Upset Alert: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 12/5

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:

Stock up

Wesleyan’s legitimacy

Kevin O’Brien ’19 is emerging as one of the best all around players in the league, and has Wesleyan rising in the rankings.

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.

Colby

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.

NESCAC parity

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.

Zavier Rucker ’21 is one of the talented young players that are helping less established teams make runs this season.

Stock down

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

Amherst’s strong start this year has been a team effort; it’s about the name on the front, not the one on the back.

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 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.

 

It’s Not Too Late for the Stock Report: 2/10

Jayde Dawson ’18 drives to the hoop (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).It’

I know, I know, I’ve been slacking this week and it’s about time I got around to writing the stock report. The truth is, the job search is no joke, and so I’ve let my NESCAC basketball writing fall behind a bit. However, that does not mean that this past weekend was uneventful. There was movement at the top of the ‘CAC as well as the bottom, and while many of the matchups seemed to be shaping up to be barn burners, only a couple games actually ended up coming down to the wire.

I’m gonna do this stock report a little differently this week in order to incorporate some sort of rankings as well. No individual players are going to be snagging ‘stock up’ or ‘stock down’ mentions, but instead each projected playoff team (projections are being made by me, and me alone) will be given its own stock report. Then we will put out a pre-tournament power rankings next week. I will give each team’s stock report in order of last week’s power rankings, so don’t read too deeply into the order of teams listed. No playoff seed is yet set, so predicting which seed each team will get seems a bit futile at this point.

 

#17 Tufts (18-5, 7-2)Stock down

Friday was actually a pretty surprising win out of the Jumbos in my eyes. Down to just a pair of big men, I anticipated that the Jumbos would struggle with Ed Ogundeko ‘17 and as a result would struggle overall. Well, I was half right – Ogundeko dummied the ‘Bos to the tune of 23 points and 21 rebounds, largely due to the foul trouble that Drew Madsen ‘17 found himself in, forcing Coach Sheldon to roll out some pretty small lineups, but a foursome of solid performances by Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20 and KJ Garrett ‘18 allowed Tufts to withstand the Bantam attack. However, they did not play very well, and while they ended up winning in overtime, their 61% shooting from the free throw line was concerning to say the least. Tufts failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities to close out the game, and this carried into Saturday’s game when Amherst punished Tufts for poor decision making. The lack of Tom Palleschi ‘17 is concerning to say the least, not just because of the threat that he provides when the ball is in his hands, but also because of the way that he opens up the floor for his teammates. Tufts needs a big bounceback performance against Williams or they could be in trouble come NESCAC tournament time.

 

Wesleyan (17-5, 4-4)Stock down

The Cardinals had just one conference game this weekend and they dropped the ball. Concerning performance from Joseph Kuo ‘17, Kevin O’Brien ‘17, and Nathan Krill ‘18 could not be outdone by the stellar play of Harry Rafferty ‘17, and the absence of Salim Green ‘19 also hurt quite a bit. Wesleyan played pretty well defensively besides demonstrating that they are prone to foul trouble, but their own poor offensive play resulted in a tough L against the Ephs. Unfortunately, Wesleyan’s better game since last week came in a non-conference game against Amherst in which they eked out a 73-72 victory in OT. The whole starting lineup played a bit better and the scoring was much more well rounded. Still, Wesleyan simply hasn’t been shooting the ball well as of late, and they are going to need to find a way to get better shots moving forward or they could see a disappointing finish.

 

#13 Middlebury (18-3, 6-2)Stock unchanged

I am not saying that Middlebury did nothing well this weekend, but it should not exactly come as a surprise that they blew out Colby and Bowdoin. Middlebury has been one of if not the most consistent team in the league this year, and the Panthers should be considered the best team in the NESCAC at the moment. Now, the rankings change like the breeze in NESCAC basketball, but whether or not they end up with the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Middlebury has to be considered the favorite right now. Tonight’s matchup with Amherst will say tell us a lot about the Panthers, but they are in very good shape right now.

