Wisdom Comes Not With Age: Bates Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Bates College Bobcats 

2016-2017 Record: 15-10 (4-6 NESCAC), lost to Middlebury in NESCAC Quarterfinals

2017-2018 Projected Record: 12-12 (2-8 NESCAC)

Key Losses:

F Malcolm Delpeche ’17 (13.2PPG, 8.8REB/G, 3.1BLK/G)

F Marcus Delpeche ’17 (15.1PPG, 9.7REB/G, 54.3% FG)

G Jerome Darling ’17 (8.2PPG, 2.9AST/G)

Projected Starting Lineup: 

G: Shawn Strickland ’18 (Injured most of 2016-2017)

Shawn Strickland
Shawn Strickland ’18 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Leading a relatively unproven crowd in the 2017-2018 campaign is team captain Shawn Strickland. After a successful sophomore year, Strickland was injured for most of last season, playing sparingly at the end. He is a tenacious on-ball defender who provides a pesky matchup for whoever he is guarding. His ability to score and his outstanding court vision make him a threat on offense, but the Bobcats are going to need him to expand his range this year. He has shown that he is capable of knocking down the occasional 3-pointer, but with the loss of the Delpeche twins, he will have to show that he can provide a much more substantial amount of offense. What really sets Strickland apart is his basketball IQ. He is a very mature ball-handler who has to be prepared to quarterback a team that is very underclassmen-oriented, and keep the game at the pace Bates would like.

G: Nick Gilpin ‘20 (5.2PPG, 3.6REB/G, 3.6AST/G)

Nick Gilpin
Nick Gilpin ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

For much of his first season, Gilpin subscribed to the “coach’s son” stereotype, pretty evenly filling out the stat sheet. What was nice about Gilpin’s freshman season is that he showed steady improvement as the year went on, developing into his role as a starter. While he may not be a massive presence on the floor, his surprising athleticism helps him in rebounding as well as absorbing contact and finishing around the rim. He, too, will need to expand his range to help the new-look Bobcat offense, because their four-guard offense is only going to be successful if they can stretch the floor and knock down threes. Gilpin spent a lot of time at point guard last season and will likely continue to do so this season, so maturity from him will be crucial if he wants to keep up with the terrific guard play throughout the conference.

G: Jeff Spellman ’20 (9.6PPG, 2.9 REB/G, 51.4% FG)

Jeff Spellman
Jeff Spellman ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Perhaps no one will be more vital for the Bobcats’ success this season than Jeff Spellman. Although he only stands at 6’2”, Spellman is one of the best athletes in the NESCAC. He did not see full minutes after coming off injury last year, and only had one start, but his style of play will likely benefit most from the loss of Malcolm and Marcus. While they were absolute beasts down low, Spellman requires space, and they planted themselves in the middle, often clogging the paint. His skill in creating shots coupled with his ability to get to the rim and finish through contact makes him one of the most deadly guards in the league. This talent did not get a chance to fully blossom with the Delpeches down low, so look for Spellman to explode into a breakout second year.

G: Max Hummel ’19 (6.7PPG, 35.6% 3P%)

Max Hummel
Max Hummel ’19 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Hummel has an interesting role on this year’s team because at 6’4”, he’s one of the taller players on the roster; however, he likes to play around the perimeter. This is acceptable, because he shoots threes at a solid 35.6% clip, but this team needs more production than just that. The rebounding void that the twins left results in a team-wide need to crash the boards. I’m not saying Hummel needs to be hauling in 10 rebounds a game, but he will need to produce more than the 1.9REB/G he was contributing last season.

This spot in the starting lineup is definitely up for grabs, because with Hummel’s de facto responsibility as a role player, much time in this spot will rotate between a few people. Tom Coyne ’20 and Justin Zukowski ’18 will help expand the court with sharpshooting abilities off the bench in this spot. Bates’ biggest issue is size, because they will start only one player over 6’3”, so if they are looking to go with a bigger lineup, we will definitely see them go deeper into the bench to be able to match the size of some of the other NESCAC powers.

C: Nick Lynch ’19 (Injured most of 2016-2017)

Nick Lynch
Nick Lynch ’19 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

A lot remains to be seen from Nick Lynch ’19, because he is another Bobcat that is entirely unproven. His size at 6’7”, 230lbs makes him an obvious choice to play at the 5 in this lineup, but what to expect out of him is a bit of a question mark. He got decent minutes as a freshman, but was injured for almost the entirety of the 2016-2017 season so he has a lot to prove this season as one of the older players in the lineup. With the fast-paced offense that Bates expects to run, Lynch will have to spend time on the bench getting rest, especially after not having played a full season in two years. Lynch’s role is akin to that of Aron Baynes on this year’s Celtics squad: clog the paint, rebound, and hit a shot once in a while. He, too, is part of the supporting cast to go along with Bates’ up and coming backcourt, but how his talents will be utilized within the offensive scheme is yet to be seen.

