Happy New Year, NESCAC fans! With another year comes more excitement as basketball season heats up and conference play begins. Between some recent upsets (York over Middlebury 90-87 in OT; Hamline over Williams 73-71; Southeastern over Amherst 76-65) and a shocking injury (Kyle Scadlock’s torn ACL), 2017 finished out with some bad luck for our beloved conference. However, 2018 is an open book, and among the things we can look forward to are the races for Player of the Year (POY), Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), and Rookie of the Year (ROY). Here are some of the early frontrunners for each major award:
Middlebury G Jack Daly ’18: Middlebury is lucky to have such a stud as a replacement for Matt St. Amour ’17, and have seen incredible production thus far from the PG. Daly’s stat line reads 17.6 PPG, 9.0 REB/G, 8.3 A/G, and 2.0 STL/G. While he has slipped just below double digit averages in rebound and assists, the overall numbers are still ridiculous. Despite significant losses from the 2017 Midd team, the current Panthers team is deep at nearly every position, leaving no lack of talent surrounding Daly. He did struggle against York in their recent overtime loss, shooting just 6-16 FG and 2-7 3PT, although it represents merely a minor blemish in an otherwise dominant preseason.
Tufts G Vincent Pace ’18: Tufts should be thrilled to see such a resurgence from Pace, the current NESCAC leading scorer with 18.4 PPG. Like Daly, Pace is a guard who can play in the paint as he also averages 8.0 REB/G, hauling in 13 boards in the Jumbo’s most recent victory against Claremont Mudd-Scripps (71-63). Because of an injury in the 2016-2017 season, limiting him to just 21 games, his stat totals last season were a bit deflated. This year, his is outperforming his healthy sophomore season several categories (PPG, REB/G), although he is shooting at a lower clip (44.2 FG% vs. 49.3 FG%; 30.5 3PT% vs. 37.4 3PT%). This leaves room for improvement in what has already been a blistering start. At this point in the season, the POY battle looks like a two horse race, although Wesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’18 and is looming in third place and Hamilton G Kena Gilmour ’20 (pictured above) is also a contender despite his youth.
Colby F Dean Weiner ’19: The NESCAC’s leading rebounder comes from Colby College, a team lacking historical success, but off to a solid 7-3 start to the season. Weiner’s 9.4 REB/G and 2.8 BLK/G are the highest in the conference, surprising after averaging under seven minutes per contest in the first half of his college career. His increase to 21.8 minutes per game in 2017 has led to this breakout. In addition to his defensive accolades, he is also averaging a solid 10.3 PPG, irrelevant in relation to this award, but important in regard to his rapid development as a force to be reckoned with heading into the NESCAC season. He should remain the frontrunner for DPOY if he maintains his position at the top of the leaderboard in rebounds and blocks.
Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20: Folger is also a first year starter for Middlebury, although his potential was evident in his rookie campaign. The 6’8” sophomore has doubled his rebounding total from last season and is now averaging 8.4 REB/G along with 2.5 BLK/G and 1.1 STL/G. He is athletic, extremely lanky, and can shoot from deep—a deadly combination, especially considering the prowess of Middlebury’s aforementioned PG. His defensive numbers will likely continue with more minutes per game in closer contests and increased experience.
Wesleyan G Kevin O’Brien ’19: This selection is a little unusual in that the DPOY is usually a big man at the top of the blocks and rebounding leaderboard (like Weiner.) However, O’Brien is an absolutely destructive perimeter defender. He leads the NESCAC in steals with 2.4 per game and uses his 6’5” frame to make an impact in the paint as well. In addition to his high steals total, he also hauls in 6.6 REB/G and blocks opponents 1.3 times per game, putting him in this conversation regardless of his turnover ability. Bowdoin F Hugh O’Neil could easily make a case for DPOY too, depending on how conference play pans out, but from the preseason results, these are the three frontrunners.
Colby G Matt Hanna ‘21: The first year trio of Ty Williams, Wallace Tucker, and Matt Hanna is making a huge impact for the Mules, contributing to their turnaround 7-3 record to start the year. Between the three, Hanna is leading the way, starting all 10 games and scoring 14.3 PPG. He is distributing the ball well too, averaging 2.9 A/G and also bringing down 3.3 REB/G. He has struggled the past two games, shooting under 30% from deep and under 40% from the field in each contest, but put up solid performances against both Bates and Bowdoin, opponents that he will not only see again, but ones who are comparable at least to some of the talent that should offer a more competitive defense against his shooting. While it is early, it is obvious that Colby has a bright future and some NESCAC potential in their young stars headed by Hanna.
Connecticut College F Dan Draffan ’21: Draffan is averaging a meaty 14.5 PPG for the Camels, shooting 42.9 3PT% and 52.0 FG%, also grabbing 5.9 REB/G and 1.1 BLK/G. He ranks second on the team behind David Labossiere in PPG, particularly impressive given that he has only started 5/11 games for Conn so far. His 20.0 minutes per game should increase drastically given his recent success. While he hasn’t started the past two games, he dropped 27 points and nine rebounds in just 16 minutes against CCNY on 12/28, making a strong case for future starts. The 6’7” 250 pound first year player should be a force to be reckoned with for his career and is keeping pace in the ROY award race.