 

#8 Amherst (16-5, 6-2)Stock up

Despite the Tuesday loss to Wesleyan, Amherst’s performance this weekend is much more important. A nine-point victory against Bates was expected but still impressive, and on senior day, the ex-LJs showed Tufts who is the boss with a commanding 13-point victory. Despite it being senior day, however, it was the juniors who pave the way against the Jumbos. Jayde Dawson ‘18, Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Michael Riopel ‘18 all poured in double-digits points to lead the way for Amherst and give them a very good chance to grab the #1 seed in NESCACs this weekend. Riopel was especially impressive from the outside, and he has been arguably the best 6th man in the ‘CAC all season long. Amherst looks to be back, folks. A win at Middlebury would confirm that.

 

Trinity (14-8, 5-3)Stock up

Though Trinity lost a game that Tufts was desperately trying to hand them on Friday, they bounced back on Sunday and dominated the Bobcats with their highest-scoring game in conference play this year. Defensively, there is no one I’d be more scared of the Trinity right now, and if not for an egregious amount of fouls on Friday (30 total, resulting in 41 free throws for Tufts), the Bantams might have walked away with two wins this weekend. Offensively, Trinity definitely relies a little too heavily on Ogundeko, but they are so much better when they can get production from a number of other guys. Widespread offensive firepower has to be the focus for the Bantams this weekend and in the playoffs. Their seeding is completely determined by their performances at Hamilton and Middlebury this weekend, but if Trinity can walk away 2-0 they would be in phenomenal shape in the NESCACS.

 

Bates (15-8, 4-5)Stock down

Bates laid an egg this weekend, and it got worse and worse as the weekend went on. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 has emerged as the clear star of the team, his teammates have not quite been able to pull the rest of the weight. Defensively, you just can’t let Jayde Dawson get to the free throw line 14 times in a game. It’s simply not a recipe for success. The Bates guards just need to do a better job of stopping penetration, which has been a common theme for them all year long. Then, to follow up a subpar defensive performance, the Bobcats allowed Trinity to put up their highest point total of the year? Not good. Bates needs to be hitting their stride at this point in the year, not regressing, and what they showed this weekend is not quite ideal. Bates has a great chance to bounce back against Williams on Sunday, but it will be their ability to guard the arc, not the paint necessarily, that determines the outcome against the Ephs.

 

Hamilton (15-6, 4-4)Stock down

Hamilton had a great opportunity to gain some ground in the NESCAC standing this past weekend. Though they didn’t exactly shoot themselves in the foot, they also didn’t quite take advantage of a weekend where they played Bowdoin and Colby, who were the two bottom teams in the ‘CAC heading into the weekend. Bowdoin guard Jack Bors ‘19 had a heck of a game against the Continentals, abusing the Hamilton backcourt and exposing some real holes in the Hamilton defense in the process.  On the positive side, Hamilton freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20 had a very strong performance as he has done consistently throughout NESCAC play. The freshman had another solid game against Colby and is my prediction for Rookie of the Year at this point. As a whole, the Continentals bounced back well against Colby, especially in terms of forcing Colby into difficult shots, but their erratic performance on the defensive side of the ball worries me heading into the playoffs next weekend.

 

Williams (16-6, 4-4) Stock up

After a gritty win against Wesleyan on Friday night, Williams brought in reinforcements and put a BEATDOWN on Conn College on Sunday, 100-piecing them in a 37-point victory. The Conn victory was led by the three-point attack of the Ephs, as they drained 15-34 from deep in the game. More importantly, however, Williams outrebounded Conn by 15, which gave them many more scoring opportunities throughout the contest. Given that they did pretty much everything right on Sunday, let’s focus on the Wesleyan game. Williams did not shoot the ball particularly well from three against Wesleyan, hitting just 6-29 from deep. What the did do well, however, was attack the paint and get to the foul line much more consistently than the Cardinals. Dan Aronowitz ‘17 came to play in this one, and the Ephs are going to need him to do so again in Medford tomorrow when they take on the Jumbos.

