#11 Williams (12-3, 3-1) @ #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1), Saturday, January 20, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
The Ephs and the Panthers have become the NESCAC equivalent of the Cavs and Warriors in recent years. The teams met three times last season, including for the NESCAC Championship and in the NCAA Elite Eight. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, beating Middlebury in Pepin Gymnasium to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have carried over that success into this season. They are each ranked in the top 20 in the country, and have battled it out for the top spot in the league all season, along with Wesleyan and Hamilton.
However, both teams are far from unbeatable. Williams is without their star player, Kyle Scadlock ’19, for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Middlebury’s shooting struggles are starting to become incredibly worrying. Middlebury’s NESCAC loss is to Wesleyan, whom Williams beat for their best win. And Williams’ lone NESCAC loss is to Tufts, whom Middlebury just beat handily at home for their best win. All this is to say that both these teams are again tremendously evenly matched, and this game should have huge ramifications for league standings and the playoff picture overall.
Middlebury X-Factor: G Max Bosco ’21
At first glance, this pick might seem to be coming out of left field. Bosco has played fewer minutes than his fellow first year guards Jack Farrell ’21 and Griffin Kornacker ’21, primarily due to his smaller stature and struggles to create shots for others off the dribble. Farrell and Kornacker are both miles ahead of Bosco defensively at this point, and Joey Leighton ’20 is certainly more confident offensively. But Bosco can really shoot the ball. He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances yet, but his stroke is as sweet as anyone’s. Middlebury is the worst three point shooting team in the league, and second worst overall from the field. The clutch heroics of Jack Daly and excellent team defense will not be able to save the Panthers against Williams; they have to hit some outside shots to match Williams’ three point heavy attack. Bosco is capable of doing so. Additionally, his defensive struggles will not be as pronounced against the Ephs. Bobby Casey ’20 and Mike Greenman ’18, and even Cole Teal ’18, are an excellent group of players, but they are not large. Casey and Teal will be handled by Daly and Hilal Dahleh ’19, leaving Bosco matched with the 5’8″ Greenman. Bosco has a great opportunity this game to do what he does best; hit shots.
Williams X-Factor: F Matt Karpowicz ’20
We gave Karpowicz a lot of love in the stock report earlier this week, and that’s not just because he wrote some average football articles for us in the fall. Karpowicz is often unstoppable on the block, shooting 73% from the field, almost all in the paint. He splits time with Michael Kempton ’19, another very large person. As longtime reader Howard Herman pointed out, the two players offer very different looks for the offense. Kempton is a distributor, averaging 2 assists per game despite only playing 15 minutes. However, he is not a scoring threat, only shooting 42% from the field. Karpowicz is a game-changing scorer, and draws a lot of attention on the block, freeing up dominant shooters like Casey and James Heskett ’19. Indeed, in Williams’ closer games he ends up playing most of the crunch time minutes. I expect Middlebury to get a far heavier dose of Karpowicz than Kempton. Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ’18 is a great athlete, but struggles with strong post scorers who can back him down and neutralize his length and leaping ability. And Adisa Majors ’18 is simply undersized, no matter which big man Williams has in. This means that Eric McCord ’19 is the guy, and has to avoid the foul trouble that hurt him against Albertus Magnus. In a game in which Middlebury must game plan heavily for Casey and Heskett, Karpowicz is the guy for whom Middlebury has no answer for on their roster.
James Heskett is certainly on the short list for Player of the Year, along with his teammate Bobby Casey, Jack Daly and Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour. He’s very long, with a gorgeous jump shot and incredible quickness for his size. Indeed, he’s been arguably the best shooter in the league this season, hitting 51% from the field and 43% from three. Luckily for Middlebury, however, they have one of the only players in the league who can match his skill set, if not his efficiency, in Matt Folger ’20. Along with the rest of the Panthers, Folger’s shooting numbers have taken a hit of late, but he is still a deadly scorer inside and out. And more importantly for this match up, he is miles ahead of Heskett defensively. Heskett’s skill set and athleticism have not yet translated to that end, as he averages just 0.3 blocks per game and 0.9 steals. Even more jarring is that he averages just 3.8 rebounds a night, despite being 6’8.” Folger, on the other end, has clearly focused on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the league in blocks at 2.4, and grabs 8.1 rebounds a night. If Folger can outscore Heskett, Middlebury has a good chance to win.
Rebounding may well be the key to Middlebury’s chances in this game. The Panthers are a bona fide dominant team on the glass. Their numbers are skewed by pulling down a ridiculous 70 against Tufts, but they still lead the league in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and are second in rebounding margin. Williams is towards the bottom of the league in all of those categories. For a team that struggles shooting like Middlebury does, offensive rebounds are a must have statistic, and were what kept them in the game against Tufts until they pulled away in the second half. Williams is a team Middlebury can bully on the glass, creating second chances if shots aren’t falling.
Last thing: this could be a huge game for Jack Daly. He historically raises his game against Williams, but this isn’t just his already covered “clutch gene.” Williams doesn’t really have an answer for his strength at the guard spots. Greenman is far too small, and Bobby Casey isn’t particularly strong defensively. In fact, Williams doesn’t have a single player averaging more than one steal per game. Even their big men are occaisionally timid inside, with the notable exception of Karpowicz. This means that Daly is usually able to get to the basket easily against the Ephs. He’ll draw attention to the paint, and he’s the best in the country at finding open players once he gets around the basket. The key will be how many shots those players can hit.
No longtime readers will be surprised by this, but I think Middlebury, on the backs of Jack Daly and an assuredly raucous home crowd, pulls this one out.
Finally the order of teams is starting to have some clarity. Hamilton finally saw their first ranked opponent in Wesleyan and took care of business, cementing themselves as the team to beat at this point without a blemish on their record. Middlebury knocked off Tufts who knocked off Williams, putting into question the 2-5 spots in these rankings. However, this weekend should bring more clarity as Williams’ true talent level without Kyle Scadlock will be tested against Middlebury. The teams in the bottom half have largely only played each other, with Trinity looking like the “best of the rest.”
1. #14 Hamilton (14-0, 3-0)
Last Week: 76-70 W vs. Wesleyan, 102-77 W @ Conn College
This Week: @ Amherst
And now they are legit. After knocking off Wesleyan at home, the Continentals are proven to be the real deal. While this spot at the top of the Power Rankings may be temporary, their spot in the D3 Top 25 is well deserved despite an easy preseason schedule. Wesleyan was the first difficult NESCAC opponent that Hamilton beat (Trinity and Conn are the other two), and with Wesleyan’s opening weekend win against Middlebury, Hamilton is further cemented as a real NESCAC contender. Their game against Amherst should be a high scoring win with a large margin of victory if all else remains the same with Kena Gilmour the centerpiece of Hamilton’s offense. He poured in 20 points in a defensive heavy game against the Cardinals despite only shooting 1-7 from deep.
