This past Saturday, I got to travel to Colby to watch Bates take on the Mules in Waterville. Bates pulled off the win, 82-79 in a tightly contested matchup that I believe was an instant classic. In front of an unusually raucous crowd for this early in the year, the two teams put on a show. This game had absolutely everything. We saw Matt Hanna hit four consecutive threes and give the crowd an awesome, Russell Westbrook-esque celebration. We saw the players getting chippy. We saw the fans getting chippy. We saw the lead never get above 3 for either team in the final 12 minutes of the game (until Bates hit a few free throws at the very end). We saw a technical foul. We saw Tom Coyne bank home two three pointers from 30+ feet to seal the win for the Bobcats. It was the stuff of legends.
That is what NESCAC basketball is all about. There is nothing like getting to travel to any school for a game and watch their loyal fans pack the gym to watch more drama than a Shakespearean tragedy. Fortunately truth is stranger than fiction, and we get an entire season of games featuring players whose legacies will surely outlast those of Macbeth or Hamlet. Anyways, let’s take a look at how foul or fair each team is looking heading into exam week and a blissfully long winter break.:
Bates G Tom Coyne ’20
Bates got a chance to play both Colby and Bowdoin this week, and each time Coyne put on a show. Despite the 70-63 loss against Bowdoin, he led the game in points with 22, and grabbed 9 rebounds. In the 82-79 win against Colby, he went off for a career-high 30 points on 11-16 from the field, including 6-8 from three-point range. One of the greatest things about the game against Colby was that for the final minutes of the game, the players on the court were Nick Gilpin ’20, Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. This lineup is one that has already shown improvements this year, and they will get to see three full seasons playing on the floor together. Bates is only getting better from here as Coach Furbush has the pieces he needs to develop and build around for the future.
Middlebury F Nick Tarantino ’18
Middlebury has been on a tear this season, starting off 6-0 and receiving the #2 national ranking in last week’s poll. They have many weapons, but senior Nick Tarantino ’18 has stood out as exceptional recently. He recorded a double-double against Endicott (an NCAA tournament team from last season), putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds, while dishing out 4 assists. In their last game against national #16 Skidmore (another 2017 NCAA tournament team), he channeled his inner-Ed Ogundeko, posting 20 points (on 9-13 shooting) and 17 rebounds. This type of production is ridiculous alongside weapons like Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. The Panthers are showing us yet again why they belong in the conversation not only for best in the NESCAC, but potentially best in the nation.
Tufts G Vincent Pace ’18
Vincent Pace ’18 is definitely living up to his POY-candidate hype (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Selected as NESCAC Player of the Week, Pace led the struggling Jumbos to a much-needed 2-0 week. He torched Emerson to the tune of 30 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 13-21 from the field. Pace tied the game with a three, then hit the game winning layup with under a minute left as the ‘Bos erased a 16-point second half deficit. Against UMass-Boston, he guided Tufts to a jaw-dropping 29-1 lead with 13 points and 7 rebounds on the way to a 73-58 win. He has clearly developed as the top scoring threat for a team that looks to gain some traction as they head out to Los Angeles to take on a few of the Claremont schools. If he continues this type of performance and the Jumbos continue to improve, Pace certainly remains in the conversation for NESCAC POY.
The Continentals are now 8-0 (tied for the best record in the NESCAC) and have been playing incredibly well this season. To be honest I believe they deserve a little more credit, only receiving 18 votes in the last national rankings. Only three of their eight wins have been decided by less than 10 points. They are blowing teams out, and putting up a lot of points in the process. Kena Gilmour ’20 leads the team with 17.4PPG and 7REB/G, and Michael Grassey ’19 has shown that he is a huge piece of this Continentals team. Grassey ’19 is putting up 14.1 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds,C especially having huge games against Utica and Eastern. Keep an eye on this underrated and young Hamilton squad, because they are a force to be reckoned with in New York.
It has been a tough stretch for the Camels, who are in the midst of a three game losing streak. They lost to both Mitchell and Western New England, neither of whom is particularly good. They sit at 4-5, which makes them the only NESCAC team below .500, with Bates having the second worst record at 5-2. Not to say that they don’t have any good players, because David Labossiere is averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. They are suffering from the loss of Tyler Rowe ’19, who was 4th in the NESCAC in scoring, but transferred to Western Connecticut this year. Conn College still has matchups with City College of New York and Maine Presque-Isle before they gear up for their first conference matchup with Middlebury. Hopefully the Camels start to turn things around because you never know what can happen in NESCAC play.
Williams’ Title Chances
Things took a turn for the worst in Williamstown last week when Kyle Scadlock ’19 suffered a torn ACL in the first half of their game against Westfield State. Obviously, this is a crushing blow to both Williams and the league as a whole. Scadlock is one of the most exciting players in the league, as well as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Williams is certainly still one of the best teams in the conference and perhaps the nation, but they have a much steeper hill to climb now. Look for players like Bobby Casey ’19 Michael Kempton ’20 to take on bigger roles, as well as forward James Heskitt ’19. Heskitt may be best suited to take on some of Scadlock’s myriad responsibilities both offensively and defensively, as he is another versatile forward with quick feet. It will take a team effort for Williams to keep pace with Middlebury, Tufts and suddenly hot teams like Wesleyan or Hamilton. Scadlock is only a junior, so hopefully he will return to full health so that we can see what Williams is truly capable of. Best of luck on a speedy recovery, Kyle.
F Carlos Fineman ’17 (8.2 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.6 APG)
G Jack Dwyer ’18 (26.0 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 5.4 APG)
Now in his fourth year at Hamilton, Dwyer has been a key contributor to the team since his freshman year. As one of two seniors in the starting lineup and as the point guard, Dwyer has the team’s biggest leadership role. However, he is up to the task as he has played floor general for the Continentals since his freshman season. He averaged 18 minutes a game off the bench as a freshman, with 3.8 points and 3.6 assists per game. The 5-10 point guard moved to a starting role in his sophomore season, improving to 11 points and 5.5 assists per game. Dwyer will have to improve on his 39.2 shooting percentage from last season, the second lowest on the team. He had a bit of a down year in stats as well last season, averaging 7.7 and 5.4, but should be ready to come back in full force this season. Dwyer is in the starting lineup for experience, but it should be noted that this spot will likely belong to Kena Gilmour ’20 sooner rather than later. Gilmour had a spectacular freshman season, averaging 12 points per game on 48% shooting in just 18 minutes. Dwyer provides an experienced counterpart to Gilmour’s potential, but potential will most likely win out.
F Andrew Groll ’19 (22.3 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.8 APG)
Groll got to Hamilton two years ago and started right away, averaging 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his freshman season. He picked up right where he left off the next year, averaging 8.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. At 6-7, Groll is the tallest player on Hamilton’s roster and could be due for a breakout junior season. If he can get into double digits, the Continentals could make a run for the top half of the NESCAC. There are several facets of his game that could easily get him over that mark. He shoots 44.8 percent which is low for a big man and will need to get that number up to 50 percent. He also has made a surprising 7 of 15 shots from behind the arc, which means he could have the potential to expand his game and shoot more three-pointers. Finally, Groll only shot 75 percent from the line and could also improve in that category. If Groll can make slight improvements in those three parts of his game, he could see some double-doubles this season.
Hoffman also started right away for the buff and blue, and averaged 12.7 points and 4.3 rebounds his freshman season. He saw a nice uptick in production last year, averaging 16.7 points, fifth in the NESCAC, and 5.6 rebounds per game. He also made an impressive 42.2 percent of shots from behind the 3-point arc. It’s hard to ask more from the NESCAC’s fifth scorer, but as Hamilton’s best player Hoffman might need to increase his production for the Continentals to improve this season. He will likely see another increase in minutes and if he can increase his point total by even one basket a game, it could make the difference.
Hailing from Winchester, Massachusetts, Grassey had a solid freshman season, averaging 9.4 points and 5 rebounds in 20 appearances off the bench. He earned a starting spot in his sophomore season, increasing his production to 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. His 82.1 percent career average from the free throw line leads the team. Grassey led the team in scoring several times last season, and it will be important for him to take next steps to help lighten Hoffman’s load. He also will need to continue to contribute on the boards despite his 6-4 stature. Grassey is an all around tough player and is in many ways the heart and soul of the 2017-18 Continentals.
The other senior on the team, Pucci, may not contribute as much on the stat sheet but is a leader both in the clubhouse and on the court. He averaged 6 points last season, a solid improvement from 5.3 points in his sophomore year. If he can find double figures a few times this season, it will certainly help the Continentals take more teams to the wire than last season. Again, part of Hamilton’s success relies on lightening the dependence on Hoffman. If Pucci can step up with more points, the Continentals will be rolling deep into the NESCAC playoffs.
Key/Breakout Player: Peter Hoffmann ’19
Hamilton has a deep starting lineup, but the offense runs through Hoffman and will depend on his production this season. The team was 8-2 when he scored 20 points or more, so if he can increase his production by the slightest amount, Hamilton should contend for the top half of the NESCAC. As stated before, the junior from Putnam Valley is likely to see even more time on the court. This is because his responsibilites for Hamilton are on both sides. He is their best scorer, using his size and touch to either post up smaller players or take forwards off the dribble. And defensively, he is their best rim protector, averaging nearly 2 blocks and two steals per game (1.9 and 1.7. respectively.) He will get the defensive assignment against many of the best scorers in the league, and will likely be asked to score 20 points as well. If he does this and Hamilton takes a leap forward in the tournament, Player of the Year is very much in the realm of possibility.
Key game: Friday, February 2nd at Bates
Hamilton has two Friday-Saturday road trips back to back in late January and early February. They will want to go 2-2 in that stretch, and three or even four losses could derail their season. Hamilton plays an unbalanced home and road schedule in the NESCAC, in fact, with six games on the road compared to just four at home. Last season, Bates’s 83-78 win ended a six-game Hamilton win streak. Although they recovered two games later with wins over SUNY Polytechnic and Williams, they certainly wish they could have that one back.
New Coach: Sherry Dobbs
Adam Stockwell added Sherry Dobbs to his staff this offseason, replacing Bryan Mathews who took an assistant job at Southern Virginia. Dobbs most recently coached as an assistant on the St. Lawrence staff, leading them to a 20-7 record and an NCAA Division III tournament appearance. Before that he spent 13 years at the head position for SUNY Potsdam where he got as far as the NCAA quarterfinals in 2005.
