#11 Williams (12-3, 3-1) @ #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1), Saturday, January 20, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
The Ephs and the Panthers have become the NESCAC equivalent of the Cavs and Warriors in recent years. The teams met three times last season, including for the NESCAC Championship and in the NCAA Elite Eight. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, beating Middlebury in Pepin Gymnasium to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have carried over that success into this season. They are each ranked in the top 20 in the country, and have battled it out for the top spot in the league all season, along with Wesleyan and Hamilton.
However, both teams are far from unbeatable. Williams is without their star player, Kyle Scadlock ’19, for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Middlebury’s shooting struggles are starting to become incredibly worrying. Middlebury’s NESCAC loss is to Wesleyan, whom Williams beat for their best win. And Williams’ lone NESCAC loss is to Tufts, whom Middlebury just beat handily at home for their best win. All this is to say that both these teams are again tremendously evenly matched, and this game should have huge ramifications for league standings and the playoff picture overall.
Middlebury X-Factor: G Max Bosco ’21
At first glance, this pick might seem to be coming out of left field. Bosco has played fewer minutes than his fellow first year guards Jack Farrell ’21 and Griffin Kornacker ’21, primarily due to his smaller stature and struggles to create shots for others off the dribble. Farrell and Kornacker are both miles ahead of Bosco defensively at this point, and Joey Leighton ’20 is certainly more confident offensively. But Bosco can really shoot the ball. He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances yet, but his stroke is as sweet as anyone’s. Middlebury is the worst three point shooting team in the league, and second worst overall from the field. The clutch heroics of Jack Daly and excellent team defense will not be able to save the Panthers against Williams; they have to hit some outside shots to match Williams’ three point heavy attack. Bosco is capable of doing so. Additionally, his defensive struggles will not be as pronounced against the Ephs. Bobby Casey ’20 and Mike Greenman ’18, and even Cole Teal ’18, are an excellent group of players, but they are not large. Casey and Teal will be handled by Daly and Hilal Dahleh ’19, leaving Bosco matched with the 5’8″ Greenman. Bosco has a great opportunity this game to do what he does best; hit shots.
Williams X-Factor: F Matt Karpowicz ’20
We gave Karpowicz a lot of love in the stock report earlier this week, and that’s not just because he wrote some average football articles for us in the fall. Karpowicz is often unstoppable on the block, shooting 73% from the field, almost all in the paint. He splits time with Michael Kempton ’19, another very large person. As longtime reader Howard Herman pointed out, the two players offer very different looks for the offense. Kempton is a distributor, averaging 2 assists per game despite only playing 15 minutes. However, he is not a scoring threat, only shooting 42% from the field. Karpowicz is a game-changing scorer, and draws a lot of attention on the block, freeing up dominant shooters like Casey and James Heskett ’19. Indeed, in Williams’ closer games he ends up playing most of the crunch time minutes. I expect Middlebury to get a far heavier dose of Karpowicz than Kempton. Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ’18 is a great athlete, but struggles with strong post scorers who can back him down and neutralize his length and leaping ability. And Adisa Majors ’18 is simply undersized, no matter which big man Williams has in. This means that Eric McCord ’19 is the guy, and has to avoid the foul trouble that hurt him against Albertus Magnus. In a game in which Middlebury must game plan heavily for Casey and Heskett, Karpowicz is the guy for whom Middlebury has no answer for on their roster.
James Heskett is certainly on the short list for Player of the Year, along with his teammate Bobby Casey, Jack Daly and Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour. He’s very long, with a gorgeous jump shot and incredible quickness for his size. Indeed, he’s been arguably the best shooter in the league this season, hitting 51% from the field and 43% from three. Luckily for Middlebury, however, they have one of the only players in the league who can match his skill set, if not his efficiency, in Matt Folger ’20. Along with the rest of the Panthers, Folger’s shooting numbers have taken a hit of late, but he is still a deadly scorer inside and out. And more importantly for this match up, he is miles ahead of Heskett defensively. Heskett’s skill set and athleticism have not yet translated to that end, as he averages just 0.3 blocks per game and 0.9 steals. Even more jarring is that he averages just 3.8 rebounds a night, despite being 6’8.” Folger, on the other end, has clearly focused on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the league in blocks at 2.4, and grabs 8.1 rebounds a night. If Folger can outscore Heskett, Middlebury has a good chance to win.
Rebounding may well be the key to Middlebury’s chances in this game. The Panthers are a bona fide dominant team on the glass. Their numbers are skewed by pulling down a ridiculous 70 against Tufts, but they still lead the league in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and are second in rebounding margin. Williams is towards the bottom of the league in all of those categories. For a team that struggles shooting like Middlebury does, offensive rebounds are a must have statistic, and were what kept them in the game against Tufts until they pulled away in the second half. Williams is a team Middlebury can bully on the glass, creating second chances if shots aren’t falling.
Last thing: this could be a huge game for Jack Daly. He historically raises his game against Williams, but this isn’t just his already covered “clutch gene.” Williams doesn’t really have an answer for his strength at the guard spots. Greenman is far too small, and Bobby Casey isn’t particularly strong defensively. In fact, Williams doesn’t have a single player averaging more than one steal per game. Even their big men are occaisionally timid inside, with the notable exception of Karpowicz. This means that Daly is usually able to get to the basket easily against the Ephs. He’ll draw attention to the paint, and he’s the best in the country at finding open players once he gets around the basket. The key will be how many shots those players can hit.
No longtime readers will be surprised by this, but I think Middlebury, on the backs of Jack Daly and an assuredly raucous home crowd, pulls this one out.
