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.

 

 

To Be The Best, You’ve Gotta Beat The Best: NCAA Sweet 16 Preview, #14 Tufts at #3 Babson

#13 Tufts (20-6) at #3 Babson (25-2), 8:00pm Friday, March 10, Wellesley, MA

For the majority of the season, Babson was ranked #1 in the nation with their lone loss coming at the hands of Amherst in a #1 vs. #2 matchup. On February 26, after beating MIT just eight days earlier, Babson fell to the engineers in the NEWMAC Tournament Finals. To be fair, the Beavers were plagued by injury in this game: starters Sam Bohmiller ‘17 and Bradley Jacks ‘18 both sat out, leaving Babson with a relatively short bench. Nonetheless, Babson let the top seed in the tournament slip away from them, leaving them a tougher road than they likely would have had otherwise.

A hot Keene State (19-9) team took down Amherst in the opening round, and then toppled #5 Ramapo in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16. The Owls will match up with #2 Christopher Newport (25-2), who advanced to the Sweet 16 with little difficulty, in the earlier game tonight. This is an intriguing game in its own right, but since this is a NESCAC blog, I will be focusing on tonight’s matchup: Tufts vs. Babson.

Last Time They Met

The Jumbos met Babson in the finals of the Big 4 Challenge on December 3 and fell victim to the heartless assassin Joey Flannery ‘17. Flannery had a ridiculous 42 points that night leading his team to a 91-78 victory. Tufts’ strategy of locking down Nick Comenale ‘18 worked decently well – the junior had 14 points on just 3-8 shooting with 5 turnovers – however, this gameplan allowed Flannery to completely take the reigns,

Joey Flannery ’17 goes up in Babson’s early season match-up against Amherst.

something he’s very accustomed to doing. Additionally, Isaiah Nelsen ‘17 and Jacks worked well in tandem, combining for 30 points on 13-23 shooting. Tom Palleschi ‘17 led the way for the Jumbos, scoring 16 while grabbing 9 boards. Ben Engvall ‘18 and Vince Pace ‘18 were the only two other Tufts players to contribute double-digits in scoring, in large part because Tufts struggled as a team from deep, shooting just 6-22 from long-range. Nonetheless, Tufts was able to keep the Babson lead to just 8-10 points most of the way, but they were never able to recover from a very slow start. In the end, Flannery was just too much for the ‘Bos, and Babson was able to pull away a bit at the end. Don’t expect Tufts to show any fear entering this game, however – there is definitely some bad blood in this one. The game was pretty chippy throughout, with lots of physical play and trash talk going both ways. Then, with the game clearly out of reach, Coach Sheldon called off the dogs, yelling to the Tufts players on the court “no more fouls!” when Babson grabbed a defensive rebound with 25 seconds left. With the ball in his hands, Flannery heard this, ran out on the break, looked back to make sure no Tufts players were trailing him, and slammed home a dunk to rub salt in the wound. He then ran back up the court trash talking a couple Jumbos that he passed by. Don’t think that Tufts doesn’t want revenge for the way this game went.

Tufts X-Factor: Guard Vince Pace ‘18

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

Throughout the 2016-2017 season, Pace has been very streaky. He has had some awesome games, namely the game that got the Jumbos here, in which he scored a career-high 37 points on 12-17 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, he has also struggled at times, such as in the NESCAC semis, when he went just 1-7 shooting with 5 points. Last time Tufts faced Babson, Pace was still not fully healthy, as he was working his way back to normal minutes from the ACL tear he suffered last spring. This time he has a full season under his belt. The fact is, when Pace plays well, it’s rare that Tufts loses, so they need him to show up in this one. The smaller Nick Comenale should be matched up against Pace defensively, so Pace needs to use his size advantage. Most importantly, if Pace can get going with one or two early threes, Tufts will be in good shape.

Babson X-Factor: Forward Isaiah Nelsen ‘17

Isaiah Nelsen
Isaiah Nelsen ’17 (Courtesy of Babson Athletics)

Isaiah Nelsen is one of the best big men that Tufts has faced this year. He is big, strong and athletic; he can hit mid-range jumpers; he partners very well with another solid forward, Bradley Jacks; and most importantly, Nelsen is the third option for the Beavers offensively. With all these factors working to his advantage, Nelsen is primed to go off. Last time these two matched up, Nelsen shot 8-12 for 20 points to go along with 13 rebounds, presenting a constant threat to the Tufts defense. With the ever present three-point threats of Comenale and Flannery on the court, the Tufts big men will be required to deal with Nelsen one on one. If Palleschi, Drew Madsen ‘17, and Pat Racy ‘17 can shut down Nelsen, the Jumbos have a very good chance in this one. However, if it comes at the cost of allowing Babson’s guards to light up the scoreboard, Tufts might not get the result they desire.

