Fight Night: Wesleyan v. Connecticut College Preview

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


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

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

Wesleyan X-Factor: Jordan Sears ‘18

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


Connecticut College X-Factor: Isaiah Robinson ‘18

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


Who Needs it More:

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

Final Thoughts:

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

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

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

The Prediction:

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

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

Can the Camels Finally Get Over the Hump?: Conn College Basketball Season Preview

Isaiah Robinson '18 and company are looking to continue the Camels' progression towards the top of the league this season (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)
Isaiah Robinson ’18 and company are looking to continue the Camels’ progression towards the top of the league this season (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)

Projected Record: 6-4

While a 3-7 conference record in 2015-2016 wasn’t what the Camels envisioned, they still were just one game out of the NESCAC playoffs and if it weren’t for a couple of late season losses, would’ve made it to the postseason. Conn was 12-12 overall last year, and while there were plenty of more experienced and/or more talented teams in the league, the Camels were able to beat Middlebury 82-81 on January 9th and lost to Amherst a week later on January 16th, 88-86, showing their ability to play up with the best in the league. With that being said, two late losses to Colby and Bowdoin showed the second face of this young team, and just like that they got bounced from the NESCAC playoff race. Conn only graduated one senior, Bo McKinley ‘16, a centerpiece of their team as a leader, and therefore they retain their other four starters, 6th man, and brought in four new freshmen. The Camels need to make great strides from last year in order to have a shot at winning the league championship, but their team chemistry from last year and experience will be a big help.

While McKinley was a starter, he only averaged 7.1 PPG in just over 18 minutes per game, showing the potential for the rest of this Connecticut College squad. Additional minutes should open up for junior guard Lee Messier who impressed in nine starts last year, averaging nearly 14 points in just over 24 minutes per game. He will likely take over the two-spot as the smaller Tyler Rowe ’19 at 5’10’’ should stay as the primary ball handler. Small forward David Labossiere ’19 will return as a second year starter, showing real talent last year after gaining more consistent minutes a few weeks into the season. Labossiere has some shooting ability beyond the arc. Captain Zuri Pavlin ’17 is another returning starter who will play as a small four for the Camels, and was arguably their strongest player last year averaging 8.6 rebounds and 10.1 points per game. Rounding out the big contributing returners is fellow captain Daniel Janel who is a bigger forward than Pavlin, but will likely play as a small center as Conn lacks a true elite big man, and averaged 6 boards and 9.5 PPG a year ago. While they missed out on the playoffs a year ago, they clearly gained valuable experience and should start the year in the middle of the pack as dark horses to rise up in what is shaping up to be a dominant conference.

2015-2016 Record: 12-12, 3-7, 9th place in the NESCAC, one spot from the NESCAC playoffs

Coach: Tom Satran, 15th season, 136-197 (.408)

Returning Starters:

Guard Tyler Rowe ‘19 (12.8 PPG, 3.3 REB/G, 3.9 A/G)

Forward David Labossiere ’19 (11.3 PPG, 3.6 REB/G, 51.0% FG)

Forward Zuri Pavlin ’17 (10.1 PPG, 8.6 REB/G, 47.9% FG)

Forward Daniel Janel ‘17 (9.5 PPG, 6.0 REB/G, 53.3 % FG)

Key Losses:

Guard Bo McKinley ‘16 (7.1 PPG, 1.2 REB/G, 1.3 A/G)

Projected Starting Lineup:

Guard Tyler Rowe ‘19

Tyler Rowe '19
Tyler Rowe ’19 (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)

Rowe graced the ‘Faces in the Crowd’ section of Sports Illustrated last January after hitting back to back game winning shots against Middlebury and City College of New York, no small feat for any athlete. This shot him into the hearts of all Camel fans and fans of undersized basketball players. The 5’10” Rowe started as a freshman and certainly held his own against what has to be the best D3 competition in the nation. After all, four NESCAC teams went to the NCAA tourney last year. Four! While the point guard’s competition isn’t going to be getting easier this year, as a smaller player, he is less reliant on dominant physical ability and more on skill, so knowing the competition, the league, and individual opponents should help his game. Look for his assist numbers and shooting percentage to go up as he should begin to take smarter shots. He clocked in 27.8 minutes per game and started 22/24 contests during the 2015-2016 season; Rowe should take big strides towards the upper echelon of pg’s in the NESCAC this year.

Guard Lee Messier ‘18

Lee Messier '18 (Courtesy of Conn College)
Lee Messier ’18 (Courtesy of Conn College)

Messier was in and out of the starting lineup last year, starting 9/18 games that he played in, right behind the aforementioned McKinley. With McKinley gone, Messier should be a big part of what the Camels do this season. There is currently still competition for the 5th starting spot as Coach Satran wouldn’t reveal his replacement for the graduated captain, but with four new players coming on the Camels’ roster and Messier likely gaining additional minutes with the hole in the lineup, Conn looks pretty well-off right now. Messier didn’t start over Bo last year, but he averaged nearly six more minutes per game than him in the games both played in. Messier showed flashes of dominance against two of the best teams the ‘CAC had to offer last season. Against Middlebury and Amherst, Messier put up 19 and 17 points respectively, shooting 66.7% and adding on several three pointers. He is a big X-Factor from the shooting guard position, and enters his junior season with similar numbers both of his first two years, showing that he will likely put up 13-15 PPG and inch closer to a 50% FG% as he matures as a player.

Forward David Labossiere ‘19

David Labossiere '19 (Courtesy of Conn College)
David Labossiere ’19 (Courtesy of Conn College)

Similar to Rowe, Labossiere took on the league as a freshman starter and held his own. He emerged as one of the top newcomers in the conference at the two, registering 11.3 points and 3.6 boards a game. His athleticism isn’t to be questioned as the high flying small forward can jump out of the gym. Early on last season Fox Sports put him down as a contender for dunk of the year with a nasty and-one finish on an alley-oop against Roger Williams last November. The 6’4’’ forward should throw down some sick dunks, pin jobs, and other exciting plays for the Camels, transforming into a big playmaker in his sophomore season. If I went to Conn I’d go to the games just to watch this guy play.

Forward Zuri Pavlin ‘17

Zuri Pavlin '17 (Courtesy of Conn College)
Zuri Pavlin ’17 (Courtesy of Conn College)

As stated earlier, Pavlin had the best year by the numbers on a young team a year ago. His 8.6 rebounds per game led the team and were good for second place in the conference behind Trinity’s Ed Ogundeko ’17. Pavlin has a career total of a whopping 719 rebounds and lies just 112 boards behind the program leader, Peter Dorfman ’84, to become the program’s all-time leader. The captain power forward had even better defensive and offensive numbers his first two seasons and played nearly five less minutes per game last year. If he gets back to where he was sophomore year, he would push for the league lead in boards per game, and should average nearly a double double. A down year for him numbers-wise was still beastly, however, and there is more potential here for Pavlin heading into his senior season. Look for him to build on his past experience and dominate in the paint this season.

Forward Daniel Janel ‘17

Daniel Janel '17 (Courtesy of Conn College)
Daniel Janel ’17 (Courtesy of Conn College)

First year captain Daniel Janel finished his second season last year after leaving Adelphi in the Northeast-10 conference in Division II. Janel averaged 9.5 PPG and 6.0 REB/G last year after only putting up 4.1 PPG and 3.1 boards per contest his first year at Conn. These two very different slash lines are indicative of hard work, improvement, and familiarization at the D3 level. He posted the seventh highest field goal percentage in the NESCAC at 53% from the field and should be a force in the paint again this season. The 6’5’’ senior is definitely undersized as big men go, but the help from Pavlin underneath should provide ample distribution of boards to both, making it tough on opposing teams. The third year of play between these captains should contribute to more improvement in communication down low, and each could be in the running for All-NESCAC accolades come the season’s end.

Breakout Player: Forward David Labossiere ‘19

As mentioned before, this guy is really athletic. He seems similar to Middlebury’s Zach Baines in that each is a big threat to dunk, and both put up great freshmen seasons as small forwards. Labossiere should make strides to find more opportunities to shoot. His performances against Middlebury and Amherst were big keys for me as they show what he can do against the best in this league. He led his team in the first half against the Final Four team from Western Mass, going 5-5 from the field. Shooting percentage wasn’t a problem for him last year as anything above 50% is pretty solid, so if he finds more openings (which usually comes with experience), he should put up some (La)boss(iere) numbers. When researching Conn’s team, I couldn’t help but watch Labossiere’s highlight tape and it was pretty impressive to say the least. Yeah a lot of basketball players can dunk, but Labossiere has style and ease when he plays, and I think he’s about to take it to a whole ‘nother level.

Everything Else:

Coach Satran mentioned how the Camels need to adjust to the little things more than last year, and will need somebody else to step up as the 6th man with Messier likely entering the starting lineup. Conn should have depth with their already solid bench and four new recruits, and I suspect they will start the year in a much better place than 2015. The NESCAC is tough in terms of competition and the key for this developing team is “consistency.” Satran’s team knows that they can do it—they came within two points of upsetting Amherst in what was one of the best games of all of last year, and beat Middlebury. They also lost narrowly to Tufts at home in January, which would have been a huge momentum builder for the Camels. On the flip side, as I mentioned earlier, they lost to Colby and Bowdoin consecutively to end their season.