 

Conn College (12-9, 2-6), Colby (10-12, 1-7), Bowdoin (11-10, 2-6)

Things could change for either Conn College or Bowdoin this weekend, but as of now, Colby is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Conn and Bowdoin both need to sweep the weekend, but they also match up on Saturday, so only one of two really has a shot. They need one of the current 4-win teams to lose out, and even then, the tiebreakers might not play out in their favor. I suspect that the eight other teams will be in the NESCAC playoffs this year, not Conn, not Colby, and not Bowdoin.

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

NESCAC the Third: Weekend Preview Part Two

Tyler Rowe ’19 is going to need to keep up his hot streak this weekend for the Camels (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics).

As Rory pointed out in the Friday preview, the third weekend is often a pivotal one for playoff chances. An 0-2 weekend this late in the season can be damning for post-season hopes, and that is only exacerbated by how strong the league is this year. Teams like Williams, Colby and yes, even Amherst need strong weekends to keep their playoff hopes alive, or reassert their place at the top of the league.

 

GAME OF THE WEEK – SUNDAY: Middlebury (13-2, 3-1) at Williams (12-4, 1-3): Sunday, 1/22, Williamstown, MA, 2:00 PM

Overview:

Will I choose Middlebury as the Game of the Week in every preview? Probably. But this game deserves must-watch status. Not only is it a rivalry game pitting two of the most successful teams of the last decade against each other, it features two of the best scorers in the league in Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Daniel Aronowitz ‘17. And it should end before the Patriots game starts, so no worries there.

Middlebury and Williams enter the game on very different footing in the league. Middlebury is 3-1, and was very close to pulling out a win at Tufts. Williams, on the other hand, comes in at 1-3 and has looked like one of the bottom teams in the league. For much of the post-Michael Mayer era, Williams has been a highly dangerous and successful 3-and-D team, relying on outside shooting and strong perimeter defense to remain a contender in the NESCAC. But the Ephs haven’t been able to put together those two components of their machine yet this year. Despite taking the most three point shots in the league by a considerable margin, they have the third-lowest percentage. The defense is still strong from a numbers standpoint, but they have been exploitable by patient offenses, allowing the third-highest shooting percentage to their opponents in the league. Williams might not have the personnel to continue playing their patented style, but they could prove that idea very wrong with a win over the Panthers.

 

X-Factors:

Eric McCord is a BODY down low, and the Panthers have really enjoyed his recent success (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

We’ve been writing a great deal lately about how the forward rotation of Matt Folger ‘20, Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘19 has given the Panthers an interior presence that many felt they’d be lacking this year. But in this game, I see the guards off the bench as being a crucial factor in Middlebury’s game plan. Williams will undoubtedly attempt to use the three point shot as a way to counteract Middlebury’s quick-strike offense. And if they’re hitting those shots, the Panthers may need some firepower from the outside to match them. That’s where the guards come in. The primary outside threat off the bench for Middlebury is Bryan Jones ‘17, who played some nice minutes early in the season but has shot just 5-18 in conference play. Recently, freshman guard Joey Leighton ‘20 has shot very well, entering the rotation just before league play and hitting 44% of his three pointers. Senior Liam Naughton and freshman Perry Delorenzo are also options, but haven’t played much in tight spots. Middlebury may need Jones and Leighton in particular to be scoring threats to open the floor for the three starting guards and the post players.

Williams’ big man rotation is a key for them as well. It is very telling that in Williams’ only NESCAC win thus far, a 72-66 road win over Colby, they got 33 points from their four forwards. In the other games, Williams has received a shocking lack of production from the frontcourt, on both sides of the ball. Williams is the second worst rebounding team in the league, and neither James Heskett ‘19 nor Matt Karpowicz ‘20 nor Marcos Soto ‘19 has been nearly consistent enough offensively to worry opposing teams. If Williams is to match Middlebury’s newfound interior presence, they will need good production from at least two of those bench players, as well as starters Kyle Scadlock ‘19 and Michael Kempton ‘19.

 

Final Thoughts:

This is a critical game for Williams, who is drifting dangerously close to falling out of contention for a top four seed. They have traditionally enjoyed a huge home court advantage, and have beaten Middlebury in some classics in Williamstown over the last few seasons, particularly in tournament play. But they need more than history on their side on Sunday. They need their role players like Cole Teal ‘17 and Heskett to hit some threes, and they need Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Scadlock to play like stars. Aronowitz in particular should be key, as he will probably be matching St. Amour for much of the game. He has to at least play him to a draw if the Ephs have a shot.

