Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3) @ Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4), New London, CT 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 28th
The “Battle for Connecticut” is not, as I originally thought, a sci-fi movie about 30-foot tall white families duking it out in Hartford. It is instead this game, which features two teams sitting in precarious positions in the league rankings. Connecticut College has a couple impressive wins under their belt, an overtime thriller over Amherst, and a demolition of Bates in Alumni Gym. But they also have four losses and have shown an inability to score against elite defenses (see their 70-52 loss to Trinity.) And Wesleyan is certainly an elite defense. It has been that side of the ball that allowed them to recover from their 0-2 start. The Cardinals are now 3-3, and gave Tufts their toughest test of league play so far in a 77-73 loss. They only allow opponents to shoot 34.7% from the field, which is among the national leaders and leads the conference by a considerable margin. The Camels will need to prove that they can score against the best in order to have a chance in this game.
Wesleyan X-Factor: Jordan Sears ‘18
It’s not a coincidence that Wesleyan has won both the league games that Sears has started. At 6’5″ and 200 pounds, Sears is defensive and rebounding menace, averaging 1.2 blocks and 4.6 rebounds per game despite only playing 17 minutes. He has started against Trinity and Bates, who boast the two best big men in the league in Ed Ogundeko and Malcolm Delpeche respectively. Sears was the key to not letting those stars own the paint against Wesleyan. I would expect him to play a similar role against Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17, Connecticut College’s two excellent forwards.
Sears’ starting spot has another benefit for the Cardinals in that it pushes Nathan Krill ‘18 to the bench. That may read like a jab at Krill, but let me explain. Krill may well be Wesleyan’s best offensive player, but his volatile temper makes it difficult for him to remain on the floor at times. Bringing him off the bench makes it easier for Coach Reilly to control his star forward. It also gives the often-dead Wesleyan second unit some needed scoring punch, and allows Krill to beat up on slower second unit players. Sears starting has been a key to Wesleyan’s turnaround.
Connecticut College X-Factor: Isaiah Robinson ‘18
Wesleyan is a team that will try to beat you up, particularly in the paint. Connecticut College is well equipped to hit back, but they will also need to hit from the perimeter, as Wesleyan has shown themselves to not be able to keep up in a faster paced offensive game. Robinson combines those two responsibilities. Robinson is 6’5” and built like a linebacker, giving him more than enough strength to push back when Krill and Joseph Kuo ‘17 try to body him in the paint. But he also has quick feet and can stretch the floor, shooting 38.6% from three. Robinson will need to be an offensive threat in this game to pull the Wesleyan big men away from the basket and open things up for Pavlin and Janel to do their work inside. And he may also draw the critical task of getting in Nathan Krill’s head and forcing him into foul trouble.
Who Needs it More:
Wesleyan has done a terrific job climbing back into the upper half of the league, and of course needs to continue playing well in order to stay there. This is a crucial game for them, as they travel to Williams and Amherst next weekend. They need the freedom to lose one of those games and still be in contention for a high seed. But Connecticut College still needs this one more. In the ever-shifting NESCAC landscape, the difference between 3-4 and 2-5 is difficult to overstate. The Camels have done great work getting over the…barrier (not going to make the “hump” pun again) and being relevant this season, but this game is the key to them remaining there.
Starting Jordan Sears has freed up Nathan Krill and strengthened Wesleyan’s defense in the paint against elite big men, but it also puts more pressure on the perimeter players in the starting lineup. Sears is aggressively non-threatening on offense, allowing opposing teams to sag off on him and double the primary ball handlers Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17. This has forced Kevin O’Brien ‘19 to step up as a scoring threat. He has done this admirably at times, scoring 20 and 19 back-to-back against Hamilton and Amherst. When teams leave Sears alone and key in on Green and Rafferty, O’Brien has to be ready to step up and be a scoring threat, or else Wesleyan simply doesn’t have enough offense.
Three point shooting will be the most important stat for Connecticut College in this game. They can’t beat Wesleyan in bar-room brawl in the paint, the Cardinals’ win over Trinity proved that no one can. They need to stretch the floor and speed the Wesleyan up. They have showed the tendency to make mistakes on offense and defense when they are forced the play faster than their preferred pace. Lee Messier ‘18 will need to shoot a little better than his 33% yearly rate, and Robinson and David Labossiere ‘19 will also need to knock a couple down.
Wesleyan comes into this game with all the momentum, and would probably be favored in Vegas if bookies out there cared about NESCAC sports at all. But Connecticut College matches up very well with the Cardinals. They have outside threats to spread out the Wesleyan defense, and forwards who can bang with the Special K’s (Kuo and Krill.) This should be hard fought, low scoring battle, featuring a lot of rebounds and fouls. In other words, a terrific viewing experience, and Wesleyan’s specialty. I think the Cardinals pull it out.
As Rory pointed out in the Friday preview, the third weekend is often a pivotal one for playoff chances. An 0-2 weekend this late in the season can be damning for post-season hopes, and that is only exacerbated by how strong the league is this year. Teams like Williams, Colby and yes, even Amherst need strong weekends to keep their playoff hopes alive, or reassert their place at the top of the league.
GAME OF THE WEEK – SUNDAY: Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) at Williams (12-4, 1-3): Sunday, 1/22, Williamstown, MA, 2:00 PM
Will I choose Middlebury as the Game of the Week in every preview? Probably. But this game deserves must-watch status. Not only is it a rivalry game pitting two of the most successful teams of the last decade against each other, it features two of the best scorers in the league in Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Daniel Aronowitz ‘17. And it should end before the Patriots game starts, so no worries there.
