2016-2017 Record:12-11; 3-7 in NESCAC (failed to reach NESCAC playoffs)
2017-2018 Projected Record:5-5 in NESCAC
Neil Fuller ‘17 (4.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)
Fuller started every game for the Polar Bears last year, and was a consistent and experienced player. His leadership and poise will definitely be missed by a Polar Bears team that struggled with consistency last year. Luckily, Bowdoin returns most of their major contributors outside of Fuller.
Ahn departs due to an academic semester abroad. Ahn led the Polar Bears in steals and assists last season, and was a quick and reliable ball handler. The Bears have some depth at guard, including three new first-year recruits.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 (N/A)
Not much information is available about Zavier Rucker, but all signs point to him being in the starting lineup on day 1. He’s a gritty, hard-working player capable of playing multiple positions, and he hails from the Taft School. Coaches and veterans have said that Rucker may not light up the stat sheet, but will take care of the ball and serve as an elite on-ball defender. This is an area in which the Polar Bears struggled, so the addition of Rucker will perhaps boost Bowdoin in much needed areas.
Guard Liam Farley ‘18
A 6’5” senior from the Windy City, Farley has been a staple of the Bowdoin Basketball team since his first year. He’s a proven shooter from the outside, and has also shown the ability to get to the hoop. Depending on their approach, the Polar Bears may want Farley to drive to the hoop, and draw defenders away from their other shooters. Whether or not he can do this remains to be seen.
Forward David Reynolds ‘20
Reynolds made a pretty big splash in his first season with the Polar Bears, despite injury. He averaged 10.3 points per game and 21.5 minutes per game. He had good chemistry with Simonds, and was a solid interior defender as well. He’ll see a big uptick in minutes this year, and since he’s returning from injury, that may be a storyline to take note of. More on Reynolds below.
Forward Jack Simonds ‘19
Mr. Maine, and Mr. Reliable. An early (and accurate) candidate for NESCAC Player of the Year, Simonds has been a flat-out stud for the Polar Bears the past two years. He really does it all: shoots, drives to the hoop, defends well – he’s really a ‘jack’ of all trades (haha!). Though his average scoring dropped from 19 PPG in 2015-2016 to 16 PPG in 2016-2017, Simonds has shown no signs of slowing down. He will handle the ball consistently, and will be called upon to make things happen late in games. Simonds averaged the 6th most minutes per game in the NESCAC last season, so longevity may be a lingering issue for Simonds and the Polar Bears. If he can remain healthy and consistent (and I think he will), he will continue his trend of putting up big numbers for the Polar Bears. He is the real deal, and the team’s centerpiece.
Forward Hugh O’Neil ‘19
O’Neil saw a big increase in minutes last year, and he delivered solid interior defense and scoring. His 9.8 rebounds per game was good for second in the NESCAC. His transition into a starting role last year satisfied everyone’s hopes of O’Neil emerging into a beast on the boards. All signs indicate that trend continuing this season. At 6’7”, O’Neil may often be a bit smaller than his matchup, but that shouldn’t hurt his ability to use his quickness to score and grab rebounds down low.
Breakout Player:David Reynolds ‘20
Reynolds battled with injury last year, yet was able to produce in big ways when he was on the court. Sources tell me he’s healthier and stronger than ever now. He’ll most likely find himself in a starting role with a chance to showcase his scoring abilities early and often. If all goes right for Reynolds and the Polar Bears, he will complement Simonds’s scoring load and serve as another player opposing defenses need to worry about. His game resembles Simonds’ to some degree in its versatility. He shot nearly 40% from three last year on four attempts per game, but also uses his size to finish inside and from mid-range. Like I said before, his health was the question last year, and that was the only thing standing in the way of a really stellar freshman season. This year, Reynolds seems ready to shoulder a heavy workload, and with his athleticism and scoring ability, he should be a major contributor for the Polar Bears.
Bowdoin reeled a bit last year after losing Lucas Hausman, finishing tied for 9th in the NESCAC. In that season, though, Bowdoin coaches were forced to thrust players into unfamiliar roles and hope to get production. This year, on the other hand, Bowdoin will be returning most of its starters / key contributors, so there should be fewer instances of ‘growing pains.’ With a solid core consisting of Farley, Simonds, and O’Neil, this team should be in sync consistently and compete hard in every game they play.
Simonds has proven that he thrives in the spotlight and enjoys being ‘the guy’ for Bowdoin. His leadership and nasty scoring abilities must be on full display if Bowdoin is to make some noise in the league this year. Bowdoin will also need strong years from fellow captains Farley and O’Neil.
The Bowdoin bench will be captained by Blake Gordon ‘18, who can be deadly from three-point range. Beyond that, though, the Bowdoin bench has some question marks. Jack Bors ‘19 figures to be a regular presence off the bench, like in previous years, but could also figure into the starting lineup at the question-mark point guard spot. The Polar Bears have 5 new first year players, so odds are some of them will see decent time and be forced to contribute off the bench. Just who that will be remains to be seen. I mentioned Rucker as a likely first-year contributor, but he’ll need a solid supporting cast.
Bowdoin will need to take down perennial foes Amherst and Bates this year if they are to shake up the NESCAC leaderboards. They will need to get into a groove offensively and muster better on-ball defense if they want to compete with the teams at the top of the league. If the Polar Bears can spread scoring evenly and have certain guys step up when called upon, this season could be a success. This team has a very solid core of junior and sophomore players, and a promising collection of first-years. After adding several more wins to their total this year, I think Bowdoin has a solid foundation to compete in the NESCAC for years to come.
I know that they just had a pretty ugly loss to UMass Dartmouth two nights ago to follow up their lapse in Lewiston, but the Jumbos maintain a tenuous hold on the top spot. It’s not an excuse but rather a glaring truth: the Jumbos miss their big man. Guess where Bates is strongest? The post. So, while a shooting line 36.1/18.5/53.6 is pretty inexcusable, that along with a missing Palleschi, along with Bates hosting a NESCAC game at Alumni Gymnasium is the perfect storm for a Bobcats win. Meanwhile, Bates shot 43.8/50.0/81.8. Again, not excusable numbers to allow by the Jumbos defense, but I still think this game was a fluke and that the Jumbos are deserving of this spot. That being said, they head to Trinity and then Amherst this weekend, their biggest test of the year thus far. Trinity poses another match-up nightmare down low, so Drew Madsen ‘17 and Pat Racy ‘20 are going to have to step up on the defensive end. And Amherst, well, it’s just Amherst. You can never overlook that team. This weekend will be a very telling one for Coach Sheldon’s squad. Is Tufts tough or fake tough?
2.) #23 Wesleyan (16-4, 4-3)
Wesleyan decided to try to be a bit sneakier this weekend by bringing Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench. Guess what – their sneak attack worked! It actually worked so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Joe Reilly tries it again on Friday against Williams. Kuo dominated to the tune of 20 points on 10-16 shooting in his newly developed sixth man role, just punishing the bigs of Conn College. Jordan Bonner ‘19 also qualifies for being credited with a stellar performance off the bench, as he put up 23 points, primarily on the back of his three-point shooting. I’d also like to say that while Nathan Krill ‘18 might be the craziest kid on the court in the NESCAC, he might also be the toughest. His presence on the court is not only electric from a fan’s perspective (I watched an incredible double technical occur between Krill and Tufts’ Ben Engvall ‘18 last week), but also in terms of contributions to Wesleyan’s system. The Cards rely on his grit on the boards and on loose balls, as the attention he draws opens the floor up for other guys to succeed. Wesleyan is beatable for sure, but they are a tough match-up for whoever draws the corresponding seed in the NESCAC tournament.
3.) #16 Middlebury (16-3, 4-2)
Middlebury has been very consistent this year aside from their blowout loss to Williams a week and a half ago. Pete was an emotional wreck following that loss, but the Panthers bounced back this weekend and smacked the living daylights out of Hamilton. Simply put, Middlebury posted video game numbers on the poor Continentals, shooting an ungodly 62.0/59.3/91.7 on the day. While I don’t anticipate Middlebury achieving another 115-point performance in a NESCAC game, they have consistently shared the ball better than the rest of the conference, resulting in league-leading numbers in both assists and shooting percentage. While Jake Brown ‘17 doesn’t shoot the most efficiently on the Midd roster, he is largely responsible for the team’s shooting. Not only does he lead the team (and league) in assists, but Brown’s ability to penetrate and force help out of opposing defenders leads to open shots 2-3 passes down the line. This should be a pretty straightforward weekend for Middlebury, but if they drop one to either Colby or Bowdoin then maybe they’ve got some more glaring issues than I have realized.
4.) #11 Amherst (14-4, 4-2)
While Middlebury has been mostly consistent all season, Amherst has not been, which explains my ranking them lower than both Middlebury and Wesleyan in the Power Rankings despite being a higher national seed. Every team in the conference has some bad losses, but Amherst’s back-to-back losses to Wesleyan and Conn College are of some concern. However, it’s not just Amherst’s losses that keep me on edge. To follow up that 0-2 weekend, Amherst had to put together quite the comeback against lowly Bowdoin at home in order to sneak away with a win. While I am used an Amherst that blows most teams out (as are most people probably), they still rebounded from the aforementioned three game stretch with a string of solid victories. As we all know, Colby has been the doormat of the NESCAC this year so far, but Amherst still needed to win convincingly and they did. Williams, though not in the top half of the NESCAC this year, is a solid team and is Amherst’s hated rival, so an 8-point mid-week is impressive. Then, the most telling is the 66-53 W against Trinity. Amherst hosted the Bantams and beat them at their own game, holding Trinity to just 53 points (!!) on 32.2% shooting while allowing just 1-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The usual suspects (Jayde Dawson ‘17, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and Michael Riopel ‘18), led the way for Coach Hixon in the scoring department and the ex-LJs got it done. Like Tufts, this coming weekend is the most telling of the season for Amherst as they host Bates and the Jumbos themselves. A 2-0 weekend would tell us what the rest of the league fears: that Amherst is back.
5.) Trinity (13-7, 4-2)
You won’t believe I’m saying this, but this weekend is a very telling weekend for Trinity (mix up your damn phrasing, Rory!!!). Seriously though, the Bants can more or less take the reigns with a sweep of Tufts and Bates this weekend, and they have a very good chance to do so. While they took the L this weekend to Amherst, that was a very good loss for Trinity. I don’t mean this necessarily in the way they played was good and they just got a couple bad bounces (-5 turnover differential, relying far too heavily on one player offensively, terrible shooting across the board), but in the sense that the Bantams proved a couple things to themselves. First of all, they proved that they can take advantage of mismatches in the post against good teams. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 had 19/11 and held David George to 6/4. Secondly, they proved that even shooting as poorly from deep as they did (1-14), they could still find themselves in the game until free throws put them away at the end. Looking ahead to Friday, Ogundeko has a highly favorable matchup against Tufts, and if he gets some efficient support offensively from the guards, Big Ed will have a chance to dominate. Bates is a tougher matchup for Trinity, but again, success is going to be reliant on the guard-play of the Bantams, specifically Langdon Neal ‘17 and Chris Turnbull ‘17.
6.) Bates (15-6, 4-3)
My friend from Bates (who for clarification, is unassociated with the Bates Men’s Basketball team except as a fan), has been describing the Bobcats to me as the hottest team in the ‘CAC this week. While a 3-game winning streak (just one conference game) following a 3-game losing streak (all conference games) does not scream “on fire” to me, I will say that Bates made Tufts look foolish on Saturday. While poor shooting is generally a reflection of both teams and not just tough defense, Bates forced Tufts into difficult shots and dominated them offensively. The Bobcats, especially Jerome Darling ‘17, put on a clinic on how to shoot three-pointers. They also shot 18-22 from the free throw line, which played a huge part in helping them seal the deal. I will say, however, that I think Bates should be concerned about this win giving them false confidence for a number of reasons. First of all, it took one of the worst shooting performances of the season for them to topple Tufts. The Bobcats also allowed their opponents to shoot 28 free throws, something that I don’t think I’ve seen a team do in a win that didn’t involve any overtime. Bates, a team whose system involves two big men, allowed Tufts, a team whose system involves just one big man (and lacked their starting big man), to beat them on the boards by seven. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 pulled the weight with 28/11, rightfully earning him NESCAC POW honors, his twin brother Malcolm proved to be pretty ineffective on Saturday, shooting 2-10 from the field and grabbing just three boards. Bates NEEDS these two to work in tandem on the boards at the very least, but it would be a big boost for them if they could have the twins both scoring effectively.
7.) Hamilton (14-5, 3-3)
Hamilton is a solid team. They’ve got some great young talent, and I think they are going to get even better in the next couple years. Right now, however, it is mostly potential that they possess, and they are vulnerable in a few different aspects, the first of which is down in the post. While Andrew Groll ‘19 is a solid player and a tenacious rebounder, he is also really the only real presence down on the block for the Continentals. While they have some size in their perimeter players (Joe Pucci ‘18 – 6’6”, Peter Hoffmann – 6’5”), Hamilton can get exposed on the boards and in the paint at times, especially against teams with solid post players and bigger guards. In NESCAC losses, they have allowed 40.66 PPG in the paint, showing that conference opponents know
how to expose this glaring hole in Hamilton defense. The emergence of Kena Gilmour ‘20 as of late is definitely encouraging, and he is a prime candidate to win Rookie of the Year, but aside from Gilmour the offensive production off the bench is limited at best. Hamilton has the weapons to surprise some teams come tournament time, but they still need to qualify. Ending the season with 4 tough conference games leaves a lot up in the air as to what will happen, but it is worth noting that the last two are against Trinity and Amherst.
8.) Williams (14-6, 2-4)
Williams has surprised me so far this year, and not in a good way. With the weapons that Williams returned at the beginning of the year, I thought for sure that they would be in the top half of the NESCAC standings battling for home court advantage in the playoffs. Now, here we are six games into the NESCAC season and Williams is ranked eighth in the conference standings. While the Ephs have been decent offensively, the Ephs just simply haven’t done enough to stop opposing players from scoring. Part of this is due to their post presence, or lack thereof, which rears its head on the boards and in the paint. Yes, Williams can get hot, especially from beyond the arc, and when they do they certainly have what it takes to win (see: Middlebury), but their lack of consistency is a problem, and is also the reason that they are a bubble playoff team.
9.) Conn College (12-8, 2-5)
Speaking of inconsistency…Conn has shown that they can really, really good at times. Unfortunately for the Camels, those times are few and far between. Wins against Amherst and Bates definitely show promise, but double-digit losses to Hamilton, Trinity, Tufts and Wesleyan leave young NESCAC bloggers wondering who the Camels really are. The issue, in my opinion, is that they have too many guys that want to be “the guy,” and while that’s a harsh critique, there’s definitely an argument there. In NESCAC play, Conn shoots just 39.7% from the field and 31.2% from beyond the arc. Keeping those percentages in mind and then take a look at shot totals. They’ve taken the second most shots and the fourth most three-pointers. Yes, they have played seven conference games while some have played just six, but still, the lack of offensive efficiency that the Camels boast has to be at least a bit concerning. To go along with their poor shooting, Conn allows their opponents to shoot the highest percentage in NESCAC play…not exactly a recipe for success. I’m not saying Conn can’t make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they manage to fumble the opportunity to close the season playing Williams, Bowdoin and Colby, the three worst teams in the league besides the Camels.
10.) Colby (10-9, 1-5)
They’re on the board! Colby grabbed their first win of the NESCAC season this weekend as they hosted rival Bowdoin in one of the best games of the weekend. Patrick Stewart ‘17 played like a damn All-Star, netting 28 points to lead the way for the Mules, and Sam Jefferson ‘20 showed the age is just a number, adding a nice 17 points of his own. The Mules owned the arc and drained 12 threes on the day (albeit on 32 attempts) to propel them to victory. Though they haven’t necessarily looked like a playoff team this year, Colby is on the bubble as this win brings them just one shy of Williams, the current eighth place team. It’s a tough road ahead for Colby, but maybe they can pull this off!
11.) Bowdoin (10-9, 1-5)
Bowdoin gave Colby their first loss of the NESCAC season this weekend to extend their NESCAC skid to three straight losses. Like I feared at the beginning of the season, Bowdoin is just far too reliant on Jack Simonds ‘19, so when he only put up 13 points against the Mules, Bowdoin was in trouble. They did get an outstanding performance from Jack Bors ‘19, who tallied 24 points on 8-12 shooting (5-8 from three-point land), but it was the inability of the Polar Bears to defend the three-point line themselves that buried them in Waterville. Bowdoin couldn’t quite pull off the upset at Amherst a couple weeks ago, but they’ll have a few more upset opportunities before the season is over as they face Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Conn to wrap up NESCAC play. If they want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to win at least a couple of these games.
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.
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. Also, now that the season is under way, treat this as our thoughts on what we’ve seen so far, not just a regular preview.
Projected Record: 3-7
2015-16 Record: 12-11, 4-6; Fell to #2 seed Amherst in NESCAC quarterfinals.
Last year the Polar Bears had to find a way to win without John Swords. This year they’re going to find a way to win without Lucas Hausman. Both of those players have gone on to play professionally in Spain, so they were probably pretty good. Jack Simonds growth will play a large role in the team’s success this year, and with the loss of three key starters, we’ll have to see how the new starters handle the uptick in minutes.
Head Coach: Tim Gilbride, 31 seasons, 444-315 (.593)
Captains:Neil Fuller, Jack Hewitt
Key Losses: Lucas…Hausman
Lucas Hausman was arguably the best player in the NESCAC last year. But now he’s gone. So that sucks.
Jack Donnelly and Matt Palecki were both senior starters last season. Their loss makes Bowdoin a very young team, with just one junior and one senior starter. Palecki led the team in rebounds, and was also good for about 9 PPG on offense.
Those guys started every game when they were healthy.
Guard Tim Ahn ‘19
Ahn’s a sophomore guard from San Diego. He’s quick, and he led the Bears in steals, despite coming off the bench, and averaging 17 minutes per. Ahn and Simmonds will be the assist specialists on the team. The shifty sophomore will have to step up his production this season in the absence of Hausman, especially now that opposing defenses will be able to hone in on Simonds when the Polar Bears have possession.
Guard Liam Farley ‘18
Farley’s a 6’5” junior guard from the Windy City. He’s appeared in just about every game since he got to Bowdoin, but he’ll see a big increase in minutes this year. I wouldn’t say Farley is an elite shooter, but he has the ability to knock down shots from outside when he’s left open. At 6’5”, that is certainly a useful skill for a Bowdoin team in need of some firepower. The squad is definitely going to need Farley to get to the hoop, however, as this will force defenses to sag into the paint, opening things up for Bowdoin’s other shooters.
Forward Jack Simonds ‘19
The Mainer. Don’t need to say much about Simonds. He can do it all. He shoots, he drives, he plays solid defense – Simonds is a great basketball player. The sophomore has good size, which makes him a difficult matchup for forwards when you mix that size with his athleticism. Simonds is the reigning NESCAC rookie of the year for a reason, but the Polar Bears need him to avoid a sophomore slump if they’re going to be competitive. While Simonds definitely benefited from being the second option behind Hausman, this leaves room for question: can Simonds be “the guy” in his 2016-2017 campaign? So far, it looks like the answer is yes. Through four games Simonds is dropping 26.8 PPG, highlighted by his 31 points in the season opener against Southern Vermont, a team that made an NCAA appearance last year. He also went for 28 in a close loss to #2 ranked Babson on Sunday. Simonds is the real deal, and definitely a guy to keep an eye on this season.
Forward Hugh O’Neil ‘19
O’Neil hails from historic Lexington Mass, and will be counted on for strong defense this year. He’s tall, and he can rebound with the best of ‘em. In just 16 minutes per game, he averaged 5 boards per, so in a starting role, he could be a beast on the glass. Bowdoin lacks size, so O’Neil is going to need to be tough down low for the Polar Bears. He will often be smaller than his matchup, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be a bad matchup. O’Neil just needs to use his quickness to his advantage. We’ll find out more about his offensive game as he gains experience, but look for O’Neil to be a solid player down low for Bowdoin.
Forward Neil Fuller ‘17
A senior captain from the Peach state, Fuller will be the elder statesman among the starting five. Jimmy Naismith used a peach basket as the first ever hoop when he invented the game of basketball (I grew up 15 minutes from the Basketball Hall of Fame), so it makes lots of sense that Fuller plays basketball. He’ll bring the leadership. Crazy statistic about Fuller: I once ran into a girl while on a tour of the Jameson Distillery in Dublin who went to highschool with him. Mind bottling. He increased his FG% by 13% last year – hopefully he can shoot above .500 again in 2016-17. Like O’Neil, Fuller is going to need to assert his authority down low on this small Bowdoin team. Their success likely rides on the shoulders of these two forwards, because if they can’t stop opposing post players, Bowdoin is going to have a heck of time against the Trinity/Tufts/Amherst’s of the league.
Breakout Player: Guard Tim Ahn ’19
There’s 25 PPG to replace from Lucas Hausman, 9 PPG from Matt Palecki, and 4 PPG Jack Donnelly, adding up to a total of about 40 points that need to be found somewhere. Ahn is going to play a big role in finding those points, in one way or another. While he was able to gain some good experience last year, Ahn is going to see an enormous boost to his minutes this season, and his ability to handle the pressure of starting in the NESCAC is certainly a question. Bowdoin is relying on Ahn, so hopefully he can find a way to get the job done. He’s currently the third leading scorer on a team that spreads the wealth pretty evenly outside of Simonds, which definitely Bowd(oin)s well for the Polar Bears.
Simonds was the NESCAC rookie of the year. He’s dirty. The question is, will he be able to repeat, or improve on his 16 PPG season? Did he benefit from Lucas Hausman receiving so much attention from opposing defenses? We’ll see. The big lefty is going to need to figure out how to score on the best defenders in the league, because he is definitely going to get those matchups. Bowdoin needs a strong year out of Simonds. So far, he looks capable, but we’re only four games in remember – it’s too early to ride anyone too high or too low at this point in the year.
The loss of Swords was certainly felt last year, and Hausman’s loss is going to hurt this year as well. Think about this: Hausman holds the single season NESCAC scoring record after his 2015-16 campaign. He averaged 25 PPG. He averaged 6 PPG more than the scoring runner up. That’s kind of insane. Where is Bowdoin going to get the production to make up for Hausman’s absence? The fact is, Bowdoin has not really needed many other scorers for the last few years, and while it certainly would have helped them to, they definitely relied on Hausman to make them a competitive team. Ahn, Simonds, Fuller, O’Neil, Farley…who is it going to be? I think Bowdoin’s best chance at competing for a NESCAC title is if they can roll out a lineup that spreads out the scoring pretty evenly. If the Polar Bears fall into the trap of just getting the ball to Simonds and watching him go to work, they simply will not find themselves in the top of the standings as NESCAC action plays outs.
Blake Gordon ‘18, Jack Bors ‘19, Charles DiPasquale ‘18, Jack Hewitt ‘17 and Richard “Swiss Rick” McCallister ‘18 (Rory was on his high school team and apparently everyone called him this) …. who is going to step up for the Polar Bears and take on the approximately 80 minutes per game lost to graduated seniors? It looks like freshman guard David Reynolds is the first one off the bench for Bowdoin so far, and Gordon has also mixed in with Hewitt and Bors. We’ll see how deep the Bowdoin bench goes as the season wears on.
Unlike some other NESCAC sports (*cough* football *cough*), in men’s basketball we see teams regularly battle all the way down to the wire. This season seemed like there were even more close games than usual. In total, six conferences games went to OT this year, twice the number from last season. Many more came down to one or two plays down the stretch. There were so many good ones that I decided to go back and count down the very best. Honestly, some of the games that got left out were great in their own right.
10. January 30: Bowdoin 85 over Colby 82, Brunswick, ME.
This was the best game I saw in person this season, and I feel wrong putting it this low. After all, it did feature the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year Lucas Hausman ’16 going bucket-for-bucket down the stretch with Chris Hudnut ’16, who was unstoppable on this day. Hausman would finish with 35 and Hudnut with 32. The difference was the 20 points the Polar Bears got from point guard Jack Bors ’19. Bowdoin led by as much as nine with 6:13 left in the game, but there wasn’t ever a doubt that Colby was going to make a run late. In overtime Jack Simonds ’19 had the first six points, and Hausman scored the next seven. Colby had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but John Gallego’s ’16 shot was no good. That this game is so low tells you a lot about how many quality finishes there were.
9. January 23: Colby 64 over Amherst 62, Waterville, ME
Colby entered this game 0-4 in conference while Amherst was 4-0. With that being said, this wasn’t nearly as big an upset as two years ago when a young Colby team shocked an eventual Final Four Amherst team in Waterville. The Team from Central Mass was ice cold, shooting 33.3/26.5/52.9 for the game. Luke Westman ’16 had just two points and fouled out halfway through the second half, but John Gallego ’16 stepped up to score 13 points. The Mules also benefited from Chris Hudnut ’16 playing well while still getting back to full strength and scoring 17 points. A controversial Connor Green ’16 offensive foul call helped to seal the deal for Colby in the final minutes as Gallego hit his free throws. A last second three by Green for the win failed to land, and Colby got their first conference win.
8. February 7: Colby 99 over Hamilton 95, Clinton, NY.
The highest scoring game of the NESCAC season, this was one of many games that went to overtime under weird circumstances. Down four with under 20 seconds left, Chris Hudnut ’16 hit a three to make it a one-point game. Hamilton missed one of two free throws, and Ryan Jann ’16 got fouled on a three point attempt essentially as time expired. He hit the first two but missed the third and the game went to overtime. The Mules controlled the extra period to give themselves new life in the NESCAC playoff race. Patrick Stewart ’16 was dripping from three point land going 6-6 from beyond the arc to lead the way with 22 points. All five Colby starters finished in double figures.
7. January 15: Middlebury 85 over Tufts 82, Middlebury, VT.
At halftime the score was 40-40, and at the end of regulation it was 72-72. The theme of this game was Middlebury’s bench scoring 35 total points. An astonishing nine Panthers scored at least five points, a feat made even more incredible by the fact that the game was close the entire way through. The game went to overtime because of a cold-blooded three by Vincent Pace ’18 coming off a high ball screen. With ten seconds left in overtime and Middlebury up three points, the Jumbos got a great look to tie the game up. The three from Stephen Haladyna ’16 went in and out, and the Panthers got the big home victory.
6. January 10: Trinity 76 over Williams 75, Hartford, CT.
The final game of the first weekend was a dandy with the young Ephs pushing the veteran Bantams all the way to the end. The victory was a coming out party for Ed Ogundeko ’17, who scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The final 10 seconds were frantic with Shay Ajayi ’16 first putting Trinity up 74-73 on a fast break layup. Then he committed a stupid blunder fouling Cole Teal ’18 70 feet away from the basket. However, Jaquann Starks ’16 raced the other way for a layup to pull out the win for the Bantams. The loss was the first of a few late heartbreaking conference losses for Williams.
5. February 6: Middlebury 67 over Colby 65, Middlebury, VT.
The first half of this one was a smothering defensive performance from the Panthers, and the score was 35-22 Middlebury at halftime. The game really got going at the beginning of the second half when Colby went on a 32-10 run to turn a 15-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Credit has to go to Middlebury for not folding at this point and coming right back with an 11-3 run that made the score 58-57 Middlebury. The rest of the game was neck and neck. After Adisa Majors ’18 tied things up 65-65 with 0:30 left, Colby could have held for the final shot. However, Luke Westman ’16 drove and missed a layup. Jack Daly ’18 leaked out on the rebound for an easy bucket, and that proved to be the final difference.
4. January 30: Amherst 89 over Trinity 82, Hartford, CT.
The game between the top teams in the NESCAC fell on travel weekend with Trinity undefeated at 5-0 and Amherst at 4-1. This game was uptempo and close throughout, but it lacked any real drama. Amherst led the entire second half, and the Bantams never got the lead below five points. The Team from Central Mass was not slowed down at all by Connor Green ’16 having just seven points. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Jayde Dawson ’18 both scored more than 20 points to pace Amherst. Ultimately, this game was the only conference loss for Trinity, but it didn’t hurt them since Amherst lost on the road to Colby and Tufts, thereby ceding homecourt advantage to the Bantams.
3. January 22: Wesleyan 78 over Tufts 77, Middletown, CT.
Another fantastic finish in this one. The decision by Vincent Pace ’18 to go for the steal with Tufts up two points, five seconds left, and Wesleyan in-bounding the ball with 90 feet to go was a bad one. That sent BJ Davis ’16 to the line where he calmly hit both free throws. In overtime, Joseph Kuo ’17 made a layup with under 30 seconds left to give the Cardinals the win. Kuo, Rashid Epps ’16, and backup big man Nathan Krill ’18 combined for 50 points and 23 rebounds as the size of Wesleyan was too much for the perimeter-heavy Jumbos. Both teams shot terribly from the foul line and committed a ton of turnovers in an ugly contest.
2. January 16: Amherst 88 over Conn College 86, Amherst, MA.
In the moment, the Camels pushing Amherst to the brink seemed like an indication that Conn College was going to make a major run this year. That didn’t happen, but this game was still a lot of fun to watch. Defense was optional in the first half after which Conn College led 49-45. Lee Messier ’18 was 5-5 from the field in that first half to lead the Camels with 13 points. But it was Jayde Dawson ’18 who took over down the stretch with 19 second half points. At the very end of this one, Conn College tried to run an inbounds play designed for David Labossiere ’19 to tap in an alley-oop, but his attempt missed and Amherst escaped on their home floor. This game more than any, between the presumed top team in the NESCAC and a team that went winless in NESCAC play last season, is an indication of how close teams played each other this year.
1. February 5: Wesleyan 66 over Williams 63, Middletown, CT
The number one game didn’t go to overtime, but it was a barn burner nevertheless. Williams and Wesleyan have played some great games over the past two years, and this one was probably the best. In front of a raucus home crowd, it was all BJ Davis down the stretch. In their first meeting this season, Davis had already beaten the Ephs on a runner with less than two seconds remaining. In this game, Davis scored the final 15 (!) points for Wesleyan to turn a 56-51 deficit into the eventual 66-63 Wesleyan win. The combination of the home atmosphere, the recent history of these two rivals (this win gave Wesleyan the Little 3 title), and the quality of the shot made this a clear choice for the top spot. I mean, just watch the video of Davis’ shot and try to tell me there was a better moment than that this year.
What a weekend for Maine rivals, Bowdoin and Colby, as the two swept Conn College and Wesleyan to both get into the NESCAC tournament with Bowdoin as the No. 7 seed and Colby the No. 8 seed. Both teams have shown plenty of promise this season, but it wasn’t until this weekend that we saw how good these teams can really play. When I watched these two go to overtime back on January 30, it was hard to imagine that both of them could possibly miss the NESCAC tournament. Now they both got in and are beginning to look dangerous.
Let’s start with Colby. The Mules looked dead at 1-6 in conference after blowing a last minute lead at Middlebury last weekend. Then they finished with three straight wins, with their two this weekend being comfortable ones. The all-senior starting five gets all the press, but senior guard John Gallego ’16 deserves some recognition himself. The quick backup is one of many short NESCAC point guards making an impact this season (Jaquann Starks ’16, Jack Dwyer ’18, Tyler Rowe ’19, etc.). He had nine points apiece against Wesleyan and Conn College. Against Amherst, Colby’s first NESCAC win, Gallego had 13 big points. The senior is a difference maker for the Mules.
The real surprise is probably the defense that Colby has played. I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t make sense that a team with five seniors starting should be so bad defensively. Yes, they play three big men essentially in their starting lineup meaning they give up quickness to teams. Still, they should be able to make up for it by playing as a unit on that end. This weekend they did, keeping Conn College to 73 points and then Wesleyan to just 64 points. The Mules certainly benefitted from some poor shooting on the part of the Cardinals considering Wesleyan shot 7-33 from three point land, but give credit to Colby for coming up big on the defensive end this weekend after having that be their Achilles Heel in some games.
As for Bowdoin, a team dear and near to my heart, they got big contributions from their role players while relying on their big two. Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 combined averaged 48.5 ppg in the two wins. And while I know it sounds crazy, neither of them shot THAT well this weekend, going 8-25 (32 percent) from the three point line. What they did do exceptionally was get to the free throw line and finish there. The two went 27-30 from the charity stripe, and they drove Wesleyan and Conn College crazy with their ability to get calls.
However, the real stars, especially yesterday, were point guard Tim Ahn ’19 and center Matt Palecki ’16. Ahn looked like he was losing his spot in the rotation to Jack Bors ’19 a few weeks ago, but an injury to Bors has kept him out and opened the door for Ahn to play his best basketball. Coaches often say that by the end of the season, being a freshman isn’t an excuse anymore. Ahn hasn’t played like a freshmen down the stretch. He did something I haven’t see him do all season: attack and finish at the rim. He has shown the quickness to get past his initial defender, but until yesterday Ahn wasn’t looking for his at the rim. He scored 10 points in Friday and Saturday’s game.
Meanwhile, Palecki was his typical workmanlike self with 12 points and 14 rebounds against Conn College. In both games this weekend, Bowdoin controlled the boards, something they haven’t done much of this year. Palecki makes up for his lack of leaping ability by using his wide body to keep offensive rebounders out of the paint. He used that same wide body to slow down the likes of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Zuri Pavlin ’17 with great effectiveness. While Palecki can sometimes fall in love with ill-advised threes, he does a lot of the dirty work for the Polar Bears.
One problem for Colby and Bowdoin is they now have to go on the road in the NESCAC playoffs. For both of them, three of their four conference wins came at home. Whatever, we’ll get there in a couple of days. The two Maine teams made good and salvaged what looked like lost seasons. Even though they are the seventh and eighth seed, Bowdoin or Colby is capable not just of upsetting a top team but going all the way for a Cinderella run.
Shooting Guard Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin)
Averaging 26.5 ppg in a NESCAC weekend would be incredible for most players, but it’s just another normal weekend for Hausman at this point. He finishes the 2015-2016 regular season averaging 25.1 ppg overall and 26.0 ppg in NESCAC games. Those are historic numbers: the best averages that anybody has put up on record in the NESCAC which goes back to 2000. Hausman is far from a perfect player; he does go to a D3 school after all. His defense is subpar, his rebounding numbers are not good, and he doesn’t create well for others on offense. One or two plays every game he looks like a legitimately bad basketball player. But to deny how freaking good he is at putting the ball in the basket is stupid. Nobody makes tough shots like he does, and he makes those shots efficiently to boot. Regardless of what happens in the NESCAC tournament, Hausman is the Player of the Year.
Small Forward Stephen Haladyna ’16 (Tufts)
The Jumbos had just one game this weekend, and they took care of business against Williams to secure a home NESCAC playoff game. Haladyna led the way with 22 points, the only time this year that he has scored more than 20 points in a contest. He had been pretty quiet in NESCAC games before Friday. Tufts is at their best when they are able to be balanced scoring the ball. Guys like Haladyna and Ryan Spadaford ’16 need to be big part of the offense for Tufts to make a run. The Jumbos sit at 19-5 overall and look to be in good shape for making the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the next two weekends, but a win again over Williams would secure their spot for sure I think.
The Panthers weren’t quite up to the task this weekend, and the most disappointing thing has to be the number of points they let up. Amherst scored 83 and Trinity had a blistering 97 points. Now, the Bantams were clearly hot shooting the ball (55.7 percent from the floor in this game), but it is still a little disappointing to see Middlebury give up that many points in regulation. The two games weren’t even that exceptional in terms of pace as Amherst shot the ball 60 times and Trinity 61 times. The two losses aren’t surprising in and of themselves, but I wasn’t expecting their defense to be the major problem. The Panthers have to get that sorted out by this weekend.
What a tough end to the season for the Camels. They made so many strides this season, but they end up falling just short of making the playoffs. The Camels pushed Tufts and Amherst to the brink and had a quality home win over Middlebury, but they ended up losing their final five NESCAC games to finish 3-7. The Camels are big, tough on defense, and capable of scoring in bunches. They lose senior leader Bo McKinley ’16, a player that has been a constant through some very dark days for the program. Credit to him for doing anything he could to make the team better over the past few years. This team will be a terror for teams next year in large part because of him. And they will be a terror with their young nucleus having another year to grow. Zuri Pavlin ’17 and Dan Janel ’17 are a load to handle in the frontcourt. Tyler Rowe ’19 and Lee Messier ’18 are going to score a lot of points, too. Conn College missed the playoffs this year, but they will get there soon enough.
Well, I guess the Amherst players didn’t like that I dropped them from the top spot last week, because they waltzed into the enemy territory of Hartford and traipsed out with the victory. Elsewhere in the rankings, Hamilton finally got angry about their low seeding and decided to pull off the upset. Even Bowdoin’s OT win could be considered an upset if you’re going by the power rankings (and honestly, is there a better metric out there?) And I’m sure, beyond a doubt, that in all of these instances a perceived slight by yours truly was the one and only motivating factor.
1. #11 Amherst (17-3, 5-1, Last week: 2)
Amherst made a big statement in that win Saturday. Though the final was 89-82, Amherst basically lead wire-to-wire and jumped out to a 12-1 lead to start the game after Trinity scored the first point on a free throw. All season long I’ve believed that they are the most talented team, and the only question is whether they can mesh well enough to win a NESCAC title. I’m still not convinced they can, but if I had to put my money on someone right now, it would be them.
2. Trinity (14-6, 5-1, Last week: 1)
The Bantams fall because of the head-to-head loss to Amherst, but my confidence in them hasn’t waned. Prior to last weekend’s game with Amherst, the Merchant Marine loss is curious, but the distribution of minutes makes me think that Coach James Cosgrove was trying to prove a point to his starters, so I’m taking the L with a grain of salt. Now that they’ve lost two in a row, though, they’re officially “battle tested”. Time to stop messing around, and solidify your seeding with a win over Tufts on Friday.
3. #22 Wesleyan (17-4, 4-3, Last week: 3)
The Cardinals stay in the three spot, and I thought about even moving them up to No. 2 because I think they’ve finally found some continuity. Over the last half dozen or so games, Coach Joe Reilly has settled into an eight-man rotation, and that has really become evident in the last two contests. Nathan Krill ’18, Harry Rafferty ’17 and Joe Edmonds ’16 contributed 88.6 percent of the minutes off the bench against Conn College and Emmanuel. Furthermore, Jack Mackey ’16 made seven three-pointers on Monday night, which gives me some confidence that he’s back to close to normal.
4. Tufts (16-4, 5-2, Last week: 5)
The Jumbos hurdle the Middlebury Panthers because of Middlebury’s slip up, not Tufts’ win over Bates. It’s really tough to pick one over the other, especially since their head-to-head meeting went down to a three-point attempt at the buzzer in OT. Both of these teams still have the Amherst-Trinity gauntlet ahead of them. Those two games will either make or break both teams’ seasons.
5. Middlebury (12-8, 4-2, Last week: 4)
Combine the tough early season start with a depressing upset loss at Hamilton and it makes you wonder whether the mid-season hot streak and 4-2 conference record were an anomaly. I don’t think that’s necessarily so, and I believe there’s a huge gap between the top five and bottom six, but still, the Panthers have question marks. They need to get Zach Baines ’19, who’s been out sick, healthy once more, because he is a spark on both ends of the floor. Since January 4, Baines has played 26.4 mpg. That would rank in the top 25 over the course of a whole season, so his absence shouldn’t be brushed off. Oh, I’d also like to point out that Matt St. Amour ’17 went OFF for 32 points at Keene St. last night, the place where St. Amour’s season ended with an ACL tear two seasons ago. Take that, unforgiving Keene St. hardwood.
6. Williams (13-7, 3-3, Last week: 8)
They’ve beaten everyone they should, and lost to everyone they should – at least when it comes to NESCAC opponents. The Ephs are 3-0 against Colby, Bowdoin and Hamilton, and 0-5 against Wesleyan, Amherst, Trinity and Middlebury. Unfortunately, if that trend continues, Williams will drop match ups with Wesleyan and Tufts over the next two weekends and finish 5-5. I’d be surprised if things shook out so neatly. They’re not playing particularly well of late, and some of the first-years might be hitting a bit of a wall. Still, for now they hold onto the No. 6 spot.
7. Colby (13-7, 1-5, Last week: 6)
I have no idea where to rank teams 7-11. Colby just lost to Bowdoin, who’s gotten crushed by Trinity and Husson in the last week and a half, but Colby also took Husson to OT. Bates has gone through the ringer in recent weeks, losing to Bowdoin, Middlebury, Conn, Wesleyan and Tufts, but they also beat Colby in early January. Conn has dropped three straight, but they do have wins over Bates and Middlebury in the bank. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s over there jumping up and down that they just beat the Panthers (Sorry, guys, but a two-point win isn’t going to be enough to shoot you up through the ranks). I’ve still got the Mules above the other Maine teams because of their experience and explosive offense. They need to be healthy, though, as we know, and need just a little production from the bench – at least defensively. Chris Hudnut ’16 is still having his minutes limited, and it’s possible he just won’t be 100 percent this season.
8. Bowdoin (9-8, 2-4, Last week: 9)
As cool as the 20-point breakout from Jack Bors ’19 was against Colby, I don’t think we’re going to see that repeated again this season, which means the Polar Bears are going to be fighting for a playoff spot. However, Lucas Hausman ’16 gives them a shot to win any game if he gets hot, and that’s mainly why I have them at No. 8. Hausman got better as the season went along last year. That might be happening again. In his last eight games, he’s had at least 26 points six times, 30-plus four times, and 42 one game.
9. Conn College (12-8, 3-4, Last week: 7)
This might be a little low, because I like the Camels, and I think they’re going to the playoffs this season. Even though I have Colby ahead of them, I could easily see the Mules slipping up down the stretch and falling short of catching Conn. The Camels have played all the good teams tough, except for Trinity – they beat Middlebury, lost to Amherst by two on the road, lost to Tufts by two at home and by eight on the road at Wesleyan. They have a great mix of stardom (Zuri Pavlin ’17), toughness (Dan Janel ’17), and talent from the youngsters (David Labossiere ’19 and Tyler Rowe ’19).
10. Bates (10-10, 2-5, Last week: 10)
No changes in the bottom two this week. The Bobcats haven’t won a tough game in awhile. They beat Maine-Farmington, who is 2-16, last night, Hamilton on January 15 and Colby on January 8, but have sprinkled in five losses during that span. The weird thing is that the Bobcats have beaten Husson twice this season. Husson is 15-4, and even though the North Atlantic Conference isn’t exactly the ACC, Husson has beaten Colby and Bowdoin. Even weirder, Bates was one of the four NESCAC teams to best Babson early this season. Still, they seem to be regressing right now. Not the time for that to happen.
11. Hamilton (10-10, 1-5, Last week: 11)
The Continentals have a little something going right now with wins over Ithaca, Keystone and Middlebury in their last five games, but Keystone has four wins and Ithaca isn’t what it once was. The win over Middlebury is legit, but it came at home, and they will need to sweep Bowdoin and Colby this weekend and then take to the road and beat either Amherst or Trinity to get into the playoffs.
Amherst cemented its status as the top dog in the NESCAC with Saturday’s commanding victory over Trinity 89-82. The Purple and White led comfortably 84-70 with 1:31 left to play before the Bantams made a late push to make things a little dicey at the end. Trinity didn’t have quite enough offense to stay with the shot-making Amherst team. The game was a very physical one, with the teams combining for more than 50 fouls by the end of the game. When they make their threes, Amherst is hard to beat, and they made nine against the Bantams. The win pushes Amherst to 5-1 in conference and 16-3 overall.
Leading the way were Jayde Dawson ’18 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 with 45 points combined, 26 of those in the 2nd half. The two also combined for nine turnovers versus six assists, reinforcing that as talented players as they are, they are equally capable of sinking the team with their play. Connor Green ’16 was quiet finishing with just seven points on six shots. In times past, when Green was having a quiet game he would force the issue from three-point land, but on Saturday he let his younger teammates take the lead.
The win was a great one for Amherst, and the Purple and White now have the inside shot on hosting the NESCAC tournament. However, they are still a ways away from that happening, and the problems with this team are not going away. I think that Amherst drops another NESCAC in the coming weeks, and with Middlebury and Tufts still on the schedule, multiple losses would not be a huge surprise.
Point Guard Jack Bors ’19 (Bowdoin)
The Polar Bears survived in overtime against Colby in large part because of Bors coming out of nowhere to score 20 points. The 5’9″ lefty reminds Bowdoin fans of Bryan Hurley ’15 because of his toughness. Despite barely playing all season, Bors was not lacking in confidence the moment he entered into the game. Coming into Saturday, he had not scored more than four points in just one game. He wasn’t at all part of the rotation until Saturday, not playing in three of Bowdoin’s NESCAC games. Bors got time against the Mules in part because of a strong performance at the end of the blowout loss for Bowdoin against Trinity last Saturday. Coach Tim Gilbride wanted to shake things up, and with the early injury to Matt Palecki ’16, he rolled the dice with Bors. Bowdoin needed a spark to hold off the Mules in a battle that was big for both teams. Bors now will see if he can make Saturday’s performance carry over to the rest of the season.
Power Forward Rashid Epps ’16 (Wesleyan)
In a game where BJ Davis ’16 scored his 1,000 point, Epps led the way with 19 points as Wesleyan got past Conn College 87-79. Early in the season, Epps was fazed out of the offense, but he has come back in the past few weeks with very strong performances. In NESCAC games, Epps is averaging 12.3 ppg while making shots at an awesome 64.0 percent rate. A little undersized for a power forward at 6’4″, Epps is powerful enough to gain positioning against anybody. The Cardinals won again to make their NESCAC winning streak three games now. At 4-3 they are above .500 for the first time all season and suddenly are eyeing a home playoff game. Committing to getting Epps the ball is a big reason why.
Center Chris Hudnut ’16 (Colby)
One of the best players in the league, Hudnut’s past season and a half has been tough to watch because of various injuries knocking him out of games. Hudnut had not scored above 20 points in a game since December 28, missing three games since then and laboring through the rest. He looked like his usual self Saturday, dominating in the second half and scoring 33 points on just 17 shots. Twenty-four of his points came in the second half. The problem is that Colby still lost to drop to 1-5 in the NESCAC. Getting into the playoffs is not going to be easy. They lose the head-to-head tie breaker against Bates and Bowdoin, and their one win against Amherst does them no favors. The thing is, if Hudnut plays as well as he did Saturday, they have more than enough to win at least two of their final four games and give themselves a shot of making the NESCAC tournament. And if they do get in, they would scare the living heck out of whichever team would draw them in the first round.
The Bobcats have now lost four straight NESCAC games, all of them by double digits. Trying to figure out what is wrong with Bates is not easy, but I think it’s just a problem of the pieces not fitting well together. Mike Boornazian ’16 has struggled to find his footing as the lead man. He is averaging 15.1 ppg in NESCAC games, but he is shooting 35.2 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from three-point land. As a team the Bobcats have the worst three-point shooting percentage at 32.0 percent, and the number drops below 30 percent when you look just at NESCAC games. Obviously the loss of Graham Safford ’15 has hurt, but it is also the absence of key perimeter players Billy Selmon ’15 and Adam Philpott ’15 that is hurting this team. Those two averaged 13.1 ppg combined last year while also being two of the team’s better perimeter defenders. Without glue guys like that, Bates has not been able to do the little things to stay in games.
Conn College’s Second Half
At halftime, the Camels owned an eight-point lead over Wesleyan. However, the wheels fell off on defense as the Cardinals pounded the ball inside and shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half. Conn College is now 3-4 in the league, but they have led at halftime for three of their losses. Blowing a second half lead is a sign of the Camels youth most likely. Closing games out in the NESCAC is hard, and Wesleyan beat Conn College on Saturday because of their experience in important games. For example, in the second half playing at home, Conn College made just ONE free throw the entire second half, going 1-6 from the charity stripe. These games are learning experiences for Conn College, and that they have them this season with so many talented youngsters is a good thing.
The Panthers, playing without forward Zach Baines ’19, absolutely let one get away on Saturday. A Matt St. Amour ’17 layup with 6:04 left in the game made the score 62-58 in Middlebury’s favor. The Panthers didn’t score again! Hamilton scored with one second left to win 64-62. Middlebury blew a 15 point second half lead, and the lack of scoring was tough to watch. Going cold for that long down the stretch is a freaky thing, and it won’t happen again. Middlebury relies on a balanced and deep attack, and it is usual St. Amour who hits the bucket when the Panthers absolutely need one. However, it didn’t happen on Saturday. The issue is the damage is done for the young Panthers. They will have chances to make it up, but in this year’s NESCAC where no victory is an easy one, letting a win like this one slip away hurts.