Ah we’re finally here – the start of conference games. Despite there only being one remaining unblemished team in the NESCAC, we see four schools in the top 25, with several others just outside. Although there are only two games this weekend (Wesleyan competing in both) that feature both teams within the top 25, there are some huge games between schools traditionally viewed as “bottom-tier” looking to climb the totem pole. Getting off to a good start is vital in a conference where everyone only plays each other once, and these early season games will start to give some shape to the standings. It’s never easy to pick a game-of-the-week because they’re all important, but the matchup between Wesleyan and Middlebury on Saturday is about as big an opening-weekend game as they come. The Cardinals play the host this time, seeking their first win over the Panthers in 13 years. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the battle for the most average mascot in the NESCAC (and the top spot in the league:)
Wesleyan enters this game at 14th in the latest national poll, despite a tough
loss last week to a good, yet struggling Springfield squad after a 9-0 start to the season. They square off with Williams on Friday night in a rematch of an epic battle from before the holiday break, so the result of that will certainly give us more indication of how the Cardinals will look for their showdown with Middlebury. The win over Williams was easily their biggest win of the season so far, being that it was on the road and pre-Scadlock injury. They haven’t had a particularly challenging schedule otherwise, but they have still looked very tough nonetheless. The Cardinals distribute their scoring fairly evenly, but they have found the star power they were searching for in Jordan Bonner ’19, who has been huge in filling the scoring void left by the graduation of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Harry Rafferty ’17. However, Coach Reilly’s squad really prides themselves on their defense, only allowing 62.8 points per game, good for first in the conference. This stingy defense will be crucial in stopping a high-powered offense like that of Middlebury, so look for the Cardinals to try and slow the game down, forcing the Panthers into half court sets and making them work for every basket.
Wesleyan X-Factor: G Kevin O’Brien ’19
Being the fundamentally sound, defensive-minded team that they are, Kevin O’Brien ’19 is exactly what Coach Reilly could ask for. Despite only averaging 9 points per game, O’Brien shoots 63% from the field, which places him at 4th in the conference. This essentially means that he doesn’t shoot often, but when he does, it goes in. In order to keep up with an offense like Middlebury’s, he will have to continue this type of offensive efficiency. While he may not be a huge scorer, O’Brien fills out the stat sheet in nearly every other way possible. He comes in at 2nd in the NESCAC in assists per game (6.3), 8th in blocks per game (1.2), and he leads the league in steals per game (2.2). The focus for O’Brien will be on not turning the ball over, because he also leads the league with 4.4 turnovers per game. If he is able to control the ball, the efficiency that he provides will make the Cardinals very difficult to stop on the offensive end. On the other side of the ball, O’Brien’s 6’5”, 200lb frame makes him the ideal size to defend just about any position on the court. However, being one of the league’s premier defensive players, he will likely be given the task of dealing with Jack Daly, which is a very tall order. If he can stop or even slow down Daly, it will put Wesleyan in an excellent position to come out on top. A lot is going to be asked of Kevin O’Brien this weekend, but it is no secret that the Cardinals will only be able to fly as high as he can take them.
Middlebury X-Factor: F Nick Tarantino ’18
While both Wesleyan and Middlebury are led by stellar backcourts, it is the play of forward Nick Tarantino ’18 that will decide the game for the Panthers. Tarantino fills out his big man duties averaging 8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, but in order to take down the Cardinals on the road, more will be expected of him. His season average is 8.8 points per game, however he has given us glimpses of what he is capable of, putting up 17 points against Endicott and 20 versus Skidmore, both of whom were NCAA tournament teams from last season. The closest thing to a true big man that Wesleyan has is freshman Jordan James ’21, who is still learning the ins and outs of college basketball. At 6’7”, 205lbs, Tarantino isn’t considered a “center” per se, he will have to both bang around down low with James, and step outside on forward Nathan Krill ’18 who is capable of stepping back and knocking down threes. To this point, Tarantino has seen 20 minutes of action per game, but now that conference play has started, it will be important to see if he can get enough rest to play an efficient 25-30 minutes. If he can play good post defense, rebound, and score when he’s asked to in these extended minutes, it is hard to envision Wesleyan being able to slow down yet another outstanding Panther team.
This matchup will help us answer the age-old question that the Joker posed at the end of The Dark Knight – what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The contrasting styles of these two teams could not be more obvious: Wesleyan lives by the adage that defense wins championships, whereas Middlebury employs the run-and-gun strategy that has brought them so much success over the years. My guess is that this game will get a bit higher scoring than Wesleyan would like, and they will not get to enjoy their home-court advantage to its fullest extent with no students back on campus yet. Each of these teams has a game on Friday that will factor in, with Wesleyan hosting Williams and Middlebury traveling to New London to take on Conn College. The fact that Wesleyan has a much more difficult Friday night game plays heavily to the Panthers’ advantage, as they will look to get out to a big lead over the Camels, and rest up for the next day. I believe that the star power of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20 will prove to be too much for the Cardinals to handle, and Wesleyan will have to wait yet another year to try and take down the mighty Panthers.
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.
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)
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.
#2 Middlebury (22-3, 8-2) vs #5 Trinity (16-9, 6-4),
In Season Six of American Idol, the immortal Sanjaya Malakar defied everyone’s expectations to reach the top seven despite having literally no discernable singing talent whatsoever. Every week millions of fans would say “this must be the week he’s going home.” And every week he would survive.
Trinity is the Sanjaya of the NESCAC tournament. Every year they seem less and less qualified to hang with Middlebury and Tufts in the top tier, and every year somehow they’re in the mix at the end of the season. They have nine losses this season! And yet here we are, writing about Trinity as a contender for the NESCAC crown. The Bantams “won” their first round game against Wesleyan 51-49 on a game winner from Ed Ogundeko ‘17. I use the quotation marks there because Wesleyan is just as responsible for losing that game as Trinity is for winning it. Trinity only shot 28% from the floor, which should never, ever result in win. The Bantams will not be able to survive a shooting night like that against Middlebury.
The Panthers are looking to be the Jordin Sparks (an unstoppable juggernaut bulldozing all pretenders out of the way) to Trinity’s Sanjaya . They have been playing as well as any team in the country as of late, but have hit a bit of a speed bump due to Jake Brown’s ankle injury. They beat Bates in the opening round, but their vaunted offense was considerably less volatile with the absence of Brown. They needed Matt St. Amour ‘17 to continue his transformation into a literal flamethrower to survive the Bobcats. Brown’s status is still uncertain, giving Trinity a thin path to victory. However, even without Brown, the Panthers should take care of business.
How Trinity Can Win:
If Brown does play, he will most likely not be his usual electric self.
