NESCAC’S Most Wanted: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/17

Finally the order of teams is starting to have some clarity. Hamilton finally saw their first ranked opponent in Wesleyan and took care of business, cementing themselves as the team to beat at this point without a blemish on their record. Middlebury knocked off Tufts who knocked off Williams, putting into question the 2-5 spots in these rankings. However, this weekend should bring more clarity as Williams’ true talent level without Kyle Scadlock will be tested against Middlebury. The teams in the bottom half have largely only played each other, with Trinity looking like the “best of the rest.”

1. #14 Hamilton (14-0, 3-0)

Last Week: 76-70 W vs. Wesleyan, 102-77 W @ Conn College

This Week: @ Amherst

And now they are legit. After knocking off Wesleyan at home, the Continentals are proven to be the real deal. While this spot at the top of the Power Rankings may be temporary, their spot in the D3 Top 25 is well deserved despite an easy preseason schedule. Wesleyan was the first difficult NESCAC opponent that Hamilton beat (Trinity and Conn are the other two), and with Wesleyan’s opening weekend win against Middlebury, Hamilton is further cemented as a real NESCAC contender. Their game against Amherst should be a high scoring win with a large margin of victory if all else remains the same with Kena Gilmour the centerpiece of Hamilton’s offense. He poured in 20 points in a defensive heavy game against the Cardinals despite only shooting 1-7 from deep.

2. #11 Williams (12-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 69-63 L vs. Tufts, 79-68 W vs. Bates

This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury

There is no doubt that Williams is weaker without Kyle Scadlock, however, they have managed to show their depth and remain afloat thus far in NESCAC play. They went from NESCAC favorites to just another team in the running for the title, seeing their first loss at the hands of Tufts this past weekend. In Scadlock’s place, Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19 continuebear the brunt of the scoring load as Casey scored 11 and Heskett 21 in the loss against the Jumbos. Heskett added 23 against Bates in the following game, settling in as a reliable power forward that Williams will need down the stretch.

3. #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 82-76 W vs. Bates; 78-63 W vs. Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Williams

Jack Daly ’18 continues to dish and drive to the rim as Middlebury’s balanced offense before was too much to overcome for both Bates and Tufts. While the Bates game ended up only being a six point win—closer than expected—Daly dropped 26 points, nine boards, and eight assists, a stat line we are becoming all too familiar with. Matt Folger is a lengthy player who can shoot from deep, accompanied by Joey Leighton and Hilal Dahleh on the perimeter. Nick Tarantino, Eric McCord on fire in the paint of late, and Adisa Majors all play down low and bring in the boards evenly, while G Jack Farrell ’21 is playing a lot like Jake Brown ’17 from a season ago, distributing and opening things up on the wings and for Daly. Middlebury will need to find some three point shooting from somewhere, however, if they want to continue winning.

Jack Daly ’18 had another game winner last night against Albertus Magnus, and is carrying the panthers despite struggling with his outside shot.

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

Last Week: 69-63 W @ Williams, 78-63 L @ Middlebury

This Week: vs. Bates

Their win against Williams put them in a position to surpass Wesleyan in the rankings, beating what was previously the best team in the conference. Tufts’ size and athleticism are their greatest strengths, led by Vincent Pace ’18, Eric Savage ’18, and KJ Garrett ’19 who was all over the floor against Middlebury. Pace slipped a bit last weekend, shooting 5-21 against Williams and 1-9 against Middlebury. Lucky for him, Garrett emerged as a potential force going forward, scoring 20 and bringing down nine boards against the Panthers in just his fourth game of the season. After increasing his workload to 24 minutes last Saturday, he should play an even bigger role against Bates this coming weekend.

5. #19 Wesleyan (11-3, 2-2)

Last Week: 76-70 L @ Hamilton, 70-66 W @ Amherst

This Week: vs. Conn College

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

Wesleyan is in danger of falling in the rankings after an 1-1 weekend which dropped them farther down in the national rankings. While they lost to a team ranked above them now, they needed to beat Hamilton to cement themselves as a real championship contender. They should roll over Conn College this weekend, but after narrowly beating the falling Amherst Mammoths, they should be a bit worried going forward. Jordan Bonner ’19 still hasn’t quite found his shot, shooting 3-9 against Amherst, and despite first year Austin Hutcherson’s 19 points and solid shooting, Kevin O’Brien did not play and needs to make it back into the lineup quickly for the Cardinals to have a chance.

6. Amherst (9-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 72-57 W vs. Conn College, 70-66 L vs. Wesleyan

This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton

A sub .500 conference record at this point with their only win against the lowly Camels is not a good start for a formerly great Amherst team. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Michael Riopel ’18 are still leading the way in scoring, but they need more depth in order to compete against the likes of Middlebury, Williams, and Middlebury as Riopel is the only Mammoth with the ability to shoot the deep ball. While they rank second in the conference in rebounding per game, they are in the bottom half in scoring and need to improve going forward.

7. Trinity (11-4, 2-2)

Last Week: 73-68 W @ Bowdoin, 61-51 L @ Colby

This Week: Non-Conference

The bottom half of these rankings get pretty confusing as Trinity’s overall record helps them out here, however, a loss to Colby certainly dampens their overall legitimacy as any sort of contender. They had some terrible individual performances in the road game last weekend as Jeremy Arthur put up a complete dud, going 0-10 shooting, Eric Gendron 2-8 FG, and Kyle Padmore 0-3 FG. There isn’t a whole lot else to say, they need to make more baskets to win games and 31.3% overall in the contest isn’t going to cut it. They should press the reset button this weekend without a NESCAC game and look to bounce back the following weekend.

8. Bates (8-6, 1-1)

Last Week: 82-76 L @ Middlebury, 79-68 L @ Williams

This Week: @ Tufts

James Mortimer
James Mortimer ’21 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates put up two decent performances against the NESCAC’s best teams, narrowly losing to Midd and competing against the Ephs. James Mortimer ’18 and Jeff Spellman ’20 are a great 1-2 punch, combining for 41 points against the solid Panther defense. Max Hummel added 13 off the bench, and despite not doing well the next game against Williams with just three points in 15 minutes, has shown some promise. Spellman is the leader of this team and a work horse, putting up 24 the next day against the Ephs and playing over 30 minutes in four games straight. He has the ability to win this team enough games to make it to the playoffs, and in March, anything can happen.

9. Bowdoin (10-4, 1-2)

Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby

Losing to a reeling Trinity team certainly won’t aid the Polar Bears going forward. Jack Simonds ’19, as always, can put up huge scoring numbers, supported by David Reynolds’ shooting and Hugh O’Neil’s impressive defense in the paint (17 rebounds against the Bantams). The Polar Bears have good overall numbers as a team and were really hurt by poor three point shooting numbers against Tufts (sub 25%) and heavy turnovers against Trinity—15 compared to the Bantams’ six. Look for the weapon heavy Bowdoin team to start climbing the rankings soon.

10. Colby (10-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity

This Week @ Bowdoin

Colby got a huge win against Trinity to put themselves on the board and in the conversation of relevance for the NESCAC playoffs. While it was a low scoring affair, featuring some awful shooting from Trinity, some of that had to be attributed to the Mule defense, right? Double-doubles from both Dean Weiner ’19 and Sam Jefferson ’20 are a great sign going forward, giving the Mules reason to believe that they can compete with some of the stronger teams.

Sam Jefferson ’20 is putting up a very solid season for the gritty Mules.

11. Conn College (6-10, 0-4)

Last Week: 72-57 L @ Amherst, 102-77 L @ Hamilton

This Week: @ Wesleyan

Conn College is beginning to look like a guaranteed win for other NESCAC teams after several blowout games to begin their 2018 conference campaign. In their most recent game, allowing more than 100 points to Hamilton, they clearly had little defense and were nearly out of the game from the beginning. David Labossiere ’19 is doing all he can to prevent the Camels from remaining in the cellar, dropping 18 points and seven boards in that loss, although he is pretty helpless after four losses by over 20 points in NESCAC play.

Who Wants It?: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/10

It’s never easy to rank teams. The CFP committee (despite being paid professionals) couldn’t do it, and now we have two schools celebrating national championships in Division I football. When it comes to NESCAC basketball, it isn’t any easier. We’ve had just one weekend of conference play, and there weren’t too many surprises, but there were some big results like Williams over Wesleyan and Wesleyan over Middlebury. In these rankings I am almost entirely looking at conference games, as these are the best indication of where teams truly stand when compared to each other. Look for these rankings to change a ton in the coming weeks, before we start to get some real shape to the standings come February.

#4 Williams (11-2, 2-0)

Last Week: 76-68 W @ Wesleyan, 91-57 W @ Conn College

This Week: vs. Tufts, Bates

It was a huge weekend for the Ephs as they snuck away with a win in Middletown – avenging one of their two losses on the year – and defeating the Camels in convincing fashion to finish 2-0. It looks like for now, they are finding ways to win without Kyle Scadlock ’19. The win over #14 Wesleyan was a huge win because the Cardinals are looking very dangerous after taking down Middlebury on Saturday. Bobby Casey is one of the most dangerous sharpshooters in the league, scoring 24PPG this weekend on 78% shooting and 75% from behind the arc. Alongside him, James Heskett ’19 is scoring 17.5PPG and putting up 5.5 assists, but at 6’8” we should expect to see Heskett putting up a bit higher rebounding numbers if Williams is going to stay hot.

