Coaches Come and Coaches Go: Middlebury vs Bates Playoff Preview

Overview:

This match-up has Mike Leonard’s fingerprints all over it. The former coach of Bates has reshaped the Middlebury program with the kind of efficiency usually reserved for college students with a final due the next morning. But, as evidenced by their playoff spot, Leonard didn’t leave Bates wanting for talent. Both teams are loaded with good young players, and have seen those players lead them to playoff spots that no one predicted before the season began. The teams are trending in different directions though. After a scorching 7-0 start in league play, Bates has dropped their last five, while Middlebury has played well the whole second half and finished at 8-4 in NESCAC play.

Bates’ strength all year has been their pitching. The have the second best team ERA in the league at 3.60, and during league play that number has dropped to 2.65, best in the league. They also are the third best fielding team in the league, with a .962 fielding percentage and 41 errors in 31 games. Bates doesn’t beat themselves, and is well suited to shut down the best offenses in the league. However, the Bobcats simply can’t score. They are last in the league in batting average and slugging percentage (.229 and .275 respectively.) Four of their five losses in league play have been by one run, and that trend is entirely due to an inability to get a big hit, particularly with runners in scoring position.

Middlebury has been a far more consistent team this season, but offense is certainly their strong suit. They have a .302 team average and a .434 slugging percentage, good for second and third in the league. Ryan Rizzo ‘17 sets the table at the top of the order and is a terror on the basepaths with 19 steals. And then fellow senior Jason Lock ‘17 knocks him in (30 RBI on the season.) Justin Han ‘20 provides good power with four home runs, and Sam Graf ‘19 rounds the lineup out with a combination of power, contact and speed that is rare in the league. The Panthers’ pitching was a problem early in the season, but has come together of late. Colby Morris ‘19 is coming off a Pitcher of the Week award, and Spencer Shores ‘20 has been stellar all throughout league play with a 2.29 ERA.

(Likely) Pitching Matchup:

Bates: Connor Speed ‘19 (1-5, 2.17 ERA, 40 K in 49.2 innings)

Connor Speed
Connor Speed ’19 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Speed gets two awards here. He is the runaway winner of the “Most Appropriate Name” award, and also the “Unluckiest Pitcher” award. He has gotten miniscule run support all season, finishing with only one win despite a 2.17 ERA. He also has gotten weirdly poor defensive effort behind him. He has allowed 25 runs on the year, and only 12 of them have been earned. All this to say that Speed is an ace; he just doesn’t have the won-loss record to back it up. He strikes out a fair amount of batters (over seven per nine innings) and has good control. Speed is one of the few pitchers in the league who have the ability to shut down an excellent Middlebury lineup.

Middlebury: Spencer Shores ‘20 (4-0, 4.25 ERA, 42 IP, 39 K)

Spencer Shores
Spencer Shores ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The Panthers have a tough decision to make here. Colby Morris has had several rough performances in league play, but is the reigning Pitcher of the Week after out-dueling Tufts ace Speros Varinos ‘17 4-0 last weekend. Shores, on the other hand, has peaked in league play and has been more consistent throughout the season. But he is a first year, and starting an inexperienced pitcher in such a big game would give any coach pause. The thing that I think puts Shores over the top (in addition to the fact that he’s earned it by pitching very well) is that he is well rested. He hasn’t pitched since a rain shortened game against Bowdoin two weekends ago. Unfortunately, he did not pitch well in that game, giving up four runs in just 2.2 innings. Middlebury will have to choose between these two young starters.

Middlebury X-Factor: RP Connor Himstead ‘19 (1.56 ERA, 7 SV)

Conor Himstead
Connor Himstead ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury’s starting pitching inconsistencies have been mitigated by having maybe the best closer in the league. Middlebury, like Bates, has the tendency to end up in a lot of close games, so having a closer who they can rely to hold a lead has been one of the most important parts of their season. He  strikes guys out (17 in 17 innings) and only gave up 12 hits in those 17 innings as well. Bates’ terrific pitching signals a potential close game here; meaning that Himstead will get some work. He will be called on to hold a lead for Middlebury, or possibly to keep the game close to give the offense a chance to come back. Either way, he will be very important come Friday.

Bates X-Factor: OF Will Sylvia ‘20 (.306/.457/.389, 18 BB)

Will Sylvia
Will Sylvia ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

As I said above, Bates’ offense has been mediocre (to put it lightly) all season. Sylvia has been one bright spot. Despite being a freshman, he has shown incredible plate discipline all year and has had a hand in most of Bates’ rallies on the year. His role in the lineup in primarily as a table setter due to his ability to get on base. Unfortunately, he is often stranded on base because Bates doesn’t have a run producer who is a threat to knock him in. To score in this series, Bates will have to manufacture runs, and they certainly won’t do that without Sylvia having a big series.

Final Thoughts:

The location of the game (Colby College) would seem to benefit Bates. They should bring a fairly good crowd with them, and should have less travel fatigue than the Panthers, who have a five hour drive.

The coaching change, however, should benefit the Panthers. Leonard might be able to give scouting reports on his former players, including likely starter Connor Speed. Middlebury’s reliance on first years may help them as well, as Bates will not have as much information on them as they do on the older players.

Prediction:

I think the game will remain close the whole time, as the strong pitching of both teams should keep the offenses at bay. However, Bates does not have the offense to break the game open, while Middlebury does.

Middlebury 3 – Bates 1

The Chosen Few: NbN’s Regular Season Awards Ballot

As we not-so-patiently await this weekend’s playoff games, it’s time to hand out some regular season hardware. This was a particularly fun year in NESCAC baseball. In Tufts we had a juggernaut dominate the regular season in a way not seen in several years. We had Bates’ insanely hot 7-0 start to league play, followed by an insanely cold 0-5 finish. Williams made a furious run at their playoff spot, but to no avail. And on the other side of the conference, we saw a real-life Cinderella story unfold before our eyes, as Middlebury rose from years of mediocrity to become a real championship contender. We will see how those storylines shift come this weekend. In the meantime, let’s recognize the top regular season performers in the award categories. As always, these are our opinions, so we welcome and expect criticism from all sides. We also urge you to check out the midseason awards article here for more info on most of these candidates.

Player of the Year

Yanni Thanopoulos

Winner: Amherst OF Yanni Thanopolous ‘17 (.429/.473/.529, 57 H, 37 RBI)

There are several players who could win this award. Tufts alone has three players who have the stats to contend for it in Nick Falkson ‘18, Tommy O’Hara ‘18 and Will Shackelford ‘19. However, it is precisely that lineup strength that keeps them from winning this award. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around any of those players because the rest of the lineup is so dangerous. This award is better suited for a player who dominates despite a lesser supporting cast. Enter Thanopolous. Not to diss the rest of the Amherst lineup (NbN’s own Harry Roberson ‘18 excels as a table setter at the top of the order.) But Thanopolous’ run producing is the key to Amherst’s lineup. Additionally, Amherst’s pitching has struggled mightily for most of the season. Without a strong lineup, Amherst would not even be a playoff contender, and Thanopolous is the engine that makes it all run.