Therefore the Bantams should still look to get either Jack Daly ‘18 or St. Amour in foul trouble. Daly and Brown are 1A and 1B in terms of NESCAC point guards in my opinion, so the Panthers are still fine ball handler-wise when one of them is out. However, St. Amour is not a point guard, so if
Brown is limited and Daly is in foul trouble, Middlebury will not be able to play nearly as fast as they want. And if St. Amour is in foul trouble, the Panthers have tremendous issues finding outside shooting threats. Bryan Jones ‘17 has come back down to earth a bit and is obviously not nearly as adept at creating his own shot as St. Amour. Middlebury offense is electric due to its three-headed dog of terrific guards. They’re already down one; if Trinity can take away another they have a good chance.
The common thinking is that the way to beat Middlebury is to slow the game down. Trinity certainly tried to do that in their regular season loss to the Panthers. However, they weren’t able to make enough shots to make up for it. If you take 25 seconds on every possession and then miss a three, what have you really accomplished? Trinity tried to pound the ball into Ed Ogundeko, but the Panthers were willing to double him from pretty much anywhere, and held him to 14 points and 9 rebounds. Trinity had success against the Panthers in the second half running halfcourt sets, as the Panthers defense is geared towards creating havoc more than it is fundamental soundness. The Bantams need to make sure they focus more on running good offense and hitting shots than aimlessly taking the air out of the ball.
How Middlebury Can Win:
Obviously the beginning, middle and end to any book on how to beat Trinity would read “Stop Ogundeko.” The Panthers had an excellent game plan against him in the regular season. They doubled him on almost every post catch, as Trinity lacked the outside threats to force the Middlebury guards to stay home. Their game plan was so successful that Ogundeko only played 7 minutes in the second half, a bold strategy from Coach Cosgrove that didn’t seem to pay off. Trinity will probably try to involve Ogundeko in the pick and roll more, as the Panther bigs had trouble keeping up with him as a roll man in the second half. But Middlebury will most likely keep the same strategy and force other Trinity players to make shots.
Middlebury X-Factor: Jake Brown’s Ankle
Middlebury’s offense didn’t miss a beat against Trinity during the regular season without Brown, but it suffered in the second half against Bates. It’s often Brown’s flashy play that draws a lot of the attention, but he is also a very careful leader of the Middlebury offense. Jack Daly is a terrific point guard, but has shown himself to be turnover prone when running the show on his own. And the Brown/Daly duo allows Matt St. Amour to avoid bringing the ball up entirely. This is by far the best case scenario for the Panther offense. St. Amour is at his best when running off screens and attacking off the ball. If he is forced to bring it up, he has to expend more energy and doesn’t have as much freedom. Middlebury proved they can beat Trinity without Brown, but they are immensely better with him on the floor, and his absence would provide Trinity with a much larger window to victory.
Trinity X-Factor: Jeremy Arthur ‘19
The bottom line is that someone has to hit shots for the Bantams. Arthur was the only person who really played well against Middlebury, scoring 19 points and hitting 4-9 from three. Arthur presents something of a match-up problem for Middlebury, as he is big enough to give guards trouble and fast enough to give bigs trouble. His combination of driving ability and outside shooting make it tough for Middlebury to double off of Ogundeko with his man. He will need to have another terrific game to force Middlebury guard Ogundeko one-on-one at times.
If Brown is indeed out or heavily limited, Middlebury’s forward rotation will be especially crucial. They are obviously a key on defense no matter what. Eric McCord ‘19 is strong enough to hold his own on the block with Ogundeko, and Nick Tarantino ‘18 uses his long arms to challenge Ogundeko’s hook shots. Adisa Majors ‘17 has come back into the fold lately, and offers Coach Brown a third big to throw at Ogundeko defensively. One of those three will need to have a big game on offense as well, and it goes without saying that they’ll all need to hit the boards hard.
Trinity guard Langdon Neal ‘17 is critical for the Bantams. His tenacious on ball defense is their most valuable weapon in slowing down whichever Panther guard is pushing the ball up the floor. However, he needs to make sure he keeps consistent effort. Too many times would he start off a possession with a burst of energy, only to have Jack Daly break him down and get an easy look for a teammate or himself. Defense is not a matter of playing hard for five or six seconds; it’s about constant effort, even if that means slowing down a bit at the start.
Trinity has a good chance to win this game, particularly if Jake Brown is still out of commission. They need to slow down the game, yes, but more simply than that they have to make the shots they get. It won’t help to slow down their possessions so much that they’re throwing up prayers at the end of the shot clock. Middlebury just needs to stay steady and not get dragged into a boxing match with the Bantams, and they should advance to a second straight NESCAC final.
Last week I simply mentioned the trend of each remaining team going into the playoffs, however, it’s safe to assume that all teams coming off a playoff win have their stock trending upwards. There were some unexpectedly tight games like Middlebury vs. Bates and Williams vs. Amherst, the latter of which is our first upset of the 2017 postseason. Now Williams has to travel to Tufts to face the top dog, while Middlebury takes on Trinity in what could be Bantam legend Ed Ogundeko’s last time dominating on the college court. It all begins at 2 pm on Saturday.
Jake Brown’s Ankle (hopefully)
Last time Trinity played Middlebury, Brown played just two minutes due to his ankle injury that happened at the end of the Amherst game. If he is back, the Bantams have a whole lot more to fear. Brown might not lead the team in scoring, but he leads the team and the league in assists with 6.4 per game. He controls the game, and sets the offensive tempo for the Panther offense. This injury put Midd at a severe disadvantage against Bates, but even if he plays in a limited capacity, the Panthers should have a comparative advantage to the last time they faced off against the Connecticut squad. Brown sat out all of the last two games and if set to play this weekend, giving Middlebury all of their weapons ready to go for the semifinals. While the Panthers managed to cruise to a 17 point win pretty much without Brown on February 11th against Trinity, they looked rushed and disorganized at times against Bates. The Panthers might be able to get by against the Bantams without their senior leader, but winning two games this weekend will surely be more difficult in his absence. It was definitely the right call to have Jake rest last weekend. The Panthers are rolling full steam ahead into this weekend, and whatever version of Brown they get, they’ll look better than last weekend if he’s on the court.
Kyle Scadlock and Williams’ Clutch Play
Williams was up just one point at the end of the first half and led 45-43 with 11:27 to go before Scadlock went on a personal 7-0 run on the Purple and White to essentially ice the game. After gaining the 52-43 lead, Scadlock’s run catalyzed the Ephs, who didn’t lead by less than 10 the rest of the way until Amherst scored a last second garbage time three pointer. Scadlock added the finishing touches on the upset performance with a monstrous dunk with nine seconds to go, vaulting Williams into the semis. While I sort of called the upset win by saying it could easily happen — not exactly a vote of confidence, I should add — Williams proved many doubters wrong by demonstrating their hot shooting in a big game situation. Their 47.2% from the field last weekend was just above their season average of 46.5%, which was good for second in the league. While Williams’ shooting is usually up and down, this was a much more dependable performance and something that the Ephs could bring again on Saturday. The duo of Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz has something to prove, and only time will tell whether they really have ice in their veins.
