Rivalry Week: Williams @ Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

#11 Williams (12-3, 3-1) @ #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1), Saturday, January 20, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Overview:

The Ephs and the Panthers have become the NESCAC equivalent of the Cavs and Warriors in recent years. The teams met three times last season, including for the NESCAC Championship and in the NCAA Elite Eight. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, beating Middlebury in Pepin Gymnasium to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have carried over that success into this season. They are each ranked in the top 20 in the country, and have battled it out for the top spot in the league all season, along with Wesleyan and Hamilton.

However, both teams are far from unbeatable. Williams is without their star player, Kyle Scadlock ’19, for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Middlebury’s shooting struggles are starting to become incredibly worrying. Middlebury’s NESCAC loss is to Wesleyan, whom Williams beat for their best win. And Williams’ lone NESCAC loss is to Tufts, whom Middlebury just beat handily at home for their best win. All this is to say that both these teams are again tremendously evenly matched, and this game should have huge ramifications for league standings and the playoff picture overall.

Middlebury X-Factor: G Max Bosco ’21

Max Bosco ’21
(Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

At first glance, this pick might seem to be coming out of left field. Bosco has played fewer minutes than his fellow first year guards Jack Farrell ’21 and Griffin Kornacker ’21, primarily due to his smaller stature and struggles to create shots for others off the dribble. Farrell and Kornacker are both miles ahead of Bosco defensively at this point, and Joey Leighton ’20 is certainly more confident offensively. But Bosco can really shoot the ball. He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances yet, but his stroke is as sweet as anyone’s. Middlebury is the worst three point shooting team in the league, and second worst overall from the field. The clutch heroics of Jack Daly and excellent team defense will not be able to save the Panthers against Williams; they have to hit some outside shots to match Williams’ three point heavy attack. Bosco is capable of doing so. Additionally, his defensive struggles will not be as pronounced against the Ephs. Bobby Casey ’20 and Mike Greenman ’18, and even Cole Teal ’18, are an excellent group of players, but they are not large. Casey and Teal will be handled by Daly and Hilal Dahleh ’19, leaving Bosco matched with the 5’8″ Greenman. Bosco has a great opportunity this game to do what he does best; hit shots.

Williams X-Factor: F Matt Karpowicz ’20

We gave Karpowicz a lot of love in the stock report earlier this week, and that’s not just because he wrote some average football articles for us in the fall. Karpowicz is often unstoppable on the block, shooting 73% from the field, almost all in the paint. He splits time with Michael Kempton ’19, another very large person. As longtime reader Howard Herman pointed out, the two players offer very different looks for the offense. Kempton is a distributor, averaging 2 assists per game despite only playing 15 minutes. However, he is not a scoring threat, only shooting 42% from the field. Karpowicz is a game-changing scorer, and draws a lot of attention on the block, freeing up dominant shooters like Casey and James Heskett ’19. Indeed, in Williams’ closer games he ends up playing most of the crunch time minutes. I expect Middlebury to get a far heavier dose of Karpowicz than Kempton. Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ’18 is a great athlete, but struggles with strong post scorers who can back him down and neutralize his length and leaping ability. And Adisa Majors ’18 is simply undersized, no matter which big man Williams has in. This means that Eric McCord ’19 is the guy, and has to avoid the foul trouble that hurt him against Albertus Magnus. In a game in which Middlebury must game plan heavily for Casey and Heskett, Karpowicz is the guy for whom Middlebury has no answer for on their roster.

Expect Matt Karpowicz to far exceed is 15 minutes per game on Saturday.

Final Thoughts:

James Heskett is certainly on the short list for Player of the Year, along with his teammate Bobby Casey, Jack Daly and Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour. He’s very long, with a gorgeous jump shot and incredible quickness for his size. Indeed, he’s been arguably the best shooter in the league this season, hitting 51% from the field and 43% from three. Luckily for Middlebury, however, they have one of the only players in the league who can match his skill set, if not his efficiency, in Matt Folger ’20. Along with the rest of the Panthers, Folger’s shooting numbers have taken a hit of late, but he is still a deadly scorer inside and out. And more importantly for this match up, he is miles ahead of Heskett defensively. Heskett’s skill set and athleticism have not yet translated to that end, as he averages just 0.3 blocks per game and 0.9 steals. Even more jarring is that he averages just 3.8 rebounds a night, despite being 6’8.” Folger, on the other end, has clearly focused on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the league in blocks at 2.4, and grabs 8.1 rebounds a night. If Folger can outscore Heskett, Middlebury has a good chance to win.

James Heskett and Matt Folger are the crucial matchup to watch.

Rebounding may well be the key to Middlebury’s chances in this game. The Panthers are a bona fide dominant team on the glass. Their numbers are skewed by pulling down a ridiculous 70 against Tufts, but they still lead the league in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and are second in rebounding margin. Williams is towards the bottom of the league in all of those categories. For a team that struggles shooting like Middlebury does, offensive rebounds are a must have statistic, and were what kept them in the game against Tufts until they pulled away in the second half. Williams is a team Middlebury can bully on the glass, creating second chances if shots aren’t falling.

Last thing: this could be a huge game for Jack Daly. He historically raises his game against Williams, but this isn’t just his already covered “clutch gene.” Williams doesn’t really have an answer for his strength at the guard spots. Greenman is far too small, and Bobby Casey isn’t particularly strong  defensively. In fact, Williams doesn’t have a single player averaging more than one steal per game. Even their big men are occaisionally timid inside, with the notable exception of Karpowicz. This means that Daly is usually able to get to the basket easily against the Ephs. He’ll draw attention to the paint, and he’s the best in the country at finding open players once he gets around the basket. The key will be how many shots those players can hit.

Writer’s Prediction: 

No longtime readers will be surprised by this, but I think Middlebury, on the backs of Jack Daly and an assuredly raucous home crowd, pulls this one out.

Middlebury 75, Williams 71

NESCAC’S Most Wanted: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/17

Finally the order of teams is starting to have some clarity. Hamilton finally saw their first ranked opponent in Wesleyan and took care of business, cementing themselves as the team to beat at this point without a blemish on their record. Middlebury knocked off Tufts who knocked off Williams, putting into question the 2-5 spots in these rankings. However, this weekend should bring more clarity as Williams’ true talent level without Kyle Scadlock will be tested against Middlebury. The teams in the bottom half have largely only played each other, with Trinity looking like the “best of the rest.”

1. #14 Hamilton (14-0, 3-0)

Last Week: 76-70 W vs. Wesleyan, 102-77 W @ Conn College

This Week: @ Amherst

And now they are legit. After knocking off Wesleyan at home, the Continentals are proven to be the real deal. While this spot at the top of the Power Rankings may be temporary, their spot in the D3 Top 25 is well deserved despite an easy preseason schedule. Wesleyan was the first difficult NESCAC opponent that Hamilton beat (Trinity and Conn are the other two), and with Wesleyan’s opening weekend win against Middlebury, Hamilton is further cemented as a real NESCAC contender. Their game against Amherst should be a high scoring win with a large margin of victory if all else remains the same with Kena Gilmour the centerpiece of Hamilton’s offense. He poured in 20 points in a defensive heavy game against the Cardinals despite only shooting 1-7 from deep.

2. #11 Williams (12-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 69-63 L vs. Tufts, 79-68 W vs. Bates

This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury

There is no doubt that Williams is weaker without Kyle Scadlock, however, they have managed to show their depth and remain afloat thus far in NESCAC play. They went from NESCAC favorites to just another team in the running for the title, seeing their first loss at the hands of Tufts this past weekend. In Scadlock’s place, Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19 continuebear the brunt of the scoring load as Casey scored 11 and Heskett 21 in the loss against the Jumbos. Heskett added 23 against Bates in the following game, settling in as a reliable power forward that Williams will need down the stretch.

3. #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 82-76 W vs. Bates; 78-63 W vs. Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Williams

Jack Daly ’18 continues to dish and drive to the rim as Middlebury’s balanced offense before was too much to overcome for both Bates and Tufts. While the Bates game ended up only being a six point win—closer than expected—Daly dropped 26 points, nine boards, and eight assists, a stat line we are becoming all too familiar with. Matt Folger is a lengthy player who can shoot from deep, accompanied by Joey Leighton and Hilal Dahleh on the perimeter. Nick Tarantino, Eric McCord on fire in the paint of late, and Adisa Majors all play down low and bring in the boards evenly, while G Jack Farrell ’21 is playing a lot like Jake Brown ’17 from a season ago, distributing and opening things up on the wings and for Daly. Middlebury will need to find some three point shooting from somewhere, however, if they want to continue winning.

Jack Daly ’18 had another game winner last night against Albertus Magnus, and is carrying the panthers despite struggling with his outside shot.

4. Tufts (12-4, 3-1)

Last Week: 69-63 W @ Williams, 78-63 L @ Middlebury

This Week: vs. Bates

Their win against Williams put them in a position to surpass Wesleyan in the rankings, beating what was previously the best team in the conference. Tufts’ size and athleticism are their greatest strengths, led by Vincent Pace ’18, Eric Savage ’18, and KJ Garrett ’19 who was all over the floor against Middlebury. Pace slipped a bit last weekend, shooting 5-21 against Williams and 1-9 against Middlebury. Lucky for him, Garrett emerged as a potential force going forward, scoring 20 and bringing down nine boards against the Panthers in just his fourth game of the season. After increasing his workload to 24 minutes last Saturday, he should play an even bigger role against Bates this coming weekend.

5. #19 Wesleyan (11-3, 2-2)

Last Week: 76-70 L @ Hamilton, 70-66 W @ Amherst

This Week: vs. Conn College

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

Wesleyan is in danger of falling in the rankings after an 1-1 weekend which dropped them farther down in the national rankings. While they lost to a team ranked above them now, they needed to beat Hamilton to cement themselves as a real championship contender. They should roll over Conn College this weekend, but after narrowly beating the falling Amherst Mammoths, they should be a bit worried going forward. Jordan Bonner ’19 still hasn’t quite found his shot, shooting 3-9 against Amherst, and despite first year Austin Hutcherson’s 19 points and solid shooting, Kevin O’Brien did not play and needs to make it back into the lineup quickly for the Cardinals to have a chance.