Tommy O'Hara

Runner-Up: Tufts IF Tommy O’Hara ‘18 (.343/.503/.528, 4 HR, 35 RBI)

 

 

Jason Lock

Runner-Up: Middlebury 1B Jason Lock ‘17 (.389/.455/.549, 30 RBI 13:6 BB/K)

 

 

Pitcher of the Year

Speros Varinos

Winner: Tufts SP Speros Varinos ‘17 (8-1, 1.60 ERA, 68 SO, 9 BB)

Unlike the Player of the Year award, this race has never been close. Varinos has dominated the league as much as any NESCAC pitcher in recent memory. He struck out double digit hitters three times in his nine starts, and the only blemish on his won-loss record came in his last start, a meaningless non-league matchup against Middlebury. Varinos combined with Tim Superko ‘17 to form the most dynamic starting pitching duo in the league. However, Tufts as a team has struggled to find an effective third starter, and even Superko posted a 3.55 ERA this season. He benefitted a great deal from Tufts’ stellar offense to post his 6-0 record. Therefore, Varinos is the key to Tufts rotation, which will be the most important factor in the playoffs as they contend with Thanopolous and the rest of Amherst’s lineup.

Johnny LamontRunner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)

 

 

Erik MohlRunner-Up: Trinity P Eric Mohl ‘19 (16 APP, 7-2, 2.55 ERA)

 

 

 

Rookie of the Year

Justin Han

Winner: Middlebury OF Justin Han ‘20 (.308/.411/.490, 4 HR, 13:7 BB/K)

Middlebury is both one of the best teams in the league and maybe the youngest team, a testament to the recruiting of new HC Mike Leonard and his assistant Mike Phelps. And based on this season, Justin Han looks to be the biggest prize of that strong recruiting class. He showed tremendous power, finishing second in the league with four home runs. But the thing that sets Han apart from other first year players is his maturity. He only struck out seven times all year against thirteen walks. That kind of plate discipline is uncommon among any player, let alone a rookie. His stats were also better in the elevated competition of NESCAC play. In eleven league games, he hit .324 with two home runs and nine RBI, numbers that are better than his overall stats if you project them out to the same amount of games. Han also showed a clutch gene, hitting a game winning grand slam against Amherst to help Middlebury salvage a crucial game and avoid a sweep. With Han and his classmates, Middlebury is set up to be relevant for years to come.

Johnny LamontRunner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)

*Editor’s Note: We feel bad for Lamont here. Not only does he finish second in two awards, but he has to live with a dud of an older brother (former NbM editor Adam Lamont.) We regret adding salt to that wound, and hope John doesn’t resent it too much in the future.

Alex RodriquezRunner-Up: Trinity C Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.342/.361/.465 23 RBI)

Merrily We Roll Along: Power Rankings 4/21


As we reach the final third of the season, a look at the NESCAC baseball landscape reveals the fierce competition throughout the conference. No team has locked up a bid and the final few weekend series’ hold more weight than ever before. Some teams are in must win situations with others have played themselves into good positions. This iteration of the Power Rankings shows movement from eight of the ten teams after a little over a week of games and a surprising weekend.

  1. Tufts

Despite a tough weekend for the Jumbos, Tufts still maintains its number one spot in the power rankings. A loss to 7-17 (2-7) Colby team brought this team back to reality after a scorching hot start including their run last season. However, still posting a 19-4-1 overall record and sitting in second place in the NESCAC East, Tufts has little reason to worry. Reigning NESCAC Pitcher of Year Speros Varinos ’17 is defending his title with an essentially perfect season thus far at 6-0 in 6 starts with a 1.50 ERA and league leading 46 strikeouts, 10 ahead of the next closest total. The lineup, hitting a combined .325, is led by Nick Falkson ’18, who is in the running for a title of his own – NESCAC Player of the Year. The infielder is hitting .402 and leading the league with 28 RBI’s. However, a crucial part of this lineup is filled with sophomores Casey Santos-Ocampo ’19 and Will Shackelford ’19 . Santos-Ocampo has provided clutch at bats and speed on the base paths, scoring 18 runs and knocking in 20 more. Shackelford has added a hot bat to his defensive soundness, hitting a phenomenal .434 with only 4 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. The Jumbos have a huge weekend series at home against Bowdoin, which could ultimately decide who makes the NESCAC playoffs, but as long as Tufts sticks to what they do best, they’ll be in a good spot heading forward toward the playoffs.

  1. Bates

Bates has been the San Antonio Spurs of the NESCAC so far this spring. They have no league leaders and no standout superstar, but are a fundamentally sound team. The Bobcats get the job done, which is why they jump to number two in this week’s power rankings. Holding Conference best 6-0 record, Bates has its eyes set on the playoffs. A convincing sweep of Bowdoin, in which the staff allowed only 8 runs total,

Connor Speed ’18 has carried an excellent Bates pitching staff this season.

proved that Bates is ready to compete with the higher echelon of the conference and make some noise in the postseason. The Bobcats will rely on their pitching staff to do so. With a league leading team ERA of 3.12 (2.47 in conference), this staff has to potential to shut down any offense in the league. Only giving up slightly over 3 runs a game has allowed the team to win 11 of 16 so far despite their struggling offense. However, these numbers come with a big asterisk, as their two series sweeps have come against weaker offenses in Colby and Bowdoin. Look for Connor Speed ’18 to lead the staff as the team aims to continue their dominance on the mound. For now though, Bates has put themselves in a good position for a postseason bid.

  1. Wesleyan

Wesleyan holds a slim .5 game lead in the West Division and are tasked with facing a hot Middlebury squad this weekend. So far this season has been not up to Wesleyan’s standards at the plate. Hitting a mediocre .291, the Cardinal bats look to heat up to their potential as the season progresses. Will O’Sullivan ’17 is starting the charge hitting an impressive .360 and team leading 8 doubles. Adding power to lineup is Junior Matt Jeye ’18 who is tied for the league lead with 3 homeruns. On the mound, the Cardinals have been consistent if anything as they have been racking up strikeouts. In conference, they strike out 7.30 batters per nine innings – nearly a strikeout an inning. Leading the bullpen is two-way player Ryan Earle ’19 who has a league leading 4 saves along with a minimal 1.06 ERA. Wesleyan hasn’t had exactly the start they were expecting but have been playing well enough to stay atop a tight division. As the Cardinal bats start hitting up to their potential, look for this team to be dangerous towards the end of the season.

  1. Amherst

Since last power rankings, Amherst has gone 4-0 including a sweep against a tough Williams squad. This is partly in thanks to the recent success of its lineup. In his last season, Yanni Thanopoulos is in the running for NESCAC Player of the Year, hitting .400 with 26 RBI’s. Harry Roberson has also contributed power to the lineup slugging an impressive .627 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 homeruns. However, despite hitting a conference best .330, Amherst has only a .500 record at 10-10. This is  due entirely to their disastrous pitching. The staff has a combined 5.82 ERA (which has improved since last week), which includes 9 homeruns and nearly 200 hits in only 173.1innings. The only bright spot is consistent starter Jackson Volle ’17 who has gone 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA in team leading 24.2 innings pitched. Volle has kept this Amherst team relevant with his impressive performances and routine domination of the NESCAC bats. After him though, Amherst’s arms need to step up their game. With a dangerous lineup, this team is never out of any game, but in order to keep their current postseason bid, Amherst will need to find support from their staff.