After a solid improvement from 2015-16’s 11-13 record, Hamilton finished 2016-17 at eighth place in the NESCAC. With only three seniors on the roster, the Continentals are still a young team and have a lot of promise for the future. However, the junior class of Hoffman, Grassey and Groll means they also have the ability to win now and could pose a serious threat to some of the NESCAC’s top half teams. It has been a theme of the last few seasons in the NESCAC that Hamilton is a threat. Last season it seemed imminent that the Continentals would use their immense potential to come for the top teams. This paranoia reached its peak following their upset of nationally ranked Wesleyan. However, they weren’t able to sustain that momentum, in large part due to that same youth. Four of their six NESCAC losses last season were decided by double digits, suggesting that, once they fell behind, they didn’t feel ready to come back.
On paper, this season has a chance to be different. Hamilton is kind of the Milwaukee Bucks of the NESCAC, in that they shy away traditional positions in favor of length and versatility. Hoffman, Grassey and Gilmour are all long, athletic players who can guard multiple positions and score from all over the court. As I said above, Hoffmann is the key to this team, but Gilmour may be the co-key. Gilmour has the potential to be a transcendent creator off the dribble, which Hamilton lacks right now. His relentless driving to the basket will open up lanes for Hoffmann, Grassey and Groll to either cut or pop out for three. If Gilmour makes another leap as a sophomore, Hamilton could finish in the top four. Not a typo, it’s very possible. But to do this, they must find a way to stay in games and not let teams pull away. Their previously mentioned unbalanced schedule will make for a tough season, but they might have the most returning talent in the league, and didn’t lose their best player (unlike Williams, Middlebury or Trinity.) This could be Hamilton’s year, but again, we said that last year.
#8 Hamilton (16-8, 4-6) at #1 Tufts (19-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
When Tufts clinched the top seed in the NESCAC tournament last Friday they had plenty of reason for celebration – this is the first time in school history that Tufts has earned the number one seed in the NESCAC tournament. Despite the terrific achievement, however, the Jumbos still waited until Sunday afternoon before they learned who they would be hosting in the NESCAC quarterfinals. I’m sure Coach Sheldon was watching Williams intently in their game against Bates to see if they had made any adjustments since Tufts bullied them on Friday, and indeed they did. The Ephs pulled out a three point victory in Lewiston, boosting their place in the standings and leaving Hamilton to walk into the hornet’s nest that is Cousens Gymnasium. As a Tufts student myself, I can admit that attendance at sporting events in Medford is pretty inconsistent. After last year’s playoff runs by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams though, I would expect that a doubleheader split between the two teams would provoke quite a turnout today. We will see I guess. It took a few straight years of success for Warriors fans to jump on the bandwagon, but maybe Jumbo Nation will support their squad more faithfully than the frontrunning fans of Golden State. If so, lookout Hamilton.
While Tufts is stepping into the playoffs coming off of one of their best games of the season, the Continentals enter this game in the opposite fashion of Tufts. Hamilton got swept by Amherst and Trinity in the last weekend of NESCAC play to cap off a pretty poor stretch in which the team lost four of their five conference games during the second half of the NESCAC season. Coach Stockwell can’t be thrilled by the way his team limped into the playoffs, but guess what, this is NESCAC basketball and ANYTHING can happen. Just two years ago, Wesleyan ran through the tournament as the #6 seed to earn the NESCAC title and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it. Regardless of how they got in, Hamilton is in the tourney, and they have the tools to make a sneaky run if they execute properly.
Last time they met
Throughout the first half, the game was pretty back and forth, but with a couple minutes to go until the break, Hamilton lost their focus. Down just five with 2:22 left before the halftime whistle, the Continentals turned the ball over three times, allowing Tufts to go on an 8-2 run to extend the lead to 11 heading into the second half. Though Tarik Smith ‘17, Eric Savage ‘20 and Ben Engvall ‘18 had very respectable games, it was KJ Garrett ‘18 who stole the show for the ‘Bos – the transfer junior put up 19 points on 8-11 shooting to lead the Jumbos to victory. Peter Hoffmann ‘19 put forth a valiant effort on the Hamilton side of the ball with 22 points of his own, but many of his teammates struggled to find the bottom of the net, nullifying the sophomore’s success scoring the rock. While he didn’t have a great game, Tom Palleschi ‘17 was in the lineup for the Jumbos back in January when these two first met, so Andrew Groll ‘19 definitely had a different matchup to deal with than he will have today. Groll was part of a small supporting cast for Hoffmann in meeting numero uno, so it will be up to Drew Madsen ‘17 to shut him down this afternoon.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard KJ Garrett ‘18
In Palleschi’s absence, Garrett has stepped up in a big way for Tufts. Some might even say he’s stepped up in a Jumbo way. Just kidding, that would be the corniest pun ever, nobody would ever say that. But the point remains, Garrett’s play has elevated as Palleschi’s absence has necessitated, and Coach Sheldon is going to need a strong effort out of the junior again against Hamilton. Just last week, Garrett averaged 18 points over two games, knocking down 13-15 field goals and 7-7 three-point attempts! That’s incredible efficiency. What makes Garrett so tough is that he is leaps and bounds beyond virtually every opponent in terms of athleticism, so he is able to get out in transition and also crash the boards. Meanwhile, he has snuck up as a pretty deadly three-point shooter. His strategy of playing the snake in the grass on a team full of shooters seems to be working out for him. Garrett is getting good shots and nailing them. If he plays well, the Jumbos win, end of story.
Hamilton X-Factor: Guard/Forward Michael Grassey ‘19
Last time he faced the ‘Bos, Grassey struggled. He shot just 2-7 for six points before fouling out, a performance that is far from the norm for the combo guard. As mentioned above, Hoffmann lacked the necessary reinforcements to outduel the Jumbos in January, but if Grassey can get back to standard partner-in-crime form, these two sophomores just might be able to topple top-seeded Tufts. Grassey is by far the best outside shooter on Hamilton’s roster and frankly put, he is going to need to drill some of the open shots opportunities he gets from Hoffman and Kena Gilmour ‘20 off of drive-and-kicks. Additionally, Grassey could do the Continentals a huge favor by demonstrating the ability to get to the rack early in the game. Without Palleschi, and potentially Pat Racy ‘20, who didn’t play last weekend for Tufts, Madsen is the lone big man left on the top seed’s roster. This predicament makes foul trouble a grave concern, and one that Madsen needs to be ultra weary of. If Grassey can get to the paint once or twice early, the Jumbos will sag and he will get open shots from the perimeter. The sophomore’s performance is crucial for Hamilton in this one.
While the two X-factors I’ve listed above are going to have crucial impacts (either positive or negative) on this game, both teams are going to need a full team effort to pull off the W. Hamilton is not as a deep a team as Tufts, so their stars – Hoffman, Grassey, Groll and Gilmour – need to perform, while their role players – Doyle, Dwyer, Pucci – need to excel as well. Although Tufts is used to not having Palleschi at this point, the way they have powered through his injury is by playing as a team, not by playing as a handful of individuals. Tufts’ best games have come when they have had four or five players score in double-digits. Today is no different, the Jumbos need a team effort. X-factor Garrett has the luxury of being able to lean on a deeper cast than X-factor Grassey does. Vinny Pace ‘18, Tarik Smith ‘17, Ben Engvall ‘18, Everett Dayton ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20… all these guys know how to score, and all of them have pulled the sled at different points this year. It’s just a matter of who is going to rise to the occasion at tipoff today.
With all the scorers this game has to offer, I don’t quite anticipate this being a low-scoring affair. If the Jumbos get hot from three like they did against Williams last week, they could run away with it. If the Continentals can force Tufts into contested shots however, they’ll be able to get out on the break just like they want to. The winner of this game is going to be the team that can hinder the other team’s offensive strategy. Because both teams want to get out in transition, offense will start on defense in this game, and an extra-high emphasis should be placed on rebounding the basketball. Both teams feature guards that are strong on the glass, so it will be a matter of grit to see who wins the battle on the boards. While this should definitely be a good game, on that is much closer than the seeding implies, I don’t see Tufts losing this one, especially not on their home court. Tufts is too deep and Hamilton just isn’t. The Continentals are trending upward, but I don’t think this is their year.
Editor’s note: this article was written before Friday’s games and therefore does not take the Friday results into account.
Colby at Wesleyan
The 2016-17 season has been a tough one for Colby. They’re 1-7 in conference and haven’t had a realistic shot of making the playoffs for at least a couple of weeks. At this point, they’re only playing for their dignity. Wesleyan on the other hand, could vault themselves into a top four seed with a couple of wins this weekend. Colby only has a single player averaging at least 8 points a game in Senior Patrick Stewart, and he gets 16.3. Unfortunately for Colby, Stewart hasn’t had the weapons around him to make the Mules much of a threat. Wesleyan, on the other hand, has benefited from a balanced attack with five players scoring ten points per contest. Backing up their offense has been their stifling defense, which allows their opponents to shoot a league leading (and second in all of DIII) 35% from the field. Colby’s only shot here is to capitalize on Wesleyan’s propensity to turn the ball over as they do so a NESCAC leading 15.4 times per game. If the Mules can convert sloppy turnovers into fast breaks, they could pick up a couple of easy buckets and score without bearing the brunt of Wesleyan’s stingy defense. However, chances are, this is not going to happen, and Colby (with a Friday loss) will end the season with a single NESCAC victory. :’(
Bowdoin at Connecticut College
This season, Bowdoin’s Forward Jack Simonds ‘19 has been phenomenal. He’s averaging nearly 19 points per game and he’s dropped 30+four times this season. Don’t forget, he’s only a sophomore. He has carried a huge load for his team, leading the NESCAC in minutes played. However, as a whole Bowdoin has not been able to put together wins as often as they’d like. The Polar Bears are in line to finish with one of the three worst records in the NESCAC. Looking at the home team,Conn hasn’t been much better; they too have a very slim chance of making the playoffs, and have only fared one game better than the Polar Bears this season. Though this game may not matter for the playoffs, a win would allow either team to end their season on a positive note. Despite Bowdoin’s lack of success in the win column, they don’t foul, and they don’t turn the ball over. Their team is young and there should be optimism moving forward. They’re going up against a Conn team who’s used to taking their lumps (pun intended) as the Camels are last in the ‘CAC in FG defense and they give up the most points per game. I think Bowdoin’s defensive strugglesput Jack Simonds in a great position to lead his team to end the season on a positive note and possibly hang up his fifth 30-spot, despite losing five of their last six NESCAC games. Bowdoin has a terrific scorer in Simonds who I think gives them the edge over the Camels.