Three Questions

1.) How will Tufts limit Joey Flannery?

I say limit because frankly, I don’t see anyone actually stopping Flannery in the NCAA tournament. He’s just too much of a bucket-getter. Tufts’ best chance is if they limit Flannery to under 20 points. Theoretically, the way the Jumbos switch screens defensively should prevent Flannery from getting open three-pointers, although that didn’t quite pan out in December. I would guess Everett Dayton ‘18 will be tasked with guarding Flannery. Dayton’s combination of length, athleticism and basketball IQ makes him the most viable option to make Flannery work for his points.

2.) Who else will step up for the Jumbos?

Since December 3, 2016, the Tufts basketball team has evolved immensely. Dayton has become a much more capable scorer and playmaker. KJ Garrett ‘18 has emerged as a huge offensive threat over the second half of the season, primarily by using his advantage in athleticism to get offensive rebounds and get out in transition. Palleschi and Engvall both have double-digit potential as well. However, my guess would be that Tarik Smith ‘17 is the one to have a big game for Tufts. He was their leading scorer throughout the regular season, and he showed around this time last year that he is a big game player. Smith thrives when he can get to the hoop and draw fouls, as he is very good at hanging in the air and finishing through contact. Any one of these guys can score the basketball, but my guess is Smith will be the guy the media is asking about in the postgame interviews.

3.) Which team’s post players will perform the best?

The intrigue here is the strategic difference between these two sides in the way that they utilize their big men. Babson generally plays both Jacks and Nelsen at the same time. Tufts pretty much never has more than one big man on the court. While a ton of the scoring in this game will be done by perimeter players (I would guess the majority of it), this battle on the block could determine which team moves on to the Elite 8. Rebounding the basketball is HUGE in this game for Babson. If Jacks (who I assume will have a mix of Engvall/Garrett guarding him) can take advantage of his matchup on the boards, Babson has a big advantage. If he can create some extra possessions for the Beavers, the fight for rebounds between Nelsen and Palleschi/Madsen/Racy will be even more important for the Jumbos. As for scoring the ball, Tufts has to keep the Babson big men in check. They can’t allow 30 points out of this duo again, they just can’t. A big game offensively from Palleschi would pay huge dividends for Tufts, and would put even more pressure on the likes of Flannery and Comenale to put the ball in the bucket.

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.

NESCAC Tournament Roundup

Middlebury ran through the NESCAC tournament en route to their second straight NESCAC title (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Williams at Tufts:

The Ephs kept their late season magic going against the Jumbos in a David (Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19) meets Goliath matchup in Medford, MA. Williams played just like they did against Amherst the weekend before – they put up solid, yet repeatable shooting numbers (46.8% FG, 32.0% 3-point, and 71.4% FT) which allowed them to build a steady lead in the second half. Tufts shot just 37.3% FG in this semifinal with their five starters going 11-34 from the field and 4-18 from deep, significantly worse than their bench. Everett Dayton ‘18, Vinny Pace ‘18, and Drew Madsen ‘17 were stopped from putting up any real rebounding numbers while Scadlock and Aronowitz ran the floor effectively for the Ephs. The Jumbos got away from their game plan as a result of their poor shooting, as just three players were able to score in double-digits. This came in stark contrast to the recently balanced Jumbo offense. Mike Greenman was able to do what the Jumbos couldn’t and controlled the offensive side of the ball for the underdogs with nine assists, a key to Williams’ success. High percentage shots stemmed from their balanced and efficient attack, and five Ephs tallied double-digit points as a result. Williams built their lead in the second half, and a quick three by Greenman with 3:58 to go put the Williams lead out of reach. While this game appeared to be a bit one sided, it was tied at 65 with 4:23 to go. Isn’t that exactly how many points Tufts scored? It is. Williams ended the game on a 16-0 run, capitalizing on free throws and protecting the ball. Tufts, on the other hand, finished the game on an 0-8 shooting run (including free throws). It’s definitely concerning for the Jumbos that they couldn’t muster any sort of last minute comeback in their home gym in a playoff game, but maybe Tom Palleschi ‘17 will be able to change that. Early in the season there is no question that Tufts was the top dawg in the NESCAC, as beating Middlebury didn’t surprise anybody. However, they limp into the NCAA tournament off of a loss without any guarantees from their star senior Palleschi. Palleschi played eight minutes against Williams, the first action he’s seen since January 20th. If he can return to form and play significant minutes his defensive presence will be a huge upgrade for the Jumbos.