Middlebury and Williams enter the game on very different footing in the league. Middlebury is 3-1, and was very close to pulling out a win at Tufts. Williams, on the other hand, comes in at 1-3 and has looked like one of the bottom teams in the league. For much of the post-Michael Mayer era, Williams has been a highly dangerous and successful 3-and-D team, relying on outside shooting and strong perimeter defense to remain a contender in the NESCAC. But the Ephs haven’t been able to put together those two components of their machine yet this year. Despite taking the most three point shots in the league by a considerable margin, they have the third-lowest percentage. The defense is still strong from a numbers standpoint, but they have been exploitable by patient offenses, allowing the third-highest shooting percentage to their opponents in the league. Williams might not have the personnel to continue playing their patented style, but they could prove that idea very wrong with a win over the Panthers.
We’ve been writing a great deal lately about how the forward rotation of Matt Folger ‘20, Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘19 has given the Panthers an interior presence that many felt they’d be lacking this year. But in this game, I see the guards off the bench as being a crucial factor in Middlebury’s game plan. Williams will undoubtedly attempt to use the three point shot as a way to counteract Middlebury’s quick-strike offense. And if they’re hitting those shots, the Panthers may need some firepower from the outside to match them. That’s where the guards come in. The primary outside threat off the bench for Middlebury is Bryan Jones ‘17, who played some nice minutes early in the season but has shot just 5-18 in conference play. Recently, freshman guard Joey Leighton ‘20 has shot very well, entering the rotation just before league play and hitting 44% of his three pointers. Senior Liam Naughton and freshman Perry Delorenzo are also options, but haven’t played much in tight spots. Middlebury may need Jones and Leighton in particular to be scoring threats to open the floor for the three starting guards and the post players.
Williams’ big man rotation is a key for them as well. It is very telling that in Williams’ only NESCAC win thus far, a 72-66 road win over Colby, they got 33 points from their four forwards. In the other games, Williams has received a shocking lack of production from the frontcourt, on both sides of the ball. Williams is the second worst rebounding team in the league, and neither James Heskett ‘19 nor Matt Karpowicz ‘20 nor Marcos Soto ‘19 has been nearly consistent enough offensively to worry opposing teams. If Williams is to match Middlebury’s newfound interior presence, they will need good production from at least two of those bench players, as well as starters Kyle Scadlock ‘19 and Michael Kempton ‘19.
This is a critical game for Williams, who is drifting dangerously close to falling out of contention for a top four seed. They have traditionally enjoyed a huge home court advantage, and have beaten Middlebury in some classics in Williamstown over the last few seasons, particularly in tournament play. But they need more than history on their side on Sunday. They need their role players like Cole Teal ‘17 and Heskett to hit some threes, and they need Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Scadlock to play like stars. Aronowitz in particular should be key, as he will probably be matching St. Amour for much of the game. He has to at least play him to a draw if the Ephs have a shot.
Middlebury wins this one on paper. They have far more offensive weapons on the perimeter, and should be able to crash the boards against Williams’ frontcourt. However, Williams’ style of play is by nature unpredictable. If they are hitting threes, they can hang with anyone in the country, and it will be Middlebury’s job to run them off the line and into the paint, where they are far less proficient at finishing over size.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Connecticut College (10-5, 1-3) at Tufts (13-2, 4-0): Medford, MA, 3:00 PM
Basking in the glow of their new standing at the top of the Power Rankings, Tufts has taken the league by storm, winning their first four NESCAC games. They still haven’t quite gotten POY-level production from Vincent Pace ‘18, but KJ Garrett averaged 15 PPG over the two games last weekend, giving them a valuable offensive weapon off the bench. The Jumbos still have problems in the post, as Tom Palleschi ‘17 has struggled offensively for much of the season. That said, Tufts has plenty of weapons ready to pick up the slack.
Connecticut College has a lot of momentum entering this weekend. They shocked Amherst last Sunday, owning the paint en route to an 83-76 OT win. The Camels were able to lock down Jayde Dawson ‘18 as well as any team has this year, holding him to 9 points on 4-10 shooting. That suggests that they should be well-equipped to handle Pace, who showed signs against Middlebury that he’s rounding back into form. They also got 40 points and 18 rebounds collectively from senior forwards Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17. Tufts showed against Middlebury that strong post players can give them problems, as Eric McCord emerged against them with 22 points. Therefore, Connecticut College has the tools to pull off another upset, but I don’t see it happening.
I’m setting the over/under for total points in this game at 105, as arguably the two best defenses (and least consistent offenses) in the league square off in what may come to be known as “The Battle of the Bricks.” Wesleyan looked to be nearly dead after starting off 0-2, but roared back with two straight wins over Amherst and Trinity. Wesleyan’s elite defense was on full display in both games, holding the two teams to an average of 60 PPG. They finally received some offensive firepower from Kevin O’ Brien ‘19, and Harry Rafferty ‘17 too, an encouraging sign. To win at Bates, they will need one of those two, or Salim Green ‘19 (finally got his name right) to shoot well from the perimeter, as Bates’ interior defense is often pretty much impenetrable.