Finally the order of teams is starting to have some clarity. Hamilton finally saw their first ranked opponent in Wesleyan and took care of business, cementing themselves as the team to beat at this point without a blemish on their record. Middlebury knocked off Tufts who knocked off Williams, putting into question the 2-5 spots in these rankings. However, this weekend should bring more clarity as Williams’ true talent level without Kyle Scadlock will be tested against Middlebury. The teams in the bottom half have largely only played each other, with Trinity looking like the “best of the rest.”
1. #14 Hamilton (14-0, 3-0)
Last Week: 76-70 W vs. Wesleyan, 102-77 W @ Conn College
This Week: @ Amherst
And now they are legit. After knocking off Wesleyan at home, the Continentals are proven to be the real deal. While this spot at the top of the Power Rankings may be temporary, their spot in the D3 Top 25 is well deserved despite an easy preseason schedule. Wesleyan was the first difficult NESCAC opponent that Hamilton beat (Trinity and Conn are the other two), and with Wesleyan’s opening weekend win against Middlebury, Hamilton is further cemented as a real NESCAC contender. Their game against Amherst should be a high scoring win with a large margin of victory if all else remains the same with Kena Gilmour the centerpiece of Hamilton’s offense. He poured in 20 points in a defensive heavy game against the Cardinals despite only shooting 1-7 from deep.
2. #11 Williams (12-3, 3-1)
Last Week: 69-63 L vs. Tufts, 79-68 W vs. Bates
This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury
There is no doubt that Williams is weaker without Kyle Scadlock, however, they have managed to show their depth and remain afloat thus far in NESCAC play. They went from NESCAC favorites to just another team in the running for the title, seeing their first loss at the hands of Tufts this past weekend. In Scadlock’s place, Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19 continuebear the brunt of the scoring load as Casey scored 11 and Heskett 21 in the loss against the Jumbos. Heskett added 23 against Bates in the following game, settling in as a reliable power forward that Williams will need down the stretch.
3. #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1)
Last Week: 82-76 W vs. Bates; 78-63 W vs. Wesleyan
This Week: vs. Williams
Jack Daly ’18 continues to dish and drive to the rim as Middlebury’s balanced offense before was too much to overcome for both Bates and Tufts. While the Bates game ended up only being a six point win—closer than expected—Daly dropped 26 points, nine boards, and eight assists, a stat line we are becoming all too familiar with. Matt Folger is a lengthy player who can shoot from deep, accompanied by Joey Leighton and Hilal Dahleh on the perimeter. Nick Tarantino, Eric McCord on fire in the paint of late, and Adisa Majors all play down low and bring in the boards evenly, while G Jack Farrell ’21 is playing a lot like Jake Brown ’17 from a season ago, distributing and opening things up on the wings and for Daly. Middlebury will need to find some three point shooting from somewhere, however, if they want to continue winning.
4. Tufts (12-4, 3-1)
Last Week: 69-63 W @ Williams, 78-63 L @ Middlebury
This Week: vs. Bates
Their win against Williams put them in a position to surpass Wesleyan in the rankings, beating what was previously the best team in the conference. Tufts’ size and athleticism are their greatest strengths, led by Vincent Pace ’18, Eric Savage ’18, and KJ Garrett ’19 who was all over the floor against Middlebury. Pace slipped a bit last weekend, shooting 5-21 against Williams and 1-9 against Middlebury. Lucky for him, Garrett emerged as a potential force going forward, scoring 20 and bringing down nine boards against the Panthers in just his fourth game of the season. After increasing his workload to 24 minutes last Saturday, he should play an even bigger role against Bates this coming weekend.
5. #19 Wesleyan (11-3, 2-2)
Last Week: 76-70 L @ Hamilton, 70-66 W @ Amherst
This Week: vs. Conn College
Wesleyan is in danger of falling in the rankings after an 1-1 weekend which dropped them farther down in the national rankings. While they lost to a team ranked above them now, they needed to beat Hamilton to cement themselves as a real championship contender. They should roll over Conn College this weekend, but after narrowly beating the falling Amherst Mammoths, they should be a bit worried going forward. Jordan Bonner ’19 still hasn’t quite found his shot, shooting 3-9 against Amherst, and despite first year Austin Hutcherson’s 19 points and solid shooting, Kevin O’Brien did not play and needs to make it back into the lineup quickly for the Cardinals to have a chance.
6. Amherst (9-5, 1-2)
Last Week: 72-57 W vs. Conn College, 70-66 L vs. Wesleyan
This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton
A sub .500 conference record at this point with their only win against the lowly Camels is not a good start for a formerly great Amherst team. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Michael Riopel ’18 are still leading the way in scoring, but they need more depth in order to compete against the likes of Middlebury, Williams, and Middlebury as Riopel is the only Mammoth with the ability to shoot the deep ball. While they rank second in the conference in rebounding per game, they are in the bottom half in scoring and need to improve going forward.
7. Trinity (11-4, 2-2)
Last Week: 73-68 W @ Bowdoin, 61-51 L @ Colby
This Week: Non-Conference
The bottom half of these rankings get pretty confusing as Trinity’s overall record helps them out here, however, a loss to Colby certainly dampens their overall legitimacy as any sort of contender. They had some terrible individual performances in the road game last weekend as Jeremy Arthur put up a complete dud, going 0-10 shooting, Eric Gendron 2-8 FG, and Kyle Padmore 0-3 FG. There isn’t a whole lot else to say, they need to make more baskets to win games and 31.3% overall in the contest isn’t going to cut it. They should press the reset button this weekend without a NESCAC game and look to bounce back the following weekend.
8. Bates (8-6, 1-1)
Last Week: 82-76 L @ Middlebury, 79-68 L @ Williams
This Week: @ Tufts
Bates put up two decent performances against the NESCAC’s best teams, narrowly losing to Midd and competing against the Ephs. James Mortimer ’18 and Jeff Spellman ’20 are a great 1-2 punch, combining for 41 points against the solid Panther defense. Max Hummel added 13 off the bench, and despite not doing well the next game against Williams with just three points in 15 minutes, has shown some promise. Spellman is the leader of this team and a work horse, putting up 24 the next day against the Ephs and playing over 30 minutes in four games straight. He has the ability to win this team enough games to make it to the playoffs, and in March, anything can happen.