The high ceiling for the young Conn guards leaves a lot of room for growth, and they are anchored by Pavlin and Jalen down low. What helped the Camels last season was Messier’s presence right behind McKinley, acting as a great sixth man. This is going to be another essential for Conn going into the season—finding strong players deeper in their lineup to supplement their starting five. Satran will likely look to his youth for the backup as his squad starts to come into their own in the NESCAC. 6’5’’ Isaiah Robinson played in 20 games last year, averaged just over 15 minutes per contest, and has experience as a starter from his freshman year. He should be a valuable piece off of the bench for the Camels, bolstering their already strong big men. The Camels showed flashes of what was great basketball last season, but clearly couldn’t bring their A-game every night. They should improve in their consistency as they have nearly the same team as last year, but only time will tell if they will play down to weaker opponents. The top of the league should keep their eyes on the Camels as they push from the bottom up this year. The talent is there, but the question will be: can the Camels play to their full potential consistently?

Season Round Ups of the Non-NCAA NESCAC Squads

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

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

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

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

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

2016-17 Outlook:

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

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

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

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

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

2016-17 Outlook:

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

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

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

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

2016-17 Outlook:

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

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

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

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

2016-17 Outlook:

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

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

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

2016-17 Outlook

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

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

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

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

2016-17 Outlook:

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

Wesleyan (18-7, 5-5)

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

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

2016-17 Outlook:

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

The Best NESCAC Games This Season

If this photo gives nightmates to Ephs' fans, we apologize. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
If this photo gives nightmates to Ephs’ fans, we apologize. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Unlike some other NESCAC sports (*cough* football *cough*), in men’s basketball we see teams regularly battle all the way down to the wire. This season seemed like there were even more close games than usual. In total, six conferences games went to OT this year, twice the number from last season. Many more came down to one or two plays down the stretch. There were so many good ones that I decided to go back and count down the very best. Honestly, some of the games that got left out were great in their own right.

10. January 30: Bowdoin 85 over Colby 82, Brunswick, ME.

This was the best game I saw in person this season, and I feel wrong putting it this low. After all, it did feature the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year Lucas Hausman ’16 going bucket-for-bucket down the stretch with Chris Hudnut ’16, who was unstoppable on this day. Hausman would finish with 35 and Hudnut with 32. The difference was the 20 points the Polar Bears got from point guard Jack Bors ’19. Bowdoin led by as much as nine with 6:13 left in the game, but there wasn’t ever a doubt that Colby was going to make a run late. In overtime Jack Simonds ’19 had the first six points, and Hausman scored the next seven. Colby had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but John Gallego’s ’16 shot was no good. That this game is so low tells you a lot about how many quality finishes there were.

9. January 23: Colby 64 over Amherst 62, Waterville, ME

Colby entered this game 0-4 in conference while Amherst was 4-0. With that being said, this wasn’t nearly as big an upset as two years ago when a young Colby team shocked an eventual Final Four Amherst team in Waterville. The Team from Central Mass was ice cold, shooting 33.3/26.5/52.9 for the game. Luke Westman ’16 had just two points and fouled out halfway through the second half, but John Gallego ’16 stepped up to score 13 points. The Mules also benefited from Chris Hudnut ’16 playing well while still getting back to full strength and scoring 17 points. A controversial Connor Green ’16 offensive foul call helped to seal the deal for Colby in the final minutes as Gallego hit his free throws. A last second three by Green for the win failed to land, and Colby got their first conference win.

8. February 7: Colby 99 over Hamilton 95, Clinton, NY.

The highest scoring game of the NESCAC season, this was one of many games that went to overtime under weird circumstances. Down four with under 20 seconds left, Chris Hudnut ’16 hit a three to make it a one-point game. Hamilton missed one of two free throws, and Ryan Jann ’16 got fouled on a three point attempt essentially as time expired. He hit the first two but missed the third and the game went to overtime. The Mules controlled the extra period to give themselves new life in the NESCAC playoff race.  Patrick Stewart ’16 was dripping from three point land going 6-6 from beyond the arc to lead the way with 22 points. All five Colby starters finished in double figures.

7. January 15: Middlebury 85 over Tufts 82, Middlebury, VT.

At halftime the score was 40-40, and at the end of regulation it was 72-72. The theme of this game was Middlebury’s bench scoring 35 total points. An astonishing nine Panthers scored at least five points, a feat made even more incredible by the fact that the game was close the entire way through. The game went to overtime because of a cold-blooded three by Vincent Pace ’18 coming off a high ball screen. With ten seconds left in overtime and Middlebury up three points, the Jumbos got a great look to tie the game up. The three from Stephen Haladyna ’16 went in and out, and the Panthers got the big home victory.

6. January 10: Trinity 76 over Williams 75, Hartford, CT.

The final game of the first weekend was a dandy with the young Ephs pushing the veteran Bantams all the way to the end. The victory was a coming out party for Ed Ogundeko ’17, who scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The final 10 seconds were frantic with Shay Ajayi ’16 first putting Trinity up 74-73 on a fast break layup. Then he committed a stupid blunder fouling Cole Teal ’18 70 feet away from the basket. However, Jaquann Starks ’16 raced the other way for a layup to pull out the win for the Bantams. The loss was the first of a few late heartbreaking conference losses for Williams.

5. February 6: Middlebury 67 over Colby 65, Middlebury, VT.

The first half of this one was a smothering defensive performance from the Panthers, and the score was 35-22 Middlebury at halftime. The game really got going at the beginning of the second half when Colby went on a 32-10 run to turn a 15-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Credit has to go to Middlebury for not folding at this point and coming right back with an 11-3 run that made the score 58-57 Middlebury. The rest of the game was neck and neck. After Adisa Majors ’18 tied things up 65-65 with 0:30 left, Colby could have held for the final shot. However, Luke Westman ’16 drove and missed a layup. Jack Daly ’18 leaked out on the rebound for an easy bucket, and that proved to be the final difference.

4. January 30: Amherst 89 over Trinity 82, Hartford, CT.

The game between the top teams in the NESCAC fell on travel weekend with Trinity undefeated at 5-0 and Amherst at 4-1. This game was uptempo and close throughout, but it lacked any real drama. Amherst led the entire second half, and the Bantams never got the lead below five points. The Team from Central Mass was not slowed down at all by Connor Green ’16 having just seven points. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Jayde Dawson ’18 both scored more than 20 points to pace Amherst. Ultimately, this game was the only conference loss for Trinity, but it didn’t hurt them since Amherst lost on the road to Colby and Tufts, thereby ceding homecourt advantage to the Bantams.

3. January 22: Wesleyan 78 over Tufts 77, Middletown, CT.

Another fantastic finish in this one. The decision by Vincent Pace ’18 to go for the steal with Tufts up two points, five seconds left, and Wesleyan in-bounding the ball with 90 feet to go was a bad one. That sent BJ Davis ’16 to the line where he calmly hit both free throws. In overtime, Joseph Kuo ’17 made a layup with under 30 seconds left to give the Cardinals the win. Kuo, Rashid Epps ’16, and backup big man Nathan Krill ’18 combined for 50 points and 23 rebounds as the size of Wesleyan was too much for the perimeter-heavy Jumbos. Both teams shot terribly from the foul line and committed a ton of turnovers in an ugly contest.

2. January 16: Amherst 88 over Conn College 86, Amherst, MA.

In the moment, the Camels pushing Amherst to the brink seemed like an indication that Conn College was going to make a major run this year. That didn’t happen, but this game was still a lot of fun to watch. Defense was optional in the first half after which Conn College led 49-45. Lee Messier ’18 was 5-5 from the field in that first half to lead the Camels with 13 points. But it was Jayde Dawson ’18 who took over down the stretch with 19 second half points. At the very end of this one, Conn College tried to run an inbounds play designed for David Labossiere ’19 to tap in an alley-oop, but his attempt missed and Amherst escaped on their home floor. This game more than any, between the presumed top team in the NESCAC and a team that went winless in NESCAC play last season, is an indication of how close teams played each other this year.

1. February 5: Wesleyan 66 over Williams 63, Middletown, CT

The number one game didn’t go to overtime, but it was a barn burner nevertheless. Williams and Wesleyan have played some great games over the past two years, and this one was probably the best. In front of a raucus home crowd, it was all BJ Davis down the stretch. In their first meeting this season, Davis had already beaten the Ephs on a runner with less than two seconds remaining. In this game, Davis scored the final 15 (!) points for Wesleyan to turn a 56-51 deficit into the eventual 66-63 Wesleyan win. The combination of the home atmosphere, the recent history of these two rivals (this win gave Wesleyan the Little 3 title), and the quality of the shot made this a clear choice for the top spot. I mean, just watch the video of Davis’ shot and try to tell me there was a better moment than that this year.