Bates has been one of the surprises of the season thus far, sitting at 3-1 with a quality home win over Hamilton under their belt. Their success has obviously been chiefly due to the Delpeche twins, who combine for 27 PPG and 19 REB/G. Additionally, Malcolm leads the league in blocks at over 3 per game. The Delpeches are the keys to Bates’ offense and defense, but freshman transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been pivotal in giving the Bobcats a perimeter threat off the bench. He had 30 points over the weekend. Bates should give Wesleyan a heavy dose of both Delpeche brothers, putting a tremendous defensive burden on Nathan Krill ‘19 and Joseph Kuo ‘17. Taking Bates’ lyric little bandbox of a home court into account, I see the towering twins leading Bates to another impressive home win.
Well if they lose this one, there’s officially a crisis in Amherst. The Purple and White have lost two in a row, both to teams that hadn’t won a game in league play entering their match-up. Amherst’s problems have been copiously and gleefully documented on this blog, but they boil down to a lack of dimensionality on offense. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 have too much responsibility, allowing teams like Wesleyan to load up on them and dare other players to beat them. Colby probably doesn’t have quite enough perimeter depth to make use of this gameplan, but other teams have certainly taken notes on what Wesleyan and Conn College did to Amherst last weekend.
Colby may be the only team that played worse than Amherst last weekend. At 0-3 in the league, they are carving out a niche as the bottom team in a very strong league. Colby simply doesn’t have enough weapons to hang with the top teams in the league. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four, but like McCarthy and Dawson, he often carries an unreasonable burden for the Mules, yet with less of a supporting cast around him than the two Amherst guards. Amherst should use this game to get back on track, and ideally find a little more depth on offense.
This game is a matchup of stars. Jack Simonds ‘19 and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 would be my top two POY candidates at this point in the season, due to their importance to their respective teams. Bowdoin for the most part goes as far as Simonds can carry them, as was proven by his electric 32 point performance in their lone NESCAC win over Williams. This game will be an excellent test of Simonds’ scoring chops in league play, as Trinity boasts an elite defense anchored by, who else, Ed Ogundeko.
Ogundeko may carry an even heavier load for Trinity than Simonds does for Bowdoin. In addition to being the key to the offense, he leads the league (and by nature of the transitive property, the team as well) in rebounding, and may be the one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the league. Players are straight-up terrified of shooting layups against him, which is heavily responsible for Trinity being among the league leaders in most defensive catagories. Bowdoin, on the other hand, is the worst rebounding team in the league. This could well be another 20-20 game for Big Ed, and if that’s the case, I see Trinity taking the win at home.
This weekend brought tight games, upsets, and standings shake-ups. Some players rose to the occasion in times of need, while others shrunk from the spotlight. One thing that is certain about the NESCAC this year is that it is competitive through and through. Here are this week’s power rankings: 1.) #4 Tufts (13-2, 4-0) Tufts’ victories against Middlebury and Hamilton cemented them at the top spot this week as the only undefeated team in NESCAC competition. Tufts barely beat Middlebury, up by just one point with 21 seconds remaining, but were able to make their free throws and keep the lead in what could be a playoff preview. Other than their two back to back losses to #1 Babson (then #2) and UMass-Boston on December 3rd and 6th, the Jumbos have been perfect all season and are now the highest ranked team (#4) in the conference after Amherst’s two losses this past weekend. The Middlebury game was a great display of Tufts’ balance as all five starters scored double-digit points, with Everett Dayton leading the way with 16. Tom Palleschi continued his hot play and had a well rounded game with three blocks, three assists, six boards, and 10 points. Eric Savage went off against Hamilton on Saturday with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and a season high in boards that shows how versatile this Tufts team is and why they shouldn’t have many issues this weekend against a resurgent Wesleyan team and a decent Conn College team. Tufts should continue to climb in the national rankings. 2.) #15 Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) The Panthers would be #1 if Eric McCord made a final minute layup and they held on afterwards in Medford last Friday, yet the Jumbos held off McCord and Middlebury to give Midd their first loss in conference play. With that being said, Middlebury has found something in McCord that can help fill the hole that Zach Baines left when he departed from Vermont. McCord broke out against the Jumbos as he matched his season high in rebounds with eight and found a new season high of points with 22, 10 more than his previous high. He then added 11 points and six rebounds against Bates on Saturday, really cementing himself as the sixth man and as a force in the paint as the 6’7’’/255 pound beast is now a force to be reckoned with. Coach Brown also has to be happy that Nick Tarantino ’18 is holding his own in the starting lineup after struggling his first few starts beginning on December 29th. He has averaged nearly 10 rebounds and 10 points a game these last three contests and is shooting at over 50% in those games too, much better than the 1-6 he went against the Camels. Williams should be another team that the Panthers beat so long as these guys continue to produce – Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown can do the rest. 3.) #16 Amherst (10-4, 1-2) Yes, Amherst got swept this past weekend and are still ranked 3rd this week. Unfair? Maybe but they are still one of just four nationally ranked NESCAC teams and did knock off #1 Babson earlier in the season. Now, they lost to Wesleyan last Friday who was ranked earlier in the year and desperately needed the win in their home gym to remain relevant in the NESCAC. However, a 14 point loss to an unranked team isn’t really indicative of a championship caliber season. On top of that, Jayde Dawson had the best game and he did not play well. He did score 17, but 6-19 from the field and 1-7 from 3-point range is 2016 Kobe-esque in his send off game. Amherst followed up Friday with an OT loss to Conn College, who hasn’t been overly impressive thus far, giving the Camels their first ‘CAC win of the year. This is not a good sign for the Purple and White. Johnny McCarthy played well and got back to his consistent form with 19 points after just five against the Cardinals. So while Amherst might no longer host the NESCAC tournament, they are in no danger of falling out of the playoff race. They need to get it together this weekend against Bowdoin and Colby as a loss to either will certainly boot them out of the top-25 and push them farther down the power rankings. 4.) Bates (12-4, 3-1)
