The Buffalo Bills of the early 1990’s. The 1990’s Atlanta Braves (except for 1995). University of Michigan basketball in 1992 and 1993. And, worst of all, the 2007 Patriots.
All dynastic-type franchises and programs. None of them champions. It takes a certain level of talent to be the best team and win more games than anyone else throughout the course of a season. It takes something else, some undefinable, to be a champion.
As great as Trinity basketball has been over the course of the past two seasons – a 42-15 record (.737), 18-2 (.900) conference record, defenses rated near the top of the NESCAC and all of Division-III, an Elite Eight run a year ago and another NCAA trip this season – they have not been able to win a NESCAC title despite the Semis and Finals being played in Hartford. After once again clinching home court advantage through the NESCAC playoffs, the Semifinal exit for the Bantams was a disappointing one.
Let’s not forget, though, about the accomplishments that this team achieved. The Bantams graduated a few critical pieces, as most good teams do. Hart Gliedman ’15, a tenacious perimeter defender. George Papadeas ’15, a paint-clogging center at 6’8″. And a couple of important forwards in Steve Spirou ’15 and Alex Conaway ’15. The backcourt went through a further transition, as Andrew Hurd ’16 became the PG1 and Jaquann Starks ’16, an All-NESCAC player last year, had to morph himself into a traditional two-guard. There was a question of what kind of offensive production Trinity would get out of the post. Last year center Ed Ogundeko ’17 was the team’s third-leading scorer, but he shot an ugly 46.3 percent from the floor – not very good for a guy that doesn’t shoot from outside the paint. And lastly, there was the question of how the team would respond from a disappointing loss in the NESCAC Semis followed by a deep NCAA run.
All things considered, Trinity had a successful year, once again claiming the No. 1 seed by being the best team during the NESCAC regular season. There’s no doubt, though, that the Bantams will look back on this season and feel that there was some unfinished business.
Highlight Moment: 76-75 Win against Williams in the NESCAC Season Opener
The first game of the conference schedule always carries a lot of weight, but that is particularly true for a team like Trinity, trying to prove that it is not a fluke. The upstart Ephs had the advantage down the stretch, but it was the cool nerves of the experienced Bantams that made the difference. Trinity was down 70-68 with just moments to play, but then scored six points off of steals – two from Shay Ajayi ’16 and one from Starks – to stay in the fight. Finally, it was a contested, banked-in runner from Starks with six seconds left and followed by a steal from Starks himself that iced the game.
Team MVP: F Shay Ajayi
This is an easy one, as Ajayi not only gets our vote for Team MVP, but he already took home NESCAC POY honors. Ajayi’s game is so well-rounded that it’s hard to find a weakness. He is a menace defensively because of his length, and his ability to score inside, outside and attacking the rim is unmatched in the NESCAC. His stat line speaks for itself: 13.9 ppg on 48.3/32.1/78.0% shooting, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 spg and 1.0 bpg.
Biggest Surprise: The Loss of Hart Gliedman Didn’t Hurt Too Badly
People close to the program might read that and think I’m crazy. I don’t know how important Gliedman was as a leader and a presence off the floor, and believe me, as a former scrappy all-defense guard myself back in high school and today on the intramural circuit, I respect the man’s game. I only say this because American University transfer Langdon Neal ’17 became a vicious perimeter defender this season. Every time I watched Trinity, Neal was the player that caught my eye, constantly pressuring the ball handler and disrupting passing lanes. Need proof of his defensive capabilities? How about 1.0 steals per game in just 14.1 minutes per game. Ajayi lead the Bantams with 1.6 steals per game, but of course was also on the floor for almost 25 minutes per game. Neal comes in at 14th in the league in steals per game, and played by far the fewest minutes of anyone ranked that high. Tim Ahn ’19 (17.0 mpg) and Josh Britten ’16 (19.5 mpg) were the only guys above Neal that played less than 20 minutes per contest. I’d love to see what Neal does in an expanded role next season, and if he breaks into the starting five he could be a sneaky play for DPOY.
Most Interesting Stat: Shay Ajayi lead the Bantams with 24.9 mpg
That might not sound like a spectacular stat, but get this. Ajayi’s 24.9 mpg ranks 33rd in the NESCAC. Every other team besides Bates (one, Mike Boornazian ’16) and Conn College (two, Tyler Rowe ’19 and Zuri Pavlin ’17) had at least three players average more minutes than Ajayi. The entire Colby starting five averaged more minutes than Ajayi. Obviously, the advantage for the Bantams was that they were always fresh. It’s interesting though. What could Head Coach James Cosgrove be giving up by leaving Ajayi (or Starks, or Ogundeko, etc.) on the bench for 15 minutes and going to the eighth, ninth or 10th guy in the rotation? The Bantams’ core players were forced into more usage in the playoffs. Against Middlebury, Ajayi played 24 minutes, Starks 25, Ogundeko 26 and Hurd 29. Against Johnson & Wales, the totals were Ajayi 22, Starks 22, Hurd 27 and Ogundeko 31. Is it possible that they were worn down towards the end of the game, and that lead to those losses? We’ll never know for sure, and Cosgrove basically employed the same strategy last season, when the Bantams lost in the NESCAC Semis but did make it to the Elite Eight (Starks lead with 28.6 mpg, Ajayi was second with 25.2 mpg and no one else topped 22.1 mpg). It’s proven to be an effective strategy during the regular season, but perhaps it has contributed to a few disappointing postseason showings.
The Trinity Bantams have had a lot of recent success against Middlebury. For what it’s worth the Bants outlasted Middlebury 90-85 a season ago. More relevant, of course, was the 97-86 beatdown that Trinity slapped on the Panthers two weekends ago. I know it was only an 11-point victory, but I do think the word “beatdown” is appropriate. Firstly, 97 points is a ridiculously high number. Secondly, Trinity lead by 18 with just over six minutes to go, and only a barrage of three-pointers from backup guard Bryan Jones ’17 kept it from being embarrassing for Middlebury. So that does not bode well for the Panthers.
Here’s why that doesn’t matter, though. Firstly, Adisa Majors ’18 has been very good all season long, but let’s be honest, just two weeks ago he was still somewhat of a novelty, with only four double digit scoring performances all season. Then he put up 18 against Amherst on 7-8 shooting and 15 at Trinity, and after another 18 in just 19 minutes against Wesleyan in the NESCAC Quarters, Majors has officially become someone you game plan against. Secondly, Matt Daley ’16 is healthy(-ish). Yes, Daley only played five minutes against Wesleyan, but that doesn’t mean he can’t put up a double-double on Saturday. The theme for Panthers Head Coach Jeff Brown all season has been to ride whatever is working on a given day, which is why all 12 active Panthers were in the game in the first half against Wesleyan. Bottom line, it just wasn’t working for Daley, but it very well might be this weekend, and the Majors-Daley combo has a lot of potential. Thirdly, and lastly, while all of the remaining teams have plenty of motivation in their search for a NESCAC crown, Middlebury has a little extra something on the line. Without a sweep this weekend, the Panthers will be playing golf come Monday (as the saying goes – believe me, no one’s playing golf in Middlebury, VT on Monday). The other three teams are locks to be playing NCAA games. Will that make a difference? I don’t know, but there’s no danger of Middlebury looking past this weekend.
Last time they played – Trinity 97 – Middlebury 86, Feb. 13 at Trinity
After seven minutes, Middlebury was up by three, 14-11. That was nice. Then Trinity took the lead. Then it was 10 at halftime. Then it was quickly 15. And Middlebury chipped back a little bit. But then it was 18 after a Langdon Neal ’17 jumper. Trinity shot the lights out, going 34-61 (55.7 percent) from the field, 8-18 (44.4 percent) from deep and 21-27 (77.8 percent) at the line.
“I just think we did well making shots. We were comfortable shooting the ball, we did a good job getting the ball inside to our big guys, and they did a good job taking the ball to the basket.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove
Middlebury just couldn’t get stops. Trinity didn’t let Matt St. Amour ’17 get many looks from three (just 0-2), something they have to replicate on Saturday. Jaquann Starks ’16 couldn’t miss (6-10 FG, 4-6 3PT). And Trinity shared the ball exceptionally well with 22 assists, up from their 16.5 average. The Bantams played a complete game, and Middlebury just could not hang.
Middlebury X-factor: F Zach Baines ’19
You think you’ve arrived, kid? Think again. Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’16 probably form the best frontcourt combo in the NESCAC. “They’re two of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached, and they keep coming every day to get better,” said Trinity coach James Cosgrove. For Middlebury, their frontcourt is constantly in flux. Daley, Connor Huff ’16, Majors, Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Baines have all started there. One thing that I feel fairly confident in, though, is that Baines will get a lot of minutes and they will be at the four. Which means – have you been following along? – he will have to defend Ajayi. In case you forgot, Ajayi is a senior, averaging 14.1 ppg, with NCAA Elite Eight experience. That is a tall order for Baines. He gives up an inch or two to Ajayi, but makes up for that with his length. I believe that he’s the only big man Middlebury has that can guard Ajayi at the perimeter, but he lacks the size (read: weight) to stop Ajayi when he gets around the rim. He will need help from Majors, Huff and Daley, but Baines is going to be a key in slowing down Ajayi and putting a hand in his face.
