Is This The Year?:2017 Hamilton Men’s Basketball Preview

2016-17 Record: 16-8 (4-6 NESCAC); lost to Tufts in NESCAC quarterfinals

2017-18 Projected Record: 17-7 (4-6 NESCAC)

Key Losses:

G Kyle Pitman ’17 (13.8 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.9 APG)

G/F Wes Wilbur ’17 (11.3 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.5 APG)

F Carlos Fineman ’17 (8.2 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.6 APG)

Projected Starters:

Jack Dwyer ’18 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G Jack Dwyer ’18 (26.0 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 5.4 APG)

Now in his fourth year at Hamilton, Dwyer has been a key contributor to the team since his freshman year. As one of two seniors in the starting lineup and as the point guard, Dwyer has the team’s biggest leadership role. However, he is up to the task as he has played floor general for the Continentals since his freshman season. He averaged 18 minutes a game off the bench as a freshman, with 3.8 points and 3.6 assists per game. The 5-10 point guard moved to a starting role in his sophomore season, improving to 11 points and 5.5 assists per game. Dwyer will have to improve on his 39.2 shooting percentage from last season, the second lowest on the team. He had a bit of a down year in stats as well last season, averaging 7.7 and 5.4, but should be ready to come back in full force this season. Dwyer is in the starting lineup for experience, but it should be noted that this spot will likely belong to Kena Gilmour ’20 sooner rather than later. Gilmour had a spectacular freshman season, averaging 12 points per game on 48% shooting in just 18 minutes. Dwyer provides an experienced counterpart to Gilmour’s potential, but potential will most likely win out.

Andrew Groll ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

F Andrew Groll ’19 (22.3 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.8 APG)

Groll got to Hamilton two years ago and started right away, averaging 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his freshman season. He picked up right where he left off the next year, averaging 8.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. At 6-7, Groll is the tallest player on Hamilton’s roster and could be due for a breakout junior season. If he can get into double digits, the Continentals could make a run for the top half of the NESCAC. There are several facets of his game that could easily get him over that mark. He shoots 44.8 percent which is low for a big man and will need to get that number up to 50 percent. He also has made a surprising 7 of 15 shots from behind the arc, which means he could have the potential to expand his game and shoot more three-pointers. Finally, Groll only shot 75 percent from the line and could also improve in that category. If Groll can make slight improvements in those three parts of his game, he could see some double-doubles this season.

Peter Hoffman ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G/F Peter Hoffmann ’19 (28.3 MPG, 16.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.2 APG)

Hoffman also started right away for the buff and blue, and averaged 12.7 points and 4.3 rebounds his freshman season. He saw a nice uptick in production last year, averaging 16.7 points, fifth in the NESCAC, and 5.6 rebounds per game. He also made an impressive 42.2 percent of shots from behind the 3-point arc. It’s hard to ask more from the NESCAC’s fifth scorer, but as Hamilton’s best player Hoffman might need to increase his production for the Continentals to improve this season. He will likely see another increase in minutes and if he can increase his point total by even one basket a game, it could make the difference.

Michael Grassey ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G/F Michael Grassey ’19 (23.6 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.4 APG)

Hailing from Winchester, Massachusetts, Grassey had a solid freshman season, averaging 9.4 points and 5 rebounds in 20 appearances off the bench. He earned a starting spot in his sophomore season, increasing his production to 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. His 82.1 percent career average from the free throw line leads the team. Grassey led the team in scoring several times last season, and it will be important for him to take next steps to help lighten Hoffman’s load. He also will need to continue to contribute on the boards despite his 6-4 stature. Grassey is an all around tough player and is in many ways the heart and soul of the 2017-18 Continentals.

Joe Pucci ’18 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

G/F Joe Pucci ’18 (24.1 MPG, 6.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)

The other senior on the team, Pucci, may not contribute as much on the stat sheet but is a leader both in the clubhouse and on the court. He averaged 6 points last season, a solid improvement from 5.3 points in his sophomore year. If he can find double figures a few times this season, it will certainly help the Continentals take more teams to the wire than last season. Again, part of Hamilton’s success relies on lightening the dependence on Hoffman. If Pucci can step up with more points, the Continentals will be rolling deep into the NESCAC playoffs.

Key/Breakout Player: Peter Hoffmann ’19

Hamilton has a deep starting lineup, but the offense runs through Hoffman and will depend on his production this season. The team was 8-2 when he scored 20 points or more, so if he can increase his production by the slightest amount, Hamilton should contend for the top half of the NESCAC. As stated before, the junior from Putnam Valley is likely to see even more time on the court. This is because his responsibilites for Hamilton are on both sides. He is their best scorer, using his size and touch to either post up smaller players or take forwards off the dribble. And defensively, he is their best rim protector, averaging nearly 2 blocks and two steals per game (1.9 and 1.7. respectively.) He will get the defensive assignment against many of the best scorers in the league, and will likely be asked to score 20 points as well. If he does this and Hamilton takes a leap forward in the tournament, Player of the Year is very much in the realm of possibility.

Key game: Friday, February 2nd at Bates

Hamilton has two Friday-Saturday road trips back to back in late January and early February. They will want to go 2-2 in that stretch, and three or even four losses could derail their season. Hamilton plays an unbalanced home and road schedule in the NESCAC, in fact, with six games on the road compared to just four at home. Last season, Bates’s 83-78 win ended a six-game Hamilton win streak. Although they recovered two games later with wins over SUNY Polytechnic and Williams, they certainly wish they could have that one back.

New Coach: Sherry Dobbs

Adam Stockwell added Sherry Dobbs to his staff this offseason, replacing Bryan Mathews who took an assistant job at Southern Virginia. Dobbs most recently coached as an assistant on the St. Lawrence staff, leading them to a 20-7 record and an NCAA Division III tournament appearance. Before that he spent 13 years at the head position for SUNY Potsdam where he got as far as the NCAA quarterfinals in 2005.

Season Outlook:

After a solid improvement from 2015-16’s 11-13 record, Hamilton finished 2016-17 at eighth place in the NESCAC. With only three seniors on the roster, the Continentals are still a young team and have a lot of promise for the future. However, the junior class of Hoffman, Grassey and Groll means they also have the ability to win now and could pose a serious threat to some of the NESCAC’s top half teams. It has been a theme of the last few seasons in the NESCAC that Hamilton is a threat. Last season it seemed imminent that the Continentals would use their immense potential to come for the top teams. This paranoia reached its peak following their upset of nationally ranked Wesleyan. However, they weren’t able to sustain that momentum, in large part due to that same youth. Four of their six NESCAC losses last season were decided by double digits, suggesting that, once they fell behind, they didn’t feel ready to come back.

Kena Gilmour
Kena Gilmour ’20 was Rookie of the Year last season, and could make a further leap this year.

On paper, this season has a chance to be different. Hamilton is kind of the Milwaukee Bucks of the NESCAC, in that they shy away traditional positions in favor of length and versatility. Hoffman, Grassey and Gilmour are all long, athletic players who can guard multiple positions and score from all over the court. As I said above, Hoffmann is the key to this team, but Gilmour may be the co-key. Gilmour has the potential to be a transcendent creator off the dribble, which Hamilton lacks right now. His relentless driving to the basket will open up lanes for Hoffmann, Grassey and Groll to either cut or pop out for three. If Gilmour makes another leap as a sophomore, Hamilton could finish in the top four. Not a typo, it’s very possible. But to do this, they must find a way to stay in games and not let teams pull away. Their previously mentioned unbalanced schedule will make for a tough season, but they might have the most returning talent in the league, and didn’t lose their best player (unlike Williams, Middlebury or Trinity.) This could be Hamilton’s year, but again, we said that last year.

Can Hamilton Topple Tufts?: Hamilton at Tufts Quarterfinals Preview

#8 Hamilton (16-8, 4-6) at #1 Tufts (19-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

(Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

When Tufts clinched the top seed in the NESCAC tournament last Friday they had plenty of reason for celebration – this is the first time in school history that Tufts has earned the number one seed in the NESCAC tournament. Despite the terrific achievement, however, the Jumbos still waited until Sunday afternoon before they learned who they would be hosting in the NESCAC quarterfinals. I’m sure Coach Sheldon was watching Williams intently in their game against Bates to see if they had made any adjustments since Tufts bullied them on Friday, and indeed they did. The Ephs pulled out a three point victory in Lewiston, boosting their place in the standings and leaving Hamilton to walk into the hornet’s nest that is Cousens Gymnasium. As a Tufts student myself, I can admit that attendance at sporting events in Medford is pretty inconsistent. After last year’s playoff runs by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams though, I would expect that a doubleheader split between the two teams would provoke quite a turnout today. We will see I guess. It took a few straight years of success for Warriors fans to jump on the bandwagon, but maybe Jumbo Nation will support their squad more faithfully than the frontrunning fans of Golden State. If so, lookout Hamilton.

While Tufts is stepping into the playoffs coming off of one of their best games of the season, the Continentals enter this game in the opposite fashion of Tufts. Hamilton got swept by Amherst and Trinity in the last weekend of NESCAC play to cap off a pretty poor stretch in which the team lost four of their five conference games during the second half of the NESCAC season. Coach Stockwell can’t be thrilled by the way his team limped into the playoffs, but guess what, this is NESCAC basketball and ANYTHING can happen. Just two years ago, Wesleyan ran through the tournament as the #6 seed to earn the NESCAC title and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it. Regardless of how they got in, Hamilton is in the tourney, and they have the tools to make a sneaky run if they execute properly.

 

Last time they met

Throughout the first half, the game was pretty back and forth, but with a couple minutes to go until the break, Hamilton lost their focus. Down just five with 2:22 left before the halftime whistle, the Continentals turned the ball over three times, allowing Tufts to go on an 8-2 run to extend the lead to 11 heading into the second half. Though Tarik Smith ‘17, Eric Savage ‘20 and Ben Engvall ‘18 had very respectable games, it was KJ Garrett ‘18 who stole the show for the ‘Bos – the transfer junior put up 19 points on 8-11 shooting to lead the Jumbos to victory. Peter Hoffmann ‘19 put forth a valiant effort on the Hamilton side of the ball with 22 points of his own, but many of his teammates struggled to find the bottom of the net, nullifying the sophomore’s success scoring the rock. While he didn’t have a great game, Tom Palleschi ‘17 was in the lineup for the Jumbos back in January when these two first met, so Andrew Groll ‘19 definitely had a different matchup to deal with than he will have today. Groll was part of a small supporting cast for Hoffmann in meeting numero uno, so it will be up to Drew Madsen ‘17 to shut him down this afternoon.

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard KJ Garrett ‘18

KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

In Palleschi’s absence, Garrett has stepped up in a big way for Tufts. Some might even say he’s stepped up in a Jumbo way. Just kidding, that would be the corniest pun ever, nobody would ever say that. But the point remains, Garrett’s play has elevated as Palleschi’s absence has necessitated, and Coach Sheldon is going to need a strong effort out of the junior again against Hamilton. Just last week, Garrett averaged 18 points over two games, knocking down 13-15 field goals and 7-7 three-point attempts! That’s incredible efficiency. What makes Garrett so tough is that he is leaps and bounds beyond virtually every opponent in terms of athleticism, so he is able to get out in transition and also crash the boards. Meanwhile, he has snuck up as a pretty deadly three-point shooter. His strategy of playing the snake in the grass on a team full of shooters seems to be working out for him. Garrett is getting good shots and nailing them. If he plays well, the Jumbos win, end of story.

 

Hamilton X-Factor: Guard/Forward Michael Grassey ‘19

Michael Grassey ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Last time he faced the ‘Bos, Grassey struggled. He shot just 2-7 for six points before fouling out, a performance that is far from the norm for the combo guard. As mentioned above, Hoffmann lacked the necessary reinforcements to outduel the Jumbos in January, but if Grassey can get back to standard partner-in-crime form, these two sophomores just might be able to topple top-seeded Tufts. Grassey is by far the best outside shooter on Hamilton’s roster and frankly put, he is going to need to drill some of the open shots opportunities he gets from Hoffman and Kena Gilmour ‘20 off of drive-and-kicks. Additionally, Grassey could do the Continentals a huge favor by demonstrating the ability to get to the rack early in the game. Without Palleschi, and potentially Pat Racy ‘20, who didn’t play last weekend for Tufts, Madsen is the lone big man left on the top seed’s roster. This predicament makes foul trouble a grave concern, and one that Madsen needs to be ultra weary of. If Grassey can get to the paint once or twice early, the Jumbos will sag and he will get open shots from the perimeter. The sophomore’s performance is crucial for Hamilton in this one.

 

Everything Else

While the two X-factors I’ve listed above are going to have crucial impacts (either positive or negative) on this game, both teams are going to need a full team effort to pull off the W. Hamilton is not as a deep a team as Tufts, so their stars – Hoffman, Grassey, Groll and Gilmour – need to perform, while their role players – Doyle, Dwyer, Pucci – need to excel as well. Although Tufts is used to not having Palleschi at this point, the way they have powered through his injury is by playing as a team, not by playing as a handful of individuals. Tufts’ best games have come when they have had four or five players score in double-digits. Today is no different, the Jumbos need a team effort. X-factor Garrett has the luxury of being able to lean on a deeper cast than X-factor Grassey does. Vinny Pace ‘18, Tarik Smith ‘17, Ben Engvall ‘18, Everett Dayton ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20… all these guys know how to score, and all of them have pulled the sled at different points this year. It’s just a matter of who is going to rise to the occasion at tipoff today.

With all the scorers this game has to offer, I don’t quite anticipate this being a low-scoring affair. If the Jumbos get hot from three like they did against Williams last week, they could run away with it. If the Continentals can force Tufts into contested shots however, they’ll be able to get out on the break just like they want to. The winner of this game is going to be the team that can hinder the other team’s offensive strategy. Because both teams want to get out in transition, offense will start on defense in this game, and an extra-high emphasis should be placed on rebounding the basketball. Both teams feature guards that are strong on the glass, so it will be a matter of grit to see who wins the battle on the boards. While this should definitely be a good game, on that is much closer than the seeding implies, I don’t see Tufts losing this one, especially not on their home court. Tufts is too deep and Hamilton just isn’t. The Continentals are trending upward, but I don’t think this is their year.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

The Year of The Jumbo?: Power Rankings 1/19

KJ Garrett ’18 made a splash off the bench this weekend for the Jumbos with 30 points on 13-18 shooting (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

This weekend brought tight games, upsets, and standings shake-ups. Some players rose to the occasion in times of need, while others shrunk from the spotlight. One thing that is certain about the NESCAC this year is that it is competitive through and through. Here are this week’s power rankings:

1.) #4 Tufts (13-2, 4-0)

Tufts’ victories against Middlebury and Hamilton cemented them at the top spot this week as the only undefeated team in NESCAC competition. Tufts barely beat Middlebury, up by just one point with 21 seconds remaining, but were able to make their free throws and keep the lead in what could be a playoff preview. Other than their two back to back losses to #1 Babson (then #2) and UMass-Boston on December 3rd and 6th, the Jumbos have been perfect all season and are now the highest ranked team (#4) in the conference after Amherst’s two losses this past weekend. The Middlebury game was a great display of Tufts’ balance as all five starters scored double-digit points, with Everett Dayton leading the way with 16. Tom Palleschi continued his hot play and had a well rounded game with three blocks, three assists, six boards, and 10 points. Eric Savage went off against Hamilton on Saturday with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and a season high in boards that shows how versatile this Tufts team is and why they shouldn’t have many issues this weekend against a resurgent Wesleyan team and a decent Conn College team. Tufts should continue to climb in the national rankings.

2.) #15 Middlebury (13-2, 3-1)

The Panthers would be #1 if Eric McCord made a final minute layup and they held on afterwards in Medford last Friday, yet the Jumbos held off McCord and Middlebury to give Midd their first loss in conference play. With that being said, Middlebury has found something in McCord that can help fill the hole that Zach Baines left when he departed from Vermont. McCord broke out against the Jumbos as he matched his season high in rebounds with eight and found a new season high of points with 22, 10 more than his previous high. He then added 11 points and six rebounds against Bates on Saturday, really cementing himself as the sixth man and as a force in the paint as the 6’7’’/255 pound beast is now a force to be reckoned with. Coach Brown also has to be happy that Nick Tarantino ’18 is holding his own in the starting lineup after struggling his first few starts beginning on December 29th. He has averaged nearly 10 rebounds and 10 points a game these last three contests and is shooting at over 50% in those games too, much better than the 1-6 he went against the Camels. Williams should be another team that the Panthers beat so long as these guys continue to produce – Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown can do the rest.

3.) #16 Amherst (10-4, 1-2)

Yes, Amherst got swept this past weekend and are still ranked 3rd this week. Unfair? Maybe but they are still one of just four nationally ranked NESCAC teams and did knock off #1 Babson earlier in the season. Now, they lost to Wesleyan last Friday who was ranked earlier in the year and desperately needed the win in their home gym to remain relevant in the NESCAC. However, a 14 point loss to an unranked team isn’t really indicative of a championship caliber season. On top of that, Jayde Dawson had the best game and he did not play well. He did score 17, but 6-19 from the field and 1-7 from 3-point range is 2016 Kobe-esque in his send off game. Amherst followed up Friday with an OT loss to Conn College, who hasn’t been overly impressive thus far, giving the Camels their first ‘CAC win of the year. This is not a good sign for the Purple and White. Johnny McCarthy played well and got back to his consistent form with 19 points after just five against the Cardinals. So while Amherst might no longer host the NESCAC tournament, they are in no danger of falling out of the playoff race. They need to get it together this weekend against Bowdoin and Colby as a loss to either will certainly boot them out of the top-25 and push them farther down the power rankings.

4.) Bates (12-4, 3-1)

A Delpeche sandwich means a job well-done (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen).

I’ll admit that I either underestimated the Bobcats or overestimated the Continentals. I fully expected Bates to fall to Hamilton last weekend, but here they are at #4 in the rankings already with three wins in conference, more than all of last year. Their performance so far has all but cemented them as a NESCAC playoff team. Bates defended four of six of Hamilton’s big scoring threats well (Gilmour, Doyle, Pucci, and Groll) which forced PG Jack Dwyer to shoot more than he generally likes to. While this allowed Dwyer to score a season high of 19, the other key players found themselves neutralized, allowing the Delpeche twins to have a day. Marcus scored 17 and hauled in 14 boards and Malcolm scored 12 and had 17 rebounds of his own. Jeff Spellman was a key player off of the bench too as he added 16 points in 25 minutes. Bates also played Middlebury in a tight game, falling behind early but clawing their way to within a 10 point margin by the end. Marcus Delpeche found less shooting success in this contest and Middlebury controlled the rebounds (45-31), giving the Panthers an upper hand, especially in the first half. Bates should beat Conn College on Friday if they keep playing with this intensity and their matchup against Wesleyan will tell who should be higher in the rankings.

5.) Wesleyan (13-3, 2-2)

Two shocking losses to open up conference play and drop the Cardinals out of the top-25 were not part of the plan. These 18 and 16 point losses to Middlebury and Hamilton respectively had to hurt, but Wesleyan really bounced back against previously #5 Amherst and a solid Trinity team at home, preventing a bottom half ranking this week. The victory over Amherst is especially surprising. Amherst had been dominant all year up until that point and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. But Wesleyan’s defense shined on Friday, holding the Purple and White to just 30% shooting from the field and 24.1% from beyond the arc. Kevin O’Brien led the way with 19 points, nine boards, four assists, four steals, and two blocks. Jordan Sears also had a big 10 rebounds off of the bench and Amherst just couldn’t put anything together. The most remarkable stat from the weekend is that both O’Brien and Joseph Kuo had more rebounds at 11 and 10 respectively than Ed Ogundeko did, who had just eight on Saturday. Kuo also added 14 points and the Cardinals narrowly pulled out the win, reestablishing themselves as a contender. They have a tough weekend against Tufts and Bates and if they can go 1-1 that should be considered a success.

6.) Hamilton (11-4, 2-2)

I’m a big fan of the Continentals’ resurgence similar to Bates from last place to a position of relevance in the conference. Their youth will still shine through from time to time as consistency and closing out games is a big focus for the team, but at 2-2 they still have a lot of potential upward mobility ahead of them if they seize the opportunity. Dwyer showed last weekend against Bates that when other teammates get shut down he can still shoot, although it wasn’t quite enough on the road on Friday. They did keep the game close and nearly managed to come back, but Kena Gilmour, Joe Pucci, and Andrew Groll weren’t themselves as they shot a combined 6-24. Their loss against Tufts was expected, but Groll and Gilmour had bounce back games while Pucci and Jack Dwyer couldn’t get it going. Tufts’ 46.3% from the field is what killed the Continentals. They will need a strong game, especially defensively, if they want to beat a desperate Williams team.

7.) Trinity (10-6, 2-1)

Jeremy Arthur ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

While the gap between Trinity and Hamilton and Wesleyan isn’t huge, their two conference wins against Williams and Conn College are hardly justification for a higher spot. Their loss to Wesleyan cemented them at #7 this week, and barring upset wins elsewhere in the conference, wins against Colby and Bowdoin this weekend shouldn’t move them too much higher. Ogundeko is averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.6 boards, top-5 in the league in both. However, Ogundeko showed against Wesleyan that he is human as he was out rebounded by two Cardinals. The Bantams are reliant on him to dominate in the paint as potential dud performances like Chris Turnbull’s against Conn College (0-7, zero points) could put easy wins in jeopardy. Despite the winning conference record, Trinity has issues as Langdon Neal hasn’t been too impressive shooting the ball, averaging just over four points in NESCAC games. Also, Trinity’s bench hasn’t produced much at all and compared to Middlebury and Hamilton’s bench players as an example, the Bantams don’t compare. Look for them to win this weekend but the Bowdoin game could be closer than people expect for the third place NESCAC team.

8.) Conn College (10-5, 1-3)

Erasing a 17 point halftime deficit against Amherst bodes well for the Camels heading into the rest of the season. They just saved their NESCAC first half with that win as an 0-4 start could’ve sent them towards the offseason as playoffs would be a much tougher achievement at that point. 1-3 still isn’t good, but knocking off any ranked team is a feat worth mentioning. They played Middlebury closely on January 7th, lost big to both Trinity and Hamilton, and won by seven in OT to the Purple and White. Last weekend was a tale of two different Conn College teams. While the Camels usually rule the rebounds due to two big men, Daniel Janel and Zuri Pavlin (Pavlin recently broke the Conn College all time rebounding record), the pair notched only nine combined boards against Trinity compared to Ogundeko’s 12. On top of that David Labossiere shot just 2-8, Colin Pascoe didn’t take a shot, Isaiah Robinson only scored two points compared to his normal 9.5…you get my point. When that many players have down games, this team likely isn’t going to win. However, like they showed against Amherst, when both of their big men have incredible games, they win. It’s a tale of consistency and for a team that lost so many close games in the final minutes a year ago, they should be sick of these ups and downs. Not so bold prediction: anytime Janel and Pavlin score 20 each and have 18 rebounds combined, they’ll win. This weekend will be a good test to see is they can keep pace with the big dogs as Bates and Tufts are both challenges steep challenges, especially in those rowdy environments.

9.) Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2)

The Polar Bears have the NESCAC scoring leader in Jack Simonds (21.9 ppg) and they can shoot as Hugh O’Neil ranks fourth in FG% (57.9%) and David Reynolds ranks fourth in 3PT% (43.3%). O’Neil is also in the top five in rebounds with 9.6 per game, but other than that, Bowdoin doesn’t have a whole lot going there way. The game against Tufts summarized this well as those three accounted for 25/42 rebounds, 40/54 points, and the rest of the team shot 6-30 from the field. Against Bates, again, these three were the only ones to score in double digits, had the majority of the rebounds, and only lost by five. While it was a close game, Bowdoin needs another element to complement these guys as the load can’t all fall on their shoulders. Neil Fuller could be that guy – he put up 10 against Williams along with five rebounds, helping out Bowdoin’s big three despite Reynolds’ down game. Of course, they will have a good chance if Simonds drops 32 every contest. This team needs more balance, and if they continue playing more like they did against the Ephs, they should have a better shot at making the playoffs.

10.) Williams (12-4, 1-3)

Williams’ only conference win came against Colby who is right below them in the rankings, so it doesn’t say too much. It’s hard to believe but the Ephs were ranked this season in what seems like ages ago. Their recent drop off is a product of better competition in the conference and the lack of a big rebounding presence. Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz are their best chance at matching the league’s best, but a team high of 6.0 reb/g isn’t exactly noteworthy in a positive light. To emphasize this further, Ogundeko hauled in 23 rebounds against Williams, and while Aronowitz had a great game and had a double-double, they simply couldn’t stop the Bantam’s big man. In a two point loss like that, every possession is key, and if they could’ve gotten some offensive boards they would’ve been able to get over the hump. It was the same story against Bowdoin as the Polar Bears hauled in 40 rebounds compared to just 27 for the Ephs, while no individual had more than five and they had just six offensive rebounds. Williams can score well – Aronowitz, Scadlock, and Cole Teal all score over 10 per game – but unless they can stop other teams from controlling the ball, they won’t make the playoffs.

11.) Colby (7-7,0-3)

0-3 is obviously a tough start for any team, but especially for the underdog. Colby has a lot of ground to make up over these next few weeks as at least three or four wins will be needed to sneak into the NESCAC playoff picture. They have kept all three losses within 15 points, but Patrick Stewart is just about the only bright spot here. The senior is averaging 16.2 ppg while the next closest player is at just 7.9 ppg. His 6.2 rebounds also lead the team, and nobody has more than Joseph Connelly’s 2.4 a/g, which isn’t exactly impressive. First year Ethan Schlager has played well in conference games, with 11.3 ppg over these three contest in just 21.0 min/g, and the Mules will need more help from him and other rookies Ronan Schwarz and Sam Jefferson if they are going to have a chance at climbing out of the cellar. Away games at Trinity and Amherst are going to be tough contests, and I’d be shocked if they pulled off an upset.

Hamilton Basketball Pre-NESCAC Schedule Update

Leading scorer Peter Hoffmann ’19 drives baseline (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics).

Perhaps Hamilton’s losses to Middlebury 64-62 and to Trinity 96-86 in OT were their best played games of last season. These were just two of many close conference contests that the Continentals dropped in the last few minutes, both to 2016 powerhouses. Their overall record of 11-13 was not quite telling of how they fared in conference (2-8), only one of three squads to miss out on the playoffs. Fortunately for Coach Adam Stockwell’s squad, they return all but one starter in Jack Donnelly ‘16, and lose just one other graduate in sixth man Ajani Santos ’16. The Continentals have used last year’s woes and close losses to develop and help them along the way to what has been a solid start to the year, good for a 8-2 record and a #6 spot in our first power rankings of the season, which definitely puts them in the playoff race. We know it, you know it, and we write it all the time: The NESCAC competition is no joke, and because of that Hamilton won’t be truly tested until they hit the expert only double black diamond slopes. They are looking to improve, touch up the details, and use last year’s NESCAC season as a learning experience.

From last year, the young, immature team learned that they needed to have more consistency and close better after playing six conference games that were decided in the final minute, going 1-5 in such contests, frustrating for any team. They needed to improve on rebounding, playing in transition, and overall defensive consistency, which has been aided by a much more stable starting lineup this year. In 2016 Hamilton had 11 players start a game, with eight of those players starting less than half of the games. In other words, there were a lot of moving parts for a team that never really hit its stride. While the Continentals certainly needed somebody to step up last year, after this sample of the preseason, it is clear that Michael Grassey ’19, Peter Hoffmann ‘19, and Andrew Groll ’19 are really coming into their own as leaders on the team to supplement Jack Dwyer ’18 who runs the team and currently ranks third in the NESCAC in assists. Grassey had a great winter in the NESCAC and finished the last five games by averaging 16 PPG and vaulted from a bench player (20 games played, 0 starts) to a starter, second-leading Hamilton scorer, and irreplaceable staple in the lineup this year.

 

2015-2016 Record: 11-13, 2-8, Did not make NESCAC playoffs

Head Coach: Adam Stockwell, 6th year, 66-56 (Through 2016)

Returning Starters:

Guard Jack Dwyer ‘18 (11.0 PPG; 5.5 A/G; 40% FG; 2.0 REB/G)

Forward Andrew Groll ‘19 (9.5 PPG; 7.8 REB/G; 1.8 BLK/G)

Guard Peter Hoffmann ‘19 (12.7 PPG; 4.3 REB/G; 40.0% FG)

Key Losses:

Guard Jack Donnelly ’16 (8.9 PPG; 39.3% 3-PT; 2.9 REB/G)

Forward Karl Koster ‘18 (2.9 PPG; 60.0% FG; 2.8 REB/G)

 

Starting Lineup:

Guard Jack Dwyer ‘18

After leading the league in assists with 5.5 per game and adding on 11.0 PPG in 2016, Dwyer is off to another hot start with 6.1 AST/G, 7.4 PPG, and 3.0 REB/G through the first ten games. The leader of this team is one of just two upperclassmen in the starting lineup and will use his experience as the point guard and shot caller to help get the younger players into position, dishing out passes like usual. He should help them improve in transition and will likely start scoring more too as his consistent shooting percentage (37.5%) should lead to a similar 11 PPG once he starts taking more shots. He is currently only on pace to shoot about 180 times this year compared to 235 last year, not just showing Hamilton’s added offensive depth, but also Dwyer’s ability to run the team and not just fire up shots. Because of his ability to spread out the court, four of his teammates are averaging over 10.0 PPG compared to just two last year (which included Dwyer), emphasizing this added offensive depth and the way in which Dwyer is coaxing it out of his teammates.

 

Guard/Forwards Tim Doyle ’19/Peter Hoffmann ‘19

Doyle got off to a blistering hot start, averaging 20 PPG through the first three contests, before going down to injury after Hamilton’s 11/22 game against Cazenovia. He really jumped out of nowhere after only playing in 12 contests last year, averaging a meager 3.0 PPG. His 3.0 REB/G and 2.3 A/G are solid to back up his shooting ability. Unfortunately for the Continentals he will likely be out until the end of January, handing the reins into Hoffmann’s hands for the time being. The sophomore guard was an everyday starter last year for coach Stockwell’s squad and played well, averaging 12.7 PPG, rebounding well for the shooting guard position, and played nearly 28 minutes per contest. Since he took over for Doyle, he has greatly improved from a season ago and has upped his totals to 17.6 PPG (a team-high), delivering a huge 24 point performance that made the difference against Clarkson on November 26th. If he can put together more games like that and continues to become a force in the paint, and Doyle returns in full force, the Continentals could have a powerful 1-2 punch at this spot as the 6’ 5’’ Hoffmann and 6’ 4’’ Doyle are sure to rain down points to get more minutes. If these two step on the court at the same time, NESCAC defenses better look out.

 

Forward/Guard Joe Pucci ‘18

Pucci has to be the biggest player listed as a guard in the ‘CAC. The 6’6’’ junior is the second of the Hamilton upperclassmen starters, and like both Grassey and Doyle, he has made a big jump from last season into the starting lineup where there was little turnover in terms of graduates, and has nearly doubled his REB/G from 2.5 to 4.7. His scoring has gone up to 7.5 PPG from 5.3 in 2016, but because his shooting percentage has sunk by nearly 4%, these offensive numbers likely aren’t sustainable once Hamilton starts facing tougher opponents like Amherst and Wesleyan. However, as was the case in 2016, consistency is a big factor here with Pucci. He has thrown up some good shooting games (over 30% FG) and some real duds (under 20% FG) like in the 9-point loss to Catholic University and a win over Oswego. Every team would be great if their best players played their A-game every day, but there is a reason why Hamilton was only 2-8 in the NESCAC last year, and they need more of that A-game out of Pucci.

 

Forward Michael Grassey ’19

Grassey is a good inside scorer and a great compliment to the rebounding-dominant Groll playing the big man, greatly improving on last year and cementing himself as a starter. This allows Hamilton to gain the rotational consistency that Coach Stockwell focused on when defining how the 2017 squad would make the leap to finish out close games and take the non-conference success to the ‘CAC. The relatively undersized 6’3’’ power forward is comparable to Draymond Green in that size plays little role in how he can play in the paint. He is dominating thus far after not starting a single game in his rookie campaign. He came into his own in the winter portion of last season, and he has earned a starting position this year as a result of his hard work on the court and in the weight room. Grassey is hitting his stride right at the optimal time, putting up over 20 points for three straight games in December and averaging 15.8 PPG overall thus far. His shooting percentage has been off the charts recently, and Hamilton is going to have a shot in a lot of conference games if Grassey keeps this up.

 

Forward Andrew Groll ‘19

The Hamilton big man is bringing down boards with Grassy at 7.8 per game in 2016 and 7.4 per game thus far through ten games. The 6’7’’/230lb. New York native is a great second half to a two headed rebounding monster, but Groll doesn’t quite score the same way in the paint that Grassey has been able to. Grassey’s shooting accuracy trumps Groll’s as the latter big man, albeit he takes consistently about half the amount of shots. In Hamilton’s narrow loss to Middlebury last January, Groll hauled in 14 boards, showing that he is a big defensive force and is certainly one of the biggest playmakers on this team. Keep in mind that he was having many double-digit rebounding performances against these ranked NESCAC teams as a freshman, and while he might not be a shooter, Dwyer has made sure that the issue of distributing to other scorers is taken care of. Groll should begin to blossom as a force in the paint and will come into his own as a defensive weapon in his sophomore conference-season.

 

X-Factor: Guard Kena Gilmour ‘20

Pretty much all of the starters except for Dwyer who is a staple of consistency are going to be X-Factors for the Continentals as they are still younger and less experienced in big games than some of the top NESCAC opponents. However, with Pucci, Groll, and even Dwyer not representing big scoring threats, freshman Kena Gilmour has stepped up as a big time scorer off of the bench. Gilmour dropped 26 against Clarkson, one of two games where he played more than 20 minutes, and has been consistent other than one poor game against Eastern where he went 0-4 in a four point loss. He is putting up 10 PPG off of the bench, with a 55.6% FG and should fit into coach Stockwell’s system well as the season ages. The smooth lefty guard was a two time All-New England player in high school, and he should be a big time player in his time at Hamilton.

 

Everything Else

Hamilton undoubtedly has a strong core here between Dwyer, Doyle, Hoffmann, Grassey, Pucci, Groll, and Gilmour and won’t lose any of them until after next season. Their 8-2 start is clearly a big step in the right direction, coupled with several of their starters making huge improvements from a season ago. While all of that is great news for any Continental fan, keep in mind that the jump from 2-8 in conference to a NESCAC contender is even bigger. Coach Stockwell is experienced in this league, has been to the playoffs twice, and obviously won’t take anything for granted from this talented group. However, since just eight teams make the playoffs, Hamilton is going to need to pull off a couple upsets if they want to make there way into the NESCAC tournament. They have the talent, but it is their youth that provokes a question mark.

Hamilton’s experience in close losses from last year should give them an edge in similar situations this year, and if they can close in the final minutes, the Continentals should very well snatch one of those eight golden NESCAC tickets. Their 8-2 record may be slightly misleading, as even though Catholic and Eastern are solid teams, the best achievement of either is that Catholic played Notre Dame in an exhibition match (and then lost 103-48…). Other NESCAC teams are playing tough competition, gearing up for what should be a close and hard-fought regular season, and Hamilton could potentially struggle to keep up. If their players can play the same way against better teams, they will be just fine. In theory, Hamilton’s talent should be enough to propel them into the middle of the NESCAC standings, but any fan of NESCAC basketball knows that it is the intangibles that separate good teams from great teams in this conference. Who is going to step up as leaders in crunch time? Who is going to rally the troops when their backs are against the wall? Hamilton has what it takes to beat some of the top teams in this conference, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can put everything together and make it happen.

No Hart, No Linsanity; Who Will Guide the Continentals? Hamilton Season Preview

Jack Dwyer has taken over the point guard position for a young Continental team. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Jack Dwyer has taken over the point guard position for a young Continental team. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

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.

Last season was a year of growth for the Hamilton Continentals, both for players new and old. With the decisions of Matt Hart to transfer to George Washington and incumbent senior Bradley Gifford to hang up the sneaks, Head Coach Adam Stockwell was unexpectedly left with a depleted roster for 2014-15. As a result, freshmen who weren’t expected to play very much earned valuable experience, and PG Joseph Lin ’15 played like one of the league’s elite until an injury towards the end of the season.

The Continentals must once again overcome the loss of their two most important players from a season before – this time to graduation – with Lin and sharpshooting forward Peter Kazickas ’15 on to greener pastures. Coach Stockwell is waiting for a veteran to emerge at the center of this unit, like Lin last season or his predecessors Hart, Greg Newton ’14 and Pat Sullivan ’12. The Hamilton basketball team is entering its fifth season competing in the NESCAC, with its best finish being a 5-5 conference mark in 2013-14. With a lack of experience on the roster, Hamilton will be hard-pressed to match that 5-5 record, but the program is moving in the right direction with a bevy of talented youngsters now on board.

2014-2015 Record:

14-10 overall; 2-8 NESCAC (10th); Did not qualify for NESCAC Tournament

Head Coach: Adam Stockwell, 5th season, 55-43 (.561)

Returning Starters: Four

PG Jack Dwyer ’18 (3.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 32.0% FG)
G Jack Donnelly ’16 (8.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 43.2% 3PT)
G/F Joe Pucci ’18 (5.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 41.8% FG)
F Ajani Santos ’16 (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg)

Coaches always say that the past is the past and players have to earn their stripes each new season, but they don’t always choose lineups with that philosophy in mind. This year, it’s very apparent that Coach Stockwell is giving nothing freely to his veterans. Santos and Donnelly, who started 23 and 22 games last year, respectively, are out of the starting lineup, while Dwyer and Pucci, who each started 12 contests a year ago, have apparently locked down starting spots. Donnelly is still racking up minutes and has seemingly embraced the sixth-man role, but Santos looks to be in the dog house right now with just 10.3 mpg through three games so far. Coach Stockwell hasn’t let on what’s behind the severe drop in Santos’ playing time, instead reiterating his confidence that the big man can get back on track, and citing some outstanding efforts from some younger big men. If I had to ponder a guess, I’d say that Santos’ constant foul trouble and temper have hindered him. That’s only a guess though – there is plenty of season left to see how things work out.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG Jack Dwyer ’18

The Hamilton lineup is extremely fluid right now, with 11 (eleven!) guys seeing double digit minutes per game, but Dwyer looks the the closest thing to a lock for me the rest of the season. He’s a true point with great quickness and good strength, given his size (5’11” 175 lbs). His scoring binge over the weekend was impressive, but not surprising to those around the Hamilton team. Don’t expect quite that level of production (16.0 ppg through three games), because he doesn’t shoot the three ball at all, but he can hang in the low teens range in points. There are some great, if unproven, shooters on this team, and Dwyer is the man to get them the basketball.

SG Peter Hoffman ’19

Hoffman is obviously green as a freshman, but he’s immediately become a scoring threat and is second on the team with 11.7 ppg. Unlike Dwyer, Hoffman can light it up from deep, and at 6’5″ he complements the smaller Dwyer well. Classmate Tim Doyle ’19 started the first two games in this spot, but Hoffman started the last, and it’s going to be a constant battle to see which youngster can solidify his position, but both will continue to see minutes.

G/F Joe Pucci ’18

Pucci is tall – 6’7″ – but has guard-like athleticism. Just a sophomore, he has the ability to become a leader for this young squad. He should be able to do a little bit of everything for the Conts – score some points, rebound and defend those tough wing players. With Pucci at the 3, Hamilton will be going against the NESCAC grain which seems to be trending towards three-guard sets. It’s a risky strategy, but one that could pay dividends if Pucci can defend his smaller match ups.

F Andrew Groll ’19

Another freshman expected to play big minutes, Groll is going to be counted on to be a physical presence at 6’6″ 240 lbs. Coach Stockwell has high hopes for the way Groll will develop, and he applauded the way Groll gets after rebounds on both ends of the floor. He might not be the most refined offensive player just yet, but with so many shooters around him and coming off the bench, Groll could stick in the starting rotation.

F Ajani Santos ’16

This is a gut call, because the early signs are that Santos is being passed over by the young forwards – Groll, Pucci, Kelan McConnell ’18 and Karl Koster ’18. Obviously, his league-worst 88 personal fouls and eight ejections for fouls last year were a big problem, but there has to be something else going on here. Unless a player gets in trouble or comes into camp completely out of shape – and I’m not saying either of these things are true, nor is there any evidence that either is the case –  you usually don’t see a team’s most used player ride pine early on the next season. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I think it has to be made right for Hamilton to be competitive. As talented as the Hamilton youngsters are, Santos will be needed to provide some senior leadership if this team is going to go far.

