Monday was the first day of spring. I know that the weather at many NESCAC schools begs to differ, but I promise you that it’s true. Spring is a melancholy time for sports fans. On the one hand it’s baseball season. As you might know from reading literally any article ever written about baseball, spring and baseball go hand in hand. Every play in baseball begins the same way; with a pitch. Every is redeemed, much like the deadened flowers are redeemed in the spring. And here at NbN our NESCAC baseball coverage has kicked off in a big way with Devin’s preview.
But in this early spring I’m thinking about the end of something; basketball season. This year of NESCAC basketball was in many ways unprecedented for the league. Not in my memory has there been such talent across the board. While there were obviously better and worse teams, every squad this season had at least a couple moments where they blended together and sang in that way that only basketball can create. At one point there were five NESCAC teams ranked in the national top 25, and those five teams all received bids to the NCAA tournament.
This was a very literary season. We had a tragic hero find redemption in Tuft’s Tom Palleschi, who went down with a brutal knee injury during his
senior season before returning to lead Tufts to the Sweet Sixteen. We had a classic trilogy a la Lord of the Rings in Middlebury and Williams Rounds One, Two and Three. The final battle was one for the ages, a gritty war that featured unsung heroes (Bobby Casey ‘19,) star turns (Kyle Scadlock ‘19 looks like a POY favorite after his NCAA run) and several atrocious blown calls a lot of high quality basketball. Before fading down the stretch, Hamilton put the league on notice that they’re ready to make a run. They lose none of their main rotation, and Kena Gilmour ‘20 and Peter Hoffmann ‘19 are as deadly a one-two punch as there is in the league. Next year could be the year that they rise to the upper tier.
I could write one of these paragraphs about every team. That is the nature of NESCAC basketball this season and going forward; every team has SOMETHING that makes them worth watching. There’s a reason that Rory, Colby, me, Henry and all the other writers want to take time out of our diverse liberal arts college experiences to write about sports. Quite simply, it’s all interesting. But I will keep this briefer than that. Here are a few thoughts, feelings, way too early predictions and just general things I’m excited for from this season, and looking into next.
The Williams-Middlebury Rivalry is Real, Folks:
Both Williams and Middlebury will suffer huge losses come graduation. For Middlebury, Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Bryan Jones and Liam Naughton were the leaders of the team both on and off the court, and formed a back court that was unmatched in the country. Daniel Aronowitz and Cole Teal filled similar roles for Williams. Neither team will ever be able to fully replace theplayers they will say goodbye to come graduation.
But there is hope in Williamstown and Middlebury. Both teams balanced their experienced senior guard with dynamic young talent, particularly at forward. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 for Williams is a future star at center, and Scadlock is maybe the league’s best talent at the forward spot. But Middlebury is loaded too. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 became a dangerous duo this year, and Matt Folger ‘20 has First Team potential even as a sophomore. And better yet, all of these players will remember the games this year. Middlebury embarrassed Williams in the NESCAC final, and then Williams got their revenge in Pepin in the NCAA’s. Those wounds wont heal quickly, and we should be in for battles between the Ephs and Panthers for years to come.
The First Team Center Spot is Wide Open:
If you look throughout the league, the majority of the losses outside of Williams and Middlebury are big men. Tufts loses Palleschi, Bates loses both Delpeche’s, and Trinity loses Ed Ogundeko. This means that the door is ajar for new names to step forward as the beasts of the league. Early contenders would be Scadlock, Hoffmann and Joseph Kuo ‘18 of Wesleyan, but there plenty of darkhorses who could step up. McCord should get a lot of looks as part of Middlebury’s possibly less guard-oriented offense, and Williams has several young bigs who may make leaps. It will be fun to monitor who is stepping into those very big pairs of shoes.
Amherst Had Better Reload:
The Purple and White are lucky in that they keep the dynamic back court of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18. But in almost every other area they are significantly weakened. They lose their most consistent bench threat in Eric Conklin, as well as David George (center and defensive stalwart) and both their point guards. And unlike Middlebury and Williams, they did not have a lot of deeper bench players who showed the potential to fill their shoes. Amherst struggled all season with a lack of depth, and graduation will decimate that already thin bench. Amherst traditionally recruits well and has benefitted from transfers in the past. If they don’t do that quite as well this offseason, they run the risk of falling even further behind surging teams like Hamilton and Williams.