Breakout Player:

 G: Jeff Spellman ’20 (9.6PPG, 2.9 REB/G, 51.4% FG)

When I said that Spellman was going to have a breakout second season, I meant it. Ever since stepping on campus last fall, Spellman has bit quite the enigma. After being recruited by a number of strong Division I programs in the northeast, Spellman ultimately enrolled at Stonehill to play on the basketball team there. He spent less than a week there before deciding to take a gap year, and reopen his recruiting process. Enter Coach Furbush. Furbush had always kept an eye on Jeff, but made sure to keep his distance when he clearly had his sights set on playing at the Division I or II levels. As it turns out, this was exactly what Spellman was looking for, so he elected to take his talents to Lewiston and famed Alumni Gym.

Jeff Spellman ’20 is a dark horse candidate for the scoring title this season.

Like I said before, Spellman is athletic specimen who has one of the quickest first steps in the league. His ability to score and defend almost any sized guard makes him one of the most versatile players on this team. The most is going to be asked of him, because his ceiling is by far the highest of anyone on the roster. He got his feet wet last year, but Bates will need him to dive all the way in if they are going to have success.

Everything Else:

Bates will certainly see some of the biggest changes of any team this season. Graduating two of the biggest nightmares in recent NESCAC memory results in a completely new scheme under Coach Furbush. As a coach, he and the Bates staff have always prided themselves on being defensive-minded, liking to grind out wins in low-scoring games, often in the 60s and even 50s. Like the best tend to do, Furbush tailored their game plan around what they have: athletic shooters who like to run. The Bobcats will live by the mantra that the best defense is a good offense, because for them to be effective this season, they will have to spread the floor, shoot a lot of threes, and run. From a fan’s perspective, this will make Bates games infinitely more fun to watch, as many of their scores will end in the 80s and 90s. You may have noticed that I have barely mentioned defense at all thus far, and that was fully intentional. Truthfully, the defense is going to be lacking, but with this Golden State Warriors-esque offensive game plan it is hard to envision many low scoring games this season.

Ask anyone in the game and they will tell you that there is no such thing as a “building year.” While I am not saying that the ‘Cats need to rebuild, they have a ton of youth on their roster, with 11 of their 17 players being either a freshman or sophomore. This means that a lot will be asked of the youngsters, even the freshman. The addition of James Mortimer ’21 and Sunny Piplani ’21 gives Bates a bit more size that they had been lacking. Mortimer ’21 will definitely see extended minutes, because at 6’4”, he has the size to defend just about any position, while his athleticism will keep him on the floor in the high-speed offense. Piplani ’21 offers a much-needed 3 and D type presence. He is a deadly sharpshooter who will be crucial in spreading the floor, but he will be asked to rebound and defend against some of the biggest players in the conference, so we’ll see what he has to offer.

Another exciting newcomer is Kody Greenhalgh ’20. Although he was recruited to play both football and basketball at Bates, Greenhalgh decided to only play football last season. This year, he committed to basketball, where he is likely more talented anyways. His athleticism at guard provides another option to employ in this scheme that will require a lot of moving parts. The depth that he brings will be important, especially because he joins this guard-heavy sophomore class.

Because of all the youth that Bates has, their early season, non-NESCAC schedule will be huge for their development. They have matchups with Trinity, Bowdoin, and Colby prior to winter break, none of which count towards the conference standings. These games will be hugely important in the maturation of the young guys, because getting to feel the intensity of a NESCAC game without the same stakes allows them to try different things and see what fits best with their team. Last year Bates lost at home to Colby by a point, but then went on to beat them handily in the game that actually counted, so we are able to see how vital those early-season games are.

Bates enjoys the best home court advantage in the league.

Although Bates enjoys by far the best home court advantage in the league, the scheduling gods were nice to opponents this year. Two of the five home conference games will be played when students haven’t returned to campus yet. As a Bates fan, this is devastating news, because almost every year the Bobcats are able to pull off a home upset like they were last year, handling then-no. 4 nationally ranked Tufts. A disclaimer for Amherst, Trinity, and Hamilton who have road trips to Lewiston at the very end of the year: come to play, because no one forgets their visit to Alumni Gym.

We’re Talking About Playoffs?!: Bates at Middlebury Preview

#7 Bates (15-9, 4-6) @ #2 Middlebury (21-3, 8-2), 2:00 PM, Middlebury, Vermont

(Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Overview:

Going into last Sunday’s Williams-Bates game, Middlebury had a chance to play Bates, Williams or possibly Hamilton depending on the outcome. Bates drew the short straw, dropping the game 65-62 and now has to play maybe the hottest team in the country. And what’s worse, the Panthers will be at home with all the students back. In order to have a chance in this game, Bates will need to slow Middlebury down, get terrific performances from both Delpeches and their perimeter players, and also catch Middlebury on an off-shooting night (something they haven’t truly had since they lost to Williams.) It’s a tall order, but stranger things have happened.

Middlebury X-Factor: Bryan Jones ‘18

Bryan Jones ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Jones has been one of the biggest surprises of league play, averaging nearly 10 points per game. His 53% shooting from three leads the league during NESCAC play. He has given the Panthers backcourt, already extremely lethal, another weapon. His deadeye shooting has made it impossible for teams to load up on Matt St. Amour ‘17 on the perimeter, opening up driving lanes for him and also Jack Daly ‘18 and Jake Brown ‘17. It is due in large part to Jones being a threat that all the Middlebury guards’ stats have jumped up in league play.

However, Jones struggled on Tuesday against Plattsburgh State. Starting in place of Jake Brown, Jones shot 2-11 from the field and 0-5 from three. It was a surprising return to the inconsistency that has dogged Jones throughout his career, and inconvenient timing for its reappearance at that. If Brown misses more time, Middlebury can’t afford to give stronger defensive teams than Plattsburgh the ability to trap St. Amour on the perimeter, taking away his three point shots and much-improved mid-range game. While Jack Daly ‘18 is more than capable of handling point guard responsibilities in Brown’s absence (by “more than capable,” I mean “flirts with a triple-double”) he is not quite a three point threat. Jones doesn’t have to be white hot, but he needs to give Bates a reason to guard him or else the Panthers could be in for a long night.

Bates X-Factor: Jeff Spellman ‘20

Jeff Spellman ’20 chases down a loose ball (Courtesy of Bates Athletics).

Spellman, a transfer who arrived shortly before league play began, is a similar player to Jones but has recently been trending in a different direction. He sits third in the league overall in three point percentage at 41.7%, but has only shot 30.8% in league play. Against Williams he shot just 4-11 from the field and 1-7 from three. He did add 7 assists, but without his jumpshot Bates has very little offense outside of post-ups from the Delpeches. Pounding the ball into the post is an effective way to slow down the game, which is certainly the impulse when game-planning against Middlebury. But if Bates doesn’t have any outside shooting threats around their Twin Peaks (reboot 2017 let’s goooooo), the Panthers will do just what they did to Ed Ogundeko – swarm them whenever they get the ball, creating turnovers and forced, empty possessions. Spellman will be the key in taking away this part of Middlebury’s defensive gameplan.

How Bates Can Win:

They need to find someway to keep the score low. Middlebury is averaging 99 points per game in league play at home, and put up 97 against Trinity even without Brown. The natural way to do this would be to pound the ball on offense, taking time off the shot clock and preventing Middlebury’s offense from getting the ball. They have the ability to do this thanks to the Delpeches. Having two big men who are threats to score on the block prevents Middlebury from doubling big-to-big, and should create open threes or one-on-one post-ups. Bates will have to be raining fire from outside to make this strategy work, or else Middlebury’s offense is certainly fast enough to make up for lost time.

On defense, Bates will have to take away the three point shot. By jumping Matt St. Amour on the perimeter, they will take away his three-pointer and funnel him towards the Delpeches, who are both dangerous shot blockers. With Jack Daly, they will most likely leave him alone from three. However, it will be imperative to guard him one-on-one. St Amour will of course require double teams, but leaving a man open when Daly has the ball is asking for a bucket. He’s too good a passer, and Middlebury’s big men are getting too good at finishing at the rim to be left alone. Daly beating men off the dribble also creates open three-point shots. If Bates can take away those threes and funnel drives towards the Delpeches (particularly Malcolm), that leaves Middlebury pull-up, midrange jump-shots. These are inefficient shots, and will allow the Delpeches to own the boards. Bates is certainly an underdog here, but there’s a thin path to victory for them.