9. Bowdoin (10-4, 1-2)
Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity
This Week: vs. Colby
Losing to a reeling Trinity team certainly won’t aid the Polar Bears going forward. Jack Simonds ’19, as always, can put up huge scoring numbers, supported by David Reynolds’ shooting and Hugh O’Neil’s impressive defense in the paint (17 rebounds against the Bantams). The Polar Bears have good overall numbers as a team and were really hurt by poor three point shooting numbers against Tufts (sub 25%) and heavy turnovers against Trinity—15 compared to the Bantams’ six. Look for the weapon heavy Bowdoin team to start climbing the rankings soon.
10. Colby (10-5, 1-2)
Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity
This Week @ Bowdoin
Colby got a huge win against Trinity to put themselves on the board and in the conversation of relevance for the NESCAC playoffs. While it was a low scoring affair, featuring some awful shooting from Trinity, some of that had to be attributed to the Mule defense, right? Double-doubles from both Dean Weiner ’19 and Sam Jefferson ’20 are a great sign going forward, giving the Mules reason to believe that they can compete with some of the stronger teams.
11. Conn College (6-10, 0-4)
Last Week: 72-57 L @ Amherst, 102-77 L @ Hamilton
This Week: @ Wesleyan
Conn College is beginning to look like a guaranteed win for other NESCAC teams after several blowout games to begin their 2018 conference campaign. In their most recent game, allowing more than 100 points to Hamilton, they clearly had little defense and were nearly out of the game from the beginning. David Labossiere ’19 is doing all he can to prevent the Camels from remaining in the cellar, dropping 18 points and seven boards in that loss, although he is pretty helpless after four losses by over 20 points in NESCAC play.
An unnamed coach recently told me that this NESCAC season is the most wide-open one he’s seen in years. And it’s really true; there is no clear cut number one, and even the Maine teams had moments of excellent play. If anything, the first weekend raised more questions rather than providing answers.
Williams G Bobby Casey ‘19
We’ve written quite a bit about how F James Heskett ‘19 has elevated his game to help the Ephs overcome a potentially devastating injury to Kyle Scadlock ‘19, but we might have been missing the biggest (height nonwithstanding) factor. Casey is in the midst of one of the most efficient shooting seasons the league has seen in several years. He’s shooting 50% from the field and 49% from three. And he’s raising his game when it matters most. In Williams’ impressive 2-0 weekend, Casey was in an absolute zone. He was 18-23 from the field, including a 12-16 mark from downtown. He added four rebounds and two blocks in their win over Wesleyan, the biggest win of any team last weekend. If Casey can continue to raise his game in league play under these strenuous circumstances, an All NESCAC selection is not impossible.
The Continentals are to me what Robin Wright is to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. They always lead me on and make me believe that this is the year, and then they disappoint me. But, at the risk of getting fooled again, this might be the year that Hamilton and I have a “smart” child together. The Continentals are still undefeated, and passed their first mini NESCAC test by trashing Trinity 78-55 on Sunday. They were able to weather an uncharacteristically average shooting night (40% from the field, 30% from three) and used their versatile defense to pick up 10 steals and hold Trinity to just 34.4% shooting. This game was Hamilton’s third straight with at least 10 steals. Creating turnovers is an essential part of their high octane offense, as it allows them to get out on the break and get layups and easy three pointers. The fact that they did it well in league play is a great sign for them, and a bad sign for the rest of the league.
The Panthers dropped the marquee matchup against Wesleyan 80-70, and correspondingly dropped 12 spots in Top 25, from 4 to 16. And it is Middlebury’s offense that deserves most of the blame for their struggles. Offense hasn’t been something Middlebury has had to worry about in several years, but they have real problems finding scoring behind Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. Daly’s three point shot, while better than people give him credit for, is still not a consistent enough weapon for teams to really worry about it. They’d rather go under ball screens and give him jump shots. And Folger’s ball handling isn’t good enough yet for him to punish quickness mismatches on the perimeter. His terrific midrange game allows him to score without getting to the basket, but he isn’t utilizing his full range of skills, and when he isn’t hitting jump shots Middlebury’s offense is troublingly stagnant. This forces Daly to try and do too much at the rim.
There are a few candidates who may have to step up if Middlebury wants to remain in the top tier. G Hilal Dahleh struggled mightily against Wesleyan (3-15 FG) and needs to be at least a spot-up threat, if not more, for Middlebury to beat the best NESCAC teams. And then there are the first years. G Jack Farrell ’21 has hit a shooting wall. He is a valuable defender, but Middlebury may want to consider starting Joey Leighton ’20 (40% from three) to provide more outside punch. A potential wild card is the sweet shooting G Max Bosco ’21. He has looked far more confident in the last few games, and his offensive ceiling is the highest of any of the first years. Middlebury has to, and probably will, figure something out. But it had better be soon.
Wesleyan F Jordan Bonner ’19
While Wesleyan had a pretty good weekend, including a win over Middlebury, Bonner came back down to earth in a big way. In their loss to Williams, he took an unfathomable 18 the pointers and made only five, a stat that confuses me more every time I read it. He was 10-33 from the field overall. And then against Middlebury, he pretty much disappeared, shooting 1-5 from the floor for 7 points. Obviously they won, which bodes well for their ability to succeed without the consistent scoring Bonner had thus far provided, but Wesleyan has collapsed recently in NESCAC play due to a lack of crunch time scoring. If Bonner can’t score efficiently against NESCAC defenses, Wesleyan may not be able to hang with Tufts and Williams.
