The Future is Now: Bowdoin Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Bowdoin Polar Bears

2016-2017 Record: 12-11; 3-7 in NESCAC (failed to reach NESCAC playoffs)

2017-2018 Projected Record: 5-5 in NESCAC

Key Losses:

Neil Fuller ‘17 (4.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)

Fuller started every game for the Polar Bears last year, and was a consistent and experienced player. His leadership and poise will definitely be missed by a Polar Bears team that struggled with consistency last year. Luckily, Bowdoin returns most of their major contributors outside of Fuller.

Tim Ahn ‘19 (6.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 5.4 APG, 25 steals)

Ahn departs due to an academic semester abroad. Ahn led the Polar Bears in steals and assists last season, and was a quick and reliable ball handler. The Bears have some depth at guard, including three new first-year recruits.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 (N/A)

Zavier Rucker
Zavier Rucker ’21 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Not much information is available about Zavier Rucker, but all signs point to him being in the starting lineup on day 1. He’s a gritty, hard-working player capable of playing multiple positions, and he hails from the Taft School. Coaches and veterans have said that Rucker may not light up the stat sheet, but will take care of the ball and serve as an elite on-ball defender. This is an area in which the Polar Bears struggled, so the addition of Rucker will perhaps boost Bowdoin in much needed areas.

Guard Liam Farley ‘18

Liam Farley
Liam Farley ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

A 6’5” senior from the Windy City, Farley has been a staple of the Bowdoin Basketball team since his first year. He’s a proven shooter from the outside, and has also shown the ability to get to the hoop. Depending on their approach, the Polar Bears may want Farley to drive to the hoop, and draw defenders away from their other shooters. Whether or not he can do this remains to be seen.

Forward David Reynolds ‘20

David Reynolds
David Reynolds ’20 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Reynolds made a pretty big splash in his first season with the Polar Bears, despite injury. He averaged 10.3 points per game and 21.5 minutes per game. He had good chemistry with Simonds, and was a solid interior defender as well. He’ll see a big uptick in minutes this year, and since he’s returning from injury, that may be a storyline to take note of. More on Reynolds below.

Forward Jack Simonds ‘19

Jack Simonds
Jack Simonds ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Mr. Maine, and Mr. Reliable. An early (and accurate) candidate for NESCAC Player of the Year, Simonds has been a flat-out stud for the Polar Bears the past two years. He really does it all: shoots, drives to the hoop, defends well – he’s really a ‘jack’ of all trades (haha!). Though his average scoring dropped from 19 PPG in 2015-2016 to 16 PPG in 2016-2017, Simonds has shown no signs of slowing down. He will handle the ball consistently, and will be called upon to make things happen late in games. Simonds averaged the 6th most minutes per game in the NESCAC last season, so longevity may be a lingering issue for Simonds and the Polar Bears. If he can remain healthy and consistent (and I think he will), he will continue his trend of putting up big numbers for the Polar Bears. He is the real deal, and the team’s centerpiece.

Forward Hugh O’Neil ‘19

Hugh O'Neil
Hugh O’Neil ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

O’Neil saw a big increase in minutes last year, and he delivered solid interior defense and scoring. His 9.8 rebounds per game was good for second in the NESCAC. His transition into a starting role last year satisfied everyone’s hopes of O’Neil emerging into a beast on the boards. All signs indicate that trend continuing this season. At 6’7”, O’Neil may often be a bit smaller than his matchup, but that shouldn’t hurt his ability to use his quickness to score and grab rebounds down low.

Breakout Player: David Reynolds ‘20

Reynolds battled with injury last year, yet was able to produce in big ways when he was on the court. Sources tell me he’s healthier and stronger than ever now. He’ll most likely find himself in a starting role with a chance to showcase his scoring abilities early and often. If all goes right for Reynolds and the Polar Bears, he will complement Simonds’s scoring load and serve as another player opposing defenses need to worry about. His game resembles Simonds’ to some degree in its versatility. He shot nearly 40% from three last year on four attempts per game, but also uses his size to finish inside and from mid-range. Like I said before, his health was the question last year, and that was the only thing standing in the way of a really stellar freshman season. This year, Reynolds seems ready to shoulder a heavy workload, and with his athleticism and scoring ability, he should be a major contributor for the Polar Bears.

Season Outlook:

Bowdoin reeled a bit last year after losing Lucas Hausman, finishing tied for 9th in the NESCAC. In that season, though, Bowdoin coaches were forced to thrust players into unfamiliar roles and hope to get production. This year, on the other hand, Bowdoin will be returning most of its starters / key contributors, so there should be fewer instances of ‘growing pains.’ With a solid core consisting of Farley, Simonds, and O’Neil, this team should be in sync consistently and compete hard in every game they play.

Simonds has proven that he thrives in the spotlight and enjoys being ‘the guy’ for Bowdoin. His leadership and nasty scoring abilities must be on full display if Bowdoin is to make some noise in the league this year. Bowdoin will also need strong years from fellow captains Farley and O’Neil.

The Bowdoin bench will be captained by Blake Gordon ‘18, who can be deadly from three-point range. Beyond that, though, the Bowdoin bench has some question marks. Jack Bors ‘19 figures to be a regular presence off the bench, like in previous years, but could also figure into the starting lineup at the question-mark point guard spot. The Polar Bears have 5 new first year players, so odds are some of them will see decent time and be forced to contribute off the bench. Just who that will be remains to be seen. I mentioned Rucker as a likely first-year contributor, but he’ll need a solid supporting cast.

Bowdoin will need to take down perennial foes Amherst and Bates this year if they are to shake up the NESCAC leaderboards. They will need to get into a groove offensively and muster better on-ball defense if they want to compete with the teams at the top of the league.  If the Polar Bears can spread scoring evenly and have certain guys step up when called upon, this season could be a success. This team has a very solid core of junior and sophomore players, and a promising collection of first-years. After adding several more wins to their total this year, I think Bowdoin has a solid foundation to compete in the NESCAC for years to come.

How Badly Will the Polar Bears Miss Hausman?: Bowdoin Basketball Season Preview

 

Tim Ahn '19 is going to need to step it up for Bowdoin this year in the absence of Lucas Hausman (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Tim Ahn ’19 is going to need to step it up for Bowdoin this year in the absence of Lucas Hausman (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively,  not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us. Also, now that the season is under way, treat this as our thoughts on what we’ve seen so far, not just a regular preview.

Projected Record: 3-7

2015-16 Record: 12-11, 4-6; Fell to #2 seed Amherst in NESCAC quarterfinals.

Last year the Polar Bears had to find a way to win without John Swords. This year they’re going to find a way to win without Lucas Hausman. Both of those players have gone on to play professionally in Spain, so they were probably pretty good. Jack Simonds growth will play a large role in the team’s success this year, and with the loss of three key starters, we’ll have to see how the new starters handle the uptick in minutes.

Head Coach: Tim Gilbride, 31 seasons, 444-315 (.593)

Captains: Neil Fuller, Jack Hewitt

Key Losses: Lucas…Hausman

Lucas Hausman was arguably the best player in the NESCAC last year. But now he’s gone. So that sucks.

Jack Donnelly and Matt Palecki were both senior starters last season. Their loss makes Bowdoin a very young team, with just one junior and one senior starter. Palecki led the team in rebounds, and was also good for about 9 PPG on offense.

Those guys started every game when they were healthy.

Starters:

Guard Tim Ahn ‘19

Tim Ahn '19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Tim Ahn ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Ahn’s a sophomore guard from San Diego. He’s quick, and he led the Bears in steals, despite coming off the bench, and averaging 17 minutes per. Ahn and Simmonds will be the assist specialists on the team. The shifty sophomore will have to step up his production this season in the absence of Hausman, especially now that opposing defenses will be able to hone in on Simonds when the Polar Bears have possession.

Guard Liam Farley ‘18

Liam Farley '18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Liam Farley ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Farley’s a 6’5” junior guard from the Windy City. He’s appeared in just about every game since he got to Bowdoin, but he’ll see a big increase in minutes this year. I wouldn’t say Farley is an elite shooter, but he has the ability to knock down shots from outside when he’s left open. At 6’5”, that is certainly a useful skill for a Bowdoin team in need of some firepower. The squad is definitely going to need Farley to get to the hoop, however, as this will force defenses to sag into the paint, opening things up for Bowdoin’s other shooters.

Forward Jack Simonds ‘19

Jack Simonds '19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Jack Simonds ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

The Mainer. Don’t need to say much about Simonds. He can do it all. He shoots, he drives, he plays solid defense – Simonds is a great basketball player. The sophomore has good size, which makes him a difficult matchup for forwards when you mix that size with his athleticism.  Simonds is the reigning NESCAC rookie of the year for a reason, but the Polar Bears need him to avoid a sophomore slump if they’re going to be competitive. While Simonds definitely benefited from being the second option behind Hausman, this leaves room for question: can Simonds be “the guy” in his 2016-2017 campaign? So far, it looks like the answer is yes. Through four games Simonds is dropping 26.8 PPG, highlighted by his 31 points in the season opener against Southern Vermont, a team that made an NCAA appearance last year. He also went for 28 in a close loss to #2 ranked Babson on Sunday. Simonds is the real deal, and definitely a guy to keep an eye on this season.

Forward Hugh O’Neil ‘19

Hugh O'Neil '19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Hugh O’Neil ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

O’Neil hails from historic Lexington Mass, and will be counted on for strong defense this year. He’s tall, and he can rebound with the best of ‘em. In just 16 minutes per game, he averaged 5 boards per, so in a starting role, he could be a beast on the glass. Bowdoin lacks size, so O’Neil is going to need to be tough down low for the Polar Bears. He will often be smaller than his matchup, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be a bad matchup. O’Neil just needs to use his quickness to his advantage. We’ll find out more about his offensive game as he gains experience, but look for O’Neil to be a solid player down low for Bowdoin.

Forward Neil Fuller ‘17

Neil Fuller '17 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Neil Fuller ’17 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

A senior captain from the Peach state, Fuller will be the elder statesman among the starting five. Jimmy Naismith used a peach basket as the first ever hoop when he invented the game of basketball (I grew up 15 minutes from the Basketball Hall of Fame), so it makes lots of sense that Fuller plays basketball. He’ll bring the leadership. Crazy statistic about Fuller: I once ran into a girl while on a tour of the Jameson Distillery in Dublin who went to highschool with him. Mind bottling. He increased his FG% by 13% last year – hopefully he can shoot above .500 again in 2016-17. Like O’Neil, Fuller is going to need to assert his authority down low on this small Bowdoin team. Their success likely rides on the shoulders of these two forwards, because if they can’t stop opposing post players, Bowdoin is going to have a heck of time against the Trinity/Tufts/Amherst’s of the league.

Breakout Player: Guard Tim Ahn ’19

There’s 25 PPG to replace from Lucas Hausman, 9 PPG from Matt Palecki, and 4 PPG Jack Donnelly, adding up to a total of about 40 points that need to be found somewhere. Ahn is going to play a big role in finding those points, in one way or another. While he was able to gain some good experience last year, Ahn is going to see an enormous boost to his minutes this season, and his ability to handle the pressure of starting in the NESCAC is certainly a question. Bowdoin is relying on Ahn, so hopefully he can find a way to get the job done. He’s currently the third leading scorer on a team that spreads the wealth pretty evenly outside of Simonds, which definitely Bowd(oin)s well for the Polar Bears. 

Everything Else

Simonds was the NESCAC rookie of the year. He’s dirty. The question is, will he be able to repeat, or improve on his 16 PPG season? Did he benefit from Lucas Hausman receiving so much attention from opposing defenses? We’ll see. The big lefty is going to need to figure out how to score on the best defenders in the league, because he is definitely going to get those matchups. Bowdoin needs a strong year out of Simonds. So far, he looks capable, but we’re only four games in remember – it’s too early to ride anyone too high or too low at this point in the year.

The loss of Swords was certainly felt last year, and Hausman’s loss is going to hurt this year as well. Think about this: Hausman holds the single season NESCAC scoring record after his 2015-16 campaign. He averaged 25 PPG. He averaged 6 PPG more than the scoring runner up. That’s kind of insane. Where is Bowdoin going to get the production to make up for Hausman’s absence? The fact is, Bowdoin has not really needed many other scorers for the last few years, and while it certainly would have helped them to, they definitely relied on Hausman to make them a competitive team. Ahn, Simonds, Fuller, O’Neil, Farley…who is it going to be? I think Bowdoin’s best chance at competing for a NESCAC title is if they can roll out a lineup that spreads out the scoring pretty evenly. If the Polar Bears fall into the trap of just getting the ball to Simonds and watching him go to work, they simply will not find themselves in the top of the standings as NESCAC action plays outs.

Blake Gordon ‘18, Jack Bors ‘19, Charles DiPasquale ‘18, Jack Hewitt ‘17 and Richard “Swiss Rick” McCallister ‘18 (Rory was on his high school team and apparently everyone called him this) …. who is going to step up for the Polar Bears and take on the approximately 80 minutes per game lost to graduated seniors? It looks like freshman guard David Reynolds is the first one off the bench for Bowdoin so far, and Gordon has also mixed in with Hewitt and Bors. We’ll see how deep the Bowdoin bench goes as the season wears on.

#2 Bowdoin vs. #5 Amherst: NESCAC Semifinal Preview

While Connor Green is in the forefront of our minds, the battle between David George and John Swords also looms large. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
While Connor Green ’16 is in the forefront of our minds, the battle between David George ’17 and John Swords ’15 also looms large. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

The late game Saturday pits two teams in Bowdoin and Amherst that played some of their best basketball of the season in the quarterfinals. The Polar Bears overcame the hot shooting of Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 because of great games from both John Swords ’15 and Lucas Hausman ’16. Meanwhile, the Lord Jeffs’ second game against Tufts was the exact opposite of the first one with Amherst routing the Jumbos in Medford. Connor Green ’16 is absolutely on fire scoring the ball averaging 28.2 PPG in his last five games against NESCAC opponents.

 Last time they played: 81-66 Amherst

These two met the first time in Amherst on Saturday, January 31. The Lord Jeffs held a double-digit lead for part of the first half, but the Polar Bears fought back to make it only a three point deficit at halftime. Hausman kept Bowdoin in the game with 15 points, but Green was even better with 17 first half points. Early in the second, Green took over for Amherst and scored 15 points in the first 7:22 of the half to push the Amherst lead up to 14 points. Bowdoin would never truly threaten again with the Amherst lead never getting below nine, and the Jeffs were able to coast to a comfortable victory. Hausman also scored only four second half points. Johnny McCarthy ’18 deserves credit for slowing down Hausman, and the freshman had a pretty good game besides just his defense, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Both teams shot awfully from the free throw line as the Jeffs were a putrid 10-23 (43.5 percent) and Bowdoin shot 10-18 (55.6 percent).

Keep in mind that Bowdoin was coming off of an overtime game against Trinity the night before and was playing on the road. That might have contributed to them shooting only 2-15 from three. Still, Amherst matches up very well with Bowdoin because their two best defensive players, McCarthy and David George ’17, correspond perfectly with Bowdoin’s two biggest weapons, Swords and Hausman. Both teams have gone 5-1 since their first game and seem to have figured out exactly how to play with each other.

Bryan Hurley '15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Bryan Hurley ’15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Bowdoin X-factor: Point Guard Bryan Hurley ’15

Swords and Hausman are definitely Bowdoin’s two most important players, but Hurley is a very close third. The Watertown, MA native does a little bit of everything for Bowdoin, but he is most effective when he is put into pick-and-roll situations. Hurley is particularly adept at getting the ball to Swords up high where the big man can throw down easy dunks. In conference play his assist-to-turnover ratio was 3.1. After putting a slow start to the season behind him, Hurley now is confident about getting into the lane and absorbing contact. Amherst is unlikely to let Hausman win the game by himself so Hurley will have to shoot the ball well from both beyond the arc and at the rim. Though he is a mostly pass-first point guard, Hurley tends to pick his spots to attack. He is never afraid to shoot from deep and will often take contested jump shots if he is ‘feeling it.’

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

Amherst X-factor: Shooting Guard Johnny McCarthy ’18

The presumed NESCAC Rookie of the Year will guard Hausman, the clear leader right now for NESCAC Player of the Year. This will be a fun battle to watch all afternoon. McCarthy tied for the league lead in steals because of his outstanding length. He has exceptional timing as a defender and his quickness allows him to guard anyone from point guards to small forwards. The freshman is no defensive specialist though. He finished third on the team in scoring with 10.6 PPG, but his offensive game slipped later in the season. He shot only 33.3 percent from the field in conference games. His offensive game is predicated on rhythm which is one of the reasons why he struggles from the free throw line despite being a confident shooter. Despite his struggles, McCarthy led the Jeffs in minutes despite there being a bevy of talented perimeter players on the roster.

Three Questions

1. Can David George ’17 guard John Swords ’15 one-on-one?

Swords had his best offensive game of the season last week going 10-10 from the field, but George will present much more of a challenge. In their two match-ups so far, George has done a good job of pushing Swords out of the paint. The sophomore has gained a lot of strength though he still gives up a good deal of weight to Swords. The best way to defend Swords is to keep him from getting the ball in a deep position. If Swords gets the ball close to the basket, it is virtually impossible to stop him. Even though George has the length and ability to block Swords, the 7’0″ footer is too patient with the ball. The Amherst big man doesn’t need to stop Swords completely. George just has to limit him and make other players on Bowdoin beat the Jeffs.

2. Is Connor Green ’16 unguardable against a zone defense?

Last week we broke down how Bowdoin’s zone works with players scrambling on the perimeter. It works for the most part, but as Rooke-Ley showed in the first half, a knockdown shooter can neuter the effectiveness of it. In the second half Bowdoin adjusted and made sure to communicate so that somebody was always on Rooke-Ley. Though Rooke-Ley is a better pure shooter, Green might be an even harder task to guard because he shoots his three pointers from so freaking far away. Honestly, he regularly pulls the trigger from a couple of feet beyond the NBA three point line. When he gets into the zone, literally everything he throws up goes in, even if he needs to bank in a three. Zones, even ones as flexible as Bowdoin’s, do not account for someone stretching the floor like Green does. Expect Green to get and take some open looks from way out early.

Jake Donnelly '16 gets Connor Green '16 and Johnny McCarthy '18 in the air. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Jake Donnelly ’16 gets Connor Green ’16 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 in the air. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

3. Which role player will step up?

Even though both team’s rely on their stars heavily for scoring, secondary players will have to make shots as well. For Amherst those plaers are Jeff Racy ’17 and Jayde Dawson ’18. Racy is a straight shooter who made the second most threes per game in conference play. He gets a lot of open looks because of all the attention given to McCarthy and Green. Dawson meanwhile has never really figured out how to play within the Amherst system, but he is still so talented that he can go on short stretches where he looks like one of the best players on the floor. Meanwhile the two guys to keep an eye on for Bowdoin are Matt Palecki ’16 and Liam Farley ’18. A big part of Palecki’s improved play this season is his ability to hit threes as the power forward. Farley is a talented freshman who can force bad shots and have careless turnovers but also represents Bowdoin’s best scoring option off the bench. The stars will dominate most of the game, but how those players fill in the shadows is also important.

What to Expect

Amherst just looked incredible last weekend in blowing out Tufts. There is no question that they are the more talented team top-to-bottom. Yet you could easily argue that Bowdoin has the better point guard, better center and better pure scorer. The thing is that all three of Hurley, Swords and Hausman will have to play well for Bowdoin to win. The Jeffs certainly need Green to have a good performance, but they can survive any other player struggling because there are so many others capable of stepping up. Expect a game of runs with one team jabbing and the other answering back.

We have alluded to Hausman heavily throughout the preview but haven’t talked much about him specifically. He was special against Williams throwing up a relatively quiet 37. The Jeffs have to work to keep him off of the free throw line and out of transition because he is pretty much automatic in those situations. Point guard Reid Berman ’17 has to use his size and strength advantage over Hurley to force his way into the lane and make Swords guard him. That will draw in the defense and leave Racy or Green open on the perimeter. Nobody shot or made as many as threes as the Jeffs did in NESCAC play. With Swords in the middle of the Bowdon defense, they are likely to bomb away early and often.

Dave Hixon and Tim Gilbride are the two best in-game coaches in the NESCAC. The game might come down to who makes the better halftime adjustment. Hixon has been to tons of NESCAC semifinals, but he has rarely had a team this young. The veteran Polar Bears have never made it this far in the tournament. The recent Bowdoin success has come mostly at home and they haven’t played a NESCAC opponent away from Brunswick since they last met Amherst. This game is close to a toss-up. We give the slightest of edges to Bowdoin because Swords is such a difference maker in the middle.

Prediction: Bowdoin 82 – Amherst 78

Hard to Kill a Polar Bear: Bowdoin Update

Bryan Hurley '15 goes to the hoop during the Bowdoin comeback against Colby. (Courtesy of the Kennebec Journal)
Bryan Hurley ’15 goes to the hoop during the Bowdoin comeback against Colby. (Courtesy of the Kennebec Journal)

Through a combination of injuries and the flu, Bowdoin walked onto the bus last Saturday, the 24th, to head to Colby with only nine healthy players, including Stephen Girolamo ’16 who walked onto the team this fall and has barely played all season. John Swords ’15 was the only starter still standing from last season’s team that went to the NCAA tournament. Colby won the teams’ first matchup of the season 61-48 in Brunswick, at which a promotion helped to bring the biggest and loudest student crowd at Colby in years.

Despite all of that and a nine point half time deficit, the Polar Bears scratched and clawed (apologies for the pun) their way to a huge win over their rival Mules to move to 4-1 in the NESCAC, tied for first with Trinity. Now the hardest games on the Bowdoin schedule still remain and the early gains they have made in conference play will be put to the test. This weekend against Trinity and Amherst will be huge in deciding whether Bowdoin will again host a home NESCAC game.

At this point, before we go any further, I should probably say that I care more about the Bowdoin basketball team than, frankly, any other basketball team, professional included. Heck, I traveled all the way to Pennsylvania last season to watch the Bears lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I have a completely irrational affection for this basketball team. With that being said, I think that the following analysis of Bowdoin is fair.

A three game losing streak, all by double digits, in December looked like a signal that Bowdoin simply did not have the same chutzpah that got them through so many close games last season. For the first time, I had actual doubts about whether Bowdoin was going to be able to contend. So, two weekends ago I came back to campus early to watch Bowdoin play Williams, a game that I thought had terrible match ups for Bowdoin nearly across the board. Then the first half happened and Bowdoin raced out to a 17-point halftime lead. Yet even when Bowdoin was up 20 with under 14 minutes to go, I knew Williams was going to come back because the Polar Bears don’t win games easily. More often than not, they win right when you begin to think the possibility that a loss is eminent. Even though the Ephs came storming back and almost won the game, what the win over Williams did was pull me back into believing whole-heartedly that Bowdoin could compete for the NESCAC championship.

More Adversity

Then, later last week the devastating news of the injury to Keegan Pieri ’15 came out. Pieri had just started playing his best basketball of the season according to Coach Tim Gilbride. He averaged 18.0 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game in the wins over Hamilton and Williams. Even in a league suddenly overflowing with 6’6″ forwards capable of taking over games offensively, Pieri was a mismatch for teams. He could hit open threes and put it on the floor when needed. But where he really shined was when he was isolated one-on-one in the mid-post. Pieri is a lethal shooter from the 10-15 foot area where he uses his length to shoot over defenders. If defenders got up too close he was able to exploit them with a lefty hook shot. He is a really crafty offensive player that has a great feel of the game. More often not, when Bowdoin needed a bucket, their offense was going through Pieri and he was creating either his own shot or the Polar Bears would swing it around the perimeter to a guard.

The loss of Pieri is even worse because Bowdoin already lost another forward, Neil Fuller ’17, to injury back in December. Bowdoin was a team that lacked depth when the season began, but forward was the one position where the Polar Bears could actually say they had plenty of impact players. Without Fuller, Matt Palecki ’16 moved into the starting lineup and saw his minutes increase while bench players Liam Farley ’18 and Jack Hewitt ’17 saw a little uptick in their minutes. Suddenly Farley and Hewitt move from secondary pieces to critical rotation members. Even though Bowdoin is not going to need their bench to produce much, those guys need to do enough to keep Bowdoin in the game and keep Gilbride comfortable with resting his starters.

Farley was a huge part of the second half comeback against Colby. He scored seven of Bowdoin’s 12 points during a huge 12-1 run to take the lead. His confidence was clear when, after shooting 0-4 in the first half, he stepped into an open three that gave Bowdoin a 48-47 lead. That offense and shooting is going to be critical going forward to keep the Bears in close games. From day one, Farley has been serene with the ball, never looking like an overmatched freshman. He does not have the same post game as Pieri, but he should be able to replace most of his outside shooting and slashing. Gilbride says a big reason Farley belongs on the court now is that “he has a better idea of team principles, especially defensively which require a lot of vision and idea of what other guys are doing.” Learning defensive rotations at a new level is often the hardest thing for a freshmen to do, and though he is still capable of freshmen mistakes, the 10 minutes in the second half Farley played against Colby shows that Gilbride thinks he will makes the right play more often than not.

Guard Leadership

Even though Bowdoin graduated their entire starting backcourt from last season, Gilbride knew going into the season that he had a more offensively talented duo this season in Bryan Hurley ’15 and Lucas Hausman ’16. Hurley of course was injured for most of last season but was the starter for his entire sophomore year. At the beginning of the season Gilbride could see that Hurley was pressing somewhat because he wanted to win so badly. He forced things too often as a point guard instead of having things come to him. Since Christmas break, Hurley has turned it around and gotten his swagger back. He is getting into the lane more and had eight assists three games in a row two weeks ago. He uses his body exceptionally well when he is in the paint to shield defenders from swiping at the ball. Hurley says the team is running more pick and rolls, something that the senior guard welcomes.

His partner in crime in the backcourt is Hausman, a junior who has had to bide his time as a scorer off the bench before becoming a starter this season. He is unique to this Bowdoin roster in his ability to finish in traffic because of his athleticism. His skill set is even changing up the way that Bowdoin tries to play. Hurley says that, “now with the loss of Keegan and Neil still out, we have been trying to push more in transition because Lucas is such a great finisher.”  Watching Hausman on the fast break is awesome. Despite being only 170 pounds with a full stomach, he has no fear in barreling into multiple defenders. You can see the defenders think they have him stopped before Hausman twists and contorts until he finds some sliver where he pushes through and gets off a quality shot. He is admittedly more comfortable shooting off of the bounce than in catch and shoot situations which explains why he is only hitting on 25.9 percent of his threes. Though he is not always the most efficient player, when he gets hot, teams are in deep trouble.

Challenges Ahead

Now Gilbride has to figure how to stretch this thin roster out over two tough road games on back-to-back days. With the short bench Gilbride says the coaching staff has a plan for how to manage everyone’s minutes, but once Bowdoin is in a game situation, things are always capable of changing. Guys that I’ve barely mentioned here like Palecki, Jake Donnelly ’16 and Hewitt will all have to make huge contributions for Bowdoin to win at least one of their games.

The game tonight against Trinity is a rematch of last year’s NESCAC quarterfinal triple overtime thriller that saw the Bantams prevail in Brunswick.  The Polar Bears know all about Trinity’s strengths on the defensive end. “Trinity is good in one-on-one matchups,” says Gilbride. “They have good length, strength, and athleticism to make it tough that way. Then they are very well coached as a team so they are good at rotating down and getting an extra guy in the paint.” The game tonight will not be an aesthetically pleasing one, and whoever can make just enough shots will pull it out.

Remember also that Bowdoin is doing all this even though Swords is scoring less this season. Though his scoring is down, Swords remains a huge presence in the paint that teams fear. Teams are shooting 28 threes per game against Bowdoin in conference play. Williams, who would shoot a three before they took an open layup, is averaging 27 threes per game for the season. Guards are loathe to try to challenge Swords at the rim, and he is so big that he clogs up a lot of lanes by simply being in the paint.

The hardest games on Bowdoin’s schedule are still in front of them. The Polar Bears wore down last season losing five of their last seven games, albeit in very close games against good competition. It will be a challenge for Bowdoin to bring it every game, but they have shown their reslience thus far. Yes, losing Pieri hurts a lot. But Palecki says, “[Pieri’s] injury is just another large bump on what has been a pretty bumpy road so far.”

On the Road Again: Weekend Preview 1/23

The NESCAC schedule means that this is the weekend when teams play their usual travel partner. Because they have played all the same teams in conference thus far, we should have a good idea on how each team matches up with their opponent.

A big theme of the weekend is road favorites trying to avoid losing to home teams. The combined conference records of home teams this weekend is 5-12 while away teams are a combined 13-6. And remember that those records come against the same teams. Colby is the only home team with a winning record at 3-1 and are also the only home team that can be considered a favorite going into tomorrow. Winning on the road is not easy, but most gyms in the NESCAC do not offer a significant advantage as overall teams are 9-11 on the road this season.

Three Players to Watch

1. Power Forward Rashid Epps ’16 (Wesleyan): A tough start for Wesleyan in conference is in part because of Epps not producing. The junior has seen his playing time squeezed somewhat and he even got dropped from the starting lineup against Middebury. Epps has never been the primary scorer for Wesleyan, but the emergence of Joseph Kuo ’17 has pushed him into the third or fourth role offensively. However, the Cardinals are not a particularly dynamic offensive team, and Epps is far and away their most efficient scorer. Some of that efficiency is because he scores a lot on second chance points, but even last year when he was more of a focal point on offense, he shot 55 percent from the field. He is shooting one less shot per game and has averaged only 5.0 shots per game over the past five games. Wesleyan cannot afford to lose at Conn College. Make no mistake, even though the Camels are 0-4 in conference, they are playing decently and will beat somebody soon. They need to avoid taking too many threes and get Epps involved early.

2. Point Guard Reid Berman ’17 (Amherst): Though Berman has still yet to start a game for the Jeffs, more often than not he, rather than Jayde Dawson ’18, ends up being on the court to finish games. Dawson continues to show flashes of excellence, but Coach Dave Hixon does not trust him as a point guard. After two early turnovers, Dawson went to the bench midway through the first half and never returned. Berman is pass-first almost to a fault, but he came up huge down the stretch for Amherst against Williams scoring seven points. I know seven points might not sound like much, but before Wednesday, Berman had scored eight points total since the Christmas break despite playing significant minutes in every game. Seven points is a major breakthrough for him. Berman is not going to shoot from the outside (one made three all season), but he showed he can get into the lane and be a threat to score. That is really all he needs to be since he has proven that he is an excellent passer. We don’t know whether Hixon will put Dawson back in the starting lineup or commit to Berman completely, but at this point it appears Berman is the primary point guard for Amherst.

3. Forward Dan Aronowitz ’17 (Williams): I got to watch Aronowitz in person last Friday when Williams visited Bowdoin, and he was the only reason the halftime score wasn’t 50-10 Bowdoin. And it wasn’t just his 13 points at half that stood out but the different ways he was able to affect the game on both ends. Even though webcasts around the NESCAC are now very good, it is hard to understand how a player really works unless you see them in person, especially if you are sitting courtside. The sophomore is undersized playing a lot of minutes at power forward, but he has held up on the defensive end. He is the second option right now on offense and is shooting 39.7 percent from three for the year. The injury to Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 could have CRUSHED Williams, but they are treading water right now without him. Because of improvements from Aronowitz and Ryan Kilcullen ’15 amongst others, Williams is becoming that team nobody wants to play.

Three Games to Watch

 3. Saturday 3:00 PM: Bowdoin (12-4, 3-1) at Colby (11-6, 3-1)

A matchup of teams 3-1 in conference and the CBB rivalry makes this a wonderful undercard for the weekend. However, both teams’ conference records are inflated a bit by having already played Hamilton and Conn College, objectively the two worst teams in the NESCAC. Bowdoin’s win over Williams was a very good one, but since the Ephs were without Rooke-Ley, it still carries a little asterisk. The winner of this game will need only a couple more wins before they can think about a home NESCAC tournament game while the loser falls back to the pack with the toughest conference opponents still ahead of them.

John Swords '15 and Chris Hudnut '16 will clash once again this weekend. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
John Swords ’15 and Chris Hudnut ’16 will clash once again this weekend. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

The tough news for Bowdoin is that Keegan Pieri ’15 suffered his second concussion of the season on Wednesday night and is out for the foreseeable future. Concussions are obviously not something to mess around with and we wish Keegan the best of luck dealing with them. On the court, he is a massive loss given he is the second leading scorer and rebounder on the Polar Bears. John Swords ’15 will need to step up and be an offensive threat in the middle, something that he has not been for long stretches this season. Coach Tim Gilbride could fill Pieri’s place in the starting lineup in a couple of different ways including going small with guard Jake Donnelly ’16. Liam Farley ’18 should see an uptick in minutes because of the injury as well.

In the first game between these two teams Colby outplayed Bowdoin in the second half and managed to run away with it at the end. Bowdoin was simply unable to buy a basket from the outside going 2-15 from three. Bryan Hurley ’15 scored only two points in the game, but he is looking much more comfortable of late and has made multiple three pointers in each of his past five games. Bowdoin will have to adjust quickly to playing without Pieri who was the most capable guy on the team at creating his own shot.

For Colby, they know Chris Hudnut ’16 and Luke Westman ’16 will produce so it comes down to their other guys. Ryan Jann ’16 is a smooth shooter who makes one shot a game that you have no idea how he did it. Sam Willson ’16 played one of his worst games of the season the first time around, but he has been fantastic in conference averaging 14.0 PPG. The Mules need to also play Bowdoin to a standstill on the boards in order to keep the Polar Bears from getting easy buckets. These are two teams very familiar with each other so expect a close game.

2. Saturday 3:00 PM: Trinity (13-5, 3-1) at Amherst (12-4, 2-2)

Disregard the fact that Trinity lost a mid-week game once again to an opponent they should have beat while Amherst pulled out a big win against Williams in overtime. This game is almost a tossup.

The talent on the Amherst roster is undeniable, but for the first time in a long time Dave Hixon is unsure on how all the pieces best fit together. Nine players are averaging more than 10 minutes for Amherst. The last time the roster was so unsettled was the 2009-2010 season when Amherst had 11 players average more than 10 minutes per game (injuries to key players help explain the high number) as the Jeffs struggled to a 14-11 record, including 3-6 in conference. Connor Green ’16 is getting close to putting his stamp on this team as a leader with a 30-point performance Wednesday. The Jeffs need him to become their go-to guy, someone they can rely on to get easy offense. If that happens all the talent behind him can fall into manageable roles: e.g. David George ’17 as shot-blocker and rebounder, Jeff Racy ’17 as sniper from three, and Johnny McCarthy ’18 as a Swiss Army knife.

At this point everyone knows that Trinity is extremely talented defensively and relatively inept offensively. They can thank their defense for their 3-1 start in the NESCAC. Trinity is yet to have a NESCAC opponent score more than 60 points against them in regulation. On the other end, the polite way of putting it is that the Bantams are balanced, but a more realistic outlook is that they simply lack players capable of creating and making their own shots beyond, occasionally, Jaquann Starks ’16. Guys like Alex Conaway ’15, Shay Ajayi ’16, and George Papadeas ’15 are all capable of having good games, but they just are not reliant enough. The Bantams will want to make this game ugly, and there is a good chance they will succeed in doing just that against an Amherst team that tends to play to its competition.

1. Saturday 3:00 PM: Tufts (8-7, 3-0) at Bates (11-4, 1-2)

The road was not kind to Bates last weekend as they fell to Trinity and Amherst. Now they return to the comfy confines of Alumni Gym where five of their final seven conference games are at home. In fact, Bates’ only conference road games remaining are at Colby and Bowdoin so the Bobcats will not leave the state of Maine for the rest of the regular season.

Meanwhile Tufts continues to look better and better as we get further into conference play. Their win Thursday over UMass-Boston 80-67 saw them overcome 16 turnovers and four of their five starters scoring five points or less. Of course, it helps when your fifth starter, Hunter Sabety ’17 goes 9-9 shooting for 24 points. Even though Ryan Spadaford ’16 and Thomas Lapham ’18 have started recent games, Vincent Pace ’18 and Tarik Smith ’17 are the guys who do most of the backcourt scoring. The Jumbos are now above .500 for the first time all season. A win at Bates would cement their place at the top of the league with a good chance at going 7-0 before they play Williams in February.

Defensively Bates should match up well with Tufts because the Delpeche brothers can slow down Sabety and Tom Palleschi ’16. The Bobcats have to find a more consistent rhythm on offense, as they are averaging a NESCAC low 56.3 PPG in conference. Graham Safford ’15 has seen his scoring take a dive, and over on the D3Boards there are unsubstantiated rumors that he is playing injured. Safford is still playing heavy minutes and his backups, Jerome Darling ’17 and Justin Zukowski ’18, have played very sparingly. Safford has to be at or near his best for Bates who should be playing in front of a large home crowd tomorrow.

New Year, New NESCAC: Stock Report 1/5

Wesleyan Basketball went south for some sun over break. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Basketball)
Wesleyan Basketball went south for some sun over break. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Basketball)

While we were busy sleeping off our New Year’s Hangover (I’m 21 now so I can openly say I drink.), NESCAC players were back in the gym playing in more non-conference games. Practically every NESCAC team returned to practice the day after Christmas which meant that NESCAC coaches had to wait one more day to play Santa. Their present to their players was mostly running until those wonderful Christmas dinners were all gone, one way or another.

Teams have been back at it for a couple weeks now, and it has been a month since we really took a dive into how teams around the NESCAC are doing, so this is overdue. Conference play starts up on Friday so this week is all about gearing up for a full slate of conference games.

If you have not looked recently, here is the link to the NESCAC Standings, but only a couple of things are really necessary to know. Middlebury is undefeated but hasn’t beat anybody notable, Tufts has stumbled to a 3-6 record despite high preseason expectations, and everybody else has a couple of losses.

Stock Up

Freshman Role Players: Slowly some freshmen are starting to integrate themselves into the rotations for teams as the season wears on. Two big reasons for this is the many more hours of practice freshmen have had over break and injuries to those in front of them. Chris Galvin ’18 has now started three games for Williams and is averaging more than 20 minutes a game. One of the main recipients of the minutes from injured Bowdoin forward Neil Fuller ’17  appears to be swingman Liam Farley ’18, the only true small forward on the Bowdoin roster. Vincent Pace ’18 is the one of the first men off the bench for Tufts. Other more fringe rotation players like Justin Zukowski ’18 (Bates) and Jordan Sears ’18 (Wesleyan) are also one tweaked ankle from having a big impact.

Coach Joe Reilly (Wesleyan): After the 2012-2013 season ended in disappointment, Wesleyan had basically a new roster last year with most of the minutes going to sophomores and freshmen. The rebuilding effort is ahead of schedule right now with a 10-2 record so far. The beautiful thing about Wesleyan is that their top five players are so even in scoring that it seems like every game on of them takes a turn leading the Cardinals in scoring. Jack Mackey ’16 has settled into the point guard position, though he still commits too many turnovers. Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 have been great rebounding the ball, especially on the offensive end. Even though the Cardinals lost in overtime to Williams, given how wide open the NESCAC is, they are thinking that they might just crash the upper echelon a year earlier than expected.

Forward Dylan Sinnickson ’15 (Middlebury): Known as much for his flowing locks as much as his play, Sinnickson ditched the hair earlier this year and has not seen his play suffer. He now leads the NESCAC in points and rebounds per game with 19.9 and 12.1 respectively. Those statistics become even more impressive when adjusted for the fact that he has only played 28.4 minutes per game, a full 7.6 minutes less than Graham Safford ’15. The senior forward can score in a variety of ways for Middlebury, but it is two way ability that makes him so special right now. The uncertainty of who will play in the post for the Panthers is much less important as long as Sinnickson continues to rebound this way. Sinnickson will need to play well tonight when the Panthers face their best test yet in Plattsburgh State.

Stock Down

Bates on the Road: The one critique about Bates hot start before Christmas was that most of it came at home. Their big victories over Colby and Bowdoin put everyone on notice, but the home advantage of Alumni Gym is significant. Credit to Bates for going on the road before New Years and playing Emory, a top 10 team nationally. Bates lost to Emory handily, but the game was actually closer than the final suggested despite a multitude of Bates turnovers. However, their loss the next day to Birmingham Southern, a team that Wesleyan defeated going away a few weeks before is much more worrisome. If Bates wants to host a NESCAC tournament game then they will have to win at least two of their away NESCAC games. Of course, Bates only conference victory last season was on the road against Middlebury, sooooo… That victory over Middlebury remains one of the most puzzling games of the last few seasons.

Hamilton Scheduling: Coming into the season we pegged Hamilton as the team that would end up in the cellar. Then we looked up and realized that the Continentals were 10-2.

So how did Hamilton go 10-2 when they started 7-5 last season? Well in large part they went over their schedule and took out all of the teams they lost to in 2013-2014. SUNY New Paltz is the only team Hamilton lost to last year that the Continentals have played so far. Though they will play Keystone, another team they lost to, later in the season, the Continentals still are a huge question mark because of the quality of their non-conference competition. The aggregate record of Hamilton’s opponents this season: 51-68 (43%). They have played more close games than anybody in the NESCAC also. The Continentals deserve credit for their early season success, but do not let their gaudy record fool you too much.

Perception: Maybe the craziest statistic we have managed to unearth thus far is the eery similarity in non-conference records for the NESCAC. At this point in the schedule in 2013-2014, NESCAC teams had lost 32 games, and so far this year they have lost 31. The general perception of the league is not only that it is wide-open but also a little down because of all the lost talent from the class of 2014 and transfers of Hart and Robinson. Easier schedules for NESCAC teams could mean that the gaudy records of NESCAC teams is a mirage. Middlebury in particular has a much easier schedule than last season. Also see Hamilton in the section above this. Yet easier schedules for some teams might miss the overall picture. The NESCAC is unquestionably deeper than it has been in years past meaning that teams will have no easy games in conference. The question is whether the NCAA tournament selection committee will reward the NESCAC for that depth or if the league will see two or even possibly even only one team go to the NCAAs.

 

Bowdoin Team Preview: Health is Everything for Polar Bears

Bowdoin Polar Bears

2013 Record: 19-6 (6-4 NESCAC), fourth in NESCAC, reached NESCAC quarterfinals and NCAA tournament first round.

Head Coach: Tim Gilbride, 30th season (414-296, .583)

Starters Returning: 2

F Keegan Pieri ’15

C John Swords ’15

Breakout Player: G Lucas Hausman ’16

Bowdoin’s top reserve from a year ago steps into a starting role that will require him to supply plenty of scoring from the shooting guard position. After only playing 17.2 minutes per game, the lanky junior should see upwards of 30 this year. His strength is getting to the rim, something Bowdoin has not had much of recently, and it is crucial that he again average over 80 percent on his foul shots. Hausman is the all-time leading scorer from his high school with 1750 points so he is no stranger to being a primary option. Yet he also has to be a creator for Bowdoin and improve on his assist/turnover ratio which was less than one last year.

Projected Starting Five:

Bryan Hurley '15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Bryan Hurley ’15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

G Bryan Hurley ’15

Hurley is essentially a returning starter even though we can’t list him as one because he was injured for most of last year. He has now had more than a year and a half to recover from his knee injury and should be good to go, but his minutes might have to be managed over the course of the season. He averaged 9.4 points per game and 8.3 assists per game his sophomore year, and he will need to be the primary creator once again.

 

Lucas Hausman '16 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Lucas Hausman ’16 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

G Lucas Hausman ’16

Already covered him in the breakout player section, but another thing to keep in mind is Hausman’s shooting ability. Though he was efficient from the free point line, he struggled from deep, only hitting 31 percent of his threes. Spacing was crucial for Bowdoin last year so it would hurt the Bowdoin offense if opponents can cheat off him just a step and clog up lanes.

 

 

Keegan Pieri '15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Keegan Pieri ’15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

F Keegan Pieri ’15

Sometimes overshadowed last year because of how others played, Pieri was his usual consistent self last year, but this year will see him in a bigger role. The past two years Pieri was the primary power forward offering range out to the three point line. Because of the roster makeup of this team, he will now play at the small forward position primarily and shoot a lot more threes.

 

 

Neil Fuller '17 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Neil Fuller ’17 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

F Neil Fuller ’17

The sophomore only played 12.1 minutes last year and will have to become a big two way player this year. He offers good size and can surprise you with his athleticism and playmaking abilities on both ends of the floor. He only shot 12 threes last year, but if Bowdoin wants to space the floor around Swords then he will have to get more comfortable shooting from deep.

 

 

John Swords '15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
John Swords ’15 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

C John Swords ’15

He was a revelation last year, anchoring Bowdoin on both ends of the floor but especially on the defensive end where he played well enough to merit Defensive Player of the Year honors. Health will be a concern for him as well. He has been fighting through pain in practice in a couple of places in his lower half, never a good sign for a seven footer. If healthy, there is nobody who teams have to game plan more for in the NESCAC.

 

Everything Else:

Last year was a great season for Bowdoin that saw them compete in close game after close game. Fourteen of Bowdoin’s 25 games were decided by 10 points or less, and all of their losses were by six points or less with Bowdoin having a chance to tie or win the game in the final minute of all but one of those games.

The losses of Matt Mathias ’14, Andrew Madlinger ’14 and Grant White ’14 are big ones, but Hurley and Hausman are both very capable players. Jake Donnelly ’16 will be the third guard, and depending on matchups Coach Tim Gilbride could play three guards at once like he did for much of last year. Donnelly saw last year cut short because of injury and has played very little in his first two seasons.

Last year Bowdoin leaned heavily on their starting five, and the same will be true this year. Forward Matt Palecki ’16 will fight with Fuller for that power forward spot, but it is likely he comes of the bench more often than not in order to supply energy and rebounding. After Donnelly and Palecki the bench is somewhat of a question mark. Forward Jack Hewitt ’17 will get some minutes but there just is not a lot of space in the frontcourt. Guard Blake Gordon ’18 and small forward Liam Farley ’18 look like the two freshmen most likely to see playing time early.

Expect Bowdoin to be behind on defense but ahead on offense when compared to last year. White in particular was a player who allowed the Polar Bears flexibility in its lineups and defensive matchups as he could guard every position from point guard to power forward. Bowdoin wants to play man whenever possible, but expect them to go zone like they did last year for long stretches because Swords is an eraser in the middle. The zone makes it easier for him to stay out of foul trouble but leaves Bowdoin susceptible to teams that can move the ball well.

If last year is any indication, the difference between wins and losses will be trifling in many games. An injury that sidelines Hurley or Swords for a significant portion of the season would be almost impossible to overcome. If those two stay healthy then Bowdoin is fully capable of returning to the NCAA tournament.