Williams (22-8, 7-6) at Middlebury (27-3, 11-2): Pepin Gymnasium, Middlebury, VT 7:00 P.M.
What this means:
Throw out all of the statistics, the strength of schedule numbers, the bad losses, and the blowout wins. This is the Elite Eight and no matter how Williams and Middlebury got to this point in the season, they are in the NCAA quarterfinals on the road to the glory of a national championship. Expect a battle in Pepin tonight.
Williams and Midd are 1-1 against each other this year, and as Pete mentioned yesterday, the unwritten rules of pickup basketball dictate that there must be a rubber match. This is THE rubber match of all games. Both teams are coming off of relatively easy wins where they outmatched their opponents and haven’t been tested to this point in the tournament. These teams are a great match up for one another as Williams shot out of this world back in regular season NESCAC play to beat the Panthers, and Middlebury returned the favor to bring home the championship in Medford two weeks ago.
How They Got Here:
Coming off of stellar shooting performances from both Matt St. Amour ’17 and Jake Brown ’17, Middlebury looks to be firing on all cylinders as they head into the final stretch of the season. Their 4/5 rotations between Nick Tarantino ’18, Adisa Majors ’18, Matt Folger ’20, and Eric McCord ’19 has left other teams scrambling not knowing what combination of big men they are facing. McCord plays an aggressive, (sometimes out of control) game and Majors has a beautiful mid-range jumper and led the NESCAC in FG%, Tarantino is great at finishing near the rim and gets his share of offensive boards, and Folger has joined St. Amour and Brown as a splash brother with his ability to drain the long range shot. Middlebury has toppled Farmingdale St., Lycoming, and now Endicott, looking like a much better team than all three of their competitors. The closest game was surprisingly against Farmingdale as they won by just nine points after St. Amour shot just 5-18 from the field. He still added 18 points, but didn’t quite lock down the game like he did so well in both the rounds of 32 and Sweet 16. St. Amour has been playing out of this world, making Lycoming’s coaches exchange glances and shake their heads in disbelief after several of his plays. Against Lycoming, entering as the #15 team in the country, St. Amour was headed for the media table after forcing a turnover, scooped the ball with his left hand and threw it behind his back around the Warrior defender, hitting Jack Daly perfectly in stride for an and-1 basket, summing up the ridiculous nature of his senior season. The rest of the Panthers helped St. Amour out last night, shooting 41.9% from deep last night as a team. When they shoot that well, they are unstoppable.
Williams has several players who are threats from both long and short range. They have up and down shooting days but have been playing much closer to their season average recently, a big part of the process that
has led to their deep run into the tournament. Mike Greenman was lights out last night, showing off his handles and draining contested threes all night, dishing it out to Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz throughout the whole game. Aronowitz said after the game against Susquehanna that “when I was getting down low in the first half, my teammates were getting open on the perimeter,” showing how Susquehanna couldn’t stop the Ephs on both fronts of offense. Kyle Scadlock started getting more aggressive down low when Susquehanna’s center got into foul trouble, smartly recognizing the weakness that the big man was put into, unable to contest Scadlock’s shots. The entire Susquehanna defense was centered around stopping Scadlock, who added a triumphant turn around dunk in the second half. Despite the added attention Scadlock faced, he dropped 22 points for the Ephs. Williams offense has become multi-dimensional in this tournament.
What to Expect:
Williams survived some below average shooting numbers against Susquehanna (36.8% FG and 31.0% from deep.) Those numbers will have to improve tonight. Atypically for them, it was their defense that won them last night’s game. Ephs coach Kevin App said their defensive game plan last night was to stop the “back-breaking threes” from Susquehanna’s star point guard Steven Weidlich, who is comparable in style to Midd’s St. Amour. Now, I do believe that St. Amour has an edge over Weidlich, but the way St. Amour plays as a part of the Middlebury teams is similar to the way Weidlich played for his. Williams mixed up the man on man defense on the point guard all night, mixing in both big and small players, throwing Weidlich out of rhythm and unable to heat up from deep and
keep his team in the game late. The Ephs should use a similar strategy tonight, putting pressure on Jake Brown and Jack Daly to step up in place of the NESCAC POY. St. Amour is impossible to defend if he makes the contested shots like he did against Lycoming, but it’s better than leaving him open.
