NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview: #5 Wesleyan at #4 Middlebury

The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

The last Cardinals victory over Middlebury came on Jan. 15, 2005. That’s 13 meetings, and one other NESCAC quarterfinal. Last season’s loss to the Panthers seemed to galvanize Wesleyan on their eventual championship run. This season’s game was a huge upset to start the season, as Wesleyan was expected to be near the top of the heap and Middlebury looked like a rebuilding project. Almost two months later, it’s hard not to see the Panthers as the favorite in this game. Playing at home is nice, a new frontcourt threat has emerged (more on that later), and Wesleyan is coming off of a shocking weekend where they dropped a pair of contests to Colby and Bowdoin. Will the Cards turn the tide today? It won’t be easy.

Last time they played: Middlebury 86 – Wesleyan 76, Jan. 8 at Wesleyan

It was a disastrous start for Middlebury. The Cardinals went up 14-2 in less than five minutes. Moments later, Middlebury coach Jeff Brown swapped out a few starters for his trio of freshmen, and the game completely changed. Eric McCord ’16, Zach Baines ’16 and Hilal Dahleh ’16 stopped the bleeding and helped the Panthers clamp down defensively. When McCord subbed out six minutes later it was a 20-14 Wesleyan lead, and later back-to-back Dahleh treys tied the game at 30-apiece. The second half was a battle, but a Middlebury onslaught to the tune of a 16-5 run in the final 3:25 proved to be the difference. In the end, Matt St. Amour ’16 was the Panthers’ top scorer, which is par for the course, but the 30 points received from McCord and Dahleh absolutely changed the game. On the flip side, 17 bench points from Joe Edmonds ’16 kept Wesleyan in the game, which leads to …

Wesleyan X-factor: G Joe Edmonds

Joe Edmonds '16
Joe Edmonds ’16

Edmonds and guard Harry Rafferty ’17 have had to adjust to slightly reduced roles this season. In 2014-15, six Cardinals played over 22.0 mpg, Edmonds and Rafferty included, and that duo started more games than not. The Cardinals have a lot more depth this season, and Rafferty and Edmonds have had to work off of the bench for the most part. Edmonds hasn’t had a great, high-volume shooting night since that evening against Middlebury. He has tallied 10, 11, 10 and 11 again in a handful of games, but otherwise has only taken a few shots and been held to single digits. The Cardinals are going to get plenty of points from guards BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16, but can Edmonds step up and chip in double digits off the bench while stretching the floor? A year ago, that was a no-brainer. Now, the answer is up in the air. Edmonds posted a 41.1 percent mark from behind the arc a year ago; he’s at 30.1 percent this season. Which Edmonds shows up today?

Middlebury X-factor: C Matt Daley ’16

Matt Daley '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Matt Daley ’16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Daley might be the most gifted big man in the NESCAC. He just can’t stay healthy, through no fault of his own. He’s had so many issues this season – a soft tissue strain in his groin, a foot injury, concussion symptoms, and plain old illness that kept him out last weekend. So he never turned into the 20-10 guy that pundits believed he could be. He’s still a force when he’s in there. Daley is currently sixth in the NESCAC in field goal percentage, and the defensive end/rebounding is where he really shines. The big man rips down 7.8 boards per game in under 22.0 mpg. Imagine if he was actually healthy for all of those minutes, too, not nursing injury after injury. For what it’s worth, Daley ranks 13th in the NESCAC in points per 40 minutes, which is a testament to his importance when in the game. Wesleyan has two big guys who are athletic scoring threats in Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 and Daley will be needed in order to stifle that pair.

Three Questions

1. How will Wesleyan shoot the ball from behind the arc?

If you’ve been reading along all year, you know that I’ve been fixated on the Cardinals (in)ability to shoot the three. They’re stacked with guys with great pedigrees who have underperformed in that regard this season. Wesleyan has taken the fifth-most three point attempts in the NESCAC, but is only making 32.3 percent of them (10th in the NESCAC). There was one hilariously bad four-game stretch against Amherst twice, Trinity and Tufts when Wesleyan shot 12-80 (15 percent) from deep. They went 8-22 (36.4 percent) in the last game against Middlebury. But of course, sports is a “What have you done for me lately?” business. Still, the recent returns aren’t much better. The Cards have upped the frequency with which they’re shooting treys recently, but not making any more of them. They are 22-81 (27.2 percent) over the last three contests. Will they be able to get open threes and make them today? Maybe, but Middlebury has a lot of length on the defensive perimeter. Jack Daly ’18 will give some trouble to Davis and Mackey, as well the super-long Zach Baines ’19.

2. Who wins the frontcourt battle?

Kuo and Epps vs. Daley and Adisa Majors ’18. The Wesleyan frontcourt is skilled brings a combination of size and speed. For Middlebury, Daley has the speed and length, while Majors has the brute strength. It’s an interesting match up, because I don’t know who has the advantage. Is it the pair of well-rounded forwards? Or can Daley and Majors work together to play as one shot-rejecting, block-defending, rim-protecting super-basketball-hero? Also in the mix are Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill ’18 – high motor, good length, and a work horse – and Connor Huff ’16 – high basketball IQ, and a good shotmaker. Lastly, Middlebury’s Zach Baines is sometimes employed as a stretch-4 type. That could be extremely problematic for Wesleyan, because Epps isn’t going to be quick enough to stop him on the perimeter.

3. Can someone other than Matt St. Amour put the ball in the hoop for Middlebury?

St. Amour has been a marked man since he started the conference season so strongly, and there hasn’t been a consistent second scorer for the Panthers. Sometimes it has been Daley, recently it’s been Majors, and a few times it’s been Baines or point guard Jake Brown ’17. My worry is that everyone will look to defer too much and no one will get the job done. Baines (7.1 ppg) has never played in a NESCAC playoff game, neither has Jack Daly (7.1 ppg) or Majors (6.9 ppg). If Daley can stay on the court for 25 minutes, I think he’s going to get a lot of usage and some big buckets, and subsequently Majors might see a few less minutes, but in those minutes he should be effective as well. On the perimeter, you’re not going to get one guy scoring a lot of buckets alongside MSA. Coach Brown likes to throw everyone in in the first half and feel out the flow of the game, so Hilal Dahleh or Bryan Jones ’17 are among those who could make a surprise impact with a couple of big shots early.

What to Expect

A lot of points. It might be a bit under the radar, but Wesleyan actually has the best field goal percentage defense in the league (38.1 percent) and the third-best points per game average defensively (68.1 percent), and still the Panthers ran up 86 points in their last meeting. Especially with Middlebury playing at home, Coach Brown is going to instruct his nephew, the younger Brown, to push the pace and get Wesleyan running. Tiring out the Cardinals’ high-usage starters, i.e. Davis and Mackey, is the key to testing out that depth. The Cardinals have won plenty of high-scoring games this year, though, so it won’t be easy to run them out of the gym. I think that Wesleyan will try to beat up on Matt Daley whenever he gets the ball down low and neutralize that second scoring threat that I just talked about above, forcing the Panthers to find someone else to score the ball. And, of course, both teams will lock onto the opposing superstar: Middlebury on BJ Davis and Wesleyan on Matt St. Amour. The Panthers are usually a switching team around the perimeter, but expect Jack Daly to man up with Davis to start. On the opposite end, my guess is that youngster Kevin O’Brien ’19 is tasked with covering St. Amour. I think the height advantage that St. Amour would have over Davis or Mackey would lead to a lot of easy buckets. That means that Edmonds will also be called on to cover St. Amour off of the bench.

It’s the No. 4-No. 5 game, so it should be a close one. I, of course, have somewhat of a vested interest here, so I apologize if my prediction waxes a little fanatical.

Prediction: Middlebury 75 – Wesleyan 70

Ups and Downs in Maine: Power Ranks 2/17

Jack Simonds '19 has been hot recently, and Bowdoin is surging. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Jack Simonds ’19 has been hot recently, and Bowdoin is surging. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Some say that the playoffs are all about momentum. Who’s hot, who’s not? We can all think of teams that have ridden late season hot streaks to championships, but just as often (maybe more often) the Cinderella story meets a brick wall come playoff time. Well, if you are a believer in playoff momentum, then this is the article for you. Who’s playing their best basketball right now, and which lower seed could make some noise?

1. No. 16 Amherst (20-4, 8-2, Last week: 1)

Amherst rebounded nicely from last week’s loss to the Tufts Jumbos. The top spot was a clear two-horse race between Amherst and Trinity, and Amherst was just more consistent this weekend. They pretty easily handled Middlebury, keeping the Panthers at an arm’s length all day long, and basically did the same to Hamilton the following day. Meanwhile, the Bantams let the Conts hang around into overtime. Amherst just looks to be playing all-around good basketball right now. Their problem all year long has been inconsistency from one starter or another, but everyone played well this weekend. If the Amherst roster is playing at its best, they won’t be beat.

2. No. 25 Trinity (18-6, 9-1, Last week: 2)

Even though going to OT against Hamilton is one reason why I have the Bantams at No. 2 this week, that challenge did provide them with some much-needed high-pressure experience. On the season, Trinity has won its games by an average of 17.3 points, and only two of those have come by less than 10 points (which doesn’t include their 10-point OT win against Hamilton). I know that this was an Elite Eight team a year ago, but it’s been awhile since they’ve played in a really meaningful, tightly-contested game and pulled out the win. As is often the case in professional sports, a hard-fought win or even a loss can end up paying dividends in the playoffs.

3. No. 19 Tufts (19-5, 7-3, Last week: 5)

The 77-73 win over Williams wasn’t extremely impressive, but a win is a win and the Jumbos took care of business last weekend and during the week against Pine Manor. We know they can play with the best, because they’ve beaten Amherst, but we also know that it’s a flawed team without much depth. They’ve gotten a few big games from Stephen Haladyna ’16 recently, and Ryan Spadaford ’16 had some big games of his own earlier this year. That’s what the Jumbos need more of if they’re going to go deep in the NESCAC tournament, and possibly further. The interesting thing about the win against Williams is that these two will be running it back on Saturday, this time in Medford. The question is whether Williams can make the necessary adjustments.

4. Middlebury (14-10, 6-4, Last week: 3)

It was a tough weekend for Middlebury, but it was equally tough for Wesleyan and Williams. The difference is in the quality of opponents for each team. There’s no shame in losing to two ranked teams in Trinity and Amherst, and even though the Panthers didn’t threaten either team, they were competitive in both games. In fact, I would argue that the play of Adisa Majors ’18 recently (33 points, 14 rebounds this weekend) makes Middlebury more intimidating than ever. Don’t get it wrong, a healthy Matt Daley ’16 in addition to Majors would be best for the Panthers, but his status right now is unknown.

5. Colby (16-8, 4-6, Last week: 8)

Yes, that’s right, the Colby College Mules are No. 5 in this week’s ranks. They’re flying high after winning two games to secure a playoff bid, and they’ve been answering some of my questions about their ability to compete for a NESCAC title. It had flown under the radar, but John Gallego’s ’16 strong play had coincided with some spotty performances from Luke Westman ’16, but Westman has had his best offensive stretch of the season over the last three games, all wins. Secondly, Colby didn’t have to rely on Ryan Jann ’16 alone to score points this weekend to get the wins. Jann filled it up for 19 points against Conn College, but struggled with just five points against Wesleyan. In his stead, Westman, Chris Hudnut ’16 and sniper Pat Stewart ’16 picked up the slack. That all-around attack gives me confidence in the way they are playing. AND, maybe most impressively of all, they actually played pretty good defense last weekend, holding both of their opponents to 73 points or less and winning, something they’d only done one other time this season.

6. Bowdoin (12-10, 4-6, Last week: 10)

Hold up! Blow up the ranks! Colby and Bowdoin? Over Williams and Wesleyan? Yep, that’s right. The Polar Bears are HOT, pulling off the same feat as the Mules. The only difference for me is that Bowdoin used the same formula they have all year, relying on their two-headed monster to will them to victory. Well, the defense is going to have to ramp it up to 11 in the playoffs, and I don’t know if two weapons is enough to get by Amherst (I’m actually pretty certain it’s not). Still, I’m impressed by what they accomplished last weekend, and if they were going to play tomorrow I would take the Polar Bears over the Cardinals – who they just beat – or the Ephs.

7. Williams (15-9, 5-5, Last week: 7)

The best thing I can say about Williams this season is that they’ve been consistently just above average, winning when they should and losing when they should. The Ephs are 5-0 against Colby, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Conn College and Bates, but 0-7 against Wesleyan, Amherst, Trinity, Tufts and Middlebury. Their reliance on youth is holding them back in tight games against good opponents. They’ve had double digit turnovers in every one of their losses to NESCAC teams. How fast can their youngsters grow up? If they’re going to upset Tufts, it better happen by Saturday.

8. Wesleyan (18-6, 5-5, Last week: 4)

Really ugly weekend for the Cards who fell to Colby and Bowdoin. Maybe it was just a matter of the latter two teams having the motivation necessary to pull off the upsets and get into the tournament, but the best teams don’t play down to their competition. The three point shooting, which went through an epic cold spell midway through the year, hasn’t improved too much, which is not good because Wesleyan has taken the fifth-most three pointers this season. The key for me is the contribution that they get off the bench. Harry Rafferty ’17, Nathan Krill ’18 and Joe Edmonds ’16 are all going to get close to 20 minutes on Saturday – if they’re playing well. Wesleyan needs scoring from the two upper classmen and strong defense from Krill to stop down Daley and/or Majors.

9. Hamilton (11-13, 2-8, Last week: 9)

It’s just sad for me to write about the bottom three teams, because I hate to pile the insult onto the injury, but I have to say a few words. More than the two teams below them, Hamilton put up a fight down to the bitter end. A couple of breaks here and there, and those two OT losses and the 12-point loss to Amherst over the past three games could have gone the other way. Kudos to Hamilton for taking it to Trinity, especially, who should never have let themselves get into that situation. As we’ve said before, the Continentals are young and talented. They’ll be much higher on this list come this time next year.

10. Conn College (12-12, 3-7, Last week: 10)

While they might have been putting up more of a fight than the 11th-ranked Bobcats, Conn was still unable to pull out any victories down the stretch. They ended the year on a painful seven-game slide. The three-point loss to Williams probably stings the most because Conn was up by 12 at halftime. The Camels showed real signs of life this year, and early on I thought they could be a surprise contender for a home playoff game. Their first years were really special, Dan Janel ’17 stepped up his game in a big way, and Zuri Pavlin ’17 did what he’s always done, and he was able to defer a bit more with a couple of playmakers finally around him. Conn was not a bad team this year. They just need to learn how to win.

11. Bates (10-14, 2-8, Last week: 11)

I don’t know what happened, and I won’t even speculate. A 2015 Sweet Sixteen team, the Bobcats looked like a completely different team this year, and they crumbled down the stretch. Bates is 2-7 since Jan. 9, with one of those wins coming over the 3-21 Maine-Farmington Beavers (the other came over Hamilton). It’s sad to see the career of Mike Boornazian ’16 and his classmates end this way. We thought Boornazian was a lock for All-NESCAC laurels at the beginning of the year, but with the way the Bobcats season ended, I’m not sure that that’s still the case.

Take Your Places: Power Ranks 2/3

Amherst is starting to find their groove. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Amherst is starting to find their groove. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Well, I guess the Amherst players didn’t like that I dropped them from the top spot last week, because they waltzed into the enemy territory of Hartford and traipsed out with the victory. Elsewhere in the rankings, Hamilton finally got angry about their low seeding and decided to pull off the upset. Even Bowdoin’s OT win could be considered an upset if you’re going by the power rankings (and honestly, is there a better metric out there?) And I’m sure, beyond a doubt, that in all of these instances a perceived slight by yours truly was the one and only motivating factor.

