Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3) @ Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4), New London, CT 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 28th
The “Battle for Connecticut” is not, as I originally thought, a sci-fi movie about 30-foot tall white families duking it out in Hartford. It is instead this game, which features two teams sitting in precarious positions in the league rankings. Connecticut College has a couple impressive wins under their belt, an overtime thriller over Amherst, and a demolition of Bates in Alumni Gym. But they also have four losses and have shown an inability to score against elite defenses (see their 70-52 loss to Trinity.) And Wesleyan is certainly an elite defense. It has been that side of the ball that allowed them to recover from their 0-2 start. The Cardinals are now 3-3, and gave Tufts their toughest test of league play so far in a 77-73 loss. They only allow opponents to shoot 34.7% from the field, which is among the national leaders and leads the conference by a considerable margin. The Camels will need to prove that they can score against the best in order to have a chance in this game.
Wesleyan X-Factor: Jordan Sears ‘18
It’s not a coincidence that Wesleyan has won both the league games that Sears has started. At 6’5″ and 200 pounds, Sears is defensive and rebounding menace, averaging 1.2 blocks and 4.6 rebounds per game despite only playing 17 minutes. He has started against Trinity and Bates, who boast the two best big men in the league in Ed Ogundeko and Malcolm Delpeche respectively. Sears was the key to not letting those stars own the paint against Wesleyan. I would expect him to play a similar role against Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17, Connecticut College’s two excellent forwards.
Sears’ starting spot has another benefit for the Cardinals in that it pushes Nathan Krill ‘18 to the bench. That may read like a jab at Krill, but let me explain. Krill may well be Wesleyan’s best offensive player, but his volatile temper makes it difficult for him to remain on the floor at times. Bringing him off the bench makes it easier for Coach Reilly to control his star forward. It also gives the often-dead Wesleyan second unit some needed scoring punch, and allows Krill to beat up on slower second unit players. Sears starting has been a key to Wesleyan’s turnaround.
Connecticut College X-Factor: Isaiah Robinson ‘18
Wesleyan is a team that will try to beat you up, particularly in the paint. Connecticut College is well equipped to hit back, but they will also need to hit from the perimeter, as Wesleyan has shown themselves to not be able to keep up in a faster paced offensive game. Robinson combines those two responsibilities. Robinson is 6’5” and built like a linebacker, giving him more than enough strength to push back when Krill and Joseph Kuo ‘17 try to body him in the paint. But he also has quick feet and can stretch the floor, shooting 38.6% from three. Robinson will need to be an offensive threat in this game to pull the Wesleyan big men away from the basket and open things up for Pavlin and Janel to do their work inside. And he may also draw the critical task of getting in Nathan Krill’s head and forcing him into foul trouble.
Who Needs it More:
Wesleyan has done a terrific job climbing back into the upper half of the league, and of course needs to continue playing well in order to stay there. This is a crucial game for them, as they travel to Williams and Amherst next weekend. They need the freedom to lose one of those games and still be in contention for a high seed. But Connecticut College still needs this one more. In the ever-shifting NESCAC landscape, the difference between 3-4 and 2-5 is difficult to overstate. The Camels have done great work getting over the…barrier (not going to make the “hump” pun again) and being relevant this season, but this game is the key to them remaining there.
Starting Jordan Sears has freed up Nathan Krill and strengthened Wesleyan’s defense in the paint against elite big men, but it also puts more pressure on the perimeter players in the starting lineup. Sears is aggressively non-threatening on offense, allowing opposing teams to sag off on him and double the primary ball handlers Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17. This has forced Kevin O’Brien ‘19 to step up as a scoring threat. He has done this admirably at times, scoring 20 and 19 back-to-back against Hamilton and Amherst. When teams leave Sears alone and key in on Green and Rafferty, O’Brien has to be ready to step up and be a scoring threat, or else Wesleyan simply doesn’t have enough offense.
Three point shooting will be the most important stat for Connecticut College in this game. They can’t beat Wesleyan in bar-room brawl in the paint, the Cardinals’ win over Trinity proved that no one can. They need to stretch the floor and speed the Wesleyan up. They have showed the tendency to make mistakes on offense and defense when they are forced the play faster than their preferred pace. Lee Messier ‘18 will need to shoot a little better than his 33% yearly rate, and Robinson and David Labossiere ‘19 will also need to knock a couple down.
Wesleyan comes into this game with all the momentum, and would probably be favored in Vegas if bookies out there cared about NESCAC sports at all. But Connecticut College matches up very well with the Cardinals. They have outside threats to spread out the Wesleyan defense, and forwards who can bang with the Special K’s (Kuo and Krill.) This should be hard fought, low scoring battle, featuring a lot of rebounds and fouls. In other words, a terrific viewing experience, and Wesleyan’s specialty. I think the Cardinals pull it out.
This weekend brought tight games, upsets, and standings shake-ups. Some players rose to the occasion in times of need, while others shrunk from the spotlight. One thing that is certain about the NESCAC this year is that it is competitive through and through. Here are this week’s power rankings: 1.) #4 Tufts (13-2, 4-0) Tufts’ victories against Middlebury and Hamilton cemented them at the top spot this week as the only undefeated team in NESCAC competition. Tufts barely beat Middlebury, up by just one point with 21 seconds remaining, but were able to make their free throws and keep the lead in what could be a playoff preview. Other than their two back to back losses to #1 Babson (then #2) and UMass-Boston on December 3rd and 6th, the Jumbos have been perfect all season and are now the highest ranked team (#4) in the conference after Amherst’s two losses this past weekend. The Middlebury game was a great display of Tufts’ balance as all five starters scored double-digit points, with Everett Dayton leading the way with 16. Tom Palleschi continued his hot play and had a well rounded game with three blocks, three assists, six boards, and 10 points. Eric Savage went off against Hamilton on Saturday with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and a season high in boards that shows how versatile this Tufts team is and why they shouldn’t have many issues this weekend against a resurgent Wesleyan team and a decent Conn College team. Tufts should continue to climb in the national rankings. 2.) #15 Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) The Panthers would be #1 if Eric McCord made a final minute layup and they held on afterwards in Medford last Friday, yet the Jumbos held off McCord and Middlebury to give Midd their first loss in conference play. With that being said, Middlebury has found something in McCord that can help fill the hole that Zach Baines left when he departed from Vermont. McCord broke out against the Jumbos as he matched his season high in rebounds with eight and found a new season high of points with 22, 10 more than his previous high. He then added 11 points and six rebounds against Bates on Saturday, really cementing himself as the sixth man and as a force in the paint as the 6’7’’/255 pound beast is now a force to be reckoned with. Coach Brown also has to be happy that Nick Tarantino ’18 is holding his own in the starting lineup after struggling his first few starts beginning on December 29th. He has averaged nearly 10 rebounds and 10 points a game these last three contests and is shooting at over 50% in those games too, much better than the 1-6 he went against the Camels. Williams should be another team that the Panthers beat so long as these guys continue to produce – Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown can do the rest. 3.) #16 Amherst (10-4, 1-2) Yes, Amherst got swept this past weekend and are still ranked 3rd this week. Unfair? Maybe but they are still one of just four nationally ranked NESCAC teams and did knock off #1 Babson earlier in the season. Now, they lost to Wesleyan last Friday who was ranked earlier in the year and desperately needed the win in their home gym to remain relevant in the NESCAC. However, a 14 point loss to an unranked team isn’t really indicative of a championship caliber season. On top of that, Jayde Dawson had the best game and he did not play well. He did score 17, but 6-19 from the field and 1-7 from 3-point range is 2016 Kobe-esque in his send off game. Amherst followed up Friday with an OT loss to Conn College, who hasn’t been overly impressive thus far, giving the Camels their first ‘CAC win of the year. This is not a good sign for the Purple and White. Johnny McCarthy played well and got back to his consistent form with 19 points after just five against the Cardinals. So while Amherst might no longer host the NESCAC tournament, they are in no danger of falling out of the playoff race. They need to get it together this weekend against Bowdoin and Colby as a loss to either will certainly boot them out of the top-25 and push them farther down the power rankings. 4.) Bates (12-4, 3-1)
