NESCAC women’s basketball kicked off its 2017-2018 campaign with a great set of games last weekend. In preparation for conference games that will start up in the next couple of weeks, each team played non-conference opponents. Here are my hot takes:
Hot Take 1: Amherst and Tufts will be really good
If you were reading my women’s soccer articles in the fall, you witnessed how many times I picked the underdog to defeat Williams, who is now in the Final Four. Each time I picked the opponent, Williams proved me wrong. I feel like Amherst and Tufts are the basketball versions of Williams. They’ve both ended up at the top of the league many of the previous seasons. They’re similar to the Spurs and Patriots: they’re consistently very good without much flash. Amherst has lost Ali Doswell ‘17, who was nominated for the DIII player of the year for the 2016-2017 season, and was an All-American. Doswell’s 13.2 PPG and stellar three-point percentage will be missed. Amherst, per usual, will utilize the ‘next person up’ mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Doswell’s loss will be felt, but with two convincing non league wins, I think Amherst will enter league play with the assumption that the squad can go all the way again this year. Tufts, on the other hand, is returning Melissa Baptista ‘18. Similar to Doswell, Baptista started every game for the ‘Bos. She comes off a season where she averaged around thirteen points per game, an All-American selection, and was a threat everywhere on the court. Tufts is already 2-0 on the young season, and I would expect Amherst and Tufts to be at the top when it’s all said and done.
Hot Take 2: It’s going to be a long winter in Lewiston
The Bates Bobcats dropped its opening two non league games last weekend. Everyone has a different mentality when it comes to these games. Obviously, the NESCAC playoffs are determined by a team’s NESCAC record. Every competitor, however, wants to win each game he or she plays in. Therefore, Bates’ two opening losses should raise major red flags. The NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country for DIII in all sports. Losing to non-NESCAC teams isn’t a good statistic. It won’t get any easier for Bates down the road with games against Maine NESCAC rivals on the horizon. Defense for Bates was the major inhibiting factor last year keeping the team from a successful seasons. Giving up eighty-five points to Smith on Sunday isn’t a good sign that they’ve made significant improvements on the defensive side of the game. If Smith puts up that many points, imagine what will happen when Amherst, Tufts, or Bowdoin comes to town. It’s early in the season, but Bates needs to turn it around soon. Nina Davenport ‘18 is one of the best shooters in the conference. She will be one of the difference makers for Bates this season. If she sets the example of focusing on defense just as much as (or more than) offense, the hot take could be wrong.
Hot Take 3: Contrary to popular belief, defense still wins championships
The Golden State Warriors have made people believe that the way to win championships and create the ultimate basketball franchise is through quick transitions threes. Daryl Morey, the GM for the Houston Rockets, was the first man in the NBA to use the ‘Moneyball’ approach in basketball. If you watch a Rockets game, you will observe that there are no midrange jump shots, but only dunks/layups and threes (i.e. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan wouldn’t be a system fit). In the era of offense in the NBA, the score of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship was 52-29 Amherst over Tufts. The top two scoring and three point percentage leaders from last season weren’t from Tufts or Amherst. If you want to beat Tufts or Amherst, you have to match their defensive mentality and efficiency. Bates, Colby, and all the other teams who were below .500 last year can put the ball in the basket. However, they couldn’t play the defense that those two outstanding teams could. I think all the teams that will post a record above .500 this year will be great defensive teams that value defense more than flashy offense.
Sorry for the brief hiatus last week everybody, you know how things pile up the last week of j-term, which for most is reserved for skiing and partying, but for me was reserved for basketball and thesis writing. Nevertheless, I am back this week and ready to fill you in on two of the most important games in the NESCAC that occurred this past weekend. The top four teams in the conference met this week in matchups that will likely (and I stress likely since nothing is set in stone), determine the top four seeds of the conference tournament and thus home court advantage.
Tufts vs. Amherst
Amherst defeats Tufts 36-35
By far the biggest game in the country this weekend, the previously undefeated and top ranked Jumbos squared off against the undefeated and second ranked team from Amherst. This game not only had major NESCAC implications, but might have been a preview for the eventual national championship. Amherst emerged victorious, seeking out a 36-35 win in a game that was equal parts ugly, a defensive clinic, and exciting. Tufts jumped out to an early lead, dominating the first quarter by a score of 18-8. Amherst however, would not go quietly into the night and closed the gap to only 3 by halftime. An even third quarter opened the door for Amherst to dominate the fourth and escape from Medford with a hard fought, and well earned, victory. Amherst took advantage of Tufts in the one area where the Jumbos have been consistently weak this year, on the backboard. Amherst out rebounded Tufts 36 to 29 on the game, which made up for their lackluster day shooting the ball. In a game that saw a slow pace dominate, Amherst’s 9 second chance points certainly had a major impact on the game. Down the stretch, Tufts forward Melissa Baptista ‘18 fouled out, a huge blow given that she was the leading scorer for the Jumbos on the day. This opened the door for Hannah Hackley ‘18 to score five fourth quarter points and lead the Purple and White to victory.
Tufts, who has now dropped to number 3 in the latest D3hoops poll, certainly hoped that their home court advantage would lead them to victory, but it’s hard to beat a team as talented as Amherst when you generate no fastbreak points, only 2 second chance points, and only 7 bench points. The loss has to be especially frustrating for the Jumbos as they had looked unbeatable for the past few weeks. Dominating Middlebury in the second week of NESCAC play seemed to indicate that the Jumbos were the cream of the crop in the conference. Regardless, this loss shakes the standings into a difference picture. Tufts only narrowly edged third place Bowdoin earlier this year, a team that Amherst blew out, and this loss must be disheartening for the team going into the final weekend of NESCAC regular season play.
On the other hand, Amherst has to be thrilled. A convincing win over Bowdoin and a victory over Tufts on their home court has surely placed Amherst at the forefront of both NESCAC and national championship discussions. A convincing win over Middlebury this weekend, currently 4th in the NESCAC, would serve as the final cherry on the top of a great season. Even if Amherst only manages to get 1 win this weekend in their two games they will secure home court advantage for the entirety of the NESCAC playoffs, a huge boon for any team. Look for Ali Doswell ’17 and Hackley to continue to carry Amherst in the coming weeks as the Purple and White look to secure their second straight NESCAC championship.
Middlebury vs. Bowdoin
Bowdoin defeats Middlebury 82-52
While the top two teams in the conference were duking it out, the 3 and 4 seeds were also engaging in a battle for seeding and supremacy. Bowdoin dominated the Panthers, who I had recently placed at the 3 spot in my power rankings, to the tune of a 30 point thrashing in Middlebury’s own Pepin Gymnasium. Middlebury’s two games against the best of the best in the conference have now both ended in dramatic defeat, with the team falling to Tufts earlier in the year 54-38. With a game against Amherst this weekend, Middlebury will be looking to prove that they belong with those upper echelon teams, and not merely the position of best of the rest.
Bowdoin, meanwhile, seems to be putting things together at the right time. Convincing wins over both Hamilton and Middlebury this past weekend, and two certainly winnable games this coming weekend against Wesleyan and Conn College, have the Polar Bears poised to finish at 8-2 and the 3rd seed in the NESCAC tournament. The biggest take away from the weekend was the dominance of Bowdoin’s bench. In a league where a lot is decided by each team’s respective starting five, to get 44 points off the pine, as the Polar Bears did against Middlebury, is a huge boost. If Bowdoin can get that kind of production in the NESCAC playoffs they could certainly scare either Tufts, who they only narrowly lost to earlier this year, or Amherst.
These two games were huge for the seedings of the upper parts of the tournament. Barring a disastrous 0-2 weekend, Amherst will secure the number 1 overall seed in the conference tournament. With their 8 wins, including one over Bowdoin, Tufts will secure the 2 seed. Bowdoin would also need to go 0-2 in this coming weekend to drop from 3 to 4, and Middlebury would need to go 2-0 to even ensure that happens, as Bowdoin now holds the tie break between the two teams. The convoluted mess of the standings behind Middlebury (currently the fourth seed) could potentially lead to a very interesting series of tie breaks if things play out in just such a way. To simplify everything though, if Middlebury can win just one game this weekend, either against Amherst on Friday or Trinity on Saturday, they will clinch the 4 seed and home court advantage during the quarterfinals.
Conceivably, Williams, Hamilton, and Conn College could all make plays for the four seed. Conn has the “easiest” path, just needing to win out and Middlebury to go 0-2. Williams and Hamilton would need Conn to either finish 1-1 or 0-2 and Middlebury to finish 0-2, while also going 2-0 themselves to even begin the process of tie breaking for the fourth seed. At the very bottom of the standings, Bates could clinch the 8 seed if they beat Williams on Sunday, or if both Colby and Trinity lose 1 game. Bates also holds the tie breaker over Hamilton in terms of head to head. With how neck and neck every team in the 5-10 spot has been in the NESCAC this year (just look back at the wild fluctuations of my power rankings and the standings as a whole), anything can happen in this final weekend. Don’t rule out any team from making a run for the playoffs. As a sort of final power rankings I will list my predictions for each team’s final record and playoff seeding below, as well as who they will play in the first round if my prediction is correct. I’ll release a full playoff preview next week after the seedings are finalized
Amherst (10-0) vs. 8. Colby (3-7)
Amherst runs the table and faces off with the Mules in the first round, who beat Wesleyan in the final weekend and have the tiebreaker over Williams, who goes 0-2 in the final week and falls out of the playoffs.
Tufts (9-1) vs. 7. Hamilton (4-6)
Tufts defeats Williams in their final game of the season, securing the number 2 position. Hamilton beats Trinity (who finished 2-8 and in 10th place) and falls to Amherst. They lose the tiebreaker to Bates and secure the 7 seed. Quite a turnaround after a largely poor season.
Bowdoin (8-2) vs. 6. Bates (4-6)
A battle for Maine emerges as Bowdoin wins out and secures the 3 seed to face the Bobcats who beat Williams in their final game of the season to finish 4-6. Winning the tiebreaker against the Continentals allows the Bobcats to grab the 6 seed. A surprising finish after entering conference play with the worst overall record record and little hope for a resurgence.
Middlebury (6-4) vs. 5. Conn College (5-5)
Middlebury defeats Trinity to secure the four seed. The Camels beat Colby but can’t get by Bowdoin and finish the regular season at .500. This game will be a rematch of a game decided by 2 points earlier this year, with the Panthers barely squeaking out a win in New London. The Panthers are kicking themselves after not beating Hamilton earlier this year and having this position locked up before this weekend.
Of course these are all just predictions. Anything could happen this weekend, and anything might! You’ll have to tune in to every game you can to see the final seed placement. I look forward to writing all about them next week! No matter how this season turns out it’s been super fun to cover, and we’re not even done yet!