Trinity X-factor: PG Andrew Hurd ’16
Hurd leads the NESCAC with a 3.5 A/TO ratio, which is sixth in all of Division-III as of Thursday. On the flip side, Middlebury is the best in the NESCAC at forcing turnovers with 15.1 takeaways per game. Last time they played, Hurd has six assists and no turnovers. So that’s it, just do what you do, Drew. These backcourts are so evenly matched – St. Amour, Jake Brown ’17 and Jack Daly ’18 vs. Hurd, Starks and Rick Naylor ’16. You basically have a classic “true” point guard, a high volume shooter and defender/occasional scorer on both sides of the balance sheet. That’s why a pristine game from Hurd could be the difference, elevating Trinity’s backcourt and supporting a frontcourt that already has the advantage.
1. Can you shut down Matt St. Amour twice in one season?
My instincts say “no”, but I’ve been wrong once or twice before. St. Amour gets a lot of his threes in transition, not from traditional set plays. The Panthers, as we know, like to run, and sometimes St. Amour gets lost in transition. Now, if you shoot the ball like Trinity did last time, there aren’t many opportunities to run for the other team. So, in reality, offense, and offensive rebounding, is the best defense for the Bantams in this game. Put the ball in the hoop, stop transition looks, and St. Amour will be relegated to a free throw shooter like he was in the last meeting between these two teams.
2. How does Trinity Coach James Cosgrove exploit the frontcourt advantage?
The Bantams will work the ball through Ogundeko often, but backing him up against Matt Daley (6’8″) or Majors (210 pounds) isn’t likely to be the best strategy. I think the obvious answer is to pull out the four man with Ajayi, which isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. Whenever the Panthers have two true bigs in the game – not Baines, who’s a stretch four – Trinity has to take advantage. Therefore, I don’t think Middlebury will play with two bigs very often, but the combos of Daley-Majors, Majors-Huff and some McCord sprinkled in will definitely occur.
3. Will any of the Middlebury bench players get hot in the first half?
Last meeting, it was Jones in the second half who got hot, but as mentioned, every one gets a shot in the first half on this Panthers team. Maybe it will be Jones (who’s dealing with sickness this week), maybe it will be Hilal Dahleh ’19 and his sweet lefty stroke, maybe Liam Naughton ’17 could drain a couple of quick threes, but someone is going to need to sneak a few buckets while the Bantams aren’t looking. Middlebury has had one consistent scorer all year, and even though we think that Majors can be counted on, that still only leaves two guys who can put the ball in the hoop more than twice a game. That makes defensive assignments pretty easy. Someone else needs to take some pressure off the Middlebury duo of St. Amour and Majors. And don’t let Trinity get up at half. With that defense (38.2 field goal percentage against; second in Division-III), good luck coming back. The only teams to trail Trinity at half and come back to win were the somewhat anomalous Eastern Connecticut (down by six), No. 16 Susquehanna (down by one) and No. 21 Plattsburgh St. (down by two) back in December and early January. So basically unless you’re a ranked team down by one or two points or from Eastern Connecticut you aren’t coming back on this team.
What to Expect
Expect Trinity to go back to Ajayi as much as possible. Jack Daly and Jake Brown should keep Starks in check for the most part, but Ajayi is a match up nightmare.
“I think for us, defensively, the matchup with Ajayi is really a challenging one,” Panthers coach Jeff Brown said. “In the past he played quite a bit of perimeter. The last couple of seasons he played a lot of the three-spot. So he’s one of those inside-outside forwards who’s extremely athletic, and with some of our post players it’s a tough cover.”
Coach Brown wants to switch more on the perimeter, something that Colby did well in the first half of last week’s Quarterfinal when they held Trinity to 19 points, and throw some different looks at the Bantams. I think we see a good deal of 3-2 zone to limit Trinity’s looks from three. I’ve yet to mention Eric Gendron ’18, but his 44.1 three point percentage ranks fifth in the NESCAC. You can’t let him get hot, either. “[Gendron’s one that really kind of concerns me off of the bench,” Coach Brown said. Middlebury needs to force stops to create transition buckets.
On the other end, if the Panthers can’t get going in transition, they’re in for a long afternoon. Trinity is obviously very tough and physical in the half court defensively, and I don’t think Middlebury can play that way for 40 minutes. Majors has the size to do it, but even that is outweighed (literally and figuratively) by the presence of Ogundeko. Look for St. Amour to try to get going early and give Middlebury a lead with a couple of threes. Baseline screens and hand offs for Number 11 will be a common sight.
“He’s dynamite shooting the ball.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove on Middlebury guard Matt St. Amour
As far as the NESCAC goes, Middlebury ranks first in offensive turnovers (i.e. fewest turnovers) and Trinity ties for fourth. On the flip side, Middlebury has forced the most turnovers per game (15.1) and Trinity has forced the fourth most turnovers per game. Something has to give. In a game of this intensity, with these stakes, I think the defense wins out. Not that it will be sloppy – these point guards are too good for that – but I envision a lot of fast-paced basketball which tends to result in some silly turnovers. Therefore, ball control is key. Don’t make mistakes with the ball. For Trinity, the key is to beat up on the Middlebury bigs. For Middlebury, the key is similar. Use Trinity’s aggressiveness against them. Middlebury’s not a very good free throw shooting team, but St. Amour (who takes 5.4 free throws per game, third in the NESCAC) is great from the stripe (81.5 percent), and forcing the Trinity forwards into foul trouble will change the game.
Additionally, Trinity has home court working heavily in their favor. They should have some boisterous crowds this weekend, unlike last when most of the students were gone because there was no class on Monday and Tuesday of that week. The Bantams have been tough to topple at home, going 11-1, that one loss coming against Amherst, and Trinity coach James Cosgrove is aware of the benefit of playing at home.
“It’s always nice to be playing at home. I think we feel real comfortable here. We’ve done some nice things here over the last couple of years.” – Trinity head coach James Cosgrove
Furthermore, the first time the Panthers step onto the court in Hartford will be an hour or so before game time. As a team, they chose not to take advantage of an early morning shoot around time slot. Whether that decision will pay off or not remains to be seen. Of course, Middlebury was on the Oostings hardwood two weeks ago, but they might want to forget about that.
In case you missed it over the last two-plus years, I’m a big Middlebury fan, and my co-editor, Adam Lamont, is a big Bowdoin guy. We’re both students, and we’re not afraid to let you know when we have a rooting interest. Despite all that, I can’t pick the Panthers in this game. Forgive me, guys, but you made me look foolish two weeks ago when I gave you the nod to win at least one against Amherst and/or Trinity. I won’t be fooled again. I hope I’m wrong, but Trinity just looks too good. They’re 12 for their last 14. One of those was against Amherst (the other was against 11-14 Merchant Marine – one of those mysteries where you chalk it up to being a full moon, Friday the 13th and everyone on the team taking part in a mirror-smashing party while walking under a step ladder … okay it wasn’t actually Friday the 13th). Point being, I just think Trinity will win. Prove me wrong, boys. I want to keep watching Middlebury basketball for a few more weeks.
Trinity comes into Saturday’s matchup undefeated in February, winning all four of their conference games by 10 or more points, while Colby is coming off a three-game winning streak. Despite being the top seed, this by no means will be an easy win for Trinity. This is a rematch from last year’s quarterfinal, which proved to be a challenge for Trinity as they scraped by with a 66-63 victory.
Last time they played: Trinity 62 – Colby 60
Colby hosted Trinity on January 22, when they blundered and handed the Bantams their 13th win in a 62-60 final. This came one night after the Mules upset No. 16 Amherst 66-64. This game stayed nick and tuck all the way through, the lead trading nearly 20 times. Trinity’s Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’17 each earned a double-double accounting for 24 points and 21 rebounds. Colby’s Sam Willson ’16 and Patrick Stewart ’16 each had 17 points and five boards. The Mules were outrebounded by a margin of 39-33; this is a result of Colby’s lack of size, which also led to Trinity’s four blocks and Colby’s one. Colby did have some points to build on, as they were efficient with turnovers and personal fouls, turning it over eight times to Trinity’s 12 TO’s and registering 10 fouls as opposed to Trinity’s 15. Off the bench, Eric Gendron ’18 got hot, scoring 16 points on 50 percent shooting. Chris Turnbull ’17 also racked up 25 minutes, five boards and six points coming off the bench, which speaks to the depth of Trinity, whose bench contributed 83 minutes to Colby’s 63 minutes. Colby has some scorers, particularly in Chris Hudnut ’16, Ryan Jann ’16 and Stewart, but Jann was virtually nonexistent in this game, going 0-7 from the field, cracking his goose egg from the free throw line with 1:41 left to go in the game. While giving credit to the Bantam defense, this was a fluke performance from Jann, and he will certainly have a bigger impact on Saturday.
Trinity X-factor: Power Forward Shay Ajayi ’16
Earning a double-double in the past two matchups against Colby, Ajayi led his team to two important victories, the more important of the two coming 364 days ago in the quarterfinal at Trinity. He is one of Trinity’s senior leaders, and knows better than anyone how to perform in this situation. Besides feeling comfortable with the home-court advantage and success against Colby, Ajayi comes into this game with the hot hand shooting 57 percent from the field in February, breaking his season high in points twice; first with 26 points against Tufts, then with 29 points against Hamilton. Expect him to haul in a ton of boards and be effective from the field as the Bantams look to roll through to the semifinal.