2. #11 Williams (12-3, 3-1)
Last Week: 69-63 L vs. Tufts, 79-68 W vs. Bates
This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury
There is no doubt that Williams is weaker without Kyle Scadlock, however, they have managed to show their depth and remain afloat thus far in NESCAC play. They went from NESCAC favorites to just another team in the running for the title, seeing their first loss at the hands of Tufts this past weekend. In Scadlock’s place, Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19 continuebear the brunt of the scoring load as Casey scored 11 and Heskett 21 in the loss against the Jumbos. Heskett added 23 against Bates in the following game, settling in as a reliable power forward that Williams will need down the stretch.
3. #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1)
Last Week: 82-76 W vs. Bates; 78-63 W vs. Wesleyan
This Week: vs. Williams
Jack Daly ’18 continues to dish and drive to the rim as Middlebury’s balanced offense before was too much to overcome for both Bates and Tufts. While the Bates game ended up only being a six point win—closer than expected—Daly dropped 26 points, nine boards, and eight assists, a stat line we are becoming all too familiar with. Matt Folger is a lengthy player who can shoot from deep, accompanied by Joey Leighton and Hilal Dahleh on the perimeter. Nick Tarantino, Eric McCord on fire in the paint of late, and Adisa Majors all play down low and bring in the boards evenly, while G Jack Farrell ’21 is playing a lot like Jake Brown ’17 from a season ago, distributing and opening things up on the wings and for Daly. Middlebury will need to find some three point shooting from somewhere, however, if they want to continue winning.
4. Tufts (12-4, 3-1)
Last Week: 69-63 W @ Williams, 78-63 L @ Middlebury
This Week: vs. Bates
Their win against Williams put them in a position to surpass Wesleyan in the rankings, beating what was previously the best team in the conference. Tufts’ size and athleticism are their greatest strengths, led by Vincent Pace ’18, Eric Savage ’18, and KJ Garrett ’19 who was all over the floor against Middlebury. Pace slipped a bit last weekend, shooting 5-21 against Williams and 1-9 against Middlebury. Lucky for him, Garrett emerged as a potential force going forward, scoring 20 and bringing down nine boards against the Panthers in just his fourth game of the season. After increasing his workload to 24 minutes last Saturday, he should play an even bigger role against Bates this coming weekend.
5. #19 Wesleyan (11-3, 2-2)
Last Week: 76-70 L @ Hamilton, 70-66 W @ Amherst
This Week: vs. Conn College
Wesleyan is in danger of falling in the rankings after an 1-1 weekend which dropped them farther down in the national rankings. While they lost to a team ranked above them now, they needed to beat Hamilton to cement themselves as a real championship contender. They should roll over Conn College this weekend, but after narrowly beating the falling Amherst Mammoths, they should be a bit worried going forward. Jordan Bonner ’19 still hasn’t quite found his shot, shooting 3-9 against Amherst, and despite first year Austin Hutcherson’s 19 points and solid shooting, Kevin O’Brien did not play and needs to make it back into the lineup quickly for the Cardinals to have a chance.
6. Amherst (9-5, 1-2)
Last Week: 72-57 W vs. Conn College, 70-66 L vs. Wesleyan
This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton
A sub .500 conference record at this point with their only win against the lowly Camels is not a good start for a formerly great Amherst team. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Michael Riopel ’18 are still leading the way in scoring, but they need more depth in order to compete against the likes of Middlebury, Williams, and Middlebury as Riopel is the only Mammoth with the ability to shoot the deep ball. While they rank second in the conference in rebounding per game, they are in the bottom half in scoring and need to improve going forward.
7. Trinity (11-4, 2-2)
Last Week: 73-68 W @ Bowdoin, 61-51 L @ Colby
This Week: Non-Conference
The bottom half of these rankings get pretty confusing as Trinity’s overall record helps them out here, however, a loss to Colby certainly dampens their overall legitimacy as any sort of contender. They had some terrible individual performances in the road game last weekend as Jeremy Arthur put up a complete dud, going 0-10 shooting, Eric Gendron 2-8 FG, and Kyle Padmore 0-3 FG. There isn’t a whole lot else to say, they need to make more baskets to win games and 31.3% overall in the contest isn’t going to cut it. They should press the reset button this weekend without a NESCAC game and look to bounce back the following weekend.
8. Bates (8-6, 1-1)
Last Week: 82-76 L @ Middlebury, 79-68 L @ Williams
This Week: @ Tufts
Bates put up two decent performances against the NESCAC’s best teams, narrowly losing to Midd and competing against the Ephs. James Mortimer ’18 and Jeff Spellman ’20 are a great 1-2 punch, combining for 41 points against the solid Panther defense. Max Hummel added 13 off the bench, and despite not doing well the next game against Williams with just three points in 15 minutes, has shown some promise. Spellman is the leader of this team and a work horse, putting up 24 the next day against the Ephs and playing over 30 minutes in four games straight. He has the ability to win this team enough games to make it to the playoffs, and in March, anything can happen.
9. Bowdoin (10-4, 1-2)
Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity
This Week: vs. Colby
Losing to a reeling Trinity team certainly won’t aid the Polar Bears going forward. Jack Simonds ’19, as always, can put up huge scoring numbers, supported by David Reynolds’ shooting and Hugh O’Neil’s impressive defense in the paint (17 rebounds against the Bantams). The Polar Bears have good overall numbers as a team and were really hurt by poor three point shooting numbers against Tufts (sub 25%) and heavy turnovers against Trinity—15 compared to the Bantams’ six. Look for the weapon heavy Bowdoin team to start climbing the rankings soon.
10. Colby (10-5, 1-2)
Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity
This Week @ Bowdoin
Colby got a huge win against Trinity to put themselves on the board and in the conversation of relevance for the NESCAC playoffs. While it was a low scoring affair, featuring some awful shooting from Trinity, some of that had to be attributed to the Mule defense, right? Double-doubles from both Dean Weiner ’19 and Sam Jefferson ’20 are a great sign going forward, giving the Mules reason to believe that they can compete with some of the stronger teams.
11. Conn College (6-10, 0-4)
Last Week: 72-57 L @ Amherst, 102-77 L @ Hamilton
This Week: @ Wesleyan
Conn College is beginning to look like a guaranteed win for other NESCAC teams after several blowout games to begin their 2018 conference campaign. In their most recent game, allowing more than 100 points to Hamilton, they clearly had little defense and were nearly out of the game from the beginning. David Labossiere ’19 is doing all he can to prevent the Camels from remaining in the cellar, dropping 18 points and seven boards in that loss, although he is pretty helpless after four losses by over 20 points in NESCAC play.