Trinity at Middlebury
This is probably the best Saturday matchup as both teams are in the top half of the NESCAC and enter the game with their best players being tried and true veterans. Shout it from the mountaintops Panther fans, like the Chicago Cubs, you are good. Entering the weekend, they’ve won 5 in a row and have shown no signs of slowing down, vaulting themselves into the conversation for best team in the NESCAC. This charge has been led by their incredibly potent backcourt play. In their senior campaign, backcourt duo Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown have been dynamite. St. Amour leads the NESCAC in scoring (20.6 PPG) and Brown holds the conference lead in assists (6.7 AST/G). Trinity, on the other hand, has probably the most prolific double double machine in the NESCAC in Ed Ogundeko ‘17, who averages 17.7 and 11.5 from the center position. Without a real rim protecting big the Panthers can lean on, Ogundeko is liable to cause some havoc in the paint on Saturday. Trinity likely will not be able to outscore Middlebury’s uptempo attack, so they’ll need to find a way to either slow them down and take them out of their rhythm or try to coax the Panthers into some sloppy play. The latter is unlikely since Middlebury holds the best turnover ratio in the conference, so Trinity’s best bet to limit Middlebury’s outside attack is to try to control the tempo early and pound the ball inside to their star. With Middlebury at home and on such a roll, I think Brown and St. Amour get a little saucy and lead the Panthers to victory in Hartford.
Amherst at Hamilton
This game is undoubtedly a huge undertaking for the Continentals. Amherst has had an excellent regular season and they are sitting pretty for home-court in at least the first round of the playoffs. Their leading scorer is Guard Jayde Dawson ’18, who’s getting almost 18.6 per contest in under 30 minutes of action. Despite his prolific scoring, he’s only started two games this year, and that’s not a knock on him, it just goes to show how deep this team is. Also, wing Johnny McCarthy ’18 is coming off of a Player of the Week award averaging 15.5 points and 13.5 boards. He’s one of the best rebounders in the NESCAC, averaging 8 per game on the year, especially impressive considering he spends much of his time around the perimeter. Hamilton’s wing play has been equally impressive. Underclassmen Peter Hoffman ’19, Michael Grassey ’19, and Kena Gilmour ’20 all present significant threats on the wing for the Continentals. All have been solid, but Hoffman’s performances have been consistently above and beyond. Another great rebounding and scoring wing, he has reached double digit scoring in all but two games this year and shoots 55.8% from the field. Hamilton is a strong team and has been even better at home, but Amherst’s consistency and pedigree is hard to deny. In a couple years, as Hamilton’s young stars mature, and their bench gets deeper, this might be a different story. However, as long as Amherst brings their A game, they should be able to come out on top.
Williams at Bates
In Sunday’s only game, two middling teams meet in icy Maine to try to right their ships. Both teams are likely playoff bound, but are neck and neck for the opportunity to avoid juggernaut Tufts in the first round. Bates’ success this season is due in large part to their literal twin towers. Twin big men, Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche ’18, put up nearly 30 points and 20 boards between the two of them, and both rank in the top five of NESCAC rebounding. They are a force to be reckoned with, as just a couple weeks ago, Marcus was named the NESCAC player of the week. These two should be a tough challenge for Williams to handle come Sunday for the Ephs. Though they tote a near seven-footer in sophomore Michael Kempton, he lacks the athleticism and identical twin to contain them both. Every time I watch Williams I come away with more confusion than clarity as to their level of play because they play very slowly, but take so many threes (almost half of their total field goal attempts). Generally speaking, the less you play in transition, the harder it is to get good looks at three pointers because you allow the defense to get set. Despite this, the Ephs continue to fire away in their half-court sets and still make a somewhat respectable 35% as a team. With an impressive win against Amherst, and a confounding loss to Bowdoin, it’s really hard for me to tell where they stand. Williams is gonna take their threes, but they’ll need to figure out how to contain Bates’ inside threat. If the Ephs can drain from beyond the arc, they’ll have a great chance to win, but I think Bates’ home-court advantage and opportunity for rest while Williams plays on Friday should set them up for a victory on Sunday.
Being a Tufts student, I think it’s important that my first order of business is to address the elephant in the room. Pete definitely hates Tufts, no matter how much he denied it yesterday in his preview of today’s games. To be honest, I don’t blame him, it’s just his Middlebury inferiority complex kicking in. Take it easy on him, guys, Middlebury Athletics is all he has. That being said, whoever made this comparison between Pete and Skip Bayless in the comment section: bravo.
More importantly, let’s take a look at the Saturday/Sunday games. Overall, the contests appear to be a bit less interesting than Friday’s games, but it’s the opening weekend of NESCAC play – anything can happen.
GAME OF THE DAY: #9 Wesleyan @ Hamilton, 3:00 PM, Clinton, NY
I would guess that most Cardinals fans looked past this game on their schedule due to Hamilton’s performance in recent years. For Wesleyan’s sake, I hope the players are not looking past this game. Obviously, they’ve got a battle on Friday night against Middlebury, but this new and improved Hamilton squad can definitely take advantage of that. Hamilton has been led by a cast of youngsters thus far, and this early season matchup is vital if these pups want to prove they can hang with the big dogs. Last year, the Continentals took Wesleyan to overtime before losing 82-76, and it actually took some clutch free throws by Wesleyan’s Joseph Kuo ‘17 down the stretch to avoid losing in regular time. Impressive performances will surely attract more attention to Michael Grassey ‘19 and Jack Dwyer ‘18 from the Wesleyan defense on Saturday, who had 16 a piece last year. It was the seniors that led the way for the Cardinals, as BJ Davis, Jack Mackey, and Joe Edmonds combined for 42 of Wesleyan’s 82 points. While this Wesleyan team has certainly figured things out so far this year on their way to a #9 national ranking, they will need someone besides Kuo to embrace the moment and put the ball in the bucket on Saturday if they want to keep up with high-scoring Continentals.
It has been Wesleyan’s depth and balance that has proven quite effective so far this year, but against this young Hamilton team, senior leader Harry Rafferty is going to need to take the reigns. Throughout his career, Rafferty has been a threat whenever he throws on the black and red jersey, and one main reason for that is because of his outside shooting. Take a second and digest this: Rafferty has shot 106 times this season, and while he is shooting 39.6% from the field, this number is somewhat skewed. Of those 106 shots, Rafferty has attempted 77 three-pointers. The senior shoots 37.7% from the field (29-77), which means he has hit as many threes as he has taken twos. That’s a bit ridiculous. If that’s the way Wesleyan’s offense works, great, but this clearly gives Hamilton an idea of how to play Rafferty: run him off the three-point line. Rafferty’s production is very important in this game, so if he is unwilling to move off the arc, Wesleyan could be in trouble.
For the home team, success is going to be dependent on the ability (or inability) to stop Kuo down low. That’s where Andrew Groll ‘19 steps in. Groll is a 6’7” forward that dominates the boards, pulling down 7.4 REB/G, which is right on pace with Kuo’s 7.3 REB/G. They both average over 2 offensive rebounds, so the key for Groll on the boards is making sure that Kuo is unable to provide his team with these extra opportunities. Defensively, Groll faces a tall task due to the innate ability of getting to the hoop that Wesleyan’s perimeter players possess. Wesleyan’s quartet of sophomore guards (Salim Green ‘18, Jordan Bonner ‘18, Kevin O’Brien ‘18, and Andrew Gardiner ‘18) can all drive the ball to the rim, which will force Groll to decide whether he is going to help off of Kuo or stay at home. It’s Groll’s decision-making and execution in these situations that will determine whether or not the Cardinals eat Hamilton alive in the paint.
One of the most interesting dynamics of this game is the difference in offensive pace. Hamilton averages about eight points more per game than Wesleyan, and though they have played two less games than Wes, the Continentals shoot a higher percentage from the field and from deep. The biggest offensive advantage that I see for Wesleyan is their knack for getting to the foul line. Wesleyan shoots more free throws than any other team in the league, with about 26 per game, as opposed to Hamilton’s 23. They both shoot just about 70% from the strike, so in a close game (as I expect this to be), those 3 extra free throws could be crucial. Both teams are pretty deep, but Hamilton’s scoring is much more top-heavy than Wesleyan’s. If one of their big-time scorers like Peter Hoffmann ‘19 or Michael Grassey ‘19 gets in foul trouble, Wesleyan may be able to pull away. This will be a tough and physical game that depends highly on execution down the stretch. For this reason, I’m giving Wesleyan the advantage. They have simply had more experience in these types of games.
Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan
#8 Tufts @ Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME
This game could go one of two ways, and it’s all about which Tufts team shows up. Throughout this season, it has been a tale of two teams. The Tufts that walked into the gym against MIT and WPI was legit. They shot well, they had 32 and 35 points off the bench respectively, and they forced their opponents into difficult shots. Then there is the Tufts team that made an appearance against UMass Boston. They were outrebounded by a significantly smaller team, they had more turnovers than their opponents (albeit by just 1 turnover), and they allowed UMB’s center to dominate them. This Jumbos team is good because they are deep, but when they don’t get production from their bench, they simply aren’t as good a team. Now, it’s definitely worth noting that Vinny Pace ‘18, Tufts’ best scorer, was coming off the bench until the UMB game, but overall, they just need more consistency. Colby may be able to capitalize on this, but their margin of error is slim. Colby ranks last in the conference in scoring with just 70.7 PPG, a product of their league-worst shooting percentage and shot attempt numbers. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is currently the only double-digit point-getter on the Mules’ side of the ball, and that will be an issue against Tufts who has pretty favorable match-ups on their own offensive end. I don’t see Colby slowing down the Tufts offense too much, but you never know. Maybe the Mules will take down the #8 Jumbos. I’m not banking on that.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
Bates @ Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Every year, I wait for NESCAC play before judging Bates because every year, their out of conference schedule is filled with teams that I know little to nothing about. However, I was impressed by Bates’ win against Brandeis recently, and before that they blew out Framingham State like they were supposed to. Maybe Bates is better than I predicted? Though both were non-conference games, Bates has fared 1-1 against NESCAC opponents this season with a buzzer-beater loss to Colby and a 14-point win against Bowdoin. Bowdoin will certainly be looking for revenge this time around, and so will Jack Simonds ‘19, who was held to just 12 points the first time these two met. Simonds, as anyone reading this blog knows, is Bowdoin’s leading scorer, and also the NESCAC’s leading scorer, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into success for the Polar Bears. I knew at the beginning of the season that Bowdoin would struggle if they didn’t diversify their scoring, and it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen in league-play unless they get some other guys involved in the offense. This is partly because Bowdoin’s defense is pretty porous. They allow the second-most PPG in the ‘CAC, and against Bates, they allowed the Bobcats’ starting lineup to tally 62 of their 74 points. The key for Bowdoin this time around is forcing the Bates bench to score. However, the Bobcats are in luck, as newly found offensive weapon Jeff Spellman ‘20 has been playing very well recently. Per usual, it’s up to the twin towers of Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche to anchor the load offensively. If these two dominate like last time (combined for 37 points), then Bates is in good shape. If not, then Simonds might just will Bowdoin to the promised land in this in-state rivalry.
Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin
Conn College @ #22 Middlebury, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
Unlike Pete, I’m able to write about Middlebury in less than twelve lengthy paragraphs, so enjoy this conciseness for a change. Conn-Midd is another subtle yet intriguing game, one which strongly resembles the Wesleyan-Hamilton matchup. Conn College has been gaining steam the last couple years, and they hope that this is finally the year they get over the hump (lol, camels). Middlebury, on the other hand, is looking to once again get off to a hot start in conference play just a year after I called them a rebuilding team and one without playoff hopes. This, of course, propelled the Panthers not only into the playoffs but also the the NCAA tournament after winning the NESCAC championship. En garde, Middlebury. In any event, I see one clear problem for Conn, and that is their defense. Middlebury has offensive weapons – namely, Matt St. Amour. The Panthers have compiled some nice wins against Southern Vermont and Skidmore already, but they did so with Zach Baines ‘17 in the lineup. As Pete mentioned, Midd is likely without Baines and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 this weekend, which makes their bench much thinner. This bodes well for Conn, a team that will either be thirsty for a win after a tough loss to Hamilton, or thirsty to continue their win streak after a solid win against Hamilton. Either way, they will be THIRSTY, and it is up to Middlebury’s guards to stave off the likes of Tyler Rowe ‘19 and David Labossiere ‘19, two of Conn’s top weapons. Meanwhile, Adisa Majors ‘18 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 will be tasked with stopping Conn’s rock, Zuri Pavlin ‘17, who leads the Camels in scoring and is 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding (2nd in overall rebounding). This should be a good one, and we will see how real Conn is on Saturday. I think the thirst is real, and Conn sneaks out of Vermont with a W.
Writer’s Pick: Conn College
Trinity @ #25 Williams, 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Looking at these two teams’ overall performances thus far, this game shouldn’t be too close. Trinity has been unimpressive, and Williams has been pretty damn impressive. But basketball is a game of matchups, and the fact is, Trinity matches up well against Williams. Williams’ strength is in their guards. They shoot A LOT of threes, the most in the league actually, but they haven’t exactly shot well from beyond the arc so far. The Ephs hit just 33.5% of their threes, but they have some great shooters (see: Cole Teal ‘18), so these shots are going to start dropping sooner rather than later. Where the Ephs are somewhat lacking is down low, but Kyle Scadlock ‘19 has been a formidable big so far in his sophomore campaign, and he ranks second in scoring on the Williams roster behind POY candidate Dan Aronowitz ‘17. Trinity, on the other hand, is weaker on the perimeter and stronger inside. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has been the primary source of consistency for the Bantams, and he should beat up on Williams’ rotation of centers. If the Bants pound the ball down to Ogundeko and get him to the free throw line, it will force Williams to sag in off of Trinity’s shooters, which could be deadly. Expect senior Chris Turnbull to have a day for Trinity on the offensive end. All in all, however, I think Aronowitz will feast on Trin – he should have a field day on pretty much any matchup that gets thrown at him, kind of like he’s done all year. The potent Williams attack will be too much for the Bantams.
Remember early in the season when we thought the league might be less chaotic this season? We were wrong. For the first time ever, there are five NESCAC teams in the D3Hoops.com Top 25, with Middlebury (22) and Williams (25) joining Amherst (3), Tufts (8) and Wesleyan (9) after impressive tournament wins coming back from break. And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Amherst and Wesleyan both lost on Tuesday night, throwing both the NESCAC and national rankings into a state of chaos mirrored only by the American political climate. And to add still ANOTHER layer of intrigue, four of the five ranked teams face each other on Friday night, kicking off what promises to be a spectacular season of league games. Amherst and Williams renew the biggest little rivalry in sports, and Middlebury takes on Wesleyan at home in a game that I think I might just try to attend if I’m not too busy. Oh yeah, and the other teams play too. Let’s break down those two marquee match-ups, and the rest of the games around the league.
GAME OF THE WEEK: #3 Amherst @ #25 Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, Massachusetts
NESCAC’s version of the Average Joes-Globo Gym rivalry returns on Friday night, as Williams and Amherst square off in as important a game as one can hope for in the opening weekend of league play. After opening the season at #1 in the country and looking fairly unstoppable over the first couple weeks, Amherst has dropped two out of their last three. The chief reasons for their sudden mortality are on offense. They turned the ball over 17 times in their loss to Eastern Connecticut on Tuesday, and shot only 36% in a loss to Springfield last week. The depth the people raved about for Amherst early in the season is in disarray. Eric Conklin is the only bench player who has made a difference for Amherst lately, as his minutes have jumped up due to the inconsistent (to be diplomatic) play of starting center David George ‘17. Amherst has too often relied on the volume scoring of Jayde Dawson and the efficiency of Johnny McCarthy to keep them in games.
Williams comes in on almost the exact opposite track. Impressive wins over Hope and Mount Union in the Mount Union Classic vaulted the Ephs into the top 25, and they maintained their position with a (somewhat lackluster) 74-62 win over Oneonta St. on Tuesday. In a departure from the last few years, the Ephs have recently won despite poor showings from three point land. Williams is hovering around 28% in their last three games, and yet they are 3-0. This is due to an excellent team defense, and honestly, the play of sophomore forward Kyle Scadlock. After a slow start to the year, Scadlock has averaged 19 PPG in the last three, bringing to life the star leap that some projected after an impressive freshman year. Shooting struggles aside, Williams has to love the spot they’re in entering league play, and Amherst certainly shouldn’t be thrilled with theirs.
For Amherst it has to be pure, elemental anger. Yeah they’ve lost a couple games, but every team will at some point. But to be the pre-season #1 and have to hear idiot pundits like myself and even their own fans cry gloom and doom must royally tick them off. Williams is an excellent team, but this is Amherst basketball we’re talking about here. They were #1 for a reason: they have loads of good players, and they are coached by the legendary David Hixon, who is certainly capable of whipping these guys into shape. A rivalry win in the opening weekend of league play would be a delicious way to remind the league why they were at the top in the first place.
Williams has been winning without three point shooting, but that will get far more difficult to do against elite opponents like Amherst. The Ephs will have trouble getting good looks in the paint against Amherst’s length, meaning that perimeter shots will have to make up the difference. Additionally, Williams does not match up well defensively with Dawson and McCarthy, the backcourt that makes Amherst’s engines run. Therefore, Williams will have to hit some threes to keep pace. This makes Cole Teal ‘17 a major key (shout out: DJ Khaled) to this game, and to the remainder of the season. Teal is capable of insane hot streaks and insane cold streaks, but lately he has been doing far more of the latter. He was quiet in Mt. Union, shooting just 1-5 over the two games, but he bounced back with a nice night against Oneonta, tallying 15 points on 3-5 shooting from deep. Teal will need to be hot against Amherst both to score from the perimeter and open up the middle for Scadlock and Aronowitz.
Both teams have struggled to find production at the five this season. Williams has spun their “Random Center” wheel several times this season, but so far none of them have been winners. Meanwhile, David George of Amherst has been like the parents from Stranger Things: there in person, but pretty lackluster and ignores a lot of responsibilities. This should lead to a tight, high scoring game, one that I would tend to favor Williams in, as they’re at home. But Williams has no answer for McCarthy and Dawson, both of whom can swing a game themselves. It’s a toss up at this point, the best possible projection for a rivalry game of this magnitude.
Middlebury has not lost to Wesleyan since 2004. Let that sink in. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Matt St. Amour was 10 years old. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, the greatest song of all time (and my go-to karaoke song) “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson had just been released. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Mel Gibson was still a marketable movie star. That said, Wesleyan looked poised to break that streak until Tuesday night. After starting off 11-0 and beating #4 Marietta, Wesleyan was knocked off pace by Rhode Island College 62-55. The loss to RIC featured many of the problems that have plagued Wesleyan in league play over the last few years, namely a lack of offensive firepower and shot-making down the stretch. Standout guards Harry Rafferty ‘17 and Salim Green ‘19 combined for 2 points on 1-15 shooting, numbers that many experts have referred to as “bad.” Wesleyan will not win if they don’t get production from the perimeter, and Middlebury is arguably the best perimeter defensive team in the league. Additionally, the loss of defensive stopper PJ Reed will hurt Wesleyan’s efforts to slow down the run-and-gun Panther offense.
Middlebury enters league play with momentum, but some depth problems. Sophomore guard Hilal Dahleh remains out with a back injury, and forward Zach Baines ‘17 will likely miss the weekend as well. These are two valuable weapons that the Middlebury offense will dearly miss, particularly from a floor-spacing perspective. However, in the Staten Island Tournament of Heroes (DOPE name for a tournament by the way,) Middlebury weathered those losses and a prolonged shooting slump from Matt St. Amour ‘17 to win the championship and vault into the top 20. They owe their success to a two-game stretch of excellent defense, and the heroics of Jack Daly ‘18, who continued his low-key All-League candidacy with a buzzer beater over #17 Illinois-Wesleyan (as well as 14/7/7.5 averages.) In Staten Island, Middlebury showed the toughness to rise to the top of the loaded NESCAC, but they will need to hit outside shots more conistently to beat the elite Wesleyan defense.
