Defense Wins Championships: Wesleyan @ Amherst Men’s Basketball Semifinal Preview

Wesleyan (20-5, 7-3, #5 Seed) @ Amherst (17-8, 7-3 #1 Seed), 5:30 PM, Amherst, MA

Overview:

As opposed to the offense heavy three point barrage we expect in the Tufts-Hamilton game (detailed beautifully by Colby here,) this should be a gritty, defensive battle. Both these teams pride themselves on their defense. Amherst’s most impressive win of the season was a 75-49 drubbing of Hamilton in which they held the Continentals to 29.4% shooting. That game was the jumping off point for their run to the number one seed. Since then, they are 7-2 and have won their last three games, including wins over Middlebury and Williams. But their most exciting win of this hot stretch was the last one, a thrilling 71-70 win over Bowdoin in the quarterfinals. In that game, Amherst overcame a rough game from Michael Riopel ‘18 thanks to a First Team level performance from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 (22 points) and contributions from several bench players, most notably Josh Chery ‘20, who scored 11 points and hit the game winning layup with 3.4 seconds left. What this Amherst team lacks in star power they make up for in depth and heart.

Amherst’s defense is the key to their recent success.

Of course, the same can be said for Wesleyan. One of Amherst’s losses since that shellacking of Hamilton is to the Cardinals, a 71-57 road loss in which McCarthy and Riopel went 3-20 from the field. Wesleyan’s season is littered with these types of games. The dominate defensively, shut down what the opponent does best, and the offense does just enough to get by. Their quarterfinal game against Middlebury was another great example. While Jack Daly ’18 did have a nice game (20 points and six assists,) the Cardinals stifled Middlebury’s inside game, holding the dangerous forward combo of Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Adisa Majors ’18 to 6-19 shooting. Jordan Sears ’19 had 8 blocks, and with Kevin O’Brien ’19 and his army of tall, long-armed guards on the perimeter, it is nearly impossible to get into the paint and score against Wesleyan. Amherst will have to hit some threes to spread the Cardinals defense. And Wesleyan will have to do the same against Amherst. 

Key Player For Amherst: F Josh Chery ’20

Josh Chery ’20
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

As I said earlier, Chery was the hero against Bowdoin. With 5 seconds left on the clock, Chery got the ball on the right wing, drove to the rim, and finished a tough layup with 3.4 seconds left. Chery certainly wasn’t the first option,as Johnny McCarthy was lighting it up at that point, but he wasn’t the last one either. Chery has been one of the major keys to Amherst’s recent hot streak. He’s gone over double figures three times in the last four games, and has averaged 25 minutes per game over that stretch after going over 20 minutes just once all season up to that point. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, he is big and strong enough to guard multiple positions, a huge plus against Wesleyan due to the size of the Cardinal guards. He makes a huge difference on the defensive end, grabbing four steals against Williams and pulling down eight rebounds against Middlebury. And ask Bowdoin how he is finishing at the rim. One thing to watch for is his foul shooting: he’s 0-7 in the last two games. Chery is the ideal player to have on the court against Wesleyan, and, since Wesleyan has proven themselves capable of locking up Riopel and McCarthy, Chery and the rest of the bench mob are the keys to Amherst’s chances.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Nathan Krill ‘18

Nathan Krill
Nathan Krill ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The starting power forward on the “Feels Like They’ve Been in College for 2o Years” All Stars, Krill has been in this position before. However, he has never been as important to the team’s offense. Of course, they won last weekend with him only having three points, but they won’t be able to rely on Antone ’21 Walker putting up 11 off the bench and Kevin O’ Brien ’19 scoring 17. Walker is a great talent, but he is streaky, and O’Brien isn’t really a go to scorer. Krill is Wesleyan’s most dangerous pick and roll finisher. He can step behind the three point line and hit, or he can use his quickness and ball handling skills to finish at the rim. Throughout Krill’s career, this combination of skills has made him one of the hardest players to guard in the league when he’s hot. Key word: “when.” Krill has always been incredibly streaky (see his 24 points against Bowdoin versus 3 the next game against Bowdoin.) Krill only had four points in Wesleyan’s win over Amherst during the regular season, but this a whole new Amherst team. Wesleyan needs their stars to shine bright on Saturday, starting with Krill.

Final Thoughts:

Bowdoin was certainly far more skilled than your average eight seed, but Amherst still should have been able to put them away earlier. The Mammoths were uncharacteristically bad defending the three, allowing Bowdoin to shoot 10-28 from outside (and many of those misses were open looks.)  Much of Wesleyan’s offense relies on three point shooting, particularly from Jordan Bonner ’19 and Hutcherson. Amherst will have to do a better job running those two off of the three point lie than they did with Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19 and Liam Farley ’19. They will also have to contend with pick and rolls featuring either Bonner or Hutcherson and Krill. Since each of those players are dangerous shooters, the slightest defensive mistake can lead to an open three pointer. Amherst’s best defense here would be an aggressive hedge with their big men and then not switching. A switch would mean that one of Amherst’s big men would be stuck on , a mismatch in favor of Wesleyan. This is why Chery should see big minutes on Saturday, he is big enough to handle Krill and fast enough to handle Hutcherson or Bonner.

If Jordan Bonner ’19 gets hot, Amherst could be in for a long day.

In general, this game is not the best matchup for Amherst’s big men. Joseph Schneider ’19 is skilled inside, but he might get swallowed by the athleticism of Wesleyan’s front court. And with Eric Sellew ’20 out, Amherst’s big men rotation is very thin. This presents a big problem on the glass. Amherst simply must win the rebounding battle in this game. These are the two best rebounding teams in the league based on rebounding margin, and both are at their most dangerous when they get open shots off of offensive rebounds. Both these teams will be battling fiercely for rebounds, but it is more important for Amherst because they have fewer weapons on the offensive end. More of their offense is based on second chances.

All the signs point to Wesleyan in this game. They’ve had a more successful regular season, they have more weapons, and they played better in their first round game. But the game is in Amherst, and crazy things happen down there. The Mammoths are 10-2 at home this season, and have an almost supernatural knack for pulling out close games in their gym. I think most loyal readers will know how much it kills me to do this, but I have to go Amherst. Let no one call me biased again.