The last week has been a fascinating one from a power rankings perspective. The preseason top two teams, Middlebury and Williams, both suffered losses in which multiple pervasive problems were revealed. Amherst has also been struggling, while surprise teams like Bowdoin and Hamilton have continued to play well. The league is very hard to read heading into NESCAC play, and that’s definitely a good thing. Let’s get to the rankings.
1: #14 Wesleyan (9-1)
The Cardinals have two of the best wins in the league, over #11 Williams in a non conference game and over #21 Nichols. Wesleyan’s defense has always been dominant, but in recent years they have lacked the outside shooting (and scoring overall) to compete with the elite NESCAC teams like Middlebury, Williams and Amherst. This season, they have been able to score when they need to. Jordan Bonner ‘19 (16.8 PPG) has had a lot to do with this, but Austin Hutcherson ‘21 has emerged lately as the kind of X-Factor that could carry Wesleyan to the top of a wide-open league. In a three game stretch that featured wins over Vassar, Brandeis and Fitchburg State, Hutcherson had 14, 27 and 14 with 12 three pointers. However, he was held to zero points during Wesleyan’s loss to an inferior Springfield team on Tuesday night. That loss featured many of the scoring woes that have plagued the Cardinals in recent years, so it seems that Hutcherson will be a crucial factor in determining whether their success will continue in NESCAC play. A back-to-back home matchup with Williams and Middlebury this weekend will be the best possible test of Wesleyan’s legitimacy.
2: Tufts (9-3)
Don’t look now, but Tufts is figuring it out. They’ve won five games in a row, and are the hottest team entering league play outside of undefeated Hamilton. Cam wrote a good deal about them in the Stock Report, but the return of KJ Garrett ‘18 makes the Jumbos dangerous again as contenders for the league crown. An electric athlete who can score in bunches and defend multiple positions, Garrett is the kind of player who can swing games all by himself on either end of the court. And he did just that in their tournament. Garrett had 30 points in the two games (18 in a Game One win over Pomona) and added 12 rebounds and five steals. With Vinny Pace back in form and Eric Savage making a big leap (15.6 PPG,) Tufts is as deep on the perimeter as anyone. And there aren’t too many big men in the league who can really exploit their lack of size, so Tufts is right back in the top tier.
3: #4 Middlebury (7-2)
The Panther’s ride to a three-peat has hit a classic New England speed bump. The Panthers have lost two of their last three games, the last one a blowout at home, something that has happened maybe once or twice in the last five years. It must be noted, however, that the losses were to #12 York and #13 Swarthmore. Middlebury has played the toughest non-league schedule of anyone, and they just paid for it. However, Middlebury should still be able to win those games, especially at home. The culprit has been scoring, particularly from the perimeter. Middlebury was relying a great deal on relatively unproven quantities like Jack Farrell ‘21, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 to aid Jack Daly ‘18 and Matt Folger ‘20 in scoring. And honestly, no one has been hitting and outside shots. In this rough three game stretch, Middlebury is just 16-69 (definitely NOT nice) from three. That’s about 23%. As a result of this, teams are throwing all their defenders at Daly, who is trying to do a little too much against that pressure due to his own struggles from three. Middlebury still has a lot of talent, and should benefit from this early exposure to high level competition. But they have to hit more shots this weekend, especially in their marquee Saturday matchup with Wesleyan.
4: #24 Hamilton (10-0)
First of all, congratulations are in order. Hamilton is nationally ranked for the first time since 2004. And yet, they can still claim that they’re underrated. 10-0 and fourth in the power rankings? Tough break for the Continentals, who have been by far the most impressive team in preseason (albeit with a bad schedule.) Hamilton’s offense is firing on every cylinder right now. They average nearly 100 points per game on 50% shooting and 39% from three. They have four players averaging over 13 points per game, and none of them are seniors. However, their defense will need to improve if they are to buck their recent trend of fading in NESCAC play. Hamilton’s big starting lineup (the smallest starter is athletic Kena Gilmour ‘20 at 6’3”) should lead to versatility, but their forwards are undersized and they often get killed in the paint. Hamilton is last in the NESCAC in opponents field goal percentage at 44%. They will not be able to simply outscore NESCAC teams.
5: #11 Williams (9-2)
The Ephs may be finally starting to notice that Kyle Scadlock is not on the court. Their 73-71 loss to 4-5 Hamline is the worst one of the recent rash of top tier NESCAC losses. Williams has a real problem with finding a secondary scoring option alongside the rising star of James Heskett ‘19. Heskett has done a terrific job taking on the go-to-guy mantle, averaging nearly 23 points per game on over 50% shooting in their last three games. But other players who had been scoring well, such as Bobby Casey ‘19, have recently fallen off. Obviously, one game is no reason to panic. But league games are looming, and Williams starts off on Friday with a road game at Wesleyan, the toughest opening game of any team. Teams will be on notice now about Heskett’s emergence, and Wesleyan (and Tufts and Middlebury for that matter) have plenty of athletes on the perimeter to throw at Casey. As always, I think Williams should up the minutes of Matt Karpowicz ‘20. He’s a scoring threat down low and could force defenses to move around more instead of sitting on the three pointer. We’ll see how they handle Wesleyan on Friday.
6: Amherst (7-3)
Amherst is entering league play on a decidedly downward trajectory. They’ve lost two in a row with opposite problems contributing to each loss. In a 76-65 loss to Southeastern, Amherst shot only 37% from the field, including a 2-13 showing from Johnny McCarthy ‘18. And then in their next game, a 95-92 loss to Eastern Connecticut, Amherst shot 57% from the field and got 25 points from McCarthy and 22 from Michael Riopel ‘18. However, those two players combined for over half of their points, and they still gave up 95 to the other team. Amherst’s offense goes as McCarthy goes, and like McCarthy, they are struggling for consistency. They still lack a third scoring option that can be trusted every night, just as they did last season. Every year people are waiting for Amherst to turn it on. Their success rightfully makes them a perpetual sleeping giant. But it might be the case that they just don’t have enough talent this season.