Tufts (11-3, 2-0)

Last Week: 94-83 W vs. Colby, 87-65 W vs. Bowdoin

This Week: @ Williams, @ Middlebury

Well here we are in NESCAC play and we find ourselves saying that yet again, the Jumbos are among the best. They are scalding hot, winners of 8 in a row including convincing conference wins over Colby and Bowdoin that are what is expected of a top tier team. Vincent Pace is loudly making his case for POY, averaging 19PPG, 12REB/G, and 4.5AST/G in their wins over the Maine schools. It should also be noted that although KJ Garrett returned to play in the games out in California, he did not play in either of their NESCAC openers. If he is able to return soon for league games then Tufts has another very deep lineup

#18 Hamilton (12-0, 1-0)

Last Week: 78-55 W @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Wesleyan, vs. Conn College

Hamilton continues to do everything they can do to prove that they have what it takes to be in the top of the league with a statement win in a 78-55 drubbing of Trinity. Kena Gilmour ’20 still looks like one of the NESCAC’s best, pouring in 23 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in the victory. We’ll wait and see if the high-scoring strategy used by the Continentals continues to prove effective in conference play. The win over Trinity was a start, but Hamilton has a chance to make some noise when the Cardinals and Camels come to town this weekend.

#14 Wesleyan (10-2, 1-1)

Last Week: 76-68 L vs. Williams, 80-70 W vs. Middlebury

This Week: @ Hamilton, @ Amherst

It’s still hard to get a good read on this Wesleyan team. They are definitely good, having already beaten Williams in a non-conference game and now Middlebury in a game where they played very well. A loss to Williams may simply prove to us that Williams is better than we thought, but the Cardinals had a chance to really do some damage, and they couldn’t finish a hard fought game at home. Wesleyan’s strength is their balance. Jordan Bonner ’19, their leading scorer, scored 28 points on a poor 10-33 shooting against Williams. Then in the win over Middlebury, he scored just 7 points on 1-5 shooting, allowing the shots to be attempted more evenly. Wesleyan doesn’t have a true “star,” but their efficient style still puts them in the top of the league.

#16 Middlebury (9-3, 1-1)

Last Week: 82-60 W @ Conn College, 80-70 L @ Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Bates, vs. Tufts

The Panthers are good, but how good are they? Well, they had a chance to make a statement against Wesleyan but couldn’t, and did what they needed to do in taking care of Conn College. Time will tell for the Panthers but for now I’ll give them 5th. Jack Daly consistently shows why he is among the conference’s best, putting up 21 points, 15 rebounds, and 8 assists despite the loss against Wesleyan. They will get another chance to prove themselves in a matchup to watch when they host Tufts this weekend.

Trinity (10-3, 1-1)

Last Week: 69-63 W vs. Amherst, 78-55 L vs. Hamilton

This Week: @ Bowdoin, @ Colby

Trinity is another team that I’m not completely sold on. A win against Amherst looks good, although the Mammoths have been trending in the wrong direction as of late. They then traveled to New York and were destroyed by an impressive Hamilton team. A poor effort like the one against Hamilton is not a good step as Trinity looks to force their way to the top. Eric Gendron had the best game in the win over Amherst, posting 6 assists and 5 rebounds to go along with 15 points. It is still unclear who the “go-to” scorer is in West Hartford, as the Bantams will get a chance to prove that they’re out of the cellar of the league.

Bowdoin (10-3, 1-1)

Last Week: 71-50 W @ Bates, 87-65 L @ Tufts

This Week: vs. Trinity

Things went very well for the Polar Bears last Friday as they kept Bates to a cold shooting night from the floor. Tufts is a good team, but Bowdoin is not making a great case for themselves losing by 22. Bowdoin’s leading scorer, David Reynolds ’20, actually comes off the bench, but puts up 15.4PPG, as well as 5.2REB/G and 2.1AST/G. Zavier Rucker ’21 is looking like one of the most steady point guards in the league in just his first year, and helps maneuver a quiet but dangerous Polar Bear offense. They welcome the Trinity this weekend in a game that will certainly tell us a lot about each team.

Amherst (8-4, 0-1)

Last Week: 69-63 L @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Conn College, vs. Wesleyan

After the game against Trinity there have been whispers about Amherst not being as good this year. And most of those whispers came from me. Trinity is not one of the best teams in the NESCAC, and Amherst wasn’t able to pull out a close win, a game that they have traditionally won over the years. They didn’t play poorly by any means, but the fact that they didn’t play poorly and still lost to a middle-of-the-pack team shows that they are down this year. They could turn things around this weekend by stealing a win against Wesleyan.

Bates (8-6, 1-1)

Last Week: 71-50 L vs. Bowdoin, 83-76 W vs. Colby

This Week: @ Middlebury, @ Williams

This week made it difficult to judge a Bobcat team because they really showed both sides of who they are this year. Against Bowdoin they simply couldn’t score, and they had no offensive threats at all. Against Colby the shots were falling, and Nick Lynch ’19 looked like the type of big man they need in Lewiston when he posted a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. It really looks like Jeff Spellman ’20 and Tom Coyne ’20 are the only scorers in this Bates lineup and if they have off nights, the rest of the lineup can’t provide the firepower they need. They would really impress this weekend if they were able to steal a win from either the Panthers or the Ephs.

Colby (7-5, 0-2)

Last Week: 94-83 L @ Tufts, 83-76 L @ Bates

This Week vs. Trinity

Colby played well at times against Tufts, but lacked the star power to be a team as good as the Jumbos. They were hoping for a bounce-back win against Bates, but were denied at the hands of Nick Lynch and the Bobcats. Dean Weiner ’19 is having an outstanding junior campaign. He is a double-double machine, posting 17 points and 10 rebounds against Tufts, followed by a 19-point, 11-rebound effort against Bates. He isn’t getting a ton of help, so the Mules have struggled. They’ll look to turn it around this weekend against the Bantams.

Conn College (5-8, 0-2)

Last Week: 82-60 L vs. Middlebury, 91-57 L vs. Williams

This Week: @ Amherst, @ Hamilton

Things look bleak in New London. As we’ve mentioned, David Labossiere ’19 is having a breakout junior season and Dan Draffan ’21 is making a case for Rookie of the Year, but they don’t really have much else. They defeated Fisher in a non-conference affair on Tuesday. They’ll face a struggling Amherst squad and then Hamilton, so hopefully that win is just the spark they were looking for.

Chaos at the Top: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/5

The last week has been a fascinating one from a power rankings perspective. The preseason top two teams, Middlebury and Williams, both suffered losses in which multiple pervasive problems were revealed. Amherst has also been struggling, while surprise teams like Bowdoin and Hamilton have continued to play well. The league is very hard to read heading into NESCAC play, and that’s definitely a good thing. Let’s get to the rankings.

1: #14 Wesleyan (9-1)

The Cardinals have two of the best wins in the league, over #11 Williams in a non conference game and over #21 Nichols. Wesleyan’s defense has always been dominant, but in recent years they have lacked the outside shooting (and scoring overall) to compete with the elite NESCAC teams like Middlebury, Williams and Amherst. This season, they have been able to score when they need to. Jordan Bonner ‘19 (16.8 PPG) has had a lot to do with this, but Austin Hutcherson ‘21 has emerged lately as the kind of X-Factor that could carry Wesleyan to the top of a wide-open league. In a three game stretch that featured wins over Vassar, Brandeis and Fitchburg State, Hutcherson had 14, 27 and 14 with 12 three pointers. However, he was held to zero points during Wesleyan’s loss to an inferior Springfield team on Tuesday night. That loss featured many of the scoring woes that have plagued the Cardinals in recent years, so it seems that Hutcherson will be a crucial factor in determining whether their success will continue in NESCAC play. A back-to-back home matchup with Williams and Middlebury this weekend will be the best possible test of Wesleyan’s legitimacy.

Austin Hutcherson ’21 could throw his name right into the ROY race with some strong NESCAC performances.

2: Tufts (9-3)

Don’t look now, but Tufts is figuring it out. They’ve won five games in a row, and are the hottest team entering league play outside of undefeated Hamilton. Cam wrote a good deal about them in the Stock Report, but the return of KJ Garrett ‘18 makes the Jumbos dangerous again as contenders for the league crown. An electric athlete who can score in bunches and defend multiple positions, Garrett is the kind of player who can swing games all by himself on either end of the court. And he did just that in their tournament. Garrett had 30 points in the two games (18 in a Game One win over Pomona) and added 12 rebounds and five steals. With Vinny Pace back in form and Eric Savage making a big leap (15.6 PPG,) Tufts is as deep on the perimeter as anyone. And there aren’t too many big men in the league who can really exploit their lack of size, so Tufts is right back in the top tier.

3: #4 Middlebury (7-2)

The Panther’s ride to a three-peat has hit a classic New England speed bump. The Panthers have lost two of their last three games, the last one a blowout at home, something that has happened maybe once or twice in the last five years. It must be noted, however, that the losses were to #12 York and #13 Swarthmore. Middlebury has played the toughest non-league schedule of anyone, and they just paid for it. However, Middlebury should still be able to win those games, especially at home. The culprit has been scoring, particularly from the perimeter. Middlebury was relying a great deal on relatively unproven quantities like Jack Farrell ‘21, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 to aid Jack Daly ‘18 and Matt Folger ‘20 in scoring. And honestly, no one has been hitting and outside shots. In this rough three game stretch, Middlebury is just 16-69 (definitely NOT nice) from three. That’s about 23%. As a result of this, teams are throwing all their defenders at Daly, who is trying to do a little too much against that pressure due to his own struggles from three. Middlebury still has a lot of talent, and should benefit from this early exposure to high level competition. But they have to hit more shots this weekend, especially in their marquee Saturday matchup with Wesleyan.