Clearly the Jumbos had to make an adjustment after losing star center Tom Palleschi (who we have mentioned in every article since then). The Jumbos’ loss to Amherst 84-71 on February 4th was a wake up call, showing exactly what was missing from their lineup. Drew Madsen, who for a time was Tufts’ only remaining healthy big man, is no longer looked to to put up big numbers on the offensive end. Instead, Coach Sheldon plays to Madsen’s strengths and utilizes him in more of a defensive/rebounding capacity, allowing bench players to step up. Since that Amherst game, Ethan Feldman has played more minutes, lighting it up. He is 13-22 shooting in his last three games, averaging 13.0 PPG. Everett Dayton has also had a scoring increase, getting 12 against Hamilton despite taking less shots than he had been before the Amherst game. Bottom line is the Jumbos made a great adjustment to their style of play and Coach Sheldon has been a big part of it. No matter how hobbled they are, Tufts is going to be a force this weekend in their home gym.
Trinity was ice cold last weekend and were lucky that Wesleyan also couldn’t shoot. Had it not been for great ball control, the Bantams would’ve have a tough reality to face as 27.9% FG rarely wins games. Trinity shot just 2-14 from three-point range, which played a big part in a lowly 51 points against the Cardinals. They were over 20 points below their season average and barely saved themselves with their high volume of free throw shooting (15-22). With all of that said, the fact that they managed to win on such a poor day bodes well for this weekend. If they can manage to get some more buckets, their defense is strong enough to give them a chance against the Panthers. Ed Ogundeko had an equally terrible shooting day, but his eight points are his lowest by far this season when he has played normal minutes. However, Ogundeko is likely to have a big day with the Bantams’ backs against the wall. Since the Bantams allow the fewest points on defense in the NESCAC at 64.9, if they can figure out what went wrong on February 11th (97 points allowed to Midd) and they recall how to score efficiently, they’ll have a fighting chance.
NESCAC’s NCAA Hopes
While Middlebury, Tufts, and Amherst are all still in the D3Hoops top 25, it’s clear that 2016 offered a better shot at a NESCAC national championship. Without their star player Palleschi, Tufts will have a tough time against the top D3 teams. Middlebury looks great, but Brown’s ankle injury leaves some doubt as to whether he will be back to 100% this season, and it just makes me cringe to think of how good they would be if Zach Baines was still there. Amherst looked terrible recently against Williams and Middlebury and while they might still get a bid to the tourney, they can’t be expected to go far with their inconsistent play. Wesleyan just dropped out of the top 25 and will be a long shot to get an at large bid with their first round exit in the conference tournament, and both Trinity and Williams likely won’t go to the dance without automatic bids. Let’s hope one team puts it all together this weekend and throughout March, because nobody wants to see #1 ranked Babson win it.
#6 Williams (17-7, 5-5) at #3 Amherst (17-6, 7-3), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Amherst, Massachusetts
It is so, so, so fitting that the Amherst-Williams rivalry gets to play out in the first round of the NESCAC tournament this weekend. As a little kid, I grew up attending Amherst basketball games. I idolized the likes of Andrew Olson ‘08 and Dan Wheeler ‘07 while I demonized the dreaded Williams squad and their silly cow mascot. I think I still have a shirt at home (far too small at this point) that reads “Eph, it’s what’s for dinner” with a picture of an Eph on the end of a fork. Yes, I grew up hating Williams, but since I arrived at Tufts I’ve lacked that ‘rival’ feeling for the Ephs and have flipped the script on my feelings for Amherst. That being said, real recognize real – Amherst is very, very good, especially when it comes time for the NESCAC basketball tournament. Given recent history and this season as a whole, this is a TOUGH match-up for Williams. Then again, Williams has had quite a bit of success in the NESCAC tournament as well, and the NESCAC trophy is no stranger to Williamstown.
Dating back to 2001, Amherst has won the most NESCAC championships: seven. Second place? Williams, who has four. However, Williams’ success comes earlier in the 21st century – the Ephs actually haven’t won the conference championship since 2010, and the last two times they were in the finals (2013, 2014), they lost to none other than Amherst. Over the past 16 years, in fact, Amherst has only failed to move past the semifinals three times. This means that if Amherst makes the finals, they are more likely to win the title game than to lose it. If Williams wants to reverse the direction of the rivalry, today is a good place to start.
Amherst X-Factor: Guard Michael Riopel ‘18
If there was a 6th Man of the Year award, I would vote for Riopel 11 times out of 10. At 6’5”, his ability to come off the bench and either shoot the trey ball or get to the rack puts a lot of pressure on smaller and bigger guards alike that draw the short straw and have to match up with him. The junior has been fine against Williams this year, but I’m still waiting for him to light it up. He will likely be faced with a combination of Aronowitz, Teal, and Chris Galvin ‘18, all of whom he can take advantage of in different ways. After his two great performances against Williams, I would suspect that the Ephs will be in a crazy help defense to neutralize Dawson’s drives to the hoop. If this is the case, look for Rio to drain a few from downtown.
Williams X-Factor: Guard Cole Teal ‘18
Williams needs a strong performance from Teal today, end of story. I don’t know if it was due to injury or something, but the nine minutes that Teal played in game two of the season series left the Williams offense in quite the rut. The way that the Ephs jack up threes, they can’t afford to be without their purest shooter, and Teal needs to show up. If he can get one or two to drop early, Amherst will have a much harder time staying in front of Casey and Aronowitz. It will also give sophomore Kyle Scadlock more room to work down in the post on Amherst’s Jacob Nabatoff ‘17. Defensively, however, Teal needs to be just as much of a workhorse. The Ephs cannot withstand strong performances from all three of Amherst’s top scorers – Dawson, McCarthy and Riopel – so Teal is going to need to play lockdown D on one of the latter two. Even if McCarthy or Riopel gets their points, as long as Teal makes it tough for them, he’s doing his job. Amherst isn’t the most selective team offensively, so if Teal can even make it a tad more difficult for them, Williams has a shot to pull of the upset. That being said, he can’t just play one side of the court – Teal needs to show up on both offense and defense if the Ephs are to have a chance.
Both of the Amherst-Williams matchups this year have ended in eight-point victories for Amherst. The first, a non-conference tilt played in Williamstown, was a tale of two very different teams. Amherst spread the floor and spread their scoring, taking the pressure off of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 for a change (though the two still scored 19 and 15 respectively). Coach Hixon only sent eight different players out on the floor for Amherst, but it was enough, and after a run to begin the second half, Amherst was able to maintain their lead and hold off the admirable efforts out of Cole Teal ‘18 and Dan Aronowitz ‘17. The two studs from Williams went off, netting 26 and 21 respectively, but unfortunately the rest of their team left their offense in the locker room. The Williams bigs struggled, resulting in a 80-72 loss for the Ephs.
In round two of this historic rivalry, the Purple and White hosted the Ephs in Amherst, this time ending in a 72-64 Amherst W. While Aronowitz again stepped up to the challenge, Teal barely saw the floor, and the Ephs just didn’t have enough firepower to match the Amherst attack. Bobby Casey ‘19 had an inefficient 11 points, and freshman Matt Karpowicz (who I am saying will undoubtedly be an All-NESCAC performer is junior year, if not next year), had a solid game with 12 points of his own. Unfortunately for Williams, that was it offensively, and Amherst walked away with a 2-0 lead in the season series after another strong performance from Dawson.
This is a big mismatch at first glance, but these two teams are actually fairly similar. They both place a great deal of their offense in the hands of two terrific perimeter players (McCarthy and Dawson for Amherst and Aronowitz and Teal for WIlliams.) And they both lack consistent scoring inside, as their frontcourt rotations are filled with young players who haven’t stepped up to this point.
Williams matches up fairly well with Amherst defensively. Teal and Aronowitz are both long, rangy defenders who can give problems to Dawson and McCarthy. However, what I think will doom Williams in this game is a lack of depth. Aronowitz and Teal have proven themselves capable of playing great games on both sides of the ball against Amherst, but it they’re busy chasing around Dawson and McCarthy all day, who else is going to score for the Ephs? Amherst is also too reliant on their two best players, but Riopel and Eric Conklin ’17 are ready to take some pressure off. Williams will need to have another game like they did against Middlebury, in which every player is cooking from three. It’s happened before, but I don’t see it happening again.
And then there were eight. The NESCAC field is narrowed down to the quarterfinals of the conference as three squads have fallen into the abyss of the offseason. For some, their college careers are over, for others, ultimate glory awaits. While I like to think NBN is pretty democratic in our reporting, I’m not going to spend much time on Colby, Bowdoin, or Conn College as it’s safe to say that their stocks are all down with their failure to make the conference tournament.
I’ll focus on the stocks of the collective other eight teams, ordered by their first round playoff match-ups this weekend in the highly anticipated start to the March Madness merry-go-round as the dominoes are starting to fall towards the national championship.
Hamilton (15-8, 4-6) – Stock Down
Hamilton started out hot in the NESCAC season at 3-2, a 1-4 finish heading into the playoffs isn’t what the Continentals had in mind. Consecutive losses to Amherst and Trinity were expected at this point, but still pivotal for this team as they are now stuck with #1 seed Tufts. While this is actually more favorable a match-up than if against Middlebury or even Amherst, Hamilton seems to be scrambling to figure a plan of attack out. Switching up their starting lineup against Amherst didn’t do the trick as Carlos Fineman and Kyle Pitman had little production. They don’t have the same consistent output from Tim Doyle, Joe Pucci, or Andrew Groll as they did earlier in the year and are increasingly reliant on freshman sixth-man standout Kena Gilmour who is now second on the team in PPG with 13.3. Peter Hoffmann is still doing well but without the whole starting five shooting well, they will have a tough time in Medford.
#17 Tufts (19-5, 8-2) – Stock Up
While beating Williams isn’t something that will necessarily improve Tufts’ national ranking, it is a big confidence booster heading into this weekend. After weeks of struggles since Tom Palleschi’s injury, the Jumbo’s finally put it all together against a NESCAC playoff team. In their #1 seed clinching win the Jumbo’s showed the depth and difference in style needed to take them all the way. Since their big man has gone down, Tufts’ identity as a team has shifted. They needed to find a rebounder to replace their center, but Drew Madsen hasn’t stepped up into the same role. Against Williams, they managed to play a different type of game, losing the rebounding struggle (35-32) to the Ephs, but nailing shots with great accuracy at 50% from deep and 52.4% from the field. Eric Savage, KJ Garrett, and Ethan Feldman all had double digit points off of the bench, and in order to keep their NESCAC championship hopes alive, the Jumbos will have to keep seeing production from non-starters. Hamilton hasn’t been playing well, but they have still had great moments this year. However, if Tufts brings the same accuracy as this weekend they will be in good shape.
Trinity (15-9, 6-4) – Stock down
Though Middlebury is seeded higher than Trinity, a poor showing on Saturday must’ve had to sting. After losing to Midd in the NESCAC playoffs last year, the first rematch brought on that familiar feeling of defeat. A 14 point halftime deficit was too much to overcome as Langdon Neal and Eric Gendron couldn’t stop Matt St. Amour. While Wesleyan’s guards aren’t as quick and don’t have as nice of a jump shot as St. Amour, they played exceptionally against Amherst last week and if the Bantams stay as a team ruled by one player, Ed Ogundeko, then they could give up a couple 20-spots to Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien. Ogundeko only had nine boards against Midd and only had eight last time they played Wesleyan. Without a big game from Ogundeko, the Bantams don’t have a great shot at winning, so he needs to play like it’s the finals and get some help from his teammates for a change. I’d say they are an underdog, but everybody knows #5 seeds always win in tournaments (see: my D1 bracket from last year.)
Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4) – Stock Up
The Cardinals did nothing wrong this past weekend, but Colby and Bowdoin were heavily predicted wins and won’t change their stock at all. A home game against Trinity offers a rematch of the January 14th game that Wesleyan won 65-61. After beating Amherst in OT last Tuesday, riding a three game win streak into the playoffs is the best case scenario this team could see. While their win against Amherst isn’t technically a league game (the NESCAC is weird) it still showed enough to bump this squad’s stock up. Their perimeter defense against Amherst was great, helping to limit them to just 37.7% from the field and 32.0% from three point range, but their lack of rebounds is still concerning. Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien are rolling recently, with Jordan Bonner adding a double-double against the Purple and White. While their early season turbulence is behind them, the Cardinals still need to neutralize Ed Ogundeko to take their quarterfinal game. If they can defend the outside like they did against Amherst, while keeping Ogundeko near the eight rebounds he got against them on Jan. 14th, then they could dribble straight into the semifinals.
#13 Middlebury (20-3, 8-2) – Stock Up
Midd knocked off higher ranked Amherst and put down Trinity in back to back home games, giving them a share for the league’s best record and the #2 seed in the ‘CAC tourney. They forced some key turnovers late in the second half against Amherst and forced them to shoot from deep, creating a quick scoring gap after the Purple and White’s missed opportunities. Eric McCord was able to body up Ogundeko against Trinity and Matt St. Amour continued to do his thing and make ridiculous jump shots with no angle on the hoop. Let’s hope Jake Brown’s twisted ankle doesn’t slow him down as this team is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, and with Palleschi’s injury for Tufts, there is no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t be the favorite heading into the quarterfinal games.
Bates (15-9, 4-6) – Stock Down
Bates did not help themselves out last weekend. Instead of finishing in conference at 5-5, heading into the playoffs with a confidence boosting win and a matchup against a lower seed in Amherst, they travel to snowy Vermont to take on Middlebury in what should be a loud and packed gym. The Delpeche twins had noteworthy senior seasons, but they couldn’t get it going last time against the Panthers and couldn’t find a way to win against the Ephs. Williams didn’t really stop the twins, but since nobody else on Bates showed up to play, the two on five game didn’t fare in the Bobcats’ favor. Without monster performances from the Delpeches this weekend, others like Jeff Spellman (1-7 from three on Saturday) and Nick Gilpin (29 minutes, two points) are going to have to step up in a major way and drain some shots.
#8 Amherst (17-6, 7-3) – Stock Down
Despite their (unreasonably in our eyes) high national ranking, Amherst played sloppy basketball against Middlebury last weekend. Getting their pockets picked and missing straight on unguarded threes spelled out their doom as any comeback attempt was quickly halted by quick and concise offensive execution. Lacking major power down low, Amherst is going to need to hit their open shots as Michael Riopel and Jayde Dawson didn’t get their inner Steph Curry going on last weekend. Despite Dawson’s 24 points, he had slow second half production and performed in waves that hurt the Purple and White when they needed to go on a run. They were able to turn it around against Hamilton as Dawson found his shot going 6-8 from deep and Riopel added a 3-5 line, but lack of consistency is deadly in the playoffs. They better find a way to keep replicating their A game.
Williams (17-7, 5-5) – Stock Up
The Ephs suffered a beatdown against Tufts, but an expected loss won’t hurt them too much. Finishing at 5-5 coming from nowhere to reach the .500 mark in NESCAC bodes well for the confidence of a young team heading into an underdog stretch run. Their narrow win over Bates put them in the conversation as a bracket-buster even in a road game at Amherst. If Daniel Aronowitz can rain fire like he did against Bates (8-10 FG and 3-5 from deep) to match Johnny McCarthy and if Cole Teal can put up a double double to match Jayde Dawson, then anything is possible. Everybody likes a good upset and I nearly counted Williams out of the playoff race a while back. A 5-5 team against a 7-3 team? It seems like that kind of upset happens all the time. It might not be quite that simple, but the Ephs have weapons and it is the playoffs.
Conn College (13-10, 3-7), Colby (10-14, 1-9), Bowdoin (12-11, 3-7)
Every NESCAC game is important. That is the nature of the league; since every team (give or take a couple outliers) can get hot and pull off an upset at any time, there are few opportunities to take a game off. And as we wind down the 2016-2017 regular season, the games become even more crucial. This weekend and next, one loss can be the difference between hosting a playoff or going on the road. For some teams, it can even be the difference between making the playoffs or getting a chance to catch up on their homework. The Friday night games kick off a critical weekend, and there are some very important match-ups to keep an eye on, particularly Tufts’ game against Trinity and Bates game in Amherst.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Trinity, 7:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Although they’re still the top team in NESCAC record-wise, Tufts has some real work to do if they want to stay there. The loss of starting center and team leader Tom Palleschi ‘17 has the Jumbos reeling on both sides of the ball. Against Bates, they weren’t able to stop Marcus Delpeche ‘17, who destroyed them to the tune of 28 points on 10/16 shooting. They also settled for jumpshots, leading to a low shooting percentage (36.1%.) They then came out flat against Umass-Dartmouth, losing 91-82. Again, interior defense was a problem, as the Jumbos allowed 14 offensive rebounds and couldn’t get stops down the stretch to support their Vincent Pace-led comeback. Although it was not a league game, the Umass-Dartmouth loss in conjunction with the Bates loss point to deep problems for Tufts. They need to find a way to defend at a high level without Palleschi.
Unfortunately, Trinity is not the best team to play if interior defense is your issue. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has shown himself to be fully capable of ending a game himself if a team doesn’t have a post presence to match him (see his 20/20 game against Bowdoin earlier this year.) Marcus Delpeche proved that Tufts is vulnerable to big performances from dominant inside players. However, Trinity doesn’t exactly come into this one firing on all cylinders either. They only put up 53 points on 32% shooting against Amherst, and that’s including 19 on 8/11 shooting from Ogundeko. The rest of the team shot 11/48 from the field, which is about the same percentage that I shoot when I throw paper at my recycling bin from my bed. Both teams enter this game needing to prove themselves if they hope to contend for top spots come playoffs.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Rebounding
With Palleschi out, Tufts has a `very large hole in the middle of their defense. To fill that hole, the Jumbos will need help from up and down the roster. Of course new starter Drew Madsen ‘17 has the biggest job (particularly this weekend when he matches up with Ogundeko) but he can’t do it alone. Tufts’ guards have to take some of the rebounding load off of the suddenly-thin Tufts frontcourt. Vincent Pace ‘18 has always been adept at this, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, but he holds too much offensive responsibility to spend all his time battling Ogundeko in the paint. KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18 will have to use their size and strength to crash the boards, freeing up Pace to carry the offense and taking pressure off Tufts’ untested big men.
Trinity X-Factor: Anyone Besides Ogundeko
I apologize for sounding like a broken record here, but Trinity needs a second scoring option. Amherst was able to basically dare anyone else on the Bantams roster to beat them, and no one else could. Chris Turnbull ‘17 has shot well from three on the year at 43%, but has a tendency to disappear in big games and struggles to score inside. The same goes for Jeremy Arthur ‘19, who has struggled in league play. Eric Gendron ‘18 represents another candidate to be the Christopher to Ogundeko’s Tony Soprano. Gendron has averaged 11.2 points per game on 43% shooting in league play. To knock off Tufts, Trinity will need solid games from at least one (and more likely two or three) of those possible second bananas.
From a playoff seeding standpoint, Trinity probably needs this game more. At 4-2, they are currently mired in the swamp of teams behind Tufts. Furthermore, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of those teams. After Tufts they still have Hamilton, Middlebury and Bates, all of whom will be battling hard for the best possible playoff spot. I could see Trinity playing very well in these last four games and setting themselves up for a long playoff run. However, I could also see them falling back in the face of this tough schedule. This game is a terrific chance for them to kick this tough stretch off right.
Tufts hasn’t clinched anything either. Although they’re 6-1 now, Middlebury has been playing better than them lately, and Amherst always seems one strong game away from returning to the top. Both those teams have a chance of winning out, and therefore could take the top spot away from Tufts. The Jumbos need to figure out a way to survive without Palleschi, or their season could end disappointingly early. And unfortunately for Tufts, I don’t think this is the game in which they figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Hamilton @ Bowdoin, 7:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Although Hamilton is certainly loaded with talent, they are very young. Middlebury showed the rest of the league just how much that matters last weekend. The Panthers threw up a cool 115 points against the Continentals, and pressured them into 19 turnovers. Hamilton is 0-3 on the road in league play, a stat which makes sense considering that the vast majority of their rotation is composed of sophomores (and freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20.) Hamilton has to grow up fast this year if they want to keep any hope of hosting a playoff game.
Bowdoin comes off giving Colby their first win last weekend in a surprisingly thrilling game. Bowdoin fell 87-82, despite 24 points off the bench from Jack Bors ‘19.Jack Simonds ‘19 has fallen from the league lead in scoring. This may be good for Bowdoin’s offense, as it now looks considerably more balanced than it did early on, but they need to be able to rely on Simond to get them a bucket when needed. I don’t see the Polar Bears being able to catch up to Hamilton like Middlebury did.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Middlebury @ Colby, 7:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Middlebury was unrecognizable against Hamilton and Keene if you watched their performance against Williams. Middlebury’s offense has been balanced and deadly, leading the league in points, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage during league play. The Panthers have particularly benefited from the play of Jake Brown ‘17. Longtime readers will know that my lifelong conquest has been to get Jake Brown on the First Team, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll have to take my battle straight to the Supreme Court. Brown leads the league in assists and averages 11.7 points per game, developing a deadly pull up jump shot which has added a whole new dimension to his game and the Middlebury offense. With Matt St. Amour leading the league in scoring, Brown hitting his jump shots and Jack Daly doing pretty much everything else, the Panthers might well be the best team in the league in the wake of Tufts’ struggles.
Colby also enters this game with momentum. They picked up an emotional first win of the season against Bowdoin. They owe the win primarily to Patrick Stewart ‘17, who went Green Room on the Polar Bearswith 28 points on 8/14 shooting. Colby will most likely try to follow Williams’ formula for beating the Panthers. They will shoot a lot of threes and stack the paint, daring the Panthers to match them from outside. Unfortunately, they’re not good enough from three or on defense to make that strategy work for them. Middlebury should take this one easily.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Bates @ Amherst, 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This is another game which has major playoff implications. Amherst has been inconsistent this season, but the existentially depressing fact remains that they’re 4-2 and are within striking distance of the top spot thanks to Palleschi’s injury. Amherst still has offensive struggles, but they have quietly developed an excellent defense to make up for it. They gave up under 70 points to both Trinity and Williams last weekend, and can still rely on Jayde Dawson ‘18 to bail them out in close games. Amherst is not pretty this year, but if they can keep winning it could work out for them. Also important to note; they are 12-0 at home this season.
Bates is not pretty either, but they are well equipped to give Amherst’s offense fits. The Delpeche brothers are adept at clogging up driving lanes, which should limit the amount of space that Dawson and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 have to score. And on offense, Bates has lately been hitting just enough threes to give the Delpeche brothers some help. Amherst doesn’t exactly have a stable of big men to throw at Malcolm and Marcus, so I see the Bobcats upsetting Amherst at home.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Wesleyan @ Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Wesleyan appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. They put up maybe their best offensive performance of the season against Connecticut College, scoring 85 points on 48.3% shooting. The Cardinals have been experimenting with different starting lineups, and brought Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench against the Camels. They had tried this with Nathan Krill ‘18 earlier. This gives Kuo the freedom to beat up on second unit big men and gives them the freedom to play a more mobile starting lineup with Jordan Sears ‘18 acting as a small ball, defensive-minded center. With Williams perimeter-oriented big men, watch for this lineup change to continue.
Williams hasn’t played a league game since their shellacking of Middlebury, but dropped a non-league matchup to Amherst last week. In that game, they got 26 from Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, but little else, losing 72-64. The Ephs have yet to replicate the shooting display they presented Middlebury, and the top field goal percentage defense in the country isn’t a great team to get hot against . This should be a low scoring matchup, with Wesleyan slowing down the pace and pounding the ball into Kuo and Nathan Krill ‘18. Wesleyan is simply better at winning low-scoring, ugly games.
I know that they just had a pretty ugly loss to UMass Dartmouth two nights ago to follow up their lapse in Lewiston, but the Jumbos maintain a tenuous hold on the top spot. It’s not an excuse but rather a glaring truth: the Jumbos miss their big man. Guess where Bates is strongest? The post. So, while a shooting line 36.1/18.5/53.6 is pretty inexcusable, that along with a missing Palleschi, along with Bates hosting a NESCAC game at Alumni Gymnasium is the perfect storm for a Bobcats win. Meanwhile, Bates shot 43.8/50.0/81.8. Again, not excusable numbers to allow by the Jumbos defense, but I still think this game was a fluke and that the Jumbos are deserving of this spot. That being said, they head to Trinity and then Amherst this weekend, their biggest test of the year thus far. Trinity poses another match-up nightmare down low, so Drew Madsen ‘17 and Pat Racy ‘20 are going to have to step up on the defensive end. And Amherst, well, it’s just Amherst. You can never overlook that team. This weekend will be a very telling one for Coach Sheldon’s squad. Is Tufts tough or fake tough?
2.) #23 Wesleyan (16-4, 4-3)
Wesleyan decided to try to be a bit sneakier this weekend by bringing Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench. Guess what – their sneak attack worked! It actually worked so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Joe Reilly tries it again on Friday against Williams. Kuo dominated to the tune of 20 points on 10-16 shooting in his newly developed sixth man role, just punishing the bigs of Conn College. Jordan Bonner ‘19 also qualifies for being credited with a stellar performance off the bench, as he put up 23 points, primarily on the back of his three-point shooting. I’d also like to say that while Nathan Krill ‘18 might be the craziest kid on the court in the NESCAC, he might also be the toughest. His presence on the court is not only electric from a fan’s perspective (I watched an incredible double technical occur between Krill and Tufts’ Ben Engvall ‘18 last week), but also in terms of contributions to Wesleyan’s system. The Cards rely on his grit on the boards and on loose balls, as the attention he draws opens the floor up for other guys to succeed. Wesleyan is beatable for sure, but they are a tough match-up for whoever draws the corresponding seed in the NESCAC tournament.
3.) #16 Middlebury (16-3, 4-2)
Middlebury has been very consistent this year aside from their blowout loss to Williams a week and a half ago. Pete was an emotional wreck following that loss, but the Panthers bounced back this weekend and smacked the living daylights out of Hamilton. Simply put, Middlebury posted video game numbers on the poor Continentals, shooting an ungodly 62.0/59.3/91.7 on the day. While I don’t anticipate Middlebury achieving another 115-point performance in a NESCAC game, they have consistently shared the ball better than the rest of the conference, resulting in league-leading numbers in both assists and shooting percentage. While Jake Brown ‘17 doesn’t shoot the most efficiently on the Midd roster, he is largely responsible for the team’s shooting. Not only does he lead the team (and league) in assists, but Brown’s ability to penetrate and force help out of opposing defenders leads to open shots 2-3 passes down the line. This should be a pretty straightforward weekend for Middlebury, but if they drop one to either Colby or Bowdoin then maybe they’ve got some more glaring issues than I have realized.
4.) #11 Amherst (14-4, 4-2)
While Middlebury has been mostly consistent all season, Amherst has not been, which explains my ranking them lower than both Middlebury and Wesleyan in the Power Rankings despite being a higher national seed. Every team in the conference has some bad losses, but Amherst’s back-to-back losses to Wesleyan and Conn College are of some concern. However, it’s not just Amherst’s losses that keep me on edge. To follow up that 0-2 weekend, Amherst had to put together quite the comeback against lowly Bowdoin at home in order to sneak away with a win. While I am used an Amherst that blows most teams out (as are most people probably), they still rebounded from the aforementioned three game stretch with a string of solid victories. As we all know, Colby has been the doormat of the NESCAC this year so far, but Amherst still needed to win convincingly and they did. Williams, though not in the top half of the NESCAC this year, is a solid team and is Amherst’s hated rival, so an 8-point mid-week is impressive. Then, the most telling is the 66-53 W against Trinity. Amherst hosted the Bantams and beat them at their own game, holding Trinity to just 53 points (!!) on 32.2% shooting while allowing just 1-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The usual suspects (Jayde Dawson ‘17, Johnny McCarthy ‘18, and Michael Riopel ‘18), led the way for Coach Hixon in the scoring department and the ex-LJs got it done. Like Tufts, this coming weekend is the most telling of the season for Amherst as they host Bates and the Jumbos themselves. A 2-0 weekend would tell us what the rest of the league fears: that Amherst is back.
5.) Trinity (13-7, 4-2)
You won’t believe I’m saying this, but this weekend is a very telling weekend for Trinity (mix up your damn phrasing, Rory!!!). Seriously though, the Bants can more or less take the reigns with a sweep of Tufts and Bates this weekend, and they have a very good chance to do so. While they took the L this weekend to Amherst, that was a very good loss for Trinity. I don’t mean this necessarily in the way they played was good and they just got a couple bad bounces (-5 turnover differential, relying far too heavily on one player offensively, terrible shooting across the board), but in the sense that the Bantams proved a couple things to themselves. First of all, they proved that they can take advantage of mismatches in the post against good teams. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 had 19/11 and held David George to 6/4. Secondly, they proved that even shooting as poorly from deep as they did (1-14), they could still find themselves in the game until free throws put them away at the end. Looking ahead to Friday, Ogundeko has a highly favorable matchup against Tufts, and if he gets some efficient support offensively from the guards, Big Ed will have a chance to dominate. Bates is a tougher matchup for Trinity, but again, success is going to be reliant on the guard-play of the Bantams, specifically Langdon Neal ‘17 and Chris Turnbull ‘17.
6.) Bates (15-6, 4-3)
My friend from Bates (who for clarification, is unassociated with the Bates Men’s Basketball team except as a fan), has been describing the Bobcats to me as the hottest team in the ‘CAC this week. While a 3-game winning streak (just one conference game) following a 3-game losing streak (all conference games) does not scream “on fire” to me, I will say that Bates made Tufts look foolish on Saturday. While poor shooting is generally a reflection of both teams and not just tough defense, Bates forced Tufts into difficult shots and dominated them offensively. The Bobcats, especially Jerome Darling ‘17, put on a clinic on how to shoot three-pointers. They also shot 18-22 from the free throw line, which played a huge part in helping them seal the deal. I will say, however, that I think Bates should be concerned about this win giving them false confidence for a number of reasons. First of all, it took one of the worst shooting performances of the season for them to topple Tufts. The Bobcats also allowed their opponents to shoot 28 free throws, something that I don’t think I’ve seen a team do in a win that didn’t involve any overtime. Bates, a team whose system involves two big men, allowed Tufts, a team whose system involves just one big man (and lacked their starting big man), to beat them on the boards by seven. While Marcus Delpeche ‘17 pulled the weight with 28/11, rightfully earning him NESCAC POW honors, his twin brother Malcolm proved to be pretty ineffective on Saturday, shooting 2-10 from the field and grabbing just three boards. Bates NEEDS these two to work in tandem on the boards at the very least, but it would be a big boost for them if they could have the twins both scoring effectively.
7.) Hamilton (14-5, 3-3)
Hamilton is a solid team. They’ve got some great young talent, and I think they are going to get even better in the next couple years. Right now, however, it is mostly potential that they possess, and they are vulnerable in a few different aspects, the first of which is down in the post. While Andrew Groll ‘19 is a solid player and a tenacious rebounder, he is also really the only real presence down on the block for the Continentals. While they have some size in their perimeter players (Joe Pucci ‘18 – 6’6”, Peter Hoffmann – 6’5”), Hamilton can get exposed on the boards and in the paint at times, especially against teams with solid post players and bigger guards. In NESCAC losses, they have allowed 40.66 PPG in the paint, showing that conference opponents know
how to expose this glaring hole in Hamilton defense. The emergence of Kena Gilmour ‘20 as of late is definitely encouraging, and he is a prime candidate to win Rookie of the Year, but aside from Gilmour the offensive production off the bench is limited at best. Hamilton has the weapons to surprise some teams come tournament time, but they still need to qualify. Ending the season with 4 tough conference games leaves a lot up in the air as to what will happen, but it is worth noting that the last two are against Trinity and Amherst.
8.) Williams (14-6, 2-4)
Williams has surprised me so far this year, and not in a good way. With the weapons that Williams returned at the beginning of the year, I thought for sure that they would be in the top half of the NESCAC standings battling for home court advantage in the playoffs. Now, here we are six games into the NESCAC season and Williams is ranked eighth in the conference standings. While the Ephs have been decent offensively, the Ephs just simply haven’t done enough to stop opposing players from scoring. Part of this is due to their post presence, or lack thereof, which rears its head on the boards and in the paint. Yes, Williams can get hot, especially from beyond the arc, and when they do they certainly have what it takes to win (see: Middlebury), but their lack of consistency is a problem, and is also the reason that they are a bubble playoff team.
9.) Conn College (12-8, 2-5)
Speaking of inconsistency…Conn has shown that they can really, really good at times. Unfortunately for the Camels, those times are few and far between. Wins against Amherst and Bates definitely show promise, but double-digit losses to Hamilton, Trinity, Tufts and Wesleyan leave young NESCAC bloggers wondering who the Camels really are. The issue, in my opinion, is that they have too many guys that want to be “the guy,” and while that’s a harsh critique, there’s definitely an argument there. In NESCAC play, Conn shoots just 39.7% from the field and 31.2% from beyond the arc. Keeping those percentages in mind and then take a look at shot totals. They’ve taken the second most shots and the fourth most three-pointers. Yes, they have played seven conference games while some have played just six, but still, the lack of offensive efficiency that the Camels boast has to be at least a bit concerning. To go along with their poor shooting, Conn allows their opponents to shoot the highest percentage in NESCAC play…not exactly a recipe for success. I’m not saying Conn can’t make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they manage to fumble the opportunity to close the season playing Williams, Bowdoin and Colby, the three worst teams in the league besides the Camels.
10.) Colby (10-9, 1-5)
They’re on the board! Colby grabbed their first win of the NESCAC season this weekend as they hosted rival Bowdoin in one of the best games of the weekend. Patrick Stewart ‘17 played like a damn All-Star, netting 28 points to lead the way for the Mules, and Sam Jefferson ‘20 showed the age is just a number, adding a nice 17 points of his own. The Mules owned the arc and drained 12 threes on the day (albeit on 32 attempts) to propel them to victory. Though they haven’t necessarily looked like a playoff team this year, Colby is on the bubble as this win brings them just one shy of Williams, the current eighth place team. It’s a tough road ahead for Colby, but maybe they can pull this off!
11.) Bowdoin (10-9, 1-5)
Bowdoin gave Colby their first loss of the NESCAC season this weekend to extend their NESCAC skid to three straight losses. Like I feared at the beginning of the season, Bowdoin is just far too reliant on Jack Simonds ‘19, so when he only put up 13 points against the Mules, Bowdoin was in trouble. They did get an outstanding performance from Jack Bors ‘19, who tallied 24 points on 8-12 shooting (5-8 from three-point land), but it was the inability of the Polar Bears to defend the three-point line themselves that buried them in Waterville. Bowdoin couldn’t quite pull off the upset at Amherst a couple weeks ago, but they’ll have a few more upset opportunities before the season is over as they face Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Conn to wrap up NESCAC play. If they want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to win at least a couple of these games.
Saturday’s match-up in Vermont features the Hamilton Continentals visiting the Middlebury Panthers, two of the three teams tied for third place in the NESCAC. Each team will be looking to secure a spot at the head of the conference table with Tufts and Trinity. The Continental’s team motto, “Punish With Pace,” is an apt description of the way they have played this year. Their blistering offensive attack has driven them to the NESCAC lead in points per game and scoring margin. However, that motto would work just as well for the Panthers. Middlebury is just as speedy as Hamilton, so we can expect a fast-paced affair this Saturday at 3PM.
Though Middlebury is nationally ranked (at #22) and Hamilton isn’t, they have had near identical results in NESCAC play. Each team has a NESCAC record of 3-2, and entering the contest, both teams’ last NESCAC game came against Williams, with divergent results. Hamilton handled the Ephs easily at home just two days before Middlebury got slaughtered in Williamstown. However, they also split against Bates, with opposite results, so neither team has a clear edge in the success of their in-conference play.
Regardless of the results, the games this weekend should provide us with some national and conference clarity. Of the two teams, the Panthers are the only ranked team, but at #22, a loss against an unranked opponent would likely drop them out of the top 25. However, a win for Hamilton could slide them into the national conversation. They lack the success in recent years that the other ranked NESCAC teams have, but with a win, their conference record would be an excellent 4-2, and their overall record would be 14-4, right in line with that of other ranked teams. National rankings are fun for bragging rights (and a potential at large bid) but what really counts is the NESCAC standings come playoff time.
Hamilton and Middlebury enter the game tied for third (along with Amherst) and a win for either team could help solidify home-court advantage in the playoffs. To further complicate things, Amherst is playing second place Trinity on Saturday as well. With an Amherst win, both Amherst and Trinity will share second place with the winner of Middlebury v. Hamilton. With a Trinity win, either the Continentals or Panthers will have sole control of third place. The loser of this game could suffer steep consequences, potentially falling as far as seventh place. Whatever this weekend holds will undoubtedly shake up the NESCAC standings.
Middlebury X-Factor: Perimeter Play
Middlebury, offensively, has been carried by the offensive play of their two senior backcourt star(ter)s. Matt St. Amour ’17, possibly the most dynamic scoring threat in the conference, gives defenses fits from inside and outside with his sweet shooting stroke and incisive slashing. Big games seem to get him going—so much so, that his teammates have grown accustomed to calling him “Mr. Clutch,” due to his game winners in high school and college. He scores more in conference games than any other player, averaging 22.6 per NESCAC contest (5 more than anyone else). In a crucial conference matchup like this, St. Amour would be wise to do his best Santana Moss impression.
St. Amour’s backcourt partner, Jake Brown ‘17, is not one to be taken lightly, especially coming off of a career high 31 points in his last game. He has more assists per game (6.7) than any other player in the NESCAC, and still scores ten a game.
Despite these lofty averages, setting the Cont’s ablaze will prove
no small task, as they have the manpower to counter St. Amour and Brown’s onslaught. Peter Hoffman ‘19, Hamilton’s leading scorer (16.9 points per game), is also possibly the league’s best all around defender. A springy athlete who stuffs the stat sheet by averaging about two steals, two blocks, and six rebounds is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the floor. The Cont’s, anchored by Hoffman, will have their hands full Saturday afternoon when tasked with slowing Middlebury’s potent offense.
Hamilton X Factor: Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Number
Though Middlebury probably has the edge in terms of star power and veteran leadership, Hamilton’s young guns are not to be overlooked. Freshman Kena Gilmour hasn’t started a single game this year, but he has earned more and more minutes as the season has gone on. In his last three games he is averaging 16.7 points in 21 minutes a game. He’s playing like a budding superstar and he’s getting the minutes to back it up. Hamilton’s youth movement goes beyond Gilmour, however. Star forwards Hoffmann and Andrew Groll ’19 are both sophomores, and give the Continentals a dynamic interior presence on both sides of the ball.
Who has the edge?
Hamilton is unbeaten at home. On the road they are a merely human 6-3. Although Hamilton is riding high on a three game win streak, Middlebury’s home-court advantage shouldn’t be overlooked in this matchup. Furthermore , Middlebury’s experienced players with long histories of success gives them the edge over Hamilton’s younger squad. Hamilton as a program hasn’t played in a game this meaningful in years, and obviously their players have not either. Middlebury, on the other hand, has played in games like this for years. I’ll take the Panthers at home.