 

Trinity at Middlebury:

Matt Folger ’20 pulls down a rebound (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Double-teaming Ed Ogundeko ‘17 was Middlebury’s formula to beating the Bantams. It worked. Ogundeko was forced to shoot without a clear look at the basket and couldn’t do enough with the ball when he had it. His 1-11 shooting left Trinity without any hope, as Eric McCord ‘19, Nick Tarantino ‘18, and Adisa Majors ‘18 played tough basketball to grind out a win. Unlike most Trinity games, Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Eric Gendron ‘18 shot well and carried the Bantam offense, which usually would spell out a big win for this team, but without the addition of Ogundeko’s ~17 PPG average, there was a big piece missing. Majors’ nine boards, McCord’s five, and Tarantino’s eight were enough to give the Panthers a presence down low that was willing to scrap for every possession. McCord plays dangerously at times, often making unnecessary foul (he had four on Saturday), but it was just the right style of play to slow down Ogundeko, who is used to having his way with NESCAC opponents. Matt St. Amour ‘17 did his thing, and even though he only had 18 points (haha, only), he shot the ball efficiently. Jake Brown ‘17 had the chance to shake off the rust from his recent spell on the bench with ankle injury. Brown came back in full force, competing for 31 minutes and getting his feet wet before the championship. Matt Folger ‘20 was huge off the bench for Midd as the first year Panther went 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from deep, totaling 11 points. For Trinity, Turnbull’s 23 points were the most he had scored since November 22nd. While the senior did everything he could to carry the Bantams in the big anomaly of a game for Ogundeko, it would turn out to be his last college performance. While it was a tough last game for Ogundeko, he still led the league in REB/G this year, averaged a double-double, and finished in Trinity’s top ten all-time for rebounding. What a career. For Midd, the fun was only just beginning.

 

Williams at Middlebury:

 

There’s no question that Williams kept their magic going into Sunday’s contest as they took a quick lead on the favored Panthers. In fact, a four point Williams lead and just three points out of Matt St. Amour at the half would’ve shocked anybody. Kyle Scadlock lit up the scoreboard for 15 in the opening frame, shooting 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from the charity stripe, with James Heskett ‘19 going 3-3 FG and 2-2 from deep en route to a perfect eight points. Scadlock added ten first half rebounds, enough to carry the Ephs to a 40-36 early lead that gave them hope that they could put a ring on after the season. Unfortunately for the Ephs, they weren’t able to hold off St. Amour the whole game, as this game was a tale of two halves. In fact, St. Amour went off in the second half and you wouldn’t even be able to tell he started off slowly unless you took a closer look at the box score. St. Amour dropped 17 after the break, going 6-9 in FGs and 4-7 in 3’s. Scadlock still put up a solid nine points in the second, but only had one rebound as Williams got dominated in the paint. Seven Panthers had three or more rebounds in the second half compared to just two for Williams, leading to a 26-13 boards advantage for Midd. Midd took 11 more shots in the second half and Williams shot to the tune of a terrible 20.0%. While the underdogs came out firing, their cinderella story came to an end. Middlebury simply couldn’t be held back for a whole 40 minutes. The 48-22 line in the second half shows what kind of team Middlebury is—which bodes well for the Panthers heading into the NCAA tournament. Those games always seem to come down to the final seconds. Clutch is the name of the game and Williams couldn’t keep it going throughout the contest.

 

With that being said, Williams played well enough to earn them an at large bid, along with three other NESCAC teams: Amherst, Tufts, and Wesleyan. Winning the NESCAC earned Middlebury the conference’s automatic bid. Five teams from one conference are in the NCAA tournament. That is an absurd number of NCAA tournament teams from the NESCAC. Five teams is nearly half of the conference. There are only 64 teams in the tournament so therefore the NESCAC makes up just under 8% of the bracket. Talk about conference depth. It’s time to go dancing.

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

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.

