As opposed to the offense heavy three point barrage we expect in the Tufts-Hamilton game (detailed beautifully by Colby here,) this should be a gritty, defensive battle. Both these teams pride themselves on their defense. Amherst’s most impressive win of the season was a 75-49 drubbing of Hamilton in which they held the Continentals to 29.4% shooting. That game was the jumping off point for their run to the number one seed. Since then, they are 7-2 and have won their last three games, including wins over Middlebury and Williams. But their most exciting win of this hot stretch was the last one, a thrilling 71-70 win over Bowdoin in the quarterfinals. In that game, Amherst overcame a rough game from Michael Riopel ‘18 thanks to a First Team level performance from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 (22 points) and contributions from several bench players, most notably Josh Chery ‘20, who scored 11 points and hit the game winning layup with 3.4 seconds left. What this Amherst team lacks in star power they make up for in depth and heart.
Of course, the same can be said for Wesleyan. One of Amherst’s losses since that shellacking of Hamilton is to the Cardinals, a 71-57 road loss in which McCarthy and Riopel went 3-20 from the field. Wesleyan’s season is littered with these types of games. The dominate defensively, shut down what the opponent does best, and the offense does just enough to get by. Their quarterfinal game against Middlebury was another great example. While Jack Daly ’18 did have a nice game (20 points and six assists,) the Cardinals stifled Middlebury’s inside game, holding the dangerous forward combo of Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Adisa Majors ’18 to 6-19 shooting. Jordan Sears ’19 had 8 blocks, and with Kevin O’Brien ’19 and his army of tall, long-armed guards on the perimeter, it is nearly impossible to get into the paint and score against Wesleyan. Amherst will have to hit some threes to spread the Cardinals defense. And Wesleyan will have to do the same against Amherst.
Key Player For Amherst: F Josh Chery ’20
As I said earlier, Chery was the hero against Bowdoin. With 5 seconds left on the clock, Chery got the ball on the right wing, drove to the rim, and finished a tough layup with 3.4 seconds left. Chery certainly wasn’t the first option,as Johnny McCarthy was lighting it up at that point, but he wasn’t the last one either. Chery has been one of the major keys to Amherst’s recent hot streak. He’s gone over double figures three times in the last four games, and has averaged 25 minutes per game over that stretch after going over 20 minutes just once all season up to that point. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, he is big and strong enough to guard multiple positions, a huge plus against Wesleyan due to the size of the Cardinal guards. He makes a huge difference on the defensive end, grabbing four steals against Williams and pulling down eight rebounds against Middlebury. And ask Bowdoin how he is finishing at the rim. One thing to watch for is his foul shooting: he’s 0-7 in the last two games. Chery is the ideal player to have on the court against Wesleyan, and, since Wesleyan has proven themselves capable of locking up Riopel and McCarthy, Chery and the rest of the bench mob are the keys to Amherst’s chances.
Key Player for Wesleyan: F Nathan Krill ‘18
The starting power forward on the “Feels Like They’ve Been in College for 2o Years” All Stars, Krill has been in this position before. However, he has never been as important to the team’s offense. Of course, they won last weekend with him only having three points, but they won’t be able to rely on Antone ’21 Walker putting up 11 off the bench and Kevin O’ Brien ’19 scoring 17. Walker is a great talent, but he is streaky, and O’Brien isn’t really a go to scorer. Krill is Wesleyan’s most dangerous pick and roll finisher. He can step behind the three point line and hit, or he can use his quickness and ball handling skills to finish at the rim. Throughout Krill’s career, this combination of skills has made him one of the hardest players to guard in the league when he’s hot. Key word: “when.” Krill has always been incredibly streaky (see his 24 points against Bowdoin versus 3 the next game against Bowdoin.) Krill only had four points in Wesleyan’s win over Amherst during the regular season, but this a whole new Amherst team. Wesleyan needs their stars to shine bright on Saturday, starting with Krill.
Bowdoin was certainly far more skilled than your average eight seed, but Amherst still should have been able to put them away earlier. The Mammoths were uncharacteristically bad defending the three, allowing Bowdoin to shoot 10-28 from outside (and many of those misses were open looks.) Much of Wesleyan’s offense relies on three point shooting, particularly from Jordan Bonner ’19 and Hutcherson. Amherst will have to do a better job running those two off of the three point lie than they did with Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19 and Liam Farley ’19. They will also have to contend with pick and rolls featuring either Bonner or Hutcherson and Krill. Since each of those players are dangerous shooters, the slightest defensive mistake can lead to an open three pointer. Amherst’s best defense here would be an aggressive hedge with their big men and then not switching. A switch would mean that one of Amherst’s big men would be stuck on , a mismatch in favor of Wesleyan. This is why Chery should see big minutes on Saturday, he is big enough to handle Krill and fast enough to handle Hutcherson or Bonner.
In general, this game is not the best matchup for Amherst’s big men. Joseph Schneider ’19 is skilled inside, but he might get swallowed by the athleticism of Wesleyan’s front court. And with Eric Sellew ’20 out, Amherst’s big men rotation is very thin. This presents a big problem on the glass. Amherst simply must win the rebounding battle in this game. These are the two best rebounding teams in the league based on rebounding margin, and both are at their most dangerous when they get open shots off of offensive rebounds. Both these teams will be battling fiercely for rebounds, but it is more important for Amherst because they have fewer weapons on the offensive end. More of their offense is based on second chances.
All the signs point to Wesleyan in this game. They’ve had a more successful regular season, they have more weapons, and they played better in their first round game. But the game is in Amherst, and crazy things happen down there. The Mammoths are 10-2 at home this season, and have an almost supernatural knack for pulling out close games in their gym. I think most loyal readers will know how much it kills me to do this, but I have to go Amherst. Let no one call me biased again.
Before we get into this recap, some congratulations are in order. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury G Jack Daly ’18 became the program’s all time assists leader with 558, breaking the previous record (553 by Jake Wulfin ’13) early in the second half. As we all know, this blog is basically a Jack Daly fan page, so we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Panther senior. With that out of the way, it was a pretty conventional weekend in NESCAC, setting up a wild final regular season weekend. The only major upset was Trinity knocking off Wesleyan 73-60 (we’ll get to that.) Here are some things to watch for in this coming weekend.
Hamilton, Weathering Adversity
In the wake of Hamilton’s amazing season this year, people have forgotten that they had a similarly hot start last year. In 2016-2017, they entered league play at 12-3, and many experts, particularly the one you’re reading right now, thought they were making a leap. Then they lost 3 straight NESCAC games and never recovered, finishing 4-6 in the league and losing in the first round of the tournament. And, after their 75-49 drubbing at the hands of Amherst and another bad loss to Bowdoin it looked like they might be heading towards a similar fate. But they have impressively righted the ship. They’ve won three league games in a row, including a dominant win over Tufts on Saturday. These wins have been of a different nature than their 15-0 start. Hamilton’s defense has gone from somewhat indifferent to excellent in recent games. Against Tufts, they held Vincent Pace ’18, one of the hottest players in the league, to 3-14 shooting from the field. All of the young players who got Hamilton off to such a good start last year have gained a lot of maturity in the last 12 months, and it has allowed them to weather the storm and keep their chances for the #1 seed alive.