I’ll admit that I either underestimated the Bobcats or overestimated the Continentals. I fully expected Bates to fall to Hamilton last weekend, but here they are at #4 in the rankings already with three wins in conference, more than all of last year. Their performance so far has all but cemented them as a NESCAC playoff team. Bates defended four of six of Hamilton’s big scoring threats well (Gilmour, Doyle, Pucci, and Groll) which forced PG Jack Dwyer to shoot more than he generally likes to. While this allowed Dwyer to score a season high of 19, the other key players found themselves neutralized, allowing the Delpeche twins to have a day. Marcus scored 17 and hauled in 14 boards and Malcolm scored 12 and had 17 rebounds of his own. Jeff Spellman was a key player off of the bench too as he added 16 points in 25 minutes. Bates also played Middlebury in a tight game, falling behind early but clawing their way to within a 10 point margin by the end. Marcus Delpeche found less shooting success in this contest and Middlebury controlled the rebounds (45-31), giving the Panthers an upper hand, especially in the first half. Bates should beat Conn College on Friday if they keep playing with this intensity and their matchup against Wesleyan will tell who should be higher in the rankings. 5.) Wesleyan (13-3, 2-2) Two shocking losses to open up conference play and drop the Cardinals out of the top-25 were not part of the plan. These 18 and 16 point losses to Middlebury and Hamilton respectively had to hurt, but Wesleyan really bounced back against previously #5 Amherst and a solid Trinity team at home, preventing a bottom half ranking this week. The victory over Amherst is especially surprising. Amherst had been dominant all year up until that point and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. But Wesleyan’s defense shined on Friday, holding the Purple and White to just 30% shooting from the field and 24.1% from beyond the arc. Kevin O’Brien led the way with 19 points, nine boards, four assists, four steals, and two blocks. Jordan Sears also had a big 10 rebounds off of the bench and Amherst just couldn’t put anything together. The most remarkable stat from the weekend is that both O’Brien and Joseph Kuo had more rebounds at 11 and 10 respectively than Ed Ogundeko did, who had just eight on Saturday. Kuo also added 14 points and the Cardinals narrowly pulled out the win, reestablishing themselves as a contender. They have a tough weekend against Tufts and Bates and if they can go 1-1 that should be considered a success. 6.) Hamilton (11-4, 2-2) I’m a big fan of the Continentals’ resurgence similar to Bates from last place to a position of relevance in the conference. Their youth will still shine through from time to time as consistency and closing out games is a big focus for the team, but at 2-2 they still have a lot of potential upward mobility ahead of them if they seize the opportunity. Dwyer showed last weekend against Bates that when other teammates get shut down he can still shoot, although it wasn’t quite enough on the road on Friday. They did keep the game close and nearly managed to come back, but Kena Gilmour, Joe Pucci, and Andrew Groll weren’t themselves as they shot a combined 6-24. Their loss against Tufts was expected, but Groll and Gilmour had bounce back games while Pucci and Jack Dwyer couldn’t get it going. Tufts’ 46.3% from the field is what killed the Continentals. They will need a strong game, especially defensively, if they want to beat a desperate Williams team. 7.) Trinity (10-6, 2-1)
While the gap between Trinity and Hamilton and Wesleyan isn’t huge, their two conference wins against Williams and Conn College are hardly justification for a higher spot. Their loss to Wesleyan cemented them at #7 this week, and barring upset wins elsewhere in the conference, wins against Colby and Bowdoin this weekend shouldn’t move them too much higher. Ogundeko is averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.6 boards, top-5 in the league in both. However, Ogundeko showed against Wesleyan that he is human as he was out rebounded by two Cardinals. The Bantams are reliant on him to dominate in the paint as potential dud performances like Chris Turnbull’s against Conn College (0-7, zero points) could put easy wins in jeopardy. Despite the winning conference record, Trinity has issues as Langdon Neal hasn’t been too impressive shooting the ball, averaging just over four points in NESCAC games. Also, Trinity’s bench hasn’t produced much at all and compared to Middlebury and Hamilton’s bench players as an example, the Bantams don’t compare. Look for them to win this weekend but the Bowdoin game could be closer than people expect for the third place NESCAC team. 8.) Conn College (10-5, 1-3) Erasing a 17 point halftime deficit against Amherst bodes well for the Camels heading into the rest of the season. They just saved their NESCAC first half with that win as an 0-4 start could’ve sent them towards the offseason as playoffs would be a much tougher achievement at that point. 1-3 still isn’t good, but knocking off any ranked team is a feat worth mentioning. They played Middlebury closely on January 7th, lost big to both Trinity and Hamilton, and won by seven in OT to the Purple and White. Last weekend was a tale of two different Conn College teams. While the Camels usually rule the rebounds due to two big men, Daniel Janel and Zuri Pavlin (Pavlin recently broke the Conn College all time rebounding record), the pair notched only nine combined boards against Trinity compared to Ogundeko’s 12. On top of that David Labossiere shot just 2-8, Colin Pascoe didn’t take a shot, Isaiah Robinson only scored two points compared to his normal 9.5…you get my point. When that many players have down games, this team likely isn’t going to win. However, like they showed against Amherst, when both of their big men have incredible games, they win. It’s a tale of consistency and for a team that lost so many close games in the final minutes a year ago, they should be sick of these ups and downs. Not so bold prediction: anytime Janel and Pavlin score 20 each and have 18 rebounds combined, they’ll win. This weekend will be a good test to see is they can keep pace with the big dogs as Bates and Tufts are both challenges steep challenges, especially in those rowdy environments. 9.) Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2) The Polar Bears have the NESCAC scoring leader in Jack Simonds (21.9 ppg) and they can shoot as Hugh O’Neil ranks fourth in FG% (57.9%) and David Reynolds ranks fourth in 3PT% (43.3%). O’Neil is also in the top five in rebounds with 9.6 per game, but other than that, Bowdoin doesn’t have a whole lot going there way. The game against Tufts summarized this well as those three accounted for 25/42 rebounds, 40/54 points, and the rest of the team shot 6-30 from the field. Against Bates, again, these three were the only ones to score in double digits, had the majority of the rebounds, and only lost by five. While it was a close game, Bowdoin needs another element to complement these guys as the load can’t all fall on their shoulders. Neil Fuller could be that guy – he put up 10 against Williams along with five rebounds, helping out Bowdoin’s big three despite Reynolds’ down game. Of course, they will have a good chance if Simonds drops 32 every contest. This team needs more balance, and if they continue playing more like they did against the Ephs, they should have a better shot at making the playoffs. 10.) Williams (12-4, 1-3) Williams’ only conference win came against Colby who is right below them in the rankings, so it doesn’t say too much. It’s hard to believe but the Ephs were ranked this season in what seems like ages ago. Their recent drop off is a product of better competition in the conference and the lack of a big rebounding presence. Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz are their best chance at matching the league’s best, but a team high of 6.0 reb/g isn’t exactly noteworthy in a positive light. To emphasize this further, Ogundeko hauled in 23 rebounds against Williams, and while Aronowitz had a great game and had a double-double, they simply couldn’t stop the Bantam’s big man. In a two point loss like that, every possession is key, and if they could’ve gotten some offensive boards they would’ve been able to get over the hump. It was the same story against Bowdoin as the Polar Bears hauled in 40 rebounds compared to just 27 for the Ephs, while no individual had more than five and they had just six offensive rebounds. Williams can score well – Aronowitz, Scadlock, and Cole Teal all score over 10 per game – but unless they can stop other teams from controlling the ball, they won’t make the playoffs. 11.) Colby (7-7,0-3) 0-3 is obviously a tough start for any team, but especially for the underdog. Colby has a lot of ground to make up over these next few weeks as at least three or four wins will be needed to sneak into the NESCAC playoff picture. They have kept all three losses within 15 points, but Patrick Stewart is just about the only bright spot here. The senior is averaging 16.2 ppg while the next closest player is at just 7.9 ppg. His 6.2 rebounds also lead the team, and nobody has more than Joseph Connelly’s 2.4 a/g, which isn’t exactly impressive. First year Ethan Schlager has played well in conference games, with 11.3 ppg over these three contest in just 21.0 min/g, and the Mules will need more help from him and other rookies Ronan Schwarz and Sam Jefferson if they are going to have a chance at climbing out of the cellar. Away games at Trinity and Amherst are going to be tough contests, and I’d be shocked if they pulled off an upset.
While a 3-7 conference record in 2015-2016 wasn’t what the Camels envisioned, they still were just one game out of the NESCAC playoffs and if it weren’t for a couple of late season losses, would’ve made it to the postseason. Conn was 12-12 overall last year, and while there were plenty of more experienced and/or more talented teams in the league, the Camels were able to beat Middlebury 82-81 on January 9th and lost to Amherst a week later on January 16th, 88-86, showing their ability to play up with the best in the league. With that being said, two late losses to Colby and Bowdoin showed the second face of this young team, and just like that they got bounced from the NESCAC playoff race. Conn only graduated one senior, Bo McKinley ‘16, a centerpiece of their team as a leader, and therefore they retain their other four starters, 6th man, and brought in four new freshmen. The Camels need to make great strides from last year in order to have a shot at winning the league championship, but their team chemistry from last year and experience will be a big help.
While McKinley was a starter, he only averaged 7.1 PPG in just over 18 minutes per game, showing the potential for the rest of this Connecticut College squad. Additional minutes should open up for junior guard Lee Messier who impressed in nine starts last year, averaging nearly 14 points in just over 24 minutes per game. He will likely take over the two-spot as the smaller Tyler Rowe ’19 at 5’10’’ should stay as the primary ball handler. Small forward David Labossiere ’19 will return as a second year starter, showing real talent last year after gaining more consistent minutes a few weeks into the season. Labossiere has some shooting ability beyond the arc. Captain Zuri Pavlin ’17 is another returning starter who will play as a small four for the Camels, and was arguably their strongest player last year averaging 8.6 rebounds and 10.1 points per game. Rounding out the big contributing returners is fellow captain Daniel Janel who is a bigger forward than Pavlin, but will likely play as a small center as Conn lacks a true elite big man, and averaged 6 boards and 9.5 PPG a year ago. While they missed out on the playoffs a year ago, they clearly gained valuable experience and should start the year in the middle of the pack as dark horses to rise up in what is shaping up to be a dominant conference.