Middlebury took a 48-24 lead over Endicott to enter half time, and then came out on a 16-3 run to start the second half, finding a lead of 41 points at one point. They really weren’t tested at all in the round of 16, but did lose to Endicott earlier in the year after they were up 12 at the half on November 27th. This shows that not only did they make an adjustment this time around, but were just a far better team. Jake Brown scored 19 points last night, getting hot and attempting a few heat check threes from well beyond the arc, using the Middlebury crowd well as a momentum push for his team. The Middlebury crowds have been intimidating these past few weeks, and I wouldn’t want to be Williams heading into Pepin after having an easy go at it in terms of crowds last night. Williams brought a good fan section in their own right, not comparable to the home team, but should bring some good clean college back-and-forth banter throughout the night as the NESCAC final rematch takes place with bigger stakes this time—a ticket to the final four in Salem, VA on the line.
#2 Middlebury (23-3, 8-2) vs. #6 Williams (19-7, 5-5): 12:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
And then there were two. Middlebury and Williams meet today at noon to decide the NESCAC Championship. The game is a rematch of one of the most surprising results of the regular season. In the game in Williamstown, the Ephs blasted the Panthers 89-65 in Middlebury’s only truly disappointing performance of the season. As is usually the case when the Ephs win, they were very hot from three, shooting 13-27. And they held Middlebury, the leading field goal shooting team in the league, to 40% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from three. You can bet the Panthers will be looking to avenge their embarrassing performance, but Williams might just hold the keys to slowing down Middlebury’s ride to a second straight title.
Middlebury X-Factor: Close-outs
Much of Williams’ offensive strategy is based off of attacking perimeter closeouts. If a player doesn’t get out quickly enough on a three point shooter, you can bet that shot is going up, and they have more than enough outside threats to make that offense pay off. But if the closeout comes too fast, they can drive past and kick to an open three point shooter when the defense collapses. This also opens up the backdoor cuts that they love so much. As the player with the ball drives past his man, the help man is distracted, allowing his defender to cut backdoor for a layup. Middlebury’s close-outs were very shoddy in the loss in Williamstown: today they will have to come out quickly but also solidly, keeping good guarding position. If they can do that Williams will struggle to score, as they lack great one-on-one scorers outside of Daniel Aronowitz ‘17.
Williams X-Factor: James Heskett ‘19
As I mentioned above, Williams lacks players who can break down perimeter defenders one on one if the defender has a solid close-out. Against Middlebury in the regular season, Heskett begged to differ. He put up 19 points on 5-10 shooting, and went 3-4 from three. At 6’8”, Heskett is too long to be guarded by any of Middlebury’s three guards, but is quick enough and a good enough shooter and ball handler to be a matchup issue for Eric McCord ‘19, Adisa Majors ‘18 or Nick Tarantino ‘18. The best match-up for him on Middlebury is probably Matt Folger ‘20, Folger looked very comfortable in the semifinal against Trinity, scoring 8 points in a row during the second half en route to 11 points. However, the NESCAC final is still a big stage for a freshman. Heskett’s combination of size and skill might force Coach Brown to play Folger a little more than he’d like. And if he doesn’t, Heskett could be a huge factor this afternoon.
Middlebury has to be encouraged by what they saw from Jake Brown ‘17 against Trinity. After missing the first round game against Bates with a high ankle sprain, Brown played 31 minutes against Trinity. His stats weren’t tremendous (the sloppy nature of the game kept everyone’s stats pretty low) but he looked to be moving well, and his presence allowed Middlebury to push the pace in the second half and avoid falling into too much of a barfight with the Bantams.