Colby X-factor: Center Chris Hudnut ’16
Hudnut played tattered for their meeting in January, so his presence was undermined coming off the bench and accounting for eight points in 13 minutes. At 6’8″, he has the ability to rebound the ball, and is coming off a double-double against Wesleyan where he scored 19 points and had 15 rebounds. Hudnut was not on the playoff roster last year, but he has been an essential piece to the puzzle throughout his career. A healthy Hudnut may have spoiled the Bantams from attaining another #1 seed this season, but that is neither here nor there. With Hudnut in the lineup Saturday, this game becomes a lot closer and screams upset. He will help patch up the Mules hole of rebounding margin, while adding a serious offensive threat as he is 7th in the league in scoring.
Can Ed Ogundeko shut down Chris Hudnut ?
Chris Hudnut can shoot the basketball, and he is crafty and smooth down low with a nice hook. Hudnut, playing hurt, scored eight points in just 13 minutes in their last meeting. Ogundeko will compete with Hudnut, who is bound to make some magic happen. On his home floor, Ogundeko will challenge him with his brute strength and athletic ability. If Hudnut gets a ton of buckets, Ogundeko will make up for it on the boards. It will be a real battle down low on Saturday and expect Ogundeko to rise to the occasion. Ogundeko is at the top of his game right now, while Hudnut is coming off an injury.
Who will show up? Colby’s shooters or Trinity’s defense?
Colby ranks first in the NESCAC in field goal percentage and third in scoring offense, boasting three of the league’s top 17 scorers. Of the starting five, each has gotten hot in the past three games scoring at least 19 points. While this is all important in winning a basketball game, they are taking on Trinity who has the best defense in the league. They rank second in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense and first in rebounding margin. I’ll say it time and time again, DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS. The Bantams depth will keep fresher legs in the game, and the defense will be breathing down Colby’s neck the whole game.
How will Trinity match Colby’s offense?
Colby’s offense clearly has a lot of threats, and if they do show up Saturday, Trinity will need to put up some points of their own. Trinity’s defense will surely limit Colby’s scoring, and they will be looking for offensive support from Jaquann Starks ’16 and Eric Gendron. Ajayi and Ogundeko will need to make their contributions as well. With the help of a healthy Chris Hudnut, it will be that much harder for the Bantams to get points in the paint.
What to Expect
Expect a battle. These two teams have met twice in the past year, and both games have been nail biters. Trinity has gotten the upper-hand each time, but the game changes when you add a healthy, beast of a center. Both teams are going to look really good, and Colby will look more like a top tier team than an eighth-seeded team. With Hudnut filling the center position, it will take away from the effectiveness of Ogundeko, who has been a substantial player all season. Hudnut has the potential to bully Ogundeko with his height, but don’t be surprised if Ogundeko pushes right back.
Trinity held Colby to a 36.4 percent field goal percentage, a far cry from Colby’s 46.8 percentage on the season. With Jann being ice cold in that game and Hudnut banged up, it will be a different Mules team that comes into Hartford on Saturday. Trinity was fortunate to beat Colby in NESCAC play this season, so they will need to be in top form to move on to the semifinal. Stewart will do his best to get in Trinity’s way as he is the best three point shooter in the ‘CAC. Trinity will be ready to fire back with the third- and fourth-best three point shooters in the league, by percentage, in point guard Andrew Hurd ’16 and Gendron.
Trinity coach James Cosgrove and Colby coach Damien Strahorn will have an amplified role in this game as it will likely be tight to the finish. Adjustments are going to be huge, especially for the Bantams who will be facing a much different Colby team than they saw in January. Though Colby flaunts a starting lineup of all seniors, they don’t have near the playoff experience that Trinity has.
Colby might get off to an early lead with Trinity making a push going into the half. The second half will be a back and forth battle that the Bantams get the best of.
Unlike some other NESCAC sports (*cough* football *cough*), in men’s basketball we see teams regularly battle all the way down to the wire. This season seemed like there were even more close games than usual. In total, six conferences games went to OT this year, twice the number from last season. Many more came down to one or two plays down the stretch. There were so many good ones that I decided to go back and count down the very best. Honestly, some of the games that got left out were great in their own right.
10. January 30: Bowdoin 85 over Colby 82, Brunswick, ME.
This was the best game I saw in person this season, and I feel wrong putting it this low. After all, it did feature the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year Lucas Hausman ’16 going bucket-for-bucket down the stretch with Chris Hudnut ’16, who was unstoppable on this day. Hausman would finish with 35 and Hudnut with 32. The difference was the 20 points the Polar Bears got from point guard Jack Bors ’19. Bowdoin led by as much as nine with 6:13 left in the game, but there wasn’t ever a doubt that Colby was going to make a run late. In overtime Jack Simonds ’19 had the first six points, and Hausman scored the next seven. Colby had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but John Gallego’s ’16 shot was no good. That this game is so low tells you a lot about how many quality finishes there were.
9. January 23: Colby 64 over Amherst 62, Waterville, ME
Colby entered this game 0-4 in conference while Amherst was 4-0. With that being said, this wasn’t nearly as big an upset as two years ago when a young Colby team shocked an eventual Final Four Amherst team in Waterville. The Team from Central Mass was ice cold, shooting 33.3/26.5/52.9 for the game. Luke Westman ’16 had just two points and fouled out halfway through the second half, but John Gallego ’16 stepped up to score 13 points. The Mules also benefited from Chris Hudnut ’16 playing well while still getting back to full strength and scoring 17 points. A controversial Connor Green ’16 offensive foul call helped to seal the deal for Colby in the final minutes as Gallego hit his free throws. A last second three by Green for the win failed to land, and Colby got their first conference win.
8. February 7: Colby 99 over Hamilton 95, Clinton, NY.
The highest scoring game of the NESCAC season, this was one of many games that went to overtime under weird circumstances. Down four with under 20 seconds left, Chris Hudnut ’16 hit a three to make it a one-point game. Hamilton missed one of two free throws, and Ryan Jann ’16 got fouled on a three point attempt essentially as time expired. He hit the first two but missed the third and the game went to overtime. The Mules controlled the extra period to give themselves new life in the NESCAC playoff race. Patrick Stewart ’16 was dripping from three point land going 6-6 from beyond the arc to lead the way with 22 points. All five Colby starters finished in double figures.
7. January 15: Middlebury 85 over Tufts 82, Middlebury, VT.
At halftime the score was 40-40, and at the end of regulation it was 72-72. The theme of this game was Middlebury’s bench scoring 35 total points. An astonishing nine Panthers scored at least five points, a feat made even more incredible by the fact that the game was close the entire way through. The game went to overtime because of a cold-blooded three by Vincent Pace ’18 coming off a high ball screen. With ten seconds left in overtime and Middlebury up three points, the Jumbos got a great look to tie the game up. The three from Stephen Haladyna ’16 went in and out, and the Panthers got the big home victory.
6. January 10: Trinity 76 over Williams 75, Hartford, CT.
The final game of the first weekend was a dandy with the young Ephs pushing the veteran Bantams all the way to the end. The victory was a coming out party for Ed Ogundeko ’17, who scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The final 10 seconds were frantic with Shay Ajayi ’16 first putting Trinity up 74-73 on a fast break layup. Then he committed a stupid blunder fouling Cole Teal ’18 70 feet away from the basket. However, Jaquann Starks ’16 raced the other way for a layup to pull out the win for the Bantams. The loss was the first of a few late heartbreaking conference losses for Williams.
5. February 6: Middlebury 67 over Colby 65, Middlebury, VT.
The first half of this one was a smothering defensive performance from the Panthers, and the score was 35-22 Middlebury at halftime. The game really got going at the beginning of the second half when Colby went on a 32-10 run to turn a 15-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Credit has to go to Middlebury for not folding at this point and coming right back with an 11-3 run that made the score 58-57 Middlebury. The rest of the game was neck and neck. After Adisa Majors ’18 tied things up 65-65 with 0:30 left, Colby could have held for the final shot. However, Luke Westman ’16 drove and missed a layup. Jack Daly ’18 leaked out on the rebound for an easy bucket, and that proved to be the final difference.
4. January 30: Amherst 89 over Trinity 82, Hartford, CT.
The game between the top teams in the NESCAC fell on travel weekend with Trinity undefeated at 5-0 and Amherst at 4-1. This game was uptempo and close throughout, but it lacked any real drama. Amherst led the entire second half, and the Bantams never got the lead below five points. The Team from Central Mass was not slowed down at all by Connor Green ’16 having just seven points. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Jayde Dawson ’18 both scored more than 20 points to pace Amherst. Ultimately, this game was the only conference loss for Trinity, but it didn’t hurt them since Amherst lost on the road to Colby and Tufts, thereby ceding homecourt advantage to the Bantams.
3. January 22: Wesleyan 78 over Tufts 77, Middletown, CT.
Another fantastic finish in this one. The decision by Vincent Pace ’18 to go for the steal with Tufts up two points, five seconds left, and Wesleyan in-bounding the ball with 90 feet to go was a bad one. That sent BJ Davis ’16 to the line where he calmly hit both free throws. In overtime, Joseph Kuo ’17 made a layup with under 30 seconds left to give the Cardinals the win. Kuo, Rashid Epps ’16, and backup big man Nathan Krill ’18 combined for 50 points and 23 rebounds as the size of Wesleyan was too much for the perimeter-heavy Jumbos. Both teams shot terribly from the foul line and committed a ton of turnovers in an ugly contest.