Middlebury wins this one on paper. They have far more offensive weapons on the perimeter, and should be able to crash the boards against Williams’ frontcourt. However, Williams’ style of play is by nature unpredictable. If they are hitting threes, they can hang with anyone in the country, and it will be Middlebury’s job to run them off the line and into the paint, where they are far less proficient at finishing over size.

 

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

 

Connecticut College (10-5, 1-3) at Tufts (13-2, 4-0): Medford, MA, 3:00 PM

Basking in the glow of their new standing at the top of the Power Rankings, Tufts has taken the league by storm, winning their first four NESCAC games. They still haven’t quite gotten POY-level production from Vincent Pace ‘18, but KJ Garrett averaged 15 PPG over the two games last weekend, giving them a valuable offensive weapon off the bench. The Jumbos still have problems in the post, as Tom Palleschi ‘17 has struggled offensively for much of the season. That said, Tufts has plenty of weapons ready to pick up the slack.

Connecticut College has a lot of momentum entering this weekend. They shocked Amherst last Sunday, owning the paint en route to an 83-76 OT win. The Camels were able to lock down Jayde Dawson ‘18 as well as any team has this year, holding him to 9 points on 4-10 shooting. That suggests that they should be well-equipped to handle Pace, who showed signs against Middlebury that he’s rounding back into form. They also got 40 points and 18 rebounds collectively from senior forwards Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17. Tufts showed against Middlebury that strong post players can give them problems, as Eric McCord emerged against them with 22 points. Therefore, Connecticut College has the tools to pull off another upset, but I don’t see it happening.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

Wesleyan (14-3, 2-2) at Bates (12-4, 3-1): Lewiston, ME, 3:00 PM

Salim Green ’19 rises up for a jump shot over an opposing defender (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

I’m setting the over/under for total points in this game at 105, as arguably the two best defenses (and least consistent offenses) in the league square off in what may come to be known as “The Battle of the Bricks.” Wesleyan looked to be nearly dead after starting off 0-2, but roared back with two straight wins over Amherst and Trinity. Wesleyan’s elite defense was on full display in both games, holding the two teams to an average of 60 PPG. They finally received some offensive firepower from Kevin O’ Brien ‘19, and Harry Rafferty ‘17 too, an encouraging sign. To win at Bates, they will need one of those two, or Salim Green ‘19 (finally got his name right) to shoot well from the perimeter, as Bates’ interior defense is often pretty much impenetrable.

Bates has been one of the surprises of the season thus far, sitting at 3-1 with a quality home win over Hamilton under their belt. Their success has obviously been chiefly due to the Delpeche twins, who combine for 27 PPG and 19 REB/G. Additionally, Malcolm leads the league in blocks at over 3 per game. The Delpeches are the keys to Bates’ offense and defense, but freshman transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been pivotal in giving the Bobcats a perimeter threat off the bench. He had 30 points over the weekend. Bates should give Wesleyan a heavy dose of both Delpeche brothers, putting a tremendous defensive burden on Nathan Krill ‘19 and Joseph Kuo ‘17. Taking Bates’ lyric little bandbox of a home court into account, I see the towering twins leading Bates to another impressive home win.

 

Writer’s Pick: Bates

 

Colby (7-7, 0-3) at Amherst (10-4, 1-2): Amherst, MA, 3:00 PM

Well if they lose this one, there’s officially a crisis in Amherst. The Purple and White have lost two in a row, both to teams that hadn’t won a game in league play entering their match-up. Amherst’s problems have been copiously and gleefully documented on this blog, but they boil down to a lack of dimensionality on offense. Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 have too much responsibility, allowing teams like Wesleyan to load up on them and dare other players to beat them. Colby probably doesn’t have quite enough perimeter depth to make use of this gameplan, but other teams have certainly taken notes on what Wesleyan and Conn College did to Amherst last weekend.