4: #24 Hamilton (10-0)

First of all, congratulations are in order. Hamilton is nationally ranked for the first time since 2004. And yet, they can still claim that they’re underrated. 10-0 and fourth in the power rankings? Tough break for the Continentals, who have been by far the most impressive team in preseason (albeit with a bad schedule.) Hamilton’s offense is firing on every cylinder right now. They average nearly 100 points per game on 50% shooting and 39% from three. They have four players averaging over 13 points per game, and none of them are seniors. However, their defense will need to improve if they are to buck their recent trend of fading in NESCAC play. Hamilton’s big starting lineup (the smallest starter is athletic Kena Gilmour ‘20 at 6’3”) should lead to versatility, but their forwards are undersized and they often get killed in the paint. Hamilton is last in the NESCAC in opponents field goal percentage at 44%. They will not be able to simply outscore NESCAC teams.

Tim Doyle ’19 had 25 points against Moravian, and is one of Hamilton’s many weapons on offense.

5: #11 Williams (9-2)

The Ephs may be finally starting to notice that Kyle Scadlock is not on the court. Their 73-71 loss to 4-5 Hamline is the worst one of the recent rash of top tier NESCAC losses. Williams has a real problem with finding a secondary scoring option alongside the rising star of James Heskett ‘19. Heskett has done a terrific job taking on the go-to-guy mantle, averaging nearly 23 points per game on over 50% shooting in their last three games. But other players who had been scoring well, such as Bobby Casey ‘19, have recently fallen off. Obviously, one game is no reason to panic. But league games are looming, and Williams starts off on Friday with a road game at Wesleyan, the toughest opening game of any team. Teams will be on notice now about Heskett’s emergence, and Wesleyan (and Tufts and Middlebury for that matter) have plenty of athletes on the perimeter to throw at Casey. As always, I think Williams should up the minutes of Matt Karpowicz ‘20. He’s a scoring threat down low and could force defenses to move around more instead of sitting on the three pointer. We’ll see how they handle Wesleyan on Friday.

6: Amherst (7-3)

 Amherst is entering league play on a decidedly downward trajectory. They’ve lost two in a row with opposite problems contributing to each loss. In a 76-65 loss to Southeastern, Amherst shot only 37% from the field, including a 2-13 showing from Johnny McCarthy ‘18. And then in their next game, a 95-92 loss to Eastern Connecticut, Amherst shot 57% from the field and got 25 points from McCarthy and 22 from Michael Riopel ‘18. However, those two players combined for over half of their points, and they still gave up 95 to the other team. Amherst’s offense goes as McCarthy goes, and like McCarthy, they are struggling for consistency. They still lack a third scoring option that can be trusted every night, just as they did last season. Every year people are waiting for Amherst to turn it on. Their success rightfully makes them a perpetual sleeping giant. But it might be the case that they just don’t have enough talent this season.
7: Trinity (9-2)

I feel like no one, especially us, has said a single word about Trinity yet this season. But as quietly as possible, the Bantams are 9-2 and have won five games in a row. They’ve done it, as is their way, with defense. They are second only to Wesleyan in opponent’s field goal percentage and points per game. Additionally, they absolutely handled Springfield (the team that recently handed Wesleyan their first loss) earlier this season 71-54. Like the Cardinals, Trinity’s strength on defense is balanced out by struggles on offense. In the preseason, Trinity has gotten fairly consistent scoring from Jeremy Arthur ‘19 (13.7 PGG) and Eric Gendron ‘18 (10.3 PPG.) However, Gendron only shoots 22% from three, and Trinity as a team only shot 31% from downtown. Their offense will need to be more versatile in NESCAC play.

8: Bowdoin (8-2)

The Polar Bears have rebounded nicely from their two game losing streak,

Zavier Rucker ’21 has been a great find for Bowdoin this season, and become even more valuable as the season goes on.

winning their last two in impressive fashion. This mini-streak including a non-league win over Bates. Bowdoin has been shooting the ball very well lately, hitting over 50% of their shots in both of those wins. Despite having only started one game, David Reynolds ‘20 has taken over for Jack Simonds ‘19 (who is struggling mightily from the field at 39.5%) as the go to scorer. But the key to Bowdoin’s league success may well end up being a first year. PG Zavier Rucker is still shooting 66.7% from the field in 31.1 minutes per game. He has also shown tremendous maturity in running the offense, especially for a first year. His assist to turnover ratio is 2.5, fifth best among players with over 30 assists. And his size (6’2”, 187) and strength have made him an elite defender already. He averages 1.5 steals per game, and will be essential in guarding the variety of excellent guards in the NESCAC. Bowdoin has the talent to reach heights they haven’t seen in years, and Rucker is a huge part of that chance.

9: Colby (7-3)

The best big man you haven’t heard about plays for the Mules, and his name is Dean Weiner. Yes, I know he sounds like the bad guy in a raunchy college comedy, but he is quietly putting up one of the best stat lines in the league. He averages 10.3 PPG, and leads the league in rebounds (9.4) and blocks (2.8.) But what really sets him apart is his passing. He averages four assists per game, with an A/TO ratio of 2.5. That’s better than many guards. In a league somewhat devoid of star big men, Weiner could be a problem for many teams come league play. His versatility could give traditional big men like Williams’ Karpowicz and Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ‘18 problems, and he’s good enough around the rim (58.3% from the field) to punish smaller players in switches. Colby may not have enough shooting around him to be really dangerous, but they’ve got a star, the first key to NESCAC success.

Dean Weiner ’19 has done it all this season for the surprising Colby Mules.

10: Bates (7-5)

Bates still simply cannot shoot. They are shooting 39% from the field as a team, and 29% from three, both far and away the worst marks in the league. And this is in non-conference play: they still have to face the elite defense of the NESCAC. Jeff Spellman ‘20 carries the most offensive burden of any player in the league, and as a result, defenses are throwing everything they have at him. He’s only shooting 30% from three, and that is simply because he is forced to take many tough shots. Given this trend, it is surprising that Max Hummel ‘19 doesn’t play more. He is far and away Bates’ best shooter (indeed, one of the best in the league) at 45.5% from three, and yet he only plays 17 minutes per game. In league play, Hummel might and should be forced into a sixth man or even starting role, in order to find some shooting and free up Spellman.

11: Connecticut College (5-6)

The Camels have lost four of their last five games, and it’s kind of unclear as to why. Their teams shooting numbers are excellent (second in the league in three point shooting at 37%,) they have a star in David Laboissiere ‘18 (17 PPG on 45% shooting from three) and a strong secondary scorer in Dan Draffan ‘21. For more on Draffan, check out Colby’s (the writer, not the college) Awards Preview. Generally speaking, the culprit behind the Camel’s struggles is defense, but it seems more that they have a lack of toughness. All of their losses have been by at least 9 points, suggesting that when they get down, they are not good at managing runs by opponents. However, their shooting ability means that they could be a problem if they get hot. They have a good chance to turn it around on Friday night when the shaky Middlebury Panthers come to town.

The Top is Up for Grabs: Stock Report 1/3

The holiday break brought us quite a bit of surprise this year, which is actually pretty new for NESCAC basketball. As we have mentioned time and time again, NESCAC teams traditionally beat up on non-conference teams in early season games. This season has looked a little bit different thus far. Again, the early season games are about trying different schemes and finding out what works best for each team, so it is not all that surprising to see some strange results. Despite this fact, there were some notable things that took place as many teams traveled all over the nation to take on the best teams Division III has to offer:

Stock Up:

Tufts

KJ Garrett
One of the best athletes in the league, KJ Garrett ’18 gives Tufts the depth to rise to the top of the league once again.

After a sluggish start to the season (in part due to tough scheduling), Tufts has begun to find their identity. Although they did not play their absolute best basketball out in California, they were still able to head back to the east coast with two victories. Vincent Pace ’18 has looked every bit of the star player they were counting on, with two convincing performances. Pace put on two solid performances, beginning with a 19-point, 6-rebound effort against Pomona-Pitzer. Against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps he struggled a bit from the field, going 5-17 and 1-7 from behind the arc. He was still able to overcome this tough shooting night by going 5-5 from the free-throw line to finish with 16 points. What makes him such a great player is that he continues to find ways to impact the game outside of scoring, which he displayed by hauling in 13 rebounds against CMS. The Jumbos also benefit from the return of KJ Garrett ’18, and this is huge for their depth as Garrett provides consistent guard play and the rebounding spark that they need. Tufts is proving yet again why they belong at the top of the league.

Williams F James Heskett ‘19

James Heskett
James Heskett ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

The loss of Kyle Scadlock ’19 left a lot of production up for grabs in the Eph lineup. James Heskett ’19 has stepped up to fill the scoring void in a very big way. While he stands at 6’8”, Heskett is as pure a shooter as they come. Over the break he put up two monster scoring efforts, and was incredibly efficient in doing so. Despite a disappointing loss to Hamline, Heskett poured in 24 points on 9-12 shooting, including 5-8 from deep. He followed this up with an even more impressive performance against Cal Lutheran, lighting them up for 29 points on 9-15 from the field, 5-10 from three-point land, and 6-6 from the free throw line en route to a bounce-back win. These types of games are exactly what Williams is looking for in the wake of the Scadlock injury, and fortunately it extends beyond just Heskett. The Ephs employ a four-guard lineup that is absolutely lethal from beyond the three-point line, and they love to shoot, leading the conference in both made threes and attempted threes. This strategy is even more effective given that they are centered around the outstanding big-man duo of Michael Kempton ’20 and Matt Karpowicz ’20. Even without Scadlock, this is a very dangerous Williams squad that certainly has the rest of the league on notice.

