Bowdoin (15-8, 4-6) @ Amherst (16-8, 7-3), 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
Somehow Amherst ended up as the #1 seed in this tournament after looking at a 5-3 conference record going into the final regular season weekend. They knocked off Williams 72-57 and then downed Middlebury 80-68, successfully owning the teams that used to hold the #1 and #2 spots in the league. This crazy change of fortune weekend came on the heels of losses in 2/3 of their previous games, one to Tufts 60-56 and the other to Wesleyan 71-57. What once looked like a rather dismal season for the historically dominant Mammoth team has turned into one with promise for a championship and an NCAA berth as they also received votes in the last D3 National poll.
Bowdoin as the #8 seed has to be happy that they are facing Amherst. All things considered, as the last seed in these playoffs, they could easily be seeing Williams, Middlebury, or Hamilton, all more formidable on paper than the Mammoths. Yes, they are now facing the hottest team in the league dating back to the first week of February (so, yeah, just last week), however, they also have one of the most talented yet top heavy starting lineups in the league. Their roster’s make up creates a trap game here where they have a legitimate chance to knock off the top seed in the tournament. Yes, Bowdoin lost already 75-60 to Amherst just a few weeks ago, but their opponent also shot over 50% from the floor that night (7% above their season average), while their top scorers performed below their normal levels.
Amherst X-Factor: F Dylan Groff ‘19
This might seem like a bit of a wild-card pick, but choosing Michael Riopel of Johnny McCarthy would’ve been just a bit too boring. Amherst is likely going to win this game and that is due to their depth. Riopel and McCarthy are good, perhaps All-NESCAC good, but the Mammoths don’t have a Player of the yYear candidate like the other top teams. They do, however, have bench players who contribute and a lock down defense (second in rebounds and third in points allowed per game.) Groff contributes to this depth and added eight and 10 points in the two games last weekend, shooting 7-9 (4-6 from deep), giving his team an accurate weapon off of the bench. Amherst is at their best when they get contributions from all over their bench, and are at their worst when they rely too much on McCarthy and Riopel. Their bench is also their biggest advantage over Bowdoin, who has a lot of talent but isn’t very deep. Groff is one of the players who could help Amherst put this one away.
Bowdoin X-Factor: Hugh O’Neil
With Amherst’s defense as strong as it is, O’Neil is going to need to be a force in the paint for the Polar Bears to have any chance. The leading rebounder on this team, and among the league leaders, O’Neil’s 9.0 REB/G are impressive and a necessity in his team’s playoff game. What is more questionable is his shooting ability. Although he averages a respectable 9.6 PPG, his individual contest stat lines fluctuate hugely from game to game and are a key indication of Bowdoin’s success. He shot 6-8 for 12 points against Hamilton in a big 72-68 win and shot 3-8 last weekend against Wesleyan in a 74-65 loss. While those are just two examples, generally, Bowdoin does better when O’Neil shoots more, complementing their balanced front court attack well. If he can haul in the boards, he should also have a big role shooting the ball.
Along with O’Neil, Bowdoin also has David Reynolds, Liam Farley, and Jack Simonds leading the way for them. Each of those other three players all average over 10 PPG, and bring in over 13 rebounds and five assists combined. This gives them a dynamic starting four with guard Zavier Rucker serving as a pass first guard (3.3 A/G) with limited yet accurate shooting numbers. Their average number for rebounding and points allowed (both 7th in the NESCAC) along with good shooting numbers puts their talent level above their eighth ranking in the standings. All this to say, they are a very tough first round matchup. With three of their conference losses coming by single digit point totals, they can compete with the top teams (72-68 win against Hamilton, 72-70 loss against Midd).
Unlike Bowdoin who almost won several NESCAC games, Amherst walked the walk at the end of the year and showed up to play. Their final weekend run gives them all of the momentum, a home game, and the edge in this quarterfinal matchup. As mentioned, seniors McCarthy and Riopel lead the way for this squad averaging 11.4 and 12.4 PPG, respectively, adding over 13 boards per game between the pair. Grant Robinson ’21 is a versatile ball handler for his team too, tallying over three rebounds and assists and scoring nearly 10 PPG. Experience, success, and confidence should lead Amherst to victory, despite a challenge from the underdog.
Writer’s Prediction: 78-73 Amherst