Writer’s Prediction: Amherst 63, Wesleyan 60 

A New Frontier: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 2/19

Stock Up

Amherst F Johnny McCarthy ‘18

Johnny McCarthy
Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for McCarthy. After three years of being underrated because of Jayde Dawson’s ball dominance. In fact, he was so underrated that he entered this season a little overrated. Like Amherst as a whole, he struggled during the regular season, and for a while it seemed like he just wasn’t suited to be a number one option. But as he improved, so did Amherst. McCarthy reinvented himself as a dominant rebounder, defender and paint scorer. And, as he has done so many times over the course of his career, he saved his best for the biggest moments. With Amherst facing a challenge from the 8 seeded Bowdoin Polar Bears in the first round, McCarthy had his best game of the year. He scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. He also hit the second biggest shot of the game, a 30 footer after a broken play that put Amherst up by four in the final minutes. McCarthy and Amherst are peaking at the right time, and really, did we expect anything different?

Jordan Sears ‘19 for DPOY

I like to think that Sears read our pick of Folger, printed it out, put it up in his locker, and then read it again right before Wesleyan’s game against Middlebury. He looked like a man possessed against Middlebury, blocking eight shots (!) and snuffing out countless pick and rolls with incredible perimeter defense. Sears had four blocks in the final five minutes or so of the game, effectively snuffing out any hope Middlebury had of coming back. Sears is the definition of a difference making defender, and his performance against Middlebury pretty much guarantees him the DPOY trophy.

Jordan Sears ’19 owned the Panthers on Saturday to the degree that he is actually now President of Middlebury College.

NCAA Representation

Last season, the NESCAC had five teams gain NCAA berths for the first time in conference history. The results this weekend are steps in the direction repeating that performance, and even make six teams a distinct possibility. Now bear with me, because this gets a little confusing. NCAA berths are decided based on the NCAA Regional Rankings, NOT the D3 Hoops Top 25. The regional rankings can be found here. As you can see, the top four teams in Northeast are all NESCAC teams. In order, they are Hamilton, Wesleyan, Williams and Middlebury. These four teams were pretty much assured of NCAA bids, regardless of their quarterfinal games. Middlebury and Wesleyan were basically playing for a home game, and Williams and Hamilton were entirely safe. Amherst was the question mark. They entered the quarterfinals eighth in the regional rankings. This is a shaky position. They certainly needed a win over Bowdoin to keep their hopes alive, but they are still on the bubble to certain degree. Their performance in the final regular season weekend, along with their win over Bowdoin, should get them a berth, giving the NESCAC, again, five NCAA teams.

Stock Down

Tufts

The Jumbos were 11th in the regional rankings. This is not a complicated position; they basically needed to win the NESCAC tournament, or AT LEAST make the final, to sneak into the NCAA’s. Their loss to Hamilton ends their season, and the excellent career of Vincent Pace ’18. Pace deserves a great deal of credit for persevering despite one of the more unlucky careers of any star in recent NESCAC memory. After a solid first season, he was dominant during his sophomore campaign, averaging 17 points per game on 50% shooting. It looked like he and Tufts were going to ride the combo of he, Hunter Sabety and Tom Palleschi to NESCAC dominance. Then Sabety transferred, and Pace suffered a nagging injury in practice that affected him for his whole junior year. His numbers fell in every catagory, and another injury to Tom Palleschi set back what was a very strong squad. And then this season, Tufts never really got going, and again struggled with injuries, to crucial bench scorers KJ Garrett ’19 and Ben Engvall ’18. Tufts, and Pace, are one of the great “what-ifs” in recent NESCAC history, but their saga is over for this season.

First Years

Many of the top first years in the conference found out that tournament ball is very different from even regular season NESCAC play. Middlebury’s Jack Farrell ’21, after a breakout 22 point game against Amherst during the final weekend, was locked up by the Cardinals to the tune of 0 points on 0-4 shooting. However, Austin Hutcherson ’21 of Wesleyan wasn’t much better, putting up 9 points on 2-10 shooting. And Amherst’s standout PG Grant Robinson ’21 was invisible, tallying three points on 1-3 shooting. All of these players looked a little taken aback at the physicality and intensity of tournament play, a very normal feeling for first years. A notable exception was Bowdoin’s underrated (but not by this blog, we love him) PG Zavier Rucker ’21, who scored 11 points and added 7 rebounds and six assists. Hutcherson is still, in my mind, the easy pick for Rookie of the Year, but it was interesting to see how all these players struggled in the their first playoff experience, and how Rucker very much did not.

Zavier Rucker ’21 was by far the most comfortable first year last weekend, and looks like a star in the making.

Grit N’ Grind: Middlebury @ Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

#13 Middlebury (19-5, 7-3, 5th Seed) @ Wesleyan (19-5, 7-3, 4th Seed,) February 17th, 3:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Overview:

This certainly isn’t the matchup the Panthers were expecting heading into last weekend. Before their demoralizing pair of road losses to Hamilton and Amherst, Middlebury was alone at the top of the league and needed just one win to secure at least the two seed. But after those losses, Middlebury sits in the fifth position and now has to go on the road to play a team to which they already lost. It was a perfect storm of bad news for the Panthers last weekend, and their road to a third straight NESCAC title is now the hardest one yet.

However, this is not an ideal matchup for Wesleyan either. The 13th ranked team in the country is a pretty steep task for the quarterfinals, no matter how badly they played the weekend before. Wesleyan lucked out schedule-wise in the last weekend, winning home games over Bowdoin and Colby to enter the gauntlet of 7-3 teams. This was by far the easiest weekend of any of the teams. And, although they beat the Panthers early in league play 80-70 (although it was closer than that score suggests,)  they have been inconsistent this season, especially on offense. Their worst loss of the season came to Trinity, a 73-60 debacle that made plain all of Wesleyan’s flaws. Offensively, they rely on different players every night, and lack a consistent go-to scorer. Even Jordan Bonner ‘19 has proven himself to be shaky at times. When they lose, it is simply because they cannot score.

Jordan Bonner ’19 has been a go to scorer at times for the Cardinals, but he is very streaky.