Kena Gilmour and Hamilton

Hamilton now stands alone as the only undefeated team remaining in the NESCAC. Despite a relatively unimpressive non-conference schedule, the Continentals continue to impress. Kena Gilmour ’20 has now become a household name, earning MVP honors at the Greyhound Classic in which Hamilton took home the trophy. Gilmour dropped 22 points and posted a career-high 11 rebounds against Lebanon Valley, then followed that up with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in the title game against a strong Moravian team. Hamilton is continually aided by hot three-point shooting, most notably Tim Doyle ’19 and Joe Pucci ’18 who are first and second respectively in 3-point percentage. At this point we just have to wait and see if the Continentals can bring this type of play into conference games, because they have done all they can do at this point to show that they are ready to jump into the top echelon of the ‘CAC.

Reigning NESCAC Player of the Week Kena Gilmour and Hamilton have the league on notice…for now.

Stock Down:

Ranked NESCAC Teams

It seems that being ranked in the top 25 this year has been a curse for NESCAC teams. Early in the year, Bowdoin made a jump into the D3 hoops rankings, then proceeded to lose back-to-back games to Colby and St. Joe’s. Williams got as high as third in the rankings, then lost to Wesleyan at home (pre-Scadlock injury), but remained in the top 10. They then lost to a relatively weak Hamline team over the break. Middlebury* got all the way up to number 2, then lost two of their last three games, albeit against very good opponents, #13 York and #12 Swarthmore. Wesleyan was undefeated and on the brink of cracking the top 10, and then lost to a struggling Springfield team. This week Hamilton entered at #24 in the national rankings, so the Continentals better watch out, or they will suffer a similar fate as the top dogs.

*I’m going to give Middlebury a break here because Coach Brown absolutely stacked their non-conference schedule. Four of their first nine games were against schools that have seen time in the top 25 this year. Though they hoped for better than a 2-2 finish in those games, I’ll chalk it up to working out the kinks after losing a large portion of their production from last season.

Non-Conference Dominance

I don’t mean to say that the NESCAC has fallen dramatically because the teams are a combined 86-29, which is still very good. What we saw over vacation was a bit different than past years. Hamilton and Trinity were the only teams that won their respective holiday tournaments, and even the teams that didn’t compete in an official tournament struggled a bit. I already talked about the losses of Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Williams (who all won their holiday tournaments last season), but unfortunately for the NESCAC, it extends beyond that. Colby fell to the host Salem State squad in their tournament, Conn College continued their struggles, losing to Maine-Presque Isle, Amherst dropped a game to NAIA Southeastern University, and Bates lost three winnable games to average Concordia University, Brandeis, and St. Joe’s teams.

This is a bit uncharacteristic of the best conference in the NCAA, but it is a tough year to follow after many teams across the league lost big performers from the loaded 2017 class. The reasons for this are varied. Of course, some teams are simply struggling. Williams is still working out the kinks of playing without Scadlock, and Middlebury is simply finally realizing that they lost two of the best guards in the country. But non-conference scheduling has also gotten stronger. As traditional in-state doormats (like Castleton in Vermont) drop NESCAC teams from the schedule, coaches have opted to replace them with strong teams from across the country, meaning more losses outside of NESCAC play for the best teams. This will only benefit the league come league play. The power rankings are going to look a lot different week-to-week, and the league games will be higher quality as teams have experience with quality opponents already. Us NESCAC students will continue to count on our cherished basketball programs to keep us moving through the harsh winter, as we see record-low temperatures devastating the northeast.

It’s Way Too Early For Power Rankings: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 12/18

A short disclaimer before this article: This month of non-league games doesn’t really matter. Obviously it’s better to be undefeated (like Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Hamilton) than 4-5 (like Connecticut College) but for the most part the competition is lower-quality than league play. Come January, rotations, league leaders and indeed these rankings will all change pretty much immediately. But I haven’t written anything in forever and I’m already impossibly bored here at home, so let’s round out 2017 with these premature and probably inaccurate rankings. As always, feel free to kill me for them in the Twitter dm’s.

1) #2 Middlebury (6-0)

The Jack Daly ‘18 show has been incredible to witness this season. Daly is fourth in the leangue in scoring (17.5) first in rebounding (10.0) and first in assists (9.2.) Leading the league in rebounding and assists is simply ridiculous; I can’t remember it happening at any level of college basketball. But Middlebury’s undefeated record despite playing arguably the hardest non-conference schedule (Skidmore and Endicott were both tournament teams last year) is do in large part to the supporting cast as well. Matt Folger ‘20 is making a leap, averaging 17 points per game and contending for DPOY with 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. And the other guard spots, vacated by St. Amour and Brown, have been filled admirably by a committee. Hilal Dahleh ‘19  gets healthier every game after missing all of last season with a back injury, and has averaged 13 PPG on 8-13 three point shooting over his last three games. And first year Jack Farrell ‘21 just broke out with a 22 point showing against Skidmore. Add in fellow first year (and Hogwarts student) Griffin Kornacker ’21 and the experienced frontcourt rotation of Tarantino, McCord and Majors, and Middlebury is loaded. The Panthers play two more tournament teams in Swarthmore and York before league play begins, but they’re certainly riding high at the moment.

2) #14 Wesleyan (8-0)

Wesleyan is attempting to win despite not following the “run and shoot threes” style that the Warriors have made the norm throughout basketball. The Cardinals are fifth in the conference in scoring at 81 PPG and have taken the fewest threes with 153. And yet, they sit at 8-0 and beat Williams in Williamstown. How? One word: defense. Well actually, two word: defense and Bonner. They are averaging a ridiculous 11.5 steals per game, far and away tops in the league and have five players averaging at least one per game. They also lead the league in blocks per game at 6.5 and are second to Amherst in opponents points per game. But Wesleyan’s defense is always good, and it hasn’t always translated to success. This year, at least so far, Wesleyan finally has the go-to scorer they’ve lacked in recent years in Jordan Bonner ‘19. Bonner is averaging 17.5 PPG and has four 20 point games already. As Amherst gets into league play and the games get closer, they will need Bonner to get buckets at the end of games. The defense can take care of the rest.

Jordan Bonner ’19 may be the go-to scorer that could push Wesleyan over the edge.

3) #5 Williams (8-1)

Obviously, the Ephs’ strong start has been overshadowed by the loss of star forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19 to a torn ACL. Scadlock was building a POY case when he went down, and his injury is sad both for Williams and for the league as whole. But don’t count them out just yet. Williams is very deep, especially at forward, and have shown the signs of being able to weather this storm. Since Scadlock got hurt, they have relied largely on James Heskitt ‘19 and Bobby Casey ‘19 to pick up the offensive load. Both players have averaged over 15 points per game since his injury. And Williams’ greatest strength has always been the size that they bring off the bench. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 is a terrible sportswriter, but he’s one of the best players in the league to come off the bench. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start in league play, or at least see an increase in minutes when Williams faces other big teams like Middlebury and Amherst. Williams is still one of the teams to beat.

4) #23 Amherst (7-1)

Fru Che ’21 is one of a number of impressive Mammoth first years.

Here’s a ranking I might get killed for if the Amherst football parents are any indication. The Mammoths are well on their way to making all of us look dumb for thinking they might be down this year. They are 8-1, and have the best scoring defense in the league at 61 PPG, a huge reversal from last year’s team. But it should be pointed out that they are continuing the time-honored Amherst tradition of playing a terrible non-conference schedule. The Mammoths haven’t played any tournament teams yet this season, a fact that contributes somewhat to their terrific team stats. Indeed, it’s hard to get a read on Amherst’s key players because they’ve played some many blowouts in which everyone on the roster sees time. However, the struggles of Johnny McCarthy ‘18 cannot be explained by inconsistent minutes. McCarthy, who was expected to make a POY-type leap this year, is averaging 10 points per game on 38% shooting, 21% from three. Michael Riopel ‘18 and stellar first year Fru Che ‘21 have picke up the slack, but in league play, star power helps. Maybe McCarthy needed Jayde Dawson more than we thought, or maybe he’s just waiting until they need him more, but Amherst can’t compete with Middlebury if McCarthy isn’t an offensive threat.

5) Hamilton (8-0)

Hamilton always gets us with this trick. They play great before league play, and everyone (especially me) gets all excited thinking they might finally be ready to challenge the big boys. Then they get smoked in NESCAC games. At the risk of falling into that trap again, Hamilton has look REALLy good thus far. They are averaging 95 points per game (albeit against the same level of competition as Amherst) and lead the league in shooting, both overall and from three. Hamilton has one thing that they didn’t have last year, however, when they started strong and then faded spectacularly in league play: experience. All the young players that made Hamilton exciting last year are a year older and have improved noticably. Michael Grassey ‘19 has become a deadly three point shooter and overall scorer, and the backcourt of Tim Doyle ‘18 and retired mobster Joe Pucci ‘19 shoots over 50% from three and provides leadership. But Hamilton’s star is Kena Gilmour ‘20. Gilmour averages 17 points and seven rebounds per game, and is exactly the kind of versatile, athletic wing that tends to dominate NESCAC (see Bowdoin’s Lucas Hausman.) This has been said each of the last three seasons, but this might be Hamilton’s year.