Muddying the Water: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/16
This week we got everything we expect out of a weekend of NESCAC basketball: absolutely no clarity in the standings. We got no help this week trying to decide who is better than who, but this is what we love about our conference. Wesleyan looked like they were ready to make a jump to the top but has struggled recently, Middlebury is too hot and cold for us to get a read on, and we still don’t find ourselves completely sold on Hamilton. It’s still too early in the year for us to identify any major trends, and the standings don’t give us much to work with yet. I guess that leaves it up to the analysts to decide what’s really going on in the NESCAC this week:
Middlebury F Eric McCord ‘19
In a league devoid of elite big men, McCord ’19 has been a consistent force down low for the Panthers. After starting off the season injured and struggling a bit as he worked his way back into shape, McCord had a breakout weekend, particularly against Tufts. On a team that has several perimeter scoring threats, McCord makes his living on the glass and in the paint. He had himself a huge game in a win over the Jumbos, netting 13 points and hauling in 15 rebounds. Tufts came into the game hot after taking down Williams on Friday night for their 9th straight victory, so this was a statement win by the Panthers. The big man duo of Nick Tarantino ’18 and Eric McCord ’19 certainly don’t get a ton of press on a team with Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, but they understand their role, and McCord especially has them emerging as one of the most efficient front courts in the NESCAC.
Wesleyan F Nathan Krill ‘18
We have talked a lot this year about Jordan Bonner ’19 and Kevin O’Brien ’19 making the difference for this Cardinal squad. It’s time to talk about Nathan Krill ’18, because he is showing that Wesleyan is more than just those two players. Krill isn’t a super star by any means, but he is producing exactly at the level that he needs to be as a role player for this team. Against Hamilton, Krill netted 9 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, then followed that up with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double in a huge win over Little Three rival Amherst. Krill has historically been a very streaky player, capable of both monster games and derailing the whole team with poor shooting and attitude. This season has seen him stay within himself more, a good sign for the Cardinals. Wesleyan needs to step it up a bit following their big win over Middlebury, and perhaps this will be fueled by Krill expanding his role a bit, because he has shown us that he is capable of doing so.
A few week’s ago, I wrote about how Wesleyan had begun to prove themselves, and they looked like the class of the NESCAC. Well, here I am, doubting everything I once said. After the Cardinals defeated the mighty Ephs on the road, in overtime, when they still had Kyle Scadlock, they looked like they were ready to compete for a championship. They have still given us plenty of reasons to believe they’re legit (see Nathan Krill ’18), but it is hard to really decide where they fall amongst the NESCAC’s elite. They were able to beat Amherst and Middlebury, two very legit wins, but they also fell to Hamilton and Williams the second time in the game that counted. The Cardinals are definitely a team capable of beating anyone (as they showed against Middlebury), but they aren’t quite ready to say that they’re here to stay at the top of the league, especially with Hamilton ascending and Middlebury figuring themselves out a bit against Tufts.
Williams’ Big Man Battle
The Ephs had a tough weekend, falling at home to Tufts in a hard fought game before taking care of Bates the following day. The Jumbos are a very good team, and Williams isn’t in the “stock down” category for any reason other than the fact that their frontcourt situation is as confusing as the plot of Inception. Matt Karpowicz ’20 and Michael Kempton ’19 make up undoubtedly the largest big man duo in the league, with Karpowicz standing at 6’8”, 250lbs and Kempton at 6’10”, 235lbs. From an outsider’s perspective, it is a mystery why Karpowicz isn’t seeing more time. Take this past weekend for instance; Karpowicz had 9 points, 10 rebounds against Tufts and 10 points, 11 rebounds against Bates. Kempton had 4 points, 3 rebounds against Tufts and 2 points, 3 rebounds against Bates. Karpowicz shot 67%, Kempton shot 38%. These numbers were all while both Kempton and Karpowicz were playing nearly identical minutes. This weekend was a microcosm for the entire year, because Karpowicz is obviously the more athletic and talented player, yet Kempton starts and splits the minutes. Williams isn’t playing especially poorly at the moment, but it is confusing why they wouldn’t use Matt Karpowicz ’20 more to bring themselves to a higher level.
Aside from Editor in Chief, my most important job at this blog is the president of the Jack Daly fan club. Daly has long been the Kevin Jonas to St. Amour and Brown’s Joe and Nick–almost (and maybe even as) talented, but under the radar. But now he gets a solo act. Scoring is not his specialty, but he will be asked to be more aggressive in creating his own shot to replace some of St. Amour’s possession-saving shots. But Daly has already proven that he can fill it up when the team needs it. He had a buzzer beater in the holiday tournament last season, and in the NCAA game against Williams he had 23 points, while Brown and St. Amour both struggled. He will have to shoot higher than 31% from three, but he improved in league play last season despite a an awkward jump shot. What really sets him apart, however, is everything else besides scoring. There might be no greater triple double threat in the league. He led Middlebury in rebounding last season, (6.5) despite being a good six inches shorter than Nick Tarantino (6’3″ in the program? Alright Jack.) And he finished in the top three in the league in both assists and steals. He fills the stat sheet like no one else. Middlebury might have had the three best guards in the league on their team last season, and it’s possible that the best one is the one that stayed.
G: Hilal Dahleh ‘19 (4.7 PPG, 1.7 REB/G, 39% FG)
This second guard spot is maybe the biggest question mark for the Panthers. Daly should effectively mitigate the loss of Brown at the point, but Middlebury’s success last season stemmed from having multiple guards who could initiate the offense, guard threats on the opposing team, and create shots for themselves. There’s a lot of competition for this spot. Sophomores Perry Delorenzo ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘19 are excellent shooters, as is precocious first year Max Bosco. Perhaps the best candidate among the first years to jump into this spot would be first year Jack Ferrall. A tremendous athlete, Ferrall projects as an elite defender with finishing skills that transcend his height. But his shooting is not as far along as any of the other guards.
The person who best allows the Panthers to continue playing the way they want is Hilal Dahleh. In his first year, he impressed with his terrific defense and feel for the game, despite struggling with his shot. He was projected to be a major factor last season, but suffered a back injury in the preseason which forced him out for the entire year. But he has worked his way back into playing shape, and should enter the season at 100%. At 6’3”, he has terrific size for the position, and his long arms allow him to be a good complimentary defender to Daly. The key for him will be hitting shots. He has to be an offensive threat out of the two guard spot for the Middlebury offense to function. If he struggles shooting the ball to start off the year, there are several shooters on the bench who are ready to go.