Trinity’s Three Point Shooting
As I mentioned earlier, Trinity’s win over Wesleyan was the biggest upset of the weekend. At 4-4 in the league, Trinity desperately needed that win in order to stay ahead of the the Maine teams in the playoff race. But Wesleyan’s dominant defense seemed like it would to be too much for Trinity’s often shaky offense to overcome. Three point shooting changed that. Trinity went 9-18 from three, including 7-9 from Jeremy Arthur ’18 and Eric Gendron ’19. Trinity was the number one seed not too long ago, but if they want any hope of winning this year’s tournament, they will need to keep teams honest from the three point line. This game, against one of the truly elite defenses in the league, showed that they can do that. Teams should be worried about playing Trinity in the quarterfinals. Middlebury F Adisa Majors ‘18
Majors made the biggest shot of Middlebury’s season thus far, a 15-footer with 5 seconds left to beat Bowdoin. Had the Panthers lost to Bowdoin, they would be tied for the top spot with Hamilton and Williams. But Majors gave them sole possession of the top seed, and now they basically control their own destiny, with an enormous matchup with Hamilton looming. However, Majors’ great weekend wasn’t just comprised of that game winner. He had ten points overall against Bowdoin, and is averaging nearly ten on over 50% shooting in his last three. When Majors is playing well, Middlebury’s rotation of forwards is nearly impossible to handle, because each offers a different skill set. Eric McCord ’19 is a beast, ripping offensive rebounds away and using his strength to finish inside. Nick Tarantino ’18 is long and athletic, and uses that to beat people down the floor and finish above the rim. And Majors is an excellent finisher who can step out to the midrange. Majors has had a huge role in Middlebury’s current 9 game winning streak, and has them poised to host the tournament.
The Jumbos have gone from contenders for the top seed to struggling to stay in the top five. They play just Trinity this weekend, and if they lose, they could end up as the seventh seed. How did this happen? Simple: shooting. In Tufts’ last three league games, they are shooting under 20% from three. You just can’t win like that. Vincent Pace ’18 is a star, but defenses are able to focus all their energy on him and no one around him is scoring well enough to take the pressure off. However, Middlebury has had the same problems surrounding Jack Daly, and yet the Panthers are 7-1 in the league. Tufts doesn’t have the defense and rebounding tenacity to make up for their scoring struggles. They get out-rebounded by 1 rebound per game in league play, while Middlebury out-rebounds opponents by 11. In Pace, Tufts will often have the best player on the court, but he needs help.
Hamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20
One of the most impressive things about Hamilton’s recent strong play is that it has coincided with struggles from Gilmour, their best player. Gilmour is shooting just 39% overall in league play, and against Tufts he shot 2-9 from the field. Only a sophomore, Gilmour may starting to experience the fatigue that often comes from playing so many more minutes than in his rookie season, and his minutes last weekend (21 and 23 respectively) show the coaching staff trying to manage it. But he will need to play better in Hamilton’s enormous matchup against Middlebury on Friday. The Panthers have the depth to match Hamilton’s versatile offense; Hamilton will need to be able to rely on Gilmour to get a shot for himself or someone else in a one-on-one matchup. It will be a great learning experience for the future star to try this against Jack Daly, and if he does it, the league could be his earlier than expected.
#11 Williams (12-3, 3-1) @ #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1), Saturday, January 20, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
The Ephs and the Panthers have become the NESCAC equivalent of the Cavs and Warriors in recent years. The teams met three times last season, including for the NESCAC Championship and in the NCAA Elite Eight. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, beating Middlebury in Pepin Gymnasium to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have carried over that success into this season. They are each ranked in the top 20 in the country, and have battled it out for the top spot in the league all season, along with Wesleyan and Hamilton.
However, both teams are far from unbeatable. Williams is without their star player, Kyle Scadlock ’19, for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Middlebury’s shooting struggles are starting to become incredibly worrying. Middlebury’s NESCAC loss is to Wesleyan, whom Williams beat for their best win. And Williams’ lone NESCAC loss is to Tufts, whom Middlebury just beat handily at home for their best win. All this is to say that both these teams are again tremendously evenly matched, and this game should have huge ramifications for league standings and the playoff picture overall.
Middlebury X-Factor: G Max Bosco ’21
At first glance, this pick might seem to be coming out of left field. Bosco has played fewer minutes than his fellow first year guards Jack Farrell ’21 and Griffin Kornacker ’21, primarily due to his smaller stature and struggles to create shots for others off the dribble. Farrell and Kornacker are both miles ahead of Bosco defensively at this point, and Joey Leighton ’20 is certainly more confident offensively. But Bosco can really shoot the ball. He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances yet, but his stroke is as sweet as anyone’s. Middlebury is the worst three point shooting team in the league, and second worst overall from the field. The clutch heroics of Jack Daly and excellent team defense will not be able to save the Panthers against Williams; they have to hit some outside shots to match Williams’ three point heavy attack. Bosco is capable of doing so. Additionally, his defensive struggles will not be as pronounced against the Ephs. Bobby Casey ’20 and Mike Greenman ’18, and even Cole Teal ’18, are an excellent group of players, but they are not large. Casey and Teal will be handled by Daly and Hilal Dahleh ’19, leaving Bosco matched with the 5’8″ Greenman. Bosco has a great opportunity this game to do what he does best; hit shots.
Williams X-Factor: F Matt Karpowicz ’20
We gave Karpowicz a lot of love in the stock report earlier this week, and that’s not just because he wrote some average football articles for us in the fall. Karpowicz is often unstoppable on the block, shooting 73% from the field, almost all in the paint. He splits time with Michael Kempton ’19, another very large person. As longtime reader Howard Herman pointed out, the two players offer very different looks for the offense. Kempton is a distributor, averaging 2 assists per game despite only playing 15 minutes. However, he is not a scoring threat, only shooting 42% from the field. Karpowicz is a game-changing scorer, and draws a lot of attention on the block, freeing up dominant shooters like Casey and James Heskett ’19. Indeed, in Williams’ closer games he ends up playing most of the crunch time minutes. I expect Middlebury to get a far heavier dose of Karpowicz than Kempton. Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ’18 is a great athlete, but struggles with strong post scorers who can back him down and neutralize his length and leaping ability. And Adisa Majors ’18 is simply undersized, no matter which big man Williams has in. This means that Eric McCord ’19 is the guy, and has to avoid the foul trouble that hurt him against Albertus Magnus. In a game in which Middlebury must game plan heavily for Casey and Heskett, Karpowicz is the guy for whom Middlebury has no answer for on their roster.