Obviously, these problems are similar to those that Middlebury has faced all season. These teams are similar in style. Both teams rely on a very strong perimeter defense and dominating the boards, leading to turnovers by their opponent and second chance points that make up for inconsistent outside shooting. Last weekend, Middlebury’s offense wasn’t exactly the problem against Hamilton. They put up 83 points and were able to score in the paint pretty easily. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s outside shooting was too much for Middlebury. It’s difficult to match three pointers with two pointers. And then against Amherst, Middlebury couldn’t get anything going offensively, much like Wesleyan against Trinity. This should be a low scoring, defensive battle. Whichever team can grind out enough baskets will win.

Key Player for Middlebury: G Jack Farrell ‘21

Jack Farrell
jack Farrell ’21 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

Farrell was a lone bright spot for Middlebury over the weekend. He drove the ball to the basket with incredible confidence, scoring 11 against Hamilton and a career high 22 the next night against Amherst. Farrell has started every game this season, and has proved himself to be a valuable secondary ball handler and defender. Coach Brown has used him, along with fellow first year Griffin Kornaker ‘21, to give Jack Daly ‘18 the occaisional rest. However, for much of the season neither has been a consistent enough scoring option to allow Daly to be off the floor for long. But Farrell changed that last weekend. When Farrell is scoring consistently, it means he is getting to the basket, as he is still not a great outside shooter. This draws defenses into the paint, and opens up outside shots and offensive rebounding chances for the Panthers. A strong performance from Farrell would also allow Daly to ease off the throttle a bit. Daly looked exhausted against Amherst, and was trying to do too much in order to make up for the struggles of his teammates. Middlebury needs better performances across the board on Friday, especially from Daly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean scoring. He needs to score efficiently, but Middlebury’s best possible offense features Daly setting everything up and others finishing. Farrell is one of those finishers.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Jordan Sears ‘19

We gave Sears a little love in the Awards article, but he’s a dominant defender both on the perimeter and in the paint. He is the only player in the league in the top five in the league in steals and blocks, and Wesleyan’s defense (one of the best in the league) centers around his ability to guard all five positions. In fact, an apology may be in order for us not picking him for DPOY. Sears’ versatility will be even more important against Middlebury than it usually is for the Cardinals, because of how differently the Panthers are constituted now than they were when these teams first met. In that first game, the Panthers were trying to be a high octane, run and gun offense. It was one of Eric McCord’s first games back from injury, and the Panthers weren’t nearly as focused on owning the paint, preferring perimeter attacks. In essence, they played right into Wesleyan’s hands. Middlebury over the course of the season has shifted their focus to rebounding and scoring in the paint. Sears will be crucial in defending that area. Instead of using him on the perimeter, Wesleyan may put him on McCord or Adisa Majors ’18 to limit Middlebury’s post up game. Either way, Sears will be all over the court this game, and could be MVP without scoring a single basket.

Jordan Sears had 2 steals and 4 blocks last time these two teams met, including this one on Jack Daly.

X Factor: Offensive Rebounding

There are going to be a lot of missed shots in this game. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball from three for so long that one can’t even really call it a “slump” anymore: that’s just how they shoot. And Wesleyan is very streaky from three as well, and has a tendency to settle for them when the rest of their offense isn’t flowing. A lot of missed shots lead to a lot of offensive rebounds. Middlebury has dominated the boards for much of the season, and had 21 offensive rebounds the first time these two teams met. Wesleyan had only 11, but of course, they also shot a much higher percentage from the field. These are two excellent defensive teams, so the ability to get easy layups on open jump shots off of offensive rebounds could turn the tide.

Final Thoughts:

In the first meeting between these two teams, Wesleyan shot 35 foul shots and Middlebury only shot 7. Needless to say, that isn’t a very sustainable way for Middlebury to play. And even more amazingly, Jack Daly was the only Panther to attempt a foul shot. That will change on Saturday. Eric McCord ’19 is a far larger part of Middlebury’s offense now, and the team as a whole is far more focused on attacking the rim. Middlebury has to even out those free throw numbers, as that was the difference in the last game.

As we’ve noted several times throughout this season, Middlebury struggles most against teams who attack the glass as ferociously as they do, and feature multiple three point threats. Middlebury likes to play an aggressive zone defense, allowing their pesky guards like Daly, Farrell and Griffin Kornaker ’21 to really pressure the ball and create turnovers. But as Hamilton proved, teams that can put three or four outside threats on the court at once can destroy that zone with quick passes to open threes. Wesleyan is certainly able to battle Middlebury on the glass; they are second in the league in rebounding differential (Middlebury is third.) But the Cardinals can’t space the floor like Hamilton can. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is a truly dangerous sharp shooter, hitting 41% of his threes on the year (although he was 2-14 over the weekend.) Jordan Bonner ’19 is at 36% but has struggled in league play, and Nathan Krill ’18 is at 39%. Those are Wesleyan’s only real three point threats, and Krill and Bonner are both notoriously streaky. Middlebury will be able to leave non shooters, such as Sears, Kevin O’ Brien ’19 and JR Bascom, to attack those shooters off of the catch, and that zone defense should be workable, since Wesleyan doesn’t bring shooters off the bench. Middlebury would obviously prefer to be a higher seed and play at home, but this is actually a pretty good matchup for them.

Kevin O’ Brien ’19 is the point of Wesleyan’s defense on Daly.

Speaking of O ‘Brien, he is still recovering from an illness that caused him to miss much of the NESCAC season. When he’s at 100%, he is crucial to Wesleyan’s success as a floor general (5.7 AST/G) and perimeter defender. However, he is not a great shooter to begin with, and his rust has made him even less of a scoring threat. He was a huge factor in guarding Jack Daly when these two teams first played, and if he is not 100%, the Panthers should be able to attack him on both offense and defense. They can stash a defender on him, and since he isn’t an outside threat, whoever that is, be it Farrell, Matt Folger ’20 or Hilal Dahleh ’19, will be free to double Bonner and Hutcherson and play free safety for blocks and steals. Wesleyan needs O’Brien, and they need him healthy.

This is a hard game to predict, because these two teams share a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. Inconsistent scoring and three point shooting, strong rebounding and defense. Wesleyan is certainly coming into the game on a better note, but they had such an easy weekend that they might be feeling a little complacent, whereas Middlebury is most likely pretty ticked off. It shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of Middlebury’s 0-2 finish to the year that for much of the season they were the clear best team in the league, and entered last weekend fifth in the entire country. Despite their struggles and Wesleyan’s defense, I think Middlebury makes use of this week off to hammer out some issues, and regains their championship level form, taking a low scoring battle in Middletown.