F: Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
This spot is also up for debate, as if any of the other guards besides Dahleh impress enough in the preseason, they could slide into the starting lineup, with Dahleh at the three and Folger at the four. But Folger’s starting spot is far from in doubt, and having him at the three opens up a world of possibilities. There’s more on him below so I won’t say too much here, but there are few players in the league with his combination of height and perimeter skills. Teams can’t put a guard on him, as he has good post footwork and can shoot right over the top of them. But very few big men can keep up with his speed and ball handling, and he draws a center away from the basket. This opens up driving lanes for any of the speedy Middlebury guards. If at all possible, the Panthers should try to play Folger here at the three to create mismatches all over the floor.
F: Adisa Majors ‘18 (9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB/G, 54% FG)
Majors has carved out a nice spot for himself here in Middlebury. His style in the post is best described as “Elephant in a China Shop,” but his 54% field goal percentage speaks to its effectiveness. His 15-foot jumper is perfect for playing in a guard-heavy offense, and he has gotten himself into good enough shape to beat most big men down the court. He has developed into the perfect big man for Jack Daly. Defensively, he has made great strides, but still gets into trouble when switched onto opposing guards. Eric McCord ‘19 is less of a liability in this area, and is a better passer out of the post as well. But he hasn’t practiced yet this season, so right now Majors is the guy. He will need to continue to earn his time, as a three guard lineup with Folger at the four is entirely possible. But then again, he’s done that his whole career.
Tarantino was an embodiment of one of the strangest developments of Middlebury’s season last year. In the first half, Middlebury was getting killed on the glass and in the paint defensively, and it looked as if the forward rotation would spoil the incredible perimeter play and lead to an early tournament exit. But around the beginning of league play, Tarantino, McCord and Majors turned it on and became one of the more threatening units in the league. Tarantino was especially impressive. He shot 59% from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds a game, becoming the kind of imposing threat that Middlebury needed to have controlling the paint. And this season he should only get better as the established starter. As a recruit he was touted as being an outside threat, but he has (mercifully) left that behind in favor of a springy, jump hook-based post game. His most underrated skill is his passing, as he and McCord have developed a nice chemistry on high low actions, taking advantage of both of their heights to see over the defense.
Speaking of defense, that is where he must improve. Despite his long arms, height and jumping ability, he still averaged less than one block per game last season. Folger is a great shot blocker, but when Tarantino is in Folger will most likely be on the perimeter. Tarantino must become a more imposing defensive force for Middlebury. When McCord comes back, some minutes at this spot will go to him, but they are at their best when playing together, so Tarantino should see consistent minutes all season.
F Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
If Middlebury hopes to continue the frantic, perimeter-heavy style of play that has won them back-to-back NESCAC championships, Folger must take a big leap forward. He certainly has the talent to. At 6’8”, he is tall enough to be a menace in the paint on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of being a dominant interior force last season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game despite limited minutes, and he has terrific touch around the rim on offense, shooting 60% on two point field goals. But it’s his perimeter skills at that height that make him one of the most talented players in the league. He has very quick feet and long arms, enabling him to guard players of all different positions. Middlebury will ask him to do a great deal of this, as many lineups for the Panthers will feature him at the small forward spot alongside more traditional big men such as McCord, Tarantino or Adisa Majors ‘18.
Folger also will take on much more responsibility as a three point threat. Middlebury’s guard-heavy recruiting class suggests that they want to continue to run and shoot three pointers often. This is difficult to do when you graduate your three best outside shooters, including one of the best in the country. Folger’s form is beautiful, and his success inside the arc and at the foul line (80%) serve as evidence to his great touch, but he only shot 28% from three last season. Of course it takes most first years time to adjust to the college game (Middlebury loyalists will remember that Matt St. Amour struggled from three for most of his first two years) but Folger doesn’t have that luxury this season. He will be asked to live up to his considerable potential this year, and if he does, an All-NESCAC selection is not out of the realm of possibility.
Middlebury’s goal, like the rest of the league’s, is to beat Williams. They’re the preseason number one, and they’re the team that knocked the Panthers out in the NCAA tournament last season. The way that Middlebury is going at the Ephs is by matching their size and positional versatility. Daly has long been the best defender in the league in terms of guarding all positions; he is the only point guard in the league who can guard power forwards effectively, and will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of size or position. With the forward rotation of Folger, Tarantino, Majors and McCord, and terrific defensive guards in Dahleh and Daly (say that three times fast) the Panthers have the ability to play a lineup big enough to bang on the glass with Williams without sacrificing too much speed. Another factor in this equation is first year forward Ryan Cahill ‘21. He is another big man who is far more mobile than his size would lead you to believe, and is already a threat from outside. He will be in the rotation as long as McCord is out, and maybe beyond that.
Middlebury could also match Williams by playing small and running them off the floor, but there are more question marks there. Coach Brown’s focus in the offseason for recruiting was certainly guards, and he has brought in an excellent class. We have already discussed Farrell’s two way potential, but the second unit of guards runs deeper than just him. Bosco is one of the best shooters in the class, regardless of team. His release is lightning fast, and he is very advanced at finding his spot and finishing over size. Defensively he projects as a liability right now due to his own diminutive stature, so he is better suited at the moment to be shot of caffiene off the bench, a la Bryan Jones.
Delorenzo and Leighton also figure to fight for minutes, and as always, whichever one of them is hitting shots will determine who sits higher in the rotation. Much of Middlebury’s second unit play will be guard-heavy, three point barrages, but they could also easily trot out a three guard starting lineup, with Bosco or Delorenzo joining Dahleh and Daly in the back court. With Folger at the four and Tarantino, Majors or McCord (when he returns from injury) at the five this lineup would be very difficult to defend. However, the would be worse on the boards and overall easier to score on, especially for larger lineups like Williams’.
Middlebury has reloaded this season, but there are a lot of red flags. Daly has the highest amount of responsibility of any point guard in the league. He has to run a high paced offense, while working in many new players and guarding the best player on the other team. He doesn’t have a proven backup, although Dahleh, Farrell and Bosco are all capable of bringing the ball up. They will run a lot of the second unit offense. But with that said, there’s no way that Middlebury isn’t worse without Daly on the floor. He might set minutes records this season, and there’s no guarantee that he can sustain his impossible hustle while having the ball in his hands so often.
The lack of three point shooting is also worrying. The three graduated seniors were the three best outside shooters on a team that didn’t exactly light it up for much of the season. Middlebury got in a lot of trouble when teams could pack the paint against them and force them into congested shots in the paint. That’s what Williams did in the NCAA tournament. Daly will have to shoot better than 31%; if teams can go under picks and play off him, the offense stalls out at the top of the key. Folger’s 28% is unacceptable for a guy with such pretty form, and he represents the biggest outside weapon in the projected starting lineup. And Bosco, Delorenzo and Leighton will have to live up to their billing as bombers. Middlebury can no longer rely on St. Amour to get them a shot in failed possessions, other guys have to step up.