The North Remembers: Stock Report 2/15

Matt Palecki helped the Polar Bears to a 2-0 weekend and a NESCAC playoff bid. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Matt Palecki ’16 helped the Polar Bears to a 2-0 weekend and a NESCAC playoff bid. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

What a weekend for Maine rivals, Bowdoin and Colby, as the two swept Conn College and Wesleyan to both get into the NESCAC tournament with Bowdoin as the No. 7 seed and Colby the No. 8 seed. Both teams have shown plenty of promise this season, but it wasn’t until this weekend that we saw how good these teams can really play. When I watched these two go to overtime back on January 30, it was hard to imagine that both of them could possibly miss the NESCAC tournament. Now they both got in and are beginning to look dangerous.

Let’s start with Colby. The Mules looked dead at 1-6 in conference after blowing a last minute lead at Middlebury last weekend. Then they finished with three straight wins, with their two this weekend being comfortable ones. The all-senior starting five gets all the press, but senior guard John Gallego ’16 deserves some recognition himself. The quick backup is one of many short NESCAC point guards making an impact this season (Jaquann Starks ’16, Jack Dwyer ’18, Tyler Rowe ’19, etc.). He had nine points apiece against Wesleyan and Conn College. Against Amherst, Colby’s first NESCAC win, Gallego had 13 big points. The senior is a difference maker for the Mules.

The real surprise is probably the defense that Colby has played. I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t make sense that a team with five seniors starting should be so bad defensively. Yes, they play three big men essentially in their starting lineup meaning they give up quickness to teams. Still, they should be able to make up for it by playing as a unit on that end. This weekend they did, keeping Conn College to 73 points and then Wesleyan to just 64 points. The Mules certainly benefitted from some poor shooting on the part of the Cardinals considering Wesleyan shot 7-33 from three point land, but give credit to Colby for coming up big on the defensive end this weekend after having that be their Achilles Heel in some games.

As for Bowdoin, a team dear and near to my heart, they got big contributions from their role players while relying on their big two. Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 combined averaged 48.5 ppg in the two wins. And while I know it sounds crazy, neither of them shot THAT well this weekend, going 8-25 (32 percent) from the three point line. What they did do exceptionally was get to the free throw line and finish there. The two went 27-30 from the charity stripe, and they drove Wesleyan and Conn College crazy with their ability to get calls.

However, the real stars, especially yesterday, were point guard Tim Ahn ’19 and center Matt Palecki ’16. Ahn looked like he was losing his spot in the rotation to Jack Bors ’19 a few weeks ago, but an injury to Bors has kept him out and opened the door for Ahn to play his best basketball. Coaches often say that by the end of the season, being a freshman isn’t an excuse anymore. Ahn hasn’t played like a freshmen down the stretch. He did something I haven’t see him do all season: attack and finish at the rim. He has shown the quickness to get past his initial defender, but until yesterday Ahn wasn’t looking for his at the rim. He scored 10 points in Friday and Saturday’s game.

Meanwhile, Palecki was his typical workmanlike self with 12 points and 14 rebounds against Conn College. In both games this weekend, Bowdoin controlled the boards, something they haven’t done much of this year. Palecki makes up for his lack of leaping ability by using his wide body to keep offensive rebounders out of the paint. He used that same wide body to slow down the likes of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Zuri Pavlin ’17 with great effectiveness. While Palecki can sometimes fall in love with ill-advised threes, he does a lot of the dirty work for the Polar Bears.

One problem for Colby and Bowdoin is they now have to go on the road in the NESCAC playoffs. For both of them, three of their four conference wins came at home. Whatever, we’ll get there in a couple of days. The two Maine teams made good and salvaged what looked like lost seasons. Even though they are the seventh and eighth seed, Bowdoin or Colby is capable not just of upsetting a top team but going all the way for a Cinderella run.

Stock Up

Shooting Guard Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin)

Averaging 26.5 ppg in a NESCAC weekend would be incredible for most players, but it’s just another normal weekend for Hausman at this point. He finishes the 2015-2016 regular season averaging 25.1 ppg overall and 26.0 ppg in NESCAC games. Those are historic numbers: the best averages that anybody has put up on record in the NESCAC which goes back to 2000. Hausman is far from a perfect player; he does go to a D3 school after all. His defense is subpar, his rebounding numbers are not good, and he doesn’t create well for others on offense. One or two plays every game he looks like a legitimately bad basketball player. But to deny how freaking good he is at putting the ball in the basket is stupid. Nobody makes tough shots like he does, and he makes those shots efficiently to boot. Regardless of what happens in the NESCAC tournament, Hausman is the Player of the Year.

Small Forward Stephen Haladyna ’16 (Tufts)

The Jumbos had just one game this weekend, and they took care of business against Williams to secure a home NESCAC playoff game. Haladyna led the way with 22 points, the only time this year that he has scored more than 20 points in a contest. He had been pretty quiet in NESCAC games before Friday. Tufts is at their best when they are able to be balanced scoring the ball. Guys like Haladyna and Ryan Spadaford ’16 need to be big part of the offense for Tufts to make a run. The Jumbos sit at 19-5 overall and look to be in good shape for making the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the next two weekends, but a win again over Williams would secure their spot for sure I think.

Stock Down

Middlebury Defense

The Panthers weren’t quite up to the task this weekend, and the most disappointing thing has to be the number of points they let up. Amherst scored 83 and Trinity had a blistering 97 points. Now, the Bantams were clearly hot shooting the ball (55.7 percent from the floor in this game), but it is still a little disappointing to see Middlebury give up that many points in regulation. The two games weren’t even that exceptional in terms of pace as Amherst shot the ball 60 times and Trinity 61 times. The two losses aren’t surprising in and of themselves, but I wasn’t expecting their defense to be the major problem. The Panthers have to get that sorted out by this weekend.

Conn College

What a tough end to the season for the Camels. They made so many strides this season, but they end up falling just short of making the playoffs. The Camels pushed Tufts and Amherst to the brink and had a quality home win over Middlebury, but they ended up losing their final five NESCAC games to finish 3-7. The Camels are big, tough on defense, and capable of scoring in bunches. They lose senior leader Bo McKinley ’16, a player that has been a constant through some very dark days for the program. Credit to him for doing anything he could to make the team better over the past few years. This team will be a terror for teams next year in large part because of him. And they will be a terror with their young nucleus having another year to grow. Zuri Pavlin ’17 and Dan Janel ’17 are a load to handle in the frontcourt. Tyler Rowe ’19 and Lee Messier ’18 are going to score a lot of points, too. Conn College missed the playoffs this year, but they will get there soon enough.

New Number One: Power Rankings 1/21

Amherst prepares to break the huddle around Coach Dave Hixon. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Amherst prepares to break the huddle around Coach Dave Hixon. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

We do Power Rankings every week in order to look beyond the simple story of wins and losses and really try to get an idea for how each team stacks to each other. Not all wins and losses are created equally obviously. The rankings near the beginning of the season are mostly a result of the eye test since teams in the non-conference schedule do not play that many common opponents. By the end of the NESCAC regular season the Power Rankings will look quite similar to the NESCAC standings because of all that data we get from the NESCAC games.

Right now though might be when the Power Rankings are at their most valuable because there is enough common opponents to grade each team roughly while the eye test still carries weight. So read on, and get angry about how much lower your favorite team is than you think it deserves to be.

1. Tufts Jumbos (12-3, 3-1, Last Week: 2)

Tufts just lost to Middlebury Friday night, but the game was on the road and went into overtime. They shot 16-29 (55.2%) from the free throw line and committed 20 turnovers even though they are 2nd in the NESCAC in free throw percentage at 75.1% and are averaging 13.2 TOs per game. The loss ended an 8 game winning streak, but it is a good loss, and the Jumbos responded well by blowing out Hamilton the next day. They have blown out Colby, Bowdoin, and Hamilton. Those three teams have a combined winning percentage of 1-9 in league play, but nobody else is blowing teams out like the Jumbos are.

However, Coach Bob Sheldon could end up being the Achilles Heel for this team. On Friday down the stretch and in overtime, he insisted on subbing out Tom Palleschi ’17 on defense because he had four fouls and Sheldon did not want to lose him on offense. I’m sorry, but you have to play the LEADING shot blocker in the NESCAC (and the all-time Tufts leader in blocks) on defense in a close game even if he ends up fouling out. Palleschi sat from the 3:10 to the 0:38 mark in overtime because there was no stoppage in play for Sheldon to get his big man back in the game.

2. Amherst (13-2, 3-0, Last Week: #1)

Amherst drops down a spot after getting shellacked by Wesleyan Monday night 71-44 in the non-conference Little Three game. Having to come back at home in the 2nd half against Conn College on Saturday also isn’t a great look. This is a better version of the team from last year since everyone is back, but it is frustrating for Amherst fans that the same problems still dog them. The defense is lackluster even though they have superior athletes at almost every position, and the team relies on outside shooters, many of whom are streaky.

The one shooter who is not streaky is Jeff Racy ’17. In conference, he is shooting the ball 7.3 times per game while averaging 15.7 PPG. So he is averaging more than 2.0 points per shot. Put another way, Racy’s points per shot is better than a dunk! Using true shooting percentage, a slightly better statistic, Racy comes in at .768 this season. At Michigan, Duncan Robinson is leading the country in true shooting percentage (that a former NESCAC player is leading the country in that category is pretty incredible) with the number .733. Basically, Racy is incredibly efficient. He is also the leading scorer for Amherst.

3. Trinity Bantams (12-4, 3-0, Last Week: #4)

Every week Trinity is looking more and more dangerous, putting their uneasy early season further into the distance. They pulled away from both Conn College and Wesleyan in games that were closer than the final score indicated. The ability of Trinity to finish games is a skill that they have shown a lot over the past two seasons. The team defense isn’t as good as it has been in years past in part because of the loss of ace perimeter defender Hart Gliedman ’15. It is still a really physical group that is not giving up a lot of easy buckets.

The difference from last year is they don’t have to rely on Jaquann Starks ’16 nearly as much on offense. Ed Ogundeko ’17 has made a big jump in his junior season, and Shay Ajayi ’16 is playing better also meaning that the Bantams have a legitimate three headed attack on offense. I just wish that Coach Jim Cosgrove would play his core guys more. Nobody on the roster is averaging more than 25 minutes per game. Even in conference games, no Bantam is playing more than 30 minutes per game.

4. Williams Ephs (11-5, 2-2, Last Week: #6)

The win for Williams Sunday against Bowdoin to get back to 2-2 in conference was a big one. The Ephs didn’t play great and they still did enough to beat a quality team without too much drama. They are shooting the ball much better in conference: 40.0% 3FG in conference vs. 33.9% 3FG overall. I’m a little surprised that the Ephs rank second to last in assists per game even though their offense is built on moving the ball from side to side and frequent back cuts. The good news is they aren’t turning the ball over that frequently: just 12.0 TOs per game which is the third best mark in the league. Point guard Bobby Casey ’19 has become the third best player on the team behind Dan Aronowitz ’17 and Kyle Scadlock ’19. For what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Ephs are pretty darn good.

5. Middlebury Panthers (9-7, 3-1, Last Week: #10)

The biggest movers this week backed up the big overtime win over Tufts by controlling the entire way to beat Bates 73-61. The Panthers did it without center Matt Daley ’16 too. The downside is that Daley, unfortunately injury riddled his whole career, might be dealing with something that won’t go away. If that is the case, the Panthers will have to double down on playing aggressive perimeter defense and pushing the ball in transition at all times. Point guard Jake Brown ’17 is the x-factor for them: he was good last weekend. He even is shooting pretty well from three this season, even if his attempts are still really low. One concern is that he is too aggressive on defense. He leads the league in fouling out, especially bad as a perimeter player. He has to figure out how to hound his opponents without picking up ticky-tack fouls.

6. Wesleyan Cardinals (13-4, 1-3, Last Week: #3)

What a weird team. Just three days after getting run out of the building at Amherst and having nobody on the team make more than two shots from the field, Wesleyan turned around and put the beatdown on Amherst. Squeezed in between was the Cardinals battling Trinity for 32 minutes before scoring just 10 points in the final 8:46 and losing to the Bantams. That offense has been oddly ineffective. Stalwarts Joe Edmonds ’16 and Harry Rafferty ’17, the two leading scorers for Wesleyan in 2013-2014, have been relegated to minor roles. Edmonds has lost his starting spot at least temporarily to Kevin O’Brien ’19, and Rafferty has continued to not shoot the ball efficiently. Getting those two straightened out is necessary.

This group is going to continue to fight as Monday night showed. The tweet from point guard Jack Mackey came after the game on Monday and is in response to a Twitter account that was mercilessly mocking Wesleyan’s performance during the game Friday.

7. Conn College Camels (11-5, 2-2, Last Week: 5)

Alright, so the Camels aren’t going from winless to undefeated in NESCAC play. Yet, I feel better about them this week than I did last because of the way they played vs. Amherst and Trinity. For a young team, there is such a thing as a moral victory. Going into LeFrak Gym (Amherst’s home court) and nearly coming away with the win is going to help this group in the next few weeks. Point guard Tyler Rowe ’19 has been a handle for everybody who has to guard him. He hasn’t even been shooting the ball well from three recently (an atrocious 1-12 in conference). Rowe and other young guns like forward David LaBossiere ’19 and sharpshooter Lee Messier ’18 are making the Camels tons of fun to watch. A huge weekend with visits from Bates and Tufts awaits them.

8. Bates Bobcats (9-7, 2-2, Last Week: #7)

Another 1-1 week for Bates as they continue to tread water. The problem is that the two wins were against Colby (a healthy Colby team though) and Hamilton so a lot of hard games still remain on the schedule. Josh Britten ’16 has stepped up in a big way in his senior year. Last season he averaged just 5.5 MPG. Now he is starting, averaging 17.9 MPG, and is the top three point threat on the team making 2.2 threes per game at a 42.2% clip. Mike Boornazian ’16 has to play at a higher level than he has so far in conference for Bates to make a run.

9. Bowdoin Polar Bears (8-5, 1-2, Last Week: #8)

I’ll be writing a lot more about my dear Polar Bears soon, so I’ll keep it brief. The loss to Williams was tough because now Bowdoin has to follow it up with visits from Trinity and Amherst. Lose both those games and suddenly they are 1-4 even if none of the losses are bad ones. Against Williams, Bowdoin missed their final 13 three-pointers. The margin for error is small on this team, and the shots didn’t go in at exactly the wrong time for them.

10. Colby Mules (11-4, 0-3, Last Week: #9)

My goodness does that 10 game winning streak Colby had feel like forever ago. A team that was a potential dark horse this year is staring down the barrel of an 0-5 start with Amherst and Trinity this weekend. Both forward Pat Stewart ’16 and center Chris Hudnut ’16 were in street clothes for the game Friday against Williams. Stewart was back in limited action on Tuesday in a win over Maine Maritime, but Hudnut was conspicuously absence. Without Hudnut, the Mules simply don’t have the size to keep pace with teams. They will fight and claw like crazy with Ryan Jann ’16 leading the way, and they will scare teams a lot. Still, Hudnut is a NESCAC First Team type player, and nobody on the roster can replicate at all what he does.

11. Hamilton Continentals (8-8, 0-4, Last Week: 11)

I feel like I wrote the exact same thing last year, but Hamilton really is pretty good for a team that is winless in conference. Their problem is the lack of any player who is capable of creating his own shot on offense. That coupled with a suspect defense is holding them back for now, but if they keep laying this way then good days are coming. They are out-rebounding teams by 5.0 boards per game in NESCAC play (best margin of anyone), a surprising but encouraging stat considering that Hamilton has not shot a good percentage meaning their opponents should have lots of easy defensive rebounds against them. Instead, guys like Andrew Groll ’19 and Ajani Santos ’16 are getting after it on the offensive boards. Hamilton will get their first win soon.

Discord among the Ranks: Basketball Power Rankings 1/15

Amherst Coach Dave Hixon shouldn't look so worried. The Lord Jeffs haven't moved from the top of the ranks. (Courtesy of Mark Box/Clarus Studios)
Amherst Coach Dave Hixon shouldn’t look so worried. The Lord Jeffs haven’t moved from the top of the ranks. (Courtesy of Mark Box/Clarus Studios)

As always, college basketball, and particularly the Little Ivies, will enjoy a number of upsets throughout the season and well into the playoffs, but in the NESCAC this season it’s hard to even know what to consider an upset. Amherst and Tufts seem to have separated themselves from the pack in the early going, and Hamilton has a long way to go to climb out of the cellar, but otherwise it appears that any team could win against anyone on any given day. Spots 3-10 in these rankings are especially close, and will probably look completely different next week.

1. Amherst (11-1, 2-0, Last week: 1)

The Lord Jeffs sit at No. 9 in the national rankings. Thus far they have been outstanding, leading the league with 88.6 ppg while shooting 48.8 percent and have been able to hold teams to a respectable 72.0 ppg. They are atop the leaderboard of the NESCAC Conference, and remain the front runner to win the NESCAC tournament. Their only blunder so far came in a 79-69 loss to Rhodes College (Ky.), who are only .500 so far, but play a tough schedule. Look for Connor Green ’16 to continue to lead the charge with his 15.3 ppg. Swingman Jeff Racy ’17 is shooting 55.3 percent beyond the arc and supplying 14.6 ppg. Last year’s Rookie of the year, guard Johnny McCarthy ’18, is spending the most time on the hardwood and putting up 13.1 ppg.

2. Tufts (11-2, 2-0, Last week: 2)

After rolling over Bowdoin and Colby to open up NESCAC play last week, Tufts climbed the national ranks to No. 17 from No. 22 the week before. They have two losses, coming against a very good MIT team and 12th-ranked WPI. Vinny Pace ’18 continues to power their offense averaging 19.2 ppg. Though still a very young team, they seem unfazed and stick to their fast-paced offense with the lone big man, Tom Palleschi ’17, doing the dirty work down low with 48 blocks on the season. Tufts ranks second in the league in scoring with 86.1 ppg and their starting five all average at least 10.0 ppg. They get to the line more than any NESCAC team and they hit their free throws, sitting atop the ‘CAC at 77.2 percent from the stripe. Tufts will take on Middlebury tonight and Hamilton tomorrow, two games that the Jumbos should win; and two wins that would push their winning streak to 10 games.

3. Wesleyan (12-2, 1-1, Last week: 3)

Their first NESCAC game was a loss to Middlebury, a team that just seems to have the Cardinals’ number. Wesleyan will be put to the test tonight as they travel to western Massachusetts to take on Amherst and then head to Hartford for a game with Trinity tomorrow. Point guard BJ Davis ’16, who has averaged 19.0 ppg, will need to be on if they want to take down the No. 9 team in the nation. Wesleyan will have two chances to down the Jeffs, as they will host Amherst on Monday, but only tonight’s game will count towards the conference standings. Aside from the loss to Middlebury, the Cards were able to fend off Hamilton with an overtime victory and took down Williams in a scrappy non-conference game. Wesleyan plays good defense, keeping teams to 67.8 ppg, second best in the NESCAC. Joseph Kuo ’17 is the man holding it together down low for the Cards scoring 12.1 ppg and pulling in 109 rebounds this season. It is tough to say where Wesleyan will end up this year, but they should certainly be in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them fighting for a top-four seed as the season wraps up.

4. Trinity (9-4, 1-0, Last week: 8)

Don’t sleep on the Bantams. What’s that old saying? Oh yeah, Defense Wins Championships. The Bantams lead the pack when it comes to defensive statistics – number one in scoring defense (64.7 ppg allowed) and rebounding margin (+10.8). Though they stand at 9-4 on the season with a few weak losses, they opened up NESCAC play with a big one-point victory over Williams. Coach James Cosgrove implements fundamental basketball, and Trinity will grind with the good teams. As 2015 First Team All-NESCAC guard Jaquann Starks ’16 and the Trinity shooters heat up for the long haul of NESCAC games and the playoffs, the Bantams should be in fine shape. Eric Gendron ’18 is leading the league in three point percentage at 59.3 percent. With a frontcourt of Ed Ogundek0 ’17 and Shay Ajayi ’16 that is combining for 26.0 ppg and 19.0 rpg and point man Andrew Hurd ’16 commandeering the floor and leading the league in assists, everything is in place for another wild playoff run.

5. Connecticut College (10-3, 2-0, Last week: 9)

Not taking anything away from their 2-0 NESCAC record, but I will need to see them compete against big dogs of the NESCAC before they can crack the top four. They won close games vs. Hamilton and Middlebury, two very questionable teams this year. Ten wins at this stage is almost unheard of for the Camels, but they will need to continue the hot streak against a gritty Trinity team tonight in Hartford. Look for guards Lee Messier ’18 and Tyler Rowe ’19 to be the point scorers as they have combined for 27.0 ppg thus far this season. Messier can be lethal with his 40.2 percent mark beyond the arc. Conn is a consistent offensive team averaging 82.2 ppg, but their defense will likely not hold up against the bigger and better NESCAC teams. The Camels are last in the league in scoring defense with 76.5 ppg allowed and rebounding margin (+1.3).

6. Williams (9-5, 0-2, Last week: 5)

The Ephs definitely got the toughest opening weekend schedule, traveling to Amherst on Friday and Trinity on Sunday. They lost a heartbreaker to the Bantams, but they competed well given their youth. There are a lot of games still to play. Rookie forward Kyle Scadlock ’19 has been efficient, ranking eighth in the league in field goal percentage, while the Dan Aronowitz ’17 is averaging 16.7 ppg. They are not getting the productivity they would like out of 6’10″ center Edward Flynn ’16, though, who has only been able to pull in 4.9 rbg, which is a glaring hole when one considers the front courts of the league’s best teams. Though their 0-2 conference record doesn’t show it at this point, Williams could be a sleeper pick come playoff time. They to Wesleyan and Trinity by two points or less, so they will be desperate for redemption come playoff time.

7. Bates (8-6, 1-1, Last week: 7)

Bates has played a very tough schedule, but it is fair to say that they are struggling this season. Despite the size of the Delpeche twins, the Bobcats are 10th in the NESCAC in scoring defense. This will prove to be a detriment as the NESCAC season unravels. Mike Boornazian ’16 is the ringleader for the Bobcats posting 15.5 ppg with 2.8 apg, while Shawn Strickland ’18 supplies 3.6 apg and shoots 42.4 percent from three-point land. With a 1-1 NESCAC record going into tonight’s game against Hamilton, I believe Bates has the upperhand, but the Continentals are not to be taken lightly. Bates should be in the playoffs this season, but they are fiddling with the fringe.

8. Bowdoin (8-4, 1-1, Last week: 6)

Bowdoin stands at 1-1 in the NESCAC with an embarrassing loss to Tufts. The Polar Bears have Friday and Saturday off and will travel to Williams on Sunday. Thanks to the way the NESCAC schedule rotates and a postponed game last Tuesday, Bowdoin is in the midst of a 12-day stretch in which they will play just one game (unless the game with Maine-Presque Isle can be rescheduled in that time). Does that rest give Bowdoin the advantage, or will rust hurt them against the Ephs? They will then take on Amherst, Trinity and Colby who they lost to on December 5. Bowdoin has a good all-around team, but they have generally been taken advantage of on the boards. Bowdoin will be outgunned when they have to face real centers and big athletic forwards. Bowdoin does shoot well though, and Lucas Hausman ’16 leads the league (by a lot) with 25.0 ppg, with Jack Simonds ’19 backing him up and averaging 14.8 ppg.

9. Colby (10-3, 0-2, Last week: 4)

Colby looked great coming into last weekend, but will need to earn their stripes in NESCAC action. They did beat Bowdoin and Bates in early December, but those were non-conference games, and Bates got redemption by beating Colby when it mattered. Colby will travel to Massachusetts to challenge a tough Ephs team tonight. The road doesn’t get much easier as they will then have to take on Trinity and Amherst on back-to-back nights, which could make for a chilling weekend in Waterville, Maine as they could potentially fall to 0-5 in NESCAC play. The Mules will be a fringe playoff team this year, and could easily not make the NESCAC tournament. A week ago we were talking about Colby as a potential top-four seed, and now a cold spell could drop them into a battle for a spot in the playoff field. Their weakness, defense, is well-documented, and needs to get fixed if Colby is going to meet their own expectations this year.

10. Middlebury (7-7, 1-1, Last week: 11)

Middlebury earned a great win at Wesleyan to open up their conference schedule, then lost by one point to Conn College the following day. A team with the worst free throw percentage in the league will certainly have trouble down the stretch, and close games like their loss to Conn College could be marked as W’s if they can just figure out their issues from the stripe. Despite their free throw percentage, the Panthers have a very good defense holding teams to 70.8 ppg. Center Matt Daley ’16 leads the team with 8.7 rbg, which has lead to the team’s second-best +8.4 rebounding margin. Matt St. Amour ’17 leads the team with 19.1 ppg, while Daley averages 12.1. These two will need to have impactful games to take down Tufts tonight. The big question is how the heck they are going to stop Palleschi and Pace.

11. Hamilton (7-6, 0-2, Last week: 10)

Hamilton has a very young, inexperienced squad this season with just two seniors. Unsatisfied with being the runt of the NESCAC, Hamilton fought hard in their opening NESCAC games, forcing Wesleyan into overtime to eventually fall by six points and losing to Conn College by just four points. They have a foreseeable win tonight against Bates. Hamilton is just barely outscoring its opponents 71.8 ppg to 71.2 ppg. That does not translate to a good performance against tougher NESCAC teams. Point guard Jack Dwyer ’18 will give Hamilton an opportunity to win averaging while 5.2 apg. Peter Hoffmann ’19 ranks 13th in scoring this season and has made an immediate impact. There is a bright future in Hamilton, even if things aren’t looking to promising in 2015-16.

Holy Camel, Conn College is 2-0

Zuri Pavlin '17 and the Conn College Camels are soaring to new heights. (Courtesy of Conn College/Swensen Family)
Zuri Pavlin ’17 and the Conn College Camels are soaring to new heights. (Courtesy of Conn College/Swensen Family)

Connecticut College is off to a good start this season – in fact, this seems to be their most promising start in years. In the last three seasons, the Camels went 7-16 (0-10), 9-14 (2-8) and 7-16 (0-10). This year, Conn has already surpassed each of those win totals, and has played their way to a 10-3 overall record while starting conference play at 2-0.

Such a hot start definitely comes unexpectedly considering the age of the players on the Conn roster. Of the 16 Camels, Bo McKinley ’16 is the lone senior. McKinley is accompanied by just five juniors, including his co-captain Zuri Pavlin ’17, meaning the other 10 spots are filled by freshmen and sophomores. Regardless of age, it’s clear that Conn College knows how to play together and win games, especially those that come down to the wire. In games decided by five points or less this year, the Camels are 5-2, and in their last two wins vs. Middlebury and The City College of New York (with scores 82-81 and 77-75, respectively), Tyler Rowe ’19 has propelled Conn to victory with game-winning shots in the closing seconds. Conn’s hungry for a playoff run, and I’m anticipating the Camels finishing in the top half of the NESCAC this year. Their last winning season was in ’08-’09 when they went 13-12, but leaders such as Pavlin and young studs like Lee Messier ’18 and freshmen Tyler Rowe and David Labossiere ’19 have made this a team that will surely upset some more highly-touted NESCAC squads.

Zuri Pavlin is one of four Conn players leading a balanced attack while scoring in double figures and is a nightly double-double threat. Pavlin is also the enforcer down low who makes up for his lack of size as a big man 6’5” with his athleticism and grit. He’s a tenacious rebounder, and holds the Conn College single-season record for rebounds. I got a chance to speak with Pavlin this week and ask him about his team’s performance thus far.

Rory Ziomek: What has your team done this year to be successful?

Zuri Pavlin: The camaraderie on this team has been like no team I’ve been a part of at Conn. Our freshmen and the addition of Nelson Albino to our coaching staff has also provided us with crucial sparks. We have also greatly matured as a collective group. Last year we were able to gain valuable experience for some of our younger guys playing in such a competitive conference. Last year’s experience has allowed us to understand what it takes to be a competitive NESCAC team.

RZ: How have the culture and/or focus of the team changed from your freshman and sophomore years? What do you think sparked this change?

ZP: This is the hardest working group of guys we have had in my three years at Conn. Every day my teammates are in the weight room and putting up extra shots. We are extremely focused on self improvement and making each other better. We came into this year with a new mindset that we can compete with any team we play if we put in the necessary work.

RZ: As a junior, you certainly have more of a leadership role now, especially with only one senior (Bo McKinley) on your roster. What have you done differently to take on this new role? Has this leadership position forced you to think more about what type of example you are setting for the underclassmen?

ZP: Being named a junior captain automatically forced me to step up as a leader on this team. The affect that I’ve had as a leader is due in large part to the respect that each member of this team shares for one another. So in essence, my teammates have made my job as captain much easier both on and off the court.

RZ: Tell me about the four freshmen on your roster and how they have adjusted to playing in college.

ZP: As said before, our freshmen are a huge part of our success so far this year. Tyler Rowe has stepped up to the challenge and proven himself to be one of the best point guards in the NESCAC. Tyler is a complete player who has the ability to shoot off the dribble and beat opposing players with his quickness to score around the basket as well. Tyler has already shined in big moments and delivered on several game-winning shots for our team. David Labossiere has transformed himself into a lethal shooter and a tenacious defender by using his length and athleticism. He also provides us with a highlight reel dunk nearly every game. Phil Leotsakos gives us a physical presence on both ends of the floor. Phil is a hard-nosed defender and a workhorse on the boards. Chandler Rohde forces our guys to work their hardest and become prepared to go up against any NESCAC point guard. Chandler provides us with energy every day in practice and games. He also takes advantage of each minute he plays during games. Each freshman has had a smooth adjustment to the college game due to their hard work in the preseason and ability to buy into the common goal of the team.

RZ: What have you and the other upperclassmen tried to convey to the freshmen about the way you want to run the Connecticut College basketball program?

ZP: The same goals that the seniors conveyed to my freshman class: commitment to ourselves and collective goals, making the right decisions on and off the court, being there for one another, and most importantly, no matter the outcome, win or lose, we must stay together and work the hardest we possibly can.

RZ: You’ve got two NESCAC wins under your belt already. How do you go about building on these wins?

ZP: Obviously these two NESCAC wins have meant a lot and given us some great momentum. However, we are not satisfied. We are an extremely hungry team and we truly believe that we can compete with any NESCAC opponent. A commonly used phrase in our locker room is “let’s get greedy to win”.

RZ: You’ve been playing very well individually so far, evidenced by your team-leading 8.3 rebounds per game and your solid 11.5 points per game. What do you need to do in conference play to continue this level of productivity?

ZP: Personally, I must play within myself and stay focused on our keys to win. I must remain aggressive and provide constant energy on the offensive and defensive end.

RZ: What is the team’s goal for the season?

ZP: Like every other team, our goal is to win a NESCAC championship. Despite our early success, we still have a lot to prove to ourselves and other teams around NESCAC.

Basketball Power Rankings 1/8

Connor Green '16 and the Lord Jeffs are at the top of the ranks. What else is new? (Mark Box, Clarus Studios, Inc.)
Connor Green ’16 and the Lord Jeffs are at the top of the ranks. What else is new? (Mark Box, Clarus Studios, Inc.)

There are a lot of teams in the NESCAC that have performed very well so far this year, but everything changes once conference play begins. Will Amherst continue playing to their potential? Is Colby a real threat to go deep in the tournament? Is Tufts’ fast pace sustainable? Check out the initial power rankings to get a closer look at how each NESCAC team has done so far this year.

1. Amherst (10-1)

Coming into the year, Amherst was a clear favorite to win the NESCAC. They lost next to nothing from last year’s roster, and their younger players such as Jayde Dawson ’18, Michael Riopel ’18, and reigning NESCAC ROY Jonny McCarthy ’18 all gained valuable experience that has already provided dividends here early in the season. Amherst has played some low-talent teams this year, but what’s important is that they’ve beaten these teams in convincing fashion. Amherst has also played some very solid teams – Babson, Eastern Connecticut and Rust – and has showed that they can, in fact, win close games. In their one loss this season, to Rhodes College, Amherst shot just 6-11 from the free throw line. Additionally, McCarthy and Connor Green ’16 combined to shoot just 11-32 from the field, 3-15 from beyond the arc, and attempted zero free throws. Though Amherst has a deep bench, the Lord Jeffs can’t rely on the bench to carry the scoring load. McCarthy and Green can’t keep missing 12 threes a game between them and expect to win in conference play. Regardless, I expect that this will just be a blip on the radar and the Lord Jeffs will get back up to speed when they open up NESCAC action in Amherst tonight against their bitter rival, Williams.

2. Tufts (9-2)

Last year, Tufts was 4-7 when they faced off with Middlebury in their first conference game. With a new and improved offense, and a much more mature team, Tufts stands at 9-2 and is ranked #22 nationally as they prepare to host Bowdoin tonight. Their new run-and-gun offense has propelled their scoring average from a NESCAC-low 67.6 ppg last year to 84.1 ppg this year. Last year, Tufts was 10th in the NESCAC in free throws made per game and ninth in free throw attempts per game, but this year they are first in both categories, averaging 21.7 points from the line per game! The Jumbos are winning games against strong teams by putting pressure on their opponents. They gang rebound on defense and then push the ball up the court. On the other end, they crash the boards hard, pulling down 13.3 offensive rebounds per game. Obviously, Tom Palleschi ’17 is leading the team in rebounds, but it has been Vinny Pace ’18 that has anchored the offense this year. It seems that Palleschi is fine with his decreased scoring role, however. He has instead focused more on his defense, shown by his leap from 2.4 bpg to 4.2 bpg. The key for the Jumbos this year has been balance. They use a lot of guys in the rotation, and, so far, this has led to success for them. As long as they can stay in control at such a fast pace, I’m anticipating more success with this style against conference opponents.

3. Wesleyan (11-1)

Wesleyan heads up to Middlebury tonight riding an 11-game winning streak, and over 12 games they have allowed just 65.6 ppg, which ranks third in the NESCAC. The Cardinals have built this impressive record with their stifling defense, which causes havoc for opposing ball handlers and forces turnovers. Wesleyan leads the conference with 7.9 spg, allowing for easy run outs. Though Coach Joe Reilly’s team has struggled with turnovers a bit themselves, they are also forcing their opponents into taking bad shots, which is why they’ve had so much success. On the offensive side of the ball, BJ Davis ’16 has stepped up his game immensely this year, and is scoring nearly eight points per game more than he did last year. In some ways, this could be worrisome for the Cardinals; though it’s great that Davis has been such an effective scorer this year, the team as a whole is depending on him to put up his 19.1 ppg, as Joseph Kuo ’17 is the only other Cardinal averaging over 10.0 ppg. I’m anticipating that Davis’ numbers will drop in conference play, opening the door for other players to step up and continue Wesleyan’s hot start.

4. Colby (10-1)

After starting off the season with a 98-92 overtime loss to Staten Island, the Mules have reeled off 10 straight wins, two of which came in back-to-back games against Bowdoin and Bates. However, besides those two victories, none are very impressive. Regardless, 10-1 is nice, and we will see if Colby is as good as they look when they have a rematch against Bates tonight and then head down to Somerville to take on Tufts tomorrow. Colby’s success thus far has come through their five senior starters, particularly center Chris Hudnut ’16 and forward Ryan Jann ’16, who average 16.6 and 17.3 ppg, respectively. The reason these players are able to score so consistently stems from Colby’s team-first approach. Every player on the team is looking to make the extra pass, and each of the five starters records at least two assists per game. Colby’s 19.2 apg leads to open shots, which is why Colby is currently second in the NESCAC in scoring. If Colby can continue to share the ball so effectively, it will be a tough task to take them down.

5. Williams (8-3)

The most remarkable part of the 8-3 record the Ephs have posted so far is the youth that this teams rolls out there day in and day out. Of the seven players with appearances in every one of Williams’ games this season, four are freshmen. Though the Ephs are definitely led by Daniel Aronowitz ’17, Kyle Scadlock ’19 has made a big splash so far this year, exemplified by his 12.4 ppg and 6.7 rpg numbers. I think that the best showing that Williams has had this year is in their two-point loss to Wesleyan. Though Wesleyan did miss 14 free throws in that game, Williams showed they could play defense against a legitimate NESCAC title contender, allowing only 58 points in the game. In the same game, Aronowitz stepped up big-time, scoring 27 of his team’s 56 points. If Aronowitz can continue to hold down the fort for a bit, I think Scadlock’s fellow freshmen will become more comfortable, making Williams a dangerous team as the season progresses.

6. Bowdoin (7-3)

As expected, Lucas Hausman ’16 is off to a hot start for the Polars bears. Through 10 games, Hausman is averaging 24.7 ppg, highlighted most recently by his 35-point performance against Bridgewater State. Since an out-of-conference loss to Colby a month ago, Bowdoin has won four straight, and look to continue that streak tonight against Tufts. As we enter NESCAC play, a huge part of Bowdoin’s success will lie in the hands of Jack Simonds ’19, who has put on quite a show in his bid for NESCAC ROY so far. As a forward who relies on his perimeter shooting, Simonds will be tested in a conference where there are very few teams that play two natural big men. Against Tufts, for example, it’s likely that Simonds will be defended by Vinny Pace and Stefan Duvivier ’18, both of whom are long and athletic, which will make it difficult for Simonds to get his shots off from deep. However, if Tufts or other NESCAC opponents focus primarily on shutting down Hausman, Simonds will have opportunities to launch from deep and will the Polar Bears to victory.

7. Bates (7-5)

Five losses in 12 games is not great, but minus a stretch of three losses in December, Bates has been pretty solid so far this year. Even in those three losses, the Bobcats played pretty well, losing by four each to Colby (in overtime) and Southern Vermont, and by just seven to WPI. Those three teams are all very solid squads, so Bates should not be disappointed with these losses. What is a bit worrisome, however, is allowing triple digits in their other two losses, but luckily for Bates, those two games seem to be anomalies. In wins this year, the Bobcats have been able to keep opponents to just 65.0 ppg, in large part due to the imposing presence of the twin towers down low, Marcus Delpeche ’17 and Malcolm Delpeche ’17. On the offensive end, Mike Boornazian ’16 leads the way with 15.6 ppg. An encouraging sign for Bates is that Boornazian put up 23 points and seven rebounds against Colby, showing that he will indeed be the primary scorer once conference play rolls around. Regardless, what Bates needs out of Boornazian and the Delpeche brothers is consistency, because they really don’t have any other major scoring threats besides those three guys.

8. Trinity (8-4)

It’s pretty easy to look at Trinity’s losses and think that they are getting snubbed with a #8 nod here, but take a closer look. Sure, they’ve lost to solid teams, but do they have any good wins? Not yet. Trinity has not won a game by single digits, and that’s because they have not been able to beat any the good teams on their schedule. The Bantams started the year ranked 12th in the nation, and have since fallen out of the ranks because they have not shown the ability to win a close game. Against Eastern Connecticut, for example, the Bantams we’re actually up by six at the half, but went on to shoot 26.5 percent from the field in the second half and ended up losing by eight. Against Springfield, Trinity turned the ball over 10 times in the first half alone. It has been a trend in all their losses that Trinity has struggled to put together 40 minutes of good basketball. Nonetheless, I have faith that Jaquann Starks ’16, Ed Ogundeko ’17 and Shay Ajayi ’16 can help turn around the Bantams in the second half. Trinity has played good defense all year, so if they can turn things around on offense they’re still in fine position to finish in one of the top four spots in the NESCAC.

9. Connecticut College (7-3)

Conn College has showed a little life this year due to the play of freshmen David Labossiere ’19 and Tyler Rowe ’19. Both players have stepped in and made a huge impact so far, complementing the continued success of sharpshooter Lee Messier ’18 and big man Zuri Pavlin ’17. Rowe, a natural point guard, has done a great job attacking the paint, knowing when to shoot and when to dish. Labossiere, arguably the most athletic freshmen in the NESCAC, rebounds decently well and knows how to finish around the rim. As the Camels face off against NESCAC teams we will learn whether or not these promising young players have made the Camels a competitor in the NESCAC as their three-point loss to a solid SUNY-Canton team suggests. I think that the answer to that question is going to come down to whether or not Conn can slow down their opponents in shooting the basketball, as they currently allow opposing teams to shoot 42.5 percent from the field, the second-worst mark in the league.

10. Hamilton (7-4)

Hamilton, like Williams and Connecticut College, is a team that has been powered primarily by their freshmen so far this year. Peter Hoffmann ’19 has been the main bright spot so far for the Continentals, a freshman star who has stepped in and filled the hole left by the departure of Joseph Lin ’15. The freshman guard is averaging 13.5 ppg through 11 contests this year, and is doing most of his damage inside. While Hoffmann can step out and hit the three here and there, he has a knack for getting to the hoop, and as a result, gets to the free throw line every game. Another freshman bright spot has been Andrew Groll ’19. Groll isn’t a natural scorer, but he is pulling down 7.1 rpg. I think the early season success can be attributed to Hamilton’s players working together and accepting their individual roles on the team. Though they are last in the league in assists, there is no one player that does the majority of the scoring – eight guys are piled in the 3-10 point range, and just two, Hoffmann and Jack Dwyer ’18, are averaging double digits. I am not expecting a lot out of Hamilton in league player this year, but in the next couple years I expect them surge onto the scene as their young core matures.

11. Middlebury (6-6)

The Panthers are off to a tough start, and their mediocre offense is mostly to blame. Middlebury is having trouble winning games primarily because of two main factors: three-point shooting and free throw shooting. Middlebury is ranked second-worst in the NESCAC in made three-point field goals per game with just six. They’re also ranked 10th in made free throws per game, where they hit just 58.6 percent. With such low numbers at the charity stripe, especially in combination with such a lack of outside shooting ability, Middlebury’s only chance is to play absolutely stellar defense because you can’t expect them to shoot that much higher than the 45.5 percent mark that they’re hitting shots at. To their credit, Middlebury has done a solid job on the defensive end of the court. They’re forcing turnovers and difficult shots out of their opponents, but their lack of offense is ultimately the Achilles heel for the Panthers. Matt St. Amour ’17, Jake Brown ’17 and Matt Daley ’16 have done what they can to put the ball in the hoop, but they don’t really have anybody else who can score the ball. Middlebury is in the midst of a rebuilding period, and I don’t anticipate them making a playoff appearance this year.

Welcome to the First Day of the Rest of Your Lives: Weekend Preview 1/8

Like the rest of us, Bates Head Coach Jon Furbush is sick of this nonsense. Let's play some NESCAC basketball. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
Like the rest of us, Bates Head Coach Jon Furbush is sick of this nonsense. Let’s play some NESCAC basketball. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Through about one month of the season (factoring in the time off for the holidays) NESCAC teams are a combined 87-33. Ten of 11 teams have records over .500. No teams remain undefeated, but Amherst, Wesleyan and, surprisingly, Colby all only have one loss. Babson, a Final Four team a year ago that took out Trinity in the Elite Eight and brought back Player of the Year candidate Joey Flannery, is 7-4, with all four of those losses coming against NESCAC teams. Amherst is ranked ninth and Tufts 22nd, with Trinity, Colby and Wesleyan knocking on the Top 25 door.

Suffice to say it’s been a successful start to the year for the NESCAC, all things considered. Because of the location of some of the member schools (read: Middlebury, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby and Hamilton, especially), NESCAC teams often face weak schedules to open the season because there just aren’t many quality teams around. That’s why it’s critical for teams to find good competition in tournaments early on. Trinity lost by five to No. 11 Susquehanna on Dec. 11 in Pennsylvania. No. 12 WPI has already bested Tufts and Bates this year. Wisconsin-Stevens Point walked all over Hamilton in Arizona on Dec. 30, and No. 20 Oswego St. handled Middlebury back in November. Colby actually beat No. 18 Mount Union down in Orlando last week. And lest we forget, the NESCAC’s success against Babson has knocked the Bobcats out of the Top 25. Win or lose, the teams that have seen this high level of competition will benefit this weekend when the intensity turns up and there are no more easy games.

Below we will give you a brief preview of each matchup (mind you, that’s 10 games, so forgive our brevity), the player or matchup to watch and a prediction. I’m supremely confident that most of our predictions will prove to look foolish this time Monday morning.

Middlebury at Wesleyan, Friday 7 PM

This is a really tough opening game for the Panthers, but if they match up well against any of the top teams in the NESCAC, it’s definitely Wesleyan, and they catch the Birds early on when they’re still nursing a few battle scars. Middlebury crushed Wesleyan 97-60 last year, and Wesleyan’s roster is basically the same, though the Panthers have lost their two best scorers. The matchup to watch is between point guards BJ Davis ’16 and Jake Brown ’17. Talk about quickness and flair, this duo has it in spades. Both teams are guard-heavy, so that’s likely to be a wash. If either front court can take over offensively, that unit’s team will win the ball game. Despite Middlebury’s struggles, their defense is underrated, so expect this to stay tight throughout.

Prediction: Wesleyan 68 – Middlebury 61

Hamilton at Conn College, Friday 7 PM

A matchup of two teams struggling to make the playoffs consistently, this is basically a must-win if either squad hopes to achieve that goal. Hamilton has been impressive early on with some talented young players, but the same could be said for Colby. We talked about three of those guys (and gave an honorable mention to another) on Wednesday. Conn’s Zuri Pavlin ’17 has been one of my favorite players to follow the past two seasons because he’s a double-double machine, but his numbers are down a little bit this year, and Hamilton has a rebounding fiend of its own in Andrew Groll ’19 than can neutralize Pavlin’s impact on the boards. Outside of Pavlin, Conn does not rebound well. Neither team is particularly strong defensively, but Conn has a little more juice on the offensive end right now, so I think they’ll eventually pull away. Plus, being at home, especially this early in the year when teams aren’t used to weekend travel, could be a bonus.

Prediction: Conn 82 – Hamilton 72

Bowdoin at Tufts, Friday 7 PM

Prior to the season, I would have guessed this would be a blow out. Now, however, with the emergence of Jack Simonds ’19, Bowdoin has a legitimate 1-2 punch, and I’m not sure anyone can stop it. On the flip side, I am pretty certain no one at Bowdoin can stop Tom Palleschi ’17. Palleschi is the man to watch. The Polar Bears will need to throw some double teams at the lefty, but in their favor is the fact that they can roll out a few forwards to slow him down, while there is very little front court relief for Palleschi. and if he stays out of foul trouble (a big if), this is going to be a comfortable, though not easy, win for the Jumbos. I have no numbers to prove this (perhaps we will compile some at some point – any stat nerds out there with some free time?) but I believe that if we had strength of schedule numbers Tufts would be near the top of the list. For the last two years they’ve been 13-12 and just some chemistry or flow or voodoo away from being really, really good. Maybe this is the year.

Prediction: Tufts 78 – Bowdoin 72

Colby at Bates, Friday 7 PM

The Mules’ MO this season is score the basketball, and they’ve done that quite well. They can shoot the three (39.9 percent), get to the line (282 FT attempts, second in NESCAC) or just throw it into big man Chris Hudnut ’16 (16.6 ppg). Even though we expected Bates to present a unique problem on defense for its opponents with the Delpeche twins in the middle, teams have been scoring at a pretty rapid clip against the Bobcats (72.1 ppg, 42.4 FG%). That could result in a recipe for disaster for Bates tonight. Colby SG Ryan Jann ’16 is the man in this one. I don’t see anyone that can stop him from Bates, and he had a cool 19 points on 6-9 shooting in their last meeting, when Colby won just 78-74 in Waterville, but the Mules also shot well below their season averages. If they can play to their potential, Colby wins this one.

Prediction: Colby 80 – Bates 70

Williams at Amherst, Friday 7 PM

When these two teams meet there is always an added level of intrigue. All-time, Williams holds the 119-97 (55.1%) advantage over Amherst, though recent history has favored the Lord Jeffs. Between 2012 and the 2014 NESCAC Championship, Amherst won eight straight contests. Miraculously, Williams broke the streak in that year’s NCAA Semis, then won again in the teams’ first meeting of 2015. Amherst won the last contest 86-76 in OT. Amherst is definitely the favorite coming into this one, as they will be in ever game unless someone knocks them off. They have far more experience, and as we’ve noted before, the 2015-16 Williams squad is similar in make up to the 2014-15 Amherst team. Dan Aronowitz ’17 plays the role of Connor Green ’16, leading a talented squad deficient of seniors. Simply put, Amherst has the advantage at every position, so a big game from young point guards Chris Galvin ’18 and Bobby Casey ’19 who have had to take over for the oversized production of the injured Mike Greenman ’17. Unless those guys have huge games, it’s going to be over early.

Prediction: Amherst 85 – Williams 73

Colby at Tufts, Saturday 2 PM

Saturday begins with an exciting matchup of two teams trying to prove that they belong. Both could be 1-0 coming in, but don’t surprised if they are both 0-1. That’s the beauty of NESCAC basketball. This should be a fun one to watch as both teams know how to put the ball in the hoop, ranking second (Colby) and third (Tufts) behind Amherst in points per game. In the second game of a back-to-back, the bench becomes more important, so which role player can step up and make the difference will be a difference-maker. Tufts goes a little bit deeper in its rotation, and a guy like Drew Madsen ’17 might need to chip in 10 points or so for the Jumbos. Palleschi is going to be working his butt off as the focal point of the Tufts attack against Bowdoin, and either fatigue or foul trouble could force him to the bench for stretches in this one.

Prediction: Tufts 89 – Colby 87

Hamilton at Wesleyan, Saturday 3 PM

This seems like a slam dunk for the Cards … and I think it probably is. Crazier things have happened, but I don’t see anyone stopping BJ Davis, and I doubt that the Continentals will be really sharp in their second game of the weekend because of their youth and inexperience. The X-factor for Hamilton still has to be Ajani Santos ’16. Santos has been a staple on this team for the past few years, last season averaging 10.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg while starting 23 games. This year he has 1.6 – just 1.6 – ppg and is only on the floor for 13.5 minutes per game. Coach Adam Stockwell wouldn’t reveal what the issue was, but there’s clearly something going on here. Santos has been in the starting lineup the last few games, though, so maybe things are finally coming around. Joseph Kuo ’17 is a strong interior presence for the Cardinals, but as we know their team strength is guard play and the bench doesn’t run very deep, so a coming out party from Santos could swing the tide of what is otherwise bound to be a lopsided affair.

Prediction: Wesleyan 69 – Hamilton 59

Middlebury at Conn College, Saturday 3 PM

A couple of years ago, this game would have been a cake walk for the Panthers. Now, it’s hard to even pick them as a favorite. Conn is still untested, but they have some interesting pieces. Zuri Pavlin is a known commodity, even though his numbers are down so far this year, and Lee Messier ’18 is taking the expected step forward and turning into a go-to scorer, but newcomers Tyler Rowe ’19 and David Labossiere ’19 look like the real deal, too. Forward Isaiah Robinson ’18 missed the first few games of the year, played the next six and then missed the last contest with the Coast Guard, but he’s a solid body that can bang down low and bring toughness, and don’t forget about Bo McKinley ’16, the incumbent at point guard, surpassed by Rowe, who brings three-point shooting off the bench. Conn has all the pieces to pull a fast one on the Panthers. The key for Middlebury is point guard Jake Brown. Perhaps it’s unfair because I watched Joey Kizel ’14 run the show for two years, but my sense is that Brown needs to drive this team if they are going to make it back to the playoffs.

Prediction: Conn College 78 – Middlebury 73

Bowdoin at Bates, Saturday 3 PM

I’m predicting that Tom Palleschi and the Jumbos will be able to stifle the Polar Bears, but I think that Bowdoin will break out in a big way against Bates. Simply put, who is going to guard Lucas Hausman and Jack Simonds? Mike Boornazian is a great offensive player, but I’m not convinced he can stop Hausman, and Simonds is going to be an issue for either Mike Newton ’16 or Marcus Delpeche ’17, whomever Bates chooses to throw at him. The Bobcats don’t even get the benefit of the Alumni Gym crowd, as classes don’t begin again until Monday. It’s an unfortunate time to waste a home weekend for Bates, and I think Bowdoin can take advantage.

Prediction: Bowdoin 81 – Bates 71

Williams at Trinity, Sunday 2 PM

Finally, we get the NESCAC debut of Trinity, last year’s top regular season team. Even though the Bantams lost a few important players, there seemed to be enough holdovers in place for Trinity to stay near the top of the heap. The losses of defensive stalwart Hart Gliedman ’15, multi-talented forward Alex Conaway ’15 and center George Papadeas ’15 have hurt more than expected. As a team, Trinity is still playing strong defense, holding opponents to a mere 35.5 field goal percentage. They just can’t put the ball in the hoop. Starks and Rick Naylor ’16, in particular, need to shoot the ball better, but it could be a big game for Ed Ogundeko ’17. Long an enigma for his impressive rebounding rate in limited minutes, Ogundeko has made some strides offensively out of necessity. He’s a true center, something that is lacking from many NESCAC rosters, and if he can manhandle Williams’ Edward Flynn ’16 then Trinity can shake off the early season struggles and start the NESCAC sched 1-0.

Prediction: Trinity 68 – Williams 63