Trinity (15-9, 4-6) @ #9 Williams (19-5, 7-3), 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
After a wild weekend of NESCAC basketball, Trinity limped into the playoffs as the #7 seed and Williams, like Middlebury, fell to the now #1 seeded Amherst Mammoths, dropping them in conference and in the national rankings. Obviously there is a big gap between Bowdoin and Trinity, the #7 and #8 teams in these playoffs and the top six teams. Bowdoin and Trinity combine for an 8-12 conference record (each 4-6 in conference), while the top six teams are all above .500. So, nabbing the #2 seed actually holds a lot of weight for the Ephs even though they missed out on hosting the NESCAC tournament (unless Amherst blows it against Bowdoin).
Trinity was on a bit of a hot streak entering last weekend, knocking off Wesleyan 73-60 and losing to Middlebury by just six (87-81), but fell flat against both Tufts (76-71)and Bates (65-48) who is now in their offseason. The Bantams had 17 turnovers in their game against the Bobcats, five over their season average. They were outscored by 12 in the second half and were destined for defeat thanks to a 12-13 free throw shooting performance from their opponent. They will need to play more disciplined basketball and shoot how they did against Wesleyan (9-18 3-PT) to have a chance against Williams. Williams, similarly, had won five in a row and 7/8 games before they lost a game they were expected to win against Amherst. They lost by a score of 72-57 to the Mammoths andshot just 27.6% from deep, much lower than their 35.8% season average that ranks third in the NESCAC. They shot just 33.9% overall in the game and didn’t have a single player haul in more than six boards.
Trinity X-Factor: Donald Jorden ‘21
Eric Gendron is going to need to play the game of his career for the Bantams to win—there is no denying that. But he can’t win the game alone. He will need members of his supporting cast, namely Donald Jorden, a first-year bench player, to come up clutch in a key situation to keep this Trinity team in contention. Although he only averages 4 PPG on the season, he has shot 16-19 in his last four games, tallying 16 points against Wesleyan in the Bantams’ best win of the year. If he can play an equally big role and everything else goes perfectly, then Trinity could have a chance to upset the #9 team in the country—if they don’t show up to play at all.
Williams X-Factor: Bobby Casey
While James Heskett is a potential player of the year, Casey has been the MVP of their last two games. The senior has scored a combined 53 points in his games against Amherst and Hamilton, shooting 16-30 total and a blistering 10-18 from deep. He is averaging 16.1 points per game on the season but really broke out right before the playoffs. If he plays anything like he did against Hamilton (31 points, 7-10 3-PT), then the Ephs should control this game from start to finish.
It is no secret that Trinity is the heavy underdog in this game as they already lost 75-58 in their meeting earlier this year. Williams is deeper, has played better against better teams, and obviously has a better record. They are playing at home and are comfortable with their position, hoping to snag a home weekend in the semis if Bowdoin can upset Wesleyan. Trinity should be weary but know that they have nothing to lose.
Some things to note for this game are that Williams has a struggling player in their starting lineup and could lead to a double team on defense on either Bobby Casey or James Heskett. This flawed player is Cole Teal who has shot 1-17 in his last two games. You read that right. 1-17. That isn’t good and certainly contributed to Williams’ loss against Amherst. That kind of inefficiency led to many wasted possessions for the Ephs and if the Bantams are on fire—as they need to be—it could certainly play into an upset factor.
Even though on the season Williams is also ever so slightly better defensively than Trinity, racking up 0.2 more rebounds per game and 0.4 more steals per game on average than the Bantams. This is another reason that Donald Jorden could come in to be a key player as he racked up 10 rebounds in his big game against Wesleyan, as many as any Williams player has had combined in their last two games. Williams still has the edge by a large margin in this game, but Trinity could put up a fight in their best case scenario.
And after a long and exciting, up and down, confusing at times regular season, we are headed into the final weekend before the playoffs. With all teams only having either one or two more NESCAC games, Bates is the odd man out in the playoffs, looking in with a must win game against Trinity. They either need to beat Trinity and have the Bantams lose again to Tufts or need Bowdoin to lose out after a tough weekend against Conn and Wesleyan. That just leaves the matter of seeding. The top five spots could be completely flipped come playoff time as Middlebury, Hamilton, Amherst, and Williams all clash in some mix of games, with Wesleyan finishing their schedule out with some easier games. While Midd controls its own destiny, they are playing two locked in playoff teams that both want not only higher seeds, but a chance to host the NESCAC tournament. Time to lock in fans, March is coming quickly and everybody wants a ticket to title-town.
1. #5 Middlebury (19-3, 7-1)
Last Week: 72-70 W vs. Bowdoin; 75-56 W vs. Colby
This Week: @ Hamilton, @ Amherst
Although the end result of last weekend was of no surprise, the favored Panthers narrowly escaped with a victory against Bowdoin, relying on a last minute shot from Adisa Majors to break the tie. While Bowdoin’s players certainly aren’t chumps and are likely going to be a tough first round game for either Midd or Williams, Middlebury should be expected to play better the next time around. The Panthers, while rolling and climbing in the national rankings every week, are missing just one part of their game—three point shooting. They racked up just a 25.9% success rate against the Polar Bears, with no player shooting over 33% individually from deep. This is a glaring problem as they could struggle against sharp shooting teams like Williams later on in the season—winning their earlier matchup due to an explosion from Joey Leighton. The Panthers are still rolling and are the team to beat, but they could fall to Hamilton this weekend if they get out shot on the road.
2. #8 Williams (18-4, 6-2)
Last Week: 77-49 W vs. Colby; 72-55 W vs. Bowdoin
This Week: @ Amherst; @ Hamilton
Another easy weekend has Williams getting closer and closer to Midd in these rankings. Their improving versatility, shooting diversity, and high margins of victory are convincing in how deserving they are to be considered the best team. They whooped Colby and shot well from the field and from deep, but against Bowdoin, like Middlebury, they were stifled from deep with Bobby Casey going just 1-10 from beyond the arc. This looks like more of an outlier and due to some good defense this past weekend from Bowdoin, but James Heskett can’t do it all himself in the playoffs. This weekend will bring out the best in these top two teams, revealing which is the strongest heading into the playoffs with each squad set to face the same opponents.
3. #15 Hamilton (19-2, 6-2)
Last Week: 57-74 W @ Tufts; 89-57 W @ Bates
This Week: vs. Middlebury; vs. Williams
A blowout win against Bates and another one against Tufts has me convinced that Hamilton has successfully rebounded heading into the playoffs. While they certainly put some doubt into my mind after losing two conference games in a row, their win against the Jumbos who knocked off Amherst shows that they are still a top notch team in the conference. Now, the switch isn’t flipping on and off every time the Continentals win or lose, and I don’t think they are as strong as Midd or Williams, but they are a top four team and have a shot to compete for a ring which is all any team can ask for. They kept it simple against the Jumbos, played aggressively, and shot their way to victory from the charity stripe, going 26-33, good for almost 80%. They played great defense, out-rebounded the Jumbos, and pushed them to shoot brutally from the field. Hamilton evenly dispersed their scoring and even saw a lackluster performance from star player Kena Gilmour, showing their depth and potential heading into a pivotal weekend against these top two teams. Time to see how the Continentals can compete against the top dawgs.
4. #22 Wesleyan (17-5, 5-3)
Last Week: 60-73 L @ Trinity
This Week: @ Colby, @ Bowdoin
Both good and bad came from this past weekend for the Cardinals. While they saw a disappointing loss against Trinity in an important game for their playoff seeding, they also saw the return of starting PG Kevin O’Brien, just in time for the playoffs. Although he needed to work back into the lineup slowly, going from 13 to 31 minutes played in the two games last weekend, he should be primed to get back to his usual role in these games that Wesleyan should win. The loss against Trinity resulted from a 5-26 three point shooting performance and a lights out performance from the Bantams. I don’t expect this to happen again, seen in their exclamatory win against the Mammoths, featuring more efficient shooting from Wesleyan’s three best shooters, and a strong near double-double from O’Brien.
5. Amherst (14-8, 5-3)
Last Week: 56-60 L @ Tufts; 80-61 W @ Bates
This Week: vs. Williams; vs. Middlebury
On the both sides of the surging Amherst team’s win against Bates were two bad losses. The Mammoths, looking like a championship contender of late, came up with two duds, one against a struggling Tufts team and the other to a strong Wesleyan team, but by a whopping 24 points. Against the Jumbos, albeit a close game where neither team pulled away, the Mammoths simply showed they weren’t exceptional. They were unable to distinguish themselves from a team that has been up and down all year and as a result are no longer in the top four championship contenders. Against Wesleyan in a non-conference mid-week game on February 6th, they shot terribly, going 21-76 (27.6%), and collected just 36 rebounds. Grant Robinson was the only starter to score double digit points and without some bigger performances, they won’t be able to best the star power of any of the top four teams.
6. Tufts (16-7, 5-4)
Last Week: 60-56 W vs. Amherst; 74-57 L vs. Hamilton
This Week: vs. Trinity
KJ Garrett has remained a non-factor in recent games, even in their much needed win against Amherst. Vincent Pace carried the Jumbos with his 27 points and eight rebounds, accounting for nearly half of their scoring. Without a similar performance against Hamilton, Tufts had no shot, shooting just 24.1% overall and a pathetic 15.4% from deep, lacking scorers, depth, rebounding, and enough oomph to make it past the quarterfinals of the NESCAC tournament.
7. Bowdoin (14-7, 3-5)
Last Week: 70-72 L @ Middlebury; 55-72 L @ Williams
This Week: vs. Conn, vs. Wesleyan
While I continue to reiterate how Bowdoin has a strong starting lineup with several star quality players, David Reynolds, Jack Simonds, and Hugh O’Neil weren’t able to carry the Polar Bears past the top two teams. They nearly knocked off the Panthers, showing how they could give teams fits in the playoffs and be an upset contender. They added in another solid performance from Liam Farley who shot 6-11 for 17 points against Midd. They do still lack a strong presence in the post, with none of their players racking up over eight rebounds in the close loss, outmatched by Eric McCord, Jack Daly, and Adisa Majors. They could pull it together in time for playoff weekend, and could climb up the rankings quickly if they can knock of Wesleyan this weekend.
8. Trinity (15-7, 4-4)
Last Week: 82-65 W @ Conn; 73-60 W vs. Wesleyan
This Week: @ Bates; @ Tufts
An undefeated weekend all but secured Trinity’s place in the playoffs as they surged to an upset win against #22 Wesleyan. If they beat Bates, they clinch their place in the postseason and will be riding the hot hands of Donald Jorden, Eric Gendron, and Jeremy Arthur. The trio combined to shoot 16-24 in the contest and added 17 rebounds (10 by Jorden) to put them over the edge against the Cardinals. Four of their starters combined for 15 assists and they put together a balanced effort on all sides of the floor. Tufts should be weary of the Bantams this weekend, and so should the top seeds as they could pose a potential threat with their end of season momentum. They aren’t close to the level of the top teams, but they have to be happy with where they have come from a few weeks ago.
9. Bates (11-12, 3-6)
Last Week: 57-89 L vs. Hamilton; 61-80 L vs. Amherst
This Week: vs. Trinity
Two brutal losses all but ended Bates’ chances of securing any games beyond the regular season even though they have some promising tools. Jeff Spellman and Nick Lynch really didn’t show up against Amherst and didn’t do Bates any favors as they descended into obscurity. They now face a do-or-die situation against Trinity and need help to reach the playoffs. While unlikely, they better bring their A-game and hope that the home crowd can supply some extra juice as they will need it.
10. Colby (10-12, 1-7)
Last Week: 49-77 L vs. Amherst; 56-75 L @ Middlebury
This Week: vs. Wesleyan, vs. Conn
Once again, there aren’t a whole lot of positives here for the Mules, headed towards the offseason and a losing record. They have some promising youth and could head on a Hamilton-like path in the future, but have some serious work to do in the meantime. Luckily for the Mules, they should have a good shot to end their season on a win for senior night against the Conn Camels. It’s the little things.
11. Conn College (6-15, 0-8)
Last Week: 65-82 L vs. Trinity
This Week: @ Bowdoin; @ Colby
It seems the Camels have squandered a great season from David Labossiere and a recent surge from Dan Draffan. Labossiere averages about 17 PPG and Draffan is up to over 14 PPG and nearly six rebounds per game. While they might not win against any NESCAC teams, at least they tried.