James Heskett is certainly on the short list for Player of the Year, along with his teammate Bobby Casey, Jack Daly and Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour. He’s very long, with a gorgeous jump shot and incredible quickness for his size. Indeed, he’s been arguably the best shooter in the league this season, hitting 51% from the field and 43% from three. Luckily for Middlebury, however, they have one of the only players in the league who can match his skill set, if not his efficiency, in Matt Folger ’20. Along with the rest of the Panthers, Folger’s shooting numbers have taken a hit of late, but he is still a deadly scorer inside and out. And more importantly for this match up, he is miles ahead of Heskett defensively. Heskett’s skill set and athleticism have not yet translated to that end, as he averages just 0.3 blocks per game and 0.9 steals. Even more jarring is that he averages just 3.8 rebounds a night, despite being 6’8.” Folger, on the other end, has clearly focused on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the league in blocks at 2.4, and grabs 8.1 rebounds a night. If Folger can outscore Heskett, Middlebury has a good chance to win.
Rebounding may well be the key to Middlebury’s chances in this game. The Panthers are a bona fide dominant team on the glass. Their numbers are skewed by pulling down a ridiculous 70 against Tufts, but they still lead the league in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and are second in rebounding margin. Williams is towards the bottom of the league in all of those categories. For a team that struggles shooting like Middlebury does, offensive rebounds are a must have statistic, and were what kept them in the game against Tufts until they pulled away in the second half. Williams is a team Middlebury can bully on the glass, creating second chances if shots aren’t falling.
Last thing: this could be a huge game for Jack Daly. He historically raises his game against Williams, but this isn’t just his already covered “clutch gene.” Williams doesn’t really have an answer for his strength at the guard spots. Greenman is far too small, and Bobby Casey isn’t particularly strong defensively. In fact, Williams doesn’t have a single player averaging more than one steal per game. Even their big men are occaisionally timid inside, with the notable exception of Karpowicz. This means that Daly is usually able to get to the basket easily against the Ephs. He’ll draw attention to the paint, and he’s the best in the country at finding open players once he gets around the basket. The key will be how many shots those players can hit.
No longtime readers will be surprised by this, but I think Middlebury, on the backs of Jack Daly and an assuredly raucous home crowd, pulls this one out.
Finally the order of teams is starting to have some clarity. Hamilton finally saw their first ranked opponent in Wesleyan and took care of business, cementing themselves as the team to beat at this point without a blemish on their record. Middlebury knocked off Tufts who knocked off Williams, putting into question the 2-5 spots in these rankings. However, this weekend should bring more clarity as Williams’ true talent level without Kyle Scadlock will be tested against Middlebury. The teams in the bottom half have largely only played each other, with Trinity looking like the “best of the rest.”
1. #14 Hamilton (14-0, 3-0)
Last Week: 76-70 W vs. Wesleyan, 102-77 W @ Conn College
This Week: @ Amherst
And now they are legit. After knocking off Wesleyan at home, the Continentals are proven to be the real deal. While this spot at the top of the Power Rankings may be temporary, their spot in the D3 Top 25 is well deserved despite an easy preseason schedule. Wesleyan was the first difficult NESCAC opponent that Hamilton beat (Trinity and Conn are the other two), and with Wesleyan’s opening weekend win against Middlebury, Hamilton is further cemented as a real NESCAC contender. Their game against Amherst should be a high scoring win with a large margin of victory if all else remains the same with Kena Gilmour the centerpiece of Hamilton’s offense. He poured in 20 points in a defensive heavy game against the Cardinals despite only shooting 1-7 from deep.
2. #11 Williams (12-3, 3-1)
Last Week: 69-63 L vs. Tufts, 79-68 W vs. Bates
This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury
There is no doubt that Williams is weaker without Kyle Scadlock, however, they have managed to show their depth and remain afloat thus far in NESCAC play. They went from NESCAC favorites to just another team in the running for the title, seeing their first loss at the hands of Tufts this past weekend. In Scadlock’s place, Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19 continuebear the brunt of the scoring load as Casey scored 11 and Heskett 21 in the loss against the Jumbos. Heskett added 23 against Bates in the following game, settling in as a reliable power forward that Williams will need down the stretch.
3. #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1)
Last Week: 82-76 W vs. Bates; 78-63 W vs. Wesleyan
This Week: vs. Williams
Jack Daly ’18 continues to dish and drive to the rim as Middlebury’s balanced offense before was too much to overcome for both Bates and Tufts. While the Bates game ended up only being a six point win—closer than expected—Daly dropped 26 points, nine boards, and eight assists, a stat line we are becoming all too familiar with. Matt Folger is a lengthy player who can shoot from deep, accompanied by Joey Leighton and Hilal Dahleh on the perimeter. Nick Tarantino, Eric McCord on fire in the paint of late, and Adisa Majors all play down low and bring in the boards evenly, while G Jack Farrell ’21 is playing a lot like Jake Brown ’17 from a season ago, distributing and opening things up on the wings and for Daly. Middlebury will need to find some three point shooting from somewhere, however, if they want to continue winning.
4. Tufts (12-4, 3-1)
Last Week: 69-63 W @ Williams, 78-63 L @ Middlebury
This Week: vs. Bates
Their win against Williams put them in a position to surpass Wesleyan in the rankings, beating what was previously the best team in the conference. Tufts’ size and athleticism are their greatest strengths, led by Vincent Pace ’18, Eric Savage ’18, and KJ Garrett ’19 who was all over the floor against Middlebury. Pace slipped a bit last weekend, shooting 5-21 against Williams and 1-9 against Middlebury. Lucky for him, Garrett emerged as a potential force going forward, scoring 20 and bringing down nine boards against the Panthers in just his fourth game of the season. After increasing his workload to 24 minutes last Saturday, he should play an even bigger role against Bates this coming weekend.
5. #19 Wesleyan (11-3, 2-2)
Last Week: 76-70 L @ Hamilton, 70-66 W @ Amherst
This Week: vs. Conn College
Wesleyan is in danger of falling in the rankings after an 1-1 weekend which dropped them farther down in the national rankings. While they lost to a team ranked above them now, they needed to beat Hamilton to cement themselves as a real championship contender. They should roll over Conn College this weekend, but after narrowly beating the falling Amherst Mammoths, they should be a bit worried going forward. Jordan Bonner ’19 still hasn’t quite found his shot, shooting 3-9 against Amherst, and despite first year Austin Hutcherson’s 19 points and solid shooting, Kevin O’Brien did not play and needs to make it back into the lineup quickly for the Cardinals to have a chance.