Writer’s Prediction: Middlebury 70-Wesleyan 65

Handin’ Out the Hardware: Men’s Basketball Regular Season Awards

What a weekend. In addition to throwing the rankings into chaos and making all of our predictions look really dumb, last weekend’s results ruined whatever certainties there were in the awards races. But, as I’m learning in this new, post college chapter, life is about making difficult choices when there isn’t a clear answer. So here are our picks for the major end of season awards. As always, we welcome argument and debate on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Player of the Year: Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18

This is the race which was impacted most by last weekend’s games. Entering the weekend, Daly’s all around brilliance (top five in the league in points, rebounds, assists and steals) fully made up for his inconsistent shooting. He was by far the most important player on the top team in the league. But Daly’s flaws were exposed this weekend, as were Middlebury’s. After a solid game against Hamilton (15-9-6 on 5-11 shooting,) Amherst locked Daly up to the tune of 2-15 shooting with four turnovers. Everyone has bad games, but this was the biggest game of Middlebury’s season, and it came during the same weekend as star level performances from the other contenders. Kena Gilmour ‘20 had 29 against the Panthers and 22 against Williams. James Heskett ‘19 had 24 points against Hamilton in a huge win, and Bobby Casey ‘19 had 31 points against Hamilton, and nearly brought Williams back single-handedly against the Panthers during the regular season.

Jack Daly ’18 has been everything for Middlebury this season, and also we just connected on LinkedIn, so that’s pretty cool too.

However, I’m sure you can see that Daly is still our pick. Here’s the case. For all but one weekend, Daly was the best player on the best team in the league. He ran the offense, scored clutch buckets, guarded the opponent’s best player and sold hot dogs at the concession stand at halftime. He still leads the nation in assists per game at 8.5, and that is despite lacking even a consistent secondary scoring option. He deserves as much credit as any coaches for the improvement of Adisa Majors ‘18, Eric McCord ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘20. And, honestly, this is a lifetime achievement award as well as a seasonal one. Daly was underrated for his whole career by nature of playing with Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown, to the point that he wasn’t selected to any all league teams last year (a travesty that many Middlebury fans still haven’t gotten over.) For the first time in his career, Daly struggled in a big moment, but that doesn’t erase a whole season. Either Gilmour and Heskett will get theirs, and maybe even both, but this has been Daly’s year all season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Honestly the best thing about picking Folger is that it gives me an excuse to use this picture in another article.

I can already read the emails. “Pete picked two Midd players for the major awards, SHOCKER.” And like POY, this race is filled with strong contenders. Daly leads the league in steals, and Wesleyan has two very strong contenders. G Kevin O’ Brien ‘20 is a dangerous perimeter defender who uses his size and length to rack up blocks (.9 per game) and steals (1.7 per game.) And F Jordan Sears is a defensive anchor for the Cardinals in the paint. He is the only player in the top five in the league in both blocks and steals (1.5 and 1.7 respectively.) But O’Brien and Sears suffer from a similar problem to Casey and Heskett in the POY race: how do you put one over the other if their on the same team? They also suffer from the fact that Folger has been a monster. He is second in the league in blocks with 2.3 per game, and that is despite spending a lot of time guarding perimeter players. Folger is the key cog in what was an excellent Middlebury defense this season (Hamilton aside.) His ability to stay in front of smaller, quicker guards was central to the Panthers’ pick and roll defense, and he covered ground to block shots better than anyone in the league. O’ Brien and Colby’s Dean Weiner ’20 both missed time due to injury, and Folger’s dominance makes this an easy call. Bias be damned.

Coach of the Year: Williams’ Kevin App

Williams weathered a lot this season, and have Coach App to thank for their success.

Losing your best player, and maybe the best player in the league, six games into the season? There’s an App for that. Losing your fifth year senior point guard and floor general in the middle of league play? There’s an App for that. Inspiring such love within your players that one of them tells this writer that they’d “take a bullet for [Coach App?] There’s an App for that. Williams had to deal with incredible adversity this season. After losing Daniel Aronowitz in the offseason, it seemed that the team would simply refocus around Kyle Scadlock ’19, the frontrunner for POY. Then Scadlock tore his ACL early in the season. No one counted Williams out totally, but it was clear that they would need to make an adjustment. Coach App did so, inserting Bobby Casey ’19 into the starting lineup and giving much of Scadlock’s responsibilities to James Heskett ’19. We all know how those two choices worked out. Casey and Heskett are one and two in league scoring, and their success allowed Williams to weather even another huge loss: that of Mike Greenman ’18, their starting point guard. The fact that the Williams offense didn’t miss a beat after losing these two huge pieces is a testament to the skill of Casey and Heskett, but even more to App’s coaching ability.

Rookie of the Year: Wesleyan G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (11.7 PTS/G, 40% 3FG, 27.4 MIN/G)

Austin Hutcherson ’21 has been Wesleyan’s best scorer at times this season, and is a huge key for them heading into the playoffs.

For years, Wesleyan had been a team that was good enough defensively to beat anyone, but struggled to score. They were just some consistent perimeter scoring away from really contending. Enter Hutcherson. He exploded for 27 points in a non-league win over Brandeis on December 9th, and since then he has had two more 20 point games and averaged nearly 15 points per game. Despite struggling from three point land lately (2-14 in his last two games,) Hutcherson has proven himself over the course of this season to be the future of the league. There are other excellent first years who start for contending teams. Middlebury’s Jack Farrall has improved every game and had 22 against Amherst. And speaking of the Mammoth’s, Grant Robinson has done an incredible job stepping in as the point guard for a demanding program. But Hutcherson has made the biggest difference for his team.

