The Best Offense is a Good Defense: 2017-2018 Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Wesleyan Cardinals

2016-2017 Record: 19-7 (8-5 conference)

The Cardinals started their season with 11 straight wins before being slowed down by the grind of the NESCAC conference schedule. They lost to Trinity in the NESCAC quarters, before ending their season against Union (NY) in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

Projected 2017-2018 Record: 18-6 (7-6 conference)

Amherst gets some redemption this season against a Wesleyan squad that beat them twice last winter.

Key Losses

Harry Rafferty (13 PPG, 2.2 AST/G, 38% 3FG) –

A veteran guard who started every game his senior season, and 77 of his 103 collegiate appearances, the Cardinals will most definitely miss his floor presence and lifetime 40% shooting.

Joseph Kuo (11.8 PPG, 7.2 REB/G, 49% FG) –

Wesleyan will be missing their paint beast in Kuo. Though his numbers aren’t astounding – Kuo averaged just over 7 rebounds and 12 points a game – he started essentially every game for the past 3 seasons, and any team can’t but miss such a reliable presence, especially in a paint protector like Kuo. The Cardinals do, however, have another veteran down low, in senior Nathan Krill, and, as the 6-7 vet JR Bascom has stepped in to fill Kuo’s shoes, Wesleyan looks to continue their streak of solid defense from last year.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Thanks to an endless streak of midterms and papers in the green mountains, this writer has the benefit of Wesleyan’s having already played in, and won, the Herb Kenny Tip-Off tournament. So my starting lineup predictions have some, albeit limited, historical basis.

F JR Bascom ’18 (4.7 PPG, 3.4 REB/G, 53.8% FG)

JR Bascom
JR Bascom ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Though he played just 9 minutes against Mitchell, Bascom has the benefit of a rather guard-heavy Wesleyan roster. He’s had the career trajectory of a player who’s had to earn his minutes, and this season the waiting looks to pay off. Bascom played in 26 games last season, but started only one. This year he’s charged taking over for the graduated Joseph Kuo, so look for Bascom in the introductions this year. He’s 7-8 shooting so far this young season, and looks to be playing with the poise and confidence afforded to a man of his experience.

F Nathan Krill ’18 (9.6 PPG, 6.2 REB/G, 0.9 BLK/G)

Nathan Krill
Four years, four different hairstyles for Nathan Krill ’18. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The 6-7 senior and chief contender for the annual “Feels Like He’s Been Here for 35 Years” award is off to hot start to the year. After an 11-point, 8 rebound performance to start the year against Anna Maria, Krill dropped 22 on 9-14 shooting against Mitchell on Saturday. He capped his 20-minute double-double with 16 boards, earning Krill the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament MVP. Krill was in and out of the starting lineup last season, but any forward who takes 9 threes in 27 minutes is feeling mighty confident. If Krill keeps playing with the confidence he absolutely deserves to be playing with, look for him to step into the role of a real impact player this season.

G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (N/A)

Austin Hutcherson
Austin Hutcherson ’21 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The freshman played his way into a starting spot after the season opener against Anna Maria, where he scored 9 points on 11 attempts from the field. Look for the Jersey Boy Hutcherson and senior Jordan Sears to both be in and out of the starting 5, but I put my money on Hutcherson, who’s a lanky 6-6, winning the position battle. In Wesleyan’s 107-64 romping of Mitchell, Hutcherson had 13 points on 6-13 shooting. The biggest struggle for any freshman is adjusting to the speed and increased physicality of the college game. It often means a hit to the confidence early on, but clearly Hutcherson’s deflected the confidence blow, because he’s shooting the ball plenty, and doing it successfully.

G/F Jordan Bonner ’19 (12.8 PPG, 5.2 REB/G)

Jordan Bonner
Jordan Bonner ’19

Bonner is Wesleyan’s go-to man. The 6-4 junior guard emerged as a big-time scorer last season for the Cardinals, hitting a buzzer beater against Amherst to send the game, one he sealed with a pair of clutch free-throws, to overtime. He averaged 13 points a game last season, and though his 5.2 rebounds a game is middling, Bonner has bounce, and is capable of producing double-double performances. Though he’s a more than capable scorer, and will be looked to as such, look for Bonner to crank it up a notch this season on the glass in big time conference games this year.

G Kevin O’Brien ’19 (8.3 PPG, 6.5 REB/G, 4.3 AST/G, 1.5 STL/G)

Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O’Brien ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

O’Brien will run Wesleyan’s offense from the point. The 6-5 junior is a supersized point guard, and uses it to bully smaller players. He averaged  nearly 7 rebounds per game last season in his 26 starts, and also uses his height to see over the defense to make tough passes. But his most important job is kickstarting Wesleyan’s notorious D. O’Brien averaged 1.5 steals a game last year, and is an absolute menace in the pick and roll, due again to his size. O’Brien can legitimately switch onto any position and not give up too much size. You can tell from the stats above that O’Brien is one of the best all around players in the league. But in the absence of shooter Harry Rafferty, O’Brien will be looked at more and more to put up points. He’s certainly capable of it. He scored consistently last season, and was 8-8 with 16 points against Mitchell last weekend. Look for O’Brien as Wesleyan’s lock-down man and floor general this year.

Breakout Player: Austin Hutcherson ’21

The beauty of Wesleyan’s team this year is that almost every stud, or even starter, was, by the end of the year last year, someone coach Joe Reilly looked to consistently and with confidence. Austin Hutcherson is the lone complete newcomer to the floor, and it’s a position that hasn’t appeared to intimidate him in the slightest. Through Wes’s 2-0 start to the season, Hutcherson has shot 4-11 and 6-13 respectively. It’s a volume that tells me he’s playing with the earnest fire of a newcomer to NESCAC hoops, but also with the confidence of someone who’s played at Wesleyan’s level before. I think 2 or 3 more games are all that’s needed to cement Hutcherson’s swagger, and after that, watch out.

Everything Else:

As always, the key to this Wesleyan lineup is their defense. Wesleyan may be the closest team in the league to the new NBA ideal of a position-less, switch heavy lineup. Forwards Nathan Krill and JR Bascom are highly skilled and have very quick feet, and their guards Bonner, Hutcherson and O’ Brien run 6’4″, 6’5″ and 6’6″ respectively. Welseyan’s lineup is supersized and quick, making pick and rolls against them tremendously difficult. Their guards are tall enough to guard bigs in the post, and the bigs are quick enough to not get killed by guards on the perimeter. Wesleyan has the personnel to be an elite defensive unit.

