For those of us that made it out of the library, we saw a pretty exciting week as far as preseason NESCAC basketball goes. The week featured two non-conference, conference games: Colby topped Bowdoin, 89-84 in a high scoring affair, while Wesleyan needed more than just 40 minutes to edge Williams, 72-67, on the road in Williamstown. This week there were fewer extraordinary individual performances, so much of the focus is on the teams as a whole, with much focus on the two aforementioned games. As we eagerly await the start of true conference play, let’s take a long about who is trending up and who is trending down after this exciting week:
Going into the year, we weren’t sure what to expect of this Cardinal team who lost three underclassmen, to go along with two graduating seniors. Even when they started 5-0, none of those five wins stood out as particularly impressive. This all changed on Saturday after they took down the no. 3 nationally-ranked Ephs in overtime. Although it won’t count towards the NESCAC standings, this is a very impressive win for Wesleyan. Winning a game against a team of this caliber on the road is not only a resume-booster, but it should give this unproven lineup a huge dose of confidence. The Cardinals are aided by reigning NESCAC player of the week, Jordan Bonner ’19 who dominated against Williams, and has emerged as the top scoring threat in Middletown. They also boast one of the league’s most efficient players in Kevin O’Brien ’19, who averages 10.8PPG, 7REB/G, and 5.8 AST/G, while shooting 62.5% from the field. This type of efficiency will be key for Wesleyan if they would like to stand atop the conference, or even the Little Three, by the end of the season.
Last week we mentioned Bates and Bowdoin as Maine schools that were on a bit of a tear, and now we can add Colby to the list. They welcomed the Polar Bears to Waterville and put on quite a performance. I’m not a betting man (in compliance with NCAA rules of course), but if I were, I would say that Bowdoin was probably the favorite in this one, entering the game undefeated and ranked #22 nationally. It was a very tight game the entire way, but the Mules simply shot too well to lose this one. They shot 48.4% from the field, they were 13-32 (40.6%) from beyond the arc en route to a 5-point victory. Their style of play is very offense-oriented and they like to shoot A LOT. However, their pass-first mentality places them first in the league with 20.3 assists per game. They also love to crash the boards, specifically on offense. They are in the middle of the pack (5th) in the conference in total rebounds, but second in offensive rebounds. Colby very much subscribes to living and dying via the three-point shot, but it has worked thus far, as they are second in threes per game. The Mules are very fun to watch, so stay tuned to see how they fare over the next few weeks.
This is a much more scrutinized topic in NESCAC football, especially with the conference’s basketball being much deeper, but it does seem that year-in and year-out we see more or less the same teams at the top. It was exciting to see both Wesleyan and Colby (underdogs per se) take down higher ranked teams and show that anything can happen on any given night in the ‘CAC. I am about as big a NESCAC fan as they come, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have any evidence to back up my claim that the NESCAC is the best conference in the NCAA. 11 of the last 14 Division III Final Fours® have featured at least one team from the NESCAC, and there are no other conferences at any other division that can say the same. Hopefully the new NESCAC-ESPN deal gets off the ground, so we can start airing games that are played at this high of a level. Until then.
Williams’ little three chances
The mighty Ephs have shown us that they are vulnerable, and Wesleyan showed what it takes to defeat them. The Cardinals stymied the Ephs on defense, holding them to 23-62 (37.1%) from the field and 9-33 (27.3%) from 3-point land. It didn’t get any better from the charity stripe, where Williams went 12-23, good for 52.2%. They were not turning the ball over at a particularly high rate, but their poor showing from the field resulted in a season-low 11 assists. Wesleyan’s defensive effort was superb, and I’m confident the Ephs will bounce back, but this result was pretty shocking considering they came in at #3 in the nation. That said, this was officially a non-conference game, and teams aren’t expected to be in top shape on December 1st. Williams simply has much more to prove with after the first blemish of their season, especially with another non-conference matchup with Amherst looming. With Wesleyan showing that they aren’t messing around and Amherst playing well out of the gates, the Little Three crown will be a lot tougher to grab than we may have thought at the beginning of the year.
Johnny McCarthy as a POY candidate
As a writer, I take pride in my work, and I’m also willing to admit when I was wrong. In the case of McCarthy, it does appear that I was wrong when I discussed him as a possible POY candidate. Nothing against McCarthy or Amherst, because they are off to a great start, appearing at no. 21 in the nation this week. Simply put, Amherst is too balanced for McCarthy to stand out as a candidate for this prestigious award. He is putting up 8.5PPG, 6.0Reb/G, and 2.3AST/G, which are all solid numbers, but not enough to place him under POY consideration. The Mammoths have such a large rotation of players that play at a high level, so no individual is truly standing out. Again, this is not meant to take any jabs at the Mammoths who have being playing really good basketball, but it is interesting to see who will take a step forward once they get to the more difficult portion of their schedule.