6. Amherst (9-5, 1-2)
Last Week: 72-57 W vs. Conn College, 70-66 L vs. Wesleyan
This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton
A sub .500 conference record at this point with their only win against the lowly Camels is not a good start for a formerly great Amherst team. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Michael Riopel ’18 are still leading the way in scoring, but they need more depth in order to compete against the likes of Middlebury, Williams, and Middlebury as Riopel is the only Mammoth with the ability to shoot the deep ball. While they rank second in the conference in rebounding per game, they are in the bottom half in scoring and need to improve going forward.
7. Trinity (11-4, 2-2)
Last Week: 73-68 W @ Bowdoin, 61-51 L @ Colby
This Week: Non-Conference
The bottom half of these rankings get pretty confusing as Trinity’s overall record helps them out here, however, a loss to Colby certainly dampens their overall legitimacy as any sort of contender. They had some terrible individual performances in the road game last weekend as Jeremy Arthur put up a complete dud, going 0-10 shooting, Eric Gendron 2-8 FG, and Kyle Padmore 0-3 FG. There isn’t a whole lot else to say, they need to make more baskets to win games and 31.3% overall in the contest isn’t going to cut it. They should press the reset button this weekend without a NESCAC game and look to bounce back the following weekend.
8. Bates (8-6, 1-1)
Last Week: 82-76 L @ Middlebury, 79-68 L @ Williams
This Week: @ Tufts
Bates put up two decent performances against the NESCAC’s best teams, narrowly losing to Midd and competing against the Ephs. James Mortimer ’18 and Jeff Spellman ’20 are a great 1-2 punch, combining for 41 points against the solid Panther defense. Max Hummel added 13 off the bench, and despite not doing well the next game against Williams with just three points in 15 minutes, has shown some promise. Spellman is the leader of this team and a work horse, putting up 24 the next day against the Ephs and playing over 30 minutes in four games straight. He has the ability to win this team enough games to make it to the playoffs, and in March, anything can happen.
9. Bowdoin (10-4, 1-2)
Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity
This Week: vs. Colby
Losing to a reeling Trinity team certainly won’t aid the Polar Bears going forward. Jack Simonds ’19, as always, can put up huge scoring numbers, supported by David Reynolds’ shooting and Hugh O’Neil’s impressive defense in the paint (17 rebounds against the Bantams). The Polar Bears have good overall numbers as a team and were really hurt by poor three point shooting numbers against Tufts (sub 25%) and heavy turnovers against Trinity—15 compared to the Bantams’ six. Look for the weapon heavy Bowdoin team to start climbing the rankings soon.
10. Colby (10-5, 1-2)
Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity
This Week @ Bowdoin
Colby got a huge win against Trinity to put themselves on the board and in the conversation of relevance for the NESCAC playoffs. While it was a low scoring affair, featuring some awful shooting from Trinity, some of that had to be attributed to the Mule defense, right? Double-doubles from both Dean Weiner ’19 and Sam Jefferson ’20 are a great sign going forward, giving the Mules reason to believe that they can compete with some of the stronger teams.
11. Conn College (6-10, 0-4)
Last Week: 72-57 L @ Amherst, 102-77 L @ Hamilton
This Week: @ Wesleyan
Conn College is beginning to look like a guaranteed win for other NESCAC teams after several blowout games to begin their 2018 conference campaign. In their most recent game, allowing more than 100 points to Hamilton, they clearly had little defense and were nearly out of the game from the beginning. David Labossiere ’19 is doing all he can to prevent the Camels from remaining in the cellar, dropping 18 points and seven boards in that loss, although he is pretty helpless after four losses by over 20 points in NESCAC play.
Muddying the Water: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/16
This week we got everything we expect out of a weekend of NESCAC basketball: absolutely no clarity in the standings. We got no help this week trying to decide who is better than who, but this is what we love about our conference. Wesleyan looked like they were ready to make a jump to the top but has struggled recently, Middlebury is too hot and cold for us to get a read on, and we still don’t find ourselves completely sold on Hamilton. It’s still too early in the year for us to identify any major trends, and the standings don’t give us much to work with yet. I guess that leaves it up to the analysts to decide what’s really going on in the NESCAC this week:
Middlebury F Eric McCord ‘19
In a league devoid of elite big men, McCord ’19 has been a consistent force down low for the Panthers. After starting off the season injured and struggling a bit as he worked his way back into shape, McCord had a breakout weekend, particularly against Tufts. On a team that has several perimeter scoring threats, McCord makes his living on the glass and in the paint. He had himself a huge game in a win over the Jumbos, netting 13 points and hauling in 15 rebounds. Tufts came into the game hot after taking down Williams on Friday night for their 9th straight victory, so this was a statement win by the Panthers. The big man duo of Nick Tarantino ’18 and Eric McCord ’19 certainly don’t get a ton of press on a team with Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, but they understand their role, and McCord especially has them emerging as one of the most efficient front courts in the NESCAC.
Wesleyan F Nathan Krill ‘18
We have talked a lot this year about Jordan Bonner ’19 and Kevin O’Brien ’19 making the difference for this Cardinal squad. It’s time to talk about Nathan Krill ’18, because he is showing that Wesleyan is more than just those two players. Krill isn’t a super star by any means, but he is producing exactly at the level that he needs to be as a role player for this team. Against Hamilton, Krill netted 9 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, then followed that up with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double in a huge win over Little Three rival Amherst. Krill has historically been a very streaky player, capable of both monster games and derailing the whole team with poor shooting and attitude. This season has seen him stay within himself more, a good sign for the Cardinals. Wesleyan needs to step it up a bit following their big win over Middlebury, and perhaps this will be fueled by Krill expanding his role a bit, because he has shown us that he is capable of doing so.
A few week’s ago, I wrote about how Wesleyan had begun to prove themselves, and they looked like the class of the NESCAC. Well, here I am, doubting everything I once said. After the Cardinals defeated the mighty Ephs on the road, in overtime, when they still had Kyle Scadlock, they looked like they were ready to compete for a championship. They have still given us plenty of reasons to believe they’re legit (see Nathan Krill ’18), but it is hard to really decide where they fall amongst the NESCAC’s elite. They were able to beat Amherst and Middlebury, two very legit wins, but they also fell to Hamilton and Williams the second time in the game that counted. The Cardinals are definitely a team capable of beating anyone (as they showed against Middlebury), but they aren’t quite ready to say that they’re here to stay at the top of the league, especially with Hamilton ascending and Middlebury figuring themselves out a bit against Tufts.
