Better Late than Never: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/31

Stock Up

Jack Daly’s Foul Shooting

Jack Daly ‘18 has, by far, the most responsibility on his team of any player in the league. He plays around 35 minutes a game, handles the ball 90% of the time and guards the best player on the opposing team. And this responsibility only increases late in games, when every part of the offense runs through him. Of course, this makes his foul shooting incredibly important. More often than not, he is the one that teams will be fouling at the end of close games. So when he was struggling from the line, it was a HUGE problem for Middlebury. Overall, Daly is at 68% from the line, and underwent a 7-17 mess early in the season. But, as he so often does, Daly has raised his game when it counts. In league play, he is shooting 77% from the line, and single-handedly won Middlebury’s game against Trinity at the line with an amazing 18-20 showing. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, last night he iced Keene State as well, going 8-8. Daly is the guy Middlebury will have at the line in big moments, and the way he’s shooting right now, Middlebury wouldn’t have it any other way.

Daly is dominating the league right now, and that dominance is finally extending to the foul line.

Amherst in League Play

I don’t think we’ll ever have a NESCAC season without Amherst in the mix. After looking nearly dead for much of the season, the Mammoths have roared (trumpeted?) back to life, winning three straight NESCAC games, including blowouts over Hamilton and Bowdoin. Amherst relies mostly on an excellent defense to win games; they are third in the league (behind Wesleyan and Trinity) in opponents PPG and FG%. But their offense is beginning to come around as well. Michael Riopel ‘18 is one of the deadliest three point shooters in the league, but has diversified his game nicely and is dangerous inside the arc as well. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 has had a fascinating career arc, and has reinvented himself again as a gritty paint presence and dominant rebounder. But the key to Amherst’s success (and failure early in the season) is their supporting cast. When Amherst wins, it is because guys like Grant Robinson ‘21, Eric Sellew ‘20 and Fru Che ‘21 are all contributing. Amherst needs the help, and lately they have been getting it. However, they still have yet to play Middlebury, Wesleyan or Williams in league play, so we may well be writing a different article about them in a couple weeks.

Stock Down

The NbN Curse

It’s starting to look like the best thing for a team’s chances this year is to not be hyped up by this blog. We put Hamilton at number one in the Power Rankings when they were 15-0 and demolishing all comers like Darth Maul, and since then they’ve lost two league games and needed overtime to beat Colby. Their vaunted offense has produced 71 PPG on under 40% shooting in the last four games, and they still have to play Tufts, Williams and Middlebury. Hamilton could fall out of the top 5, and it might all our fault. And as if hamstringing Hamilton wasn’t enough, we did a whole Game of the Week about how Bates was making a move, and then they went out and got cracked by a struggling Wesleyan team 68-50. They shot 33% from the field and 25% from three, and didn’t look especially like a team ready to make a move. If they don’t grab one upset this weekend (either Hamilton or Amherst,) they might not make it to the postseason at all. We apologize in advance to anyone who we write about this week.

Bates got bodied by Wesleyan last weekend, and it’s all our fault.

Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20 (on offense)

One of the reasons for Jack Daly’s insane amount of responsibility on offense is that Folger, Middlebury’s best scorer (better than Daly even when he’s got it all working) has been really struggling shooting the ball. In league play, Folger is shooting just 36% from the field and 25% from three. Sophomores often struggle to maintain their improvement over their first season into NESCAC play (Matt St. Amour is a good recent example for Middlebury) and Folger is certainly having trouble dealing with increased defensive attention. The emergence of Eric McCord ‘19 as a dominant post scorer has forced Folger to try and create more on the perimeter, a place where he is still not very comfortable. However, he is also simply missing good looks. They will start to fall. And Folger deserves commendation, even during this slump, for his defensive intensity. His case for DPOY has only gotten stronger during the NESCAC season. He is second in the league in blocks and ninth in rebounds during league play, and his versatility has been the key to Middlebury’s seven game winning streak despite a team wide shooting slump. Against Williams, Middlebury’s biggest win of the year, Folger had four blocks and a steal, including an earth-shattering rejection on Matt Karpowicz that I still think about every night before bed. Folger will start hitting shots, and when he puts that together with his defensive dominance, watch out.

(Editor’s Note: Folger broke out a little bit last night against Keene State, putting up 22 points on 8-12 shooting, although still just 1-4 from three.)

It’s Way Too Early For Power Rankings: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 12/18

A short disclaimer before this article: This month of non-league games doesn’t really matter. Obviously it’s better to be undefeated (like Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Hamilton) than 4-5 (like Connecticut College) but for the most part the competition is lower-quality than league play. Come January, rotations, league leaders and indeed these rankings will all change pretty much immediately. But I haven’t written anything in forever and I’m already impossibly bored here at home, so let’s round out 2017 with these premature and probably inaccurate rankings. As always, feel free to kill me for them in the Twitter dm’s.

1) #2 Middlebury (6-0)

The Jack Daly ‘18 show has been incredible to witness this season. Daly is fourth in the leangue in scoring (17.5) first in rebounding (10.0) and first in assists (9.2.) Leading the league in rebounding and assists is simply ridiculous; I can’t remember it happening at any level of college basketball. But Middlebury’s undefeated record despite playing arguably the hardest non-conference schedule (Skidmore and Endicott were both tournament teams last year) is do in large part to the supporting cast as well. Matt Folger ‘20 is making a leap, averaging 17 points per game and contending for DPOY with 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. And the other guard spots, vacated by St. Amour and Brown, have been filled admirably by a committee. Hilal Dahleh ‘19  gets healthier every game after missing all of last season with a back injury, and has averaged 13 PPG on 8-13 three point shooting over his last three games. And first year Jack Farrell ‘21 just broke out with a 22 point showing against Skidmore. Add in fellow first year (and Hogwarts student) Griffin Kornacker ’21 and the experienced frontcourt rotation of Tarantino, McCord and Majors, and Middlebury is loaded. The Panthers play two more tournament teams in Swarthmore and York before league play begins, but they’re certainly riding high at the moment.

2) #14 Wesleyan (8-0)

Wesleyan is attempting to win despite not following the “run and shoot threes” style that the Warriors have made the norm throughout basketball. The Cardinals are fifth in the conference in scoring at 81 PPG and have taken the fewest threes with 153. And yet, they sit at 8-0 and beat Williams in Williamstown. How? One word: defense. Well actually, two word: defense and Bonner. They are averaging a ridiculous 11.5 steals per game, far and away tops in the league and have five players averaging at least one per game. They also lead the league in blocks per game at 6.5 and are second to Amherst in opponents points per game. But Wesleyan’s defense is always good, and it hasn’t always translated to success. This year, at least so far, Wesleyan finally has the go-to scorer they’ve lacked in recent years in Jordan Bonner ‘19. Bonner is averaging 17.5 PPG and has four 20 point games already. As Amherst gets into league play and the games get closer, they will need Bonner to get buckets at the end of games. The defense can take care of the rest.

Jordan Bonner ’19 may be the go-to scorer that could push Wesleyan over the edge.

3) #5 Williams (8-1)

Obviously, the Ephs’ strong start has been overshadowed by the loss of star forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19 to a torn ACL. Scadlock was building a POY case when he went down, and his injury is sad both for Williams and for the league as whole. But don’t count them out just yet. Williams is very deep, especially at forward, and have shown the signs of being able to weather this storm. Since Scadlock got hurt, they have relied largely on James Heskitt ‘19 and Bobby Casey ‘19 to pick up the offensive load. Both players have averaged over 15 points per game since his injury. And Williams’ greatest strength has always been the size that they bring off the bench. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 is a terrible sportswriter, but he’s one of the best players in the league to come off the bench. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start in league play, or at least see an increase in minutes when Williams faces other big teams like Middlebury and Amherst. Williams is still one of the teams to beat.

4) #23 Amherst (7-1)

Fru Che ’21 is one of a number of impressive Mammoth first years.

Here’s a ranking I might get killed for if the Amherst football parents are any indication. The Mammoths are well on their way to making all of us look dumb for thinking they might be down this year. They are 8-1, and have the best scoring defense in the league at 61 PPG, a huge reversal from last year’s team. But it should be pointed out that they are continuing the time-honored Amherst tradition of playing a terrible non-conference schedule. The Mammoths haven’t played any tournament teams yet this season, a fact that contributes somewhat to their terrific team stats. Indeed, it’s hard to get a read on Amherst’s key players because they’ve played some many blowouts in which everyone on the roster sees time. However, the struggles of Johnny McCarthy ‘18 cannot be explained by inconsistent minutes. McCarthy, who was expected to make a POY-type leap this year, is averaging 10 points per game on 38% shooting, 21% from three. Michael Riopel ‘18 and stellar first year Fru Che ‘21 have picke up the slack, but in league play, star power helps. Maybe McCarthy needed Jayde Dawson more than we thought, or maybe he’s just waiting until they need him more, but Amherst can’t compete with Middlebury if McCarthy isn’t an offensive threat.

5) Hamilton (8-0)

Hamilton always gets us with this trick. They play great before league play, and everyone (especially me) gets all excited thinking they might finally be ready to challenge the big boys. Then they get smoked in NESCAC games. At the risk of falling into that trap again, Hamilton has look REALLy good thus far. They are averaging 95 points per game (albeit against the same level of competition as Amherst) and lead the league in shooting, both overall and from three. Hamilton has one thing that they didn’t have last year, however, when they started strong and then faded spectacularly in league play: experience. All the young players that made Hamilton exciting last year are a year older and have improved noticably. Michael Grassey ‘19 has become a deadly three point shooter and overall scorer, and the backcourt of Tim Doyle ‘18 and retired mobster Joe Pucci ‘19 shoots over 50% from three and provides leadership. But Hamilton’s star is Kena Gilmour ‘20. Gilmour averages 17 points and seven rebounds per game, and is exactly the kind of versatile, athletic wing that tends to dominate NESCAC (see Bowdoin’s Lucas Hausman.) This has been said each of the last three seasons, but this might be Hamilton’s year.

6) Tufts (7-3)

Expected to compete for the league title at the beginning of the year, Tufts is just now getting healthy and rounding into form. They have three losses, but two of them came in their first three games and both were against tournament teams (MIT and WashU-St. Louis.) Since those games, they are 6-1. Tufts has been without two key contributors all season in KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18. Both players made a big difference last season, and has led to a crisis of depth for Tufts. The Jumbos rely heavily on Vincent Pace ‘18 and Eric Savage ‘18 to carry the offense. The senior duo has combined to average 33 points per game, 19 of those coming from Pace. As Amherst proved last year, relying too much on two players is not a sustainable way to win NESCAC games. Defenses are too good; Wesleyan, Amherst, Williams and Middlebury all have enough depth to throw multiple defenders at both guys. Tufts will need one or both of Savage and Garrett to return during league play if they hope to live up to preseason expectations.

7) Bowdoin (8-2)

There was brief pandamonium (or should I say…Polar Bear-monium? I shouldn’t? Okay) a few weeks ago when Bowdoin briefly climbed as high as number 22 in the national rankings. Back-to-back losses to Colby and St. Joseph’s ended that brief love affair. But as Landry Clarke must have thought after Tyra dumped him, just because it was brief doesn’t mean it was a fluke, and it doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. Bowdoin has a lot of talent. David Reynold’s ‘20 is a bona-fide super sub, averaging 15 points per game on over 50% shooting off the bench. First year guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 is shooting 66.7% from the field and has turned what was expected to be a weak spot (PG) into a strength. And Hugh O’Neil ‘19 provides size and toughness inside. Jack Simonds ‘19 still hasn’t gotten going, only shooting 39% from the field and 28% from three. He seems to be having a little trouble meshing with a suddenly-balanced team, after being very much the go-to guy last season. Once he figures it out, Bowdoin really could be scary.

David Reynolds ’19 is explosive off the bench for the Polar Bears.

8) Trinity (6-2)

As always, it’s hard to get a read on the Bantams. After losing Ed Ogundeko, Trinity has gotten off to a solid 6-2 start. However, they got pasted by Nichols, their best opponent by far, 89-75. In that game, as well as their other loss to Western Connecticut, they showed many of the offensive problems that have plagued previous Trinity teams. Those problems are primarily related to floor spacing. The Bantams are the second worst three-point shooting team in the league, trailing only Bates. Their leading three point shooter (and overall scorer) is Jeremy Arthur ‘19, and he shoots only 36%. When Trinity plays against good defenses who can handle their size inside, those teams can pack the paint and Trinity really struggles to score. Arthur has been a good player for a while and is flourishing without Ogundeko, but Trinity won’t win league games if they don’t find someone else to hit some threes.

9) Bates (5-2)

Jeff Spellman
Jeff Spellman ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates is shooting, as a team, 38% from the field and 24.5% from three. According to my “Basketball For Dummies” reference book, that is not very good. It speaks very highly of their defense that they are 5-2 despite shooting that poorly. They force nearly 17 turnovers per game, and allow teams to shoot almost as poorly as they do from three at 27%. Bates has relied largely on that defense and the clutch play of Jeff Spellman ‘20, who is averaging over 18 points per game. Most of those came in a 38 point outburst against UNE, but he has shown a knack for getting a big hoop when they need one most. Obviously, during league play, they will have to shoot better than this, or else teams will pack the paint even more than they will against Trinity.

10) Colby (6-2)

Colby may be the team that has the fairest gripe with these rankings. They have a 6-2 record and a signature win over Bowdoin. And yet here they are, two places behind the Polar Bears. In contrast with the Bobcats, much of Colby’s success is due to their three-point shooting. Colby shoots 34% from three, which isn’t amazing, but their numbers are slightly skewed by two games where they shot 22%. Colby is also young. Their leading scorer is impressive first year Michael Hanna ‘21, who averages over 13 PPG. Colby has a chance to contend for the CBB title, and maybe climb into the tournament.

11) Connecticut College (4-5)

David Laboissiere ‘19 (don’t ask me to pronounce that) has put up one of the most efficient first months we’ve seen in a while. He leads the league in scoring at 18.3 points per game, and is shooting 52% from the field and 51% from three. Unfortunately, he’s not getting a ton of help. And his team’s record reflects that. They are a league-worst 4-5, and have lost three in a row heading into break. The main culprit is certainly turnovers. They average 19 per game, by far the most in the league. They do try to play fast, which leads to some sloppiness, but that is simply not a sustainable way to play. In NESCAC play, Labossiere won’t be able to bail them out every night.

David Labossiere is putting up big numbers this year, but so far they have been for naught.

A Mammoth Shakeup: 2017-2018 Amherst Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Amherst College Mammoths

2016-2017 Record: 17-8, 7-3, lost to Williams in first round of NESCAC Tournament, earned NCAA Berth (lost to Keene State)

2017-2018 Projected Record: 18-6, 5-5

Key Losses:

G Jayde Dawson (19.1 PPG, 2.6 AST/G, 1.2 STL/G)

F Eric Conklin (8.3 PPG, 59% FG, 4.7 REB/G)

F David George (6.2 PPG, 6.6 REB/G, 2.2 BLK/G)

Introduction:

It’s hard to even write the phrase “Amherst might be down this year,” but it could be true. In an offseason marked by the graduation of one of the best senior classes in recent league history, Jayde Dawson’s loss looms very large. Dawson, for better or worse, carried Amherst last year, finishing second in the league in scoring and closing out several games with clutch shots. Of course, he also shot them out of some close games, to the chagrin of Mammoth fans. But Amherst has the perimeter scoring to replace Dawson. Johnny McCarthy has long looked ready to be a number one option, and Michael Riopel may be the best outside shooter in the league. The losses that will hurt the Mammoths more are in the frontcourt. Eric Conklin was an excellent post scorer who gave Amherst the opportunity to play inside-out with him and Riopel, and George, for all his offensive liabilities, anchored a solid defense. In a league in which two of the three pre-season top teams (Middlebury and Williams) have supersized lineups, losing your two best big men isn’t a great recipe for success.  Add in solid point guard Reid Berman and stretch four Jacob Nabatoff, and Amherst is faced with replacing four starters and a sixth man. Coach David Hixon (who is closing in  has been known for his ability to reload quickly, and Amherst again has one of the best recruiting classes in the conference, but this year will be a challenge even for him.

Projected Starters:

G Vic Sinopoli ’19 (1.2 PPG, 4.8 MIN/G, 3:1 A/TO)

Vic Sinopoli
Vic Sinopoli ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

This spot is a huge question mark for Amherst. Last year, Reid Berman offered a steady hand at the position, but ball handling and creating duties were pretty much  handled by Dawson or McCarthy. As Amherst’s early exit in the playoffs showed, this is not a particularly sustainable method. Sinopoli played very few minutes as a sophomore last season, but runs the offense well and has the experience that Coach Hixon always prizes. However, first year Grant Robinson ’20 is chomping at the bit for this spot. Robinson offers a higher ceiling than Sinopoli. A speed demon with great court vision, he could take ball handling duties away from McCarthy and bring the Amherst offense to a more organic level than they reached last season. Their tournament this weekend will be a fascinating chance to see who impresses the most at the one.

G Michael Riopel ’18 (10.2 PPG, 47.4% 3FG, 0.8 STL/G)

Michael Riopel
Michael Riopel ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

There’s more on Riopel below in the Breakout Player section, but you can see from his stat line above what he brings to this team; shooting. Riopel is as consistent a shooter as there is in the league. But he is far from a one trick pony. At 6’5,” he can guard multiple positions, and rebounds very well (3.9 REB/G last season despite varying minutes.) Riopel is freed up this season, and a huge breakout is possible.

G/F Johnny McCarthy ’18 (14.2 PPG, 8.0 REB/G, 46% FG, 34% 3FG)

Johnny McCarthy
Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

For much of his career, people have discussed McCarthy like he was the victim of some horrible tragedy. “Poor McCarthy, he’ll never get the touches he deserves playing next to Jayde Dawson.” This was a dumb take. Never mind that the defensive attention Dawson drew made much of McCarthy’s drives to the rim far more open than they will be this year, but McCarthy still got twelve shots and six threes per game. But nevertheless, this year McCarthy gets his chance to be a solo act. He should be aided by a starting role and more minutes for Riopel (more on him later,) whose outside shooting should keep driving lanes open. But McCarthy hasn’t shown himself to be a great passer yet in his career. He only averaged two assists against 1.8 turnovers last year. If Amherst hopes to have a more ball movement-centric offense this season without Dawson’s one-on-one skills, that will have to start with McCarthy, their best player and, finally, their go-to-guy.

F Eric Sellew ’20 (2.5 PPG, 9.3 MIN/G)

Eric Sellew
Eric Sellew ’20 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Sellew is another player who didn’t get many minutes last season due to Amherst’s short rotation. But with George and Conklin gone, Sellow is set to have his moment in the sun. A prototypical stretch four, Sellow has been working this off-season at stretching his range behind the arc, a prerequisite for this spot in Amherst’s perimeter-based offense. As a regular contributor last season, Sellew has a clear first crack at this starting spot, but he is not without competition. Junior Dylan Groff ’19 has made tremendous strides during training camp, and Fru Che, a first year, has impressed as well. Sellew has to be an offensive threat for the Mammoths to have enough firepower to keep up with Williams, Tufts and Middlebury.

C Joseph Schneider ’19 (2.1 PPG, 4.6 MIN/G)

Joseph Schneider
Joseph Schneider ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Schneider is a fascinating player, and could be the key to Amherst making the jump from “fine” to “good” or even from “good” to “great.” At 6’10” and with a tremendous wingspan, Schneider is one of the biggest players in the league, and offers a nice centerpiece to what is a very long Amherst lineup. He got little to no playing time last year behind George, Conklin and Nabatoff, but projects as a key cog in the offense this season. He has good footwork and hands, and his size alone should make him something of a shot-blocking threat. Amherst has succeeded in the past with four perimeter players and a traditional center, so the lack of outside from shooting from him and backup CJ Bachman ’19 shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If Schneider can be a real threat the way Conklin was last year, Amherst could be in business.

Breakout Player: G Michael Riopel ’18 

As I mentioned above, Riopel is a deadeye shooter. But he won’t be able to rely the constant double teaming of McCarthy and Dawson this season. Of course, McCarthy will still demand a great deal of defensive attention, but teams will still make sure to leave a good defender on Riopel. If he is going to make a leap, it will have to be as a ball handler and driver. He showed signs of being able to that last season, shooting nearly 50% from two point land overall. But during league play, he made only one non-three pointer per game. He needs to at least develop a midrange pull-up game to contend with players running him off the three point line. And with his height, he has the potential to finish at the rim too. Amherst’s offense last season was often stagnant, with far too much one on one play. The loss of Dawson should improve that, but scoring will be a problem, and Riopel is crucial to solving it.

Michael Riopel ’18 will need to become more of an all around threat to make up for the loss of Dawson.

Everything Else:

I hesitate to use the term “rebuilding year” for the Mammoths. They still have McCarthy, one of the three or four most skilled players in the league, as well as Riopel. A better term might be “retooling.” Amherst is faced with the task of changing their entire style of play. Although much of the criticism of Jayde Dawson was alarmist, he did force the Mammoths to play a slower style of basketball than they would like. This season, the Mammoths look poised to play a ball movement-heavy, 3-and-D type of game that should at least be more fun to watch, and possibly more successful as well. Riopel and McCarthy are the key to this offense, but the retooling has occurred mostly in their supporting cast. Sellow and Groll are stretch fours whom Amherst will use mostly on the perimeter. And G Tommy Mobley ’20, after barely playing during his first year, will get serious minutes and three point looks.

This new, aggressive style should apply on defense as well. After relying largely on David George to make up for gambling on the perimeter, Amherst is now playing a switchier lineup, with a focus on the perimeter. Riopel and McCarthy have elite size and length for their position, as does Sinopoli. And of course, Schneider is one of the bigger players in the league. He will be a key. If he is a liability in the pick and roll, teams like Middlebury and Williams will be able to roast him with their skilled perimeter bigs. But if they play a smaller player, they will severely lack rim protection. There’s a chance that Amherst’s off-season losses hurt them on defense more than offense.

Amherst has retooled with Williams in mind, as every team in the league has had to do this off-season.

Amherst is one of the harder teams in the league to project. They lost an almost impossibly high percentage of their scoring and minutes in the off-season. For any other team, this would be a death sentence, and this preview would be about them looking towards 2018-2019. But this is Amherst we’re talking about. They always seem to find a way to be there at the end of the season. And, with a far more sustainable (and young) offense, Amherst is in a position to be there in the future as well.