Patrick Stewart ’17 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics).

Colby may be the only team that played worse than Amherst last weekend. At 0-3 in the league, they are carving out a niche as the bottom team in a very strong league. Colby simply doesn’t have enough weapons to hang with the top teams in the league. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four, but like McCarthy and Dawson, he often carries an unreasonable burden for the Mules, yet with less of a supporting cast around him than the two Amherst guards. Amherst should use this game to get back on track, and ideally find a little more depth on offense.

 

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2) at Trinity (10-6, 2-1): Hartford, CT, 3:00 PM

This game is a matchup of stars. Jack Simonds ‘19 and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 would be my top two POY candidates at this point in the season, due to their importance to their respective teams. Bowdoin for the most part goes as far as Simonds can carry them, as was proven by his electric 32 point performance in their lone NESCAC win over Williams. This game will be an excellent test of Simonds’ scoring chops in league play, as Trinity boasts an elite defense anchored by, who else, Ed Ogundeko.

Ogundeko may carry an even heavier load for Trinity than Simonds does for Bowdoin. In addition to being the key to the offense, he leads the league (and by nature of the transitive property, the team as well) in rebounding, and may be the one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the league. Players are straight-up terrified of shooting layups against him, which is heavily responsible for Trinity being among the league leaders in most defensive catagories. Bowdoin, on the other hand, is the worst rebounding team in the league. This could well be another 20-20 game for Big Ed, and if that’s the case, I see Trinity taking the win at home.

 

Writer’s Pick: Trinity

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.

Five Talking Points From the Opening Weekend of NESCAC Play

Andrew Groll ’19 and the Continentals posted a pair of strong performances in the opening weekend of NESCAC play (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics).

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.

 

Wesleyan’s fallout

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.

Can the Baby Cardinals Fly?: Wesleyan Basketball Season Preview

Harry Rafferty '17 is looking to lead Wesleyan after the Cardinals graduated some big names last year (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Harry Rafferty ’17 is looking to lead Wesleyan after the Cardinals graduated some big names last year (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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

Starters Returning:

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)

Key Losses:

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

Harry Rafferty '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Harry Rafferty ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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

Salim Green '19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Salim Green ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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

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

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

Joseph Kuo '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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

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

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.

Everything Else:

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.

Season Round Ups of the Non-NCAA NESCAC Squads

Bobby Casey '19 and the Williams College Ephs were one of seven NESCAC teams blocked, if you will, from making the NCAA tournament this year. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Bobby Casey ’19 and the Williams College Ephs were one of seven NESCAC teams blocked, if you will, from making the NCAA tournament this year. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Unfortunately, all 11 NESCAC teams didn’t make it to the NCAA field this year. I feel like a gung ho Hamilton team might have surprised some people, but I guess that’s a moot point now. Check out our brief season reviews for each team and a look at what next season might bring.

Hamilton College Continentals (11-13, 2-8)

It wasn’t a pretty season for the Continentals. While they managed to finished just one game below .500, they only won two NESCAC match ups. They finished tied with Bates for last in the NESCAC in the standing and were 10th in points per game and field goal percentage. Their three point shooting was better – eighth in the NESCAC – but this is a Hamilton team that really struggled to score, but they managed to play some NESCAC teams tough throughout the year, and even bested eventual NESCAC champion Middlebury.

The Conts were much better defensively. In their last game of the year, they held Amherst to 65 points. Their field goal percentage allowed was good for sixth in the league, and they rebounded well, with big man Andrew Groll ’19 leading the way with an impressive 7.8 rebounds per game.

2016-17 Outlook:

Coach Adam Stockwell changed the starting five often throughout the year, so their returners will mostly all have starting experience. Hamilton has youth on their side, as they will only be graduating two players who started as many as nine games. There are only two rising seniors in the rotation, so this roster still has a lot of room to grow. Guards Jack Dwyer ’18, who led the NESCAC in assists at 5.5 per game, and Peter Hoffmann ’19 will be the top scoring returners. Other players who could develop include Michael Grassey ’19, fourth in the conference with 46 percent from 3PT range, and Groll, fourth in the league at 7.8 rpg and third with 1.8 blocks per game.

Bates College Bobcats (10-14, 2-8)

Bates was the worst team in the NESCAC this season. Let’s take a look at some of their NESCAC rankings.

  • Ninth in ppg and last in field goal percentage
  • Tenth in 3PT percentage, but they took the most threes in conference games
  • Ninth in free throw percentage.
  • Eleventh in defensive rebounding
  • Tenth in turnovers.
  • Eighth in personal fouls

What’s worse for the Bobcats is that they will lose captain Mike Boornazian ’16, who finished seventh in the NESCAC in minutes, and was named to the Maine All-State team for the third time. Although he struggled shooting the ball this year, with a 36.5 field goal percentage and a 29.5 mark from deep, he still led the team in points, and was a reliable 15 ppg player the last three years for Bates.

2016-17 Outlook:

There aren’t many positive things to focus on for Bates. Bates players are hard to find among the NESCAC individual stat leaders. One area of note is that the Bobcats will rely heavily on the Delpeche twins next season. Center Malcolm Delpheche ’17 was fifth in blocks in the NESCAC at 1.1 per game, and forward twin brother Marcus Delpeche ’17 was also an important starter for the Bobcats. The growth of sophomore guard Shawn Strickland ’18, coming off of a solid season, will also play a significant role in Bates’ success next year. Their next batch of freshman will likely play a large role in determining their fate in 2016-17. They have a lot they need to improve before they can be competitive in the NESCAC again.

Connecticut College Camels (12-12, 3-7)

Zuri Pavlin '17 and the Camels have plenty of time to reflect on this season before they make a NESCAC run next year. (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)
Zuri Pavlin ’17 and the Camels have plenty of time to reflect on this season before they make a NESCAC run next year. (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)

The NESCAC’s southernmost team finished 12-12 overall, and went 3-7 in conference play in 2015-16. They had fine averages across the board offensively, with 79.3 ppg and an efficient 46.1/37.7/73.8 percent slash line. No single player ran their offense, as seven Camels players averaged over 6.5 ppg, and each of their top six averaged 9.5 ppg or more. The 2015-16 Camels lacked a star, however, with top scorer Lee Messier ’18 averaging 13.8 ppg. Connecticut won’t be scrambling to replace seniors next year. Their only graduating starter is Bo McKinley ’16, and he was essentially their sixth man. They’ll still have forward Zuri Pavlin ’17 (8.6 rebounds per game, good for third in the league), Lee Messier (44.9 percent from 3PT range, fifth in the NESCAC), and Tyler Rowe ’19 (fifth in the league in steals, with 1.5 per game).

2016-17 Outlook:

A full season out of Lee Messier could help the Camels become more of a NESCAC threat. They’ll also benefit from a balanced starting lineup next year, potentially heading into 2016-17 with a nice balance of two seniors, a junior, and two sophomores. They had the fifth-best offense in the NESCAC this year, and because they won’t lose any high impact seniors, they’ll have a good chance to repeat or improve on that ranking next year. Their key will be improving a defense that finished second to last in the NESCAC.

Colby College Mules (16-9, 4-6)

Predicting 2016-17 for the Mules is problematic for one very obvious reason: They will graduate their top five scorers. Their starting five was purely seniors this year.

What does that say about the team’s outlook going forward? Did head coach Damien Strahorn not trust any of his underclassmen in starting roles? Was this a failed “win now” attempt? Whatever the reason, finding a new starting five is going to be a challenge for the Mules.

2016-17 Outlook:

This Colby team has more questions and more unknowns going into next year than any other team in the league. Their returning players simply didn’t get extensive playing time, so it’s difficult to know what to expect, except for regression. It’s always hard to replace a 15 ppg player, let alone two of them (Chris Hudnut ’16 and Ryan Jann ’16), and on top of that they’ll lose Patrick Stewart ’16, who led the league in three point shooting this season (52.3 percent).