Williams’ Big Man Battle
The Ephs had a tough weekend, falling at home to Tufts in a hard fought game before taking care of Bates the following day. The Jumbos are a very good team, and Williams isn’t in the “stock down” category for any reason other than the fact that their frontcourt situation is as confusing as the plot of Inception. Matt Karpowicz ’20 and Michael Kempton ’19 make up undoubtedly the largest big man duo in the league, with Karpowicz standing at 6’8”, 250lbs and Kempton at 6’10”, 235lbs. From an outsider’s perspective, it is a mystery why Karpowicz isn’t seeing more time. Take this past weekend for instance; Karpowicz had 9 points, 10 rebounds against Tufts and 10 points, 11 rebounds against Bates. Kempton had 4 points, 3 rebounds against Tufts and 2 points, 3 rebounds against Bates. Karpowicz shot 67%, Kempton shot 38%. These numbers were all while both Kempton and Karpowicz were playing nearly identical minutes. This weekend was a microcosm for the entire year, because Karpowicz is obviously the more athletic and talented player, yet Kempton starts and splits the minutes. Williams isn’t playing especially poorly at the moment, but it is confusing why they wouldn’t use Matt Karpowicz ’20 more to bring themselves to a higher level.
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.
This past Saturday, I got to travel to Colby to watch Bates take on the Mules in Waterville. Bates pulled off the win, 82-79 in a tightly contested matchup that I believe was an instant classic. In front of an unusually raucous crowd for this early in the year, the two teams put on a show. This game had absolutely everything. We saw Matt Hanna hit four consecutive threes and give the crowd an awesome, Russell Westbrook-esque celebration. We saw the players getting chippy. We saw the fans getting chippy. We saw the lead never get above 3 for either team in the final 12 minutes of the game (until Bates hit a few free throws at the very end). We saw a technical foul. We saw Tom Coyne bank home two three pointers from 30+ feet to seal the win for the Bobcats. It was the stuff of legends.
That is what NESCAC basketball is all about. There is nothing like getting to travel to any school for a game and watch their loyal fans pack the gym to watch more drama than a Shakespearean tragedy. Fortunately truth is stranger than fiction, and we get an entire season of games featuring players whose legacies will surely outlast those of Macbeth or Hamlet. Anyways, let’s take a look at how foul or fair each team is looking heading into exam week and a blissfully long winter break.:
Bates G Tom Coyne ’20
Bates got a chance to play both Colby and Bowdoin this week, and each time Coyne put on a show. Despite the 70-63 loss against Bowdoin, he led the game in points with 22, and grabbed 9 rebounds. In the 82-79 win against Colby, he went off for a career-high 30 points on 11-16 from the field, including 6-8 from three-point range. One of the greatest things about the game against Colby was that for the final minutes of the game, the players on the court were Nick Gilpin ’20, Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. This lineup is one that has already shown improvements this year, and they will get to see three full seasons playing on the floor together. Bates is only getting better from here as Coach Furbush has the pieces he needs to develop and build around for the future.
Middlebury F Nick Tarantino ’18
Middlebury has been on a tear this season, starting off 6-0 and receiving the #2 national ranking in last week’s poll. They have many weapons, but senior Nick Tarantino ’18 has stood out as exceptional recently. He recorded a double-double against Endicott (an NCAA tournament team from last season), putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds, while dishing out 4 assists. In their last game against national #16 Skidmore (another 2017 NCAA tournament team), he channeled his inner-Ed Ogundeko, posting 20 points (on 9-13 shooting) and 17 rebounds. This type of production is ridiculous alongside weapons like Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20. The Panthers are showing us yet again why they belong in the conversation not only for best in the NESCAC, but potentially best in the nation.
Tufts G Vincent Pace ’18
Vincent Pace ’18 is definitely living up to his POY-candidate hype (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Selected as NESCAC Player of the Week, Pace led the struggling Jumbos to a much-needed 2-0 week. He torched Emerson to the tune of 30 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 13-21 from the field. Pace tied the game with a three, then hit the game winning layup with under a minute left as the ‘Bos erased a 16-point second half deficit. Against UMass-Boston, he guided Tufts to a jaw-dropping 29-1 lead with 13 points and 7 rebounds on the way to a 73-58 win. He has clearly developed as the top scoring threat for a team that looks to gain some traction as they head out to Los Angeles to take on a few of the Claremont schools. If he continues this type of performance and the Jumbos continue to improve, Pace certainly remains in the conversation for NESCAC POY.
The Continentals are now 8-0 (tied for the best record in the NESCAC) and have been playing incredibly well this season. To be honest I believe they deserve a little more credit, only receiving 18 votes in the last national rankings. Only three of their eight wins have been decided by less than 10 points. They are blowing teams out, and putting up a lot of points in the process. Kena Gilmour ’20 leads the team with 17.4PPG and 7REB/G, and Michael Grassey ’19 has shown that he is a huge piece of this Continentals team. Grassey ’19 is putting up 14.1 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds,C especially having huge games against Utica and Eastern. Keep an eye on this underrated and young Hamilton squad, because they are a force to be reckoned with in New York.
It has been a tough stretch for the Camels, who are in the midst of a three game losing streak. They lost to both Mitchell and Western New England, neither of whom is particularly good. They sit at 4-5, which makes them the only NESCAC team below .500, with Bates having the second worst record at 5-2. Not to say that they don’t have any good players, because David Labossiere is averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. They are suffering from the loss of Tyler Rowe ’19, who was 4th in the NESCAC in scoring, but transferred to Western Connecticut this year. Conn College still has matchups with City College of New York and Maine Presque-Isle before they gear up for their first conference matchup with Middlebury. Hopefully the Camels start to turn things around because you never know what can happen in NESCAC play.
Williams’ Title Chances
Things took a turn for the worst in Williamstown last week when Kyle Scadlock ’19 suffered a torn ACL in the first half of their game against Westfield State. Obviously, this is a crushing blow to both Williams and the league as a whole. Scadlock is one of the most exciting players in the league, as well as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Williams is certainly still one of the best teams in the conference and perhaps the nation, but they have a much steeper hill to climb now. Look for players like Bobby Casey ’19 Michael Kempton ’20 to take on bigger roles, as well as forward James Heskitt ’19. Heskitt may be best suited to take on some of Scadlock’s myriad responsibilities both offensively and defensively, as he is another versatile forward with quick feet. It will take a team effort for Williams to keep pace with Middlebury, Tufts and suddenly hot teams like Wesleyan or Hamilton. Scadlock is only a junior, so hopefully he will return to full health so that we can see what Williams is truly capable of. Best of luck on a speedy recovery, Kyle.