2. January 16: Amherst 88 over Conn College 86, Amherst, MA.
In the moment, the Camels pushing Amherst to the brink seemed like an indication that Conn College was going to make a major run this year. That didn’t happen, but this game was still a lot of fun to watch. Defense was optional in the first half after which Conn College led 49-45. Lee Messier ’18 was 5-5 from the field in that first half to lead the Camels with 13 points. But it was Jayde Dawson ’18 who took over down the stretch with 19 second half points. At the very end of this one, Conn College tried to run an inbounds play designed for David Labossiere ’19 to tap in an alley-oop, but his attempt missed and Amherst escaped on their home floor. This game more than any, between the presumed top team in the NESCAC and a team that went winless in NESCAC play last season, is an indication of how close teams played each other this year.
1. February 5: Wesleyan 66 over Williams 63, Middletown, CT
The number one game didn’t go to overtime, but it was a barn burner nevertheless. Williams and Wesleyan have played some great games over the past two years, and this one was probably the best. In front of a raucus home crowd, it was all BJ Davis down the stretch. In their first meeting this season, Davis had already beaten the Ephs on a runner with less than two seconds remaining. In this game, Davis scored the final 15 (!) points for Wesleyan to turn a 56-51 deficit into the eventual 66-63 Wesleyan win. The combination of the home atmosphere, the recent history of these two rivals (this win gave Wesleyan the Little 3 title), and the quality of the shot made this a clear choice for the top spot. I mean, just watch the video of Davis’ shot and try to tell me there was a better moment than that this year.
What a weekend for Maine rivals, Bowdoin and Colby, as the two swept Conn College and Wesleyan to both get into the NESCAC tournament with Bowdoin as the No. 7 seed and Colby the No. 8 seed. Both teams have shown plenty of promise this season, but it wasn’t until this weekend that we saw how good these teams can really play. When I watched these two go to overtime back on January 30, it was hard to imagine that both of them could possibly miss the NESCAC tournament. Now they both got in and are beginning to look dangerous.
Let’s start with Colby. The Mules looked dead at 1-6 in conference after blowing a last minute lead at Middlebury last weekend. Then they finished with three straight wins, with their two this weekend being comfortable ones. The all-senior starting five gets all the press, but senior guard John Gallego ’16 deserves some recognition himself. The quick backup is one of many short NESCAC point guards making an impact this season (Jaquann Starks ’16, Jack Dwyer ’18, Tyler Rowe ’19, etc.). He had nine points apiece against Wesleyan and Conn College. Against Amherst, Colby’s first NESCAC win, Gallego had 13 big points. The senior is a difference maker for the Mules.
The real surprise is probably the defense that Colby has played. I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t make sense that a team with five seniors starting should be so bad defensively. Yes, they play three big men essentially in their starting lineup meaning they give up quickness to teams. Still, they should be able to make up for it by playing as a unit on that end. This weekend they did, keeping Conn College to 73 points and then Wesleyan to just 64 points. The Mules certainly benefitted from some poor shooting on the part of the Cardinals considering Wesleyan shot 7-33 from three point land, but give credit to Colby for coming up big on the defensive end this weekend after having that be their Achilles Heel in some games.
As for Bowdoin, a team dear and near to my heart, they got big contributions from their role players while relying on their big two. Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 combined averaged 48.5 ppg in the two wins. And while I know it sounds crazy, neither of them shot THAT well this weekend, going 8-25 (32 percent) from the three point line. What they did do exceptionally was get to the free throw line and finish there. The two went 27-30 from the charity stripe, and they drove Wesleyan and Conn College crazy with their ability to get calls.
However, the real stars, especially yesterday, were point guard Tim Ahn ’19 and center Matt Palecki ’16. Ahn looked like he was losing his spot in the rotation to Jack Bors ’19 a few weeks ago, but an injury to Bors has kept him out and opened the door for Ahn to play his best basketball. Coaches often say that by the end of the season, being a freshman isn’t an excuse anymore. Ahn hasn’t played like a freshmen down the stretch. He did something I haven’t see him do all season: attack and finish at the rim. He has shown the quickness to get past his initial defender, but until yesterday Ahn wasn’t looking for his at the rim. He scored 10 points in Friday and Saturday’s game.
Meanwhile, Palecki was his typical workmanlike self with 12 points and 14 rebounds against Conn College. In both games this weekend, Bowdoin controlled the boards, something they haven’t done much of this year. Palecki makes up for his lack of leaping ability by using his wide body to keep offensive rebounders out of the paint. He used that same wide body to slow down the likes of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Zuri Pavlin ’17 with great effectiveness. While Palecki can sometimes fall in love with ill-advised threes, he does a lot of the dirty work for the Polar Bears.
One problem for Colby and Bowdoin is they now have to go on the road in the NESCAC playoffs. For both of them, three of their four conference wins came at home. Whatever, we’ll get there in a couple of days. The two Maine teams made good and salvaged what looked like lost seasons. Even though they are the seventh and eighth seed, Bowdoin or Colby is capable not just of upsetting a top team but going all the way for a Cinderella run.
Shooting Guard Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin)
Averaging 26.5 ppg in a NESCAC weekend would be incredible for most players, but it’s just another normal weekend for Hausman at this point. He finishes the 2015-2016 regular season averaging 25.1 ppg overall and 26.0 ppg in NESCAC games. Those are historic numbers: the best averages that anybody has put up on record in the NESCAC which goes back to 2000. Hausman is far from a perfect player; he does go to a D3 school after all. His defense is subpar, his rebounding numbers are not good, and he doesn’t create well for others on offense. One or two plays every game he looks like a legitimately bad basketball player. But to deny how freaking good he is at putting the ball in the basket is stupid. Nobody makes tough shots like he does, and he makes those shots efficiently to boot. Regardless of what happens in the NESCAC tournament, Hausman is the Player of the Year.
Small Forward Stephen Haladyna ’16 (Tufts)
The Jumbos had just one game this weekend, and they took care of business against Williams to secure a home NESCAC playoff game. Haladyna led the way with 22 points, the only time this year that he has scored more than 20 points in a contest. He had been pretty quiet in NESCAC games before Friday. Tufts is at their best when they are able to be balanced scoring the ball. Guys like Haladyna and Ryan Spadaford ’16 need to be big part of the offense for Tufts to make a run. The Jumbos sit at 19-5 overall and look to be in good shape for making the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the next two weekends, but a win again over Williams would secure their spot for sure I think.
The Panthers weren’t quite up to the task this weekend, and the most disappointing thing has to be the number of points they let up. Amherst scored 83 and Trinity had a blistering 97 points. Now, the Bantams were clearly hot shooting the ball (55.7 percent from the floor in this game), but it is still a little disappointing to see Middlebury give up that many points in regulation. The two games weren’t even that exceptional in terms of pace as Amherst shot the ball 60 times and Trinity 61 times. The two losses aren’t surprising in and of themselves, but I wasn’t expecting their defense to be the major problem. The Panthers have to get that sorted out by this weekend.
What a tough end to the season for the Camels. They made so many strides this season, but they end up falling just short of making the playoffs. The Camels pushed Tufts and Amherst to the brink and had a quality home win over Middlebury, but they ended up losing their final five NESCAC games to finish 3-7. The Camels are big, tough on defense, and capable of scoring in bunches. They lose senior leader Bo McKinley ’16, a player that has been a constant through some very dark days for the program. Credit to him for doing anything he could to make the team better over the past few years. This team will be a terror for teams next year in large part because of him. And they will be a terror with their young nucleus having another year to grow. Zuri Pavlin ’17 and Dan Janel ’17 are a load to handle in the frontcourt. Tyler Rowe ’19 and Lee Messier ’18 are going to score a lot of points, too. Conn College missed the playoffs this year, but they will get there soon enough.
With the final weekend of NESCAC basketball upon us, 10 games remain and the bottom five teams are fighting for the final two playoff spots. There is more on the table than clinching playoffs this weekend; for the six teams that have already clinched, these games will determine the tournament host and final seedings. Trinity currently stands as the favorite to host the NESCAC tournament, but a Bantam loss this weekend would open up the floor for Amherst to snag home court advantage.
Middlebury faces off against Amherst and then Trinity, and two wins will propel them to the top of the ‘CAC and set the stage for a chilling Vermont NESCAC tournament. The Panthers still have some questions about their legitimacy as a top tier team, and this will be their biggest test against the big guns. The Panthers have had a great season and could easily be undefeated in NESCAC games considering their losses were by one and two points respectively. On the other hand, many of their wins have gone down to the wire. The turnaround for the Panthers this season has been an impressive one. Middlebury was arguably the best team in the NESCAC from 2009-2014, battling against Williams and Amherst in games that rank as the best in NESCAC history.
Then suddenly, last season, despite entering NESCAC play 9-0 overall, the Panthers stumbled to a 4-6 NESCAC regular season and missed the playoffs by virtue of tie-breakers. The talent on the Panthers was clear given their home evisceration of both Wesleyan and Amherst. However, entering this season expectations were lowered given the loss of the two leading scorers from last season, Dylan Sinnickson ’15 and Hunter Merryman ’15.
We had Middlebury last in our Power Rankings at the beginning of January given their lackluster beginning of the season, but they have been a different team in NESCAC play. However, the weekend tandem of Amherst and Trinity has left many a quality team in a serious hurting. The Panthers can end up hosting the NESCAC tournament or heading on the road in the first round depending on how things play out this weekend.
Three to Watch
1. Guard Jaquann Starks ’16 (Trinity)
The senior has seen his role squeezed this season because of the growth of teammates Ed Ogundeko ’17 and Shay Ajayi ’16. Starks is averaging just 11.6 ppg, far below the 14.1 PPG he had last year. His shooting percentages have also dropped below 40 percent both from the field and three point line. With all the space taken up in the paint by his big men, Starks has done most of damage from beyond the arc. I think we see a vintage Jaquann Starks game before the season is over, even if it doesn’t come this weekend. I am also intrigued to see how Trinity matches up defensively when they play Middlebury. Will Starks guard the quicker Jake Brown ’17 or will he be tasked with slowing down Midd’s leading scorer, Matt St. Amour ’17? I would put Starks on Brown and Andrew Hurd ’16 on St. Amour. Also, this…
The loss of Mike Greenman ’17 has forced Teal to become the starting point guard. His skill set isn’t quite right for the role, which is why Bobby Casey ’19 handles that role down the stretch. What Teal is doing exceptionally well is shoot the ball from deep. In NESCAC games Teal is shooting 50.9 percent from three while making 3.4 threes per game, the highest amount in the league. Eighty percent of his points come from beyond the three point line, a somewhat scary amount that can make him one dimensional. Last weekend Teal shot 13 shots from the field and 12 of them were threes. Teams need to start keying on Teal for the shooter he is.
3. Center Joseph Kuo ’17 (Wesleyan)
You won’t find a more herky-jerky player in the NESCAC than Kuo. His game is one of the uglier ones around, but no one can deny the relative effectiveness of it. Kuo is a constant, sometimes under-appreciated part of this Wesleyan team. His numbers, 11.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg, scream important contributor but not focal point. Kuo’s best game of the season came when he played Tom Palleschi ’17 to a standstill (Kuo had 20 points, Palleschi 19 in the game), and the Cardinals escaped with the overtime victory. He has been quiet but efficient in the four games since then. For Wesleyan to get a home court game, Kuo will have to slow down Chris Hudnut ’16 in the paint. One positive for Kuo is that the emergence of Nathan Krill ’18 means Kuo can play aggressively without worry of foul trouble.
Game of the Week: Middlebury at Amherst, Friday 7 PM
Both of Middlebury’s games this weekend will impact the top of the standings, but they have to get through this one for Saturday’s matchup to hold as much meaning. A Middlebury win and Trinity victory over Hamilton would make Saturday’s game a winner-takes-all for the No. 1 seed. If Amherst wins tonight, then Middlebury will be playing just to secure a home game in the first round on Saturday. Last season’s win over Amherst was the highlight to a disappointing campaign for the Panthers, but there was a sense that the Purple and White were coasting through that game while Middlebury was desperate for a win. That won’t be the case this year, as both teams know what’s at stake.
The guard battle will be a fun one to watch, as both teams can and will employ two point guards at times. I would expect Jack Daly ’18 to be tasked with shutting down Jayde Dawson ’18, but Johnny McCarthy ’18 provides enough of a scoring threat that Middlebury Coach Jeff Brown might chose to task Daly with McCarthy. Down low, David George ’17 will be critical in slowing down Matt Daley ’16. If George isn’t at his best, or Middlebury can get him into foul trouble, Daley could have 15 points easily. The advantage for Middlebury in this game will be their pace. The two teams that play at the highest tempo, aside from the Panthers, are Tufts and Colby, each of who have beaten Amherst this season. On the flip side, in the halfcourt Amherst has to have the advantage. Brown and Daly aren’t great scoring threats, which means McCarthy can focus on shutting down Matt St. Amour. That means a lot of responsibility could fall on frosh Zach Baines ’19 and Hilal Dahleh ’19 as well as forward Connor Huff ’16. In most of their losses, St. Amour has been made ineffective one way or another – 5-19 shooting at Hamilton, 5-16 at Endicott, 3-11 at RPI. Therein lies the key for Coach Dave Hixon.
When there’s so few games in a conference schedule, one game that goes from an L to a W can significantly change our perception of a given team. Were Middlebury 5-3 right now, I think Amherst would be the heavy favorite, especially at LeFrak Gym. That being said, the reality is that Middlebury is 6-2, hungry to prove that they belong, and in a position to bring the NESCAC tournament back to Vermont. I don’t know if they will have enough fire power to pull off the weekend sweep, but I do think they have enough magic for a victory tonight.
Prediction: Middlebury 81 – Amherst 75
Two More Games to Watch
Conn. College at Colby, Friday, 7 PM
This isn’t quite a win-and-you’re-in game, but it’s darn near close. Conn. solidifies their place with a victory, while Colby would move to 3-6, and three wins might be enough to get in. The entire Mule lineup is healthy, at least for right now, and I’ve long said that that is a dangerous thing for opposing teams. This is probably the last weekend of basketball in the lives of the Mules’ starting five, unless they can win this game. Look for Tyler Rowe ’19 to have a big game for Conn (who’s going to stop him?), but for Colby to outscore their opponent.
Prediction: Colby 86 – Conn 76
Bates at Williams, Sunday, 3 PM
The final regular season NESCAC game. It could end up being a total nonfactor, depending on how things work out on Friday and Saturday, including the possibility of a Williams upset of Tufts, but it is possible that either team could be playing for a playoff spot. It’s more likely that Bates is in that position, but 2-0 weekends from Colby, Bowdoin and Hamilton would put those teams at 4-6 and Williams would be 4-5 going into Sunday, meaning a win would be necessary. The chances are slim, but the possible drama is exciting. If it does end up being an important game, I am going with the team that needs the win, plain and simple.
The best team in the NESCAC over the past two seasons has been the Trinity College Bantams. That is really beyond debate too. Since the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, Trinity has gone 16-2 in NESCAC games. The second best record in that time is Amherst with a 12-6 mark. Trinity went further than any other NESCAC team in the NCAA tournament last season, coming within seconds of the Final Four.
These are all things you know, but I feel like the run by the Bantams is still an under-appreciated one; around here, at least, we continue to underestimate this team. We picked them to lose against Tufts on Friday night, and the Bantams have rarely topped our Power Rankings this year.
Trinity is also under-appreciated on a national scale. All of last year Trinity went unranked in the D3Hoops.com Top 25. Only when they made it to Elite Eight did they enter the Final Rankings. Even then, they were ranked just 17th. The Bantams are still not ranked in the Top 25 this season. Amherst, Tufts, and Wesleyan are ranked in the Top 25 this week. Trinity has beaten two of those teams, and is the only team to be above .500 against the other Top 4 NESCAC teams.
I get why the Bantams aren’t ranked: they lose games in the non-conference schedule that they really shouldn’t. This season they have lost five non-conference games, a high number for a supposedly elite team. However, what that analysis misses is that Coach Jim Cosgrove approaches those games as opportunities to get his more inexperienced players valuable playing time.
All that brings me to Friday night when Trinity had their way with Tufts down the stretch. The Jumbos made a second half run to tie the game back up at 58 apiece with exactly 10:00 left on the clock. Over the next four minutes, Cosgrove went unconventional, subbing out four of his starters in favor of bench players. Stalwarts Ed Ogundeko ’17 (playing at less than 100%), Andrew Hurd ’16, and Jaquann Starks ’16 headed to the bench for the likes of Erick Santana ’19 and Langdon Neal ’17.
A lineup with four bench players proceeded to soundly outplay the Jumbos over the next five minutes. With 4:29 left, the game had transformed from a tossup into one essentially over with the score 76-63 in favor of Trinity. The four bench players accounted for 13 of the 18 points scored in this stretch.
I want to pause here and say that Eric Gendron ’18 is a very very good scorer. He has a very good first step to get past his defender, and he has the size to finish at the rim. Not to mention that he can shoot the ball not just on wide open threes but in difficult, off-balance situations. He was the one that really fueled the 18-5 run with nine points all by himself. On a lot of teams Gendron would have a larger role, but he is biding his time while veterans like Ajayi and Ogundeko take center stage.
So to recap, on the road, with home court advantage throughout the NESCAC playoffs still on the table, with the score tied, Cosgrove went with a lineup with just one starter on the court. Rest assured, it was a gamble, one that no other coach in the NESCAC would make. If it didn’t work, I could very easily be writing about how Cosgrove’s refusal to play his core players more minutes is a fatal flaw in this team. But it did work in large part because of how much time Cosgrove has given for those players to develop this season.
Cosgrove is a fiery personality, and he certainly isn’t for everyone. On Saturday, his coaching philosophy was validated in a big way. After Amherst’s loss to Tufts, the Bantams have the inside track on getting the top overall seed.
Forward Shay Ajayi ’16 (Trinity)
It was Tom Palleschi ’17 that won NESCAC Player of the Week Honors this week, but Ajayi impressed me the most this weekend. With Ogundeko unable to start and able to play just 14 minutes because of an injury against Tufts, Ajayi stepped up in a huge way. On one end he was tasked with guarding Palleschi in the post, and on the other he was the main inside presence on offense. Palleschi got his with 25 points, but Ajayi still played alright defense on him and did a great job of keeping the Jumbo off the boards, allowing Palleschi to get just one offensive rebound. Meanwhile, Ajayi was exceptional with 26 points and 16 rebounds. He was the one starter who stayed on the floor during that critical run because of how important he was in that game. As evidenced from him having just eight points the next day against Bates, Ajayi is inconsistent. Still, he was stellar when his team needed him most.
Small Forward Dan Aronowitz ’17 (Williams)
The Ephs found themselves down by eight at halftime to Conn College, and it took a Herculean second half from Aronowitz to bring them to victory. He scored 25 of Williams’ 45 points in the half, including six of the Ephs’ final eight as Williams came back in the final minute to get the much needed victory. The junior plays within the system for Williams, but there is no doubt that the team leader in points and rebounds is the leader of this team. In the same way that Dan Wohl ’15 and Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 stepped up last season, Aronowitz has been fantastic this season. The Ephs are probably locked into the sixth seed, and the win against Conn College was a big one.
Hamilton played their best game all season on Saturday beating Bowdoin handily 86-71. Ajani Santos ’16 enjoyed his best game of the season by far scoring 25 points. That win got them to 2-6 in the NESCAC. On Sunday, the Continentals led by eight at halftime against Colby, and it looked like Jack Dwyer ’18 had clinched things for Hamilton when he hit a jumper with 15 seconds left to make the score 79-75 for Hamilton. However, Chris Hudnut ’16 hit a three to make a one point game, and right at the buzzer Ryan Jann ’16 was fouled on a three pointer. He made two of the three free throws to send the game to overtime, and the veteran Mules finished things out from there. The loss keeps Hamilton at 2-6, keeping them from getting that critical third win. Now Hamilton has to win on the road at either Trinity or Amherst to have a chance at the playoffs. That won’t be easy.
Bowdoin didn’t show up in the first game this week against Hamilton, and that made their game vs. Middlebury all the more important. The Polar Bears managed to come back from a 13 point deficit, but their inability to pull in rebounds down the stretch killed them. Middlebury scored seven straight points down the stretch after getting offensive rebounds. The crucial play came with 2:45 left in the game and the score 67-67: a mad scramble for the rebound off a missed Zach Baines ’19 layup ended with Jack Daly ’18 getting the ball in the corner and finding a wide open Matt St. Amour ’17 who buried the shot. We have been saying all season that the Polar Bears miss John Swords ’15 on the interior, and there is no doubt that he would have helped against Middlebury as Bowdoin lost the rebounding battle 45-31.
For a team with as talented a roster as the Purple and White, Amherst has become over the course of the season heavily reliant on their starting five. The rotation still goes nine players deep, but Jacob Nabatoff ’17 and Reid Berman ’17 (two starters for much of last year) have become near non-threats with the ball, averaging a combined 4.0 PPG in NESCAC games. Eric Conklin ’17 is as steady as it gets as a backup big man giving about eight points per game, and Michael Riopel ’18 does a ton of things well besides score the ball. Still, this isn’t the monstrous rotation that people expected to wear teams out. We have seen Coach Dave Hixon have very short rotations in the past, and he won a National Championship playing basically six players. For whatever reason, a somewhat similar scenario is playing out this year, despite all of the talent on this team. Amherst got soundly beat on Saturday, and it was disappointing to see them have no extra spark in the second half, unlike the Bantams do.
So I went 2-1 yesterday with two games cancelled due to snow. Tufts did not show up even though Jaquann Starks ’16 was a non-factor and Ed Ogundeko ’16 played just 14 minutes. Meanwhile, Trinity played at a consistently high level throughout the game, and after capitalizing on some Tufts mistakes in the last eight minutes or so, the Bantams pulled away. I didn’t watch either of the other two games, but more on those will come next week. As for my Bowdoin-Hamilton and Colby-Middlebury predictions, I have not wavered. We’ll see what happens today.
For the rest of the weekend we are going to see some teams fighting for their lives. Bates doesn’t get a much easier game today than it did yesterday as they follow up a massacre courtesy of Amherst with a matchup against Trinity. If the Bobcats want a shot at making the playoffs they’re probably going to need to win today. Bowdoin, also on the bubble, could put themselves in a great position to make the playoffs with a sweep this weekend. Meanwhile, Colby and Hamilton, each with just one win, can pretty much count themselves out if they lose their Sunday matchup. The contest between Williams and Connecticut College tomorrow should be an outstanding game between two solid teams, both of whom are trying to claw their way into the middle of the pack as the postseason nears.
The game of the weekend is now Tufts vs. Amherst, a matchup which will likely decide the top seed for the NESCAC tournament one way or the other. Barring an upset down the road, a win against Tufts should cement Amherst’s first place finish in the regular season, but a loss will give Trinity that title to lose. For Tufts, winning this game will do them a huge favor when the NCAA selection show comes around. In the shorter term, there are two huge questions that Tufts will answer today 1.) Will they get home-court advantage in the playoffs? If they lose, that may be out of their hands. 2.) Is this team a true contender in the NESCAC tournament? Sure, the Jumbos have beat up some of the bottom teams in the division, but besides Amherst, they’ve lost to the next three best teams. They have the talent, but can the put it together? This is a must win confidence-wise for Tufts.
Here’s what you’ve got to look forward to:
Two to Watch
1.) Guard Connor Green ’16 (Amherst): Whether or not he has been playing well leading into a game at Tufts, whenever Amherst rolls into Medford, Connor Green gets hot. Last year he put up 29 in the playoffs at Tufts in an incredible shooting performance. Green is a streaky shooter, but Amherst is going to need him on Saturday in order to maintain their position atop the NESCAC.
2.) Guard Tyler Rowe ‘19 (Connecticut College): Rowe will take on the Ephs who will be coming off a battle against Wesleyan, and it is vital that he gets going. Rowe has been an energizer for the Camels all year long, and he must continue his high level of play against Williams. If Rowe can’t get going, Conn is going to have a tough time keeping up with Kyle Scadlock ’19 and Dan Aronowitz ’17 from Williams.
Potential Game of the Week
Amherst vs. Tufts, Medford, MA, 2:00pm
Like I said above, this is a must win for Tufts. Talent-wise, these teams are very even overall, but each team excels in different areas. They both play one post and 4 guards, and they both look to run and gun. I’m excited to see who controls the pace of the game. The game will be decided by three sets of matchups:
The matchups of the bigger guards on both Amherst and Tufts will certainly be intriguing: Johnny McCarthy ‘18 (6’5”/205lbs.) vs. Vinny Pace ’18 (6’5”/185lbs.); Jeff Racy ’17 (6’5/210lbs.) vs. Stephen Haladyna ‘16 (6’5”/180lbs.); Connor Green ‘16 (6’4”/205) vs. Ryan Spadaford ’16 (6’4”/200lbs.). The key matchup here is McCarthy and Pace. McCarthy is known as one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, and he is just as long as Pace. If McCarthy can shut down Pace, Amherst has a very good shot to win this game. However, I think all three matchups are pretty even, and I don’t think that any one of these six players is going to completely take over the game. If there’s one who I might consider a sleeper here, it’s Spadaford. He’s been pretty consistent throughout the season on the boards as well as scoring the ball. Look for him to punish Amherst if they sag off him on defense. Overall, however, I think there is a little more firepower amongst the Amherst wings here, and like I noted above, Green has shown his ability to completely take over the game in Cousens Gym before.
I’ve waited for the low post matchup between Tom Palleschi ’17 and David George ’17 all season, and finally the day is here. Palleschi and George are the top two shot blockers in the league, but Palleschi leads by a full block per game. Palleschi also tops George in rebounds per game and points per game. Though it appears that Palleschi is much more effective by the numbers, one thing to consider is George’s giant leap in productivity in conference play as opposed to his non-conference production. I still think Palleschi can outmaneuver George down low, but this should be a much more intense matchup than the stats might suggest.
The point guard matchup between Tarik Smith ’17 and Jayde Dawson ‘17 will be extremely important to the outcome of this game. With such even matchups on the wings and down low, it is up to the point guards to separate the two teams. Dawson is Amherst’s top in-conference scorer, largely due to his demonstrated ability to get to the free throw line. However, Smith not only gets to the line more than Dawson, but he actually blows Dawson’s 27 free-throw attempts out of the water with a jaw-dropping 47 attempts. Tufts has played one more conference game than Amherst, but regardless, if Amherst allows Smith to get to the hoop as frequently as he has been doing so, Tufts is going to pull the upset here. When Smith drives, he creates open perimeter shots for Pace, Spadaford, and Haladyna. Last weekend against Bates, Palleschi even got in on the three-ball action, knocking down 3/3 shots from deep. I don’t think Dawson can stop Smith from creating, so I’m giving the matchup win to Smith.
This game is going to be a barnburner. After facing Trinity las tonight, fatigue could potentially factor in for Tufts, but it could also prove to be beneficial that they played a tough game last might. Maybe the ex-Lord Jeffs will be sluggish after their blowout win in Lewiston, but maybe the opportunity to get some rhythm shooting the ball is all Amherst needed. I know Tufts took a beating yesterday, but that’s exactly why I think they are going to bounce back and take down Amherst.
Prediction: Amherst 84 – Tufts 87
Bowdoin 80 – Middlebury 74
Colby 83 – Hamilton 76
Trinity 78 – Bates 64
Williams 80 – Connecticut College 82
(My predictions on the snowed out games from yesterday are still the same)
Our forerunner PantherNation (still alive and well in the Twitterverse but survived only by us in the blogosphere) astutely points out that the first two weekends of NESCAC play have been marked by home teams dominating. Getting an idea of how much home court advantage helps teams is hard in part because in the NESCAC teams usually play against each other once a season. It most certainly isn’t worth 53 points, the point differential between Saturday’s blowout win for Amherst over Wesleyan and Monday’s reversal of Wesleyan destroying Amherst.It obviously matters though. NESCAC teams went 32-23 at home in conference games a season ago.
This weekend the top three teams in our Power Rankings (Trinity, Amherst, and Tufts) all head out on the road. Amherst and Trinity are travel partners so they head to Maine in order to visit Colby and Bowdoin. Tufts, who already played on the road last weekend and split against Middlebury and Hamilton, travels through Connecticut for games vs. Conn College and Wesleyan.
Trinity and Amherst are the teams to keep an eye on. Both are perfect at home, but Trinity has a 4-4 record away from home and Amherst is 5-2. Neither Colby or Bowdoin appears to be a huge burden to get past, but both teams have players capable of putting the team on their back with hot shooting. Winning on the road is all important for securing what matters: a home NESCAC playoff game.
Two to Watch
1. Shooting Guard Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin): It’s a huge weekend for the Polar Bears needing at least a split against Trinity and Amherst in order to avoid falling to 1- in conference. It took 40 points from Hausman against Bates to get Bowdoin their one conference win. He will probably need somewhere close to 30 in a game this weekend. The problem is that Amherst with Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Trinity with Shay Ajayi ’16 both have defenders capable of at least bothering Hausman. Last season Hausman averaged 20 points in two losses to Amherst and had 30 in an overtime loss at Trinity. Hausman is prone to sometimes get off to slow starts, but Bowdoin can’t afford to fall behind in either of their games this weekend. While he is averaging a phenomenal 25.1 PPG this season, those numbers will start to look meaningless if Bowdoin keeps losing games.
2. Point Guard Shawn Strickland ’18 (Bates): In four wins over just more than a week at the beginning of January, Strickland scored in double figures for 4 consecutive games. That was when Bates played their best basketball with close wins over Brandeis, Babson, and Colby. In the three games since then, Strickland has been held to single digits in each game, and the Bobcats have gone 1-2. The Bobcats do not have enough perimeter scoring without Strickland making shots to keep up with teams. Josh Britten ’16 has been great making threes, but he is a one dimensional player. Mike Boornazian ’16 is good, but his efficiency has suffered without Graham Safford ’15 to take pressure off him. Strickland needs to be the guy scoring 10-15 points per game. He also needs to push the pace so that Bates can get easy buckets in transition.
Two Storylines to Follow
1. Wesleyan drawing a line in the sand.
I have a suspicion that this is right where Wesleyan wants to be. Last year the Cardinals hot streak started when they had their backs against the wall. They were 3-5 heading into the last weekend of the season with road games against Hamilton and Williams. They won both those in blowouts before winning three games in a row on the road.
Against Amherst on Friday night, Wesleyan looked as bad as any team can. From the very first possession of the game when Amherst got two straight offensive rebounds before Connor Green hit a three, the Cardinals looked like a defeated team. Nobody on offense was trying to attack the paint, and if they did, they were getting swallowed up by the Amherst defenders. Wesleyan was able to hold Amherst scoreless for a period of 4 minutes and 46 seconds in the first half, but they were only able to cut a 24 point deficit to 20 points in that span.
I didn’t watch the game on Monday night I’ll admit, but the statement from Wesleyan was a strong one. The game means more for the Cardinals than it does Amherst. A key for Wesleyan was having a combined 16 steals and blocks. They need to use that defensive energy to get them going on the other end of the floor. Both Bates and Tufts are tough opponents, but the Cardinals get them at home. Maybe just maybe, the Wesleyan crowds that came out in full force down the stretch last year return this weekend and help carry the Cardinals to a big weekend.
2. Who leads the way for Amherst.
This storyline has been one developing all season. We noted back on December 2nd that Connor Green’s ’16 struggles could cause problems on such a talented team. Even with the 3-0 conference start, Amherst still has a lot of uncertainty surrounding them. Green seemed to break out when he had 39 points and made big shot after big shot in Amherst’s double-OT win over Babson on December 10th. Yet, in the eight games since then, Green is averaging 11.4 PPG on 33.7% shooting. 53.5% of all the shots Green has taken are from beyond the three point line, though that is just up slightly from last year when 51.4% of his shots were threes.
For a little while in the beginning of January, Amherst was incredibly balanced with no player scoring 20 points in four straight games. In the past two games, Jayde Dawson ’18 has stepped to the forefront running the offense with authority from the point guard position. Way too often Dawson forces the issue, either launching a three early in the shot clock or driving with no real plan of where to go with the ball. At the same time, he has made some big shots this season. Either him or Green is the player most capable of carrying the offense. However, each of them is equally capable of sinking Amherst in any given game. This issue isn’t going away, but keep an eye on it this weekend.
Friday Game Predictions
Check back in first thing Saturday morning for predictions on the Saturday and Sunday games.
Trinity (12-4, 3-0) at Colby (11-4, 0-3)
You might not remember, but Colby without Patrick Stewart ’16 or Chris Hudnut ’16 came VERY close to beating Trinity in the NESCAC quarterfinals, ultimately falling 66-63. We don’t know how healthy Stewart is after he came off the bench in a non-conference game this week. Having him healthy gives Colby a chance to spring the upset. It will take a bevy of threes from the Mules to do it, though.
How Trinity reacts to the long bus ride up north is probably the deciding factor in this one. A Bantam team ready to play has too much size for the Mules to handle. Another key is Rick Naylor ’16, Eric Gendron ’18, and Jaquann Starks ’16 making threes. to open up the inside. One person who should not be shooting threes is Shay Ajayi ’16. He is shooting 25.7% on threes. He is best attacking the rim, even if he is out of control at times when he does so. The Bantams need to be upset alert, but they will get the job done.
Prediction: Trinity over Colby 72-63
Tufts (12-3, 3-1) at Wesleyan (13-4, 1-3)
The Jumbos started strong in conference last year also, but they stumbled later on in their schedule. That strong start was fueled in large part by Tarik Smith ’17 shooting the ball at an unsustainable level. This season Smith has been playing well in a secondary role to Vincent Pace ’18. Often Smith will pass up an open three to drive into the paint. That attacking mentality has paid off to the tune of Smith making the 2nd most free throws per game in the NESCAC. It sometimes feels like Smith is moving in slow motion, but he is always in control. He has to take pressure off of Pace in this one.
The Jumbos are hoping to get Ryan Spadaford ’16 back from an ankle injury that made him miss last weekend. Spadaford is the final piece that lets the Jumbos play with four three point shooters surrounding Tom Palleschi ’17. His return is going to be enough to get past Wesleyan… I think.
Prediction: Tufts over Wesleyan 71-67
Amherst (13-2, 3-0) at Bowdoin (8-5, 1-2)
As a Bowdoin fan, I do not like this matchup for the Polar Bears at all. Amherst’s weakness on defense is when you put them into pick and roll situations and are able to penetrate forcing the defense to scramble. McCarthy has the size and quickness to give Hausman problems, and Coach Dave Hixon can try either Green or Racy on Jack Simonds ’19. On the interior, David George ’17 presents problems for Matt Palecki ’16 and Neil Fuller ’17 on the boards. Dawson went off against Bowdoin in the NESCAC semifinals for 21 points last year, and he is playing as well as he ever has for Amherst.
If I’m Coach Tim Gilbride I’m stashing Hausman, a not good defender, on Racy. Hausman just has to stick to Racy the whole time, and since Racy isn’t a threat to drive much, Hausman should be up for the task. Hixon will probably counter by running Racy off screens in order to tire out Hausman. If Bowdoin is going to win, it needs a big game from an unexpected source. Guard Jake Donnelly ’16 or Matt Palecki ’16 are the most likely candidates. Even then, I don’t think that Bowdoin has enough to hang with Amherst in a high scoring game.
Prediction: Amherst over Bowdoin 87-74
Bates (9-7, 2-2) at Conn College (11-5, 2-2)
This is the type of game that shows the depth of the league this year. Both teams have plenty of talent but lots of flaws also. Conn College has been playing so well recently that they might see a little regression this weekend. The Bobcats are on the road for the second straight weekend. They have been on the bus a lot recently after making the trip to Hamilton last weekend.
Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche ’17, the twins who have confused announcers from the day they set foot on campus, have become more consistent this season. However, neither is capable of winning a game by himself, and the edge on the perimeter goes to the Camels. Conn College proves that they are really a quality NESCAC team this weekend with a big win.
Prediction: Conn College over Bates 72-59
Hamilton (8-8, 0-4) at Williams (11-5, 2-2)
Coach Kevin App and Williams lost on the road to Hamilton last year, and they shouldn’t be looking past this game. Freshmen dot both starting lineups, and the battle between Kyle Scadlock ’19 and Andrew Groll ’19 is a diaper dandy. In the end, the difference is not a freshmen but Dan Aronowitz ’17. The multi-faceted forward is doing a great job of leading this Ephs team without forcing things too often. Williams gets above .500 in conference after starting off 0-2.
Prediction: Williams over Hamilton 68-60
Note: I’m picking three road teams to win. We’ll see how that goes.
We do Power Rankings every week in order to look beyond the simple story of wins and losses and really try to get an idea for how each team stacks to each other. Not all wins and losses are created equally obviously. The rankings near the beginning of the season are mostly a result of the eye test since teams in the non-conference schedule do not play that many common opponents. By the end of the NESCAC regular season the Power Rankings will look quite similar to the NESCAC standings because of all that data we get from the NESCAC games.
Right now though might be when the Power Rankings are at their most valuable because there is enough common opponents to grade each team roughly while the eye test still carries weight. So read on, and get angry about how much lower your favorite team is than you think it deserves to be.
1. Tufts Jumbos (12-3, 3-1, Last Week: 2)
Tufts just lost to Middlebury Friday night, but the game was on the road and went into overtime. They shot 16-29 (55.2%) from the free throw line and committed 20 turnovers even though they are 2nd in the NESCAC in free throw percentage at 75.1% and are averaging 13.2 TOs per game. The loss ended an 8 game winning streak, but it is a good loss, and the Jumbos responded well by blowing out Hamilton the next day. They have blown out Colby, Bowdoin, and Hamilton. Those three teams have a combined winning percentage of 1-9 in league play, but nobody else is blowing teams out like the Jumbos are.
However, Coach Bob Sheldon could end up being the Achilles Heel for this team. On Friday down the stretch and in overtime, he insisted on subbing out Tom Palleschi ’17 on defense because he had four fouls and Sheldon did not want to lose him on offense. I’m sorry, but you have to play the LEADING shot blocker in the NESCAC (and the all-time Tufts leader in blocks) on defense in a close game even if he ends up fouling out. Palleschi sat from the 3:10 to the 0:38 mark in overtime because there was no stoppage in play for Sheldon to get his big man back in the game.
2. Amherst (13-2, 3-0, Last Week: #1)
Amherst drops down a spot after getting shellacked by Wesleyan Monday night 71-44 in the non-conference Little Three game. Having to come back at home in the 2nd half against Conn College on Saturday also isn’t a great look. This is a better version of the team from last year since everyone is back, but it is frustrating for Amherst fans that the same problems still dog them. The defense is lackluster even though they have superior athletes at almost every position, and the team relies on outside shooters, many of whom are streaky.
The one shooter who is not streaky is Jeff Racy ’17. In conference, he is shooting the ball 7.3 times per game while averaging 15.7 PPG. So he is averaging more than 2.0 points per shot. Put another way, Racy’s points per shot is better than a dunk! Using true shooting percentage, a slightly better statistic, Racy comes in at .768 this season. At Michigan, Duncan Robinson is leading the country in true shooting percentage (that a former NESCAC player is leading the country in that category is pretty incredible) with the number .733. Basically, Racy is incredibly efficient. He is also the leading scorer for Amherst.
3. Trinity Bantams (12-4, 3-0, Last Week: #4)
Every week Trinity is looking more and more dangerous, putting their uneasy early season further into the distance. They pulled away from both Conn College and Wesleyan in games that were closer than the final score indicated. The ability of Trinity to finish games is a skill that they have shown a lot over the past two seasons. The team defense isn’t as good as it has been in years past in part because of the loss of ace perimeter defender Hart Gliedman ’15. It is still a really physical group that is not giving up a lot of easy buckets.
The difference from last year is they don’t have to rely on Jaquann Starks ’16 nearly as much on offense. Ed Ogundeko ’17 has made a big jump in his junior season, and Shay Ajayi ’16 is playing better also meaning that the Bantams have a legitimate three headed attack on offense. I just wish that Coach Jim Cosgrove would play his core guys more. Nobody on the roster is averaging more than 25 minutes per game. Even in conference games, no Bantam is playing more than 30 minutes per game.
4. Williams Ephs (11-5, 2-2, Last Week: #6)
The win for Williams Sunday against Bowdoin to get back to 2-2 in conference was a big one. The Ephs didn’t play great and they still did enough to beat a quality team without too much drama. They are shooting the ball much better in conference: 40.0% 3FG in conference vs. 33.9% 3FG overall. I’m a little surprised that the Ephs rank second to last in assists per game even though their offense is built on moving the ball from side to side and frequent back cuts. The good news is they aren’t turning the ball over that frequently: just 12.0 TOs per game which is the third best mark in the league. Point guard Bobby Casey ’19 has become the third best player on the team behind Dan Aronowitz ’17 and Kyle Scadlock ’19. For what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Ephs are pretty darn good.
5. Middlebury Panthers (9-7, 3-1, Last Week: #10)
The biggest movers this week backed up the big overtime win over Tufts by controlling the entire way to beat Bates 73-61. The Panthers did it without center Matt Daley ’16 too. The downside is that Daley, unfortunately injury riddled his whole career, might be dealing with something that won’t go away. If that is the case, the Panthers will have to double down on playing aggressive perimeter defense and pushing the ball in transition at all times. Point guard Jake Brown ’17 is the x-factor for them: he was good last weekend. He even is shooting pretty well from three this season, even if his attempts are still really low. One concern is that he is too aggressive on defense. He leads the league in fouling out, especially bad as a perimeter player. He has to figure out how to hound his opponents without picking up ticky-tack fouls.
6. Wesleyan Cardinals (13-4, 1-3, Last Week: #3)
What a weird team. Just three days after getting run out of the building at Amherst and having nobody on the team make more than two shots from the field, Wesleyan turned around and put the beatdown on Amherst. Squeezed in between was the Cardinals battling Trinity for 32 minutes before scoring just 10 points in the final 8:46 and losing to the Bantams. That offense has been oddly ineffective. Stalwarts Joe Edmonds ’16 and Harry Rafferty ’17, the two leading scorers for Wesleyan in 2013-2014, have been relegated to minor roles. Edmonds has lost his starting spot at least temporarily to Kevin O’Brien ’19, and Rafferty has continued to not shoot the ball efficiently. Getting those two straightened out is necessary.
This group is going to continue to fight as Monday night showed. The tweet from point guard Jack Mackey came after the game on Monday and is in response to a Twitter account that was mercilessly mocking Wesleyan’s performance during the game Friday.
Alright, so the Camels aren’t going from winless to undefeated in NESCAC play. Yet, I feel better about them this week than I did last because of the way they played vs. Amherst and Trinity. For a young team, there is such a thing as a moral victory. Going into LeFrak Gym (Amherst’s home court) and nearly coming away with the win is going to help this group in the next few weeks. Point guard Tyler Rowe ’19 has been a handle for everybody who has to guard him. He hasn’t even been shooting the ball well from three recently (an atrocious 1-12 in conference). Rowe and other young guns like forward David LaBossiere ’19 and sharpshooter Lee Messier ’18 are making the Camels tons of fun to watch. A huge weekend with visits from Bates and Tufts awaits them.
8. Bates Bobcats (9-7, 2-2, Last Week: #7)
Another 1-1 week for Bates as they continue to tread water. The problem is that the two wins were against Colby (a healthy Colby team though) and Hamilton so a lot of hard games still remain on the schedule. Josh Britten ’16 has stepped up in a big way in his senior year. Last season he averaged just 5.5 MPG. Now he is starting, averaging 17.9 MPG, and is the top three point threat on the team making 2.2 threes per game at a 42.2% clip. Mike Boornazian ’16 has to play at a higher level than he has so far in conference for Bates to make a run.
9. Bowdoin Polar Bears (8-5, 1-2, Last Week: #8)
I’ll be writing a lot more about my dear Polar Bears soon, so I’ll keep it brief. The loss to Williams was tough because now Bowdoin has to follow it up with visits from Trinity and Amherst. Lose both those games and suddenly they are 1-4 even if none of the losses are bad ones. Against Williams, Bowdoin missed their final 13 three-pointers. The margin for error is small on this team, and the shots didn’t go in at exactly the wrong time for them.
10. Colby Mules (11-4, 0-3, Last Week: #9)
My goodness does that 10 game winning streak Colby had feel like forever ago. A team that was a potential dark horse this year is staring down the barrel of an 0-5 start with Amherst and Trinity this weekend. Both forward Pat Stewart ’16 and center Chris Hudnut ’16 were in street clothes for the game Friday against Williams. Stewart was back in limited action on Tuesday in a win over Maine Maritime, but Hudnut was conspicuously absence. Without Hudnut, the Mules simply don’t have the size to keep pace with teams. They will fight and claw like crazy with Ryan Jann ’16 leading the way, and they will scare teams a lot. Still, Hudnut is a NESCAC First Team type player, and nobody on the roster can replicate at all what he does.
11. Hamilton Continentals (8-8, 0-4, Last Week: 11)
I feel like I wrote the exact same thing last year, but Hamilton really is pretty good for a team that is winless in conference. Their problem is the lack of any player who is capable of creating his own shot on offense. That coupled with a suspect defense is holding them back for now, but if they keep laying this way then good days are coming. They are out-rebounding teams by 5.0 boards per game in NESCAC play (best margin of anyone), a surprising but encouraging stat considering that Hamilton has not shot a good percentage meaning their opponents should have lots of easy defensive rebounds against them. Instead, guys like Andrew Groll ’19 and Ajani Santos ’16 are getting after it on the offensive boards. Hamilton will get their first win soon.