Congratu-EPHING-Lations: Women’s Soccer NESCAC Finals Recap

Sunday afternoon’s Williams versus Tufts game was one for the ages. The favored Williams College Ephs came into the game against Tufts with pure confidence after a 3-0 trouncing of the Jumbos in October. The game, however, did not start out in the Ephs’ favor. The key to the game for Williams was to establish an early lead, and rely on their stellar defense that carried them all year.

Nature, on the other hand, had a different idea. High winds blew both teams off their game, but it seems like the conditions affected Williams more. Coaches will always tell their players when they’re making excuses about the weather that both teams are playing in the same conditions. The team that best adapts to the unfortunate conditions is normally the one that capitalizes. Tufts was that team. At the very beginning of the second half, it was the Jumbos who tallied the first goal. Alessandra Sadler’s ‘18 goal put Tufts in the driver’s seat early in the second half. The minutes that followed stunned me: the Ephs looked like a deer caught in the headlights. They’re so used to playing with a lead that the 1-0 deficit made them reminisce about the collapse against Trinity last year in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, in any time of distress, you will turn to people whom you depend on. Natasha Albaneze ‘18 took control of the game, and kept the ball from the Eph’s defensive side of the field. This action allowed the Ephs to put the peddle to the metal, and register many shots on goal on the Jumbo keeper Emily Bowers ‘19. One of the fundamental principles of soccer is that shots on goal is one of the most important aspects of the game. In football, a team that goes 0-2 in the redzone is deemed a team that can’t execute in the clutch. In soccer, the shots on goal wear down a keeper and a defense–even if they don’t initially go in. It didn’t seem early on that the shots were wearing down Bowers at all. Finally, Natalie Turner-Wyatt ‘19 evened the game near the end of the second half off a Bowers’ rebound. Again, this goal was a product of shots on net. Bowers’ rebound control was stellar all game, but there’re some shots that a keeper has to make a desperation save on. Turner-Wyatt controlled the rebound, and potted a goal to tie the game up.

Natasha Albaneze ’18 controlled the game from midfield and allowed the Ephs to finally break through.

With only nine minutes left in regulation time, the Jumbos were on their heels. Out of the nine minutes left, at least seventy-five percent of them were in the Jumbos’ defensive side of the field. Of that seventy-five percent, there was a good minute that the ball danced around the goal line, only to be cleared by the defenders. Then, this one sequence of events was one of the greatest sports moments I’ve seen in my life. This moment goes up with Jordan’s crossover game winner against Utah, Julian Edelman’s catch against Atlanta in the Super Bowl, and Jeter’s flip to nail Giambi at the plate in the 2001 ALDS in Oakland.

Tufts keeper Emily Bowers ’19 played an unbelievable game, keeping the vaunted Ephs offense at bay as long as she could.

The ball was being played in the box by the Ephs, and the Jumbo defenders seemed like they couldn’t clear it. Bowers made a save on an Eph shot, but gave up a juicy rebound. Bowers and the majority of the Jumbo defenders were cut off the left of my computer screen, while the ball trickled to a Albaneze with a wide open cage. She planted her left foot, swung her hips, and the inside of her right foot crushed the soccer ball and the Ephs into what seemed like a NESCAC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Like Sinon climbing out of the Trojan horse, Bowers  magically reappeared on my computer screen to make the save of the year with her outstretched left arm. Regulation came to a close, and overtime started with Williams still holding the momentum. Alison Lu ‘20 received a pass from Albaneze only four minutes into the overtime period and calmly chipped in a goal past Bowers to crown the Ephs NESCAC champions. An anticlimactic ending to a fantastic game.

I would personally like to thank all the women playing soccer in the NESCAC this year. Without them, there would be no game. They’ve proved that any team can win on any given day. Congratulations to the Ephs (ugh from a Wesleyan perspective). They truly deserve the title as league champions. Good luck Williams in the DIII tournament, and to any other NESCAC team that gets a bid! Again, thank you for such an incredible season, and I can’t wait for the 2018 campaign.

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

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

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

Stock Up

Middlebury C Matt Daley ’16

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

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

Middlebury Head Coach Jeff Brown

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

Amherst Guard Michael Riopel ’18

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

Stock Down

Amherst Defense

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

Trinity Offense

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

NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview: #5 Wesleyan at #4 Middlebury

The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

The last Cardinals victory over Middlebury came on Jan. 15, 2005. That’s 13 meetings, and one other NESCAC quarterfinal. Last season’s loss to the Panthers seemed to galvanize Wesleyan on their eventual championship run. This season’s game was a huge upset to start the season, as Wesleyan was expected to be near the top of the heap and Middlebury looked like a rebuilding project. Almost two months later, it’s hard not to see the Panthers as the favorite in this game. Playing at home is nice, a new frontcourt threat has emerged (more on that later), and Wesleyan is coming off of a shocking weekend where they dropped a pair of contests to Colby and Bowdoin. Will the Cards turn the tide today? It won’t be easy.

