Monday was the first day of spring. I know that the weather at many NESCAC schools begs to differ, but I promise you that it’s true. Spring is a melancholy time for sports fans. On the one hand it’s baseball season. As you might know from reading literally any article ever written about baseball, spring and baseball go hand in hand. Every play in baseball begins the same way; with a pitch. Every is redeemed, much like the deadened flowers are redeemed in the spring. And here at NbN our NESCAC baseball coverage has kicked off in a big way with Devin’s preview.
But in this early spring I’m thinking about the end of something; basketball season. This year of NESCAC basketball was in many ways unprecedented for the league. Not in my memory has there been such talent across the board. While there were obviously better and worse teams, every squad this season had at least a couple moments where they blended together and sang in that way that only basketball can create. At one point there were five NESCAC teams ranked in the national top 25, and those five teams all received bids to the NCAA tournament.
This was a very literary season. We had a tragic hero find redemption in Tuft’s Tom Palleschi, who went down with a brutal knee injury during his
senior season before returning to lead Tufts to the Sweet Sixteen. We had a classic trilogy a la Lord of the Rings in Middlebury and Williams Rounds One, Two and Three. The final battle was one for the ages, a gritty war that featured unsung heroes (Bobby Casey ‘19,) star turns (Kyle Scadlock ‘19 looks like a POY favorite after his NCAA run) and several atrocious blown calls a lot of high quality basketball. Before fading down the stretch, Hamilton put the league on notice that they’re ready to make a run. They lose none of their main rotation, and Kena Gilmour ‘20 and Peter Hoffmann ‘19 are as deadly a one-two punch as there is in the league. Next year could be the year that they rise to the upper tier.
I could write one of these paragraphs about every team. That is the nature of NESCAC basketball this season and going forward; every team has SOMETHING that makes them worth watching. There’s a reason that Rory, Colby, me, Henry and all the other writers want to take time out of our diverse liberal arts college experiences to write about sports. Quite simply, it’s all interesting. But I will keep this briefer than that. Here are a few thoughts, feelings, way too early predictions and just general things I’m excited for from this season, and looking into next.
The Williams-Middlebury Rivalry is Real, Folks:
Both Williams and Middlebury will suffer huge losses come graduation. For Middlebury, Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Bryan Jones and Liam Naughton were the leaders of the team both on and off the court, and formed a back court that was unmatched in the country. Daniel Aronowitz and Cole Teal filled similar roles for Williams. Neither team will ever be able to fully replace theplayers they will say goodbye to come graduation.
But there is hope in Williamstown and Middlebury. Both teams balanced their experienced senior guard with dynamic young talent, particularly at forward. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 for Williams is a future star at center, and Scadlock is maybe the league’s best talent at the forward spot. But Middlebury is loaded too. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 became a dangerous duo this year, and Matt Folger ‘20 has First Team potential even as a sophomore. And better yet, all of these players will remember the games this year. Middlebury embarrassed Williams in the NESCAC final, and then Williams got their revenge in Pepin in the NCAA’s. Those wounds wont heal quickly, and we should be in for battles between the Ephs and Panthers for years to come.
The First Team Center Spot is Wide Open:
If you look throughout the league, the majority of the losses outside of Williams and Middlebury are big men. Tufts loses Palleschi, Bates loses both Delpeche’s, and Trinity loses Ed Ogundeko. This means that the door is ajar for new names to step forward as the beasts of the league. Early contenders would be Scadlock, Hoffmann and Joseph Kuo ‘18 of Wesleyan, but there plenty of darkhorses who could step up. McCord should get a lot of looks as part of Middlebury’s possibly less guard-oriented offense, and Williams has several young bigs who may make leaps. It will be fun to monitor who is stepping into those very big pairs of shoes.
Amherst Had Better Reload:
The Purple and White are lucky in that they keep the dynamic back court of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18. But in almost every other area they are significantly weakened. They lose their most consistent bench threat in Eric Conklin, as well as David George (center and defensive stalwart) and both their point guards. And unlike Middlebury and Williams, they did not have a lot of deeper bench players who showed the potential to fill their shoes. Amherst struggled all season with a lack of depth, and graduation will decimate that already thin bench. Amherst traditionally recruits well and has benefitted from transfers in the past. If they don’t do that quite as well this offseason, they run the risk of falling even further behind surging teams like Hamilton and Williams.
Every pickup basketball player knows the importance of the rubber match. If a team wins one game, and the opposing team wins the next one, it is a cardinal sin to not play that third game to determine the outright winner. No matter if you have work, class, or a hamstring that is closer to snapping than my mom when I forget to bring my dishes upstairs, you have to play the rubber match. This is the case in higher levels of basketball as well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times, with Magic taking the rubber match in 1987. Many NBA fans are praying that Lebron and the Cavs meet Steph and the Warriors for a rubber match this season. And on a smaller scale, Williams and Middlebury have a chance this weekend for a rubber match of their own. If they both win on Friday, they would match up in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with bragging rights and a trip to Salem on the line.
Middlebury (26-3, 11-2, Beat Williams in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Endicott (24-6, 15-3, lost in their Conference Final)
Middlebury has the rare chance this weekend to avenge two of their three losses. Williams of course blew out Middlebury in league play, but Endicott also bested the Panthers before league play. And the Gulls have the added honor of their win being in Pepin Gymnasium, a feat only they have accomplished in the last two years. Endicott was able to beat the Panthers at their own game; namely, guard play. Like Middlebury, the Gulls boast one of the best backcourts in the country. Max Matroni ‘17 and Kamahl Walker ‘17 combine for 32 points a game on the season, and have combined for 99 points in their two NCAA games. Against Middlebury Walker put up 28 and forced both Jack Daly ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17 into foul trouble. Endicott is one of the only teams in the country who has a backcourt that can give Middlebury guards a run for the money. Expect them to go at Daly and Brown (who will likely start the game on Walker and Matroni) early and attempt to again get them on the bench with fouls.
Endicott also attacked Middlebury on the glass. Daquan Sampson ‘17 was able to roast the Middlebury big men to the tune on 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Gulls outrebounded the Panthers overall 40-31 and had 12 offensive rebounds. Endicott matches up well with Middlebury because their team is constructed in a similar way. They have an excellent backcourt who drive the team on both ends of the floor, and the big men are effective role players who benefit a great deal from terrific guard play.
X-Factor: Eric McCord ‘19 (and the new big men)
Middlebury’s biggest improvement since that loss to Endicott is in the front court.When the two teams last met, Zach Baines and Adisa Majors ‘18 dominated the minutes at the two forward spots. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 combined to play 19 minutes and went 1-6 from the floor. Baines’ transfer has allowed McCord and Tarantino (as well as Matt Folger ‘20 and Majors off the bench) to flourish into one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. McCord in particular has blossomed, and should play a pivotal role in Middlebury’s game plan. Sampson and the rest of Endicott’s bigs are long, but they are not extremely strong, and Sampson in particular spends a considerable amount of time on the perimeter. McCord has become an effective scorer and passer in the paint, both playing off of a two man game with one of the guards or one-on-one. There is mismatch on the block that the Panthers didn’t have the personnel to exploit earlier this season. But the team is constructed differently now, and is far better suited to beat the Gulls down low if the guards play each other to a draw.
How They Lose:
We already have a blueprint for how Middlebury loses this game. Daly and Brown get into foul trouble, forcing St. Amour to expend more energy on defense chasing around either Matroni or Walker. Matroni or Walker take
advantage of this and go off. And the Endicott bigs use their length and athleticism to terrorize the Middlebury bigs on the boards. Sampson also uses his quickness to draw McCord or Tarantino out of the paint and create driving lanes and putback opportunities. Both teams have seen that this can happen. We will see on Friday if Middlebury’s new look will prevent it from happening again.
Williams (21-8, 7-6, lost to Middlebury in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Susquehanna (23-5, 11-3, lost in Conference Semifinals)
The rare team to make the Sweet Sixteen after not even making their conference championship, the River Hawks have been on something of a Cinderella run here in the NCAA tournament. They beat Eastern Connecticut State 72-67 in the round of t32, a team that beat Trinity and Amherst earlier in the season. Susquehanna is top heavy scoring wise, as the duo of Steven Weidlich ‘17 and Ryan Traub ‘18 combine to average 38 points per game (21 and 17 respectively.) No one else on their team averages more than seven. Weidlich is a Matt St. Amour type perimeter threat. A dangerous outside shooter, he connects on 39.5% of his threes and 45% of his field goals overall. However, he is also very versatile, averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 is Williams best perimeter defender (as well as best everything else) and will likely start the game on Weidlich. If he gets in foul trouble, the Ephs can be left with very few guys who create their own shots.
Traub is a very effective frontcourt partner for Weidlich. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he is a load underneath and creates match up problems for
Williams’ series of skinny big men. He is also tremendous around the rim, shooting 57.4% from the field. He can step outside the arc (40% in a limited sample size,) and anchors a defense that only allows 41% shooting to opponents on the season. Williams three point heavy attack is not conducive to defensive struggles, therefore Susquehanna matches up well with the Ephs. Weidlich and Traub will try to occupy Aronowitz and Kyle Scadlock ‘19, while the rest of the River Hawks run the Ephs off of the three point line.
X Factor: Mike Greenman ‘17
As I mentioned above, Aronowitz and Scadlock, Williams’ two most important players, will both likely have difficult defensive assignments. Therefor Williams will at times need someone else to create shots for themselves and others. That is where Greenman comes in. The senior point guard can be an electric scorer (see his 7-9 three point shooting performance against Becker in the first round,) and can be an effective passer (11 assists last round against Scranton.) If Susquehanna tries to slow the game down and pound the ball into Traub, Greenman will be largely responsible for keeping Williams’ pace and energy up without turning the ball over. He has played two of the best games of his career in this tournament, largely explaining Williams impressive blowout wins in the first two rounds. He will be just as important in this game, and maybe even more so.
How They Lose:
NESCAC fans have seen throughout the season how Williams loses. If they are not hitting threes, they generally don’t win. The three point shot is the key to everything the Ephs try to do on offense. It opens up driving lanes for Aronowitz and Scadlock, post ups for big men off the bench like Michael Kempton ‘19, and it forces defenders to overplay on the perimeter, opening up the backdoor cuts that killed Middlebury during their regular season loss to Williams. The Ephs simply don’t have enough shot creators to overcome a shooting slump. Aronowitz is a terrific player but his burden is at times too great, and Scadlock is prone to disappearing in big spots. Their game becomes something of a “Chuck and Run” style, with contested threes being taken too quickly. Williams lives by the three and dies by the three, and living has been very good lately. Let’s hope it continues into Saturday, because, as all basketball fans know, there’s nothing better than a rubber match.
#2 Middlebury (23-3, 8-2) vs. #6 Williams (19-7, 5-5): 12:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
And then there were two. Middlebury and Williams meet today at noon to decide the NESCAC Championship. The game is a rematch of one of the most surprising results of the regular season. In the game in Williamstown, the Ephs blasted the Panthers 89-65 in Middlebury’s only truly disappointing performance of the season. As is usually the case when the Ephs win, they were very hot from three, shooting 13-27. And they held Middlebury, the leading field goal shooting team in the league, to 40% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from three. You can bet the Panthers will be looking to avenge their embarrassing performance, but Williams might just hold the keys to slowing down Middlebury’s ride to a second straight title.
Middlebury X-Factor: Close-outs
Much of Williams’ offensive strategy is based off of attacking perimeter closeouts. If a player doesn’t get out quickly enough on a three point shooter, you can bet that shot is going up, and they have more than enough outside threats to make that offense pay off. But if the closeout comes too fast, they can drive past and kick to an open three point shooter when the defense collapses. This also opens up the backdoor cuts that they love so much. As the player with the ball drives past his man, the help man is distracted, allowing his defender to cut backdoor for a layup. Middlebury’s close-outs were very shoddy in the loss in Williamstown: today they will have to come out quickly but also solidly, keeping good guarding position. If they can do that Williams will struggle to score, as they lack great one-on-one scorers outside of Daniel Aronowitz ‘17.
Williams X-Factor: James Heskett ‘19
As I mentioned above, Williams lacks players who can break down perimeter defenders one on one if the defender has a solid close-out. Against Middlebury in the regular season, Heskett begged to differ. He put up 19 points on 5-10 shooting, and went 3-4 from three. At 6’8”, Heskett is too long to be guarded by any of Middlebury’s three guards, but is quick enough and a good enough shooter and ball handler to be a matchup issue for Eric McCord ‘19, Adisa Majors ‘18 or Nick Tarantino ‘18. The best match-up for him on Middlebury is probably Matt Folger ‘20, Folger looked very comfortable in the semifinal against Trinity, scoring 8 points in a row during the second half en route to 11 points. However, the NESCAC final is still a big stage for a freshman. Heskett’s combination of size and skill might force Coach Brown to play Folger a little more than he’d like. And if he doesn’t, Heskett could be a huge factor this afternoon.
Middlebury has to be encouraged by what they saw from Jake Brown ‘17 against Trinity. After missing the first round game against Bates with a high ankle sprain, Brown played 31 minutes against Trinity. His stats weren’t tremendous (the sloppy nature of the game kept everyone’s stats pretty low) but he looked to be moving well, and his presence allowed Middlebury to push the pace in the second half and avoid falling into too much of a barfight with the Bantams.
Brown’s health will be even more crucial in this game. Williams is a perimeter-centric team, which means that Middlebury’s two terrific perimeter defenders (Brown and Jack Daly ‘18) will be tasked with slowing down the ball movement and outside shooting of the Ephs. Additionally, Brown is a needed offensive weapon for Middlebury. The Ephs will try to load up on St. Amour, so Brown will probably get some good looks from three. He and Bryan Jones ‘17 need to be threats from their to open up the floor for St. Amour. Eric McCord also will probably have a strength advantage over whoever is guarding him. If Middlebury can space the floor well enough, they should look to go to him in the post early and often.
Based on the match-ups, I would pick Middlebury in this game 8 times out of 10. But that’s what I said before the regular season game too, and look what happened there. Williams has all the sports-movie momentum in the world right now, and the re-emergence of Kyle Scadlock ‘19 as a terrifying two-way threat gives them a dimension they didn’t have against Middlebury earlier in the year. However, I still think Middlebury pulls it out. The Panthers should recognize the Ephs; they’re doing the same thing Middlebury did in the tournament last year. Therefore they should know what to do with them.
#2 Middlebury (22-3, 8-2) vs #5 Trinity (16-9, 6-4),
In Season Six of American Idol, the immortal Sanjaya Malakar defied everyone’s expectations to reach the top seven despite having literally no discernable singing talent whatsoever. Every week millions of fans would say “this must be the week he’s going home.” And every week he would survive.
Trinity is the Sanjaya of the NESCAC tournament. Every year they seem less and less qualified to hang with Middlebury and Tufts in the top tier, and every year somehow they’re in the mix at the end of the season. They have nine losses this season! And yet here we are, writing about Trinity as a contender for the NESCAC crown. The Bantams “won” their first round game against Wesleyan 51-49 on a game winner from Ed Ogundeko ‘17. I use the quotation marks there because Wesleyan is just as responsible for losing that game as Trinity is for winning it. Trinity only shot 28% from the floor, which should never, ever result in win. The Bantams will not be able to survive a shooting night like that against Middlebury.
The Panthers are looking to be the Jordin Sparks (an unstoppable juggernaut bulldozing all pretenders out of the way) to Trinity’s Sanjaya . They have been playing as well as any team in the country as of late, but have hit a bit of a speed bump due to Jake Brown’s ankle injury. They beat Bates in the opening round, but their vaunted offense was considerably less volatile with the absence of Brown. They needed Matt St. Amour ‘17 to continue his transformation into a literal flamethrower to survive the Bobcats. Brown’s status is still uncertain, giving Trinity a thin path to victory. However, even without Brown, the Panthers should take care of business.
How Trinity Can Win:
If Brown does play, he will most likely not be his usual electric self.
Therefore the Bantams should still look to get either Jack Daly ‘18 or St. Amour in foul trouble. Daly and Brown are 1A and 1B in terms of NESCAC point guards in my opinion, so the Panthers are still fine ball handler-wise when one of them is out. However, St. Amour is not a point guard, so if
Brown is limited and Daly is in foul trouble, Middlebury will not be able to play nearly as fast as they want. And if St. Amour is in foul trouble, the Panthers have tremendous issues finding outside shooting threats. Bryan Jones ‘17 has come back down to earth a bit and is obviously not nearly as adept at creating his own shot as St. Amour. Middlebury offense is electric due to its three-headed dog of terrific guards. They’re already down one; if Trinity can take away another they have a good chance.
The common thinking is that the way to beat Middlebury is to slow the game down. Trinity certainly tried to do that in their regular season loss to the Panthers. However, they weren’t able to make enough shots to make up for it. If you take 25 seconds on every possession and then miss a three, what have you really accomplished? Trinity tried to pound the ball into Ed Ogundeko, but the Panthers were willing to double him from pretty much anywhere, and held him to 14 points and 9 rebounds. Trinity had success against the Panthers in the second half running halfcourt sets, as the Panthers defense is geared towards creating havoc more than it is fundamental soundness. The Bantams need to make sure they focus more on running good offense and hitting shots than aimlessly taking the air out of the ball.
How Middlebury Can Win:
Obviously the beginning, middle and end to any book on how to beat Trinity would read “Stop Ogundeko.” The Panthers had an excellent game plan against him in the regular season. They doubled him on almost every post catch, as Trinity lacked the outside threats to force the Middlebury guards to stay home. Their game plan was so successful that Ogundeko only played 7 minutes in the second half, a bold strategy from Coach Cosgrove that didn’t seem to pay off. Trinity will probably try to involve Ogundeko in the pick and roll more, as the Panther bigs had trouble keeping up with him as a roll man in the second half. But Middlebury will most likely keep the same strategy and force other Trinity players to make shots.
Middlebury X-Factor: Jake Brown’s Ankle
Middlebury’s offense didn’t miss a beat against Trinity during the regular season without Brown, but it suffered in the second half against Bates. It’s often Brown’s flashy play that draws a lot of the attention, but he is also a very careful leader of the Middlebury offense. Jack Daly is a terrific point guard, but has shown himself to be turnover prone when running the show on his own. And the Brown/Daly duo allows Matt St. Amour to avoid bringing the ball up entirely. This is by far the best case scenario for the Panther offense. St. Amour is at his best when running off screens and attacking off the ball. If he is forced to bring it up, he has to expend more energy and doesn’t have as much freedom. Middlebury proved they can beat Trinity without Brown, but they are immensely better with him on the floor, and his absence would provide Trinity with a much larger window to victory.
Trinity X-Factor: Jeremy Arthur ‘19
The bottom line is that someone has to hit shots for the Bantams. Arthur was the only person who really played well against Middlebury, scoring 19 points and hitting 4-9 from three. Arthur presents something of a match-up problem for Middlebury, as he is big enough to give guards trouble and fast enough to give bigs trouble. His combination of driving ability and outside shooting make it tough for Middlebury to double off of Ogundeko with his man. He will need to have another terrific game to force Middlebury guard Ogundeko one-on-one at times.
If Brown is indeed out or heavily limited, Middlebury’s forward rotation will be especially crucial. They are obviously a key on defense no matter what. Eric McCord ‘19 is strong enough to hold his own on the block with Ogundeko, and Nick Tarantino ‘18 uses his long arms to challenge Ogundeko’s hook shots. Adisa Majors ‘17 has come back into the fold lately, and offers Coach Brown a third big to throw at Ogundeko defensively. One of those three will need to have a big game on offense as well, and it goes without saying that they’ll all need to hit the boards hard.
Trinity guard Langdon Neal ‘17 is critical for the Bantams. His tenacious on ball defense is their most valuable weapon in slowing down whichever Panther guard is pushing the ball up the floor. However, he needs to make sure he keeps consistent effort. Too many times would he start off a possession with a burst of energy, only to have Jack Daly break him down and get an easy look for a teammate or himself. Defense is not a matter of playing hard for five or six seconds; it’s about constant effort, even if that means slowing down a bit at the start.
Trinity has a good chance to win this game, particularly if Jake Brown is still out of commission. They need to slow down the game, yes, but more simply than that they have to make the shots they get. It won’t help to slow down their possessions so much that they’re throwing up prayers at the end of the shot clock. Middlebury just needs to stay steady and not get dragged into a boxing match with the Bantams, and they should advance to a second straight NESCAC final.
And then there were eight. The NESCAC field is narrowed down to the quarterfinals of the conference as three squads have fallen into the abyss of the offseason. For some, their college careers are over, for others, ultimate glory awaits. While I like to think NBN is pretty democratic in our reporting, I’m not going to spend much time on Colby, Bowdoin, or Conn College as it’s safe to say that their stocks are all down with their failure to make the conference tournament.
I’ll focus on the stocks of the collective other eight teams, ordered by their first round playoff match-ups this weekend in the highly anticipated start to the March Madness merry-go-round as the dominoes are starting to fall towards the national championship.
Hamilton (15-8, 4-6) – Stock Down
Hamilton started out hot in the NESCAC season at 3-2, a 1-4 finish heading into the playoffs isn’t what the Continentals had in mind. Consecutive losses to Amherst and Trinity were expected at this point, but still pivotal for this team as they are now stuck with #1 seed Tufts. While this is actually more favorable a match-up than if against Middlebury or even Amherst, Hamilton seems to be scrambling to figure a plan of attack out. Switching up their starting lineup against Amherst didn’t do the trick as Carlos Fineman and Kyle Pitman had little production. They don’t have the same consistent output from Tim Doyle, Joe Pucci, or Andrew Groll as they did earlier in the year and are increasingly reliant on freshman sixth-man standout Kena Gilmour who is now second on the team in PPG with 13.3. Peter Hoffmann is still doing well but without the whole starting five shooting well, they will have a tough time in Medford.
#17 Tufts (19-5, 8-2) – Stock Up
While beating Williams isn’t something that will necessarily improve Tufts’ national ranking, it is a big confidence booster heading into this weekend. After weeks of struggles since Tom Palleschi’s injury, the Jumbo’s finally put it all together against a NESCAC playoff team. In their #1 seed clinching win the Jumbo’s showed the depth and difference in style needed to take them all the way. Since their big man has gone down, Tufts’ identity as a team has shifted. They needed to find a rebounder to replace their center, but Drew Madsen hasn’t stepped up into the same role. Against Williams, they managed to play a different type of game, losing the rebounding struggle (35-32) to the Ephs, but nailing shots with great accuracy at 50% from deep and 52.4% from the field. Eric Savage, KJ Garrett, and Ethan Feldman all had double digit points off of the bench, and in order to keep their NESCAC championship hopes alive, the Jumbos will have to keep seeing production from non-starters. Hamilton hasn’t been playing well, but they have still had great moments this year. However, if Tufts brings the same accuracy as this weekend they will be in good shape.
Trinity (15-9, 6-4) – Stock down
Though Middlebury is seeded higher than Trinity, a poor showing on Saturday must’ve had to sting. After losing to Midd in the NESCAC playoffs last year, the first rematch brought on that familiar feeling of defeat. A 14 point halftime deficit was too much to overcome as Langdon Neal and Eric Gendron couldn’t stop Matt St. Amour. While Wesleyan’s guards aren’t as quick and don’t have as nice of a jump shot as St. Amour, they played exceptionally against Amherst last week and if the Bantams stay as a team ruled by one player, Ed Ogundeko, then they could give up a couple 20-spots to Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien. Ogundeko only had nine boards against Midd and only had eight last time they played Wesleyan. Without a big game from Ogundeko, the Bantams don’t have a great shot at winning, so he needs to play like it’s the finals and get some help from his teammates for a change. I’d say they are an underdog, but everybody knows #5 seeds always win in tournaments (see: my D1 bracket from last year.)
Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4) – Stock Up
The Cardinals did nothing wrong this past weekend, but Colby and Bowdoin were heavily predicted wins and won’t change their stock at all. A home game against Trinity offers a rematch of the January 14th game that Wesleyan won 65-61. After beating Amherst in OT last Tuesday, riding a three game win streak into the playoffs is the best case scenario this team could see. While their win against Amherst isn’t technically a league game (the NESCAC is weird) it still showed enough to bump this squad’s stock up. Their perimeter defense against Amherst was great, helping to limit them to just 37.7% from the field and 32.0% from three point range, but their lack of rebounds is still concerning. Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien are rolling recently, with Jordan Bonner adding a double-double against the Purple and White. While their early season turbulence is behind them, the Cardinals still need to neutralize Ed Ogundeko to take their quarterfinal game. If they can defend the outside like they did against Amherst, while keeping Ogundeko near the eight rebounds he got against them on Jan. 14th, then they could dribble straight into the semifinals.
#13 Middlebury (20-3, 8-2) – Stock Up
Midd knocked off higher ranked Amherst and put down Trinity in back to back home games, giving them a share for the league’s best record and the #2 seed in the ‘CAC tourney. They forced some key turnovers late in the second half against Amherst and forced them to shoot from deep, creating a quick scoring gap after the Purple and White’s missed opportunities. Eric McCord was able to body up Ogundeko against Trinity and Matt St. Amour continued to do his thing and make ridiculous jump shots with no angle on the hoop. Let’s hope Jake Brown’s twisted ankle doesn’t slow him down as this team is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, and with Palleschi’s injury for Tufts, there is no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t be the favorite heading into the quarterfinal games.
Bates (15-9, 4-6) – Stock Down
Bates did not help themselves out last weekend. Instead of finishing in conference at 5-5, heading into the playoffs with a confidence boosting win and a matchup against a lower seed in Amherst, they travel to snowy Vermont to take on Middlebury in what should be a loud and packed gym. The Delpeche twins had noteworthy senior seasons, but they couldn’t get it going last time against the Panthers and couldn’t find a way to win against the Ephs. Williams didn’t really stop the twins, but since nobody else on Bates showed up to play, the two on five game didn’t fare in the Bobcats’ favor. Without monster performances from the Delpeches this weekend, others like Jeff Spellman (1-7 from three on Saturday) and Nick Gilpin (29 minutes, two points) are going to have to step up in a major way and drain some shots.
#8 Amherst (17-6, 7-3) – Stock Down
Despite their (unreasonably in our eyes) high national ranking, Amherst played sloppy basketball against Middlebury last weekend. Getting their pockets picked and missing straight on unguarded threes spelled out their doom as any comeback attempt was quickly halted by quick and concise offensive execution. Lacking major power down low, Amherst is going to need to hit their open shots as Michael Riopel and Jayde Dawson didn’t get their inner Steph Curry going on last weekend. Despite Dawson’s 24 points, he had slow second half production and performed in waves that hurt the Purple and White when they needed to go on a run. They were able to turn it around against Hamilton as Dawson found his shot going 6-8 from deep and Riopel added a 3-5 line, but lack of consistency is deadly in the playoffs. They better find a way to keep replicating their A game.
Williams (17-7, 5-5) – Stock Up
The Ephs suffered a beatdown against Tufts, but an expected loss won’t hurt them too much. Finishing at 5-5 coming from nowhere to reach the .500 mark in NESCAC bodes well for the confidence of a young team heading into an underdog stretch run. Their narrow win over Bates put them in the conversation as a bracket-buster even in a road game at Amherst. If Daniel Aronowitz can rain fire like he did against Bates (8-10 FG and 3-5 from deep) to match Johnny McCarthy and if Cole Teal can put up a double double to match Jayde Dawson, then anything is possible. Everybody likes a good upset and I nearly counted Williams out of the playoff race a while back. A 5-5 team against a 7-3 team? It seems like that kind of upset happens all the time. It might not be quite that simple, but the Ephs have weapons and it is the playoffs.
Conn College (13-10, 3-7), Colby (10-14, 1-9), Bowdoin (12-11, 3-7)
Every NESCAC game is important. That is the nature of the league; since every team (give or take a couple outliers) can get hot and pull off an upset at any time, there are few opportunities to take a game off. And as we wind down the 2016-2017 regular season, the games become even more crucial. This weekend and next, one loss can be the difference between hosting a playoff or going on the road. For some teams, it can even be the difference between making the playoffs or getting a chance to catch up on their homework. The Friday night games kick off a critical weekend, and there are some very important match-ups to keep an eye on, particularly Tufts’ game against Trinity and Bates game in Amherst.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Trinity, 7:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Although they’re still the top team in NESCAC record-wise, Tufts has some real work to do if they want to stay there. The loss of starting center and team leader Tom Palleschi ‘17 has the Jumbos reeling on both sides of the ball. Against Bates, they weren’t able to stop Marcus Delpeche ‘17, who destroyed them to the tune of 28 points on 10/16 shooting. They also settled for jumpshots, leading to a low shooting percentage (36.1%.) They then came out flat against Umass-Dartmouth, losing 91-82. Again, interior defense was a problem, as the Jumbos allowed 14 offensive rebounds and couldn’t get stops down the stretch to support their Vincent Pace-led comeback. Although it was not a league game, the Umass-Dartmouth loss in conjunction with the Bates loss point to deep problems for Tufts. They need to find a way to defend at a high level without Palleschi.
Unfortunately, Trinity is not the best team to play if interior defense is your issue. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has shown himself to be fully capable of ending a game himself if a team doesn’t have a post presence to match him (see his 20/20 game against Bowdoin earlier this year.) Marcus Delpeche proved that Tufts is vulnerable to big performances from dominant inside players. However, Trinity doesn’t exactly come into this one firing on all cylinders either. They only put up 53 points on 32% shooting against Amherst, and that’s including 19 on 8/11 shooting from Ogundeko. The rest of the team shot 11/48 from the field, which is about the same percentage that I shoot when I throw paper at my recycling bin from my bed. Both teams enter this game needing to prove themselves if they hope to contend for top spots come playoffs.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Rebounding
With Palleschi out, Tufts has a `very large hole in the middle of their defense. To fill that hole, the Jumbos will need help from up and down the roster. Of course new starter Drew Madsen ‘17 has the biggest job (particularly this weekend when he matches up with Ogundeko) but he can’t do it alone. Tufts’ guards have to take some of the rebounding load off of the suddenly-thin Tufts frontcourt. Vincent Pace ‘18 has always been adept at this, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, but he holds too much offensive responsibility to spend all his time battling Ogundeko in the paint. KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18 will have to use their size and strength to crash the boards, freeing up Pace to carry the offense and taking pressure off Tufts’ untested big men.
Trinity X-Factor: Anyone Besides Ogundeko
I apologize for sounding like a broken record here, but Trinity needs a second scoring option. Amherst was able to basically dare anyone else on the Bantams roster to beat them, and no one else could. Chris Turnbull ‘17 has shot well from three on the year at 43%, but has a tendency to disappear in big games and struggles to score inside. The same goes for Jeremy Arthur ‘19, who has struggled in league play. Eric Gendron ‘18 represents another candidate to be the Christopher to Ogundeko’s Tony Soprano. Gendron has averaged 11.2 points per game on 43% shooting in league play. To knock off Tufts, Trinity will need solid games from at least one (and more likely two or three) of those possible second bananas.
From a playoff seeding standpoint, Trinity probably needs this game more. At 4-2, they are currently mired in the swamp of teams behind Tufts. Furthermore, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of those teams. After Tufts they still have Hamilton, Middlebury and Bates, all of whom will be battling hard for the best possible playoff spot. I could see Trinity playing very well in these last four games and setting themselves up for a long playoff run. However, I could also see them falling back in the face of this tough schedule. This game is a terrific chance for them to kick this tough stretch off right.
Tufts hasn’t clinched anything either. Although they’re 6-1 now, Middlebury has been playing better than them lately, and Amherst always seems one strong game away from returning to the top. Both those teams have a chance of winning out, and therefore could take the top spot away from Tufts. The Jumbos need to figure out a way to survive without Palleschi, or their season could end disappointingly early. And unfortunately for Tufts, I don’t think this is the game in which they figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Hamilton @ Bowdoin, 7:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Although Hamilton is certainly loaded with talent, they are very young. Middlebury showed the rest of the league just how much that matters last weekend. The Panthers threw up a cool 115 points against the Continentals, and pressured them into 19 turnovers. Hamilton is 0-3 on the road in league play, a stat which makes sense considering that the vast majority of their rotation is composed of sophomores (and freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20.) Hamilton has to grow up fast this year if they want to keep any hope of hosting a playoff game.
Bowdoin comes off giving Colby their first win last weekend in a surprisingly thrilling game. Bowdoin fell 87-82, despite 24 points off the bench from Jack Bors ‘19.Jack Simonds ‘19 has fallen from the league lead in scoring. This may be good for Bowdoin’s offense, as it now looks considerably more balanced than it did early on, but they need to be able to rely on Simond to get them a bucket when needed. I don’t see the Polar Bears being able to catch up to Hamilton like Middlebury did.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Middlebury @ Colby, 7:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Middlebury was unrecognizable against Hamilton and Keene if you watched their performance against Williams. Middlebury’s offense has been balanced and deadly, leading the league in points, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage during league play. The Panthers have particularly benefited from the play of Jake Brown ‘17. Longtime readers will know that my lifelong conquest has been to get Jake Brown on the First Team, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll have to take my battle straight to the Supreme Court. Brown leads the league in assists and averages 11.7 points per game, developing a deadly pull up jump shot which has added a whole new dimension to his game and the Middlebury offense. With Matt St. Amour leading the league in scoring, Brown hitting his jump shots and Jack Daly doing pretty much everything else, the Panthers might well be the best team in the league in the wake of Tufts’ struggles.
Colby also enters this game with momentum. They picked up an emotional first win of the season against Bowdoin. They owe the win primarily to Patrick Stewart ‘17, who went Green Room on the Polar Bearswith 28 points on 8/14 shooting. Colby will most likely try to follow Williams’ formula for beating the Panthers. They will shoot a lot of threes and stack the paint, daring the Panthers to match them from outside. Unfortunately, they’re not good enough from three or on defense to make that strategy work for them. Middlebury should take this one easily.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Bates @ Amherst, 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This is another game which has major playoff implications. Amherst has been inconsistent this season, but the existentially depressing fact remains that they’re 4-2 and are within striking distance of the top spot thanks to Palleschi’s injury. Amherst still has offensive struggles, but they have quietly developed an excellent defense to make up for it. They gave up under 70 points to both Trinity and Williams last weekend, and can still rely on Jayde Dawson ‘18 to bail them out in close games. Amherst is not pretty this year, but if they can keep winning it could work out for them. Also important to note; they are 12-0 at home this season.
Bates is not pretty either, but they are well equipped to give Amherst’s offense fits. The Delpeche brothers are adept at clogging up driving lanes, which should limit the amount of space that Dawson and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 have to score. And on offense, Bates has lately been hitting just enough threes to give the Delpeche brothers some help. Amherst doesn’t exactly have a stable of big men to throw at Malcolm and Marcus, so I see the Bobcats upsetting Amherst at home.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Wesleyan @ Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Wesleyan appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. They put up maybe their best offensive performance of the season against Connecticut College, scoring 85 points on 48.3% shooting. The Cardinals have been experimenting with different starting lineups, and brought Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench against the Camels. They had tried this with Nathan Krill ‘18 earlier. This gives Kuo the freedom to beat up on second unit big men and gives them the freedom to play a more mobile starting lineup with Jordan Sears ‘18 acting as a small ball, defensive-minded center. With Williams perimeter-oriented big men, watch for this lineup change to continue.
Williams hasn’t played a league game since their shellacking of Middlebury, but dropped a non-league matchup to Amherst last week. In that game, they got 26 from Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, but little else, losing 72-64. The Ephs have yet to replicate the shooting display they presented Middlebury, and the top field goal percentage defense in the country isn’t a great team to get hot against . This should be a low scoring matchup, with Wesleyan slowing down the pace and pounding the ball into Kuo and Nathan Krill ‘18. Wesleyan is simply better at winning low-scoring, ugly games.
I know that they just had a pretty ugly loss to UMass Dartmouth two nights ago to follow up their lapse in Lewiston, but the Jumbos maintain a tenuous hold on the top spot. It’s not an excuse but rather a glaring truth: the Jumbos miss their big man. Guess where Bates is strongest? The post. So, while a shooting line 36.1/18.5/53.6 is pretty inexcusable, that along with a missing Palleschi, along with Bates hosting a NESCAC game at Alumni Gymnasium is the perfect storm for a Bobcats win. Meanwhile, Bates shot 43.8/50.0/81.8. Again, not excusable numbers to allow by the Jumbos defense, but I still think this game was a fluke and that the Jumbos are deserving of this spot. That being said, they head to Trinity and then Amherst this weekend, their biggest test of the year thus far. Trinity poses another match-up nightmare down low, so Drew Madsen ‘17 and Pat Racy ‘20 are going to have to step up on the defensive end. And Amherst, well, it’s just Amherst. You can never overlook that team. This weekend will be a very telling one for Coach Sheldon’s squad. Is Tufts tough or fake tough?
2.) #23 Wesleyan (16-4, 4-3)
Wesleyan decided to try to be a bit sneakier this weekend by bringing Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench. Guess what – their sneak attack worked! It actually worked so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Joe Reilly tries it again on Friday against Williams. Kuo dominated to the tune of 20 points on 10-16 shooting in his newly developed sixth man role, just punishing the bigs of Conn College. Jordan Bonner ‘19 also qualifies for being credited with a stellar performance off the bench, as he put up 23 points, primarily on the back of his three-point shooting. I’d also like to say that while Nathan Krill ‘18 might be the craziest kid on the court in the NESCAC, he might also be the toughest. His presence on the court is not only electric from a fan’s perspective (I watched an incredible double technical occur between Krill and Tufts’ Ben Engvall ‘18 last week), but also in terms of contributions to Wesleyan’s system. The Cards rely on his grit on the boards and on loose balls, as the attention he draws opens the floor up for other guys to succeed. Wesleyan is beatable for sure, but they are a tough match-up for whoever draws the corresponding seed in the NESCAC tournament.
3.) #16 Middlebury (16-3, 4-2)
Middlebury has been very consistent this year aside from their blowout loss to Williams a week and a half ago. Pete was an emotional wreck following that loss, but the Panthers bounced back this weekend and smacked the living daylights out of Hamilton. Simply put, Middlebury posted video game numbers on the poor Continentals, shooting an ungodly 62.0/59.3/91.7 on the day. While I don’t anticipate Middlebury achieving another 115-point performance in a NESCAC game, they have consistently shared the ball better than the rest of the conference, resulting in league-leading numbers in both assists and shooting percentage. While Jake Brown ‘17 doesn’t shoot the most efficiently on the Midd roster, he is largely responsible for the team’s shooting. Not only does he lead the team (and league) in assists, but Brown’s ability to penetrate and force help out of opposing defenders leads to open shots 2-3 passes down the line. This should be a pretty straightforward weekend for Middlebury, but if they drop one to either Colby or Bowdoin then maybe they’ve got some more glaring issues than I have realized.
4.) #11 Amherst (14-4, 4-2)
While Middlebury has been mostly consistent all season, Amherst has not been, which explains my ranking them lower than both Middlebury and Wesleyan in the Power Rankings despite being a higher national seed. Every team in the conference has some bad losses, but Amherst’s back-to-back losses to Wesleyan and Conn College are of some concern. However, it’s not just Amherst’s losses that keep me on edge. To follow up that 0-2 weekend, Amherst had to put together quite the comeback against lowly Bowdoin at home in order to sneak away with a win. While I am used an Amherst that blows most teams out (as are most people probably), they still rebounded from the aforementioned three game stretch with a string of solid victories. As we all know, Colby has been the doormat of the NESCAC this year so far, but Amherst still needed to win convincingly and they did. Williams, though not in the top half of the NESCAC this year, is a solid team and is Amherst’s hated rival, so an 8-point mid-week is impressive. Then, the most telling is the 66-53 W against Trinity. Amherst hosted the Bantams and beat them at their own game, holding Trinity to just 53 points (!!) on 32.2% shooting while allowing just 1-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The usual suspects (Jayde Dawson ‘17, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and Michael Riopel ‘18), led the way for Coach Hixon in the scoring department and the ex-LJs got it done. Like Tufts, this coming weekend is the most telling of the season for Amherst as they host Bates and the Jumbos themselves. A 2-0 weekend would tell us what the rest of the league fears: that Amherst is back.
5.) Trinity (13-7, 4-2)
You won’t believe I’m saying this, but this weekend is a very telling weekend for Trinity (mix up your damn phrasing, Rory!!!). Seriously though, the Bants can more or less take the reigns with a sweep of Tufts and Bates this weekend, and they have a very good chance to do so. While they took the L this weekend to Amherst, that was a very good loss for Trinity. I don’t mean this necessarily in the way they played was good and they just got a couple bad bounces (-5 turnover differential, relying far too heavily on one player offensively, terrible shooting across the board), but in the sense that the Bantams proved a couple things to themselves. First of all, they proved that they can take advantage of mismatches in the post against good teams. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 had 19/11 and held David George to 6/4. Secondly, they proved that even shooting as poorly from deep as they did (1-14), they could still find themselves in the game until free throws put them away at the end. Looking ahead to Friday, Ogundeko has a highly favorable matchup against Tufts, and if he gets some efficient support offensively from the guards, Big Ed will have a chance to dominate. Bates is a tougher matchup for Trinity, but again, success is going to be reliant on the guard-play of the Bantams, specifically Langdon Neal ‘17 and Chris Turnbull ‘17.
6.) Bates (15-6, 4-3)
My friend from Bates (who for clarification, is unassociated with the Bates Men’s Basketball team except as a fan), has been describing the Bobcats to me as the hottest team in the ‘CAC this week. While a 3-game winning streak (just one conference game) following a 3-game losing streak (all conference games) does not scream “on fire” to me, I will say that Bates made Tufts look foolish on Saturday. While poor shooting is generally a reflection of both teams and not just tough defense, Bates forced Tufts into difficult shots and dominated them offensively. The Bobcats, especially Jerome Darling ‘17, put on a clinic on how to shoot three-pointers. They also shot 18-22 from the free throw line, which played a huge part in helping them seal the deal. I will say, however, that I think Bates should be concerned about this win giving them false confidence for a number of reasons. First of all, it took one of the worst shooting performances of the season for them to topple Tufts. The Bobcats also allowed their opponents to shoot 28 free throws, something that I don’t think I’ve seen a team do in a win that didn’t involve any overtime. Bates, a team whose system involves two big men, allowed Tufts, a team whose system involves just one big man (and lacked their starting big man), to beat them on the boards by seven. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 pulled the weight with 28/11, rightfully earning him NESCAC POW honors, his twin brother Malcolm proved to be pretty ineffective on Saturday, shooting 2-10 from the field and grabbing just three boards. Bates NEEDS these two to work in tandem on the boards at the very least, but it would be a big boost for them if they could have the twins both scoring effectively.
7.) Hamilton (14-5, 3-3)
Hamilton is a solid team. They’ve got some great young talent, and I think they are going to get even better in the next couple years. Right now, however, it is mostly potential that they possess, and they are vulnerable in a few different aspects, the first of which is down in the post. While Andrew Groll ‘19 is a solid player and a tenacious rebounder, he is also really the only real presence down on the block for the Continentals. While they have some size in their perimeter players (Joe Pucci ‘18 – 6’6”, Peter Hoffmann – 6’5”), Hamilton can get exposed on the boards and in the paint at times, especially against teams with solid post players and bigger guards. In NESCAC losses, they have allowed 40.66 PPG in the paint, showing that conference opponents know
how to expose this glaring hole in Hamilton defense. The emergence of Kena Gilmour ‘20 as of late is definitely encouraging, and he is a prime candidate to win Rookie of the Year, but aside from Gilmour the offensive production off the bench is limited at best. Hamilton has the weapons to surprise some teams come tournament time, but they still need to qualify. Ending the season with 4 tough conference games leaves a lot up in the air as to what will happen, but it is worth noting that the last two are against Trinity and Amherst.
8.) Williams (14-6, 2-4)
Williams has surprised me so far this year, and not in a good way. With the weapons that Williams returned at the beginning of the year, I thought for sure that they would be in the top half of the NESCAC standings battling for home court advantage in the playoffs. Now, here we are six games into the NESCAC season and Williams is ranked eighth in the conference standings. While the Ephs have been decent offensively, the Ephs just simply haven’t done enough to stop opposing players from scoring. Part of this is due to their post presence, or lack thereof, which rears its head on the boards and in the paint. Yes, Williams can get hot, especially from beyond the arc, and when they do they certainly have what it takes to win (see: Middlebury), but their lack of consistency is a problem, and is also the reason that they are a bubble playoff team.
9.) Conn College (12-8, 2-5)
Speaking of inconsistency…Conn has shown that they can really, really good at times. Unfortunately for the Camels, those times are few and far between. Wins against Amherst and Bates definitely show promise, but double-digit losses to Hamilton, Trinity, Tufts and Wesleyan leave young NESCAC bloggers wondering who the Camels really are. The issue, in my opinion, is that they have too many guys that want to be “the guy,” and while that’s a harsh critique, there’s definitely an argument there. In NESCAC play, Conn shoots just 39.7% from the field and 31.2% from beyond the arc. Keeping those percentages in mind and then take a look at shot totals. They’ve taken the second most shots and the fourth most three-pointers. Yes, they have played seven conference games while some have played just six, but still, the lack of offensive efficiency that the Camels boast has to be at least a bit concerning. To go along with their poor shooting, Conn allows their opponents to shoot the highest percentage in NESCAC play…not exactly a recipe for success. I’m not saying Conn can’t make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they manage to fumble the opportunity to close the season playing Williams, Bowdoin and Colby, the three worst teams in the league besides the Camels.
10.) Colby (10-9, 1-5)
They’re on the board! Colby grabbed their first win of the NESCAC season this weekend as they hosted rival Bowdoin in one of the best games of the weekend. Patrick Stewart ‘17 played like a damn All-Star, netting 28 points to lead the way for the Mules, and Sam Jefferson ‘20 showed the age is just a number, adding a nice 17 points of his own. The Mules owned the arc and drained 12 threes on the day (albeit on 32 attempts) to propel them to victory. Though they haven’t necessarily looked like a playoff team this year, Colby is on the bubble as this win brings them just one shy of Williams, the current eighth place team. It’s a tough road ahead for Colby, but maybe they can pull this off!
11.) Bowdoin (10-9, 1-5)
Bowdoin gave Colby their first loss of the NESCAC season this weekend to extend their NESCAC skid to three straight losses. Like I feared at the beginning of the season, Bowdoin is just far too reliant on Jack Simonds ‘19, so when he only put up 13 points against the Mules, Bowdoin was in trouble. They did get an outstanding performance from Jack Bors ‘19, who tallied 24 points on 8-12 shooting (5-8 from three-point land), but it was the inability of the Polar Bears to defend the three-point line themselves that buried them in Waterville. Bowdoin couldn’t quite pull off the upset at Amherst a couple weeks ago, but they’ll have a few more upset opportunities before the season is over as they face Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Conn to wrap up NESCAC play. If they want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to win at least a couple of these games.
Saturday’s match-up in Vermont features the Hamilton Continentals visiting the Middlebury Panthers, two of the three teams tied for third place in the NESCAC. Each team will be looking to secure a spot at the head of the conference table with Tufts and Trinity. The Continental’s team motto, “Punish With Pace,” is an apt description of the way they have played this year. Their blistering offensive attack has driven them to the NESCAC lead in points per game and scoring margin. However, that motto would work just as well for the Panthers. Middlebury is just as speedy as Hamilton, so we can expect a fast-paced affair this Saturday at 3PM.
Though Middlebury is nationally ranked (at #22) and Hamilton isn’t, they have had near identical results in NESCAC play. Each team has a NESCAC record of 3-2, and entering the contest, both teams’ last NESCAC game came against Williams, with divergent results. Hamilton handled the Ephs easily at home just two days before Middlebury got slaughtered in Williamstown. However, they also split against Bates, with opposite results, so neither team has a clear edge in the success of their in-conference play.
Regardless of the results, the games this weekend should provide us with some national and conference clarity. Of the two teams, the Panthers are the only ranked team, but at #22, a loss against an unranked opponent would likely drop them out of the top 25. However, a win for Hamilton could slide them into the national conversation. They lack the success in recent years that the other ranked NESCAC teams have, but with a win, their conference record would be an excellent 4-2, and their overall record would be 14-4, right in line with that of other ranked teams. National rankings are fun for bragging rights (and a potential at large bid) but what really counts is the NESCAC standings come playoff time.
Hamilton and Middlebury enter the game tied for third (along with Amherst) and a win for either team could help solidify home-court advantage in the playoffs. To further complicate things, Amherst is playing second place Trinity on Saturday as well. With an Amherst win, both Amherst and Trinity will share second place with the winner of Middlebury v. Hamilton. With a Trinity win, either the Continentals or Panthers will have sole control of third place. The loser of this game could suffer steep consequences, potentially falling as far as seventh place. Whatever this weekend holds will undoubtedly shake up the NESCAC standings.
Middlebury X-Factor: Perimeter Play
Middlebury, offensively, has been carried by the offensive play of their two senior backcourt star(ter)s. Matt St. Amour ’17, possibly the most dynamic scoring threat in the conference, gives defenses fits from inside and outside with his sweet shooting stroke and incisive slashing. Big games seem to get him going—so much so, that his teammates have grown accustomed to calling him “Mr. Clutch,” due to his game winners in high school and college. He scores more in conference games than any other player, averaging 22.6 per NESCAC contest (5 more than anyone else). In a crucial conference matchup like this, St. Amour would be wise to do his best Santana Moss impression.
St. Amour’s backcourt partner, Jake Brown ‘17, is not one to be taken lightly, especially coming off of a career high 31 points in his last game. He has more assists per game (6.7) than any other player in the NESCAC, and still scores ten a game.
Despite these lofty averages, setting the Cont’s ablaze will prove
no small task, as they have the manpower to counter St. Amour and Brown’s onslaught. Peter Hoffman ‘19, Hamilton’s leading scorer (16.9 points per game), is also possibly the league’s best all around defender. A springy athlete who stuffs the stat sheet by averaging about two steals, two blocks, and six rebounds is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the floor. The Cont’s, anchored by Hoffman, will have their hands full Saturday afternoon when tasked with slowing Middlebury’s potent offense.
Hamilton X Factor: Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Number
Though Middlebury probably has the edge in terms of star power and veteran leadership, Hamilton’s young guns are not to be overlooked. Freshman Kena Gilmour hasn’t started a single game this year, but he has earned more and more minutes as the season has gone on. In his last three games he is averaging 16.7 points in 21 minutes a game. He’s playing like a budding superstar and he’s getting the minutes to back it up. Hamilton’s youth movement goes beyond Gilmour, however. Star forwards Hoffmann and Andrew Groll ’19 are both sophomores, and give the Continentals a dynamic interior presence on both sides of the ball.
Who has the edge?
Hamilton is unbeaten at home. On the road they are a merely human 6-3. Although Hamilton is riding high on a three game win streak, Middlebury’s home-court advantage shouldn’t be overlooked in this matchup. Furthermore , Middlebury’s experienced players with long histories of success gives them the edge over Hamilton’s younger squad. Hamilton as a program hasn’t played in a game this meaningful in years, and obviously their players have not either. Middlebury, on the other hand, has played in games like this for years. I’ll take the Panthers at home.
Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3) @ Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4), New London, CT 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 28th
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Both Amherst and Trinity come in to this matchup riding three game winning streaks. Amherst most recently took down conference rival Williams in a non-conference matchup while Trinity took down non-conference opponent Vassar on the road. Amherst holds a better record at 13-4 compared to the Bantam’s 13-6 mark. Conference play has been a different story however, with Trinity 4-1 and Amherst 3-2 during NESCAC weekends. The preseason #1, Amherst has been shaky in the new year. Two conference losses had the Purple and White reeling until they posted (shaky) back to back wins over Bowdoin and Colby. Trinity began conference play by squeaking out a two point W over Williams. They then handled Conn College by double figures before jumping out to a 21PT halftime lead against Colby and beating Bowdoin by 18. Given that both teams have played the same conference opponents, it is fair to say that Trinity has looked like the better team. In the words of Bill Parcells, “You are what your record says you are.” Given Amherst’s recent scoring woes and Trinity’s stifling defense (a ridiculous 57.8PTS/Game in the offense-happy NESCAC), this game should be a rather low-scoring affair. Amherst has a chance to reclaim their spot among the NESCACs elite while Trinity can put to bed the claims that they are just beating up on the NESCAC cellar-dwellers.
Amherst’s X-Factor: Backup Point Guard-Reid Berman ’17
Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jonny McCarthy ’18 have proven to be two consistent scorer’s for Amherst all year long. In a potentially season-saving win over Bowdoin, Dawson carried the team with a game-high 27 and McCarthy clinched it with a buzzer beating three. The problem has been finding consistent options outside of these two. Enter Berman (RB12). One of the surprises of the most recent Williams matchup was his season-high 12 points on an efficient 5-9 shooting. A pass-first PG who has struggled shooting the ball thus far, Berman sometimes plays as if there only his teammates can see the basket. A more aggressive Berman could give the second unit an additional scoring punch while also opening up other guys. He does not need to be the scoring threat that Dawson is, but showing Trinity that he is willing to shoot it would spread the defense allowing more open looks for guys like Jeff Racy ’17, Jacob Nabatoff, ’17, and Michael Riopel ’18.
Trinity’s X-Factor: C Ed Ogundeko
People may say, “Hey, isn’t it kind of obvious that Trinity’s best player would be an important player in this game? Do you think you are making some big statement? Who let’s you write for this site anyway?” All great questions. Yes, to beat good teams, your best players need to play well. Yes, someone else will need to step up. But when it comes to beating a perennial NESCAC powerhouse in their own building, where they haven’t lost in over 2 years, your star has to be even that much better. Ogundeko has the ability to impose his will on a game averaging 17 PTS and just under 11 boards a game. In fact, the last team to come out of LeFrak with a W included a second-year Ogundeko who had 9 PTS and 16 rebounds in the game. The outcome of this game will depend largely on Trinity’s star big man. As Ogundeko goes, so will the other Bantams.
Can Amherst get the deep ball going again?
Since the old calendars were thrown out and were replaced with the 2017 version, Amherst has shot just 30% from beyond the arc. While this has not deterred them from continuing to take
them (only Colby shoots more per game), it has lowered their offensive output. They have plenty of capable shooters, but have been able to consistently knock down shots. Sometimes the pause between first and second semester can break up a team’s rhythm and I think this is part of the Purple and White’s struggles. A return to the monotony of classes, practice, sleep may allow for Amherst to play a little looser and return to early season form. The team is due for a barrage from the outside. Look out for this, especially if the first few shots start falling. As the old saying goes, “sometimes shooters just need to see one go in the net.”
Who else scores for Trinity?
Coming off his lowest scoring output since Dec. 10th, expect Ed Ogundeko to get his. As previously mentioned however, somebody else will have to score for the offensively challenged Bantams. Senior F Chris Turnbull ’17 is the second leading scorer on the team at over 11PPG and offers one option. However, he has been inconsistent of late. In his last 5 games, Turnbull has scored 0, 13, 13, 3, and 17 points respectively. He shoots it at almost 46% from range so Amherst will look to chase him off the 3PT line. Senior Jeremy Arthur and Junior Eric Gendron both average around 9PTS a game and will need to keep this up on Saturday. Also, look out for Freshman Christian Porydzy, who has seen very limited action but is shooting an impressive 67% from 3PT land and in a game like this, one or two big threes can be the difference.
Who Rebounds the Basketball?
It may seem mundane, but rebounds are the beginning of a possession and in a game where scoring may be at a premium, every possession will be key. Trinity leads the NESCAC in rebounding margin at over 5 a game while Amherst has been slightly out rebounded by opponents with a margin of -0.6 a game. In Amherst’s last loss at home, 3 of Ogundeko’s 16 rebounds came on the offensive end. Offensive rebounds often lead to outback layups and are demoralizing for the defensive unit. Amherst will look to seasoned veteran David George ’17 to keep Ogundeko off the boards. Amherst relies heavily on momentum and needs to control the glass. Trinity will look to exploit this and create extra possessions to supplement their initial offense. The Battle of the Boards may very well determine the victor.
Trinity’s defense poses a bad matchup for the suddenly struggling Amherst offense. At 4-1, the Bantams have proven themselves in the league and are the last team to leave Amherst with a win. That being said, Amherst is primed for a breakout game. Although Amherst has looked sluggish for the past couple weeks, this team does know how to win big games (see: Babson). As a team that has been together and seen it all, it sometimes takes a little extra to get them buzzing. With the students back on campus, expect LeFrak to be rocking for this one. Amherst’s offense is a little too much for the Bantams to keep up and the Purple and White take this one 77-71.