There’s lots of excitement in the 2018 basketball preseason, much of it developing this past week. With winter now in full force, NESCAC gyms should be a great sanctuary to escape the cold weather (and the library) at the end of the semester. Go out, see some of these big ballers, and look for these storylines as you forget about those upcoming finals.
While schools so close to the North Pole should be expected to excel at winter sports, Bowdoin and Bates each had noteworthy weekends. Apparently Cameron’s article (http://nothingbutnescac.com/?p=5443) put the Bobcat offense into high gear as G Jeff Spellman played the Grinch and stole the game away from the U of New England. Spellman dropped 38 points on the way to the 107-103 win, carrying the team. The ceiling was much higher for Spellman in the game too as he shot 0-5 from beyond the arc, making it plausible that if the improves his deep shooting, his 20.5 PPG scoring pace is sustainable in NESCAC play. Reserves Eli Frater (8-10 FG, 3-5 3 PT) and James Mortimer (5-9 FG, 5-6 3 PT) also shot lights out and tallied 19 and 13 points, respectively. Considering the pair didn’t even start, they could see drastically increased roles as the season goes on. Mortimer is also a first year and should develop into a deadly weapon as a ‘3’ player (Small Forward) at 6’4”, finding plenty of room from that range. The Bobcats now sit at 3-1 after a brutal opening loss to Trinity (80-52), bouncing back nicely as they continue to develop their younger players following the loss of the famed scoring and defensive animals, the Delpheche twins, Malcolm and Marcus ’17.
For Bowdoin, scoring in 2017 wasn’t their biggest issue as they rostered the league leader in scoring for much of the year in Jack Simonds. Simonds finished his sophomore season ranked third in the conference with 19.0 PPG which was much lower than his preseason average, dropping off in NESCAC play. He is off to another hot start in 2018, leading Bowdoin to an unprecedented 22nd national ranking. While he is only averaging 15.8 PPG through the Polar Bears’ 5-0 start, he is joined by David Reynolds and Hugh O’Neil in double digit points, with 15.2 and 11.2, respectively. O’Neil leads the defensive effort, completing a double-double average with 10.8 REB/G while Simonds averages 6.8 and Reynolds averages 6.0. This is turning into a team with a three headed scoring and defensive monster—good for depth against the NESCAC opponents that usually had their way with this team in 2017.
Jack Daly’s POY Hopes
With Midd alumnus and 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year, Matt St. Amour ’17, tearing it up in an Irish professional league , his former teammate is looking to take his place at the top of the conference totem pole. Daly is surging to start the season, showing that he was more than the Robin to the dynamic duo that Midd had last year. He is having a Russell Westbrook like breakout year (St. Amour wasn’t exactly the same as KD and they are actually still friends, but it’s close enough), filling all areas of the stat sheet. Daly averages 19.5 PPG, but this guard isn’t just scoring. Contrary to many NESCAC guards that either score or assist, Daly is doing both. He is dishing the ball around like crazy, averaging 8.8 AST/G. Contrary to many NESCAC guards that are either too small to rebound or leave it up to the forwards and center, Daly is a force down low. He is leading the NESCAC with 11.5 REB/G. This is ridiculous. The NESCAC’s Russell Westbrook is flourishing as the newly minted Panther leader and should have all of his opponents quaking in their KDs.
Kyle Scadlock and My Credibility
In my season preview for Williams basketball I couldn’t stop raving about the potential for Kyle Scadlock, and after a blistering start, I’m happy to say “I told you so.” There probably weren’t many people who doubted the prediction for his breakout season after a breakout performance in the playoffs, but his NESCAC Co-Player of the Week nod for the opening conference release was a great start. He leads the NESCAC through the limited sample size in points per game at 21.8, hauling in 9.4 rebounds per game. He is answering Williams’ rebounding issues from last year and is shooting lights out in the process. While the Ephs are already a deep team, if he continues to stay on superstar pace, then they won’t miss their dearly departed Daniel Aronowitz ’17 nearly as much as expected.
Middlebury 2021 Guards
While Jack Daly is carrying the Panthers, they still need to be a deeper team come NESCAC play as Daly could just get double-teamed. They lost two starters in Jake Brown and the aforementioned St. Amour, and need their first year players to step up in their stead. Hilal Dahleh ’19 is a refreshing sight for Panther fans after missing 2017 with a back injury and Matt Folger is going to blossom into a star, but Midd still needs Jack Farrell ’21 and Max Bosco ’21 to do better than they have the last two games. They shot just a 3-15 against Johnson State and 1-10 against Endicott. They played much better in their first two games, but if they continue on this trend then Joey Leighton ’20 will likely see an increased role off of the bench.
Tufts’ Power Ranking
No, these aren’t power rankings, but I’m putting Tufts in a ‘stock down’ category which represents how their ranking has fallen. They play a tough preseason schedule, sure, but back to back losses to Washington (Mo.) and MIT brought them to below .500 overall before their win against WPI. Now, Eric Savage is living up to the lore of his name with 20.8 PPG and 11.0 REB/G, followed closely in each category by Vincent Pace. However, there is a steep drop off in production outside of this pair. While that can be expected when one of two players usually has the ball, they need to spread the love around or the Jumbos will continue to fall to deeper teams. They are LAST—yes, you read that correctly, Tufts basketball is last—in the NESCAC standings. They are the only team not above .500 overall, speaking not only to the crazy success of this conference but also how even though Tufts is not actually last on the proverbial basketball power rankings, there are ample teams nipping at their heels heading into the games that are more important.
NESCAC women’s basketball kicked off its 2017-2018 campaign with a great set of games last weekend. In preparation for conference games that will start up in the next couple of weeks, each team played non-conference opponents. Here are my hot takes:
Hot Take 1: Amherst and Tufts will be really good
If you were reading my women’s soccer articles in the fall, you witnessed how many times I picked the underdog to defeat Williams, who is now in the Final Four. Each time I picked the opponent, Williams proved me wrong. I feel like Amherst and Tufts are the basketball versions of Williams. They’ve both ended up at the top of the league many of the previous seasons. They’re similar to the Spurs and Patriots: they’re consistently very good without much flash. Amherst has lost Ali Doswell ‘17, who was nominated for the DIII player of the year for the 2016-2017 season, and was an All-American. Doswell’s 13.2 PPG and stellar three-point percentage will be missed. Amherst, per usual, will utilize the ‘next person up’ mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Doswell’s loss will be felt, but with two convincing non league wins, I think Amherst will enter league play with the assumption that the squad can go all the way again this year. Tufts, on the other hand, is returning Melissa Baptista ‘18. Similar to Doswell, Baptista started every game for the ‘Bos. She comes off a season where she averaged around thirteen points per game, an All-American selection, and was a threat everywhere on the court. Tufts is already 2-0 on the young season, and I would expect Amherst and Tufts to be at the top when it’s all said and done.
Hot Take 2: It’s going to be a long winter in Lewiston
The Bates Bobcats dropped its opening two non league games last weekend. Everyone has a different mentality when it comes to these games. Obviously, the NESCAC playoffs are determined by a team’s NESCAC record. Every competitor, however, wants to win each game he or she plays in. Therefore, Bates’ two opening losses should raise major red flags. The NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country for DIII in all sports. Losing to non-NESCAC teams isn’t a good statistic. It won’t get any easier for Bates down the road with games against Maine NESCAC rivals on the horizon. Defense for Bates was the major inhibiting factor last year keeping the team from a successful seasons. Giving up eighty-five points to Smith on Sunday isn’t a good sign that they’ve made significant improvements on the defensive side of the game. If Smith puts up that many points, imagine what will happen when Amherst, Tufts, or Bowdoin comes to town. It’s early in the season, but Bates needs to turn it around soon. Nina Davenport ‘18 is one of the best shooters in the conference. She will be one of the difference makers for Bates this season. If she sets the example of focusing on defense just as much as (or more than) offense, the hot take could be wrong.
Hot Take 3: Contrary to popular belief, defense still wins championships
The Golden State Warriors have made people believe that the way to win championships and create the ultimate basketball franchise is through quick transitions threes. Daryl Morey, the GM for the Houston Rockets, was the first man in the NBA to use the ‘Moneyball’ approach in basketball. If you watch a Rockets game, you will observe that there are no midrange jump shots, but only dunks/layups and threes (i.e. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan wouldn’t be a system fit). In the era of offense in the NBA, the score of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship was 52-29 Amherst over Tufts. The top two scoring and three point percentage leaders from last season weren’t from Tufts or Amherst. If you want to beat Tufts or Amherst, you have to match their defensive mentality and efficiency. Bates, Colby, and all the other teams who were below .500 last year can put the ball in the basket. However, they couldn’t play the defense that those two outstanding teams could. I think all the teams that will post a record above .500 this year will be great defensive teams that value defense more than flashy offense.
The success of the 2017 Williams season will be difficult to replicate, but the Ephs can do it. Coming off of a cinderella run to the Final Four as an at large team, kocking off Middlebury 79-75, the Ephs lost just one major part of their team. Referring to Daniel Aronowitz as ‘just one’ is a modest way to put it, seeing as he led the team in points per game (17.3), three pointers per game (2.1), and minutes per game (29.8). He was the leader, heart and soul, and mesh player of the Williams offense, able to drive to the hoop and shoot the deep shots. Luckily for Williams, they have depth and saw six returning players start 14 games or more, with James Heskett as the likely replacement in the small forward position. Both the sophomore and junior classes in this team are looking to break out with forward Kyle Scadlock leading the way. Scadlock had a monster performance in the sweet-16 round against Susquehanna last year, dominating the floor with his size and athleticism, dunking triumphantly en route to a 22 point, 12 rebound double-double. He is likely to take Aronowitz’s spot as the on court leader of the team despite only being a junior. Guard Cole Teal ’18 is the only senior returning starter, boding well for the longevity of the Ephs’ success. Aronowitz’s leadership will continue to work its magic this year as the departed Eph provided these young players—all underclassmen last year except for Teal—with experience and a base for how to conduct their business. After playing with such an experienced NESCAC veteran, they will not let their youth show.
Teal is joined by fellow returners PG Bobby Casey ’19 and Center Marcos Soto ’19. Michael Kempton will look to make a push for additional playing time at center too after losing his starting spot to Soto halfway through the season.MbN’s own C Matthew Karpowicz ’20 will also challenge for playing time after putting up double digit point totals in several NESCAC games in under ten minutes played. A wild card for this team is Henry Feinberg ’20 who broke his hand in 2017 and was hampered by injury but is a physical, defensively oriented SF with the size to make an impact in the paint. With so many returners and options, Coach Kevin App should play 10-11 players significantly this year and might not need one player to replace Aronowitz. The Ephs’ depth and past experience should carry them early in the season, and if the junior class develops into the cohesive force they are capable of, they will be tough to shut down. They are ranked #3 in the country by D3hoops.com going into the 2018 season and are capable of making a return trip to the Final Four.
Projected Record:21-3, 9-1
2016-2017 Record:23-9, 5-5, Lost in NESCAC Finals, Lost in Final Four
Head Coach:Kevin App, 4th year, 53-29 (Through 2017)
Center Marcos Soto ’19 (5.4 PPG, 2.6 REB/G; 50.4% FG)
Guard/Forward Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 (17.3 PPG; 37.3% 3-PT; 6.2 REB/G)
Guard Bobby Casey ‘19
Contrary to many of the NESCAC PGs, Casey doesn’t control the Ephs offensive attack in that he has modest scoring and assisting numbers. He does, however, set the pace of the offense bringing the ball up the court and doesn’t force opportunities. The one fault is that he only shot 38.4% from the field, a number significantly lower than many of his teammates’ marks. If he can improve on his shooting and ball distribution, he could really make a leap in his junior season, especially with Aronowitz gone. Despite Aronowitz’s position as more of a small forward, he ended up controlling the ball on offense most of the time, and because Scadlock is more of a PF, Casey should have an increased role in the attack this year. Coach App doesn’t think one player will replace Aronowitz’s production, something that will lead to much more balance in the front court this year for the Ephs instead of an offense centered around Aronowitz. Casey will help balance this effort and increase his offensive production this year.
Guard Cole Teal ‘18
Teal is the leader by elimination of this team as he is the only senior returning starter. While Scadlock will lead the team on the court due to his physical dominance, Teal will be the off the court leader, captain, and one of the top scorers. In fact, I predict he will be the second leading scorer behind Scadlock, not bold considering he ranked second last year. However, he won’t be particularly helpful in replacing Aronowitz’ rebounding. Instead, I think Scadlock and the trio of Williams centers will take on the bulk of the rebounding with Teal focussing more on 3-PT production as he will be the go to outside shooter for the Ephs. After losing Aronowitz, the leading 3-PT scorer of 2017, James Heskett and Teal will need to step up, and with more experience, Teal could see a drastic increase in scoring opportunity from downtown.
Forward James Heskett ‘19
Heskett will likely see the bulk of the starts here because G Mike Greenman was more of a sixth man and Bobby Casey’s sub. This is the position left by Aronowitz, and although Greenman made 15 starts last year, he played PG when he saw his time. Of course against a smaller lineup, coach App could roll with three guards, but Heskett fits into this spot much better. Heskett’s 6’8″ length will be yet another weapon for the Ephs on both sides of the ball. Although he didn’t start in a single game last year, he had a consistent role off the bench, averaging 20 minutes per game, 7.2 PPG, and 2.8 REB/G. He shot lights out from deep, to a tune of 43.6%, but didn’t attempt as many shots as Aronowitz or Teal. He lacks the experience of some of the other players but could make a big jump in his junior season as the door is wide open for him.
Forward Kyle Scadlock ’19
Scadlock is the future MVP of this team and is on my projected All-NESCAC second team. He influences the game in unique ways with his size and impressive ups, able to shoot well from the field and take over a game. He had a remarkable breakout period in the playoffs, throwing down some deafening dunks, exciting his fans, and putting up huge numbers against ranked teams. He’s not always going to have the ball in hands as he is more of a power forward, but he should dominate down low. His weakness is his outside shooting, turning in low 3-PT numbers and free throw stats (56.7%). If he could shoot from deep, he might turn into the NESCAC’s Lebron, but he has a ways to go. His potential is through the roof, but let’s not forget that for the bulk of the season, he played like his final stat line suggested (8.5 PPG, 5.0 REB/G)—solid but not a game changer. I’m betting that breaking out in the playoffs against tougher competition is no coincidence though. He improved from the charity stripe, from deep, and down low all at the right time and will bring that into the 2018 season.
Center Marcos Soto ’19
The big man spot on the Williams team is filled by a combination of Soto, Michael Kempton, and Matthew Karpowicz. As Kempton and Soto saw the bulk of the playing time, they are likely the starters—at least for the preseason. Soto made a transition into a starting role over the second half of the season, effectively winning the majority of the playing time from Kempton, but didn’t dominate by any means. He rarely scored double digit points or collected over four rebounds despite 17.2 minute per game. Kempton ran into similar troubles, averaging under four points and rebounds per game. Granted, neither big man shot the ball much (less than seven times per game, combined) and both shot over 50% from the field. This says that they didn’t need to score and didn’t try to–not exactly a fault. They never really controlled the ball off the glass though, and because of that, Williams didn’t have any players in the top-10 in NESCAC rebounding and finished tenth overall with 37 boards per game. They don’t play with a traditional center, but unless one of these two steps up, they could be usurped by Karpowicz who has a much higher ceiling.
X-Factor: Center Matthew Karpowicz
As mentioned above, Kempton and Soto lack the big game capabilities that top NESCAC centers have. Karpowicz has that potential, scoring double digit points in three conference games where he played less than ten minutes (vs Amherst, Trinity, and Colby). He averaged 4.2 PPG and 2.1 REB/G in just 7.2 minutes per contest in 2017, showing the ability to breakout if given a chance to start. His rebounding could really be what sets him up as the X-Factor here, as Williams has plenty of scoring weapons, but little defensive prowess other than Scadlock. His 2.1 REB/G in such limited playing time projects to over eight in a full game. If Karpowicz can break out, given the depth in the other four positions, the Ephs will be nearly unstoppable.
Due to the depth of this team, there should be ample opportunity for different players to show what they’ve got. This means that 10-11 players should receive significant time in many different lineups. Especially in the early season, Karpowicz and others in the 2020 class should be able to step up and earn some playing time even with the experience of the other players. Henry Feinberg will be one of the guys looking to make a leap from obscurity in his sophomore year into the small forward position, offering a different look from Heskett. He should be the first wing off of the bench, bolstering the front court on defense. Scadlock will dominate the front court of Williams, finding plenty of chances early on to take over games. This is exciting for Williams as they could soon find their next superstar heading into a season with lofty expectations. They’re ranked as the highest team in the NESCAC after making an improbable run into the NCAA tourney.
While they lost in the NESCAC championship to Midd, eventually knocking them off in the elite-8—not too shocking of an upset—I didn’t even think they would get an at large bid. Of course, I failed to consider the importance of making the run to the conference championship, but they only went 5-5 in conference and started off badly (1-4 in NESCAC play to start 2017), jeopardizing a chance to even get into the postseason. They proved that they deserved to get the call to the tourney and then some, showcasing talent and depth—most of which returns for the 2018 season. Unlike Tufts, Trinity, Wesleyan, and Middlebury who lost so many key components of their teams, Williams is sitting pretty with four familiar places in their starting lineup. I hear they have been practicing their dance moves. March Madness, here they come; NESCAC teams, watch out.
Aside from Editor in Chief, my most important job at this blog is the president of the Jack Daly fan club. Daly has long been the Kevin Jonas to St. Amour and Brown’s Joe and Nick–almost (and maybe even as) talented, but under the radar. But now he gets a solo act. Scoring is not his specialty, but he will be asked to be more aggressive in creating his own shot to replace some of St. Amour’s possession-saving shots. But Daly has already proven that he can fill it up when the team needs it. He had a buzzer beater in the holiday tournament last season, and in the NCAA game against Williams he had 23 points, while Brown and St. Amour both struggled. He will have to shoot higher than 31% from three, but he improved in league play last season despite a an awkward jump shot. What really sets him apart, however, is everything else besides scoring. There might be no greater triple double threat in the league. He led Middlebury in rebounding last season, (6.5) despite being a good six inches shorter than Nick Tarantino (6’3″ in the program? Alright Jack.) And he finished in the top three in the league in both assists and steals. He fills the stat sheet like no one else. Middlebury might have had the three best guards in the league on their team last season, and it’s possible that the best one is the one that stayed.
G: Hilal Dahleh ‘19 (4.7 PPG, 1.7 REB/G, 39% FG)
This second guard spot is maybe the biggest question mark for the Panthers. Daly should effectively mitigate the loss of Brown at the point, but Middlebury’s success last season stemmed from having multiple guards who could initiate the offense, guard threats on the opposing team, and create shots for themselves. There’s a lot of competition for this spot. Sophomores Perry Delorenzo ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘19 are excellent shooters, as is precocious first year Max Bosco. Perhaps the best candidate among the first years to jump into this spot would be first year Jack Ferrall. A tremendous athlete, Ferrall projects as an elite defender with finishing skills that transcend his height. But his shooting is not as far along as any of the other guards.
The person who best allows the Panthers to continue playing the way they want is Hilal Dahleh. In his first year, he impressed with his terrific defense and feel for the game, despite struggling with his shot. He was projected to be a major factor last season, but suffered a back injury in the preseason which forced him out for the entire year. But he has worked his way back into playing shape, and should enter the season at 100%. At 6’3”, he has terrific size for the position, and his long arms allow him to be a good complimentary defender to Daly. The key for him will be hitting shots. He has to be an offensive threat out of the two guard spot for the Middlebury offense to function. If he struggles shooting the ball to start off the year, there are several shooters on the bench who are ready to go.
F: Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
This spot is also up for debate, as if any of the other guards besides Dahleh impress enough in the preseason, they could slide into the starting lineup, with Dahleh at the three and Folger at the four. But Folger’s starting spot is far from in doubt, and having him at the three opens up a world of possibilities. There’s more on him below so I won’t say too much here, but there are few players in the league with his combination of height and perimeter skills. Teams can’t put a guard on him, as he has good post footwork and can shoot right over the top of them. But very few big men can keep up with his speed and ball handling, and he draws a center away from the basket. This opens up driving lanes for any of the speedy Middlebury guards. If at all possible, the Panthers should try to play Folger here at the three to create mismatches all over the floor.
F: Adisa Majors ‘18 (9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB/G, 54% FG)
Majors has carved out a nice spot for himself here in Middlebury. His style in the post is best described as “Elephant in a China Shop,” but his 54% field goal percentage speaks to its effectiveness. His 15-foot jumper is perfect for playing in a guard-heavy offense, and he has gotten himself into good enough shape to beat most big men down the court. He has developed into the perfect big man for Jack Daly. Defensively, he has made great strides, but still gets into trouble when switched onto opposing guards. Eric McCord ‘19 is less of a liability in this area, and is a better passer out of the post as well. But he hasn’t practiced yet this season, so right now Majors is the guy. He will need to continue to earn his time, as a three guard lineup with Folger at the four is entirely possible. But then again, he’s done that his whole career.
Tarantino was an embodiment of one of the strangest developments of Middlebury’s season last year. In the first half, Middlebury was getting killed on the glass and in the paint defensively, and it looked as if the forward rotation would spoil the incredible perimeter play and lead to an early tournament exit. But around the beginning of league play, Tarantino, McCord and Majors turned it on and became one of the more threatening units in the league. Tarantino was especially impressive. He shot 59% from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds a game, becoming the kind of imposing threat that Middlebury needed to have controlling the paint. And this season he should only get better as the established starter. As a recruit he was touted as being an outside threat, but he has (mercifully) left that behind in favor of a springy, jump hook-based post game. His most underrated skill is his passing, as he and McCord have developed a nice chemistry on high low actions, taking advantage of both of their heights to see over the defense.
Speaking of defense, that is where he must improve. Despite his long arms, height and jumping ability, he still averaged less than one block per game last season. Folger is a great shot blocker, but when Tarantino is in Folger will most likely be on the perimeter. Tarantino must become a more imposing defensive force for Middlebury. When McCord comes back, some minutes at this spot will go to him, but they are at their best when playing together, so Tarantino should see consistent minutes all season.
F Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
If Middlebury hopes to continue the frantic, perimeter-heavy style of play that has won them back-to-back NESCAC championships, Folger must take a big leap forward. He certainly has the talent to. At 6’8”, he is tall enough to be a menace in the paint on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of being a dominant interior force last season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game despite limited minutes, and he has terrific touch around the rim on offense, shooting 60% on two point field goals. But it’s his perimeter skills at that height that make him one of the most talented players in the league. He has very quick feet and long arms, enabling him to guard players of all different positions. Middlebury will ask him to do a great deal of this, as many lineups for the Panthers will feature him at the small forward spot alongside more traditional big men such as McCord, Tarantino or Adisa Majors ‘18.
Folger also will take on much more responsibility as a three point threat. Middlebury’s guard-heavy recruiting class suggests that they want to continue to run and shoot three pointers often. This is difficult to do when you graduate your three best outside shooters, including one of the best in the country. Folger’s form is beautiful, and his success inside the arc and at the foul line (80%) serve as evidence to his great touch, but he only shot 28% from three last season. Of course it takes most first years time to adjust to the college game (Middlebury loyalists will remember that Matt St. Amour struggled from three for most of his first two years) but Folger doesn’t have that luxury this season. He will be asked to live up to his considerable potential this year, and if he does, an All-NESCAC selection is not out of the realm of possibility.
Middlebury’s goal, like the rest of the league’s, is to beat Williams. They’re the preseason number one, and they’re the team that knocked the Panthers out in the NCAA tournament last season. The way that Middlebury is going at the Ephs is by matching their size and positional versatility. Daly has long been the best defender in the league in terms of guarding all positions; he is the only point guard in the league who can guard power forwards effectively, and will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of size or position. With the forward rotation of Folger, Tarantino, Majors and McCord, and terrific defensive guards in Dahleh and Daly (say that three times fast) the Panthers have the ability to play a lineup big enough to bang on the glass with Williams without sacrificing too much speed. Another factor in this equation is first year forward Ryan Cahill ‘21. He is another big man who is far more mobile than his size would lead you to believe, and is already a threat from outside. He will be in the rotation as long as McCord is out, and maybe beyond that.
Middlebury could also match Williams by playing small and running them off the floor, but there are more question marks there. Coach Brown’s focus in the offseason for recruiting was certainly guards, and he has brought in an excellent class. We have already discussed Farrell’s two way potential, but the second unit of guards runs deeper than just him. Bosco is one of the best shooters in the class, regardless of team. His release is lightning fast, and he is very advanced at finding his spot and finishing over size. Defensively he projects as a liability right now due to his own diminutive stature, so he is better suited at the moment to be shot of caffiene off the bench, a la Bryan Jones.
Delorenzo and Leighton also figure to fight for minutes, and as always, whichever one of them is hitting shots will determine who sits higher in the rotation. Much of Middlebury’s second unit play will be guard-heavy, three point barrages, but they could also easily trot out a three guard starting lineup, with Bosco or Delorenzo joining Dahleh and Daly in the back court. With Folger at the four and Tarantino, Majors or McCord (when he returns from injury) at the five this lineup would be very difficult to defend. However, the would be worse on the boards and overall easier to score on, especially for larger lineups like Williams’.
Middlebury has reloaded this season, but there are a lot of red flags. Daly has the highest amount of responsibility of any point guard in the league. He has to run a high paced offense, while working in many new players and guarding the best player on the other team. He doesn’t have a proven backup, although Dahleh, Farrell and Bosco are all capable of bringing the ball up. They will run a lot of the second unit offense. But with that said, there’s no way that Middlebury isn’t worse without Daly on the floor. He might set minutes records this season, and there’s no guarantee that he can sustain his impossible hustle while having the ball in his hands so often.
The lack of three point shooting is also worrying. The three graduated seniors were the three best outside shooters on a team that didn’t exactly light it up for much of the season. Middlebury got in a lot of trouble when teams could pack the paint against them and force them into congested shots in the paint. That’s what Williams did in the NCAA tournament. Daly will have to shoot better than 31%; if teams can go under picks and play off him, the offense stalls out at the top of the key. Folger’s 28% is unacceptable for a guy with such pretty form, and he represents the biggest outside weapon in the projected starting lineup. And Bosco, Delorenzo and Leighton will have to live up to their billing as bombers. Middlebury can no longer rely on St. Amour to get them a shot in failed possessions, other guys have to step up.
The losses look huge on paper. St. Amour is one of the best NESCAC players of the last 20 years, and Brown wasn’t far behind him. Bryan Jones was a force off the bench, and even Liam Naughton hit a couple big shots and was huge for team chemistry. But they retained a great deal of talent as well. The forward rotation was a strength at the end of last season, and all of those players are back and a year more experienced. With a big starting five that looks more Division One than NESCAC, Middlebury should be able to cure much of rebounding woes that once plagued them. The keys to Middlebury’s chances at a three-peat lie on the perimeter. They need Daly and Folger to up their scoring averages and three point percentages considerably, and for Delorenzo, Ferrall, Dahleh, Bosco and Cahill to be threats off the bench. The Panthers enter the season eighth in the country and third in the NESCAC, behind Williams and Tufts. It’s possible that at the end of the year, we will look back on that and laugh at how low they were. But it’s also possible that we shake our heads and wonder why they were so high. I think it will be the former, but, as always, I’m biased.
The senior from Pacific Palasides, California emerged as a quiet leader for the Jumbos last season, starting every game, running the offense and averaging 8 PPG. He plays solid defense and has shown off his scoring ability, aside from his ball-handling prowess. Tufts will look to Dayton this season to lead them on both ends of the floor, and in big moments in big games. Offensively, Tufts will have to play even more of a perimeter game with the loss of Center Tom Pelleschi. Dayton will need to be a facilitator, and also knock down three pointers when they are open. With a smaller lineup on the floor, ball movement will be paramount, and Dayton will be the Jumbos offensive catalyst, who will look to create shots for his teammates and run the floor. Tufts will get the most out of their offense when Dayton’s assists are high.
G #1 Thomas Lapham – Sr.
The second of the ‘Bos SoCal Guard tandem, Lapham is a grinder. He proved to be valuable for the Jumbos off the bench last season, shooting 42% from the field. He is a sharp shooter, who will look to breakout this season from behind the arc. Lapham has demonstrated his three-point shooting ability, last season burying 4 against Newbury College and 3 against Williams. This year’s offense will benefit a player like Lapham, who the Jumbos will need to step up and contribute right off the bat. If Lapham can knock down shots early, it will open opportunities for other seasoned shooters like Dayton and Pace. Lapham has proven he can contribute on both sides of the floor off the bench, and will bring his gamer mentality to his more consistent role this season. Look for Lapham’s numbers to rise this season, but it will be his leadership and competitiveness that will earn him extra minutes and add to the Jumbos win column.
G #5 Eric Savage – So.
My Breakout Player of the Year, Savage will be a huge the key to the Jumbos success in 2017-2018. Savage improved greatly over the course of last season, and was a regular contributor off the bench for Tufts later in the year. He put up 14 and 16 points in the Jumbos first two NCAA tilts last season, and had a season high 18 at Trinity in early February. Savage emerged as a consistent scoring threat for the Jumbos, and they will rely on him even more this season in a more consistent role. Savage is a natural scorer, who will help Tufts win basketball games by getting to the dish, facilitating, and knocking down open shots. If Savage can play good defense, he will spend a lot of time on the court for the Jumbos.
F #13 Vincent Pace – Sr.
A healthy Pace is Tufts best all-around player. A knee injury sustained in the NESCAC Tournament ended his Sophomore season, and battling other injuries last year, Pace was still able to be a major contributor for the Bos. Pace is a scorer, which he displayed against St. Johns Fisher in the NCAA Tournament dropping 37 points in a Jumbos victory. He averaged 14 PPG last season, shooting nearly 44% from the field, and giving the Jumbos 25 minutes per game, despite nagging injuries. Tufts has relied heavily on Pace in the past and they will continue to rely on him offensively this season. In losses against Amherst and Bates last year, Pace shot less than 32%, only putting up 6 points against Amherst. Tufts will need big time performances out of Pace this year. If he can stay healthy he will be an offensive weapon yet again for the Jumbos, working the perimeter with Dayton, Savage, and Lapham, but Pace can also guard forwards on defense.
F #24 Patrick Racy – So.
The biggest question mark for this 2017-2018 Jumbos squad is the replacement of four-year starting Center and Captain Tom Palleschi. The 6-7 Center from Connecticut, Racy contributed big minutes for the Jumbos as a Freshman when Palleschi went down with a knee injury in January. Racy was vital for Tufts on defense and on the boards last year, but without Palleschi, opponents will most likely attack the paint. If Racy can step up and guard some of the most potent NESCAC Bigs down low, Tufts will be a very tough defense to score on. Boards and good D will be the two keys to Racy’s Sophomore campaign, but he also poses an offensive threat as a mid-range shooter. Look for the big man to sneak in a few put-backs and draw some offensive attention with his smooth jumper. Racy will open the array of Jumbo shooters on the perimeter, even more.
G #33 Eric Savage – So.
Tufts will rely heavily on several returners to continue to be big contributors throughout their 2017-2018 campaign. That said, with the departure of senior impact players from last season like Tarik Smith and Tom Palleschi, there are some opportunities for the young talent on the Jumbos roster. Last year we saw Eric Savage work his way into the rotation by competing on both ends of the floor and stepping up down the stretch. Patrick Racy received valuable exposure in the during his fill-in time in Palleschi’s absence. This year, two first years stick out as early contenders to provide significant minutes for Tufts, Luke Rogers (F) and Brennan Morris (G). Rogers could be jumbo for Tufts. Now the biggest body on the roster, the kid has a ton of upside and will get chances early on to give Racy his rest. Look for Rogers to make an impact down low defensively and help Tufts on the offensive boards. Although the Jumbos are stacked at the guard position, Brennan can come off the bench and give Tufts some size. If Brennan can knock down some shots and contribute offensively early on, he could be big for the Jumbos spreading the floor and crashing the boards.
LIKE HE’S LOU WILL
KJ Garrett provided some serious offensive spark for the Jumbos at certain crucial moments last season. He came off the bench and dropped 19 at home against Hamilton, willing Tufts to an eventual 13-point victory amidst their 10-game win streak. The University of Washington transfer from Southern California is an athletic weapon on the court, whose ability to rise above the rim is only matched by Colby’s Pat Dickert. Although Garrett is currently sidelined with a minor finger injury, he will be back and ready to go for Tufts. The Jumbos will continue to look to Garrett for that offensive spark. On a team loaded with shooters, Garrett will drive to the basket and get buckets in the paint, opening shooting opportunities for his buddies behind the arc. If Garrett can get healthy and stay healthy, I expect him to contribute early off the bench, moving into a more consistent role down the stretch, igniting the Jumbos guard-friendly offense.
LIKE IT’S MARCH MADNESS
Tufts was upset in the NESCAC Playoffs by a Williams team they had taken apart 93-68 just two weeks earlier. Despite two well-earned victories in the NCAA Tournament, the Jumbos fell to Babson for the second time of the season, who eventually went on to win the National Championship. Last year’s squad was good, but this team is better. Tufts is led by a good group of senior impact players who will have a positive effect on the team on both ends of the floor and off the court. If the Jumbos are going to win the Conference and make a NCAA push this season, they will need to have that playoff mentality all season long. If they stay healthy, knock down open shots, and can replace Tom Palleschi’s impact, Tufts will have a very successful 2017-2018 season.
The Jumbos have a few big matchups on the road this year, including trips to Washington University in St. Louis for a season opening tournament, and a couple of showdowns in Southern California just before New Year’s. Tufts will also have to battle on the road in Conference. Probably their most vital stretch of the season will be their road trip facing off against Williams and Middlebury on back-to-back days. Williams should be a big tilt for the ‘Bos having eliminated them from the NESCAC Playoffs last season, and bouncing back to compete against a good Panthers squad will be tough. The Jumbos also have three straight road matchups in late January at Lesley, Connecticut College, and Wesleyan.
BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON MATCHUP:
February 3 vs Amherst
This will mark the third-to-last regular season game for the Jumbos, probably against their most formidable in-conference opponent. Amherst went 7-3 in Conference play last season, and were young. In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst returns a slew of senior contributors and will be looking to put together a more successful 2018 campaign. Tufts will have an opportunity to knock off a worthy opponent at home in front of a Friday night crowd at Cousens, and get hot as they look ahead to the NESCAC Tournament.