I’ll admit that I either underestimated the Bobcats or overestimated the Continentals. I fully expected Bates to fall to Hamilton last weekend, but here they are at #4 in the rankings already with three wins in conference, more than all of last year. Their performance so far has all but cemented them as a NESCAC playoff team. Bates defended four of six of Hamilton’s big scoring threats well (Gilmour, Doyle, Pucci, and Groll) which forced PG Jack Dwyer to shoot more than he generally likes to. While this allowed Dwyer to score a season high of 19, the other key players found themselves neutralized, allowing the Delpeche twins to have a day. Marcus scored 17 and hauled in 14 boards and Malcolm scored 12 and had 17 rebounds of his own. Jeff Spellman was a key player off of the bench too as he added 16 points in 25 minutes. Bates also played Middlebury in a tight game, falling behind early but clawing their way to within a 10 point margin by the end. Marcus Delpeche found less shooting success in this contest and Middlebury controlled the rebounds (45-31), giving the Panthers an upper hand, especially in the first half. Bates should beat Conn College on Friday if they keep playing with this intensity and their matchup against Wesleyan will tell who should be higher in the rankings. 5.) Wesleyan (13-3, 2-2) Two shocking losses to open up conference play and drop the Cardinals out of the top-25 were not part of the plan. These 18 and 16 point losses to Middlebury and Hamilton respectively had to hurt, but Wesleyan really bounced back against previously #5 Amherst and a solid Trinity team at home, preventing a bottom half ranking this week. The victory over Amherst is especially surprising. Amherst had been dominant all year up until that point and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. But Wesleyan’s defense shined on Friday, holding the Purple and White to just 30% shooting from the field and 24.1% from beyond the arc. Kevin O’Brien led the way with 19 points, nine boards, four assists, four steals, and two blocks. Jordan Sears also had a big 10 rebounds off of the bench and Amherst just couldn’t put anything together. The most remarkable stat from the weekend is that both O’Brien and Joseph Kuo had more rebounds at 11 and 10 respectively than Ed Ogundeko did, who had just eight on Saturday. Kuo also added 14 points and the Cardinals narrowly pulled out the win, reestablishing themselves as a contender. They have a tough weekend against Tufts and Bates and if they can go 1-1 that should be considered a success. 6.) Hamilton (11-4, 2-2) I’m a big fan of the Continentals’ resurgence similar to Bates from last place to a position of relevance in the conference. Their youth will still shine through from time to time as consistency and closing out games is a big focus for the team, but at 2-2 they still have a lot of potential upward mobility ahead of them if they seize the opportunity. Dwyer showed last weekend against Bates that when other teammates get shut down he can still shoot, although it wasn’t quite enough on the road on Friday. They did keep the game close and nearly managed to come back, but Kena Gilmour, Joe Pucci, and Andrew Groll weren’t themselves as they shot a combined 6-24. Their loss against Tufts was expected, but Groll and Gilmour had bounce back games while Pucci and Jack Dwyer couldn’t get it going. Tufts’ 46.3% from the field is what killed the Continentals. They will need a strong game, especially defensively, if they want to beat a desperate Williams team. 7.) Trinity (10-6, 2-1)
While the gap between Trinity and Hamilton and Wesleyan isn’t huge, their two conference wins against Williams and Conn College are hardly justification for a higher spot. Their loss to Wesleyan cemented them at #7 this week, and barring upset wins elsewhere in the conference, wins against Colby and Bowdoin this weekend shouldn’t move them too much higher. Ogundeko is averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.6 boards, top-5 in the league in both. However, Ogundeko showed against Wesleyan that he is human as he was out rebounded by two Cardinals. The Bantams are reliant on him to dominate in the paint as potential dud performances like Chris Turnbull’s against Conn College (0-7, zero points) could put easy wins in jeopardy. Despite the winning conference record, Trinity has issues as Langdon Neal hasn’t been too impressive shooting the ball, averaging just over four points in NESCAC games. Also, Trinity’s bench hasn’t produced much at all and compared to Middlebury and Hamilton’s bench players as an example, the Bantams don’t compare. Look for them to win this weekend but the Bowdoin game could be closer than people expect for the third place NESCAC team. 8.) Conn College (10-5, 1-3) Erasing a 17 point halftime deficit against Amherst bodes well for the Camels heading into the rest of the season. They just saved their NESCAC first half with that win as an 0-4 start could’ve sent them towards the offseason as playoffs would be a much tougher achievement at that point. 1-3 still isn’t good, but knocking off any ranked team is a feat worth mentioning. They played Middlebury closely on January 7th, lost big to both Trinity and Hamilton, and won by seven in OT to the Purple and White. Last weekend was a tale of two different Conn College teams. While the Camels usually rule the rebounds due to two big men, Daniel Janel and Zuri Pavlin (Pavlin recently broke the Conn College all time rebounding record), the pair notched only nine combined boards against Trinity compared to Ogundeko’s 12. On top of that David Labossiere shot just 2-8, Colin Pascoe didn’t take a shot, Isaiah Robinson only scored two points compared to his normal 9.5…you get my point. When that many players have down games, this team likely isn’t going to win. However, like they showed against Amherst, when both of their big men have incredible games, they win. It’s a tale of consistency and for a team that lost so many close games in the final minutes a year ago, they should be sick of these ups and downs. Not so bold prediction: anytime Janel and Pavlin score 20 each and have 18 rebounds combined, they’ll win. This weekend will be a good test to see is they can keep pace with the big dogs as Bates and Tufts are both challenges steep challenges, especially in those rowdy environments. 9.) Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2) The Polar Bears have the NESCAC scoring leader in Jack Simonds (21.9 ppg) and they can shoot as Hugh O’Neil ranks fourth in FG% (57.9%) and David Reynolds ranks fourth in 3PT% (43.3%). O’Neil is also in the top five in rebounds with 9.6 per game, but other than that, Bowdoin doesn’t have a whole lot going there way. The game against Tufts summarized this well as those three accounted for 25/42 rebounds, 40/54 points, and the rest of the team shot 6-30 from the field. Against Bates, again, these three were the only ones to score in double digits, had the majority of the rebounds, and only lost by five. While it was a close game, Bowdoin needs another element to complement these guys as the load can’t all fall on their shoulders. Neil Fuller could be that guy – he put up 10 against Williams along with five rebounds, helping out Bowdoin’s big three despite Reynolds’ down game. Of course, they will have a good chance if Simonds drops 32 every contest. This team needs more balance, and if they continue playing more like they did against the Ephs, they should have a better shot at making the playoffs. 