Last time they played: Middlebury 86 – Wesleyan 76, Jan. 8 at Wesleyan

It was a disastrous start for Middlebury. The Cardinals went up 14-2 in less than five minutes. Moments later, Middlebury coach Jeff Brown swapped out a few starters for his trio of freshmen, and the game completely changed. Eric McCord ’16, Zach Baines ’16 and Hilal Dahleh ’16 stopped the bleeding and helped the Panthers clamp down defensively. When McCord subbed out six minutes later it was a 20-14 Wesleyan lead, and later back-to-back Dahleh treys tied the game at 30-apiece. The second half was a battle, but a Middlebury onslaught to the tune of a 16-5 run in the final 3:25 proved to be the difference. In the end, Matt St. Amour ’16 was the Panthers’ top scorer, which is par for the course, but the 30 points received from McCord and Dahleh absolutely changed the game. On the flip side, 17 bench points from Joe Edmonds ’16 kept Wesleyan in the game, which leads to …

Wesleyan X-factor: G Joe Edmonds

Joe Edmonds '16
Joe Edmonds ’16

Edmonds and guard Harry Rafferty ’17 have had to adjust to slightly reduced roles this season. In 2014-15, six Cardinals played over 22.0 mpg, Edmonds and Rafferty included, and that duo started more games than not. The Cardinals have a lot more depth this season, and Rafferty and Edmonds have had to work off of the bench for the most part. Edmonds hasn’t had a great, high-volume shooting night since that evening against Middlebury. He has tallied 10, 11, 10 and 11 again in a handful of games, but otherwise has only taken a few shots and been held to single digits. The Cardinals are going to get plenty of points from guards BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16, but can Edmonds step up and chip in double digits off the bench while stretching the floor? A year ago, that was a no-brainer. Now, the answer is up in the air. Edmonds posted a 41.1 percent mark from behind the arc a year ago; he’s at 30.1 percent this season. Which Edmonds shows up today?

Middlebury X-factor: C Matt Daley ’16

Matt Daley '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Matt Daley ’16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Daley might be the most gifted big man in the NESCAC. He just can’t stay healthy, through no fault of his own. He’s had so many issues this season – a soft tissue strain in his groin, a foot injury, concussion symptoms, and plain old illness that kept him out last weekend. So he never turned into the 20-10 guy that pundits believed he could be. He’s still a force when he’s in there. Daley is currently sixth in the NESCAC in field goal percentage, and the defensive end/rebounding is where he really shines. The big man rips down 7.8 boards per game in under 22.0 mpg. Imagine if he was actually healthy for all of those minutes, too, not nursing injury after injury. For what it’s worth, Daley ranks 13th in the NESCAC in points per 40 minutes, which is a testament to his importance when in the game. Wesleyan has two big guys who are athletic scoring threats in Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 and Daley will be needed in order to stifle that pair.

Three Questions

1. How will Wesleyan shoot the ball from behind the arc?

If you’ve been reading along all year, you know that I’ve been fixated on the Cardinals (in)ability to shoot the three. They’re stacked with guys with great pedigrees who have underperformed in that regard this season. Wesleyan has taken the fifth-most three point attempts in the NESCAC, but is only making 32.3 percent of them (10th in the NESCAC). There was one hilariously bad four-game stretch against Amherst twice, Trinity and Tufts when Wesleyan shot 12-80 (15 percent) from deep. They went 8-22 (36.4 percent) in the last game against Middlebury. But of course, sports is a “What have you done for me lately?” business. Still, the recent returns aren’t much better. The Cards have upped the frequency with which they’re shooting treys recently, but not making any more of them. They are 22-81 (27.2 percent) over the last three contests. Will they be able to get open threes and make them today? Maybe, but Middlebury has a lot of length on the defensive perimeter. Jack Daly ’18 will give some trouble to Davis and Mackey, as well the super-long Zach Baines ’19.

2. Who wins the frontcourt battle?

Kuo and Epps vs. Daley and Adisa Majors ’18. The Wesleyan frontcourt is skilled brings a combination of size and speed. For Middlebury, Daley has the speed and length, while Majors has the brute strength. It’s an interesting match up, because I don’t know who has the advantage. Is it the pair of well-rounded forwards? Or can Daley and Majors work together to play as one shot-rejecting, block-defending, rim-protecting super-basketball-hero? Also in the mix are Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill ’18 – high motor, good length, and a work horse – and Connor Huff ’16 – high basketball IQ, and a good shotmaker. Lastly, Middlebury’s Zach Baines is sometimes employed as a stretch-4 type. That could be extremely problematic for Wesleyan, because Epps isn’t going to be quick enough to stop him on the perimeter.

3. Can someone other than Matt St. Amour put the ball in the hoop for Middlebury?

St. Amour has been a marked man since he started the conference season so strongly, and there hasn’t been a consistent second scorer for the Panthers. Sometimes it has been Daley, recently it’s been Majors, and a few times it’s been Baines or point guard Jake Brown ’17. My worry is that everyone will look to defer too much and no one will get the job done. Baines (7.1 ppg) has never played in a NESCAC playoff game, neither has Jack Daly (7.1 ppg) or Majors (6.9 ppg). If Daley can stay on the court for 25 minutes, I think he’s going to get a lot of usage and some big buckets, and subsequently Majors might see a few less minutes, but in those minutes he should be effective as well. On the perimeter, you’re not going to get one guy scoring a lot of buckets alongside MSA. Coach Brown likes to throw everyone in in the first half and feel out the flow of the game, so Hilal Dahleh or Bryan Jones ’17 are among those who could make a surprise impact with a couple of big shots early.