The losses look huge on paper. St. Amour is one of the best NESCAC players of the last 20 years, and Brown wasn’t far behind him. Bryan Jones was a force off the bench, and even Liam Naughton hit a couple big shots and was huge for team chemistry. But they retained a great deal of talent as well. The forward rotation was a strength at the end of last season, and all of those players are back and a year more experienced. With a big starting five that looks more Division One than NESCAC, Middlebury should be able to cure much of rebounding woes that once plagued them. The keys to Middlebury’s chances at a three-peat lie on the perimeter. They need Daly and Folger to up their scoring averages and three point percentages considerably, and for Delorenzo, Ferrall, Dahleh, Bosco and Cahill to be threats off the bench. The Panthers enter the season eighth in the country and third in the NESCAC, behind Williams and Tufts. It’s possible that at the end of the year, we will look back on that and laugh at how low they were. But it’s also possible that we shake our heads and wonder why they were so high. I think it will be the former, but, as always, I’m biased.
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.
Fans of NESCAC basketball have enjoyed a level of talent this season that has possibly never been matched in the history of the league. And on Monday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the league with four at large bids, in addition to Middlebury’s guaranteed spot for winning the conference tournament. Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan and Tufts join the Panthers, giving the ‘CAC one of the strongest showings of any conference in the country. Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll be giving you the lowdown on where each team finds themselves in their quest for a national title.
#6 Middlebury (24-3, 11-2)
As the number one seed and outright winner of the conference, Middlebury is in a terrific position to make a deep tournament run. The Panthers should be hosting (as long as they keep winning) until the tournament shifts to Salem. However, the Panthers certainly shouldn’t be looking ahead, as they have a tough opening weekend to contend with. They open on Friday against Farmingdale State, a team that tries to run the floor in much the same way that Middlebury does. And Lycoming and Cabrini, the two other teams in the bracket, are strong teams with tournament pedigree.
How They Got Here:
Middlebury is of course driven by their three guards. Matt St. Amour ‘17 was recently crowned NESCAC Player of the Year after averaging 22 points per game in the season and almost 25 per game in league play. His midrange game, once a major weakness, has become positively deadly, and he has carried Middlebury through a late season injury to Jake Brown ‘17. Speaking of Brown, the recently named All NESCAC Second Team point guard is the key to Middlebury’s fast paced offense and defense. He has also made himself into a key outside threat for Middlebury, shooting 37% from three. And Jack Daly ‘18 had been flying under the radar until Brown went down. But stepping up and running the offense in Brown’s absence has given viewers a newfound appreciation for Daly. If there’s a play that shifts the game in Middlebury’s favor, the odds are good that Jack Daly is involved.
How They Lose
Middlebury’s guards are pretty much locks to get their numbers. The Panthers struggle when their big men aren’t involved in the offense and when the other team gets hot from three. If Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 aren’t threats on the offensive end, then teams can focus on the guards and force Middlebury to play halfcourt, perimeter-oriented basketball. Farmingdale State is a fast break team, but they don’t shoot very well from three (33.5% on the year.) However, they do rebound very well thanks to big men George Reifenstahl ‘19 and Wendell Irvine ‘17, both of whom average over 9 rebounds per game. Therefore the Middlebury big men will have to do a good job on the boards and also assert themselves on offense, not just against Farmingdale but (ideally) throughout the tournament.
Farmingdale State (19-7, 14-2)
Farmingdale has overcome a strong start to really control their league. They won their tournament on a game winner from Reifenstahl, who along with Irvine and guard Ali Mableton ‘19 earned all conference honors. The Rams look to run, but can be careless on offense, shooting only 43% from the field and turning the ball over a whopping 18 times per game. Middlebury should be able to exploit this carelessness, and will need to work on shutting down Reifenstahl and Irvine.
#15 Lycoming (23-4, 13-3)
Lycoming and Middlebury would be a fascinating Saturday match-up. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 25 pretty much all year and now sit at 15 heading into tournament play. They are led by David Johnson ‘17 who, despite being 5’9,” averages 14 points per game and shoots an amazing 48.7% from three. Lycoming overall shoots threes very well (37% as a team,) so Middlebury will have to run them off the line much like they did in the second half against Williams in the NESCAC final.
Cabrini (19-7, 15-3)
Cabrini is led by junior center Tyheim Monroe, who is two spots ahead of Matt St. Amour in scoring in the nation (23rd, at 22.1 points per game) and leads the nation in rebounds per game at 15.7. Monroe plays 36 minutes a game, and the vast majority of their offensive sets run through him. Middlebury will probably employ a similar swarming defensive strategy that they used on Ed Ogundeko to beat Trinity in the quarterfinals. But Monroe is the type of player who could carry a team to an upset against the Panthers.
Amherst (17-7, 8-4)
After starting the season as the number one team in the country, Amherst enters tournament play outside the national rankings. This is due to inconsistent play all season, culminating in a quarterfinal loss to hated rival Williams. Therefore, Amherst has a tough road to travel if they hope to redeem their disappointing NESCAC season with a long tournament run.
How They Got Here
As most readers of this blog probably know, Amherst is led by their excellent backcourt. Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 were Second and First Team All NESCAC selections respectively, and combined to average over 33 points per game. Additionally, junior guard Michael Riopel averages 10 points per game and shoots 48% from three, giving Amherst a needed outside threat to take some pressure off of Dawson and McCarthy. The Purple and White are at their best when Dawson and McCarthy are dominating the opposing backcourt, giving Riopel open looks.
How They Lose
Unfortunately Amherst has little else outside of their backcourt. They struggle to get contributions from any forwards, and Riopel and even McCarthy can be too passive. This forces Dawson to play hero ball, and he can shoot Amherst out of games when he does that. In their loss to Williams, Dawson shot 3-19, while Riopel and McCarthy combined to take only 16 shots. It’s hard to figure out how to divide up blame in that situation (is Dawson playing selfishly or do the other players need to be more assertive?), but either way Amherst has some serious problems. They ultimately seem to lack the necessary depth to compete against elite competition.
Keene State (19-9, 10-4)
The Owls, who knocked Middlebury out last year, had something of a Cinderella run to the final of their conference tournament before losing 72-70 to Eastern Connecticut. They have two First Team All Conference performers in Matt Ozzella ‘17 and Ty Nichols ‘19, but also have three other players scoring in double figures. This is the kind of depth that could give top-heavy Amherst fits, particularly in the front court. Amherst plays the Owls tonight at 5:30.
Misericordia (20-7, 9-5)
A contender for the “College Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Song From Les Miserables” award, Misericordia won their conference tournament and has a lot of momentum heading into the NCAAs. They are led by terrific all around guard Jason Kenny ‘19, who put up a 21/4/4 line on nearly 50% shooting from the field and 41% from three. But the Cougars have three other double figure scorers and shoot the three at 37% as a team. Again, this is the kind of depth that Amherst really struggles with, especially since they have some, uh, disinterested defenders on their roster.