All League First Team:

Jack Daly

Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18 (15.7 PTS/G, 8.3 REB/G, 8.5 AST/G, 1.8 STL/G)

 

Kena GilmourHamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20 (17.4 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.7 STL/G, 46.4 FG)

 

 

Bobby CaseyWilliams G Bobby Casey ‘19 (16.1 PPG, 48% FG, 44.1% 3FG)

 

 

Vincent Pace

Tufts G/F Vincent Pace ‘18 (18.4 PPG, 8.2 REB/G, 2.7 AST/G)

 

 

James HeskettWilliams F James Heskett ‘19 (19.4 PPG, 3.9 REB/G, 52.6% FG, 45.6% 3FG)

 

 

All League Second Team:

Johnny McCarthy

Amherst G Johnny McCarthy ’18 (11.0 PTS/G, 7.8 REB/G, 2.9 AST/G, 1.1 STL/G)

 

Jordan BonnerWesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’19 (15.6 PTS/G, 5.0 REB/G, 36.7 3FG)

 

 

David ReynoldsBowdoin F David Reynolds ’20 (15.8 PTS/G, 47.5% FG, 43.9% 3FG)

 

 

Michael Grassey

Hamilton F Michael Grassey ’19 (13.7 PPG, 6.7 REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42% 3FG)

 

Matt Folger

Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20 (14.0 PTS/G, 7.1 REB/G, 2.3 BLK/G)

2017 NESCAC Championship Repeat? Power Rankings 2/1

While Pete was quick to point out my recent whiffs in predictions, he neglected to say how when I put Hamilton at the top of the power rankings two weeks ago, they were still undefeated and coming off of a win against a strong Wesleyan team. Did I account for the fact that Kevin O’Brien contracted an illness making him unable to play? No. They still had an undefeated record in mid-January, and despite their lack of credible opponents, I became a believer. I am not so certain anymore. Also, I talked about how Bates was a sneaky threat to compete against Wesleyan. After a big win against Tufts and some close games against other top teams, their arsenal of players had a shot to run the table. But I jinxed them. While my credibility is certainly in doubt at the moment, made clear thanks to some familial disloyalty on the website, here are this week’s rankings—Take ‘em or leave ‘em:

1. #6 Middlebury (16-3, 5-1)

Last Week: 87-81 W @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Bowdoin; vs. Colby

While Midd’s shooting has been a question as late as they are waiting for F Matt Folger ’20 to heat back up, Jack Daly ’18 has continued his dinking and dunking (not actual dunking) to grind out wins for the Panthers. While they lack a consistent outside shooting presence, Folger has shown signs of life of late in mid-week games, and Joey Leighton has been a diamond in the rough who came in as the player of the game against Williams a few weeks ago. This weekend provides a limited test in a Bowdoin team hot after knocking off the struggling continentals, followed by what should be a guaranteed win against Colby. They are hot and haven’t lost since the first conference weekend against Wesleyan and have earned this spot with quality wins and a reliable defense.

2. #13 Williams (16-4, 4-2)

Last Week: 75-58 W @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby; vs. Bowdoin

Following a valiant comeback effort against Middlebury two weeks ago, the Ephs took care of business against a struggling Trinity team—in more convincing fashion than the Panthers. James Heskett has emerged as a monster, valiantly replacing Kyle Scadlock, pitting him in the middle of the NESCAC POY race. He shot 12-15 against the Bantams, dropping 34 points to go along with four steals. He dominated the floor and made up for poor shooting from Bobby Casey  (4-15 FG). Henry Feinberg stepped in for Mike Greenman (out with injury) in the starting lineup this week and played well in the wake of a solid bench performance against Middlebury. Williams now has a big and athletic lineup that has impressive depth. Look for them to continue winning if Heskett keeps shooting like Steph Curry.

James Heskett ’19 may be the frontrunner for POY.

3. #17 Wesleyan (16-4, 5-2)

Last Week: 60-52 W vs. Tufts, 68-50 W vs. Bates

This Week: @ Trinity

Losing Kevin O’Brien to an illness has surely hurt the Cardinals’ starting lineup recently, but should feature its PG again soon. Two easy wins against Tufts and Bates—unranked mid-tier NESCAC teams, but not exactly chumps—leave them with a spot alone in second place in the standings with just three games to go. Jordan Bonner is starting to find his shot again, and the trio of Nathan Krill, JR Bascom, and Jordan Sears have been putting around 25 points and 25 rebounds per game, a balanced and deep defensive and supportive scoring effort that leaves Wesleyan in a great spot with a light weekend against Trinity. Look for them to climb back up the rankings when they get O’Brien back.

4. Amherst (13-6, 4-2)

Last Week: 75-60 W vs. Bowdoin; 82-77 W @ Colby

This Week: @ Tufts; @ Bates

Amherst is starting to roll late in the regular season as they put up a nice undefeated weekend against a Bowdoin team that looked great against Hamilton. This team also blew Hamilton out. Four of their starters scored double-digit points against the Polar Bears, ending the night at a 50.8 FG%, enough to win against any team. They have now shot at 47% FG or higher in their last three NESCAC games, which shows that are hot and ready to take on the Jumbos and Bobcats this weekend. The Mammoths are slowly returning to their former form, led by Johnny McCarthy ‘18, Grant Robinson ’21, and Michael Riopel ’18. The young and the old are slowly leading this team towards the top of the rankings and standings. Watch out up top.

5. #21 Hamilton (17-2, 4-2)

Last Week: 76-67 W @ Colby OT; 68-72 L @ Bowdoin

This Week: @ Bates; @ Tufts

I would like apologize to Hamilton fans for putting the pressure of the #1 spot in the power rankings in their court. They couldn’t handle it. Back to back losses to Bowdoin and Amherst (75-49!) are showing that perhaps these continentals aren’t as strong as their record appears. I’m not discounting their body of work in its entirety—they are still ranked 21st in the nation. They were simply outplayed against Bowdoin, shooting 36.5% from the field compared to Bowdoin’s impressive 45.2% clip. They also went to OT vs. Colby which is much more of a red flag than either of their losses. Their star, Kena Gilmour, went just 6-20 in the game shooting and is 9-31 in his last two conference games, not exactly carrying the team to victory. Tim Doyle, Michael Grassey, and Peter Hoffmann all have the ability to put up big games though, making their starting five deadly when they get hot. Time for a gut check.

Tim Doyle and the Continentals are struggling heading into the home stretch of NESCAC play.