What to Expect

A lot of points. It might be a bit under the radar, but Wesleyan actually has the best field goal percentage defense in the league (38.1 percent) and the third-best points per game average defensively (68.1 percent), and still the Panthers ran up 86 points in their last meeting. Especially with Middlebury playing at home, Coach Brown is going to instruct his nephew, the younger Brown, to push the pace and get Wesleyan running. Tiring out the Cardinals’ high-usage starters, i.e. Davis and Mackey, is the key to testing out that depth. The Cardinals have won plenty of high-scoring games this year, though, so it won’t be easy to run them out of the gym. I think that Wesleyan will try to beat up on Matt Daley whenever he gets the ball down low and neutralize that second scoring threat that I just talked about above, forcing the Panthers to find someone else to score the ball. And, of course, both teams will lock onto the opposing superstar: Middlebury on BJ Davis and Wesleyan on Matt St. Amour. The Panthers are usually a switching team around the perimeter, but expect Jack Daly to man up with Davis to start. On the opposite end, my guess is that youngster Kevin O’Brien ’19 is tasked with covering St. Amour. I think the height advantage that St. Amour would have over Davis or Mackey would lead to a lot of easy buckets. That means that Edmonds will also be called on to cover St. Amour off of the bench.

It’s the No. 4-No. 5 game, so it should be a close one. I, of course, have somewhat of a vested interest here, so I apologize if my prediction waxes a little fanatical.

Prediction: Middlebury 75 – Wesleyan 70

NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview: #6 Williams at #3 Tufts

Tufts Roster

(Top: Courtesy of Tufts Athletics; Bottom: Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
(Top: Courtesy of Tufts Athletics; Bottom: Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

One of the late games this weekend matches up Tufts with Williams, two teams that played just last Friday. This is the first game for the Jumbos since then, while Williams had the chance to play a tune-up game in which they trounced Bates by 20 points. Williams comes in at 5-5 in conference play making them the No. 6 seed. Williams has been perfectly average this season. They’ve lost to every team ranked higher than them and beat every team ranked lower than them. Tufts’ 7-3 record varies slightly from this pattern, but it’s still somewhat accurate. The Jumbos beat every team ranked sixth or lower as well as Amherst, but lost to Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan, the first, fourth, and fifth seeds.

These two were separated by a margin of just four points when they played each other, so this should be a good one. Tom Palleschi ’17 has been hot for the Jumbos of late, averaging 21.6 ppg in his last six games, and he looks to continue that streak into the NESCAC tournament tomorrow. For the Ephs, Dan Aronowitz ’17 shook off a tough three game stretch and put together three outstanding games to round out league play, averaging 23.3 ppg against Conn College, Tufts and Williams.

Last time they played: Tufts 77 – Williams 73

When Tufts and Williams matched up just a week ago in Williamstown, the ability to protect the rock was the difference in the game. Tufts turned the ball over just four times last Friday, three of which came in the first half. Williams, on the other hand, committed 15 turnovers. Quite simply put, the lack of ball control Williams demonstrated lost them the game. Tufts didn’t shoot the ball very well from the perimeter (7-24 3PT) and got to the line 10 less times than their average of 26 free throw attempts per game. They were able to pull out a close victory, in large part due to the contributions of tri-captain Stephen Haladyna ’16. On 8-17 shooting from the field and 3-6 from deep, Haladyna matched Williams’ best scorer Aronowitz bucket-for-bucket on the way to his season-high 22 points. On a night where Vinny Pace ’18, Tarik Smith ’17, and Ryan Spadaford ’16 shot the ball pretty poorly, Haladyna’s leadership propelled the Jumbos to victory. Tufts Coach Bob Sheldon said, “Stephen has been due for a breakout game. Our team has done this all year: if one or two guys aren’t playing well, somebody else steps up.”

The other big duel of the game was between Tufts center Tom Palleschi and Williams guard Cole Teal ’18, both of whom dropped 17 points, but in very different ways. The Williams offense is centered on tons of on- and off-ball screens with the goal of creating chaos for opposing defenses, which leads to open shooters. Teal was able to get free beyond the arc and light up the scoreboard on five separate occasions, providing the Ephs with a huge boost. Meanwhile, Palleschi did most of his damage in the paint. He was able to rack up 14 points from field and another three from the free throw line, but Ed Flynn ’16 did not make it easy for him. Flynn is couple inches taller than Palleschi, something the Tufts big man does not usually see, and maybe this had something to do with his 7-16 shooting performance. Palleschi missed SEVEN lefty hooks in this game, a shot that he usually makes look easy.

When I asked Williams Coach Kevin App about Palleschi’s performance, he noted, “We held Palleschi to 17 points on 16 shots, that’s about a point per shot.” Williams is going to take that 10 times out of 10. Palleschi is a force inside, and holding him to under 50 percent from the field on almost all layups/hook shots is pretty good. The way Williams packed in the paint worked pretty well defensively, as it forced Tufts to kick the ball out and beat Williams from the perimeter, a strategy which would have been successful if Tufts hadn’t scored 12 more points off of turnovers than Williams did. I expect Williams to protect the ball better tomorrow, but I also expect Tufts to shoot better from the outside, so this will be another great matchup between the two squads.

Tufts X-Factor: Guard Ryan Spadaford ’16

(Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
(Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Overall this season, Spadaford is the third highest scorer and rebounder on the Jumbos roster, but when Tufts traveled to Williamstown last weekend Spadaford did not play well. He shot just 2-9 from the field and shot 0-6 from behind the arc. Missing good shots early, Tufts’ “shooter” clearly became frustrated as the game went on, made evident by a few forced shots. However, last weekend’s game is EXACTLY why I think that Spadaford is going to come out hot on when his team hosts the Ephs in Medford. As one of three captains leading Tufts, Spadaford is not going to let his team get upset at home due to his playing poorly. Just two weeks ago, after a poor game against Trinity in which Spadaford shot 0-4 from three and scored just two points from the field, he bounced back against Amherst and rained down 3-5 from deep. Expect Spadaford to put up a lot of shots: this streaky shooter has shown that he can be pretty deadly when he gets the crowd behind him at home.

Williams X-Factor: Bobby Casey ’19

Courtesy of Williams Athletics
(Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Bobby Casey, like Spadaford, did not play particularly well last weekend. Casey also shot 2-9 from the field, and he added four turnovers to round out a subpar performance. However, Casey, also like Spadaford, showed that he has the ability to bounce back from poor performances. Just two days after the loss to Tufts, Casey dropped 16 points on 5-6 from the field and 4-4 from three-point land! Casey is young, and Tufts defense forced more mistakes out of him than any other NESCAC team has, but he has also demonstrated his ability to step up in big games. Against Amherst, Casey scored 13 points and didn’t turnover the ball once while dishing out three assists. When Williams faced Trinity just two days later, Casey dropped a season-high 17 points while recording two assists and just one turnover. The Ephs are going to need help from their role players, especially now that the Jumbos have had a chance to figure out a little more about Teal and Aronowitz. I think Casey is going to find some room to work, and this time, he’s going to take advantage of those opportunities.

 Three Questions

1. Can Williams contain Tom Palleschi again?

As Coach Sheldon said, “Tom had 17 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks, and we’re not happy with his game.” That statement sums things up right pretty perfectly. Palleschi can play a lot better. I don’t see Tufts going 7-24 from outside again, so the Williams guards are not going to be able to sink into the paint to help out on Palleschi nearly as much. Frankly, I think Palleschi is going to have a mammoth of a game tomorrow.

2. Can Tufts force Cole Teal off the three-point line?

Obviously, Tufts is going to be locked in on Teal, but I’m sure they were when they faced off in Williamstown too. Teal showed off his elusiveness by ducking around option screens all over the place last weekend, and Tufts had a hard time communicating on those screens, leading to Teal sinking five threes-pointers. Basically, the answer to this question relies on a couple things: 1.) The ability of Tufts to switch more fluidly off of screens – when there is seamless switching and Teal is forced to attack the hoop, he is not nearly as effective. 2.) The ability of other guards to put the ball in the basket – obviously Aronowitz is going to get his points, but if guys like Bobby Casey, James Heskett ’19, Chris Galvin ’18 and Kyle Scadlock ’19 can score the ball efficiently, Teal will find himself open, too.

3. Will Tufts dominate the turnover battle again?

Like I noted above, Williams turned the ball over 15 times last weekend …Tufts turned it over just four times. Tufts scored 15 points off turnovers while Williams scored just three. For Williams to win this game, they NEED to take care of the basketball. It’s unlikely that the Jumbos will take care of the ball as well as they did last time, but limiting wasted possessions is vital for Coach App’s squad. Williams is a young team, but they are going to need to play wiser than their years if they are going to pull off the upset.

What to Expect

It’s no secret that Williams has a very hard test ahead of them. Tufts is a much more experienced team with some really tough players to guard in Palleschi, Pace, and Smith. Spadaford and Haladyna have shown their ability to step up to the challenge in must-win situations, and the Williams young guns like Scadlock, Casey and Heskett are going to be tested in their first NESCAC Tournament action. Aronowitz has been here before, but not as the go-to-guy, so this playoff game is going to be a bit different for him as well.

Not to be overlooked is how loud the Tufts crowd is going to be: the #6 Tufts women’s team plays before the men’s game, and if the Lady Bo’s get the crowd going with a big win (as they are favored heavily to do), Cousens Gymnasium could be a raucous arena come 4:00 pm on Saturday. The key for Williams is to come out hot to quiet the student section. If they can get on top early, then the crowd will play a minimal role in this one. Spadaford is known to be a guy who feeds off the energy of the fans, and since his shooting is going to be such a big factor in this one, Williams can’t sleepwalk their way through the first few minutes.

I think that Tufts is simply a better team than Williams, especially at home. The game last weekend could easily have been a blowout if any number of guys on Tufts hits the open shots they normally hit. I don’t think turnovers are going to play as big a factor in this one, but I do think Tufts is going to shoot the ball much more efficiently, especially Palleschi. If this one goes the way I think it will, Tufts will pull away at the end.

Prediction: Tufts 86 – Williams 72

NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview: #8 Colby at #1 Trinity

Trinity is ready to protect its house this season, something it failed to do a year ago. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Trinity is ready to protect its house this season, something it failed to do a year ago. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Trinity comes into Saturday’s matchup undefeated in February, winning all four of their conference games by 10 or more points, while Colby is coming off a three-game winning streak. Despite being the top seed, this by no means will be an easy win for Trinity. This is a rematch from last year’s quarterfinal, which proved to be a challenge for Trinity as they scraped by with a 66-63 victory.

