New Look NESCAC: 5 NESCAC Basketball Talking Points for Thanksgiving

As the opening weekend of NESCAC basketball comes to a close, we start to see some early headlines. Yes, this is a very small sample size so obviously a lot can and will change, but what better way to spend your Thanksgiving break than over-analyzing NESCAC basketball? That’s what we do at my house at least. We’ve already seen some monstrous individual performances, well-balanced team efforts, and generally A LOT of points put up. Granted, NESCAC schools almost always beat up on their non-conference opponents, finishing the weekend at a combined 20-2, however one of those losses was Bates to Trinity, so someone had to lose that game, and the other was Tufts to no. 9 nationally ranked Wash. U on the road by just 4 points. With this in mind, let’s take a look at 5 talking points to help steer conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table away from Colin Kaepernick and back in the right direction:

1: Eric Savage is the real deal

Eric Savage ’20 has been an absolute force for the Jumbos so far (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

This weekend we saw three absolutely dominant performances, two of which were somewhat expected: Kyle Scadlock (24PPG, 11REB/G, 53.6% FG, 85% FT) and Jack Daly (17.5PPG, 10.5REB/G, 9AST/G, 52.2% FG). The third huge performance of the weekend, and the surp came as a bit of a surprise in Eric Savage ’20 from Tufts. The aptly named Savage has been just that – tied for the league lead with Scadlock at 24PPG – yet also averaging 14REB/G and 6.5AST/G, both good for 2nd in the conference. What makes these numbers especially notable is that Tufts played easily the hardest opening-weekend schedule, taking down a good Webster team before falling in a close game to a Wash. U team that we will likely see in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, Savage will have to continue putting up numbers similar to these in order to warrant POY consideration especially only being a sophomore, but now we’re able to see how high the ceiling is for him.

2: Bates’ offense needs help

While my bias leads me to believe that Bates is simply undergoing an identity crisis after playing their first two games without the Delpeche twins in five years, frankly, their offense has not been good. Although the loss of the twins is a somewhat valid excuse, losing to Trinity by 28 in their opening game is inexcusable. Fortunately, they were able to salvage total embarrassment by hanging on to a 72-69 victory in overtime against a weak Maine Maritime team. Their defense hasn’t been great, certainly not terrible, however it is the offense that needs a shake up. The Bobcats come in at dead last in the league in points per game, field goal percentage, assists, and rebounds. It doesn’t take an expert to know that this is not good. Interestingly, Bates actually averages the second fewest turnovers in the league. This means that they are simply just not getting good shots, so look for Coach Furbush to continue trying new offenses to see what clicks before we get into conference play.

3: Amherst’s balance

I was hesitant to include this one because we saw nearly the exact same trend at the start of last season – Amherst beats up on their perennially easy first weekend teams, and nearly everyone on their team gets good minutes. Because they used so much of their bench, their stats are a bit skewed at this point, and they will start to use fewer guys once they start to figure out who they are this season. With that in mind, they have still played an incredibly balanced brand of basketball (I’m no English major but I’m pretty sure that’s called an alliteration). The Mammoths have 10 players averaging between 5 and 12 points per game, 8 players averaging between 3 and 8 rebounds per game, and 5 players averaging between 2 and 4 assists per game. This balance is outrageous and with Amherst only having two seniors, it is good to see their younger guys starting to fill roles in a lineup that lost a lot from last season. We will see if they can continue this when their competition picks up.

4: Trinity’s defense looks like that of the Boston Celtics

The Bantam defense looks to take a leap this year, and they are off to a great start in doing just that. They were able to win the Maine Maritime tournament in an easy fashion while holding their opponents to 59 points per game, second to only Amherst. I will say the same thing about Trinity that I said about Amherst: they played a relatively weak schedule this weekend, squaring off against Bates who is undergoing an identity crisis, and Wheelock who is nothing special either. That said, they held their opponents to an abysmal 29.8% from the field including 18.4% from behind the arc. This is honestly a testament to their coaching because they find a way to get a hand up and contest just about every shot, making it brutal for their opponents to get good looks. Without the individual superstar that they have had in the past few seasons, the Bantams will continue to rely on their very good defense to keep them in games.

5: Youth movement across the league

Matt Folger ’20 is as good a scorer as anyone in the league (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The most exciting headline of the weekend is certainly the new wave of names across the stat leaderboards in the NESCAC. In fact, 8 of the top 10 leading scorers from this weekend were either a sophomore or junior, and as a fan of the conference as a whole, this is great news. Almost every team has asked one or a few underclassmen to step into larger roles to fill a void left on their team, and these underclassmen have performed admirably. There are a ton of juniors who have already made an impact and will continue to do so, but certainly keep an eye on sophomores such as Eric Savage (Tufts), Jeff Spellman (Bates), Kena Gilmour (Hamilton), and Matt Folger (Middlebury) not only as dark horse scoring title candidates for this year, but POY candidates a year or two down the road.

Thanksgiving is a crazy time – seeing family, catching up on work, starting to think about exams (that word itself just makes me cringe), and many, many other things, but the thrill of the NESCAC basketball season is finally upon us. For us NESCAC students, this means an absurdly long and dark winter, but it also means packing every last person possible into each of our respective gyms to cheer on our most beloved basketball teams. There is something in everyone that makes us inherently proud of where we go to school, and basketball manifests this sentiment better than anything. This is the beginning of an awful and amazing time of year and I don’t know about anyone else, but I couldn’t be more excited.

 

Throw Dem ‘Bos: 2017-2018 Tufts Men’s Basketball Preview

TUFTS UNIVERSITY JUMBOS

2016-2017 Record: 22-7, 8-2

2017-2018 Projected Record: 23-7

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:

Everett Dayton
Everett Dayton ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #4 Everett Dayton – Sr.

The senior from Pacific Palasides, California emerged as a quiet leader for the Jumbos last season, starting every game, running the offense and averaging 8 PPG. He plays solid defense and has shown off his scoring ability, aside from his ball-handling prowess. Tufts will look to Dayton this season to lead them on both ends of the floor, and in big moments in big games. Offensively, Tufts will have to play even more of a perimeter game with the loss of Center Tom Pelleschi. Dayton will need to be a facilitator, and also knock down three pointers when they are open. With a smaller lineup on the floor, ball movement will be paramount, and Dayton will be the Jumbos offensive catalyst, who will look to create shots for his teammates and run the floor. Tufts will get the most out of their offense when Dayton’s assists are high.

Thomas Lapham
Thomas Lapham ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #1 Thomas Lapham – Sr.

The second of the ‘Bos SoCal Guard tandem, Lapham is a grinder. He proved to be valuable for the Jumbos off the bench last season, shooting 42% from the field. He is a sharp shooter, who will look to breakout this season from behind the arc. Lapham has demonstrated his three-point shooting ability, last season burying 4 against Newbury College and 3 against Williams. This year’s offense will benefit a player like Lapham, who the Jumbos will need to step up and contribute right off the bat. If Lapham can knock down shots early, it will open opportunities for other seasoned shooters like Dayton and Pace. Lapham has proven he can contribute on both sides of the floor off the bench, and will bring his gamer mentality to his more consistent role this season. Look for Lapham’s numbers to rise this season, but it will be his leadership and competitiveness that will earn him extra minutes and add to the Jumbos win column.

Eric Savage
Eric Savage ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #5 Eric Savage – So.

My Breakout Player of the Year, Savage will be a huge the key to the Jumbos success in 2017-2018. Savage improved greatly over the course of last season, and was a regular contributor off the bench for Tufts later in the year. He put up 14 and 16 points in the Jumbos first two NCAA tilts last season, and had a season high 18 at Trinity in early February. Savage emerged as a consistent scoring threat for the Jumbos, and they will rely on him even more this season in a more consistent role. Savage is a natural scorer, who will help Tufts win basketball games by getting to the dish, facilitating, and knocking down open shots. If Savage can play good defense, he will spend a lot of time on the court for the Jumbos.

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #13 Vincent Pace – Sr.

A healthy Pace is Tufts best all-around player. A knee injury sustained in the NESCAC Tournament ended his Sophomore season, and battling other injuries last year, Pace was still able to be a major contributor for the Bos. Pace is a scorer, which he displayed against St. Johns Fisher in the NCAA Tournament dropping 37 points in a Jumbos victory. He averaged 14 PPG last season, shooting nearly 44% from the field, and giving the Jumbos 25 minutes per game, despite nagging injuries. Tufts has relied heavily on Pace in the past and they will continue to rely on him offensively this season. In losses against Amherst and Bates last year, Pace shot less than 32%, only putting up 6 points against Amherst. Tufts will need big time performances out of Pace this year. If he can stay healthy he will be an offensive weapon yet again for the Jumbos, working the perimeter with Dayton, Savage, and Lapham, but Pace can also guard forwards on defense.