10.) Williams (12-4, 1-3) Williams’ only conference win came against Colby who is right below them in the rankings, so it doesn’t say too much. It’s hard to believe but the Ephs were ranked this season in what seems like ages ago. Their recent drop off is a product of better competition in the conference and the lack of a big rebounding presence. Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz are their best chance at matching the league’s best, but a team high of 6.0 reb/g isn’t exactly noteworthy in a positive light. To emphasize this further, Ogundeko hauled in 23 rebounds against Williams, and while Aronowitz had a great game and had a double-double, they simply couldn’t stop the Bantam’s big man. In a two point loss like that, every possession is key, and if they could’ve gotten some offensive boards they would’ve been able to get over the hump. It was the same story against Bowdoin as the Polar Bears hauled in 40 rebounds compared to just 27 for the Ephs, while no individual had more than five and they had just six offensive rebounds. Williams can score well – Aronowitz, Scadlock, and Cole Teal all score over 10 per game – but unless they can stop other teams from controlling the ball, they won’t make the playoffs. 11.) Colby (7-7,0-3) 0-3 is obviously a tough start for any team, but especially for the underdog. Colby has a lot of ground to make up over these next few weeks as at least three or four wins will be needed to sneak into the NESCAC playoff picture. They have kept all three losses within 15 points, but Patrick Stewart is just about the only bright spot here. The senior is averaging 16.2 ppg while the next closest player is at just 7.9 ppg. His 6.2 rebounds also lead the team, and nobody has more than Joseph Connelly’s 2.4 a/g, which isn’t exactly impressive. First year Ethan Schlager has played well in conference games, with 11.3 ppg over these three contest in just 21.0 min/g, and the Mules will need more help from him and other rookies Ronan Schwarz and Sam Jefferson if they are going to have a chance at climbing out of the cellar. Away games at Trinity and Amherst are going to be tough contests, and I’d be shocked if they pulled off an upset.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
While a 3-7 conference record in 2015-2016 wasn’t what the Camels envisioned, they still were just one game out of the NESCAC playoffs and if it weren’t for a couple of late season losses, would’ve made it to the postseason. Conn was 12-12 overall last year, and while there were plenty of more experienced and/or more talented teams in the league, the Camels were able to beat Middlebury 82-81 on January 9th and lost to Amherst a week later on January 16th, 88-86, showing their ability to play up with the best in the league. With that being said, two late losses to Colby and Bowdoin showed the second face of this young team, and just like that they got bounced from the NESCAC playoff race. Conn only graduated one senior, Bo McKinley ‘16, a centerpiece of their team as a leader, and therefore they retain their other four starters, 6th man, and brought in four new freshmen. The Camels need to make great strides from last year in order to have a shot at winning the league championship, but their team chemistry from last year and experience will be a big help.
While McKinley was a starter, he only averaged 7.1 PPG in just over 18 minutes per game, showing the potential for the rest of this Connecticut College squad. Additional minutes should open up for junior guard Lee Messier who impressed in nine starts last year, averaging nearly 14 points in just over 24 minutes per game. He will likely take over the two-spot as the smaller Tyler Rowe ’19 at 5’10’’ should stay as the primary ball handler. Small forward David Labossiere ’19 will return as a second year starter, showing real talent last year after gaining more consistent minutes a few weeks into the season. Labossiere has some shooting ability beyond the arc. Captain Zuri Pavlin ’17 is another returning starter who will play as a small four for the Camels, and was arguably their strongest player last year averaging 8.6 rebounds and 10.1 points per game. Rounding out the big contributing returners is fellow captain Daniel Janel who is a bigger forward than Pavlin, but will likely play as a small center as Conn lacks a true elite big man, and averaged 6 boards and 9.5 PPG a year ago. While they missed out on the playoffs a year ago, they clearly gained valuable experience and should start the year in the middle of the pack as dark horses to rise up in what is shaping up to be a dominant conference.
2015-2016 Record: 12-12, 3-7, 9th place in the NESCAC, one spot from the NESCAC playoffs
Guard Bo McKinley ‘16 (7.1 PPG, 1.2 REB/G, 1.3 A/G)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Guard Tyler Rowe ‘19
Rowe graced the ‘Faces in the Crowd’ section of Sports Illustrated last January after hitting back to back game winning shots against Middlebury and City College of New York, no small feat for any athlete. This shot him into the hearts of all Camel fans and fans of undersized basketball players. The 5’10” Rowe started as a freshman and certainly held his own against what has to be the best D3 competition in the nation. After all, four NESCAC teams went to the NCAA tourney last year. Four! While the point guard’s competition isn’t going to be getting easier this year, as a smaller player, he is less reliant on dominant physical ability and more on skill, so knowing the competition, the league, and individual opponents should help his game. Look for his assist numbers and shooting percentage to go up as he should begin to take smarter shots. He clocked in 27.8 minutes per game and started 22/24 contests during the 2015-2016 season; Rowe should take big strides towards the upper echelon of pg’s in the NESCAC this year.
Guard Lee Messier ‘18
Messier was in and out of the starting lineup last year, starting 9/18 games that he played in, right behind the aforementioned McKinley. With McKinley gone, Messier should be a big part of what the Camels do this season. There is currently still competition for the 5th starting spot as Coach Satran wouldn’t reveal his replacement for the graduated captain, but with four new players coming on the Camels’ roster and Messier likely gaining additional minutes with the hole in the lineup, Conn looks pretty well-off right now. Messier didn’t start over Bo last year, but he averaged nearly six more minutes per game than him in the games both played in. Messier showed flashes of dominance against two of the best teams the ‘CAC had to offer last season. Against Middlebury and Amherst, Messier put up 19 and 17 points respectively, shooting 66.7% and adding on several three pointers. He is a big X-Factor from the shooting guard position, and enters his junior season with similar numbers both of his first two years, showing that he will likely put up 13-15 PPG and inch closer to a 50% FG% as he matures as a player.
Forward David Labossiere ‘19
Similar to Rowe, Labossiere took on the league as a freshman starter and held his own. He emerged as one of the top newcomers in the conference at the two, registering 11.3 points and 3.6 boards a game. His athleticism isn’t to be questioned as the high flying small forward can jump out of the gym. Early on last season Fox Sports put him down as a contender for dunk of the year with a nasty and-one finish on an alley-oop against Roger Williams last November. The 6’4’’ forward should throw down some sick dunks, pin jobs, and other exciting plays for the Camels, transforming into a big playmaker in his sophomore season. If I went to Conn I’d go to the games just to watch this guy play.
As stated earlier, Pavlin had the best year by the numbers on a young team a year ago. His 8.6 rebounds per game led the team and were good for second place in the conference behind Trinity’s Ed Ogundeko ’17. Pavlin has a career total of a whopping 719 rebounds and lies just 112 boards behind the program leader, Peter Dorfman ’84, to become the program’s all-time leader. The captain power forward had even better defensive and offensive numbers his first two seasons and played nearly five less minutes per game last year. If he gets back to where he was sophomore year, he would push for the league lead in boards per game, and should average nearly a double double. A down year for him numbers-wise was still beastly, however, and there is more potential here for Pavlin heading into his senior season. Look for him to build on his past experience and dominate in the paint this season.