Aside from Editor in Chief, my most important job at this blog is the president of the Jack Daly fan club. Daly has long been the Kevin Jonas to St. Amour and Brown’s Joe and Nick–almost (and maybe even as) talented, but under the radar. But now he gets a solo act. Scoring is not his specialty, but he will be asked to be more aggressive in creating his own shot to replace some of St. Amour’s possession-saving shots. But Daly has already proven that he can fill it up when the team needs it. He had a buzzer beater in the holiday tournament last season, and in the NCAA game against Williams he had 23 points, while Brown and St. Amour both struggled. He will have to shoot higher than 31% from three, but he improved in league play last season despite a an awkward jump shot. What really sets him apart, however, is everything else besides scoring. There might be no greater triple double threat in the league. He led Middlebury in rebounding last season, (6.5) despite being a good six inches shorter than Nick Tarantino (6’3″ in the program? Alright Jack.) And he finished in the top three in the league in both assists and steals. He fills the stat sheet like no one else. Middlebury might have had the three best guards in the league on their team last season, and it’s possible that the best one is the one that stayed.
G: Hilal Dahleh ‘19 (4.7 PPG, 1.7 REB/G, 39% FG)
This second guard spot is maybe the biggest question mark for the Panthers. Daly should effectively mitigate the loss of Brown at the point, but Middlebury’s success last season stemmed from having multiple guards who could initiate the offense, guard threats on the opposing team, and create shots for themselves. There’s a lot of competition for this spot. Sophomores Perry Delorenzo ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘19 are excellent shooters, as is precocious first year Max Bosco. Perhaps the best candidate among the first years to jump into this spot would be first year Jack Ferrall. A tremendous athlete, Ferrall projects as an elite defender with finishing skills that transcend his height. But his shooting is not as far along as any of the other guards.
The person who best allows the Panthers to continue playing the way they want is Hilal Dahleh. In his first year, he impressed with his terrific defense and feel for the game, despite struggling with his shot. He was projected to be a major factor last season, but suffered a back injury in the preseason which forced him out for the entire year. But he has worked his way back into playing shape, and should enter the season at 100%. At 6’3”, he has terrific size for the position, and his long arms allow him to be a good complimentary defender to Daly. The key for him will be hitting shots. He has to be an offensive threat out of the two guard spot for the Middlebury offense to function. If he struggles shooting the ball to start off the year, there are several shooters on the bench who are ready to go.
F: Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
This spot is also up for debate, as if any of the other guards besides Dahleh impress enough in the preseason, they could slide into the starting lineup, with Dahleh at the three and Folger at the four. But Folger’s starting spot is far from in doubt, and having him at the three opens up a world of possibilities. There’s more on him below so I won’t say too much here, but there are few players in the league with his combination of height and perimeter skills. Teams can’t put a guard on him, as he has good post footwork and can shoot right over the top of them. But very few big men can keep up with his speed and ball handling, and he draws a center away from the basket. This opens up driving lanes for any of the speedy Middlebury guards. If at all possible, the Panthers should try to play Folger here at the three to create mismatches all over the floor.
F: Adisa Majors ‘18 (9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB/G, 54% FG)
Majors has carved out a nice spot for himself here in Middlebury. His style in the post is best described as “Elephant in a China Shop,” but his 54% field goal percentage speaks to its effectiveness. His 15-foot jumper is perfect for playing in a guard-heavy offense, and he has gotten himself into good enough shape to beat most big men down the court. He has developed into the perfect big man for Jack Daly. Defensively, he has made great strides, but still gets into trouble when switched onto opposing guards. Eric McCord ‘19 is less of a liability in this area, and is a better passer out of the post as well. But he hasn’t practiced yet this season, so right now Majors is the guy. He will need to continue to earn his time, as a three guard lineup with Folger at the four is entirely possible. But then again, he’s done that his whole career.
Tarantino was an embodiment of one of the strangest developments of Middlebury’s season last year. In the first half, Middlebury was getting killed on the glass and in the paint defensively, and it looked as if the forward rotation would spoil the incredible perimeter play and lead to an early tournament exit. But around the beginning of league play, Tarantino, McCord and Majors turned it on and became one of the more threatening units in the league. Tarantino was especially impressive. He shot 59% from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds a game, becoming the kind of imposing threat that Middlebury needed to have controlling the paint. And this season he should only get better as the established starter. As a recruit he was touted as being an outside threat, but he has (mercifully) left that behind in favor of a springy, jump hook-based post game. His most underrated skill is his passing, as he and McCord have developed a nice chemistry on high low actions, taking advantage of both of their heights to see over the defense.
Speaking of defense, that is where he must improve. Despite his long arms, height and jumping ability, he still averaged less than one block per game last season. Folger is a great shot blocker, but when Tarantino is in Folger will most likely be on the perimeter. Tarantino must become a more imposing defensive force for Middlebury. When McCord comes back, some minutes at this spot will go to him, but they are at their best when playing together, so Tarantino should see consistent minutes all season.
F Matt Folger ‘20 (6.5 PPG, 4.1 REB/G, 1.5 BLK/G)
If Middlebury hopes to continue the frantic, perimeter-heavy style of play that has won them back-to-back NESCAC championships, Folger must take a big leap forward. He certainly has the talent to. At 6’8”, he is tall enough to be a menace in the paint on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of being a dominant interior force last season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game despite limited minutes, and he has terrific touch around the rim on offense, shooting 60% on two point field goals. But it’s his perimeter skills at that height that make him one of the most talented players in the league. He has very quick feet and long arms, enabling him to guard players of all different positions. Middlebury will ask him to do a great deal of this, as many lineups for the Panthers will feature him at the small forward spot alongside more traditional big men such as McCord, Tarantino or Adisa Majors ‘18.
Folger also will take on much more responsibility as a three point threat. Middlebury’s guard-heavy recruiting class suggests that they want to continue to run and shoot three pointers often. This is difficult to do when you graduate your three best outside shooters, including one of the best in the country. Folger’s form is beautiful, and his success inside the arc and at the foul line (80%) serve as evidence to his great touch, but he only shot 28% from three last season. Of course it takes most first years time to adjust to the college game (Middlebury loyalists will remember that Matt St. Amour struggled from three for most of his first two years) but Folger doesn’t have that luxury this season. He will be asked to live up to his considerable potential this year, and if he does, an All-NESCAC selection is not out of the realm of possibility.
Middlebury’s goal, like the rest of the league’s, is to beat Williams. They’re the preseason number one, and they’re the team that knocked the Panthers out in the NCAA tournament last season. The way that Middlebury is going at the Ephs is by matching their size and positional versatility. Daly has long been the best defender in the league in terms of guarding all positions; he is the only point guard in the league who can guard power forwards effectively, and will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of size or position. With the forward rotation of Folger, Tarantino, Majors and McCord, and terrific defensive guards in Dahleh and Daly (say that three times fast) the Panthers have the ability to play a lineup big enough to bang on the glass with Williams without sacrificing too much speed. Another factor in this equation is first year forward Ryan Cahill ‘21. He is another big man who is far more mobile than his size would lead you to believe, and is already a threat from outside. He will be in the rotation as long as McCord is out, and maybe beyond that.