Last time they played: Trinity 62 – Colby 60

Colby hosted Trinity on January 22, when they blundered and handed the Bantams their 13th win in a 62-60 final. This came one night after the Mules upset No. 16 Amherst 66-64. This game stayed nick and tuck all the way through, the lead trading nearly 20 times. Trinity’s Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’17 each earned a double-double accounting for 24 points and 21 rebounds. Colby’s Sam Willson ’16 and Patrick Stewart ’16 each had 17 points and five boards. The Mules were outrebounded by a margin of 39-33; this is a result of Colby’s lack of size, which also led to Trinity’s four blocks and Colby’s one. Colby did have some points to build on, as they were efficient with turnovers and personal fouls, turning it over eight times to Trinity’s 12 TO’s and registering 10 fouls as opposed to Trinity’s 15. Off the bench, Eric Gendron ’18 got hot, scoring 16 points on 50 percent shooting. Chris Turnbull ’17 also racked up 25 minutes, five boards and six points coming off the bench, which speaks to the depth of Trinity, whose bench contributed 83 minutes to Colby’s 63 minutes. Colby has some scorers, particularly in Chris Hudnut ’16, Ryan Jann ’16 and Stewart, but Jann was virtually nonexistent in this game, going 0-7 from the field, cracking his goose egg from the free throw line with 1:41 left to go in the game. While giving credit to the Bantam defense, this was a fluke performance from Jann, and he will certainly have a bigger impact on Saturday.

Trinity X-factor: Power Forward Shay Ajayi ’16

Earning a double-double in the past two matchups against Colby, Ajayi led his team to two important victories, the more important of the two coming 364 days ago in the quarterfinal at Trinity. He is one of Trinity’s senior leaders, and knows better than anyone how to perform in this situation. Besides feeling comfortable with the home-court advantage and success against Colby, Ajayi comes into this game with the hot hand shooting 57 percent from the field in February, breaking his season high in points twice; first with 26 points against Tufts, then with 29 points against Hamilton. Expect him to haul in a ton of boards and be effective from the field as the Bantams look to roll through to the semifinal.

Colby X-factor: Center Chris Hudnut ’16

Hudnut played tattered for their meeting in January, so his presence was undermined coming off the bench and accounting for eight points in 13 minutes. At 6’8″, he has the ability to rebound the ball, and is coming off a double-double against Wesleyan where he scored 19 points and had 15 rebounds. Hudnut was not on the playoff roster last year, but he has been an essential piece to the puzzle throughout his career. A healthy Hudnut may have spoiled the Bantams from attaining another #1 seed this season, but that is neither here nor there. With Hudnut in the lineup Saturday, this game becomes a lot closer and screams upset. He will help patch up the Mules hole of rebounding margin, while adding a serious offensive threat as he is 7th in the league in scoring.

Three Questions

  1. Can Ed Ogundeko shut down Chris Hudnut ?

Chris Hudnut can shoot the basketball, and he is crafty and smooth down low with a nice hook. Hudnut, playing hurt, scored eight points in just 13 minutes in their last meeting. Ogundeko will compete with Hudnut, who is bound to make some magic happen. On his home floor, Ogundeko will challenge him with his brute strength and athletic ability. If Hudnut gets a ton of buckets, Ogundeko will make up for it on the boards. It will be a real battle down low on Saturday and expect Ogundeko to rise to the occasion. Ogundeko is at the top of his game right now, while Hudnut is coming off an injury.

  1. Who will show up? Colby’s shooters or Trinity’s defense?

Colby ranks first in the NESCAC in field goal percentage and third in scoring offense, boasting three of the league’s top 17 scorers. Of the starting five, each has gotten hot in the past three games scoring at least 19 points. While this is all important in winning a basketball game, they are taking on Trinity who has the best defense in the league. They rank second in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense and first in rebounding margin. I’ll say it time and time again, DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS. The Bantams depth will keep fresher legs in the game, and the defense will be breathing down Colby’s neck the whole game.

  1. How will Trinity match Colby’s offense?

Colby’s offense clearly has a lot of threats, and if they do show up Saturday, Trinity will need to put up some points of their own. Trinity’s defense will surely limit Colby’s scoring, and they will be looking for offensive support from Jaquann Starks ’16 and Eric Gendron. Ajayi and Ogundeko will need to make their contributions as well. With the help of a healthy Chris Hudnut, it will be that much harder for the Bantams to get points in the paint.

What to Expect

Expect a battle. These two teams have met twice in the past year, and both games have been nail biters. Trinity has gotten the upper-hand each time, but the game changes when you add a healthy, beast of a center. Both teams are going to look really good, and Colby will look more like a top tier team than an eighth-seeded team. With Hudnut filling the center position, it will take away from the effectiveness of Ogundeko, who has been a substantial player all season. Hudnut has the potential to bully Ogundeko with his height, but don’t be surprised if Ogundeko pushes right back.

Trinity held Colby to a 36.4 percent field goal percentage, a far cry from Colby’s 46.8 percentage on the season. With Jann being ice cold in that game and Hudnut banged up, it will be a different Mules team that comes into Hartford on Saturday. Trinity was fortunate to beat Colby in NESCAC play this season, so they will need to be in top form to move on to the semifinal. Stewart will do his best to get in Trinity’s way as he is the best three point shooter in the ‘CAC. Trinity will be ready to fire back with the third- and fourth-best three point shooters in the league, by percentage, in point guard Andrew Hurd ’16 and Gendron.

Trinity coach James Cosgrove and Colby coach Damien Strahorn will have an amplified role in this game as it will likely be tight to the finish. Adjustments are going to be huge, especially for the Bantams who will be facing a much different Colby team than they saw in January. Though Colby flaunts a starting lineup of all seniors, they don’t have near the playoff experience that Trinity has.

Colby might get off to an early lead with Trinity making a push going into the half. The second half will be a back and forth battle that the Bantams get the best of.

Prediction: Trinity 78 – Colby 73

 

 

 

 

The Slipper Fits the Cardinals: Stock Report 3/2

Raise your hand if at the beginning of the season you had Wesleyan winning the NESCAC championship. Heck, raise your hand if you had them winning it going into this weekend. Sure, we picked Wesleyan to upset Trinity and make the finals before the weekend began, but we didn’t think they would be able to overcome the Jeffs on Sunday.