6) Tufts (7-3)

Expected to compete for the league title at the beginning of the year, Tufts is just now getting healthy and rounding into form. They have three losses, but two of them came in their first three games and both were against tournament teams (MIT and WashU-St. Louis.) Since those games, they are 6-1. Tufts has been without two key contributors all season in KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18. Both players made a big difference last season, and has led to a crisis of depth for Tufts. The Jumbos rely heavily on Vincent Pace ‘18 and Eric Savage ‘18 to carry the offense. The senior duo has combined to average 33 points per game, 19 of those coming from Pace. As Amherst proved last year, relying too much on two players is not a sustainable way to win NESCAC games. Defenses are too good; Wesleyan, Amherst, Williams and Middlebury all have enough depth to throw multiple defenders at both guys. Tufts will need one or both of Savage and Garrett to return during league play if they hope to live up to preseason expectations.

7) Bowdoin (8-2)

There was brief pandamonium (or should I say…Polar Bear-monium? I shouldn’t? Okay) a few weeks ago when Bowdoin briefly climbed as high as number 22 in the national rankings. Back-to-back losses to Colby and St. Joseph’s ended that brief love affair. But as Landry Clarke must have thought after Tyra dumped him, just because it was brief doesn’t mean it was a fluke, and it doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. Bowdoin has a lot of talent. David Reynold’s ‘20 is a bona-fide super sub, averaging 15 points per game on over 50% shooting off the bench. First year guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 is shooting 66.7% from the field and has turned what was expected to be a weak spot (PG) into a strength. And Hugh O’Neil ‘19 provides size and toughness inside. Jack Simonds ‘19 still hasn’t gotten going, only shooting 39% from the field and 28% from three. He seems to be having a little trouble meshing with a suddenly-balanced team, after being very much the go-to guy last season. Once he figures it out, Bowdoin really could be scary.

David Reynolds ’19 is explosive off the bench for the Polar Bears.

8) Trinity (6-2)

As always, it’s hard to get a read on the Bantams. After losing Ed Ogundeko, Trinity has gotten off to a solid 6-2 start. However, they got pasted by Nichols, their best opponent by far, 89-75. In that game, as well as their other loss to Western Connecticut, they showed many of the offensive problems that have plagued previous Trinity teams. Those problems are primarily related to floor spacing. The Bantams are the second worst three-point shooting team in the league, trailing only Bates. Their leading three point shooter (and overall scorer) is Jeremy Arthur ‘19, and he shoots only 36%. When Trinity plays against good defenses who can handle their size inside, those teams can pack the paint and Trinity really struggles to score. Arthur has been a good player for a while and is flourishing without Ogundeko, but Trinity won’t win league games if they don’t find someone else to hit some threes.

9) Bates (5-2)

Jeff Spellman
Jeff Spellman ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates is shooting, as a team, 38% from the field and 24.5% from three. According to my “Basketball For Dummies” reference book, that is not very good. It speaks very highly of their defense that they are 5-2 despite shooting that poorly. They force nearly 17 turnovers per game, and allow teams to shoot almost as poorly as they do from three at 27%. Bates has relied largely on that defense and the clutch play of Jeff Spellman ‘20, who is averaging over 18 points per game. Most of those came in a 38 point outburst against UNE, but he has shown a knack for getting a big hoop when they need one most. Obviously, during league play, they will have to shoot better than this, or else teams will pack the paint even more than they will against Trinity.

10) Colby (6-2)

Colby may be the team that has the fairest gripe with these rankings. They have a 6-2 record and a signature win over Bowdoin. And yet here they are, two places behind the Polar Bears. In contrast with the Bobcats, much of Colby’s success is due to their three-point shooting. Colby shoots 34% from three, which isn’t amazing, but their numbers are slightly skewed by two games where they shot 22%. Colby is also young. Their leading scorer is impressive first year Michael Hanna ‘21, who averages over 13 PPG. Colby has a chance to contend for the CBB title, and maybe climb into the tournament.

11) Connecticut College (4-5)

David Laboissiere ‘19 (don’t ask me to pronounce that) has put up one of the most efficient first months we’ve seen in a while. He leads the league in scoring at 18.3 points per game, and is shooting 52% from the field and 51% from three. Unfortunately, he’s not getting a ton of help. And his team’s record reflects that. They are a league-worst 4-5, and have lost three in a row heading into break. The main culprit is certainly turnovers. They average 19 per game, by far the most in the league. They do try to play fast, which leads to some sloppiness, but that is simply not a sustainable way to play. In NESCAC play, Labossiere won’t be able to bail them out every night.

David Labossiere is putting up big numbers this year, but so far they have been for naught.

Throw Dem ‘Bos: 2017-2018 Tufts Men’s Basketball Preview

TUFTS UNIVERSITY JUMBOS

2016-2017 Record: 22-7, 8-2

2017-2018 Projected Record: 23-7

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:

Everett Dayton
Everett Dayton ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #4 Everett Dayton – Sr.

The senior from Pacific Palasides, California emerged as a quiet leader for the Jumbos last season, starting every game, running the offense and averaging 8 PPG. He plays solid defense and has shown off his scoring ability, aside from his ball-handling prowess. Tufts will look to Dayton this season to lead them on both ends of the floor, and in big moments in big games. Offensively, Tufts will have to play even more of a perimeter game with the loss of Center Tom Pelleschi. Dayton will need to be a facilitator, and also knock down three pointers when they are open. With a smaller lineup on the floor, ball movement will be paramount, and Dayton will be the Jumbos offensive catalyst, who will look to create shots for his teammates and run the floor. Tufts will get the most out of their offense when Dayton’s assists are high.

Thomas Lapham
Thomas Lapham ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #1 Thomas Lapham – Sr.

The second of the ‘Bos SoCal Guard tandem, Lapham is a grinder. He proved to be valuable for the Jumbos off the bench last season, shooting 42% from the field. He is a sharp shooter, who will look to breakout this season from behind the arc. Lapham has demonstrated his three-point shooting ability, last season burying 4 against Newbury College and 3 against Williams. This year’s offense will benefit a player like Lapham, who the Jumbos will need to step up and contribute right off the bat. If Lapham can knock down shots early, it will open opportunities for other seasoned shooters like Dayton and Pace. Lapham has proven he can contribute on both sides of the floor off the bench, and will bring his gamer mentality to his more consistent role this season. Look for Lapham’s numbers to rise this season, but it will be his leadership and competitiveness that will earn him extra minutes and add to the Jumbos win column.

Eric Savage
Eric Savage ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #5 Eric Savage – So.

My Breakout Player of the Year, Savage will be a huge the key to the Jumbos success in 2017-2018. Savage improved greatly over the course of last season, and was a regular contributor off the bench for Tufts later in the year. He put up 14 and 16 points in the Jumbos first two NCAA tilts last season, and had a season high 18 at Trinity in early February. Savage emerged as a consistent scoring threat for the Jumbos, and they will rely on him even more this season in a more consistent role. Savage is a natural scorer, who will help Tufts win basketball games by getting to the dish, facilitating, and knocking down open shots. If Savage can play good defense, he will spend a lot of time on the court for the Jumbos.

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #13 Vincent Pace – Sr.

A healthy Pace is Tufts best all-around player. A knee injury sustained in the NESCAC Tournament ended his Sophomore season, and battling other injuries last year, Pace was still able to be a major contributor for the Bos. Pace is a scorer, which he displayed against St. Johns Fisher in the NCAA Tournament dropping 37 points in a Jumbos victory. He averaged 14 PPG last season, shooting nearly 44% from the field, and giving the Jumbos 25 minutes per game, despite nagging injuries. Tufts has relied heavily on Pace in the past and they will continue to rely on him offensively this season. In losses against Amherst and Bates last year, Pace shot less than 32%, only putting up 6 points against Amherst. Tufts will need big time performances out of Pace this year. If he can stay healthy he will be an offensive weapon yet again for the Jumbos, working the perimeter with Dayton, Savage, and Lapham, but Pace can also guard forwards on defense.

Patrick Racy
Patrick Racy ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #24 Patrick Racy – So.

The biggest question mark for this 2017-2018 Jumbos squad is the replacement of four-year starting Center and Captain Tom Palleschi. The 6-7 Center from Connecticut, Racy contributed big minutes for the Jumbos as a Freshman when Palleschi went down with a knee injury in January. Racy was vital for Tufts on defense and on the boards last year, but without Palleschi, opponents will most likely attack the paint. If Racy can step up and guard some of the most potent NESCAC Bigs down low, Tufts will be a very tough defense to score on. Boards and good D will be the two keys to Racy’s Sophomore campaign, but he also poses an offensive threat as a mid-range shooter. Look for the big man to sneak in a few put-backs and draw some offensive attention with his smooth jumper. Racy will open the array of Jumbo shooters on the perimeter, even more.

Breakout Player:

G #33 Eric Savage – So.

(See above)

Everything Else

 YOUNG BOS:

Tufts will rely heavily on several returners to continue to be big contributors throughout their 2017-2018 campaign. That said, with the departure of senior impact players from last season like Tarik Smith and Tom Palleschi, there are some opportunities for the young talent on the Jumbos roster. Last year we saw Eric Savage work his way into the rotation by competing on both ends of the floor and stepping up down the stretch. Patrick Racy received valuable exposure in the during his fill-in time in Palleschi’s absence. This year, two first years stick out as early contenders to provide significant minutes for Tufts, Luke Rogers (F) and Brennan Morris (G). Rogers could be jumbo for Tufts. Now the biggest body on the roster, the kid has a ton of upside and will get chances early on to give Racy his rest. Look for Rogers to make an impact down low defensively and help Tufts on the offensive boards. Although the Jumbos are stacked at the guard position, Brennan can come off the bench and give Tufts some size. If Brennan can knock down some shots and contribute offensively early on, he could be big for the Jumbos spreading the floor and crashing the boards.