Patrick Racy
Patrick Racy ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #24 Patrick Racy – So.

The biggest question mark for this 2017-2018 Jumbos squad is the replacement of four-year starting Center and Captain Tom Palleschi. The 6-7 Center from Connecticut, Racy contributed big minutes for the Jumbos as a Freshman when Palleschi went down with a knee injury in January. Racy was vital for Tufts on defense and on the boards last year, but without Palleschi, opponents will most likely attack the paint. If Racy can step up and guard some of the most potent NESCAC Bigs down low, Tufts will be a very tough defense to score on. Boards and good D will be the two keys to Racy’s Sophomore campaign, but he also poses an offensive threat as a mid-range shooter. Look for the big man to sneak in a few put-backs and draw some offensive attention with his smooth jumper. Racy will open the array of Jumbo shooters on the perimeter, even more.

Breakout Player:

G #33 Eric Savage – So.

(See above)

Everything Else

 YOUNG BOS:

Tufts will rely heavily on several returners to continue to be big contributors throughout their 2017-2018 campaign. That said, with the departure of senior impact players from last season like Tarik Smith and Tom Palleschi, there are some opportunities for the young talent on the Jumbos roster. Last year we saw Eric Savage work his way into the rotation by competing on both ends of the floor and stepping up down the stretch. Patrick Racy received valuable exposure in the during his fill-in time in Palleschi’s absence. This year, two first years stick out as early contenders to provide significant minutes for Tufts, Luke Rogers (F) and Brennan Morris (G). Rogers could be jumbo for Tufts. Now the biggest body on the roster, the kid has a ton of upside and will get chances early on to give Racy his rest. Look for Rogers to make an impact down low defensively and help Tufts on the offensive boards. Although the Jumbos are stacked at the guard position, Brennan can come off the bench and give Tufts some size. If Brennan can knock down some shots and contribute offensively early on, he could be big for the Jumbos spreading the floor and crashing the boards.

LIKE HE’S LOU WILL

KJ Garrett
KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

KJ Garrett provided some serious offensive spark for the Jumbos at certain crucial moments last season. He came off the bench and dropped 19 at home against Hamilton, willing Tufts to an eventual 13-point victory amidst their 10-game win streak. The University of Washington transfer from Southern California is an athletic weapon on the court, whose ability to rise above the rim is only matched by Colby’s Pat Dickert. Although Garrett is currently sidelined with a minor finger injury, he will be back and ready to go for Tufts. The Jumbos will continue to look to Garrett for that offensive spark. On a team loaded with shooters, Garrett will drive to the basket and get buckets in the paint, opening shooting opportunities for his buddies behind the arc. If Garrett can get healthy and stay healthy, I expect him to contribute early off the bench, moving into a more consistent role down the stretch, igniting the Jumbos guard-friendly offense.

 LIKE IT’S MARCH MADNESS

Tufts was upset in the NESCAC Playoffs by a Williams team they had taken apart 93-68 just two weeks earlier. Despite two well-earned victories in the NCAA Tournament, the Jumbos fell to Babson for the second time of the season, who eventually went on to win the National Championship. Last year’s squad was good, but this team is better. Tufts is led by a good group of senior impact players who will have a positive effect on the team on both ends of the floor and off the court. If the Jumbos are going to win the Conference and make a NCAA push this season, they will need to have that playoff mentality all season long. If they stay healthy, knock down open shots, and can replace Tom Palleschi’s impact, Tufts will have a very successful 2017-2018 season.

ROAD WARRIORS:

The Jumbos have a few big matchups on the road this year, including trips to Washington University in St. Louis for a season opening tournament, and a couple of showdowns in Southern California just before New Year’s. Tufts will also have to battle on the road in Conference. Probably their most vital stretch of the season will be their road trip facing off against Williams and Middlebury on back-to-back days. Williams should be a big tilt for the ‘Bos having eliminated them from the NESCAC Playoffs last season, and bouncing back to compete against a good Panthers squad will be tough. The Jumbos also have three straight road matchups in late January at Lesley, Connecticut College, and Wesleyan.

 

BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON MATCHUP:

February 3 vs Amherst

This will mark the third-to-last regular season game for the Jumbos, probably against their most formidable in-conference opponent. Amherst went 7-3 in Conference play last season, and were young. In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst returns a slew of senior contributors and will be looking to put together a more successful 2018 campaign. Tufts will have an opportunity to knock off a worthy opponent at home in front of a Friday night crowd at Cousens, and get hot as they look ahead to the NESCAC Tournament.

 

 

And Then There Were 64: Tufts and Wesleyan NCAA Opening Previews

Pete previewed the opening rounds for Amherst and Middlebury this morning, so I will do my best to follow in his footsteps with some intel on Tufts and Wesleyan. Both teams earned at-large bids despite earlier than expected exits from the NESCAC tournament, a testament to their consistency and the strength of the conference. Let’s see what each team’s chances to escape their pod are like.

 

#14 Tufts (20-6, 9-3)

(Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

While they slipped towards the end of the season, particularly in their unimpressive performance in the NESCAC semis, Tufts is in a fine spot. They didn’t earn the top seed in the NESCAC tournament by accident. In fact, aside from Middlebury, I would say that Tufts has the best chance to make a deep run in the tournament because of their depth, especially on the perimeter. If not for the dominance of the Tufts Women’s Basketball Team, the men would be hosting the opening round this weekend instead of St. John Fisher, so don’t sleep on the Jumbos for that reason. Tom Palleschi should be in better health this weekend than he was against Williams last weekend (he logged just 8 minutes), which definitely bodes well for Tufts.

 

How They Got Here

Like I mentioned above, Tufts’ depth is what they hang their hats on. They generally play 9-10 deep, allowing Coach Sheldon to see who has the hot hand that day and alter the minute distribution accordingly. In the second half, KJ Garrett and Everett Dayton have really taken the reigns offensively in the absence of Palleschi, and Second Team All-NESCAC selection Tarik Smith has continued his steady production from the point guard slot. The spurtability of Eric Savage, Ethan Feldman and Thomas Lapham has been a big boost for the ‘Bos off the bench. Vinny Pace has been a tad inconsistent this year, but his potential to explode offensively is a constant threat for opposing defenses. Given their athletic, guard-heavy lineup, the Jumbos play best when they get out in transition. They are maybe the best team in the league at converting quick hitters off an opposing team basket due to their ability to handle the ball and push the tempo at 1-4, and sometimes even 1-5 when they go small with Garrett at the 5-position.

 

How They Lose

The biggest area of focus for Tufts should be on the boards and in the paint. Without Palleschi, they have lost their best rebounder, often forcing Ben Engvall and KJ Garrett to match up with much bigger players. While the two are very solid rebounding guards, Pat Racy and Drew Madsen are both smaller than Palleschi, leaving the Tufts lineup at a disadvantage due to the overall lack of size they are rolling out there. Additionally, Palleschi is the biggest shot blocking presence on the roster, and even if he is feeling better this weekend than last, I doubt that his knee will be healthy enough for him to impact shots in the paint the same way that he used to. We saw Williams take advantage of this last weekend, especially Kyle Scadlock, who had 20 and 11 in that semifinal game. Williams outscored Tufts 32-8 in the paint, which points to another vulnerability of the Jumbos – their halfcourt offense. Tufts is SO much better when they can get fastbreak points. They are deep enough that fatigue is not a factor, and it leaves them with many more open threes. The three-pointers that the Jumbos generate out of their halfcourt offense are often forced, leading to low shooting percentages and poor offensive displays. It all starts with the Jumbos controlling the paint – if they can force jumpers out of their opponents, then they will have more opportunities to get out and run.

 

The Competition

Salem State (17-10, 9-3)

Shaquan Murray (Courtesy of Salem State Athletics)

The Vikings boast a three-pronged attack that features guard Shaquan Murray (15.9 PPG), center Marcus Faison (15.1 PPG) and guard Alex Santos (11.8 PPG). Murray is a premier ball handler who excels at getting to the basket. He is small and quick, and knows how to maneuver in the paint to get good shots. Faison is the Salem State post presence, but he is listed at just 6’5”/215, something the Jumbos NEED to take advantage of. However, thinking back to UMass Boston and Sam Freeman, undersized bigs seem to do well against Tufts, and Faison’s 11.1 rebounds per game seems to indicate that he is primed for a big game tonight. Finally, Santos is the shooter of the bunch. He is a bit bigger than Murray, but he’ll be smaller than most of the Tufts guards. If Tufts can get a hand in Santos’ face, they should be able to keep him in check.