The Cardinals started their season with 11 straight wins before being slowed down by the grind of the NESCAC conference schedule. They lost to Trinity in the NESCAC quarters, before ending their season against Union (NY) in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
Projected 2017-2018 Record: 18-6 (7-6 conference)
Amherst gets some redemption this season against a Wesleyan squad that beat them twice last winter.
Harry Rafferty (13 PPG, 2.2 AST/G, 38% 3FG) –
A veteran guard who started every game his senior season, and 77 of his 103 collegiate appearances, the Cardinals will most definitely miss his floor presence and lifetime 40% shooting.
Joseph Kuo (11.8 PPG, 7.2 REB/G, 49% FG) –
Wesleyan will be missing their paint beast in Kuo. Though his numbers aren’t astounding – Kuo averaged just over 7 rebounds and 12 points a game – he started essentially every game for the past 3 seasons, and any team can’t but miss such a reliable presence, especially in a paint protector like Kuo. The Cardinals do, however, have another veteran down low, in senior Nathan Krill, and, as the 6-7 vet JR Bascom has stepped in to fill Kuo’s shoes, Wesleyan looks to continue their streak of solid defense from last year.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Thanks to an endless streak of midterms and papers in the green mountains, this writer has the benefit of Wesleyan’s having already played in, and won, the Herb Kenny Tip-Off tournament. So my starting lineup predictions have some, albeit limited, historical basis.
F JR Bascom ’18 (4.7 PPG, 3.4 REB/G, 53.8% FG)
Though he played just 9 minutes against Mitchell, Bascom has the benefit of a rather guard-heavy Wesleyan roster. He’s had the career trajectory of a player who’s had to earn his minutes, and this season the waiting looks to pay off. Bascom played in 26 games last season, but started only one. This year he’s charged taking over for the graduated Joseph Kuo, so look for Bascom in the introductions this year. He’s 7-8 shooting so far this young season, and looks to be playing with the poise and confidence afforded to a man of his experience.
F Nathan Krill ’18 (9.6 PPG, 6.2 REB/G, 0.9 BLK/G)
The 6-7 senior and chief contender for the annual “Feels Like He’s Been Here for 35 Years” award is off to hot start to the year. After an 11-point, 8 rebound performance to start the year against Anna Maria, Krill dropped 22 on 9-14 shooting against Mitchell on Saturday. He capped his 20-minute double-double with 16 boards, earning Krill the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament MVP. Krill was in and out of the starting lineup last season, but any forward who takes 9 threes in 27 minutes is feeling mighty confident. If Krill keeps playing with the confidence he absolutely deserves to be playing with, look for him to step into the role of a real impact player this season.
G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (N/A)
The freshman played his way into a starting spot after the season opener against Anna Maria, where he scored 9 points on 11 attempts from the field. Look for the Jersey Boy Hutcherson and senior Jordan Sears to both be in and out of the starting 5, but I put my money on Hutcherson, who’s a lanky 6-6, winning the position battle. In Wesleyan’s 107-64 romping of Mitchell, Hutcherson had 13 points on 6-13 shooting. The biggest struggle for any freshman is adjusting to the speed and increased physicality of the college game. It often means a hit to the confidence early on, but clearly Hutcherson’s deflected the confidence blow, because he’s shooting the ball plenty, and doing it successfully.
G/F Jordan Bonner ’19 (12.8 PPG, 5.2 REB/G)
Bonner is Wesleyan’s go-to man. The 6-4 junior guard emerged as a big-time scorer last season for the Cardinals, hitting a buzzer beater against Amherst to send the game, one he sealed with a pair of clutch free-throws, to overtime. He averaged 13 points a game last season, and though his 5.2 rebounds a game is middling, Bonner has bounce, and is capable of producing double-double performances. Though he’s a more than capable scorer, and will be looked to as such, look for Bonner to crank it up a notch this season on the glass in big time conference games this year.
G Kevin O’Brien ’19 (8.3 PPG, 6.5 REB/G, 4.3 AST/G, 1.5 STL/G)
O’Brien will run Wesleyan’s offense from the point. The 6-5 junior is a supersized point guard, and uses it to bully smaller players. He averaged nearly 7 rebounds per game last season in his 26 starts, and also uses his height to see over the defense to make tough passes. But his most important job is kickstarting Wesleyan’s notorious D. O’Brien averaged 1.5 steals a game last year, and is an absolute menace in the pick and roll, due again to his size. O’Brien can legitimately switch onto any position and not give up too much size. You can tell from the stats above that O’Brien is one of the best all around players in the league. But in the absence of shooter Harry Rafferty, O’Brien will be looked at more and more to put up points. He’s certainly capable of it. He scored consistently last season, and was 8-8 with 16 points against Mitchell last weekend. Look for O’Brien as Wesleyan’s lock-down man and floor general this year.