6. Bowdoin (14-5, 3-3)

Last Week: 72-68 W vs. Hamilton, 60-75 L vs. Amherst

This Week: @ Middlebury; @ Williams

After a big win against the Continentals and a loss against the suddenly scary Amherst team, these Polar Bears have a brutal away weekend ahead of them. They are firmly pitted in the middle of the NESCAC, likely to make the playoffs, but also likely to play their first postseason games on the road. The trio of Jack Simonds, David Reynolds, and Hugh O’Neil are dangerous and capable of going off enough to challenge these top teams in Middlebury and Williams. This could be a preview of one of the early or semifinal playoff games, giving us a peek into how much of a contender this Bowdoin team is.

7. Tufts (15-6 ,4-3)

Last Week: 52-60 L @ Wesleyan; 86-54 W @ Conn

This Week: vs. Amherst; vs. Hamilton

The Jumbos are struggling and are looking less like a championship capable team after several weekends of mediocrity. Their losses to Bates and Wesleyan drastically diminished their overall ranking and raises some serious concerns for this weekend against Amherst and Hamilton. They might lose both but need to at least split to have a shot at a home game in the first round. Their overall lack of scoring depth give them a bleak outlook against most of the top teams. Vincent Pace and Patrick Racy were the lone Jumbos to score over five points against Wesleyan, still only shooting 12-29 between them (decent, but not enough from the two top scorers). For this team to win close games, KJ Garrett is going to need to step up (1-9 shooting against Wesleyan).

Vincent Pace has been trying to keep Tufts afloat, although he was unable to do so in a crushing recent loss to Bates.

8. Bates (11-10, 3-4)

Last Week: 69-56 W @ Conn, 50-68 L @ Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Hamilton; vs. Amherst

I don’t have a whole lot of positive things to say about the Bobcats after falling flat against a Wesleyan team missing its starting PG. 19-57 shooting was not nearly enough to compete, combined with a complete lack of defense. Bates hauled in just 26 rebounds compared to 53 from Wesleyan and basically gave themselves no chance to win. Their two star players Jeff Spellman and James Mortimer shot just a combined 5-14 on the night. For Bates to have any chance to make a run at the playoffs, those two are going to need to make more of an impact.

9. Trinity (13-7, 2-4)

Last Week: 81-87 L vs. Middlebury; 58-75 L vs. Williams

This Week: vs. Wesleyan; @ Conn

While they had a strong performance against Middlebury, a big loss against Williams earlier in the weekend kind of took away any of the positives from the weekend. They couldn’t guard James Heskett and Eric Gendron was the only player with any ability to score (7-13, 18 points). Against Middlebury, although they were losing, they had a ridiculous 32 fouls, leaving the result of the game up to Jack Daly’s free throw shooting ability (he went 18-20 and iced the Bantams). They have a tough test this weekend and need to win against Wesleyan to prove they can compete (I would be shocked if they pulled it off).

10. Colby (10-10, 1-5)

Last Week: 67-76 L vs. Hamilton OT; 77-82 L vs. Amherst

This Week: @ Williams; @ Middlebury

Taking Hamilton to OT was a solid game for a team that has little hope to have a posteason. Sean Gilmore, Sam Jefferson, and Matt Hanna all scored over 15 points in the game and gave the Mules a chance to win. While these three didn’t put their squad over the edge, their youth in the starting lineup—two sophomores and two first years—bodes well for their future success. Maybe not this year, but next year, the Colby team’s stock should rise.

11. Conn College (6-14, 0-7)

Last Week: 69-56 L vs. Bates, 54-86 L vs. Tufts

This Week: @ Wesleyan; vs. Trinity

The good news is that if I don’t say anything good about the Camels, there is nothing for me to jinx. While they finally lost a NESCAC game by less than 15 points (they lost by 13 to Bates), they also had two starters score zero points in the matchup, putting all the pressure on Dan Draffan, Ben Bagnoli, and David Labossiere. A three on five matchup for a team without league leading stars is not a recipe for success.

The Rise of the Bobcats: Men’s Basketball Game of the Week Preview

Bates (9-9, 2-3) @ #14 Wesleyan (14-4, 3-2), 7:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Bates vs. Tufts was a worthy contender for game of the week, but due to Bates’ victory over the Jumbos last weekend, they are the team to beat for Wesleyan. Bates sits in ninth place in the standings, seemingly stuck in the abyss of basketball irrelevance. However, Tufts, who Bates beat 77-75, is sitting in third place at 3-2—only one game ahead of the Bobcats. Indeed, Bates is actually a huge wild card right now in terms of playoff seeding. They could spoil some better teams rankings, and if they can win this one and take down Trinity, they are assured of a playoff spot. This cramming of the standings shows the remarkable parity of the conference and how so much is left to chance with half of the regular season remaining. Not only are there solid teams sitting on the outside looking in, but there are perennial powers just one game out of the similar irrelevance that Bates is facing. This matchup puts power against bottom feeder, while the end result could completely flip the switch on their places in the standings, playoff potential, and power rankings.

Overview:

While Bates is only 2-3 in conference, they have already played Tufts, Midd, and Williams, with their only bad loss coming against Colby. Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, and Nick Lynch ’19 are all above average for the conference at their position and are threats on both sides of the ball against what has been an inconsistent Wesleyan team. Regardless of how their shooting accuracy has fluctuated recently, the Cardinals still have only lost to Williams in OT and #16 Hamilton. Therefore, they will compete independent of shooting struggles and can compete with any team in the nation, giving them a clear edge against a Bates team fighting to get into the conversation of relevance.

Wesleyan X-Factor: Passing Game

With O’ Brien out, role players like Elijah Wilson will be responsible for keeping the ball moving and keeping turnovers down against Bates.

Wesleyan is last in the NESCAC with just 14.6 assists per game, leading to a lower shooting percentage (45.9%) than their overall record would indicate. They have had some real duds in terms of ball distribution, like against Hamilton, where they recorded just seven assists on the night, no more than one for any player. The assist numbers were similar in their narrow win over Amherst, with just 10 total assists for the team. While not a clear indication of success, more assists should correlate to better possessions and better shots which should improve the shooting percentage and limit the unusual poor performances from the star players who get caught trying to do too much. Distribution has seen a steep decline since team leader Kevin O’Brien ’19 went down with an injury, taking away 6.5 assists per contest which are heavily missed of late. Jordan Sears ’18 has been taking his place in the starting lineup, putting up five assists in a blowout win over Conn College, but otherwise not having a similar impact to O’Brien. Sears and the first year stand out Austin Hutcherson (second on the team in assists with 2.2 per contest) are going to be the keys to keeping the ball away from Bates.