 

St. John Fisher (22-5, 15-1)

Keegan Ryan (Courtesy of St. John Fisher Athletics)

St. John Fisher put together nearly a flawless conference season, losing just one game en route to the Empire 8 championship crown. As has been the case all season, one of their two studs took over and brought the Cardinals to victory in the finals. Tyler English dropped 21 points on Stevens in that game, and he poses a similar threat to Tufts because of his length on the perimeter. However, it’s Cardinal big man and leading scorer Keegan Ryan that should scare the Jumbos the most if the two match up in the round of 32. At 6’8”/235 and average 18.6 points/8.7 rebounds, Ryan is geared to expose Tufts where they have the least depth. Fortunately for Tufts, St. John Fisher does not shoot well from the perimeter. Given their size and athleticism amongst their guards, Tufts definitely holds the advantage in this regard. Nonetheless, Ryan has proven that he can change games single handedly, and if they match up, Tufts could be on upset alert.

 

St. Lawrence (20-6, 13-3)

Riley Naclerio (Courtesy of St. Lawrence Athletics)

Despite a first round exit in the Liberty League conference tournament, St. Lawrence is a solid team. Their conference features two other NCAA tournament teams in Union and Skidmore, so St. Lawrence is tested against good competition. The Saints love to run, and the spread out their scoring very nicely. Led by 6’8” forward Riley Naclerio, who scores 19.1 PPG, the Saints have a formidable counter to St. John Fisher’s big man. To complement Naclerio, Kyle Edwards scores 16.8 PPG, yet Edwards does much of his damage from deep. He’s a 40% three-point shooter who has proven time and again that he is willing to take the big shot for the Saints. St. Lawrence also has two other double-digit scorers that help balance their offense, and given their versatility, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints pull off an upset in tonight’s game.

 

Wesleyan (19-6, 6-5)

(Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The Cardinals slide into the tournament after a conference season that did not live up to the hype that they generated in the first half of their season. 11-1 heading into their first NESCAC game, Wesleyan seemed to be overlooked. However, that opening weekend resulted in two back-to-back blowout losses coming at the hands of Middlebury and Hamilton. The Cardinals turned things around, at that point, winning 8 of their last 11 with all three of their losses coming by 4 points or less. Wesleyan, like Tufts, is a very balanced team. They are led by Second Team All-NESCAC guard Harry Rafferty, who is one of four Cardinals to average 10+ PPG. Unfortunately for Wesleyan, they were missing one of their studs, Jordan Bonner, for a large part of the middle of their season. Luckily, he returned for their last 9 games, and he performed exceptionally well down the stretch. Injury struck again late in the season when Salim Green missed 5 games, but he returned in time for the playoffs. Unfortunately, he was not his old self, logging a scoreless 17 minutes of action. Wesleyan is a very, very good team, but they haven’t been fully healthy in quite some time. We’ll see if they can get back to their standard form soon.

 

How They Got Here

Unlike Tufts, Wesleyan is not a team that is going to push the tempo, at least not to the same extent as the Jumbos. The Cardinals enjoy success when they are able to get the ball into the post to Joseph Kuo. Kuo is a fully capable scorer with his back to the basket, but he is also a solid passer. Because of his size, teams sometimes try to collapse into the paint to clog up the middle. When Rafferty, Bonner, and Nathan Krill all shoot pretty well from beyond the arc, and when the Cards take care of the ball and take smart shots, their offense runs very smoothly. That being said, this is a defense-first team. Wesleyan is in my eyes the grittiest team in the NESCAC, led by Krill in this regard. He is the scrappiest forward in the league, willing to do anything to get his team a W. Allowing just 65.8 PPG, Wesleyan thrives when they are disciplined defensively. It’s games where they get in foul trouble or fail to stop opposing fast breaks that Wesleyan struggles. Luckily for them, that doesn’t happen very often.

 

How They Lose

When Wesleyan is stagnant offensively, it’s because they are not moving the ball enough. They are prone to falling victim to an overload of one-on-one offense at times, and when they do, their shot selection suffers. Effective penetration turns into drives into traffic; open threes turn into contested ones; drive and kicks turn into forced 10-12 footers. This can’t happen if Wesleyan hopes to advance far in this tournament. Luckily for the Cardinals, they did a pretty good job of limiting these lapses over the course of the season, but the NCAA tournament, the margin of error is always slimmer.

 

The Competition

Union (16-10,10-6)

Deshon Burgess (Courtesy of Union Athletics)

After finishing behind both Skidmore and St. Lawrence in the Liberty League regular season standings, the Dutchmen pretty much had to win their conference tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Well, Union did just that. They won 110-108 in double OT against St. Lawrence in the conference semifinals, and then came back three days later to post another win against Hobart on their way to the conference title. They’re led by Deshon Burgess, who was named to the D3hoops.com Naitonal Team of the Week last week, scored 34 points (including the game-winning three with 0.9 seconds left in the second overtime period against St. Lawrence, only to follow it up with 33 points in the finals. He leads the team with 19.8 PPG, and is clearly stepping up when his team needs it most. Wesleyan needs to look out for Burgess if they hope to make it out of round one.

 

#13 Rochester (21-4, 10-4)

Sam Borst-Smith (Courtesy of Rochester Athletics)

Despite posting a better overall record than in-conference foe Washington (Mo.), the Yellow Jackets faltered at the very end of their season, posting back-to-back losses, allowing WashU to take the conference crown. Rochester has three primary weapons, but it’s Sam Borst-Smith that leads the way offensively. A 41% three-point shooter, Borst-Smith scores 16.0 PPG, good enough to take home the UAA MVP trophy this season. Mack Montague and Zach Ayers are the other two biggest producers on the offensive end for Rochester, averaging 15.6 and 12.0 PPG respectively. However, Rochester seems like a very top-heavy lineup. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked for them this year, but in the NCAA tournament, depth is generally what breeds success. Don’t be surprised if Rochester is upset in the opening weekend.

 

Albertus Mangus (23-4, 16-2)

Jaqhawn Walters (Courtesy of Albertus Mangus Athletics)

Winners of their last nine, Albertus Mangus is coming into the tournament scorching hot. However, the GNAC isn’t necessarily the most impressive basketball conference in the country. The Falcons won the GNAC Championship handily against a mediocre Lesley squad, but it was their slimmest margin of victory in the GNAC tournament – just 18 points. Their run and gun offense is led by Jaqhawn Walters and Grant Ellis, who score 20.7 and 19.4 PPG respectively. Because of the lack of competition in their conference, it’s tough to gauge how good Albertus Mangus actually is, but they certainly have some competent scorers.

Can the Jumbos Trample the Ephs?: Williams at Tufts NESCAC Semifinal Preview

Vinny Pace ’18 looks to lead the Jumbos to Sunday’s NESCAC Championship game (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

#6 Williams (18-7, 5-5) at #1 Tufts (20-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 25, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Though they made it to this weekend last year, Tufts once again has a chance to win their first NESCAC Championship this weekend. The difference is that Tufts is hosting the remainder of the tournament this year, something the Jumbos have never done before. Just a couple weeks ago, Tufts hosted the Ephs in the very same Cousens Gymnasium that tomorrow’s game will be played in. As a Jumbos superfan, I can proudly say that Tufts smacked Williams in that game, but that does not mean Saturday’s matchup will be a rout. Honestly, I see this game going down to the wire, especially after watching Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19 step up the way they did against their rivals. I am anticipating similar performances out of these two studs, and NESCAC hoops fans should be prepared for a barn burner out of the first game of the doubleheader.

 

Last Time They Met:

Dan Aronowitz ’17 is hoping to bounce back after a tough game against the Jumbos two weeks ago (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

As mentioned above, the February 10th matchup between these two squads was not very close. Tufts walked away with a 93-68 victory catalyzed by their 18 three-pointers. With a silent first half, Eric Savage ‘20 came out of the locker room as a different beast in the second half, dropping 17 in 12 minutes of action. Now that sounds pretty good, but until you realize how he scored those 17 points, it’s just that – good. From the 12:06 mark to 6:42 left in the game, Savage knocked down five straight threes. He finally showed the crowd that he is a mere mortal on his next attempt, but that ~5 ½ minute stretch pretty much sums up the entire game. Tufts couldn’t miss from three. Meanwhile, Williams struggled from deep, much more than the box score shows at least. Sure, they ended up 8-25 from beyond the arc, but seven of those makes came in the second half when playing out the rest of the game was simply a formality. The Ephs were 1-9 from three in the first half, clearly missing Cole Teal ‘18, who sat out with some sort of illness. Tufts never trailed or allowed Williams to tie the game up after the first basket of the game, proving their pure dominance on that day.