Throughout the season a lot of different teams could claim to look like the best team in the NESCAC. First it was Bates, then briefly Middlebury, then Trinity for a long time, and finally Wesleyan. Of course, the Cardinals were the ones who were the best at the end when it really mattered.

And that is an important thing to point out. The Cardinals were the best team this weekend. They won two very close competitive games against Amherst and Trinity, but they were winning for the majority of both games. The Jeffs and Bantams had to really fight just come back and make it a game in the final minutes. The Cardinals were the team that looked the most confident in the biggest moments. They were the only team this weekend that was capable of both making outside shots and getting interior points with Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16. Their defense was masterful for most of the game against Trinity. The Wesleyan team probably felt like they were on their homecourt because of the multitude of Wesleyan students who came out to support them.

The formula for the Cardinals has changed slightly in terms of ingredients from the beginning of the season, but the final result of solid defense and rebounding combined with balanced scoring has been the same all year. We say the formula has changed because some players like BJ Davis ’16, Joe Edmonds ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16 stepped up their play as the season went along. The wonderful thing about how Wesleyan plays is that they recognize very well which players are feeling it for a particular game. For example, Edmonds was the hero against Bates in the quarterfinal scoring 22 points. Then he struggled with foul trouble and didn’t make his first couple of shots against Trinity so Coach Joe Reilly played him only 16 minutes. Instead, Reilly was able to play Harry Rafferty ’17 and PJ Reed ’17 for more minutes, and the two sophomores did a great job of stepping up.

Though Wesleyan’s win is certainly surprising, we knew going into the weekend that anyone could win the championship. No team stood out as especially dominating, even though Trinity went 9-1 in conference play. As Howard Herman of the Berkshire Eagle pointed out, Wesleyan was the hottest team going into the weekend, something that mattered more this season than in years past. The Cardinals have been routinely discounted by us and others when talking about NESCAC contenders. The title of our season preview for Wesleyan was “Overlooked Cardinals Return Everyone.” After this weekend, it is hard to overlook Wesleyan anymore.

Stock Up

Wesleyan Fans

As mentioned above, the Wesleyan student fans were exceptional in turning out to help root on their team. Obviously it is a short drive from Middletown to Hartford, but it still takes a good level more commitment than simply walking out the door and into the gym. The semifinal atmosphere was awesome with Wesleyan and Trinity fans dueling it out in the stands while the two teams played it out on the floor as well. The Cardinal faithful were loud and boisterous, something that does not always happen at NESCAC games. In the finals, Wesleyan students far outnumbered Amherst students who could not be bothered to make the trip south from Massachusetts. Wesleyan has been in the news for the wrong reasons recently, and though it was obviously just a couple of basketball games, Wesleyan students were able to concentrate on something positive associated with their school. As somebody wrote on the Wesleyan Yik Yak, “After a tough week, thank you to Wesleyan basketball for giving us something to smile about.”

Point Guard Jayde Dawson ’18 and Forward Eric Conklin ’17 (Amherst)

A big reason for the buzz surrounding Amherst entering the season was Dawson and Conklin, two transfers from Division One schools. Both struggled to adjust to the NESCAC, and ended up being near the end of the rotation down the stretch. Then this weekend both were huge almost out of nowhere. For Dawson, the ability has always been there, but he struggled to fit into the Amherst system and took too many bad shots. Then, suddenly against Bowdoin he looked calmer and more in control. He was able to get to the basket consistently and scored 21 points, the only time this season he has scored more than 20. He was a little more erratic in the finals going 6-15 and turning the ball over four times, but he still scored 14 points and handed out five assists.

Conklin meanwhile found it hard to get playing time with David George ’17 firmly planted in the starting position. Then yesterday he just started hitting shots and didn’t stop. Nearly all of his points were simple shots from the block because Conklin did such a good job winning deep position. He finished the game with 19 points on 9-9 shooting. Both Conklin and Dawson were on the court during the final stretch, something they have not done all season. No other NESCAC team can claim two D1 transfers, much less two that usually don’t even play that often.

Parity

So all season we have been a little negative about how the NESCAC being so even this year could end up hurting the league for NCAA bids. Instead, that parity ended up helping the league as four teams got in. Amherst, Bates, Trinity and Wesleyan are all going dancing. Wesleyan would not have made the NCAA Tournament without their run to win the NESCAC tournament, and the other three teams got at-large bids. Bates and Amherst got their bids in large part because of some of their non-conference victories. For Bates their win over Babson was huge while Amherst boasted one of the best records against regionally ranked opponents. Trinity got their bid because of their 9-1 conference record. Four teams making the tournament from the NESCAC is rare. The last time it happened was in 2008 when Amherst, Bowdoin, Middlebury and Trinity made it. Usually the NESCAC will get two or three teams into the tournament. So why did the NESCAC end up doing better than it usually does in terms of bids? Well things broke almost perfectly for the NESCAC in a couple of ways. First, as said above, Wesleyan only made the tournament because they won the automatic bid. Then, around the country there were not too many upsets in conference tournaments which kept a lot more at-large bids open. Finally, teams that scheduled aggressively out of conference like Bates and Amherst get rewarded by the NCAA which uses Strength of Schedule extensively in their selections.

Stock Down

Forward Connor Green ’16 (Amherst)

We don’t know if something was wrong with the junior scorer this weekend physically, but he looked out of sorts in both games. His 3-14 outing against Bowdoin obviously didn’t matter because the Jeffs still won by 20, but Amherst really could have used some more offense from him yesterday. Instead, Green went 2-11 from the field and finished with eight points in 26 minutes, taking a lot of bad shots and deep, contested three pointers. Coach Dave Hixon benched him for much of the second half and overtime going instead with Jeff Racy ’17 for most of the game. Green is known as a streaky shooter, but his struggles this weekend went beyond just not being able to shoot well. He failed to adjust to his poor shooting and rarely looked to attack the basket finishing the weekend with only three foul shots. What makes this weekend all the more curious is that Green came in scorching hot and had an outside shot at resting away NESCAC Player of the Year honors from Lucas Hausman ’16. He needs to get back on track if Amherst wants to make a deep tournament run.

Trinity and Bowdoin Benches

Maybe the craziest stat from this weekend is that the non-starters for Trinity and Bowdoin, the two semifinal losers, had two points combined. Two points! The only scoring came on a jumper from Ed Ogundeko ’17 early in the first half of the Trinity-Wesleyan game. Now the lack of scoring from the Bowdoin bench is not shocking because the Polar Bears have leaned heavily on their starters all season. However, for Trinity getting only two points from their bench is almost unheard of. In their quarterfinal game, Trinity’s bench nearly outscored the starters 34-32. Guys like Ogundeko, Rick Naylor ’16 and Chris Turnbull ’17 usually offer a good amount of scoring punch for the Bantams. On Saturday for some reason all of them failed to get going and Coach Jim Cosgrove was forced to adjust. Andrew Hurd ’16 did play a lot down the stretch over Jaquann Starks ’16, but Hurd did not look to score much, though he did distribute the ball well. One of their calling cards all year has been their depth, so it was surprising to see Trinity’s bench fail to show up this weekend.

#1 Trinity vs. #6 Wesleyan – NESCAC Semifinal Preview

The Wesleyan defense stepped up big in the Cards Quarterfinal win against Bates. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
The Wesleyan defense stepped up big in the Cards Quarterfinal win against Bates. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

This Connecticut rivalry, dubbed by some “The Battle of 91”, referring to the main highway that connects Middletown to Hartford, pits two teams that seemingly have overachieved and that have vastly different strengths against one another for the 190th time in history. Firstly, the Bantams host their first NESCAC Finals weekend since 2002, and will be looking to lean on their deep front court and hometown hero Jaquann Starks ’16 to bring just the second NESCAC Championship of the modern era (i.e. dating back to the inauguration of the NESCAC Tournament in 2000-2001) to Hartford. On the flip side, Wesleyan’s three-headed backcourt monster will look to outshoot the Bantams and move on to its first Finals in school history.

Anyone who knows anything about NESCAC basketball knows that defense is the calling card of the Trinity Bantams. This season to date, Trinity ranks first in the NESCAC in points per game allowed, first in offensive rebounds allowed, second in rebounding margin and second in field goal percentage defense. Ed Ogundeko ’17 in particular has developed into a beast on the defensive end, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game (sixth in the NESCAC) and 1.4 blocks per game (tied-fifth in the NESCAC), despite playing just 19.8 minutes per game due to the depth of big men that Trinity possesses. Tri-captain George Papadeas ’15 is one of the biggest bodies in the NESCAC and a strong defender himself, but Ogundeko has been so good this season that Papadeas has seen his minutes diminish as Ogundeko’s have grown. The other two members of the Bantams’ frontcourt, Shay Ajayi ’16 and Alex Conaway ’15, are no slouches, either. Ajayi turned in a double-double with 12 and 11 in the squad’s Quarterfinal win against Colby, and Conaway has been a consistent player all season long. The suffocating defense doesn’t stop once you get outside the paint, though. Tri-captain Hart Gliedman ’15, who dealt with a minor foot injury earlier this year but is now at 100 percent, might be the toughest perimeter defender in the NESCAC, bringing the quickness to guard point men and the size/strength combo needed to guard twos and smaller threes, as well as a wealth of experience. Gliedman spent a year at Div-I Liberty University in Virginia before transferring to Trinity, where he has made his mark as a leader on and off the court.

Captain Hart Gliedman '15 has a reputation for taking away an opponent's best scorer. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Captain Hart Gliedman ’15 has a reputation for taking away an opponent’s best scorer. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

As for the Cardinals, all year long they have lived and died by the three-pointer, taking 21.7 treys per game, a number surpassed in the NESCAC this season only by Williams and Amherst. In their eight losses Wesleyan has shot an abysmal 29.2 percent (57-195) from deep, though they’ve managed a 38.1 percent mark on the season. The point guard trio of BJ Davis ’16, Jack Mackey ’16 and Harry Rafferty ’17 run the show for Wesleyan, but forward Joe Edmonds ’17 is the team’s best three-point shooter, and the sophomore blew up for 22 points in the Cards Quarterfinal win over Bates, the second time in three games that Edmonds had eclipsed 20 points, something that he hadn’t done before this season. The biggest concern for Wesleyan is its depth. Beyond the top six in the rotation, Tim Gallivan ’15 averages 10.9 minutes per game and Chris Tugman ’15 averages 10.4 minutes per game. Beyond that, no one hits double digits in that regard, and in Wesleyan’s Quarterfinal game Joseph Kuo ’17 was the starter with the least amount of minutes played with 29. What’s the point here? That Head Coach Joe Reilly apparently doesn’t have much trust in his bench beyond Rashid Epps ’16, who has started 18 games this year but has recently come off of the bench, often in favor of Edmonds. Rafferty praised some of the role players after Wesleyan’s win over Bates. “Jordan Sears [’18] was unbelievable in the minutes he gave us, just wearing out [Bates point guard] Graham [Safford ’15]….I thought one of the other biggest difference makers was Chris Tugman. It was just such a dogfight on the boards, such a physical game, and when he came in as a big body with some huge rebounds, it was perfect energy off the bench. He completely changed the flow of the game.” Certainly, players like Sears and Tugman will have to make an impact yet again if Wesleyan is to knock off the top seed and clinch a NESCAC Championship, because it is probably too much to ask for all five starters to go beyond 30 minutes on back-to-back days.

Last time they played:

It was not long ago that these teams went head-to-head on Wesleyan’s home court in a game that the Bantams edged out 65-61 on Friday, February 6. Rick Naylor ’17 was in the midst of some of the best shooting of his life at that time, and torched the Cards for 17 points on 5-6 shooting from beyond the arch. It was an ugly shooting day for the Cardinals. Davis, in particular, struggled with a 2-10 showing from the field, but he was able to get to the line and sink 7-8 free throws on his way to 12 hard-earned points. Mackey kept Wesleyan in the game with four three pointers, but Edmons was a total non-factor. Kuo had some success inside amongst the trees, posting a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards.

The game was tight throughout with nine lead changes, eight of which came in the second half. Wesleyan was within one in the game’s final minute, but two three-point attempts clanged off of iron and the Bantams headed home with the four-point win.

Harry Rafferty '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Harry Rafferty ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jack Mackey '16 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jack Mackey ’16 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan X-Factors: Guards Harry Rafferty ’17 and Jack Mackey ’16

Gliedman is going to make Saturday Hellish for one of these two talented guards, leaving the other one with a potential quickness advantage over his defender. Trinity often has three big men on the floor, but something has to give because Wesleyan usually has three point guard-like players on the court at once. There’s no way Ajayi, despite his athleticism, can stop Mackey or Rafferty on the perimeter. This could mean more minutes for Naylor, Andrew Hurd ’16 and Chris Turnbull ’17. Will they be up to the challenge of stopping passes like this from Mackey (we had to get this in here somewhere)?

Andrew Hurd '16
Andrew Hurd ’16

Trinity X-Factor: Point Guard Andrew Hurd ’16

I get the feeling that the opposing strengths of these two teams leans in favor of Wesleyan, and for that reason it will be crucial for Hurd to step up and play big for the Bantams. Starks gets a lot of credit for leading the Bantams offense, but Hurd is actually the team’s top assist man with 3.0 per game. He will often replace Starks on the court, but when they are on the floor together Hurd does most of the initiating of the offense, and they figure to be active together for a lot of this game in order to matchup with Wesleyan’s guards. Hurd will have to play solid basketball on both ends of the floor for the Bants to hold off the visiting Cardinals.

Three Questions:

1. Is Joseph Kuo ’17 ready for a bruising?

Ogundeko and Papadeas are two of the strongest big men in the NESCAC, and maybe in all of D-III. Ogundeko has really evolved as player since NESCAC play started. Kuo is the only real big man that Wesleyan rolls out on a regular basis. Expect Tugman and Gallivan to get some extra minutes in order to give Kuo a breather, but the sophomore is going to have to play big to keep Wesleyan in this one.

2. Which game does Trinity decide to play?

The one where they score in the 80s and 90s and just outshoot their opponents, or the one like the 71-69 win over Williams where the teams shot a combined 37.1 percent from the field, 25 percent from deep and 54.8 percent from the stripe?

The beauty for the Bantams is that they know they can win both ways, but I don’t think they want to get into a shootout. As a rule, Trinity likes low-scoring games.

As Starks put it in an interview with contributor Carson Kenney, “As usual we have been focusing on defense. We know that Wesleyan is a good shooting team. So our game plan is simply make them take tough, contested shots and don’t give them anything free and easy. If we take away their three point shooters I feel it will be tough for them to beat us. If we don’t do that then we will have a tough time beating them.”

3. What the heck are Trinity Days?

Well since we fancy ourselves journalists we went ahead and found out. Trinity students get two days off each semester around a weekend (how the College decides those days is beyond me) and it just so happened that Thursday and Friday of this week were off for all students. So, a lot of students are home for a long weekend. How many will come back early to cheer on their Bants is an important question. A lot of alums should still make Oosting pretty full, but there’s nothing better than a student section at a college basketball game.

What to Expect

Expect the game that the Bantams want to play; slow, tough and physical. Wesleyan is going to be hard-pressed to get any points in the paint, which will mean a lot of three-pointers and long jumpers, but Trinity won’t allow for many offensive rebounds. The Bantams will then look to chuck the ball into the paint and let the big men work.

The matchup will really come down to how well Wesleyan shoots the ball, and Wesleyan Head Coach Joe Reilly agrees. “[The reality of the NESCAC tournament is it’s going to be a team that shoots the ball well from the perimeter,” Reilly said. My mind is saying Trinity will win this one. They’ve beaten Wesleyan before, they’ve been the best team all year and they’re at home. But they’ve also won a lot of close games and barely squeaked by #8 Colby in the Quarterfinals. They haven’t been a dominant top seed, and with the Cards flying high I think they have a good shot at the upset. Damn the mind, my heart is going with Wesleyan. And isn’t heart what the playoffs are all about?

Prediction: Wesleyan 75 – Trinity 70