Welcome to the Big Leagues: Middlebury and Amherst NCAA Opening Previews

Fans of NESCAC basketball have enjoyed a level of talent this season that has possibly never been matched in the history of the league. And on Monday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the league with four at large bids, in addition to Middlebury’s guaranteed spot for winning the conference tournament. Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan and Tufts join the Panthers, giving the ‘CAC one of the strongest showings of any conference in the country.  Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll be giving you the lowdown on where each team finds themselves in their quest for a national title.

#6 Middlebury (24-3, 11-2)

The Panthers are rolling right now, with a second straight NESCAC title to show for it,

As the number one seed and outright winner of the conference, Middlebury is in a terrific position to make a deep tournament run. The Panthers should be hosting (as long as they keep winning) until the tournament shifts to Salem. However, the Panthers certainly shouldn’t be looking ahead, as they have a tough opening weekend to contend with. They open on Friday against Farmingdale State, a team that tries to run the floor in much the same way that Middlebury does. And Lycoming and Cabrini, the two other teams in the bracket, are strong teams with tournament pedigree.

How They Got Here:

Middlebury is of course driven by their three guards. Matt St. Amour ‘17 was recently crowned NESCAC Player of the Year after averaging 22 points per game in the season and almost 25 per game in league play. His midrange game, once a major weakness, has become positively deadly, and he has carried Middlebury through a late season injury to Jake Brown ‘17. Speaking of Brown, the recently named All NESCAC Second Team point guard is the key to Middlebury’s fast paced offense and defense. He has also made himself into a key outside threat for Middlebury, shooting 37% from three. And Jack Daly ‘18 had been flying under the radar until Brown went down. But stepping up and running the offense in Brown’s absence has given viewers a newfound appreciation for Daly. If there’s a play that shifts the game in Middlebury’s favor, the odds are good that Jack Daly is involved.

How They Lose

Middlebury’s guards are pretty much locks to get their numbers. The Panthers struggle when their big men aren’t involved in the offense and when the other team gets hot from three. If Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 aren’t threats on the offensive end, then teams can focus on the guards and force Middlebury to play halfcourt, perimeter-oriented basketball. Farmingdale State is a fast break team, but they don’t shoot very well from three (33.5% on the year.) However, they do rebound very well thanks to big men George Reifenstahl ‘19 and Wendell Irvine ‘17, both of whom average over 9 rebounds per game. Therefore the Middlebury big men will have to do a good job on the boards and also assert themselves on offense, not just against Farmingdale but (ideally) throughout the tournament.

The Competition

Farmingdale State (19-7, 14-2)

The Farmingdale State University Rams
(Courtesy of Farmingdale Athletics)

Farmingdale has overcome a strong start to really control their league. They won their tournament on a game winner from Reifenstahl, who along with Irvine and guard Ali Mableton ‘19 earned all conference honors. The Rams look to run, but can be careless on offense, shooting only 43% from the field and turning the ball over a whopping 18 times per game. Middlebury should be able to exploit this carelessness, and will need to work on shutting down Reifenstahl and Irvine.

#15 Lycoming (23-4, 13-3)

David Johnson ’17
(Courtesy of Lycoming Athletics)

Lycoming and Middlebury would be a fascinating Saturday match-up. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 25 pretty much all year and now sit at 15 heading into tournament play. They are led by David Johnson ‘17 who, despite being 5’9,” averages 14 points per game and shoots an amazing 48.7% from three. Lycoming overall shoots threes very well (37% as a team,) so Middlebury will have to run them off the line much like they did in the second half against Williams in the NESCAC final.

Cabrini (19-7, 15-3)

Tyheim Monroe ’18
(Courtesy of Cabrini Athletics)

Cabrini is led by junior center Tyheim Monroe, who is two spots ahead of Matt St. Amour in scoring in the nation (23rd, at 22.1 points per game) and leads the nation in rebounds per game at 15.7. Monroe plays 36 minutes a game, and the vast majority of their offensive sets run through him. Middlebury will probably employ a similar swarming defensive strategy that they used on Ed Ogundeko to beat Trinity in the quarterfinals. But Monroe is the type of player who could carry a team to an upset against the Panthers.

 

Amherst (17-7, 8-4)

No. 3 Men’s Basketball Downed by No. 6 Williams, 76-69

After starting the season as the number one team in the country, Amherst enters tournament play outside the national rankings. This is due to inconsistent play all season, culminating in a quarterfinal loss to hated rival Williams. Therefore, Amherst has a tough road to travel if they hope to redeem their disappointing NESCAC season with a long tournament run.

How They Got Here

As most readers of this blog probably know, Amherst is led by their excellent backcourt. Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 were Second and First Team All NESCAC selections respectively, and combined to average over 33 points per game. Additionally, junior guard Michael Riopel averages 10 points per game and shoots 48% from three, giving Amherst a needed outside threat to take some pressure off of Dawson and McCarthy. The Purple and White are at their best when Dawson and McCarthy are dominating the opposing backcourt, giving Riopel open looks.

How They Lose

Unfortunately Amherst has little else outside of their backcourt. They struggle to get contributions from any forwards, and Riopel and even McCarthy can be too passive. This forces Dawson to play hero ball, and he can shoot Amherst out of games when he does that. In their loss to Williams, Dawson shot 3-19, while Riopel and McCarthy combined to take only 16 shots. It’s hard to figure out how to divide up blame in that situation (is Dawson playing selfishly or do the other players need to be more assertive?), but either way Amherst has some serious problems. They ultimately seem to lack the necessary depth to compete against elite competition.

The Competition

Keene State (19-9, 10-4)

The Owls, who knocked Middlebury out last year, had something of a Cinderella run to the final of their conference tournament before losing 72-70 to Eastern Connecticut. They have two First Team All Conference performers in Matt Ozzella ‘17 and Ty Nichols ‘19, but also have three other players scoring in double figures. This is the kind of depth that could give top-heavy Amherst fits, particularly in the front court. Amherst plays the Owls tonight at 5:30.

Misericordia (20-7, 9-5)

Jason Kenny ’19
(Courtesy of Misericordia Athletics)

A contender for the “College Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Song From Les Miserables” award, Misericordia won their conference tournament and has a lot of momentum heading into the NCAAs. They are led by terrific all around guard Jason Kenny ‘19, who put up a 21/4/4 line on nearly 50% shooting from the field and 41% from three. But the Cougars have three other double figure scorers and shoot the three at 37% as a team. Again, this is the kind of depth that Amherst really struggles with, especially since they have some, uh, disinterested defenders on their roster.

#5 Ramapo (25-2, 16-2)

The Ramapo College Roadrunners
(Courtesy of Ramapo Athletics)

The host team and number 5 team in the country, Ramapo is certainly the favorite to come out of this weekend. They are led in scoring by Thomas Boncum ‘18 (17.7 ppg,) but they are a terrific team top to bottom. They shoot 50.7 from the field and 41% from three as a team, which point to a tremendously efficient offensive strategy. Their average margin of victory is a whopping 14.4 points per game, and they out-rebound opponents by 7 boards per game, an area in which Amherst tends to struggle. Ramapo is a legit title contender, and Amherst may not be able to run with them even if they survive Keene State tonight.

Game of the The Week: Amherst @ Middlebury, February 10

Amherst (16-5, 6-2) @ Middlebury (18-3, 6-2), Friday, February 10th, 7:00 PM, Middlebury, Vermont

Overview:

Almost four years to the day from Friday, Middlebury and Amherst faced off in a very similar situation.

Joey Kizel and Willy Workman each had 30 in the classic 2013 Amherst vs. Middlebury match-up.

The two teams entered the game in contention for the top seed in the conference tournament, and as two of the top 15 teams in the country. Amherst was still led by two elite guards in Willy Workman and Aaron Toomey, and Middlebury still relied on terrific backcourt depth, with Nolan Thompson, Joey Kizel and Jake Wolfin leading the Panthers to several NCAA berths in a row. The game featured a double digit comeback from the Panthers, a game-tying three off an intentional missed free throw for Amherst, three overtimes and an alien invasion (okay not the last one.) The then-Lord Jeffs emerged victorious 104-101 after the third overtime, having combined with Middlebury to produce one of the all-time classics in NESCAC basketball history. And as if that wasn’t enough history, get this:  I wasn’t at the game because I had a high school game…AGAINST MATT ST. AMOUR. Spooky right?

Middlebury and Amherst have played several other terrific games, both in the regular season and the tournament. So it’s certainly fair to expect a tightly contested game in Pepin Gymnasium on tonight. However, both teams have weaknesses that the other side could use to win the game running away. This game is a quintessential game of the week because it should be a classic on paper, but either side could come out on fire and put the game away before it even starts.

Amherst’s Biggest Weakness: Frontcourt Production

This game may well feature the two best backcourts in the country. But both teams, and particularly Amherst, feature frontcourts that often struggle to keep up. Throughout this season Amherst has struggled to find an effective scoring option outside of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and forwards have been the main culprit in that lack of production. Senior David George ‘17 is too often a non-factor on offense, allowing the opposing center to clog the driving lanes that Dawson and McCarthy love to exploit. Jacob Nabatoff ‘17 has been inconsistent, shooting under 40% from the field. It has generally been Eric Conklin ‘17 who has provided a frontcourt spark for Amherst, averaging 8 points per game on 60% shooting. Middlebury defends very well on the perimeter, so this is a game in which Amherst will need some production out of these big men to take the pressure off of McCarthy and Dawson.

Middlebury’s Biggest Weakness: Shot Blocking

The Panthers play with breakneck pace on both offense and defense. This means that the Panthers look to force a lot of turnovers on the perimeter, but give up some points as a result of gambling for steals. That’s okay as long as the offense is picking up the slack, but if Middlebury isn’t hitting early they can give up points in a hurry (see the first half of their game against Tufts.) This tendency to give up big runs is caused partially by this fast paced style, but it is also due to a lack of intimidating interior defense. Big man Eric McCord ‘19 has improved leaps and bounds as the season has gone on in terms of moving his feet on pick and rolls, but he simply is not atheltic enough to be a shot blocking threat. Nick Tarantino ‘18 is a terrific athlete, but his timing on block attempts is a little off, and his rebounding responsibilities draw him away from the shot. Matt Folger ‘20 is Middlebury’s only dangerous shot blocker, but he makes too many freshman mistakes in terms of help rotations and silly fouls to play big minutes in crucial games like this one. Teams that have slowed Middlebury down, like Williams and more recently Colby, have had success in limiting Middlebury’s offense. If Amherst tries to slow down Middlebury on both ends of the ball, the Panthers will need to guard inside as well as on the perimeter, and that means blocking some shots.

Amherst’s Biggest Strength: Clutch Play

Jayde Dawson ’18 is one of the best closers in the league.

Amherst only scores 73 points per game during league play, which is sixth best in the conference. Throughout the season they have struggled to score efficiently, and have several times found themselves in the position where they need a game-tying or winning shot. Enter Jayde Dawson. Dawson has game-winners against Babson (#2 in the country at the time and Amherst’s most impressive win thus far) and Bowdoin, and is arguably the best in the league at taking over a game when his team needs him the most. But Johnny McCarthy also has a couple big shots under his belt, including a ludicrous 28 footer to tie the game against Bowdoin, setting up Dawson’s game winner. If the recent history between these teams holds true, this game will come down to the wire. Amherst must like their personnel in that eventuality.

Middlebury’s Biggest Strength: Ball Movement and Security

As you may have heard me say once, twice or thirty times, the only better guards than Middlebury’s trio in America are the Power Rangers. Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 have the Panthers leading the league in assists.

Jack Daly ’18 helps the Panthers move the ball effectively on offense, the key to their high octane style. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

But more impressive than that is their turnover ranking. Middlebury has the third fewest turnovers in the league, which is amazing considering how fast they play and how much they look to move the ball. At their peak, there’s no team in the league that can stop the Panther offense due to how well they move the ball and shoot from the perimeter. When they struggle, it is because they have stopped whipping the ball around on the perimeter and are settling for jump shots. Middlebury must have confidence in their ball movement, as Amherst will certainly attempt to slow them down and force them to play half court offense.

Amherst X-Factor: Michel Riopel ‘18

Michael Riopel
Michel Riopel ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Middlebury is too good a team for Dawson and McCarthy to drag Amherst to victory like Murthaugh and Riggs in Lethal Weapon. They’ll need some back-up, and Riopel is the perfect candidate. A 48% three point shooter, Riopel is deadly from outside. But he is more than just a three point specialist. Earlier this week in a loss to Wesleyan, Riopel put up 16 points and 9 rebounds on just 8 shots. This efficiency is what makes him such an effective third option alongside Dawson and McCarthy, both of whom have the tendency to become volume scorers when they, and the team, are struggling. However, Riopel will need to become more aggressive in this game. Middlebury is well equipped to handle Dawson and McCarthy, which means Riopel should have some opportunities to create for himself. Eight shots will be too few for him in this game.

Middlebury X-Factor: Zone Defense

Middlebury’s defensive strategy can be likened to the Joker’s strategy for taking over Gotham in The Dark Knight: sew chaos and discord wherever they can. One of the ways that Middlebury toys with opposing offenses is by switching from man defense to zone with little warning. The Panthers don’t need a timeout to set up the offense, they can do it as the other team brings the ball up. This can really shake an opposing offense, forcing them to switch their game plan on the fly. Middlebury’s perimeter players are excellent zone defenders, as Brown and St. Amour are adept at playing passing lanes while Daly hounds whoever has the ball. The big men in the back are getting better at challenging shots at the rim without fouling, particularly McCord. Amherst is not a tremendously threatening three point shooting team, save Riopel and McCarthy, so a zone might be a good strategy for Middlebury employ. If they can shut down McCarthy and Dawson’s lanes to the rim, Amherst will have great difficulty finding other ways to score.

Seeding Implications:

Both Middlebury and Amherst are in contention for the top seed in the league tournament. However, Tufts is also in the mix, but it is Amherst who controls their own destiny in terms of attaining the number one seed. If Amherst wins both, they get the top seed. If Tufts wins and Amherst loses at least one, then it will be the Jumbos who have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Finally, if Middlebury wins both and Tufts loses tonight, then Middlebury will be top dawg in the NESCAC tournament. In order to control their destiny for the the number one seed in the league tournament, everyone needs to win tonight. Then we’ll seed what happens tomorrow.

Final Thoughts:

Middlebury matches up very well with Amherst on paper. In Daly, Brown and St. Amour, the Panthers have the perimeter depth needed to hang with Dawson and McCarthy. However, McCarthy’s size and strength presents something of a matchup issue. Daly is probably best-suited to match McCarthy, leaving St. Amour or Brown to guard Dawson. Dawson’s hard-driving style creates the worry that he will get Brown or St. Amour in foul trouble, which would hinder Middlebury’s offense tremendously. This is why I could see the Panthers playing a great deal of zone in this game.

Johnny McCarthy ’18 will force the Panthers out of their most comfortable match-ups.

Middlebury is tremendous at home, but they have the misfortune of catching the campus during a break, so the student section won’t be quite as rowdy as one might imagine for such a crucial matchup. However, the home court advantage is still going to be crucial. Amherst has had an absurd home/road split this season (15 home/6 road) and are only 2-4 away from LeFrak this year. Middlebury has shown themselves to be a team that rises to the occasion at home, and I see them doing it again on Friday night.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

It’s Not Too Late for the Stock Report: 2/10

Jayde Dawson ’18 drives to the hoop (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).It’

I know, I know, I’ve been slacking this week and it’s about time I got around to writing the stock report. The truth is, the job search is no joke, and so I’ve let my NESCAC basketball writing fall behind a bit. However, that does not mean that this past weekend was uneventful. There was movement at the top of the ‘CAC as well as the bottom, and while many of the matchups seemed to be shaping up to be barn burners, only a couple games actually ended up coming down to the wire.

I’m gonna do this stock report a little differently this week in order to incorporate some sort of rankings as well. No individual players are going to be snagging ‘stock up’ or ‘stock down’ mentions, but instead each projected playoff team (projections are being made by me, and me alone) will be given its own stock report. Then we will put out a pre-tournament power rankings next week. I will give each team’s stock report in order of last week’s power rankings, so don’t read too deeply into the order of teams listed. No playoff seed is yet set, so predicting which seed each team will get seems a bit futile at this point.

 

#17 Tufts (18-5, 7-2)Stock down

Friday was actually a pretty surprising win out of the Jumbos in my eyes. Down to just a pair of big men, I anticipated that the Jumbos would struggle with Ed Ogundeko ‘17 and as a result would struggle overall. Well, I was half right – Ogundeko dummied the ‘Bos to the tune of 23 points and 21 rebounds, largely due to the foul trouble that Drew Madsen ‘17 found himself in, forcing Coach Sheldon to roll out some pretty small lineups, but a foursome of solid performances by Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20 and KJ Garrett ‘18 allowed Tufts to withstand the Bantam attack. However, they did not play very well, and while they ended up winning in overtime, their 61% shooting from the free throw line was concerning to say the least. Tufts failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities to close out the game, and this carried into Saturday’s game when Amherst punished Tufts for poor decision making. The lack of Tom Palleschi ‘17 is concerning to say the least, not just because of the threat that he provides when the ball is in his hands, but also because of the way that he opens up the floor for his teammates. Tufts needs a big bounceback performance against Williams or they could be in trouble come NESCAC tournament time.

 

Wesleyan (17-5, 4-4)Stock down

The Cardinals had just one conference game this weekend and they dropped the ball. Concerning performance from Joseph Kuo ‘17, Kevin O’Brien ‘17, and Nathan Krill ‘18 could not be outdone by the stellar play of Harry Rafferty ‘17, and the absence of Salim Green ‘19 also hurt quite a bit. Wesleyan played pretty well defensively besides demonstrating that they are prone to foul trouble, but their own poor offensive play resulted in a tough L against the Ephs. Unfortunately, Wesleyan’s better game since last week came in a non-conference game against Amherst in which they eked out a 73-72 victory in OT. The whole starting lineup played a bit better and the scoring was much more well rounded. Still, Wesleyan simply hasn’t been shooting the ball well as of late, and they are going to need to find a way to get better shots moving forward or they could see a disappointing finish.

 

#13 Middlebury (18-3, 6-2)Stock unchanged

I am not saying that Middlebury did nothing well this weekend, but it should not exactly come as a surprise that they blew out Colby and Bowdoin. Middlebury has been one of if not the most consistent team in the league this year, and the Panthers should be considered the best team in the NESCAC at the moment. Now, the rankings change like the breeze in NESCAC basketball, but whether or not they end up with the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Middlebury has to be considered the favorite right now. Tonight’s matchup with Amherst will say tell us a lot about the Panthers, but they are in very good shape right now.

 

#8 Amherst (16-5, 6-2)Stock up

Despite the Tuesday loss to Wesleyan, Amherst’s performance this weekend is much more important. A nine-point victory against Bates was expected but still impressive, and on senior day, the ex-LJs showed Tufts who is the boss with a commanding 13-point victory. Despite it being senior day, however, it was the juniors who pave the way against the Jumbos. Jayde Dawson ‘18, Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Michael Riopel ‘18 all poured in double-digits points to lead the way for Amherst and give them a very good chance to grab the #1 seed in NESCACs this weekend. Riopel was especially impressive from the outside, and he has been arguably the best 6th man in the ‘CAC all season long. Amherst looks to be back, folks. A win at Middlebury would confirm that.

 

Trinity (14-8, 5-3)Stock up

Though Trinity lost a game that Tufts was desperately trying to hand them on Friday, they bounced back on Sunday and dominated the Bobcats with their highest-scoring game in conference play this year. Defensively, there is no one I’d be more scared of the Trinity right now, and if not for an egregious amount of fouls on Friday (30 total, resulting in 41 free throws for Tufts), the Bantams might have walked away with two wins this weekend. Offensively, Trinity definitely relies a little too heavily on Ogundeko, but they are so much better when they can get production from a number of other guys. Widespread offensive firepower has to be the focus for the Bantams this weekend and in the playoffs. Their seeding is completely determined by their performances at Hamilton and Middlebury this weekend, but if Trinity can walk away 2-0 they would be in phenomenal shape in the NESCACS.

 

Bates (15-8, 4-5)Stock down

Bates laid an egg this weekend, and it got worse and worse as the weekend went on. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 has emerged as the clear star of the team, his teammates have not quite been able to pull the rest of the weight. Defensively, you just can’t let Jayde Dawson get to the free throw line 14 times in a game. It’s simply not a recipe for success. The Bates guards just need to do a better job of stopping penetration, which has been a common theme for them all year long. Then, to follow up a subpar defensive performance, the Bobcats allowed Trinity to put up their highest point total of the year? Not good. Bates needs to be hitting their stride at this point in the year, not regressing, and what they showed this weekend is not quite ideal. Bates has a great chance to bounce back against Williams on Sunday, but it will be their ability to guard the arc, not the paint necessarily, that determines the outcome against the Ephs.

 

Hamilton (15-6, 4-4)Stock down

Hamilton had a great opportunity to gain some ground in the NESCAC standing this past weekend. Though they didn’t exactly shoot themselves in the foot, they also didn’t quite take advantage of a weekend where they played Bowdoin and Colby, who were the two bottom teams in the ‘CAC heading into the weekend. Bowdoin guard Jack Bors ‘19 had a heck of a game against the Continentals, abusing the Hamilton backcourt and exposing some real holes in the Hamilton defense in the process.  On the positive side, Hamilton freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20 had a very strong performance as he has done consistently throughout NESCAC play. The freshman had another solid game against Colby and is my prediction for Rookie of the Year at this point. As a whole, the Continentals bounced back well against Colby, especially in terms of forcing Colby into difficult shots, but their erratic performance on the defensive side of the ball worries me heading into the playoffs next weekend.

 

Williams (16-6, 4-4) Stock up

After a gritty win against Wesleyan on Friday night, Williams brought in reinforcements and put a BEATDOWN on Conn College on Sunday, 100-piecing them in a 37-point victory. The Conn victory was led by the three-point attack of the Ephs, as they drained 15-34 from deep in the game. More importantly, however, Williams outrebounded Conn by 15, which gave them many more scoring opportunities throughout the contest. Given that they did pretty much everything right on Sunday, let’s focus on the Wesleyan game. Williams did not shoot the ball particularly well from three against Wesleyan, hitting just 6-29 from deep. What the did do well, however, was attack the paint and get to the foul line much more consistently than the Cardinals. Dan Aronowitz ‘17 came to play in this one, and the Ephs are going to need him to do so again in Medford tomorrow when they take on the Jumbos.

 

Conn College (12-9, 2-6), Colby (10-12, 1-7), Bowdoin (11-10, 2-6)

Things could change for either Conn College or Bowdoin this weekend, but as of now, Colby is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Conn and Bowdoin both need to sweep the weekend, but they also match up on Saturday, so only one of two really has a shot. They need one of the current 4-win teams to lose out, and even then, the tiebreakers might not play out in their favor. I suspect that the eight other teams will be in the NESCAC playoffs this year, not Conn, not Colby, and not Bowdoin.

Weekend Preview 2 Part 2: Saturday’s Games

Zuri Pavlin lifts (Courtesy of Conn College Athletics)

It’s a big weekend around the ‘CAC, and Friday’s games will have a pretty big impact on the way Saturday’s games go. Bates, Hamilton, Middlebury and Tufts all have the pleasure of playing each other (except Bates does not play Tufts, and Hamilton does not play Middlebury), which will mean the number of undefeated NESCAC teams will dwindle to a maximum of three this weekend. On the other end of the standings, Williams, Bowdoin, and Colby are all winless in conference play, and face only other winless squads, meaning at least one of them will walk away feeling a little better about themselves this weekend. Then, there is the scrum in the middle, where Amherst, Conn, Trinity and Wesleyan will face off, with Amherst and Trin looking to jump to 3-0 while Conn and Wes are hoping to right their ships. With all that in mind, momentum is a big factor this weekend. A win Friday night bodes very well moving into Saturday’s games, while a loss could steer some teams toward panic mode. Here’s what we’ve got for Saturday’s action:

 

Hamilton (10-2, 2-0) at #6 Tufts (11-2, 2-0), Medford, MA, 2:00 PM

Like I said, momentum is supremely important this weekend, especially in this game. Hamilton and Tufts will either be feeling good after a big Friday night win against another solid squad, or they will be disappointed with their first NESCAC loss of the season. That’s why no matter the result, it is extremely important to get out to a hot start in this game. I strongly believe that whichever team asserts their dominance early will win the game, especially if they are 3-0 while their opponent is 2-1 at tipoff. For the visiting Continentals, the key to victory is on the defensive end. Their obvious disadvantage is on the block, where Palleschi has a massive size advantage over the tall but lankier Andrew Groll ‘19. However, Palleschi alone cannot defeat the Continentals, so their focus on the defensive end should be on preventing penetration from Tarik Smith ‘17, Vinny Pace ‘18 and Everett Dayton ‘18, all of whom are very good at getting to the hooping and dishing to open shooters. Hamilton has shown that they know how to put the ball in the hoop, so it is not their offense that they should be worried about (though I do think the length of Tufts could be a bit tricky for the Hamilton guards), but rather how they are going to keep Tufts from scoring. This is going to be a big game for Peter Hoffmann ’19, who has the best combination of size and scoring ability on the Continentals’ roster, and as he goes the Hamilton offense will go. I believe that the Jumbos will get to the hoop as they usually do, but because of their size advantage across the board, I expect Hamilton to sag into the paint quite a bit. For this reason, I will warn Hamilton: do not sleep on Tufts sharpshooter Ethan Feldman ‘19. He could be deadly on Saturday.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

 

#15 Middlebury (11-1, 2-0) at Bates (11-3, 2-0), Lewiston, ME, 3:00 PM

On paper, this game looks close. The teams have similar records and have opposite strengths, which gives each team a different advantage. Middlebury’s guards are clearly their strength, while it is the post play of the Bobcats that propels them. However, I do not think this game will be nearly as close as some might project. To be honest, I’m predicting that Middlebury will roll. While Bates as the advantage down low with the Delpeche twins, these two have consistently struggled in league play throughout their NESCAC careers. While the pair has improved each season, they have not flashed the ability to take over games very often, and against an experienced Middlebury team I just don’t think this will be one of the rare occasions where they do. While the departure of Baines certainly hurts the Panthers, Nick Tarantino ‘18 is an admirable replacement, and I think he will lock down whichever Bobcat big he is matched up against. If that holds true, maybe the other Delpeche twin can go to work, but the Bobcats are going to need production out of their guards and the stingy defense of Jake Brown ‘17 and Jack Daly ‘18 doesn’t lead me to believe that we will see that. Middlebury should be able to keep the Bates guards in check, and if they do, the Panthers will climb onto Matt St. Amour’s back and show the Bobcats who is higher up in the feline hierarchy.

 

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

 

#5 Amherst (10-2, 1-0) vs. Conn College (8-4, 2-0), New London, CT, 3:00 PM

This matchup is interesting. As Pete mentioned in his earlier article, the Purple and White (who by the way, might be called the Amherst Hamsters soon enough since hamster is an anagram of Amherst) have lost two of their last four. This couldn’t matter less to me in terms of their performance this weekend. Amherst is always one of the top couple teams in the NESCAC – they pretty much always have been with Dave Hixon at the helm. They are a very tough team to beat, but they are also generally prone to complete melts where they lose focus and lose to teams worse than them. Take last year, for example: Amherst played Wesleyan in an out-of-conference tilt and lost by 27 after beating them by 24 just three days earlier. Did this mean Wesleyan and Amherst were even teams, or that Wesleyan was better? No. It just meant that on certain nights, Amherst takes the night off. That’s what I would say happened against Springfield College in December. I have been watching Amherst College basketball my entire life. I used to wreak absolute havoc in Alumni Gymnasium, and I would watch every Amherst game. I still remember standing in the front of the Amherst student section with a couple of my friends as a 12-ish year old as Amherst took down Tufts in OT. Through the years, I have learned that you must take Amherst one game at a time. So, in this matchup, here’s what should you look for:

 

The matchup between Tyler Rowe ‘19 and Jayde Dawson ‘18 is the one that immediately jumps out to me. These are the two stars of their respective teams this season, and whoever wins this matchup will likely give his team what it needs to win. If I were a betting man (which I’m not, because that would be an NCAA violation), I would say that Dawson wins this battle. He is just as athletic as Rowe, but he has such a size advantage that it is tough to pick against him in this one. Dawson has 4 inches on Rowe, and though Conn does not list their weights, I would guess there is also about a 25 pound disparity between the two of them. I think Amherst would be silly not to post up Dawson at least a few times to take advantage of this mismatch. I do think Zuri Pavlin ‘17 will have a great game for the Camels, as he is much more mobile than Amherst’s David George ‘17, but I don’t think it will be enough to deal with the size advantage that Amherst possesses all over the perimeter. Between Dawson, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, Michael Riopel ‘18 and Jeff Racy ‘17, Conn will struggle to match up.

 

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

 

Trinity (9-5, 1-0) at Wesleyan (11-3, 0-2), Middletown, CT, 3:00 PM

Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

Trinity looked good against Williams last weekend, and Ed Ogundeko ‘17 looked VERY good. His stat line speaks for itself, but Ogundeko’s physicality is what sets him apart from other big men in this league, which is why I think he will have a solid day against Joseph Kuo ‘17 of the Cardinals. However, I do not think he will have the same type of day that he did against Williams, as Kuo is a very solid big man in his own right. This will be a back and forth matchup on the low block, which is why I am cancelling out these two when making my prediction. This game will be won by the perimeter players. As always, Trinity will slow the game down and work out of the halfcourt set primarily, which means Wesleyan’s discipline and communication on defense is key. Trinity turns the ball over more than anyone else in the league, so if Wes can turn TOs into points, they will be in very good shape. However, that means they will have to take care of the ball themselves – Wesleyan turns the ball over the second most. Offensively, Wesleyan should try to get into the paint more often, and stop hucking up threes. As they learned last weekend, three-point shots are not their strength, getting into the paint is. Wesleyan is a lot deeper at the guard spots than Trinity, so if they can get to the rack and force the Bantams to foul, the Cardinals are in good shape. However, if they fall into the trap of shooting a million threes again, then Trinity will be able to contain the weapons of the Wesleyan offense. This game is a toss up, as I think the two are very evenly matched and a lot of how this game plays out depends on gameplan, but I think Wesleyan edges Trinity in a tight one.

 

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan

 

Williams (11-3, 0-2) at Bowdoin (8-6, 0-2), Brunswick, ME, 6:00 PM

The rare NESCAC Saturday night game holds an interesting matchup between the Ephs and the Polar Bears, one which Williams must win if they want a shot at finishing in the top half of playoff teams in the NESCAC this year. However, early in the season it is also a pretty crucial game for Bowdoin if they want to crack the playoffs this year. With what appears to be the rise of Hamilton and Bates, Bowdoin needs to beat some playoff-caliber teams, and Williams would definitely be a nice win to write home about. However, I think this is a tough matchup for the Polar Bears for a few reasons. First of all, Bowdoin is best when Jack Simonds ‘19 has a mismatch. Williams doesn’t give him that, because Kyle Scadlock ‘19 is every bit as big and is every bit as athletic, so this is not going to be a game where Simonds completely takes over. Secondly, the weakness is Williams is down low, and unfortunately for Bowdoin, that is also their weakness. I will say, sophomore Hugh O’Neil has done a nice job under the hoop for the Polar Bears this year, but he is not going to single-handedly lead his team to a win. Thirdly, Williams has a stronger and deeper cast of guards than Bowdoin. Bobby Casey ‘19, Cole Teal ‘18, and Dan Aronowitz ‘17 provide a plethora of options for the Ephs offensively, and they are complemented by forward Scadlock. The matchups will be interesting, and I think the Ephs can exploit them no matter how Bowdoin chooses to play it. Assume Simonds guards Aronowitz – that leaves Scadlock with a huge mismatch down low, and doesn’t really slow down Aronowitz that much either. Assume Simonds guards Scadlock – Scadlock still outsizes Simonds, and Aronowitz has an even more favorable matchup on the perimeter. I don’t really see a way that Bowdoin can slow down the Williams attack in this one, which is why I think Williams should win pretty handily.

 

Writer’s Pick: Williams

NESCAC Counseling: Five Talking Points to Diffuse Family Tensions This Thanksgiving

Image result for fighting thanksgiving family
Don’t fight at Thanksgiving, talk about NESCAC sports instead.

Thanksgiving has long been a major danger zone for family arguments, as alcohol, football and repressed anger combine to create the potential for lasting damage. And the current political climate will only exacerbate that danger. No matter which side of the aisle your family members sit on, there will be fights around the table this year. When those fights spring up, you’ll need something to diffuse the tension. That’s where we come in. NESCAC basketball has been helping my dad and I resolve arguments for the last five or six years, and we here at NbN want to help you do the same. Here are five NESCAC basketball storylines from the opening weekend to help distract the table from the inevitable political conflict that will come along with Thanksgiving 2016.

 

1: Zach Baines’ Jumpshot

Zach Baines
Zach Baines ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The fact that Baines is an important player for Middlebury this year is no surprise. He had an impressive freshman season, and many extremely well-informed figures in the NESCAC basketball analyst community (such as myself) had him as a dark horse All-League candidate. However, the three pointer was not the weapon that we expected him to be wielding so early in the year. In his MVP performance in the Eastern Connecticut Tip-Off Tournament, Baines averaged 18.5 points and 9 rebounds per game on 60 % shooting. He also took four threes and made three of them, including the dagger in a hotly contested final against host Eastern Connecticut. Jump shooting was identified early in the season as the key to Baines making a sophomore leap, and it looks like he is ready and willing to take over games from the perimeter, as well as defensively.

2: Jack Simonds’ Lucas Hausman Impression

Jack Simonds
Jack Simonds ’19 doing his best Iceman from Top Gun impression here (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Star guard Lucas Hausman got Bowdoin used to having the best all around scorer in the league. But once he graduated, it seemed likely that Bowdoin would take a break from watching people light it up every night. However, sophomore Jack Simonds seems to have other ideas. Simonds put up 60 points in Bowdoin’s opening tournament, on 51% shooting and 38.5% from three. As the only big time scoring threat on his team, Simonds should have his pick of shots throughout the year and has a real chance to lead the league in scoring, picking right up where his illustrious teammate left off.

3: Amherst’s Depth

At my dinner table, this would be almost as distressing a conversation as any political talk, but I guess people in Amherst may enjoy talking about this. National preseason number one, the Purple and White enjoyed their usual easy opening weekend tournament, beating up on Green Mountain and St. Lawrence 83-41 and 90-68 respectively. What stands out about these games though is the balance and depth exhibited in Amherst’s lineup. The leading scorer for the weekend was Michael Riopel, a junior guard who only played 17 minutes per game. Amherst’s starting lineup is experienced and dynamic, led by guards Jayde Dawson ‘17 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18, as well as center David George ‘17. But Riopel, Reid Berman ’17 and Eric Conklin ‘17 give Coach David Hixon many options off the bench. Amherst could concievably run 8 or 9 deep all season, something that is rare among NESCAC teams.

4: Trinity…Yikes

Ed Ogundeko
Ed Ogundeko ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

First of all, thank you so much to the Trinity website for not yet updating their statistics from the weekend. I had to do the stats for this column myself, and i’m an English Major! Math is not my strong suit. Anyway, I can excuse them for being slow on that becuase they had a rough weekend in other regards. Trinity went 0-2 in their opening weekend, losing in overtime to UMass-Dartmouth and Southern Vermont. This was not the fault of senior center Ed Ogundeko, who ripped those two teams apart to the tune of 25 points and 16 rebounds per game. Ogundeko was the Defensive Player of the Year last season, but it looks like his offensive game has caught up to his defense in a big way. It was finding him help that the Bantams struggled with over the weekend, as the rest of the team shot roughly 35% from the field, compared to Ogundeko’s 70%. Trinity struggled to score at times last season, and two of their leading scorers, Jaquaan Starks and Player of the Year Shay Ajayi, graduated. They will need more production from players other than Ogundeko if they want to stay in contention with deep teams like Amherst and Middlebury.

5: Colby!

If I gave you three guesses as to which NESCAC team had the most impressive offensive performance of the weekend, I’m willing to bet that Colby wouldn’t have been in the mix. But the Mules kicked and brayed, and averaged 89 points over their two game opening weekend, winning both games. Colby was lights out from three point range at 44% as a team.

Image result for patrick stewart
As if he wasn’t versatile enough, he averaged seven rebounds per game last weekend!

Senior forward and wheelchair-bound leader of a superhero team Patrick Stewart was particularly impressive, averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds per game on 53% shooting from 3. It seemed possible at the beginning of the year that the bottom three teams in the league would be the three Maine schools, but Colby might have more fight in them than we thought.

Coming Back for More: Amherst College Hoops Preview

Amherst took home the sectional championship last year, but fell short to Benedictine in Final Four (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Amherst took home the sectional championship last year, but fell short to Benedictine in Final Four (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively,  not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us.

Projected Record: 8-2

The 2015-2016 season saw the continued maturation of a young Amherst squad from the year before. Buoyed by a pre-season trip to Italy, the team jumped out to a 13-1 start. They rode the hot start through the NESCAC season going 8-2, both losses coming on the road. After taking down Tufts by three points in the semifinal, the Purple and White fell to Middlebury in an epic NESCAC championship, 81-79. Yet Amherst still earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament where they proceeded to win their first two games at home by a combined three points. The third and fourth rounds saw Amherst take down budding rivals Babson and Tufts in a more comfortable fashion. Then, the team traveled down to Salem, Virginia for Coach David Hixon’s 7th Final Four appearance. Much like the NESCAC final, Amherst fell to Benedictine (Ill.) by a bucket.

The only player not returning this year for Amherst is Connor Green ’16. A pure scorer, Green led the Purple and White with 15 PPG. But, as with any volume shooter, there are days where shots are not falling and it can throw the offense out of rhythm. Expect a more balanced scoring distribution this year as virtually anyone Amherst throws out there can score the rock. Defensively, the team is anchored by senior, two-time captain, David George ’17. George is arguably the best rim protector in the NESCAC and continues to polish his offensive game. Sharpshooter Jeff Racy returns along with junior Swiss Army knives Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Michael Riopel ‘18. Jayde Dawson ’18 is also back with Reid Berman ’17 to split minutes at the point. The depth and talent on this team makes a NESCAC championship and another deep NCAA tournament run strong possibilities. D3Hoops.com reinforced this notion by ranking Amherst the preseason #1.

Head Coach: David Hixon, 40th year, 767-271 (.738)

Asst. Coaches: Aaron Toomey ’14, Kevin Hopkins ’08, J.D. Ey, Al Wolejko 

Returning Starters:

Guard Jayde Dawson ’18 (11.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.3 APG)

Guard Jeff Racy ’17 (11.2 PPG, 3 RPG, 49% 3PFG)

Guard/Forward Johnny McCarthy ’18 (13 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 APG)

Forward David George ’17 (8.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 60% FG)

Projected Starting Lineup

Qualifier: Given the depth of this year’s Amherst team, they could easily go 8-9 deep with little to no talent drop-off. But, you can only open the game with 5 on the court, so here it is:

 

Guard Jayde Dawson ‘18

Jayde Dawson (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Jayde Dawson (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

A returning starter from last year, Dawson is an explosive player that can both score it, and hound opposing guards in the backcourt. I often liken Jayde Dawson to Russell Westbrook in that he can be by the far the best player on the court, but also, on occasion, the worst. A strong, energetic player he often toes the line between aggressive and reckless. Consistency will be the key for Dawson entering this season, but even a minor improvement from last year is a scary thought for opposing coaches. His size and strength allow him to get to, and finish at the rim. Dawson is also a streaky shooter who can stretch the floor at times but also garner the Rondo treatment when he’s off. A score-first guard, Dawson’s mercurial play can get him in trouble, but his ceiling might very well be the highest on the team. Defensively, he was second on the team a year ago averaging a steal per game. As previously noted, Dawson can make it very difficult for opposing guards to even get the ball past half court let alone get the team into an offense. The experience of last year should help, and a big year could be on the horizon for him.

Guard Jeff Racy ‘17

Jeff Racy '17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Jeff Racy ’17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

When Joel Embiid told the world how he learned to shoot, Jeff Racy may have been in some of the video clips he watched. The senior captain is a classic sharpshooter. He averaged 11.2 PPG a year ago, almost all of which came from behind the 3 point line. He shot it at 48.7% from downtown for the season and was even better in NESCAC play, with a 57% 3-point percentage. Racy added a little strength from the year prior, which allowed him to not only get it done offensively, but defensively as well. He was second on the team in minutes at 30.5 per game. His length allows him to defend multiple positions making it easier to leave him in the game no matter the matchup. Racy’s ability to stretch the floor creates space for other guys to get to the rim or post players to go to work. He figures to be the premier shooter for Amherst, and possibly the NESCAC, again this year. Few things were more entertaining last year than watching Racy get hot and teams frantically trying to take away his air space. While his form is slightly unorthodox, the results speak for themselves. Jeff’s shot is like many things in sports; it’s only weird if it doesn’t work and trust me, it works. Expect much of the same from Racy this year. Also, don’t sleep on Racy going off on February 4th when Amherst hosts Tufts – his younger brother Pat is a freshman Jumbo, and I’m sure Jeff would like nothing more than to bury his little bro’s team.

 

Small forward Johnny McCarthy ‘18

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

Coming off a Freshman of the Year award, Johnny showed virtually no signs of a sophomore slump.  A factor on both ends of the floor, McCarthy averaged 13 points a game to go along with 6 boards.  The 6′ 6″ swingman does a little bit of everything for the Purple and White.  He can score it inside and out, and is often tasked with checking the opposing team’s best player.  Deceptively quick, McCarthy always seems to get his hands on passes and break up the other team’s offensive rhythm.  He has the speed to stay with smaller players and the length to lock up taller players as well.  A common theme among this Amherst squad, Johnny offers versatility both defensively and offensively.  One area of improvement would be jump shooting consistency.  McCarthy can be a streaky scorer with bouts of icy shooting. He’s often able to offset this by getting to the rim and free throw line, but another player to stretch the floor never hurts.  A tireless worker, McCarthy has improved every year.  The decent high school player’s relentless work ethic has turned him into a bonafide NESCAC star.  Do not be surprised if McCarthy shows up on multiple post season award lists.

Forward Jacob Nabatoff ’17

Jacob Nabatoff '17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Jacob Nabatoff ’17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

The only member of the projected starting five that did not start last year, Nabatoff looks to have an expanded role this coming season.  He did start a lone game last year, but averaged only 2.5 PPG in 10.5 MPG.  A potential stretch 4, he has range that extends to the three point line.  It will be interesting to see how Nabatoff’s game develops with more minutes.  He started 29 games his sophomore season and averaged a serviceable 6.3 PPG.  The senior had a 38% 3-point field goal percentage last year, demonstrating his ability to knock down the three ball.  Nabatoff is probably the biggest question mark in the starting line-up, but definitely has the talent and skill set to be a contributor.  There’s something to be said too about being a senior.  I’ve seen it a number of times where players finally hit their stride in the final year.  Look for Nabatoff to be an improved player this season, adding some ever-present depth to Amherst’s front line.

Forward David George ’17

David George '17 (Courtesy of Amherst College Athletics)
David George ’17 (Courtesy of Amherst College Athletics)

A two-year captain, George is in many ways the heart and soul of the team.  The 6’8″ forward anchors the defense and offers a back-to-the-basket threat on the offensive end.  He shot it at just around 60% from the floor last year and looks to expand on his offensive game even more in his final year.  George’s length and athleticism make him an elite defensive presence.  He averaged over 2 blocks a game last year and can be heard barking out commands to fellow teammates when he quarterbacks the defense.  George is also capable of providing an emotional spark, whether it be a big block or thunderous dunk.  Both the literal and figurative backbone of the team, George looks to close out his stellar career with another successful season.  As a strong voice in the locker room, he will also be tasked with fighting the complacency that can follow a successful season.  David George is an established player and you can depend on him to provide much of the same this year.

Breakout Player: Guard Michael Riopel ’18

Michael Riopel '18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Michael Riopel ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

I don’t know if you can really consider it a breakout year considering the season that Riopel had a year ago, but he has the chance to elevate his game to another level.  A long, athletic wing, he spent 6 weeks out of his summer working with former Amherst standout and 2013 national champion, Willy Workman ’13.  His goal was to add strength and continue to round out his game, especially on offense.  The 6′ 5″ guard did a little bit of everything last year averaging a tick over 7 PPG, pulling down close to 4 rebounds, and even dishing out 1.3 APG.  Like many other players on this Amherst team, Riopel has the versatility to guard multiple positions.  Offensively, he did not shoot a ton of threes, but was effective when he did, connecting on 41% of his attempts.  Along with the PG Jayde Dawson, the junior swingman adds a slashing element to the offense and displayed the ability to get to the rim.  Coming off the bench, he made the second most free throw attempts on the team.  The added strength should allow the trend of Riopel getting to the charity stripe to continue.  While I think he’ll still come off the bench, that fact has more to do with matchups than ability.  The role also allows the freedom for Riopel to bring added defensive intensity along with instant offense.  If the NESCAC had a 6th man award I would put him at the top of the short list of potential winners, a la ’07-’08 Manu Ginobli.  Fiercely competitive, Riopel, through his hard work, has put himself in a prime position to have a career year.

Amherst hopes to cut the nets down in Salem, VA this year, a feat they haven't accomplished since 2013 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Amherst hopes to cut the nets down in Salem, VA this year, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2013 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Everything Else:

Past performance is not always an indicator of future success, but last year’s tournament run has expectations for this year’s team running high. The team loses only one player from their rotation that ran up to 9 players deep a year ago, and as a result, they received the #1 ranking on d3hoops.com.  While the team will certainly miss the presence of Connor Green ’16, the offense may find more continuity now that they don’t necessarily have a pure scorer.  In talking with Coach Hixon, some of the challenges this year’s team will face are an expanded roster and contentedness.  The positives however, greatly outweigh the negatives.  I think that even though the team made the NESCAC final and Final Four there is still a sour taste left in their mouths from not bringing home any championships.  Coach Hixon also lauded the leadership on this team both by the seniors and the younger guys as well.  One element about having an expanded roster that can be a bonus is the ability to have competitive practices.  When guys push each other in practice, it makes it that much easier come gametime.

Reid Berman '17 brings some invaluable grit and attitude off the bench for Amherst (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Reid Berman ’17 brings some invaluable grit and attitude off the bench for Amherst (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

The level and depth of talent on this team should make for an exciting season.  Seniors Reid Berman and Eric Conklin round out the rotation from a  year ago.  Berman provides a steady hand off the bench to run the point and lead the team in assists per game in limited action last year.  He provides both leadership and grit while doing all the little things a basketball team needs to be done.  Conklin is an undersized big at 6’6″ but uses his 235 lb frame, excellent footwork, and a soft touch to be an effective inside scorer for Amherst.  Additionally, he is  an excellent screener which allows other guys to get open looks.

The Purple and White open up the season with their annual Ken Wright tournament that should have stronger competition than in years past.  Babson also visits Amherst in December and Coach Hixon said that would be a good test considering the games the two teams have played in the past.  Last year featured a double overtime thriller before a competitive sweet sixteen matchup that saw Amherst win both.  The league should be as competitive as ever, helping weed out pretenders and prepare contenders for postseason play.  One of the benefits of having such a tough league schedule is that it will force Amherst to bring it every night.  Additional home games should also play to the Purple and White’s advantage given their unbeaten record in Lefrak Gymnasium a year ago.  The preseason #1 ranking is a place few coaches want to be because it can lead to additional pressure and complacency.  I don’t think those issues will crop up for this team due to the leadership it possesses.  Ultimately, the team has the talent to be better than they were last year and hopes to take the final step.  A NESCAC championship appearance along with a Final Four run is nothing to sneeze at, but the end goal this season is to close the deal and finish out with even more hardware.

 

 

NCAA Sweet 16 Preview: #15 Amherst vs. #16 Babson

Johnny McCarthy '18 needs a big game in order to stop Babson's high-powered offense. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Johnny McCarthy ’18 needs a big game in order to stop Babson’s high-powered offense. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

This game is going to be a barn-burner. Amherst is ranked 15th and Babson is 16th. They already played each other early in the season on Dec. 10, and it was a wild double-OT, 103-96 finish in favor of the NESCAC squad. These teams have been deep in the NCAAs before, have seasoned coaches, big time players, and championship aspirations. Babson lost in the Final Four last year and the year before that, Amherst won it all. These teams are used to playing good teams in big time situations and that’s why its going to be one of the best games we have seen all season. The last time these two saw each other, Amherst’s Connor Green ’16 went off for 39 points, way above his 14.9 ppg average on the season, and Babson shot just 21-32 (65.6 percent) from the free throw line, not making their free baskets when it counted. The overtime periods were completely different contests as three Amherst starters, David George ’17, Jayde Dawson ’18, and Johnny McCarthy ’18, all fouled out while Isaiah Nelsen ’17 also reached five fouls for Babson. While it was undeniably a close game, many things could change for each team in this game, so who is going to do what it takes to come out on top?

Babson Overview

Amherst is a familiar opponent for the Babson Beavers. Babson has played four contests against the NESCAC which have accounted for four of their five total losses. It would be easy to say that the Beavers can’t handle this conference. After talking with Coach Stephen Brennan, 2016 NEWMAC Coach of the Year, I am not going to say that they are going to roll over so easily. First off, the fact that they played so many NESCAC teams shows that they have a tough schedule and play strong non-conference teams. Their overall strength of schedule this year at the time of the last public NCAA Regional Rankings was an impressive 0.539. Amherst’s wasn’t much higher – 0.558. Last year against NESCAC teams, Babson only lost to Bates, perhaps showing that this year’s record might have been a bit of an anomaly. In their game against Tufts, the opposition’s Ryan Spadaford ’16 made a 30-foot shot as time ran out to win the game, something that probably wouldn’t happen again if they played later this weekend. As far as personnel goes, Joey Flannery ’17, averaging 24.2 ppg and 6.9 rpg, and Nelsen, averaging 16.1 ppg and 8.6 rpg, are the clear leaders for the Beavers, both All-ECAC honorees. However, Flannery missed Babson’s Second Round game with a sprained ankle, and without him the Beavers are a much weaker team. The recent emergence of Nick Comenale ’18  has really helped Babson down the stretch. Comenale was averaging 3.4 ppg on January 24, the day he got his first start for Babson. Since then, he’s averaged 13.1 ppg and Amherst Coach Dave Hixon says “He really stretches other teams out.” Also, the potential of Bradley Jacks ’18 is something to watch out for as he averages 12.0 ppg but dropped 30 against Bowdoin earlier this year.

Amherst X-Factor: Guard/Forward Connor Green

Last time against Babson, Green scored 39 points in 41 minutes, accounting for basically 40 percent of Amherst’s points. While Amherst does have a balanced team with four players averaging over 10 points and nine players averaging over 10 minutes, clearly Green’s outburst helped them win. On top of that, as Amherst’s top scorer, he will be going back and forth scoring with Flannery who was injured last game, creating a potential deviation between their productivity. Green could easily give his team an edge.

Babson X-Factor: Free Throw Shooting

While Amherst’s Coach Dave Hixon doesn’t think that Babson’s poor free throw shooting was a huge reason for his team’s win in their previous meeting, Babson Coach Stephen Brennan thinks differently. In a call with him, he emphasized how important accuracy from the charity stripe was going to be for his Beavers and how if not for a low 65 percent from the line last time, his team could’ve very well have pulled out the win.

Three Questions

1. Does the presence of Comenale make a difference?

Yes. He didn’t play last time the two teams met, and at the time, wouldn’t have had a huge impact, but since then he has become a starter, reaching double digit points almost every game and grabbing over four rebounds a game since he began receiving significant minutes. Also, this will change around the lineup that Amherst saw last time, making their last meeting less of an indication of how this game could go.

2. Will Flannery be ready to go for Babson?

Joey Flannery '17 was a D3Hoops.com Preseason First Team All-American, and his 24.2 ppg this year ranks 11th in the nation. (Courtesy of Jon Endow/Babson Athletics)
Joey Flannery ’17 was a D3Hoops.com Preseason First Team All-American, and his 24.2 ppg this year ranks 11th in the nation. (Courtesy of Jon Endow/Babson Athletics)

He’s probably going to play, but we have no way of knowing exactly how ready and mobile he will be after a sprained ankle. I’m sure that he will play hard in this pivotal game for his Beavers, but without him, I am not sure how well they would compete against Amherst. Without his 24.2 ppg, Babson won’t have much room for error, as they barely won their last game 70-67 against #19 Susquehanna. So he better be ready to go.

3. Who is the predicted favorite?

Even though Amherst won the only meeting these two teams had earlier this season, as both coaches put it, each team is much different than they were when they last played. As previously mentioned, Comenale is a new starter, averaging big minutes, and each team has played a season’s worth of games, developing as a unit, especially with each team’s transfer students as “it takes a while for them to settle in,” according to Coach Hixon. This is going to be a close contest and since Amherst won before and is still higher ranked, it looks like they are the favorite on paper, but not by much.

What to Expect

The Babson Beavers look comically relaxed. (Courtesy of Jon Endow/Babson Athletics)
The Babson Beavers look comically relaxed. (Courtesy of Jon Endow/Babson Athletics)

Babson is not going to go away lightly. Learning from a double OT loss before, they know that this game is going to be a dog fight. Amherst likes to shoot a lot of threes and is certainly good at it, racking up 37.3 percent of the long shots this year. McCarthy and Michael Riopel ’18 are going to need to defend Nelsen, Flannery and the rest of Babson well as they average 81.6 ppg (the same ppg as Amherst). The site of this game will also be impactful as the last meeting was at Babson and this is at a neutral site. Ah, the beauty of the D-III tournament. Amherst deserved the regional more than anyone else left, but Tufts is more centralized for all four teams (the last being Johnson & Wales of Providence, RI) and the Amherst women are hosting on the No Mascots’ campus this weekend. Instead of a home crowd decked out in Purple and White, Amherst will probably be met by more Beaver fans. Even though Flannery was injured for Babson against Susquehanna, they were still able to win their 13th straight game against the #19 ranked school in the country. Amherst on the other hand lost a close game to Middlebury in the NESCAC championship while their team was pretty beat up. Each team at this point in the season is going to be a bit injured, but that shouldn’t give one team too much of an advantage over the other. Overall, Babson has more momentum, but Amherst won’t be lacking confidence after beating them earlier in the year. Bottom line is both teams deserve to be here. If Flannery was 100 percent healthy, I think Babson pulls this game out, but since he is hobbled with the ankle injury, Amherst looks primed to outlast the Beavers in a back-and-forth game.

Prediction: Amherst 90 Babson 86 in OT

NCAA First Round Preview: #15 Amherst vs. Husson

Connor Green '16 isn't ready to stop shooting just yet. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Connor Green ’16 isn’t ready to stop shooting just yet. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Making the NCAA tournament is nothing new for Amherst’s long-time head coach Dave Hixon, and this weekend marks the sixth straight year that the mascotless team from Central Massachusetts is in the Little Division’s Big Dance. Amherst enters the tournament feeling a little deja vu after losing the NESCAC championship game for the second straight year to a young, hungry team that needed to win the game in order to make the NCAA tournament.

The rotation for Amherst is exactly the same as it was last season, and so it is a fair question to ask if there is anything different about the team this season compared to last. The team has not changed their style of play much, but Hixon insists that things have changed.

A lot of guys have gotten a little bit better. Racy is a more consistent player. The trip to Italy over the summer all by ourselves for a week helped with our consistency and chemistry. Trust me, we are better than we were last year – Coach Dave Hixon

Husson Overview

Husson is not a complete unknown since the Bangor, Maine team played all of Colby, Bowdoin, and Bates. They went 2-1 against them, getting blown out by Bates in December, beating Colby in overtime in January, and blowing out Bowdoin late in January. They finished first in the regular season for their conference and won their conference tournament. The tempo that Husson plays at is FAST, as they average 88.9 PPG and have two players averaging over 20 PPG. Guard Trevon Butler ’16 averages 21.7 PPG and forward Raheem Anderson pours in 21.0 PPG. Husson shoots a ton of threes too, 25.0 per game, which puts them just below Amherst in terms of shooting threes. Husson is nothing special defensively allowing close to 80 PPG, and teams are shooting 42.7 percent from the field against them. Husson is a power in their conference making the NCAA tournament 17 times before, but they are dreadful in the NCAAs with a record of 1-17.

Amherst X-Factor: Center Eric Conklin ’17

A theme of NCAA tournament games is that NESCAC teams usually have a size advantage inside that they can exploit. For Amherst, Conklin is a much more adept player than David George ’17 at scoring by using positioning and strength. Conklin, the Arizona transfer, is listed at 6’6″ 235 lbs, and Husson has only one player, 6’5″ 225 lbs Zach Curran ’17, that can match that size. George’s strength is on the defensive end where he is a menace in the lane, but against a team that shoots so many threes, that matters much less. Hixon might go to Conklin for extended stretches to try to get easy buckets in the half-court offense. Conklin has scored in every game this year, an impressive feat for a player that has averaged just 16.1 MPG. He could score a bunch tonight.

Husson X-Factor: Guard Eli Itkin ’17

I believe for Husson to win that they have to beat Amherst at their own game which means the Eagles need to make a lot of threes. Itkin is the best pure shooter on the roster shooting 50.0 percent on 3.2 threes per game. Two weeks ago he exploded for 27 much needed points in large part because he shot 7-9 from three point land. Of course,

Three Questions

1. Does a track meet develop?

Amherst is no slouch either on the offensive end of course, and Hixon admitted that he is not going to slow his team down on the offensive end. He acknowledged that Amherst is best offensively when going fast in transition and emphasized that slowing down Husson would have to happen on the defensive end. Amherst’s ability to have so many players guard multiple positions makes it possible for them to play great transition defense when matchups frequently get mixed up. When you throw in how many threes both teams take and how those tend to lead to long rebounds and runouts… odds are this one becomes a track meet.

2. Does another Husson player step up?

Remember in the NESCAC quarterfinal when Amherst played Bowdoin and Jack Simonds ’19 and Lucas Hausman ’16 went off for a combined 54 points but it wasn’t enough to bring down the team from Central Mass. Anderson and Bulter are great players, but a couple other players will need to score double-digits for Husson to keep up. Husson plays a lot of players between 15-20 MPG, so it could be any number of players that step up. The Eagles definitely need one of their big men to do a good job on the boards too.

3. Who makes their threes?

If you like old school basketball where the game is won and lost in the paint, then this is not the game for you. Both coaches are fine with their teams letting it go from deep. Hixon insists that “I don’t count how many threes we shot.” And I believe him considering how much Amherst does shoot the ball. Of course, neither of these teams have Steph Curry or Klay Thompson on their teams (Jeff Racy ’17 has been doing a fine impression though), and so some games the shots simply don’t fall. Amherst’s ability to switch onto anybody is to Hixon the biggest reason why other teams shoot so poorly against them. Being at home also helps Amherst somewhat.

What to Expect

From a sheer talent standpoint, Amherst is a clearly better team than Husson. At the same time, Amherst is the more talented team practically every time they step onto the court. They have a big size advantage at every position. I’m interested in how they balance getting after it on the offensive boards with focusing on getting guys back on defense to slow down Husson.

It feels crazy that I’ve made it this far in the preview and not made mention of Connor Green ’16, Johnny McCarthy ’18, and Michael Riopel ’18. These are going to be the guys that slow down the two Husson stars on one end and provide a lot of the offensive punch too. You never know what you are going to get from these guys, and Hixon admits that it is always a balancing act trying to figure out which guys are playing on any given night. That extends to the point guard position too of course. Amherst needs to limit their turnovers, a potential Achilles heel against a quicker Husson team.

Amherst catches a break getting to host the first weekend even though they didn’t win the NESCAC tournament. Yet when I asked Hixon if it mattered he responded, “doesn’t make a difference to me to be playing at home.” Now I’m guessing his players would disagree with him on that. Another thing that Amherst has been dealing with behind the scenes is a lot of nagging injuries. Green, Riopel, and McCarthy all missed time in the week leading up to the NESCAC semifinals, but Amherst has been able to have full practices this week to get ready. That could make a big difference as players should be in a better rhythm.

Hixon acknowledged that March is different. “It’s about telling guys about how it is one and done if you let down for just a second.” That urgency is something that Amherst seems to lack in some games, but they will have plenty of it now. This team did not develop into the juggernaut that I thought they were capable of being at the beginning of the season. The pieces don’t fit quite right, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of making a deep run in the tournament. I like their matchup a lot tonight and think they get through the first round relatively easily.

Amherst over Husson 85-74

Eye on Saturday

Things look to be harder if Amherst gets through to Saturday, but neither of WPI or Cortland State are dominant. WPI went 20-6 overall and 10-4 in the NEWMAC. They got an at-large bid after losing to MIT in the NEWMAC seimfinals. They started the season really well going 16-2 including wins over Bates and Tufts. They have stumbled a bit since then. One WPI fan on the D3boards described his team by saying, “But to borrow a baseball analogy – the batters keep muttering to themselves after grounding out to 2nd base 3 times in a row.  Hard to brag about the boys – but all they do is win.” They play at a slow pace averaging less than 70.0 PPG, and their best scorer is forward Clyde Niba ’17, a big man with a smooth jump shot.

Cortland State is more of an unknown since they haven’t played any NESCAC team this year. They got in because they won their conference tournament, the SUNYAC. However, they barely won both of those games, and they got lucky in not having to play the top seed Plattsburgh State. Guard Blair Estarfaa ’17 is their leading scorer, and he is dangerous when he gets going from downtown. JP Reagan ’16, a Cortland native, is their leading big man inside and is second on the team in PPG. All in all, this is a pretty favorable route to the Sweet Sixteen for Amherst, but you can never be sure in the NCAA tournament.

Caution: Unfiltered Middlebury Adulation Ahead: Stock Report 3/1

Middlebury is the NESCAC Champion for the third time. (Courtesy of NESCAC.com)
Middlebury is the NESCAC Champion for the third time. (Courtesy of NESCAC.com)

Amherst College is an athletic powerhouse, and that fact is as evident in basketball as anywhere else. Both the men’s and women’s teams advanced to their respective NESCAC Championships yesterday. On the men’s side, it was the program’s 14 appearance in the title game in 17 opportunities. That’s not a misprint. Amherst has competed in 82 percent of all of the NESCAC Championship games in history, and until yesterday had a winning record: 7-6. Yesterday, though, it was not the Purple and White cutting down the nets, but the fourth-seeded Middlebury Panthers. Middlebury limped to a 3-5 start to the season, albeit against a challenging schedule, all on the road, but that slog seemed to prepare Middlebury well for conference play. They still fell short in a couple of games that should have been locks, though, specifically on the road at Conn College and Hamilton, which put the Panthers in a do-or-die situation. Capture the NESCAC crown, or hang up the sneaks until next year. They did just what they had to do on Sunday, punching their NCAA ticket by edging Amherst 81-79 in an all-time classic that featured 23 lead changes and one game-changing call that will haunt Amherst players forever. And because of that, this is going to be a very Middlebury-heavy stock report today. My favorite.

Stock Up

Middlebury C Matt Daley ’16

(Courtesy of Jeff Patterson)
Matt Daley ’16 looked like the force this weekend that so many Panthers fans have long hoped he could be. (Courtesy of Jeff Patterson)

Cue the preamble about the double-double prognostications and oodles of talent. We all know that already. Let’s focus on his performance during the NESCAC tournament. After getting just five minutes against Wesleyan, Daley must have gotten really pissed, because he played great this weekend. Daley started both games against some of the best defensive centers in the league in Ed Ogundeko ’17 and David George ’17, played 27.5 minutes per game (huge considering that he averaged 17.7 minutes per NESCAC game this season), scored 34 points on 14-18 (77.8 percent) shooting, ripped down 11 boards, had three blocks, and helped hold Ogundeko, George and Eric Conklin ’17 to 20 points on 7-18 (38.9 percent) shooting. The Panthers are a completely different team with Daley playing like he did this weekend, and truly are good enough to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

Middlebury Head Coach Jeff Brown

Coach Brown received the best gift any coach could ever ask for back in 2007 – a program-changing player. It was not because of his talent alone that Mike Walsh, class of 2008, was a game changer. After a 6-18 freshman campaign and 12-12 sophomore year, Walsh and the Panthers made to the NESCAC tournament in 2007 but finished 15-10. With one more season to play, Walsh and co-captain Andrew Harris ’08 went to Brown and laid out their plan for changing the Middlebury basketball program. From that moment on, Middlebury basketball has been a powerhouse with a winning attitude and unbelievable work ethic, playing in eight of nine NESCAC tournaments since then and making making NCAA appearances. Add in a string of phenomenal, All-American caliber players in guys like Ben Rudin ’09, Tim Edwards ’10, Andrew Locke ’11, Ryan Sharry ’12 and Joey Kizel ’13, among others, and the job becomes a lot easier for someone in Brown’s position. This season has been different, though. There are some very solid players on the Middlebury team, but no superstars. They weren’t even a playoff team a year ago. And Jeff Brown was able to rally his team after a 3-5 start, after an 0-2 showing on the last weekend of the regular season, and yesterday with Amherst leading by 11 midway through the first half. Strategically this weekend, Brown employed the zone well against Trinity, limiting their ability to make outside shots, and Sunday was just a gritty performance that really culminates the effort this team has put in all year. Kudos to Coach Brown for probably his best coaching performance.

Amherst Guard Michael Riopel ’18

Let’s give a little love to a non-Panther. Riopel had the best weekend of his NESCAC life over the past two days. Having averaged 7.0 points per game this season, Riopel lit it up for 11 and 17 in Amherst’s two games, and burned the nets from deep, making six out of seven three point attempts. It’s actually sort of shocking that Middlebury held on yesterday considering that Amherst shot 45.9 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from deep, including Riopel’s 4-5 performance. I expect Riopel will step into the place of Connor Green ’16 in the starting lineup next season, because he’s a dynamic offensive player at times.

Stock Down

Amherst Defense

Granted, they faced two pretty potent offenses in Tufts and Middlebury, but the Purple and White did not do a good job of getting stops this weekend, allowing 83 points to the Jumbos and 81 to Middlebury. Vinny Pace ’18 was just a dominant force for Tufts, and on Sunday it was a combination of Matt St. Amour ’17 and Daley doing the work for the Panthers. So basically Amherst was ineffective at stopping opponents in both the front and back court. In NESCAC games, Amherst had a league-best 69.4 points per game allowed, so this may just be a blip on the radar.

Trinity Offense

The secret might just be out on how to slow down the Bantams. Against Middlebury, Trinity shot just 32.8 percent from the field and in their first half against Colby last weekend Trinity scored just 19 points (of course, they exploded for 52 second half points and won by 11, so maybe the point is moot). What Middlebury did well, and what the Mules did well for the first half, was switch ball screens and pressure the Trinity shooters. Easier said than done, but definitely a key in defeating the Bantams. Teams with length in the backcourt are a tough matchup for the Bants, and St. Amour, Jack Daly ’18 and Zach Baines ’19 are pretty tough to shoot over when they have a hand up. Luke Westman ’16 and Ryan Jann ’16 fall into that category, as well. In six of Trinity’s seven losses this season they’ve shot 31.6 percent or less from deep. Stop the three, stop the Bantams.

Appreciating the Bantams: Stock Report 2/9

Trinity's Ed Ogundeko '17 broke Bates' backboard on Saturday. Yes, that is awesome. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Trinity’s Ed Ogundeko ’17 broke Bates’ backboard on Saturday. That is awesome. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

The best team in the NESCAC over the past two seasons has been the Trinity College Bantams. That is really beyond debate too. Since the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, Trinity has gone 16-2 in NESCAC games. The second best record in that time is Amherst with a 12-6 mark. Trinity went further than any other NESCAC team in the NCAA tournament last season, coming within seconds of the Final Four.

These are all things you know, but I feel like the run by the Bantams is still an under-appreciated one; around here, at least, we continue to underestimate this team. We picked them to lose against Tufts on Friday night, and the Bantams have rarely topped our Power Rankings this year.

Trinity is also under-appreciated on a national scale. All of last year Trinity went unranked in the D3Hoops.com Top 25. Only when they made it to Elite Eight did they enter the Final Rankings. Even then, they were ranked just 17th. The Bantams are still not ranked in the Top 25 this season. Amherst, Tufts, and Wesleyan are ranked in the Top 25 this week. Trinity has beaten two of those teams, and is the only team to be above .500 against the other Top 4 NESCAC teams.

I get why the Bantams aren’t ranked: they lose games in the non-conference schedule that they really shouldn’t. This season they have lost five non-conference games, a high number for a supposedly elite team. However, what that analysis misses is that Coach Jim Cosgrove approaches those games as opportunities to get his more inexperienced players valuable playing time.

All that brings me to Friday night when Trinity had their way with Tufts down the stretch. The Jumbos made a second half run to tie the game back up at 58 apiece with exactly 10:00 left on the clock. Over the next four minutes, Cosgrove went unconventional, subbing out four of his starters in favor of bench players. Stalwarts Ed Ogundeko ’17 (playing at less than 100%), Andrew Hurd ’16, and Jaquann Starks ’16 headed to the bench for the likes of Erick Santana ’19 and Langdon Neal ’17.

A lineup with four bench players proceeded to soundly outplay the Jumbos over the next five minutes. With 4:29 left, the game had transformed from a tossup into one essentially over with the score 76-63 in favor of Trinity. The four bench players accounted for 13 of the 18 points scored in this stretch.

I want to pause here and say that Eric Gendron ’18 is a very very good scorer. He has a very good first step to get past his defender, and he has the size to finish at the rim. Not to mention that he can shoot the ball not just on wide open threes but in difficult, off-balance situations. He was the one that really fueled the 18-5 run with nine points all by himself. On a lot of teams Gendron would have a larger role, but he is biding his time while veterans like Ajayi and Ogundeko take center stage.

So to recap, on the road, with home court advantage throughout the NESCAC playoffs still on the table, with the score tied, Cosgrove went with a lineup with just one starter on the court. Rest assured, it was a gamble, one that no other coach in the NESCAC would make. If it didn’t work, I could very easily be writing about how Cosgrove’s refusal to play his core players more minutes is a fatal flaw in this team. But it did work in large part because of how much time Cosgrove has given for those players to develop this season.

Cosgrove is a fiery personality, and he certainly isn’t for everyone. On Saturday, his coaching philosophy was validated in a big way. After Amherst’s loss to Tufts, the Bantams have the inside track on getting the top overall seed.

Stock Up

Forward Shay Ajayi ’16 (Trinity)

It was Tom Palleschi ’17 that won NESCAC Player of the Week Honors this week, but Ajayi impressed me the most this weekend. With Ogundeko unable to start and able to play just 14 minutes because of an injury against Tufts, Ajayi stepped up in a huge way. On one end he was tasked with guarding Palleschi in the post, and on the other he was the main inside presence on offense. Palleschi got his with 25 points, but Ajayi still played alright defense on him and did a great job of keeping the Jumbo off the boards, allowing Palleschi to get just one offensive rebound. Meanwhile, Ajayi was exceptional with 26 points and 16 rebounds. He was the one starter who stayed on the floor during that critical run because of how important he was in that game. As evidenced from him having just eight points the next day against Bates, Ajayi is inconsistent. Still, he was stellar when his team needed him most.

Small Forward Dan Aronowitz ’17 (Williams)

The Ephs found themselves down by eight at halftime to Conn College, and it took a Herculean second half from Aronowitz to bring them to victory. He scored 25 of Williams’ 45 points in the half, including six of the Ephs’ final eight as Williams came back in the final minute to get the much needed victory. The junior plays within the system for Williams, but there is no doubt that the team leader in points and rebounds is the leader of this team. In the same way that Dan Wohl ’15 and Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 stepped up last season, Aronowitz has been fantastic this season. The Ephs are probably locked into the sixth seed, and the win against Conn College was a big one.

Stock Down

Hamilton’s Finish

Hamilton played their best game all season on Saturday beating Bowdoin handily 86-71. Ajani Santos ’16 enjoyed his best game of the season by far scoring 25 points. That win got them to 2-6 in the NESCAC. On Sunday, the Continentals led by eight at halftime against Colby, and it looked like Jack Dwyer ’18 had clinched things for Hamilton when he hit a jumper with 15 seconds left to make the score 79-75 for Hamilton. However, Chris Hudnut ’16 hit a three to make a one point game, and right at the buzzer Ryan Jann ’16 was fouled on a three pointer. He made two of the three free throws to send the game to overtime, and the veteran Mules finished things out from there. The loss keeps Hamilton at 2-6, keeping them from getting that critical third win. Now Hamilton has to win on the road at either Trinity or Amherst to have a chance at the playoffs. That won’t be easy.

Bowdoin Rebounding

Bowdoin didn’t show up in the first game this week against Hamilton, and that made their game vs. Middlebury all the more important. The Polar Bears managed to come back from a 13 point deficit, but their inability to pull in rebounds down the stretch killed them. Middlebury scored seven straight points down the stretch after getting offensive rebounds. The crucial play came with 2:45 left in the game and the score 67-67: a mad scramble for the rebound off a missed Zach Baines ’19 layup ended with Jack Daly ’18 getting the ball in the corner and finding a wide open Matt St. Amour ’17 who buried the shot. We have been saying all season that the Polar Bears miss John Swords ’15 on the interior, and there is no doubt that he would have helped against Middlebury as Bowdoin lost the rebounding battle 45-31.

Amherst Bench

For a team with as talented a roster as the Purple and White, Amherst has become over the course of the season heavily reliant on their starting five. The rotation still goes nine players deep, but Jacob Nabatoff ’17 and Reid Berman ’17 (two starters for much of last year) have become near non-threats with the ball, averaging a combined 4.0 PPG in NESCAC games. Eric Conklin ’17 is as steady as it gets as a backup big man giving about eight points per game, and Michael Riopel ’18 does a ton of things well besides score the ball. Still, this isn’t the monstrous rotation that people expected to wear teams out. We have seen Coach Dave Hixon have very short rotations in the past, and he won a National Championship playing basically six players. For whatever reason, a somewhat similar scenario is playing out this year, despite all of the talent on this team. Amherst got soundly beat on Saturday, and it was disappointing to see them have no extra spark in the second half, unlike the Bantams do.