How Middlebury Can Win

I’m having trouble finding an answer for this other than “continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing.” Middlebury’s offense has reached a level lately that few NESCAC teams have ever achieved, but their defense on the interior has finally caught up. Middlebury is always going to give up points because of their fast paced offense (quick shots=long rebounds, fast breaks for the other team) but they have quietly gotten very good in the half court. The guards have of course always been excellent, but the big men have improved leaps and bounds, especially Eric McCord ‘19. McCord has become very quick on rotations and hedging the pick and roll, and provides a nice fundamental counterpart to Nick Tarantino’s athleticism. Interior defense will be the key to Middlebury’s strategy in this game, as the Delpeches are the key to Bates’ offense. I expect Middlebury to double heavily on either Delpeche from the perimeter on defense, and dare Bates’ guards to make threes. On offense, all the Panthers need to do is more of the same. Run, hit shots and move the ball around the perimeter until a lane opens up.

Final Thoughts

Although Bryan Jones and Jeff Spellman are undoubtedly the lead guards off the bench for their respective teams, the other members of the bench mobs deserve credit. Crowd favorite (and NbN writer, no big deal) Liam Naughton has clawed his way into the rotation as a steadying senior presence on the court, as well as a three point threat. He will be important in the tournament, as the other two guards off the bench are freshmen Joey Leighton and Perry Delorenzo, neither of whom are quite ready for tournament time. On Bates’ side, the most obvious next threat is Jerome Darling ’17, who has demonstrated his explosiveness scoring the rock a handful of times this season. His biggest performance of the year came in the upset of Tufts, in which Darling 4-9 three-pointers en route to 21 points. Bates could definitely use another superhero performance from Darling this weekend. Elsewhere, the Bobcats will look to Quinlan Leary ‘17 ( a summer camp teammate of yours truly), who has recently moved into the starting lineup to replace Nick Gilpin ‘20, giving Bates more experience and strength on the perimeter. In addition to the need for threes from Spellman, Bates will need Leary, Gilpin, or other guards like Shawn Strickland ‘18 or Justin Zukowski ‘18 to give them surprise firepower off the bench. Basically, everything needs to go right for Bates to have a chance, while Middlebury just needs to keep playing their game.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

No More Boornazian, How Will the Bobcats Respond?: Bates Basketball Season Preview

Marcus Delpeche '17 is hoping to turn Bates around after their struggles during the 2015-2016 season (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Marcus Delpeche ’17 is hoping to turn Bates around after their struggles during the 2015-2016 season (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively,  not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us.

The Bobcats were destined to struggle from the start in 2015-2016, as the graduation of point guard and team engine Graham Safford ‘15 was a difficult storm to weather. Despite a stellar season from forward Mike Boornazian, Bates was unable to make waves in an especially deep NESCAC talent pool, finishing at 2-8 in the league and missing the postseason tournament. And unfortunately, 2016-2017 doesn’t look any easier for the Bobcats, as Boornazian has also moved on to greener pastures. Combined with the marked improvements of Hamilton and Connecticut College, Bates is in danger of again finishing towards the bottom of the league.

However, Bates has two tall beacons of hope in the persons of senior twins Marcus and Malcolm Delpeche. Two of the most athletically gifted big men in the league, neither Marcus nor Malcolm has ever quite dominated like they seem to have the ability to. But this season is their last chance. Marcus has consistently shown a wider array of offensive skills, while Malcolm has proved to be more of a defensive and rebounding force. For Bates to have any chance at success this year, both big men will have to become threats on both ends of the court.

Projected Record: 1-9

2015-2016 Record: 10-14, 2-8, did not make NESCAC tournament

Coach: Jon Furbush, 6th year, 104-99 (.512)

Returning Starters:

Forward Marcus Delpeche ‘17 (11.1 PPG, 6.2 REB/G, 55.8% FG)

Forward Malcolm Delpeche ‘17 (8.4 PPG, 6.4 REB/G, 1.1 BLK/G)

Guard Shawn Strickland ‘18 (8.4 PPG, 3.5 A/G, 33.9% 3FG)

Key Losses:

Forward Mike Boornazian ‘16 (15.0 PPG, 5.8 REB/G, 2.9 A/G)

Guard Josh Britten ‘16 (7.5 PPG, 1.1 STL/G, 38.2% 3FG)

Projected Starters:

Guard Shawn Strickland ‘18

Shawn Strickland
Shawn Strickland ’18 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Standing at 5’9” with his high tops on, Strickland is not the most imposing figure on the court. But in an impressive sophomore season, he showcased a variety of skills that make him a key member of the Bates team this season, and next season as well. He averaged 8.4 points and 3.5 assists per game last season after only appearing in five games as a freshman. He even flashed a solid outside shot, hitting 33.9% of his three pointers. In a team that is low on both outside shooting and experience at the guard position, the keys to the offense should be in Strickland’s hands.