#5 Ramapo (25-2, 16-2)
The host team and number 5 team in the country, Ramapo is certainly the favorite to come out of this weekend. They are led in scoring by Thomas Boncum ‘18 (17.7 ppg,) but they are a terrific team top to bottom. They shoot 50.7 from the field and 41% from three as a team, which point to a tremendously efficient offensive strategy. Their average margin of victory is a whopping 14.4 points per game, and they out-rebound opponents by 7 boards per game, an area in which Amherst tends to struggle. Ramapo is a legit title contender, and Amherst may not be able to run with them even if they survive Keene State tonight.
The Ephs kept their late season magic going against the Jumbos in a David (Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19) meets Goliath matchup in Medford, MA. Williams played just like they did against Amherst the weekend before – they put up solid, yet repeatable shooting numbers (46.8% FG, 32.0% 3-point, and 71.4% FT) which allowed them to build a steady lead in the second half. Tufts shot just 37.3% FG in this semifinal with their five starters going 11-34 from the field and 4-18 from deep, significantly worse than their bench. Everett Dayton ‘18, Vinny Pace ‘18, and Drew Madsen ‘17 were stopped from putting up any real rebounding numbers while Scadlock and Aronowitz ran the floor effectively for the Ephs. The Jumbos got away from their game plan as a result of their poor shooting, as just three players were able to score in double-digits. This came in stark contrast to the recently balanced Jumbo offense. Mike Greenman was able to do what the Jumbos couldn’t and controlled the offensive side of the ball for the underdogs with nine assists, a key to Williams’ success. High percentage shots stemmed from their balanced and efficient attack, and five Ephs tallied double-digit points as a result. Williams built their lead in the second half, and a quick three by Greenman with 3:58 to go put the Williams lead out of reach. While this game appeared to be a bit one sided, it was tied at 65 with 4:23 to go. Isn’t that exactly how many points Tufts scored? It is. Williams ended the game on a 16-0 run, capitalizing on free throws and protecting the ball. Tufts, on the other hand, finished the game on an 0-8 shooting run (including free throws). It’s definitely concerning for the Jumbos that they couldn’t muster any sort of last minute comeback in their home gym in a playoff game, but maybe Tom Palleschi ‘17 will be able to change that. Early in the season there is no question that Tufts was the top dawg in the NESCAC, as beating Middlebury didn’t surprise anybody. However, they limp into the NCAA tournament off of a loss without any guarantees from their star senior Palleschi. Palleschi played eight minutes against Williams, the first action he’s seen since January 20th. If he can return to form and play significant minutes his defensive presence will be a huge upgrade for the Jumbos.
Trinity at Middlebury:
Double-teaming Ed Ogundeko ‘17 was Middlebury’s formula to beating the Bantams. It worked. Ogundeko was forced to shoot without a clear look at the basket and couldn’t do enough with the ball when he had it. His 1-11 shooting left Trinity without any hope, as Eric McCord ‘19, Nick Tarantino ‘18, and Adisa Majors ‘18 played tough basketball to grind out a win. Unlike most Trinity games, Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Eric Gendron ‘18 shot well and carried the Bantam offense, which usually would spell out a big win for this team, but without the addition of Ogundeko’s ~17 PPG average, there was a big piece missing. Majors’ nine boards, McCord’s five, and Tarantino’s eight were enough to give the Panthers a presence down low that was willing to scrap for every possession. McCord plays dangerously at times, often making unnecessary foul (he had four on Saturday), but it was just the right style of play to slow down Ogundeko, who is used to having his way with NESCAC opponents. Matt St. Amour ‘17 did his thing, and even though he only had 18 points (haha, only), he shot the ball efficiently. Jake Brown ‘17 had the chance to shake off the rust from his recent spell on the bench with ankle injury. Brown came back in full force, competing for 31 minutes and getting his feet wet before the championship. Matt Folger ‘20 was huge off the bench for Midd as the first year Panther went 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from deep, totaling 11 points. For Trinity, Turnbull’s 23 points were the most he had scored since November 22nd. While the senior did everything he could to carry the Bantams in the big anomaly of a game for Ogundeko, it would turn out to be his last college performance. While it was a tough last game for Ogundeko, he still led the league in REB/G this year, averaged a double-double, and finished in Trinity’s top ten all-time for rebounding. What a career. For Midd, the fun was only just beginning.
Williams at Middlebury:
There’s no question that Williams kept their magic going into Sunday’s contest as they took a quick lead on the favored Panthers. In fact, a four point Williams lead and just three points out of Matt St. Amour at the half would’ve shocked anybody. Kyle Scadlock lit up the scoreboard for 15 in the opening frame, shooting 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from the charity stripe, with James Heskett ‘19 going 3-3 FG and 2-2 from deep en route to a perfect eight points. Scadlock added ten first half rebounds, enough to carry the Ephs to a 40-36 early lead that gave them hope that they could put a ring on after the season. Unfortunately for the Ephs, they weren’t able to hold off St. Amour the whole game, as this game was a tale of two halves. In fact, St. Amour went off in the second half and you wouldn’t even be able to tell he started off slowly unless you took a closer look at the box score. St. Amour dropped 17 after the break, going 6-9 in FGs and 4-7 in 3’s. Scadlock still put up a solid nine points in the second, but only had one rebound as Williams got dominated in the paint. Seven Panthers had three or more rebounds in the second half compared to just two for Williams, leading to a 26-13 boards advantage for Midd. Midd took 11 more shots in the second half and Williams shot to the tune of a terrible 20.0%. While the underdogs came out firing, their cinderella story came to an end. Middlebury simply couldn’t be held back for a whole 40 minutes. The 48-22 line in the second half shows what kind of team Middlebury is—which bodes well for the Panthers heading into the NCAA tournament. Those games always seem to come down to the final seconds. Clutch is the name of the game and Williams couldn’t keep it going throughout the contest.
With that being said, Williams played well enough to earn them an at large bid, along with three other NESCAC teams: Amherst, Tufts, and Wesleyan. Winning the NESCAC earned Middlebury the conference’s automatic bid. Five teams from one conference are in the NCAA tournament. That is an absurd number of NCAA tournament teams from the NESCAC. Five teams is nearly half of the conference. There are only 64 teams in the tournament so therefore the NESCAC makes up just under 8% of the bracket. Talk about conference depth. It’s time to go dancing.
#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.
Going into last Sunday’s Williams-Bates game, Middlebury had a chance to play Bates, Williams or possibly Hamilton depending on the outcome. Bates drew the short straw, dropping the game 65-62 and now has to play maybe the hottest team in the country. And what’s worse, the Panthers will be at home with all the students back. In order to have a chance in this game, Bates will need to slow Middlebury down, get terrific performances from both Delpeches and their perimeter players, and also catch Middlebury on an off-shooting night (something they haven’t truly had since they lost to Williams.) It’s a tall order, but stranger things have happened.
Middlebury X-Factor: Bryan Jones ‘18
Jones has been one of the biggest surprises of league play, averaging nearly 10 points per game. His 53% shooting from three leads the league during NESCAC play. He has given the Panthers backcourt, already extremely lethal, another weapon. His deadeye shooting has made it impossible for teams to load up on Matt St. Amour ‘17 on the perimeter, opening up driving lanes for him and also Jack Daly ‘18 and Jake Brown ‘17. It is due in large part to Jones being a threat that all the Middlebury guards’ stats have jumped up in league play.
However, Jones struggled on Tuesday against Plattsburgh State. Starting in place of Jake Brown, Jones shot 2-11 from the field and 0-5 from three. It was a surprising return to the inconsistency that has dogged Jones throughout his career, and inconvenient timing for its reappearance at that. If Brown misses more time, Middlebury can’t afford to give stronger defensive teams than Plattsburgh the ability to trap St. Amour on the perimeter, taking away his three point shots and much-improved mid-range game. While Jack Daly ‘18 is more than capable of handling point guard responsibilities in Brown’s absence (by “more than capable,” I mean “flirts with a triple-double”) he is not quite a three point threat. Jones doesn’t have to be white hot, but he needs to give Bates a reason to guard him or else the Panthers could be in for a long night.
Bates X-Factor: Jeff Spellman ‘20
Spellman, a transfer who arrived shortly before league play began, is a similar player to Jones but has recently been trending in a different direction. He sits third in the league overall in three point percentage at 41.7%, but has only shot 30.8% in league play. Against Williams he shot just 4-11 from the field and 1-7 from three. He did add 7 assists, but without his jumpshot Bates has very little offense outside of post-ups from the Delpeches. Pounding the ball into the post is an effective way to slow down the game, which is certainly the impulse when game-planning against Middlebury. But if Bates doesn’t have any outside shooting threats around their Twin Peaks (reboot 2017 let’s goooooo), the Panthers will do just what they did to Ed Ogundeko – swarm them whenever they get the ball, creating turnovers and forced, empty possessions. Spellman will be the key in taking away this part of Middlebury’s defensive gameplan.
How Bates Can Win:
They need to find someway to keep the score low. Middlebury is averaging 99 points per game in league play at home, and put up 97 against Trinity even without Brown. The natural way to do this would be to pound the ball on offense, taking time off the shot clock and preventing Middlebury’s offense from getting the ball. They have the ability to do this thanks to the Delpeches. Having two big men who are threats to score on the block prevents Middlebury from doubling big-to-big, and should create open threes or one-on-one post-ups. Bates will have to be raining fire from outside to make this strategy work, or else Middlebury’s offense is certainly fast enough to make up for lost time.
On defense, Bates will have to take away the three point shot. By jumping Matt St. Amour on the perimeter, they will take away his three-pointer and funnel him towards the Delpeches, who are both dangerous shot blockers. With Jack Daly, they will most likely leave him alone from three. However, it will be imperative to guard him one-on-one. St Amour will of course require double teams, but leaving a man open when Daly has the ball is asking for a bucket. He’s too good a passer, and Middlebury’s big men are getting too good at finishing at the rim to be left alone. Daly beating men off the dribble also creates open three-point shots. If Bates can take away those threes and funnel drives towards the Delpeches (particularly Malcolm), that leaves Middlebury pull-up, midrange jump-shots. These are inefficient shots, and will allow the Delpeches to own the boards. Bates is certainly an underdog here, but there’s a thin path to victory for them.
How Middlebury Can Win
I’m having trouble finding an answer for this other than “continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing.” Middlebury’s offense has reached a level lately that few NESCAC teams have ever achieved, but their defense on the interior has finally caught up. Middlebury is always going to give up points because of their fast paced offense (quick shots=long rebounds, fast breaks for the other team) but they have quietly gotten very good in the half court. The guards have of course always been excellent, but the big men have improved leaps and bounds, especially Eric McCord ‘19. McCord has become very quick on rotations and hedging the pick and roll, and provides a nice fundamental counterpart to Nick Tarantino’s athleticism. Interior defense will be the key to Middlebury’s strategy in this game, as the Delpeches are the key to Bates’ offense. I expect Middlebury to double heavily on either Delpeche from the perimeter on defense, and dare Bates’ guards to make threes. On offense, all the Panthers need to do is more of the same. Run, hit shots and move the ball around the perimeter until a lane opens up.
Although Bryan Jones and Jeff Spellman are undoubtedly the lead guards off the bench for their respective teams, the other members of the bench mobs deserve credit. Crowd favorite (and NbN writer, no big deal) Liam Naughton has clawed his way into the rotation as a steadying senior presence on the court, as well as a three point threat. He will be important in the tournament, as the other two guards off the bench are freshmen Joey Leighton and Perry Delorenzo, neither of whom are quite ready for tournament time. On Bates’ side, the most obvious next threat is Jerome Darling ’17, who has demonstrated his explosiveness scoring the rock a handful of times this season. His biggest performance of the year came in the upset of Tufts, in which Darling 4-9 three-pointers en route to 21 points. Bates could definitely use another superhero performance from Darling this weekend. Elsewhere, the Bobcats will look to Quinlan Leary ‘17 ( a summer camp teammate of yours truly), who has recently moved into the starting lineup to replace Nick Gilpin ‘20, giving Bates more experience and strength on the perimeter. In addition to the need for threes from Spellman, Bates will need Leary, Gilpin, or other guards like Shawn Strickland ‘18 or Justin Zukowski ‘18 to give them surprise firepower off the bench. Basically, everything needs to go right for Bates to have a chance, while Middlebury just needs to keep playing their game.
Almost four years to the day from Friday, Middlebury and Amherst faced off in a very similar situation.
The two teams entered the game in contention for the top seed in the conference tournament, and as two of the top 15 teams in the country. Amherst was still led by two elite guards in Willy Workman and Aaron Toomey, and Middlebury still relied on terrific backcourt depth, with Nolan Thompson, Joey Kizel and Jake Wolfin leading the Panthers to several NCAA berths in a row. The game featured a double digit comeback from the Panthers, a game-tying three off an intentional missed free throw for Amherst, three overtimes and an alien invasion (okay not the last one.) The then-Lord Jeffs emerged victorious 104-101 after the third overtime, having combined with Middlebury to produce one of the all-time classics in NESCAC basketball history. And as if that wasn’t enough history, get this: I wasn’t at the game because I had a high school game…AGAINST MATT ST. AMOUR. Spooky right?
