the court. And he did just that in their tournament. Garrett had 30 points in the two games (18 in a Game One win over Pomona) and added 12 rebounds and five steals. With Vinny Pace back in form and Eric Savage making a big leap (15.6 PPG,) Tufts is as deep on the perimeter as anyone. And there aren’t too many big men in the league who can really exploit their lack of size, so Tufts is right back in the top tier.

3: #4 Middlebury (7-2)

The Panther’s ride to a three-peat has hit a classic New England speed bump. The Panthers have lost two of their last three games, the last one a blowout at home, something that has happened maybe once or twice in the last five years. It must be noted, however, that the losses were to #12 York and #13 Swarthmore. Middlebury has played the toughest non-league schedule of anyone, and they just paid for it. However, Middlebury should still be able to win those games, especially at home. The culprit has been scoring, particularly from the perimeter. Middlebury was relying a great deal on relatively unproven quantities like Jack Farrell ‘21, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 to aid Jack Daly ‘18 and Matt Folger ‘20 in scoring. And honestly, no one has been hitting and outside shots. In this rough three game stretch, Middlebury is just 16-69 (definitely NOT nice) from three. That’s about 23%. As a result of this, teams are throwing all their defenders at Daly, who is trying to do a little too much against that pressure due to his own struggles from three. Middlebury still has a lot of talent, and should benefit from this early exposure to high level competition. But they have to hit more shots this weekend, especially in their marquee Saturday matchup with Wesleyan.

4: #24 Hamilton (10-0)

First of all, congratulations are in order. Hamilton is nationally ranked for the first time since 2004. And yet, they can still claim that they’re underrated. 10-0 and fourth in the power rankings? Tough break for the Continentals, who have been by far the most impressive team in preseason (albeit with a bad schedule.) Hamilton’s offense is firing on every cylinder right now. They average nearly 100 points per game on 50% shooting and 39% from three. They have four players averaging over 13 points per game, and none of them are seniors. However, their defense will need to improve if they are to buck their recent trend of fading in NESCAC play. Hamilton’s big starting lineup (the smallest starter is athletic Kena Gilmour ‘20 at 6’3”) should lead to versatility, but their forwards are undersized and they often get killed in the paint. Hamilton is last in the NESCAC in opponents field goal percentage at 44%. They will not be able to simply outscore NESCAC teams.

Tim Doyle ’19 had 25 points against Moravian, and is one of Hamilton’s many weapons on offense.

5: #11 Williams (9-2)

The Ephs may be finally starting to notice that Kyle Scadlock is not on the court. Their 73-71 loss to 4-5 Hamline is the worst one of the recent rash of top tier NESCAC losses. Williams has a real problem with finding a secondary scoring option alongside the rising star of James Heskett ‘19. Heskett has done a terrific job taking on the go-to-guy mantle, averaging nearly 23 points per game on over 50% shooting in their last three games. But other players who had been scoring well, such as Bobby Casey ‘19, have recently fallen off. Obviously, one game is no reason to panic. But league games are looming, and Williams starts off on Friday with a road game at Wesleyan, the toughest opening game of any team. Teams will be on notice now about Heskett’s emergence, and Wesleyan (and Tufts and Middlebury for that matter) have plenty of athletes on the perimeter to throw at Casey. As always, I think Williams should up the minutes of Matt Karpowicz ‘20. He’s a scoring threat down low and could force defenses to move around more instead of sitting on the three pointer. We’ll see how they handle Wesleyan on Friday.

6: Amherst (7-3)

 Amherst is entering league play on a decidedly downward trajectory. They’ve lost two in a row with opposite problems contributing to each loss. In a 76-65 loss to Southeastern, Amherst shot only 37% from the field, including a 2-13 showing from Johnny McCarthy ‘18. And then in their next game, a 95-92 loss to Eastern Connecticut, Amherst shot 57% from the field and got 25 points from McCarthy and 22 from Michael Riopel ‘18. However, those two players combined for over half of their points, and they still gave up 95 to the other team. Amherst’s offense goes as McCarthy goes, and like McCarthy, they are struggling for consistency. They still lack a third scoring option that can be trusted every night, just as they did last season. Every year people are waiting for Amherst to turn it on. Their success rightfully makes them a perpetual sleeping giant. But it might be the case that they just don’t have enough talent this season.
7: Trinity (9-2)

I feel like no one, especially us, has said a single word about Trinity yet this season. But as quietly as possible, the Bantams are 9-2 and have won five games in a row. They’ve done it, as is their way, with defense. They are second only to Wesleyan in opponent’s field goal percentage and points per game. Additionally, they absolutely handled Springfield (the team that recently handed Wesleyan their first loss) earlier this season 71-54. Like the Cardinals, Trinity’s strength on defense is balanced out by struggles on offense. In the preseason, Trinity has gotten fairly consistent scoring from Jeremy Arthur ‘19 (13.7 PGG) and Eric Gendron ‘18 (10.3 PPG.) However, Gendron only shoots 22% from three, and Trinity as a team only shot 31% from downtown. Their offense will need to be more versatile in NESCAC play.