While Daly and St. Amour were certainly the MVPs of Middlebury’s tournament, it was contributions from the bench that allowed the Panthers to weather tough shooting from the starters. And the stand-out player from the Middlebury bench was freshman forward Matt Folger.
Folger is an excellent shooter who had threes in both games of the tournament, but defensively was where he really set himself apart. The lanky forward had four blocks over the two games, including three in the championship. Folger’s combination of size, athleticism and timing make him the interior defensive force that Middlebury has been lacking. He and Nick Tarantino will be crucial in stopping Wesleyan’s post duo of Joseph Kuo ‘17 and Nathan Krill ‘18.
Wesleyan’s defense is far from in doubt. They are the number one field goal defense in the country, and boast a perimeter defense that is uniquely able to shut down Middlebury’s three-headed dog of excellent guards. However, Wesleyan simply has to score, and the person most responsible for that is Salim Green ‘19. Green is an exceptional defender, but Middlebury is too deep and fast for Wesleyan to pound the ball and win 55-50. Green will need to score and push the pace if Wesleyan has any hope of ending their 11 year losing streak against the Panthers.
Of all the teams in the league, Middlebury may be the best equipped to handle the indefinite losses of Dahleh and Baines. They have great chemistry and experienced leaders at the helm, as well as a deep bench that is rounding into shape at exactly the right time. But “handling” losses isn’t the same as fixing the holes they create. Middlebury is vulnerable right now, particularly in outside shooting and interior defense. These are the areas that Wesleyan will look to exploit on Friday night. However, Wesleyan has no chance if they shoot anything like the way they did on Tuesday. Someone besides Joseph Kuo needs to put the ball in the basket for the Cardinals, or else their league season will look very different from their first 12 games.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
#8 Tufts @ Bowdoin: 7:00 PM, Brunswick, Maine
I was going to let Rory handle this one, since according to an intrepid commenter I “hate Tufts,” but I think I’ll be able to handle it. I certainly do not hate Tufts, I just left them off the Awards Preview because none of their individual players have stood out yet from a postseason honors standpoint. That could certainly change in league play, particularly as Vincent Pace ‘18 gets healthier and healthier. Pace returned early in the season from a knee injury, and is still rounding himself back into form. When 100% he is certainly one of the best all around players in the league, capable of leading Tufts to a NESCAC title. This opening weekend will be a good test of just how ready he is to take on a heavy minutes load.
Bowdoin, on the other hand, has their star very much ready to go. Jack Simonds ‘19 is leading the league in scoring at 23.3 PPG, and the Polar Bears for the most part rise as far as he can take them. However, on Tuesday night they had a nice win over Bridgewater State despite Simonds having “only” 17. Sophomore guard Jack Bors had 23 off the bench, and forward Neil Fuller ‘17 added 15. We haven’t seen this balance from Bowdoin yet this year, and if it continues in league play, Bowdoin could definitely make some noise. Tufts has a huge edge in this game, but don’t count the Polar bears out just yet.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
Bates @Colby: 7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine
With the Brothers Delepche manning the middle, Bates was always scary defensively. But transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has given the Bobcats some needed offensive punch off the bench. Spellman was a fairly sought after D1 recruit coming out of high school, and committed to Stonehill College. However, he transferred to Bates before playing at all, and immediately hurt his ankle. The 6’2” guard made his NESCAC debut against Farmingdale State on the 29th, and had 13 points off the bench on Tuesday in a big road win against Brandeis. With a terrific defense and a revitalized offense, Bates is looking a little scary.
Entering their non-conference matchup with Bates on December 10th, Colby had lost four out of five and appeared to be carving out a spot at the bottom of the league. But they pulled out a gritty win in that game, and then another in their first game back against UMaine-Farmington. Like the Starship Enterprise, Colby is led by Patrick Stewart ‘19, who averages over 16 points per game. This game might not be critical at the top of the standings come the end of the season, but it is certainly a matter of pride for the Maine rivalries, and also will help determine which of these teams (if any) make the final cut for the NESCAC playoffs.
Writer’s pick: Bates
Connecticut College @ Hamilton:
This game will fly under the radar due to the Middlebury-Wesleyan and Williams-Amherst games, but it is quietly a fascinating match-up that could have major ramifications at the end of the year. Connecticut College has played with tremendous balance all season. They have four players averaging over 10 points per game, including the front-runner for the made-up NESCAC Sixth Man of the Year award in Isaiah Robinson ‘18. Robinson averages 10 per game off the bench on 45.2% shooting from three. Robinson’s offense off the bench has been critical in Connecticut College’s success, as an efficient offense has masked a mediocre defense at times for the Camels.
Speaking of efficient offenses, Hamilton leads the league in points per game at 87, and is third in shooting percentage at 48.3. The Continentals are led by a trio of stellar sophomores. Peter Hoffmann, Michael Grassey and and Tim Doyle all average over 13 points a game and shoot over 50% from the field. This youth is obviously a benefit, as this core could make Hamilton a player for the next couple years at least. However, it may also hurt them during league play. These players are not used to playing meaningful minutes in league play; Hamilton was not a contender during their freshman campaign. Connecticut College is older and more experienced (though still pretty young), and that could help them if this game comes down to the wire. Additionally, Hoffmann, Hamilton’s leading scorer and best defender, is only shooting 47.2% from the foul line. If the game is close in the final minutes, Connecticut College may try to exploit this, forcing Hamilton to choose whether or not to have him on the floor.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Trinity @ Pine Manor: 3:00 PM, Brookline, Massachusetts
Writing about a non-league game after all this excitement makes me a little bit tired, but I’m going to write through it because #BlogIsLife. Pine Manor has had an uneven start to the season, standing at 7-4. Their only other NESCAC matchup was an early season 97-96 loss to Colby. However, from my extensive research on their season (a cursory glance at their website,) Pine Manor looks to be a pretty tough matchup for Trinity. They play at a blinding pace, taking 81 shots per game, which is a full 22 (!) more than the infamously slow Bantams. This game looks like it will be less of a basketball game and more of an ideological debate regarding the nature of the sport.
Speaking of Trinity, they have been one of the toughest teams to figure out in the early months of the season. They started off the year losing three of four, and then a nice win over Springfield (three straight NCAA berths, has beaten Amherst and Conn College) made it appear that they had righted the ship. But they followed that up with a terrible loss to Susquehanna and another loss against a very good Eastern Connecticut team, and they were back down again. And finally, they just put up by far their best performance of the year against Plattsburgh, scoring 107 points and shooting 66% from the field. The Bantams have struggled to find any consistent perimeter scoring around center Ed Ogundeko, but against Plattsburgh they proved that they can beat anyone when they have it. This game will be a crucial final tuneup for Trinity as they look to make a run in league play.
Perhaps Hamilton’s losses to Middlebury 64-62 and to Trinity 96-86 in OT were their best played games of last season. These were just two of many close conference contests that the Continentals dropped in the last few minutes, both to 2016 powerhouses. Their overall record of 11-13was not quite telling of how they fared in conference (2-8), only one of three squads to miss out on the playoffs. Fortunately for Coach Adam Stockwell’s squad, they return all but one starter in Jack Donnelly ‘16, and lose just one other graduate in sixth man Ajani Santos ’16. The Continentals have used last year’s woes and close losses to develop and help them along the way to what has been a solid start to the year, good for a 8-2 record and a #6 spot in our first power rankings of the season, which definitely puts them in the playoff race. We know it, you know it, and we write it all the time: The NESCAC competition is no joke, and because of that Hamilton won’t be truly tested until they hit the expert only double black diamond slopes. They are looking to improve, touch up the details, and use last year’s NESCAC season as a learning experience.
From last year, the young, immature team learned that they needed to have more consistency and close better after playing six conference games that were decided in the final minute, going 1-5 in such contests, frustrating for any team. They needed to improve on rebounding, playing in transition, and overall defensive consistency, which has been aided by a much more stable starting lineup this year. In 2016 Hamilton had 11 players start a game, with eight of those players starting less than half of the games. In other words, there were a lot of moving parts for a team that never really hit its stride. While the Continentals certainly needed somebody to step up last year, after this sample of the preseason, it is clear that Michael Grassey ’19, Peter Hoffmann ‘19, and Andrew Groll ’19 are really coming into their own as leaders on the team to supplement Jack Dwyer ’18 who runs the team and currently ranks third in the NESCAC in assists. Grassey had a great winter in the NESCAC and finished the last five games by averaging 16 PPG and vaulted from a bench player (20 games played, 0 starts) to a starter, second-leading Hamilton scorer, and irreplaceable staple in the lineup this year.
2015-2016 Record: 11-13, 2-8, Did not make NESCAC playoffs
Head Coach: Adam Stockwell, 6th year, 66-56 (Through 2016)
Forward Andrew Groll ‘19 (9.5 PPG; 7.8 REB/G; 1.8 BLK/G)
Guard Peter Hoffmann ‘19 (12.7 PPG; 4.3 REB/G; 40.0% FG)
Guard Jack Donnelly ’16 (8.9 PPG; 39.3% 3-PT; 2.9 REB/G)
Forward Karl Koster ‘18 (2.9 PPG; 60.0% FG; 2.8 REB/G)
Guard Jack Dwyer ‘18
After leading the league in assists with 5.5 per game and adding on 11.0 PPG in 2016, Dwyer is off to another hot start with 6.1 AST/G, 7.4 PPG, and 3.0 REB/G through the first ten games. The leader of this team is one of just two upperclassmen in the starting lineup and will use his experience as the point guard and shot caller to help get the younger players into position, dishing out passes like usual. He should help them improve in transition and will likely start scoring more too as his consistent shooting percentage (37.5%) should lead to a similar 11 PPG once he starts taking more shots. He is currently only on pace to shoot about 180 times this year compared to 235 last year, not just showing Hamilton’s added offensive depth, but also Dwyer’s ability to run the team and not just fire up shots. Because of his ability to spread out the court, four of his teammates are averaging over 10.0 PPG compared to just two last year (which included Dwyer), emphasizing this added offensive depth and the way in which Dwyer is coaxing it out of his teammates.