6. Amherst (9-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 72-57 W vs. Conn College, 70-66 L vs. Wesleyan

This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton

A sub .500 conference record at this point with their only win against the lowly Camels is not a good start for a formerly great Amherst team. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Michael Riopel ’18 are still leading the way in scoring, but they need more depth in order to compete against the likes of Middlebury, Williams, and Middlebury as Riopel is the only Mammoth with the ability to shoot the deep ball. While they rank second in the conference in rebounding per game, they are in the bottom half in scoring and need to improve going forward.

7. Trinity (11-4, 2-2)

Last Week: 73-68 W @ Bowdoin, 61-51 L @ Colby

This Week: Non-Conference

The bottom half of these rankings get pretty confusing as Trinity’s overall record helps them out here, however, a loss to Colby certainly dampens their overall legitimacy as any sort of contender. They had some terrible individual performances in the road game last weekend as Jeremy Arthur put up a complete dud, going 0-10 shooting, Eric Gendron 2-8 FG, and Kyle Padmore 0-3 FG. There isn’t a whole lot else to say, they need to make more baskets to win games and 31.3% overall in the contest isn’t going to cut it. They should press the reset button this weekend without a NESCAC game and look to bounce back the following weekend.

8. Bates (8-6, 1-1)

Last Week: 82-76 L @ Middlebury, 79-68 L @ Williams

This Week: @ Tufts

James Mortimer
James Mortimer ’21 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates put up two decent performances against the NESCAC’s best teams, narrowly losing to Midd and competing against the Ephs. James Mortimer ’18 and Jeff Spellman ’20 are a great 1-2 punch, combining for 41 points against the solid Panther defense. Max Hummel added 13 off the bench, and despite not doing well the next game against Williams with just three points in 15 minutes, has shown some promise. Spellman is the leader of this team and a work horse, putting up 24 the next day against the Ephs and playing over 30 minutes in four games straight. He has the ability to win this team enough games to make it to the playoffs, and in March, anything can happen.

9. Bowdoin (10-4, 1-2)

Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby

Losing to a reeling Trinity team certainly won’t aid the Polar Bears going forward. Jack Simonds ’19, as always, can put up huge scoring numbers, supported by David Reynolds’ shooting and Hugh O’Neil’s impressive defense in the paint (17 rebounds against the Bantams). The Polar Bears have good overall numbers as a team and were really hurt by poor three point shooting numbers against Tufts (sub 25%) and heavy turnovers against Trinity—15 compared to the Bantams’ six. Look for the weapon heavy Bowdoin team to start climbing the rankings soon.

10. Colby (10-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity

This Week @ Bowdoin

Colby got a huge win against Trinity to put themselves on the board and in the conversation of relevance for the NESCAC playoffs. While it was a low scoring affair, featuring some awful shooting from Trinity, some of that had to be attributed to the Mule defense, right? Double-doubles from both Dean Weiner ’19 and Sam Jefferson ’20 are a great sign going forward, giving the Mules reason to believe that they can compete with some of the stronger teams.

Sam Jefferson ’20 is putting up a very solid season for the gritty Mules.

11. Conn College (6-10, 0-4)

Last Week: 72-57 L @ Amherst, 102-77 L @ Hamilton

This Week: @ Wesleyan

Conn College is beginning to look like a guaranteed win for other NESCAC teams after several blowout games to begin their 2018 conference campaign. In their most recent game, allowing more than 100 points to Hamilton, they clearly had little defense and were nearly out of the game from the beginning. David Labossiere ’19 is doing all he can to prevent the Camels from remaining in the cellar, dropping 18 points and seven boards in that loss, although he is pretty helpless after four losses by over 20 points in NESCAC play.

No One’s Rising: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/9

An unnamed coach recently told me that this NESCAC season is the most wide-open one he’s seen in years. And it’s really true; there is no clear cut number one, and even the Maine teams had moments of excellent play. If anything, the first weekend raised more questions rather than providing answers.

Stock Up

Williams G Bobby Casey ‘19

Bobby Casey
Bobby Casey ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

We’ve written quite a bit about how F James Heskett ‘19 has elevated his game to help the Ephs overcome a potentially devastating injury to Kyle Scadlock ‘19, but we might have been missing the biggest (height nonwithstanding) factor. Casey is in the midst of one of the most efficient shooting seasons the league has seen in several years. He’s shooting 50% from the field and 49% from three. And he’s raising his game when it matters most. In Williams’ impressive 2-0 weekend, Casey was in an absolute zone. He was 18-23 from the field, including a 12-16 mark from downtown. He added four rebounds and two blocks in their win over Wesleyan, the biggest win of any team last weekend. If Casey can continue to raise his game in league play under these strenuous circumstances, an All NESCAC selection is not impossible.

Hamilton (potentially)

The Continentals are to me what Robin Wright is to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. They always lead me on and make me believe that this is the year, and then they disappoint me. But, at the risk of getting fooled again, this might be the year that Hamilton and I have a “smart” child together. The Continentals are still undefeated, and passed their first mini NESCAC test by trashing Trinity 78-55 on Sunday. They were able to weather an uncharacteristically average shooting night (40% from the field, 30% from three) and used their versatile defense to pick up 10 steals and hold Trinity to  just 34.4% shooting. This game was Hamilton’s third straight with at least 10 steals. Creating turnovers is an essential part of their high octane offense, as it allows them to get out on the break and get layups and easy three pointers. The fact that they did it well in league play is a great sign for them, and a bad sign for the rest of the league.

Kena Gilmour ’20 had 23 points against Trinity, and has Hamilton (maybe) poised to ascend to the top of the league.

Stock Down

Middlebury’s Offense

The Panthers dropped the marquee matchup against Wesleyan 80-70, and correspondingly dropped 12 spots in Top 25, from 4 to 16. And it is Middlebury’s offense that deserves most of the blame for their struggles. Offense hasn’t been something Middlebury has had to worry about in several years, but they have real problems finding scoring behind Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. Daly’s three point shot, while better than people give him credit for, is still not a consistent enough weapon for teams to really worry about it. They’d rather go under ball screens and give him jump shots. And Folger’s ball handling isn’t good enough yet for him to punish quickness mismatches on the perimeter. His terrific midrange game allows him to score without getting to the basket, but he isn’t utilizing his full range of skills, and when he isn’t hitting jump shots Middlebury’s offense is troublingly stagnant. This forces Daly to try and do too much at the rim.

There are a few candidates who may have to step up if Middlebury wants to remain in the top tier. G Hilal Dahleh struggled mightily against Wesleyan (3-15 FG) and needs to be at least a spot-up threat, if not more, for Middlebury to beat the best NESCAC teams. And then there are the first years. G Jack Farrell ’21 has hit a shooting wall. He is a valuable defender, but Middlebury may want to consider starting Joey Leighton ’20 (40% from three) to provide more outside punch. A potential wild card is the sweet shooting G Max Bosco ’21. He has looked far more confident in the last few games, and his offensive ceiling is the highest of any of the first years. Middlebury has to, and probably will, figure something out. But it had better be soon.

Wesleyan F Jordan Bonner ’19

Jordan Bonner
Jordan Bonner ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

While Wesleyan had a pretty good weekend, including a win over Middlebury, Bonner came back down to earth in a big way. In their loss to Williams, he took an unfathomable 18 the pointers and made only five, a stat that confuses me more every time I read it. He was 10-33 from the field overall. And then against Middlebury, he pretty much disappeared, shooting 1-5 from the floor for 7 points. Obviously they won, which bodes well for their ability to succeed without the consistent scoring Bonner had thus far provided, but Wesleyan has collapsed recently in NESCAC play due to a lack of crunch time scoring. If Bonner can’t score efficiently against NESCAC defenses, Wesleyan may not be able to hang with Tufts and Williams.

You Don’t Want That Three Peat: Middlebury Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Middlebury Panthers

2016-2017 Record: 27-4, 8-2, won NESCAC championship, lost to Williams in Elite Eight

Projected 2017-2018 Record: 22-7, 8-2

Key Losses:

G Jake Brown ‘17 (11.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.4 STL/G)

G Matt St. Amour ‘17 (21.8 PPG, 4.6 REB/G, 3.1 AST/G, 40.8 % 3PFG)

G Bryan Jones ‘17 (5.6 PPG, 37% 3PFG)

Projected Starting Lineup:

G: Jack Daly ‘18 (12.1 PPG, 6.5 REB/G, 5.9 AST/G, 1.9 STL/G)

Jack Daly
Jack Daly ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Aside from Editor in Chief, my most important job at this blog is the president of the Jack Daly fan club. Daly has long been the Kevin Jonas to St. Amour and Brown’s Joe and Nick–almost (and maybe even as) talented, but under the radar. But now he gets a solo act. Scoring is not his specialty, but he will be asked to be more aggressive in creating his own shot to replace some of St. Amour’s possession-saving shots. But Daly has already proven that he can fill it up when the team needs it. He had a buzzer beater in the holiday tournament last season, and in the NCAA game against Williams he had 23 points, while Brown and St. Amour both struggled. He will have to shoot higher than 31% from three, but he improved in league play last season despite a an awkward jump shot. What really sets him apart, however, is everything else besides scoring. There might be no greater triple double threat in the league. He led Middlebury in rebounding last season, (6.5) despite being a good six inches shorter than Nick Tarantino (6’3″ in the program? Alright Jack.) And he finished in the top three in the league in both assists and steals. He fills the stat sheet like no one else. Middlebury might have had the three best guards in the league on their team last season, and it’s possible that the best one is the one that stayed.

G: Hilal Dahleh ‘19 (4.7 PPG, 1.7 REB/G, 39% FG)

Hilal Dahleh
Hilal Dahleh ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

This second guard spot is maybe the biggest question mark for the Panthers. Daly should effectively mitigate the loss of Brown at the point, but Middlebury’s success last season stemmed from having multiple guards who could initiate the offense, guard threats on the opposing team, and create shots for themselves. There’s a lot of competition for this spot. Sophomores Perry Delorenzo ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘19 are excellent shooters, as is precocious first year Max Bosco. Perhaps the best candidate among the first years to jump into this spot would be first year Jack Ferrall. A tremendous athlete, Ferrall projects as an elite defender with finishing skills that transcend his height. But his shooting is not as far along as any of the other guards.

The person who best allows the Panthers to continue playing the way they want is Hilal Dahleh. In his first year, he impressed with his terrific defense and feel for the game, despite struggling with his shot. He was projected to be a major factor last season, but suffered a back injury in the preseason which forced him out for the entire year. But he has worked his way back into playing shape, and should enter the season at 100%. At 6’3”, he has terrific size for the position, and his long arms allow him to be a good complimentary defender to Daly. The key for him will be hitting shots. He has to be an offensive threat out of the two guard spot for the Middlebury offense to function. If he struggles shooting the ball to start off the year, there are several shooters on the bench who are ready to go.

F: Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)

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

This spot is also up for debate, as if any of the other guards besides Dahleh impress enough in the preseason, they could slide into the starting lineup, with Dahleh at the three and Folger at the four. But Folger’s starting spot is far from in doubt, and having him at the three opens up a world of possibilities. There’s more on him below so I won’t say too much here, but there are few players in the league with his combination of height and perimeter skills. Teams can’t put a guard on him, as he has good post footwork and can shoot right over the top of them. But very few big men can keep up with his speed and ball handling, and he draws a center away from the basket. This opens up driving lanes for any of the speedy Middlebury guards. If at all possible, the Panthers should try to play Folger here at the three to create mismatches all over the floor.

F: Adisa Majors ‘18 (9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB/G, 54% FG)

Adisa Majors
Adisa Majors ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Majors has carved out a nice spot for himself here in Middlebury. His style in the post is best described as “Elephant in a China Shop,” but his 54% field goal percentage speaks to its effectiveness. His 15-foot jumper is perfect for playing in a guard-heavy offense, and he has gotten himself into good enough shape to beat most big men down the court. He has developed into the perfect big man for Jack Daly. Defensively, he has made great strides, but still gets into trouble when switched onto opposing guards. Eric McCord ‘19 is less of a liability in this area, and is a better passer out of the post as well. But he hasn’t practiced yet this season, so right now Majors is the guy. He will need to continue to earn his time, as a three guard lineup with Folger at the four is entirely possible. But then again, he’s done that his whole career.

F: Nick Tarantino ‘18 (6.8 PPG, 6.0 REB/G, 0.9 BLK/G, 60% FG)

Nick Tarantino
Nick Tarantino ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Tarantino was an embodiment of one of the strangest developments of Middlebury’s season last year. In the first half, Middlebury was getting killed on the glass and in the paint defensively, and it looked as if the forward rotation would spoil the incredible perimeter play and lead to an early tournament exit. But around the beginning of league play, Tarantino, McCord and Majors turned it on and became one of the more threatening units in the league. Tarantino was especially impressive. He shot 59% from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds a game, becoming the kind of imposing threat that Middlebury needed to have controlling the paint. And this season he should only get better as the established starter. As a recruit he was touted as being an outside threat, but he has (mercifully) left that behind in favor of a springy, jump hook-based post game. His most underrated skill is his passing, as he and McCord have developed a nice chemistry on high low actions, taking advantage of both of their heights to see over the defense.

Speaking of defense, that is where he must improve. Despite his long arms, height and jumping ability, he still averaged less than one block per game last season. Folger is a great shot blocker, but when Tarantino is in Folger will most likely be on the perimeter. Tarantino must become a more imposing defensive force for Middlebury. When McCord comes back, some minutes at this spot will go to him, but they are at their best when playing together, so Tarantino should see consistent minutes all season.

Key Player:

F Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)

If Middlebury hopes to continue the frantic, perimeter-heavy style of play that has won them back-to-back NESCAC championships, Folger must take a big leap forward. He certainly has the talent to. At 6’8”, he is tall enough to be a menace in the paint on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of being a dominant interior force last season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game despite limited minutes, and he has terrific touch around the rim on offense, shooting 60% on two point field goals. But it’s his perimeter skills at that height that make him one of the most talented players in the league. He has very quick feet and long arms, enabling him to guard players of all different positions. Middlebury will ask him to do a great deal of this, as many lineups for the Panthers will feature him at the small forward spot alongside more traditional big men such as McCord, Tarantino or Adisa Majors ‘18.

Matt Folger ’20 has the skills to be one of the league’s best in his second season,

Folger also will take on much more responsibility as a three point threat. Middlebury’s guard-heavy recruiting class suggests that they want to continue to run and shoot three pointers often. This is difficult to do when you graduate your three best outside shooters, including one of the best in the country. Folger’s form is beautiful, and his success inside the arc and at the foul line (80%) serve as evidence to his great touch, but he only shot 28% from three last season. Of course it takes most first years time to adjust to the college game (Middlebury loyalists will remember that Matt St. Amour struggled from three for most of his first two years) but Folger doesn’t have that luxury this season. He will be asked to live up to his considerable potential this year, and if he does, an All-NESCAC selection is not out of the realm of possibility.

Everything Else:

Middlebury’s goal, like the rest of the league’s, is to beat Williams. They’re the preseason number one, and they’re the team that knocked the Panthers out in the NCAA tournament last season. The way that Middlebury is going at the Ephs is by matching their size and positional versatility. Daly has long been the best defender in the league in terms of guarding all positions; he is the only point guard in the league who can guard power forwards effectively, and will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of size or position. With the forward rotation of Folger, Tarantino, Majors and McCord, and terrific defensive guards in Dahleh and Daly (say that three times fast) the Panthers have the ability to play a lineup big enough to bang on the glass with Williams without sacrificing too much speed. Another factor in this equation is first year forward Ryan Cahill ‘21. He is another big man who is far more mobile than his size would lead you to believe, and is already a threat from outside. He will be in the rotation as long as McCord is out, and maybe beyond that.

Middlebury could also match Williams by playing small and running them off the floor, but there are more question marks there. Coach Brown’s focus in the offseason for recruiting was certainly guards, and he has brought in an excellent class. We have already discussed Farrell’s two way potential, but the second unit of guards runs deeper than just him. Bosco is one of the best shooters in the class, regardless of team. His release is lightning fast, and he is very advanced at finding his spot and finishing over size. Defensively he projects as a liability right now due to his own diminutive stature, so he is better suited at the moment to be shot of caffiene off the bench, a la Bryan Jones.

Delorenzo and Leighton also figure to fight for minutes, and as always, whichever one of them is hitting shots will determine who sits higher in the rotation. Much of Middlebury’s second unit play will be guard-heavy, three point barrages, but they could also easily trot out a three guard starting lineup, with Bosco or Delorenzo joining Dahleh and Daly in the back court. With Folger at the four and  Tarantino, Majors or McCord (when he returns from injury) at the five this lineup would be very difficult to defend. However, the would be worse on the boards and overall easier to score on, especially for larger lineups like Williams’.

Middlebury has reloaded this season, but there are a lot of red flags. Daly has the highest amount of responsibility of any point guard in the league. He has to run a high paced offense, while working in many new players and guarding the best player on the other team. He doesn’t have a proven backup, although Dahleh, Farrell and Bosco are all capable of bringing the ball up. They will run a lot of the second unit offense. But with that said, there’s no way that Middlebury isn’t worse without Daly on the floor. He might set minutes records this season, and there’s no guarantee that he can sustain his impossible hustle while having the ball in his hands so often.

Jack Daly is an all around star, but he’s never been “the man” before. Can he lead a team and continue his signature brand of basketball?

The lack of three point shooting is also worrying. The three graduated seniors were the three best outside shooters on a team that didn’t exactly light it up for much of the season. Middlebury got in a lot of trouble when teams could pack the paint against them and force them into congested shots in the paint. That’s what Williams did in the NCAA tournament. Daly will have to shoot better than 31%; if teams can go under picks and play off him, the offense stalls out at the top of the key. Folger’s 28% is unacceptable for a guy with such pretty form, and he represents the biggest outside weapon in the projected starting lineup. And Bosco, Delorenzo and Leighton will have to live up to their billing as bombers. Middlebury can no longer rely on St. Amour to get them a shot in failed possessions, other guys have to step up.

The losses look huge on paper. St. Amour is one of the best NESCAC players of the last 20 years, and Brown wasn’t far behind him. Bryan Jones was a force off the bench, and even Liam Naughton hit a couple big shots and was huge for team chemistry. But they retained a great deal of talent as well. The forward rotation was a strength at the end of last season, and all of those players are back and a year more experienced. With a big starting five that looks more Division One than NESCAC, Middlebury should be able to cure much of rebounding woes that once plagued them. The keys to Middlebury’s chances at a three-peat lie on the perimeter. They need Daly and Folger to up their scoring averages and three point percentages considerably, and for Delorenzo, Ferrall, Dahleh, Bosco and Cahill to be threats off the bench. The Panthers enter the season eighth in the country and third in the NESCAC, behind Williams and Tufts. It’s possible that at the end of the year, we will look back on that and laugh at how low they were. But it’s also possible that we shake our heads and wonder why they were so high. I think it will be the former, but, as always, I’m biased.

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

An Opening Salvo: Weekend Preview Part One

Bobby Casey is willing to go to the end of the earth and back to get Williams a win over hated-rival Amherst. That, and this picture was too good not to include (sorry Bobby). (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Remember early in the season when we thought the league might be less chaotic this season? We were wrong. For the first time ever, there are five NESCAC teams in the D3Hoops.com Top 25, with Middlebury (22) and Williams (25) joining Amherst (3), Tufts (8) and Wesleyan (9) after impressive tournament wins coming back from break. And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Amherst and Wesleyan both lost on Tuesday night, throwing both the NESCAC and national rankings into a state of chaos mirrored only by the American political climate. And to add still ANOTHER layer of intrigue, four of the five ranked teams face each other on Friday night, kicking off what promises to be a spectacular season of league games. Amherst and Williams renew the biggest little rivalry in sports, and Middlebury takes on Wesleyan at home in a game that I think I might just try to attend if I’m not too busy. Oh yeah, and the other teams play too. Let’s break down those two marquee match-ups, and the rest of the games around the league.

GAME OF THE WEEK: #3 Amherst @ #25 Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Overview:

Image result for globo gym purple cobras
I’m not saying that Amherst reminds me of the Purple Cobras…but I am saying it and have said it several times in the past on this very blog.

NESCAC’s version of the Average Joes-Globo Gym rivalry returns on Friday night, as Williams and Amherst square off in as important a game as one can hope for in the opening weekend of league play. After opening the season at #1 in the country and looking fairly unstoppable over the first couple weeks, Amherst has dropped two out of their last three. The chief reasons for their sudden mortality are on offense. They turned the ball over 17 times in their loss to Eastern Connecticut on Tuesday, and shot only 36% in a loss to Springfield last week. The depth the people raved about for Amherst early in the season is in disarray. Eric Conklin is the only bench player who has made a difference for Amherst lately, as his minutes have jumped up due to the inconsistent (to be diplomatic) play of starting center David George ‘17. Amherst has too often relied on the volume scoring of Jayde Dawson and the efficiency of Johnny McCarthy to keep them in games.

Williams comes in on almost the exact opposite track. Impressive wins over Hope and Mount Union in the Mount Union Classic vaulted the Ephs into the top 25, and they maintained their position with a (somewhat lackluster) 74-62 win over Oneonta St. on Tuesday. In a departure from the last few years, the Ephs have recently won despite poor showings from three point land. Williams is hovering around 28% in their last three games, and yet they are 3-0. This is due to an excellent team defense, and honestly, the play of sophomore forward Kyle Scadlock. After a slow start to the year, Scadlock has averaged 19 PPG in the last three, bringing to life the star leap that some projected after an impressive freshman year. Shooting struggles aside, Williams has to love the spot they’re in entering league play, and Amherst certainly shouldn’t be thrilled with theirs.

X-Factors

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Coach David Hixon diagramming a play during an Amherst timeout.

For Amherst it has to be pure, elemental anger. Yeah they’ve lost a couple games, but every team will at some point. But to be the pre-season #1 and have to hear idiot pundits like myself and even their own fans cry gloom and doom must royally tick them off. Williams is an excellent team, but this is Amherst basketball we’re talking about here. They were #1 for a reason: they have loads of good players, and they are coached by the legendary David Hixon, who is certainly capable of whipping these guys into shape. A rivalry win in the opening weekend of league play would be a delicious way to remind the league why they were at the top in the first place.

Cole Teal
Cole Teal ’17 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams has been winning without three point shooting, but that will get far more difficult to do against elite opponents like Amherst. The Ephs will have trouble getting good looks in the paint against Amherst’s length, meaning that perimeter shots will have to make up the difference. Additionally, Williams does not match up well defensively with Dawson and McCarthy, the backcourt that makes Amherst’s engines run. Therefore, Williams will have to hit some threes to keep pace. This makes Cole Teal ‘17 a major key (shout out: DJ Khaled) to this game, and to the remainder of the season. Teal is capable of insane hot streaks and insane cold streaks, but lately he has been doing far more of the latter. He was quiet in Mt. Union, shooting just 1-5 over the two games, but he bounced back with a nice night against Oneonta, tallying 15 points on 3-5 shooting from deep. Teal will need to be hot against Amherst both to score from the perimeter and open up the middle for Scadlock and Aronowitz.

Final Thoughts

Both teams have struggled to find production at the five this season. Williams has spun their “Random Center” wheel several times this season, but so far none of them have been winners. Meanwhile, David George of Amherst has been like the parents from Stranger Things: there in person, but pretty lackluster and ignores a lot of responsibilities. This should lead to a tight, high scoring game, one that I would tend to favor Williams in, as they’re at home. But Williams has no answer for McCarthy and Dawson, both of whom can swing a game themselves. It’s a toss up at this point, the best possible projection for a rivalry game of this magnitude.

Writer’s Pick: Williams.

#9 Wesleyan @ #22 Middlebury: 7:00 PM, Middlebury, Vermont

Overview:

Image result for breakaway by kelly clarkson
Wesleyan will be trying to finally BREAK AWAY from Middlebury on Friday night.

Middlebury has not lost to Wesleyan since 2004. Let that sink in. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Matt St. Amour was 10 years old. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, the greatest song of all time (and my go-to karaoke song) “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson had just been released. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Mel Gibson was still a marketable movie star. That said, Wesleyan looked poised to break that streak until Tuesday night. After starting off 11-0 and beating #4 Marietta, Wesleyan was knocked off pace by Rhode Island College 62-55. The loss to RIC featured many of the problems that have plagued Wesleyan in league play over the last few years, namely a lack of offensive firepower and shot-making down the stretch. Standout guards Harry Rafferty ‘17 and Salim Green ‘19 combined for 2 points on 1-15 shooting, numbers that many experts have referred to as “bad.” Wesleyan will not win if they don’t get production from the perimeter, and Middlebury is arguably the best perimeter defensive team in the league. Additionally, the loss of defensive stopper PJ Reed will hurt Wesleyan’s efforts to slow down the run-and-gun Panther offense.

Middlebury enters league play with momentum, but some depth problems. Sophomore guard Hilal Dahleh remains out with a back injury, and forward Zach Baines ‘17 will likely miss the weekend as well. These are two valuable weapons that the Middlebury offense will dearly miss, particularly from a floor-spacing perspective. However, in the Staten Island Tournament of Heroes (DOPE name for a tournament by the way,) Middlebury weathered those losses and a prolonged shooting slump from Matt St. Amour ‘17 to win the championship and vault into the top 20. They owe their success to a two-game stretch of excellent defense, and the heroics of Jack Daly ‘18, who continued his low-key All-League candidacy with a buzzer beater over #17 Illinois-Wesleyan (as well as 14/7/7.5 averages.) In Staten Island, Middlebury showed the toughness to rise to the top of the loaded NESCAC, but they will need to hit outside shots more conistently to beat the elite Wesleyan defense.

X-Factors:

While Daly and St. Amour were certainly the MVPs of Middlebury’s tournament, it was contributions from the bench that allowed the Panthers to weather tough shooting from the starters. And the stand-out player from the Middlebury bench was freshman forward Matt Folger.

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

Folger is an excellent shooter who had threes in both games of the tournament, but defensively was where he really set himself apart. The lanky forward had four blocks over the two games, including three in the championship. Folger’s combination of size, athleticism and timing make him the interior defensive force that Middlebury has been lacking. He and Nick Tarantino will be crucial in stopping Wesleyan’s post duo of Joseph Kuo ‘17 and Nathan Krill ‘18.

 

Wesleyan’s defense is far from in doubt. They are the number one field goal defense in the country, and boast a perimeter defense that is uniquely able to shut down Middlebury’s three-headed dog of excellent guards. However, Wesleyan simply has to score, and the person most responsible for that is Salim Green ‘19. Green is an exceptional defender, but Middlebury is too deep and fast for Wesleyan to pound the ball and win 55-50. Green will need to score and push the pace if Wesleyan has any hope of ending their 11 year losing streak against the Panthers.

Final Thoughts:

Of all the teams in the league, Middlebury may be the best equipped to handle the indefinite losses of Dahleh and Baines. They have great chemistry and experienced leaders at the helm, as well as a deep bench that is rounding into shape at exactly the right time. But “handling” losses isn’t the same as fixing the holes they create. Middlebury is vulnerable right now, particularly in outside shooting and interior defense. These are the areas that Wesleyan will look to exploit on Friday night. However, Wesleyan has no chance if they shoot anything like the way they did on Tuesday. Someone besides Joseph Kuo needs to put the ball in the basket for the Cardinals, or else their league season will look very different from their first 12 games.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

#8 Tufts @ Bowdoin: 7:00 PM, Brunswick, Maine

Of course I hate Tufts, a six fingered man from Tufts killed my father.

I was going to let Rory handle this one, since according to an intrepid commenter I “hate Tufts,” but I think I’ll be able to handle it. I certainly do not hate Tufts, I just left them off the Awards Preview because none of their individual players have stood out yet from a postseason honors standpoint. That could certainly change in league play, particularly as Vincent Pace ‘18 gets healthier and healthier. Pace returned early in the season from a knee injury, and is still rounding himself back into form. When 100% he is certainly one of the best all around players in the league, capable of leading Tufts to a NESCAC title. This opening weekend will be a good test of just how ready he is to take on a heavy minutes load.

Bowdoin, on the other hand, has their star very much ready to go. Jack Simonds ‘19 is leading the league in scoring at 23.3 PPG, and the Polar Bears for the most part rise as far as he can take them. However, on Tuesday night they had a nice win over Bridgewater State despite Simonds having “only” 17. Sophomore guard Jack Bors had 23 off the bench, and forward Neil Fuller ‘17 added 15. We haven’t seen this balance from Bowdoin yet this year, and if it continues in league play, Bowdoin could definitely make some noise. Tufts has a huge edge in this game, but don’t count the Polar bears out just yet.

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Bates @Colby: 7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine

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

With the Brothers Delepche manning the middle, Bates was always scary defensively. But transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has given the Bobcats some needed offensive punch off the bench. Spellman was a fairly sought after D1 recruit coming out of high school, and committed to Stonehill College. However, he transferred to Bates before playing at all, and immediately hurt his ankle. The 6’2” guard made his NESCAC debut against Farmingdale State on the 29th, and had 13 points off the bench on Tuesday in a big road win against Brandeis. With a terrific defense and a revitalized offense, Bates is looking a little scary.

Entering their non-conference matchup with Bates on December 10th, Colby had lost four out of five and appeared to be carving out a spot at the bottom of the league. But they pulled out a gritty win in that game, and then another in their first game back against UMaine-Farmington. Like the Starship Enterprise, Colby is led by Patrick Stewart ‘19, who averages over 16 points per game. This game might not be critical at the top of the standings come the end of the season, but it is certainly a matter of pride for the Maine rivalries, and also will help determine which of these teams  (if any) make the final cut for the NESCAC playoffs.

Writer’s pick: Bates

Connecticut College @ Hamilton:

This game will fly under the radar due to the Middlebury-Wesleyan and Williams-Amherst games, but it is quietly a fascinating match-up that could have major ramifications at the end of the year. Connecticut College has played with tremendous balance all season. They have four players averaging over 10 points per game, including the front-runner for the made-up NESCAC Sixth Man of the Year award in Isaiah Robinson ‘18. Robinson averages 10 per game off the bench on 45.2% shooting from three. Robinson’s offense off the bench has been critical in Connecticut College’s success, as an efficient offense has masked a mediocre defense at times for the Camels.

Speaking of efficient offenses, Hamilton leads the league in points per game at 87, and is third in shooting percentage at 48.3. The Continentals are led by a trio of stellar sophomores. Peter Hoffmann, Michael Grassey and and Tim Doyle all average over 13 points a game and shoot over 50% from the field. This youth is obviously a benefit, as this core could make Hamilton a player for the next couple years at least. However, it may also hurt them during league play. These players are not used to playing meaningful minutes in league play; Hamilton was not a contender during their freshman campaign. Connecticut College is older and more experienced (though still pretty young), and that could help them if this game comes down to the wire. Additionally, Hoffmann, Hamilton’s leading scorer and best defender, is only shooting 47.2% from the foul line. If the game is close in the final minutes, Connecticut College may try to exploit this, forcing Hamilton to choose whether or not to have him on the floor.

Writer’s Pick: Hamilton

Trinity @ Pine Manor: 3:00 PM, Brookline, Massachusetts

Writing about a non-league game after all this excitement makes me a little bit tired, but I’m going to write through it because #BlogIsLife. Pine Manor has had an uneven start to the season, standing at 7-4. Their only other NESCAC matchup was an early season 97-96 loss to Colby. However, from my extensive research on their season (a cursory glance at their website,) Pine Manor looks to be a pretty tough matchup for Trinity. They play at a blinding pace, taking 81 shots per game, which is a full 22 (!) more than the infamously slow Bantams. This game looks like it will be less of a basketball game and more of an ideological debate regarding the nature of the sport.

Speaking of Trinity, they have been one of the toughest teams to figure out in the early months of the season. They started off the year losing three of four, and then a nice win over Springfield (three straight NCAA berths, has beaten Amherst and Conn College) made it appear that they had righted the ship. But they followed that up with a terrible loss to Susquehanna and another loss against a very good Eastern Connecticut team, and they were back down again. And finally, they just put up by far their best performance of the year against Plattsburgh, scoring 107 points and shooting 66% from the field. The Bantams have struggled to find any consistent perimeter scoring around center Ed Ogundeko, but against Plattsburgh they proved that they can beat anyone when they have it. This game will be a crucial final tuneup for Trinity as they look to make a run in league play.

Writer’s Pick: Pine Manor

The Return of the ‘CAC (Sports Blog): Five Talking Points Regarding NESCAC Basketball

Zach Baines helped Middlebury hold on to beat RPI 79-72 on Tuesday.
 Thanksgiving break was an exciting time for a lot of people. Rory got weirdly competitive with his mom, I watched 3 seasons of VEEP in four days, and there were also a couple NESCAC basketball games that we should mention. The upper crust of the league continued to play well for the most part (although Middlebury had a wakeup call that we will get to momentarily), while Bowdoin and Connecticut College continued to rise from the lower ranks. There are star performances to be discussed, questions to be raised, predictions to get wrong, and it’s just really good to be back. We’re rested, refreshed and 10 to 15 pounds heavier, so let’s get down to it with this week’s talking points.
Connecticut College
Terrible nickname, good team? Connecticut College has appeared ready to make a leap for several years now. A win over eventual champion Middlebury last season marked the Camels as a potential Cinderella team, but they never again reached that point, missing the tournament entirely. But so far they have looked very much like the team that shocked the Panthers in 2016. Senior forward (and charter member of the ‘How Long Has He Been in College’ All Star Team) Zuri Pavlin has held down the boards and provided a strong post presence with averages of 12 points and 11 rebounds per game. Indeed, the Camels have done much of their damage in the paint, averaging 84 points per game despite only making 7 threes per game (third to last in the league) and shooting 65% from the line. It is very possible that Connecticut College’s success is unsustainable once league play begins, as their poor shooting could cost them in close games. But it is also possible that the Camels are over the hump (I’m so sorry) and will contend for the rest of the year.

 

The Delpeches

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Which is Malcolm and which is Marcus?

A brilliant and handsome basketball analyst predicted before the season began that, if Bates had any hopes of contending in the league this season, the Delpeche twins would have to combine to carry the team on their shoulders. Alright fine, not exactly a brilliant insight. “Oh really Pete? For a team to be good, the two best players have to be good? You’re a genius!” But the fact remains Malcolm and Marcus are putting up the best twin performance since Mary Kate and Ashley Olson in Full House. The Brothers Delpeche have combined to average 31 points and 22 rebounds per game, and Malcolm is the early leader for Defensive Player of the Year thanks to his 4 blocks per night average. The joint success of Malcolm and Marcus has Parent-Trapped (because they’re twins!) opponents on both ends, and if they keep it up, Bates could turn some heads come league play.

Wesleyan’s Bench

Salim Green
Salim Green ’19 (Courtesy Wesleyan Athletics)

To use an understatement. the Cardinals appear to be weathering the departures of Rashid Epps and BJ Davis fairly well. Wesleyan has jumped out to a 5-0 start, using a balanced attack led by senior forward Joseph Kuo. However, what sets Wesleyan apart from some of the other top teams in the league is their deadly second unit. Sophomore guard Salim Green is the most explosive sixth man in the league, average 12.4 in 24 minutes. Fellow guard Jordan Sears ‘18 and forward PJ Reed ‘17 follow Green and give coach Joe Reilly maybe the most versatile second unit in the league, along with Amherst. Green in particular will clearly push for starters’ minutes as the season goes on, but keeping him on the bench could be a lethal weapon for the Cardinals.

Middlebury

The Panthers have hit a bump in their road to a second consecutive league title. On Sunday they blew a 17 point lead and dropped a heartbreaker at home to an excellent Endicott team 93-89, and on Tuesday night they again threatened to lose a double digit lead at home before big plays by Matt St. Amour ‘17, Zach Baines ‘19 and Adisa Majors ‘18 led them to a 79-72 win over RPI. The main problems for the Panthers have been defensive, as a lack of communication and poor rebounding led to many easy looks and second chances in both games. Middlebury has also had virtually no bench production. The second unit has only scored 15 points total in the last two games. This is partially due to the loss of Hilal Dahleh ‘19 with a back injury, but Middlebury desperately needs some life off the bench. It is of course beneficial in the long run for the Panthers to work out these kinks by playing good teams before league play begins, but Middlebury has some real problems to solve before Amherst and Tufts come calling.

Peter Hoffmann ‘19

Peter Hoffmann
Peter Hoffmann ’19 (Courtesy Hamilton Athletics)

Hamilton has been another team off to a surprisingly hot start in 2016, and that is thanks in large part to the play of sophomore Peter Hoffmann. After missing the first two games, Hoffmann has come in and dropped 20 points and 5 rebounds per game, as well as 3.3 steals. A versatile forward, Hoffmann does most of his damage in the paint and from the mid-range. Interestingly, he has struggled tremendously from the line, shooting only 45% despite attempting nearly 8 per game. That number will have to improve, or else he may have the ignomious status of being both Hamilton’s best player and biggest liability come league play.

Home is Where the Heart Is: Middlebury Basketball Season Preview

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Middlebury will look to recreate this picture in the 2016-2017 season.

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

Writer’s’ Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I love Middlebury Basketball more than I do several of my relatives. I try my best to write every article without bias, but I may slip up.  Feel free to let me know if I do!

Projected Record: 8-2

Middlebury enjoyed a return to glory in 2015-2016, winning the league championship just a year after failing to make the tournament. The Panthers overcame a slow start in non-conference games (they were just 6-6 entering NESCAC play) and an insanely uneven home/road split.  The Panthers only played eight home games all of last season.  Eight!  They were home less than Lucas’ parents in Stranger Things. Anyway, the Panthers’ success was largely due to the stellar play of senior guards Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17, as well as the emergence of junior forward Adisa Majors ‘18. Majors and St. Amour both mirrored the Panthers’ season: they struggled early in the year before turning it on in NESCAC play. St. Amour was honored with First Team All NESCAC and Second Team All Region hardware, while Majors was content to just get his job done with very little fanfare.

Luckily for the Panthers and unluckily for the rest of the league, the Panthers return nearly all of the team that came within two points of reaching the NCAA quarterfinals. Center Matt Daley was a force in the middle for the team when he was on the court, which was not extremely often, but his absence should open up minutes for talented young forwards Zach Baines ‘19 and Eric McCord ‘19, as well as freshman Matt Folger ‘20, who has impressed in training camp.  Middlebury’s strength is of course in their backcourt, where tri-captains St. Amour, Brown and Jack Daly ‘18 bring leadership, experience, defensive intensity, scoring and really any other buzzword you can think of that a basketball team needs. The Panthers are both experienced and youthful, stout defensively and explosive on offense, and should enter the season as strong candidates to repeat as league champions.

2015-2016 Record: 18-11, 6-4, won the NESCAC Championship, lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament

Coach: Jeff Brown, 20th year, 309-185

Returning Starters:

Guard Matt St. Amour ‘17 (19.5 PPG, 5.2 REB/G, 2.3 A/G, 40.1% 3PT)

Guard Jake Brown ‘17 (10.0 PPG, 5.1 A/G, 1.6 STL/G)

Guard Jack Daly ‘18 (7.1 PPG, 4.8 A/G, 1.6 STL/G)

Forward Adisa Majors ‘18 (7.2 PPG, 3.8 REB/G, 55.4% FG)

Key Losses:

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“Bruh, THOSE shoes with THAT uniform? C’mon now.” Middlebury will miss both Connor Huff’s contributions on the court and his keen and sassy fashion sense off of it.

Forward Matt Daley ‘16 (11.7 PPG, 7.4 REB/G, 57.8% FG)

Forward Connor Huff ‘16 (4.7 PPG, 3.4 REB/G, 0.4 BLK/G)

 

Projected Starting Lineup:

Guard Jake Brown ‘17

Jake Brown
Jake Brown ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

For most of his career, Brown has been heavily underrated among NESCAC basketball analysts (us here at NbN included) due to his lack of scoring punch. An inconsistent jump shot kept Brown’s scoring numbers down, which often plays an unfortunately large role in determining postseason accolades in the NESCAC. But any observer of the Panthers over Brown’s career will know that his ferocious on ball defense and relentless pace have pushed the Panthers to become the explosive team they are today. There have been so many times where a team’s point guard has made a few nice plays, and Brown simply turns up the intensity and makes him look like Michael J Fox BEFORE he becomes the Wolf in Teen Wolf. Crucially, his fast pace and flashy style have not translated to an excessive amount of turnovers. His 2.6 A/TO ratio was among the best in the league, which is amazing considering the risks he takes with the ball. As you will learn from any five minute conversation with Brown, he needs to average 15 PPG and 6 assists to end the year with both 1000 points and the Middlebury assists record. If he can improve his jumpshot even further, driving lanes with open up for him as defense have to play him further out. Combine this with an increase in scoring chances due to the departure of Matt Daley, and those statistics are not out of the running. And neither is his long sought after NESCAC First Team Appearance.

Guard Matt St. Amour ‘17

Matt St. Amour
Matt St. Amour ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Quick story about Matt St. Amour: His and my respective small Vermont high schools played each other twice a year during our careers. We weren’t exactly rivals on the court (he scored over 2,000 points and I think my grand total added up to somewhere in the 30-35 range) but I always secretly enjoyed watching him, even though he had a tendency to light us up. During our senior years, my high school was enjoying a pretty solid season, while Matt’s team was riding entirely on his shoulders. We entered our game against them with total confidence that we would win. Matt tossed up a triple double with a stat line of 43-12-15 and 6 steals. And those numbers don’t even do justice to how well he shot in that game: he was throwing up shot from the top row of the bleachers and finding nothing but the net. We did not win, but we did all leave with tremendous respect for Matt St. Amour. NESCAC teams probably left last season with a similar feeling, as St. Amour averaged nearly 20 points per game, to go along with five rebounds, three assists and a league leading 2.1 steals per game. He gained a reputation as something of a streaky shooter from inside the arc, shooting only 40% from the field, but from three he was deadly at 41%. And to go beyond those numbers, he was very rarely open as the only true outside threat on the court for Middlebury. Many of his shots were heavily contested, and he showed a definite knack for making the play that turns out to win the game (or literally does, as his buzzer beater against Skidmore shows.) St. Amour belongs on a very short list for POY contenders, and I like to think that he warmed up for it by lighting up the Middlebury Tigers. You’re welcome, Matt.

Guard Jack Daly ‘18

Jack Daly
Jack Daly ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Rounding out the trio of guards is Jack Daly. This is going to sound like I’m plagiarizing Dick Vitale when he talks about any Duke players, but Daly is truly one of the toughest, smartest guards in the league, and one of the strongest with the ball as well. Armed with an ugly (but more effective than it looks) jumpshot and a variety of tricky change-of-pace moves with the ball, Daly proved himself towards the end of the season to be effective at getting into the paint and drawing fouls or dishing out assists. He also drastically improved his finishing at the rim over the course of last season, shooting 44.5% from the field, pretty good for a guard who struggled to hit outside shots. Daly’s greatest asset to Middlebury, however, is his rebounding. He averaged 5.8 rebounds per game during the regular season, and ten per game during Middlebury’s final four playoff games (the two NESCAC tournament games and then the two in the NCAA’s.) Daly’s prowess on the boards is what allows the Panthers to get away with starting three guards, two of whom are not tremendous outside threats. Daly can play much larger than his size on defense and run the offense to perfection, making him possibly the most valuable player on the team.

Forward Zach Baines ‘19

Zach Baines
Zach Baines ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

I’m going to talk more about Baines in the next session of this preview, but here’s the lowdown: Baines has the potential this season to be one of the most destructive defensive forces in the league. Middlebury plays frantic defense that is predicated on the three guards pressuring intensely on the perimeter. A side effect of this style is that it can lead to guards breaking the pressure and getting to the basket. That’s where Baines comes in. His wingspan, athleticism and timing make him a deadly rim protector for the Panthers, which is an area that they have struggled in ever since the graduation of Ryan Sharry in 2011. He is also quick enough to switch onto guards on the pick and roll, making him a deadly defensive weapon. He is no slouch offensively either, but I will discuss that more below.

Forward Adisa Majors ‘18

Adisa Majors
Adisa Majors ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

At the beginning of last season, Majors was solidly glued to the to back end of the rotation. By the end of the season he was throwing up 15-10 in NESCAC playoff games and basically just bullying smaller chumps in the post a la Boogie Cousins. What happened in that space in between? Firstly, Majors quite literally worked his butt off. He didn’t lose any strength, which is the key to his game, but his physical condition improved to the point that he could chase every rebound with tremendous abandon. Secondly, he got a little lucky. Several of the forwards who began the season ahead of him on the depth chart, such as Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘20, played inconsistently enough that Majors simply ate up their playing time. Matt Daley also missed some time, giving Majors his original chance to start. Majors’s game can best described as “delicate chaos.” He careens around the paint like a bull sometimes, leaving bodies of his teammates and opponents alike in his wake. However, he also has a soft touch around the rim and from the line, shooting foul shots at a 75% clip. The center position may be something of a revolving door for the Panthers, as McCord, Tarantino and talented freshman Matt Folger will all push for minutes. But for now, Majors holds down the fort.

Breakout Player: Forward Zach Baines ‘18

As I mentioned above, Baines belongs high on the list of preseason contenders for Defensive Player of the Year. But all this hype about his defense shouldn’t have the effect of discounting his offensive potential. In addition to being a real threat to dunk on someone every time he gets in the paint, Baines has a very soft touch from about 15 feet and in. He shot 46.4 % from the floor last year, and his jumping ability allows him to get off shots in the paint that other players simply cannot. He also has good mechanics on his shooting stroke, suggesting that a more consistent jumpshot is in his future. If he can make steps in that direction this year, a stat line of 15/10/3 blocks and 50% shooting is a very real possibility for Baines, and that would put him squarely in the conversation for Player of the Year.

Everything Else:

Between St. Amour, Brown and Daly, Middlebury has the best backcourt we’ve seen in recent NESCAC memory. However, one thing they do not provide in spades is outside shooting. St. Amour is obviously deadly, but neither Brown nor Daly is much of a three point threat. This is what makes Middlebury’s second unit guards so important. Sophomore Hilal Dahleh ‘19 has a sweet left handed stroke and showed excellent composure off the bench last season. He will need to be a major offensive weapon off the bench, particularly from three, if the Panthers hope to repeat as champions and make a deep NCAA run. Senior Bryan Jones has shown himself to be capable of being a major offensive force, but he needs to be more conistant in order to really make a difference.  There are two intruiging freshmen who could also provide some spacing for the Panthers in Matt Folger and Perry Delorenzo ‘20. Folger is a prototypical NESCAC stretch four, except for his height. At 6’8”, he has the size to eventually be an interior force as well as a good shooter. Delorenzo is true local; his mother is legendary field hockey coach at Middlebury Katherine Delorenzo, and he has a sweet shooting stroke. Jones and Delorenzo will jockey for playing time all season, with outside shooting being the main factor that sets one above the other.

As I mentioned earlier, the “center” position is something of an unknown for Middlebury following the departure of Matt Daley. Adisa Majors played very well at the end of last season, but it is very possible that he reached his ceiling in terms of offensive production. If so, that ceiling is considerably lower than that of Nick Tarantino ‘18 or Matt Folger ‘20, both of whom are more athletic and can stretch the floor with jump shots. It is quite possible that Middlebury’s best lineup next season will be a hyper small, poor man’s version of the Golden State Warriors famed “Lineup of Death.” This would feature the starting backcourt of Brown, Daly and St. Amour, with Dahleh using his length to guard a four and Baines roaming the paint as a hyper quick five. This would obviously sacrifice a lot in terms of size, but Daly and St. Amour are both excellent rebounders as guards, as is Baines at a forward. Every position could switch adequately on pick and rolls, and the speed and ball movement on offense would be beautiful to watch. Look for the Panthers to break out this lineup in order to counteract a lack of size in comparison to Amherst and Tufts.

Middlebury’s highly uneven home/road split from last season evens out this season, as the Panthers play 13 home games and 11 road ones, rather than 9 and 15, like last season. This seems relevant, as Middlebury was 9-0 at home last season. The Panthers are a good team anywhere, but in front of the Pepin crowd they tend to reach another level. If they can play well enough during the regular season to host the NESCAC tournament, Middlebury fans could be in for a very long season, and I mean that in the best possible sense of that phrase.

The D3Hoops.com top 25 list was released last week, with Amherst opening the season at #1 and Tufts just behind them at number five. Middlebury is far down the list at #24, despite beating Amherst on the road in the NESCAC final last year. This is not an injustice per se. Amherst made the NCAA Final Four last season, and Tufts the Elite Eight. However, it does bring another example of Middlebury being slept on by the powers-that-be. Middlebury has the experience, drive and talent to end the season at number one on that poll, and no one should be surprised if they pull it off.

 

NESCAC Semifinal Preview: #4 Middlebury at #1 Trinity

Shay Ajayi '16 is playing the best basketball of his Trinity career, and the Bantams are looking to win their second NESCAC title. (Courtesy of David B. Newman/Trinity Athletics)
Shay Ajayi ’16 is playing the best basketball of his Trinity career, and the Bantams are looking to win their second NESCAC title. (Courtesy of David B. Newman/Trinity Athletics)

The Trinity Bantams have had a lot of recent success against Middlebury. For what it’s worth the Bants outlasted Middlebury 90-85 a season ago. More relevant, of course, was the 97-86 beatdown that Trinity slapped on the Panthers two weekends ago. I know it was only an 11-point victory, but I do think the word “beatdown” is appropriate. Firstly, 97 points is a ridiculously high number. Secondly, Trinity lead by 18 with just over six minutes to go, and only a barrage of three-pointers from backup guard Bryan Jones ’17 kept it from being embarrassing for Middlebury. So that does not bode well for the Panthers.

Here’s why that doesn’t matter, though. Firstly, Adisa Majors ’18 has been very good all season long, but let’s be honest, just two weeks ago he was still somewhat of a novelty, with only four double digit scoring performances all season. Then he put up 18 against Amherst on 7-8 shooting and 15 at Trinity, and after another 18 in just 19 minutes against Wesleyan in the NESCAC Quarters, Majors has officially become someone you game plan against. Secondly, Matt Daley ’16 is healthy(-ish). Yes, Daley only played five minutes against Wesleyan, but that doesn’t mean he can’t put up a double-double on Saturday. The theme for Panthers Head Coach Jeff Brown all season has been to ride whatever is working on a given day, which is why all 12 active Panthers were in the game in the first half against Wesleyan. Bottom line, it just wasn’t working for Daley, but it very well might be this weekend, and the Majors-Daley combo has a lot of potential. Thirdly, and lastly, while all of the remaining teams have plenty of motivation in their search for a NESCAC crown, Middlebury has a little extra something on the line. Without a sweep this weekend, the Panthers will be playing golf come Monday (as the saying goes – believe me, no one’s playing golf in Middlebury, VT on Monday). The other three teams are locks to be playing NCAA games. Will that make a difference? I don’t know, but there’s no danger of Middlebury looking past this weekend.

Last time they played – Trinity 97 – Middlebury 86, Feb. 13 at Trinity

After seven minutes, Middlebury was up by three, 14-11. That was nice. Then Trinity took the lead. Then it was 10 at halftime. Then it was quickly 15. And Middlebury chipped back a little bit. But then it was 18 after a Langdon Neal ’17 jumper. Trinity shot the lights out, going 34-61 (55.7 percent) from the field, 8-18 (44.4 percent) from deep and 21-27 (77.8 percent) at the line.

“I just think we did well making shots. We were comfortable shooting the ball, we did a good job getting the ball inside to our big guys, and they did a good job taking the ball to the basket.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove

Middlebury just couldn’t get stops. Trinity didn’t let Matt St. Amour ’17 get many looks from three (just 0-2), something they have to replicate on Saturday. Jaquann Starks ’16 couldn’t miss (6-10 FG, 4-6 3PT). And Trinity shared the ball exceptionally well with 22 assists, up from their 16.5 average. The Bantams played a complete game, and Middlebury just could not hang.

Middlebury X-factor: F Zach Baines ’19 

Zach Baines '19 electrified the Middlebury crowd last Saturday with high-flying blocks and his pregame dunks. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
Zach Baines ’19 electrified the Middlebury crowd last Saturday with high-flying blocks and pregame dunks. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

You think you’ve arrived, kid? Think again. Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’16 probably form the best frontcourt combo in the NESCAC. “They’re two of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached, and they keep coming every day to get better,” said Trinity coach James Cosgrove. For Middlebury, their frontcourt is constantly in flux. Daley, Connor Huff ’16, Majors, Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Baines have all started there. One thing that I feel fairly confident in, though, is that Baines will get a lot of minutes and they will be at the four. Which means – have you been following along? – he will have to defend Ajayi. In case you forgot, Ajayi is a senior, averaging 14.1 ppg, with NCAA Elite Eight experience. That is a tall order for Baines. He gives up an inch or two to Ajayi, but makes up for that with his length. I believe that he’s the only big man Middlebury has that can guard Ajayi at the perimeter, but he lacks the size (read: weight) to stop Ajayi when he gets around the rim. He will need help from Majors, Huff and Daley, but Baines is going to be a key in slowing down Ajayi and putting a hand in his face.

Trinity X-factor: PG Andrew Hurd ’16

Hurd leads the NESCAC with a 3.5 A/TO ratio, which is sixth in all of Division-III as of Thursday. On the flip side, Middlebury is the best in the NESCAC at forcing turnovers with 15.1 takeaways per game. Last time they played, Hurd has six assists and no turnovers. So that’s it, just do what you do, Drew. These backcourts are so evenly matched – St. Amour, Jake Brown ’17 and Jack Daly ’18 vs. Hurd, Starks and Rick Naylor ’16. You basically have a classic “true” point guard, a high volume shooter and defender/occasional scorer on both sides of the balance sheet. That’s why a pristine game from Hurd could be the difference, elevating Trinity’s backcourt and supporting a frontcourt that already has the advantage.

Three Questions

1. Can you shut down Matt St. Amour twice in one season?

My instincts say “no”, but I’ve been wrong once or twice before. St. Amour gets a lot of his threes in transition, not from traditional set plays. The Panthers, as we know, like to run, and sometimes St. Amour gets lost in transition. Now, if you shoot the ball like Trinity did last time, there aren’t many opportunities to run for the other team. So, in reality, offense, and offensive rebounding, is the best defense for the Bantams in this game. Put the ball in the hoop, stop transition looks, and St. Amour will be relegated to a free throw shooter like he was in the last meeting between these two teams.

2. How does Trinity Coach James Cosgrove exploit the frontcourt advantage?

The Bantams will work the ball through Ogundeko often, but backing him up against Matt Daley (6’8″) or Majors (210 pounds) isn’t likely to be the best strategy. I think the obvious answer is to pull out the four man with Ajayi, which isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. Whenever the Panthers have two true bigs in the game – not Baines, who’s a stretch four – Trinity has to take advantage. Therefore, I don’t think Middlebury will play with two bigs very often, but the combos of Daley-Majors, Majors-Huff and some McCord sprinkled in will definitely occur.

3. Will any of the Middlebury bench players get hot in the first half?

Last meeting, it was Jones in the second half who got hot, but as mentioned, every one gets a shot in the first half on this Panthers team. Maybe it will be Jones (who’s dealing with sickness this week), maybe it will be Hilal Dahleh ’19 and his sweet lefty stroke, maybe Liam Naughton ’17 could drain a couple of quick threes, but someone is going to need to sneak a few buckets while the Bantams aren’t looking. Middlebury has had one consistent scorer all year, and even though we think that Majors can be counted on, that still only leaves two guys who can put the ball in the hoop more than twice a game. That makes defensive assignments pretty easy. Someone else needs to take some pressure off the Middlebury duo of St. Amour and Majors. And don’t let Trinity get up at half. With that defense (38.2 field goal percentage against; second in Division-III), good luck coming back. The only teams to trail Trinity at half and come back to win were the somewhat anomalous Eastern Connecticut (down by six), No. 16 Susquehanna (down by one) and No. 21 Plattsburgh St. (down by two) back in December and early January. So basically unless you’re a ranked team down by one or two points or from Eastern Connecticut you aren’t coming back on this team.

What to Expect

Expect Trinity to go back to Ajayi as much as possible. Jack Daly and Jake Brown should keep Starks in check for the most part, but Ajayi is a match up nightmare.

“I think for us, defensively, the matchup with Ajayi is really a challenging one,” Panthers coach Jeff Brown said. “In the past he played quite a bit of perimeter. The last couple of seasons he played a lot of the three-spot. So he’s one of those inside-outside forwards who’s extremely athletic, and with some of our post players it’s a tough cover.”

Coach Brown wants to switch more on the perimeter, something that Colby did well in the first half of last week’s Quarterfinal when they held Trinity to 19 points, and throw some different looks at the Bantams. I think we see a good deal of 3-2 zone to limit Trinity’s looks from three. I’ve yet to mention Eric Gendron ’18, but his 44.1 three point percentage ranks fifth in the NESCAC. You can’t let him get hot, either. “[Gendron’s one that really kind of concerns me off of the bench,” Coach Brown said. Middlebury needs to force stops to create transition buckets.

On the other end, if the Panthers can’t get going in transition, they’re in for a long afternoon. Trinity is obviously very tough and physical in the half court defensively, and I don’t think Middlebury can play that way for 40 minutes. Majors has the size to do it, but even that is outweighed (literally and figuratively) by the presence of Ogundeko. Look for St. Amour to try to get going early and give Middlebury a lead with a couple of threes. Baseline screens and hand offs for Number 11 will be a common sight.

“He’s dynamite shooting the ball.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove on Middlebury guard Matt St. Amour

As far as the NESCAC goes, Middlebury ranks first in offensive turnovers (i.e. fewest turnovers) and Trinity ties for fourth. On the flip side, Middlebury has forced the most turnovers per game (15.1) and Trinity has forced the fourth most turnovers per game. Something has to give. In a game of this intensity, with these stakes, I think the defense wins out. Not that it will be sloppy – these point guards are too good for that – but I envision a lot of fast-paced basketball which tends to result in some silly turnovers. Therefore, ball control is key. Don’t make mistakes with the ball. For Trinity, the key is to beat up on the Middlebury bigs. For Middlebury, the key is similar. Use Trinity’s aggressiveness against them. Middlebury’s not a very good free throw shooting team, but St. Amour (who takes 5.4 free throws per game, third in the NESCAC) is great from the stripe (81.5 percent), and forcing the Trinity forwards into foul trouble will change the game.

Additionally, Trinity has home court working heavily in their favor. They should have some boisterous crowds this weekend, unlike last when most of the students were gone because there was no class on Monday and Tuesday of that week. The Bantams have been tough to topple at home, going 11-1, that one loss coming against Amherst, and Trinity coach James Cosgrove is aware of the benefit of playing at home.

“It’s always nice to be playing at home. I think we feel real comfortable here. We’ve done some nice things here over the last couple of years.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove

Furthermore, the first time the Panthers step onto the court in Hartford will be an hour or so before game time. As a team, they chose not to take advantage of an early morning shoot around time slot. Whether that decision will pay off or not remains to be seen. Of course, Middlebury was on the Oostings hardwood two weeks ago, but they might want to forget about that.

In case you missed it over the last two-plus years, I’m a big Middlebury fan, and my co-editor, Adam Lamont, is a big Bowdoin guy. We’re both students, and we’re not afraid to let you know when we have a rooting interest. Despite all that, I can’t pick the Panthers in this game. Forgive me, guys, but you made me look foolish two weeks ago when I gave you the nod to win at least one against Amherst and/or Trinity. I won’t be fooled again. I hope I’m wrong, but Trinity just looks too good. They’re 12 for their last 14. One of those was against Amherst (the other was against 11-14 Merchant Marine – one of those mysteries where you chalk it up to being a full moon, Friday the 13th and everyone on the team taking part in a mirror-smashing party while walking under a step ladder … okay it wasn’t actually Friday the 13th). Point being, I just think Trinity will win. Prove me wrong, boys. I want to keep watching Middlebury basketball for a few more weeks.

Prediction: Trinity 76 – Middlebury 70

NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview: #5 Wesleyan at #4 Middlebury

The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

The last Cardinals victory over Middlebury came on Jan. 15, 2005. That’s 13 meetings, and one other NESCAC quarterfinal. Last season’s loss to the Panthers seemed to galvanize Wesleyan on their eventual championship run. This season’s game was a huge upset to start the season, as Wesleyan was expected to be near the top of the heap and Middlebury looked like a rebuilding project. Almost two months later, it’s hard not to see the Panthers as the favorite in this game. Playing at home is nice, a new frontcourt threat has emerged (more on that later), and Wesleyan is coming off of a shocking weekend where they dropped a pair of contests to Colby and Bowdoin. Will the Cards turn the tide today? It won’t be easy.

Last time they played: Middlebury 86 – Wesleyan 76, Jan. 8 at Wesleyan

It was a disastrous start for Middlebury. The Cardinals went up 14-2 in less than five minutes. Moments later, Middlebury coach Jeff Brown swapped out a few starters for his trio of freshmen, and the game completely changed. Eric McCord ’16, Zach Baines ’16 and Hilal Dahleh ’16 stopped the bleeding and helped the Panthers clamp down defensively. When McCord subbed out six minutes later it was a 20-14 Wesleyan lead, and later back-to-back Dahleh treys tied the game at 30-apiece. The second half was a battle, but a Middlebury onslaught to the tune of a 16-5 run in the final 3:25 proved to be the difference. In the end, Matt St. Amour ’16 was the Panthers’ top scorer, which is par for the course, but the 30 points received from McCord and Dahleh absolutely changed the game. On the flip side, 17 bench points from Joe Edmonds ’16 kept Wesleyan in the game, which leads to …

Wesleyan X-factor: G Joe Edmonds

Joe Edmonds '16
Joe Edmonds ’16

Edmonds and guard Harry Rafferty ’17 have had to adjust to slightly reduced roles this season. In 2014-15, six Cardinals played over 22.0 mpg, Edmonds and Rafferty included, and that duo started more games than not. The Cardinals have a lot more depth this season, and Rafferty and Edmonds have had to work off of the bench for the most part. Edmonds hasn’t had a great, high-volume shooting night since that evening against Middlebury. He has tallied 10, 11, 10 and 11 again in a handful of games, but otherwise has only taken a few shots and been held to single digits. The Cardinals are going to get plenty of points from guards BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16, but can Edmonds step up and chip in double digits off the bench while stretching the floor? A year ago, that was a no-brainer. Now, the answer is up in the air. Edmonds posted a 41.1 percent mark from behind the arc a year ago; he’s at 30.1 percent this season. Which Edmonds shows up today?

Middlebury X-factor: C Matt Daley ’16

Matt Daley '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Matt Daley ’16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Daley might be the most gifted big man in the NESCAC. He just can’t stay healthy, through no fault of his own. He’s had so many issues this season – a soft tissue strain in his groin, a foot injury, concussion symptoms, and plain old illness that kept him out last weekend. So he never turned into the 20-10 guy that pundits believed he could be. He’s still a force when he’s in there. Daley is currently sixth in the NESCAC in field goal percentage, and the defensive end/rebounding is where he really shines. The big man rips down 7.8 boards per game in under 22.0 mpg. Imagine if he was actually healthy for all of those minutes, too, not nursing injury after injury. For what it’s worth, Daley ranks 13th in the NESCAC in points per 40 minutes, which is a testament to his importance when in the game. Wesleyan has two big guys who are athletic scoring threats in Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 and Daley will be needed in order to stifle that pair.

Three Questions

1. How will Wesleyan shoot the ball from behind the arc?

If you’ve been reading along all year, you know that I’ve been fixated on the Cardinals (in)ability to shoot the three. They’re stacked with guys with great pedigrees who have underperformed in that regard this season. Wesleyan has taken the fifth-most three point attempts in the NESCAC, but is only making 32.3 percent of them (10th in the NESCAC). There was one hilariously bad four-game stretch against Amherst twice, Trinity and Tufts when Wesleyan shot 12-80 (15 percent) from deep. They went 8-22 (36.4 percent) in the last game against Middlebury. But of course, sports is a “What have you done for me lately?” business. Still, the recent returns aren’t much better. The Cards have upped the frequency with which they’re shooting treys recently, but not making any more of them. They are 22-81 (27.2 percent) over the last three contests. Will they be able to get open threes and make them today? Maybe, but Middlebury has a lot of length on the defensive perimeter. Jack Daly ’18 will give some trouble to Davis and Mackey, as well the super-long Zach Baines ’19.

2. Who wins the frontcourt battle?

Kuo and Epps vs. Daley and Adisa Majors ’18. The Wesleyan frontcourt is skilled brings a combination of size and speed. For Middlebury, Daley has the speed and length, while Majors has the brute strength. It’s an interesting match up, because I don’t know who has the advantage. Is it the pair of well-rounded forwards? Or can Daley and Majors work together to play as one shot-rejecting, block-defending, rim-protecting super-basketball-hero? Also in the mix are Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill ’18 – high motor, good length, and a work horse – and Connor Huff ’16 – high basketball IQ, and a good shotmaker. Lastly, Middlebury’s Zach Baines is sometimes employed as a stretch-4 type. That could be extremely problematic for Wesleyan, because Epps isn’t going to be quick enough to stop him on the perimeter.

3. Can someone other than Matt St. Amour put the ball in the hoop for Middlebury?

St. Amour has been a marked man since he started the conference season so strongly, and there hasn’t been a consistent second scorer for the Panthers. Sometimes it has been Daley, recently it’s been Majors, and a few times it’s been Baines or point guard Jake Brown ’17. My worry is that everyone will look to defer too much and no one will get the job done. Baines (7.1 ppg) has never played in a NESCAC playoff game, neither has Jack Daly (7.1 ppg) or Majors (6.9 ppg). If Daley can stay on the court for 25 minutes, I think he’s going to get a lot of usage and some big buckets, and subsequently Majors might see a few less minutes, but in those minutes he should be effective as well. On the perimeter, you’re not going to get one guy scoring a lot of buckets alongside MSA. Coach Brown likes to throw everyone in in the first half and feel out the flow of the game, so Hilal Dahleh or Bryan Jones ’17 are among those who could make a surprise impact with a couple of big shots early.

What to Expect

A lot of points. It might be a bit under the radar, but Wesleyan actually has the best field goal percentage defense in the league (38.1 percent) and the third-best points per game average defensively (68.1 percent), and still the Panthers ran up 86 points in their last meeting. Especially with Middlebury playing at home, Coach Brown is going to instruct his nephew, the younger Brown, to push the pace and get Wesleyan running. Tiring out the Cardinals’ high-usage starters, i.e. Davis and Mackey, is the key to testing out that depth. The Cardinals have won plenty of high-scoring games this year, though, so it won’t be easy to run them out of the gym. I think that Wesleyan will try to beat up on Matt Daley whenever he gets the ball down low and neutralize that second scoring threat that I just talked about above, forcing the Panthers to find someone else to score the ball. And, of course, both teams will lock onto the opposing superstar: Middlebury on BJ Davis and Wesleyan on Matt St. Amour. The Panthers are usually a switching team around the perimeter, but expect Jack Daly to man up with Davis to start. On the opposite end, my guess is that youngster Kevin O’Brien ’19 is tasked with covering St. Amour. I think the height advantage that St. Amour would have over Davis or Mackey would lead to a lot of easy buckets. That means that Edmonds will also be called on to cover St. Amour off of the bench.

It’s the No. 4-No. 5 game, so it should be a close one. I, of course, have somewhat of a vested interest here, so I apologize if my prediction waxes a little fanatical.

Prediction: Middlebury 75 – Wesleyan 70