Defense Wins Championships: Wesleyan @ Amherst Men’s Basketball Semifinal Preview

Wesleyan (20-5, 7-3, #5 Seed) @ Amherst (17-8, 7-3 #1 Seed), 5:30 PM, Amherst, MA

Overview:

As opposed to the offense heavy three point barrage we expect in the Tufts-Hamilton game (detailed beautifully by Colby here,) this should be a gritty, defensive battle. Both these teams pride themselves on their defense. Amherst’s most impressive win of the season was a 75-49 drubbing of Hamilton in which they held the Continentals to 29.4% shooting. That game was the jumping off point for their run to the number one seed. Since then, they are 7-2 and have won their last three games, including wins over Middlebury and Williams. But their most exciting win of this hot stretch was the last one, a thrilling 71-70 win over Bowdoin in the quarterfinals. In that game, Amherst overcame a rough game from Michael Riopel ‘18 thanks to a First Team level performance from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 (22 points) and contributions from several bench players, most notably Josh Chery ‘20, who scored 11 points and hit the game winning layup with 3.4 seconds left. What this Amherst team lacks in star power they make up for in depth and heart.

Amherst’s defense is the key to their recent success.

Of course, the same can be said for Wesleyan. One of Amherst’s losses since that shellacking of Hamilton is to the Cardinals, a 71-57 road loss in which McCarthy and Riopel went 3-20 from the field. Wesleyan’s season is littered with these types of games. The dominate defensively, shut down what the opponent does best, and the offense does just enough to get by. Their quarterfinal game against Middlebury was another great example. While Jack Daly ’18 did have a nice game (20 points and six assists,) the Cardinals stifled Middlebury’s inside game, holding the dangerous forward combo of Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Adisa Majors ’18 to 6-19 shooting. Jordan Sears ’19 had 8 blocks, and with Kevin O’Brien ’19 and his army of tall, long-armed guards on the perimeter, it is nearly impossible to get into the paint and score against Wesleyan. Amherst will have to hit some threes to spread the Cardinals defense. And Wesleyan will have to do the same against Amherst. 

Key Player For Amherst: F Josh Chery ’20

Josh Chery ’20
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

As I said earlier, Chery was the hero against Bowdoin. With 5 seconds left on the clock, Chery got the ball on the right wing, drove to the rim, and finished a tough layup with 3.4 seconds left. Chery certainly wasn’t the first option,as Johnny McCarthy was lighting it up at that point, but he wasn’t the last one either. Chery has been one of the major keys to Amherst’s recent hot streak. He’s gone over double figures three times in the last four games, and has averaged 25 minutes per game over that stretch after going over 20 minutes just once all season up to that point. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, he is big and strong enough to guard multiple positions, a huge plus against Wesleyan due to the size of the Cardinal guards. He makes a huge difference on the defensive end, grabbing four steals against Williams and pulling down eight rebounds against Middlebury. And ask Bowdoin how he is finishing at the rim. One thing to watch for is his foul shooting: he’s 0-7 in the last two games. Chery is the ideal player to have on the court against Wesleyan, and, since Wesleyan has proven themselves capable of locking up Riopel and McCarthy, Chery and the rest of the bench mob are the keys to Amherst’s chances.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Nathan Krill ‘18

Nathan Krill
Nathan Krill ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The starting power forward on the “Feels Like They’ve Been in College for 2o Years” All Stars, Krill has been in this position before. However, he has never been as important to the team’s offense. Of course, they won last weekend with him only having three points, but they won’t be able to rely on Antone ’21 Walker putting up 11 off the bench and Kevin O’ Brien ’19 scoring 17. Walker is a great talent, but he is streaky, and O’Brien isn’t really a go to scorer. Krill is Wesleyan’s most dangerous pick and roll finisher. He can step behind the three point line and hit, or he can use his quickness and ball handling skills to finish at the rim. Throughout Krill’s career, this combination of skills has made him one of the hardest players to guard in the league when he’s hot. Key word: “when.” Krill has always been incredibly streaky (see his 24 points against Bowdoin versus 3 the next game against Bowdoin.) Krill only had four points in Wesleyan’s win over Amherst during the regular season, but this a whole new Amherst team. Wesleyan needs their stars to shine bright on Saturday, starting with Krill.

Final Thoughts:

Bowdoin was certainly far more skilled than your average eight seed, but Amherst still should have been able to put them away earlier. The Mammoths were uncharacteristically bad defending the three, allowing Bowdoin to shoot 10-28 from outside (and many of those misses were open looks.)  Much of Wesleyan’s offense relies on three point shooting, particularly from Jordan Bonner ’19 and Hutcherson. Amherst will have to do a better job running those two off of the three point lie than they did with Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19 and Liam Farley ’19. They will also have to contend with pick and rolls featuring either Bonner or Hutcherson and Krill. Since each of those players are dangerous shooters, the slightest defensive mistake can lead to an open three pointer. Amherst’s best defense here would be an aggressive hedge with their big men and then not switching. A switch would mean that one of Amherst’s big men would be stuck on , a mismatch in favor of Wesleyan. This is why Chery should see big minutes on Saturday, he is big enough to handle Krill and fast enough to handle Hutcherson or Bonner.

If Jordan Bonner ’19 gets hot, Amherst could be in for a long day.

In general, this game is not the best matchup for Amherst’s big men. Joseph Schneider ’19 is skilled inside, but he might get swallowed by the athleticism of Wesleyan’s front court. And with Eric Sellew ’20 out, Amherst’s big men rotation is very thin. This presents a big problem on the glass. Amherst simply must win the rebounding battle in this game. These are the two best rebounding teams in the league based on rebounding margin, and both are at their most dangerous when they get open shots off of offensive rebounds. Both these teams will be battling fiercely for rebounds, but it is more important for Amherst because they have fewer weapons on the offensive end. More of their offense is based on second chances.

All the signs point to Wesleyan in this game. They’ve had a more successful regular season, they have more weapons, and they played better in their first round game. But the game is in Amherst, and crazy things happen down there. The Mammoths are 10-2 at home this season, and have an almost supernatural knack for pulling out close games in their gym. I think most loyal readers will know how much it kills me to do this, but I have to go Amherst. Let no one call me biased again.

Writer’s Prediction: Amherst 63, Wesleyan 60 

Grit N’ Grind: Middlebury @ Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

#13 Middlebury (19-5, 7-3, 5th Seed) @ Wesleyan (19-5, 7-3, 4th Seed,) February 17th, 3:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Overview:

This certainly isn’t the matchup the Panthers were expecting heading into last weekend. Before their demoralizing pair of road losses to Hamilton and Amherst, Middlebury was alone at the top of the league and needed just one win to secure at least the two seed. But after those losses, Middlebury sits in the fifth position and now has to go on the road to play a team to which they already lost. It was a perfect storm of bad news for the Panthers last weekend, and their road to a third straight NESCAC title is now the hardest one yet.

However, this is not an ideal matchup for Wesleyan either. The 13th ranked team in the country is a pretty steep task for the quarterfinals, no matter how badly they played the weekend before. Wesleyan lucked out schedule-wise in the last weekend, winning home games over Bowdoin and Colby to enter the gauntlet of 7-3 teams. This was by far the easiest weekend of any of the teams. And, although they beat the Panthers early in league play 80-70 (although it was closer than that score suggests,)  they have been inconsistent this season, especially on offense. Their worst loss of the season came to Trinity, a 73-60 debacle that made plain all of Wesleyan’s flaws. Offensively, they rely on different players every night, and lack a consistent go-to scorer. Even Jordan Bonner ‘19 has proven himself to be shaky at times. When they lose, it is simply because they cannot score.

Jordan Bonner ’19 has been a go to scorer at times for the Cardinals, but he is very streaky.

Obviously, these problems are similar to those that Middlebury has faced all season. These teams are similar in style. Both teams rely on a very strong perimeter defense and dominating the boards, leading to turnovers by their opponent and second chance points that make up for inconsistent outside shooting. Last weekend, Middlebury’s offense wasn’t exactly the problem against Hamilton. They put up 83 points and were able to score in the paint pretty easily. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s outside shooting was too much for Middlebury. It’s difficult to match three pointers with two pointers. And then against Amherst, Middlebury couldn’t get anything going offensively, much like Wesleyan against Trinity. This should be a low scoring, defensive battle. Whichever team can grind out enough baskets will win.