Forward Daniel Janel ‘17
First year captain Daniel Janel finished his second season last year after leaving Adelphi in the Northeast-10 conference in Division II. Janel averaged 9.5 PPG and 6.0 REB/G last year after only putting up 4.1 PPG and 3.1 boards per contest his first year at Conn. These two very different slash lines are indicative of hard work, improvement, and familiarization at the D3 level. He posted the seventh highest field goal percentage in the NESCAC at 53% from the field and should be a force in the paint again this season. The 6’5’’ senior is definitely undersized as big men go, but the help from Pavlin underneath should provide ample distribution of boards to both, making it tough on opposing teams. The third year of play between these captains should contribute to more improvement in communication down low, and each could be in the running for All-NESCAC accolades come the season’s end.
Breakout Player: Forward David Labossiere ‘19
As mentioned before, this guy is really athletic. He seems similar to Middlebury’s Zach Baines in that each is a big threat to dunk, and both put up great freshmen seasons as small forwards. Labossiere should make strides to find more opportunities to shoot. His performances against Middlebury and Amherst were big keys for me as they show what he can do against the best in this league. He led his team in the first half against the Final Four team from Western Mass, going 5-5 from the field. Shooting percentage wasn’t a problem for him last year as anything above 50% is pretty solid, so if he finds more openings (which usually comes with experience), he should put up some (La)boss(iere) numbers. When researching Conn’s team, I couldn’t help but watch Labossiere’s highlight tape and it was pretty impressive to say the least. Yeah a lot of basketball players can dunk, but Labossiere has style and ease when he plays, and I think he’s about to take it to a whole ‘nother level.
Coach Satran mentioned how the Camels need to adjust to the little things more than last year, and will need somebody else to step up as the 6th man with Messier likely entering the starting lineup. Conn should have depth with their already solid bench and four new recruits, and I suspect they will start the year in a much better place than 2015. The NESCAC is tough in terms of competition and the key for this developing team is “consistency.” Satran’s team knows that they can do it—they came within two points of upsetting Amherst in what was one of the best games of all of last year, and beat Middlebury. They also lost narrowly to Tufts at home in January, which would have been a huge momentum builder for the Camels. On the flip side, as I mentioned earlier, they lost to Colby and Bowdoin consecutively to end their season.
The high ceiling for the young Conn guards leaves a lot of room for growth, and they are anchored by Pavlin and Jalen down low. What helped the Camels last season was Messier’s presence right behind McKinley, acting as a great sixth man. This is going to be another essential for Conn going into the season—finding strong players deeper in their lineup to supplement their starting five. Satran will likely look to his youth for the backup as his squad starts to come into their own in the NESCAC. 6’5’’ Isaiah Robinson played in 20 games last year, averaged just over 15 minutes per contest, and has experience as a starter from his freshman year. He should be a valuable piece off of the bench for the Camels, bolstering their already strong big men. The Camels showed flashes of what was great basketball last season, but clearly couldn’t bring their A-game every night. They should improve in their consistency as they have nearly the same team as last year, but only time will tell if they will play down to weaker opponents. The top of the league should keep their eyes on the Camels as they push from the bottom up this year. The talent is there, but the question will be: can the Camels play to their full potential consistently?
Through about one month of the season (factoring in the time off for the holidays) NESCAC teams are a combined 87-33. Ten of 11 teams have records over .500. No teams remain undefeated, but Amherst, Wesleyan and, surprisingly, Colby all only have one loss. Babson, a Final Four team a year ago that took out Trinity in the Elite Eight and brought back Player of the Year candidate Joey Flannery, is 7-4, with all four of those losses coming against NESCAC teams. Amherst is ranked ninth and Tufts 22nd, with Trinity, Colby and Wesleyan knocking on the Top 25 door.
Suffice to say it’s been a successful start to the year for the NESCAC, all things considered. Because of the location of some of the member schools (read: Middlebury, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby and Hamilton, especially), NESCAC teams often face weak schedules to open the season because there just aren’t many quality teams around. That’s why it’s critical for teams to find good competition in tournaments early on. Trinity lost by five to No. 11 Susquehanna on Dec. 11 in Pennsylvania. No. 12 WPI has already bested Tufts and Bates this year. Wisconsin-Stevens Point walked all over Hamilton in Arizona on Dec. 30, and No. 20 Oswego St. handled Middlebury back in November. Colby actually beat No. 18 Mount Union down in Orlando last week. And lest we forget, the NESCAC’s success against Babson has knocked the Bobcats out of the Top 25. Win or lose, the teams that have seen this high level of competition will benefit this weekend when the intensity turns up and there are no more easy games.
Below we will give you a brief preview of each matchup (mind you, that’s 10 games, so forgive our brevity), the player or matchup to watch and a prediction. I’m supremely confident that most of our predictions will prove to look foolish this time Monday morning.
Middlebury at Wesleyan, Friday 7 PM
This is a really tough opening game for the Panthers, but if they match up well against any of the top teams in the NESCAC, it’s definitely Wesleyan, and they catch the Birds early on when they’re still nursing a few battle scars. Middlebury crushed Wesleyan 97-60 last year, and Wesleyan’s roster is basically the same, though the Panthers have lost their two best scorers. The matchup to watch is between point guards BJ Davis ’16 and Jake Brown ’17. Talk about quickness and flair, this duo has it in spades. Both teams are guard-heavy, so that’s likely to be a wash. If either front court can take over offensively, that unit’s team will win the ball game. Despite Middlebury’s struggles, their defense is underrated, so expect this to stay tight throughout.
Prediction: Wesleyan 68 – Middlebury 61
Hamilton at Conn College, Friday 7 PM
A matchup of two teams struggling to make the playoffs consistently, this is basically a must-win if either squad hopes to achieve that goal. Hamilton has been impressive early on with some talented young players, but the same could be said for Colby. We talked about three of those guys (and gave an honorable mention to another) on Wednesday. Conn’s Zuri Pavlin ’17 has been one of my favorite players to follow the past two seasons because he’s a double-double machine, but his numbers are down a little bit this year, and Hamilton has a rebounding fiend of its own in Andrew Groll ’19 than can neutralize Pavlin’s impact on the boards. Outside of Pavlin, Conn does not rebound well. Neither team is particularly strong defensively, but Conn has a little more juice on the offensive end right now, so I think they’ll eventually pull away. Plus, being at home, especially this early in the year when teams aren’t used to weekend travel, could be a bonus.
Prediction: Conn 82 – Hamilton 72
Bowdoin at Tufts, Friday 7 PM
Prior to the season, I would have guessed this would be a blow out. Now, however, with the emergence of Jack Simonds ’19, Bowdoin has a legitimate 1-2 punch, and I’m not sure anyone can stop it. On the flip side, I am pretty certain no one at Bowdoin can stop Tom Palleschi ’17. Palleschi is the man to watch. The Polar Bears will need to throw some double teams at the lefty, but in their favor is the fact that they can roll out a few forwards to slow him down, while there is very little front court relief for Palleschi. and if he stays out of foul trouble (a big if), this is going to be a comfortable, though not easy, win for the Jumbos. I have no numbers to prove this (perhaps we will compile some at some point – any stat nerds out there with some free time?) but I believe that if we had strength of schedule numbers Tufts would be near the top of the list. For the last two years they’ve been 13-12 and just some chemistry or flow or voodoo away from being really, really good. Maybe this is the year.
Prediction: Tufts 78 – Bowdoin 72
Colby at Bates, Friday 7 PM
The Mules’ MO this season is score the basketball, and they’ve done that quite well. They can shoot the three (39.9 percent), get to the line (282 FT attempts, second in NESCAC) or just throw it into big man Chris Hudnut ’16 (16.6 ppg). Even though we expected Bates to present a unique problem on defense for its opponents with the Delpeche twins in the middle, teams have been scoring at a pretty rapid clip against the Bobcats (72.1 ppg, 42.4 FG%). That could result in a recipe for disaster for Bates tonight. Colby SG Ryan Jann ’16 is the man in this one. I don’t see anyone that can stop him from Bates, and he had a cool 19 points on 6-9 shooting in their last meeting, when Colby won just 78-74 in Waterville, but the Mules also shot well below their season averages. If they can play to their potential, Colby wins this one.
Prediction: Colby 80 – Bates 70
Williams at Amherst, Friday 7 PM
When these two teams meet there is always an added level of intrigue. All-time, Williams holds the 119-97 (55.1%) advantage over Amherst, though recent history has favored the Lord Jeffs. Between 2012 and the 2014 NESCAC Championship, Amherst won eight straight contests. Miraculously, Williams broke the streak in that year’s NCAA Semis, then won again in the teams’ first meeting of 2015. Amherst won the last contest 86-76 in OT. Amherst is definitely the favorite coming into this one, as they will be in ever game unless someone knocks them off. They have far more experience, and as we’ve noted before, the 2015-16 Williams squad is similar in make up to the 2014-15 Amherst team. Dan Aronowitz ’17 plays the role of Connor Green ’16, leading a talented squad deficient of seniors. Simply put, Amherst has the advantage at every position, so a big game from young point guards Chris Galvin ’18 and Bobby Casey ’19 who have had to take over for the oversized production of the injured Mike Greenman ’17. Unless those guys have huge games, it’s going to be over early.
Prediction: Amherst 85 – Williams 73
Colby at Tufts, Saturday 2 PM
Saturday begins with an exciting matchup of two teams trying to prove that they belong. Both could be 1-0 coming in, but don’t surprised if they are both 0-1. That’s the beauty of NESCAC basketball. This should be a fun one to watch as both teams know how to put the ball in the hoop, ranking second (Colby) and third (Tufts) behind Amherst in points per game. In the second game of a back-to-back, the bench becomes more important, so which role player can step up and make the difference will be a difference-maker. Tufts goes a little bit deeper in its rotation, and a guy like Drew Madsen ’17 might need to chip in 10 points or so for the Jumbos. Palleschi is going to be working his butt off as the focal point of the Tufts attack against Bowdoin, and either fatigue or foul trouble could force him to the bench for stretches in this one.
Prediction: Tufts 89 – Colby 87
Hamilton at Wesleyan, Saturday 3 PM
This seems like a slam dunk for the Cards … and I think it probably is. Crazier things have happened, but I don’t see anyone stopping BJ Davis, and I doubt that the Continentals will be really sharp in their second game of the weekend because of their youth and inexperience. The X-factor for Hamilton still has to be Ajani Santos ’16. Santos has been a staple on this team for the past few years, last season averaging 10.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg while starting 23 games. This year he has 1.6 – just 1.6 – ppg and is only on the floor for 13.5 minutes per game. Coach Adam Stockwell wouldn’t reveal what the issue was, but there’s clearly something going on here. Santos has been in the starting lineup the last few games, though, so maybe things are finally coming around. Joseph Kuo ’17 is a strong interior presence for the Cardinals, but as we know their team strength is guard play and the bench doesn’t run very deep, so a coming out party from Santos could swing the tide of what is otherwise bound to be a lopsided affair.
Prediction: Wesleyan 69 – Hamilton 59
Middlebury at Conn College, Saturday 3 PM
A couple of years ago, this game would have been a cake walk for the Panthers. Now, it’s hard to even pick them as a favorite. Conn is still untested, but they have some interesting pieces. Zuri Pavlin is a known commodity, even though his numbers are down so far this year, and Lee Messier ’18 is taking the expected step forward and turning into a go-to scorer, but newcomers Tyler Rowe ’19 and David Labossiere ’19 look like the real deal, too. Forward Isaiah Robinson ’18 missed the first few games of the year, played the next six and then missed the last contest with the Coast Guard, but he’s a solid body that can bang down low and bring toughness, and don’t forget about Bo McKinley ’16, the incumbent at point guard, surpassed by Rowe, who brings three-point shooting off the bench. Conn has all the pieces to pull a fast one on the Panthers. The key for Middlebury is point guard Jake Brown. Perhaps it’s unfair because I watched Joey Kizel ’14 run the show for two years, but my sense is that Brown needs to drive this team if they are going to make it back to the playoffs.
Prediction: Conn College 78 – Middlebury 73
Bowdoin at Bates, Saturday 3 PM
I’m predicting that Tom Palleschi and the Jumbos will be able to stifle the Polar Bears, but I think that Bowdoin will break out in a big way against Bates. Simply put, who is going to guard Lucas Hausman and Jack Simonds? Mike Boornazian is a great offensive player, but I’m not convinced he can stop Hausman, and Simonds is going to be an issue for either Mike Newton ’16 or Marcus Delpeche ’17, whomever Bates chooses to throw at him. The Bobcats don’t even get the benefit of the Alumni Gym crowd, as classes don’t begin again until Monday. It’s an unfortunate time to waste a home weekend for Bates, and I think Bowdoin can take advantage.
Prediction: Bowdoin 81 – Bates 71
Williams at Trinity, Sunday 2 PM
Finally, we get the NESCAC debut of Trinity, last year’s top regular season team. Even though the Bantams lost a few important players, there seemed to be enough holdovers in place for Trinity to stay near the top of the heap. The losses of defensive stalwart Hart Gliedman ’15, multi-talented forward Alex Conaway ’15 and center George Papadeas ’15 have hurt more than expected. As a team, Trinity is still playing strong defense, holding opponents to a mere 35.5 field goal percentage. They just can’t put the ball in the hoop. Starks and Rick Naylor ’16, in particular, need to shoot the ball better, but it could be a big game for Ed Ogundeko ’17. Long an enigma for his impressive rebounding rate in limited minutes, Ogundeko has made some strides offensively out of necessity. He’s a true center, something that is lacking from many NESCAC rosters, and if he can manhandle Williams’ Edward Flynn ’16 then Trinity can shake off the early season struggles and start the NESCAC sched 1-0.
Editor’s Note: Things can be a little confusing now that the season is underway. Consider the rest of our previews as season predictions based off of a compilation of conversations with coaches and players and observations from the first couple of games. All statistics that appear next to players’ names are from the 2014-15 season.
Conn was a very young team in 2014-2015, and it showed on the court as they went 0-10 in the NESCAC. However, they weren’t a pushover, losing four of those games by single digits, and they return the entire rotation from last year’s team. The roster is still very young with point guard Bo McKinley ’16 the only senior on the team. After hitting rock bottom last year, this season has to be one that shows progress. Just staying close is not going to be enough for the Camels. Conn College wants wins, and they have the personnel to do it.
7-16 overall; 0-10 NESCAC (11th); Did not qualify for NESCAC Tournament.
Head Coach: Tom Satran, 14th season, 124-185 (.401), Conn College Class of 1994
Returning Starters: Five
PG Bo McKinley ’16 (8.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 30.0% FG)
G Lee Messier ’18 (12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 35.4% 3PT)
F Colin Pascoe ’18 (4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 apg)
F Isaiah Robinson ’18 (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 43.5% FG) C Zuri Pavlin ’17 (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 50.7% FG)
All five starters return from a year ago, and the hope is that those three sophomores make big jumps in their second season. So far the Camels have mixed up the starting five with Daniel Janel ’18, a reserve for most of last season who came on strong near the end of the season, in the starting lineup. The Camels are not lacking 6’5″ and 6’6″ bodies, but they don’t have anybody taller than that who can really act as a defensive rim protector.
Projected Starting Lineup
PG Bo McKinley ’16 (8.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 30.0% FG)
McKinley has been a stalwart for this team, staying on the team as others have dropped off. As the point guard and only senior on the roster, McKinley has a clear leadership role for the Camels. He is not exactly a superstar, but he also has to take on a lot of responsibility on both ends of the floor. He is not quite quick enough to drive by his defender, but he still can do a better job of distributing the ball than last year when he had just 2.4 APG.
G Lee Messier ’18 (12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 35.4% 3PT)
Messier can shoot, and so far this year he has been doing a heck of a lot of it. He is shooting a somewhat ridiculous nine three pointers per game so far (that’s the most in the NESCAC), and he is making them at a 40.7 percent clip. That is the biggest reason why he is leading the Camels with 16.7 ppg through three games. His overall field goal percentage is lower than his three point percentage, and he has to be less reliant on jump shots. Messier is a solid two-guard besides just scoring, capable of chipping in a few assists and rebounds per game.
G Alex Tonhazy ’18 (8.4 ppg, 35.1% 3PT, 3.5 rpg)
This is the one position that is really up in the air, and the coaching staff is waiting for everybody to be healthy before really figuring out who exactly will fill this spot. I’m putting Tonhazy here because of the way he finished the season last year. Highlighted by a 28-point game vs. Trinity, he averaged 13.0 ppg in the final six games of the season, the only six games that he started. Tonhazy has had a very slow start to the season playing in just two of the three games so far and not starting either of those.
F Isaiah Robinson ’18 (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 43.5% FG)
Robinson has not played so far this year because of several nagging injuries, but he should be back in the next few weeks before Christmas. It will take him a little time to get his conditioning back so he might not really be at full strength until New Years. When he is healthy, Robinson is another bruiser inside with Pavlin. He did hit a little bit of a wall in NESCAC play with his scoring dropping to 7.7 PPG with a subpar 35.9 shooting percentage. He is a better player than that, and the early injuries might actually have the benefit of making him fresher for later in the season.
C Zuri Pavlin ’17 (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 50.7% FG)
The man in the middle, Pavlin is one of the best big men in the NESCAC, which is saying something given the caliber of players like Chris Hudnut ’16 and Tom Palleschi ’17. Pavlin is a grinder who outworks his opposition, and that is how he led the NESCAC in rebounding last year with 11.5 rpg. He also led the Camels in points last year, but he might see those numbers drop a little this season. Because he isn’t great at creating his own shot, he will give up some possessions to players like Messier, but ultimately I think Pavlin will become more efficient and retain pretty much the same scoring numbers. That is of course good for both Pavlin and the team. If the Camels play smaller and shoot more threes, that will also help Pavlin.
Am I choosing Labossiere just to show you that sick video … maybe a little given that the freshman has not played much so far. The coaching staff is excited about how he will grow over the four years, but this year will be a little more of a process as Labossiere gets more up to speed on the defensive schemes for Conn. He will be somewhat of a situational player with heavy minutes in some games and less in others. The early returns are promising beyond just that one video with Labossiere averaging 4.7 ppg and 3.7 rpg. His minutes might get squeezed as others get healthy, so he has to continue to prove that he is good enough now to get minutes.
The Camels are 1-2 early on, and they got their first win Sunday over Roger Williams. The key for them is on the defensive end, where they were the worst in the NESCAC last season. Nobody on the roster has identified themselves as a defensive stopper, and the lack of any perimeter stopper really hurts them against certain teams. As mentioned above, the Camels are not healthy right now, and that is not helping the team gain a rhythm early, though it is allowing some players to get good minutes. Guys like G Sean McNally ’18 and F Daniel Janel are getting a good amount of minutes, and they are going to be needed as important bench players all season.
One of the reasons why Pavlin gets so many rebounds is because nobody else on the roster is competing for them. After having one of the worst overall rebounding margins last year, Conn is right back near the bottom of the league through three games. Last year it was understandable given the youth on the team, but given that the players are now a year stronger, they should be better at holding their ground underneath.
Last year the Camels started three players (Robinson, Pavlin and Pascoe) who were NOT at all threats to shoot the ball. Many teams have four players who can pop it from downtown, and the simple arithmetic of three being more than two makes it advantageous for Conn to shoot more threes than they did last year when they were tied with Tufts for the second-fewest threes made. If they get a little more production from deep and clamp down on the boards, the Camels will knock some teams off. At the very very least, they are going to put a scare into a lot of teams.
Season Record: 7-16 (0-10), missed NESCAC Tournament
The Camels finished up the season with a 7-16 overall record and 0-10 in conference play. It was a rough season to say the least. After starting out strong, the team went into a landslide starting against Bowdoin on January 9. They had some extremely close battles, including a nail biter against Williams on February 13, which they lost 83-81. However, the team is holding their heads high and Head Coach Tom Satran summed up the story of the season nicely after the loss to Williams. “Our team is really improving despite our record. We all feel terrible we couldn’t finish them off tonight but we are getting better every time out.” Freshmen like Lee Messier ’18, Isaiah Robinson ’18 and Alex Tonhazy ’18 came in and made immediate impacts which adds to the team’s talent base. The team is young and inexperienced in such a tough division, but they finished the season on a strong note and the young players believe that the losses will be a learning experience for what hopefully becomes a powerhouse team in the future. Every contributor will return next season for the Camels.
High Point: Winter Break Trip
On the Winter Break trip to North Carolina, the team practiced at Duke University in Cameron Indoor Stadium. On the trip, the team went 1-1 with a loss to Methodist 76-59 and a huge win against William Peace 88-69, in which Messier dropped 17 points and Zuri Pavlin ’17 recorded a double-double. Freshman Justin Holmes ’18 said that “the team was able to bond over the trip and [he] could feel the team’s chemistry improve on and off the court when [they] returned to school.” A win over Coast Guard right after the team got back from the trip brought the Camels record to 7-4, but that would be their last win all season.
MVP: Power Forward Zuri Pavlin ’17
Pavlin, only in his second year, had another remarkable season pulling down rebounds. As a freshman, he recorded 249 rebounds, setting a single season school mark in 2014. This season, he broke his record from last season with 265 boards. He now finds himself in the nation’s top five in rebounding, averaging 11.5 RPG. That mark was also the highest in the NESCAC. He was close to setting another school rebounding record on February 7 against Trinity where he had 21 rebounds, only one short of the record set in 1995. Although he is listed at only 6’5″, Pavlin is tough to handle on the interior given his strength. He has also made improvements on the rest of his game and shot 51 percent from the field and lead the team in scoring with 13.7 PPG.