LIKE HE’S LOU WILL

KJ Garrett
KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

KJ Garrett provided some serious offensive spark for the Jumbos at certain crucial moments last season. He came off the bench and dropped 19 at home against Hamilton, willing Tufts to an eventual 13-point victory amidst their 10-game win streak. The University of Washington transfer from Southern California is an athletic weapon on the court, whose ability to rise above the rim is only matched by Colby’s Pat Dickert. Although Garrett is currently sidelined with a minor finger injury, he will be back and ready to go for Tufts. The Jumbos will continue to look to Garrett for that offensive spark. On a team loaded with shooters, Garrett will drive to the basket and get buckets in the paint, opening shooting opportunities for his buddies behind the arc. If Garrett can get healthy and stay healthy, I expect him to contribute early off the bench, moving into a more consistent role down the stretch, igniting the Jumbos guard-friendly offense.

 LIKE IT’S MARCH MADNESS

Tufts was upset in the NESCAC Playoffs by a Williams team they had taken apart 93-68 just two weeks earlier. Despite two well-earned victories in the NCAA Tournament, the Jumbos fell to Babson for the second time of the season, who eventually went on to win the National Championship. Last year’s squad was good, but this team is better. Tufts is led by a good group of senior impact players who will have a positive effect on the team on both ends of the floor and off the court. If the Jumbos are going to win the Conference and make a NCAA push this season, they will need to have that playoff mentality all season long. If they stay healthy, knock down open shots, and can replace Tom Palleschi’s impact, Tufts will have a very successful 2017-2018 season.

ROAD WARRIORS:

The Jumbos have a few big matchups on the road this year, including trips to Washington University in St. Louis for a season opening tournament, and a couple of showdowns in Southern California just before New Year’s. Tufts will also have to battle on the road in Conference. Probably their most vital stretch of the season will be their road trip facing off against Williams and Middlebury on back-to-back days. Williams should be a big tilt for the ‘Bos having eliminated them from the NESCAC Playoffs last season, and bouncing back to compete against a good Panthers squad will be tough. The Jumbos also have three straight road matchups in late January at Lesley, Connecticut College, and Wesleyan.

 

BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON MATCHUP:

February 3 vs Amherst

This will mark the third-to-last regular season game for the Jumbos, probably against their most formidable in-conference opponent. Amherst went 7-3 in Conference play last season, and were young. In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst returns a slew of senior contributors and will be looking to put together a more successful 2018 campaign. Tufts will have an opportunity to knock off a worthy opponent at home in front of a Friday night crowd at Cousens, and get hot as they look ahead to the NESCAC Tournament.

 

 

To Be The Best, You’ve Gotta Beat The Best: NCAA Sweet 16 Preview, #14 Tufts at #3 Babson

#13 Tufts (20-6) at #3 Babson (25-2), 8:00pm Friday, March 10, Wellesley, MA

For the majority of the season, Babson was ranked #1 in the nation with their lone loss coming at the hands of Amherst in a #1 vs. #2 matchup. On February 26, after beating MIT just eight days earlier, Babson fell to the engineers in the NEWMAC Tournament Finals. To be fair, the Beavers were plagued by injury in this game: starters Sam Bohmiller ‘17 and Bradley Jacks ‘18 both sat out, leaving Babson with a relatively short bench. Nonetheless, Babson let the top seed in the tournament slip away from them, leaving them a tougher road than they likely would have had otherwise.

A hot Keene State (19-9) team took down Amherst in the opening round, and then toppled #5 Ramapo in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16. The Owls will match up with #2 Christopher Newport (25-2), who advanced to the Sweet 16 with little difficulty, in the earlier game tonight. This is an intriguing game in its own right, but since this is a NESCAC blog, I will be focusing on tonight’s matchup: Tufts vs. Babson.

Last Time They Met

The Jumbos met Babson in the finals of the Big 4 Challenge on December 3 and fell victim to the heartless assassin Joey Flannery ‘17. Flannery had a ridiculous 42 points that night leading his team to a 91-78 victory. Tufts’ strategy of locking down Nick Comenale ‘18 worked decently well – the junior had 14 points on just 3-8 shooting with 5 turnovers – however, this gameplan allowed Flannery to completely take the reigns,

Joey Flannery ’17 goes up in Babson’s early season match-up against Amherst.

something he’s very accustomed to doing. Additionally, Isaiah Nelsen ‘17 and Jacks worked well in tandem, combining for 30 points on 13-23 shooting. Tom Palleschi ‘17 led the way for the Jumbos, scoring 16 while grabbing 9 boards. Ben Engvall ‘18 and Vince Pace ‘18 were the only two other Tufts players to contribute double-digits in scoring, in large part because Tufts struggled as a team from deep, shooting just 6-22 from long-range. Nonetheless, Tufts was able to keep the Babson lead to just 8-10 points most of the way, but they were never able to recover from a very slow start. In the end, Flannery was just too much for the ‘Bos, and Babson was able to pull away a bit at the end. Don’t expect Tufts to show any fear entering this game, however – there is definitely some bad blood in this one. The game was pretty chippy throughout, with lots of physical play and trash talk going both ways. Then, with the game clearly out of reach, Coach Sheldon called off the dogs, yelling to the Tufts players on the court “no more fouls!” when Babson grabbed a defensive rebound with 25 seconds left. With the ball in his hands, Flannery heard this, ran out on the break, looked back to make sure no Tufts players were trailing him, and slammed home a dunk to rub salt in the wound. He then ran back up the court trash talking a couple Jumbos that he passed by. Don’t think that Tufts doesn’t want revenge for the way this game went.

Tufts X-Factor: Guard Vince Pace ‘18

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Throughout the 2016-2017 season, Pace has been very streaky. He has had some awesome games, namely the game that got the Jumbos here, in which he scored a career-high 37 points on 12-17 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, he has also struggled at times, such as in the NESCAC semis, when he went just 1-7 shooting with 5 points. Last time Tufts faced Babson, Pace was still not fully healthy, as he was working his way back to normal minutes from the ACL tear he suffered last spring. This time he has a full season under his belt. The fact is, when Pace plays well, it’s rare that Tufts loses, so they need him to show up in this one. The smaller Nick Comenale should be matched up against Pace defensively, so Pace needs to use his size advantage. Most importantly, if Pace can get going with one or two early threes, Tufts will be in good shape.

Babson X-Factor: Forward Isaiah Nelsen ‘17

Isaiah Nelsen
Isaiah Nelsen ’17 (Courtesy of Babson Athletics)

Isaiah Nelsen is one of the best big men that Tufts has faced this year. He is big, strong and athletic; he can hit mid-range jumpers; he partners very well with another solid forward, Bradley Jacks; and most importantly, Nelsen is the third option for the Beavers offensively. With all these factors working to his advantage, Nelsen is primed to go off. Last time these two matched up, Nelsen shot 8-12 for 20 points to go along with 13 rebounds, presenting a constant threat to the Tufts defense. With the ever present three-point threats of Comenale and Flannery on the court, the Tufts big men will be required to deal with Nelsen one on one. If Palleschi, Drew Madsen ‘17, and Pat Racy ‘17 can shut down Nelsen, the Jumbos have a very good chance in this one. However, if it comes at the cost of allowing Babson’s guards to light up the scoreboard, Tufts might not get the result they desire.

Three Questions

1.) How will Tufts limit Joey Flannery?

I say limit because frankly, I don’t see anyone actually stopping Flannery in the NCAA tournament. He’s just too much of a bucket-getter. Tufts’ best chance is if they limit Flannery to under 20 points. Theoretically, the way the Jumbos switch screens defensively should prevent Flannery from getting open three-pointers, although that didn’t quite pan out in December. I would guess Everett Dayton ‘18 will be tasked with guarding Flannery. Dayton’s combination of length, athleticism and basketball IQ makes him the most viable option to make Flannery work for his points.

2.) Who else will step up for the Jumbos?

Since December 3, 2016, the Tufts basketball team has evolved immensely. Dayton has become a much more capable scorer and playmaker. KJ Garrett ‘18 has emerged as a huge offensive threat over the second half of the season, primarily by using his advantage in athleticism to get offensive rebounds and get out in transition. Palleschi and Engvall both have double-digit potential as well. However, my guess would be that Tarik Smith ‘17 is the one to have a big game for Tufts. He was their leading scorer throughout the regular season, and he showed around this time last year that he is a big game player. Smith thrives when he can get to the hoop and draw fouls, as he is very good at hanging in the air and finishing through contact. Any one of these guys can score the basketball, but my guess is Smith will be the guy the media is asking about in the postgame interviews.

3.) Which team’s post players will perform the best?

The intrigue here is the strategic difference between these two sides in the way that they utilize their big men. Babson generally plays both Jacks and Nelsen at the same time. Tufts pretty much never has more than one big man on the court. While a ton of the scoring in this game will be done by perimeter players (I would guess the majority of it), this battle on the block could determine which team moves on to the Elite 8. Rebounding the basketball is HUGE in this game for Babson. If Jacks (who I assume will have a mix of Engvall/Garrett guarding him) can take advantage of his matchup on the boards, Babson has a big advantage. If he can create some extra possessions for the Beavers, the fight for rebounds between Nelsen and Palleschi/Madsen/Racy will be even more important for the Jumbos. As for scoring the ball, Tufts has to keep the Babson big men in check. They can’t allow 30 points out of this duo again, they just can’t. A big game offensively from Palleschi would pay huge dividends for Tufts, and would put even more pressure on the likes of Flannery and Comenale to put the ball in the bucket.