Key Player for Middlebury: G Jack Farrell ‘21

Jack Farrell
jack Farrell ’21 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

Farrell was a lone bright spot for Middlebury over the weekend. He drove the ball to the basket with incredible confidence, scoring 11 against Hamilton and a career high 22 the next night against Amherst. Farrell has started every game this season, and has proved himself to be a valuable secondary ball handler and defender. Coach Brown has used him, along with fellow first year Griffin Kornaker ‘21, to give Jack Daly ‘18 the occaisional rest. However, for much of the season neither has been a consistent enough scoring option to allow Daly to be off the floor for long. But Farrell changed that last weekend. When Farrell is scoring consistently, it means he is getting to the basket, as he is still not a great outside shooter. This draws defenses into the paint, and opens up outside shots and offensive rebounding chances for the Panthers. A strong performance from Farrell would also allow Daly to ease off the throttle a bit. Daly looked exhausted against Amherst, and was trying to do too much in order to make up for the struggles of his teammates. Middlebury needs better performances across the board on Friday, especially from Daly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean scoring. He needs to score efficiently, but Middlebury’s best possible offense features Daly setting everything up and others finishing. Farrell is one of those finishers.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Jordan Sears ‘19

We gave Sears a little love in the Awards article, but he’s a dominant defender both on the perimeter and in the paint. He is the only player in the league in the top five in the league in steals and blocks, and Wesleyan’s defense (one of the best in the league) centers around his ability to guard all five positions. In fact, an apology may be in order for us not picking him for DPOY. Sears’ versatility will be even more important against Middlebury than it usually is for the Cardinals, because of how differently the Panthers are constituted now than they were when these teams first met. In that first game, the Panthers were trying to be a high octane, run and gun offense. It was one of Eric McCord’s first games back from injury, and the Panthers weren’t nearly as focused on owning the paint, preferring perimeter attacks. In essence, they played right into Wesleyan’s hands. Middlebury over the course of the season has shifted their focus to rebounding and scoring in the paint. Sears will be crucial in defending that area. Instead of using him on the perimeter, Wesleyan may put him on McCord or Adisa Majors ’18 to limit Middlebury’s post up game. Either way, Sears will be all over the court this game, and could be MVP without scoring a single basket.

Jordan Sears had 2 steals and 4 blocks last time these two teams met, including this one on Jack Daly.

X Factor: Offensive Rebounding

There are going to be a lot of missed shots in this game. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball from three for so long that one can’t even really call it a “slump” anymore: that’s just how they shoot. And Wesleyan is very streaky from three as well, and has a tendency to settle for them when the rest of their offense isn’t flowing. A lot of missed shots lead to a lot of offensive rebounds. Middlebury has dominated the boards for much of the season, and had 21 offensive rebounds the first time these two teams met. Wesleyan had only 11, but of course, they also shot a much higher percentage from the field. These are two excellent defensive teams, so the ability to get easy layups on open jump shots off of offensive rebounds could turn the tide.

Final Thoughts:

In the first meeting between these two teams, Wesleyan shot 35 foul shots and Middlebury only shot 7. Needless to say, that isn’t a very sustainable way for Middlebury to play. And even more amazingly, Jack Daly was the only Panther to attempt a foul shot. That will change on Saturday. Eric McCord ’19 is a far larger part of Middlebury’s offense now, and the team as a whole is far more focused on attacking the rim. Middlebury has to even out those free throw numbers, as that was the difference in the last game.

As we’ve noted several times throughout this season, Middlebury struggles most against teams who attack the glass as ferociously as they do, and feature multiple three point threats. Middlebury likes to play an aggressive zone defense, allowing their pesky guards like Daly, Farrell and Griffin Kornaker ’21 to really pressure the ball and create turnovers. But as Hamilton proved, teams that can put three or four outside threats on the court at once can destroy that zone with quick passes to open threes. Wesleyan is certainly able to battle Middlebury on the glass; they are second in the league in rebounding differential (Middlebury is third.) But the Cardinals can’t space the floor like Hamilton can. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is a truly dangerous sharp shooter, hitting 41% of his threes on the year (although he was 2-14 over the weekend.) Jordan Bonner ’19 is at 36% but has struggled in league play, and Nathan Krill ’18 is at 39%. Those are Wesleyan’s only real three point threats, and Krill and Bonner are both notoriously streaky. Middlebury will be able to leave non shooters, such as Sears, Kevin O’ Brien ’19 and JR Bascom, to attack those shooters off of the catch, and that zone defense should be workable, since Wesleyan doesn’t bring shooters off the bench. Middlebury would obviously prefer to be a higher seed and play at home, but this is actually a pretty good matchup for them.

Kevin O’ Brien ’19 is the point of Wesleyan’s defense on Daly.

Speaking of O ‘Brien, he is still recovering from an illness that caused him to miss much of the NESCAC season. When he’s at 100%, he is crucial to Wesleyan’s success as a floor general (5.7 AST/G) and perimeter defender. However, he is not a great shooter to begin with, and his rust has made him even less of a scoring threat. He was a huge factor in guarding Jack Daly when these two teams first played, and if he is not 100%, the Panthers should be able to attack him on both offense and defense. They can stash a defender on him, and since he isn’t an outside threat, whoever that is, be it Farrell, Matt Folger ’20 or Hilal Dahleh ’19, will be free to double Bonner and Hutcherson and play free safety for blocks and steals. Wesleyan needs O’Brien, and they need him healthy.

This is a hard game to predict, because these two teams share a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. Inconsistent scoring and three point shooting, strong rebounding and defense. Wesleyan is certainly coming into the game on a better note, but they had such an easy weekend that they might be feeling a little complacent, whereas Middlebury is most likely pretty ticked off. It shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of Middlebury’s 0-2 finish to the year that for much of the season they were the clear best team in the league, and entered last weekend fifth in the entire country. Despite their struggles and Wesleyan’s defense, I think Middlebury makes use of this week off to hammer out some issues, and regains their championship level form, taking a low scoring battle in Middletown.

Writer’s Prediction: Middlebury 70-Wesleyan 65

Handin’ Out the Hardware: Men’s Basketball Regular Season Awards

What a weekend. In addition to throwing the rankings into chaos and making all of our predictions look really dumb, last weekend’s results ruined whatever certainties there were in the awards races. But, as I’m learning in this new, post college chapter, life is about making difficult choices when there isn’t a clear answer. So here are our picks for the major end of season awards. As always, we welcome argument and debate on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Player of the Year: Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18

This is the race which was impacted most by last weekend’s games. Entering the weekend, Daly’s all around brilliance (top five in the league in points, rebounds, assists and steals) fully made up for his inconsistent shooting. He was by far the most important player on the top team in the league. But Daly’s flaws were exposed this weekend, as were Middlebury’s. After a solid game against Hamilton (15-9-6 on 5-11 shooting,) Amherst locked Daly up to the tune of 2-15 shooting with four turnovers. Everyone has bad games, but this was the biggest game of Middlebury’s season, and it came during the same weekend as star level performances from the other contenders. Kena Gilmour ‘20 had 29 against the Panthers and 22 against Williams. James Heskett ‘19 had 24 points against Hamilton in a huge win, and Bobby Casey ‘19 had 31 points against Hamilton, and nearly brought Williams back single-handedly against the Panthers during the regular season.

Jack Daly ’18 has been everything for Middlebury this season, and also we just connected on LinkedIn, so that’s pretty cool too.

However, I’m sure you can see that Daly is still our pick. Here’s the case. For all but one weekend, Daly was the best player on the best team in the league. He ran the offense, scored clutch buckets, guarded the opponent’s best player and sold hot dogs at the concession stand at halftime. He still leads the nation in assists per game at 8.5, and that is despite lacking even a consistent secondary scoring option. He deserves as much credit as any coaches for the improvement of Adisa Majors ‘18, Eric McCord ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘20. And, honestly, this is a lifetime achievement award as well as a seasonal one. Daly was underrated for his whole career by nature of playing with Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown, to the point that he wasn’t selected to any all league teams last year (a travesty that many Middlebury fans still haven’t gotten over.) For the first time in his career, Daly struggled in a big moment, but that doesn’t erase a whole season. Either Gilmour and Heskett will get theirs, and maybe even both, but this has been Daly’s year all season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Honestly the best thing about picking Folger is that it gives me an excuse to use this picture in another article.

I can already read the emails. “Pete picked two Midd players for the major awards, SHOCKER.” And like POY, this race is filled with strong contenders. Daly leads the league in steals, and Wesleyan has two very strong contenders. G Kevin O’ Brien ‘20 is a dangerous perimeter defender who uses his size and length to rack up blocks (.9 per game) and steals (1.7 per game.) And F Jordan Sears is a defensive anchor for the Cardinals in the paint. He is the only player in the top five in the league in both blocks and steals (1.5 and 1.7 respectively.) But O’Brien and Sears suffer from a similar problem to Casey and Heskett in the POY race: how do you put one over the other if their on the same team? They also suffer from the fact that Folger has been a monster. He is second in the league in blocks with 2.3 per game, and that is despite spending a lot of time guarding perimeter players. Folger is the key cog in what was an excellent Middlebury defense this season (Hamilton aside.) His ability to stay in front of smaller, quicker guards was central to the Panthers’ pick and roll defense, and he covered ground to block shots better than anyone in the league. O’ Brien and Colby’s Dean Weiner ’20 both missed time due to injury, and Folger’s dominance makes this an easy call. Bias be damned.