Breakout Player: G Peter Hoffman

It’s not often that a freshman comes into any college league with the talent and opportunity to be an immediate star. In this case, Hoffman has both. He’s got great size for a two-guard, can shoot from anywhere (including the free throw stripe), and is a great perimeter defender, according to his head coach. There is a lot of competition at the guard spot for Hoffman, and he probably won’t see much more than 20.0 mpg with Donnelly coming off the bench and playing an important role, but he can be an efficient scorer and make an impact on both ends of the floor.

Everything Else:

Backing up the shifty Dwyer at point guard is the more strategic Wes Wilbur ’17. They won’t both be on the court very often, but when they are Wilbur will shift to the two-guard spot. The disadvantage of having them both on the floor is that it takes away the three-pointer from the Continentals game, and even though they didn’t shoot the three much last year, they were the most efficient three-point shooting team in the NESCAC. Donnelly and Hoffman are excellent outside shooters, and I would expect most of the minutes to feature the threesome of Dwyer-Donnelly-Hoffman on the court. Kyle Pitman ’17 is the last guard in the mix, and he brings great range to the floor, too.

The frontcourt minutes are totally in flux with the expected return to relevance of Santos. Right now, Groll, Pucci, Koster and McConnell are taking up most of the time, but something will have to give if Santos is going to reemerge. Groll and Koster are Stockwell’s workhorses down low, banging bodies and getting rebounds. McConnell is undersized at 6’5″ but is another sharpshooter, while Pucci does a bit of everything, too, but as noted above, with him at the 3-guard, Hamilton might get run off the court by some quick and skilled back courts. The x-factor for the Hamilton frontcourt, once again, is 6’11” Zander Wear ’18. Wear came to Hamilton with a lower level of basketball experience than most freshman in the league, but has taken a big leap from a season ago. Still, with so much youth and talent amongst the Hamilton big men, it will be an uphill battle for Wear to break in.

Coach Stockwell is running with a deep rotation right now and allowing the cream to rise to the top. It’s a good strategy early on, and one that many NESCAC coaches employ, especially with a younger roster like Hamilton’s. The only worry is whether the Conts can build up enough chemistry with the guys who are going to be on the court come NESCAC time in January. Can they rely on freshmen and sophomores to lead them to the NESCAC playoffs? Or will Donnelly and Santos go out with a flourish in their final college season? Hamilton may be the toughest team to predict at this point this season. The good news for Hamiltonians is that youth and talent are aplenty in Clinton.

Traveling to Maine Carries Significant Risk: Stock Report 2/9

Malcolm Delpeche '17 flushed this one home as the Bobcats slipped by Hamilton on Saturday, Feb. 7.
Malcolm Delpeche ’17 flushed this one home as the Bobcats slipped by Hamilton 73-71 on Saturday, Feb. 7.

The Maine triumvirate of Colby, Bates and Bowdoin combined on the weekend to go 4-0 at home. Behind hot shooting from Ryan Jann ’16 who finished with 26 points, the Mules beat Middlebury for their first win without Chris Hudnut ’16. Then on Sunday Bowdoin blitzed their way to an easy win over the Panthers to drop Middlebury to 3-5 in the NESCAC.

Meanwhile, Bates’ vaunted home-court advantage once again took center stage as the Bobcats pulled out close wins over Williams and Hamilton. The wins bring the Bobcats’ home record to 12-0 and 6-0 in NESCAC play. While you have probably heard all about how Alumni Gym rattles opponents, Colby and Bowdoin also boast great home records. Colby is 7-2 overall and 2-2 in the NESCAC at home, and this season has seen a resurgence in student attendance in Waterville. Bowdoin does not have as many students at their games (though I am one of the proud few), but the Polar Bears are 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the NESCAC when they play in Brunswick.

Of the three losses between them, two of them came at the hands of one of the other with Colby beating Bowdoin in Brunswick in December and the Polar Bears returning the favor in Waterville a few weeks ago. So the only team that has managed to come from out of state and beat a Maine school is Williams which beat Colby on January 17.

Stock Up

Center John Swords ’15 (Bowdoin)

As the only returning player from the All-NESCAC First Team, expectations were high for Swords coming into the season, but he has fallen short of them on the offensive end. Sunday was the Swords that Bowdoin fans were hoping for. The seven footer scored 20 points on 10-13 shooting, and at least five of his baskets came on dunks.  Swords attacked from the very beginning of the game, forcing Chris Churchill ’15 to pick up two early fouls. He was not afraid to put the ball on the floor and go to the hoop, something that he has been hesitant to do for long stretches this season. He also took it personal when he got called for an offensive charge drawn by Matt Daley ’16 and attacked Daley the next time he got the ball down low. It was only one game, but if Swords continues to play like he did on Sunday, Bowdoin will be difficult for teams to handle.

Shooting Guard Rick Naylor ’16 (Trinity)

Sometimes it is hard to pick out specific players on Trinity who are difference makers beyond Jaquann Starks ’16. That isn’t meant to insult the ability of anyone on the Bantam roster, but they are so balanced that picking out individuals is difficult. Naylor is certainly a role player averaging 5.8 PPG for the season, but he has come up big in recent weeks. First against Bowdoin he carried Trinity down the stretch on offense, and on Friday he helped Trinity outlast a determined Wesleyan squad. He went 5-6 from three on his way to a team high 17 points. On offense, Naylor is pretty much a straight shooter with 63 percent of his made shots coming from deep. In conference play he is shooting 54.5 percent from three, the second highest percentage in the league. On the other end, Naylor fits perfectly into the hard-nosed style Trinity plays. Despite averaging only 20.6 MPG, he has fouled out of four games so far this season, the fourth most in the NESCAC this season.

Guard Connor Green ’16 (Amherst)

Not that Green’s stock was necessarily low, but it has sky rocketed recently as the Lord Jeffs have started to look more like the perennial title contenders that we are used to seeing. Over the last four games, Green has scored at least 24 points three times and thrice snagged double digit rebounds. Last week we handicapped the Player of the Year race and Green came in with the fourth best odds to win the award. If we ranked these players again today Green would probably have the second best odds and the gap between Green and favorite Dan Wohl ’15 would be much smaller than it was then. Amherst is playing much better of late, blowing out some of the NESCAC’s bottom feeders and a couple tough Maine teams. It took awhile for Coach Dave Hixon to work out the rotation, but he seems to have found a serviceable point man in Reid Berman ’17 and a reliable bench scorer in Jeff Racy ’17. The Lord Jeffs are dangerous right now and Green is only elevating his game as the season goes on.

Stock Down

Hamilton’s Luck

Honestly, I feel terrible for the Continentals. They have played better than their 1-7 record would indicate. On Saturday Hamilton almost pulled off the upset at Bates. A layup from Joe Pucci ’18 put Hamilton up 71-66 with 1:36 to go, but Bates scored the final seven points to storm back for the win. For the Continentals, it was merely the latest close loss. Six of their seven losses in conference have been by single digits. It is a shame, too, because they play a fun, uptempo brand of basketball with an eclectic crew. Peter Kazickas ’15 is lights out shooting the ball, and he also rocks the best ‘mun’ (man bun. It is a hairstyle I swear) in the NESCAC. Ajani Santos ’16 has a nice post game, and Joseph Lin ’15 is one of the most clever players I have seen. Because of tie-breakers, Hamilton is already eliminated from the NESCAC tournament. We knew Hamilton would miss the transferred Matt Hart, but this group exceeded expectations even if the final records don’t show it.

Clarity

Remember when I said that this weekend was going to go a long way in figuring out the NESCAC picture? Yeah, well I lied about that. Going into next weekend, the number of scenarios that can end up happening are endless. Trinity will host a quarter-final game, Bates will host for sure as long as they win one of their games this weekend, and Amherst will host for sure if they win against Middlebury. If those three host, then the winner of Tufts-Bowdoin will host the fourth game. Unless Colby or Williams goes 2-0 on the weekend and Tufts beats Bowdoin, then the Ephs or Mules would host because they both own the tiebreaker over Tufts. If Colby, Williams and Tufts are all 6-4 then Williams would host because they went 2-0 against those teams, but if Bates loses both games then there could be a four-way tie…OK we give up. Personally I am rooting for the scenario where Bates and Amherst go winless for the weekend, Tufts beats Bowdoin, and Williams and Colby go 2-0. That would mean that all six of those teams would finish at 6-4.

Middlebury Defense

There were some questions about the quality of Middlebury’s competition at the beginning of the year, but nevertheless their domination was impressive enough for us to rank them at the top of our initial power rankings, and a big part of that decision was the Panthers’ commitment to defense. Coach Jeff Brown challenged his guys to be the best defense in the country this season, and for a good chunk of the year the Panthers were ranked in the top five nationally in field goal percentage defense. In Middlebury’s first 13 games, during which stretch they started 13-0, they allowed 70 points only twice and both were easy victories. In the subsequent 11 games, opponents have scored 70 points seven times and Middlebury has gone 7-5. This weekend Colby and Bowdoin combined to shoot 47.3 percent from the field against the Panthers. Even Jake Brown ’17, possibly the best perimeter defender in the NESCAC, struggled against the athletic Lucas Hausman ’16 on Sunday. If Middlebury is going to right the ship (and even make the NESCAC tournament), they will need to get back to playing good defense.

Hamilton Stays Alive with Back-to-Back Wins

Joseph Lin '15 as taken his game to another level this season for the Continentals. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Joseph Lin ’15 as taken his game to another level this season for the Continentals. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Wins against Williams and Keystone College have provided hope that Hamilton is starting to turn it around after a rough patch to start NESCAC play. The Continentals were able to compete in their first four NESCAC games, losing by seven to Amherst and five to Colby, but a loss is a loss and before last weekend Hamilton was buried deep in the NESCAC cellar. However, the Continentals two most recent games have Hamilton players and fans thinking that all might not be lost. The most encouraging sign? That Hamilton has now shown an ability to win in different ways. Against the Ephs, Hamilton held an offense averaging 75.8 PPG on the season to 64 points, and against Keystone the Continentals dialed in from long range, nailing 9-18 three pointers.

Hamilton’s defeat of Williams was important not only for morale, but also to keep Hamilton mathematically afloat in the conference. While Hamilton went down by 12 points at 53-41 with 12:33 to go, they showed the tenacity to wait out Williams’ shooting barrage and pour in the points themselves to chip away at the lead. Williams made 14-29 three pointers (48 percent), with Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 shooting 7-10 from behind the arc. However, Hamilton stuck with the defense and held the Ephs to just 5-13 from three point range in the second half. The Ephs did not score from long range in the final 9:28 of the game.

With Williams cooling off, the Continentals took advantage with a key three pointer by Jack Donnelly ’16 followed by points from Peter Kazickas ’15 and Joseph Lin ’15 to cut the lead to four. The teams went back and forth for a while before Hamilton took the lead with 1:18 left on a jumper from Ajani Santos ’16. With Lin on the bench after his fifth foul, Jack Dwyer ’18 knocked down a couple of clutch free throws to put Hamilton up three. Finally, Kazickas’ shots from the line closed it out for the Continentals in their first NESCAC win.

Head Coach Adam Stockwell showed his experience down the stretch, twice instructing his players to foul with Hamilton up three. Williams’ Mike Greenman ’17 made 3-4 free throws in the game’s final moments, not enough to close the gap.

Kazickas led the way for the Continentals with 18 points and six rebounds, while Kyle Pitman ’17 had 12 and Lin followed them in double figures with 11 points and nine assists. Rooke-Ley finished with 21 points for the Ephs, and Wohl contributed 13 points and six rebounds.

After two NESCAC playoff appearances in the last three years, Hamilton struggled in the midseason this year with two straight losses to former Liberty League rivals Vassar and Union and four consecutive defeats in NESCAC play, which dropped the Continentals to 10-6 after a 7-0 start. The loss of transfer Matt Hart, who averaged 20.6 points per game last season, and the graduations of Greg Newton ’14 and Bradley Gifford ’14 left a major hole on the court for Hamilton, and many wondered whether there was enough talent left on the roster to fill that gap. Senior captain Kazickas has stepped up all over the floor, though, averaging 10.3 points per game, while Lin has transformed himself, taking on a full-time starting role and averaging 15.1 points and 6.7 assists per game, 5.6 and 1.8 last year. Lin currently leads the NESCAC in assists and is sixth in all of Division-III. Santos (11.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG) and Jack Donnelly (7.4 PPG, 39 percent 3-PT) have picked up where they left off last year and sophomores Pitman and Wes Wilbur ’17 have done their part averaging 6.7 and 5.5 points off the bench, respectively, with Pitman shooting 38 percent from behind the arc. Joe Pucci ’18 and Dwyer are getting better and better every game, and learning new roles, with Pucci, a natural guard, having to play more in the high post with his 6’7” frame. Zander Wear ’18 also adds height to the team, with his huge 6’11” body; while he’s only played 98 minutes so far this season he has shown the ability to win battles on the boards.

Hamilton’s 1-4 NESCAC record will have several pundits counting them out of the running for a playoff run, but their recent wins should give them some momentum as they go on the road. They have already played some of the better NESCAC teams in the conference in Amherst, Trinity and Bowdoin and close out their schedule with easier games (if there is such a thing in the NESCAC this season) against the Connecticut teams, Wesleyan and Connecticut College. Despite the recent improvements, Hamilton still has a young team. However, the bench is improving with every game as the Continentals enter the NESCAC stretch run. The Continentals are showing signs of improvement and should be a contender for one of the eight playoff spots, and then anything can happen.