2015-2016 Record: 12-12, 3-7, 9th place in the NESCAC, one spot from the NESCAC playoffs
Guard Bo McKinley ‘16 (7.1 PPG, 1.2 REB/G, 1.3 A/G)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Guard Tyler Rowe ‘19
Rowe graced the ‘Faces in the Crowd’ section of Sports Illustrated last January after hitting back to back game winning shots against Middlebury and City College of New York, no small feat for any athlete. This shot him into the hearts of all Camel fans and fans of undersized basketball players. The 5’10” Rowe started as a freshman and certainly held his own against what has to be the best D3 competition in the nation. After all, four NESCAC teams went to the NCAA tourney last year. Four! While the point guard’s competition isn’t going to be getting easier this year, as a smaller player, he is less reliant on dominant physical ability and more on skill, so knowing the competition, the league, and individual opponents should help his game. Look for his assist numbers and shooting percentage to go up as he should begin to take smarter shots. He clocked in 27.8 minutes per game and started 22/24 contests during the 2015-2016 season; Rowe should take big strides towards the upper echelon of pg’s in the NESCAC this year.
Guard Lee Messier ‘18
Messier was in and out of the starting lineup last year, starting 9/18 games that he played in, right behind the aforementioned McKinley. With McKinley gone, Messier should be a big part of what the Camels do this season. There is currently still competition for the 5th starting spot as Coach Satran wouldn’t reveal his replacement for the graduated captain, but with four new players coming on the Camels’ roster and Messier likely gaining additional minutes with the hole in the lineup, Conn looks pretty well-off right now. Messier didn’t start over Bo last year, but he averaged nearly six more minutes per game than him in the games both played in. Messier showed flashes of dominance against two of the best teams the ‘CAC had to offer last season. Against Middlebury and Amherst, Messier put up 19 and 17 points respectively, shooting 66.7% and adding on several three pointers. He is a big X-Factor from the shooting guard position, and enters his junior season with similar numbers both of his first two years, showing that he will likely put up 13-15 PPG and inch closer to a 50% FG% as he matures as a player.
Forward David Labossiere ‘19
Similar to Rowe, Labossiere took on the league as a freshman starter and held his own. He emerged as one of the top newcomers in the conference at the two, registering 11.3 points and 3.6 boards a game. His athleticism isn’t to be questioned as the high flying small forward can jump out of the gym. Early on last season Fox Sports put him down as a contender for dunk of the year with a nasty and-one finish on an alley-oop against Roger Williams last November. The 6’4’’ forward should throw down some sick dunks, pin jobs, and other exciting plays for the Camels, transforming into a big playmaker in his sophomore season. If I went to Conn I’d go to the games just to watch this guy play.
As stated earlier, Pavlin had the best year by the numbers on a young team a year ago. His 8.6 rebounds per game led the team and were good for second place in the conference behind Trinity’s Ed Ogundeko ’17. Pavlin has a career total of a whopping 719 rebounds and lies just 112 boards behind the program leader, Peter Dorfman ’84, to become the program’s all-time leader. The captain power forward had even better defensive and offensive numbers his first two seasons and played nearly five less minutes per game last year. If he gets back to where he was sophomore year, he would push for the league lead in boards per game, and should average nearly a double double. A down year for him numbers-wise was still beastly, however, and there is more potential here for Pavlin heading into his senior season. Look for him to build on his past experience and dominate in the paint this season.
Forward Daniel Janel ‘17
First year captain Daniel Janel finished his second season last year after leaving Adelphi in the Northeast-10 conference in Division II. Janel averaged 9.5 PPG and 6.0 REB/G last year after only putting up 4.1 PPG and 3.1 boards per contest his first year at Conn. These two very different slash lines are indicative of hard work, improvement, and familiarization at the D3 level. He posted the seventh highest field goal percentage in the NESCAC at 53% from the field and should be a force in the paint again this season. The 6’5’’ senior is definitely undersized as big men go, but the help from Pavlin underneath should provide ample distribution of boards to both, making it tough on opposing teams. The third year of play between these captains should contribute to more improvement in communication down low, and each could be in the running for All-NESCAC accolades come the season’s end.
Breakout Player: Forward David Labossiere ‘19
As mentioned before, this guy is really athletic. He seems similar to Middlebury’s Zach Baines in that each is a big threat to dunk, and both put up great freshmen seasons as small forwards. Labossiere should make strides to find more opportunities to shoot. His performances against Middlebury and Amherst were big keys for me as they show what he can do against the best in this league. He led his team in the first half against the Final Four team from Western Mass, going 5-5 from the field. Shooting percentage wasn’t a problem for him last year as anything above 50% is pretty solid, so if he finds more openings (which usually comes with experience), he should put up some (La)boss(iere) numbers. When researching Conn’s team, I couldn’t help but watch Labossiere’s highlight tape and it was pretty impressive to say the least. Yeah a lot of basketball players can dunk, but Labossiere has style and ease when he plays, and I think he’s about to take it to a whole ‘nother level.
Coach Satran mentioned how the Camels need to adjust to the little things more than last year, and will need somebody else to step up as the 6th man with Messier likely entering the starting lineup. Conn should have depth with their already solid bench and four new recruits, and I suspect they will start the year in a much better place than 2015. The NESCAC is tough in terms of competition and the key for this developing team is “consistency.” Satran’s team knows that they can do it—they came within two points of upsetting Amherst in what was one of the best games of all of last year, and beat Middlebury. They also lost narrowly to Tufts at home in January, which would have been a huge momentum builder for the Camels. On the flip side, as I mentioned earlier, they lost to Colby and Bowdoin consecutively to end their season.
The high ceiling for the young Conn guards leaves a lot of room for growth, and they are anchored by Pavlin and Jalen down low. What helped the Camels last season was Messier’s presence right behind McKinley, acting as a great sixth man. This is going to be another essential for Conn going into the season—finding strong players deeper in their lineup to supplement their starting five. Satran will likely look to his youth for the backup as his squad starts to come into their own in the NESCAC. 6’5’’ Isaiah Robinson played in 20 games last year, averaged just over 15 minutes per contest, and has experience as a starter from his freshman year. He should be a valuable piece off of the bench for the Camels, bolstering their already strong big men. The Camels showed flashes of what was great basketball last season, but clearly couldn’t bring their A-game every night. They should improve in their consistency as they have nearly the same team as last year, but only time will tell if they will play down to weaker opponents. The top of the league should keep their eyes on the Camels as they push from the bottom up this year. The talent is there, but the question will be: can the Camels play to their full potential consistently?
Editor’s Note: Things can be a little confusing now that the season is underway. Consider the rest of our previews as season predictions based off of a compilation of conversations with coaches and players and observations from the first couple of games. All statistics that appear next to players’ names are from the 2014-15 season.
Conn was a very young team in 2014-2015, and it showed on the court as they went 0-10 in the NESCAC. However, they weren’t a pushover, losing four of those games by single digits, and they return the entire rotation from last year’s team. The roster is still very young with point guard Bo McKinley ’16 the only senior on the team. After hitting rock bottom last year, this season has to be one that shows progress. Just staying close is not going to be enough for the Camels. Conn College wants wins, and they have the personnel to do it.
7-16 overall; 0-10 NESCAC (11th); Did not qualify for NESCAC Tournament.
Head Coach: Tom Satran, 14th season, 124-185 (.401), Conn College Class of 1994
Returning Starters: Five
PG Bo McKinley ’16 (8.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 30.0% FG)
G Lee Messier ’18 (12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 35.4% 3PT)
F Colin Pascoe ’18 (4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 apg)
F Isaiah Robinson ’18 (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 43.5% FG) C Zuri Pavlin ’17 (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 50.7% FG)
All five starters return from a year ago, and the hope is that those three sophomores make big jumps in their second season. So far the Camels have mixed up the starting five with Daniel Janel ’18, a reserve for most of last season who came on strong near the end of the season, in the starting lineup. The Camels are not lacking 6’5″ and 6’6″ bodies, but they don’t have anybody taller than that who can really act as a defensive rim protector.
Projected Starting Lineup
PG Bo McKinley ’16 (8.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 30.0% FG)
McKinley has been a stalwart for this team, staying on the team as others have dropped off. As the point guard and only senior on the roster, McKinley has a clear leadership role for the Camels. He is not exactly a superstar, but he also has to take on a lot of responsibility on both ends of the floor. He is not quite quick enough to drive by his defender, but he still can do a better job of distributing the ball than last year when he had just 2.4 APG.
G Lee Messier ’18 (12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 35.4% 3PT)
Messier can shoot, and so far this year he has been doing a heck of a lot of it. He is shooting a somewhat ridiculous nine three pointers per game so far (that’s the most in the NESCAC), and he is making them at a 40.7 percent clip. That is the biggest reason why he is leading the Camels with 16.7 ppg through three games. His overall field goal percentage is lower than his three point percentage, and he has to be less reliant on jump shots. Messier is a solid two-guard besides just scoring, capable of chipping in a few assists and rebounds per game.
G Alex Tonhazy ’18 (8.4 ppg, 35.1% 3PT, 3.5 rpg)
This is the one position that is really up in the air, and the coaching staff is waiting for everybody to be healthy before really figuring out who exactly will fill this spot. I’m putting Tonhazy here because of the way he finished the season last year. Highlighted by a 28-point game vs. Trinity, he averaged 13.0 ppg in the final six games of the season, the only six games that he started. Tonhazy has had a very slow start to the season playing in just two of the three games so far and not starting either of those.
F Isaiah Robinson ’18 (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 43.5% FG)
Robinson has not played so far this year because of several nagging injuries, but he should be back in the next few weeks before Christmas. It will take him a little time to get his conditioning back so he might not really be at full strength until New Years. When he is healthy, Robinson is another bruiser inside with Pavlin. He did hit a little bit of a wall in NESCAC play with his scoring dropping to 7.7 PPG with a subpar 35.9 shooting percentage. He is a better player than that, and the early injuries might actually have the benefit of making him fresher for later in the season.
C Zuri Pavlin ’17 (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 50.7% FG)
The man in the middle, Pavlin is one of the best big men in the NESCAC, which is saying something given the caliber of players like Chris Hudnut ’16 and Tom Palleschi ’17. Pavlin is a grinder who outworks his opposition, and that is how he led the NESCAC in rebounding last year with 11.5 rpg. He also led the Camels in points last year, but he might see those numbers drop a little this season. Because he isn’t great at creating his own shot, he will give up some possessions to players like Messier, but ultimately I think Pavlin will become more efficient and retain pretty much the same scoring numbers. That is of course good for both Pavlin and the team. If the Camels play smaller and shoot more threes, that will also help Pavlin.
Am I choosing Labossiere just to show you that sick video … maybe a little given that the freshman has not played much so far. The coaching staff is excited about how he will grow over the four years, but this year will be a little more of a process as Labossiere gets more up to speed on the defensive schemes for Conn. He will be somewhat of a situational player with heavy minutes in some games and less in others. The early returns are promising beyond just that one video with Labossiere averaging 4.7 ppg and 3.7 rpg. His minutes might get squeezed as others get healthy, so he has to continue to prove that he is good enough now to get minutes.
The Camels are 1-2 early on, and they got their first win Sunday over Roger Williams. The key for them is on the defensive end, where they were the worst in the NESCAC last season. Nobody on the roster has identified themselves as a defensive stopper, and the lack of any perimeter stopper really hurts them against certain teams. As mentioned above, the Camels are not healthy right now, and that is not helping the team gain a rhythm early, though it is allowing some players to get good minutes. Guys like G Sean McNally ’18 and F Daniel Janel are getting a good amount of minutes, and they are going to be needed as important bench players all season.
One of the reasons why Pavlin gets so many rebounds is because nobody else on the roster is competing for them. After having one of the worst overall rebounding margins last year, Conn is right back near the bottom of the league through three games. Last year it was understandable given the youth on the team, but given that the players are now a year stronger, they should be better at holding their ground underneath.
Last year the Camels started three players (Robinson, Pavlin and Pascoe) who were NOT at all threats to shoot the ball. Many teams have four players who can pop it from downtown, and the simple arithmetic of three being more than two makes it advantageous for Conn to shoot more threes than they did last year when they were tied with Tufts for the second-fewest threes made. If they get a little more production from deep and clamp down on the boards, the Camels will knock some teams off. At the very very least, they are going to put a scare into a lot of teams.
Editors Note: This article was written by Josh Moss ’18, a Conn College student.
Connecticut College Camels
2013-2014 Season: 9-14 (2-8 NESCAC), 10th in the NESCAC, missed NESCAC tournament
Head Coach: Tom Satran, 13th season, 117-169 (40.9 percent), Connecticut College Class of 1994
Starters Returning: 3
G Bo McKinley ’16
F/C Zuri Pavlin ’17
F Colin Pascoe ’17
Breakout Player: F/C Zuri Pavlin ’17
Pavlin was overshadowed last year as a freshman somewhat by Hunter Sabety ’17 and Duncan Robinson ’17, but he could be primed for a big season after the departure of all-time NESCAC leading scorer Matt Vadas ’14. He set a program single season rebounding record with 249 rebounds. He ranked first in the NESCAC in rebounding with 10.8 boards per game, and he was the only player to average double digits. He also showed his talent on offense averaging 10.5 points per game, and it is believed that he is the first Camel men’s basketball player to average a double-double in his rookie season. Now that he is the centerpiece on both ends of the court, Pavlin is ready to battle it out with all the other talented young centers in the league.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G Bo McKinley ’16
The junior dished out 3.8 assists per game to rank seventh in the NESCAC, but will have to take on a bigger scoring role after only averaging 8.2 points per game. He went 30-75 from three point distance (40 percent) while making a seamless transition from the 2-guard spot to the point in a breakout sophomore season. He is a leader on a young team and was voted team captain.
F/C Zuri Pavlin ’17
You already got a good idea of what Pavlin can do since he is our breakout player. The sophomore should be ready to make a jump after getting his rookie year under his belt.
F Colin Pascoe ’17
Pascoe is the final sure fire starter for the Mules, and he will have to play a much bigger role this year. He started five games last year and averaged 4.5 points per game and 3.0 rebounds per game. He plays a similar position to what Vadas did last year so his minutes should go way up.
The other two starting positions are wide open for right now because of all the young players on the roster.
Last year, Pavlin had an immediate impact in the post while Vadas enjoyed the finest year of his prolific playing career. McKinley made a seamless shift to the point. Aside from their two NESCAC wins, the Camels dropped a 64-61 heartbreaker to Middlebury at the buzzer and were within two possessions in the final two minutes against NCAA Divisin-III runner up, Williams, before they lost a 98-90 decision to the Ephs on February 14.
The Camels have the potential to be a Cinderella story with their young talent. They are looking to turn heads and definitely could make a surprise run into the NESCAC tournament. We will see how this team meshes after losing Vadas.
Who will step up for the Camels this season? Pavlin and Pascoe will be aided in the frontcourt by the big 6’7’’ transfer Daniel Janel ’17 from Adelphi University. Guard Alex Hall ’17 is a solid shooter who could pick up some of Vadas’ production. He averaged 5.1 points in just 15.6 minuter per game of playing time. He netted 15 threes and poured in 21 points in matchup against Mitchell on February 11.
The team will look to push the tempo with young guns like Isaiah Robinson ’18 (Lynn, Mass., Salisbury School), Justin Holmes ’18 (Malibu, Calif., Malibu HS), Lee Messier ’18 (Narragansett, R.I., Tilton School), and Aaron Swenson ’18 (Waltham, Mass., Middlesex School). The first game is this Saturday November 15 against Framingham St. in the Connecticut College Coaches vs. Cancer Tip-Off Tournament. Opening tip is set for 6:00pm.
Also, the team has used a winter break trip to bond and learn more about the game while training in some historic venues. Last year, the Camels took a trip to North Carolina and even had a chance to practice at Duke.