Guard Justin Zukowski ‘18

Justin Zukowski
Justin Zukowski (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates still has a lot of uncertainty at the guard position leading up to the first weekend of games, but Zukowski is a serious contender for one of the starting spots. Zukowski appeared in 23 games as a sophomore, earning two starts and an increase in playing time as the season went on. The high point of his season came when he scored 19 points (on 5/9 shooting from three) against Trinity on February 6. As I mentioned earlier, Bates has a severe lack of outside shooting, so Zukowski has a major role to play if he can hit shots like he did that day against Trinity.

TBA

Forward Malcolm Delpeche ‘17

Malcolm Delpeche
Malcolm Delpeche ’18 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

It can be really tough to be a twin, especially when your brother gains the reputation as “the better twin.” For his whole career, Delpeche has been a step behind his brother Marcus in terms of offensive development. Last season was no different, as he averaged only 8.4 PPG to Marcus’ 11.1, and shot only 46.3% from the field. Both those numbers are lower than Bates would like to see them given his talent. Bates’ offense this season should largely run through the two brothers down low, giving Malcolm more opportunities on offense. His biggest role for the Bobcats is on the defensive end, where he averaged 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He is a smarter, more versatile defender than his brother, and is Bates’ truest rim protector.

Forward Marcus Delpeche ‘17

 

Breakout Player: Forward Marcus Delpeche ‘18

Bates will most likely run their offense largely through the Delpeche twins. And as the more offensively polished of the pair, Marcus should get tremendous offensive opportunities. At times last season he showed excellent footwork on the block, and has had the athleticism and touch to be an elite finisher at the basket. One area in which he needs to improve if he wants to make a first team run (which is within reason) is passing out of double teams. It was too easy last year to force him into turnovers by applying pressure. His defense and rebounding numbers will also need to go up. His brother takes some blocks and rebounds away of course, but Marcus is too often slow on help defense. If he can average 1.5 blocks and 8 rebounds, very reasonable numbers for a player of his skills, he could be a legit first team candidate. And more importantly, Bates could be considerably better than we predict.

Everything Else:

Bates has a very unconventional team for the current structure of the NESCAC. They are short on guards, and led by two big men in Malcolm and Marcus Delpeche. This obviously gives them some advantages, as there aren’t many teams in the league that can match up athletically with that frontcourt. However, even if both those guys become scoring threats inside, teams that have three point shooters will probably outscore Bates pretty consistently. You can’t shoot threes from the low block (Editor’s Note: Fact).

The fifth starting spot for Bates is still up for grabs. It will probably have to be a guard, as neither Delpeche brother is skilled enough to play on the perimeter as a 3. In that case, the starter will most likely be a freshman. Bates has a strong class of guards, all of whom will compete for minutes and possibly that starting spot. Nick Gilpin ‘20 may have the edge given his good size for a guard (6’3”, 185.) There are also several returning candidates to fill out the starting lineup. Quin Leary ‘17 (who I won a Hoop Camp championship with in 2008, no big deal) and Jerome Darling ‘17 would both provide experience at that spot. It may honestly come down to a game time decision between the freshman, Leary and Darling for the final starting spot. Given Bates’s need for perimeter scoring, the decision will probably be based mostly on whoever shows the most offensive firepower over the next couple days of practice.

I want to close this article with a love note to Bates’ Alumni Gym. It is, quite simply, the best gym in the league. Not in terms of quality (in fact, there are several weird dead spots on the court where the ball bounces half as high) but in terms of character and viewing experience. There’s something about Alumni Gymnasium that makes basketball seem purer than other gyms around the league. Maybe it’s the way that a miss off the back rim makes every pipe in the building vibrate, or the brick walls that seem straight out of Hoosiers, but Alumni Gym is in tune with the natural rhythms of the game. That feeling is only exacerbated during the season, when Bates’ loyal fans pack the bleachers, creating the most aggressive fan environment in the league. The insanely close proximity of the bleachers to the court increases the intensity. It’s an incredible experience to watch a game there, and I highly recommend it. Bates has a tough road to climb this year, but improvements from the Delpeche brothers and the unwavering support of their fans could make for some surprises out of the Bobcats.