Bates X-Factor: G Tom Coyne ‘20

Tom Coyne
Tom Coyne ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

In their mid-season defining win against Tufts, Coyne came off the bench to shoot 4-5 from deep, tallying up those 12 points in just 21 minutes played. He electrified the Bobcats and will be a key piece to their performance against Wesleyan. While Jeff Spellman leads the team with 17.0 PPG, Coyne is second with 13.4 PPG. A recent move out of the starting lineup has taken a chunk out of his shot totals for game which rose as high as 20 in a non-conference game against Brandeis, but his sharp-shooting is still one of the biggest parts of the Bobcats’ success. His accuracy will be the biggest unknown of the game as he will be needed for Bates, ranked ninth in the conference in PPG at 73.3 to keep up with Wesleyan’s diverse scoring arsenal. This underdog team is also ranked 10th in 3PT shooting percentage at 32.1%, in line with Coyne’s season average, and if he didn’t shoot well above that against the Jumbos, his team would be sitting at 1-4 overall in NESCAC play. Although he moved to the bench, he still has a large stake in influencing the outcome of the game and he will need to be ready to go for the 9th place team to have a shot to win.

Final Thoughts:

Last time I previewed one of Wesleyan’s games, I highlighted Jordan Bonner’s downturn in scoring efficiency. Since then (right before their 76-70 loss to Hamilton), he has decreased his shooting attempts per game, handing more to Nathan Krill and Austin Hutcherson. While Krill and Hutcherson have both been excelling recently, combining for 33 points and 13 boards against Amherst two weekends ago, they shot poorly against Hamilton, going 5-22 combined. That weekend was the last time the Cardinals played a solid team as they easily rolled over Conn College last weekend and dominated in their non-conference games. In a game where Bates’ leading scorer Spellman could take over the scoreboard, the trio of Bonner, Krill, and Hutcherson will need to be on their A-game from the field.

Bates should be greedy to attack another top-dawg in the NESCAC after falling in the week’s Power Rankings from eighth on 1/17 to ninth after their upset of Tufts. While most of the stuff Pete writes is controversial in some way, it is hard for me to see how a team goes down after beating a team ranked above them (Editor’s Note: Rude.) Nevertheless, this is another chance for the Bobcats to prove their haters wrong with Spellman and Nick Lynch leading the way in scoring and on defense. Lynch, like Coyne, has a huge responsibility, albeit Lynch’s on defense. Lynch leads the Bates team with 8.5 boards per game with Coyne coming in behind him with just 4.2 rebounds per game. Lynch will need to matchup against Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill who hauls in over nine boards of his own. The two 6’7” bigs will be another marquee matchup in this already loaded contest. Bates is not expected to win and needs to do everything right as they did against Tufts and then some to pull it out, but if they do they immediately become a real threat to other top NESCAC teams.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan 77-71

The Best Offense is a Good Defense: 2017-2018 Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Wesleyan Cardinals

2016-2017 Record: 19-7 (8-5 conference)

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.

Key Losses

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)

JR Bascom
JR Bascom ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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)

Nathan Krill
Four years, four different hairstyles for Nathan Krill ’18. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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)

Austin Hutcherson
Austin Hutcherson ’21 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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)

Jordan Bonner
Jordan Bonner ’19

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)

Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O’Brien ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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.

Everything Else:

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.

Wesleyan’s defense has always been their calling card, this season maybe most of all.

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.

 

The Battle for Connecticut: NESCAC Quarterfinal, #5 Trinity at #4 Wesleyan

#5 Trinity (15-9, 6-4) at #4 Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4), Saturday, 3:00 PM, Middletown, Connecticut

(Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Taking a glance at season-long statistics, when Trinity heads to Middletown this Saturday to play Wesleyan, they’ll be facing an equal opponent. Wesleyan has allowed just over 66 points per game this winter. Trinity’s competition has put up an average of 65.5. While Wesleyan is averaging just over 76 points a game, which is four more than the Bantams, both teams are shooting 40% from the field, and from deep, both Wesleyan and Trinity are shooting 35% and 35.2% respectively. Where the disparity between the two lies – so that I can have a take on the game, rather than just throwing evidence in front of you that says the game will be a tie – is in the final stretch of the regular season.

After a last-second OT win at Amherst, Wesleyan coasted through Bowdoin and Colby – as expected, I should add – with 93-73 and 83-67 wins at home. In both those games, 4 of Wesleyan’s five starters scored in double figures. Wesleyan, who it seems can depend on consistent output from senior and member of the 1,000 point club Harry Rafferty, as well as from fellow senior Joseph Kuo, who is on the brink of membership, as he currently sits with 978 career points. This streak of balanced perimeter scoring bodes well for the Cardinals, especially against a Trinity defense that allowed Bates to shoot 46.7% from the field, and Middlebury to shoot 57% from the field and 52% from deep. The Cardinals’ chances look good if they can get balanced offensive production, especially because they can rely on strong perimeter defense.

The Cardinals are going to need a big game out of Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Lianne Yun/Wesleyan Athletics).

The Cardinals held a perimeter-scoring heavy Amherst to shooting just 32% from deep, while Bowdoin shot 34%, and Colby, despite an absolute lights out first half, were cooled down by the Cardinals to shoot just over 35% from beyond the arc. Yet the thing that makes this matchup so interesting is that Trinity knows that they can’t beat Wesleyan by jacking up threes, and they wouldn’t have tried to anyways. Wesleyan’s biggest weakness is rebounding, and they’ll need solid performances on the glass from more than just Kuo and Jordan Sears, who pulled down 11 against Bowdoin, if they hope to match Trinity’s far-from-secret weapon. If the Bantams are to win this game, it will be on the shoulders of senior Ed Ogundeko.

That sounds like an aggressive take, but it’s certainly not a hot one. The senior forward has led Trinity in either points, rebounds, or both in every one of the Bantam’s wins since mid-December. He pulled down 23 boards against Williams. He had 20 points and 20 boards in a win over Bowdoin. But in Trinity’s 97-80 loss in Middlebury this past weekend, Ogundeko was only good for 14 points and 9 boards. This is still a solid line, but it shows that Trinity’s success is contingent on his individual domination, especially on the glass. When Wesleyan and Trinity squared off earlier in the season, the senior POY candidate had only 8 rebounds, and the Cardinals won the game 65-61.