Middlebury could also match Williams by playing small and running them off the floor, but there are more question marks there. Coach Brown’s focus in the offseason for recruiting was certainly guards, and he has brought in an excellent class. We have already discussed Farrell’s two way potential, but the second unit of guards runs deeper than just him. Bosco is one of the best shooters in the class, regardless of team. His release is lightning fast, and he is very advanced at finding his spot and finishing over size. Defensively he projects as a liability right now due to his own diminutive stature, so he is better suited at the moment to be shot of caffiene off the bench, a la Bryan Jones.
Delorenzo and Leighton also figure to fight for minutes, and as always, whichever one of them is hitting shots will determine who sits higher in the rotation. Much of Middlebury’s second unit play will be guard-heavy, three point barrages, but they could also easily trot out a three guard starting lineup, with Bosco or Delorenzo joining Dahleh and Daly in the back court. With Folger at the four and Tarantino, Majors or McCord (when he returns from injury) at the five this lineup would be very difficult to defend. However, the would be worse on the boards and overall easier to score on, especially for larger lineups like Williams’.
Middlebury has reloaded this season, but there are a lot of red flags. Daly has the highest amount of responsibility of any point guard in the league. He has to run a high paced offense, while working in many new players and guarding the best player on the other team. He doesn’t have a proven backup, although Dahleh, Farrell and Bosco are all capable of bringing the ball up. They will run a lot of the second unit offense. But with that said, there’s no way that Middlebury isn’t worse without Daly on the floor. He might set minutes records this season, and there’s no guarantee that he can sustain his impossible hustle while having the ball in his hands so often.
The lack of three point shooting is also worrying. The three graduated seniors were the three best outside shooters on a team that didn’t exactly light it up for much of the season. Middlebury got in a lot of trouble when teams could pack the paint against them and force them into congested shots in the paint. That’s what Williams did in the NCAA tournament. Daly will have to shoot better than 31%; if teams can go under picks and play off him, the offense stalls out at the top of the key. Folger’s 28% is unacceptable for a guy with such pretty form, and he represents the biggest outside weapon in the projected starting lineup. And Bosco, Delorenzo and Leighton will have to live up to their billing as bombers. Middlebury can no longer rely on St. Amour to get them a shot in failed possessions, other guys have to step up.
The losses look huge on paper. St. Amour is one of the best NESCAC players of the last 20 years, and Brown wasn’t far behind him. Bryan Jones was a force off the bench, and even Liam Naughton hit a couple big shots and was huge for team chemistry. But they retained a great deal of talent as well. The forward rotation was a strength at the end of last season, and all of those players are back and a year more experienced. With a big starting five that looks more Division One than NESCAC, Middlebury should be able to cure much of rebounding woes that once plagued them. The keys to Middlebury’s chances at a three-peat lie on the perimeter. They need Daly and Folger to up their scoring averages and three point percentages considerably, and for Delorenzo, Ferrall, Dahleh, Bosco and Cahill to be threats off the bench. The Panthers enter the season eighth in the country and third in the NESCAC, behind Williams and Tufts. It’s possible that at the end of the year, we will look back on that and laugh at how low they were. But it’s also possible that we shake our heads and wonder why they were so high. I think it will be the former, but, as always, I’m biased.
Fans of NESCAC basketball have enjoyed a level of talent this season that has possibly never been matched in the history of the league. And on Monday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the league with four at large bids, in addition to Middlebury’s guaranteed spot for winning the conference tournament. Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan and Tufts join the Panthers, giving the ‘CAC one of the strongest showings of any conference in the country. Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll be giving you the lowdown on where each team finds themselves in their quest for a national title.
#6 Middlebury (24-3, 11-2)
As the number one seed and outright winner of the conference, Middlebury is in a terrific position to make a deep tournament run. The Panthers should be hosting (as long as they keep winning) until the tournament shifts to Salem. However, the Panthers certainly shouldn’t be looking ahead, as they have a tough opening weekend to contend with. They open on Friday against Farmingdale State, a team that tries to run the floor in much the same way that Middlebury does. And Lycoming and Cabrini, the two other teams in the bracket, are strong teams with tournament pedigree.
How They Got Here:
Middlebury is of course driven by their three guards. Matt St. Amour ‘17 was recently crowned NESCAC Player of the Year after averaging 22 points per game in the season and almost 25 per game in league play. His midrange game, once a major weakness, has become positively deadly, and he has carried Middlebury through a late season injury to Jake Brown ‘17. Speaking of Brown, the recently named All NESCAC Second Team point guard is the key to Middlebury’s fast paced offense and defense. He has also made himself into a key outside threat for Middlebury, shooting 37% from three. And Jack Daly ‘18 had been flying under the radar until Brown went down. But stepping up and running the offense in Brown’s absence has given viewers a newfound appreciation for Daly. If there’s a play that shifts the game in Middlebury’s favor, the odds are good that Jack Daly is involved.
How They Lose
Middlebury’s guards are pretty much locks to get their numbers. The Panthers struggle when their big men aren’t involved in the offense and when the other team gets hot from three. If Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 aren’t threats on the offensive end, then teams can focus on the guards and force Middlebury to play halfcourt, perimeter-oriented basketball. Farmingdale State is a fast break team, but they don’t shoot very well from three (33.5% on the year.) However, they do rebound very well thanks to big men George Reifenstahl ‘19 and Wendell Irvine ‘17, both of whom average over 9 rebounds per game. Therefore the Middlebury big men will have to do a good job on the boards and also assert themselves on offense, not just against Farmingdale but (ideally) throughout the tournament.
Farmingdale State (19-7, 14-2)
Farmingdale has overcome a strong start to really control their league. They won their tournament on a game winner from Reifenstahl, who along with Irvine and guard Ali Mableton ‘19 earned all conference honors. The Rams look to run, but can be careless on offense, shooting only 43% from the field and turning the ball over a whopping 18 times per game. Middlebury should be able to exploit this carelessness, and will need to work on shutting down Reifenstahl and Irvine.
#15 Lycoming (23-4, 13-3)
Lycoming and Middlebury would be a fascinating Saturday match-up. The Warriors have been ranked in the top 25 pretty much all year and now sit at 15 heading into tournament play. They are led by David Johnson ‘17 who, despite being 5’9,” averages 14 points per game and shoots an amazing 48.7% from three. Lycoming overall shoots threes very well (37% as a team,) so Middlebury will have to run them off the line much like they did in the second half against Williams in the NESCAC final.
Cabrini (19-7, 15-3)
Cabrini is led by junior center Tyheim Monroe, who is two spots ahead of Matt St. Amour in scoring in the nation (23rd, at 22.1 points per game) and leads the nation in rebounds per game at 15.7. Monroe plays 36 minutes a game, and the vast majority of their offensive sets run through him. Middlebury will probably employ a similar swarming defensive strategy that they used on Ed Ogundeko to beat Trinity in the quarterfinals. But Monroe is the type of player who could carry a team to an upset against the Panthers.