Coach of the Year: Williams’ Kevin App

Williams weathered a lot this season, and have Coach App to thank for their success.

Losing your best player, and maybe the best player in the league, six games into the season? There’s an App for that. Losing your fifth year senior point guard and floor general in the middle of league play? There’s an App for that. Inspiring such love within your players that one of them tells this writer that they’d “take a bullet for [Coach App?] There’s an App for that. Williams had to deal with incredible adversity this season. After losing Daniel Aronowitz in the offseason, it seemed that the team would simply refocus around Kyle Scadlock ’19, the frontrunner for POY. Then Scadlock tore his ACL early in the season. No one counted Williams out totally, but it was clear that they would need to make an adjustment. Coach App did so, inserting Bobby Casey ’19 into the starting lineup and giving much of Scadlock’s responsibilities to James Heskett ’19. We all know how those two choices worked out. Casey and Heskett are one and two in league scoring, and their success allowed Williams to weather even another huge loss: that of Mike Greenman ’18, their starting point guard. The fact that the Williams offense didn’t miss a beat after losing these two huge pieces is a testament to the skill of Casey and Heskett, but even more to App’s coaching ability.

Rookie of the Year: Wesleyan G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (11.7 PTS/G, 40% 3FG, 27.4 MIN/G)

Austin Hutcherson ’21 has been Wesleyan’s best scorer at times this season, and is a huge key for them heading into the playoffs.

For years, Wesleyan had been a team that was good enough defensively to beat anyone, but struggled to score. They were just some consistent perimeter scoring away from really contending. Enter Hutcherson. He exploded for 27 points in a non-league win over Brandeis on December 9th, and since then he has had two more 20 point games and averaged nearly 15 points per game. Despite struggling from three point land lately (2-14 in his last two games,) Hutcherson has proven himself over the course of this season to be the future of the league. There are other excellent first years who start for contending teams. Middlebury’s Jack Farrall has improved every game and had 22 against Amherst. And speaking of the Mammoth’s, Grant Robinson has done an incredible job stepping in as the point guard for a demanding program. But Hutcherson has made the biggest difference for his team.

All League First Team:

Jack Daly

Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18 (15.7 PTS/G, 8.3 REB/G, 8.5 AST/G, 1.8 STL/G)

 

Kena GilmourHamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20 (17.4 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.7 STL/G, 46.4 FG)

 

 

Bobby CaseyWilliams G Bobby Casey ‘19 (16.1 PPG, 48% FG, 44.1% 3FG)

 

 

Vincent Pace

Tufts G/F Vincent Pace ‘18 (18.4 PPG, 8.2 REB/G, 2.7 AST/G)

 

 

James HeskettWilliams F James Heskett ‘19 (19.4 PPG, 3.9 REB/G, 52.6% FG, 45.6% 3FG)

 

 

All League Second Team:

Johnny McCarthy

Amherst G Johnny McCarthy ’18 (11.0 PTS/G, 7.8 REB/G, 2.9 AST/G, 1.1 STL/G)

 

Jordan BonnerWesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’19 (15.6 PTS/G, 5.0 REB/G, 36.7 3FG)

 

 

David ReynoldsBowdoin F David Reynolds ’20 (15.8 PTS/G, 47.5% FG, 43.9% 3FG)

 

 

Michael Grassey

Hamilton F Michael Grassey ’19 (13.7 PPG, 6.7 REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42% 3FG)

 

Matt Folger

Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20 (14.0 PTS/G, 7.1 REB/G, 2.3 BLK/G)

Playoff Time: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/13

I may sound like I’m beating a dead horse when I say, yet again, that the NESCAC is crazy and anyone can beat anyone. Parity has been a recurring theme in NESCAC basketball over the years, and we love to talk about how exciting this makes the league. Well, the regular season has come to a close, and this parity reared its ugly head after this weekend when the dust settled and there were five teams tied for first place. Yes you read that right. The top FIVE teams finished at 7-3 in conference, and the only thing worse than having to deal with that is the fact that Amherst came out on top. Coach Hixon and the Mammoths grabbing the #1 seed feels a lot like Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide receiving the #1 seed – literally no one wants them to win besides them and their fans, yet here they are again. Not to say that they didn’t deserve it – the Mammoths had the best record against teams tied for the top spot – but this team hasn’t been the same type of dominant that past #1 Amherst teams have been. The lack of a true standout team is sure to make the postseason as exciting as ever, so let’s see who’s trending in the right direction as we move into playoff time:

Stock Up

Amherst

I’ll start with the obvious one: the Mammoths had two HUGE victories at home this weekend in convincing fashion that ultimately gave them the top spot in the league. Michael Riopel ’18 looked every bit the star they need to make a run in the postseason. He exploded for 19 points and 8 rebounds in the rivalry win over Williams, and followed that up with a 17-point, 7-rebound effort in which he went 9-9 from the line. Johnny McCarthy ’18 also continued his dominance as a rebounder, posting 8 and 14 boards respectively. This duo will have to continue to lead the way, providing experience to an otherwise unproven lineup. The key for Amherst, however, has been their defense. They stymied two of the league’s premier offenses, holding the Ephs to a jaw-dropping 57 points and keeping the Panthers at just 68. They lack the firepower to win a shootout, so their defense has to remain strong if they want to make a run, beginning this weekend when Bowdoin comes to town.

Wesleyan

Austin Hutcherson ’21 and Jordan Bonner ’18 have Wesleyan firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs.

Defeating Bowdoin and Colby isn’t a particularly impressive weekend, but the Cardinals did what a good team should do. The reason they fall in the “stock up” column this week is because it appears as though things are coming together at the right time in Middletown. After the loss to Trinity on February 2, Wesleyan was graced with the return of point guard Kevin O’Brien ’19, who had been out for almost a month with illness. They proceeded to dominate Amherst 71-57 in what was technically a non-conference affair, and then had convincing victories over the weaker teams in the league. Nathan Krill ’18 has been a force, delivering a 17-point, 10-rebound double double against Colby and dropping 24 points on Bowdoin. First year standout Austin Hutcherson has also stepped up his game in a big way, and he looks to continue to make an impact sharing the ball, as he posted 8 assists in each of their weekend matchup. Wesleyan hosts Middlebury in the 4-5 matchup of the NESCAC tournament. The Cardinals took down the Panthers in the regular season, but this is definitely a matchup to highlight for the weekend.

Williams G Bobby Casey ’19

I’ve talked about two of the Little Three schools, so why not mention the third? It seems that every week we find either James Heskett ’19 or Bobby Casey ’19, who have taken over as the dominant scorers in Williamstown. Well, this week it’s Casey’s turn. He seemed to be the lone bright spot in the loss at Amherst, putting up 22 points on 8-16 shooting. The next day in the big win over Hamilton, Casey went off for 31 points on 8-14, including 7-10 from behind the arc. When Casey gets hot, there is seemingly no way to stop him. The good news for Williams is that they also have Heskett ’19 who has a similar effect. If they’re both off, then the Ephs are in trouble. If they’re both on, then the rest of the league needs to watch out. They should have no trouble with Trinity in their first round matchup, but you never know because things can get crazy come tourney time.

When he’s hot, Bobby Casey ’19 is an absolute nightmare from downtown.

Stock Down

Middlebury

Heading into the weekend, Middlebury controlled their own destiny, needing a win to secure the top seed. They came up empty, with two somewhat demoralizing losses to Hamilton (102-83) and Amherst (80-68). The Panthers have been one of the top scoring teams in the conference all season, but their shots simply weren’t falling this weekend. They were ice cold from beyond the three-point line, and they now find themselves last in the NESCAC in three-point shooting percentage at 31%. The scoring drought needs to come to an end if the Panthers want to have any shot at winning their matchup with the tough Wesleyan defense this weekend. It starts with the leadership of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, who are the team’s leading scorers. They were both average against Hamilton, and neither cracked double digits in the scoring column against Amherst. Middlebury is picking a bad time to go cold, but we’ll see if they can turn things around this weekend in their quarterfinal matchup.

Trinity

Jeremy Arthur ’19 is one of Trinity’s only consistent offensive threats.

The Bantams are one of the streakiest teams out there. They’ve taken down Amherst and Wesleyan, but they’ve also lost to Bates and Colby. They struggled mightily this weekend, getting trounced by Bates, then dropping a tight contest to Tufts. They certainly lack a true star player, although Jeremy Arthur ’19 and Eric Gendron ’18 provide most of the scoring. There isn’t much to say about Trinity other than that they’re a scary first round matchup. If the shots are falling, they are very tough to beat because they play exceptional defense at times. They are essentially a giant question mark, but are definitely not to be taken lightly as they are capable of stealing a win in Williamstown.