1. #11 Amherst (17-3, 5-1, Last week: 2)

Amherst made a big statement in that win Saturday. Though the final was 89-82, Amherst basically lead wire-to-wire and jumped out to a 12-1 lead to start the game after Trinity scored the first point on a free throw. All season long I’ve believed that they are the most talented team, and the only question is whether they can mesh well enough to win a NESCAC title. I’m still not convinced they can, but if I had to put my money on someone right now, it would be them.

2. Trinity (14-6, 5-1, Last week: 1)

The Bantams fall because of the head-to-head loss to Amherst, but my confidence in them hasn’t waned. Prior to last weekend’s game with Amherst, the Merchant Marine loss is curious, but the distribution of minutes makes me think that Coach James Cosgrove was trying to prove a point to his starters, so I’m taking the L with a grain of salt. Now that they’ve lost two in a row, though, they’re officially “battle tested”. Time to stop messing around, and solidify your seeding with a win over Tufts on Friday.

3. #22 Wesleyan (17-4, 4-3, Last week: 3)

The Cardinals stay in the three spot, and I thought about even moving them up to No. 2 because I think they’ve finally found some continuity. Over the last half dozen or so games, Coach Joe Reilly has settled into an eight-man rotation, and that has really become evident in the last two contests. Nathan Krill ’18, Harry Rafferty ’17 and Joe Edmonds ’16 contributed 88.6 percent of the minutes off the bench against Conn College and Emmanuel. Furthermore, Jack Mackey ’16 made seven three-pointers on Monday night, which gives me some confidence that he’s back to close to normal.

4. Tufts (16-4, 5-2, Last week: 5)

The Jumbos hurdle the Middlebury Panthers because of Middlebury’s slip up, not Tufts’ win over Bates. It’s really tough to pick one over the other, especially since their head-to-head meeting went down to a three-point attempt at the buzzer in OT. Both of these teams still have the Amherst-Trinity gauntlet ahead of them. Those two games will either make or break both teams’ seasons.

5. Middlebury (12-8, 4-2, Last week: 4)

Combine the tough early season start with a depressing upset loss at Hamilton and it makes you wonder whether the mid-season hot streak and 4-2 conference record were an anomaly. I don’t think that’s necessarily so, and I believe there’s a huge gap between the top five and bottom six, but still, the Panthers have question marks. They need to get Zach Baines ’19, who’s been out sick, healthy once more, because he is a spark on both ends of the floor. Since January 4, Baines has played 26.4 mpg. That would rank in the top 25 over the course of a whole season, so his absence shouldn’t be brushed off. Oh, I’d also like to point out that Matt St. Amour ’17 went OFF for 32 points at Keene St. last night, the place where St. Amour’s season ended with an ACL tear two seasons ago. Take that, unforgiving Keene St. hardwood.

6. Williams (13-7, 3-3, Last week: 8)

They’ve beaten everyone they should, and lost to everyone they should – at least when it comes to NESCAC opponents. The Ephs are 3-0 against Colby, Bowdoin and Hamilton, and 0-5 against Wesleyan, Amherst, Trinity and Middlebury. Unfortunately, if that trend continues, Williams will drop match ups with Wesleyan and Tufts over the next two weekends and finish 5-5. I’d be surprised if things shook out so neatly. They’re not playing particularly well of late, and some of the first-years might be hitting a bit of a wall. Still, for now they hold onto the No. 6 spot.

7. Colby (13-7, 1-5, Last week: 6)

I have no idea where to rank teams 7-11. Colby just lost to Bowdoin, who’s gotten crushed by Trinity and Husson in the last week and a half, but Colby also took Husson to OT. Bates has gone through the ringer in recent weeks, losing to Bowdoin, Middlebury, Conn, Wesleyan and Tufts, but they also beat Colby in early January. Conn has dropped three straight, but they do have wins over Bates and Middlebury in the bank. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s over there jumping up and down that they just beat the Panthers (Sorry, guys, but a two-point win isn’t going to be enough to shoot you up through the ranks). I’ve still got the Mules above the other Maine teams because of their experience and explosive offense. They need to be healthy, though, as we know, and need just a little production from the bench – at least defensively. Chris Hudnut ’16 is still having his minutes limited, and it’s possible he just won’t be 100 percent this season.

8. Bowdoin (9-8, 2-4, Last week: 9)

As cool as the 20-point breakout from Jack Bors ’19 was against Colby, I don’t think we’re going to see that repeated again this season, which means the Polar Bears are going to be fighting for a playoff spot. However, Lucas Hausman ’16 gives them a shot to win any game if he gets hot, and that’s mainly why I have them at No. 8. Hausman got better as the season went along last year. That might be happening again. In his last eight games, he’s had at least 26 points six times, 30-plus four times, and 42 one game.

9. Conn College (12-8, 3-4, Last week: 7)

This might be a little low, because I like the Camels, and I think they’re going to the playoffs this season. Even though I have Colby ahead of them, I could easily see the Mules slipping up down the stretch and falling short of catching Conn. The Camels have played all the good teams tough, except for Trinity – they beat Middlebury, lost to Amherst by two on the road, lost to Tufts by two at home and by eight on the road at Wesleyan. They have a great mix of stardom (Zuri Pavlin ’17), toughness (Dan Janel ’17), and talent from the youngsters (David Labossiere ’19 and Tyler Rowe ’19).

10. Bates (10-10, 2-5, Last week: 10)

No changes in the bottom two this week. The Bobcats haven’t won a tough game in awhile. They beat Maine-Farmington, who is 2-16, last night, Hamilton on January 15 and Colby on January 8, but have sprinkled in five losses during that span. The weird thing is that the Bobcats have beaten Husson twice this season. Husson is 15-4, and even though the North Atlantic Conference isn’t exactly the ACC, Husson has beaten Colby and Bowdoin. Even weirder, Bates was one of the four NESCAC teams to best Babson early this season. Still, they seem to be regressing right now. Not the time for that to happen.

11. Hamilton (10-10, 1-5, Last week: 11)

The Continentals have a little something going right now with wins over Ithaca, Keystone and Middlebury in their last five games, but Keystone has four wins and Ithaca isn’t what it once was. The win over Middlebury is legit, but it came at home, and they will need to sweep Bowdoin and Colby this weekend and then take to the road and beat either Amherst or Trinity to get into the playoffs.

Amherst and Trinity Gear Up: Weekend Preview 1/29

Amherst and Trinity is going to be another physical battle. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Amherst and Trinity is going to be another physical battle. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

It’s a light weekend around the NESCAC as teams take on their usual travel partners, meaning there are no Friday games and a full slate Saturday afternoon. The heavyweight bout of the day is clearly Amherst at Trinity, a game in which the winner will have the inside track on hosting the NESCAC Semis and Finals. For everyone else, this is a critical weekend midway through the NESCAC season. A loss for a 3-3 team like Conn, Wesleyan or Williams makes any chance of hosting a NESCAC playoff game nearly disappear. A loss for a 1-4 squad like Bowdoin or Colby might knock them out of the playoff picture completely.

Three to Watch

Middlebury Center Matt Daley ’16

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Daley could be one of the best big man in the NESCAC if he wasn’t hurt so often. Right now he’s coming back from a foot injury, and he played just 33 minutes in two games this past week. However, the Panthers have been off since Tuesday, so there is hope that he’s been able to rest up enough to be ready to go against Hamilton. When he plays, Daley is a beast, averaging 12.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg in 22.3 mpg. For what it’s worth, he ranks eighth in the league in points per 40 minutes, and the guys around him on the rebounding leaderboard are all playing more minutes, with the exception of Eg Ogundeko ’17, who’s just a freak on the boards. For Hamilton, Andrew Groll ’19 has had a strong debut season, but can he slow down the nifty Daley? This will be a fun matchup to watch.

Colby Seniors Luke Westman and Ryan Jann

If you read Adam’s stock report or my power ranks this week, you know that we’re drinking the Kool-Aid on Colby right now. Still, though the Mules are sitting at 1-4 in conference and now need to go on the road and get a win in Brunswick where Bowdoin is also 1-4. This game will be huge for both teams, because it could serve as a tie-breaker in a potential tie for one of the last playoff spots. In some ways, Colby is the best offensive team in the league. The Mules have the best field goal and three point shooting percentages. As we know, though, defense is not their strong suit. That’s why Ryan Jann and Luke Westman will be crucial in defending reigning scoring champ Lucas Hausman ’16. It will have to be a team effort to stop Hausman and his sidekick Jack Simonds ’19, but last time these two teams met it was mainly Jann with a little bit of Westman sprinkled in defending Hausman. Hausman scored 22 points in that game, but it took him 22 shots, and Colby won. That game was in Waterville, though, and in their three NESCAC road games so far Colby has yet to get a win.

Wesleyan Guard Jack Mackey ’16

We’ve talked about the fluctuation in the Wesleyan lineup and how they’ve had to deal with injuries, but it looks like the Cardinals are just starting to get in a groove. They were finally able to make some shots from deep in their last game against Bates (mainly thanks to BJ Davis ’16). The key for them, I believe, will be getting production out of Mackey, Joe Edmonds ’16, Harry Rafferty ’17 once again, but Mackey in particular because he’s recently returned to the starting lineup and is playing big minutes once more. He’s only shooting 25.7 percent from three point land, but I believe that’s primarily an injury-related issue. He’s a much better shooter than that, and last season he did a lot of damage from behind the arc. If Mackey’s going well, stopping him and Davis together will be a nightmare.

Upset Alert: Middlebury (11-7, 4-1) at Hamilton (9-9, 0-5), 3 PM, Hamilton, NY

I’m just going to keep slighting my Panthers because it seems to motivate them. Seriously, though, there really aren’t any other options. I’d be shocked by a Bates victory over Tufts, Wesleyan is a favorite over Conn but not by much, and Colby-Bowdoin and Amherst-Trinity are even match ups. The Continentals took Middlebury to OT last year in Pepin, and they are an interesting team. I don’t think Hamilton will win, but it is a long road trip to upstate New York and there’s the potential for the Panthers to write this one off before it even starts. In terms of match ups, Middlebury has the advantage across the board, so it would take a great game from someone on Hamilton for the Conts to pull it off.

Game of the Week: Amherst (15-3, 4-1) at Trinity (14-5, 5-0), 3 PM, Hartford, CT

I think that these are easily the two most talented teams in the league, and, going by record, they’re also the best, but I do feel much more confident about the Bantams than I do about Amherst. Trinity has an identity and is full steam ahead. Amherst seems to suffer from inconsistency and lack of focus. How else do you go from beating Wesleyan by 26 to squeaking by Conn by two then getting rocked by Wesleyan by 27, then a week later dropping a road game at Colby then squashing Williams by 21, all within a 13-day stretch. I hate to beat a dead horse, but part of the issue is the two-headed monster at point guard. Both Jayde Dawson ’18 and Reid Berman ’17 are awesome at times, but I think there is also some element of Dawson hearing footsteps at times. In Amherst’s loss at Colby, Dawson went extremely cold and finished 3-18 from the field. Berman ended up running the point for most of the game. There’s really no better solution than to let hot hand play, but it’s an interesting storyline to watch.

Matchup to watch: Ed Ogundeko vs. David George ’17

Ogundeko’s transformation from rebounding horse to all-around star has been fun to watch, and one that we’ve long hoped George would make. Still, George is an incredible rim protector, averaging 2.3 blocks per game. I can’t wait to see Ogundeko try to go to work against George, and it will absolutely be a physical battle for rebounds. Ogundeko is going to have to set the tone for Trinity. Overall, Amherst is an underrated defensive team, and are holding opponents to an incredible 26.5 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. That means the Bantams have to get the ball inside.

Prediction: Trinity 65 – Amherst 60

It’s unfortunate for the Bantams that this isn’t a Friday night game, when student crowds are usually the most boisterous. Nevertheless, being at home is going to be a boost for Trinity who is 8-0 at home this year. Will that be enough to stop Amherst? I think yes, though I could see Amherst running away if Dawson is hot, Jeff Racy ’16 makes a bundle of threes and George can slow down Ogundeko. I like the matchups for the Bantams, though. It may actually be a good move for Coach James Cosgrove to sit Ogundeko when George is on the floor and try to match him up with Eric Conklin ’17, a worse defender but better scorer. Shay Ajayi ’16 will have to shut down either Connor Green ’16 or Johnny McCarthy ’18, no small feat, but one that he can accomplish. How Trinity stops the man not being defended by Ajayi is the question. If there’s one thing I believe about Trinity, though, it’s that they can defend anyone.

More Predictions:

Middlebury 80 – Hamilton 66

Tufts 88 – Bates 70

Wesleyan 69 – Conn College – 62

Colby 78 – Bowdoin 66

Move Over, Jumbos: Power Ranks 1/27

Shay Ajayi '16 has his Bantams rolling off of seven straight wins and a 5-0 NESCAC record. (Courtesy of David B. Newman/Trinity Athletics)
Shay Ajayi ’16 has his Bantams rolling off of seven straight wins and a 5-0 NESCAC record. (Courtesy of David B. Newman/Trinity Athletics)

There was a big shake up in this week’s Power Rankings, but that’s become commonplace in the NbN ranks. Why? Because of the five rankings we’ve put out (including this one), we’ve had four different authors. We apologize for the inconsistency, but not for the knowledge.

1. Trinity (14-4, 5-0, Last week: 3)

The last NESCAC team standing a year ago in the NCAA tournament, this year’s edition of the Bantams might be even better. They’ve improved on the offensive end (76.9 ppg vs. 69.6 ppg in 2014-15), and they’re still fierce on defense (36.7 field goal percentage allowed, best in the NESCAC and the nation) despite losing top perimeter defender Hart Gliedman ’15 and center George Papadeas ’15. Eg Ogundeko ’17 is the team’s most improved player. Always a force defensively, Ogundeko has improved his touch by leaps and bounds and is averaging 14.0 points per game. Oh by the way, the Bants are on a seven-game winning streak.

2. Amherst (14-3, 4-1, Last week: 2)

The LJs have had a rough stretch recently, losing two of three, including an out-of-conference blowout loss to Wesleyan and Colby’s only NESCAC win. Nevertheless, Amherst’s talent hasn’t declined, and they have a history of winning. All of the pieces are there. Two point guards, one capable of scoring in bunches, the other a great distributor. Maybe the best perimeter defender in the league in Johnny McCarthy ’18. Connor Green ’16, the seasoned vet. A great rim protector in David George ’17. The best three-pointer shooter in Division-III, per through January 25. And some more solid bench pieces. They’ll be just fine.

3. Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3, Last week: 6)

Welcome back to the top, Wesleyan. The Cardinals fell victim early on to two things: injuries, and NESCAC rules. NESCAC teams are often at a disadvantage early in the season because of the limited contact they get with coaches before firing it up for real. Hence, the season-opening loss to Lyndon St. Then the Cards rattled off 11 straight wins, and though they’ve only gone 4-3 since January 8 against Middlebury, all of those games were against NESCAC teams, and there were no gimmes. Wesleyan played Amherst twice, Trinity, Tufts and Middlebury over that stretch, and when they drew Hamilton and Bates they took care of business as they should. They still haven’t totally found their mojo. As documented many times here, they went through one of the ugliest seven game three-point shooting stretches basketball has ever seen at any level, but they made 13-23 last game against Bates. Coach Joe Reilly just needs to find the right rotation. Should he go back to what worked a year ago with a six-man rotation and Harry Rafferty ’17 and Joe Edmonds ’16 being big factors? Maybe, but Kevin O’Brien ’19, PJ Reed ’18 and Nathan Krill ’18 have become so important this year. I think all of that will work itself out, and the Cardinals have an easier NESCAC slate ahead.

4. Middlebury (11-7, 4-1, Last week: 5)

It’s been a meteoric rise through the ranks for the Panthers, and it makes my heart swell. I won’t lie, I had my doubts after they lost their two best scorers from last year’s team. However, I think in some ways we’re seeing an addition by subtraction scenario. Middlebury a year ago relied on Dylan Sinnickson ’15 and Hunter Merryman ’15 to find a way to shoot them to victory. Now, their team is more balanced and contributions are coming from all over the place. They have two great point guards, and on any night one or the other could tack on double digit points. Matt St. Amour ’17 is obviously a top-notch scorer, and the biggest strength he has that goes overlooked is how good he is at getting to the foul line and scoring from there (though his percentage from there so far is below his standards, he has the third most attempts in the NESCAC). It’s been a revolving front court door, but Coach Jeff Brown is getting solid minutes from whoever steps on the floor, and Middlebury fans will continue to pray that center Matt Daley ’16 is healthy enough to give 25 or so minutes come playoff time.

5. Tufts (13-4, 4-2, Last week: 1)

They have a couple of stars, but I think it’s now fairly evident that they’re not terribly deep. We knew that Tom Palleschi ’17 staying in the game was key already, but that became really evident against Middlebury. Foul trouble kept Palleschi out for much of the second half, and the Panthers actually crushed Tufts on the boards (53-44). Ryan Spadaford ’16 was also out for that game, though, which factors in. The fact is, though, that outside of the starting five, there’s not much of a scoring threat, which is why, I think, you see the starting five from Tufts playing a big chunk of minutes – Spadaford is playing the last at 23.8 mpg. Health will be critical, as will someone stepping up from the bench who can put the ball in the hoop.

6. Colby (12-6, 1-4, Last week: 10)

Colby is a bit like Tufts, only with, in my opinion, a slightly lower ceiling despite more experience. They rely heavily on their starting five, as well, and they absolutely must stay healthy. The Mules went 1-2 in NESCAC games without center Chris Hudnut ’16 over the past week or so (although the win was against Amherst, go figure). Everyone looks good to go as it stands today, and if Colby had pulled off the win over a very good Husson team last night I was considering putting them as high as third in these rankings, despite the 1-4 conference mark. Alas, they couldn’t finish the job, but I still think this team is on the rise.

7. Conn College (12-6, 3-3, Last week: 7)

Another team – and a program – on the rise is the Conn College Camels. Do-it-all man Zuri Pavlin ’17 has seen his numbers decline, but that’s only because he has some really good players around him for the first time. PG Tyler Rowe ’19 is the truth, and in case you missed it he made it into Sports Illustrated in the Faces in the Crowd section a couple weeks ago. Forward David Labossiere ’19 has been just as impressive in his debut campaign. The unsung hero of the group is forward Dan Janel ’17 who has really stepped up his game. Conn’s website doesn’t list weights, but trust me, he’s thick, and he’s ripping down 6.4 boards per game in under 20.o mpg. Pretty nice stats.

8. Williams (12-6, 3-3, Last week: 4)

It’s hard to explain, but I just don’t get a great feeling in my gut about the Ephs this year. Believe me, I will never count them out until it’s all said and done, but I don’t think they have enough to make a deep run in the NESCAC tournament. They hung with Trinity and Middlebury but ultimately lost, and tonight’s game against Amherst will be a big statement one. The loss of point guard Mike Greenman ’17 was unfortunate, because the man that I think will be the best point guard on the roster, Bobby Casey ’19, isn’t quite ready for the limelight, though he hasn’t played badly. Kyle Scadlock ’19 is fun to watch, though, and this team could be electric next year. I hope that Coach Kevin App can get some of his big men, namely Michael Kempton ’19 and Jake Porath ’19, some valuable experience so that there is a center in place to take over for Edward Flynn ’16, otherwise the four-out-one-in system will have to change.

9. Bowdoin (8-7, 1-4, Last week: 9)

I guess losing center John Swords ’15 was a bigger loss than we could have anticipated. Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 are doing everything they can, but it’s not enough. No one else is in double figures on offense, and they’re struggling on defense. I’ll stop here, because I don’t like to make Adam upset.

10. Bates (9-9, 2-4, Last week: 8)

At 2-4 in the NESCAC, they’re still very much alive for a playoff spot, but they have their question marks. Mike Boornazian ’16 is scoring a lot of points, but it’s also taking him a lot of shots to do it. Can someone step up and help him put the ball in the basket? If they can, pairing that with their ability to put two strong rim protectors down low could make for a tough team to beat. After all, this is almost the same team as the one that made an NCAA run last year, albeit one very big difference in the subtraction of Graham Safford ’15.

11. Hamilton (9-9, 0-5, Last week: 11)

We’re sort of treading water with the Continentals right now. Take out the Tufts game, and Hamilton has lost by an average of 5.75 ppg to NESCAC teams, which means that they’re competitive but just no quite able to close the gap. This freshman class is getting a great deal of experience, though. Peter Hoffmann ’19, Andrew Groll ’19 and Michael Grassey ’19 make up a great core, and getting a few NESCAC wins would be huge for their development.

New Number One: Power Rankings 1/21

Amherst prepares to break the huddle around Coach Dave Hixon. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Amherst prepares to break the huddle around Coach Dave Hixon. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

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.

7. Conn College Camels (11-5, 2-2, Last Week: 5)

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.

2016 NbN Preseason All-NESCAC Basketball Teams

Is it any surprise that Lucas Hausman '16 is our choice to repeat as POY? No? Well, sorry to disappoint. He's just too good. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Is it any surprise that Lucas Hausman ’16 is our choice to repeat as POY? No? Well, sorry to disappoint. He’s just too good. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

We came to the realization this fall that no matter much we may disagree, and no matter how smart we think we are, and no matter how witty our editorial commentary may be, our end-of-year All-NESCAC decisions aren’t going to be quite as weighty as the official All-NESCAC teams. That’s why we decided to put together an extensive awards list in lieu of the usual All-League format for the football season.

BUT! We remain the one and only place to find the picks for preseason All-League honors. Now you might say, “The season is halfway over. All you have to do is look at the top scorers and project them as All-League studs.” Oh, how wrong you are. NESCAC play is an entirely different beast, and those leaderboards are going to look a good bit different come March. Don’t believe us? Wait and see. These are our predictions for the guys who will win All-NESCAC honors.

First Team

Guard Lucas Hausman ’16 – Bowdoin

This one’s a no-brainer. He was an All-American a year ago, and he’s only gotten better. Despite the target on his back, he’s scored more points per game in fewer minutes and is shooting just as efficiently as a year ago. He was the top scorer in NESCAC games in 2015, and we expect that trend to continue. Hausman scores in unique ways. He’s not a phenomenal long-range shooter and he’s not very tall. What he is able to do is shoot off the dribble and finish in all kinds of traffic. There’s always a place for a guy that can put the ball in the hoop.

Guard BJ Davis ’16 – Wesleyan

What was an equal opportunity, three point guard team a season ago has turned in to the BJ Davis show. Recall for a moment that no Cardinal scored more than 11.9 ppg last season, and it was basically a six-man rotation. This year injuries to Jack Mackey ’16 and Joe Edmonds ’16 have made them ineffective (though Edmonds has shot the ball well percentage-wise), and the Cards have had to reshape their identity as the season has progressed. Through it all, Davis has been a scoring machine. He can shoot from anywhere and go by almost anyone. He has risen to another level.

Guard Connor Green ’16 – Amherst

I hemmed and hawed over this pick for awhile, because Green has a lot of questions around him. Being the primary scorer hasn’t seemed to suit the swingman over the past two seasons. His best work was done as a sophomore when he averaged 17.9 ppg and shot 44 percent. Before all of you in LJ country pick up your pitch forks, though, recognize that I’m still picking Green to be a First-Teamer. As the best player on the best team (so we think), Green is going to be worthy of some accolades. He’s still a matchup nightmare, and a great rebounder for his position. Johnny McCarthy ’18 might be ready to challenge Green for the title of top Jeff by the end of the season, and the wealth of talent around Green might cut into his numbers a little bit, but I believe his talent will shine through this season.

Center Tom Palleschi ’17 – Tufts

What a boon for Tufts to get this guy back after a heart condition kept him out of the 2013-14 campaign. Palleschi’s light feet allow him to slip right by lumbering big men and just get buckets. The Jumbos don’t have much in the way of size around Palleschi since Hunter Sabety – as we all know – departed, so his play is that much more impressive and important. He’s no slouch on defense either. Palleschi is at or near the top of the charts in every rebounding category and in blocked shots. The one other stat in which he leads the league disqualifications, i.e. foul outs. That won’t stop him from putting up big, First Team numbers, but it might stop Tufts from going deep in the NESCAC tournament.

Center Chris Hudnut ’16 – Colby

This pick is a bit speculative, as he joins Davis as the two guys who didn’t make All-NESCAC teams last season, and right now his numbers are not First Team worthy, and it’s hard for big guys to get All-League recognition. Last year five guards were First Teamers. However, I have faith that his best is yet to come. Hudnut can be an offensive juggernaut at times (see: 38 vs. Curry on Nov. 21 and 21 vs. Bowdoin on Nov. 5). However, he has disappeared against good frontcourts, too (see: four points on 1-6 shooting against Bates on Nov. 5). There are half a dozen front courts in the NESCAC (and that’s a lot, considering there are only 11 teams) with the ability to shut down Hudnut. Can he turn up the intensity in those games, or will he fail to realize his potential?

Second Team

Guard Jaquann Starks ’16 – Trinity

The hometown hero was a First Teamer last season because of the way he lead Trinity to the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC tournament, so this might be seen as a knock on Starks, but more than anything it’s a testament to how his supporting cast has elevated its game. The offense always ran more smoothly last season when the slender Andrew Hurd ’16 handled the basketball, and he’s really taken over signal-caller duties full-time this year, starting most games and averaging 5.2 apg. Perhaps Starks is still adjusting to the different role, because his percentages are down, but he’s still an elite player and adds intensity on the defensive side as the face of Trinity’s ferocious defense. Opponents are shooting just 35.4 percent from the field against the Bantams. That’s not from three-point land. That’s from the field. In case you were wondering, yes, that number was tops in the D-III nation as of Jan. 4.

Guard Johnny McCarthy ’18 – Amherst

McCarthy was the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year. In 2015-16, he will make his first of three appearances to come on the All-NESCAC list. He’s an iron horse, playing over 30.0 mpg, something that might not cause the coaches to vote for him, but it should, and in addition to scoring and rebounding possesses the unique skill of being able to steal the basketball. Steals are something that are often a result of luck – a tip from one player turns into a steal from another – but McCarthy is a legit threat to pick pockets and passing lanes alike.

Guard Dan Aronowitz ’17 – Williams

As good as this Williams team can be, they don’t have the senior leadership that characterized the last two editions of the Ephs – from Mike Mayer ’14 and Taylor Epley ’14 to Dan Wohl ’15 and Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15, there has been a put-the-team-on-your-back senior tandem the last two seasons. Despite the difficulty of emerging from a no-pressure, third- or fourth-option role into indisputable superstar, Aronowitz is better than ever. He’s shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three while scoring 17.5 ppg. Oh yeah, he’s got 7.5 boards per game, too. Aronowtiz’s situation reminds me of Green a year ago, who was a junior leading a team devoid of impact seniors. He doesn’t have Green’s track record, but he could match the LJ’s 2014-15 stat line.

Guard Mike Boornazian ’16 – Bates

The Delpeche brothers are maybe the most fun duo to watch just because of their size and backstory as twins, but Bates will go only as far as Boornazian can take them. He has played second fiddle to Graham Safford ’15 the last few seasons, putting up solid numbers but deferring in the big moment. No more. The Bobcats are Boornazian’s team, and his current mark of 15.6 ppg could go up in conference play. He’ll tack on his fair share of rebounds and dimes as well, but this is one player whose intangibles and passion are noticeable.

Forward Jeff Racy ’16 – Amherst

Perhaps the biggest stretch of anyone chosen for these two teams, Racy has elevated his game to be Amherst’s second-highest scorer – more than McCarthy, more than big man David George ’17, more than D-I transfers Eric Conklin ’17 and Jayde Dawson ’18. Even though defenses know exactly what’s coming, they can’t stop it. Racy takes 8.7 shots per game and 7.2 of them are three pointers, which he is hitting at a 54.4 percent clip. Because he stands 6’5″, his range pulls an opposing swingman out of the paint, where guys like George, Green and Dawson do some of their best work. Racy’s ability to score in bunches will propel him to his first All-NESCAC honors.

Awards Predictions:

Player of the Year: Lucas Hausman

Hausman will repeat. There’s no reason to think that his play will drop during conference play.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jaquann Starks

This is always tough to predict. The past few years it was made much easier by the 7’0″ presence of John Swords ’15, but now there are a bevy of players who could deserve the honor, including some guys – i.e. Jake Brown ’17, David George – who aren’t even on our All-NESCAC roster. However, the honors are likely to go to someone who makes either the First or Second team, so we’re going with Starks, the front man for the league’s best defense.

Rookie of the Year: Kyle Scadlock ’19

Contributor Rory Ziomek just highlighted the best diaper dandies so far this season, which narrows down the field somewhat. The ROY battle is really a two-horse race between Scadlock and Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19. Simonds is scoring at a better clip right now, but Scadlock adds the rebounding factor, and whomever wins the award will be more than worthy.

Coach of the Year: Damien Strahorn, Colby

This is basically like picking the team with the lowest expectations that will make a run for the NESCAC title. Strahorn benefits from having a five-man starting lineup of all seniors, but he’s done well to get those kids to this point. Now if he can just teach them to play defense, this will be a lock.

Four Way Way Too Early Thoughts on NESCAC Basketball

F Matt Palecki '16 and the Polar Bears shocked #11 Babson earlier this season. (Courtesy of Brian Beard - CIP/Bowdoin Athletics)
F Matt Palecki ’16 and the Polar Bears shocked #11 Babson earlier this season. (Courtesy of Brian Beard – CIP/Bowdoin Athletics)

We are only a few weeks into the season, and March is still further away than the beginning of the academic year last September. So let’s jump to conclusions! All these come with the enormous caveat that we are not even 1/6 through the season yet.

1. The NESCAC is not as good as we thought: Only two undefeated teams remain: Amherst and Williams. Six teams have multiple loses. That’s a lot of losses. Pretty much every team can overcome the early losses and still make the NCAA tournament as an at-large given they finish near the top of the NESCAC. The only team that is already in deep trouble is Middlebury with their four losses, but at least they’ve lost to good competition in teams with a combined record of 15-7. So it’s not like a death sentence for anybody, really. What it is though, is a disappointing start for a league that annually preforms very well out of conference.

Will it affect the NESCAC overall come March? We were somewhat doom and gloom early on last year about the NESCAC getting at-large bids because of non-conference losses, and the league was still able to get four bids pretty easily. And that the league did well in the NCAA tournament last year, which might help give a little more goodwill with the committee, even if officially it doesn’t matter. Let’s just hope that everyone starts playing a little bit better.

2. Bowdoin beating Babson is the best game of the year so far: There is not a lot of competition for this one, though Colby can lay claim to best ending with Ryan Jann’s three pointer to beat Regis. In terms of significance, Bowdoin beating Babson, the #11 team in the country per,  is much bigger. I was lucky enough to be there, and the game was a showcase for the individual offensive talents of forward Jack Simonds ’19 and guard Lucas Hausman ’16. The two combined for 62 of Bowdoin’s 88 points, and many of those points came off of isolation plays run for one of them. Hausman continues to be a marvel averaging just below 30.0 ppg so far, and Simonds is already a full-fledged Robin to Hausman’s Batman averaging 16.8 ppg. In the game Sunday, Bowdoin took advantage of a somewhat sleepy Babson team to control the first two thirds of the game. Bowdoin had a 17-point lead with 14:54 left in the second half, but Babson chipped away at the lead the rest of the way. In overtime, Simonds and Hausman scored the first 14 points for the Bears, most of them at the foul line.

The game did raise worries about the Bears’ ability against certain opponents. Babson absolutely dominated inside, out-rebounding Bowdoin 54-32 and out-scoring them in the paint 54-30. Many of those buckets came in transition with Bowdoin allowing Babson forward Bradley Jacks to beat them down the floor and get position for a lot of easy buckets. That transition defense can be cleaned up, but the rebounding margin is a harder task. Without John Swords ’15, the Polar Bears lack a true center who can control the paint. Another worry for Bowdoin is that they had just FOUR assists against Babson. As a team! Sure, some assists might have gone uncounted, but the fact remains that the Polar Bears are relying on the individual brilliance of Hausman and Simonds to dangerous levels.

3. Connor Green ’16 is in for a weird year: We noted in our Amherst preview that Green ended last season on a cold streak, and the struggles have carried over to this year with Green shooting 38.0 percent overall and 29.6 percent from deep. There is a reason to believe this might be more than just a shooting slump though. Green is a volume shooter who requires a lot of shots to get into a good rhythm. Even two years ago with National POY Aaron Toomey ’14 on the roster, Green lead the Jeffs in shots per game with 13.9. Last year he shot 14.0 shots per game but actually saw his ppg slip from 17.9 to 16.0 because of a drop in shooting percentage.

This year he is scoring 13.0 PPG on 12.5 shots per game. Some of that is because his minutes are down since Amherst is blowing teams out so far, but even once games get closer, will it make sense for Green to shoot it much more than 10 times per game? With the continued development of other players like Eric Conklin ’17 and Jeff Racy ’17, players who can score more efficiently than Green though not at the same volume, Amherst has so many options on offense that it might not make sense for Green to shoot all that much. The most decorated player on the Amherst roster could hypothetically end up being the one who gets the most in the way of their success. At the same time, Green just scored 21 points last night against Westfield State, albeit on 20 shots.

4. If you can, watch Wesleyan vs. Williams Saturday at 7:00 PM

The Ephs are a surprising 5-0 despite losing their three top scorers from last year. Dan Aronowitz ’17, your most recent NESCAC POTW, is leading the way with 19.4 ppg. The next two highest scorers are freshmen: forward Kyle Scadlock ’19 and guard Bobby Casey ’19. The real story is the improved defense for the Ephs as they are allowing 63.0 ppg, 8.8 ppg less than last year. Neither of Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 or Ryan Kilcullen ’15 was a good defensive player, and I’m guessing having another year with Coach Kevin App is paying dividends, too. Still, I do need to include the requisite caveat that it is just four games against teams we don’t know too much about.

Wesleyan began the season with a loss to Lyndon State, a team usually not very strong (they did also beat Endicott who is decent so who knows), and they’ve needed to hold off a couple of other teams for close wins. Part of the problem is early season injuries to Jack Mackey ’16 and Joe Edmonds ’16. You can’t blame guard BJ Davis ’16 though because he is averaging 21.4 PPG on 58.2 percent shooting with 3.0 APG to boot. The game last year in December went to overtime, and this one will be a great opportunity to see just how well the Ephs are playing.

Not Rebuild, Not Reload, But Reiterate: Wesleyan Season Preview

PG BJ Davis '16 has blow-by speed ... just ask Jayde Dawson. (Courtesy of Rob Matson, Amherst College Office of Communications)
PG BJ Davis ’16 has blow-by speed … just ask Jayde Dawson. (Courtesy of Rob Matson, Amherst College Office of Communications)

Editor’s Note: Things can be a little confusing now that the season is underway. Consider the rest of our previews as season predictions based off of a compilation of conversations with coaches and players and observations from the first couple of games.
All statistics that appear next to players’ names are from the 2014-15 season.

After a whirlwind offseason spent hosting SNL, flirting with starlets and just generally enjoying the incredible international recognition that stems from winning the NESCAC championship, Wesleyan has come back down to earth and is ready to compete for the top prize again. The Cardinals used a balanced attack to overcome a rough start to league play last year (Middlebury made them look like my JV middle school squad last season in Week 2 of the NESCAC schedule) to beat top teams Trinity and Amherst on their way to the championship. Four Cardinals averaged more than 10 points per game last season; guards BJ Davis ’16, Harry Rafferty ’15 and Jack Mackey ’16, as well as forward Joseph Kuo ’15.

And therein lies the strength of Wesleyan’s 2015-2016 unit; every single one of those players is back. This “core four” gives Wesleyan a surplus of experience, something that is rare in the youth-driven NESCAC. However, many of the teams that Wesleyan beat last season have retooled significantly in the offseason. Williams is 3-0 this season, with the best freshman class in the league already paying dividends. Wesleyan’s finals opponent, Amherst, is loaded, with players like Johnny McCarthy ’18 (the hype train keeps on rolling) who were a little raw last year stepping up in a big way. Wesleyan returns most of their talent from last year, but they are in danger of the league growing up around them while they stay rooted in one spot.

2014-2015 Record:

19-9 overall; 5-5 NESCAC (t-4th); won NESCAC Championship over Amherst 74-70 in OT; lost to Skidmore 81-66 in the first round of the NCCA Tournament

Head Coach: Joe Reilly, 8th season, 90-84 (.517) 


Returning Starters: Six

G BJ Davis (11.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, .385% 3PT)
G Harry Rafferty (10.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg .379% 3PT)
G Jack Mackey (11.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, .381% 3PT)
F Joseph Kuo (11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg)
F Rashid Epps (7.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .593% FG)
F Joe Edmonds (9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .441% 3PT)

All of the above players started at least 17 games last season. As you can see from these numbers, Wesleyan’s hallmark in 2014-2015 was a balanced scoring attack with a healthy dose of three-point shooting from dangerous three guard lineups. However, their most deadly three-point shooter from last season, Joe Edmonds ’16 at 41 percent, has been out for most of the preseason with a foot injury and has yet to get back on the court. Additionally, the consistently dangerous Jack Mackey has been struggling to overcome a variety of injuries. He’s played good minutes so far, but come off the bench in two of the Cards’ three games and is struggling shooting the ball at just 5-23 overall and 3-17 from three. This has led to a shakeup in the experience-laden Cardinals’ starting five.

Projected Starting Lineup: 

PG BJ Davis (11.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, .385% 3PT)

With Edmonds and his scoring touch gone for greener pastures and Mackey struggling mightily, BJ Davis becomes even more crucial to the Cardinals’ success. Davis is playing a ridiculous 35.3 mpg early on. One of the most talented and athletic guards in the league (if you get the chance, try to find his tip slam against Middlebury on YouTube. Oofta), he was excellent last season at playing within the system. However, this season he will have a longer leash, and it could be very exciting watch him explore his new freedom.

SG Harry Rafferty (10.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg .379% 3PT)

Rafferty was a breakout star last year for the Cardinals, emerging in his sophomore season as a consistent scoring threat and excellent perimeter defender. He stays within himself beautifully, as the entire Wesleyan team does, and will be a crucial cog in Wesleyan’s machine this year. In their first three games he has upped his scoring to 12.7 points per game, and has six steals already on the season.

SF PJ Reed ’16 (2.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, .311% FG)

A junior who played very sparingly last season, Reed has stepped into the starting lineup due to the struggles and health of Jack Mackey. However, Mackey has continued to play heavy minutes off the bench while Reed is simply a placeholder. This is a spot in Wesleyan’s starting lineup that will need to be resolved for them to compete in the top tier of NESCAC this season. I would expect Mackey to figure it out once he is fully healthy and return to the starting lineup, with Edmonds rotating with him once he recovers from his own injury, but if he doesn’t, Reed has good size at 6’5” and could see heavier playing time as the year goes on. Additionally, Wesleyan has one of the top freshman guard recruits in the league in Salim Greene ’19, who will press both of those players for playing time once he recovers from a concussion suffered in the preseason (it seems like Wesleyan should be a little more subdued in their preseason intensity.)

PF Joseph Kuo (11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Kuo and Epps combine to give Wesleyan one of the staunchest defenses in the league, particularly around the rim. However, Kuo is no specialist. He led the team in scoring last season, and has good touch around the rim as well as on mid-range jump shots. He and Epps both benefit greatly from drives and dishes from Wesleyan’s killer rotation of smart guards, something that shouldn’t change this season with the emergence of Davis and Rafferty. He has struggled somewhat finishing this year, shooting only 40 percent so far, but that should level out as Wesleyan’s rotations get more consistent.

 C Rashid Epps (7.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .593% FG)

Epps is the centerpiece of Wesleyan’s defense. A cagey defender with strong instincts and athleticism, any scoring Wesleyan got from Epps last season was a bonus. However, his impressive shooting percentage from last season shows his good touch around the rim, and this season so far he has upped his scoring to 10.3 points per game, while still rebounding well and shooting at a 61 percent clip. Epps is the kind of solid, consistent center that teams like Middlebury and Williams, who often get killed inside despite solid perimeter talent, would love to have.

Breakout Player: BJ Davis 

It’s an overstatement to say that Davis was held back by Wesleyan’s balance last year. He still averaged nearly 12 points per game, and was able to put the team on his back (a la Greg Jennings) several times. Also, he got a NESCAC championship ring out of the deal, so I doubt he’s complaining. However, he always seemed to have First Team talent that would never be backed up by his numbers. This season thus far has seen a change in that. Davis has stepped out from the crowd to the tune of 23.3 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting from the field and 56.3 percent from three. Obviously those shooting percentages are not sustainable, but his quickness and athleticism have combined with leadership and experience to create a very dangerous weapon. And with Mackey starting slow, the floor is Davis’ to carry the team more than he ever needed to last season. He looks to be very ready.


For all to TL;DR people out there, here’s the summary of Wesleyan’s chances in 2015-2016. They return most of their scoring from last year, and added a potential game changer in Salim Greene. However, Greene is a freshman and is struggling with a concussion. For them to succeed this season and possibly repeat as NESCAC champions, they will need the players from last year to both stay consistent and improve to keep up with a young and talented league. In the first three games of the season, this has been a mixed bag. A bad opening loss to Lyndon State showed the worst-case scenario for the Cardinals; they didn’t have any players explosive enough to get them a hoop when they needed it. However, the next two games featured BJ Davis shoving that idea somewhere dark and out of the way to the tune of 23 and 31 points in two wins. If Davis is truly making a First Team leap in his senior season, Wesleyan will get their experienced leaders Mackey and Edmonds back from injury and reserve a spot in the top tier with Amherst and Trinity. If he’s going to come back to earth, then the Cardinals’ brand of stolid balance and consistency might not be enough in the ever-shifting NESCAC basketball universe.

Cliché alert: sports is a copycat business, and the NESCAC has taken note of the Cards’ championship recipe. Wesleyan won by relying on a three-guard set and a short, six-man rotation. Expect other teams to start copying that strategy. Middlebury will roll out Jack Daly ’18, Jake Brown ’17 and Matt St. Amour ’17 all at once. Williams is basically playing with four guards and C Edward Flynn ’16 for stretches with a couple of freshmen forwards coming off of the bench. Wesleyan also won because their best players played the whole game. No other team relied so heavily on so few players. Mackey, Davis, Rafferty, Kuo, Edmonds and Epps all played at least 22.1 mpg last year – Chris Tugman ’15 was next with 11.2 mpg. Coach Reilly is staying with that strategy this season. Davis, Mackey, Rafferty, Kuo and Epps are all over 26.0 mpg. F Nathan Krill ’18 is at 13.7 mpg. Once Edmonds comes back, he will jump back into the six-man rotation, and Greene could stretch that to a seven-man, but that’s still a shorter bench than most teams. It’s a risky strategy, and the Cardinals will need to get healthy and stay healthy in order to be successful.

To Kill A King: Wesleyan Season Wrap-up

The Wesleyan Cardinals are NESCAC champions. (Courtesy of
The Wesleyan Cardinals are NESCAC champions. (Courtesy of

Season: 19-9 (5-5), Won NESCAC Championship, Lost in First Round of NCAA Tournament to Skidmore

Wesleyan brought back a young and talented squad in 2014-15, but expectations, at least outside of Middletown, were low for a program that has been under .500 for the past two seasons. The Cardinals, though, were not surprised by their level of success.

“At the beginning of the season we talked about building a championship culture – something rarely associated with Wesleyan. The success of the 2012 20-win team served as confidence to get the program to the next level.” – Joe Edmonds ’16

Coach Joe Reilly relied heavily on a six-man rotation of underclassmen that featured three players capable of handling the point in Jack Mackey ’16, BJ Davis ’16 and Harry Rafferty ’16, a sharpshooting forward in Edmonds, a hyper-efficent power forward in Rashid Epps ’16 and a big rebounding machine in Joseph Kuo ’17. The impact and leadership of Chris “Air Canada” Tugman ’15, Tim “Dog Show” Gallivan ’15 and Bryan Galvin ’15 cannot be understated. Tugman and Gallivan each had crucial rebounds in the Cardinals’ first round NESCAC upset. PJ Reed ’17 and Jordan Sears ’18 provided high energy minutes and brought defensive length to the court in limited time.

Overall, Wesleyan did nothing more than make good on the tacit promises that its players made to themselves at the beginning of the season. Edmonds and his teammates talked about creating a championship culture. That was solidified when the Cards hosted the trophy.

High Point: Five-game win streak on the way to winning a NESCAC title

The Cards were 3-5 in the NESCAC on the morning of Friday, Feb. 13 and a long shot to reach the NESCAC Tournament. Wesleyan manhandled Hamilton that night and swept the floor with Williams the next day to finish at 5-5 and solidify its spot as the sixth seed. Then the Cards went on the road to the toughest gym in the NESCAC and squeaked out a W against Bates. The next weekend Wesleyan was in a hostile environment once again, but topped the Bantams in Hartford in the NESCAC Semifinals. The Cardinals torrid run culminated with an overtime win – just the second overtime game in NESCAC title game history – over three-time defending champion Amherst. The NESCAC title was the program’s first, and the first for any sixth-seed in the tournament, and the NCAA berth was also a first for Wesleyan.

MVP: Center Joseph Kuo ’17

Joseph Kuo '17 not only led the team in scoring and rebounding, but provided some highlight reel slam dunks and was a force inside defensively. (Courtesy of the Wesleyan Argus/Jonas Powell)
Joseph Kuo ’17 not only led the team in scoring and rebounding, but provided some highlight reel slam dunks and was a force inside defensively. (Courtesy of the Wesleyan Argus/Jonas Powell)

It’s damn near impossible to pick one player from the Wesleyan rotation to make Most Valuable Player, because the production was spread out so equally and the defense was a complete team effort. And, if you were to ask any of the Wesleyan players (oh yeah, we did), they would only reiterate that sentiment instead of singling out a single contributor. Nevertheless, if you’re going to pull my leg, I’ve got to hand the award to Kuo, who led the team in rebounding and scoring (though just barely). The Cardinals’ best depth came in the backcourt, with Mackey, Davis, Rafferty and Reed and Sears in reserve. Take one of them away and Wesleyan might not win the NESCAC, but the Cards would still be contenders. Take away Kuo, though, and Wesleyan probably doesn’t make the NESCAC.

Players to Watch in 2015-16: Guards PJ Reed ’17 and Jordan Sears ’18

PJ Reed '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
PJ Reed ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jordan Sears '18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jordan Sears ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan will return its offensive punch next season, but this duo of athletic guards could be ready to make a major impact on the defensive end next season. Both players check in at 6’5″ and have the chance to be forces defensively.

“PJ Reed and Jordan Sears have the potential to be really big pieces for us next year,” Edmonds said. “Coach Reilly emphasizes defense and rebounding and both provide plenty of length and athleticism.”

That Wesleyan could add two more weapons to its arsenal is a scary thought for the rest of the NESCAC.