8: Bowdoin (8-2)

The Polar Bears have rebounded nicely from their two game losing streak,

Zavier Rucker ’21 has been a great find for Bowdoin this season, and become even more valuable as the season goes on.

winning their last two in impressive fashion. This mini-streak including a non-league win over Bates. Bowdoin has been shooting the ball very well lately, hitting over 50% of their shots in both of those wins. Despite having only started one game, David Reynolds ‘20 has taken over for Jack Simonds ‘19 (who is struggling mightily from the field at 39.5%) as the go to scorer. But the key to Bowdoin’s league success may well end up being a first year. PG Zavier Rucker is still shooting 66.7% from the field in 31.1 minutes per game. He has also shown tremendous maturity in running the offense, especially for a first year. His assist to turnover ratio is 2.5, fifth best among players with over 30 assists. And his size (6’2”, 187) and strength have made him an elite defender already. He averages 1.5 steals per game, and will be essential in guarding the variety of excellent guards in the NESCAC. Bowdoin has the talent to reach heights they haven’t seen in years, and Rucker is a huge part of that chance.

9: Colby (7-3)

The best big man you haven’t heard about plays for the Mules, and his name is Dean Weiner. Yes, I know he sounds like the bad guy in a raunchy college comedy, but he is quietly putting up one of the best stat lines in the league. He averages 10.3 PPG, and leads the league in rebounds (9.4) and blocks (2.8.) But what really sets him apart is his passing. He averages four assists per game, with an A/TO ratio of 2.5. That’s better than many guards. In a league somewhat devoid of star big men, Weiner could be a problem for many teams come league play. His versatility could give traditional big men like Williams’ Karpowicz and Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ‘18 problems, and he’s good enough around the rim (58.3% from the field) to punish smaller players in switches. Colby may not have enough shooting around him to be really dangerous, but they’ve got a star, the first key to NESCAC success.

Dean Weiner ’19 has done it all this season for the surprising Colby Mules.

10: Bates (7-5)

Bates still simply cannot shoot. They are shooting 39% from the field as a team, and 29% from three, both far and away the worst marks in the league. And this is in non-conference play: they still have to face the elite defense of the NESCAC. Jeff Spellman ‘20 carries the most offensive burden of any player in the league, and as a result, defenses are throwing everything they have at him. He’s only shooting 30% from three, and that is simply because he is forced to take many tough shots. Given this trend, it is surprising that Max Hummel ‘19 doesn’t play more. He is far and away Bates’ best shooter (indeed, one of the best in the league) at 45.5% from three, and yet he only plays 17 minutes per game. In league play, Hummel might and should be forced into a sixth man or even starting role, in order to find some shooting and free up Spellman.

11: Connecticut College (5-6)

The Camels have lost four of their last five games, and it’s kind of unclear as to why. Their teams shooting numbers are excellent (second in the league in three point shooting at 37%,) they have a star in David Laboissiere ‘18 (17 PPG on 45% shooting from three) and a strong secondary scorer in Dan Draffan ‘21. For more on Draffan, check out Colby’s (the writer, not the college) Awards Preview. Generally speaking, the culprit behind the Camel’s struggles is defense, but it seems more that they have a lack of toughness. All of their losses have been by at least 9 points, suggesting that when they get down, they are not good at managing runs by opponents. However, their shooting ability means that they could be a problem if they get hot. They have a good chance to turn it around on Friday night when the shaky Middlebury Panthers come to town.

Calm Before the Storm: Women’s Power Rankings 1/4

After over ten non-conference games for the women of NESCAC basketball, the games that ‘count’ finally begin on Friday. I put count in parentheses because every game is important, but it is conference record determines playoff seeding— not overall record. Instead of traveling to unknown frontiers, teams will see familiar town signs such as Williamstown, Amherst, and Middletown. Obscure team mascots give way to ones we’ve become accustomed to: the Jumbos, Bobcats, and Panthers. Finally the alumni and non-winter athletes still enjoying winter break can boast to their friends how their school is better. Let’s take a look at the power rankings the day before conference play begins:

1). Amherst College (11-0)

Amherst comes into conference play with a perfect overall record. Only one of their eleven games was within a ten point score differential. The Momouths have simply dominated their opponents. One of the victories came over Little Three Rival Wesleyan in an absolute trouncing. Sharp Shooter Hannah Fox ‘20 has shown no signs of a sophomore slump. She has led her team in points and minutes thus far. Amherst’s strength in schedule hasn’t been great over these eleven games, but that shouldn’t take away from how good this team is. The squad opens up on its home floor against Trinity on Friday night. The strength of schedule definitely will pick up since the NESCAC is one of the strongest sports conferences in all of Division Three athletics. After Trinity, Amherst will play Wesleyan and Conn College. These games won’t be roll overs, but I expect Amherst to get to 3-0 in the league without too much trouble.

2). Tufts University (10-1)

Many Bowdoin Polar Bears fans won’t be too happy with Tufts landing a spot higher than their 11-0 Polar Bears. Tufts’ narrow loss to Albright College in a game right after Christmas doesn’t concern me in the slightest. I believe that Amherst and Tufts right now are still 1A and 1B. Every other game Tufts has blown out its opponent. I believe that Tufts has had a stronger schedule relative to Amherst and Bowdoin so far. With convincing wins against solid non-NESCAC teams, Tufts remains right there with Amherst. Jac Knapp ‘19 leads the charge for the Bo’s averaging just over ten points per game and an incredible thirty-three minutes per game on the floor.

3). Bowdoin Polar Bears  (11-0)

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

People believed that NESCAC women’s basketball is a two team league with Amherst and Tufts dominating the entire conference. Well, enter Bowdoin. After a solid run in the playoffs last year, the Polar Bears are looking to over take those two other teams. The real positive news is that Bowdoin won’t have trouble with Bates or Colby with complete blowouts over the two rivals in December. The non-conference strength of schedule isn’t great beyond those two teams. I don’t think Bowdoin has been challenged yet. They open up Friday against Bates, which shouldn’t be a big deal, but they host Tufts on Saturday. That’s going to be a huge game. The teams will inevitably meet again come playoff time, but this early season match can possibly send the teams in two separate directions momentum wise. Kate Kerrigan ‘18 leads the team in scoring, but she only logs around twenty-two minutes per game. That’s a great stat for Bowdoin, who certainly wants to make a deep tournament run with fresh legs.

4). Middlebury College (9-2)

There is a significant drop off following the top three teams, but I still really like how Middlebury has played so far. They flew to the West Coast to face the Claremont schools in a tournament. The California schools, in my opinion, offer greater competition to NESCAC schools looking to gear up for the conference season. The Panthers lost a heartbreaker in the first game to Claremont-Mud-Scripps before ending the trip with an impressive win over Pomona-Pitzer. I think Middlebury is poised to secure the fourth seed when it’s all said and done. The Panthers open up against Conn College on Friday and Wesleyan on Saturday. I think that Wes and Middlebury are two middle of the pack teams in the ‘Cac, so that should be an interesting game to watch. Maya Davis ‘20 has come into her own this year average around ten points per game and logging just north of twenty-seven minutes per contest.

5). Wesleyan University (8-2)

Olivia Gorman
Olivia Gorman ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

My ability to watch Wes in person probably boosts their ranking a bit. They took a trip down to Nashville, and came away with a winning streak. Prior to the Nashville trip, they took Williams to overtime, and beat them. Wes is a scrappy team with hustle plays at both ends of the court leading to positive plays. Olivia Gorman ‘19 leads the team in scoring at around twelve points per game. She stands only 5’ 4”, but her determination to get to the cup negates her lack of physical dominance

6). Hamilton College (9-2)

Like I said earlier, it’s really a toss up for these middle of the conference teams. Teams four through nine can all compete and really win on any given night. Hamilton has played well so far, but the only reason why they’re below teams four and five is their schedule. They didn’t take a trip to compete against schools from other parts of the country, so I don’t think that upstate New York schools are as good as the California schools or some southern squads. Hamilton doesn’t face any of the top three teams for a little bit; expect Hamilton to win some games at the beginning, but like everyone else, the narrative will change once they run into the top three. Carly O’Hern ‘20 is a solid guard, and leads the team in scoring averaging over eleven a game.

7). Connecticut College (9-2)

Mairead Hynes
Mairead Hynes ’18 (Courtesy of Connecticut College Athletics)

Conn knocked off instate rival Trinity in early December. The Camels have used that as momentum, and have churned out a solid record so far. Again, the strength of schedule so far hasn’t been great–understandably so. The Camels play Middlebury and Williams on Friday and Saturday respectively to open up league play. I would be surprised if they come out of the weekend 2-0, but if they do, that would prove that they’re one of the better teams in this conference. Mairead Hynes ‘18 has been dominant scoring the ball (17 ppg), which is second in the league.

8). Trinity College (9-2)

It’s hard to judge teams when they’re playing such different opponents. Similar to Hamilton, the only knock on Trinity is its strength of schedule so far. I think all the teams above them have played tougher opponents. The Bantams are still 9-2, but the arrival of league games will be eye opening for everyone. Trinity is led by Courtney Erickson ‘19, who averages a very impressive fourteen points per game

9). Williams College (8-4)

Kristin Fechtelkotter
Kristin Fechtelkotter ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams’ four losses have raised some eyebrows. One would think that those four losses would come as a result of some strong non-league opponents. However, losses to Rochester and Depauw aren’t going to cut it in this league. What happens when Amherst and Tufts come in? Williams can’t embarrass themselves. However, Williams is Williams and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t find  a way to win. Senior Kristin Fechtelkotter leads the team in scoring (13.3 PPG). The Ephs open against Wesleyan tomorrow and Conn on Saturday. Where do they travel the following week? Medford to face Tufts. That should be interesting.

10). Colby College (5-4)

It’s unfortunate for Colby and Bates that Bowdoin is their instate neighbor. 5-4 is a solid league record, but for non-league play, it’s not great. The same schools other NESCAC teams have blown out actually beat Colby or came close to beating them. It’s going to be a long season for the Mules, but at least they know they’ll have Bates below them. I feel like Colby is destined for the ten spot because they’re not nearly as good as the teams above them, but they’re certainly better than Bates. Haley Driscoll ‘18 leads the team in scoring, and is maybe the best center in a perimeter-dominated league.

11). Bates College (5-7)

As athletes, we’ve all been on bad teams. There’s nothing worse than going into a season knowing that your team is bad. I’ve been on plenty of bad teams in my life, which makes you truly understand how special the good teams you’ve been on are. There’s no circumventing this: Bates isn’t good. I don’t see them picking up very many league wins if any. It must be frustrating for Nina Davenport ‘18, who leads the league in scoring (20 ppg). She’s consistently one of the best scorers in the league, but Bates rarely backs her up with a W.

Nina Davenport ’18 has been somewhat stranded on Bates’ team this season.

The Top is Up for Grabs: Stock Report 1/3

The holiday break brought us quite a bit of surprise this year, which is actually pretty new for NESCAC basketball. As we have mentioned time and time again, NESCAC teams traditionally beat up on non-conference teams in early season games. This season has looked a little bit different thus far. Again, the early season games are about trying different schemes and finding out what works best for each team, so it is not all that surprising to see some strange results. Despite this fact, there were some notable things that took place as many teams traveled all over the nation to take on the best teams Division III has to offer:

Stock Up:

Tufts

KJ Garrett
One of the best athletes in the league, KJ Garrett ’18 gives Tufts the depth to rise to the top of the league once again.

After a sluggish start to the season (in part due to tough scheduling), Tufts has begun to find their identity. Although they did not play their absolute best basketball out in California, they were still able to head back to the east coast with two victories. Vincent Pace ’18 has looked every bit of the star player they were counting on, with two convincing performances. Pace put on two solid performances, beginning with a 19-point, 6-rebound effort against Pomona-Pitzer. Against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps he struggled a bit from the field, going 5-17 and 1-7 from behind the arc. He was still able to overcome this tough shooting night by going 5-5 from the free-throw line to finish with 16 points. What makes him such a great player is that he continues to find ways to impact the game outside of scoring, which he displayed by hauling in 13 rebounds against CMS. The Jumbos also benefit from the return of KJ Garrett ’18, and this is huge for their depth as Garrett provides consistent guard play and the rebounding spark that they need. Tufts is proving yet again why they belong at the top of the league.