And Then There Were 64: Tufts and Wesleyan NCAA Opening Previews

Pete previewed the opening rounds for Amherst and Middlebury this morning, so I will do my best to follow in his footsteps with some intel on Tufts and Wesleyan. Both teams earned at-large bids despite earlier than expected exits from the NESCAC tournament, a testament to their consistency and the strength of the conference. Let’s see what each team’s chances to escape their pod are like.

 

#14 Tufts (20-6, 9-3)

(Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

While they slipped towards the end of the season, particularly in their unimpressive performance in the NESCAC semis, Tufts is in a fine spot. They didn’t earn the top seed in the NESCAC tournament by accident. In fact, aside from Middlebury, I would say that Tufts has the best chance to make a deep run in the tournament because of their depth, especially on the perimeter. If not for the dominance of the Tufts Women’s Basketball Team, the men would be hosting the opening round this weekend instead of St. John Fisher, so don’t sleep on the Jumbos for that reason. Tom Palleschi should be in better health this weekend than he was against Williams last weekend (he logged just 8 minutes), which definitely bodes well for Tufts.

 

How They Got Here

Like I mentioned above, Tufts’ depth is what they hang their hats on. They generally play 9-10 deep, allowing Coach Sheldon to see who has the hot hand that day and alter the minute distribution accordingly. In the second half, KJ Garrett and Everett Dayton have really taken the reigns offensively in the absence of Palleschi, and Second Team All-NESCAC selection Tarik Smith has continued his steady production from the point guard slot. The spurtability of Eric Savage, Ethan Feldman and Thomas Lapham has been a big boost for the ‘Bos off the bench. Vinny Pace has been a tad inconsistent this year, but his potential to explode offensively is a constant threat for opposing defenses. Given their athletic, guard-heavy lineup, the Jumbos play best when they get out in transition. They are maybe the best team in the league at converting quick hitters off an opposing team basket due to their ability to handle the ball and push the tempo at 1-4, and sometimes even 1-5 when they go small with Garrett at the 5-position.

 

How They Lose

The biggest area of focus for Tufts should be on the boards and in the paint. Without Palleschi, they have lost their best rebounder, often forcing Ben Engvall and KJ Garrett to match up with much bigger players. While the two are very solid rebounding guards, Pat Racy and Drew Madsen are both smaller than Palleschi, leaving the Tufts lineup at a disadvantage due to the overall lack of size they are rolling out there. Additionally, Palleschi is the biggest shot blocking presence on the roster, and even if he is feeling better this weekend than last, I doubt that his knee will be healthy enough for him to impact shots in the paint the same way that he used to. We saw Williams take advantage of this last weekend, especially Kyle Scadlock, who had 20 and 11 in that semifinal game. Williams outscored Tufts 32-8 in the paint, which points to another vulnerability of the Jumbos – their halfcourt offense. Tufts is SO much better when they can get fastbreak points. They are deep enough that fatigue is not a factor, and it leaves them with many more open threes. The three-pointers that the Jumbos generate out of their halfcourt offense are often forced, leading to low shooting percentages and poor offensive displays. It all starts with the Jumbos controlling the paint – if they can force jumpers out of their opponents, then they will have more opportunities to get out and run.

 

The Competition

Salem State (17-10, 9-3)

Shaquan Murray (Courtesy of Salem State Athletics)

The Vikings boast a three-pronged attack that features guard Shaquan Murray (15.9 PPG), center Marcus Faison (15.1 PPG) and guard Alex Santos (11.8 PPG). Murray is a premier ball handler who excels at getting to the basket. He is small and quick, and knows how to maneuver in the paint to get good shots. Faison is the Salem State post presence, but he is listed at just 6’5”/215, something the Jumbos NEED to take advantage of. However, thinking back to UMass Boston and Sam Freeman, undersized bigs seem to do well against Tufts, and Faison’s 11.1 rebounds per game seems to indicate that he is primed for a big game tonight. Finally, Santos is the shooter of the bunch. He is a bit bigger than Murray, but he’ll be smaller than most of the Tufts guards. If Tufts can get a hand in Santos’ face, they should be able to keep him in check.

 

St. John Fisher (22-5, 15-1)

Keegan Ryan (Courtesy of St. John Fisher Athletics)

St. John Fisher put together nearly a flawless conference season, losing just one game en route to the Empire 8 championship crown. As has been the case all season, one of their two studs took over and brought the Cardinals to victory in the finals. Tyler English dropped 21 points on Stevens in that game, and he poses a similar threat to Tufts because of his length on the perimeter. However, it’s Cardinal big man and leading scorer Keegan Ryan that should scare the Jumbos the most if the two match up in the round of 32. At 6’8”/235 and average 18.6 points/8.7 rebounds, Ryan is geared to expose Tufts where they have the least depth. Fortunately for Tufts, St. John Fisher does not shoot well from the perimeter. Given their size and athleticism amongst their guards, Tufts definitely holds the advantage in this regard. Nonetheless, Ryan has proven that he can change games single handedly, and if they match up, Tufts could be on upset alert.

 

St. Lawrence (20-6, 13-3)

Riley Naclerio (Courtesy of St. Lawrence Athletics)

Despite a first round exit in the Liberty League conference tournament, St. Lawrence is a solid team. Their conference features two other NCAA tournament teams in Union and Skidmore, so St. Lawrence is tested against good competition. The Saints love to run, and the spread out their scoring very nicely. Led by 6’8” forward Riley Naclerio, who scores 19.1 PPG, the Saints have a formidable counter to St. John Fisher’s big man. To complement Naclerio, Kyle Edwards scores 16.8 PPG, yet Edwards does much of his damage from deep. He’s a 40% three-point shooter who has proven time and again that he is willing to take the big shot for the Saints. St. Lawrence also has two other double-digit scorers that help balance their offense, and given their versatility, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints pull off an upset in tonight’s game.

 

Wesleyan (19-6, 6-5)

(Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The Cardinals slide into the tournament after a conference season that did not live up to the hype that they generated in the first half of their season. 11-1 heading into their first NESCAC game, Wesleyan seemed to be overlooked. However, that opening weekend resulted in two back-to-back blowout losses coming at the hands of Middlebury and Hamilton. The Cardinals turned things around, at that point, winning 8 of their last 11 with all three of their losses coming by 4 points or less. Wesleyan, like Tufts, is a very balanced team. They are led by Second Team All-NESCAC guard Harry Rafferty, who is one of four Cardinals to average 10+ PPG. Unfortunately for Wesleyan, they were missing one of their studs, Jordan Bonner, for a large part of the middle of their season. Luckily, he returned for their last 9 games, and he performed exceptionally well down the stretch. Injury struck again late in the season when Salim Green missed 5 games, but he returned in time for the playoffs. Unfortunately, he was not his old self, logging a scoreless 17 minutes of action. Wesleyan is a very, very good team, but they haven’t been fully healthy in quite some time. We’ll see if they can get back to their standard form soon.

 

How They Got Here

Unlike Tufts, Wesleyan is not a team that is going to push the tempo, at least not to the same extent as the Jumbos. The Cardinals enjoy success when they are able to get the ball into the post to Joseph Kuo. Kuo is a fully capable scorer with his back to the basket, but he is also a solid passer. Because of his size, teams sometimes try to collapse into the paint to clog up the middle. When Rafferty, Bonner, and Nathan Krill all shoot pretty well from beyond the arc, and when the Cards take care of the ball and take smart shots, their offense runs very smoothly. That being said, this is a defense-first team. Wesleyan is in my eyes the grittiest team in the NESCAC, led by Krill in this regard. He is the scrappiest forward in the league, willing to do anything to get his team a W. Allowing just 65.8 PPG, Wesleyan thrives when they are disciplined defensively. It’s games where they get in foul trouble or fail to stop opposing fast breaks that Wesleyan struggles. Luckily for them, that doesn’t happen very often.

 

How They Lose

When Wesleyan is stagnant offensively, it’s because they are not moving the ball enough. They are prone to falling victim to an overload of one-on-one offense at times, and when they do, their shot selection suffers. Effective penetration turns into drives into traffic; open threes turn into contested ones; drive and kicks turn into forced 10-12 footers. This can’t happen if Wesleyan hopes to advance far in this tournament. Luckily for the Cardinals, they did a pretty good job of limiting these lapses over the course of the season, but the NCAA tournament, the margin of error is always slimmer.

 

The Competition

Union (16-10,10-6)

Deshon Burgess (Courtesy of Union Athletics)

After finishing behind both Skidmore and St. Lawrence in the Liberty League regular season standings, the Dutchmen pretty much had to win their conference tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Well, Union did just that. They won 110-108 in double OT against St. Lawrence in the conference semifinals, and then came back three days later to post another win against Hobart on their way to the conference title. They’re led by Deshon Burgess, who was named to the D3hoops.com Naitonal Team of the Week last week, scored 34 points (including the game-winning three with 0.9 seconds left in the second overtime period against St. Lawrence, only to follow it up with 33 points in the finals. He leads the team with 19.8 PPG, and is clearly stepping up when his team needs it most. Wesleyan needs to look out for Burgess if they hope to make it out of round one.

 

#13 Rochester (21-4, 10-4)

Sam Borst-Smith (Courtesy of Rochester Athletics)

Despite posting a better overall record than in-conference foe Washington (Mo.), the Yellow Jackets faltered at the very end of their season, posting back-to-back losses, allowing WashU to take the conference crown. Rochester has three primary weapons, but it’s Sam Borst-Smith that leads the way offensively. A 41% three-point shooter, Borst-Smith scores 16.0 PPG, good enough to take home the UAA MVP trophy this season. Mack Montague and Zach Ayers are the other two biggest producers on the offensive end for Rochester, averaging 15.6 and 12.0 PPG respectively. However, Rochester seems like a very top-heavy lineup. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked for them this year, but in the NCAA tournament, depth is generally what breeds success. Don’t be surprised if Rochester is upset in the opening weekend.

 

Albertus Mangus (23-4, 16-2)

Jaqhawn Walters (Courtesy of Albertus Mangus Athletics)

Winners of their last nine, Albertus Mangus is coming into the tournament scorching hot. However, the GNAC isn’t necessarily the most impressive basketball conference in the country. The Falcons won the GNAC Championship handily against a mediocre Lesley squad, but it was their slimmest margin of victory in the GNAC tournament – just 18 points. Their run and gun offense is led by Jaqhawn Walters and Grant Ellis, who score 20.7 and 19.4 PPG respectively. Because of the lack of competition in their conference, it’s tough to gauge how good Albertus Mangus actually is, but they certainly have some competent scorers.

Can the Jumbos Trample the Ephs?: Williams at Tufts NESCAC Semifinal Preview

Vinny Pace ’18 looks to lead the Jumbos to Sunday’s NESCAC Championship game (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

#6 Williams (18-7, 5-5) at #1 Tufts (20-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 25, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Though they made it to this weekend last year, Tufts once again has a chance to win their first NESCAC Championship this weekend. The difference is that Tufts is hosting the remainder of the tournament this year, something the Jumbos have never done before. Just a couple weeks ago, Tufts hosted the Ephs in the very same Cousens Gymnasium that tomorrow’s game will be played in. As a Jumbos superfan, I can proudly say that Tufts smacked Williams in that game, but that does not mean Saturday’s matchup will be a rout. Honestly, I see this game going down to the wire, especially after watching Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19 step up the way they did against their rivals. I am anticipating similar performances out of these two studs, and NESCAC hoops fans should be prepared for a barn burner out of the first game of the doubleheader.

 

Last Time They Met:

Dan Aronowitz ’17 is hoping to bounce back after a tough game against the Jumbos two weeks ago (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

As mentioned above, the February 10th matchup between these two squads was not very close. Tufts walked away with a 93-68 victory catalyzed by their 18 three-pointers. With a silent first half, Eric Savage ‘20 came out of the locker room as a different beast in the second half, dropping 17 in 12 minutes of action. Now that sounds pretty good, but until you realize how he scored those 17 points, it’s just that – good. From the 12:06 mark to 6:42 left in the game, Savage knocked down five straight threes. He finally showed the crowd that he is a mere mortal on his next attempt, but that ~5 ½ minute stretch pretty much sums up the entire game. Tufts couldn’t miss from three. Meanwhile, Williams struggled from deep, much more than the box score shows at least. Sure, they ended up 8-25 from beyond the arc, but seven of those makes came in the second half when playing out the rest of the game was simply a formality. The Ephs were 1-9 from three in the first half, clearly missing Cole Teal ‘18, who sat out with some sort of illness. Tufts never trailed or allowed Williams to tie the game up after the first basket of the game, proving their pure dominance on that day.

 

Last Year:

Stephen Haladyna ’16 became a superstar in Tufts’ playoff run last year (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Tufts played Williams in their last game of the 2015-2016 regular season just like they did this year, only to face them again a week later in the NESCAC quarterfinals. In game one at Williams, Tufts escaped with a gritty four point victory on the backs of Tom Palleschi ‘17 and Stephen Haladyna ‘16 despite a valiant effort out of Aronowitz. The playoff game the following weekend featured a much more balanced Tufts attack, with four of the five starters scoring in double-digits. Aronowitz did all he could, dropping 32 while just one of his teammates reached the double-digit mark, but at the end of the day, Tufts was too much, and they once again walk away with a victory, this time by six points. The two games featured much of the same type of strategy, but differed in who produced. If history has any bearing on tomorrow’s game, we will likely see similar strategy to their first meeting of the season, i.e. attempts by both teams to prove their dominance behind the three-point line, a lot of halfcourt offense and a much more conscious effort to share the wealth offensively by Tufts than Williams.

 

Williams X-Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19

Kyle Scadlock ’19 dominated in the 2nd half against Amherst last week – Williams needs a similar performance tomorrow (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Last time these two played, I predicted that Cole Teal would be the x-factor and he didn’t step on the court, so I could be very, very off on this prediction. However, Scadlock has been playing some of his best basketball recently, and he is a big reason why Amherst was able to pull off the upset against Amherst last weekend. 14 of Scadlock’s 16 points came in the second half last Saturday, including a 7-0 run by the sophomore himself that gave the Ephs a nine point lead. Williams never looked back after Scadlock’s two minute stretch of dominance, and his emphatic dunk with nine seconds left capped off a well-deserved Williams victory. Against the Jumbos, the forward played pretty well, scoring 15 on 7-10 shooting, and with the post presence of the host team laden with injuries, a strong performance from Scadlock could be the difference. Not only can Scadlock take advantage of a size advantage on offense, but his success doing so will force the Jumbos to sag in to help, leaving shooters open on the perimeter. Aronowitz cannot shoulder the entire load in this game, so Scadlock needs to step up unlike his performance in the playoff matchup between these two sides last year.

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard Ben Engvall ‘18

Tufts guard Ben Engvall ’18 is known for gritty transition buckets like this one (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

What’s one word I would use to describe Ben Engvall? Tough. The kid does not back down on the court, and that is going to be key against Williams. With Madsen banging around with a mix of Williams centers on the boards, Engvall is likely going to be tasked with keeping Scadlock in check. If he can keep Scadlock off the boards and force him into tough shots on the offensive end, Tufts will be in very good shape. Offensively, Engvall thrives off of fastbreak buckets, especially after an opposing team basket. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard necessarily, but these transition hoops are momentum plays, especially when he can turn them into and-one opportunities (which he does quite often). In the halfcourt offense, Engvall is a bit more limited. He is a good shooter that has shown the ability to knock down big shots, and when defenders close out poorly on him, the junior can get to the hoop. If Engvall can put up his standard 8-12 points, grab 5-6 boards and give Scadlock a hard time, Tufts should be golden.

 

Three Questions:

Will Dan Aronowitz go off?

I’m leaning towards yes. Aronowitz is a senior captain and Williams needs to win this tournament if they want to make an NCAA appearance. He showed last weekend that he means business, and the last time he played a playoff game in Cousens he put on a clinic. The reason I’m only leaning and not taking a stronger stance on this question is due to matchups. Tufts switches everything amongst their four non-post players, which makes it difficult to get open for opposing players. When Aronowitz does find the ball (which he inevitably will), he will likely see a combination of Vinny Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18 (assuming Pat Racy ‘20 is back and healthy), Everett Dayton ‘18 and Eric Savage. The length of all these guys, especially Pace and Dayton, is an issue, and the athleticism between the latter three guys will present problem for Aronowitz. Still, Aronowitz is one of the best players in the conference. I don’t think he’ll shrink in the bright lights of his biggest game since he became ‘the guy’ for the Ephs.

 

Will Tufts get a crowd?

As I mentioned before last weekend’s game versus Hamilton, the Tufts crowd is inconsistent at best. Despite the quarterfinal game being the slowest, most boring conference game that I have watched since I arrived at Tufts, it was still disappointing that the Tufts student population couldn’t bring forth a better effort for their Jumbos in the playoffs. The reason this question matters, however, is because at times, the Tufts crowd can be a huge factor. When Tufts faced Williams in the quarterfinals last year, for example, the crowd was completely into it. Every time Bobby Casey ‘19 touched the ball, “BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY,” echoed through Cousens. I’m not saying the chanting did or did not affect Casey, but he was 3-9 from the field with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 turnovers. You tell me. In any event, the crowd only increased in size throughout the Tufts NCAA tournament run last season, and I have a feeling that the thirst to be part of a championship run could bring the Jumbo faithful down to Cousens on Saturday.

 

Will Tufts have more than one big man?

Honestly, I’m not sure, but it matters one way or the other. Drew Madsen does not demand the ball offensively like Palleschi or even Racy. Madsen gets his points more primarily off drive and dish plays or put backs. This means the Tufts offense is much more reliant on its wing players, but the important thing to remember is that the ‘Bos have spread the ball around very evenly when they’ve been successful. While it’d obviously be great to have Racy and Palleschi back, the Jumbos are in fine shape with just Madsen, it just changes the strategy a bit. Instead of pounding the ball into the post, Tufts will rely more heavily on pick and rolls and drive and kick plays. If they shoot like they did last time Williams visited Medford, the Jumbos have nothing to fear, but I don’t quite seeing them hit 18 three-pointers. The one-post lineup worked against Williams last time – will it work again?

 

Summary

Overall, I simply believe that Tufts has too many weapons for the Ephs. Every guard in the lineup has a different skillset, which equally as unique as it is deadly. I know that Williams is hot right now, and I’m not counting them out, but Tufts is the better team, and at home I don’t think they will flop like Amherst did.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Can Hamilton Topple Tufts?: Hamilton at Tufts Quarterfinals Preview

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

(Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

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

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

 

Last time they met

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

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard KJ Garrett ‘18

KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

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

 

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

Michael Grassey ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

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

 

Everything Else

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

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

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts