This past Saturday, I got to travel to Colby to watch Bates take on the Mules in Waterville. Bates pulled off the win, 82-79 in a tightly contested matchup that I believe was an instant classic. In front of an unusually raucous crowd for this early in the year, the two teams put on a show. This game had absolutely everything. We saw Matt Hanna hit four consecutive threes and give the crowd an awesome, Russell Westbrook-esque celebration. We saw the players getting chippy. We saw the fans getting chippy. We saw the lead never get above 3 for either team in the final 12 minutes of the game (until Bates hit a few free throws at the very end). We saw a technical foul. We saw Tom Coyne bank home two three pointers from 30+ feet to seal the win for the Bobcats. It was the stuff of legends.
That is what NESCAC basketball is all about. There is nothing like getting to travel to any school for a game and watch their loyal fans pack the gym to watch more drama than a Shakespearean tragedy. Fortunately truth is stranger than fiction, and we get an entire season of games featuring players whose legacies will surely outlast those of Macbeth or Hamlet. Anyways, let’s take a look at how foul or fair each team is looking heading into exam week and a blissfully long winter break.:
Bates G Tom Coyne ’20
Bates got a chance to play both Colby and Bowdoin this week, and each time Coyne put on a show. Despite the 70-63 loss against Bowdoin, he led the game in points with 22, and grabbed 9 rebounds. In the 82-79 win against Colby, he went off for a career-high 30 points on 11-16 from the field, including 6-8 from three-point range. One of the greatest things about the game against Colby was that for the final minutes of the game, the players on the court were Nick Gilpin ’20, Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. This lineup is one that has already shown improvements this year, and they will get to see three full seasons playing on the floor together. Bates is only getting better from here as Coach Furbush has the pieces he needs to develop and build around for the future.
Middlebury F Nick Tarantino ’18
Middlebury has been on a tear this season, starting off 6-0 and receiving the #2 national ranking in last week’s poll. They have many weapons, but senior Nick Tarantino ’18 has stood out as exceptional recently. He recorded a double-double against Endicott (an NCAA tournament team from last season), putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds, while dishing out 4 assists. In their last game against national #16 Skidmore (another 2017 NCAA tournament team), he channeled his inner-Ed Ogundeko, posting 20 points (on 9-13 shooting) and 17 rebounds. This type of production is ridiculous alongside weapons like Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. The Panthers are showing us yet again why they belong in the conversation not only for best in the NESCAC, but potentially best in the nation.
Tufts G Vincent Pace ’18
Vincent Pace ’18 is definitely living up to his POY-candidate hype (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Selected as NESCAC Player of the Week, Pace led the struggling Jumbos to a much-needed 2-0 week. He torched Emerson to the tune of 30 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 13-21 from the field. Pace tied the game with a three, then hit the game winning layup with under a minute left as the ‘Bos erased a 16-point second half deficit. Against UMass-Boston, he guided Tufts to a jaw-dropping 29-1 lead with 13 points and 7 rebounds on the way to a 73-58 win. He has clearly developed as the top scoring threat for a team that looks to gain some traction as they head out to Los Angeles to take on a few of the Claremont schools. If he continues this type of performance and the Jumbos continue to improve, Pace certainly remains in the conversation for NESCAC POY.
The Continentals are now 8-0 (tied for the best record in the NESCAC) and have been playing incredibly well this season. To be honest I believe they deserve a little more credit, only receiving 18 votes in the last national rankings. Only three of their eight wins have been decided by less than 10 points. They are blowing teams out, and putting up a lot of points in the process. Kena Gilmour ’20 leads the team with 17.4PPG and 7REB/G, and Michael Grassey ’19 has shown that he is a huge piece of this Continentals team. Grassey ’19 is putting up 14.1 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds,C especially having huge games against Utica and Eastern. Keep an eye on this underrated and young Hamilton squad, because they are a force to be reckoned with in New York.
It has been a tough stretch for the Camels, who are in the midst of a three game losing streak. They lost to both Mitchell and Western New England, neither of whom is particularly good. They sit at 4-5, which makes them the only NESCAC team below .500, with Bates having the second worst record at 5-2. Not to say that they don’t have any good players, because David Labossiere is averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. They are suffering from the loss of Tyler Rowe ’19, who was 4th in the NESCAC in scoring, but transferred to Western Connecticut this year. Conn College still has matchups with City College of New York and Maine Presque-Isle before they gear up for their first conference matchup with Middlebury. Hopefully the Camels start to turn things around because you never know what can happen in NESCAC play.
Williams’ Title Chances
Things took a turn for the worst in Williamstown last week when Kyle Scadlock ’19 suffered a torn ACL in the first half of their game against Westfield State. Obviously, this is a crushing blow to both Williams and the league as a whole. Scadlock is one of the most exciting players in the league, as well as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Williams is certainly still one of the best teams in the conference and perhaps the nation, but they have a much steeper hill to climb now. Look for players like Bobby Casey ’19 Michael Kempton ’20 to take on bigger roles, as well as forward James Heskitt ’19. Heskitt may be best suited to take on some of Scadlock’s myriad responsibilities both offensively and defensively, as he is another versatile forward with quick feet. It will take a team effort for Williams to keep pace with Middlebury, Tufts and suddenly hot teams like Wesleyan or Hamilton. Scadlock is only a junior, so hopefully he will return to full health so that we can see what Williams is truly capable of. Best of luck on a speedy recovery, Kyle.
There’s lots of excitement in the 2018 basketball preseason, much of it developing this past week. With winter now in full force, NESCAC gyms should be a great sanctuary to escape the cold weather (and the library) at the end of the semester. Go out, see some of these big ballers, and look for these storylines as you forget about those upcoming finals.
While schools so close to the North Pole should be expected to excel at winter sports, Bowdoin and Bates each had noteworthy weekends. Apparently Cameron’s article (http://nothingbutnescac.com/?p=5443) put the Bobcat offense into high gear as G Jeff Spellman played the Grinch and stole the game away from the U of New England. Spellman dropped 38 points on the way to the 107-103 win, carrying the team. The ceiling was much higher for Spellman in the game too as he shot 0-5 from beyond the arc, making it plausible that if the improves his deep shooting, his 20.5 PPG scoring pace is sustainable in NESCAC play. Reserves Eli Frater (8-10 FG, 3-5 3 PT) and James Mortimer (5-9 FG, 5-6 3 PT) also shot lights out and tallied 19 and 13 points, respectively. Considering the pair didn’t even start, they could see drastically increased roles as the season goes on. Mortimer is also a first year and should develop into a deadly weapon as a ‘3’ player (Small Forward) at 6’4”, finding plenty of room from that range. The Bobcats now sit at 3-1 after a brutal opening loss to Trinity (80-52), bouncing back nicely as they continue to develop their younger players following the loss of the famed scoring and defensive animals, the Delpheche twins, Malcolm and Marcus ’17.
For Bowdoin, scoring in 2017 wasn’t their biggest issue as they rostered the league leader in scoring for much of the year in Jack Simonds. Simonds finished his sophomore season ranked third in the conference with 19.0 PPG which was much lower than his preseason average, dropping off in NESCAC play. He is off to another hot start in 2018, leading Bowdoin to an unprecedented 22nd national ranking. While he is only averaging 15.8 PPG through the Polar Bears’ 5-0 start, he is joined by David Reynolds and Hugh O’Neil in double digit points, with 15.2 and 11.2, respectively. O’Neil leads the defensive effort, completing a double-double average with 10.8 REB/G while Simonds averages 6.8 and Reynolds averages 6.0. This is turning into a team with a three headed scoring and defensive monster—good for depth against the NESCAC opponents that usually had their way with this team in 2017.
Jack Daly’s POY Hopes
With Midd alumnus and 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year, Matt St. Amour ’17, tearing it up in an Irish professional league , his former teammate is looking to take his place at the top of the conference totem pole. Daly is surging to start the season, showing that he was more than the Robin to the dynamic duo that Midd had last year. He is having a Russell Westbrook like breakout year (St. Amour wasn’t exactly the same as KD and they are actually still friends, but it’s close enough), filling all areas of the stat sheet. Daly averages 19.5 PPG, but this guard isn’t just scoring. Contrary to many NESCAC guards that either score or assist, Daly is doing both. He is dishing the ball around like crazy, averaging 8.8 AST/G. Contrary to many NESCAC guards that are either too small to rebound or leave it up to the forwards and center, Daly is a force down low. He is leading the NESCAC with 11.5 REB/G. This is ridiculous. The NESCAC’s Russell Westbrook is flourishing as the newly minted Panther leader and should have all of his opponents quaking in their KDs.
Kyle Scadlock and My Credibility
In my season preview for Williams basketball I couldn’t stop raving about the potential for Kyle Scadlock, and after a blistering start, I’m happy to say “I told you so.” There probably weren’t many people who doubted the prediction for his breakout season after a breakout performance in the playoffs, but his NESCAC Co-Player of the Week nod for the opening conference release was a great start. He leads the NESCAC through the limited sample size in points per game at 21.8, hauling in 9.4 rebounds per game. He is answering Williams’ rebounding issues from last year and is shooting lights out in the process. While the Ephs are already a deep team, if he continues to stay on superstar pace, then they won’t miss their dearly departed Daniel Aronowitz ’17 nearly as much as expected.
Middlebury 2021 Guards
While Jack Daly is carrying the Panthers, they still need to be a deeper team come NESCAC play as Daly could just get double-teamed. They lost two starters in Jake Brown and the aforementioned St. Amour, and need their first year players to step up in their stead. Hilal Dahleh ’19 is a refreshing sight for Panther fans after missing 2017 with a back injury and Matt Folger is going to blossom into a star, but Midd still needs Jack Farrell ’21 and Max Bosco ’21 to do better than they have the last two games. They shot just a 3-15 against Johnson State and 1-10 against Endicott. They played much better in their first two games, but if they continue on this trend then Joey Leighton ’20 will likely see an increased role off of the bench.
Tufts’ Power Ranking
No, these aren’t power rankings, but I’m putting Tufts in a ‘stock down’ category which represents how their ranking has fallen. They play a tough preseason schedule, sure, but back to back losses to Washington (Mo.) and MIT brought them to below .500 overall before their win against WPI. Now, Eric Savage is living up to the lore of his name with 20.8 PPG and 11.0 REB/G, followed closely in each category by Vincent Pace. However, there is a steep drop off in production outside of this pair. While that can be expected when one of two players usually has the ball, they need to spread the love around or the Jumbos will continue to fall to deeper teams. They are LAST—yes, you read that correctly, Tufts basketball is last—in the NESCAC standings. They are the only team not above .500 overall, speaking not only to the crazy success of this conference but also how even though Tufts is not actually last on the proverbial basketball power rankings, there are ample teams nipping at their heels heading into the games that are more important.
As the opening weekend of NESCAC basketball comes to a close, we start to see some early headlines. Yes, this is a very small sample size so obviously a lot can and will change, but what better way to spend your Thanksgiving break than over-analyzing NESCAC basketball? That’s what we do at my house at least. We’ve already seen some monstrous individual performances, well-balanced team efforts, and generally A LOT of points put up. Granted, NESCAC schools almost always beat up on their non-conference opponents, finishing the weekend at a combined 20-2, however one of those losses was Bates to Trinity, so someone had to lose that game, and the other was Tufts to no. 9 nationally ranked Wash. U on the road by just 4 points. With this in mind, let’s take a look at 5 talking points to help steer conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table away from Colin Kaepernick and back in the right direction:
1: Eric Savage is the real deal
This weekend we saw three absolutely dominant performances, two of which were somewhat expected: Kyle Scadlock (24PPG, 11REB/G, 53.6% FG, 85% FT) and Jack Daly (17.5PPG, 10.5REB/G, 9AST/G, 52.2% FG). The third huge performance of the weekend, and the surp came as a bit of a surprise in Eric Savage ’20 from Tufts. The aptly named Savage has been just that – tied for the league lead with Scadlock at 24PPG – yet also averaging 14REB/G and 6.5AST/G, both good for 2nd in the conference. What makes these numbers especially notable is that Tufts played easily the hardest opening-weekend schedule, taking down a good Webster team before falling in a close game to a Wash. U team that we will likely see in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, Savage will have to continue putting up numbers similar to these in order to warrant POY consideration especially only being a sophomore, but now we’re able to see how high the ceiling is for him.
2: Bates’ offense needs help
While my bias leads me to believe that Bates is simply undergoing an identity crisis after playing their first two games without the Delpeche twins in five years, frankly, their offense has not been good. Although the loss of the twins is a somewhat valid excuse, losing to Trinity by 28 in their opening game is inexcusable. Fortunately, they were able to salvage total embarrassment by hanging on to a 72-69 victory in overtime against a weak Maine Maritime team. Their defense hasn’t been great, certainly not terrible, however it is the offense that needs a shake up. The Bobcats come in at dead last in the league in points per game, field goal percentage, assists, and rebounds. It doesn’t take an expert to know that this is not good. Interestingly, Bates actually averages the second fewest turnovers in the league. This means that they are simply just not getting good shots, so look for Coach Furbush to continue trying new offenses to see what clicks before we get into conference play.
3: Amherst’s balance
I was hesitant to include this one because we saw nearly the exact same trend at the start of last season – Amherst beats up on their perennially easy first weekend teams, and nearly everyone on their team gets good minutes. Because they used so much of their bench, their stats are a bit skewed at this point, and they will start to use fewer guys once they start to figure out who they are this season. With that in mind, they have still played an incredibly balanced brand of basketball (I’m no English major but I’m pretty sure that’s called an alliteration). The Mammoths have 10 players averaging between 5 and 12 points per game, 8 players averaging between 3 and 8 rebounds per game, and 5 players averaging between 2 and 4 assists per game. This balance is outrageous and with Amherst only having two seniors, it is good to see their younger guys starting to fill roles in a lineup that lost a lot from last season. We will see if they can continue this when their competition picks up.
4: Trinity’s defense looks like that of the Boston Celtics
The Bantam defense looks to take a leap this year, and they are off to a great start in doing just that. They were able to win the Maine Maritime tournament in an easy fashion while holding their opponents to 59 points per game, second to only Amherst. I will say the same thing about Trinity that I said about Amherst: they played a relatively weak schedule this weekend, squaring off against Bates who is undergoing an identity crisis, and Wheelock who is nothing special either. That said, they held their opponents to an abysmal 29.8% from the field including 18.4% from behind the arc. This is honestly a testament to their coaching because they find a way to get a hand up and contest just about every shot, making it brutal for their opponents to get good looks. Without the individual superstar that they have had in the past few seasons, the Bantams will continue to rely on their very good defense to keep them in games.
5: Youth movement across the league
The most exciting headline of the weekend is certainly the new wave of names across the stat leaderboards in the NESCAC. In fact, 8 of the top 10 leading scorers from this weekend were either a sophomore or junior, and as a fan of the conference as a whole, this is great news. Almost every team has asked one or a few underclassmen to step into larger roles to fill a void left on their team, and these underclassmen have performed admirably. There are a ton of juniors who have already made an impact and will continue to do so, but certainly keep an eye on sophomores such as Eric Savage (Tufts), Jeff Spellman (Bates), Kena Gilmour (Hamilton), and Matt Folger (Middlebury) not only as dark horse scoring title candidates for this year, but POY candidates a year or two down the road.
Thanksgiving is a crazy time – seeing family, catching up on work, starting to think about exams (that word itself just makes me cringe), and many, many other things, but the thrill of the NESCAC basketball season is finally upon us. For us NESCAC students, this means an absurdly long and dark winter, but it also means packing every last person possible into each of our respective gyms to cheer on our most beloved basketball teams. There is something in everyone that makes us inherently proud of where we go to school, and basketball manifests this sentiment better than anything. This is the beginning of an awful and amazing time of year and I don’t know about anyone else, but I couldn’t be more excited.
With football season coming to a close, and the weather getting unsettlingly cold for this early in the season – 4 inches of snow already in Lewiston – it’s time to get serious about basketball. We lost an immensely talented group of seniors across the league, and we’ll start to see some new names headlining the best conference in Division III (and I will fight anyone who says otherwise). This makes choosing player of the year candidates a bit challenging because although the conference loves giving the award to seniors, we don’t see the same dominance that we’ve seen from the past few groups. This makes the future look that much more exciting with the NESCAC shrouded in mystery.
2016-2017 NESCAC Player of the year: G Matt St. Amour ’17 (#4 Middlebury)
22.0PPG, 4.7REB/G, 3.0AST/G, 42% 3PT
Last season we saw the Player of the Year Award given to one of the best pure scorers in recent NESCAC memory in St. Amour, who led Middlebury to the conference championship and an Elite Eight appearance in his senior campaign. Half of the top 10 leading scorers in conference play last year return to this year, so we’ll certainly keep an eye on them moving forwards.
I have tried to lay this out as simply as possible: stats and info on each player, along with some notable facts, and a significant game to highlight from last season. Yes, that does make it significantly easier for me to write, but I’m hoping it also makes it easier for the readers to compare each of these players. That’s the hope at least.
Note: all stats are from conference play only.
G/F Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Amherst) – 6’5”, 205lbs
2016-2017: 14.7PPG, 9.4REB/G, 46.3% FG, 32.2% 3PT
McCarthy was an absolute workhorse for the Purple & White last year, leading the league with 33.1 minutes per game. And with Jayde Dawson being out of eligability, McCarthy will get all the touches he wants and more. As a true wing with his 6’5” frame, he is a double-double machine, recording 6 last season, 5 of which were against NESCAC opponents. It is tough to pick out one game in particular in a season where McCarthy had monstrous numbers, but in a win against then-no. 9 Tufts he put up 18 points and 14 rebounds, along with 3 blocks. With the amount of time he spends in the game, he will continue to be one of Amherst’s most reliable players and if he can keep putting up video 2K-like numbers, he is one of the top candidates for the NESCAC’s most coveted award.
F Jack Simonds ’19 (Bowdoin) – 6’6”, 225lbs
2016-2017: 16.0PPG, 4.9REB/G
One could argue that no single player is more valuable to their respective team than Simonds is for the Polar Bears. It was a little disappointing to see that his average dropped from 19PPG to 16PPG in conference play, but he still has a lot of time to develop, just entering his junior season. Simonds is a natural scorer who has the type of shot-creating ability and confident demeanor that beg for the ball to be in his hands at the end of a close game. Having a player like this is rare and although he is only halfway through his career, he has shown that he is capable of putting up huge numbers, especially under an offense that puts the ball in his hands every possession. Only Matt St. Amour, Daniel Aronowitz, and Jayde Dawson attempted more field goals last year than Simonds, and that is a trend that is certainly going to continue into this season. Like McCarthy, Simonds spends a lot of time on the floor, finishing with the 6th highest minutes per game in the NESCAC with 32.3 in 2016-2017. If he can get enough rest and his supporting cast can keep them in the game without him, he is a vital part of Bowdoin’s lineup, and a player to build around for the next two years. In what was surely the Polar Bear’s biggest win last season against Williams, Simonds went off for 32 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, while going 7-8 from the line. This type of production is absolutely ridiculous, and undoubtedly places Simonds among the NESCAC’s elite.
F Vincent Pace ’18 (preseason #6 Tufts) – 6’6”, 205lbs
2016-2017: 11.9PPG, 6.4REB/G
While he put up more than respectable numbers last season, this is the year for Pace to break out. Tufts lost a lot of production in the graduation of Tom Palleschi ’17 and Tarik Smith ’17, and Pace is ready to step into a much bigger role. He shot a modest 35% from the field, while going 28% from behind the arc, and 63.3% from the line. With a jump shot as nice as Pace’s, his shooting numbers should be considerably higher. His 11.9 points per game average is also a bit deceiving, because he was only playing 26.7 minutes per game last year as he recovered from a knee injury, good for a pedestrian 28th in the NESCAC. He should see considerably more touches this year, likely resulting in higher production. His rebounding numbers also increased significantly when Palleschi was battling injury, and this is hopeful for his production on the glass this season as well. No game is more indicative of Pace’s upward trending value than in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament when he absolutely lit up St. John Fischer for 37 points and 6 rebounds, on 12-17 shooting, 5-6 from downtown, and 8-9 from the line en route to a 94-81 victory. Obviously these are absurd numbers and this was a bit of an anomaly, but it shows what Pace is capable of, and what he will try to do in leading this year’s Jumbo squad.
G Jack Daly ’18 (preseason #8 Middlebury) – 6’3”, 190lbs
Daly is among the many across the league who will step into a much larger role after Middlebury graduated a significant portion of their lineup from last year, most notably Jake Brown ’17 and Matt St. Amour ’17. I believe that Daly is more than capable of filling this role, and was often forced to take more of a backseat to the duo of Brown and St. Amour, specifically in the scoring department. Look for his scoring numbers to take a jump up this year, especially if he can continue to be lethal from long range. His usage also lends itself to an uptick in scoring because he finished last season at 2nd in the NESCAC with 32.9 minutes per game. What makes Daly so valuable, however, is how much balance he offers, dishing out a conference-best 5.5 assists per game and hauling in an impressive 6.5 rebounds per game despite only being 6’3”, to go along with his scoring ability. Something to keep an eye on is that Daly fouled out 4 times last year, 3 of those games were losses, and the last one was in the Elite Eight to Williams, so Daly must stay out of foul trouble to be the team’s true leader. While Daly has had his fair share of double-doubles, he missed a triple-double by just one assist in a win against Trinity last season, putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. He was able to get to the line quite a bit that game, something he will likely continue to do this year, as he gets stronger. Keep an eye on Daly engineering yet another outstanding Panthers team this season.
F Kyle Scadlock ’19 (preseason #3 Williams) – 6’7”, 205lbs
Scadlock rounds out this list as a bit of an enigma, but as Colby referenced in the Williams Season Preview, he has the tools to be a superstar. He started last year putting up solid numbers, then hit a bit of a cold spell in the middle of the season. The reason that he even warrants consideration for an honor this high is what he was able to do in postseason play. His regular-season stats were relatively average, especially compared to the rest of the players on this list, but take a look at his conference and NCAA Tournament stats, when the shoe almost fit just right on Williams’ Cinderella run to the Final Four last year:
NESCAC Tournament: 16.0PPG, 8.7REB/G, 67.7% FG, 88.9% FT
It is ridiculous what Scadlock was able to do, particularly because he was doing it against the best competition on the biggest stages. He put up one huge game after another, but the Sweet 16 was the most impressive of them all, when he torched Susquehanna to the tune of 22 points and 12 rebounds, while going 12-12 from the charity stripe. These are the numbers he is capable of with his rare combination of size and athleticism, giving him one of the highest ceilings of anyone in the NESCAC.
There are certainly more than just 5 players capable of winning Player of the Year, and there are a lot of question marks, as many teams will see some unproven youngsters fill spots in their lineups. Of course, this article is written with the knowledge that end-of-the-year awards tend to be biased towards seniors. There are many non-seniors who could have a shot at the trophy if the older group struggles. Peter Hoffmann ’19 and Kena Gilmour ’20 for Hamilton come to mind, as does Middlebury’s Matt Folger ‘2o, Amherst’s Michael Riopel ’19, and Williams’ Matt Karpowicz ’20. If we were to do a midseason updated POY watch list (and we probably will), it might look completely different, but that’s what makes this league great. Buckle up folks, ‘cause we’re in for another fantastic year of NESCAC basketball.
Aside from Editor in Chief, my most important job at this blog is the president of the Jack Daly fan club. Daly has long been the Kevin Jonas to St. Amour and Brown’s Joe and Nick–almost (and maybe even as) talented, but under the radar. But now he gets a solo act. Scoring is not his specialty, but he will be asked to be more aggressive in creating his own shot to replace some of St. Amour’s possession-saving shots. But Daly has already proven that he can fill it up when the team needs it. He had a buzzer beater in the holiday tournament last season, and in the NCAA game against Williams he had 23 points, while Brown and St. Amour both struggled. He will have to shoot higher than 31% from three, but he improved in league play last season despite a an awkward jump shot. What really sets him apart, however, is everything else besides scoring. There might be no greater triple double threat in the league. He led Middlebury in rebounding last season, (6.5) despite being a good six inches shorter than Nick Tarantino (6’3″ in the program? Alright Jack.) And he finished in the top three in the league in both assists and steals. He fills the stat sheet like no one else. Middlebury might have had the three best guards in the league on their team last season, and it’s possible that the best one is the one that stayed.
G: Hilal Dahleh ‘19 (4.7 PPG, 1.7 REB/G, 39% FG)
This second guard spot is maybe the biggest question mark for the Panthers. Daly should effectively mitigate the loss of Brown at the point, but Middlebury’s success last season stemmed from having multiple guards who could initiate the offense, guard threats on the opposing team, and create shots for themselves. There’s a lot of competition for this spot. Sophomores Perry Delorenzo ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘19 are excellent shooters, as is precocious first year Max Bosco. Perhaps the best candidate among the first years to jump into this spot would be first year Jack Ferrall. A tremendous athlete, Ferrall projects as an elite defender with finishing skills that transcend his height. But his shooting is not as far along as any of the other guards.
The person who best allows the Panthers to continue playing the way they want is Hilal Dahleh. In his first year, he impressed with his terrific defense and feel for the game, despite struggling with his shot. He was projected to be a major factor last season, but suffered a back injury in the preseason which forced him out for the entire year. But he has worked his way back into playing shape, and should enter the season at 100%. At 6’3”, he has terrific size for the position, and his long arms allow him to be a good complimentary defender to Daly. The key for him will be hitting shots. He has to be an offensive threat out of the two guard spot for the Middlebury offense to function. If he struggles shooting the ball to start off the year, there are several shooters on the bench who are ready to go.
F: Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
This spot is also up for debate, as if any of the other guards besides Dahleh impress enough in the preseason, they could slide into the starting lineup, with Dahleh at the three and Folger at the four. But Folger’s starting spot is far from in doubt, and having him at the three opens up a world of possibilities. There’s more on him below so I won’t say too much here, but there are few players in the league with his combination of height and perimeter skills. Teams can’t put a guard on him, as he has good post footwork and can shoot right over the top of them. But very few big men can keep up with his speed and ball handling, and he draws a center away from the basket. This opens up driving lanes for any of the speedy Middlebury guards. If at all possible, the Panthers should try to play Folger here at the three to create mismatches all over the floor.
F: Adisa Majors ‘18 (9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB/G, 54% FG)
Majors has carved out a nice spot for himself here in Middlebury. His style in the post is best described as “Elephant in a China Shop,” but his 54% field goal percentage speaks to its effectiveness. His 15-foot jumper is perfect for playing in a guard-heavy offense, and he has gotten himself into good enough shape to beat most big men down the court. He has developed into the perfect big man for Jack Daly. Defensively, he has made great strides, but still gets into trouble when switched onto opposing guards. Eric McCord ‘19 is less of a liability in this area, and is a better passer out of the post as well. But he hasn’t practiced yet this season, so right now Majors is the guy. He will need to continue to earn his time, as a three guard lineup with Folger at the four is entirely possible. But then again, he’s done that his whole career.
Tarantino was an embodiment of one of the strangest developments of Middlebury’s season last year. In the first half, Middlebury was getting killed on the glass and in the paint defensively, and it looked as if the forward rotation would spoil the incredible perimeter play and lead to an early tournament exit. But around the beginning of league play, Tarantino, McCord and Majors turned it on and became one of the more threatening units in the league. Tarantino was especially impressive. He shot 59% from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds a game, becoming the kind of imposing threat that Middlebury needed to have controlling the paint. And this season he should only get better as the established starter. As a recruit he was touted as being an outside threat, but he has (mercifully) left that behind in favor of a springy, jump hook-based post game. His most underrated skill is his passing, as he and McCord have developed a nice chemistry on high low actions, taking advantage of both of their heights to see over the defense.
Speaking of defense, that is where he must improve. Despite his long arms, height and jumping ability, he still averaged less than one block per game last season. Folger is a great shot blocker, but when Tarantino is in Folger will most likely be on the perimeter. Tarantino must become a more imposing defensive force for Middlebury. When McCord comes back, some minutes at this spot will go to him, but they are at their best when playing together, so Tarantino should see consistent minutes all season.
F Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
If Middlebury hopes to continue the frantic, perimeter-heavy style of play that has won them back-to-back NESCAC championships, Folger must take a big leap forward. He certainly has the talent to. At 6’8”, he is tall enough to be a menace in the paint on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of being a dominant interior force last season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game despite limited minutes, and he has terrific touch around the rim on offense, shooting 60% on two point field goals. But it’s his perimeter skills at that height that make him one of the most talented players in the league. He has very quick feet and long arms, enabling him to guard players of all different positions. Middlebury will ask him to do a great deal of this, as many lineups for the Panthers will feature him at the small forward spot alongside more traditional big men such as McCord, Tarantino or Adisa Majors ‘18.
Folger also will take on much more responsibility as a three point threat. Middlebury’s guard-heavy recruiting class suggests that they want to continue to run and shoot three pointers often. This is difficult to do when you graduate your three best outside shooters, including one of the best in the country. Folger’s form is beautiful, and his success inside the arc and at the foul line (80%) serve as evidence to his great touch, but he only shot 28% from three last season. Of course it takes most first years time to adjust to the college game (Middlebury loyalists will remember that Matt St. Amour struggled from three for most of his first two years) but Folger doesn’t have that luxury this season. He will be asked to live up to his considerable potential this year, and if he does, an All-NESCAC selection is not out of the realm of possibility.
Middlebury’s goal, like the rest of the league’s, is to beat Williams. They’re the preseason number one, and they’re the team that knocked the Panthers out in the NCAA tournament last season. The way that Middlebury is going at the Ephs is by matching their size and positional versatility. Daly has long been the best defender in the league in terms of guarding all positions; he is the only point guard in the league who can guard power forwards effectively, and will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of size or position. With the forward rotation of Folger, Tarantino, Majors and McCord, and terrific defensive guards in Dahleh and Daly (say that three times fast) the Panthers have the ability to play a lineup big enough to bang on the glass with Williams without sacrificing too much speed. Another factor in this equation is first year forward Ryan Cahill ‘21. He is another big man who is far more mobile than his size would lead you to believe, and is already a threat from outside. He will be in the rotation as long as McCord is out, and maybe beyond that.
Middlebury could also match Williams by playing small and running them off the floor, but there are more question marks there. Coach Brown’s focus in the offseason for recruiting was certainly guards, and he has brought in an excellent class. We have already discussed Farrell’s two way potential, but the second unit of guards runs deeper than just him. Bosco is one of the best shooters in the class, regardless of team. His release is lightning fast, and he is very advanced at finding his spot and finishing over size. Defensively he projects as a liability right now due to his own diminutive stature, so he is better suited at the moment to be shot of caffiene off the bench, a la Bryan Jones.
Delorenzo and Leighton also figure to fight for minutes, and as always, whichever one of them is hitting shots will determine who sits higher in the rotation. Much of Middlebury’s second unit play will be guard-heavy, three point barrages, but they could also easily trot out a three guard starting lineup, with Bosco or Delorenzo joining Dahleh and Daly in the back court. With Folger at the four and Tarantino, Majors or McCord (when he returns from injury) at the five this lineup would be very difficult to defend. However, the would be worse on the boards and overall easier to score on, especially for larger lineups like Williams’.
Middlebury has reloaded this season, but there are a lot of red flags. Daly has the highest amount of responsibility of any point guard in the league. He has to run a high paced offense, while working in many new players and guarding the best player on the other team. He doesn’t have a proven backup, although Dahleh, Farrell and Bosco are all capable of bringing the ball up. They will run a lot of the second unit offense. But with that said, there’s no way that Middlebury isn’t worse without Daly on the floor. He might set minutes records this season, and there’s no guarantee that he can sustain his impossible hustle while having the ball in his hands so often.
The lack of three point shooting is also worrying. The three graduated seniors were the three best outside shooters on a team that didn’t exactly light it up for much of the season. Middlebury got in a lot of trouble when teams could pack the paint against them and force them into congested shots in the paint. That’s what Williams did in the NCAA tournament. Daly will have to shoot better than 31%; if teams can go under picks and play off him, the offense stalls out at the top of the key. Folger’s 28% is unacceptable for a guy with such pretty form, and he represents the biggest outside weapon in the projected starting lineup. And Bosco, Delorenzo and Leighton will have to live up to their billing as bombers. Middlebury can no longer rely on St. Amour to get them a shot in failed possessions, other guys have to step up.
The losses look huge on paper. St. Amour is one of the best NESCAC players of the last 20 years, and Brown wasn’t far behind him. Bryan Jones was a force off the bench, and even Liam Naughton hit a couple big shots and was huge for team chemistry. But they retained a great deal of talent as well. The forward rotation was a strength at the end of last season, and all of those players are back and a year more experienced. With a big starting five that looks more Division One than NESCAC, Middlebury should be able to cure much of rebounding woes that once plagued them. The keys to Middlebury’s chances at a three-peat lie on the perimeter. They need Daly and Folger to up their scoring averages and three point percentages considerably, and for Delorenzo, Ferrall, Dahleh, Bosco and Cahill to be threats off the bench. The Panthers enter the season eighth in the country and third in the NESCAC, behind Williams and Tufts. It’s possible that at the end of the year, we will look back on that and laugh at how low they were. But it’s also possible that we shake our heads and wonder why they were so high. I think it will be the former, but, as always, I’m biased.
Williams (22-8, 7-6) at Middlebury (27-3, 11-2): Pepin Gymnasium, Middlebury, VT 7:00 P.M.
What this means:
Throw out all of the statistics, the strength of schedule numbers, the bad losses, and the blowout wins. This is the Elite Eight and no matter how Williams and Middlebury got to this point in the season, they are in the NCAA quarterfinals on the road to the glory of a national championship. Expect a battle in Pepin tonight.
Williams and Midd are 1-1 against each other this year, and as Pete mentioned yesterday, the unwritten rules of pickup basketball dictate that there must be a rubber match. This is THE rubber match of all games. Both teams are coming off of relatively easy wins where they outmatched their opponents and haven’t been tested to this point in the tournament. These teams are a great match up for one another as Williams shot out of this world back in regular season NESCAC play to beat the Panthers, and Middlebury returned the favor to bring home the championship in Medford two weeks ago.
How They Got Here:
Coming off of stellar shooting performances from both Matt St. Amour ’17 and Jake Brown ’17, Middlebury looks to be firing on all cylinders as they head into the final stretch of the season. Their 4/5 rotations between Nick Tarantino ’18, Adisa Majors ’18, Matt Folger ’20, and Eric McCord ’19 has left other teams scrambling not knowing what combination of big men they are facing. McCord plays an aggressive, (sometimes out of control) game and Majors has a beautiful mid-range jumper and led the NESCAC in FG%, Tarantino is great at finishing near the rim and gets his share of offensive boards, and Folger has joined St. Amour and Brown as a splash brother with his ability to drain the long range shot. Middlebury has toppled Farmingdale St., Lycoming, and now Endicott, looking like a much better team than all three of their competitors. The closest game was surprisingly against Farmingdale as they won by just nine points after St. Amour shot just 5-18 from the field. He still added 18 points, but didn’t quite lock down the game like he did so well in both the rounds of 32 and Sweet 16. St. Amour has been playing out of this world, making Lycoming’s coaches exchange glances and shake their heads in disbelief after several of his plays. Against Lycoming, entering as the #15 team in the country, St. Amour was headed for the media table after forcing a turnover, scooped the ball with his left hand and threw it behind his back around the Warrior defender, hitting Jack Daly perfectly in stride for an and-1 basket, summing up the ridiculous nature of his senior season. The rest of the Panthers helped St. Amour out last night, shooting 41.9% from deep last night as a team. When they shoot that well, they are unstoppable.
Williams has several players who are threats from both long and short range. They have up and down shooting days but have been playing much closer to their season average recently, a big part of the process that
has led to their deep run into the tournament. Mike Greenman was lights out last night, showing off his handles and draining contested threes all night, dishing it out to Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz throughout the whole game. Aronowitz said after the game against Susquehanna that “when I was getting down low in the first half, my teammates were getting open on the perimeter,” showing how Susquehanna couldn’t stop the Ephs on both fronts of offense. Kyle Scadlock started getting more aggressive down low when Susquehanna’s center got into foul trouble, smartly recognizing the weakness that the big man was put into, unable to contest Scadlock’s shots. The entire Susquehanna defense was centered around stopping Scadlock, who added a triumphant turn around dunk in the second half. Despite the added attention Scadlock faced, he dropped 22 points for the Ephs. Williams offense has become multi-dimensional in this tournament.
What to Expect:
Williams survived some below average shooting numbers against Susquehanna (36.8% FG and 31.0% from deep.) Those numbers will have to improve tonight. Atypically for them, it was their defense that won them last night’s game. Ephs coach Kevin App said their defensive game plan last night was to stop the “back-breaking threes” from Susquehanna’s star point guard Steven Weidlich, who is comparable in style to Midd’s St. Amour. Now, I do believe that St. Amour has an edge over Weidlich, but the way St. Amour plays as a part of the Middlebury teams is similar to the way Weidlich played for his. Williams mixed up the man on man defense on the point guard all night, mixing in both big and small players, throwing Weidlich out of rhythm and unable to heat up from deep and
keep his team in the game late. The Ephs should use a similar strategy tonight, putting pressure on Jake Brown and Jack Daly to step up in place of the NESCAC POY. St. Amour is impossible to defend if he makes the contested shots like he did against Lycoming, but it’s better than leaving him open.
Middlebury took a 48-24 lead over Endicott to enter half time, and then came out on a 16-3 run to start the second half, finding a lead of 41 points at one point. They really weren’t tested at all in the round of 16, but did lose to Endicott earlier in the year after they were up 12 at the half on November 27th. This shows that not only did they make an adjustment this time around, but were just a far better team. Jake Brown scored 19 points last night, getting hot and attempting a few heat check threes from well beyond the arc, using the Middlebury crowd well as a momentum push for his team. The Middlebury crowds have been intimidating these past few weeks, and I wouldn’t want to be Williams heading into Pepin after having an easy go at it in terms of crowds last night. Williams brought a good fan section in their own right, not comparable to the home team, but should bring some good clean college back-and-forth banter throughout the night as the NESCAC final rematch takes place with bigger stakes this time—a ticket to the final four in Salem, VA on the line.
Every pickup basketball player knows the importance of the rubber match. If a team wins one game, and the opposing team wins the next one, it is a cardinal sin to not play that third game to determine the outright winner. No matter if you have work, class, or a hamstring that is closer to snapping than my mom when I forget to bring my dishes upstairs, you have to play the rubber match. This is the case in higher levels of basketball as well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times, with Magic taking the rubber match in 1987. Many NBA fans are praying that Lebron and the Cavs meet Steph and the Warriors for a rubber match this season. And on a smaller scale, Williams and Middlebury have a chance this weekend for a rubber match of their own. If they both win on Friday, they would match up in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with bragging rights and a trip to Salem on the line.
Middlebury (26-3, 11-2, Beat Williams in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Endicott (24-6, 15-3, lost in their Conference Final)
Middlebury has the rare chance this weekend to avenge two of their three losses. Williams of course blew out Middlebury in league play, but Endicott also bested the Panthers before league play. And the Gulls have the added honor of their win being in Pepin Gymnasium, a feat only they have accomplished in the last two years. Endicott was able to beat the Panthers at their own game; namely, guard play. Like Middlebury, the Gulls boast one of the best backcourts in the country. Max Matroni ‘17 and Kamahl Walker ‘17 combine for 32 points a game on the season, and have combined for 99 points in their two NCAA games. Against Middlebury Walker put up 28 and forced both Jack Daly ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17 into foul trouble. Endicott is one of the only teams in the country who has a backcourt that can give Middlebury guards a run for the money. Expect them to go at Daly and Brown (who will likely start the game on Walker and Matroni) early and attempt to again get them on the bench with fouls.
Endicott also attacked Middlebury on the glass. Daquan Sampson ‘17 was able to roast the Middlebury big men to the tune on 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Gulls outrebounded the Panthers overall 40-31 and had 12 offensive rebounds. Endicott matches up well with Middlebury because their team is constructed in a similar way. They have an excellent backcourt who drive the team on both ends of the floor, and the big men are effective role players who benefit a great deal from terrific guard play.
X-Factor: Eric McCord ‘19 (and the new big men)
Middlebury’s biggest improvement since that loss to Endicott is in the front court.When the two teams last met, Zach Baines and Adisa Majors ‘18 dominated the minutes at the two forward spots. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 combined to play 19 minutes and went 1-6 from the floor. Baines’ transfer has allowed McCord and Tarantino (as well as Matt Folger ‘20 and Majors off the bench) to flourish into one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. McCord in particular has blossomed, and should play a pivotal role in Middlebury’s game plan. Sampson and the rest of Endicott’s bigs are long, but they are not extremely strong, and Sampson in particular spends a considerable amount of time on the perimeter. McCord has become an effective scorer and passer in the paint, both playing off of a two man game with one of the guards or one-on-one. There is mismatch on the block that the Panthers didn’t have the personnel to exploit earlier this season. But the team is constructed differently now, and is far better suited to beat the Gulls down low if the guards play each other to a draw.
How They Lose:
We already have a blueprint for how Middlebury loses this game. Daly and Brown get into foul trouble, forcing St. Amour to expend more energy on defense chasing around either Matroni or Walker. Matroni or Walker take
advantage of this and go off. And the Endicott bigs use their length and athleticism to terrorize the Middlebury bigs on the boards. Sampson also uses his quickness to draw McCord or Tarantino out of the paint and create driving lanes and putback opportunities. Both teams have seen that this can happen. We will see on Friday if Middlebury’s new look will prevent it from happening again.
Williams (21-8, 7-6, lost to Middlebury in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Susquehanna (23-5, 11-3, lost in Conference Semifinals)
The rare team to make the Sweet Sixteen after not even making their conference championship, the River Hawks have been on something of a Cinderella run here in the NCAA tournament. They beat Eastern Connecticut State 72-67 in the round of t32, a team that beat Trinity and Amherst earlier in the season. Susquehanna is top heavy scoring wise, as the duo of Steven Weidlich ‘17 and Ryan Traub ‘18 combine to average 38 points per game (21 and 17 respectively.) No one else on their team averages more than seven. Weidlich is a Matt St. Amour type perimeter threat. A dangerous outside shooter, he connects on 39.5% of his threes and 45% of his field goals overall. However, he is also very versatile, averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 is Williams best perimeter defender (as well as best everything else) and will likely start the game on Weidlich. If he gets in foul trouble, the Ephs can be left with very few guys who create their own shots.
Traub is a very effective frontcourt partner for Weidlich. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he is a load underneath and creates match up problems for
Williams’ series of skinny big men. He is also tremendous around the rim, shooting 57.4% from the field. He can step outside the arc (40% in a limited sample size,) and anchors a defense that only allows 41% shooting to opponents on the season. Williams three point heavy attack is not conducive to defensive struggles, therefore Susquehanna matches up well with the Ephs. Weidlich and Traub will try to occupy Aronowitz and Kyle Scadlock ‘19, while the rest of the River Hawks run the Ephs off of the three point line.
X Factor: Mike Greenman ‘17
As I mentioned above, Aronowitz and Scadlock, Williams’ two most important players, will both likely have difficult defensive assignments. Therefor Williams will at times need someone else to create shots for themselves and others. That is where Greenman comes in. The senior point guard can be an electric scorer (see his 7-9 three point shooting performance against Becker in the first round,) and can be an effective passer (11 assists last round against Scranton.) If Susquehanna tries to slow the game down and pound the ball into Traub, Greenman will be largely responsible for keeping Williams’ pace and energy up without turning the ball over. He has played two of the best games of his career in this tournament, largely explaining Williams impressive blowout wins in the first two rounds. He will be just as important in this game, and maybe even more so.
How They Lose:
NESCAC fans have seen throughout the season how Williams loses. If they are not hitting threes, they generally don’t win. The three point shot is the key to everything the Ephs try to do on offense. It opens up driving lanes for Aronowitz and Scadlock, post ups for big men off the bench like Michael Kempton ‘19, and it forces defenders to overplay on the perimeter, opening up the backdoor cuts that killed Middlebury during their regular season loss to Williams. The Ephs simply don’t have enough shot creators to overcome a shooting slump. Aronowitz is a terrific player but his burden is at times too great, and Scadlock is prone to disappearing in big spots. Their game becomes something of a “Chuck and Run” style, with contested threes being taken too quickly. Williams lives by the three and dies by the three, and living has been very good lately. Let’s hope it continues into Saturday, because, as all basketball fans know, there’s nothing better than a rubber match.
Fans of NESCAC basketball have enjoyed a level of talent this season that has possibly never been matched in the history of the league. And on Monday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the league with four at large bids, in addition to Middlebury’s guaranteed spot for winning the conference tournament. Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan and Tufts join the Panthers, giving the ‘CAC one of the strongest showings of any conference in the country. Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll be giving you the lowdown on where each team finds themselves in their quest for a national title.
#6 Middlebury (24-3, 11-2)
As the number one seed and outright winner of the conference, Middlebury is in a terrific position to make a deep tournament run. The Panthers should be hosting (as long as they keep winning) until the tournament shifts to Salem. However, the Panthers certainly shouldn’t be looking ahead, as they have a tough opening weekend to contend with. They open on Friday against Farmingdale State, a team that tries to run the floor in much the same way that Middlebury does. And Lycoming and Cabrini, the two other teams in the bracket, are strong teams with tournament pedigree.
How They Got Here:
Middlebury is of course driven by their three guards. Matt St. Amour ‘17 was recently crowned NESCAC Player of the Year after averaging 22 points per game in the season and almost 25 per game in league play. His midrange game, once a major weakness, has become positively deadly, and he has carried Middlebury through a late season injury to Jake Brown ‘17. Speaking of Brown, the recently named All NESCAC Second Team point guard is the key to Middlebury’s fast paced offense and defense. He has also made himself into a key outside threat for Middlebury, shooting 37% from three. And Jack Daly ‘18 had been flying under the radar until Brown went down. But stepping up and running the offense in Brown’s absence has given viewers a newfound appreciation for Daly. If there’s a play that shifts the game in Middlebury’s favor, the odds are good that Jack Daly is involved.
How They Lose
Middlebury’s guards are pretty much locks to get their numbers. The Panthers struggle when their big men aren’t involved in the offense and when the other team gets hot from three. If Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 aren’t threats on the offensive end, then teams can focus on the guards and force Middlebury to play halfcourt, perimeter-oriented basketball. Farmingdale State is a fast break team, but they don’t shoot very well from three (33.5% on the year.) However, they do rebound very well thanks to big men George Reifenstahl ‘19 and Wendell Irvine ‘17, both of whom average over 9 rebounds per game. Therefore the Middlebury big men will have to do a good job on the boards and also assert themselves on offense, not just against Farmingdale but (ideally) throughout the tournament.
Farmingdale State (19-7, 14-2)
Farmingdale has overcome a strong start to really control their league. They won their tournament on a game winner from Reifenstahl, who along with Irvine and guard Ali Mableton ‘19 earned all conference honors. The Rams look to run, but can be careless on offense, shooting only 43% from the field and turning the ball over a whopping 18 times per game. Middlebury should be able to exploit this carelessness, and will need to work on shutting down Reifenstahl and Irvine.
#15 Lycoming (23-4, 13-3)
Lycoming and Middlebury would be a fascinating Saturday match-up. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 25 pretty much all year and now sit at 15 heading into tournament play. They are led by David Johnson ‘17 who, despite being 5’9,” averages 14 points per game and shoots an amazing 48.7% from three. Lycoming overall shoots threes very well (37% as a team,) so Middlebury will have to run them off the line much like they did in the second half against Williams in the NESCAC final.
Cabrini (19-7, 15-3)
Cabrini is led by junior center Tyheim Monroe, who is two spots ahead of Matt St. Amour in scoring in the nation (23rd, at 22.1 points per game) and leads the nation in rebounds per game at 15.7. Monroe plays 36 minutes a game, and the vast majority of their offensive sets run through him. Middlebury will probably employ a similar swarming defensive strategy that they used on Ed Ogundeko to beat Trinity in the quarterfinals. But Monroe is the type of player who could carry a team to an upset against the Panthers.
Amherst (17-7, 8-4)
After starting the season as the number one team in the country, Amherst enters tournament play outside the national rankings. This is due to inconsistent play all season, culminating in a quarterfinal loss to hated rival Williams. Therefore, Amherst has a tough road to travel if they hope to redeem their disappointing NESCAC season with a long tournament run.
How They Got Here
As most readers of this blog probably know, Amherst is led by their excellent backcourt. Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 were Second and First Team All NESCAC selections respectively, and combined to average over 33 points per game. Additionally, junior guard Michael Riopel averages 10 points per game and shoots 48% from three, giving Amherst a needed outside threat to take some pressure off of Dawson and McCarthy. The Purple and White are at their best when Dawson and McCarthy are dominating the opposing backcourt, giving Riopel open looks.
How They Lose
Unfortunately Amherst has little else outside of their backcourt. They struggle to get contributions from any forwards, and Riopel and even McCarthy can be too passive. This forces Dawson to play hero ball, and he can shoot Amherst out of games when he does that. In their loss to Williams, Dawson shot 3-19, while Riopel and McCarthy combined to take only 16 shots. It’s hard to figure out how to divide up blame in that situation (is Dawson playing selfishly or do the other players need to be more assertive?), but either way Amherst has some serious problems. They ultimately seem to lack the necessary depth to compete against elite competition.
Keene State (19-9, 10-4)
The Owls, who knocked Middlebury out last year, had something of a Cinderella run to the final of their conference tournament before losing 72-70 to Eastern Connecticut. They have two First Team All Conference performers in Matt Ozzella ‘17 and Ty Nichols ‘19, but also have three other players scoring in double figures. This is the kind of depth that could give top-heavy Amherst fits, particularly in the front court. Amherst plays the Owls tonight at 5:30.
Misericordia (20-7, 9-5)
A contender for the “College Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Song From Les Miserables” award, Misericordia won their conference tournament and has a lot of momentum heading into the NCAAs. They are led by terrific all around guard Jason Kenny ‘19, who put up a 21/4/4 line on nearly 50% shooting from the field and 41% from three. But the Cougars have three other double figure scorers and shoot the three at 37% as a team. Again, this is the kind of depth that Amherst really struggles with, especially since they have some, uh, disinterested defenders on their roster.
#5 Ramapo (25-2, 16-2)
The host team and number 5 team in the country, Ramapo is certainly the favorite to come out of this weekend. They are led in scoring by Thomas Boncum ‘18 (17.7 ppg,) but they are a terrific team top to bottom. They shoot 50.7 from the field and 41% from three as a team, which point to a tremendously efficient offensive strategy. Their average margin of victory is a whopping 14.4 points per game, and they out-rebound opponents by 7 boards per game, an area in which Amherst tends to struggle. Ramapo is a legit title contender, and Amherst may not be able to run with them even if they survive Keene State tonight.
Going into last Sunday’s Williams-Bates game, Middlebury had a chance to play Bates, Williams or possibly Hamilton depending on the outcome. Bates drew the short straw, dropping the game 65-62 and now has to play maybe the hottest team in the country. And what’s worse, the Panthers will be at home with all the students back. In order to have a chance in this game, Bates will need to slow Middlebury down, get terrific performances from both Delpeches and their perimeter players, and also catch Middlebury on an off-shooting night (something they haven’t truly had since they lost to Williams.) It’s a tall order, but stranger things have happened.
Middlebury X-Factor: Bryan Jones ‘18
Jones has been one of the biggest surprises of league play, averaging nearly 10 points per game. His 53% shooting from three leads the league during NESCAC play. He has given the Panthers backcourt, already extremely lethal, another weapon. His deadeye shooting has made it impossible for teams to load up on Matt St. Amour ‘17 on the perimeter, opening up driving lanes for him and also Jack Daly ‘18 and Jake Brown ‘17. It is due in large part to Jones being a threat that all the Middlebury guards’ stats have jumped up in league play.
However, Jones struggled on Tuesday against Plattsburgh State. Starting in place of Jake Brown, Jones shot 2-11 from the field and 0-5 from three. It was a surprising return to the inconsistency that has dogged Jones throughout his career, and inconvenient timing for its reappearance at that. If Brown misses more time, Middlebury can’t afford to give stronger defensive teams than Plattsburgh the ability to trap St. Amour on the perimeter, taking away his three point shots and much-improved mid-range game. While Jack Daly ‘18 is more than capable of handling point guard responsibilities in Brown’s absence (by “more than capable,” I mean “flirts with a triple-double”) he is not quite a three point threat. Jones doesn’t have to be white hot, but he needs to give Bates a reason to guard him or else the Panthers could be in for a long night.
Bates X-Factor: Jeff Spellman ‘20
Spellman, a transfer who arrived shortly before league play began, is a similar player to Jones but has recently been trending in a different direction. He sits third in the league overall in three point percentage at 41.7%, but has only shot 30.8% in league play. Against Williams he shot just 4-11 from the field and 1-7 from three. He did add 7 assists, but without his jumpshot Bates has very little offense outside of post-ups from the Delpeches. Pounding the ball into the post is an effective way to slow down the game, which is certainly the impulse when game-planning against Middlebury. But if Bates doesn’t have any outside shooting threats around their Twin Peaks (reboot 2017 let’s goooooo), the Panthers will do just what they did to Ed Ogundeko – swarm them whenever they get the ball, creating turnovers and forced, empty possessions. Spellman will be the key in taking away this part of Middlebury’s defensive gameplan.
How Bates Can Win:
They need to find someway to keep the score low. Middlebury is averaging 99 points per game in league play at home, and put up 97 against Trinity even without Brown. The natural way to do this would be to pound the ball on offense, taking time off the shot clock and preventing Middlebury’s offense from getting the ball. They have the ability to do this thanks to the Delpeches. Having two big men who are threats to score on the block prevents Middlebury from doubling big-to-big, and should create open threes or one-on-one post-ups. Bates will have to be raining fire from outside to make this strategy work, or else Middlebury’s offense is certainly fast enough to make up for lost time.
On defense, Bates will have to take away the three point shot. By jumping Matt St. Amour on the perimeter, they will take away his three-pointer and funnel him towards the Delpeches, who are both dangerous shot blockers. With Jack Daly, they will most likely leave him alone from three. However, it will be imperative to guard him one-on-one. St Amour will of course require double teams, but leaving a man open when Daly has the ball is asking for a bucket. He’s too good a passer, and Middlebury’s big men are getting too good at finishing at the rim to be left alone. Daly beating men off the dribble also creates open three-point shots. If Bates can take away those threes and funnel drives towards the Delpeches (particularly Malcolm), that leaves Middlebury pull-up, midrange jump-shots. These are inefficient shots, and will allow the Delpeches to own the boards. Bates is certainly an underdog here, but there’s a thin path to victory for them.
How Middlebury Can Win
I’m having trouble finding an answer for this other than “continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing.” Middlebury’s offense has reached a level lately that few NESCAC teams have ever achieved, but their defense on the interior has finally caught up. Middlebury is always going to give up points because of their fast paced offense (quick shots=long rebounds, fast breaks for the other team) but they have quietly gotten very good in the half court. The guards have of course always been excellent, but the big men have improved leaps and bounds, especially Eric McCord ‘19. McCord has become very quick on rotations and hedging the pick and roll, and provides a nice fundamental counterpart to Nick Tarantino’s athleticism. Interior defense will be the key to Middlebury’s strategy in this game, as the Delpeches are the key to Bates’ offense. I expect Middlebury to double heavily on either Delpeche from the perimeter on defense, and dare Bates’ guards to make threes. On offense, all the Panthers need to do is more of the same. Run, hit shots and move the ball around the perimeter until a lane opens up.
Although Bryan Jones and Jeff Spellman are undoubtedly the lead guards off the bench for their respective teams, the other members of the bench mobs deserve credit. Crowd favorite (and NbN writer, no big deal) Liam Naughton has clawed his way into the rotation as a steadying senior presence on the court, as well as a three point threat. He will be important in the tournament, as the other two guards off the bench are freshmen Joey Leighton and Perry Delorenzo, neither of whom are quite ready for tournament time. On Bates’ side, the most obvious next threat is Jerome Darling ’17, who has demonstrated his explosiveness scoring the rock a handful of times this season. His biggest performance of the year came in the upset of Tufts, in which Darling 4-9 three-pointers en route to 21 points. Bates could definitely use another superhero performance from Darling this weekend. Elsewhere, the Bobcats will look to Quinlan Leary ‘17 ( a summer camp teammate of yours truly), who has recently moved into the starting lineup to replace Nick Gilpin ‘20, giving Bates more experience and strength on the perimeter. In addition to the need for threes from Spellman, Bates will need Leary, Gilpin, or other guards like Shawn Strickland ‘18 or Justin Zukowski ‘18 to give them surprise firepower off the bench. Basically, everything needs to go right for Bates to have a chance, while Middlebury just needs to keep playing their game.
Almost four years to the day from Friday, Middlebury and Amherst faced off in a very similar situation.
The two teams entered the game in contention for the top seed in the conference tournament, and as two of the top 15 teams in the country. Amherst was still led by two elite guards in Willy Workman and Aaron Toomey, and Middlebury still relied on terrific backcourt depth, with Nolan Thompson, Joey Kizel and Jake Wolfin leading the Panthers to several NCAA berths in a row. The game featured a double digit comeback from the Panthers, a game-tying three off an intentional missed free throw for Amherst, three overtimes and an alien invasion (okay not the last one.) The then-Lord Jeffs emerged victorious 104-101 after the third overtime, having combined with Middlebury to produce one of the all-time classics in NESCAC basketball history. And as if that wasn’t enough history, get this: I wasn’t at the game because I had a high school game…AGAINST MATT ST. AMOUR. Spooky right?
Middlebury and Amherst have played several other terrific games, both in the regular season and the tournament. So it’s certainly fair to expect a tightly contested game in Pepin Gymnasium on tonight. However, both teams have weaknesses that the other side could use to win the game running away. This game is a quintessential game of the week because it should be a classic on paper, but either side could come out on fire and put the game away before it even starts.
Amherst’s Biggest Weakness: Frontcourt Production
This game may well feature the two best backcourts in the country. But both teams, and particularly Amherst, feature frontcourts that often struggle to keep up. Throughout this season Amherst has struggled to find an effective scoring option outside of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and forwards have been the main culprit in that lack of production. Senior David George ‘17 is too often a non-factor on offense, allowing the opposing center to clog the driving lanes that Dawson and McCarthy love to exploit. Jacob Nabatoff ‘17 has been inconsistent, shooting under 40% from the field. It has generally been Eric Conklin ‘17 who has provided a frontcourt spark for Amherst, averaging 8 points per game on 60% shooting. Middlebury defends very well on the perimeter, so this is a game in which Amherst will need some production out of these big men to take the pressure off of McCarthy and Dawson.
Middlebury’s Biggest Weakness: Shot Blocking
The Panthers play with breakneck pace on both offense and defense. This means that the Panthers look to force a lot of turnovers on the perimeter, but give up some points as a result of gambling for steals. That’s okay as long as the offense is picking up the slack, but if Middlebury isn’t hitting early they can give up points in a hurry (see the first half of their game against Tufts.) This tendency to give up big runs is caused partially by this fast paced style, but it is also due to a lack of intimidating interior defense. Big man Eric McCord ‘19 has improved leaps and bounds as the season has gone on in terms of moving his feet on pick and rolls, but he simply is not atheltic enough to be a shot blocking threat. Nick Tarantino ‘18 is a terrific athlete, but his timing on block attempts is a little off, and his rebounding responsibilities draw him away from the shot. Matt Folger ‘20 is Middlebury’s only dangerous shot blocker, but he makes too many freshman mistakes in terms of help rotations and silly fouls to play big minutes in crucial games like this one. Teams that have slowed Middlebury down, like Williams and more recently Colby, have had success in limiting Middlebury’s offense. If Amherst tries to slow down Middlebury on both ends of the ball, the Panthers will need to guard inside as well as on the perimeter, and that means blocking some shots.
Amherst’s Biggest Strength: Clutch Play
Amherst only scores 73 points per game during league play, which is sixth best in the conference. Throughout the season they have struggled to score efficiently, and have several times found themselves in the position where they need a game-tying or winning shot. Enter Jayde Dawson. Dawson has game-winners against Babson (#2 in the country at the time and Amherst’s most impressive win thus far) and Bowdoin, and is arguably the best in the league at taking over a game when his team needs him the most. But Johnny McCarthy also has a couple big shots under his belt, including a ludicrous 28 footer to tie the game against Bowdoin, setting up Dawson’s game winner. If the recent history between these teams holds true, this game will come down to the wire. Amherst must like their personnel in that eventuality.
Middlebury’s Biggest Strength: Ball Movement and Security
As you may have heard me say once, twice or thirty times, the only better guards than Middlebury’s trio in America are the Power Rangers. Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 have the Panthers leading the league in assists.
But more impressive than that is their turnover ranking. Middlebury has the third fewest turnovers in the league, which is amazing considering how fast they play and how much they look to move the ball. At their peak, there’s no team in the league that can stop the Panther offense due to how well they move the ball and shoot from the perimeter. When they struggle, it is because they have stopped whipping the ball around on the perimeter and are settling for jump shots. Middlebury must have confidence in their ball movement, as Amherst will certainly attempt to slow them down and force them to play half court offense.
Amherst X-Factor: Michel Riopel ‘18
Middlebury is too good a team for Dawson and McCarthy to drag Amherst to victory like Murthaugh and Riggs in Lethal Weapon. They’ll need some back-up, and Riopel is the perfect candidate. A 48% three point shooter, Riopel is deadly from outside. But he is more than just a three point specialist. Earlier this week in a loss to Wesleyan, Riopel put up 16 points and 9 rebounds on just 8 shots. This efficiency is what makes him such an effective third option alongside Dawson and McCarthy, both of whom have the tendency to become volume scorers when they, and the team, are struggling. However, Riopel will need to become more aggressive in this game. Middlebury is well equipped to handle Dawson and McCarthy, which means Riopel should have some opportunities to create for himself. Eight shots will be too few for him in this game.
Middlebury X-Factor: Zone Defense
Middlebury’s defensive strategy can be likened to the Joker’s strategy for taking over Gotham in The Dark Knight: sew chaos and discord wherever they can. One of the ways that Middlebury toys with opposing offenses is by switching from man defense to zone with little warning. The Panthers don’t need a timeout to set up the offense, they can do it as the other team brings the ball up. This can really shake an opposing offense, forcing them to switch their game plan on the fly. Middlebury’s perimeter players are excellent zone defenders, as Brown and St. Amour are adept at playing passing lanes while Daly hounds whoever has the ball. The big men in the back are getting better at challenging shots at the rim without fouling, particularly McCord. Amherst is not a tremendously threatening three point shooting team, save Riopel and McCarthy, so a zone might be a good strategy for Middlebury employ. If they can shut down McCarthy and Dawson’s lanes to the rim, Amherst will have great difficulty finding other ways to score.
Both Middlebury and Amherst are in contention for the top seed in the league tournament. However, Tufts is also in the mix, but it is Amherst who controls their own destiny in terms of attaining the number one seed. If Amherst wins both, they get the top seed. If Tufts wins and Amherst loses at least one, then it will be the Jumbos who have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Finally, if Middlebury wins both and Tufts loses tonight, then Middlebury will be top dawg in the NESCAC tournament. In order to control their destiny for the the number one seed in the league tournament, everyone needs to win tonight. Then we’ll seed what happens tomorrow.
Middlebury matches up very well with Amherst on paper. In Daly, Brown and St. Amour, the Panthers have the perimeter depth needed to hang with Dawson and McCarthy. However, McCarthy’s size and strength presents something of a matchup issue. Daly is probably best-suited to match McCarthy, leaving St. Amour or Brown to guard Dawson. Dawson’s hard-driving style creates the worry that he will get Brown or St. Amour in foul trouble, which would hinder Middlebury’s offense tremendously. This is why I could see the Panthers playing a great deal of zone in this game.
Middlebury is tremendous at home, but they have the misfortune of catching the campus during a break, so the student section won’t be quite as rowdy as one might imagine for such a crucial matchup. However, the home court advantage is still going to be crucial. Amherst has had an absurd home/road split this season (15 home/6 road) and are only 2-4 away from LeFrak this year. Middlebury has shown themselves to be a team that rises to the occasion at home, and I see them doing it again on Friday night.