Breakout Player: Austin Hutcherson ’21
The beauty of Wesleyan’s team this year is that almost every stud, or even starter, was, by the end of the year last year, someone coach Joe Reilly looked to consistently and with confidence. Austin Hutcherson is the lone complete newcomer to the floor, and it’s a position that hasn’t appeared to intimidate him in the slightest. Through Wes’s 2-0 start to the season, Hutcherson has shot 4-11 and 6-13 respectively. It’s a volume that tells me he’s playing with the earnest fire of a newcomer to NESCAC hoops, but also with the confidence of someone who’s played at Wesleyan’s level before. I think 2 or 3 more games are all that’s needed to cement Hutcherson’s swagger, and after that, watch out.
As always, the key to this Wesleyan lineup is their defense. Wesleyan may be the closest team in the league to the new NBA ideal of a position-less, switch heavy lineup. Forwards Nathan Krill and JR Bascom are highly skilled and have very quick feet, and their guards Bonner, Hutcherson and O’ Brien run 6’4″, 6’5″ and 6’6″ respectively. Welseyan’s lineup is supersized and quick, making pick and rolls against them tremendously difficult. Their guards are tall enough to guard bigs in the post, and the bigs are quick enough to not get killed by guards on the perimeter. Wesleyan has the personnel to be an elite defensive unit.
Offense is far more of a question mark. They lost their best shooter in Rafferty, and their go to scorer on the block in Kuo. They are left with a lot of defensive players who haven’t proven themselves as scorers. Bonner is the only returning player who was a reliable scoring threat last season. This is one of the reasons that O’Brien is so important. He showed great vision last season, and should turn that vision to more scoring this year. The early returns on O’Brien and Hutcherson are encouraging, but the season doesn’t start until league play anyways.
Final Hot Take:
Hot or not so hot I’m not sure, but Wesleyan’s always deep field of talent this year is both filled with earnestness and experience. They’ve got the talent to score a TON, and if they defend consistently, I see Wesleyan playing deep into both the NESCAC and national tournaments this winter.
Pete previewed the opening rounds for Amherst and Middlebury this morning, so I will do my best to follow in his footsteps with some intel on Tufts and Wesleyan. Both teams earned at-large bids despite earlier than expected exits from the NESCAC tournament, a testament to their consistency and the strength of the conference. Let’s see what each team’s chances to escape their pod are like.
#14 Tufts (20-6, 9-3)
While they slipped towards the end of the season, particularly in their unimpressive performance in the NESCAC semis, Tufts is in a fine spot. They didn’t earn the top seed in the NESCAC tournament by accident. In fact, aside from Middlebury, I would say that Tufts has the best chance to make a deep run in the tournament because of their depth, especially on the perimeter. If not for the dominance of the Tufts Women’s Basketball Team, the men would be hosting the opening round this weekend instead of St. John Fisher, so don’t sleep on the Jumbos for that reason. Tom Palleschi should be in better health this weekend than he was against Williams last weekend (he logged just 8 minutes), which definitely bodes well for Tufts.
How They Got Here
Like I mentioned above, Tufts’ depth is what they hang their hats on. They generally play 9-10 deep, allowing Coach Sheldon to see who has the hot hand that day and alter the minute distribution accordingly. In the second half, KJ Garrett and Everett Dayton have really taken the reigns offensively in the absence of Palleschi, and Second Team All-NESCAC selection Tarik Smith has continued his steady production from the point guard slot. The spurtability of Eric Savage, Ethan Feldman and Thomas Lapham has been a big boost for the ‘Bos off the bench. Vinny Pace has been a tad inconsistent this year, but his potential to explode offensively is a constant threat for opposing defenses. Given their athletic, guard-heavy lineup, the Jumbos play best when they get out in transition. They are maybe the best team in the league at converting quick hitters off an opposing team basket due to their ability to handle the ball and push the tempo at 1-4, and sometimes even 1-5 when they go small with Garrett at the 5-position.
How They Lose
The biggest area of focus for Tufts should be on the boards and in the paint. Without Palleschi, they have lost their best rebounder, often forcing Ben Engvall and KJ Garrett to match up with much bigger players. While the two are very solid rebounding guards, Pat Racy and Drew Madsen are both smaller than Palleschi, leaving the Tufts lineup at a disadvantage due to the overall lack of size they are rolling out there. Additionally, Palleschi is the biggest shot blocking presence on the roster, and even if he is feeling better this weekend than last, I doubt that his knee will be healthy enough for him to impact shots in the paint the same way that he used to. We saw Williams take advantage of this last weekend, especially Kyle Scadlock, who had 20 and 11 in that semifinal game. Williams outscored Tufts 32-8 in the paint, which points to another vulnerability of the Jumbos – their halfcourt offense. Tufts is SO much better when they can get fastbreak points. They are deep enough that fatigue is not a factor, and it leaves them with many more open threes. The three-pointers that the Jumbos generate out of their halfcourt offense are often forced, leading to low shooting percentages and poor offensive displays. It all starts with the Jumbos controlling the paint – if they can force jumpers out of their opponents, then they will have more opportunities to get out and run.
Salem State (17-10, 9-3)
The Vikings boast a three-pronged attack that features guard Shaquan Murray (15.9 PPG), center Marcus Faison (15.1 PPG) and guard Alex Santos (11.8 PPG). Murray is a premier ball handler who excels at getting to the basket. He is small and quick, and knows how to maneuver in the paint to get good shots. Faison is the Salem State post presence, but he is listed at just 6’5”/215, something the Jumbos NEED to take advantage of. However, thinking back to UMass Boston and Sam Freeman, undersized bigs seem to do well against Tufts, and Faison’s 11.1 rebounds per game seems to indicate that he is primed for a big game tonight. Finally, Santos is the shooter of the bunch. He is a bit bigger than Murray, but he’ll be smaller than most of the Tufts guards. If Tufts can get a hand in Santos’ face, they should be able to keep him in check.
St. John Fisher (22-5, 15-1)
St. John Fisher put together nearly a flawless conference season, losing just one game en route to the Empire 8 championship crown. As has been the case all season, one of their two studs took over and brought the Cardinals to victory in the finals. Tyler English dropped 21 points on Stevens in that game, and he poses a similar threat to Tufts because of his length on the perimeter. However, it’s Cardinal big man and leading scorer Keegan Ryan that should scare the Jumbos the most if the two match up in the round of 32. At 6’8”/235 and average 18.6 points/8.7 rebounds, Ryan is geared to expose Tufts where they have the least depth. Fortunately for Tufts, St. John Fisher does not shoot well from the perimeter. Given their size and athleticism amongst their guards, Tufts definitely holds the advantage in this regard. Nonetheless, Ryan has proven that he can change games single handedly, and if they match up, Tufts could be on upset alert.
St. Lawrence (20-6, 13-3)
Despite a first round exit in the Liberty League conference tournament, St. Lawrence is a solid team. Their conference features two other NCAA tournament teams in Union and Skidmore, so St. Lawrence is tested against good competition. The Saints love to run, and the spread out their scoring very nicely. Led by 6’8” forward Riley Naclerio, who scores 19.1 PPG, the Saints have a formidable counter to St. John Fisher’s big man. To complement Naclerio, Kyle Edwards scores 16.8 PPG, yet Edwards does much of his damage from deep. He’s a 40% three-point shooter who has proven time and again that he is willing to take the big shot for the Saints. St. Lawrence also has two other double-digit scorers that help balance their offense, and given their versatility, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints pull off an upset in tonight’s game.
Wesleyan (19-6, 6-5)
The Cardinals slide into the tournament after a conference season that did not live up to the hype that they generated in the first half of their season. 11-1 heading into their first NESCAC game, Wesleyan seemed to be overlooked. However, that opening weekend resulted in two back-to-back blowout losses coming at the hands of Middlebury and Hamilton. The Cardinals turned things around, at that point, winning 8 of their last 11 with all three of their losses coming by 4 points or less. Wesleyan, like Tufts, is a very balanced team. They are led by Second Team All-NESCAC guard Harry Rafferty, who is one of four Cardinals to average 10+ PPG. Unfortunately for Wesleyan, they were missing one of their studs, Jordan Bonner, for a large part of the middle of their season. Luckily, he returned for their last 9 games, and he performed exceptionally well down the stretch. Injury struck again late in the season when Salim Green missed 5 games, but he returned in time for the playoffs. Unfortunately, he was not his old self, logging a scoreless 17 minutes of action. Wesleyan is a very, very good team, but they haven’t been fully healthy in quite some time. We’ll see if they can get back to their standard form soon.
How They Got Here
Unlike Tufts, Wesleyan is not a team that is going to push the tempo, at least not to the same extent as the Jumbos. The Cardinals enjoy success when they are able to get the ball into the post to Joseph Kuo. Kuo is a fully capable scorer with his back to the basket, but he is also a solid passer. Because of his size, teams sometimes try to collapse into the paint to clog up the middle. When Rafferty, Bonner, and Nathan Krill all shoot pretty well from beyond the arc, and when the Cards take care of the ball and take smart shots, their offense runs very smoothly. That being said, this is a defense-first team. Wesleyan is in my eyes the grittiest team in the NESCAC, led by Krill in this regard. He is the scrappiest forward in the league, willing to do anything to get his team a W. Allowing just 65.8 PPG, Wesleyan thrives when they are disciplined defensively. It’s games where they get in foul trouble or fail to stop opposing fast breaks that Wesleyan struggles. Luckily for them, that doesn’t happen very often.
How They Lose
When Wesleyan is stagnant offensively, it’s because they are not moving the ball enough. They are prone to falling victim to an overload of one-on-one offense at times, and when they do, their shot selection suffers. Effective penetration turns into drives into traffic; open threes turn into contested ones; drive and kicks turn into forced 10-12 footers. This can’t happen if Wesleyan hopes to advance far in this tournament. Luckily for the Cardinals, they did a pretty good job of limiting these lapses over the course of the season, but the NCAA tournament, the margin of error is always slimmer.
After finishing behind both Skidmore and St. Lawrence in the Liberty League regular season standings, the Dutchmen pretty much had to win their conference tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Well, Union did just that. They won 110-108 in double OT against St. Lawrence in the conference semifinals, and then came back three days later to post another win against Hobart on their way to the conference title. They’re led by Deshon Burgess, who was named to the D3hoops.com Naitonal Team of the Week last week, scored 34 points (including the game-winning three with 0.9 seconds left in the second overtime period against St. Lawrence, only to follow it up with 33 points in the finals. He leads the team with 19.8 PPG, and is clearly stepping up when his team needs it most. Wesleyan needs to look out for Burgess if they hope to make it out of round one.
#13 Rochester (21-4, 10-4)
Despite posting a better overall record than in-conference foe Washington (Mo.), the Yellow Jackets faltered at the very end of their season, posting back-to-back losses, allowing WashU to take the conference crown. Rochester has three primary weapons, but it’s Sam Borst-Smith that leads the way offensively. A 41% three-point shooter, Borst-Smith scores 16.0 PPG, good enough to take home the UAA MVP trophy this season. Mack Montague and Zach Ayers are the other two biggest producers on the offensive end for Rochester, averaging 15.6 and 12.0 PPG respectively. However, Rochester seems like a very top-heavy lineup. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked for them this year, but in the NCAA tournament, depth is generally what breeds success. Don’t be surprised if Rochester is upset in the opening weekend.
Albertus Mangus (23-4, 16-2)
Winners of their last nine, Albertus Mangus is coming into the tournament scorching hot. However, the GNAC isn’t necessarily the most impressive basketball conference in the country. The Falcons won the GNAC Championship handily against a mediocre Lesley squad, but it was their slimmest margin of victory in the GNAC tournament – just 18 points. Their run and gun offense is led by Jaqhawn Walters and Grant Ellis, who score 20.7 and 19.4 PPG respectively. Because of the lack of competition in their conference, it’s tough to gauge how good Albertus Mangus actually is, but they certainly have some competent scorers.
Last week I used the intro to the stock report as a way to explore the somewhat cheesy comparison between NESCAC Men’s Basketball and the trading on Wall Street. Try as I might, I can’t think of a metaphor for stocks to top it, so I’ll just stick to the hoops. This weekend raised many questions. Tufts had seemed so solidly on top of the conference. Middlebury seemed to be heading downward into a skid. Wesleyan was a defensive team, and Amherst was more offensively focused. But things change, this weekend they certainly did.
Amherst held Trinity to shooting just 1/14 from deep in a 66-53 win on Saturday. They forced 16 turnovers, and took advantage of them, scoring 16 points of of them. More than just good shot contesting, Amherst held Trinity to just 5 assists as a team. This indicates some sturdy defensive organization, one with little to no breakdowns. The Bantams are averaging just over 71 points a game, and typically shoot 44.5% from the field, and 35% from deep. Amherst held them to 53 points on 32% shooting and 7.1% from three, respectively. I’d love to avoid the cliche, but hey, defense wins championships.
Wesleyan’s Explosiveness –
Wesleyan shot 48% from the field and 50% from beyond the arcin 85-75 win over Conn. Harry Rafferty played 34 minutes from the opening tip and had 20 points on 6/12 from the field and three of four from deep. What’s notable about Wesleyan’s 85 points is that the rest of the Cardinal’s starters combined for only 20. Even good teams have off nights, and so an essential mark of any good teamis that it has a depth of players beyond the starting five who can pick up the slack. On Saturday in New London, Joseph Kuo and Andrew Gardiner pulled the rope. The senior forward Kuo was good for 10 of 16 shooting from the field in his twenty point performance. Jordan Bonner dropped 23 points in 28 minutes off the bench. He was 4/6 from deep, but also got to the hole with enough consistency to hit 7 free throws. Wesleyan is known as one of the premier defenses in the conference – the Camel’s 75 points can be largely explained by a 32 point explosion by Tyler Rowe – and if they can keep getting performances off the bench like the ones this weekend their chances look good heading into the tourney.
The number 4 team in the country lost to Bates in Lewiston on Saturday 84-72.(Editor’s Note: They also dropped a non-league tilt to U-Mass Dartmouth on Tuesday.) They were behind the entire second half. I guess this explains the absurd number of shots it took the Jumbos to score 72 points, but it’s not unfair to expect a little higher efficiency from a team that’s leading the conference in points. Vinny Pace alone, who scored 19 points in 30 minutes, took 22 shots, 12 of them threes. Tuft’s starters combined took 60 shots. They were 36.1% from the field, 18.5% from three, and shot a mere 53.6% from the line. One could attribute the poor shooting to a very solid Bobcat defense, but the weak showing at the line and the huge amount of shots attempted points to a despicable shooting performance. It could be true that it just wasn’t Tufts’ day, but a performance like the one they had Saturday has to hurt. A bounce back, or lack thereof, this upcoming weekend, where they face solid Trinity and Amherst teams, will be a solid indicator of whether or not the Jumbos have the grit and potential to make a tourney run that their national ranking would have indicated. Credit where credit is due: Bates balled out, but this weekend could have been the beginning of something very bad for the Jumbos.
My Credibility Regarding Middlebury –
Last week I raised into the question the vitality and balance of thePanther’s offense. I said they were too reliant on Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown. And then the Midd kids scored 115 points against Hamilton. That certainly answers the vitality question. As for the balance, Middlebury had 4 starters and 6 players in double digit scoring. So much for my analysis. Midd shot 62% from the field, and 59% from deep. Combine that with 91.7% shooting at the line, and a career-high 25 point performance from Mr. Bryan Jones, and the 115 point thumping of a then-tied-for-third Continentals is not that surprising. It is true that it was a special performance, and one can’t expect that kind of output on any sort of consistent basis, but what gives me even more confidence that the Panthers have recovered from their loss to Williams is that Middlebury had 26 assists. That’s an offense that is humming. Roll Pants, thanks for proving me wrong.
I swear every January the number of people in the gym triples, perfectly suffocating me as I workout in preparation for the upcoming baseball season. While I’m sure Hamilton and Bates hit the weight room before January 1st, 2016, their resolutions might have been to work a little harder. The two fish at the bottom of the food chain in 2016 now find themselves atop the NESCAC standings? How could that be? Well we have only played two games so I’ll try not to get over-excited, although I do love a good underdog story. Each squad shows clear improvement with Bates’ Delpeche twins holding it down at the rim, leading the Bobcats in nearly all relevant statistical categories (27.5 PPG; 18.7 REB/G; 4.3 BLK/G combined) and Hamilton’s maturity after a rebuilding year with a young team in 2016. I’ll go into why I think the Continentals’ success is more sustainable, and what else is going on as we enter another pivotal weekend of conference play.
Top Dogs still on top
I’m not really going to give Amherst and Tufts a whole lot of attention here, just because they are performing exactly how everyone thought they would. The top two teams in the league (based on national ranking at 5 and 6, respectively) haven’t slipped up much and should have telling weekends ahead as Amherst should beat Wesleyan based on the Cardinals’ past couple of games and Tufts should be slightly favored against Middlebury at home but in a near push. Tufts doesn’t really have one superstar emerging, but really puts up a team effort with all starters between 6.9 and 12.9 PPG and nobody over 7 REB/G or 4 AST/G. Tufts’ only real flawed performance came during a two point loss to UMass Boston while the other was against #1 ranked Babson. Amherst, like Tufts, has had a couple tough games coming in a loss to Eastern Connecticut state and a one point loss to Springfield, however they bested Babson in 2OT to show that they are the real deal. While Middlebury (ranked #15) has less losses than the Jumbos and Purple & White, it seems like the polls are pretty accurate at this point with little disparity between the top NESCAC teams.
Can you believe that in the last national poll Wesleyan was ranked #9 in the country and now they are out of the top 25? Two bad losses to Middlebury and Hamilton, both by over 15 points, have taken them out of early championship discussions. Their overall record is still 11-3 but a three game losing streak is not the note that they wanted to start the NESCAC season on (note: the first game of that streak was against Rhode Island College, not a NESCAC opponent). This is happening because of a number of factors, one being that Jordan Bonner ’19 hasn’t played since Nov. 27. But since they continued to win without Bonner, clearly that isn’t the root cause. In their loss to Rhode Island College, Salim Green ‘18, Harry Rafferty ‘17, and Kevin O’Brien ‘18, usually reliable starters, went just 3-19 for six points. In the next game against Middlebury, they turned the ball over 21 times and shot just 34.4% from the field. Against Hamilton, the last place finisher in the ‘CAC in 2016, the Cardinals shot just 35.3% from the field while Green, Rafferty, and Joseph Kuo shot 4-27. There are quite a few things going on in Connecticut, and Wesleyan needs to figure them out quickly because Amherst will eat the Cardinals alive on Friday if they don’t.
Ogundeko’s surprising dominance
It might come across as peculiar why I used described Ed’s dominance as surprising. Yeah, he is the best rebounder in the ‘Cac and up there with D3’s best. But 23 rebounds in one game? I don’t care who it is, that is a surprising number. He was like a skeeball machine swallowing up boards against the Williams Ephs, who recently dropped out of D3hoops’ top 25. Nobody else had more than five rebounds for the Bantams and without him it’s safe to say it would’ve been a blowout favoring the Williamstown squad. Trinity also showed in the first game that they don’t need to rebuild (as I expected) as they narrowly edged Williams 65-63, another strong team that is 11-3. The Bantams should continue to perform so long as Ogundeko carries the team, but they will be tested against Conn College on Friday and Wesleyan on Saturday.