Middlebury and Amherst have played several other terrific games, both in the regular season and the tournament. So it’s certainly fair to expect a tightly contested game in Pepin Gymnasium on tonight. However, both teams have weaknesses that the other side could use to win the game running away. This game is a quintessential game of the week because it should be a classic on paper, but either side could come out on fire and put the game away before it even starts.
Amherst’s Biggest Weakness: Frontcourt Production
This game may well feature the two best backcourts in the country. But both teams, and particularly Amherst, feature frontcourts that often struggle to keep up. Throughout this season Amherst has struggled to find an effective scoring option outside of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and forwards have been the main culprit in that lack of production. Senior David George ‘17 is too often a non-factor on offense, allowing the opposing center to clog the driving lanes that Dawson and McCarthy love to exploit. Jacob Nabatoff ‘17 has been inconsistent, shooting under 40% from the field. It has generally been Eric Conklin ‘17 who has provided a frontcourt spark for Amherst, averaging 8 points per game on 60% shooting. Middlebury defends very well on the perimeter, so this is a game in which Amherst will need some production out of these big men to take the pressure off of McCarthy and Dawson.
Middlebury’s Biggest Weakness: Shot Blocking
The Panthers play with breakneck pace on both offense and defense. This means that the Panthers look to force a lot of turnovers on the perimeter, but give up some points as a result of gambling for steals. That’s okay as long as the offense is picking up the slack, but if Middlebury isn’t hitting early they can give up points in a hurry (see the first half of their game against Tufts.) This tendency to give up big runs is caused partially by this fast paced style, but it is also due to a lack of intimidating interior defense. Big man Eric McCord ‘19 has improved leaps and bounds as the season has gone on in terms of moving his feet on pick and rolls, but he simply is not atheltic enough to be a shot blocking threat. Nick Tarantino ‘18 is a terrific athlete, but his timing on block attempts is a little off, and his rebounding responsibilities draw him away from the shot. Matt Folger ‘20 is Middlebury’s only dangerous shot blocker, but he makes too many freshman mistakes in terms of help rotations and silly fouls to play big minutes in crucial games like this one. Teams that have slowed Middlebury down, like Williams and more recently Colby, have had success in limiting Middlebury’s offense. If Amherst tries to slow down Middlebury on both ends of the ball, the Panthers will need to guard inside as well as on the perimeter, and that means blocking some shots.
Amherst’s Biggest Strength: Clutch Play
Amherst only scores 73 points per game during league play, which is sixth best in the conference. Throughout the season they have struggled to score efficiently, and have several times found themselves in the position where they need a game-tying or winning shot. Enter Jayde Dawson. Dawson has game-winners against Babson (#2 in the country at the time and Amherst’s most impressive win thus far) and Bowdoin, and is arguably the best in the league at taking over a game when his team needs him the most. But Johnny McCarthy also has a couple big shots under his belt, including a ludicrous 28 footer to tie the game against Bowdoin, setting up Dawson’s game winner. If the recent history between these teams holds true, this game will come down to the wire. Amherst must like their personnel in that eventuality.
Middlebury’s Biggest Strength: Ball Movement and Security
As you may have heard me say once, twice or thirty times, the only better guards than Middlebury’s trio in America are the Power Rangers. Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 have the Panthers leading the league in assists.
But more impressive than that is their turnover ranking. Middlebury has the third fewest turnovers in the league, which is amazing considering how fast they play and how much they look to move the ball. At their peak, there’s no team in the league that can stop the Panther offense due to how well they move the ball and shoot from the perimeter. When they struggle, it is because they have stopped whipping the ball around on the perimeter and are settling for jump shots. Middlebury must have confidence in their ball movement, as Amherst will certainly attempt to slow them down and force them to play half court offense.
Amherst X-Factor: Michel Riopel ‘18
Middlebury is too good a team for Dawson and McCarthy to drag Amherst to victory like Murthaugh and Riggs in Lethal Weapon. They’ll need some back-up, and Riopel is the perfect candidate. A 48% three point shooter, Riopel is deadly from outside. But he is more than just a three point specialist. Earlier this week in a loss to Wesleyan, Riopel put up 16 points and 9 rebounds on just 8 shots. This efficiency is what makes him such an effective third option alongside Dawson and McCarthy, both of whom have the tendency to become volume scorers when they, and the team, are struggling. However, Riopel will need to become more aggressive in this game. Middlebury is well equipped to handle Dawson and McCarthy, which means Riopel should have some opportunities to create for himself. Eight shots will be too few for him in this game.
Middlebury X-Factor: Zone Defense
Middlebury’s defensive strategy can be likened to the Joker’s strategy for taking over Gotham in The Dark Knight: sew chaos and discord wherever they can. One of the ways that Middlebury toys with opposing offenses is by switching from man defense to zone with little warning. The Panthers don’t need a timeout to set up the offense, they can do it as the other team brings the ball up. This can really shake an opposing offense, forcing them to switch their game plan on the fly. Middlebury’s perimeter players are excellent zone defenders, as Brown and St. Amour are adept at playing passing lanes while Daly hounds whoever has the ball. The big men in the back are getting better at challenging shots at the rim without fouling, particularly McCord. Amherst is not a tremendously threatening three point shooting team, save Riopel and McCarthy, so a zone might be a good strategy for Middlebury employ. If they can shut down McCarthy and Dawson’s lanes to the rim, Amherst will have great difficulty finding other ways to score.
Both Middlebury and Amherst are in contention for the top seed in the league tournament. However, Tufts is also in the mix, but it is Amherst who controls their own destiny in terms of attaining the number one seed. If Amherst wins both, they get the top seed. If Tufts wins and Amherst loses at least one, then it will be the Jumbos who have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Finally, if Middlebury wins both and Tufts loses tonight, then Middlebury will be top dawg in the NESCAC tournament. In order to control their destiny for the the number one seed in the league tournament, everyone needs to win tonight. Then we’ll seed what happens tomorrow.
Middlebury matches up very well with Amherst on paper. In Daly, Brown and St. Amour, the Panthers have the perimeter depth needed to hang with Dawson and McCarthy. However, McCarthy’s size and strength presents something of a matchup issue. Daly is probably best-suited to match McCarthy, leaving St. Amour or Brown to guard Dawson. Dawson’s hard-driving style creates the worry that he will get Brown or St. Amour in foul trouble, which would hinder Middlebury’s offense tremendously. This is why I could see the Panthers playing a great deal of zone in this game.
Middlebury is tremendous at home, but they have the misfortune of catching the campus during a break, so the student section won’t be quite as rowdy as one might imagine for such a crucial matchup. However, the home court advantage is still going to be crucial. Amherst has had an absurd home/road split this season (15 home/6 road) and are only 2-4 away from LeFrak this year. Middlebury has shown themselves to be a team that rises to the occasion at home, and I see them doing it again on Friday night.