Williams F James Heskett ‘19

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

The loss of Kyle Scadlock ’19 left a lot of production up for grabs in the Eph lineup. James Heskett ’19 has stepped up to fill the scoring void in a very big way. While he stands at 6’8”, Heskett is as pure a shooter as they come. Over the break he put up two monster scoring efforts, and was incredibly efficient in doing so. Despite a disappointing loss to Hamline, Heskett poured in 24 points on 9-12 shooting, including 5-8 from deep. He followed this up with an even more impressive performance against Cal Lutheran, lighting them up for 29 points on 9-15 from the field, 5-10 from three-point land, and 6-6 from the free throw line en route to a bounce-back win. These types of games are exactly what Williams is looking for in the wake of the Scadlock injury, and fortunately it extends beyond just Heskett. The Ephs employ a four-guard lineup that is absolutely lethal from beyond the three-point line, and they love to shoot, leading the conference in both made threes and attempted threes. This strategy is even more effective given that they are centered around the outstanding big-man duo of Michael Kempton ’20 and Matt Karpowicz ’20. Even without Scadlock, this is a very dangerous Williams squad that certainly has the rest of the league on notice.

Kena Gilmour and Hamilton

Hamilton now stands alone as the only undefeated team remaining in the NESCAC. Despite a relatively unimpressive non-conference schedule, the Continentals continue to impress. Kena Gilmour ’20 has now become a household name, earning MVP honors at the Greyhound Classic in which Hamilton took home the trophy. Gilmour dropped 22 points and posted a career-high 11 rebounds against Lebanon Valley, then followed that up with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in the title game against a strong Moravian team. Hamilton is continually aided by hot three-point shooting, most notably Tim Doyle ’19 and Joe Pucci ’18 who are first and second respectively in 3-point percentage. At this point we just have to wait and see if the Continentals can bring this type of play into conference games, because they have done all they can do at this point to show that they are ready to jump into the top echelon of the ‘CAC.

Reigning NESCAC Player of the Week Kena Gilmour and Hamilton have the league on notice…for now.

Stock Down:

Ranked NESCAC Teams

It seems that being ranked in the top 25 this year has been a curse for NESCAC teams. Early in the year, Bowdoin made a jump into the D3 hoops rankings, then proceeded to lose back-to-back games to Colby and St. Joe’s. Williams got as high as third in the rankings, then lost to Wesleyan at home (pre-Scadlock injury), but remained in the top 10. They then lost to a relatively weak Hamline team over the break. Middlebury* got all the way up to number 2, then lost two of their last three games, albeit against very good opponents, #13 York and #12 Swarthmore. Wesleyan was undefeated and on the brink of cracking the top 10, and then lost to a struggling Springfield team. This week Hamilton entered at #24 in the national rankings, so the Continentals better watch out, or they will suffer a similar fate as the top dogs.

*I’m going to give Middlebury a break here because Coach Brown absolutely stacked their non-conference schedule. Four of their first nine games were against schools that have seen time in the top 25 this year. Though they hoped for better than a 2-2 finish in those games, I’ll chalk it up to working out the kinks after losing a large portion of their production from last season.

Non-Conference Dominance

I don’t mean to say that the NESCAC has fallen dramatically because the teams are a combined 86-29, which is still very good. What we saw over vacation was a bit different than past years. Hamilton and Trinity were the only teams that won their respective holiday tournaments, and even the teams that didn’t compete in an official tournament struggled a bit. I already talked about the losses of Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Williams (who all won their holiday tournaments last season), but unfortunately for the NESCAC, it extends beyond that. Colby fell to the host Salem State squad in their tournament, Conn College continued their struggles, losing to Maine-Presque Isle, Amherst dropped a game to NAIA Southeastern University, and Bates lost three winnable games to average Concordia University, Brandeis, and St. Joe’s teams.

This is a bit uncharacteristic of the best conference in the NCAA, but it is a tough year to follow after many teams across the league lost big performers from the loaded 2017 class. The reasons for this are varied. Of course, some teams are simply struggling. Williams is still working out the kinks of playing without Scadlock, and Middlebury is simply finally realizing that they lost two of the best guards in the country. But non-conference scheduling has also gotten stronger. As traditional in-state doormats (like Castleton in Vermont) drop NESCAC teams from the schedule, coaches have opted to replace them with strong teams from across the country, meaning more losses outside of NESCAC play for the best teams. This will only benefit the league come league play. The power rankings are going to look a lot different week-to-week, and the league games will be higher quality as teams have experience with quality opponents already. Us NESCAC students will continue to count on our cherished basketball programs to keep us moving through the harsh winter, as we see record-low temperatures devastating the northeast.