Bowdoin College Polar Bears (12-11, 4-6)

The Polar Bears boasted arguably the best senior and best freshman in the NESCAC this season, but even all of that firepower wasn’t enough to make any kind of legitimate run at the NESCAC title. Bowdoin snuck its way in to the NESCAC tournament with a two-win weekend at the end of the season, but were dispatched by Amherst in the first round. While losing the scoring punch of Lucas Hausman ’16 will be tough to overcome, perhaps more worrisome is that the Polar Bears were a very bad defensive team this season, and that’s a systemic problem. Hausman himself wasn’t a great defender, so his replacement should provide a plus on that end, but the majority of a rotation that gave up 76.0 ppg will be back. Graduating with Hausman are starters Matt Palecki ’16 and Jake Donnelly ’16. The other starters and role players will be back.

2016-17 Outlook

Prepare for the Jack Simonds ’19 Show to begin. What was once Hausman’s team will now become Simonds’. With his size and shooting ability (45.7% FG, 35.8% 3PT, 89.7% FT), Simonds has POY potential. Surrounding Simonds will be the tough rebounding Neil Fuller ’17 and a couple of freshmen that showed promise but will need to make huge leaps forward in point guard Tim Ahn ’19 and forward Hugh O’Neil ’19. The immediate future isn’t particularly bright for Bowdoin, but with Fuller the only rising senior set to play significant minutes, 2017-18 could be the Polar Bears’ turn to strike.

Williams College Ephs (15-10, 5-5)

The Ephs did several things very well this year, allowing the lowest field goal percentage and shooting the highest percentage from the field in league games. They were the NESCAC model of efficiency. On top of that, they made the second most three pointers in NESCAC games. Surprisingly, the Ephs struggled overall statistically, ending up 10th in rebounding, last in steals, and seventh in blocks. Despite those areas of concern, Williams only allowed 66.2 ppg, the best mark in the league.

Williams enjoyed an incredibly balanced starting five this year, going with a senior, a junior, two sophomores and a freshman, so they’re well set for 2016-17. Essentially, the only senior they will lose is center Edward Flynn ’16 who averaged 7.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg.

2016-17 Outlook:

Their senior losses are very manageable, and by the numbers, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be very competitive next season. The best news for Williams? They return Daniel Aronowitz ’17, who was third in the NESCAC at 18.2 points per game, fifth with 7.4 rebounds per game, and fifth in minutes. With their strong percentages across the board, and a NESCAC stud in Aronowitz, Williams should be able to top their 5 -5 record from this season. They struggled in their two games against Amherst, but Williams’ other NESCAC losses against Tufts and Middlebury were close games. Williams might not be far off from returning to the top of the heap.

Wesleyan (18-7, 5-5)

This is a Cardinals team that really struggled to score, finishing near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories, but their strong defense buoyed them throughout the year. They were the fourth-best scoring defense in conference games and had a +2.5 rebounding margin in NESCAC games.

The loss of BJ Davis ’16 will hurt the Cardinals, potentially more than the loss of any player in the NESCAC. He was an all-around player, and a workhorse for Wesleyan, leading the league in minutes. He didn’t miss a game in 2015-16. His overall production put him among the NESCAC elite, with 16.4 ppg – fifth in the NESCAC – and 1.4 steals per game – seventh in the conference.

2016-17 Outlook:

Kevin O’Brien ’19 was the only freshman or sophomore to get a start for this Wesleyan squad. They graduate three contributing seniors, but PJ Reed ’17, Harry Rafferty ’17 and Joseph Kuo ’17 all have significant experience. Kuo was second in scoring at 11.1, so offense will be a big concern for the Cardinals. Without Davis, the Cardinals will probably have to go back to the formula of a year ago, sharing the scoring equally among half a dozen players. It’ll be a tall order to replace the talented point man.

NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview: #5 Wesleyan at #4 Middlebury

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

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

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

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

Wesleyan X-factor: G Joe Edmonds

Joe Edmonds '16
Joe Edmonds ’16

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

Middlebury X-factor: C Matt Daley ’16

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

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

Three Questions

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

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

2. Who wins the frontcourt battle?

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

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

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

What to Expect

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

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

Prediction: Middlebury 75 – Wesleyan 70