Wesleyan’s defense has always been their calling card, this season maybe most of all.

Offense is far more of a question mark. They lost their best shooter in Rafferty, and their go to scorer on the block in Kuo. They are left with a lot of defensive players who haven’t proven themselves as scorers. Bonner is the only returning player who was a reliable scoring threat last season. This is one of the reasons that O’Brien is so important. He showed great vision last season, and should turn that vision to more scoring this year. The early returns on O’Brien and Hutcherson are encouraging, but the season doesn’t start until league play anyways.

Final Hot Take:

Hot or not so hot I’m not sure, but Wesleyan’s always deep field of talent this year is both filled with earnestness and experience. They’ve got the talent to score a TON, and if they defend consistently, I see Wesleyan playing deep into both the NESCAC and national tournaments this winter.

 

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.

The Battle for Connecticut: NESCAC Quarterfinal, #5 Trinity at #4 Wesleyan

#5 Trinity (15-9, 6-4) at #4 Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4), Saturday, 3:00 PM, Middletown, Connecticut

(Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Taking a glance at season-long statistics, when Trinity heads to Middletown this Saturday to play Wesleyan, they’ll be facing an equal opponent. Wesleyan has allowed just over 66 points per game this winter. Trinity’s competition has put up an average of 65.5. While Wesleyan is averaging just over 76 points a game, which is four more than the Bantams, both teams are shooting 40% from the field, and from deep, both Wesleyan and Trinity are shooting 35% and 35.2% respectively. Where the disparity between the two lies – so that I can have a take on the game, rather than just throwing evidence in front of you that says the game will be a tie – is in the final stretch of the regular season.

After a last-second OT win at Amherst, Wesleyan coasted through Bowdoin and Colby – as expected, I should add – with 93-73 and 83-67 wins at home. In both those games, 4 of Wesleyan’s five starters scored in double figures. Wesleyan, who it seems can depend on consistent output from senior and member of the 1,000 point club Harry Rafferty, as well as from fellow senior Joseph Kuo, who is on the brink of membership, as he currently sits with 978 career points. This streak of balanced perimeter scoring bodes well for the Cardinals, especially against a Trinity defense that allowed Bates to shoot 46.7% from the field, and Middlebury to shoot 57% from the field and 52% from deep. The Cardinals’ chances look good if they can get balanced offensive production, especially because they can rely on strong perimeter defense.

The Cardinals are going to need a big game out of Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Lianne Yun/Wesleyan Athletics).

The Cardinals held a perimeter-scoring heavy Amherst to shooting just 32% from deep, while Bowdoin shot 34%, and Colby, despite an absolute lights out first half, were cooled down by the Cardinals to shoot just over 35% from beyond the arc. Yet the thing that makes this matchup so interesting is that Trinity knows that they can’t beat Wesleyan by jacking up threes, and they wouldn’t have tried to anyways. Wesleyan’s biggest weakness is rebounding, and they’ll need solid performances on the glass from more than just Kuo and Jordan Sears, who pulled down 11 against Bowdoin, if they hope to match Trinity’s far-from-secret weapon. If the Bantams are to win this game, it will be on the shoulders of senior Ed Ogundeko.

That sounds like an aggressive take, but it’s certainly not a hot one. The senior forward has led Trinity in either points, rebounds, or both in every one of the Bantam’s wins since mid-December. He pulled down 23 boards against Williams. He had 20 points and 20 boards in a win over Bowdoin. But in Trinity’s 97-80 loss in Middlebury this past weekend, Ogundeko was only good for 14 points and 9 boards. This is still a solid line, but it shows that Trinity’s success is contingent on his individual domination, especially on the glass. When Wesleyan and Trinity squared off earlier in the season, the senior POY candidate had only 8 rebounds, and the Cardinals won the game 65-61.

Look for sophomore Jeremy Arthur to step up in this battle for Connecticut (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

Saturday’s game will be won or lost on the glass. Wesleyan will look to defend well, and they certainly hope for the balanced production they’ve been getting from their starters over the course of their current three game win streak. The question is Ogundeko. If he isn’t attacking under the rim, or the likes of Jeremy Arthur and Chris Turnbull aren’t pulling the ball down, then perhaps Wesleyan won’t need anyone to step up and grab 10 boards. But if Trinity can command the paint while the ball stays down low, Wesleyan will need some serious hustle for their perimeter D to have the impact it does against less-aggressive opponents. Wesleyan’s perimeter play against Trinity’s strength in the paint should combine for one heck of a first round matchup.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan   

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Stranger Things Have Happened, But Strange Things Happened: Stock Report 2/1

Last week I used the intro to the stock report as a way to explore the somewhat cheesy comparison between NESCAC Men’s Basketball and the trading on Wall Street. Try as I might, I can’t think of a metaphor for stocks to top it, so I’ll just stick to the hoops. This weekend raised many questions. Tufts had seemed so solidly on top of the conference. Middlebury seemed to be heading downward into a skid. Wesleyan was a defensive team, and Amherst was more offensively focused. But things change, this weekend they certainly did.  

Stock Up

Amherst’s D-

Amherst has jacked up the defensive intensity in their recent games.

Amherst held Trinity to shooting just 1/14 from deep in a 66-53 win on Saturday. They forced 16 turnovers, and took advantage of them, scoring 16 points of of them. More than just good shot contesting, Amherst held Trinity to just 5 assists as a team. This indicates some sturdy defensive organization, one with little to no breakdowns. The Bantams are averaging just over 71 points a game, and typically shoot 44.5% from the field, and 35% from deep. Amherst held them to 53 points on 32% shooting and 7.1% from three, respectively. I’d love to avoid the cliche, but hey, defense wins championships.   

Wesleyan’s Explosiveness –

Jordan Bonner
Jordan Bonner ’19

Wesleyan shot 48% from the field and 50% from beyond the arcin 85-75 win over Conn. Harry Rafferty played 34 minutes from the opening tip and had 20 points on 6/12 from the field and three of four from deep. What’s notable about Wesleyan’s 85 points is that the rest of the Cardinal’s starters combined for only 20. Even good teams have off nights, and so an essential mark of any good teamis that it has a depth of players beyond the starting five who can pick up the slack. On Saturday in New London, Joseph Kuo and Andrew Gardiner pulled the rope. The senior forward Kuo was good for 10 of 16 shooting from the field in his twenty point performance. Jordan Bonner dropped 23 points in 28 minutes off the bench. He was 4/6 from deep, but also got to the hole with enough consistency to hit 7 free throws. Wesleyan is known as one of the premier defenses in the conference – the Camel’s 75 points can be largely explained by a 32 point explosion by Tyler Rowe – and if they can keep getting performances off the bench like the ones this weekend their chances look good heading into the tourney.  

Stock Down

Tufts –

The number 4 team in the country lost to Bates in Lewiston on Saturday 84-72.(Editor’s Note: They also dropped a non-league tilt to U-Mass Dartmouth on Tuesday.) They were behind the entire second half. I guess this explains the absurd number of shots it took the Jumbos to score 72 points, but it’s not unfair to expect a little higher efficiency from a team that’s leading the conference in points. Vinny Pace alone, who scored 19 points in 30 minutes, took 22 shots, 12 of them threes. Tuft’s starters combined took 60 shots. They were 36.1% from the field, 18.5% from three, and shot a mere 53.6% from the line. One could attribute the poor shooting to a very solid Bobcat defense, but the weak showing at the line and the huge amount of shots attempted points to a despicable shooting performance. It could be true that it just wasn’t Tufts’ day, but a performance like the one they had Saturday has to hurt. A bounce back, or lack thereof, this upcoming weekend, where they face solid Trinity and Amherst teams, will be a solid indicator of whether or not the Jumbos have the grit and potential to make a tourney run that their national ranking would have indicated. Credit where credit is due: Bates balled out, but this weekend could have been the beginning of something very bad for the Jumbos.

My Credibility Regarding Middlebury –

Bryan Jones
Bryan Jones ’17 had a career night against Hamilton.

Last week I raised into the question the vitality and balance of thePanther’s offense. I said they were too reliant on Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown. And then the Midd kids scored 115 points against Hamilton. That certainly answers the vitality question. As for the balance, Middlebury had 4 starters and 6 players in double digit scoring. So much for my analysis. Midd shot 62% from the field, and 59% from deep. Combine that with 91.7% shooting at the line, and a career-high 25 point performance from Mr. Bryan Jones, and the 115 point thumping of a then-tied-for-third Continentals is not that surprising. It is true that it was a special performance, and one can’t expect that kind of output on any sort of consistent basis, but what gives me even more confidence that the Panthers have recovered from their loss to Williams is that Middlebury had 26 assists. That’s an offense that is humming. Roll Pants, thanks for proving me wrong.

Fight Night: Wesleyan v. Connecticut College Preview

Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3) @ Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4), New London, CT 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 28th

Overview:

Image result for the stepford wives
The original ‘Battle for Connecticut.’

The “Battle for Connecticut” is not, as I originally thought, a sci-fi movie about 30-foot tall white families duking it out in Hartford. It is instead this game, which features two teams sitting in precarious positions in the league rankings. Connecticut College has a couple impressive wins under their belt, an overtime thriller over Amherst, and a demolition of Bates in Alumni Gym. But they also have four losses and have shown an inability to score against elite defenses (see their 70-52 loss to Trinity.) And Wesleyan is certainly an elite defense. It has been that side of the ball that allowed them to recover from their 0-2 start. The Cardinals are now 3-3, and gave Tufts their toughest test of league play so far in a 77-73 loss. They only allow opponents to shoot 34.7% from the field, which is among the national leaders and leads the conference by a considerable margin. The Camels will need to prove that they can score against the best in order to have a chance in this game.

Wesleyan X-Factor: Jordan Sears ‘18

Jordan Sears
Jordan Sears ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
It’s not a coincidence that Wesleyan has won both the league games that Sears has started. At 6’5″ and 200 pounds, Sears is defensive and rebounding menace, averaging 1.2 blocks and 4.6 rebounds per game despite only playing 17 minutes. He has started against Trinity and Bates, who boast the two best big men in the league in Ed Ogundeko and Malcolm Delpeche respectively. Sears was the key to not letting those stars own the paint against Wesleyan. I would expect him to play a similar role against Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17, Connecticut College’s two excellent forwards.
Sears’ starting spot has another benefit for the Cardinals in that it pushes Nathan Krill ‘18 to the bench. That may read like a jab at Krill, but let me explain. Krill may well be Wesleyan’s best offensive player, but his volatile temper makes it difficult for him to remain on the floor at times. Bringing him off the bench makes it easier for Coach Reilly to control his star forward. It also gives the often-dead Wesleyan second unit some needed scoring punch, and allows Krill to beat up on slower second unit players. Sears starting has been a key to Wesleyan’s turnaround.

 

Connecticut College X-Factor: Isaiah Robinson ‘18

Isaiah Robinson
Not to start another NESCAC man-crush, but Isaiah Robinson ’18 has a TERRIFIC smile. (Courtesy of Connecticut College Athletics)
Wesleyan is a team that will try to beat you up, particularly in the paint. Connecticut College is well equipped to hit back, but they will also need to hit from the perimeter, as Wesleyan has shown themselves to not be able to keep up in a faster paced offensive game. Robinson combines those two responsibilities. Robinson is 6’5” and built like a linebacker, giving him more than enough strength to push back when Krill and Joseph Kuo ‘17 try to body him in the paint. But he also has quick feet and can stretch the floor, shooting 38.6% from three. Robinson will need to be an offensive threat in this game to pull the Wesleyan big men away from the basket and open things up for Pavlin and Janel to do their work inside. And he may also draw the critical task of getting in Nathan Krill’s head and forcing him into foul trouble.

 

Who Needs it More:

Wesleyan has done a terrific job climbing back into the upper half of the league, and of course needs to continue playing well in order to stay there. This is a crucial game for them, as they travel to Williams and Amherst next weekend. They need the freedom to lose one of those games and still be in contention for a high seed. But Connecticut College still needs this one more. In the ever-shifting NESCAC landscape, the difference between 3-4 and 2-5 is difficult to overstate. The Camels have done great work getting over the…barrier (not going to make the “hump” pun again) and being relevant this season, but this game is the key to them remaining there.

Final Thoughts:

Starting Jordan Sears has freed up Nathan Krill and strengthened Wesleyan’s defense in the paint against elite big men, but it also puts more pressure on the perimeter players in the starting lineup. Sears is aggressively non-threatening on offense, allowing opposing teams to sag off on him and double the primary ball handlers Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17. This has forced Kevin O’Brien ‘19 to step up as a scoring threat. He has done this admirably at times, scoring 20 and 19 back-to-back against Hamilton and Amherst. When teams leave Sears alone and key in on Green and Rafferty, O’Brien has to be ready to step up and be a scoring threat, or else Wesleyan simply doesn’t have enough offense.

Connecticut College will need shooters like Colin Pascoe ’17 to hit threes in order to pull off the upset.

Three point shooting will be the most important stat for Connecticut College in this game. They can’t beat Wesleyan in bar-room brawl  in the paint, the Cardinals’ win over Trinity proved that no one can. They need to stretch the floor and speed the Wesleyan up. They have showed the tendency to make mistakes on offense and defense when they are forced the play faster than their preferred pace. Lee Messier ‘18 will need to shoot a little better than his 33% yearly rate, and Robinson and David Labossiere ‘19 will also need to knock a couple down.

The Prediction:

Wesleyan comes into this game with all the momentum, and would probably be favored in Vegas if bookies out there cared about NESCAC sports at all. But Connecticut College matches up very well with the Cardinals. They have outside threats to spread out the Wesleyan defense, and forwards who can bang with the Special K’s (Kuo and Krill.) This should be hard fought, low scoring battle, featuring a lot of rebounds and fouls. In other words, a terrific viewing experience, and Wesleyan’s specialty. I think the Cardinals pull it out.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

NESCAC the Third: Weekend Preview Part Two

Tyler Rowe ’19 is going to need to keep up his hot streak this weekend for the Camels (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics).

As Rory pointed out in the Friday preview, the third weekend is often a pivotal one for playoff chances. An 0-2 weekend this late in the season can be damning for post-season hopes, and that is only exacerbated by how strong the league is this year. Teams like Williams, Colby and yes, even Amherst need strong weekends to keep their playoff hopes alive, or reassert their place at the top of the league.

 

GAME OF THE WEEK – SUNDAY: Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) at Williams (12-4, 1-3): Sunday, 1/22, Williamstown, MA, 2:00 PM

Overview:

Will I choose Middlebury as the Game of the Week in every preview? Probably. But this game deserves must-watch status. Not only is it a rivalry game pitting two of the most successful teams of the last decade against each other, it features two of the best scorers in the league in Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Daniel Aronowitz ‘17. And it should end before the Patriots game starts, so no worries there.

Middlebury and Williams enter the game on very different footing in the league. Middlebury is 3-1, and was very close to pulling out a win at Tufts. Williams, on the other hand, comes in at 1-3 and has looked like one of the bottom teams in the league. For much of the post-Michael Mayer era, Williams has been a highly dangerous and successful 3-and-D team, relying on outside shooting and strong perimeter defense to remain a contender in the NESCAC. But the Ephs haven’t been able to put together those two components of their machine yet this year. Despite taking the most three point shots in the league by a considerable margin, they have the third-lowest percentage. The defense is still strong from a numbers standpoint, but they have been exploitable by patient offenses, allowing the third-highest shooting percentage to their opponents in the league. Williams might not have the personnel to continue playing their patented style, but they could prove that idea very wrong with a win over the Panthers.

 

X-Factors:

Eric McCord is a BODY down low, and the Panthers have really enjoyed his recent success (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

We’ve been writing a great deal lately about how the forward rotation of Matt Folger ‘20, Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘19 has given the Panthers an interior presence that many felt they’d be lacking this year. But in this game, I see the guards off the bench as being a crucial factor in Middlebury’s game plan. Williams will undoubtedly attempt to use the three point shot as a way to counteract Middlebury’s quick-strike offense. And if they’re hitting those shots, the Panthers may need some firepower from the outside to match them. That’s where the guards come in. The primary outside threat off the bench for Middlebury is Bryan Jones ‘17, who played some nice minutes early in the season but has shot just 5-18 in conference play. Recently, freshman guard Joey Leighton ‘20 has shot very well, entering the rotation just before league play and hitting 44% of his three pointers. Senior Liam Naughton and freshman Perry Delorenzo are also options, but haven’t played much in tight spots. Middlebury may need Jones and Leighton in particular to be scoring threats to open the floor for the three starting guards and the post players.

Williams’ big man rotation is a key for them as well. It is very telling that in Williams’ only NESCAC win thus far, a 72-66 road win over Colby, they got 33 points from their four forwards. In the other games, Williams has received a shocking lack of production from the frontcourt, on both sides of the ball. Williams is the second worst rebounding team in the league, and neither James Heskett ‘19 nor Matt Karpowicz ‘20 nor Marcos Soto ‘19 has been nearly consistent enough offensively to worry opposing teams. If Williams is to match Middlebury’s newfound interior presence, they will need good production from at least two of those bench players, as well as starters Kyle Scadlock ‘19 and Michael Kempton ‘19.

 

Final Thoughts:

This is a critical game for Williams, who is drifting dangerously close to falling out of contention for a top four seed. They have traditionally enjoyed a huge home court advantage, and have beaten Middlebury in some classics in Williamstown over the last few seasons, particularly in tournament play. But they need more than history on their side on Sunday. They need their role players like Cole Teal ‘17 and Heskett to hit some threes, and they need Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Scadlock to play like stars. Aronowitz in particular should be key, as he will probably be matching St. Amour for much of the game. He has to at least play him to a draw if the Ephs have a shot.

Middlebury wins this one on paper. They have far more offensive weapons on the perimeter, and should be able to crash the boards against Williams’ frontcourt. However, Williams’ style of play is by nature unpredictable. If they are hitting threes, they can hang with anyone in the country, and it will be Middlebury’s job to run them off the line and into the paint, where they are far less proficient at finishing over size.

 

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

 

Connecticut College (10-5, 1-3) at Tufts (13-2, 4-0): Medford, MA, 3:00 PM

Basking in the glow of their new standing at the top of the Power Rankings, Tufts has taken the league by storm, winning their first four NESCAC games. They still haven’t quite gotten POY-level production from Vincent Pace ‘18, but KJ Garrett averaged 15 PPG over the two games last weekend, giving them a valuable offensive weapon off the bench. The Jumbos still have problems in the post, as Tom Palleschi ‘17 has struggled offensively for much of the season. That said, Tufts has plenty of weapons ready to pick up the slack.

Connecticut College has a lot of momentum entering this weekend. They shocked Amherst last Sunday, owning the paint en route to an 83-76 OT win. The Camels were able to lock down Jayde Dawson ‘18 as well as any team has this year, holding him to 9 points on 4-10 shooting. That suggests that they should be well-equipped to handle Pace, who showed signs against Middlebury that he’s rounding back into form. They also got 40 points and 18 rebounds collectively from senior forwards Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17. Tufts showed against Middlebury that strong post players can give them problems, as Eric McCord emerged against them with 22 points. Therefore, Connecticut College has the tools to pull off another upset, but I don’t see it happening.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

Wesleyan (14-3, 2-2) at Bates (12-4, 3-1): Lewiston, ME, 3:00 PM

Salim Green ’19 rises up for a jump shot over an opposing defender (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

I’m setting the over/under for total points in this game at 105, as arguably the two best defenses (and least consistent offenses) in the league square off in what may come to be known as “The Battle of the Bricks.” Wesleyan looked to be nearly dead after starting off 0-2, but roared back with two straight wins over Amherst and Trinity. Wesleyan’s elite defense was on full display in both games, holding the two teams to an average of 60 PPG. They finally received some offensive firepower from Kevin O’ Brien ‘19, and Harry Rafferty ‘17 too, an encouraging sign. To win at Bates, they will need one of those two, or Salim Green ‘19 (finally got his name right) to shoot well from the perimeter, as Bates’ interior defense is often pretty much impenetrable.

Bates has been one of the surprises of the season thus far, sitting at 3-1 with a quality home win over Hamilton under their belt. Their success has obviously been chiefly due to the Delpeche twins, who combine for 27 PPG and 19 REB/G. Additionally, Malcolm leads the league in blocks at over 3 per game. The Delpeches are the keys to Bates’ offense and defense, but freshman transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been pivotal in giving the Bobcats a perimeter threat off the bench. He had 30 points over the weekend. Bates should give Wesleyan a heavy dose of both Delpeche brothers, putting a tremendous defensive burden on Nathan Krill ‘19 and Joseph Kuo ‘17. Taking Bates’ lyric little bandbox of a home court into account, I see the towering twins leading Bates to another impressive home win.

 

Writer’s Pick: Bates

 

Colby (7-7, 0-3) at Amherst (10-4, 1-2): Amherst, MA, 3:00 PM

Well if they lose this one, there’s officially a crisis in Amherst. The Purple and White have lost two in a row, both to teams that hadn’t won a game in league play entering their match-up. Amherst’s problems have been copiously and gleefully documented on this blog, but they boil down to a lack of dimensionality on offense. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 have too much responsibility, allowing teams like Wesleyan to load up on them and dare other players to beat them. Colby probably doesn’t have quite enough perimeter depth to make use of this gameplan, but other teams have certainly taken notes on what Wesleyan and Conn College did to Amherst last weekend.

Patrick Stewart ’17 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics).

Colby may be the only team that played worse than Amherst last weekend. At 0-3 in the league, they are carving out a niche as the bottom team in a very strong league. Colby simply doesn’t have enough weapons to hang with the top teams in the league. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four, but like McCarthy and Dawson, he often carries an unreasonable burden for the Mules, yet with less of a supporting cast around him than the two Amherst guards. Amherst should use this game to get back on track, and ideally find a little more depth on offense.

 

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2) at Trinity (10-6, 2-1): Hartford, CT, 3:00 PM

This game is a matchup of stars. Jack Simonds ‘19 and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 would be my top two POY candidates at this point in the season, due to their importance to their respective teams. Bowdoin for the most part goes as far as Simonds can carry them, as was proven by his electric 32 point performance in their lone NESCAC win over Williams. This game will be an excellent test of Simonds’ scoring chops in league play, as Trinity boasts an elite defense anchored by, who else, Ed Ogundeko.

Ogundeko may carry an even heavier load for Trinity than Simonds does for Bowdoin. In addition to being the key to the offense, he leads the league (and by nature of the transitive property, the team as well) in rebounding, and may be the one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the league. Players are straight-up terrified of shooting layups against him, which is heavily responsible for Trinity being among the league leaders in most defensive catagories. Bowdoin, on the other hand, is the worst rebounding team in the league. This could well be another 20-20 game for Big Ed, and if that’s the case, I see Trinity taking the win at home.

 

Writer’s Pick: Trinity

NESCAC-steros: 5 Takeaways from an Upset-Filled Weekend

If I may take an unprovoked jab at NESCAC football, last weekend proved why basketball is the best of the sports we cover. For all its charms and glories, NESCAC football has the tendency to devolve into Middlebury, Amherst, Trinity and Tufts sitting at the grown-ups table, while the rest of the teams hang out waiting for the leftovers. In basketball, save for a couple exceptions, any NESCAC team can beat any other on a given night. This weekend was a terrific reminder of that fact. Amherst, the number three team in the country and consensus top in NESCAC, lost both their games and now sits at #16 nationally. Like Westeros (the fictional world of Game of Thrones) NESCAC basketball is a mysterious landscape, where the characters can die- or come back to life- at a moment’s notice.

Tufts Reads NbN

You’re welcome, Jumbos fans. Clearly the Tufts players have been reading my vitriolic rants against their team, school and personalities in general, because they came to play last weekend. Their win over Middlebury was one of the best games of the young season, a 91-85 classic that was closer

Eric Savage ’20 puts up a shot in Tufts’ win over Hamilton.

than even that 6 point margin. It was their trademark balance that carried the Jumbos in that game, as every starter scored in double figures as well as KJ Garrett ‘18 off the bench. However, it should be noted that star guard Vincent Pace (who has been slowly working his way back from injury) had one of his best games of the season with 15, including 13 in the first half.

The next night against Hamilton, Tufts put up another impressive performance, stopping a red hot Hamilton team in their tracks 94-81 despite playing without Pace. Garrett again stood out, stepping in admirably for Pace with a career high 19 points on 8-11 shooting. In addition to the emergence of Garrett and the balanced scoring, the Jumbos displayed tenacious team defense, holding the two highest scoring offenses in the league to under 37% shooting. There is a new top dawg in NESCAC.

Amherst Has Some Work to Do

For there to be a new top dawg, the old top has to drink from the toilet and be put in the dawghouse. That’s pretty much akin to what Amherst did last weekend.  They dropped both of their games to teams that entered without a league win. It was Amherst’s offense that let them down. It had become a worry at some points earlier in the year that Amherst relied too much on the dynamic backcourt duo of Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18. However, Amherst had played an easy enough schedule (and both were playing well enough) that the worries were put aside.

But those fears came home to roost in a big way. Wesleyan was able to let loose their whole swarm of killer perimeter defenders on Dawson and McCarthy, holding them to  8-30 shooting (2-11 from three.) And then on Sunday, Amherst’s lack of frontcourt depth got exposed, and Daniel Janel ‘17 and Zuri Pavlin ‘17 of Connecticut College roasted Amherst’s big men like chestnuts on an open fire. The two forwards combined for 40 points (20 each) and Pavlin added 13 rebounds. This was not a simple bump in the road for Amherst; they have major depth problems. Someone else needs to put the ball in the bucket for the Purple and White. This is not a NESCAC year in which a team can play two on five and expect to win.

Jack Simonds ‘19 Can Score

Jack Simonds ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Atheltics)

I know, I know, “wow Pete, the leading scorer in the league can score? Hot take, man!” But coming into the Polar Bears match-up with Williams, Simonds was only shooting 36% in league play, including a dismal 1-9 from three. It’s (relatively) easy to light up non-conference foes, but you have to prove yourself in conference play to really shine. Against Williams, Simonds did just that, putting up 33 points on 11-24 shooting. He added 7 rebounds and 5 assists, and most importantly, led Bowdoin to a critical win. In such a strong league, the difference between 0-3 and 1-2 is impossible to overstate. This was a POY-type weekend for Simonds, we’ll see if he can keep it up.

Reports of Wesleyan’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated

Salim Greene ’19 guards Jayde Dawson ’18, with Harry rafferty ’17 ready to help.

Count me among the people who, after Wesleyan’s lethargic 0-2 opening weekend, began to mentally dig their grave in terms of postseason play. The Cardinals simply couldn’t score enough to support their terrific defense. In essence they were a one trick pony: terrific defense that eventually could be broken down due to a lack of offensive support. But Wesleyan’s two performances this weekend saw them prove that maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Against Amherst, their defense was simply phenomenal, holding the Purple and White to 59 points on 30% shooting. And then they held Trinity to 61 points on 33% shooting the next night. As shockingly good as the Cardinal’s defense was during those two games, they were also aided by strong offensive performances from Joseph Kuo ‘17 (28 points over the weekend,) Kevin O’Brien ‘19 (19 against Amherst) and Harry Rafferty ‘17 (17 against Trinity.) If Wesleyan can get just a couple offensive sparks, their defense may be good enough for them to make some noise in the post-season.

Eric McCord Emerges

Eric McCord ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

One of the fascinating subplots (to me, at least) of the season so far has been how Coach Jeff Brown manages in frontcourt in the wake of Zach Baines’ departure. He has three talented forwards in Nick Tarantino ‘18, Matt Folger ‘20, and Eric McCord ‘19. However, they all have flaws that prevent from being ready go-to big men. Tarantino starts (alongside Adisa Majors ‘18,) with Folger coming in off the bench as an offensive and rim-protection weapon. And McCord had been following Folger off the bench to add some size and rebounding strength to the lineup. But last weekend McCord showed that he might deserve a larger slice of the minutes pie. Against Tufts, McCord had 22 points and 8 rebounds and paired with Matt St. Amour ’17 to lead the Panthers back from a double digit deficit. And then he had 11 and 8 in a crucial win at Bates. McCord is very strong and has great touch inside, making him an ideal recipient of passes from Middlebury’s terrific guards. He also has shown a nice feel for interior passing with the other bigs, allowing Middlebury to run some Memphis Grizzlies-esque high-low sets. With McCord playing this well, Middlebury’s frontcourt is now a strength after being an Achilles Heel for much of the year.

Five Talking Points From the Opening Weekend of NESCAC Play

Andrew Groll ’19 and the Continentals posted a pair of strong performances in the opening weekend of NESCAC play (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics).

I swear every January the number of people in the gym triples, perfectly suffocating me as I workout in preparation for the upcoming baseball season. While I’m sure Hamilton and Bates hit the weight room before January 1st, 2016, their resolutions might have been to work a little harder. The two fish at the bottom of the food chain in 2016 now find themselves atop the NESCAC standings? How could that be? Well we have only played two games so I’ll try not to get over-excited, although I do love a good underdog story. Each squad shows clear improvement with Bates’ Delpeche twins holding it down at the rim, leading the Bobcats in nearly all relevant statistical categories (27.5 PPG; 18.7 REB/G; 4.3 BLK/G combined) and Hamilton’s maturity after a rebuilding year with a young team in 2016. I’ll go into why I think the Continentals’ success is more sustainable, and what else is going on as we enter another pivotal weekend of conference play.

 

Top Dogs still on top

I’m not really going to give Amherst and Tufts a whole lot of attention here, just because they are performing exactly how everyone thought they would. The top two teams in the league (based on national ranking at 5 and 6, respectively) haven’t slipped up much and should have telling weekends ahead as Amherst should beat Wesleyan based on the Cardinals’ past couple of games and Tufts should be slightly favored against Middlebury at home but in a near push. Tufts doesn’t really have one superstar emerging, but really puts up a team effort with all starters between 6.9 and 12.9 PPG and nobody over 7 REB/G or 4 AST/G. Tufts’ only real flawed performance came during a two point loss to UMass Boston while the other was against #1 ranked Babson. Amherst, like Tufts, has had a couple tough games coming in a loss to Eastern Connecticut state and a one point loss to Springfield, however they bested Babson in 2OT to show that they are the real deal. While Middlebury (ranked #15) has less losses than the Jumbos and Purple & White, it seems like the polls are pretty accurate at this point with little disparity between the top NESCAC teams.

 

Wesleyan’s fallout

Can you believe that in the last national poll Wesleyan was ranked #9 in the country and now they are out of the top 25? Two bad losses to Middlebury and Hamilton, both by over 15 points, have taken them out of early championship discussions. Their overall record is still 11-3 but a three game losing streak is not the note that they wanted to start the NESCAC season on (note: the first game of that streak was against Rhode Island College, not a NESCAC opponent). This is happening because of a number of factors, one being that Jordan Bonner ’19 hasn’t played since Nov. 27. But since they continued to win without Bonner, clearly that isn’t the root cause. In their loss to Rhode Island College, Salim Green ‘18, Harry Rafferty ‘17, and Kevin O’Brien ‘18, usually reliable starters, went just 3-19 for six points. In the next game against Middlebury, they turned the ball over 21 times and shot just 34.4% from the field. Against Hamilton, the last place finisher in the ‘CAC in 2016, the Cardinals shot just 35.3% from the field while Green, Rafferty, and Joseph Kuo shot 4-27. There are quite a few things going on in Connecticut, and Wesleyan needs to figure them out quickly because Amherst will eat the Cardinals alive on Friday if they don’t.

 

Ogundeko’s surprising dominance

It might come across as peculiar why I used described Ed’s dominance as surprising. Yeah, he is the best rebounder in the ‘Cac and up there with D3’s best. But 23 rebounds in one game? I don’t care who it is, that is a surprising number. He was like a skeeball machine swallowing up boards against the Williams Ephs, who recently dropped out of D3hoops’ top 25. Nobody else had more than five rebounds for the Bantams and without him it’s safe to say it would’ve been a blowout favoring the Williamstown squad. Trinity also showed in the first game that they don’t need to rebuild (as I expected) as they narrowly edged Williams 65-63, another strong team that is 11-3. The Bantams should continue to perform so long as Ogundeko carries the team, but they will be tested against Conn College on Friday and Wesleyan on Saturday.

 

Zach Baines and the NESCAC have a breakup

The Panthers have hit another bump in their road to a second consecutive league title. Zach Baines is no longer ‘out indefinitely’ as Pete put it. He is definitely out. Baines transferred to Occidental College in the SCIAC conference in sunny Southern California after eight games this season, all of which he started. The high flying sophomore forward averaged 13.8 PPG and 6.8 REB/G in the early season and he will be sorely missed down the stretch run, giving Nick Tarantino ’18 a lot of weight to carry after taking over in the starting lineup. Vermont is cold and dark, and it won’t be shorts weather until April. I have no idea why he would leave such a place. Good luck to Baines and the Tigers, they got a good one.

 

Hamilton is ready to make their move

Hamilton continued their hot start against Wesleyan last weekend, winning by a score of 92-76 to improve to 10-2 overall and 2-0 in conference. Jack Dwyer continues to shine as a distributing point guard that doesn’t like to shoot. He is third in the NESCAC with 5.8 AST/G but only averages 7.5 PPG. The Continentals recently got guard Tim Doyle ’19 back from injury and the double-digit performances that he and Kena Gilmour’s ’20 contributed off the bench against Wesleyan highlights their depth and how ready they are to take on the league after a tough campaign a season ago. Their matchup against Bates should show that they are closer to championship caliber than the Maine squad, and playing Tufts should be at the least a growing experience in what has the appearance of a trap game for the Jumbos in their home gym.

NESCAC Play Begins: Part Two

Joseph Kuo ’17 has a been a force for Wesleyan so far, and he will be needed big time this weekend (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics/Lianne Yun).

Being a Tufts student, I think it’s important that my first order of business is to address the elephant in the room. Pete definitely hates Tufts, no matter how much he denied it yesterday in his preview of today’s games. To be honest, I don’t blame him, it’s just his Middlebury inferiority complex kicking in. Take it easy on him, guys, Middlebury Athletics is all he has. That being said, whoever made this comparison between Pete and Skip Bayless in the comment section: bravo.

More importantly, let’s take a look at the Saturday/Sunday games. Overall, the contests appear to be a bit less interesting than Friday’s games, but it’s the opening weekend of NESCAC play – anything can happen.

 

Saturday Games

GAME OF THE DAY: #9 Wesleyan @ Hamilton, 3:00 PM, Clinton, NY

Overview:

I would guess that most Cardinals fans looked past this game on their schedule due to Hamilton’s performance in recent years. For Wesleyan’s sake, I hope the players are not looking past this game. Obviously, they’ve got a battle on Friday night against Middlebury, but this new and improved Hamilton squad can definitely take advantage of that. Hamilton has been led by a cast of youngsters thus far, and this early season matchup is vital if these pups want to prove they can hang with the big dogs. Last year, the Continentals took Wesleyan to overtime before losing 82-76, and it actually took some clutch free throws by Wesleyan’s Joseph Kuo ‘17 down the stretch to avoid losing in regular time. Impressive performances will surely attract more attention to Michael Grassey ‘19 and Jack Dwyer ‘18 from the Wesleyan defense on Saturday, who had 16 a piece last year. It was the seniors that led the way for the Cardinals, as BJ Davis, Jack Mackey, and Joe Edmonds combined for 42 of Wesleyan’s 82 points. While this Wesleyan team has certainly figured things out so far this year on their way to a #9 national ranking, they will need someone besides Kuo to embrace the moment and put the ball in the bucket on Saturday if they want to keep up with high-scoring Continentals.

 

X-factors:

It has been Wesleyan’s depth and balance that has proven quite effective so far this year, but against this young Hamilton team, senior leader Harry Rafferty is going to need to take the reigns. Throughout his career, Rafferty has been a threat whenever he throws on the black and red jersey, and one main reason for that is because of his outside shooting. Take a second and digest this: Rafferty has shot 106 times this season, and while he is shooting 39.6% from the field, this number is somewhat skewed. Of those 106 shots, Rafferty has attempted 77 three-pointers. The senior shoots 37.7% from the field (29-77), which means he has hit as many threes as he has taken twos. That’s a bit ridiculous. If that’s the way Wesleyan’s offense works, great, but this clearly gives Hamilton an idea of how to play Rafferty: run him off the three-point line. Rafferty’s production is very important in this game, so if he is unwilling to move off the arc, Wesleyan could be in trouble.

 

For the home team, success is going to be dependent on the ability (or inability) to stop Kuo down low. That’s where Andrew Groll ‘19 steps in. Groll is a 6’7” forward that dominates the boards, pulling down 7.4 REB/G, which is right on pace with Kuo’s 7.3 REB/G. They both average over 2 offensive rebounds, so the key for Groll on the boards is making sure that Kuo is unable to provide his team with these extra opportunities. Defensively, Groll faces a tall task due to the innate ability of getting to the hoop that Wesleyan’s perimeter players possess. Wesleyan’s quartet of sophomore guards (Salim Green ‘18, Jordan Bonner ‘18, Kevin O’Brien ‘18, and Andrew Gardiner ‘18) can all drive the ball to the rim, which will force Groll to decide whether he is going to help off of Kuo or stay at home. It’s Groll’s decision-making and execution in these situations that will determine whether or not the Cardinals eat Hamilton alive in the paint.

 

Final Thoughts:

One of the most interesting dynamics of this game is the difference in offensive pace. Hamilton averages about eight points more per game than Wesleyan, and though they have played two less games than Wes, the Continentals shoot a higher percentage from the field and from deep. The biggest offensive advantage that I see for Wesleyan is their knack for getting to the foul line. Wesleyan shoots more free throws than any other team in the league, with about 26 per game, as opposed to Hamilton’s 23. They both shoot just about 70% from the strike, so in a close game (as I expect this to be), those 3 extra free throws could be crucial. Both teams are pretty deep, but Hamilton’s scoring is much more top-heavy than Wesleyan’s. If one of their big-time scorers like Peter Hoffmann ‘19 or Michael Grassey ‘19 gets in foul trouble, Wesleyan may be able to pull away. This will be a tough and physical game that depends highly on execution down the stretch. For this reason, I’m giving Wesleyan the advantage. They have simply had more experience in these types of games.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

 

#8 Tufts @ Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME

This game could go one of two ways, and it’s all about which Tufts team shows up. Throughout this season, it has been a tale of two teams. The Tufts that walked into the gym against MIT and WPI was legit. They shot well, they had 32 and 35 points off the bench respectively, and they forced their opponents into difficult shots. Then there is the Tufts team that made an appearance against UMass Boston. They were outrebounded by a significantly smaller team, they had more turnovers than their opponents (albeit by just 1 turnover), and they allowed UMB’s center to dominate them. This Jumbos team is good because they are deep, but when they don’t get production from their bench, they simply aren’t as good a team. Now, it’s definitely worth noting that Vinny Pace ‘18, Tufts’ best scorer, was coming off the bench until the UMB game, but overall, they just need more consistency. Colby may be able to capitalize on this, but their margin of error is slim. Colby ranks last in the conference in scoring with just 70.7 PPG, a product of their league-worst shooting percentage and shot attempt numbers. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is currently the only double-digit point-getter on the Mules’ side of the ball, and that will be an issue against Tufts who has pretty favorable match-ups on their own offensive end. I don’t see Colby slowing down the Tufts offense too much, but you never know. Maybe the Mules will take down the #8 Jumbos. I’m not banking on that.

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

Bates @ Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME

Every year, I wait for NESCAC play before judging Bates because every year, their out of conference schedule is filled with teams that I know little to nothing about. However, I was impressed by Bates’ win against Brandeis recently, and before that they blew out Framingham State like they were supposed to. Maybe Bates is better than I predicted? Though both were non-conference games, Bates has fared 1-1 against NESCAC opponents this season with a buzzer-beater loss to Colby and a 14-point win against Bowdoin. Bowdoin will certainly be looking for revenge this time around, and so will Jack Simonds ‘19, who was held to just 12 points the first time these two met. Simonds, as anyone reading this blog knows, is Bowdoin’s leading scorer, and also the NESCAC’s leading scorer, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into success for the Polar Bears. I knew at the beginning of the season that Bowdoin would struggle if they didn’t diversify their scoring, and it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen in league-play unless they get some other guys involved in the offense. This is partly because Bowdoin’s defense is pretty porous. They allow the second-most PPG in the ‘CAC, and against Bates, they allowed the Bobcats’ starting lineup to tally 62 of their 74 points. The key for Bowdoin this time around is forcing the Bates bench to score. However, the Bobcats are in luck, as newly found offensive weapon Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been playing very well recently. Per usual, it’s up to the twin towers of Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche to anchor the load offensively. If these two dominate like last time (combined for 37 points), then Bates is in good shape. If not, then Simonds might just will Bowdoin to the promised land in this in-state rivalry.

Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin

 

Conn College @ #22 Middlebury, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Unlike Pete, I’m able to write about Middlebury in less than twelve lengthy paragraphs, so enjoy this conciseness for a change. Conn-Midd is another subtle yet intriguing game, one which strongly resembles the Wesleyan-Hamilton matchup. Conn College has been gaining steam the last couple years, and they hope that this is finally the year they get over the hump (lol, camels). Middlebury, on the other hand, is looking to once again get off to a hot start in conference play just a year after I called them a rebuilding team and one without playoff hopes. This, of course, propelled the Panthers not only into the playoffs but also the the NCAA tournament after winning the NESCAC championship. En garde, Middlebury. In any event, I see one clear problem for Conn, and that is their defense. Middlebury has offensive weapons – namely, Matt St. Amour. The Panthers have compiled some nice wins against Southern Vermont and Skidmore already, but they did so with Zach Baines ‘17 in the lineup. As Pete mentioned, Midd is likely without Baines and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 this weekend, which makes their bench much thinner. This bodes well for Conn, a team that will either be thirsty for a win after a tough loss to Hamilton, or thirsty to continue their win streak after a solid win against Hamilton. Either way, they will be THIRSTY, and it is up to Middlebury’s guards to stave off the likes of Tyler Rowe ‘19 and David Labossiere ‘19, two of Conn’s top weapons. Meanwhile, Adisa Majors ‘18 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 will be tasked with stopping Conn’s rock, Zuri Pavlin ‘17, who leads the Camels in scoring and is 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding (2nd in overall rebounding). This should be a good one, and we will see how real Conn is on Saturday. I think the thirst is real, and Conn sneaks out of Vermont with a W.

Writer’s Pick: Conn College

 

Sunday Game

Trinity @ #25 Williams, 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

Ed Ogundeko ’17 hits a runner (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

Looking at these two teams’ overall performances thus far, this game shouldn’t be too close. Trinity has been unimpressive, and Williams has been pretty damn impressive. But basketball is a game of matchups, and the fact is, Trinity matches up well against Williams. Williams’ strength is in their guards. They shoot A LOT of threes, the most in the league actually, but they haven’t exactly shot well from beyond the arc so far. The Ephs hit just 33.5% of their threes, but they have some great shooters (see: Cole Teal ‘18), so these shots are going to start dropping sooner rather than later. Where the Ephs are somewhat lacking is down low, but Kyle Scadlock ‘19 has been a formidable big so far in his sophomore campaign, and he ranks second in scoring on the Williams roster behind POY candidate Dan Aronowitz ‘17. Trinity, on the other hand, is weaker on the perimeter and stronger inside. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has been the primary source of consistency for the Bantams, and he should beat up on Williams’ rotation of centers. If the Bants pound the ball down to Ogundeko and get him to the free throw line, it will force Williams to sag in off of Trinity’s shooters, which could be deadly. Expect senior Chris Turnbull to have a day for Trinity on the offensive end. All in all, however, I think Aronowitz will feast on Trin – he should have a field day on pretty much any matchup that gets thrown at him, kind of like he’s done all year. The potent Williams attack will be too much for the Bantams.

Writer’s Pick: Williams