An unnamed coach recently told me that this NESCAC season is the most wide-open one he’s seen in years. And it’s really true; there is no clear cut number one, and even the Maine teams had moments of excellent play. If anything, the first weekend raised more questions rather than providing answers.
Williams G Bobby Casey ‘19
We’ve written quite a bit about how F James Heskett ‘19 has elevated his game to help the Ephs overcome a potentially devastating injury to Kyle Scadlock ‘19, but we might have been missing the biggest (height nonwithstanding) factor. Casey is in the midst of one of the most efficient shooting seasons the league has seen in several years. He’s shooting 50% from the field and 49% from three. And he’s raising his game when it matters most. In Williams’ impressive 2-0 weekend, Casey was in an absolute zone. He was 18-23 from the field, including a 12-16 mark from downtown. He added four rebounds and two blocks in their win over Wesleyan, the biggest win of any team last weekend. If Casey can continue to raise his game in league play under these strenuous circumstances, an All NESCAC selection is not impossible.
The Continentals are to me what Robin Wright is to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. They always lead me on and make me believe that this is the year, and then they disappoint me. But, at the risk of getting fooled again, this might be the year that Hamilton and I have a “smart” child together. The Continentals are still undefeated, and passed their first mini NESCAC test by trashing Trinity 78-55 on Sunday. They were able to weather an uncharacteristically average shooting night (40% from the field, 30% from three) and used their versatile defense to pick up 10 steals and hold Trinity to just 34.4% shooting. This game was Hamilton’s third straight with at least 10 steals. Creating turnovers is an essential part of their high octane offense, as it allows them to get out on the break and get layups and easy three pointers. The fact that they did it well in league play is a great sign for them, and a bad sign for the rest of the league.
The Panthers dropped the marquee matchup against Wesleyan 80-70, and correspondingly dropped 12 spots in Top 25, from 4 to 16. And it is Middlebury’s offense that deserves most of the blame for their struggles. Offense hasn’t been something Middlebury has had to worry about in several years, but they have real problems finding scoring behind Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. Daly’s three point shot, while better than people give him credit for, is still not a consistent enough weapon for teams to really worry about it. They’d rather go under ball screens and give him jump shots. And Folger’s ball handling isn’t good enough yet for him to punish quickness mismatches on the perimeter. His terrific midrange game allows him to score without getting to the basket, but he isn’t utilizing his full range of skills, and when he isn’t hitting jump shots Middlebury’s offense is troublingly stagnant. This forces Daly to try and do too much at the rim.
There are a few candidates who may have to step up if Middlebury wants to remain in the top tier. G Hilal Dahleh struggled mightily against Wesleyan (3-15 FG) and needs to be at least a spot-up threat, if not more, for Middlebury to beat the best NESCAC teams. And then there are the first years. G Jack Farrell ’21 has hit a shooting wall. He is a valuable defender, but Middlebury may want to consider starting Joey Leighton ’20 (40% from three) to provide more outside punch. A potential wild card is the sweet shooting G Max Bosco ’21. He has looked far more confident in the last few games, and his offensive ceiling is the highest of any of the first years. Middlebury has to, and probably will, figure something out. But it had better be soon.
Wesleyan F Jordan Bonner ’19
While Wesleyan had a pretty good weekend, including a win over Middlebury, Bonner came back down to earth in a big way. In their loss to Williams, he took an unfathomable 18 the pointers and made only five, a stat that confuses me more every time I read it. He was 10-33 from the field overall. And then against Middlebury, he pretty much disappeared, shooting 1-5 from the floor for 7 points. Obviously they won, which bodes well for their ability to succeed without the consistent scoring Bonner had thus far provided, but Wesleyan has collapsed recently in NESCAC play due to a lack of crunch time scoring. If Bonner can’t score efficiently against NESCAC defenses, Wesleyan may not be able to hang with Tufts and Williams.