Player to watch: Guard Lee Messier ’18
Freshman guard Lee Messier made his mark in the NESCAC in his first season with the Camels. Messier, who appeared on our early season Freshman Update, averaged 12.7 points per game. Unfortunately, Messier injured himself after 17 games, missing the majority of conference play. Messier shot 39.4 percent from the field and an impressive 35.4 percent from three-point range, knocking down 40 triples. Having him around to provide spacing in the middle for Pavlin and company will be huge for Conn constructing an effective offense. He is one of nine freshmen on the roster whom Coach Satran must be thrilled to have for three more years.
First and foremost, I want to thank all of our readers who followed us so faithfully during the fall and early on here in the winter. We know that most of you are just like us, NESCAC students with a love of sports and a desire to see their classmates, peers and friends compete and succeed on the field. If you’ve been reading the blog closely these last couple months, you will know that I had the pleasure of spending this past semester in Sydney, Australia.
As a consequence, I could only follow the football and basketball action from afar and only contribute sporadically to the blog’s content. But I’m back now, ready to bring you even more analysis and opinion right here on Nothing but NESCAC, as the dramatic ‘CAC basketball season unfolds. Again, thank you for reading, and we hope you continue to do so.
Let’s get on to this week’s power rankings.
1. Bates (7-0)
It pains me to slot the Bobcats ahead of my very own Panthers, but Bates has simply been the most impressive team so far. They took down a Babson team early in the season that just dismantled the suddenly reeling (is that too strong a word?) Amherst Lord Jeffs and has wins over Bowdoin and Tufts as well. They’ve already shown that they are the team to beat in the CBB with two wins by a combined 26 points. And both Delpeche brothers have taken steps forward and become solid compliments to the likes of Graham Safford ’15, Mike Boornazian ’16 and guard Billy Selmon ’15. What’s more, the ghost of that Safford three to win the game at Middlebury last season still haunts my dreams. This team has it all. Experience, height, three point shooting (though Safford and Boornazian have started off slow in that regard), and something to prove after going 1-9 in the NESCAC last season.
2. Middlebury (7-0)
Middlebury has had some close calls already against questionable opponents (UNE and Skidmore), but they’ve found a way to win and that’s all that matters. This is a team that I believe will get better as the year progresses, as Jake Brown ’17 becomes even more comfortable as the point man, Matt St. Amour ’17 gets further removed from his knee surgery, Jack Daly ’18 gains more experience and, fingers crossed, Matt Daley ’16 gets healthy and realizes the potential that he has flashed the past two seasons. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 and Hunter Merryman ’15 are doing their part, but the team is lacking an inside presence on both ends, something we knew would be a question mark before the season started.
3. Bowdoin (5-3)
This might surprise some, as there are two teams with only two losses, but there is a method to the madness. Two of the Polar Bear’s losses came to very strong teams in Bates and Babson, which are a combined 15-1, and as we know the only loss between them came when the Bobcats topped the Beavers. The loss to Colby isn’t a great one, but I believe it was just a hiccup. Remember, this was an NCAA tourney team last year that brought back an MVP candidate in the seven footer John Swords ’15. The health concerns we had now look foolish, as Swords is playing upwards of 29 minutes per game. With him on the floor, Bowdoin has a chance against anyone.
4. Williams (7-2)
Seven straight wins is a good way to start turning heads. With all the departures and two losses to open the season, this team could have gone into panic mode quickly. But then the Ephs proceeded to launch an offensive assault, scoring at least 82 points in the next six games. However, they allowed 69+ in five of those six games. I think it’s clear that this team is going to be fine offensively, but like Middlebury the biggest question is an inside presence on defense that can discourage shooters in the lane. That’s something that all the teams above the Ephs (with the exception of Middlebury until Daley gets healthy) all have.
5. Amherst (5-2)
Three days ago, Amherst might have had a claim to the top spot on this list, but I’m not here to talk about the past. The Lord Jeffs are still among the most talented squads in the NESCAC, but they are struggling to put it all together right now. Against Brandeis their perimeter defense was mediocre. The Judges were able to run a simple three-man weave at the three-point line until one of their guards was able to catch a defender napping and drive the lane (they also shot nearly 60 percent from deep, but a lot of those were way too wide open). Coach David Hixon will likely make sure that doesn’t become a trend, but for now it’s a concern. What’s more, defensive star David George ’17 barely saw the floor down the stretch of that game as Amherst needed to score points quick. George is a great rim protector, but he can’t be a liability on the offensive end if this team is going to be next-level.
6. Wesleyan (6-2)
The Cardinals have won handily in most of their victories, and competed in both losses, losing in OT to Williams and by eight to Curry. This team’s strength is a defense that ranks third in the NESCAC, but Wesleyan suffers from a lack of depth. Six players are averaging over 20 minutes per game, and after that no one tops 11 minutes. On the flip side they do have great balance in that group with four players in double digits scoring and a fifth, Jack Mackey ’16, averaging 9.9 points per game. Besides that OT loss against Wesleyan, we do not have much to go off of for this team.
7. Trinity (7-2)
The Bantams have a defense that has been just slightly more successful than the Cardinals, and because of their stinginess last season there’s reason to believe that the D will once again be very legit. On offense, the Bantams feature a lot of solid but unspectacular pieces. Their best strategy will be to milk clock and trust that they can shut opponents down. But will that be enough against the high-powered attacks of Middlebury, Williams and Amherst?
8. Colby (6-3)
As expected, Chris Hudnut ’16 is playing at an All-NESCAC First Team level, averaging a double-double thus far. What is surprising is how far teammate Luke Westman ’16 has raised his game. Last year, Westman was quiet but deadly, averaging 9.5 points per game on 65 percent shooting while tallying a 1.75 assist-to-turnover ratio. The junior point guard has upped the ante, however, becoming more efficient and taking better control of the ball, averaging 12.2 points per game (second on the team) on 68.2 percent shooting (incredible for a guard) and posting a 2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. This team is loaded with offensive weapons, but are sort of the anti-Trinity, as they are allowing the second-most points in the league. Defense wins championships, fellas, and as fun as the Mules are to watch, they haven’t yet figured that out.
9. Conn College (5-3)
It’s been a bumpy start for the Camels, but the St. Joseph’s win was a good one and with three straight W’s, hopefully the team can get on track. Bo McKinley ’16 is doing a good job running the point and shooting the three, and Zuri Pavlin ’17 is a beast, as expected, averaging a double-double. But two exciting freshmen have come on and made this team dangerous. Six-foot-five Isaiah Robinson ’18 tops the teams in minutes and provides another big body in the Conn frontcourt, while Lee Messier ’18 has proven to be a sharpshooter from deep and leads the team in scoring. This young duo should only get better, making the Camels a candidate to play spoiler either late in the season or possibly in the first round of the NESCAC tourney.
10. Hamilton (7-2)
Hart who? The Continentals are 7-2! Hope abounds in Clinton. But wait, not so fast. Not only is Hamilton on a two-game skid, but only one of those seven wins came against a team that currently has a winning record, and the competition doesn’t get much better before the Continentals open up conference play against Amherst. As I predicted before the season started, Ajani Santos ’16 has really elevated his game, leading the team in scoring and and shooting almost 57 percent from the floor, but Zander Wear ’18 has not mad the immediate impact that we hoped he would, and overall there’s just a gap between Hamilton and the top tier of the NESCAC.
11. Tufts (3-6)
Despite all the optimism with the return of Tom Palleschi ’17 and the promise of a healthy starting five that couldn’t get on the court at the same time last year for very long, we were skeptical before the season started about whether this team would be as good on the court as it was on paper. Unfortunately, in the past few seasons the Jumbos have just been one of those teams that can’t match its talent with its performance. As the only team in the NESCAC with a losing record right now, Tufts was a default choice for the bottom spot in these rankings. They still have the talent to rise quickly through the ranks, and two former NESCAC Rookie of the Years, as well as one of the league’s most dynamic big men in Hunter Sabety ’17, but for right now they look doomed to another disappointing season.
Those who watched ESPN last night saw Duke beat Wisconsin, the second ranked team in the country, in large part because their three freshmen played great. Of course, the NESCAC is not littered with future first round NBA draft picks, but that doesn’t mean that some freshmen can’t come in and contribute right away. Below are some of the players that are already making an impact.
Johnny McCarthy- #10- G- Amherst
McCarthy is a 6-5, 190-pound guard, who played for Noble & Greenough School in Massachusetts. McCarthy has the ability to take the ball into the paint and will finish with either a smooth turn around jump shot or go up strong to the glass. His game fits in nicely in the Jeffs’ offense and hopefully he can fill the shoes of Tom Killian ’14. McCarthy has been playing so well that he is even generating some Player of the Year buzz. In his first four games with Amherst, he has been very impressive, averaging 14 points per game, shooting 55.3% from the field and 35.7% behind the arc. In addition, he has hauled in 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game and he is only improving. After an impressive debut on November 18, dropping 17 points in 33 minutes, he played an efficient game on November 22 against Mount Ida, going 7-9 from the floor with 16 points and 6 boards. You might expect to see some turnovers from a college freshman, but McCarthy only had one turnover in his first three games. It is looking like a bright future for McCarthy in NESCAC basketball.
Lee Messier- #21- G- Connecticut College
Messier is a 6-3, 175-pound guard, who played for the Tilton School in New Hampshire. Messier has been a shooter since day one and especially loves the three pointer. He has the ability to run the break and find gaps in the defense. His shot is similar to that of Steph Curry, a guard for the Golden State Warriors. He has a quick release, allowing him to get his shot off from outside the arc, as well as in traffic. His highlight tape from high school is basically a two-minute video of him hitting a barrage of threes and pull-up jumpers.
His college highlight tape is starting to look very similar. In his first four games, Messier has already dropped in 11 threes, going 6-10 in his second game. He currently averages 14.2 ppg and shoots 37.9% from three. His deadly shooting ability will free up room in the paint for another standout freshman and big man from Conn, Isaiah Robinson.
Isaiah Robinson- #33- F- Connecticut College
Robinson is a 6-5, 225-pound forward, who played for the Salisbury School in Connecticut. He is a big man with a nice mid-range jump shot, and once he gets in down on the block, there are not many players big enough to stop him from going up strong for two points. This season for the Camels, Robinson has averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, shooting 48.8% from the field. On November 20, he dropped 25 points and came away with 7 rebounds in 48 minutes against Yeshiva. If he can clean up some of his turnovers, he will be a tough player to stop in the paint.
Vincent Pace- #13- G- Tufts
Pace is a 6-5, 185-pound guard, who played for the Bridgewater School in New Jersey. He is a smart player, who can defend well on the ball and can be trusted to set the tempo while running the offense. At the beginning of the season, Pace was projected to become a breakout player, and he has certainly played at a high level, living up to the hype. His playing time and his play have improved as the season has progressed. He put up 12 and 13 points respectively in his previous two outings. Before a tough game last night, after five games, he was averaging 7.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3 assists, some solid numbers for this Jumbo, who also had four steals in a tough loss against MIT on November 25. We will have to wait and see if Pace can continue to play at the level of a breakout player.
Editors Note: This article was written by Josh Moss ’18, a Conn College student.
Connecticut College Camels
2013-2014 Season: 9-14 (2-8 NESCAC), 10th in the NESCAC, missed NESCAC tournament
Head Coach: Tom Satran, 13th season, 117-169 (40.9 percent), Connecticut College Class of 1994
Starters Returning: 3
G Bo McKinley ’16
F/C Zuri Pavlin ’17
F Colin Pascoe ’17
Breakout Player: F/C Zuri Pavlin ’17
Pavlin was overshadowed last year as a freshman somewhat by Hunter Sabety ’17 and Duncan Robinson ’17, but he could be primed for a big season after the departure of all-time NESCAC leading scorer Matt Vadas ’14. He set a program single season rebounding record with 249 rebounds. He ranked first in the NESCAC in rebounding with 10.8 boards per game, and he was the only player to average double digits. He also showed his talent on offense averaging 10.5 points per game, and it is believed that he is the first Camel men’s basketball player to average a double-double in his rookie season. Now that he is the centerpiece on both ends of the court, Pavlin is ready to battle it out with all the other talented young centers in the league.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G Bo McKinley ’16
The junior dished out 3.8 assists per game to rank seventh in the NESCAC, but will have to take on a bigger scoring role after only averaging 8.2 points per game. He went 30-75 from three point distance (40 percent) while making a seamless transition from the 2-guard spot to the point in a breakout sophomore season. He is a leader on a young team and was voted team captain.
F/C Zuri Pavlin ’17
You already got a good idea of what Pavlin can do since he is our breakout player. The sophomore should be ready to make a jump after getting his rookie year under his belt.
F Colin Pascoe ’17
Pascoe is the final sure fire starter for the Mules, and he will have to play a much bigger role this year. He started five games last year and averaged 4.5 points per game and 3.0 rebounds per game. He plays a similar position to what Vadas did last year so his minutes should go way up.
The other two starting positions are wide open for right now because of all the young players on the roster.
Last year, Pavlin had an immediate impact in the post while Vadas enjoyed the finest year of his prolific playing career. McKinley made a seamless shift to the point. Aside from their two NESCAC wins, the Camels dropped a 64-61 heartbreaker to Middlebury at the buzzer and were within two possessions in the final two minutes against NCAA Divisin-III runner up, Williams, before they lost a 98-90 decision to the Ephs on February 14.
The Camels have the potential to be a Cinderella story with their young talent. They are looking to turn heads and definitely could make a surprise run into the NESCAC tournament. We will see how this team meshes after losing Vadas.
Who will step up for the Camels this season? Pavlin and Pascoe will be aided in the frontcourt by the big 6’7’’ transfer Daniel Janel ’17 from Adelphi University. Guard Alex Hall ’17 is a solid shooter who could pick up some of Vadas’ production. He averaged 5.1 points in just 15.6 minuter per game of playing time. He netted 15 threes and poured in 21 points in matchup against Mitchell on February 11.
The team will look to push the tempo with young guns like Isaiah Robinson ’18 (Lynn, Mass., Salisbury School), Justin Holmes ’18 (Malibu, Calif., Malibu HS), Lee Messier ’18 (Narragansett, R.I., Tilton School), and Aaron Swenson ’18 (Waltham, Mass., Middlesex School). The first game is this Saturday November 15 against Framingham St. in the Connecticut College Coaches vs. Cancer Tip-Off Tournament. Opening tip is set for 6:00pm.
Also, the team has used a winter break trip to bond and learn more about the game while training in some historic venues. Last year, the Camels took a trip to North Carolina and even had a chance to practice at Duke.