Look for sophomore Jeremy Arthur to step up in this battle for Connecticut (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

Saturday’s game will be won or lost on the glass. Wesleyan will look to defend well, and they certainly hope for the balanced production they’ve been getting from their starters over the course of their current three game win streak. The question is Ogundeko. If he isn’t attacking under the rim, or the likes of Jeremy Arthur and Chris Turnbull aren’t pulling the ball down, then perhaps Wesleyan won’t need anyone to step up and grab 10 boards. But if Trinity can command the paint while the ball stays down low, Wesleyan will need some serious hustle for their perimeter D to have the impact it does against less-aggressive opponents. Wesleyan’s perimeter play against Trinity’s strength in the paint should combine for one heck of a first round matchup.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan   

Fight Night: Wesleyan v. Connecticut College Preview

Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3) @ Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4), New London, CT 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 28th

Overview:

Image result for the stepford wives
The original ‘Battle for Connecticut.’

The “Battle for Connecticut” is not, as I originally thought, a sci-fi movie about 30-foot tall white families duking it out in Hartford. It is instead this game, which features two teams sitting in precarious positions in the league rankings. Connecticut College has a couple impressive wins under their belt, an overtime thriller over Amherst, and a demolition of Bates in Alumni Gym. But they also have four losses and have shown an inability to score against elite defenses (see their 70-52 loss to Trinity.) And Wesleyan is certainly an elite defense. It has been that side of the ball that allowed them to recover from their 0-2 start. The Cardinals are now 3-3, and gave Tufts their toughest test of league play so far in a 77-73 loss. They only allow opponents to shoot 34.7% from the field, which is among the national leaders and leads the conference by a considerable margin. The Camels will need to prove that they can score against the best in order to have a chance in this game.

Wesleyan X-Factor: Jordan Sears ‘18

Jordan Sears
Jordan Sears ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
It’s not a coincidence that Wesleyan has won both the league games that Sears has started. At 6’5″ and 200 pounds, Sears is defensive and rebounding menace, averaging 1.2 blocks and 4.6 rebounds per game despite only playing 17 minutes. He has started against Trinity and Bates, who boast the two best big men in the league in Ed Ogundeko and Malcolm Delpeche respectively. Sears was the key to not letting those stars own the paint against Wesleyan. I would expect him to play a similar role against Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17, Connecticut College’s two excellent forwards.
Sears’ starting spot has another benefit for the Cardinals in that it pushes Nathan Krill ‘18 to the bench. That may read like a jab at Krill, but let me explain. Krill may well be Wesleyan’s best offensive player, but his volatile temper makes it difficult for him to remain on the floor at times. Bringing him off the bench makes it easier for Coach Reilly to control his star forward. It also gives the often-dead Wesleyan second unit some needed scoring punch, and allows Krill to beat up on slower second unit players. Sears starting has been a key to Wesleyan’s turnaround.

 

Connecticut College X-Factor: Isaiah Robinson ‘18

Isaiah Robinson
Not to start another NESCAC man-crush, but Isaiah Robinson ’18 has a TERRIFIC smile. (Courtesy of Connecticut College Athletics)
Wesleyan is a team that will try to beat you up, particularly in the paint. Connecticut College is well equipped to hit back, but they will also need to hit from the perimeter, as Wesleyan has shown themselves to not be able to keep up in a faster paced offensive game. Robinson combines those two responsibilities. Robinson is 6’5” and built like a linebacker, giving him more than enough strength to push back when Krill and Joseph Kuo ‘17 try to body him in the paint. But he also has quick feet and can stretch the floor, shooting 38.6% from three. Robinson will need to be an offensive threat in this game to pull the Wesleyan big men away from the basket and open things up for Pavlin and Janel to do their work inside. And he may also draw the critical task of getting in Nathan Krill’s head and forcing him into foul trouble.

 

Who Needs it More:

Wesleyan has done a terrific job climbing back into the upper half of the league, and of course needs to continue playing well in order to stay there. This is a crucial game for them, as they travel to Williams and Amherst next weekend. They need the freedom to lose one of those games and still be in contention for a high seed. But Connecticut College still needs this one more. In the ever-shifting NESCAC landscape, the difference between 3-4 and 2-5 is difficult to overstate. The Camels have done great work getting over the…barrier (not going to make the “hump” pun again) and being relevant this season, but this game is the key to them remaining there.

Final Thoughts:

Starting Jordan Sears has freed up Nathan Krill and strengthened Wesleyan’s defense in the paint against elite big men, but it also puts more pressure on the perimeter players in the starting lineup. Sears is aggressively non-threatening on offense, allowing opposing teams to sag off on him and double the primary ball handlers Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17. This has forced Kevin O’Brien ‘19 to step up as a scoring threat. He has done this admirably at times, scoring 20 and 19 back-to-back against Hamilton and Amherst. When teams leave Sears alone and key in on Green and Rafferty, O’Brien has to be ready to step up and be a scoring threat, or else Wesleyan simply doesn’t have enough offense.

Connecticut College will need shooters like Colin Pascoe ’17 to hit threes in order to pull off the upset.

Three point shooting will be the most important stat for Connecticut College in this game. They can’t beat Wesleyan in bar-room brawl  in the paint, the Cardinals’ win over Trinity proved that no one can. They need to stretch the floor and speed the Wesleyan up. They have showed the tendency to make mistakes on offense and defense when they are forced the play faster than their preferred pace. Lee Messier ‘18 will need to shoot a little better than his 33% yearly rate, and Robinson and David Labossiere ‘19 will also need to knock a couple down.

The Prediction:

Wesleyan comes into this game with all the momentum, and would probably be favored in Vegas if bookies out there cared about NESCAC sports at all. But Connecticut College matches up very well with the Cardinals. They have outside threats to spread out the Wesleyan defense, and forwards who can bang with the Special K’s (Kuo and Krill.) This should be hard fought, low scoring battle, featuring a lot of rebounds and fouls. In other words, a terrific viewing experience, and Wesleyan’s specialty. I think the Cardinals pull it out.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Arthur ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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