Guard/Forwards Tim Doyle ’19/Peter Hoffmann ‘19
Doyle got off to a blistering hot start, averaging 20 PPG through the first three contests, before going down to injury after Hamilton’s 11/22 game against Cazenovia. He really jumped out of nowhere after only playing in 12 contests last year, averaging a meager 3.0 PPG. His 3.0 REB/G and 2.3 A/G are solid to back up his shooting ability. Unfortunately for the Continentals he will likely be out until the end of January, handing the reins into Hoffmann’s hands for the time being. The sophomore guard was an everyday starter last year for coach Stockwell’s squad and played well, averaging 12.7 PPG, rebounding well for the shooting guard position, and played nearly 28 minutes per contest. Since he took over for Doyle, he has greatly improved from a season ago and has upped his totals to 17.6 PPG (a team-high), delivering a huge 24 point performance that made the difference against Clarkson on November 26th. If he can put together more games like that and continues to become a force in the paint, and Doyle returns in full force, the Continentals could have a powerful 1-2 punch at this spot as the 6’ 5’’ Hoffmann and 6’ 4’’ Doyle are sure to rain down points to get more minutes. If these two step on the court at the same time, NESCAC defenses better look out.
Forward/Guard Joe Pucci ‘18
Pucci has to be the biggest player listed as a guard in the ‘CAC. The 6’6’’ junior is the second of the Hamilton upperclassmen starters, and like both Grassey and Doyle, he has made a big jump from last season into the starting lineup where there was little turnover in terms of graduates, and has nearly doubled his REB/G from 2.5 to 4.7. His scoring has gone up to 7.5 PPG from 5.3 in 2016, but because his shooting percentage has sunk by nearly 4%, these offensive numbers likely aren’t sustainable once Hamilton starts facing tougher opponents like Amherst and Wesleyan. However, as was the case in 2016, consistency is a big factor here with Pucci. He has thrown up some good shooting games (over 30% FG) and some real duds (under 20% FG) like in the 9-point loss to Catholic University and a win over Oswego. Every team would be great if their best players played their A-game every day, but there is a reason why Hamilton was only 2-8 in the NESCAC last year, and they need more of that A-game out of Pucci.
Forward Michael Grassey ’19
Grassey is a good inside scorer and a great compliment to the rebounding-dominant Groll playing the big man, greatly improving on last year and cementing himself as a starter. This allows Hamilton to gain the rotational consistency that Coach Stockwell focused on when defining how the 2017 squad would make the leap to finish out close games and take the non-conference success to the ‘CAC. The relatively undersized 6’3’’ power forward is comparable to Draymond Green in that size plays little role in how he can play in the paint. He is dominating thus far after not starting a single game in his rookie campaign. He came into his own in the winter portion of last season, and he has earned a starting position this year as a result of his hard work on the court and in the weight room. Grassey is hitting his stride right at the optimal time, putting up over 20 points for three straight games in December and averaging 15.8 PPG overall thus far. His shooting percentage has been off the charts recently, and Hamilton is going to have a shot in a lot of conference games if Grassey keeps this up.
Forward Andrew Groll ‘19
The Hamilton big man is bringing down boards with Grassy at 7.8 per game in 2016 and 7.4 per game thus far through ten games. The 6’7’’/230lb. New York native is a great second half to a two headed rebounding monster, but Groll doesn’t quite score the same way in the paint that Grassey has been able to. Grassey’s shooting accuracy trumps Groll’s as the latter big man, albeit he takes consistently about half the amount of shots. In Hamilton’s narrow loss to Middlebury last January, Groll hauled in 14 boards, showing that he is a big defensive force and is certainly one of the biggest playmakers on this team. Keep in mind that he was having many double-digit rebounding performances against these ranked NESCAC teams as a freshman, and while he might not be a shooter, Dwyer has made sure that the issue of distributing to other scorers is taken care of. Groll should begin to blossom as a force in the paint and will come into his own as a defensive weapon in his sophomore conference-season.
X-Factor:Guard Kena Gilmour ‘20
Pretty much all of the starters except for Dwyer who is a staple of consistency are going to be X-Factors for the Continentals as they are still younger and less experienced in big games than some of the top NESCAC opponents. However, with Pucci, Groll, and even Dwyer not representing big scoring threats, freshman Kena Gilmour has stepped up as a big time scorer off of the bench. Gilmour dropped 26 against Clarkson, one of two games where he played more than 20 minutes, and has been consistent other than one poor game against Eastern where he went 0-4 in a four point loss. He is putting up 10 PPG off of the bench, with a 55.6% FG and should fit into coach Stockwell’s system well as the season ages. The smooth lefty guard was a two time All-New England player in high school, and he should be a big time player in his time at Hamilton.
Hamilton undoubtedly has a strong core here between Dwyer, Doyle, Hoffmann, Grassey, Pucci, Groll, and Gilmour and won’t lose any of them until after next season. Their 8-2 start is clearly a big step in the right direction, coupled with several of their starters making huge improvements from a season ago. While all of that is great news for any Continental fan, keep in mind that the jump from 2-8 in conference to a NESCAC contender is even bigger. Coach Stockwell is experienced in this league, has been to the playoffs twice, and obviously won’t take anything for granted from this talented group. However, since just eight teams make the playoffs, Hamilton is going to need to pull off a couple upsets if they want to make there way into the NESCAC tournament. They have the talent, but it is their youth that provokes a question mark.
Hamilton’s experience in close losses from last year should give them an edge in similar situations this year, and if they can close in the final minutes, the Continentals should very well snatch one of those eight golden NESCAC tickets. Their 8-2 record may be slightly misleading, as even though Catholic and Eastern are solid teams, the best achievement of either is that Catholic played Notre Dame in an exhibition match (and then lost 103-48…). Other NESCAC teams are playing tough competition, gearing up for what should be a close and hard-fought regular season, and Hamilton could potentially struggle to keep up. If their players can play the same way against better teams, they will be just fine. In theory, Hamilton’s talent should be enough to propel them into the middle of the NESCAC standings, but any fan of NESCAC basketball knows that it is the intangibles that separate good teams from great teams in this conference. Who is going to step up as leaders in crunch time? Who is going to rally the troops when their backs are against the wall? Hamilton has what it takes to beat some of the top teams in this conference, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can put everything together and make it happen.
Unfortunately, all 11 NESCAC teams didn’t make it to the NCAA field this year. I feel like a gung ho Hamilton team might have surprised some people, but I guess that’s a moot point now. Check out our brief season reviews for each team and a look at what next season might bring.
Hamilton College Continentals (11-13, 2-8)
It wasn’t a pretty season for the Continentals. While they managed to finished just one game below .500, they only won two NESCAC match ups. They finished tied with Bates for last in the NESCAC in the standing and were 10th in points per game and field goal percentage. Their three point shooting was better – eighth in the NESCAC – but this is a Hamilton team that really struggled to score, but they managed to play some NESCAC teams tough throughout the year, and even bested eventual NESCAC champion Middlebury.
The Conts were much better defensively. In their last game of the year, they held Amherst to 65 points. Their field goal percentage allowed was good for sixth in the league, and they rebounded well, with big man Andrew Groll ’19 leading the way with an impressive 7.8 rebounds per game.
Coach Adam Stockwell changed the starting five often throughout the year, so their returners will mostly all have starting experience. Hamilton has youth on their side, as they will only be graduating two players who started as many as nine games. There are only two rising seniors in the rotation, so this roster still has a lot of room to grow. Guards Jack Dwyer ’18, who led the NESCAC in assists at 5.5 per game, and Peter Hoffmann ’19 will be the top scoring returners. Other players who could develop include Michael Grassey ’19, fourth in the conference with 46 percent from 3PT range, and Groll, fourth in the league at 7.8 rpg and third with 1.8 blocks per game.
Bates College Bobcats (10-14, 2-8)
Bates was the worst team in the NESCAC this season. Let’s take a look at some of their NESCAC rankings.
Ninth in ppg and last in field goal percentage
Tenth in 3PT percentage, but they took the most threes in conference games
Ninth in free throw percentage.
Eleventh in defensive rebounding
Tenth in turnovers.
Eighth in personal fouls
What’s worse for the Bobcats is that they will lose captain Mike Boornazian ’16, who finished seventh in the NESCAC in minutes, and was named to the Maine All-State team for the third time. Although he struggled shooting the ball this year, with a 36.5 field goal percentage and a 29.5 mark from deep, he still led the team in points, and was a reliable 15 ppg player the last three years for Bates.
There aren’t many positive things to focus on for Bates. Bates players are hard to find among the NESCAC individual stat leaders. One area of note is that the Bobcats will rely heavily on the Delpeche twins next season. Center Malcolm Delpheche ’17 was fifth in blocks in the NESCAC at 1.1 per game, and forward twin brother Marcus Delpeche ’17 was also an important starter for the Bobcats. The growth of sophomore guard Shawn Strickland ’18, coming off of a solid season, will also play a significant role in Bates’ success next year. Their next batch of freshman will likely play a large role in determining their fate in 2016-17. They have a lot they need to improve before they can be competitive in the NESCAC again.
Connecticut College Camels (12-12, 3-7)
The NESCAC’s southernmost team finished 12-12 overall, and went 3-7 in conference play in 2015-16. They had fine averages across the board offensively, with 79.3 ppg and an efficient 46.1/37.7/73.8 percent slash line. No single player ran their offense, as seven Camels players averaged over 6.5 ppg, and each of their top six averaged 9.5 ppg or more. The 2015-16 Camels lacked a star, however, with top scorer Lee Messier ’18 averaging 13.8 ppg. Connecticut won’t be scrambling to replace seniors next year. Their only graduating starter is Bo McKinley ’16, and he was essentially their sixth man. They’ll still have forward Zuri Pavlin ’17 (8.6 rebounds per game, good for third in the league), Lee Messier (44.9 percent from 3PT range, fifth in the NESCAC), and Tyler Rowe ’19 (fifth in the league in steals, with 1.5 per game).
A full season out of Lee Messier could help the Camels become more of a NESCAC threat. They’ll also benefit from a balanced starting lineup next year, potentially heading into 2016-17 with a nice balance of two seniors, a junior, and two sophomores. They had the fifth-best offense in the NESCAC this year, and because they won’t lose any high impact seniors, they’ll have a good chance to repeat or improve on that ranking next year. Their key will be improving a defense that finished second to last in the NESCAC.
Colby College Mules (16-9, 4-6)
Predicting 2016-17 for the Mules is problematic for one very obvious reason: They will graduate their top five scorers. Their starting five was purely seniors this year.
What does that say about the team’s outlook going forward? Did head coach Damien Strahorn not trust any of his underclassmen in starting roles? Was this a failed “win now” attempt? Whatever the reason, finding a new starting five is going to be a challenge for the Mules.
This Colby team has more questions and more unknowns going into next year than any other team in the league. Their returning players simply didn’t get extensive playing time, so it’s difficult to know what to expect, except for regression. It’s always hard to replace a 15 ppg player, let alone two of them (Chris Hudnut ’16 and Ryan Jann ’16), and on top of that they’ll lose Patrick Stewart ’16, who led the league in three point shooting this season (52.3 percent).
Bowdoin College Polar Bears (12-11, 4-6)
The Polar Bears boasted arguably the best senior and best freshman in the NESCAC this season, but even all of that firepower wasn’t enough to make any kind of legitimate run at the NESCAC title. Bowdoin snuck its way in to the NESCAC tournament with a two-win weekend at the end of the season, but were dispatched by Amherst in the first round. While losing the scoring punch of Lucas Hausman ’16 will be tough to overcome, perhaps more worrisome is that the Polar Bears were a very bad defensive team this season, and that’s a systemic problem. Hausman himself wasn’t a great defender, so his replacement should provide a plus on that end, but the majority of a rotation that gave up 76.0 ppg will be back. Graduating with Hausman are starters Matt Palecki ’16 and Jake Donnelly ’16. The other starters and role players will be back.
Prepare for the Jack Simonds ’19 Show to begin. What was once Hausman’s team will now become Simonds’. With his size and shooting ability (45.7% FG, 35.8% 3PT, 89.7% FT), Simonds has POY potential. Surrounding Simonds will be the tough rebounding Neil Fuller ’17 and a couple of freshmen that showed promise but will need to make huge leaps forward in point guard Tim Ahn ’19 and forward Hugh O’Neil ’19. The immediate future isn’t particularly bright for Bowdoin, but with Fuller the only rising senior set to play significant minutes, 2017-18 could be the Polar Bears’ turn to strike.
Williams College Ephs (15-10, 5-5)
The Ephs did several things very well this year, allowing the lowest field goal percentage and shooting the highest percentage from the field in league games. They were the NESCAC model of efficiency. On top of that, they made the second most three pointers in NESCAC games. Surprisingly, the Ephs struggled overall statistically, ending up 10th in rebounding, last in steals, and seventh in blocks. Despite those areas of concern, Williams only allowed 66.2 ppg, the best mark in the league.
Williams enjoyed an incredibly balanced starting five this year, going with a senior, a junior, two sophomores and a freshman, so they’re well set for 2016-17. Essentially, the only senior they will lose is center Edward Flynn ’16 who averaged 7.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg.
Their senior losses are very manageable, and by the numbers, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be very competitive next season. The best news for Williams? They return Daniel Aronowitz ’17, who was third in the NESCAC at 18.2 points per game, fifth with 7.4 rebounds per game, and fifth in minutes. With their strong percentages across the board, and a NESCAC stud in Aronowitz, Williams should be able to top their 5 -5 record from this season. They struggled in their two games against Amherst, but Williams’ other NESCAC losses against Tufts and Middlebury were close games. Williams might not be far off from returning to the top of the heap.
Wesleyan (18-7, 5-5)
This is a Cardinals team that really struggled to score, finishing near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories, but their strong defense buoyed them throughout the year. They were the fourth-best scoring defense in conference games and had a +2.5 rebounding margin in NESCAC games.
The loss of BJ Davis ’16 will hurt the Cardinals, potentially more than the loss of any player in the NESCAC. He was an all-around player, and a workhorse for Wesleyan, leading the league in minutes. He didn’t miss a game in 2015-16. His overall production put him among the NESCAC elite, with 16.4 ppg – fifth in the NESCAC – and 1.4 steals per game – seventh in the conference.
Kevin O’Brien ’19 was the only freshman or sophomore to get a start for this Wesleyan squad. They graduate three contributing seniors, but PJ Reed ’17, Harry Rafferty ’17 and Joseph Kuo ’17 all have significant experience. Kuo was second in scoring at 11.1, so offense will be a big concern for the Cardinals. Without Davis, the Cardinals will probably have to go back to the formula of a year ago, sharing the scoring equally among half a dozen players. It’ll be a tall order to replace the talented point man.
On the surface, the NESCAC tournament is an easy thing to get into. Eight of 11 teams make it, so you have a 73 percent chance at the start of the season. This year though … some very good teams are going to be on the outside looking in. Just so we are completely clear, the top six teams (Trinity, Amherst, Middlebury, Tufts, Wesleyan and Williams) have all clinched playoff spots. Here is how the standings for the final five teams look. Included is their record versus the other four teams because of the importance of tiebreakers.
7. 3-5 Connecticut College Camels (2-0. Beat Bates and Hamilton) 8. 2-6 Bowdoin Polar Bears (2-1. Beat Bates and Colby, lost to Hamilton)
9. 2-6 Colby Mules (1-2. Beat Hamilton, lost to Bowdoin and Bates) 10. 2-6 Hamilton Continentals (1-3. Beat Bowdoin, lost to Conn, Bates, and Colby) 11. 2-7 Bates Bobcats (2-2. Beat Colby and Hamilton, lost to Conn and Bowdoin)
Going through the potential scenarios for each team making the playoffs is tiresome and nearly impossible. Instead, I’m going to rank the teams in likelihood to make the playoffs and make the case for and against them making the playoffs. To be clear, two of these five teams are making the NESCAC tournament.
1. Conn College Camels
This week’s opponents: Friday at Colby, Saturday at Bowdoin
Why they make it: The case for the Camels being the most likely team to make the playoffs is simple: they need to win just one game to guarantee they make it. Even if they lose both games, they have a chance if things break right. Conn College could easily be off the bubble at this point, but they have lost three NESCAC games by six points combined. The Camels have a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double figures in conference play. They are the most talented and balanced of these five teams, and that talent will be enough to pull out one game against Colby and Bowdoin.
Why they don’t make it: A very young team with two freshmen among their top players have to go on the road all the way to Maine and win against teams much more experienced than them in these situations. Conn College has never been in this spot before. How they react down the stretch of a close game is a question mark, but remember that they lost the game last Sunday down the stretch. Another problem besides inexperience is that they are allowing the second most points per game in conference games. Both Bowdoin and Colby are good offensive teams capable of making these games into track meets.
2. Colby Mules
This week’s opponents: Friday vs. Conn College, Saturday vs. Wesleyan
Why they make it: Of these five teams, I think Colby has the best chance of going 2-0 and securing their spot without having to worry about tiebreakers. They have lost four of their NESCAC games by an average of 2.7 points, and they have been banged up for much of the season, too. With five seniors in the starting lineup, nobody has more motivation than them to take care of business and get into the NESCAC tournament. Their talent is obvious given that they beat Amherst and came close to beating Middlebury last weekend, too. Chris Hudnut ’16 is also playing better in the last few weeks than he has all season.
Why they don’t make it: Alright, so while they lost a bunch of close games, the two games Colby actually won were by two and four points, respectively. They needed a near miracle in the final 15 seconds of regulation against Hamilton to pull out that game. The Mules just play close games. They rank ninth in NESCAC games in both points scored and allowed per game. Their bench lacks any consistent scorer, and they have no backup big men meaning they rely on Patrick Stewart ’16, Sam Willson ’16 and Hudnut to stay out of foul trouble.
3. Bowdoin Polar Bears
This week’s opponents: Friday vs. Wesleyan, Saturday vs. Conn College
Why they make it: I mean, the team with the presumptive NESCAC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year can’t really miss the playoffs can they? Well, they won’t if Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 score like they are capable of this weekend. Simonds seemed to be hitting a little bit of a freshman wall, but he has put that idea to bed with 23 and 27 point performances the past two games. The Polar Bears probably still need one more player to step up in some way, be it rebounding, assisting, or scoring. My money is on one of the other seniors, point guard Jake Donnelly ’16 or Matt Palecki ’16, being that guy. Playing at home in the Morrell Madhouse (no one calls it that but me), where Bowdoin is 6-3, also helps a little bit.
Why they don’t make it: The problems the Polar Bears have had all season (rebounding and defense along with an offense too reliant on individual scoring) are still there. The Polar Bears have allowed the most points per game, 84.8, and have the worst rebounding margin, -5.9, of anybody in conference games. Both those marks are also well below anybody else. The possibility of Wesleyan crushing Bowdoin on the glass this weekend is a very real one. The Polar Bears also have allowed teams to shoot a whopping 43.0 percent from three point land.
4. Bates Bobcats
This week’s opponents: Sunday at Williams
Why they make it: I sort of like the match-ups for Bates against Williams. They can put Mike Boornazian ’16 on Dan Aronowitz ’17 to slow down the Ephs’ leading scorer. Malcolm and Marcus Delpeche ’17 should have the advantage on the interior, and the Bobcats have plenty of other bodies to throw into the mix also. The Ephs aren’t a real high scoring team, and a few easy buckets for Bates in transition could have an outsized effect if it’s a low scoring affair. Don’t forget that Bates had a four game winning streak in the beginning of January with three of those wins vs. winning teams. The Bobcats can play a little ball.
Why they don’t make it: First, the Bobcats only have one game left, making Williams a must win. And even that isn’t a guarantee of a spot. Second, Bates has to do it on the road away from their preferred environs in Lewiston. Third, they have lost seven of their last eight games with the only win coming against a subpar Maine-Farmington team. I worry about where the scoring comes from given the struggles of Boornazian to be efficient. A big question mark is sharpshooter Josh Britten ’16, who sat out against Bowdoin on Tuesday.
5. Hamilton Continentals
This week’s opponents: Friday at Trinity, Saturday at Amherst
Why they make it: The Continentals are hot, baby! They had a two game winning streak going until their overtime loss to Colby last Sunday. Freshman big man Andrew Groll ’19 has played better as the season has gone along, averaging 12.3 ppg on 53.6 percent shooting in NESCAC games. Both center Ajani Santos ’16 and shooting guard Michael Grassey ’19 had season high performances in points last weekend. Of these five teams, the Continentals have been playing the best basketball as of late.