Weekend Preview 2 Part 2: Saturday’s Games

Zuri Pavlin lifts (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)

It’s a big weekend around the ‘CAC, and Friday’s games will have a pretty big impact on the way Saturday’s games go. Bates, Hamilton, Middlebury and Tufts all have the pleasure of playing each other (except Bates does not play Tufts, and Hamilton does not play Middlebury), which will mean the number of undefeated NESCAC teams will dwindle to a maximum of three this weekend. On the other end of the standings, Williams, Bowdoin, and Colby are all winless in conference play, and face only other winless squads, meaning at least one of them will walk away feeling a little better about themselves this weekend. Then, there is the scrum in the middle, where Amherst, Conn, Trinity and Wesleyan will face off, with Amherst and Trin looking to jump to 3-0 while Conn and Wes are hoping to right their ships. With all that in mind, momentum is a big factor this weekend. A win Friday night bodes very well moving into Saturday’s games, while a loss could steer some teams toward panic mode. Here’s what we’ve got for Saturday’s action:

 

Hamilton (10-2, 2-0) at #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0), Medford, MA, 2:00 PM

Like I said, momentum is supremely important this weekend, especially in this game. Hamilton and Tufts will either be feeling good after a big Friday night win against another solid squad, or they will be disappointed with their first NESCAC loss of the season. That’s why no matter the result, it is extremely important to get out to a hot start in this game. I strongly believe that whichever team asserts their dominance early will win the game, especially if they are 3-0 while their opponent is 2-1 at tipoff. For the visiting Continentals, the key to victory is on the defensive end. Their obvious disadvantage is on the block, where Palleschi has a massive size advantage over the tall but lankier Andrew Groll ‘19. However, Palleschi alone cannot defeat the Continentals, so their focus on the defensive end should be on preventing penetration from Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18 and Everett Dayton ‘18, all of whom are very good at getting to the hooping and dishing to open shooters. Hamilton has shown that they know how to put the ball in the hoop, so it is not their offense that they should be worried about (though I do think the length of Tufts could be a bit tricky for the Hamilton guards), but rather how they are going to keep Tufts from scoring. This is going to be a big game for Peter Hoffmann ’19, who has the best combination of size and scoring ability on the Continentals’ roster, and as he goes the Hamilton offense will go. I believe that the Jumbos will get to the hoop as they usually do, but because of their size advantage across the board, I expect Hamilton to sag into the paint quite a bit. For this reason, I will warn Hamilton: do not sleep on Tufts sharpshooter Ethan Feldman ‘19. He could be deadly on Saturday.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

#15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0) at Bates (11-3, 2-0), Lewiston, ME, 3:00 PM

On paper, this game looks close. The teams have similar records and have opposite strengths, which gives each team a different advantage. Middlebury’s guards are clearly their strength, while it is the post play of the Bobcats that propels them. However, I do not think this game will be nearly as close as some might project. To be honest, I’m predicting that Middlebury will roll. While Bates as the advantage down low with the Delpeche twins, these two have consistently struggled in league play throughout their NESCAC careers. While the pair has improved each season, they have not flashed the ability to take over games very often, and against an experienced Middlebury team I just don’t think this will be one of the rare occasions where they do. While the departure of Baines certainly hurts the Panthers, Nick Tarantino ‘18 is an admirable replacement, and I think he will lock down whichever Bobcat big he is matched up against. If that holds true, maybe the other Delpeche twin can go to work, but the Bobcats are going to need production out of their guards and the stingy defense of Jake Brown ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 doesn’t lead me to believe that we will see that. Middlebury should be able to keep the Bates guards in check, and if they do, the Panthers will climb onto Matt St. Amour’s back and show the Bobcats who is higher up in the feline hierarchy.

 

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

 

#5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0) vs. Conn College (8-4, 2-0), New London, CT, 3:00 PM

This matchup is interesting. As Pete mentioned in his earlier article, the Purple and White (who by the way, might be called the Amherst Hamsters soon enough since hamster is an anagram of Amherst) have lost two of their last four. This couldn’t matter less to me in terms of their performance this weekend. Amherst is always one of the top couple teams in the NESCAC – they pretty much always have been with Dave Hixon at the helm. They are a very tough team to beat, but they are also generally prone to complete melts where they lose focus and lose to teams worse than them. Take last year, for example: Amherst played Wesleyan in an out-of-conference tilt and lost by 27 after beating them by 24 just three days earlier. Did this mean Wesleyan and Amherst were even teams, or that Wesleyan was better? No. It just meant that on certain nights, Amherst takes the night off. That’s what I would say happened against Springfield College in December. I have been watching Amherst College basketball my entire life. I used to wreak absolute havoc in Alumni Gymnasium, and I would watch every Amherst game. I still remember standing in the front of the Amherst student section with a couple of my friends as a 12-ish year old as Amherst took down Tufts in OT. Through the years, I have learned that you must take Amherst one game at a time. So, in this matchup, here’s what should you look for:

 

The matchup between Tyler Rowe ‘19 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 is the one that immediately jumps out to me. These are the two stars of their respective teams this season, and whoever wins this matchup will likely give his team what it needs to win. If I were a betting man (which I’m not, because that would be an NCAA violation), I would say that Dawson wins this battle. He is just as athletic as Rowe, but he has such a size advantage that it is tough to pick against him in this one. Dawson has 4 inches on Rowe, and though Conn does not list their weights, I would guess there is also about a 25 pound disparity between the two of them. I think Amherst would be silly not to post up Dawson at least a few times to take advantage of this mismatch. I do think Zuri Pavlin ‘17 will have a great game for the Camels, as he is much more mobile than Amherst’s David George ‘17, but I don’t think it will be enough to deal with the size advantage that Amherst possesses all over the perimeter. Between Dawson, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, Michael Riopel ‘18 and Jeff Racy ‘17, Conn will struggle to match up.

 

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

Trinity (9-5, 1-0) at Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2), Middletown, CT, 3:00 PM

Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

Trinity looked good against Williams last weekend, and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 looked VERY good. His stat line speaks for itself, but Ogundeko’s physicality is what sets him apart from other big men in this league, which is why I think he will have a solid day against Joseph Kuo ‘17 of the Cardinals. However, I do not think he will have the same type of day that he did against Williams, as Kuo is a very solid big man in his own right. This will be a back and forth matchup on the low block, which is why I am cancelling out these two when making my prediction. This game will be won by the perimeter players. As always, Trinity will slow the game down and work out of the halfcourt set primarily, which means Wesleyan’s discipline and communication on defense is key. Trinity turns the ball over more than anyone else in the league, so if Wes can turn TOs into points, they will be in very good shape. However, that means they will have to take care of the ball themselves – Wesleyan turns the ball over the second most. Offensively, Wesleyan should try to get into the paint more often, and stop hucking up threes. As they learned last weekend, three-point shots are not their strength, getting into the paint is. Wesleyan is a lot deeper at the guard spots than Trinity, so if they can get to the rack and force the Bantams to foul, the Cardinals are in good shape. However, if they fall into the trap of shooting a million threes again, then Trinity will be able to contain the weapons of the Wesleyan offense. This game is a toss up, as I think the two are very evenly matched and a lot of how this game plays out depends on gameplan, but I think Wesleyan edges Trinity in a tight one.

 

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

 

Williams (11-3, 0-2) at Bowdoin (8-6, 0-2), Brunswick, ME, 6:00 PM

The rare NESCAC Saturday night game holds an interesting matchup between the Ephs and the Polar Bears, one which Williams must win if they want a shot at finishing in the top half of playoff teams in the NESCAC this year. However, early in the season it is also a pretty crucial game for Bowdoin if they want to crack the playoffs this year. With what appears to be the rise of Hamilton and Bates, Bowdoin needs to beat some playoff-caliber teams, and Williams would definitely be a nice win to write home about. However, I think this is a tough matchup for the Polar Bears for a few reasons. First of all, Bowdoin is best when Jack Simonds ‘19 has a mismatch. Williams doesn’t give him that, because Kyle Scadlock ‘19 is every bit as big and is every bit as athletic, so this is not going to be a game where Simonds completely takes over. Secondly, the weakness is Williams is down low, and unfortunately for Bowdoin, that is also their weakness. I will say, sophomore Hugh O’Neil has done a nice job under the hoop for the Polar Bears this year, but he is not going to single-handedly lead his team to a win. Thirdly, Williams has a stronger and deeper cast of guards than Bowdoin. Bobby Casey ‘19, Cole Teal ‘18, and Dan Aronowitz ‘17 provide a plethora of options for the Ephs offensively, and they are complemented by forward Scadlock. The matchups will be interesting, and I think the Ephs can exploit them no matter how Bowdoin chooses to play it. Assume Simonds guards Aronowitz – that leaves Scadlock with a huge mismatch down low, and doesn’t really slow down Aronowitz that much either. Assume Simonds guards Scadlock – Scadlock still outsizes Simonds, and Aronowitz has an even more favorable matchup on the perimeter. I don’t really see a way that Bowdoin can slow down the Williams attack in this one, which is why I think Williams should win pretty handily.

 

Writer’s Pick: Williams

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.