7: Trinity (9-2)
I feel like no one, especially us, has said a single word about Trinity yet this season. But as quietly as possible, the Bantams are 9-2 and have won five games in a row. They’ve done it, as is their way, with defense. They are second only to Wesleyan in opponent’s field goal percentage and points per game. Additionally, they absolutely handled Springfield (the team that recently handed Wesleyan their first loss) earlier this season 71-54. Like the Cardinals, Trinity’s strength on defense is balanced out by struggles on offense. In the preseason, Trinity has gotten fairly consistent scoring from Jeremy Arthur ‘19 (13.7 PGG) and Eric Gendron ‘18 (10.3 PPG.) However, Gendron only shoots 22% from three, and Trinity as a team only shot 31% from downtown. Their offense will need to be more versatile in NESCAC play.
8: Bowdoin (8-2)
The Polar Bears have rebounded nicely from their two game losing streak,
winning their last two in impressive fashion. This mini-streak including a non-league win over Bates. Bowdoin has been shooting the ball very well lately, hitting over 50% of their shots in both of those wins. Despite having only started one game, David Reynolds ‘20 has taken over for Jack Simonds ‘19 (who is struggling mightily from the field at 39.5%) as the go to scorer. But the key to Bowdoin’s league success may well end up being a first year. PG Zavier Rucker is still shooting 66.7% from the field in 31.1 minutes per game. He has also shown tremendous maturity in running the offense, especially for a first year. His assist to turnover ratio is 2.5, fifth best among players with over 30 assists. And his size (6’2”, 187) and strength have made him an elite defender already. He averages 1.5 steals per game, and will be essential in guarding the variety of excellent guards in the NESCAC. Bowdoin has the talent to reach heights they haven’t seen in years, and Rucker is a huge part of that chance.
9: Colby (7-3)
The best big man you haven’t heard about plays for the Mules, and his name is Dean Weiner. Yes, I know he sounds like the bad guy in a raunchy college comedy, but he is quietly putting up one of the best stat lines in the league. He averages 10.3 PPG, and leads the league in rebounds (9.4) and blocks (2.8.) But what really sets him apart is his passing. He averages four assists per game, with an A/TO ratio of 2.5. That’s better than many guards. In a league somewhat devoid of star big men, Weiner could be a problem for many teams come league play. His versatility could give traditional big men like Williams’ Karpowicz and Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ‘18 problems, and he’s good enough around the rim (58.3% from the field) to punish smaller players in switches. Colby may not have enough shooting around him to be really dangerous, but they’ve got a star, the first key to NESCAC success.
10: Bates (7-5)
Bates still simply cannot shoot. They are shooting 39% from the field as a team, and 29% from three, both far and away the worst marks in the league. And this is in non-conference play: they still have to face the elite defense of the NESCAC. Jeff Spellman ‘20 carries the most offensive burden of any player in the league, and as a result, defenses are throwing everything they have at him. He’s only shooting 30% from three, and that is simply because he is forced to take many tough shots. Given this trend, it is surprising that Max Hummel ‘19 doesn’t play more. He is far and away Bates’ best shooter (indeed, one of the best in the league) at 45.5% from three, and yet he only plays 17 minutes per game. In league play, Hummel might and should be forced into a sixth man or even starting role, in order to find some shooting and free up Spellman.
11: Connecticut College (5-6)
The Camels have lost four of their last five games, and it’s kind of unclear as to why. Their teams shooting numbers are excellent (second in the league in three point shooting at 37%,) they have a star in David Laboissiere ‘18 (17 PPG on 45% shooting from three) and a strong secondary scorer in Dan Draffan ‘21. For more on Draffan, check out Colby’s (the writer, not the college) Awards Preview. Generally speaking, the culprit behind the Camel’s struggles is defense, but it seems more that they have a lack of toughness. All of their losses have been by at least 9 points, suggesting that when they get down, they are not good at managing runs by opponents. However, their shooting ability means that they could be a problem if they get hot. They have a good chance to turn it around on Friday night when the shaky Middlebury Panthers come to town.
Aside from Editor in Chief, my most important job at this blog is the president of the Jack Daly fan club. Daly has long been the Kevin Jonas to St. Amour and Brown’s Joe and Nick–almost (and maybe even as) talented, but under the radar. But now he gets a solo act. Scoring is not his specialty, but he will be asked to be more aggressive in creating his own shot to replace some of St. Amour’s possession-saving shots. But Daly has already proven that he can fill it up when the team needs it. He had a buzzer beater in the holiday tournament last season, and in the NCAA game against Williams he had 23 points, while Brown and St. Amour both struggled. He will have to shoot higher than 31% from three, but he improved in league play last season despite a an awkward jump shot. What really sets him apart, however, is everything else besides scoring. There might be no greater triple double threat in the league. He led Middlebury in rebounding last season, (6.5) despite being a good six inches shorter than Nick Tarantino (6’3″ in the program? Alright Jack.) And he finished in the top three in the league in both assists and steals. He fills the stat sheet like no one else. Middlebury might have had the three best guards in the league on their team last season, and it’s possible that the best one is the one that stayed.
G: Hilal Dahleh ‘19 (4.7 PPG, 1.7 REB/G, 39% FG)
This second guard spot is maybe the biggest question mark for the Panthers. Daly should effectively mitigate the loss of Brown at the point, but Middlebury’s success last season stemmed from having multiple guards who could initiate the offense, guard threats on the opposing team, and create shots for themselves. There’s a lot of competition for this spot. Sophomores Perry Delorenzo ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘19 are excellent shooters, as is precocious first year Max Bosco. Perhaps the best candidate among the first years to jump into this spot would be first year Jack Ferrall. A tremendous athlete, Ferrall projects as an elite defender with finishing skills that transcend his height. But his shooting is not as far along as any of the other guards.
The person who best allows the Panthers to continue playing the way they want is Hilal Dahleh. In his first year, he impressed with his terrific defense and feel for the game, despite struggling with his shot. He was projected to be a major factor last season, but suffered a back injury in the preseason which forced him out for the entire year. But he has worked his way back into playing shape, and should enter the season at 100%. At 6’3”, he has terrific size for the position, and his long arms allow him to be a good complimentary defender to Daly. The key for him will be hitting shots. He has to be an offensive threat out of the two guard spot for the Middlebury offense to function. If he struggles shooting the ball to start off the year, there are several shooters on the bench who are ready to go.
F: Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
This spot is also up for debate, as if any of the other guards besides Dahleh impress enough in the preseason, they could slide into the starting lineup, with Dahleh at the three and Folger at the four. But Folger’s starting spot is far from in doubt, and having him at the three opens up a world of possibilities. There’s more on him below so I won’t say too much here, but there are few players in the league with his combination of height and perimeter skills. Teams can’t put a guard on him, as he has good post footwork and can shoot right over the top of them. But very few big men can keep up with his speed and ball handling, and he draws a center away from the basket. This opens up driving lanes for any of the speedy Middlebury guards. If at all possible, the Panthers should try to play Folger here at the three to create mismatches all over the floor.
F: Adisa Majors ‘18 (9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB/G, 54% FG)
Majors has carved out a nice spot for himself here in Middlebury. His style in the post is best described as “Elephant in a China Shop,” but his 54% field goal percentage speaks to its effectiveness. His 15-foot jumper is perfect for playing in a guard-heavy offense, and he has gotten himself into good enough shape to beat most big men down the court. He has developed into the perfect big man for Jack Daly. Defensively, he has made great strides, but still gets into trouble when switched onto opposing guards. Eric McCord ‘19 is less of a liability in this area, and is a better passer out of the post as well. But he hasn’t practiced yet this season, so right now Majors is the guy. He will need to continue to earn his time, as a three guard lineup with Folger at the four is entirely possible. But then again, he’s done that his whole career.
Tarantino was an embodiment of one of the strangest developments of Middlebury’s season last year. In the first half, Middlebury was getting killed on the glass and in the paint defensively, and it looked as if the forward rotation would spoil the incredible perimeter play and lead to an early tournament exit. But around the beginning of league play, Tarantino, McCord and Majors turned it on and became one of the more threatening units in the league. Tarantino was especially impressive. He shot 59% from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds a game, becoming the kind of imposing threat that Middlebury needed to have controlling the paint. And this season he should only get better as the established starter. As a recruit he was touted as being an outside threat, but he has (mercifully) left that behind in favor of a springy, jump hook-based post game. His most underrated skill is his passing, as he and McCord have developed a nice chemistry on high low actions, taking advantage of both of their heights to see over the defense.
Speaking of defense, that is where he must improve. Despite his long arms, height and jumping ability, he still averaged less than one block per game last season. Folger is a great shot blocker, but when Tarantino is in Folger will most likely be on the perimeter. Tarantino must become a more imposing defensive force for Middlebury. When McCord comes back, some minutes at this spot will go to him, but they are at their best when playing together, so Tarantino should see consistent minutes all season.
F Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
If Middlebury hopes to continue the frantic, perimeter-heavy style of play that has won them back-to-back NESCAC championships, Folger must take a big leap forward. He certainly has the talent to. At 6’8”, he is tall enough to be a menace in the paint on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of being a dominant interior force last season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game despite limited minutes, and he has terrific touch around the rim on offense, shooting 60% on two point field goals. But it’s his perimeter skills at that height that make him one of the most talented players in the league. He has very quick feet and long arms, enabling him to guard players of all different positions. Middlebury will ask him to do a great deal of this, as many lineups for the Panthers will feature him at the small forward spot alongside more traditional big men such as McCord, Tarantino or Adisa Majors ‘18.
Folger also will take on much more responsibility as a three point threat. Middlebury’s guard-heavy recruiting class suggests that they want to continue to run and shoot three pointers often. This is difficult to do when you graduate your three best outside shooters, including one of the best in the country. Folger’s form is beautiful, and his success inside the arc and at the foul line (80%) serve as evidence to his great touch, but he only shot 28% from three last season. Of course it takes most first years time to adjust to the college game (Middlebury loyalists will remember that Matt St. Amour struggled from three for most of his first two years) but Folger doesn’t have that luxury this season. He will be asked to live up to his considerable potential this year, and if he does, an All-NESCAC selection is not out of the realm of possibility.
Middlebury’s goal, like the rest of the league’s, is to beat Williams. They’re the preseason number one, and they’re the team that knocked the Panthers out in the NCAA tournament last season. The way that Middlebury is going at the Ephs is by matching their size and positional versatility. Daly has long been the best defender in the league in terms of guarding all positions; he is the only point guard in the league who can guard power forwards effectively, and will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of size or position. With the forward rotation of Folger, Tarantino, Majors and McCord, and terrific defensive guards in Dahleh and Daly (say that three times fast) the Panthers have the ability to play a lineup big enough to bang on the glass with Williams without sacrificing too much speed. Another factor in this equation is first year forward Ryan Cahill ‘21. He is another big man who is far more mobile than his size would lead you to believe, and is already a threat from outside. He will be in the rotation as long as McCord is out, and maybe beyond that.