Maine Schools

Well, it was a tough year for the three Maine schools who finished 7th, 9th, and 10th respectively. Bowdoin still has a chance to make a run, but all in all, the NESCAC’s northernmost schools were as cold as their weather. That said, these schools have shown promise. Bowdoin made the playoffs, and their best players are David Reynolds ’20, Jack Simonds ’19, Hugh O’Neil ’19, Jack Bors, and Zavier Rucker ’21. Bates narrowly missed a playoff birth, losing the three-way tie with Trinity and Bowdoin, and they are lead by Jeff Spellman ’20, Nick Gilpin ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, Nick Lynch ’19, Tom Coyne ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. Colby only has two seniors (neither of whom play a huge amount of minutes) and two juniors (only one of whom plays a decent amount of minutes), so there are also lead by breakout underclassmen Sam Jefferson ’20, Dean Weiner ’19, Matt Hanna ’21, and Ethan Schlager ’20. Things looked a bit bleak this year, but this could potentially just be the calm before the storm for the CBB Consortium.

Bowdoin is the only Maine school in the tournament.

The Big One: Middlebury @ Hamilton Game of the Week Preview

Whatever the schedule makers did this season, they should do it every year. This has the potential to be one of the most exciting NESCAC weekends I can remember. Almost every game has major playoff ramifications. On Friday, Williams and Amherst match up with Williams needing a win to keep their hopes of hosting alive, and Trinity travels to Lewiston in a game that could pretty much decide the final playoff spot. And on Saturday, Wesleyan and Bowdoin battle for their playoff lives, and Amherst plays Middlebury in a game that they will probably need to win in order to ensure an NCAA bid. But the biggest game is on Friday night, as Middlebury travels to Hamilton in a matchup of the top two teams in the regional rankings.

#5 Middlebury (18-3, 7-1) @ #15 Hamilton (19-2, 6-2), 7:00 PM, Clinton, NY

Overview:

If Middlebury pulls this game out, they will pretty much clinch the number one seed and hosting duties in the NESCAC tournament. They will be the only team with one loss, and even if they drop their Saturday matchup with Amherst and end up at 8-2, they will hold the tie breaker with both Williams and Hamilton. If Hamilton wins, their Saturday game with Williams becomes enormous, as they could host themselves due to the tie breaker over Middlebury. But If Williams wins, Middlebury would still host, providing Williams beat Amherst on Friday and Middlebury beats Amherst on Saturday. *Exhales.*  Clearly this is a huge weekend in which every game has playoff ramifications, making it a very difficult weekend in which to pick a Game of Week. In fact, there are so many great games that there is a little rivalry game on Friday and it still isn’t the GOTW. But it’s not often that the top two teams in the regional rankings have a chance to decide the number one seed.

Jack Daly has the Panthers rolling to the fifth spot in the national poll.

This game is fascinating for more than just rankings. It is a matchup between two teams that love to play fast. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball at times, but owns the boards and dominates on defense. Hamilton, on the other hand, is the top three point shooting team and scoring offense in the league. Middlebury relies heavily on POY frontrunner Jack Daly ‘18 for pretty much everything, on both sides of the ball. The senior star will most likely guard Hamilton’s leading scorer and future of the league Kena Gilmour ‘20. As we outlined in the Stock Report, the Continentals have been playing well despite recent struggles from Gilmour, but against the elite teams they will play this weekend (Middlebury and then Williams,) they will need someone to get them a clutch bucket. That has to be Gilmour. This game may well be the biggest in the history of the Hamilton basketball program, and could put them on the map. Now how’s that for a hype machine?

Middlebury X-Factor: F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Chuck Norris ’75/Matt Folger ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

This is not my most inventive pick (that honor would have to go to Max Bosco ‘21,) but Folger’s versatility is will be absolutely critical in this game. Even though Hamilton’s offense has slumped slightly in league play, they are still dangerous, especially from the outside. Surprisingly close games against Bates and Bowdoin (and a scary almost comeback by Williams) has shown that Middlebury is susceptible to teams that shoot well from the outside. Middlebury hasn’t hit many threes of their own lately, and basic math tells us that it’s hard to match threes with twos. Middlebury has to hit at least a couple threes of their own to match any runs by Hamilton, and Folger is one of the guys who is supposed to do it. He has struggled mightily from outside in league play, shooting under 30% from downtown. Jack Daly will be somewhat occupied while he chases around Gilmour, so Middlebury will need their second option to be available to create offense.

As important as Folger’s shooting will be, his defense may be even more so. Folger is the most dangerous shot blocker in the league, and his quickness and athleticism makes him valuable on the perimeter as well. Against Bowdoin, he did an excellent job locking down Jack Simonds ‘19, and helped out Daly quite a bit on Tufts’ Vincent Pace as well. However, Middlebury has struggled this season when faced with athletic power forwards, a position that Hamilton is loaded at. In addition to Gilmour, Hamilton’s top scorers are Peter Hoffmann ‘19 and Michael Grassey ‘19, two athletic forwards who excel in the paint.. Folger will probably switch off between those players when he is in the game and needs to do a good job on them, because Middlebury doesn’t have an answer other than him. His rebounding will also be valuable. This is a game in which Middlebury should own the boards, and Folger, at 7.3 per game, is one of the Panthers best rebounders. It’s playoff time in the NESCAC, and in the playoffs stars wins. Folger has the skills to be a star: time to start playing like one.

Hamilton X-Factor: F Andrew Groll ‘19

Andrew Groll
Andrew Groll ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

As I mentioned earlier, the blueprint for beating Middlebury is to hit threes and win (or at least not lose embarrassingly) the rebounding battle. Hamilton has plenty of three point shooting. Guards Tim Doyle ‘19 and Joe Pucci ‘18 both shoot nearly 40%, and F Michael Grassey ‘19 is one of the more underrated scorers in the league, putting up 15 points per game on 51/41/80 shooting. The rebounding is where Hamilton has more work to do, and where Groll comes in. At 6’8”, Groll is the only true big in Hamilton’s rotation, and is an elite rebounder in limited minutes. He’s averaging 6.3 rebounds per game in just over 15 minutes. And, more importantly for this matchup, 2.3 of those rebounds are offensive. Hamilton will need people to mix it up underneath with Middlebury’s big men, especially Eric McCord ‘19, who has been eating rebounds for breakfast lately. The way that Middlebury wins is by getting teams that like offense (such as Williams) to play ugly, and they are certainly good enough to do that to Hamilton. The Continentals have to be ready to match them, and Groll is their best bet.

Final Thoughts:

Hamilton’s defense can be just as explosive as their offense. Hamilton leads the league in steals at 8.9 per game, and their fast paced offense means that those turnovers become points almost immediately. This activity, particularly on the part of Hamilton’s guards, means they are well suited to handle Jack Daly. Like Wesleyan did earlier this year, Hamilton has the ability to throw multiple long, athletic defenders at Daly, which will make his operations in the paint difficult. One of these guards is Joe Pucci ‘18. If I were to pick a second X-Factor for Hamilton, it would be Pucci. At 6’7”, he is one of the biggest guards in the league, and will spend a great deal of time on the Middlebury star. Gilmour is the best matchup athletically, but Hamilton would be smart to try to keep him fresh for the offensive end, and will probably hide try to hide him on G Jack Farrell ‘21.

Joe Pucci ’18 will be more valuable for his offense than his defense on Friday.

This means that Farrell’s activity will be important. We know Hamilton will make Jack Daly play defense, but Middlebury must do the same to Gilmour. Farrell had a breakout game against Trinity (16 points,) but overall has not been very threatening to opposing defenses. He is a better ball handler and defender than any of the guards off the bench, but if this game gets higher scoring than Middlebury would like, Joey Leighton ‘20 might be a better option, to ensure that Gilmour has to play defense.

Last season, Hamilton came in to Middlebury’s gym with a lot of hype (mostly from us) as “the next big thing” in the league. Then the Panthers ran them out of the gym 115-82, and the Continentals never recovered, losing in the first round of the tournament. Hamilton is now even more obviously “the next big thing” in the league: Pucci is the only senior in their rotation. But Middlebury is still “the big thing,” and they match up very well with Hamilton. The Panthers will bring Hamilton’s high octane attack down to their gritty level, and end up hosting the NESCAC tournament.

Writer’s Prediction: 77-73 Middlebury

Other Friday Games:

# 8 Williams (18-4, 6-2) @ Amherst (14-8, 5-3), 7:00 PM

Connecticut College (6-15, 0-8) @ Bowdoin (14-7, 3-5), 7:00 PM

Wesleyan (17-5, 5-3) @ Colby (10-12, 1-7), 7:00 PM

Trinity (15-7, 4-4) @ Bates (11-12, 3-6), 7:00 PM

The Home-Court Battle; Power Rankings 2/8

And after a long and exciting, up and down, confusing at times regular season, we are headed into the final weekend before the playoffs. With all teams only having either one or two more NESCAC games, Bates is the odd man out in the playoffs, looking in with a must win game against Trinity. They either need to beat Trinity and have the Bantams lose again to Tufts or need Bowdoin to lose out after a tough weekend against Conn and Wesleyan. That just leaves the matter of seeding. The top five spots could be completely flipped come playoff time as Middlebury, Hamilton, Amherst, and Williams all clash in some mix of games, with Wesleyan finishing their schedule out with some easier games. While Midd controls its own destiny, they are playing two locked in playoff teams that both want not only higher seeds, but a chance to host the NESCAC tournament. Time to lock in fans, March is coming quickly and everybody wants a ticket to title-town.

1. #5 Middlebury (19-3, 7-1)

Last Week: 72-70 W vs. Bowdoin; 75-56 W vs. Colby

This Week: @ Hamilton, @ Amherst

Although the end result of last weekend was of no surprise, the favored Panthers narrowly escaped with a victory against Bowdoin, relying on a last minute shot from Adisa Majors to break the tie. While Bowdoin’s players certainly aren’t chumps and are likely going to be a tough first round game for either Midd or Williams, Middlebury should be expected to play better the next time around. The Panthers, while rolling and climbing in the national rankings every week, are missing just one part of their game—three point shooting. They racked up just a 25.9% success rate against the Polar Bears, with no player shooting over 33% individually from deep. This is a glaring problem as they could struggle against sharp shooting teams like Williams later on in the season—winning their earlier matchup due to an explosion from Joey Leighton. The Panthers are still rolling and are the team to beat, but they could fall to Hamilton this weekend if they get out shot on the road.

Cole Teal and the Ephs are surging towards the playoffs

2. #8 Williams (18-4, 6-2)

 

Last Week: 77-49 W vs. Colby; 72-55 W vs. Bowdoin

This Week: @ Amherst; @ Hamilton

Another easy weekend has Williams getting closer and closer to Midd in these rankings. Their improving versatility, shooting diversity, and high margins of victory are convincing in how deserving they are to be considered the best team. They whooped Colby and shot well from the field and from deep, but against Bowdoin, like Middlebury, they were stifled from deep with Bobby Casey going just 1-10 from beyond the arc. This looks like more of an outlier and due to some good defense this past weekend from Bowdoin, but James Heskett can’t do it all himself in the playoffs. This weekend will bring out the best in these top two teams, revealing which is the strongest heading into the playoffs with each squad set to face the same opponents.

3. #15 Hamilton (19-2, 6-2)

Last Week: 57-74 W @ Tufts; 89-57 W @ Bates

This Week: vs. Middlebury; vs. Williams

A blowout win against Bates and another one against Tufts has me convinced that Hamilton has successfully rebounded heading into the playoffs. While they certainly put some doubt into my mind after losing two conference games in a row, their win against the Jumbos who knocked off Amherst shows that they are still a top notch team in the conference. Now, the switch isn’t flipping on and off every time the Continentals win or lose, and I don’t think they are as strong as Midd or Williams, but they are a top four team and have a shot to compete for a ring which is all any team can ask for. They kept it simple against the Jumbos, played aggressively, and shot their way to victory from the charity stripe, going 26-33, good for almost 80%. They played great defense, out-rebounded the Jumbos, and pushed them to shoot brutally from the field. Hamilton evenly dispersed their scoring and even saw a lackluster performance from star player Kena Gilmour, showing their depth and potential heading into a pivotal weekend against these top two teams. Time to see how the Continentals can compete against the top dawgs.

4. #22 Wesleyan (17-5, 5-3)

Last Week: 60-73 L @ Trinity

This Week: @ Colby, @ Bowdoin

Both good and bad came from this past weekend for the Cardinals. While they saw a disappointing loss against Trinity in an important game for their playoff seeding, they also saw the return of starting PG Kevin O’Brien, just in time for the playoffs. Although he needed to work back into the lineup slowly, going from 13 to 31 minutes played in the two games last weekend, he should be primed to get back to his usual role in these games that Wesleyan should win. The loss against Trinity resulted from a 5-26 three point shooting performance and a lights out performance from the Bantams. I don’t expect this to happen again, seen in their exclamatory win against the Mammoths, featuring more efficient shooting from Wesleyan’s three best shooters, and a strong near double-double from O’Brien.

Jordan Bonner and his teammates are happy to have Kevin O’Brien back.

5. Amherst (14-8, 5-3)

Last Week: 56-60 L @ Tufts; 80-61 W @ Bates

This Week: vs. Williams; vs. Middlebury

On the both sides of the surging Amherst team’s win against Bates were two bad losses. The Mammoths, looking like a championship contender of late, came up with two duds, one against a struggling Tufts team and the other to a strong Wesleyan team, but by a whopping 24 points. Against the Jumbos, albeit a close game where neither team pulled away, the Mammoths simply showed they weren’t exceptional. They were unable to distinguish themselves from a team that has been up and down all year and as a result are no longer in the top four championship contenders. Against Wesleyan in a non-conference mid-week game on February 6th, they shot terribly, going 21-76 (27.6%), and collected just 36 rebounds. Grant Robinson was the only starter to score double digit points and without some bigger performances, they won’t be able to best the star power of any of the top four teams.

6. Tufts (16-7, 5-4)

Last Week: 60-56 W vs. Amherst; 74-57 L vs. Hamilton

This Week: vs. Trinity

KJ Garrett has remained a non-factor in recent games, even in their much needed win against Amherst. Vincent Pace carried the Jumbos with his 27 points and eight rebounds, accounting for nearly half of their scoring. Without a similar performance against Hamilton, Tufts had no shot, shooting just 24.1% overall and a pathetic 15.4% from deep, lacking scorers, depth, rebounding, and enough oomph to make it past the quarterfinals of the NESCAC tournament.

7. Bowdoin (14-7, 3-5)

Last Week: 70-72 L @ Middlebury; 55-72 L @ Williams

This Week: vs. Conn, vs. Wesleyan

While I continue to reiterate how Bowdoin has a strong starting lineup with several star quality players, David Reynolds, Jack Simonds, and Hugh O’Neil weren’t able to carry the Polar Bears past the top two teams. They nearly knocked off the Panthers, showing how they could give teams fits in the playoffs and be an upset contender. They added in another solid performance from Liam Farley who shot 6-11 for 17 points against Midd. They do still lack a strong presence in the post, with none of their players racking up over eight rebounds in the close loss, outmatched by Eric McCord, Jack Daly, and Adisa Majors. They could pull it together in time for playoff weekend, and could climb up the rankings quickly if they can knock of Wesleyan this weekend.

Christian Porydzy ’20 and the Bantams are getting hot at the right time.

8. Trinity (15-7, 4-4)

Last Week: 82-65 W @ Conn; 73-60 W vs. Wesleyan

This Week: @ Bates; @ Tufts

An undefeated weekend all but secured Trinity’s place in the playoffs as they surged to an upset win against #22 Wesleyan. If they beat Bates, they clinch their place in the postseason and will be riding the hot hands of Donald Jorden, Eric Gendron, and Jeremy Arthur. The trio combined to shoot 16-24 in the contest and added 17 rebounds (10 by Jorden) to put them over the edge against the Cardinals. Four of their starters combined for 15 assists and they put together a balanced effort on all sides of the floor. Tufts should be weary of the Bantams this weekend, and so should the top seeds as they could pose a potential threat with their end of season momentum. They aren’t close to the level of the top teams, but they have to be happy with where they have come from a few weeks ago.

9. Bates (11-12, 3-6)

Last Week: 57-89 L vs. Hamilton; 61-80 L vs. Amherst

This Week: vs. Trinity

Two brutal losses all but ended Bates’ chances of securing any games beyond the regular season even though they have some promising tools. Jeff Spellman and Nick Lynch really didn’t show up against Amherst and didn’t do Bates any favors as they descended into obscurity. They now face a do-or-die situation against Trinity and need help to reach the playoffs. While unlikely, they better bring their A-game and hope that the home crowd can supply some extra juice as they will need it.

10. Colby (10-12, 1-7)

Last Week: 49-77 L vs. Amherst; 56-75 L @ Middlebury

This Week: vs. Wesleyan, vs. Conn

Once again, there aren’t a whole lot of positives here for the Mules, headed towards the offseason and a losing record. They have some promising youth and could head on a Hamilton-like path in the future, but have some serious work to do in the meantime. Luckily for the Mules, they should have a good shot to end their season on a win for senior night against the Conn Camels. It’s the little things.

11. Conn College (6-15, 0-8)

Last Week: 65-82 L vs. Trinity

This Week: @ Bowdoin; @ Colby

It seems the Camels have squandered a great season from David Labossiere and a recent surge from Dan Draffan. Labossiere averages about 17 PPG and Draffan is up to over 14 PPG and nearly six rebounds per game. While they might not win against any NESCAC teams, at least they tried.

Nearing the End: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 2/6

Before we get into this recap, some congratulations are in order. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury G Jack Daly ’18 became the program’s all time assists leader with 558, breaking the previous record (553 by Jake Wulfin ’13) early in the second half. As we all know, this blog is basically a Jack Daly fan page, so we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Panther senior. With that out of the way, it was a pretty conventional weekend in NESCAC, setting up a wild final regular season weekend. The only major upset was Trinity knocking off Wesleyan 73-60 (we’ll get to that.) Here are some things to watch for in this coming weekend.

Stock Up

Hamilton, Weathering Adversity

In the wake of Hamilton’s amazing season this year, people have forgotten that they had a similarly hot start last year. In 2016-2017, they entered league play at 12-3, and many experts, particularly the one you’re reading right now, thought they were making a leap. Then they lost 3 straight NESCAC games and never recovered, finishing 4-6 in the league and losing in the first round of the tournament. And, after their 75-49 drubbing at the hands of Amherst and another bad loss to Bowdoin it looked like they might be heading towards a similar fate. But they have impressively righted the ship. They’ve won three league games in a row, including a dominant win over Tufts on Saturday. These wins have been of a different nature than their 15-0 start. Hamilton’s defense has gone from somewhat indifferent to excellent in recent games. Against Tufts, they held Vincent Pace ’18, one of the hottest players in the league, to 3-14 shooting from the field. All of the young players who got Hamilton off to such a good start last year have gained a lot of maturity in the last 12 months, and it has allowed them to weather the storm and keep their chances for the #1 seed alive.

Trinity’s Three Point Shooting

As I mentioned earlier, Trinity’s win over Wesleyan was the biggest upset of the weekend. At 4-4 in the league, Trinity desperately needed that win in order to stay ahead of the the Maine teams in the playoff race. But Wesleyan’s dominant defense seemed like it would to be too much for Trinity’s often shaky offense to overcome. Three point shooting changed that. Trinity went 9-18 from three, including 7-9 from Jeremy Arthur ’18 and Eric Gendron ’19. Trinity was the number one seed not too long ago, but if they want any hope of winning this year’s tournament, they will need to keep teams honest from the three point line. This game, against one of the truly elite defenses in the league, showed that they can do that. Teams should be worried about playing Trinity in the quarterfinals.                                                                                                                                                                                                Middlebury F Adisa Majors ‘18

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

Majors made the biggest shot of Middlebury’s season thus far, a 15-footer with 5 seconds left to beat Bowdoin. Had the Panthers lost to Bowdoin, they would be tied for the top spot with Hamilton and Williams. But Majors gave them sole possession of the top seed, and now they basically control their own destiny, with an enormous matchup with Hamilton looming. However, Majors’ great weekend wasn’t just comprised of that game winner. He had ten points overall against Bowdoin, and is averaging nearly ten on over 50% shooting in his last three. When Majors is playing well, Middlebury’s rotation of forwards is nearly impossible to handle, because each offers a different skill set. Eric McCord ’19 is a beast, ripping offensive rebounds away and using his strength to finish inside. Nick Tarantino ’18 is long and athletic, and uses that to beat people down the floor and finish above the rim. And Majors is an excellent finisher who can step out to the midrange. Majors has had a huge role in Middlebury’s current 9 game winning streak, and has them poised to host the tournament.

Stock Down

Tufts

The Jumbos have gone from contenders for the top seed to struggling to stay in the top five. They play just Trinity this weekend, and if they lose, they could end up as the seventh seed. How did this happen? Simple: shooting. In Tufts’ last three league games, they are shooting under 20% from three. You just can’t win like that. Vincent Pace ’18 is a star, but defenses are able to focus all their energy on him and no one around him is scoring well enough to take the pressure off. However, Middlebury has had the same problems surrounding Jack Daly, and yet the Panthers are 7-1 in the league. Tufts doesn’t have the defense and rebounding tenacity to make up for their scoring struggles. They get out-rebounded by 1 rebound per game in league play, while Middlebury out-rebounds opponents by 11. In Pace, Tufts will often have the best player on the court, but he needs help.

Hamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20

One of the most impressive things about Hamilton’s recent strong play is that it has coincided with struggles from Gilmour, their best player. Gilmour is shooting just 39% overall in league play, and against Tufts he shot 2-9 from the field. Only a sophomore, Gilmour may starting to experience the fatigue that often comes from playing so many more minutes than in his rookie season, and his minutes last weekend (21 and 23 respectively) show the coaching staff trying to manage it. But he will need to play better in Hamilton’s enormous matchup against Middlebury on Friday. The Panthers have the depth to match Hamilton’s versatile offense; Hamilton will need to be able to rely on Gilmour to get a shot for himself or someone else in a one-on-one matchup. It will be a great learning experience for the future star to try this against Jack Daly, and if he does it, the league could be his earlier than expected.

Kena Gilmour ’20 is the future of the league, and his future could arrive on Friday against Middlebury.

2017 NESCAC Championship Repeat? Power Rankings 2/1

While Pete was quick to point out my recent whiffs in predictions, he neglected to say how when I put Hamilton at the top of the power rankings two weeks ago, they were still undefeated and coming off of a win against a strong Wesleyan team. Did I account for the fact that Kevin O’Brien contracted an illness making him unable to play? No. They still had an undefeated record in mid-January, and despite their lack of credible opponents, I became a believer. I am not so certain anymore. Also, I talked about how Bates was a sneaky threat to compete against Wesleyan. After a big win against Tufts and some close games against other top teams, their arsenal of players had a shot to run the table. But I jinxed them. While my credibility is certainly in doubt at the moment, made clear thanks to some familial disloyalty on the website, here are this week’s rankings—Take ‘em or leave ‘em:

1. #6 Middlebury (16-3, 5-1)

Last Week: 87-81 W @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Bowdoin; vs. Colby

While Midd’s shooting has been a question as late as they are waiting for F Matt Folger ’20 to heat back up, Jack Daly ’18 has continued his dinking and dunking (not actual dunking) to grind out wins for the Panthers. While they lack a consistent outside shooting presence, Folger has shown signs of life of late in mid-week games, and Joey Leighton has been a diamond in the rough who came in as the player of the game against Williams a few weeks ago. This weekend provides a limited test in a Bowdoin team hot after knocking off the struggling continentals, followed by what should be a guaranteed win against Colby. They are hot and haven’t lost since the first conference weekend against Wesleyan and have earned this spot with quality wins and a reliable defense.

2. #13 Williams (16-4, 4-2)

Last Week: 75-58 W @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby; vs. Bowdoin

Following a valiant comeback effort against Middlebury two weeks ago, the Ephs took care of business against a struggling Trinity team—in more convincing fashion than the Panthers. James Heskett has emerged as a monster, valiantly replacing Kyle Scadlock, pitting him in the middle of the NESCAC POY race. He shot 12-15 against the Bantams, dropping 34 points to go along with four steals. He dominated the floor and made up for poor shooting from Bobby Casey  (4-15 FG). Henry Feinberg stepped in for Mike Greenman (out with injury) in the starting lineup this week and played well in the wake of a solid bench performance against Middlebury. Williams now has a big and athletic lineup that has impressive depth. Look for them to continue winning if Heskett keeps shooting like Steph Curry.

James Heskett ’19 may be the frontrunner for POY.

3. #17 Wesleyan (16-4, 5-2)

Last Week: 60-52 W vs. Tufts, 68-50 W vs. Bates

This Week: @ Trinity

Losing Kevin O’Brien to an illness has surely hurt the Cardinals’ starting lineup recently, but should feature its PG again soon. Two easy wins against Tufts and Bates—unranked mid-tier NESCAC teams, but not exactly chumps—leave them with a spot alone in second place in the standings with just three games to go. Jordan Bonner is starting to find his shot again, and the trio of Nathan Krill, JR Bascom, and Jordan Sears have been putting around 25 points and 25 rebounds per game, a balanced and deep defensive and supportive scoring effort that leaves Wesleyan in a great spot with a light weekend against Trinity. Look for them to climb back up the rankings when they get O’Brien back.

4. Amherst (13-6, 4-2)

Last Week: 75-60 W vs. Bowdoin; 82-77 W @ Colby

This Week: @ Tufts; @ Bates

Amherst is starting to roll late in the regular season as they put up a nice undefeated weekend against a Bowdoin team that looked great against Hamilton. This team also blew Hamilton out. Four of their starters scored double-digit points against the Polar Bears, ending the night at a 50.8 FG%, enough to win against any team. They have now shot at 47% FG or higher in their last three NESCAC games, which shows that are hot and ready to take on the Jumbos and Bobcats this weekend. The Mammoths are slowly returning to their former form, led by Johnny McCarthy ‘18, Grant Robinson ’21, and Michael Riopel ’18. The young and the old are slowly leading this team towards the top of the rankings and standings. Watch out up top.

5. #21 Hamilton (17-2, 4-2)

Last Week: 76-67 W @ Colby OT; 68-72 L @ Bowdoin

This Week: @ Bates; @ Tufts

I would like apologize to Hamilton fans for putting the pressure of the #1 spot in the power rankings in their court. They couldn’t handle it. Back to back losses to Bowdoin and Amherst (75-49!) are showing that perhaps these continentals aren’t as strong as their record appears. I’m not discounting their body of work in its entirety—they are still ranked 21st in the nation. They were simply outplayed against Bowdoin, shooting 36.5% from the field compared to Bowdoin’s impressive 45.2% clip. They also went to OT vs. Colby which is much more of a red flag than either of their losses. Their star, Kena Gilmour, went just 6-20 in the game shooting and is 9-31 in his last two conference games, not exactly carrying the team to victory. Tim Doyle, Michael Grassey, and Peter Hoffmann all have the ability to put up big games though, making their starting five deadly when they get hot. Time for a gut check.

Tim Doyle and the Continentals are struggling heading into the home stretch of NESCAC play.

6. Bowdoin (14-5, 3-3)

Last Week: 72-68 W vs. Hamilton, 60-75 L vs. Amherst

This Week: @ Middlebury; @ Williams

After a big win against the Continentals and a loss against the suddenly scary Amherst team, these Polar Bears have a brutal away weekend ahead of them. They are firmly pitted in the middle of the NESCAC, likely to make the playoffs, but also likely to play their first postseason games on the road. The trio of Jack Simonds, David Reynolds, and Hugh O’Neil are dangerous and capable of going off enough to challenge these top teams in Middlebury and Williams. This could be a preview of one of the early or semifinal playoff games, giving us a peek into how much of a contender this Bowdoin team is.

7. Tufts (15-6 ,4-3)

Last Week: 52-60 L @ Wesleyan; 86-54 W @ Conn

This Week: vs. Amherst; vs. Hamilton

The Jumbos are struggling and are looking less like a championship capable team after several weekends of mediocrity. Their losses to Bates and Wesleyan drastically diminished their overall ranking and raises some serious concerns for this weekend against Amherst and Hamilton. They might lose both but need to at least split to have a shot at a home game in the first round. Their overall lack of scoring depth give them a bleak outlook against most of the top teams. Vincent Pace and Patrick Racy were the lone Jumbos to score over five points against Wesleyan, still only shooting 12-29 between them (decent, but not enough from the two top scorers). For this team to win close games, KJ Garrett is going to need to step up (1-9 shooting against Wesleyan).

Vincent Pace has been trying to keep Tufts afloat, although he was unable to do so in a crushing recent loss to Bates.

8. Bates (11-10, 3-4)

Last Week: 69-56 W @ Conn, 50-68 L @ Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Hamilton; vs. Amherst

I don’t have a whole lot of positive things to say about the Bobcats after falling flat against a Wesleyan team missing its starting PG. 19-57 shooting was not nearly enough to compete, combined with a complete lack of defense. Bates hauled in just 26 rebounds compared to 53 from Wesleyan and basically gave themselves no chance to win. Their two star players Jeff Spellman and James Mortimer shot just a combined 5-14 on the night. For Bates to have any chance to make a run at the playoffs, those two are going to need to make more of an impact.

9. Trinity (13-7, 2-4)

Last Week: 81-87 L vs. Middlebury; 58-75 L vs. Williams

This Week: vs. Wesleyan; @ Conn

While they had a strong performance against Middlebury, a big loss against Williams earlier in the weekend kind of took away any of the positives from the weekend. They couldn’t guard James Heskett and Eric Gendron was the only player with any ability to score (7-13, 18 points). Against Middlebury, although they were losing, they had a ridiculous 32 fouls, leaving the result of the game up to Jack Daly’s free throw shooting ability (he went 18-20 and iced the Bantams). They have a tough test this weekend and need to win against Wesleyan to prove they can compete (I would be shocked if they pulled it off).

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

Last Week: 67-76 L vs. Hamilton OT; 77-82 L vs. Amherst

This Week: @ Williams; @ Middlebury

Taking Hamilton to OT was a solid game for a team that has little hope to have a posteason. Sean Gilmore, Sam Jefferson, and Matt Hanna all scored over 15 points in the game and gave the Mules a chance to win. While these three didn’t put their squad over the edge, their youth in the starting lineup—two sophomores and two first years—bodes well for their future success. Maybe not this year, but next year, the Colby team’s stock should rise.

11. Conn College (6-14, 0-7)

Last Week: 69-56 L vs. Bates, 54-86 L vs. Tufts

This Week: @ Wesleyan; vs. Trinity

The good news is that if I don’t say anything good about the Camels, there is nothing for me to jinx. While they finally lost a NESCAC game by less than 15 points (they lost by 13 to Bates), they also had two starters score zero points in the matchup, putting all the pressure on Dan Draffan, Ben Bagnoli, and David Labossiere. A three on five matchup for a team without league leading stars is not a recipe for success.

Better Late than Never: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/31

Stock Up

Jack Daly’s Foul Shooting

Jack Daly ‘18 has, by far, the most responsibility on his team of any player in the league. He plays around 35 minutes a game, handles the ball 90% of the time and guards the best player on the opposing team. And this responsibility only increases late in games, when every part of the offense runs through him. Of course, this makes his foul shooting incredibly important. More often than not, he is the one that teams will be fouling at the end of close games. So when he was struggling from the line, it was a HUGE problem for Middlebury. Overall, Daly is at 68% from the line, and underwent a 7-17 mess early in the season. But, as he so often does, Daly has raised his game when it counts. In league play, he is shooting 77% from the line, and single-handedly won Middlebury’s game against Trinity at the line with an amazing 18-20 showing. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, last night he iced Keene State as well, going 8-8. Daly is the guy Middlebury will have at the line in big moments, and the way he’s shooting right now, Middlebury wouldn’t have it any other way.

Daly is dominating the league right now, and that dominance is finally extending to the foul line.

Amherst in League Play

I don’t think we’ll ever have a NESCAC season without Amherst in the mix. After looking nearly dead for much of the season, the Mammoths have roared (trumpeted?) back to life, winning three straight NESCAC games, including blowouts over Hamilton and Bowdoin. Amherst relies mostly on an excellent defense to win games; they are third in the league (behind Wesleyan and Trinity) in opponents PPG and FG%. But their offense is beginning to come around as well. Michael Riopel ‘18 is one of the deadliest three point shooters in the league, but has diversified his game nicely and is dangerous inside the arc as well. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 has had a fascinating career arc, and has reinvented himself again as a gritty paint presence and dominant rebounder. But the key to Amherst’s success (and failure early in the season) is their supporting cast. When Amherst wins, it is because guys like Grant Robinson ‘21, Eric Sellew ‘20 and Fru Che ‘21 are all contributing. Amherst needs the help, and lately they have been getting it. However, they still have yet to play Middlebury, Wesleyan or Williams in league play, so we may well be writing a different article about them in a couple weeks.

Stock Down

The NbN Curse

It’s starting to look like the best thing for a team’s chances this year is to not be hyped up by this blog. We put Hamilton at number one in the Power Rankings when they were 15-0 and demolishing all comers like Darth Maul, and since then they’ve lost two league games and needed overtime to beat Colby. Their vaunted offense has produced 71 PPG on under 40% shooting in the last four games, and they still have to play Tufts, Williams and Middlebury. Hamilton could fall out of the top 5, and it might all our fault. And as if hamstringing Hamilton wasn’t enough, we did a whole Game of the Week about how Bates was making a move, and then they went out and got cracked by a struggling Wesleyan team 68-50. They shot 33% from the field and 25% from three, and didn’t look especially like a team ready to make a move. If they don’t grab one upset this weekend (either Hamilton or Amherst,) they might not make it to the postseason at all. We apologize in advance to anyone who we write about this week.

Bates got bodied by Wesleyan last weekend, and it’s all our fault.

Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20 (on offense)

One of the reasons for Jack Daly’s insane amount of responsibility on offense is that Folger, Middlebury’s best scorer (better than Daly even when he’s got it all working) has been really struggling shooting the ball. In league play, Folger is shooting just 36% from the field and 25% from three. Sophomores often struggle to maintain their improvement over their first season into NESCAC play (Matt St. Amour is a good recent example for Middlebury) and Folger is certainly having trouble dealing with increased defensive attention. The emergence of Eric McCord ‘19 as a dominant post scorer has forced Folger to try and create more on the perimeter, a place where he is still not very comfortable. However, he is also simply missing good looks. They will start to fall. And Folger deserves commendation, even during this slump, for his defensive intensity. His case for DPOY has only gotten stronger during the NESCAC season. He is second in the league in blocks and ninth in rebounds during league play, and his versatility has been the key to Middlebury’s seven game winning streak despite a team wide shooting slump. Against Williams, Middlebury’s biggest win of the year, Folger had four blocks and a steal, including an earth-shattering rejection on Matt Karpowicz that I still think about every night before bed. Folger will start hitting shots, and when he puts that together with his defensive dominance, watch out.

(Editor’s Note: Folger broke out a little bit last night against Keene State, putting up 22 points on 8-12 shooting, although still just 1-4 from three.)

Halfway There: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/25

What a week, what a week. Tom Brady and the polarizing Patriots calmly came back from down 10 in fourth quarter of the AFC championship and my very own Bobcats edged Tufts on a game winner with just seconds remaining. Life is good. Anyways, in what was a one-game week for every team in the NESCAC (besides Trinity who was idle), we actually got to see a decent amount of action. Williams and Middlebury clashed in another battle of the titans, Bates took down the suddenly struggling Jumbos, and Amherst either proved that Hamilton isn’t as good as we thought or that the Mammoths are better than we thought. Who knows. The upcoming week should tell a lot as we get past the halfway point in the season, but at the moment there is much to sort through.

  1.     #10 Middlebury (14-3, 4-1)

Last week: 70-66 W vs. Williams

This week: @ Trinity

As seen in this week’s stock report, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ’19 were highlights in the huge win over Williams this past week. Jack Daly ’18 had another good game, but his 8 turnovers were a bit frightening. Anyone can beat anyone in this league, so he’ll definitely need to be a bit sharper as we move forward. Middlebury appears to be finding their identity, so the rest of the conference should be very, very afraid. The Panthers will likely take care of business this week against Trinity to remain on the throne, but stay tuned to see if the Bantams are able to give them a scare.

  1.     #16 Hamilton (16-1, 3-1)

Last week: 75-49 L @ Amherst

This week: @ Bowdoin, @ Colby

We all knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when. The loss to Amherst was embarrassing (to say the least), but it was just one game. Everyone is bound to lose at some point, but it’ll be important to see how Hamilton responds this week against the bottom half of the league. Kena Gilmour ’20 has been a stud, but he needs to do more than the 7-point, 3-rebound effort he put up against Amherst if the Continentals are going to win in a league driven by star power. His supporting cast is there, but Gilmour has to lead the way. Their three-point shooting numbers have also taken a dip recently, which seemed inevitable, but we’ll see if Hamilton can regain their footing.

  1.     #15 Williams (14-4, 3-2)

Last week: 70-66 L @ Middlebury

This week: @ Trinity

James Heskett ’19 is making a strong case for best scorer in the league, as he still put up 19 against Middlebury despite a slow start shooting the ball. The Panthers were able to slow down the sharpshooting duo of Heskett and Bobby Casey ’19 just enough to pull off the huge win. Williams was held to just 35.9% from the field, which was really the best indication of how that game against Middlebury went. They simply weren’t hitting shots, and that’s not how you beat the best teams. I don’t believe there is much cause for worry despite the Ephs losing two of their last three NESCAC games. Look for Coach App to get them back on track with their only matchup this week on the road against Trinity.

James Heskett may well be the Player of the Year.
  1.     #14 Wesleyan (13-4, 3-2)

Last week: 89-51 W vs. Conn College

This week: vs. Bates, vs. Tufts

Wesleyan did what they needed to do in a trouncing of Conn College. This weekend will be very telling of a Cardinals squad that has been tough to get a read on. Bates is coming off a big win and have shown that they’re capable of competing, whereas Tufts is reeling after losing two of their last three. Kevin O’Brien ’19 hasn’t played in almost three weeks, and we don’t have word as to why, but this is a big blow. Wesleyan is very dependent on O’Brien both as an elite defender and as a point guard. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is doing a nice job filling in, but the Cardinals are hurting from the loss of O’Brien. They have a lot to prove this weekend, so keep an eye on the results from Middletown.

  1.     Tufts (13-5, 3-2)

Last week: 77-75 L vs. Bates

This week: @ Conn College, @ Wesleyan

Despite Vincent Pace ‘18 looking like frontrunner for POY, Tufts has struggled recently. They lost to Middlebury last week in an ugly game, and then were nudged by Bates, 77-75 this past weekend. Bates played well and has shown glimpses of outstanding basketball, but has been inconsistent, and that was a game that the Jumbos definitely should have won. Conn College should be a relatively easy win for Tufts, but Saturday they’ll be tested yet again versus a hard-to-read, but talented Wesleyan team. That matchup will help show who’s ready to take a leap, and who’s going to stay in the middle. There really is no rest for the weary in the NESCAC.

  1.     Amherst (10-6, 2-2)

Last week: 75-49 W vs. Hamilton

This week: @ Colby, @ Bowdoin

Amherst looked like the Goliath they always have been in a trampling of Hamilton. Johnny McCarthy ’18 put up a monster 12-point, 15-rebound double-double, providing the lead role, as he needs to for this Mammoth squad. There hasn’t been a ton of help from the supporting cast, however Eric Sellew ’20 has been provided a solid third option alongside McCarthy and Michael Riopel ’18. They are an absolute nightmare on defense as they showed against the Continentals, and this will be important to help keep their offense in games. If the Mammoths cruise to two victories this weekend, maybe it’s time for us to start giving them another look.

Michael Riopel ’18 has been one of the more efficient scorers in the league, and looks to bring Amherst back to the top tier.
  1.     Trinity (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: non-conference

This week: vs. Williams, vs. Middlebury

Trinity, much like Wesleyan, has been puzzling to figure out. A few weeks ago, they took down Amherst. More recently they dropped a game to Colby, only scoring 51 points. I guess what they have shown is that if they come to play, they’re capable of competing, but if they don’t show up, they roll over. This is an unfortunate outlook given that they’re taking on Williams and Middlebury this week. Regardless, they are a team with a lot of athleticism who has the ability to show up and give anyone a game. Things could get even more blurry in the NESCAC if the Bantams steal one this weekend, so fear the chicken.

  1.     Bowdoin (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: 83-77 W vs. Colby

This week: vs. Hamilton, vs. Amherst

Bowdoin has a promising overall record at 13-4, but they haven’t proven anything yet in conference play. They beat Bates and now Colby, but fell to Tufts and Trinity, which really doesn’t tell us too much. Reigning player of the week David Reynolds ’20 provides another go-to guy along with Jack Simonds ’19, and has now found his way into the starting lineup. He torched Colby to the tune of 29 points and 8 rebounds, while going 11-21 from the field, including 6-9 from deep. Reynolds adds to this potent Polar Bear offense that averages over 80 points per game. This will be a telling weekend, as Hamilton and Amherst each give Bowdoin a chance to prove something to the rest of the league.

With Jack Simonds ’19 struggling from the field, Reynolds has become the real star of the Polar Bears.
  1.     Bates (9-9, 2-3)

Last week: 77-75 W @ Tufts

This week: @ Wesleyan, @ Conn College

Bates picked up a signature win on the road at Tufts on a wild Nick Gilpin ’20 layup with 8 seconds left. This is the type of game that shows how dangerous Bates can be, and that they are a force to be reckoned with. The only reason they fall this week is because of a poor out of conference effort, and two losses to Bowdoin this season. Or maybe because I want my Bobcats to prove something with a few big wins. Either one. James Mortimer ’21 has found a spot in the starting lineup and has added a huge spark to this young Bobcat lineup. His size and shooting ability allow him to be tough on both ends of the court, and make him very versatile. If the Tufts game was any indication, we should see the Bobcats rise in the rankings as they have two big games in Connecticut this week.

  1.  Colby (10-7, 1-3)

Last week: 83-77 L @ Bowdoin

This week: vs. Amherst, vs. Hamilton

The Mules had a chance to move up when they traveled to Brunswick, but came up short and ultimately remain just above the basement of the league. Colby isn’t a bad team by any means, but they just lack the star power to compete with the top teams. They have good players (see Dean Weiner ’19), but they lack a pure scorer who can take over games. The win over Trinity is certainly a good one and a building point, but at the moment, the Mules have a long way to climb. They could make things more interesting this weekend by sneaking away with a win when they host the Mammoths and Continentals.

  1.  Connecticut College (6-11, 0-5)

Last week: 89-51 L @ Wesleyan

This week: vs. Tufts, vs. Bates

Nothing has gotten better for the poor Camels, who were housed by Wesleyan this past weekend. At this point, they’re planning for the future in New London, and we could potentially start to see different schemes and different guys getting involved for Conn College. Then again, the ‘CAC is weird and you never know what could happen on a given day. The best I can say is that Conn is a trap game, however they are yet to do any of this alleged trapping, so it is hard to even give them that. Bates and Tufts come to town this weekend, so hopefully things start to look up for the Camels.