Why they don’t make it: I feel like I’ve said this a thousand times this season, but it doesn’t get any harder than going on the road to play Trinity and Amherst. Both the Bantams and Purple and White (please choose a new mascot soon Amherst. Don’t forget the Dorsets!) have plenty to play for still so the Continentals won’t get any breaks. The Continentals beat Middlebury so they have that notch in their belt, but it will take a near perfect game for them to get a win this weekend. The athleticism mismatch between the Continentals and their opponents is a significant one.
Disclaimer: I will be yelling/chanting/clapping as loud as possible at both Bowdoin games this weekend. Most of the time it will be in support of the Polar Bears, but other times it won’t. I mean opposing players no disrespect and want nothing but the best for you, but I hope you miss every shot against Bowdoin.
Being on break this past weekend, I followed the NESCAC action from afar even as my Middlebury classmates played their final regular season home games in Pepin Gymnasium. What stood out to me over the weekend was the continued separation between the top five and bottom six, and the Cardinals darkened that line with a buzzer-beating win over the sixth-place Ephs. As usual, though, there were close games even between the “elite” and the “also-rans”, but in this case all of big favorites won their games. So, while there is a little bit of variation in the top and bottom tier, there will be no teams crossing that chasm until one of the bottom feeders can emerge as a consistent adversary.
1. No. 19 Amherst (18-4, 6-2, Last week: 1)
Yes, they lost to Tufts, and yes, it wasn’t particularly close, but let’s not overreact. Look, Amherst isn’t a perfect team, and they might slip up here and there, but I still hold them as the favorite as of this posting today. Not to excuse Amherst from that game, but Tufts was at home, and the Jumbos shot 8-20 from three, and in case you forgot, Amherst is leading the world in three-point field goal percentage defense (27.4 percent allowed), so that’s anomalous. What’s more, Jeff Racy ’17 is in an epic slump right now (he was 0-6 from deep against Tufts), and I think that actually bodes well for Amherst going forward for two reasons. Racy’s slump has highlighted the ability of Connor Green ’16, Jayde Dawson ’18 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 to put up big points on any given night. They don’t need one guy to score 20 per game for them to win. Secondly, Racy is going to come back. He might not shoot near 60 percent from beyond the arc as he did early in the season, but he won’t go 0-6 very often, either. This team is still very good. As Adam pointed out though, the rotation continues to shorten, so the lack of bench production from the Purple and White remains a concern.
2. Trinity (16-6, 7-1, Last week: 2)
Two games, two easy wins, and one over the Amherst-slaying Tufts Jumbos in Medford. Even with Ed Ogundeko ’17 hampered, Trinity cleaned up the boards in both games. In stark opposition to Amherst, Trinity can get scoring from everyone up and down the lineup, which, in the end, might be the reason that Trinity prevails in a back-to-back NESCAC Semis and Finals scenario. For now, though, the head-to-head loss to Amherst still speaks loudly, and even though Tufts went on to beat Amherst the night after losing to Trinity, there’s the fact that the Jumbos may have been in panic mode and needing a win over Amherst. Don’t underestimate a team in a must-win situation.
3. Middlebury (14-8, 6-2, Last week: 5)
Spots 3-5 have become so muddled, but I took a glance over the Panthers last eight games and realized that if Andrew Groll ’19 hadn’t canned that short jumper as time expired to beat the Panthers, they’d be a lock for this spot and be 7-1 in conference play. Now, of course, we can’t just ignore that said nail in the coffin happened, that Middlebury has also fallen to Conn. College, that they only beat Colby by two points last Friday at home, and they haven’t yet played Amherst or Trinity. Still, as it stands today, they’re looking pretty good. They seem to have a bit of a fighter’s mentality this season, whereas in years past there was more of a sense that if the star wasn’t playing well or they were down at half, that you could write it off. Not anymore. I don’t have much wealth to wager these days (especially after some sour Super Bowl bets), but I’d put down a few bucks on Middlebury going 1-1 this weekend against the top two teams, which would mean a home playoff game in Pepin Gym.
4. No. 20 Wesleyan (18-4, 5-3, Last week: 3)
As I said in last week’s ranks, things are trending up for the Cardinals, so why did they move down a notch? Simply put, things are so close between Middlebury, Wesleyan and Tufts, and head-to-head scores move the needle ever so slightly. Tack on a nailbiter against Williams, a team that the Cards should beat handily on paper, and Wesleyan drops to No. 4. Still, the contributions of Jack Mackey ’16 and the solid eight-man rotation continue to give me confidence in this team. Their ability to pull out the victory against Williams suggests that they are a mature team, and that’s the difference between them and a green Ephs squadron.
5. No. 25 Tufts (17-5, 6-3, Last week: 4)
The win over Amherst and loss to Trinity sum up to a pretty par for the course weekend. Good for the Jumbos, as a 2-0 performance would mean bye-bye home game, but they were able to stay in the conversation with one win. In the loss to the Bantams, they breakout of Shay Ajayi ’16 is troublesome for Tufts. How was Tom Palleschi ’17, by far the league’s best shot blocker and a tough interior defender, not able to slow down Ajayi? Perhaps the key to beating Palleschi is to give the ball to someone quick who can step away from the basket and shoot jumpers, but how many teams have that guy? Not Amherst, maybe Middlebury if Matt Daley ’16 is making shots from 15-foot jumpers, sort of Wesleyan if Rashid Epps ’16 is going well, but if Joseph Kuo ’17 is in the game them Palleschi is apt to cover the latter, while Kyle Scadlock ’19 or Jack Simonds ’19 might be that guy, but as a whole their teams probably aren’t good enough to beat Tufts. So often in basketball it comes down to matchups, and it just might be that Trinity has the perfect one to exploit what Tufts can do on defense.
6. Williams (14-8, 4-4, Last week: 6)
They continue to solidify that No. 6 spot, even in defeat, as a buzzer beating loss to the Cardinals is nothing to tuck your tail over. They also just squeaked out a win over Conn. College, but the Camels are darn good, in case you hadn’t noticed. The biggest thing holding this team back is youth. Losing Mike Greenman ’17 has been, I think, an unquantifiable loss. He probably wouldn’t have put up massive numbers on the stat sheet, but his presence would have been invaluable, and we might be talking about the “top six” teams instead of the “top five” if he were still playing. As it stands now, two freshmen, Kyle Scadlock and Bobby Casey ’19, are playing starter minutes, while two others fit into the tail end of the rotation, and the rest of the rotation is pretty inexperienced, as well, with the exception of Dan Aronowitz ’17.
7. Conn College (12-10, 3-5, Last week: 9)
Sort of how I did with Middlebury, I look at Conn’s last X number of games and say, I could easily have seen this or that turning out differently and we might really have something here. Of course, you can often say that with any team, but Conn’s play has really stuck out to me. They’re young, they’re inexperienced, and they could easily fade off like most young teams, and yet they just keep competing. And I’m moving them up in the rankings, despite losing five straight games. Those five games – a neck-and-neck two-point loss vs. Tufts; a disappointing 105-89 loss vs. Mitchell College; an eight-point loss to Wesleyan, in Middletown, in which the Cardinals had to go 20-30 from the floor in the second half to win; a comeback attempt fallen short at Western Connecticut; and a lead let slip to Williams, 70-67. As the Camels get a little more mature, they’ll learn how to win those games, and by next season they could be hosting a playoff game.
8. Colby (14-8, 2-6, Last week: 7)
My Mules keep holding on. I shouldn’t call them “my Mules,” because I don’t want to play favorites (other than Middlebury), but I have stubbornly believed that they can turn it on all season long. They almost beat the Panthers, and they just got by the Continentals in the season’s highest-scoring NESCAC game. That’s just who Colby is – a run ‘n’ gun squad that will struggle against the better defenses. The bright side for them is that Chris Hudnut ’16 has been playing consistent minutes which gives them a chance in any game, and Pat Stewart ’16 has, at least for now, surpassed Racy as the best three-point shooter in the NESCAC. What’s more, Stewart isn’t a one-trick pony. As if this offense wasn’t dangerous enough already.
9. Hamilton (11-11, 2-6, Last week: 11)
Things are pretty ugly down here in the bottom trio right now, but none of these teams are quite dead yet. The Conts have a brutal weekend ahead with Trinity and Amherst coming up, but it’s not ridiculous that a 3-7 team could squeak into the playoffs, so they still have plenty to play for, and they showed it last weekend. The 15-point win over Bowdoin was consummate. Hamilton outshot the Polar Bears in every facet, matched them on the boards and only let Bowdoin ahead for the first 3:15 of the contest. The enigma that is Ajani Santos ’16 looked like an old version of himself, only better, with 25 points and seven boards. Unfortunately, the magic wore off in the game against Colby. Santos only played 17 minutes and had four points, but it was the frosh Michael Grassey ’19 bursting onto the scene with 23 bench points. Groll collected a double-double, as well, with 18 points and 10 boards, but Colby just outshot Hamilton in the OT period to pull away. This is another young team gaining valuable experience this season, and getting a playoff game would be huge for their development.
10. Bowdoin (10-10, 2-6, Last week: 8)
The loss to Hamilton really stung this weekend, and the Polar Bears didn’t put up too much of a fight against Middlebury. At this point we have a pretty good grip on what Bowdoin can do. They only go as far as Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19. Against Middlebury, that pair combined for 52 of the team’s 69 points. On the season they have scored 51.3 percent of Bowdoin’s points, by far the highest percentage for any duo (Vinny Pace ’18 and Tom Palleschi have tallied 37.6 percent of the Jumbos’ points). That can lead to some exciting games to watch, but it’s not a recipe for success, especially not at this level.
11. Bates (10-13, 2-7)
Bowdoin just creamed the Bobcats last night, but even if that hadn’t happened, Bates would probably still be in this spot. They’ve lost three in a row, seven of eight, and eight of 10. Things have really deteriorated. Bates opened the season with six straight games of 79 or more points, and had a five-game stretch where they scored 73+ four times. In the nine games sense, Bates has scored less than 70 in seven of those games, and the 73-51 loss to Bowdoin last night was probably the team’s low point. All of that is a long way of saying that Bates’ season has been in free fall for awhile. Other teams have figured out how to force Mike Boornazian ’16 into a lot of tough shots, and he’s had some bad shooting nights because of it with no one to pick up the slack. As I said before, none of these teams are dead yet, but it will take a monumental effort and a lot of luck for Bates to sneak into the postseason.