  1. Williams
Kellen Hatheway
Kellen Hatheway ’19 could follow up is ROY season with a POY trophy this year.

Williams has had a similar start to the season as Amherst. Their offense is hard to stop, with a team average of .310. Kellen Hatheway ‘19, one year removed from his NESCAC Rookie of the Year campaign now is gunning for NESCAC Player of the Year. The sophomore is hitting a conference leading .446 highlighted by 7 doubles and 3 triples. He has additionally added 7 stolen bases to his outstanding numbers. Not to be shadowed by the young star, Junior Jack Roberts ’18 has put together a solid season at the plate as well hitting .391 for the Williams squad. However, despite this strong lineup, Williams has struggled due to the inconsistency of the rotation. The 4.72 team ERA shows the difficulty Williams arms have had. The reason behind this though, could be due to Coach Barrale’s decision to ride his young arms. Standout rookie John Lamont ’20 has had a very successful start to the season, having gone 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA. Additionally, classmate Kyle Dean ’20 has proven he can compete with the best of the ‘CAC, as he has gone 17.2 innings giving up only 2 runs. Williams’s success depends heavily on its young core, but the veterans, especially in the bullpen need to perform for Williams to compete with the top of the league.

  1. Middlebury

Middlebury’s sweep of Hamilton gave them a much-needed jump in the West Division. The Panthers in-conference and overall record perfectly reflect the games they’ve played so far. Sitting one game above and below .500, respectively, Middlebury has kept their games close, as 15 of the 19 games played have been decided by 3 or less runs. New coach Mike Leonard has relied on his senior talent in Jason Lock ’17 and Ryan Rizzo ’17, who are hitting .397 and .355 respectively. These leaders are the heart of a productive Middlebury lineup (hitting .313 as a team.) Similar to other teams in the Conference, Middlebury has found that its weakness is in the pitching staff. The Panthers have the second worst ERA in the NESCAC for both in-conference and overall play. The star in the rotation has been freshman Spencer Shores ’20 who has gone 2-0 in 28.2 innings pitched with a 2.51 ERA. It will take a strong performance for the rest of the season, but Middlebury is back in the race for one of the two playoff spots in the West Division. If the veterans in the rotation can sharpen their game, Middlebury can sneak its way into the postseason.

  1. Bowdoin
Brandon Lopez
Brandon Lopez ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Bowdoin is quietly riding a 5 game winning streak going into a crucial matchup against Tufts this weekend. Included in this streak is a sweep of Trinity College which brought their in-conference record to 3-3, only one game behind Tufts for the second spot in the division. The winner of this series will have control over the second bid for the playoffs. Bowdoin’s success has not come from any star power, but just clutch play and solid pitching. All three Trinity games were close, despite a lineup that is hitting is measly .270 and has scored only 83 runs in 23 games. Brandon Lopez ’19 is by far the team’s MVP thus far. He is one of the few Polar Bears who has found success at the plate, hitting .328 with team leading 10 RBI’s. Lopez also has led the pitching staff with a 3-0 record and a 1.29 ERA. Behind him is Max Vogel-Freedman ’18 who has a 2.16 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. This Bowdoin staff has brought the team into the race for a playoff bid. Their in-conference ERA sits at a meager 2.68. However, the Polar Bear arms will face their toughest test yet against the dynamic Tufts offense. Winning the series against Tufts would solidify Bowdoin’s relevancy in NESCAC baseball.

  1. Trinity

Trinity lost a tough series to Bowdoin, which severely hurt their opportunity for a playoff bid and dropped them steeply in the power rankings. A lot must go Trinity’s way, starting with a series sweep over first place Bates this upcoming weekend. To complete this daunting task, the Bantams must hit a hot streak at the plate. After Brendan Pierce ’18, this lineup, while it certainly can hit, doesn’t have too much power in their bats. Trinity must string together hits and not leave men on base. When the offense is rolling, it is usually due to senior Nick Dibenedetto ’17. His season has satisfied the high expectations going into the year. He is hitting .366 with a .512 slugging percentage. On the bump, Erik Mohl ’19 has put together a breakout year thus far. In his 12 appearances, Mohl has a 6-1 record and a 2.62 ERA in team high 34.1 innings. After the sophomore, however, Trinity has run into issues. Coach Bryan Adamski continues his search for a solution, as 10 pitchers in the staff have 7 or more appearances. While unlikely to earn a playoff bid after losing the series to Bowdoin, Trinity has the potential to shake up the standings with the potential talent on the team.

  1. Hamilton

Hamilton’s out-of-conference record, 11-7, varies drastically from their in-conference record, 0-5. This slow start has already dug them a deep hole in the tough West Division. The future doesn’t look too bright either as the team’s top six hitters are graduating this spring. One of them, Kenny Collins ‘17 has shown his versatility hitting .400 while also leading the league with 15 stolen bases (caught only once). Ryan Wolfsberg ’17 has also put together a strong final season, hitting .387. The pitching staff is in a much different position. After Finlay O’Hara ’17 who has a 1.50 ERA, the rest of the rotation and bullpen is returning next season. Dan DePaoli ’18 has put together a successful season behind O’Hara. However, his 2.21 ERA has resulted in a mediocre 3-3 record. Hamilton is better suited off getting young guys experience for next season, as this year’s team will likely miss out on the playoffs.

  1. Colby

Despite stealing a game against a strong Tufts team, Colby has struggled in conference play, compiling a 2-7 record. This record, is described perfectly by the run differential in these game: -40. One of the major factors in this statistic is the inability of the Mules team to hit the ball. The team is hitting a mere .265, despite junior Matt Treveloni’s efforts at the plate, hitting .353. In order to climb out of last place, the Mules bats must heat up. On the opposite side, the Colby staff has shown some bright spots. First year player Taimu Ito ’20 has impressed with team leading 27 innings pitched and a 3.33 ERA. Additionally, John Baron ’18 has relied on his curveball to pitch 14.2 innings with a 1.84 ERA. However, the relative success of the Mules’ bullpen hasn’t been enough to make up for an inefficient offense. A four game series against Williams is approaching and Colby will look to get out of last in the East with a series win.

New Coach on the Block: A Profile of Middlebury’s Mike Leonard

 Middlebury’s athletic program is rock solid. To be fair, I’m a student here, but to be objective – if objectivity still exists – Sports Illustrated recently gave us the title of the 8th-ranked school in the country for sports lovers. The Panthers have won 7 national championships in the last 10 years – roll Pants. But none of them have been in baseball. Many of our teams have a gaudy reputation both on campus and around the country. Historically, the baseball team has not been one of them.

Enter new head coach Mike Leonard. Coach Leonard, not surprisingly, is a ball player. He caught at UConn and was All Big-East. He went on to play in the Cape Cod League for the Harwich Mariners, and made it as far as the AA Portland Sea Dogs, before taking his batter’s eye from the batter’s box to the dugout (yes, that’s the corniest sentence I’ve ever written). In six seasons as the head coach at Bates, Leonard won over 20 games three times, and compiled 114 wins overall.

Leonard regards both his team and Middlebury’s reputation in a way that speaks towards a bright future for his baseball program. He sees the success of a team in much more than a record. When asked about the health of the program he was inheriting, Coach Leonard said, “I don’t know that the program itself has been struggling…for me personally to judge the program on just wins and losses wasn’t fair.”

I for one, had simply assumed that the program was a weak one. Leonard, as well as the performance of his team this year, have challenged that assumption.

He referenced the attitude of his players, as they situate themselves within the athletic culture at Midd, “They’re certainly ready to join the other teams on campus who are winning NESCAC titles and national championships…They were ready to put in the work, and they have the leadership and direction to get there…I’m excited.”

This is not to say that Middlebury’s new coach is unconcerned about record. After all, any team needs tallies in the win column to make the NESCAC tournament – to do so consistently is one of his goals – but it seems he wants so much more out of his players than just wins. As Leonard put it, “from an identity standpoint I want us to be resilient, confident, regardless of results, regardless of past outcomes.”

As far as young talent is concerned, Middlebury has plenty of it. But Leonard referenced the leadership of his seniors as the key to the team’s success. He said, “One of my messages to the seniors was to always include and empower the first year guys, because if you’re a senior you want to go out on top, and if that means that a freshman can go out and hit a grand slam and help you beat Amherst (Justin!); you’ve gotta be invested in that.”

The level of responsibility placed on senior leaders like Jason Lock ’17 and Ryan Rizzo ’17 has paid off in more ways than one. Not only are several young players playing fantastic baseball, but Rizzo and Lock are both having career seasons. But again, it’s not about the numbers. He sees not only young players playing to their full potential, but perhaps more importantly, he sees that “our seniors have done a great job of kind of putting ego aside and really trying to make it feel like one cohesive unit, one family.”

An excellent example of Coach Leonard’s philosophy shining through was first year Justin Han’s go-ahead grand slam against Amherst last weekend. It is just one of many instances of clutch hitting or solid performances off the mound from young Middlebury players this season. Leonard preaches discipline at the plate and in the game itself, and truly believes that that is the way to success.

He puts competition and cohesion before wins and losses, saying, “We’re sitting here right now at 6-10 with 8 losses by two runs or less. We’ve put ourselves in a position to compete. I want us to continue to be that type of team as long as I’m here.”

With greater emphasis on things like grit, commitment, and leadership, the Middlebury baseball team is already putting itself in position to be successful. As Mike Leonard himself said, judging a program based on number of wins alone isn’t fair. But by taking that perspective to heart, and by nurturing the relationships within his team, especially between the upper- and lower class-men, Middlebury is poised to add significantly to that win count.

Those among us without Coach Leonard’s perspective, those who prioritize victory in their judgement of a team, may soon enough count the Middlebury baseball team among the other consistent winners on campus.

 

Goodbye to Hoops: Basketball Season in Review

Monday was the first day of spring. I know that the weather at many NESCAC schools begs to differ, but I promise you that it’s true. Spring is a melancholy time for sports fans. On the one hand it’s baseball season. As you might know from reading literally any article ever written about baseball, spring and baseball go hand in hand. Every play in baseball begins the same way; with a pitch. Every is redeemed, much like the deadened flowers are redeemed in the spring. And here at NbN our NESCAC baseball coverage has kicked off in a big way with Devin’s preview.

But in this early spring I’m thinking about the end of something; basketball season. This year of NESCAC basketball was in many ways unprecedented for the league. Not in my memory has there been such talent across the board. While there were obviously better and worse teams, every squad this season had at least a couple moments where they blended together and sang in that way that only basketball can create. At one point there were five NESCAC teams ranked in the national top 25, and those five teams all received bids to the NCAA tournament.

This was a very literary season. We had a tragic hero find redemption in Tuft’s Tom Palleschi, who went down with a brutal knee injury during his

Tom Palleschi recovered from an injury to lead Tufts in the NCAA Tournament

senior season before returning to lead Tufts to the Sweet Sixteen. We had a classic trilogy a la Lord of the Rings in Middlebury and Williams Rounds One, Two and Three. The final battle was one for the ages, a gritty war that featured unsung heroes (Bobby Casey ‘19,) star turns (Kyle Scadlock ‘19 looks like a POY favorite after his NCAA run) and several atrocious blown calls a lot of high quality basketball. Before fading down the stretch, Hamilton put the league on notice that they’re ready to make a run. They lose none of their main rotation, and Kena Gilmour ‘20 and Peter Hoffmann ‘19 are as deadly a one-two punch as there is in the league. Next year could be the year that they rise to the upper tier.

 

I could write one of these paragraphs about every team. That is the nature of NESCAC basketball this season and going forward; every team has SOMETHING that makes them worth watching. There’s a reason that Rory, Colby, me, Henry and all the other writers want to take time out of our diverse liberal arts college experiences to write about sports. Quite simply, it’s all interesting. But I will keep this briefer than that. Here are a few thoughts, feelings, way too early predictions and just general things I’m excited for from this season, and looking into next.

The Williams-Middlebury Rivalry is Real, Folks:

Kyle Scadlock ’19 and Matt Folger ’20 are the new faces of the budding Panthers-Ephs rivalry.

Both Williams and Middlebury will suffer huge losses come graduation. For Middlebury, Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Bryan Jones and Liam Naughton were the leaders of the team both on and off the court, and formed a back court that was unmatched in the country. Daniel Aronowitz and Cole Teal filled similar roles for Williams. Neither team will ever be able to fully replace theplayers they will say goodbye to come graduation.

But there is hope in Williamstown and Middlebury. Both teams balanced their experienced senior guard with dynamic young talent, particularly at forward. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 for Williams is a future star at center, and Scadlock is maybe the league’s best talent at the forward spot. But Middlebury is loaded too. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 became a dangerous duo this year, and Matt Folger ‘20 has First Team potential even as a sophomore. And better yet, all of these players will remember the games this year. Middlebury embarrassed Williams in the NESCAC final, and then Williams got their revenge in Pepin in the NCAA’s. Those wounds wont heal quickly, and we should be in for battles between the Ephs and Panthers for years to come.

The First Team Center Spot is Wide Open:

If you look throughout the league, the majority of the losses outside of Williams and Middlebury are big men. Tufts loses Palleschi, Bates loses both Delpeche’s, and Trinity loses Ed Ogundeko. This means that the door is ajar for new names to step forward as the beasts of the league. Early contenders would be Scadlock, Hoffmann and Joseph Kuo ‘18 of Wesleyan, but there plenty of darkhorses who could step up. McCord should get a lot of looks as part of Middlebury’s possibly less guard-oriented offense, and Williams has several young bigs who may make leaps. It will be fun to monitor who is stepping into those very big pairs of shoes.

Amherst Had Better Reload:

Amherst will need to replace a large portion of their core this off season.

The Purple and White are lucky in that they keep the dynamic back court of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18. But in almost every other area they are significantly weakened. They lose their most consistent bench threat in Eric Conklin, as well as David George (center and defensive stalwart) and both their point guards. And unlike Middlebury and Williams, they did not have a lot of deeper bench players who showed the potential to fill their shoes. Amherst struggled all season with a lack of depth, and graduation will decimate that already thin bench. Amherst traditionally recruits well and has benefitted from transfers in the past. If they don’t do that quite as well this offseason, they run the risk of falling even further behind surging teams like Hamilton and Williams.

 

We’re Going to Miss NESCAC Basketball:

This one needs no explanation.

Four’s A Crowd: Williams Final Four Preview (and Middlebury Love-Fest)

Before we get to the Williams Final Four preview, a couple thoughts on Middlebury’s terrific season, and the legendary careers of Jake Brown ‘17, Matt St. Amour ‘17, Bryan Jones ‘17 and NbN’s own Liam Naughton ’17. One of the hardest things about writing this blog is simply remembering that the players are students. The players that we laud, criticize and analyze every week have classes and friends and social stresses and just general college things going on in addition to the sports that we value so highly. I personally can’t imagine adding an intense sports schedule to my busy academic schedule (blogging, playing video games and eating onion rings,) and we have the responsibility to remind ourselves of that while writing.

Brown, Jones, Naughton and St. Amour led Middlebury to back to back NESCAC Championships, an Elite Eight run, and too many great moments to count.

But that is also one of the best things about writing this blog. NESCAC sports are a very tight knit community (as are NESCAC colleges in general) and it’s a thrill to write about people who are also your classmates and friends. This experience has been especially real for me in the last four years. I feel very blessed to have entered Middlebury at the same time as Matt, Jake, Bryan, and Liam even more blessed now to write about them, and simply to know them.

I want to single out Liam for a second. Like Bryan, he had the misfortune of entering in an incredibly strong guard class, and didn’t get a ton of minutes over the course of his first three seasons. But he never once let it get him down. He continued to work hard in practice, and was an incredible teammate for his whole career (his bench celebrations were a source of great joy for fans in the seats.) And this season he was able to provide valuable minutes off the bench when Middlebury’s guard rotation shortened up. Every team needs stars to win, but teammates like Liam are just as, if not more important.

The accolades for St. Amour and Brown have rolled in, and are deserved tenfold. Indeed, I can’t even open up my Facebook feed without seeing an article about a new award that Matt has won. But their success goes beyond awards. For four years they, along with Bryan (who had the bad luck of being in the best guard class in the country; he starts on every other NESCAC team) and Liam have represented Middlebury with flair, joy, and class. It’s been my pleasure to watch them and cover them, and it is my continued pleasure to know them.

*wipes a single tear from my eye*

Alright, on to the Ephs…Williams (23-8, 7-6, lost in NESCAC Final)

Turns out the Ephs’ blowout win over Middlebury in the regular season was not as much of a fluke as we thought. After losing to the Panthers in the NESCAC final, the Ephs took the rubber match last weekend in a game that showed just how much they have grown as a team throughout the year. Williams has always been a good shooting team, but early in the season if they weren’t hot from three, their defense wasn’t good enough to get them a win over a quality opponent. But that Williams team is long gone. Williams shot very well against Middlebury (49%, 40% from three,) but it was their defense that got them the ticket to Salem. The Ephs held Brown and St. Amour to 10-26 shooting (1-12 from three,) and held the Panthers to as a team to their lowest home scoring output of the season. Against Middlebury, Williams showed that they have everything firing on all cylinders, and are a real threat to win the National Championship.

Final Four Opponent: Augustana College Vikings (23-8, 11-5, lost in conference final)

Jacob Johnston ’17
(Courtesy of Augustana Athletics)

The Vikings are similar to Williams in that they have peaked in the NCAA tournament. Neither team won their conference final, but they both have put everything together to make a Final Four run. Augustana is led by their backcourt, with guards James Johnston ‘17, Chrishawn Orange ‘19 and Dylan Sortillo ‘18 leading the team in scoring. They seem to play at a very slow pace, only averaging 77 points on only 12.3 assists per game. The Vikings shoot a very high percentage from the field (48.5%) but don’t take many shots, and therefore have low rebounding numbers. Their team leader in rebounding is Johnston at 5.4, and the next highest number is 3.6. This is good news for Williams, as rebounding is their biggest weakness (the Panthers had 20 offensive rebounds last weekend, keeping them in the game.) Williams also defends the perimeter very well, so facing another team that relies heavily on their guards should be music to their ears.

Johnston seems to be the player to watch for Augustana. At 6’5” and 190 pounds, he has terrific size at the guard position. He is their leading rebounder and second leading scorer (5.4 and 12.7 respectively,) and certainly is the best match-up on paper for Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, Williams go-to scorer. With his size and rebounding ability, he will also play a critical role in stopping Kyle Scadlock ‘19, Williams’ best big man. Johnston will be the key to Augustana’s gameplan.

X Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19

Kyle Scadlock
Kyle Scadlock ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Speaking of Scadlock, he is the most important player for the Ephs tonight. Augustana, as every team must do against Williams, will try to run them off the three point line, and their slower pace could throw the Ephs off their rhythm. Additionally, they are a very deep team on the perimeter, giving them a lot of defenders to throw at Aronowitz, Cole Teal ‘17 and Bobby Casey ‘19. They do not have many defenders to throw at Scadlock. The Vikings are pretty big (they have four players over 6’7”) but not many of them play big minutes. And very few teams in the country have the versatility to keep up with Scadlock’s combination of size, quickness and skills. Scadlock’s assertiveness on offense has been a key to Williams’ run. He is averaging 17 points per game in their last seven, and his threatening inside presence opens up driving lanes and three point attempts for the guards. It is when he disappears and doesn’t look for his shot that Williams struggles. Scadlock has a great matchup tonight; if he shows up for it, Augustana is in trouble.

Other Teams in the Final Four:

#1 Whitman College Blues (31-0, 16-0, Won Conference Championship): vs Babson, 5:00 PM

Tim Howell
Tim Howell ’18 (Courtesy of Whitman Athletics)

As you can probably tell from their record, the Blues are the favorite to come out of this weekend as national champions. They are one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, averaging 91.8 points per game on 48% shooting. They seems to just be loaded up and down the roster with great scorers, rather than doing it with ball movement. They only average 12.5 assists per game, a shockingly low number for such a dynamic offense. They are led in scoring by National POY Candidate Tim Howell ‘18, who averages 20.4 points per game. Howell is an electric one on one scorer, and his skill off the dribble opens things up for his teammates. And they take advantage of those opportunities. Four other Whitman players score in double figures, including Jack Stewart ‘19, who shoots 42.3% from three. If you had to point to a weakness for the Blues it would be on the boards and at the foul line. Their rebound margin is only +1, a low number for such a dominant team, and they only shoot 64% from the line. But for 31 games in a row, neither of those things have mattered.

#3 Babson College Beavers (29-2, 14-1, lost to MIT in Conference Final): vs Whitman at 5:00 PM

Joey Flannery
Joey Flannery ’18 (Courtesy of Babson Athletics)

Babson spent much of the season as the number one team in the country before dropping due to their conference final loss. But like Stella, they’ve gotten their groove back in the NCAA tournament. They scored 102 points in their Elite Eight win over Keene State, shooting 61% from the field. Stopping Babson begins and nearly ends with stopping senior guard Joey Flannery ‘17. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Flannery has the size to score inside, but is also a deadly outside shooter and ball handler. He averages 23.4 points per game and has proven himself to rise to the occasion in big games. He had 38 in their Sweet Sixteen win over Tufts. And as if that wasn’t enough, Flannery also averages 7.1 rebounds per game. But Babson isn’t a one man show. Junior guard Nick Comenale ‘18 averages 16 points per game on 42% shooting from three, and big man Isaiah Nelson ‘17 provides a valuable post scoring threat. Babson is one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. The Babson and Whitman game at 5:00 tonight should be a classic, I recommend checking it out before tuning in to Williams to support the NESCAC family.

The Rematch: Williams @ Middlebury Elite Eight Preview

Williams (22-8, 7-6) at Middlebury (27-3, 11-2): Pepin Gymnasium, Middlebury, VT 7:00 P.M.

What this means:

Throw out all of the statistics, the strength of schedule numbers, the bad losses, and the blowout wins. This is the Elite Eight and no matter how Williams and Middlebury got to this point in the season, they are in the NCAA quarterfinals on the road to the glory of a national championship. Expect a battle in Pepin tonight.

Williams and Midd are 1-1 against each other this year, and as Pete mentioned yesterday, the unwritten rules of pickup basketball dictate that there must be a rubber match. This is THE rubber match of all games. Both teams are coming off of relatively easy wins where they outmatched their opponents and haven’t been tested to this point in the tournament. These teams are a great match up for one another as Williams shot out of this world back in regular season NESCAC play to beat the Panthers, and Middlebury returned the favor to bring home the championship in Medford two weeks ago.

How They Got Here:

Jake Brown ’17 had his jump shot firing all cylinders against Endicott.

Coming off of stellar shooting performances from both Matt St. Amour ’17 and Jake Brown ’17, Middlebury looks to be firing on all cylinders as they head into the final stretch of the season. Their 4/5 rotations between Nick Tarantino ’18, Adisa Majors ’18, Matt Folger ’20, and Eric McCord ’19 has left other teams scrambling not knowing what combination of big men they are facing. McCord plays an aggressive, (sometimes out of control) game and Majors has a beautiful mid-range jumper and led the NESCAC in FG%, Tarantino is great at finishing near the rim and gets his share of offensive boards, and Folger has joined St. Amour and Brown as a splash brother with his ability to drain the long range shot. Middlebury has toppled Farmingdale St., Lycoming, and now Endicott, looking like a much better team than all three of their competitors. The closest game was surprisingly against Farmingdale as they won by just nine points after St. Amour shot just 5-18 from the field. He still added 18 points, but didn’t quite lock down the game like he did so well in both the rounds of 32 and Sweet 16. St. Amour has been playing out of this world, making Lycoming’s coaches exchange glances and shake their heads in disbelief after several of his plays. Against Lycoming, entering as the #15 team in the country, St. Amour was headed for the media table after forcing a turnover, scooped the ball with his left hand and threw it behind his back around the Warrior defender, hitting Jack Daly perfectly in stride for an and-1 basket, summing up the ridiculous nature of his senior season. The rest of the Panthers helped St. Amour out last night, shooting 41.9% from deep last night as a team. When they shoot that well, they are unstoppable.

Williams has several players who are threats from both long and short range. They have up and down shooting days but have been playing much closer to their season average recently, a big part of the process that

Kyle Scadlock ’19 has been a beast for Williams all tournament long, and traditionally gives Middlebury a lot of trouble.

has led to their deep run into the tournament. Mike Greenman was lights out last night, showing off his handles and draining contested threes all night, dishing it out to Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz throughout the whole game. Aronowitz said after the game against Susquehanna that “when I was getting down low in the first half, my teammates were getting open on the perimeter,” showing how Susquehanna couldn’t stop the Ephs on both fronts of offense. Kyle Scadlock started getting more aggressive down low when Susquehanna’s center got into foul trouble, smartly recognizing the weakness that the big man was put into, unable to contest Scadlock’s shots. The entire Susquehanna defense was centered around stopping Scadlock, who added a triumphant turn around dunk in the second half. Despite the added attention Scadlock faced, he dropped 22 points for the Ephs. Williams offense has become multi-dimensional in this tournament.

What to Expect:

Williams survived some below average shooting numbers against Susquehanna (36.8% FG and 31.0% from deep.) Those numbers will have to improve tonight. Atypically for them, it was their defense that won them last night’s game. Ephs coach Kevin App said their defensive game plan last night was to stop the “back-breaking threes” from Susquehanna’s star point guard Steven Weidlich, who is comparable in style to Midd’s St. Amour. Now, I do believe that St. Amour has an edge over Weidlich, but the way St. Amour plays as a part of the Middlebury teams is similar to the way Weidlich played for his. Williams mixed up the man on man defense on the point guard all night, mixing in both big and small players, throwing Weidlich out of rhythm and unable to heat up from deep and

Jack Daly ’18 will again have to step up, as Williams will focus a lot of attention on St. Amour.

keep his team in the game late. The Ephs should use a similar strategy tonight, putting pressure on Jake Brown and Jack Daly to step up in place of the NESCAC POY. St. Amour is impossible to defend if he makes the contested shots like he did against Lycoming, but it’s better than leaving him open.

Middlebury took a 48-24 lead over Endicott to enter half time, and then came out on a 16-3 run to start the second half, finding a lead of 41 points at one point. They really weren’t tested at all in the round of 16, but did lose to Endicott earlier in the year after they were up 12 at the half on November 27th. This shows that not only did they make an adjustment this time around, but were just a far better team. Jake Brown scored 19 points last night, getting hot and attempting a few heat check threes from well beyond the arc, using the Middlebury crowd well as a momentum push for his team. The Middlebury crowds have been intimidating these past few weeks, and I wouldn’t want to be Williams heading into Pepin after having an easy go at it in terms of crowds last night. Williams brought a good fan section in their own right, not comparable to the home team, but should bring some good clean college back-and-forth banter throughout the night as the NESCAC final rematch takes place with bigger stakes this time—a ticket to the final four in Salem, VA on the line.

And So They Meet Again (Maybe): Williams and Middlebury NCAA Sweet Sixteen Preview

Every pickup basketball player knows the importance of the rubber match. If a team wins one game, and the opposing team wins the next one, it is a cardinal sin to not play that third game to determine the outright winner. No matter if you have work, class, or a hamstring that is closer to snapping than my mom when I forget to bring my dishes upstairs, you have to play the rubber match. This is the case in higher levels of basketball as well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times, with Magic taking the rubber match in 1987. Many NBA fans are praying that Lebron and the Cavs meet Steph and the Warriors for a rubber match this season. And on a smaller scale, Williams and Middlebury have a chance this weekend for a rubber match of their own. If they both win on Friday, they would match up in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with bragging rights and a trip to Salem on the line.

Middlebury (26-3, 11-2, Beat Williams in the NESCAC Final)

Friday Opponent: Endicott (24-6, 15-3, lost in their Conference Final)

Kamahl Walker
Kamahl Walker ’17 (Courtesy of Endicott Athletics)

Middlebury has the rare chance this weekend to avenge two of their three losses. Williams of course blew out Middlebury in league play, but Endicott also bested the Panthers before league play. And the Gulls have the added honor of their win being in Pepin Gymnasium, a feat only they have accomplished in the last two years. Endicott was able to beat the Panthers at their own game; namely, guard play. Like Middlebury, the Gulls boast one of the best backcourts in the country. Max Matroni ‘17 and Kamahl Walker ‘17 combine for 32 points a game on the season, and have combined for 99 points in their two NCAA games. Against Middlebury Walker put up 28 and forced both Jack Daly ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17 into foul trouble. Endicott is one of the only teams in the country who has a backcourt that can give Middlebury guards a run for the money. Expect them to go at Daly and Brown (who will likely start the game on Walker and Matroni) early and attempt to again get them on the bench with fouls.

Endicott also attacked Middlebury on the glass. Daquan Sampson ‘17 was able to roast the Middlebury big men to the tune on 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Gulls outrebounded the Panthers overall 40-31 and had 12 offensive rebounds. Endicott matches up well with Middlebury because their team is constructed in a similar way. They have an excellent backcourt who drive the team on both ends of the floor, and the big men are effective role players who benefit a great deal from terrific guard play.

X-Factor: Eric McCord ‘19 (and the new big men)

Eric McCord
Eric McCord ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury’s biggest improvement since that loss to Endicott is in the front court.When the two teams last met, Zach Baines and Adisa Majors ‘18 dominated the minutes at the two forward spots. Eric McCord ‘19  and Nick Tarantino ‘18 combined to play 19 minutes and went 1-6 from the floor. Baines’ transfer has allowed McCord and Tarantino (as well as Matt Folger ‘20 and Majors off the bench) to flourish into one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. McCord in particular has blossomed, and should play a pivotal role in Middlebury’s game plan. Sampson and the rest of Endicott’s bigs are long, but they are not extremely strong, and Sampson in particular spends a considerable amount of time on the perimeter. McCord has become an effective scorer and passer in the paint, both playing off of a two man game with one of the guards or one-on-one. There is mismatch on the block that the Panthers didn’t have the personnel to exploit earlier this season. But the team is constructed differently now, and is far better suited to beat the Gulls down low if the guards play each other to a draw.

How They Lose:

We already have a blueprint for how Middlebury loses this game. Daly and Brown get into foul trouble, forcing St. Amour to expend more energy on defense chasing around either Matroni or Walker. Matroni or Walker take

Matt Folger ’20 rises up against Lycoming.

advantage of this and go off. And the Endicott bigs use their length and athleticism to terrorize the Middlebury bigs on the boards. Sampson also uses his quickness to draw McCord or Tarantino out of the paint and create driving lanes and putback opportunities. Both teams have seen that this can happen. We will see on Friday if Middlebury’s new look will prevent it from happening again.

 

Williams (21-8, 7-6, lost to Middlebury in the NESCAC Final)

Friday Opponent: Susquehanna (23-5, 11-3, lost in Conference Semifinals)

Steven Weidlich
Steven Weidlich ’17 (Courtesy of Susquehanna Athletics)

The rare team to make the Sweet Sixteen after not even making their conference championship, the River Hawks have been on something of a Cinderella run here in the NCAA tournament. They beat Eastern Connecticut State 72-67 in the round of t32, a team that beat Trinity and Amherst earlier in the season. Susquehanna is top heavy scoring wise, as the duo of Steven Weidlich ‘17 and Ryan Traub ‘18 combine to average 38 points per game (21 and 17 respectively.) No one else on their team averages more than seven. Weidlich is a Matt St. Amour type perimeter threat. A dangerous outside shooter, he connects on 39.5% of his threes and 45% of his field goals overall. However, he is also very versatile, averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 is Williams best perimeter defender (as well as best everything else) and will likely start the game on Weidlich. If he gets in foul trouble, the Ephs can be left with very few guys who create their own shots.

 

Traub is a very effective frontcourt partner for Weidlich. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he is a load underneath and creates match up problems for
Ryan Traub
Ryan Traub ’18 (Courtesy of Susquehanna Athletics)

Williams’ series of skinny big men. He is also tremendous around the rim, shooting 57.4% from the field. He can step outside the arc (40% in a limited sample size,) and anchors a defense that only allows 41% shooting to opponents on the season. Williams three point heavy attack is not conducive to defensive struggles, therefore Susquehanna matches up well with the Ephs. Weidlich and Traub will try to occupy Aronowitz and Kyle Scadlock ‘19, while the rest of the River Hawks run the Ephs off of the three point line.

X Factor: Mike Greenman ‘17

Mike Greenman
Mike Greenman ’17 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

As I mentioned above, Aronowitz and Scadlock, Williams’ two most important players, will both likely have difficult defensive assignments. Therefor Williams will at times need someone else to create shots for themselves and others. That is where Greenman comes in. The senior point guard can be an electric scorer (see his 7-9 three point shooting performance against Becker in the first round,) and can be an effective passer (11 assists last round against Scranton.) If Susquehanna tries to slow the game down and pound the ball into Traub, Greenman will be largely responsible for keeping Williams’ pace and energy up without turning the ball over. He has played two of the best games of his career in this tournament, largely explaining Williams impressive blowout wins in the first two rounds. He will be just as important in this game, and maybe even more so.

How They Lose:

Daniel Aronowitz ’17 shoots against Scranton.

NESCAC fans have seen throughout the season how Williams loses. If they are not hitting threes, they generally don’t win. The three point shot is the key to everything the Ephs try to do on offense. It opens up driving lanes for Aronowitz and Scadlock, post ups for big men off the bench like Michael Kempton ‘19, and it forces defenders to overplay on the perimeter, opening up the backdoor cuts that killed Middlebury during their regular season loss to Williams. The Ephs simply don’t have enough shot creators to overcome a shooting slump. Aronowitz is a terrific player but his burden is at times too great, and Scadlock is prone to disappearing in big spots. Their game becomes something of a “Chuck and Run” style, with contested threes being taken too quickly. Williams lives by the three and dies by the three, and living has been very good lately. Let’s hope it continues into Saturday, because, as all basketball fans know, there’s nothing better than a rubber match.

Revenge, Thy Name is NESCAC: Middlebury vs. Williams Final Preview

#2 Middlebury (23-3, 8-2) vs. #6 Williams (19-7, 5-5): 12:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Overview:

And then there were two. Middlebury and Williams meet today at noon to decide the NESCAC Championship. The game is a rematch of one of the most surprising results of the regular season. In the game in Williamstown, the Ephs blasted the Panthers 89-65 in Middlebury’s only truly disappointing performance of the season. As is usually the case when the Ephs win, they were very hot from three, shooting 13-27. And they held Middlebury, the leading field goal shooting team in the league, to 40% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from three. You can bet the Panthers will be looking to avenge their embarrassing performance, but Williams might just hold the keys to slowing down Middlebury’s ride to a second straight title.

Middlebury X-Factor: Close-outs

Much of Williams’ offensive strategy is based off of attacking perimeter closeouts. If a player doesn’t get out quickly enough on a three point shooter, you can bet that shot is going up, and they have more than enough outside threats to make that offense pay off. But if the closeout comes too fast, they can drive past and kick to an open three point shooter when the defense collapses. This also opens up the backdoor cuts that they love so much. As the player with the ball drives past his man, the help man is distracted, allowing his defender to cut backdoor for a layup. Middlebury’s close-outs were very shoddy in the loss in Williamstown: today they will have to come out quickly but also solidly, keeping good guarding position. If they can do that Williams will struggle to score, as they lack great one-on-one scorers outside of Daniel Aronowitz ‘17.

Williams X-Factor: James Heskett ‘19

James Heskett
James Heskett ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

As I mentioned above, Williams lacks players who can break down perimeter defenders one on one if the defender has a solid close-out. Against Middlebury in the regular season, Heskett begged to differ. He put up 19 points on 5-10 shooting, and went 3-4 from three. At 6’8”, Heskett is too long to be guarded by any of Middlebury’s three guards, but is quick enough and a good enough shooter and ball handler to be a matchup issue for Eric McCord ‘19, Adisa Majors ‘18 or Nick Tarantino ‘18. The best match-up for him on Middlebury is probably Matt Folger ‘20, Folger looked very comfortable in the semifinal against Trinity, scoring 8 points in a row during the second half en route to 11 points. However, the NESCAC final is still a big stage for a freshman. Heskett’s combination of size and skill might force Coach Brown to play Folger a little more than he’d like. And if he doesn’t, Heskett could be a huge factor this afternoon.

Final Thoughts:

Middlebury has to be encouraged by what they saw from Jake Brown ‘17 against Trinity. After missing the first round game against Bates with a high ankle sprain, Brown played 31 minutes against Trinity. His stats weren’t tremendous (the sloppy nature of the game kept everyone’s stats pretty low) but he looked to be moving well, and his presence allowed Middlebury to push the pace in the second half and avoid falling into too much of a barfight with the Bantams.

Jake Brown scored 23 points and dished out six assists in the win.
Jake Brown ’17 is one of the keys to Middlebury’s effort to take home a second straight NESCAC championship;

Brown’s health will be even more crucial in this game. Williams is a perimeter-centric team, which means that Middlebury’s two terrific perimeter defenders (Brown and Jack Daly ‘18) will be tasked with slowing down the ball movement and outside shooting of the Ephs. Additionally, Brown is a needed offensive weapon for Middlebury. The Ephs will try to load up on St. Amour, so Brown will probably get some good looks from three. He and Bryan Jones ‘17 need to be threats from their to open up the floor for St. Amour. Eric McCord also will probably have a strength advantage over whoever is guarding him. If Middlebury can space the floor well enough, they should look to go to him in the post early and often.

Based on the match-ups, I would pick Middlebury in this game 8 times out of 10. But that’s what I said before the regular season game too, and look what happened there. Williams has all the sports-movie momentum in the world right now, and the re-emergence of Kyle Scadlock ‘19 as a terrifying two-way threat gives them a dimension they didn’t have against Middlebury earlier in the year. However, I still think Middlebury pulls it out. The Panthers should recognize the Ephs; they’re doing the same thing Middlebury did in the tournament last year. Therefore they should know what to do with them.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

NESCAC Idol: Middlebury vs. Trinity Semifinal Preview

#2 Middlebury (22-3, 8-2) vs #5 Trinity (16-9, 6-4),

Overview:

Image result for sanjaya malakar
We are all responsible for allowing this to happen.

In Season Six of American Idol, the immortal Sanjaya Malakar defied everyone’s expectations to reach the top seven despite having literally no discernable singing talent whatsoever. Every week millions of fans would say “this must be the week he’s going home.” And every week he would survive.

Trinity is the Sanjaya of the NESCAC tournament. Every year they seem less and less qualified to hang with Middlebury and Tufts in the top tier, and every year somehow they’re in the mix at the end of the season. They have nine losses this season! And yet here we are, writing about Trinity as a contender for the NESCAC crown. The Bantams “won” their first round game against Wesleyan 51-49 on a game winner from Ed Ogundeko ‘17. I use the quotation marks there because Wesleyan is just as responsible for losing that game as Trinity is for winning it. Trinity only shot 28% from the floor, which should never, ever result in win. The Bantams will not be able to survive a shooting night like that against Middlebury.

The Panthers are looking to be the Jordin Sparks (an unstoppable juggernaut bulldozing all pretenders out of the way) to Trinity’s Sanjaya . They have been playing as well as any team in the country as of late, but have hit a bit of a speed bump due to Jake Brown’s ankle injury. They beat Bates in the opening round, but their vaunted offense was considerably less volatile with the absence of Brown. They needed Matt St. Amour ‘17 to continue his transformation into a literal flamethrower to survive the Bobcats. Brown’s status is still uncertain, giving Trinity a thin path to victory. However, even without Brown, the Panthers should take care of business.

How Trinity Can Win:

If Brown does play, he will most likely not be his usual electric self.

Therefore the Bantams should still look to get either Jack Daly ‘18 or St. Amour in foul trouble. Daly and Brown are 1A and 1B in terms of NESCAC point guards in my opinion, so the Panthers are still fine ball handler-wise when one of them is out. However, St. Amour is not a point guard, so if

Matt St. Amour ’17 is averaging nearly 31 points per game over his last four. If they want to win, Trinity will have to limit him by forcing him to bring the ball up or getting him in foul trouble.

Brown is limited and Daly is in foul trouble, Middlebury will not be able to play nearly as fast as they want. And if St. Amour is in foul trouble, the Panthers have tremendous issues finding outside shooting threats. Bryan Jones ‘17 has come back down to earth a bit and is obviously not nearly as adept at creating his own shot as St. Amour. Middlebury offense is electric due to its three-headed dog of terrific guards. They’re already down one; if Trinity can take away another they have a good chance.

The common thinking is that the way to beat Middlebury is to slow the game down. Trinity certainly tried to do that in their regular season loss to the Panthers. However, they weren’t able to make enough shots to make up for it. If you take 25 seconds on every possession and then miss a three, what have you really accomplished? Trinity tried to pound the ball into Ed Ogundeko, but the Panthers were willing to double him from pretty much anywhere, and held him to 14 points and 9 rebounds. Trinity had success against the Panthers in the second half running halfcourt sets, as the Panthers defense is geared towards creating havoc more than it is fundamental soundness. The Bantams need to make sure they focus more on running good offense and hitting shots than aimlessly taking the air out of the ball.

How Middlebury Can Win:

Obviously the beginning, middle and end to any book on how to beat Trinity would read “Stop Ogundeko.” The Panthers had an excellent game plan against him in the regular season. They doubled him on almost every post catch, as Trinity lacked the outside threats to force the Middlebury guards to stay home. Their game plan was so successful that Ogundeko only played 7 minutes in the second half, a bold strategy from Coach Cosgrove that didn’t seem to pay off. Trinity will probably try to involve Ogundeko in the pick and roll more, as the Panther bigs had trouble keeping up with him as a roll man in the second half. But Middlebury will most likely keep the same strategy and force other Trinity players to make shots.

Middlebury X-Factor: Jake Brown’s Ankle

Jake Brown ’17 is a steady hand at the wheel for Middlebury
(Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury’s offense didn’t miss a beat against Trinity during the regular season without Brown, but it suffered in the second half against Bates. It’s often Brown’s flashy play that draws a lot of the attention, but he is also a very careful leader of the Middlebury offense. Jack Daly is a terrific point guard, but has shown himself to be turnover prone when running the show on his own. And the Brown/Daly duo allows Matt St. Amour to avoid bringing the ball up entirely. This is by far the best case scenario for the Panther offense. St. Amour is at his best when running off screens and attacking off the ball. If he is forced to bring it up, he has to expend more energy and doesn’t have as much freedom. Middlebury proved they can beat Trinity without Brown, but they are immensely better with him on the floor, and his absence would provide Trinity with a much larger window to victory.

Trinity X-Factor: Jeremy Arthur ‘19

Jeremy Arthur
Jeremy Arthur ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

The bottom line is that someone has to hit shots for the Bantams. Arthur was the only person who really played well against Middlebury, scoring 19 points and hitting 4-9 from three. Arthur presents something of a match-up problem for Middlebury, as he is big enough to give guards trouble and fast enough to give bigs trouble. His combination of driving ability and outside shooting make it tough for Middlebury to double off of Ogundeko with his man. He will need to have another terrific game to force Middlebury guard Ogundeko one-on-one at times.

Final Thoughts:

If Brown is indeed out or heavily limited, Middlebury’s forward rotation will be especially crucial. They are obviously a key on defense no matter what. Eric McCord ‘19 is strong enough to hold his own on the block with Ogundeko, and Nick Tarantino ‘18 uses his long arms to challenge Ogundeko’s hook shots. Adisa Majors ‘17 has come back into the fold lately, and offers Coach Brown a third big to throw at Ogundeko defensively. One of those three will need to have a big game on offense as well, and it goes without saying that they’ll all need to hit the boards hard.

Trinity guard Langdon Neal ‘17 is critical for the Bantams. His tenacious on ball defense is their most valuable weapon in slowing down whichever Panther guard is pushing the ball up the floor. However, he needs to make sure he keeps consistent effort. Too many times would he start off a possession with a burst of energy, only to have Jack Daly break him down and get an easy look for a teammate or himself. Defense is not a matter of playing hard for five or six seconds; it’s about constant effort, even if that means slowing down a bit at the start.

Ed Ogundeko ’17 (#52) is the key to Trinity’s offense and defense; Middlebury’s gameplan on both ends will focus on him.

Trinity has a good chance to win this game, particularly if Jake Brown is still out of commission. They need to slow down the game, yes, but more simply than that they have to make the shots they get. It won’t help to slow down their possessions so much that they’re throwing up prayers at the end of the shot clock. Middlebury just needs to stay steady and not get dragged into a boxing match with the Bantams, and they should advance to a second straight NESCAC final.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury