Well, well, well, it looks like this is finally the weekend I get to see my favorite storyline of the season become a reality. At the beginning of the season, the only thing I hoped for was that these two teams were at least somewhat close in the standings so that I could write about the brotherly rivalry between Jeff (Amherst ’17) and Pat (Tufts ’20) Racy. My dreams have finally come true: #11 Amherst (14-4, 4-2) hosts #9 Tufts (16-3, 6-1) this weekend in what should be a pretty epic match up. These two always get revved up to play each other, but the brotherly bond between the two sides adds an extra layer to the rivalry.
Jeff is a senior guard for the Purple and White (choose a mascot already), and has started every game under Coach Dave Hixon this season. He is averaging 7.2 PPG in 28.3. MIN/G so far in his senior campaign to go along with 2.2 REB/G. While he’s a knockdown three-point shooter, Jeff’s maturity, efficiency and leadership are what make it so difficult for Hixon to take the leader off the court, as he has contributed greatly to Amherst’s success in the 2016-2017 season thus far.
Pat is a freshman center for the Jumbos who has stepped into quite a big role in the last couple weeks. While he was splitting time at the backup center spot at the beginning of the season, with recent the injury to Tom Palleschi ’17 a couple weeks ago, Pat has been called on as part of a double-barreled post presence for Tufts. Coach Bob Sheldon has been using Pat and senior center Drew Madsen ’17 interchangeably over the last couple of weeks, relying on the freshman for big minutes off the bench.
I had a chance to interview the brothers from Ridgefield, CT this week to get their thoughts on this weekend’s matchup and what it’s like competing with each other in the NESCAC.
Rory: Are you excited play against Pat/Jeff this week?
Jeff: Of course. I’d be excited if he were just coming up to visit, but playing against him should be awesome.
Pat: For sure. I’ve been competing against him my whole life, but this will be the first time it really means something.
R: When is the last time you you played in a real game with or against your brother?
J: We play pickup together all the time but the last time we played with each other formally was my last game at Ridgefield high school in 2013.
P: I played with Jeff freshman and sophomore years of high school, and actually played pickup with the Amherst team last spring when I came up to visit for the weekend.
R: Do you talk to your brother much about basketball? Or do you guys keep your basketball careers pretty separate now that you play for opposing teams?
J: We talk a decent amount about basketball. Even though we play on different teams, our basketball experiences are very similar so we actually talk more than we used to about it because we can better relate.
P: Yeah we definitely talk about basketball, but it doesn’t dominate the conversation. At this point he’s a NESCAC vet so his advice can be helpful at times.
R: Did you ever consider going to Amherst? Why did you choose Tufts over playing with your brother?
P: When I decided to embark on the 5-year plan and repeat my junior year at NMH [Northfield Mount Hermon], I ended up visiting Amherst a decent amount. Prep school felt like a jail at times so it was nice to have Amherst to hang with Jeff and the team, although I never took a real basketball visit there. I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go to school at that point but after the 2nd visit there it was fairly obvious western mass didn’t have much to offer compared to being in Boston.
R: Did you try to get Pat to go to Amherst? Were you disappointed when he chose Tufts? Or were you pumped that you’d be able to continue the sibling rivalry in a whole new way?
J: I tried. He went to high school not too far away, so he visited a bunch to the point where I think every player on the team knows him pretty well. In the end, I think he got a great sense of what Amherst had to offer, but with all things considered, I think the both of us knew that Tufts was a better fit for him personally. I couldn’t have been more excited for Pat when he chose Tufts. It’s an awesome school and I was pumped that we would get to play against each other at least once.
R: As the older/younger brother, do you feel more or less pressure to play well? Or is that not relevant in your mental approach to this game?
J: Of course its relevant, I’m the older brother here. Not to mention a bunch of family and friends will be at the game. It’s not as much pressure, but just me really wanting to beat Pat. I’m sure he feels the same way, we’re pretty competitive at just about everything we do.
P: I’m not a huge believer in the mental aspect of the game, but I definitely have a little extra incentive to play well given that Tufts hasn’t beat Amherst in a while.
R: How much trash talk is going to go on between you and Jeff during Saturday’s game?
J: As much as possible.
P: Chirps will be made.
R: In terms of styles of play, how are you and Jeff similar? In what ways do your games differ?
J: I think we can both shoot pretty well, but other than that our games aren’t that similar. He’s more of a power forward who uses his strength and power and I’m just looking to get my three off.
P: Jeff loves to camp out around the 3 point line and if you happen to catch the rare glimpse of him in 2pt range you know something is wrong. We both shoot it well, but I never really take 3’s.
R: Are you at all worried that your brother is going to be able to tell his teammates all of your tendencies on the court?
J: I think my tendencies are pretty obvious, so not really.
P: I think it’s pretty obvious that the Amherst basketball team knows my tendencies on and off the court by now.
R: If you end up in an iso situation on the wing with Pat guarding you, how crucial is it for brotherly pride that you score on him?
J: Absolutely imperative. I hope that Hixon and Sheldon come to their senses, scrap their game plans and realize that this game should really be all about the Racy brothers, so they should run nothing but clear outs for Pat and I to go 1 on 1 all game long. If that happens (Pat I know you read this, so take care of your end), it will be a close game. Pat would probably score more field goals, but I’ll hit more threes and Amherst will walk away with the win.
So there I was – it was Tuesday and I was just sitting around trying to put together a plan of attack to become an academic weapon in between now and finals. Just minding my own business when Pete sends me his list of talking points to edit. I finally got around to reading it Wednesday night in the midst of my increasingly building workload, and when I finished, I couldn’t ignore the feeling that something was off. I took a quick read through and didn’t notice any grammar mistakes, a pleasant surprise for Pete’s work. So I reread the talking points he put together, and then it struck me. There was no mention of the #1 or the #3 teams in the nation, Amherst and Tufts. Seems a bit odd, no? Well, congratulations Pete, because if this was your strategy to motivate me to write a blog, it worked. Maybe I just have a soft spot for these two because I grew up an Amherst fan and am now a Tufts superfan, but I’m sick and tired of the lack of credit being given to these two. The fact is, omitting these two teams is inexcusable at this point in the season, so I’ll do the honors. Here’s how two of the top three teams in the nation are doing so far this fall.
Amherst is 4-0 after Tuesday night’s solid win against Westfield State, and has done nothing that indicates their number one national ranking is undeserved. Their closest game has been an 11 point victory on the road against Anna Maria, which is also their only away game at this point. In their home contests, however, Amherst has been nothing short of dominant, outscoring their opponents by a total of 89 points in those three matchups, or just under 30 PPG. Obviously, Amherst hasn’t been faced with the strongest competition so far, but they also haven’t shown any signs of weakness. The Purple and White are playing the best defense in the league by far (just 58.0 OPPG), allowing 9 points less than the next closest NESCAC defense (Williams). They’re not necessarily forcing the most turnovers in the world (13.5 TO/G, 7th in the league), but they are forcing opponents into taking difficult shots. I mean really tough shots. Opponents are shooting just 34.7% from the field and 26.3% from three-point land against Coach Hixon’s squad…. That second percentage is absolutely miserable.
One reason Amherst is able to force this poor offensive play is that they are so versatile on defense. Jayde Dawson ‘17 can guard pretty much any opposing point guard, Johnny McCarthy ‘18 flashes such length that Kevin Durant looks like he has t-rex arms in comparison, and both Michael Riopel ‘18 and Jeff Racy ‘17 more than hold their own. Amherst switches pretty much everything on the perimeter, something they can do because of their athleticism, size, and most of all, because they have David George ‘17 manning the paint – not a bad little safety net behind you as a perimeter defender.
“Oh, but Rory, Amherst doesn’t have anyone who can score! McCarthy is their top scorer with just 13.0 PPG – that’s 18th in the NESCAC!!!” So what. Amherst never has anyone that scores significantly more than the rest of the team, that’s why they’re always so good. Coach Hixon currently has four players averaging double digits: McCarthy, Dawson (11.0), Riopel (10.5), and Eric Conklin ‘17 (10.3). That’s not something too many NESCAC teams can say. They are also so deep that they don’t play their starters the entire game, they just simply don’t need to. Of the top 10 scorers, only the 10th highest scorer (Vinny Pace, who I will get to), that is averaging under 20 minutes per game. Pace is actually the only one averaging under 24 MIN/G. Well, McCarthy is the only one on Amherst averaging over 24 MIN/G, and the next highest is Riopel, who is playing 20.5 minutes on average. My point is this: Amherst scores the ball extremely efficiently, and while it’s certainly impressive that Jack Simonds is scoring 25.2 PPG, he is also playing 36.2 MIN/G. I’m not picking on Jack, I’m just saying that there is a strong correlation between minutes played and points scored. This is a pretty consistent trend through the top 10 scorers, which is why Amherst’s wide array of scoring threats should be more highly regarded than it seems like it is. Amherst is really, really good, and they deserve that recognition.
A lot of people have been wondering all year – why is Tufts ranked #3? I just simply don’t get that question. Tufts started at #5 because of their Elite Eight finish last year, but they have also proved that they still deserve to be up there. Really? Ab-so-lute-ly. Tufts is currently out to a perfect 5-0 start. Spanning back through the 1999-2000 season, Tufts has not done this once. Frankly, I don’t know what happened in the 1998-1999 season or any season before that – Tufts archives don’t go back that far – but let’s just leave at this, it has been a VERY LONG TIME since Tufts had such a good start. Additionally, Tufts consistently has one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the NESCAC, and this year is no different. On Tuesday night, Tufts won an absolute battle against #23 WPI at home by score of 75-71. They also beat an Emerson squad that has been rising in recent years, and MIT, who is always at least in the Top 25 discussion. Fact is, Tufts has some solid wins on their resume already, and it’s only December 2nd. So how are they doing it?
This is the interesting part – Tufts is not really dominating in any categories. Let’s look at their defense first. The Jumbos are 5th in points allowed, they foul the 4th most, and they only force the 6th most turnovers. Tufts opponents shoot 39.3% from the field and just 33% from deep (3rd and 5th best respectively). They do have Tom Palleschi ‘17, who was second in the nation in blocked shots last season, and is continuing his dominance down low with an average of 4.2 BLK/G. He’s currently tied with Bates’ Malcolm Delpeche ‘17 at first in the conference, but realistically, I don’t see any way that Delpeche (or anyone else) takes the blocked shots crown from Palleschi at the end of the season. Still, however, blocked shots does not necessarily mean good team defense. Statistically, Tufts looks like an above average defensive team, but not the most dominant in the league. So how about the Tufts offense then?
Tufts, who led the rest of the league in scoring last year by a pretty comfortable margin, is currently 7th in the league in scoring. They’re shooting the 7th highest percentage at 45.6%, and they are hitting just 68.3% of their free throws, 3rd worst in the league. They also only tally the 8th most AST/G in the NESCAC, and turn the ball over the 2nd most. So how are the Jumbos doing it?
Well, the fact is, they just know how to win. Their primary gameplan has two-parts: get to the foul line and hit threes. Tufts has shot and made the 2nd most free-throws in the ‘CAC behind Wesleyan, and they have shot and made the 4th most three-pointers. They’ve got five guys knocking down shots from beyond the arc: Ben Engvall ‘18 (7-16), Tarik Smith ‘17 (6-14), Ethan Feldman ‘19 (10-25), Vinny Pace ‘18 (7-18), and Eric Savage ‘20 (5-13). When you have that many guys that can hit shots from deep, it’s pretty difficult for opposing defenses. So, just chase shooters off the arc, right?
Wrong. If you don’t sag, then Palleschi will eat down low. Defenses have been aware of this so far, and they’ve sagged into the paint, doubled team, and have fronted Palleschi. Basically, they’ve said, “if we’re going to lose, someone besides Palleschi is going to have to beat us.” The tough part is, Tufts has other guys! A lot of them. It seems like they’ve taken a page out of Amherst’s playbook in that no one guy is going to run the show, but rather, the whole squad is going to chip in. Opening night, it was Feldman and Everett Dayton ‘18 who carried the ‘Bos. Game 2 – Smith, Palleschi and Feldman. Game 3 – Pace, Smith, and KJ Garrett ‘18. Game 4….okay you get my point. It’s someone different every night, and that right there is why Tufts is so good. Whatever you take away, the Jumbos have a Plan B, C, and D. This team is very, very good, and if we are lucky, we could see an incredible #2 vs. #3 matchup tomorrow night: Babson vs. Tufts. Just pray that Babson and Tufts both handle business like they should tonight in the Big Four Tournament and maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be electric.
In summary, Amherst and Tufts are two of the best teams in the country, and as of now, seem to be the two best teams in the conference. I know that our job is to cover everyone in the NESCAC, but having two ‘CAC teams in the top three is not the most common thing in the world. The best teams in the NESCAC generally spread out their scoring and play nearly impenetrable defense. Amherst is doing this, and they’re playing phenomenal defense. Tufts is really spreading out the scoring, and playing solid D. These two are the best two teams in the conference right now, but unfortunately we’re going to have to wait until January to see how they stack up against the rest of the conference. I’m looking forward to Amherst-Tufts once NESCAC play begins, but for now I just hope we get to see a Babson-Tufts matchup tomorrow.
Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively, not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us.
Projected Record: 8-2
The 2015-2016 season saw the continued maturation of a young Amherst squad from the year before. Buoyed by a pre-season trip to Italy, the team jumped out to a 13-1 start. They rode the hot start through the NESCAC season going 8-2, both losses coming on the road. After taking down Tufts by three points in the semifinal, the Purple and White fell to Middlebury in an epic NESCAC championship, 81-79. Yet Amherst still earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament where they proceeded to win their first two games at home by a combined three points. The third and fourth rounds saw Amherst take down budding rivals Babson and Tufts in a more comfortable fashion. Then, the team traveled down to Salem, Virginia for Coach David Hixon’s 7th Final Four appearance. Much like the NESCAC final, Amherst fell to Benedictine (Ill.) by a bucket.
The only player not returning this year for Amherst is Connor Green ’16. A pure scorer, Green led the Purple and White with 15 PPG. But, as with any volume shooter, there are days where shots are not falling and it can throw the offense out of rhythm. Expect a more balanced scoring distribution this year as virtually anyone Amherst throws out there can score the rock. Defensively, the team is anchored by senior, two-time captain, David George ’17. George is arguably the best rim protector in the NESCAC and continues to polish his offensive game. Sharpshooter Jeff Racy returns along with junior Swiss Army knives Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Michael Riopel ‘18. Jayde Dawson ’18 is also back with Reid Berman ’17 to split minutes at the point. The depth and talent on this team makes a NESCAC championship and another deep NCAA tournament run strong possibilities. D3Hoops.com reinforced this notion by ranking Amherst the preseason #1.
Head Coach: David Hixon, 40th year, 767-271 (.738)
Asst. Coaches: Aaron Toomey ’14, Kevin Hopkins ’08, J.D. Ey, Al Wolejko
Guard/Forward Johnny McCarthy ’18 (13 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 APG)
Forward David George ’17 (8.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 60% FG)
Projected Starting Lineup
Qualifier: Given the depth of this year’s Amherst team, they could easily go 8-9 deep with little to no talent drop-off. But, you can only open the game with 5 on the court, so here it is:
Guard Jayde Dawson ‘18
A returning starter from last year, Dawson is an explosive player that can both score it, and hound opposing guards in the backcourt. I often liken Jayde Dawson to Russell Westbrook in that he can be by the far the best player on the court, but also, on occasion, the worst. A strong, energetic player he often toes the line between aggressive and reckless. Consistency will be the key for Dawson entering this season, but even a minor improvement from last year is a scary thought for opposing coaches. His size and strength allow him to get to, and finish at the rim. Dawson is also a streaky shooter who can stretch the floor at times but also garner the Rondo treatment when he’s off. A score-first guard, Dawson’s mercurial play can get him in trouble, but his ceiling might very well be the highest on the team. Defensively, he was second on the team a year ago averaging a steal per game. As previously noted, Dawson can make it very difficult for opposing guards to even get the ball past half court let alone get the team into an offense. The experience of last year should help, and a big year could be on the horizon for him.
Guard Jeff Racy ‘17
When Joel Embiid told the world how he learned to shoot, Jeff Racy may have been in some of the video clips he watched. The senior captain is a classic sharpshooter. He averaged 11.2 PPG a year ago, almost all of which came from behind the 3 point line. He shot it at 48.7% from downtown for the season and was even better in NESCAC play, with a 57% 3-point percentage. Racy added a little strength from the year prior, which allowed him to not only get it done offensively, but defensively as well. He was second on the team in minutes at 30.5 per game. His length allows him to defend multiple positions making it easier to leave him in the game no matter the matchup. Racy’s ability to stretch the floor creates space for other guys to get to the rim or post players to go to work. He figures to be the premier shooter for Amherst, and possibly the NESCAC, again this year. Few things were more entertaining last year than watching Racy get hot and teams frantically trying to take away his air space. While his form is slightly unorthodox, the results speak for themselves. Jeff’s shot is like many things in sports; it’s only weird if it doesn’t work and trust me, it works. Expect much of the same from Racy this year. Also, don’t sleep on Racy going off on February 4th when Amherst hosts Tufts – his younger brother Pat is a freshman Jumbo, and I’m sure Jeff would like nothing more than to bury his little bro’s team.
Small forward Johnny McCarthy ‘18
Coming off a Freshman of the Year award, Johnny showed virtually no signs of a sophomore slump. A factor on both ends of the floor, McCarthy averaged 13 points a game to go along with 6 boards. The 6′ 6″ swingman does a little bit of everything for the Purple and White. He can score it inside and out, and is often tasked with checking the opposing team’s best player. Deceptively quick, McCarthy always seems to get his hands on passes and break up the other team’s offensive rhythm. He has the speed to stay with smaller players and the length to lock up taller players as well. A common theme among this Amherst squad, Johnny offers versatility both defensively and offensively. One area of improvement would be jump shooting consistency. McCarthy can be a streaky scorer with bouts of icy shooting. He’s often able to offset this by getting to the rim and free throw line, but another player to stretch the floor never hurts. A tireless worker, McCarthy has improved every year. The decent high school player’s relentless work ethic has turned him into a bonafide NESCAC star. Do not be surprised if McCarthy shows up on multiple post season award lists.
Forward Jacob Nabatoff ’17
The only member of the projected starting five that did not start last year, Nabatoff looks to have an expanded role this coming season. He did start a lone game last year, but averaged only 2.5 PPG in 10.5 MPG. A potential stretch 4, he has range that extends to the three point line. It will be interesting to see how Nabatoff’s game develops with more minutes. He started 29 games his sophomore season and averaged a serviceable 6.3 PPG. The senior had a 38% 3-point field goal percentage last year, demonstrating his ability to knock down the three ball. Nabatoff is probably the biggest question mark in the starting line-up, but definitely has the talent and skill set to be a contributor. There’s something to be said too about being a senior. I’ve seen it a number of times where players finally hit their stride in the final year. Look for Nabatoff to be an improved player this season, adding some ever-present depth to Amherst’s front line.
Forward David George ’17
A two-year captain, George is in many ways the heart and soul of the team. The 6’8″ forward anchors the defense and offers a back-to-the-basket threat on the offensive end. He shot it at just around 60% from the floor last year and looks to expand on his offensive game even more in his final year. George’s length and athleticism make him an elite defensive presence. He averaged over 2 blocks a game last year and can be heard barking out commands to fellow teammates when he quarterbacks the defense. George is also capable of providing an emotional spark, whether it be a big block or thunderous dunk. Both the literal and figurative backbone of the team, George looks to close out his stellar career with another successful season. As a strong voice in the locker room, he will also be tasked with fighting the complacency that can follow a successful season. David George is an established player and you can depend on him to provide much of the same this year.
Breakout Player: Guard Michael Riopel ’18
I don’t know if you can really consider it a breakout year considering the season that Riopel had a year ago, but he has the chance to elevate his game to another level. A long, athletic wing, he spent 6 weeks out of his summer working with former Amherst standout and 2013 national champion, Willy Workman ’13. His goal was to add strength and continue to round out his game, especially on offense. The 6′ 5″ guard did a little bit of everything last year averaging a tick over 7 PPG, pulling down close to 4 rebounds, and even dishing out 1.3 APG. Like many other players on this Amherst team, Riopel has the versatility to guard multiple positions. Offensively, he did not shoot a ton of threes, but was effective when he did, connecting on 41% of his attempts. Along with the PG Jayde Dawson, the junior swingman adds a slashing element to the offense and displayed the ability to get to the rim. Coming off the bench, he made the second most free throw attempts on the team. The added strength should allow the trend of Riopel getting to the charity stripe to continue. While I think he’ll still come off the bench, that fact has more to do with matchups than ability. The role also allows the freedom for Riopel to bring added defensive intensity along with instant offense. If the NESCAC had a 6th man award I would put him at the top of the short list of potential winners, a la ’07-’08 Manu Ginobli. Fiercely competitive, Riopel, through his hard work, has put himself in a prime position to have a career year.
Past performance is not always an indicator of future success, but last year’s tournament run has expectations for this year’s team running high. The team loses only one player from their rotation that ran up to 9 players deep a year ago, and as a result, they received the #1 ranking on d3hoops.com. While the team will certainly miss the presence of Connor Green ’16, the offense may find more continuity now that they don’t necessarily have a pure scorer. In talking with Coach Hixon, some of the challenges this year’s team will face are an expanded roster and contentedness. The positives however, greatly outweigh the negatives. I think that even though the team made the NESCAC final and Final Four there is still a sour taste left in their mouths from not bringing home any championships. Coach Hixon also lauded the leadership on this team both by the seniors and the younger guys as well. One element about having an expanded roster that can be a bonus is the ability to have competitive practices. When guys push each other in practice, it makes it that much easier come gametime.
The level and depth of talent on this team should make for an exciting season. Seniors Reid Berman and Eric Conklin round out the rotation from a year ago. Berman provides a steady hand off the bench to run the point and lead the team in assists per game in limited action last year. He provides both leadership and grit while doing all the little things a basketball team needs to be done. Conklin is an undersized big at 6’6″ but uses his 235 lb frame, excellent footwork, and a soft touch to be an effective inside scorer for Amherst. Additionally, he is an excellent screener which allows other guys to get open looks.
The Purple and White open up the season with their annual Ken Wright tournament that should have stronger competition than in years past. Babson also visits Amherst in December and Coach Hixon said that would be a good test considering the games the two teams have played in the past. Last year featured a double overtime thriller before a competitive sweet sixteen matchup that saw Amherst win both. The league should be as competitive as ever, helping weed out pretenders and prepare contenders for postseason play. One of the benefits of having such a tough league schedule is that it will force Amherst to bring it every night. Additional home games should also play to the Purple and White’s advantage given their unbeaten record in Lefrak Gymnasium a year ago. The preseason #1 ranking is a place few coaches want to be because it can lead to additional pressure and complacency. I don’t think those issues will crop up for this team due to the leadership it possesses. Ultimately, the team has the talent to be better than they were last year and hopes to take the final step. A NESCAC championship appearance along with a Final Four run is nothing to sneeze at, but the end goal this season is to close the deal and finish out with even more hardware.
New year, new nickname, different roster, same result.
Amherst is back in the Final Four for the third time in just four seasons after a one year hiatus and looking to claim the program’s third national title. More than their previous two trips, this year’s journey to the Final Four was considered a long shot. In 2014 the Purple & White entered the tournament ranked No. 7 at 24-3, and in 2013, when they won the whole shabang, they were 25-2 and ranked second in the country. This year, Amherst ranked No. 16 coming into the tournament, and squeaked through the first weekend with two wins by a total of three points. Then, Amherst controlled the game against Babson in the Sweet 16, but the contest with Tufts was knotted up with under four minutes to play before Amherst finished on a 13-0 run.
No matter how it happened, Amherst is here now with a chance at the title. But, they have to take on, arguably, the best team in the country in undefeated Benedictine University.
It’s hard to find a weakness in the Eagles’ game as they play in their first Final Four. They are lead by two juniors, both from Naperville, Illinois, just a 10 minute ride from the Benedictine campus. Luke Johnson ’17 is an elite talent for the D-III level. He’s taken a circuitous route to get here – playing at two other schools and spending some time earlier in his career at Benedictine, too – but he certainly appears comfortable at last. The 6’9″, 235 lbs center averages 14.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 3.2 apg and, here’s the whopper, 3.0 bpg. That’s Tom Palleschi status. Johnson was named the All-Central Region Co-Player of the Year by D3Hooops.com. His fellow Napervillian, Michael “Blasé” Blaszczyk ’17 (I just came up with that nickname), leads the team with 14.6 ppg and contributes across the board with 4.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.1 spg and 0.7 bpg. Blaszczyk also brings size to the table at 6’3″, 190 lbs, and has ratched it up in the tournament, scoring 63 points over four games to lead his team. The third key Eagle to watch out for is PG Tahron Harvey ’17. Harvey is a D3Hoops.com All-Central Third Teamer averaging 13.5 ppg, 5.0 apg and 2.2 spg.
The key for Benedictine is that they have shooters all over the floor. Their rotation runs nine deep, and everyone but bruising sixth man Tim Reamer ’16 (6’5″ 240 lbs) can knock down the triple. (Reamer, by the way, was awarded the Elite 90 Award as the athlete at the Final Four with the highest cumulative GPA.) Seven of those nine shoot over 30 percent from deep, including Johnson, which presents a match up nightmare for Amherst. The Eagles will look to feed the big man on the block and let him distribute to their shooters. Furthermore, Benedictine is tenacious on the boards, outrebounding their opponents by 14.7 boards per game. Johnson is a big reason for that, but everyone in the lineup can get after the boards.
Amherst X-factor: Close Out Defense
I’m not going with one player here, but rather a philosophy. And, it’s a philosophy that Amherst has employed quite well so far this season. Amherst has the best three-point percentage defense in the country, and it’s not just because they present great length. To allow only 27.7 percent of opponents’ three pointers to drop, you have to be very good at closing out. I expect Head Coach Dave Hixon to instruct his players to double down on Johnson when he gets the ball in the post, which means it will be even more difficult for Amherst to close out on shooters. If they leave the Eagles’ shooters open it’s going to be a long day for Amherst, but if they can force Benedictine to try to make tough shots in traffic against the size that Amherst’s starting five provides, that could be a recipe for success.
Benedictine X-factor: C Luke Johnson
Johnson is obviously a great all-around player, but he’s an X-factor in this one not because of his scoring, but his propensity to rebound. Amherst has a pretty mediocre rebounding team, grabbing just 3.2 more rebounds per game than their opponents. Recall that Benedictine averages +14.7 boards per game. They also have a great defensive unit. Eagles’ opponents only score at a 37.8 percent clip from the field. That means buckets will be hard to come by for Amherst, and there won’t be many second chances with Johnson cleaning up the boards.
What to Expect:
It’s always so difficult to project NESCAC teams against out-of-region squads. From what I’ve seen over the past four years, the NESCAC is easily the best conference east of Wisconsin. They top-to-bottom quality of teams just can’t be beat, and I think you can look at the number of NESCAC teams that get into the NCAA Tournament, their success, and the success of even mid-tier and lower-tier NESCAC teams against high-quality out-of-conference opponents as proof of that statement. Therefore, and not because of favoritism, I often lean towards NESCAC squads. Even Benedictine can be questioned for the quality of their opponents. Their strength of schedule as of the last NCAA Regional Rankings, which come out before conference tournament play, was an average 0.524. Amherst had a .558 SOS at that time. Since then, however, Benedictine has beaten #10 Ohio Wesleyan and #13 Alma in the NCAA Tournament, so they’ve proven their mettle, and you don’t go 30-0 without having one heck of a roster.
On the Amherst side, the biggest question for me is always the point guard play. Jayde Dawson ’18 is great at times, and at other times gets pulled for Reid Berman ’17, who’s a very good player but has completely gone one-dimensional this year offensively, scoring just 2.1 ppg. One or the other will have to have a big game distributing, because with Benedictine’s defense the worst case scenario for Amherst is that they lose their offensive flow and start trying to go one-on-one on every possession. At the five spot, David George ’17 will see big minutes while trying to defend Johnson, which means less minutes for Eric Conklin ’17, George’s offensive counterpart. If Coach Hixon has to go with a lineup of Berman, Connor Green ’16, Johnny McCarthy ’18, Jeff Racy ’17 and George for extended stretches then they lose some significant offensive punch.
Whoever sees big minutes at the point for Amherst, though, expect this game to be played in the high 70’s and possibly 80’s. Amherst can score in bunches with the best of them, and the Eagles have tallied an outrageous 88.1 ppg this season. With two great, tough defenses though, don’t expect those points to come easy. We might have a uniquely fast-paced game on our hands with lots of misses, few offensive boards, and quick transitions.
As well as I believe the NESCAC prepares its teams for postseason play, I don’t see a chink in the Benedictine armor. The last game they won by less than nine points came on December 30. That’s almost three months ago. Amherst will have to play a perfect game in order to win. I don’t think they can pull it off. They may come close, and a hot night from Racy and Green beyond the arc could push the Purple & White over the top, but Benedictine has the lengthy defenders to stop that and I don’t see it happening.
If this Tufts team hasn’t signed and sent a thank you card to the Amherst College women’s team yet, they better get on that, because without them, Tufts wouldn’t be hosting this weekend. Due to the NCAA Division-III rules, if both the men’s and women’s team from a school are set to host, the men’s team gets priority to host the first weekend of the tournament and the Women’s team gets priority to host the second weekend (it alternates every year). The Amherst men’s team would be hosting, but because their women’s team also advanced to the Sweet 16, Tufts got backdoor home court advantage. That leaves us with Amherst playing Babson at 5:30 pm tonight and Tufts playing Johnson & Wales at 7:30 pm. Here’s what to expect from the second game.
Perhaps the biggest story leading up to this game is Tufts’ loss of Vinny Pace ’18. On the first play of the game last Friday, Pace drove to the paint. There was some contact, which was certainly legal, but it sent Pace’s upper body in one direction and his lower body in the other. When Pace landed, he immediately grabbed his leg – more specifically, his knee – while writhing in pain on the floor. Pace exited the game in under 30 seconds and did not return all weekend. As of now, it’s unclear what Pace’s status is exactly, but I’d be surprised if he’s back this weekend based on his immediate reaction.
So where does that leave the Jumbos? Based on their play last weekend, I’d say nothing changes from a strategy standpoint. It was a “next man up” mentality, reminiscent of this season’s New England Patriots, as Ethan Feldman ’19 stepped in to play 11 minutes on Friday and 17 minutes on Saturday. Feldman scored 10 points and 14 points respectively, and showed off his supreme ability to stretch the floor for the Jumbos, going 6-9 from the three-point line on the weekend. On Friday, Coach Bob Sheldon was a bit more tentative to play Feldman, but the freshman clearly gained his trust, evident by his increased minutes on Saturday. So where did all the minutes go on Friday? Well, the rest of the starting five (excluding Pace) played the following number of minutes against Southern Vermont: Tom Palleschi ’17, 34; Ryan Spadaford ’16, 34; Tarik Smith ’17, 37; Stephen Haladyna ’16, 38. That’s pretty wild. Haladyna continued his late-season surge, going for a game-high 24 points, which also counted for his career-high. In his last six games, Haladyna is averaging 17.5 ppg, which barely tops Palleschi’s 17.3 ppg over the same stretch. Palleschi has also been red-hot, evidenced by his 17 points Friday night and 19 points on Saturday night. However, Palleschi’s impact hasn’t just been on the offensive end – over the weekend, Palleschi totaled 13 (!!) blocked shots. That’s insane. Though the scoring was more evenly spread out on Saturday against Skidmore, it is clear that Haladyna and Palleschi, two of the longest tenured players on the roster, are willing this team through. The resilience and desire of these two captains has allowed guys like their co-captain Spadaford and their junior point guard Smith to play with less pressure, while allowing younger players like Feldman, Ben Engvall ’18, and Everett Dayton ’18 to step in and play big minutes. The fact that these freshmen and sophomores can step in seamlessly in the biggest games of the season is a very encouraging sign for the Jumbos.
On the Johnson & Wales side of the court, the story is pretty different. Both teams play about seven deep, but that’s where the similarities end. Tufts is a team that spreads the scoring around to lots of different guys (and different players on different nights) … let’s just say Johnson & Wales does not do that. Seriously though, two guys account for 53.7 percent of the J&W scoring, and when you add the third highest scorer, that percentage jumps to 64.8 percent of the team’s average. To put this in perspective, Tufts’ top two score 37.6 percent of their points, and the top three score 51.8 percent. J&W lives and dies by seniors Quarry Greenaway ’16 and Tom Garrick ’16. J&W has played 30 games this year. Either Greenaway or Garrick has led the team in points in every single game, and in just five of games have one of these two players been outscored by another player on the team. I think I have to chalk the first game of the season as either a fluke or just a lack of togetherness, because J&W is a better team than Linfield in every single way, so I’m not going to address that loss. In their only other loss of the season (J&W is 28-2 overall, 28-1 in conference), the Wildcats were carried by Greenaway’s 35 points, but Garrick really struggled shooting the ball, going just 6-20 from the field. It’s not that weird for a star player to have an off game – this is college basketball after all – that kind of stuff happens, right? Well, not at J&W it doesn’t. In their loss to Albertus Magnus on February 13, Garrick’s 13 points put him behind Greenaway, Jarell Lawson ’18 (18 points) and Robert Lewis ’16 (15 points). That was the only time this season that Garrick or Greenaway was below third in scoring on their team. Maybe it’s coincidence, but what I’m suggesting is this: if you want to beat Johnson & Wales, you just need to shut down one of these two guys. Maybe forcing foul trouble can do it; Greenaway plays 34.5 mpg, while Garrick plays 34.2 mpg; forcing a bench player to take one of their spots could work, but both of them have shown the ability to go off for 30+ when the other is struggling, so you never know. J&W doesn’t play the hardest schedule in the country, evidenced by an average margin of victory that sits at 25.2 ppg, but the consistency of these margins of victory shows that they always play at a high level. Last weekend, J&W was definitely challenged – just look at the turnover numbers. On average, J&W wins the turnover battle by just under eight per game (average margin is -7.7 to/g). In their two NCAA games, J&W turned the ball over two more times than their opponents did (J&W, 32 turnovers; opponents, 30 turnovers). This huge swing in turnovers shows that J&W definitely struggles against better defenses.
Tufts X-factor: Center Tom Palleschi
Arguably the most important part of this game is going to be the ability of Tufts to break the Johnson & Wales press – the key to doing that is Tom Palleschi. The Wildcats play a five-guard lineup. No one on the J&W roster is over 6’5”, and pretty much everybody who gets minutes is listed as a guard except for Michael Kiser ’18, their 6’2” center. Their press works because of how quick the Wildcats are and how hard they attack ball handlers with the pressure. The huge advantage that Tufts has is that Palleschi is 6’8”. This size advantage is why Palleschi is so important in this game. If Palleschi can flash to the middle and receive the ball during the press, the Jumbos will be able to advance the ball down the floor much more easily than if they try to dribble their way through it. I’ve always thought that Palleschi is one of the best passing centers in the NESCAC, and his ball fakes are next-level (to be honest, he fools me with them half the time). If Palleschi can help break the J&W press, Tufts will get very good looks on the offensive end. Breaking the press will lead to a lot of quick, easy shots for the Jumbos, but if they slow up into a half-court game, Palleschi will once again be of great importance. He should be able to dominate down low, but expect that the Wildcats will double down when he touches the ball in the post, which will give the big boy a chance to kick it out to shooters.
Johnson & Wales X-factor: Guard Tom Garrick ‘16
As I outlined above, J&W relies pretty substantially on two players: Tom Garrick and Quarry Greenaway. Out of the two, Greenaway is the more consistent, but Garrick still averages over 20 a game so he’s by no means an inconsistent player. Garrick is a slightly worse shooter from the field and from beyond the arc, but he excels at getting to the rim. As a whole, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference does not roll out a ton of really tall big men, which is why I’m pegging Garrick as the X-factor. Johnson & Wales has not seen a shot blocker like Palleschi, who is second in the country in blocks per game. This past weekend, Palleschi eclipsed 100 blocks on the season, and the way he was throwing shots out of bounds suggested that non-conference teams are just not quite as adjusted to his shot-blocking ability as NESCAC teams are. Garrick has shown the ability to shoot a decent midrange jump shot, but the 6’5” guard could struggle in the paint going up against the 6’8” center. I think Garrick’s success scoring the ball could definitely depend on his ability to hit jump shots, and if he’s not doing that, then guys like Anthony Jernigan ’17 or Jarell Lawson ’18 are going to have to step up.
1.) Can Tufts break the press?
As I mentioned above, Johnson & Wales presses all the time. I haven’t seen a press stump Tufts all year long, but I also haven’t seen them face a good press, so there’s very little to base an analysis off of in that regard. However, look at the Tufts ball handlers. Smith is obviously very competent with the ball in his hands, and I think Engvall does a great job of moving north/south with the ball in his hands rather than just east/west. Dayton has been a solid point guard behind Smith all year long and looks like he’s in control when he’s leading the Tufts offense, and Thomas Lapham ’18, though his minutes have been down this year, has plenty of game experience as he split time starting with Smith last year. However, Smith is really the only Tufts guard who has seen intense pressure on a regular basis this season, there is definitely a question mark against these other Tufts guards. The key is getting the ball to Palleschi in the middle, who can then look over the top of the defense and find the open man. Drew Madsen ’17 is going to play a big role on the press when Palleschi heads to the bench. If Madsen and Palleschi can serve as reliable outlets for the Tufts guards, I think they’ll be fine with the press.
2.) Can Tufts stop Greenaway and Garrick?
Tufts has showed that they can stop teams with just one premier scorer this season. For example, when they played Bowdoin in the opening weekend of NESCAC play, the Jumbos held Lucas Hausman ’16 to just 11 points on 3-10 shooting. However, when they played Amherst in the regular season, who has a much more balanced attack, they struggled a bit to stop Connor Green ’16, who put up 28 on the Jumbos. However, that same game, Jeff Racy ’17 didn’t hit a shot. On the flip side, they played Amherst in the NESCAC semifinals at Trinity and six Amherst players scored in double digits on their way to bouncing Tufts from the conference tournament. It’s games like this that the Jumbos struggle in – games where the opponents spread out their scoring among numerous players. In all their losses, Tufts allowed numerous players to beat them. The more one-dimensional teams struggle against the Tufts defense, specifically Haladyna, who has shown the ability to lock down premier scorers and shooters. So I realize that I’ve gotten away from the question a bit, but to put it simply, I think that Tufts can at least slow down the attack of J&W’s two studs. Sure, Greenaway and Garrick may carry the load, but I think J&W is going to have the most success if they get a couple other guys involved in the scoring. This will open up space for the two senior Wildcats to get buckets.
3.) Who steps up for the Jumbos on the offensive end?
Without Pace last weekend, and with Stefan Duvivier ’18 out with the flu, Tufts went a bit deeper than normal in terms of bench minutes. I believe Duvivier will be back this weekend, but it’s pretty tough to get your wind back following a sickness. That means the increased minutes that Dayton, Engvall and Feldman all saw will probably stay the same. So who steps up to score for the Jumbos this weekend? Last weekend, Palleschi and Haladyna led the way, as has been the case for Tufts over most of the last couple weeks. Feldman stepped up with some cold-blooded shooting last weekend – can he do that again? Will Spadaford get to the line and knock down five or six free throws like last weekend? How about Smith? The theme that has developed down the stretch is that the entire starting lineup needs to be involved for Tufts to play well. When the scoring is spread out, their shooting percentages are all way up and the defense has a hard time guarding everybody. In theory, Palleschi should have a high-scoring game based on his size advantage, but the fast pace of this one may limit his ability to get into the paint and go to work. I’m sensing a big game out of Engvall. He’s a great, tough finisher around the rim, especially on the break, and without the presence of a true big, there’s really nothing stopping him from getting those shots off in the paint.
I think that two of the most important parts of this game are the first five minutes of each half. If the frantic Johnson & Wales throws off Tufts early, Johnson & Wales could jump out to a big lead. Ultimately, Tufts will get some easy hoops off the press, but they’re also bound to make some mistakes in their attempts to break it. The biggest battle of the first half lies in Tufts keeping it close or taking a lead out of the gate. J&W really hasn’t trailed too much this year, so this is the easiest way for Tufts to force the Wildcats out of their comfort zone. In the beginning of the second half, I assume that J&W will try to spark a run once again with their press, so it’s vital for Tufts that they stay calm and take care of the ball. Last year when these two met, Tufts shot the ball very, very poorly. They were 19-60 from the field, 4-16 from deep, and 10-20 from the free throw line. That’s horrible. It was close for a while, but about midway through the second half Tufts’ shooting caught up with them and J&W went on a big run. If Tufts allows runs like this from the Wildcats, they are going to have a tough time bouncing back with runs of their own. Then again, the Jumbos are much more apt to handle the five-guard J&W attack this year, as Tufts sports a four-guard attack of their own. I think Tufts has to play really, really well to win this one. They need to minimize mistakes, while J&W needs to force mistakes and then capitalize off of them. Tufts handled the ball very well last weekend – they had just 19 turnovers between the two games – and I think they will do this again. It’s going to take a really strong shooting performance, but I think Tufts pulls this one off at the end.
Tufts 80 – Johnson & Wales 79
Eye on Saturday
Amherst and Babson are two pretty evenly matched teams had to play two overtime periods to determine a winner back in December. Amherst ended up winning that game 103-96, primarily because Connor Green dropped 39 points on the Beavers. Joey Flannery ’17 is easily the best player on the Babson roster. He’s averaging 24.2 ppg this year, and actually recently became the leading scorer in Babson men’s basketball history. Oh yeah, he’s just a junior. Unfortunately for Babson, Flannery went down with an ankle injury last weekend. I’m guessing he’s going to at least try to play this weekend, which is a huge boost for the Beavers. Amherst benefits from a less than fully health Flannery, and I think the ex-Lord Jeffs are going to roll in this one. NESCAC teams have been Babson’s kryptonite this year: Babson lost five total games, and four were against NESCAC teams (they didn’t beat any NESCAC teams either). Babson does ride into this one with a 13-game winning streak, but I think Amherst will advance to Saturday.
That leaves us with a rubber match between Tufts and Amherst based on my predictions, which would be pretty incredible. Tufts beat Amherst by 11 earlier this year in Medford, and then Amherst got their revenge in the NESCAC semi-finals when they edged Tufts by three points. The two keys to this game (if it happens) will be Palleschi’s matchup with Eric Conklin ’17 and the ability of Tufts to slow down Green, who absolutely dominates in Cousens Gym. I have no idea what would happen in this game, because the two matchups between Tufts and Amherst this year have been completely different games. All I can say is this: a NESCAC matchup in the Elite Eight would be pretty epic, and I am definitely rooting for that to happen.
Making the NCAA tournament is nothing new for Amherst’s long-time head coach Dave Hixon, and this weekend marks the sixth straight year that the mascotless team from Central Massachusetts is in the Little Division’s Big Dance. Amherst enters the tournament feeling a little deja vu after losing the NESCAC championship game for the second straight year to a young, hungry team that needed to win the game in order to make the NCAA tournament.
The rotation for Amherst is exactly the same as it was last season, and so it is a fair question to ask if there is anything different about the team this season compared to last. The team has not changed their style of play much, but Hixon insists that things have changed.
A lot of guys have gotten a little bit better. Racy is a more consistent player. The trip to Italy over the summer all by ourselves for a week helped with our consistency and chemistry. Trust me, we are better than we were last year – Coach Dave Hixon
Husson is not a complete unknown since the Bangor, Maine team played all of Colby, Bowdoin, and Bates. They went 2-1 against them, getting blown out by Bates in December, beating Colby in overtime in January, and blowing out Bowdoin late in January. They finished first in the regular season for their conference and won their conference tournament. The tempo that Husson plays at is FAST, as they average 88.9 PPG and have two players averaging over 20 PPG. Guard Trevon Butler ’16 averages 21.7 PPG and forward Raheem Anderson pours in 21.0 PPG. Husson shoots a ton of threes too, 25.0 per game, which puts them just below Amherst in terms of shooting threes. Husson is nothing special defensively allowing close to 80 PPG, and teams are shooting 42.7 percent from the field against them. Husson is a power in their conference making the NCAA tournament 17 times before, but they are dreadful in the NCAAs with a record of 1-17.
Amherst X-Factor: Center Eric Conklin ’17
A theme of NCAA tournament games is that NESCAC teams usually have a size advantage inside that they can exploit. For Amherst, Conklin is a much more adept player than David George ’17 at scoring by using positioning and strength. Conklin, the Arizona transfer, is listed at 6’6″ 235 lbs, and Husson has only one player, 6’5″ 225 lbs Zach Curran ’17, that can match that size. George’s strength is on the defensive end where he is a menace in the lane, but against a team that shoots so many threes, that matters much less. Hixon might go to Conklin for extended stretches to try to get easy buckets in the half-court offense. Conklin has scored in every game this year, an impressive feat for a player that has averaged just 16.1 MPG. He could score a bunch tonight.
Husson X-Factor: Guard Eli Itkin ’17
I believe for Husson to win that they have to beat Amherst at their own game which means the Eagles need to make a lot of threes. Itkin is the best pure shooter on the roster shooting 50.0 percent on 3.2 threes per game. Two weeks ago he exploded for 27 much needed points in large part because he shot 7-9 from three point land. Of course,
1. Does a track meet develop?
Amherst is no slouch either on the offensive end of course, and Hixon admitted that he is not going to slow his team down on the offensive end. He acknowledged that Amherst is best offensively when going fast in transition and emphasized that slowing down Husson would have to happen on the defensive end. Amherst’s ability to have so many players guard multiple positions makes it possible for them to play great transition defense when matchups frequently get mixed up. When you throw in how many threes both teams take and how those tend to lead to long rebounds and runouts… odds are this one becomes a track meet.
2. Does another Husson player step up?
Remember in the NESCAC quarterfinal when Amherst played Bowdoin and Jack Simonds ’19 and Lucas Hausman ’16 went off for a combined 54 points but it wasn’t enough to bring down the team from Central Mass. Anderson and Bulter are great players, but a couple other players will need to score double-digits for Husson to keep up. Husson plays a lot of players between 15-20 MPG, so it could be any number of players that step up. The Eagles definitely need one of their big men to do a good job on the boards too.
3. Who makes their threes?
If you like old school basketball where the game is won and lost in the paint, then this is not the game for you. Both coaches are fine with their teams letting it go from deep. Hixon insists that “I don’t count how many threes we shot.” And I believe him considering how much Amherst does shoot the ball. Of course, neither of these teams have Steph Curry or Klay Thompson on their teams (Jeff Racy ’17 has been doing a fine impression though), and so some games the shots simply don’t fall. Amherst’s ability to switch onto anybody is to Hixon the biggest reason why other teams shoot so poorly against them. Being at home also helps Amherst somewhat.
What to Expect
From a sheer talent standpoint, Amherst is a clearly better team than Husson. At the same time, Amherst is the more talented team practically every time they step onto the court. They have a big size advantage at every position. I’m interested in how they balance getting after it on the offensive boards with focusing on getting guys back on defense to slow down Husson.
It feels crazy that I’ve made it this far in the preview and not made mention of Connor Green ’16, Johnny McCarthy ’18, and Michael Riopel ’18. These are going to be the guys that slow down the two Husson stars on one end and provide a lot of the offensive punch too. You never know what you are going to get from these guys, and Hixon admits that it is always a balancing act trying to figure out which guys are playing on any given night. That extends to the point guard position too of course. Amherst needs to limit their turnovers, a potential Achilles heel against a quicker Husson team.
Amherst catches a break getting to host the first weekend even though they didn’t win the NESCAC tournament. Yet when I asked Hixon if it mattered he responded, “doesn’t make a difference to me to be playing at home.” Now I’m guessing his players would disagree with him on that. Another thing that Amherst has been dealing with behind the scenes is a lot of nagging injuries. Green, Riopel, and McCarthy all missed time in the week leading up to the NESCAC semifinals, but Amherst has been able to have full practices this week to get ready. That could make a big difference as players should be in a better rhythm.
Hixon acknowledged that March is different. “It’s about telling guys about how it is one and done if you let down for just a second.” That urgency is something that Amherst seems to lack in some games, but they will have plenty of it now. This team did not develop into the juggernaut that I thought they were capable of being at the beginning of the season. The pieces don’t fit quite right, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of making a deep run in the tournament. I like their matchup a lot tonight and think they get through the first round relatively easily.
Amherst over Husson 85-74
Eye on Saturday
Things look to be harder if Amherst gets through to Saturday, but neither of WPI or Cortland State are dominant. WPI went 20-6 overall and 10-4 in the NEWMAC. They got an at-large bid after losing to MIT in the NEWMAC seimfinals. They started the season really well going 16-2 including wins over Bates and Tufts. They have stumbled a bit since then. One WPI fan on the D3boards described his team by saying, “But to borrow a baseball analogy – the batters keep muttering to themselves after grounding out to 2nd base 3 times in a row. Hard to brag about the boys – but all they do is win.” They play at a slow pace averaging less than 70.0 PPG, and their best scorer is forward Clyde Niba ’17, a big man with a smooth jump shot.
Cortland State is more of an unknown since they haven’t played any NESCAC team this year. They got in because they won their conference tournament, the SUNYAC. However, they barely won both of those games, and they got lucky in not having to play the top seed Plattsburgh State. Guard Blair Estarfaa ’17 is their leading scorer, and he is dangerous when he gets going from downtown. JP Reagan ’16, a Cortland native, is their leading big man inside and is second on the team in PPG. All in all, this is a pretty favorable route to the Sweet Sixteen for Amherst, but you can never be sure in the NCAA tournament.
What has appeared to be a pretty chaotic NESCAC season suddenly got a lot more clear when the top four teams all pulled out wins in the NESCAC quarterfinals. It wasn’t that clear cut, considering that Colby led Trinity for a good 30 minutes of their game and Bowdoin was down three points with under six minutes to play. Still, the top four teams won, and a big reason for that is the impact of home court advantage.
Trinity, Amherst, Tufts and Middlebury combined to go 18-2 in their NESCAC home games. And those two losses both came at the hands of a fellow top four team with the Bantams knocking off the Jumbos in Medford and Amherst beating Trinity in Hartford. The biggest upsets of the regular season all came on the road: Middlebury falling to Hamilton, Colby topping Amherst, and Bowdoin getting the best of Wesleyan (not that big of an upset in hindsight but still).
Winning on the road is hard, even when there aren’t big raucous crowds to deal with. Athletes are creatures of comfort, and whether it’s the ability to have the same pregame routine or the familiarity of shooting in your home gym, teams undoubtedly do better at home at this level. As an aside, this makes Wesleyan’s championship run last year with two road and one neutral site wins all the more impressive.
SG Matt St. Amour ’17 and PF Adisa Majors ’18 (Middlebury)
Pepin Gymnasium was ROCKING on Saturday, and these two were supplying a lot of the fuel for the crowd to feed off of. After two subpar shooting performances last weekend, St. Amour did not hesitate from long distance early scoring 19 points in the first half as the Panthers built a substantial lead. As he cooled off in the first half, Majors took over, scoring 16 enormous second half points. Eleven of those points came in the final 5:30 of the game. After Nathan Krill ’18 pulled Wesleyan to within five points at 68-63, Majors scored the next six points for the Panthers to get the lead back up to 74-65. The difference in play from Majors this season from last year when he was a seldom used backup has been incredible. The sophomore works his butt off, has a really nice touch around the rim, and is a great mid-range shooter.
Forward Connor Green ’16 (Amherst)
Green has OWNED the Polar Bears over the past two seasons. In four games against Bowdoin, he averaged 24.0 ppg. That includes a clunker in the NESCAC semifinals last year when he had just seven points on 3-14 shooting. That didn’t matter though as Amherst won that game easily 76-56. In the other three games, Green has been sizzling hot from deep, going 19-36 (52.8 percent) on what have been very high difficulty shots. On Saturday, Green finished with 29 points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. His big performance helped Amherst overcome subpar games from Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jeff Racy ’17. I have no idea how Green is going to play next weekend: he could either shoot Amherst out of the tournament or carry them to a NESCAC title. Regardless, I think that Saturday reminded us that he is still Amherst’s best scorer, and it clinched Green’s spot on the All-NESCAC First Team.
Tufts’ Offensive Balance
It is no secret that the Jumbos work their offense through Tom Palleschi ’17, but the junior center is not capable of being the scoring threat that some of the perimeter scorers in the league can be. The offense for Tufts works because all five starters are capable of creating their own shot. And even though Palleschi doesn’t shoot threes very often, he is shooting 45.5 percent from three this season. That means that every Tufts starter is also capable of hitting the three. That puts a lot of strain on a defense. On Saturday, four of the five Jumbo starters were in double figures (the other, Ryan Spadaford ’16, had 8 points), and each of them made a three pointer to boot. The downside for Tufts is that their bench has become somewhat of a non-factor down the stretch. That starting five will have to carry them next weekend.
What a weird season for Wesleyan. They were great against an admittedly soft non-conference schedule to rip off an 11-game winning streak heading into the conference season. Then they started 1-3 in NESCAC before winning their next five games (all vs. NESCAC teams) at home. Would it surprise you if I told you the Cardinals losses in their final three games were all on the road? Wesleyan was #7 in the last regional rankings, and it’s extremely unlikely they get an at-large bid.
On Saturday the fight that Wesleyan possesses was clear even though they fell short. They got a big performance from Harry Rafferty ’17 to come back in the second half. The game looked to be over with just over a minute left and Middlebury holding a nine-point lead. Then BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16 hit two absolutely ridiculous threes to pull the lead back to five points. However, that was as close as Wesleyan would get. The season didn’t go quite as planned for the defending champions, but you have to admit that they went down fighting.
Some fans of the Ephs have been bemoaning the combined inability of Williams to get assists and not turn the ball over for much of the season. And I haven’t bought into those complaints until Saturday. In the second half, there was a stretch when Williams seemed to be turning the ball over on every possession. And when they didn’t, they weren’t able to generate any good shots. The Ephs finished the game with 15 turnovers and 10 assists. For the season, Williams finished last in the NESCAC averaging as a team 13.4 apg. The offense that Coach Kevin App runs is one predicated on constant cutting and screening, but it wasn’t great at creating good looks inside. The Ephs instead took a lot of threes, the second most in the NESCAC. The return of PG Mike Greenman ’17 from injury next season will do this offense a lot of good.
Expectations for Colby were high entering the season. The six Colby seniors were all good NESCAC players, and Chris Hudnut ’16 is one of the five best players in the league when healthy. On the other hand, all this class has to show on a NESCAC level is four consecutive eighth place finishes and subsequent first round exits. A bunch of factors held the Mules back the last two seasons, and there is no denying that Colby was a good team this year capable of knocking off anybody. On the other hand, the Mules failed to ever really deliver on their promise as a team. Now that this group of seniors is graduating, the Mules are going to be in deep trouble next season.
The game against Trinity was a microcosm of that promise. They were in control for much of the game, leading by as many as 12 points. Ultimately, the Bantams came back and enforced their will in the second half. Colby was bothered by the defensive intensity of Trinity, and on the other end they forced just one turnover from the Bantams in the half. What doomed the Mules was that Trinity went back to what works for them: being physical and getting inside. In the first half Trinity shot zero free throws (neither did Colby which is somewhat incredible). However, in the second half the Bantams got to the line 20 times and made 16 of them.
Being on break this past weekend, I followed the NESCAC action from afar even as my Middlebury classmates played their final regular season home games in Pepin Gymnasium. What stood out to me over the weekend was the continued separation between the top five and bottom six, and the Cardinals darkened that line with a buzzer-beating win over the sixth-place Ephs. As usual, though, there were close games even between the “elite” and the “also-rans”, but in this case all of big favorites won their games. So, while there is a little bit of variation in the top and bottom tier, there will be no teams crossing that chasm until one of the bottom feeders can emerge as a consistent adversary.
1. No. 19 Amherst (18-4, 6-2, Last week: 1)
Yes, they lost to Tufts, and yes, it wasn’t particularly close, but let’s not overreact. Look, Amherst isn’t a perfect team, and they might slip up here and there, but I still hold them as the favorite as of this posting today. Not to excuse Amherst from that game, but Tufts was at home, and the Jumbos shot 8-20 from three, and in case you forgot, Amherst is leading the world in three-point field goal percentage defense (27.4 percent allowed), so that’s anomalous. What’s more, Jeff Racy ’17 is in an epic slump right now (he was 0-6 from deep against Tufts), and I think that actually bodes well for Amherst going forward for two reasons. Racy’s slump has highlighted the ability of Connor Green ’16, Jayde Dawson ’18 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 to put up big points on any given night. They don’t need one guy to score 20 per game for them to win. Secondly, Racy is going to come back. He might not shoot near 60 percent from beyond the arc as he did early in the season, but he won’t go 0-6 very often, either. This team is still very good. As Adam pointed out though, the rotation continues to shorten, so the lack of bench production from the Purple and White remains a concern.
2. Trinity (16-6, 7-1, Last week: 2)
Two games, two easy wins, and one over the Amherst-slaying Tufts Jumbos in Medford. Even with Ed Ogundeko ’17 hampered, Trinity cleaned up the boards in both games. In stark opposition to Amherst, Trinity can get scoring from everyone up and down the lineup, which, in the end, might be the reason that Trinity prevails in a back-to-back NESCAC Semis and Finals scenario. For now, though, the head-to-head loss to Amherst still speaks loudly, and even though Tufts went on to beat Amherst the night after losing to Trinity, there’s the fact that the Jumbos may have been in panic mode and needing a win over Amherst. Don’t underestimate a team in a must-win situation.
3. Middlebury (14-8, 6-2, Last week: 5)
Spots 3-5 have become so muddled, but I took a glance over the Panthers last eight games and realized that if Andrew Groll ’19 hadn’t canned that short jumper as time expired to beat the Panthers, they’d be a lock for this spot and be 7-1 in conference play. Now, of course, we can’t just ignore that said nail in the coffin happened, that Middlebury has also fallen to Conn. College, that they only beat Colby by two points last Friday at home, and they haven’t yet played Amherst or Trinity. Still, as it stands today, they’re looking pretty good. They seem to have a bit of a fighter’s mentality this season, whereas in years past there was more of a sense that if the star wasn’t playing well or they were down at half, that you could write it off. Not anymore. I don’t have much wealth to wager these days (especially after some sour Super Bowl bets), but I’d put down a few bucks on Middlebury going 1-1 this weekend against the top two teams, which would mean a home playoff game in Pepin Gym.
4. No. 20 Wesleyan (18-4, 5-3, Last week: 3)
As I said in last week’s ranks, things are trending up for the Cardinals, so why did they move down a notch? Simply put, things are so close between Middlebury, Wesleyan and Tufts, and head-to-head scores move the needle ever so slightly. Tack on a nailbiter against Williams, a team that the Cards should beat handily on paper, and Wesleyan drops to No. 4. Still, the contributions of Jack Mackey ’16 and the solid eight-man rotation continue to give me confidence in this team. Their ability to pull out the victory against Williams suggests that they are a mature team, and that’s the difference between them and a green Ephs squadron.
5. No. 25 Tufts (17-5, 6-3, Last week: 4)
The win over Amherst and loss to Trinity sum up to a pretty par for the course weekend. Good for the Jumbos, as a 2-0 performance would mean bye-bye home game, but they were able to stay in the conversation with one win. In the loss to the Bantams, they breakout of Shay Ajayi ’16 is troublesome for Tufts. How was Tom Palleschi ’17, by far the league’s best shot blocker and a tough interior defender, not able to slow down Ajayi? Perhaps the key to beating Palleschi is to give the ball to someone quick who can step away from the basket and shoot jumpers, but how many teams have that guy? Not Amherst, maybe Middlebury if Matt Daley ’16 is making shots from 15-foot jumpers, sort of Wesleyan if Rashid Epps ’16 is going well, but if Joseph Kuo ’17 is in the game them Palleschi is apt to cover the latter, while Kyle Scadlock ’19 or Jack Simonds ’19 might be that guy, but as a whole their teams probably aren’t good enough to beat Tufts. So often in basketball it comes down to matchups, and it just might be that Trinity has the perfect one to exploit what Tufts can do on defense.
6. Williams (14-8, 4-4, Last week: 6)
They continue to solidify that No. 6 spot, even in defeat, as a buzzer beating loss to the Cardinals is nothing to tuck your tail over. They also just squeaked out a win over Conn. College, but the Camels are darn good, in case you hadn’t noticed. The biggest thing holding this team back is youth. Losing Mike Greenman ’17 has been, I think, an unquantifiable loss. He probably wouldn’t have put up massive numbers on the stat sheet, but his presence would have been invaluable, and we might be talking about the “top six” teams instead of the “top five” if he were still playing. As it stands now, two freshmen, Kyle Scadlock and Bobby Casey ’19, are playing starter minutes, while two others fit into the tail end of the rotation, and the rest of the rotation is pretty inexperienced, as well, with the exception of Dan Aronowitz ’17.
7. Conn College (12-10, 3-5, Last week: 9)
Sort of how I did with Middlebury, I look at Conn’s last X number of games and say, I could easily have seen this or that turning out differently and we might really have something here. Of course, you can often say that with any team, but Conn’s play has really stuck out to me. They’re young, they’re inexperienced, and they could easily fade off like most young teams, and yet they just keep competing. And I’m moving them up in the rankings, despite losing five straight games. Those five games – a neck-and-neck two-point loss vs. Tufts; a disappointing 105-89 loss vs. Mitchell College; an eight-point loss to Wesleyan, in Middletown, in which the Cardinals had to go 20-30 from the floor in the second half to win; a comeback attempt fallen short at Western Connecticut; and a lead let slip to Williams, 70-67. As the Camels get a little more mature, they’ll learn how to win those games, and by next season they could be hosting a playoff game.
8. Colby (14-8, 2-6, Last week: 7)
My Mules keep holding on. I shouldn’t call them “my Mules,” because I don’t want to play favorites (other than Middlebury), but I have stubbornly believed that they can turn it on all season long. They almost beat the Panthers, and they just got by the Continentals in the season’s highest-scoring NESCAC game. That’s just who Colby is – a run ‘n’ gun squad that will struggle against the better defenses. The bright side for them is that Chris Hudnut ’16 has been playing consistent minutes which gives them a chance in any game, and Pat Stewart ’16 has, at least for now, surpassed Racy as the best three-point shooter in the NESCAC. What’s more, Stewart isn’t a one-trick pony. As if this offense wasn’t dangerous enough already.
9. Hamilton (11-11, 2-6, Last week: 11)
Things are pretty ugly down here in the bottom trio right now, but none of these teams are quite dead yet. The Conts have a brutal weekend ahead with Trinity and Amherst coming up, but it’s not ridiculous that a 3-7 team could squeak into the playoffs, so they still have plenty to play for, and they showed it last weekend. The 15-point win over Bowdoin was consummate. Hamilton outshot the Polar Bears in every facet, matched them on the boards and only let Bowdoin ahead for the first 3:15 of the contest. The enigma that is Ajani Santos ’16 looked like an old version of himself, only better, with 25 points and seven boards. Unfortunately, the magic wore off in the game against Colby. Santos only played 17 minutes and had four points, but it was the frosh Michael Grassey ’19 bursting onto the scene with 23 bench points. Groll collected a double-double, as well, with 18 points and 10 boards, but Colby just outshot Hamilton in the OT period to pull away. This is another young team gaining valuable experience this season, and getting a playoff game would be huge for their development.
10. Bowdoin (10-10, 2-6, Last week: 8)
The loss to Hamilton really stung this weekend, and the Polar Bears didn’t put up too much of a fight against Middlebury. At this point we have a pretty good grip on what Bowdoin can do. They only go as far as Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19. Against Middlebury, that pair combined for 52 of the team’s 69 points. On the season they have scored 51.3 percent of Bowdoin’s points, by far the highest percentage for any duo (Vinny Pace ’18 and Tom Palleschi have tallied 37.6 percent of the Jumbos’ points). That can lead to some exciting games to watch, but it’s not a recipe for success, especially not at this level.
11. Bates (10-13, 2-7)
Bowdoin just creamed the Bobcats last night, but even if that hadn’t happened, Bates would probably still be in this spot. They’ve lost three in a row, seven of eight, and eight of 10. Things have really deteriorated. Bates opened the season with six straight games of 79 or more points, and had a five-game stretch where they scored 73+ four times. In the nine games sense, Bates has scored less than 70 in seven of those games, and the 73-51 loss to Bowdoin last night was probably the team’s low point. All of that is a long way of saying that Bates’ season has been in free fall for awhile. Other teams have figured out how to force Mike Boornazian ’16 into a lot of tough shots, and he’s had some bad shooting nights because of it with no one to pick up the slack. As I said before, none of these teams are dead yet, but it will take a monumental effort and a lot of luck for Bates to sneak into the postseason.
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)
The amount of information you can get from basketball statistics is great. Though the NESCAC is not part of the advanced statistics revolution that has helped change the way the NBA is played (I don’t think NESCAC gyms are capable of having the advanced SportsVU cameras that are in NBA arenas), old school statistics like rebounds, blocks and points still are really helpful. Some of these stats you are probably generally aware of, while others might surprise you.
1. Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin): 25.6 PPG
Lucas Hausman’s 24.8 points per game deserves enormous praise. Nobody has averaged over 22.8 as far as the NESCAC archives go back (02-03).
The defending NESCAC Player of the Year has taken it to a whole other level this season. Hausman is the only player this season averaging above 20.0 PPG, and Hausman is managing to do it while having shooting percentages of 47.8/42.5/87.5. He makes 6.8 free throws per game, nearly two whole free throws more than the next guy. While I don’t have official numbers on it, I would guess that Hausman also leads the NESCAC by a MILE in number of free throws off of three pointers, a fact that I know drives opposing coaches absolutely bonkers. The biggest difference in his game from a year ago is his three point shooting. He is making 2.2 threes per game this season, up from 1.0 per game last season while also upping his percentage of threes made from 31.8 percent to 42.5 percent.
2. FG% Defense of Wesleyan (37.5 percent) and (Trinity 37.7 percent)
Those marks put Wesleyan third and Trinity sixth in the country. Pretty impressive for the NESCAC to have two teams in the Top 10. I was a little surprised to see how highly these two ranked, honestly. I feel like both have taken a step back from their defense last season, but it might just be that both are playing at a faster pace. When these two met earlier in the year, Trinity shot 41.3 percent on the way to beating Wesleyan who shot just 32.1 percent.
3. 3PT FG% Defense of Amherst (26.3 percent)
That number for the No Mascots is the best in the country, and I think I know the reason why. All of that length on the perimeter, from Johnny McCarthy ’18 to Michael Riopel ’18 to Jeff Racy ’17, bothers shooters who can’t shake free. That Amherst is tied for fourth overall in the NESCAC in field goal percentage is a problem, though.
4. Ed Ogundeko ’17 (Trinity): 19.8 Rebounds per 40 Minutes
Ogundeko is a veritable vacuum on the boards, combining the width to box anybody out with a knack for the ball. He is blowing everybody else out of the water in terms of rebounds per 40 minutes. Matt Daley ’16 is second with 14.8 rebounds per 40 minutes, a far far cry from Ogundeko. He grabs 26.4 percent of Trinity’s total rebounds, and I would love to be able to isolate just when he is on the floor in order to fully get the picture of how good he is on the boards.
5. Matt St. Amour ’17 (Middlebury): NESCAC 2PT FG%: 34.0 percent
St. Amour is the second leading scorer in NESCAC play, but he is doing it mostly because of his three point shooting ability. He is shooting 47.4 percent from three while making half of his shots from the field there in NESCAC games. That St. Amour is making the harder (at least ostensibly harder) shots at a much higher rate probably says more about his ability to finish at the rim than anything. Though he’s obviously healthy, St. Amour still lacks explosiveness because of his ACL injury, and he often shoots floaters instead of trying to attack big men at the rim. Many of those floaters aren’t going in.
6. Jack Dwyer ’18 (Hamilton): FT%: 84.8 percent
This one is notable because Dwyer has struggled mightily to shoot the ball from three (26.3 percent) but not from the free throw line. Also notable is that Dwyer isn’t the only point guard with such a big chasm between those two percentages. Tyler Rowe ’19 is shooting 85.7 percent on FTs and 31.7 percent on 3PTs. I’m not sure the reason for the huge disparity, though if I was to guess it would be because Rowe and Dwyer are shooting threes off the dribble since they are point guards with the ball in their hands a lot.
7. Amherst Point Differential: +13.9 PPG
That number is the best in the NESCAC with Trinity the second best at +11.0 PPG. I don’t put that much weight into point differentials because of the disparity of non-conference schedules and the ability for one or two blowouts to warp the statistic given the low amount of games NESCAC teams have.
8. NESCAC Winning Percentage: .745
For the season, NESCAC teams are 102-35 in non-conference games (I excluded all non-conference CBB and Little 3 games in my calculations), a pretty darn good mark overall. However, it is in line with past seasons for the NESCAC. The winning percentage for the NESCAC against non-NESCAC teams last season was a lofty .769, which is probably a big reason why the league ended up getting four bids. In 2013-2014, NESCAC teams had a winning percentage of .718. Note, I also excluded NCAA tournament games in those calculations. I wanted to do more years, but I knew that I needed to get some sleep, also. Bottom line, the NESCAC is doing very well once again in their non-conference games.