Middlebury could also match Williams by playing small and running them off the floor, but there are more question marks there. Coach Brown’s focus in the offseason for recruiting was certainly guards, and he has brought in an excellent class. We have already discussed Farrell’s two way potential, but the second unit of guards runs deeper than just him. Bosco is one of the best shooters in the class, regardless of team. His release is lightning fast, and he is very advanced at finding his spot and finishing over size. Defensively he projects as a liability right now due to his own diminutive stature, so he is better suited at the moment to be shot of caffiene off the bench, a la Bryan Jones.
Delorenzo and Leighton also figure to fight for minutes, and as always, whichever one of them is hitting shots will determine who sits higher in the rotation. Much of Middlebury’s second unit play will be guard-heavy, three point barrages, but they could also easily trot out a three guard starting lineup, with Bosco or Delorenzo joining Dahleh and Daly in the back court. With Folger at the four and Tarantino, Majors or McCord (when he returns from injury) at the five this lineup would be very difficult to defend. However, the would be worse on the boards and overall easier to score on, especially for larger lineups like Williams’.
Middlebury has reloaded this season, but there are a lot of red flags. Daly has the highest amount of responsibility of any point guard in the league. He has to run a high paced offense, while working in many new players and guarding the best player on the other team. He doesn’t have a proven backup, although Dahleh, Farrell and Bosco are all capable of bringing the ball up. They will run a lot of the second unit offense. But with that said, there’s no way that Middlebury isn’t worse without Daly on the floor. He might set minutes records this season, and there’s no guarantee that he can sustain his impossible hustle while having the ball in his hands so often.
The lack of three point shooting is also worrying. The three graduated seniors were the three best outside shooters on a team that didn’t exactly light it up for much of the season. Middlebury got in a lot of trouble when teams could pack the paint against them and force them into congested shots in the paint. That’s what Williams did in the NCAA tournament. Daly will have to shoot better than 31%; if teams can go under picks and play off him, the offense stalls out at the top of the key. Folger’s 28% is unacceptable for a guy with such pretty form, and he represents the biggest outside weapon in the projected starting lineup. And Bosco, Delorenzo and Leighton will have to live up to their billing as bombers. Middlebury can no longer rely on St. Amour to get them a shot in failed possessions, other guys have to step up.
The losses look huge on paper. St. Amour is one of the best NESCAC players of the last 20 years, and Brown wasn’t far behind him. Bryan Jones was a force off the bench, and even Liam Naughton hit a couple big shots and was huge for team chemistry. But they retained a great deal of talent as well. The forward rotation was a strength at the end of last season, and all of those players are back and a year more experienced. With a big starting five that looks more Division One than NESCAC, Middlebury should be able to cure much of rebounding woes that once plagued them. The keys to Middlebury’s chances at a three-peat lie on the perimeter. They need Daly and Folger to up their scoring averages and three point percentages considerably, and for Delorenzo, Ferrall, Dahleh, Bosco and Cahill to be threats off the bench. The Panthers enter the season eighth in the country and third in the NESCAC, behind Williams and Tufts. It’s possible that at the end of the year, we will look back on that and laugh at how low they were. But it’s also possible that we shake our heads and wonder why they were so high. I think it will be the former, but, as always, I’m biased.
As Rory pointed out in the Friday preview, the third weekend is often a pivotal one for playoff chances. An 0-2 weekend this late in the season can be damning for post-season hopes, and that is only exacerbated by how strong the league is this year. Teams like Williams, Colby and yes, even Amherst need strong weekends to keep their playoff hopes alive, or reassert their place at the top of the league.
GAME OF THE WEEK – SUNDAY: Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) at Williams (12-4, 1-3): Sunday, 1/22, Williamstown, MA, 2:00 PM
Will I choose Middlebury as the Game of the Week in every preview? Probably. But this game deserves must-watch status. Not only is it a rivalry game pitting two of the most successful teams of the last decade against each other, it features two of the best scorers in the league in Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Daniel Aronowitz ‘17. And it should end before the Patriots game starts, so no worries there.
Middlebury and Williams enter the game on very different footing in the league. Middlebury is 3-1, and was very close to pulling out a win at Tufts. Williams, on the other hand, comes in at 1-3 and has looked like one of the bottom teams in the league. For much of the post-Michael Mayer era, Williams has been a highly dangerous and successful 3-and-D team, relying on outside shooting and strong perimeter defense to remain a contender in the NESCAC. But the Ephs haven’t been able to put together those two components of their machine yet this year. Despite taking the most three point shots in the league by a considerable margin, they have the third-lowest percentage. The defense is still strong from a numbers standpoint, but they have been exploitable by patient offenses, allowing the third-highest shooting percentage to their opponents in the league. Williams might not have the personnel to continue playing their patented style, but they could prove that idea very wrong with a win over the Panthers.
We’ve been writing a great deal lately about how the forward rotation of Matt Folger ‘20, Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘19 has given the Panthers an interior presence that many felt they’d be lacking this year. But in this game, I see the guards off the bench as being a crucial factor in Middlebury’s game plan. Williams will undoubtedly attempt to use the three point shot as a way to counteract Middlebury’s quick-strike offense. And if they’re hitting those shots, the Panthers may need some firepower from the outside to match them. That’s where the guards come in. The primary outside threat off the bench for Middlebury is Bryan Jones ‘17, who played some nice minutes early in the season but has shot just 5-18 in conference play. Recently, freshman guard Joey Leighton ‘20 has shot very well, entering the rotation just before league play and hitting 44% of his three pointers. Senior Liam Naughton and freshman Perry Delorenzo are also options, but haven’t played much in tight spots. Middlebury may need Jones and Leighton in particular to be scoring threats to open the floor for the three starting guards and the post players.
Williams’ big man rotation is a key for them as well. It is very telling that in Williams’ only NESCAC win thus far, a 72-66 road win over Colby, they got 33 points from their four forwards. In the other games, Williams has received a shocking lack of production from the frontcourt, on both sides of the ball. Williams is the second worst rebounding team in the league, and neither James Heskett ‘19 nor Matt Karpowicz ‘20 nor Marcos Soto ‘19 has been nearly consistent enough offensively to worry opposing teams. If Williams is to match Middlebury’s newfound interior presence, they will need good production from at least two of those bench players, as well as starters Kyle Scadlock ‘19 and Michael Kempton ‘19.
This is a critical game for Williams, who is drifting dangerously close to falling out of contention for a top four seed. They have traditionally enjoyed a huge home court advantage, and have beaten Middlebury in some classics in Williamstown over the last few seasons, particularly in tournament play. But they need more than history on their side on Sunday. They need their role players like Cole Teal ‘17 and Heskett to hit some threes, and they need Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Scadlock to play like stars. Aronowitz in particular should be key, as he will probably be matching St. Amour for much of the game. He has to at least play him to a draw if the Ephs have a shot.
Middlebury wins this one on paper. They have far more offensive weapons on the perimeter, and should be able to crash the boards against Williams’ frontcourt. However, Williams’ style of play is by nature unpredictable. If they are hitting threes, they can hang with anyone in the country, and it will be Middlebury’s job to run them off the line and into the paint, where they are far less proficient at finishing over size.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Connecticut College (10-5, 1-3) at Tufts (13-2, 4-0): Medford, MA, 3:00 PM
Basking in the glow of their new standing at the top of the Power Rankings, Tufts has taken the league by storm, winning their first four NESCAC games. They still haven’t quite gotten POY-level production from Vincent Pace ‘18, but KJ Garrett averaged 15 PPG over the two games last weekend, giving them a valuable offensive weapon off the bench. The Jumbos still have problems in the post, as Tom Palleschi ‘17 has struggled offensively for much of the season. That said, Tufts has plenty of weapons ready to pick up the slack.
Connecticut College has a lot of momentum entering this weekend. They shocked Amherst last Sunday, owning the paint en route to an 83-76 OT win. The Camels were able to lock down Jayde Dawson ‘18 as well as any team has this year, holding him to 9 points on 4-10 shooting. That suggests that they should be well-equipped to handle Pace, who showed signs against Middlebury that he’s rounding back into form. They also got 40 points and 18 rebounds collectively from senior forwards Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17. Tufts showed against Middlebury that strong post players can give them problems, as Eric McCord emerged against them with 22 points. Therefore, Connecticut College has the tools to pull off another upset, but I don’t see it happening.
I’m setting the over/under for total points in this game at 105, as arguably the two best defenses (and least consistent offenses) in the league square off in what may come to be known as “The Battle of the Bricks.” Wesleyan looked to be nearly dead after starting off 0-2, but roared back with two straight wins over Amherst and Trinity. Wesleyan’s elite defense was on full display in both games, holding the two teams to an average of 60 PPG. They finally received some offensive firepower from Kevin O’ Brien ‘19, and Harry Rafferty ‘17 too, an encouraging sign. To win at Bates, they will need one of those two, or Salim Green ‘19 (finally got his name right) to shoot well from the perimeter, as Bates’ interior defense is often pretty much impenetrable.
Bates has been one of the surprises of the season thus far, sitting at 3-1 with a quality home win over Hamilton under their belt. Their success has obviously been chiefly due to the Delpeche twins, who combine for 27 PPG and 19 REB/G. Additionally, Malcolm leads the league in blocks at over 3 per game. The Delpeches are the keys to Bates’ offense and defense, but freshman transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been pivotal in giving the Bobcats a perimeter threat off the bench. He had 30 points over the weekend. Bates should give Wesleyan a heavy dose of both Delpeche brothers, putting a tremendous defensive burden on Nathan Krill ‘19 and Joseph Kuo ‘17. Taking Bates’ lyric little bandbox of a home court into account, I see the towering twins leading Bates to another impressive home win.
Well if they lose this one, there’s officially a crisis in Amherst. The Purple and White have lost two in a row, both to teams that hadn’t won a game in league play entering their match-up. Amherst’s problems have been copiously and gleefully documented on this blog, but they boil down to a lack of dimensionality on offense. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 have too much responsibility, allowing teams like Wesleyan to load up on them and dare other players to beat them. Colby probably doesn’t have quite enough perimeter depth to make use of this gameplan, but other teams have certainly taken notes on what Wesleyan and Conn College did to Amherst last weekend.
Colby may be the only team that played worse than Amherst last weekend. At 0-3 in the league, they are carving out a niche as the bottom team in a very strong league. Colby simply doesn’t have enough weapons to hang with the top teams in the league. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four, but like McCarthy and Dawson, he often carries an unreasonable burden for the Mules, yet with less of a supporting cast around him than the two Amherst guards. Amherst should use this game to get back on track, and ideally find a little more depth on offense.
This game is a matchup of stars. Jack Simonds ‘19 and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 would be my top two POY candidates at this point in the season, due to their importance to their respective teams. Bowdoin for the most part goes as far as Simonds can carry them, as was proven by his electric 32 point performance in their lone NESCAC win over Williams. This game will be an excellent test of Simonds’ scoring chops in league play, as Trinity boasts an elite defense anchored by, who else, Ed Ogundeko.
Ogundeko may carry an even heavier load for Trinity than Simonds does for Bowdoin. In addition to being the key to the offense, he leads the league (and by nature of the transitive property, the team as well) in rebounding, and may be the one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the league. Players are straight-up terrified of shooting layups against him, which is heavily responsible for Trinity being among the league leaders in most defensive catagories. Bowdoin, on the other hand, is the worst rebounding team in the league. This could well be another 20-20 game for Big Ed, and if that’s the case, I see Trinity taking the win at home.