Brown’s health will be even more crucial in this game. Williams is a perimeter-centric team, which means that Middlebury’s two terrific perimeter defenders (Brown and Jack Daly ‘18) will be tasked with slowing down the ball movement and outside shooting of the Ephs. Additionally, Brown is a needed offensive weapon for Middlebury. The Ephs will try to load up on St. Amour, so Brown will probably get some good looks from three. He and Bryan Jones ‘17 need to be threats from their to open up the floor for St. Amour. Eric McCord also will probably have a strength advantage over whoever is guarding him. If Middlebury can space the floor well enough, they should look to go to him in the post early and often.
Based on the match-ups, I would pick Middlebury in this game 8 times out of 10. But that’s what I said before the regular season game too, and look what happened there. Williams has all the sports-movie momentum in the world right now, and the re-emergence of Kyle Scadlock ‘19 as a terrifying two-way threat gives them a dimension they didn’t have against Middlebury earlier in the year. However, I still think Middlebury pulls it out. The Panthers should recognize the Ephs; they’re doing the same thing Middlebury did in the tournament last year. Therefore they should know what to do with them.
Every NESCAC game is important. That is the nature of the league; since every team (give or take a couple outliers) can get hot and pull off an upset at any time, there are few opportunities to take a game off. And as we wind down the 2016-2017 regular season, the games become even more crucial. This weekend and next, one loss can be the difference between hosting a playoff or going on the road. For some teams, it can even be the difference between making the playoffs or getting a chance to catch up on their homework. The Friday night games kick off a critical weekend, and there are some very important match-ups to keep an eye on, particularly Tufts’ game against Trinity and Bates game in Amherst.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Trinity, 7:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Although they’re still the top team in NESCAC record-wise, Tufts has some real work to do if they want to stay there. The loss of starting center and team leader Tom Palleschi ‘17 has the Jumbos reeling on both sides of the ball. Against Bates, they weren’t able to stop Marcus Delpeche ‘17, who destroyed them to the tune of 28 points on 10/16 shooting. They also settled for jumpshots, leading to a low shooting percentage (36.1%.) They then came out flat against Umass-Dartmouth, losing 91-82. Again, interior defense was a problem, as the Jumbos allowed 14 offensive rebounds and couldn’t get stops down the stretch to support their Vincent Pace-led comeback. Although it was not a league game, the Umass-Dartmouth loss in conjunction with the Bates loss point to deep problems for Tufts. They need to find a way to defend at a high level without Palleschi.
Unfortunately, Trinity is not the best team to play if interior defense is your issue. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has shown himself to be fully capable of ending a game himself if a team doesn’t have a post presence to match him (see his 20/20 game against Bowdoin earlier this year.) Marcus Delpeche proved that Tufts is vulnerable to big performances from dominant inside players. However, Trinity doesn’t exactly come into this one firing on all cylinders either. They only put up 53 points on 32% shooting against Amherst, and that’s including 19 on 8/11 shooting from Ogundeko. The rest of the team shot 11/48 from the field, which is about the same percentage that I shoot when I throw paper at my recycling bin from my bed. Both teams enter this game needing to prove themselves if they hope to contend for top spots come playoffs.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Rebounding
With Palleschi out, Tufts has a `very large hole in the middle of their defense. To fill that hole, the Jumbos will need help from up and down the roster. Of course new starter Drew Madsen ‘17 has the biggest job (particularly this weekend when he matches up with Ogundeko) but he can’t do it alone. Tufts’ guards have to take some of the rebounding load off of the suddenly-thin Tufts frontcourt. Vincent Pace ‘18 has always been adept at this, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, but he holds too much offensive responsibility to spend all his time battling Ogundeko in the paint. KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18 will have to use their size and strength to crash the boards, freeing up Pace to carry the offense and taking pressure off Tufts’ untested big men.
Trinity X-Factor: Anyone Besides Ogundeko
I apologize for sounding like a broken record here, but Trinity needs a second scoring option. Amherst was able to basically dare anyone else on the Bantams roster to beat them, and no one else could. Chris Turnbull ‘17 has shot well from three on the year at 43%, but has a tendency to disappear in big games and struggles to score inside. The same goes for Jeremy Arthur ‘19, who has struggled in league play. Eric Gendron ‘18 represents another candidate to be the Christopher to Ogundeko’s Tony Soprano. Gendron has averaged 11.2 points per game on 43% shooting in league play. To knock off Tufts, Trinity will need solid games from at least one (and more likely two or three) of those possible second bananas.
From a playoff seeding standpoint, Trinity probably needs this game more. At 4-2, they are currently mired in the swamp of teams behind Tufts. Furthermore, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of those teams. After Tufts they still have Hamilton, Middlebury and Bates, all of whom will be battling hard for the best possible playoff spot. I could see Trinity playing very well in these last four games and setting themselves up for a long playoff run. However, I could also see them falling back in the face of this tough schedule. This game is a terrific chance for them to kick this tough stretch off right.
Tufts hasn’t clinched anything either. Although they’re 6-1 now, Middlebury has been playing better than them lately, and Amherst always seems one strong game away from returning to the top. Both those teams have a chance of winning out, and therefore could take the top spot away from Tufts. The Jumbos need to figure out a way to survive without Palleschi, or their season could end disappointingly early. And unfortunately for Tufts, I don’t think this is the game in which they figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Hamilton @ Bowdoin, 7:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Although Hamilton is certainly loaded with talent, they are very young. Middlebury showed the rest of the league just how much that matters last weekend. The Panthers threw up a cool 115 points against the Continentals, and pressured them into 19 turnovers. Hamilton is 0-3 on the road in league play, a stat which makes sense considering that the vast majority of their rotation is composed of sophomores (and freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20.) Hamilton has to grow up fast this year if they want to keep any hope of hosting a playoff game.
Bowdoin comes off giving Colby their first win last weekend in a surprisingly thrilling game. Bowdoin fell 87-82, despite 24 points off the bench from Jack Bors ‘19.Jack Simonds ‘19 has fallen from the league lead in scoring. This may be good for Bowdoin’s offense, as it now looks considerably more balanced than it did early on, but they need to be able to rely on Simond to get them a bucket when needed. I don’t see the Polar Bears being able to catch up to Hamilton like Middlebury did.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Middlebury @ Colby, 7:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Middlebury was unrecognizable against Hamilton and Keene if you watched their performance against Williams. Middlebury’s offense has been balanced and deadly, leading the league in points, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage during league play. The Panthers have particularly benefited from the play of Jake Brown ‘17. Longtime readers will know that my lifelong conquest has been to get Jake Brown on the First Team, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll have to take my battle straight to the Supreme Court. Brown leads the league in assists and averages 11.7 points per game, developing a deadly pull up jump shot which has added a whole new dimension to his game and the Middlebury offense. With Matt St. Amour leading the league in scoring, Brown hitting his jump shots and Jack Daly doing pretty much everything else, the Panthers might well be the best team in the league in the wake of Tufts’ struggles.
Colby also enters this game with momentum. They picked up an emotional first win of the season against Bowdoin. They owe the win primarily to Patrick Stewart ‘17, who went Green Room on the Polar Bearswith 28 points on 8/14 shooting. Colby will most likely try to follow Williams’ formula for beating the Panthers. They will shoot a lot of threes and stack the paint, daring the Panthers to match them from outside. Unfortunately, they’re not good enough from three or on defense to make that strategy work for them. Middlebury should take this one easily.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Bates @ Amherst, 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This is another game which has major playoff implications. Amherst has been inconsistent this season, but the existentially depressing fact remains that they’re 4-2 and are within striking distance of the top spot thanks to Palleschi’s injury. Amherst still has offensive struggles, but they have quietly developed an excellent defense to make up for it. They gave up under 70 points to both Trinity and Williams last weekend, and can still rely on Jayde Dawson ‘18 to bail them out in close games. Amherst is not pretty this year, but if they can keep winning it could work out for them. Also important to note; they are 12-0 at home this season.
Bates is not pretty either, but they are well equipped to give Amherst’s offense fits. The Delpeche brothers are adept at clogging up driving lanes, which should limit the amount of space that Dawson and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 have to score. And on offense, Bates has lately been hitting just enough threes to give the Delpeche brothers some help. Amherst doesn’t exactly have a stable of big men to throw at Malcolm and Marcus, so I see the Bobcats upsetting Amherst at home.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Wesleyan @ Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Wesleyan appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. They put up maybe their best offensive performance of the season against Connecticut College, scoring 85 points on 48.3% shooting. The Cardinals have been experimenting with different starting lineups, and brought Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench against the Camels. They had tried this with Nathan Krill ‘18 earlier. This gives Kuo the freedom to beat up on second unit big men and gives them the freedom to play a more mobile starting lineup with Jordan Sears ‘18 acting as a small ball, defensive-minded center. With Williams perimeter-oriented big men, watch for this lineup change to continue.
Williams hasn’t played a league game since their shellacking of Middlebury, but dropped a non-league matchup to Amherst last week. In that game, they got 26 from Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, but little else, losing 72-64. The Ephs have yet to replicate the shooting display they presented Middlebury, and the top field goal percentage defense in the country isn’t a great team to get hot against . This should be a low scoring matchup, with Wesleyan slowing down the pace and pounding the ball into Kuo and Nathan Krill ‘18. Wesleyan is simply better at winning low-scoring, ugly games.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
There are a lot of teams in the NESCAC that have performed very well so far this year, but everything changes once conference play begins. Will Amherst continue playing to their potential? Is Colby a real threat to go deep in the tournament? Is Tufts’ fast pace sustainable? Check out the initial power rankings to get a closer look at how each NESCAC team has done so far this year.
1. Amherst (10-1)
Coming into the year, Amherst was a clear favorite to win the NESCAC. They lost next to nothing from last year’s roster, and their younger players such as Jayde Dawson ’18, Michael Riopel ’18, and reigning NESCAC ROY Jonny McCarthy ’18 all gained valuable experience that has already provided dividends here early in the season. Amherst has played some low-talent teams this year, but what’s important is that they’ve beaten these teams in convincing fashion. Amherst has also played some very solid teams – Babson, Eastern Connecticut and Rust – and has showed that they can, in fact, win close games. In their one loss this season, to Rhodes College, Amherst shot just 6-11 from the free throw line. Additionally, McCarthy and Connor Green ’16 combined to shoot just 11-32 from the field, 3-15 from beyond the arc, and attempted zero free throws. Though Amherst has a deep bench, the Lord Jeffs can’t rely on the bench to carry the scoring load. McCarthy and Green can’t keep missing 12 threes a game between them and expect to win in conference play. Regardless, I expect that this will just be a blip on the radar and the Lord Jeffs will get back up to speed when they open up NESCAC action in Amherst tonight against their bitter rival, Williams.
2. Tufts (9-2)
Last year, Tufts was 4-7 when they faced off with Middlebury in their first conference game. With a new and improved offense, and a much more mature team, Tufts stands at 9-2 and is ranked #22 nationally as they prepare to host Bowdoin tonight. Their new run-and-gun offense has propelled their scoring average from a NESCAC-low 67.6 ppg last year to 84.1 ppg this year. Last year, Tufts was 10th in the NESCAC in free throws made per game and ninth in free throw attempts per game, but this year they are first in both categories, averaging 21.7 points from the line per game! The Jumbos are winning games against strong teams by putting pressure on their opponents. They gang rebound on defense and then push the ball up the court. On the other end, they crash the boards hard, pulling down 13.3 offensive rebounds per game. Obviously, Tom Palleschi ’17 is leading the team in rebounds, but it has been Vinny Pace ’18 that has anchored the offense this year. It seems that Palleschi is fine with his decreased scoring role, however. He has instead focused more on his defense, shown by his leap from 2.4 bpg to 4.2 bpg. The key for the Jumbos this year has been balance. They use a lot of guys in the rotation, and, so far, this has led to success for them. As long as they can stay in control at such a fast pace, I’m anticipating more success with this style against conference opponents.
3. Wesleyan (11-1)
Wesleyan heads up to Middlebury tonight riding an 11-game winning streak, and over 12 games they have allowed just 65.6 ppg, which ranks third in the NESCAC. The Cardinals have built this impressive record with their stifling defense, which causes havoc for opposing ball handlers and forces turnovers. Wesleyan leads the conference with 7.9 spg, allowing for easy run outs. Though Coach Joe Reilly’s team has struggled with turnovers a bit themselves, they are also forcing their opponents into taking bad shots, which is why they’ve had so much success. On the offensive side of the ball, BJ Davis ’16 has stepped up his game immensely this year, and is scoring nearly eight points per game more than he did last year. In some ways, this could be worrisome for the Cardinals; though it’s great that Davis has been such an effective scorer this year, the team as a whole is depending on him to put up his 19.1 ppg, as Joseph Kuo ’17 is the only other Cardinal averaging over 10.0 ppg. I’m anticipating that Davis’ numbers will drop in conference play, opening the door for other players to step up and continue Wesleyan’s hot start.
4. Colby (10-1)
After starting off the season with a 98-92 overtime loss to Staten Island, the Mules have reeled off 10 straight wins, two of which came in back-to-back games against Bowdoin and Bates. However, besides those two victories, none are very impressive. Regardless, 10-1 is nice, and we will see if Colby is as good as they look when they have a rematch against Bates tonight and then head down to Somerville to take on Tufts tomorrow. Colby’s success thus far has come through their five senior starters, particularly center Chris Hudnut ’16 and forward Ryan Jann ’16, who average 16.6 and 17.3 ppg, respectively. The reason these players are able to score so consistently stems from Colby’s team-first approach. Every player on the team is looking to make the extra pass, and each of the five starters records at least two assists per game. Colby’s 19.2 apg leads to open shots, which is why Colby is currently second in the NESCAC in scoring. If Colby can continue to share the ball so effectively, it will be a tough task to take them down.
5. Williams (8-3)
The most remarkable part of the 8-3 record the Ephs have posted so far is the youth that this teams rolls out there day in and day out. Of the seven players with appearances in every one of Williams’ games this season, four are freshmen. Though the Ephs are definitely led by Daniel Aronowitz ’17, Kyle Scadlock ’19 has made a big splash so far this year, exemplified by his 12.4 ppg and 6.7 rpg numbers. I think that the best showing that Williams has had this year is in their two-point loss to Wesleyan. Though Wesleyan did miss 14 free throws in that game, Williams showed they could play defense against a legitimate NESCAC title contender, allowing only 58 points in the game. In the same game, Aronowitz stepped up big-time, scoring 27 of his team’s 56 points. If Aronowitz can continue to hold down the fort for a bit, I think Scadlock’s fellow freshmen will become more comfortable, making Williams a dangerous team as the season progresses.
6. Bowdoin (7-3)
As expected, Lucas Hausman ’16 is off to a hot start for the Polars bears. Through 10 games, Hausman is averaging 24.7 ppg, highlighted most recently by his 35-point performance against Bridgewater State. Since an out-of-conference loss to Colby a month ago, Bowdoin has won four straight, and look to continue that streak tonight against Tufts. As we enter NESCAC play, a huge part of Bowdoin’s success will lie in the hands of Jack Simonds ’19, who has put on quite a show in his bid for NESCAC ROY so far. As a forward who relies on his perimeter shooting, Simonds will be tested in a conference where there are very few teams that play two natural big men. Against Tufts, for example, it’s likely that Simonds will be defended by Vinny Pace and Stefan Duvivier ’18, both of whom are long and athletic, which will make it difficult for Simonds to get his shots off from deep. However, if Tufts or other NESCAC opponents focus primarily on shutting down Hausman, Simonds will have opportunities to launch from deep and will the Polar Bears to victory.
7. Bates (7-5)
Five losses in 12 games is not great, but minus a stretch of three losses in December, Bates has been pretty solid so far this year. Even in those three losses, the Bobcats played pretty well, losing by four each to Colby (in overtime) and Southern Vermont, and by just seven to WPI. Those three teams are all very solid squads, so Bates should not be disappointed with these losses. What is a bit worrisome, however, is allowing triple digits in their other two losses, but luckily for Bates, those two games seem to be anomalies. In wins this year, the Bobcats have been able to keep opponents to just 65.0 ppg, in large part due to the imposing presence of the twin towers down low, Marcus Delpeche ’17 and Malcolm Delpeche ’17. On the offensive end, Mike Boornazian ’16 leads the way with 15.6 ppg. An encouraging sign for Bates is that Boornazian put up 23 points and seven rebounds against Colby, showing that he will indeed be the primary scorer once conference play rolls around. Regardless, what Bates needs out of Boornazian and the Delpeche brothers is consistency, because they really don’t have any other major scoring threats besides those three guys.
8. Trinity (8-4)
It’s pretty easy to look at Trinity’s losses and think that they are getting snubbed with a #8 nod here, but take a closer look. Sure, they’ve lost to solid teams, but do they have any good wins? Not yet. Trinity has not won a game by single digits, and that’s because they have not been able to beat any the good teams on their schedule. The Bantams started the year ranked 12th in the nation, and have since fallen out of the ranks because they have not shown the ability to win a close game. Against Eastern Connecticut, for example, the Bantams we’re actually up by six at the half, but went on to shoot 26.5 percent from the field in the second half and ended up losing by eight. Against Springfield, Trinity turned the ball over 10 times in the first half alone. It has been a trend in all their losses that Trinity has struggled to put together 40 minutes of good basketball. Nonetheless, I have faith that Jaquann Starks ’16, Ed Ogundeko ’17 and Shay Ajayi ’16 can help turn around the Bantams in the second half. Trinity has played good defense all year, so if they can turn things around on offense they’re still in fine position to finish in one of the top four spots in the NESCAC.
9. Connecticut College (7-3)
Conn College has showed a little life this year due to the play of freshmen David Labossiere ’19 and Tyler Rowe ’19. Both players have stepped in and made a huge impact so far, complementing the continued success of sharpshooter Lee Messier ’18 and big man Zuri Pavlin ’17. Rowe, a natural point guard, has done a great job attacking the paint, knowing when to shoot and when to dish. Labossiere, arguably the most athletic freshmen in the NESCAC, rebounds decently well and knows how to finish around the rim. As the Camels face off against NESCAC teams we will learn whether or not these promising young players have made the Camels a competitor in the NESCAC as their three-point loss to a solid SUNY-Canton team suggests. I think that the answer to that question is going to come down to whether or not Conn can slow down their opponents in shooting the basketball, as they currently allow opposing teams to shoot 42.5 percent from the field, the second-worst mark in the league.
10. Hamilton (7-4)
Hamilton, like Williams and Connecticut College, is a team that has been powered primarily by their freshmen so far this year. Peter Hoffmann ’19 has been the main bright spot so far for the Continentals, a freshman star who has stepped in and filled the hole left by the departure of Joseph Lin ’15. The freshman guard is averaging 13.5 ppg through 11 contests this year, and is doing most of his damage inside. While Hoffmann can step out and hit the three here and there, he has a knack for getting to the hoop, and as a result, gets to the free throw line every game. Another freshman bright spot has been Andrew Groll ’19. Groll isn’t a natural scorer, but he is pulling down 7.1 rpg. I think the early season success can be attributed to Hamilton’s players working together and accepting their individual roles on the team. Though they are last in the league in assists, there is no one player that does the majority of the scoring – eight guys are piled in the 3-10 point range, and just two, Hoffmann and Jack Dwyer ’18, are averaging double digits. I am not expecting a lot out of Hamilton in league player this year, but in the next couple years I expect them surge onto the scene as their young core matures.
11. Middlebury (6-6)
The Panthers are off to a tough start, and their mediocre offense is mostly to blame. Middlebury is having trouble winning games primarily because of two main factors: three-point shooting and free throw shooting. Middlebury is ranked second-worst in the NESCAC in made three-point field goals per game with just six. They’re also ranked 10th in made free throws per game, where they hit just 58.6 percent. With such low numbers at the charity stripe, especially in combination with such a lack of outside shooting ability, Middlebury’s only chance is to play absolutely stellar defense because you can’t expect them to shoot that much higher than the 45.5 percent mark that they’re hitting shots at. To their credit, Middlebury has done a solid job on the defensive end of the court. They’re forcing turnovers and difficult shots out of their opponents, but their lack of offense is ultimately the Achilles heel for the Panthers. Matt St. Amour ’17, Jake Brown ’17 and Matt Daley ’16 have done what they can to put the ball in the hoop, but they don’t really have anybody else who can score the ball. Middlebury is in the midst of a rebuilding period, and I don’t anticipate them making a playoff appearance this year.