Zach Baines and the NESCAC have a breakup
The Panthers have hit another bump in their road to a second consecutive league title. Zach Baines is no longer ‘out indefinitely’ as Pete put it. He is definitely out. Baines transferred to Occidental College in the SCIAC conference in sunny Southern California after eight games this season, all of which he started. The high flying sophomore forward averaged 13.8 PPG and 6.8 REB/G in the early season and he will be sorely missed down the stretch run, giving Nick Tarantino ’18 a lot of weight to carry after taking over in the starting lineup. Vermont is cold and dark, and it won’t be shorts weather until April. I have no idea why he would leave such a place. Good luck to Baines and the Tigers, they got a good one.
Hamilton is ready to make their move
Hamilton continued their hot start against Wesleyan last weekend, winning by a score of 92-76 to improve to 10-2 overall and 2-0 in conference. Jack Dwyer continues to shine as a distributing point guard that doesn’t like to shoot. He is third in the NESCAC with 5.8 AST/G but only averages 7.5 PPG. The Continentals recently got guard Tim Doyle ’19 back from injury and the double-digit performances that he and Kena Gilmour’s ’20 contributed off the bench against Wesleyan highlights their depth and how ready they are to take on the league after a tough campaign a season ago. Their matchup against Bates should show that they are closer to championship caliber than the Maine squad, and playing Tufts should be at the least a growing experience in what has the appearance of a trap game for the Jumbos in their home gym.
Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively, not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us.
Projected Record: 6-4
Wesleyan had a tremendously uneven 2015-2016 season. They entered league play at 11-1 and many experts (like Joe McDonald and I) were calling them the best team in the league. But their performance in league play told a very different story. They finished at 5-5 and lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Middlebury. Over the course of NESCAC play last season, Wesleyan both beat Amherst by 27 points and lost to Colby by 9. The Cardinals enter this season looking to recover from the discouraging end to last season. However, they have an uphill battle ahead of them. Among the losses they suffered in the offseason were BJ Davis, an All League point guard who was the heart, soul, crunch-time scorer and sick tip-slam aficionado of Wesleyan’s team. They also lost starting forward and rim protector Rashid Epps, and gritty, defensively minded guards Jack Mackey and Joe Edmonds. The importance of these players, particularly Epps and Davis, cannot be overstated. But do not by any means count out the Cardinals. They have several players waiting in the wings (so to speak), eager to prove that the new generation can improve on the old one.
2015-2016 Record: 18-7, 5-5; lost to #4 seed Middlebury in quarterfinals of NESCAC tournament
Coach: Joe Reilly, 9th season, 108-91
Forward Joseph Kuo ‘17 (11.1 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.0 BLK/G)
Guard Harry Rafferty ‘17 (7.6 PPG, 1.5 AST/G, 0.8 STL/G)
Guard BJ Davis ‘16, started 25/25 games (16.4 PPG, 2.7 AST/G, 1.4 STL/G)
Forward Rashid Epps ‘16, Started 25/25 games (9.5 PPG, 6.3 REB/G, 0.8 BLK/G)
Guard Jack Mackey, Started 16/25 games (8.1 PPG, 4.1 AST/G, 0.6 STL/G
Projected Starting Five
Guard Harry Rafferty ‘17
Along with Kuo and forward PJ Reed ‘17, Rafferty is the senior statesman of the Wesleyan team. A gritty defensive specialist, Rafferty paired up with Davis and Mackey to give Wesleyan one of the deepest, most experienced backcourts in the league. Now Rafferty is the only one left, and he may need to step his offensive game up this season to make up for the loss of his colleagues. Rafferty shot 39.2% last year on only six shots per game, four of which were threes. Rafferty can expect an uptick in shot attempts, and will need to make the most of those opportunities if Wesleyan wants to continue their success.
Guard Salim Greene ‘19
Many coaches throughout NESCAC were disappointed when Salim Greene chose Wesleyan before his freshman season. Greene was one of the highest touted recruits in recent NESCAC memory, and drew wide interest from the league’s elite, such as Middlebury and Amherst. However, Greene’s freshman season was derailed by a concussion suffered in training camp. He was never able to get in the rhythm of Wesleyan’s offense, and was buried behind Wesleyan’s many talented, more experienced guards. But Greene is healthy, and much of his competition has moved into the ever-blackening, vociferous hellscape of the real world (having some senior year stresses, don’t mind me.) Green is tremendously quick and an excellent shooter, and has the potential to be a defensive force on the perimeter. He is the best candidate to don BJ Davis’s mantle as lead guard.
Guard Kevin O’Brien ‘19
O’Brien was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015-2016 season, overtaking Salim Greene as Wesleyan’s most impressive freshman. He came on at the end of the season to start 9 games, averaging 3.8 points per game on 44% shooting in just 15 minutes per game. At 6’5”, he has tremendous size for a guard, and showed the ability to use it to punish smaller defenders in the post and on the boards. O’Brien even showed a nice shooting stroke which should benefit from more reps this preseason. With his size and versatility, O’Brien has the potential to be a classic NESCAC forward/guard combination in the mold of Lucas Hausman and (if I may hop in the time machine for a moment) Willy Workman from Amherst and Tim Edwards from Middlebury.
Forward Joseph Kuo ‘17
Kuo enters this season with the most responsibility of any Cardinal other than the Pope. He must both take BJ Davis’s place as the leading scorer AND Rashid Epps’ place in the middle of the defense and on the boards. Kuo averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds per game last season, despite battling a torn meniscus which sapped much of his mobility on both sides of the ball. Kuo was able to use a delicate touch and good footwork in the paint to shoot nearly 50% from the floor, and a full recovery from his knee injury should allow him to emerge as a force on both sides of the ball. Look for Kuo as a dark horse POY candidate this season, if Wesleyan runs much of its offense through him in the post.
Forward Nathan Krill ‘18
Krill’s contributions on the court last season mirrored his hairstyle: highly energetic and very versatile. Krill provides the Cardinals with energetic rebounding and defense, but don’t let that sell short his offensive talents. Krill shot just under 50% from the field, many of those coming on midrange jump-shots. With greater playing time and freedom within the offense, Krill has the talent to extend his range to the three point line, giving Wesleyan a rare forward that can stretch the floor without sacrificing interior defense.
Breakout Player: Kevin O’Brien ‘19
O’Brien looks the part of a star, particularly in NESCAC. He is tall and lanky, with long arms that allow him to guard multiple positions and rebound as well as many forwards. It will be a major key (bless up) for O’Brien to develop a threatening outside shot, as Wesleyan does not have a ton of three point threats on the roster. If he can do this, O’Brien has the size and skillset to be part of the next generation of NESCAC stars.
Wesleyan certainly lost a lot of talent this offseason, but this may be a blessing in disguise. Hidden behind the talented senior class that the Cardinals lost was a deep freshman class waiting to emerge. Salim Greene and Kevin O’Brien made minor contributions last season when they got playing time, but they are far more talented than the roughly 15 minutes per game they played last season. The departure of BJ Davis and Jack Mackey should allow that talented young backcourt to step forward and show what they can do.
The 2016-2017 season gives Wesleyan the opportunity to remake the style they play in. When they struggled last season, it was often because their offense slowed down and they relied too much on BJ Davis going one on five. Epps also slowed them down with his lack of offensive moves in the paint. Nathan Krill’s insertion into the starting lineup gives them a mobile big man who can run the floor along with Salim Greene and Harry Rafferty. Kuo should be considerably more mobile now that his knee has healed, and Kevin O’Brien is both big enough to help rebound and fast enough to get out on the break. We could see a far more explosive Wesleyan team than we did last season, which will help them match up with the other offense oriented teams in NESCAC such as Middlebury and Amherst.
An area in which Wesleyan will have to exceed expectations is their bench play. Many of the players that made Wesleyan so deep last season now must slide into starting roles to make up for graduated seniors, leaving the bench very young. PJ Reed ‘17 provides a versatile set of skills on the second unit, but he will need to be more of a threat offensively than he was last season (he shot only 34.2% from the field.) Sophomore Jordan Bonner could be a wild card. He is known throughout the conference as a tremendous athlete, but is very raw in most other areas. If he can make significant strides in the finer points of the game, he could be crucial in giving Wesleyan some explosive offense from the second unit.
Other than those two returners, Wesleyan’s bench, much like the library on a Friday afternoon, is primarily populated by freshman. Wesleyan has a large first year class this season, all of whom have the opportunity to compete for playing time. Elijah Wilson ‘20 is the only true guard in the freshman class, and could be valuable as a three point threat. The Cardinals also brought in two big men in David Dixon ‘20 and Justin Bergeron ‘20, both of whom are in the running for the backup big man spot vacated by Nathan Krill. In a league as deep as the NESCAC, it is imperative to have a solid second unit, and right now Wesleyan has considerable question marks in that area.
Wesleyan, and the rest of the league as well, benefits from a potentially far more stratified NESCAC this season. The loss of Lucas Hausman from Bowdoin and Mike Boornazian from Bates creates a defined bottom tier, comprising most likely of the Maine schools and Hamilton. Therefore, we may see far less upsets, allowing Wesleyan to play a considerably easier schedule. But, quite simply, they are also still a very good team. Wesleyan has the tools to not just survive the departure of those senior stars, but begin a new, even more successful era of Cardinal hoops.