 

Last Year:

Stephen Haladyna ’16 became a superstar in Tufts’ playoff run last year (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Tufts played Williams in their last game of the 2015-2016 regular season just like they did this year, only to face them again a week later in the NESCAC quarterfinals. In game one at Williams, Tufts escaped with a gritty four point victory on the backs of Tom Palleschi ‘17 and Stephen Haladyna ‘16 despite a valiant effort out of Aronowitz. The playoff game the following weekend featured a much more balanced Tufts attack, with four of the five starters scoring in double-digits. Aronowitz did all he could, dropping 32 while just one of his teammates reached the double-digit mark, but at the end of the day, Tufts was too much, and they once again walk away with a victory, this time by six points. The two games featured much of the same type of strategy, but differed in who produced. If history has any bearing on tomorrow’s game, we will likely see similar strategy to their first meeting of the season, i.e. attempts by both teams to prove their dominance behind the three-point line, a lot of halfcourt offense and a much more conscious effort to share the wealth offensively by Tufts than Williams.

 

Williams X-Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19

Kyle Scadlock ’19 dominated in the 2nd half against Amherst last week – Williams needs a similar performance tomorrow (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Last time these two played, I predicted that Cole Teal would be the x-factor and he didn’t step on the court, so I could be very, very off on this prediction. However, Scadlock has been playing some of his best basketball recently, and he is a big reason why Amherst was able to pull off the upset against Amherst last weekend. 14 of Scadlock’s 16 points came in the second half last Saturday, including a 7-0 run by the sophomore himself that gave the Ephs a nine point lead. Williams never looked back after Scadlock’s two minute stretch of dominance, and his emphatic dunk with nine seconds left capped off a well-deserved Williams victory. Against the Jumbos, the forward played pretty well, scoring 15 on 7-10 shooting, and with the post presence of the host team laden with injuries, a strong performance from Scadlock could be the difference. Not only can Scadlock take advantage of a size advantage on offense, but his success doing so will force the Jumbos to sag in to help, leaving shooters open on the perimeter. Aronowitz cannot shoulder the entire load in this game, so Scadlock needs to step up unlike his performance in the playoff matchup between these two sides last year.

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard Ben Engvall ‘18

Tufts guard Ben Engvall ’18 is known for gritty transition buckets like this one (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

What’s one word I would use to describe Ben Engvall? Tough. The kid does not back down on the court, and that is going to be key against Williams. With Madsen banging around with a mix of Williams centers on the boards, Engvall is likely going to be tasked with keeping Scadlock in check. If he can keep Scadlock off the boards and force him into tough shots on the offensive end, Tufts will be in very good shape. Offensively, Engvall thrives off of fastbreak buckets, especially after an opposing team basket. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard necessarily, but these transition hoops are momentum plays, especially when he can turn them into and-one opportunities (which he does quite often). In the halfcourt offense, Engvall is a bit more limited. He is a good shooter that has shown the ability to knock down big shots, and when defenders close out poorly on him, the junior can get to the hoop. If Engvall can put up his standard 8-12 points, grab 5-6 boards and give Scadlock a hard time, Tufts should be golden.

 

Three Questions:

Will Dan Aronowitz go off?

I’m leaning towards yes. Aronowitz is a senior captain and Williams needs to win this tournament if they want to make an NCAA appearance. He showed last weekend that he means business, and the last time he played a playoff game in Cousens he put on a clinic. The reason I’m only leaning and not taking a stronger stance on this question is due to matchups. Tufts switches everything amongst their four non-post players, which makes it difficult to get open for opposing players. When Aronowitz does find the ball (which he inevitably will), he will likely see a combination of Vinny Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18 (assuming Pat Racy ‘20 is back and healthy), Everett Dayton ‘18 and Eric Savage. The length of all these guys, especially Pace and Dayton, is an issue, and the athleticism between the latter three guys will present problem for Aronowitz. Still, Aronowitz is one of the best players in the conference. I don’t think he’ll shrink in the bright lights of his biggest game since he became ‘the guy’ for the Ephs.

 

Will Tufts get a crowd?

As I mentioned before last weekend’s game versus Hamilton, the Tufts crowd is inconsistent at best. Despite the quarterfinal game being the slowest, most boring conference game that I have watched since I arrived at Tufts, it was still disappointing that the Tufts student population couldn’t bring forth a better effort for their Jumbos in the playoffs. The reason this question matters, however, is because at times, the Tufts crowd can be a huge factor. When Tufts faced Williams in the quarterfinals last year, for example, the crowd was completely into it. Every time Bobby Casey ‘19 touched the ball, “BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY,” echoed through Cousens. I’m not saying the chanting did or did not affect Casey, but he was 3-9 from the field with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 turnovers. You tell me. In any event, the crowd only increased in size throughout the Tufts NCAA tournament run last season, and I have a feeling that the thirst to be part of a championship run could bring the Jumbo faithful down to Cousens on Saturday.

 

Will Tufts have more than one big man?

Honestly, I’m not sure, but it matters one way or the other. Drew Madsen does not demand the ball offensively like Palleschi or even Racy. Madsen gets his points more primarily off drive and dish plays or put backs. This means the Tufts offense is much more reliant on its wing players, but the important thing to remember is that the ‘Bos have spread the ball around very evenly when they’ve been successful. While it’d obviously be great to have Racy and Palleschi back, the Jumbos are in fine shape with just Madsen, it just changes the strategy a bit. Instead of pounding the ball into the post, Tufts will rely more heavily on pick and rolls and drive and kick plays. If they shoot like they did last time Williams visited Medford, the Jumbos have nothing to fear, but I don’t quite seeing them hit 18 three-pointers. The one-post lineup worked against Williams last time – will it work again?

 

Summary

Overall, I simply believe that Tufts has too many weapons for the Ephs. Every guard in the lineup has a different skillset, which equally as unique as it is deadly. I know that Williams is hot right now, and I’m not counting them out, but Tufts is the better team, and at home I don’t think they will flop like Amherst did.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Can Hamilton Topple Tufts?: Hamilton at Tufts Quarterfinals Preview

#8 Hamilton (16-8, 4-6) at #1 Tufts (19-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

(Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

When Tufts clinched the top seed in the NESCAC tournament last Friday they had plenty of reason for celebration – this is the first time in school history that Tufts has earned the number one seed in the NESCAC tournament. Despite the terrific achievement, however, the Jumbos still waited until Sunday afternoon before they learned who they would be hosting in the NESCAC quarterfinals. I’m sure Coach Sheldon was watching Williams intently in their game against Bates to see if they had made any adjustments since Tufts bullied them on Friday, and indeed they did. The Ephs pulled out a three point victory in Lewiston, boosting their place in the standings and leaving Hamilton to walk into the hornet’s nest that is Cousens Gymnasium. As a Tufts student myself, I can admit that attendance at sporting events in Medford is pretty inconsistent. After last year’s playoff runs by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams though, I would expect that a doubleheader split between the two teams would provoke quite a turnout today. We will see I guess. It took a few straight years of success for Warriors fans to jump on the bandwagon, but maybe Jumbo Nation will support their squad more faithfully than the frontrunning fans of Golden State. If so, lookout Hamilton.

While Tufts is stepping into the playoffs coming off of one of their best games of the season, the Continentals enter this game in the opposite fashion of Tufts. Hamilton got swept by Amherst and Trinity in the last weekend of NESCAC play to cap off a pretty poor stretch in which the team lost four of their five conference games during the second half of the NESCAC season. Coach Stockwell can’t be thrilled by the way his team limped into the playoffs, but guess what, this is NESCAC basketball and ANYTHING can happen. Just two years ago, Wesleyan ran through the tournament as the #6 seed to earn the NESCAC title and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it. Regardless of how they got in, Hamilton is in the tourney, and they have the tools to make a sneaky run if they execute properly.

 

Last time they met

Throughout the first half, the game was pretty back and forth, but with a couple minutes to go until the break, Hamilton lost their focus. Down just five with 2:22 left before the halftime whistle, the Continentals turned the ball over three times, allowing Tufts to go on an 8-2 run to extend the lead to 11 heading into the second half. Though Tarik Smith ‘17, Eric Savage ‘20 and Ben Engvall ‘18 had very respectable games, it was KJ Garrett ‘18 who stole the show for the ‘Bos – the transfer junior put up 19 points on 8-11 shooting to lead the Jumbos to victory. Peter Hoffmann ‘19 put forth a valiant effort on the Hamilton side of the ball with 22 points of his own, but many of his teammates struggled to find the bottom of the net, nullifying the sophomore’s success scoring the rock. While he didn’t have a great game, Tom Palleschi ‘17 was in the lineup for the Jumbos back in January when these two first met, so Andrew Groll ‘19 definitely had a different matchup to deal with than he will have today. Groll was part of a small supporting cast for Hoffmann in meeting numero uno, so it will be up to Drew Madsen ‘17 to shut him down this afternoon.

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard KJ Garrett ‘18

KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

In Palleschi’s absence, Garrett has stepped up in a big way for Tufts. Some might even say he’s stepped up in a Jumbo way. Just kidding, that would be the corniest pun ever, nobody would ever say that. But the point remains, Garrett’s play has elevated as Palleschi’s absence has necessitated, and Coach Sheldon is going to need a strong effort out of the junior again against Hamilton. Just last week, Garrett averaged 18 points over two games, knocking down 13-15 field goals and 7-7 three-point attempts! That’s incredible efficiency. What makes Garrett so tough is that he is leaps and bounds beyond virtually every opponent in terms of athleticism, so he is able to get out in transition and also crash the boards. Meanwhile, he has snuck up as a pretty deadly three-point shooter. His strategy of playing the snake in the grass on a team full of shooters seems to be working out for him. Garrett is getting good shots and nailing them. If he plays well, the Jumbos win, end of story.

 

Hamilton X-Factor: Guard/Forward Michael Grassey ‘19

Michael Grassey ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Last time he faced the ‘Bos, Grassey struggled. He shot just 2-7 for six points before fouling out, a performance that is far from the norm for the combo guard. As mentioned above, Hoffmann lacked the necessary reinforcements to outduel the Jumbos in January, but if Grassey can get back to standard partner-in-crime form, these two sophomores just might be able to topple top-seeded Tufts. Grassey is by far the best outside shooter on Hamilton’s roster and frankly put, he is going to need to drill some of the open shots opportunities he gets from Hoffman and Kena Gilmour ‘20 off of drive-and-kicks. Additionally, Grassey could do the Continentals a huge favor by demonstrating the ability to get to the rack early in the game. Without Palleschi, and potentially Pat Racy ‘20, who didn’t play last weekend for Tufts, Madsen is the lone big man left on the top seed’s roster. This predicament makes foul trouble a grave concern, and one that Madsen needs to be ultra weary of. If Grassey can get to the paint once or twice early, the Jumbos will sag and he will get open shots from the perimeter. The sophomore’s performance is crucial for Hamilton in this one.

 

Everything Else

While the two X-factors I’ve listed above are going to have crucial impacts (either positive or negative) on this game, both teams are going to need a full team effort to pull off the W. Hamilton is not as a deep a team as Tufts, so their stars – Hoffman, Grassey, Groll and Gilmour – need to perform, while their role players – Doyle, Dwyer, Pucci – need to excel as well. Although Tufts is used to not having Palleschi at this point, the way they have powered through his injury is by playing as a team, not by playing as a handful of individuals. Tufts’ best games have come when they have had four or five players score in double-digits. Today is no different, the Jumbos need a team effort. X-factor Garrett has the luxury of being able to lean on a deeper cast than X-factor Grassey does. Vinny Pace ‘18, Tarik Smith ‘17, Ben Engvall ‘18, Everett Dayton ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20… all these guys know how to score, and all of them have pulled the sled at different points this year. It’s just a matter of who is going to rise to the occasion at tipoff today.

With all the scorers this game has to offer, I don’t quite anticipate this being a low-scoring affair. If the Jumbos get hot from three like they did against Williams last week, they could run away with it. If the Continentals can force Tufts into contested shots however, they’ll be able to get out on the break just like they want to. The winner of this game is going to be the team that can hinder the other team’s offensive strategy. Because both teams want to get out in transition, offense will start on defense in this game, and an extra-high emphasis should be placed on rebounding the basketball. Both teams feature guards that are strong on the glass, so it will be a matter of grit to see who wins the battle on the boards. While this should definitely be a good game, on that is much closer than the seeding implies, I don’t see Tufts losing this one, especially not on their home court. Tufts is too deep and Hamilton just isn’t. The Continentals are trending upward, but I don’t think this is their year.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

It’s Not Too Late for the Stock Report: 2/10

Jayde Dawson ’18 drives to the hoop (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).It’

I know, I know, I’ve been slacking this week and it’s about time I got around to writing the stock report. The truth is, the job search is no joke, and so I’ve let my NESCAC basketball writing fall behind a bit. However, that does not mean that this past weekend was uneventful. There was movement at the top of the ‘CAC as well as the bottom, and while many of the matchups seemed to be shaping up to be barn burners, only a couple games actually ended up coming down to the wire.

I’m gonna do this stock report a little differently this week in order to incorporate some sort of rankings as well. No individual players are going to be snagging ‘stock up’ or ‘stock down’ mentions, but instead each projected playoff team (projections are being made by me, and me alone) will be given its own stock report. Then we will put out a pre-tournament power rankings next week. I will give each team’s stock report in order of last week’s power rankings, so don’t read too deeply into the order of teams listed. No playoff seed is yet set, so predicting which seed each team will get seems a bit futile at this point.

 

#17 Tufts (18-5, 7-2)Stock down

Friday was actually a pretty surprising win out of the Jumbos in my eyes. Down to just a pair of big men, I anticipated that the Jumbos would struggle with Ed Ogundeko ‘17 and as a result would struggle overall. Well, I was half right – Ogundeko dummied the ‘Bos to the tune of 23 points and 21 rebounds, largely due to the foul trouble that Drew Madsen ‘17 found himself in, forcing Coach Sheldon to roll out some pretty small lineups, but a foursome of solid performances by Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20 and KJ Garrett ‘18 allowed Tufts to withstand the Bantam attack. However, they did not play very well, and while they ended up winning in overtime, their 61% shooting from the free throw line was concerning to say the least. Tufts failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities to close out the game, and this carried into Saturday’s game when Amherst punished Tufts for poor decision making. The lack of Tom Palleschi ‘17 is concerning to say the least, not just because of the threat that he provides when the ball is in his hands, but also because of the way that he opens up the floor for his teammates. Tufts needs a big bounceback performance against Williams or they could be in trouble come NESCAC tournament time.

 

Wesleyan (17-5, 4-4)Stock down

The Cardinals had just one conference game this weekend and they dropped the ball. Concerning performance from Joseph Kuo ‘17, Kevin O’Brien ‘17, and Nathan Krill ‘18 could not be outdone by the stellar play of Harry Rafferty ‘17, and the absence of Salim Green ‘19 also hurt quite a bit. Wesleyan played pretty well defensively besides demonstrating that they are prone to foul trouble, but their own poor offensive play resulted in a tough L against the Ephs. Unfortunately, Wesleyan’s better game since last week came in a non-conference game against Amherst in which they eked out a 73-72 victory in OT. The whole starting lineup played a bit better and the scoring was much more well rounded. Still, Wesleyan simply hasn’t been shooting the ball well as of late, and they are going to need to find a way to get better shots moving forward or they could see a disappointing finish.

 

#13 Middlebury (18-3, 6-2)Stock unchanged

I am not saying that Middlebury did nothing well this weekend, but it should not exactly come as a surprise that they blew out Colby and Bowdoin. Middlebury has been one of if not the most consistent team in the league this year, and the Panthers should be considered the best team in the NESCAC at the moment. Now, the rankings change like the breeze in NESCAC basketball, but whether or not they end up with the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Middlebury has to be considered the favorite right now. Tonight’s matchup with Amherst will say tell us a lot about the Panthers, but they are in very good shape right now.

 

#8 Amherst (16-5, 6-2)Stock up

Despite the Tuesday loss to Wesleyan, Amherst’s performance this weekend is much more important. A nine-point victory against Bates was expected but still impressive, and on senior day, the ex-LJs showed Tufts who is the boss with a commanding 13-point victory. Despite it being senior day, however, it was the juniors who pave the way against the Jumbos. Jayde Dawson ‘18, Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Michael Riopel ‘18 all poured in double-digits points to lead the way for Amherst and give them a very good chance to grab the #1 seed in NESCACs this weekend. Riopel was especially impressive from the outside, and he has been arguably the best 6th man in the ‘CAC all season long. Amherst looks to be back, folks. A win at Middlebury would confirm that.

 

Trinity (14-8, 5-3)Stock up

Though Trinity lost a game that Tufts was desperately trying to hand them on Friday, they bounced back on Sunday and dominated the Bobcats with their highest-scoring game in conference play this year. Defensively, there is no one I’d be more scared of the Trinity right now, and if not for an egregious amount of fouls on Friday (30 total, resulting in 41 free throws for Tufts), the Bantams might have walked away with two wins this weekend. Offensively, Trinity definitely relies a little too heavily on Ogundeko, but they are so much better when they can get production from a number of other guys. Widespread offensive firepower has to be the focus for the Bantams this weekend and in the playoffs. Their seeding is completely determined by their performances at Hamilton and Middlebury this weekend, but if Trinity can walk away 2-0 they would be in phenomenal shape in the NESCACS.

 

Bates (15-8, 4-5)Stock down

Bates laid an egg this weekend, and it got worse and worse as the weekend went on. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 has emerged as the clear star of the team, his teammates have not quite been able to pull the rest of the weight. Defensively, you just can’t let Jayde Dawson get to the free throw line 14 times in a game. It’s simply not a recipe for success. The Bates guards just need to do a better job of stopping penetration, which has been a common theme for them all year long. Then, to follow up a subpar defensive performance, the Bobcats allowed Trinity to put up their highest point total of the year? Not good. Bates needs to be hitting their stride at this point in the year, not regressing, and what they showed this weekend is not quite ideal. Bates has a great chance to bounce back against Williams on Sunday, but it will be their ability to guard the arc, not the paint necessarily, that determines the outcome against the Ephs.

 

Hamilton (15-6, 4-4)Stock down

Hamilton had a great opportunity to gain some ground in the NESCAC standing this past weekend. Though they didn’t exactly shoot themselves in the foot, they also didn’t quite take advantage of a weekend where they played Bowdoin and Colby, who were the two bottom teams in the ‘CAC heading into the weekend. Bowdoin guard Jack Bors ‘19 had a heck of a game against the Continentals, abusing the Hamilton backcourt and exposing some real holes in the Hamilton defense in the process.  On the positive side, Hamilton freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20 had a very strong performance as he has done consistently throughout NESCAC play. The freshman had another solid game against Colby and is my prediction for Rookie of the Year at this point. As a whole, the Continentals bounced back well against Colby, especially in terms of forcing Colby into difficult shots, but their erratic performance on the defensive side of the ball worries me heading into the playoffs next weekend.

 

Williams (16-6, 4-4) Stock up

After a gritty win against Wesleyan on Friday night, Williams brought in reinforcements and put a BEATDOWN on Conn College on Sunday, 100-piecing them in a 37-point victory. The Conn victory was led by the three-point attack of the Ephs, as they drained 15-34 from deep in the game. More importantly, however, Williams outrebounded Conn by 15, which gave them many more scoring opportunities throughout the contest. Given that they did pretty much everything right on Sunday, let’s focus on the Wesleyan game. Williams did not shoot the ball particularly well from three against Wesleyan, hitting just 6-29 from deep. What the did do well, however, was attack the paint and get to the foul line much more consistently than the Cardinals. Dan Aronowitz ‘17 came to play in this one, and the Ephs are going to need him to do so again in Medford tomorrow when they take on the Jumbos.

 

Conn College (12-9, 2-6), Colby (10-12, 1-7), Bowdoin (11-10, 2-6)

Things could change for either Conn College or Bowdoin this weekend, but as of now, Colby is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Conn and Bowdoin both need to sweep the weekend, but they also match up on Saturday, so only one of two really has a shot. They need one of the current 4-win teams to lose out, and even then, the tiebreakers might not play out in their favor. I suspect that the eight other teams will be in the NESCAC playoffs this year, not Conn, not Colby, and not Bowdoin.

The Year of The Jumbo?: Power Rankings 1/19

KJ Garrett ’18 made a splash off the bench this weekend for the Jumbos with 30 points on 13-18 shooting (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

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)

A Delpeche sandwich means a job well-done (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen).

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)

Jeremy Arthur ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

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.

The Fab Five: Top Freshman in NESCAC

As a first year student it seems fitting that my first article for the site is the top five freshmen in NESCAC Men’s Basketball. The ‘CAC this year is home to some seriously prolific upperclassmen hoopers, but in a matter of months many of their careers will be over. Who is to fill their shoes?

That is unfortunately a question for another day. There is no doubt that some of the names in this article have the potential to be among the conference’s next great players, but you will not be reading about Kena, Matt, David, Sean, and Eric because of what they may do in the future. They are the subject of this writer’s first piece, because of the impact they have on the court today and into the postseason.

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

Kena Gilmore – Hamilton – An early rookie of the year pick by many, the 6’3 guard is averaging 10.7 points in just 16.3 minutes per game. This high volume scoring has him ranked 3rd in the entire conference in points per 40 minutes. He seems to have found his role coming off the bench, as his ability to score and do so quickly make him a perfect sparkplug for the Continentals offense. He showed the ability to find the net early in the season with a 26 point showing against Clarkson, but he seems to be hitting his stride right as we move into the heart of conference play. He’s put up double figures in all of Hamilton’s last four games, including a win over then ninth-ranked Wesleyan.

Matt Folger
Matt Folger ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Matt Folger – Middlebury – Most 6’8 forwards who can shoot are just that; forwards who can also shoot (i.e. Lebron James.) Though the Lebron comparison is of course a reflection of my Cleveland-ness – and maybe of my concerns following a 2 point game from Kyle Korver – Folger is a shooter who is also a forward. Though his minutes thus far are not outstanding, and his scoring average of 5.7 PPG is tempered by time on the bench early in the season, the freshman is establishing himself as a reliable shooter and quick scorer coming off the bench. Just last week his 5 consecutive points solidified a Middlebury lead which would eventually become a victory over Conn. Folger is trending upward in terms of minutes, attempts, points, and thus confidence. He can become a real asset for the Panthers as the season continues to creep onward, especially if he continues to shoots 52% from the field.

David Reynolds
David Reynolds ’20 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Basketball)

David Reynolds – Bowdoin – As I’m sure you’ve read on this website time and time again, it seems like there’s always a league-leading scorer in Brunswick. David Reynolds may very soon be that man. He is an aggressive scorer, averaging 11.6 points per game, a league high among freshmen, but what’s really telling is his average of ten shot attempts per game. Jacking up shots at such a rate – though it’s far from Melo-like, which is a good thing – shows confidence beyond any freshmen trying to find his identity at the college level. Reynolds played his way into a starting spot against UMaine Preque Isle. Though the Owls may not be the Jumbos or the Panthers, getting the nod from Tim Gilbride shows that the confidence the 6’5 guard/forward has had in himself seemingly all season is matched by those around him.

Sean Gilmore
Sean Gilmore ’20 (Couretsy of Colby Atheltics)

Sean Gilmore – Colby – David Reynolds gets a lot of credit for earning a starting spot for Bowdoin, and this isn’t to take away from the accomplishment, heck, I rode the bench all fall (coach if you’re reading that wasn’t a complaint) but Gilmore, a 6’7 forward from San Francisco, has been the lone freshman in the league to consistently see the floor from tip-off this season. He’s started 10 of 13 games. Though he’s only averaging 16.5 minutes a game, a result of inconsistent scoring, Gilmore has shown the ability to come up big in close games. He scored 18 in a four point loss to Oswego St. and dropped 17 in a season-opening 97-96 win over Pine Manor. Not bad for a Golden State fan. The Mules will certainly need some more big performances from Gilmore in upcoming conference play.

Eric Savage
Eric Savage ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Eric Savage – Tufts – The 6’3 guard is averaging just below 8 points in 17.5 minutes a game. Yet both averages are misleading, as Bob Sheldon has been using the Jumbo in an off and on manner. He’s had some weaker games (not scoring against Framingham State), but when Savage is playing in the manner that his last name would indicate, he can be a streaky hot scorer from the wing. He put in 18 pts against FDU-Florham early this winter. Though his minutes have been inconsistent, he’s been earning more and more of them as the season has progressed, even when he hasn’t been scoring much, which points to his solid perimeter defense. I’ll try to resist the urge to make any more last name puns, but if the freshmen keeps playing hard and finds his stride, an already formidable Tufts squad can become even more Savage. Oops.

 

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Tufts guard Ben Engvall '18 lays the ball in as Amherst's David George '17 tries for a swat from behind (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).
Tufts guard Ben Engvall ’18 lays the ball in as Amherst’s David George ’17 tries for a swat from behind (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

So there I was – it was Tuesday and I was just sitting around trying to put together a plan of attack to become an academic weapon in between now and finals. Just minding my own business when Pete sends me his list of talking points to edit. I finally got around to reading it Wednesday night in the midst of my increasingly building workload, and when I finished, I couldn’t ignore the feeling that something was off. I took a quick read through and didn’t notice any grammar mistakes, a pleasant surprise for Pete’s work. So I reread the talking points he put together, and then it struck me. There was no mention of the #1 or the #3 teams in the nation, Amherst and Tufts. Seems a bit odd, no? Well, congratulations Pete, because if this was your strategy to motivate me to write a blog, it worked. Maybe I just have a soft spot for these two because I grew up an Amherst fan and am now a Tufts superfan, but I’m sick and tired of the lack of credit being given to these two. The fact is, omitting these two teams is inexcusable at this point in the season, so I’ll do the honors. Here’s how two of the top three teams in the nation are doing so far this fall.

Amherst, 4-0

Coach Dave Hixon has quite the squad this year, and he hopes to lead them back to the Final Four like last year (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).
Coach Dave Hixon has quite the squad this year, and he hopes to lead them back to the Final Four like last year (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).

Amherst is 4-0 after Tuesday night’s solid win against Westfield State, and has done nothing that indicates their number one national ranking is undeserved. Their closest game has been an 11 point victory on the road against Anna Maria, which is also their only away game at this point. In their home contests, however, Amherst has been nothing short of dominant, outscoring their opponents by a total of 89 points in those three matchups, or just under 30 PPG. Obviously, Amherst hasn’t been faced with the strongest competition so far, but they also haven’t shown any signs of weakness. The Purple and White are playing the best defense in the league by far (just 58.0 OPPG), allowing 9 points less than the next closest NESCAC defense (Williams). They’re not necessarily forcing the most turnovers in the world (13.5 TO/G, 7th in the league), but they are forcing opponents into taking difficult shots. I mean really tough shots. Opponents are shooting just 34.7% from the field and 26.3% from three-point land against Coach Hixon’s squad…. That second percentage is absolutely miserable.

One reason Amherst is able to force this poor offensive play is that they are so versatile on defense. Jayde Dawson ‘17 can guard pretty much any opposing point guard, Johnny McCarthy ‘18 flashes such length that Kevin Durant looks like he has t-rex arms in comparison, and both Michael Riopel ‘18 and Jeff Racy ‘17 more than hold their own. Amherst switches pretty much everything on the perimeter, something they can do because of their athleticism, size, and most of all, because they have David George ‘17 manning the paint – not a bad little safety net behind you as a perimeter defender.

“Oh, but Rory, Amherst doesn’t have anyone who can score! McCarthy is their top scorer with just 13.0 PPG – that’s 18th in the NESCAC!!!” So what. Amherst never has anyone that scores significantly more than the rest of the team, that’s why they’re always so good. Coach Hixon currently has four players averaging double digits: McCarthy, Dawson (11.0), Riopel (10.5), and Eric Conklin ‘17 (10.3). That’s not something too many NESCAC teams can say. They are also so deep that they don’t play their starters the entire game, they just simply don’t need to. Of the top 10 scorers, only the 10th highest scorer (Vinny Pace, who I will get to), that is averaging under 20 minutes per game. Pace is actually the only one averaging under 24 MIN/G. Well, McCarthy is the only one on Amherst averaging over 24 MIN/G, and the next highest is Riopel, who is playing 20.5 minutes on average. My point is this: Amherst scores the ball extremely efficiently, and while it’s certainly impressive that Jack Simonds is scoring 25.2 PPG, he is also playing 36.2 MIN/G. I’m not picking on Jack, I’m just saying that there is a strong correlation between minutes played and points scored. This is a pretty consistent trend through the top 10 scorers, which is why Amherst’s wide array of scoring threats should be more highly regarded than it seems like it is. Amherst is really, really good, and they deserve that recognition.

Tufts, 5-0

Tarik Smith '17 has been the most consistent threat for the Jumbos so far this year (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).
Tarik Smith ’17 has been the most consistent threat for the Jumbos so far this year (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

A lot of people have been wondering all year – why is Tufts ranked #3? I just simply don’t get that question. Tufts started at #5 because of their Elite Eight finish last year, but they have also proved that they still deserve to be up there. Really? Ab-so-lute-ly. Tufts is currently out to a perfect 5-0 start. Spanning back through the 1999-2000 season, Tufts has not done this once. Frankly, I don’t know what happened in the 1998-1999 season or any season before that – Tufts archives don’t go back that far – but let’s just leave at this, it has been a VERY LONG TIME since Tufts had such a good start. Additionally, Tufts consistently has one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the NESCAC, and this year is no different. On Tuesday night, Tufts won an absolute battle against #23 WPI at home by score of 75-71. They also beat an Emerson squad that has been rising in recent years, and MIT, who is always at least in the Top 25 discussion. Fact is, Tufts has some solid wins on their resume already, and it’s only December 2nd. So how are they doing it?

This is the interesting part – Tufts is not really dominating in any categories. Let’s look at their defense first. The Jumbos are 5th in points allowed, they foul the 4th most, and they only force the 6th most turnovers. Tufts opponents shoot 39.3% from the field and just 33% from deep (3rd and 5th best respectively). They do have Tom Palleschi ‘17, who was second in the nation in blocked shots last season, and is continuing his dominance down low with an average of 4.2 BLK/G. He’s currently tied with Bates’ Malcolm Delpeche ‘17 at first in the conference, but realistically, I don’t see any way that Delpeche (or anyone else) takes the blocked shots crown from Palleschi at the end of the season. Still, however, blocked shots does not necessarily mean good team defense. Statistically, Tufts looks like an above average defensive team, but not the most dominant in the league. So how about the Tufts offense then?

Tufts, who led the rest of the league in scoring last year by a pretty comfortable margin, is currently 7th in the league in scoring. They’re shooting the 7th highest percentage at 45.6%, and they are hitting just 68.3% of their free throws, 3rd worst in the league. They also only tally the 8th most AST/G in the NESCAC, and turn the ball over the 2nd most. So how are the Jumbos doing it?

Well, the fact is, they just know how to win. Their primary gameplan has two-parts: get to the foul line and hit threes. Tufts has shot and made the 2nd most free-throws in the ‘CAC behind Wesleyan, and they have shot and made the 4th most three-pointers. They’ve got five guys knocking down shots from beyond the arc: Ben Engvall ‘18 (7-16), Tarik Smith ‘17 (6-14), Ethan Feldman ‘19 (10-25), Vinny Pace ‘18 (7-18), and Eric Savage ‘20 (5-13). When you have that many guys that can hit shots from deep, it’s pretty difficult for opposing defenses. So, just chase shooters off the arc, right?

Wrong. If you don’t sag, then Palleschi will eat down low. Defenses have been aware of this so far, and they’ve sagged into the paint, doubled team, and have fronted Palleschi. Basically, they’ve said, “if we’re going to lose, someone besides Palleschi is going to have to beat us.” The tough part is, Tufts has other guys! A lot of them. It seems like they’ve taken a page out of Amherst’s playbook in that no one guy is going to run the show, but rather, the whole squad is going to chip in. Opening night, it was Feldman and Everett Dayton ‘18 who carried the ‘Bos. Game 2 – Smith, Palleschi and Feldman. Game 3 – Pace, Smith, and KJ Garrett ‘18. Game 4….okay you get my point. It’s someone different every night, and that right there is why Tufts is so good. Whatever you take away, the Jumbos have a Plan B, C, and D. This team is very, very good, and if we are lucky, we could see an incredible #2 vs. #3 matchup tomorrow night: Babson vs. Tufts. Just pray that Babson and Tufts both handle business like they should tonight in the Big Four Tournament and maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be electric.

Johnny McCarthy '18 is the leader on the court for Amherst this year (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Johnny McCarthy ’18 is the leader on the court for Amherst this year (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

In summary, Amherst and Tufts are two of the best teams in the country, and as of now, seem to be the two best teams in the conference. I know that our job is to cover everyone in the NESCAC, but having two ‘CAC teams in the top three is not the most common thing in the world. The best teams in the NESCAC generally spread out their scoring and play nearly impenetrable defense. Amherst is doing this, and they’re playing phenomenal defense. Tufts is really spreading out the scoring, and playing solid D. These two are the best two teams in the conference right now, but unfortunately we’re going to have to wait until January to see how they stack up against the rest of the conference. I’m looking forward to Amherst-Tufts once NESCAC play begins, but for now I just hope we get to see a Babson-Tufts matchup tomorrow.

Only a Dumbo Would Underestimate the Jumbos: Tufts Basketball Season Preview

(Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
“Oh, yeah? Well we’re preseason #5! OHHHHH” (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively,  not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us.

Projected Record: 8-2

Tufts really turned some heads last year with their strong start against a very tough non-conference schedule, but it was their run in the NCAA tournament that surprised NESCAC fans the most. After a top-scorer Vinny Pace came down awkwardly early in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Cousens Gym went silent, and soon enough everyone’s fears were confirmed: Pace had torn his ACL. Many thought the Jumbos were cooked at this point, but the valiant efforts of Tom Palleschi ‘17, Stephen Haladyna ‘16, Ethan Feldman ‘19, and Ben Engvall ‘18 showed the depth and perseverance of Tufts. The Jumbos continued their streak until they faced conference rival, Amherst, in the Elite Eight, at which point their Final Four pursuit came to an end. Well, their success last winter earned Tufts a #5 preseason ranking on d3hoops.com, and they hope to continue that success again this winter. The 2016-2017  season promises a lot for the Jumbos – they only lost three seniors to graduation, and they maintain their incredible depth off the bench. Additionally, they have a number of talented freshman-as well as a transfer junior. There is plenty of upside to this team, but their success will come down to their ability to execute, something that hurt the Jumbos at times last winter.

2015-2016 Record, Playoff Appearance: 23-7, 7-3; lost to #2 seed Amherst in semifinals of NESCAC Tournament; lost to Amherst in Elite Eight of NCAA Tournament

Coach: Bob Sheldon, 29th year, 409-296 (.580)

Starters Returning:

Guard Tarik Smith ‘17 (11.4 PPG, 4.2 AST/G, 2.1 REB/G, 1.0 STL/G)

Guard Vinny Pace ‘18 (17.5 PPG, 2.7 AST/G, 6.1 REB/G, 1.3 STL/G)

Center Tom Palleschi ‘17 (15.0 PPG, 1.9 AST/G, 8.3 REB/G, 3.83 BLK/G)

Key Losses:

Guard Stephen Haladyna ‘16, started 30/30 games (12.5 PPG, 1.0 AST/G, 5.1 REB/G, 0.8 STL/G)

Guard Ryan Spadaford ‘16, started 27/30 games (11.8 PPG, 1.2 AST/G, 6.5 REB/G, 0.5 STL/G)

Projected Starting Five:

Guard Tarik Smith ‘17

Tarik Smith '17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tarik Smith ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Flat out, Tarik Smith is one of the most dangerous guards in the NESCAC. His 11.4 PPG last year is deceiving, because he definitely has the potential to explode for 20+ points (see: Sweet 16 vs. Johnson & Wales). It’s not about how many points Smith actually scores, but how many points he creates, that makes him such a potent offensive player. He has an uncanny ability to get into the lane, and especially to get to the free-throw line. Last season, Smith shot 175 free throws, good for 2nd in the NESCAC; the key, however, is that he shot 82.3% from the line. This type of penetration forces opponents to collapse into the paint and creates shooting opportunities on the outside for the Jumbos, which is why Smith ranked 6th in assists in the conference. He has struggled with turnovers at times, but when he is under control, Smith gets the job done for the ‘Bos.

Guard Everett Dayton ‘18

Everett Dayton '18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Everett Dayton ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Throughout his Tufts career, Everett Dayton has made enormous strides. Dayton went from making 13 appearances in his first season to playing in 29 games as a sophomore, and I think this boost in playing time (along with his production) can be attributed directly to his level of confidence. Talent has never been a question for Dayton, but his tentativeness has hampered his ability to reach that next level. The coaches think that the junior is finally past this, and a big part of that his expanded role last season. As a sophomore, Dayton was often looked to as a safety valve on the press, especially when Smith wasn’t on the court to handle the ball. Everett will see a lot more playing time due to the departures of Spadaford and Haladyna,  especially because Tufts lacks knockdown shooters, a weakness that Dayton will surely help alleviate.

Guard Ethan Feldman ‘19

Ethan Feldman '19 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Ethan Feldman ’19 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Feldman had his coming out party at a strange time for a freshman that really didn’t see much floor time throughout the season, but when Pace went down in the NCAA tournament, Feldman stepped up in a big way. In just 11 minutes in the opening-round of the NCAA tournament, the freshman sharpshooter dropped 10 points on Southern Vermont, all via the free-throw line or the three-point arc. Coach Sheldon seemed to use the old adage, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and upped Feldman’s minutes to 17 in round 2. How did his young guard respond? Just by knocking down 4-5 from deep and adding a couple free-throws for a total of 14 points.  The element of surprise certainly allowed Feldman to find more open looks than he will in his sophomore season, but now that the Tufts staff knows they can rely on him, Feldman is sure to see more plays designed to find him open shots, and he will become a big part of this offense, especially if he can assert himself as a penetration-threat as well.

Guard Ben Engvall ‘18

Ben Engvall '18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Ben Engvall ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Engvall has spent two seasons as a 1st/2nd man off the bench for the Jumbos, but I think it’s finally time for Coach Sheldon to throw him into the starting lineup. One word to describe the kid? Tough. Engvall will go toe-to-toe with anyone in this conference, and his aggression, hustle, and competitive desire often give him an advantage. He dives on the floor for loose balls, he runs the fast break as good as anyone, and he has a knack for drawing fouls. Engvall was good for 8-12 points pretty much every game last year, and it’s that type of consistency that the Jumbos need from him. He’s not going to be a premier scorer, but he will be an efficient scorer, he will draw fouls, and he will help out Palleschi on the boards. Coach Sheldon may ultimately find that Engvall’s style of play suits Tufts better as a 6th man, but until Pace is fully healthy (and back in game-shape conditioning-wise), Engvall should see a lot of time as a starter.

Center Tom Palleschi ‘17

Tom Palleschi '17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tom Palleschi ’17 is using his 5th year of eligibility this year, and despite what this picture may have you thinking, he’s only 23 years old (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

The preseason All-American Palleschi was a force last year for the Jumbos, and his durability was on the biggest keys to their success. Coach Sheldon and staff relied on Palleschi to play big minutes for the Jumbos, especially down the stretch. In Tufts’ four NCAA games, he averaged 18 PPG, a necessity with Pace going down in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. With his ability to work out of the low block, knock down contested midrange shots, and even hit open threes, Palleschi is an issue for big men of similar size. He is more mobile than his build implies, and while you’d think a 6’8”/240lb. NESCAC center would be a bruiser, it is the soft touch of Palleschi that makes him such a (gentle) beast. Oh, don’t forget that he averaged 3.83 BLK/G last year, good for the second-best average nationally…

Breakout Player: Everett Dayton ‘18

As mentioned above, Dayton’s role has grown immensely given the vacancy of two guard spots in the starting lineup. What’s Dayton’s biggest strength? That he has a plethora of strengths. He can shoot, he can dribble, he can defend, he’s long, he’s a 6’3” athletic guard…he can do it all, and he can do it all well. My biggest criticism of Dayton is a lack of aggression, but that is something that generally sorts itself out with maturity. If Dayton is ready mentally, he could become a gigantic threat for this Tufts offense, and one that complements Palleschi well at that.

Everything Else

It’s clear that Tufts has the talent, but they will have to rely on their bench more this year if they want to compete for a NESCAC title. The uptempo style that Tufts moved to last season certainly increased their offensive output, but ball control was an issue at times, evidenced by their 12.8 TO/G. After watching Tufts throughout their NCAA Tournament run, I came to the conclusion that stamina was definitely a factor in their turnover totals. Still, there is plenty of experience remaining from last year’s roster, the first example being Drew Madsen ‘17, who will play a big role off the bench once again as Palleschi’s backup. Madsen is a much more athletic big, and he can really help Tufts in transition as well as on the boards. He is more of a cleanup guy than a center that creates his own shots, but he is a viable option when big boy Palleschi gets tired. Another benefit for Sheldon? The Jumbos only added to their depth over the offseason.

First, let’s take a look at returners looking for expanded roles this year. Stefan Duvivier ‘18 is another player who should see increased minutes this year, especially now that the Jumbos have grown accustomed to an uptempo style of play. Duvivier’s athletic prowess enables Tufts to push the tempo, and due to his decent size, Sheldon can deploy a more guard heavy lineup when the 6’3”/200lb. guard steps on the floor.

One returner you might not think of right away is Thomas Lapham ‘18, who was dealing with the after effects of hip surgery for much of last season. Lapham is now back and healthy, and looks to get back to his freshman year level of production, when he actually split starts with Smith at point guard. The level-headed junior is a facilitator on the court who will knock down shots from the perimeter, something the Tufts offense relies on. Another smaller guard who could see time is Kene Adigwe ‘18, who transferred to Tufts last year from Claremont McKenna College in California. The product of Lowell is akin to the Energizer Bunny, and will be someone who Coach Sheldon can look to as a defensive stopper or a sparkplug off the bench when the Jumbos need it.

Now for the newcomers. First is another transfer, KJ Garrett ‘18, who started at Tufts this fall after spending two years at the University of Washington. The Junior is big, strong, and quick, and he will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself. Garrett is absolutely in the running for the most athletic player in the conference, evidenced by the below video:

Of the freshman, it’s hard to go wrong. Eric Savage ‘20, Pat Racy ‘20, and Miles Bowser ‘20 are all solid prospects, and Coach Sheldon has always enjoyed playing younger players, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys on the court early in the season. Savage is an athletic slashing guard with supreme finishing ability; Racy is a mobile, nifty big man with a decent mid-range game; Bowser is a smooth, shifty ball handler that has some significant size (6’4”) at the point guard spot. A solid recruiting class if you ask me, and one that will certainly make an impact early, especially as the Jumbos try to figure out rotations while Pace works back to full health. It should also be noted that Racy is the younger brother of Amherst’s senior guard Jeff Racy, so circle the Tufts-Amherst game on your calendars. Through and through, Tufts is a very strong team, and the Jumbos will be a force to be reckoned with this winter.