Amherst (17-7, 8-4)
After starting the season as the number one team in the country, Amherst enters tournament play outside the national rankings. This is due to inconsistent play all season, culminating in a quarterfinal loss to hated rival Williams. Therefore, Amherst has a tough road to travel if they hope to redeem their disappointing NESCAC season with a long tournament run.
How They Got Here
As most readers of this blog probably know, Amherst is led by their excellent backcourt. Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 were Second and First Team All NESCAC selections respectively, and combined to average over 33 points per game. Additionally, junior guard Michael Riopel averages 10 points per game and shoots 48% from three, giving Amherst a needed outside threat to take some pressure off of Dawson and McCarthy. The Purple and White are at their best when Dawson and McCarthy are dominating the opposing backcourt, giving Riopel open looks.
How They Lose
Unfortunately Amherst has little else outside of their backcourt. They struggle to get contributions from any forwards, and Riopel and even McCarthy can be too passive. This forces Dawson to play hero ball, and he can shoot Amherst out of games when he does that. In their loss to Williams, Dawson shot 3-19, while Riopel and McCarthy combined to take only 16 shots. It’s hard to figure out how to divide up blame in that situation (is Dawson playing selfishly or do the other players need to be more assertive?), but either way Amherst has some serious problems. They ultimately seem to lack the necessary depth to compete against elite competition.
Keene State (19-9, 10-4)
The Owls, who knocked Middlebury out last year, had something of a Cinderella run to the final of their conference tournament before losing 72-70 to Eastern Connecticut. They have two First Team All Conference performers in Matt Ozzella ‘17 and Ty Nichols ‘19, but also have three other players scoring in double figures. This is the kind of depth that could give top-heavy Amherst fits, particularly in the front court. Amherst plays the Owls tonight at 5:30.
Misericordia (20-7, 9-5)
A contender for the “College Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Song From Les Miserables” award, Misericordia won their conference tournament and has a lot of momentum heading into the NCAAs. They are led by terrific all around guard Jason Kenny ‘19, who put up a 21/4/4 line on nearly 50% shooting from the field and 41% from three. But the Cougars have three other double figure scorers and shoot the three at 37% as a team. Again, this is the kind of depth that Amherst really struggles with, especially since they have some, uh, disinterested defenders on their roster.
#5 Ramapo (25-2, 16-2)
The host team and number 5 team in the country, Ramapo is certainly the favorite to come out of this weekend. They are led in scoring by Thomas Boncum ‘18 (17.7 ppg,) but they are a terrific team top to bottom. They shoot 50.7 from the field and 41% from three as a team, which point to a tremendously efficient offensive strategy. Their average margin of victory is a whopping 14.4 points per game, and they out-rebound opponents by 7 boards per game, an area in which Amherst tends to struggle. Ramapo is a legit title contender, and Amherst may not be able to run with them even if they survive Keene State tonight.
The Ephs kept their late season magic going against the Jumbos in a David (Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19) meets Goliath matchup in Medford, MA. Williams played just like they did against Amherst the weekend before – they put up solid, yet repeatable shooting numbers (46.8% FG, 32.0% 3-point, and 71.4% FT) which allowed them to build a steady lead in the second half. Tufts shot just 37.3% FG in this semifinal with their five starters going 11-34 from the field and 4-18 from deep, significantly worse than their bench. Everett Dayton ‘18, Vinny Pace ‘18, and Drew Madsen ‘17 were stopped from putting up any real rebounding numbers while Scadlock and Aronowitz ran the floor effectively for the Ephs. The Jumbos got away from their game plan as a result of their poor shooting, as just three players were able to score in double-digits. This came in stark contrast to the recently balanced Jumbo offense. Mike Greenman was able to do what the Jumbos couldn’t and controlled the offensive side of the ball for the underdogs with nine assists, a key to Williams’ success. High percentage shots stemmed from their balanced and efficient attack, and five Ephs tallied double-digit points as a result. Williams built their lead in the second half, and a quick three by Greenman with 3:58 to go put the Williams lead out of reach. While this game appeared to be a bit one sided, it was tied at 65 with 4:23 to go. Isn’t that exactly how many points Tufts scored? It is. Williams ended the game on a 16-0 run, capitalizing on free throws and protecting the ball. Tufts, on the other hand, finished the game on an 0-8 shooting run (including free throws). It’s definitely concerning for the Jumbos that they couldn’t muster any sort of last minute comeback in their home gym in a playoff game, but maybe Tom Palleschi ‘17 will be able to change that. Early in the season there is no question that Tufts was the top dawg in the NESCAC, as beating Middlebury didn’t surprise anybody. However, they limp into the NCAA tournament off of a loss without any guarantees from their star senior Palleschi. Palleschi played eight minutes against Williams, the first action he’s seen since January 20th. If he can return to form and play significant minutes his defensive presence will be a huge upgrade for the Jumbos.
Trinity at Middlebury:
Double-teaming Ed Ogundeko ‘17 was Middlebury’s formula to beating the Bantams. It worked. Ogundeko was forced to shoot without a clear look at the basket and couldn’t do enough with the ball when he had it. His 1-11 shooting left Trinity without any hope, as Eric McCord ‘19, Nick Tarantino ‘18, and Adisa Majors ‘18 played tough basketball to grind out a win. Unlike most Trinity games, Chris Turnbull ‘17 and Eric Gendron ‘18 shot well and carried the Bantam offense, which usually would spell out a big win for this team, but without the addition of Ogundeko’s ~17 PPG average, there was a big piece missing. Majors’ nine boards, McCord’s five, and Tarantino’s eight were enough to give the Panthers a presence down low that was willing to scrap for every possession. McCord plays dangerously at times, often making unnecessary foul (he had four on Saturday), but it was just the right style of play to slow down Ogundeko, who is used to having his way with NESCAC opponents. Matt St. Amour ‘17 did his thing, and even though he only had 18 points (haha, only), he shot the ball efficiently. Jake Brown ‘17 had the chance to shake off the rust from his recent spell on the bench with ankle injury. Brown came back in full force, competing for 31 minutes and getting his feet wet before the championship. Matt Folger ‘20 was huge off the bench for Midd as the first year Panther went 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from deep, totaling 11 points. For Trinity, Turnbull’s 23 points were the most he had scored since November 22nd. While the senior did everything he could to carry the Bantams in the big anomaly of a game for Ogundeko, it would turn out to be his last college performance. While it was a tough last game for Ogundeko, he still led the league in REB/G this year, averaged a double-double, and finished in Trinity’s top ten all-time for rebounding. What a career. For Midd, the fun was only just beginning.
Williams at Middlebury:
There’s no question that Williams kept their magic going into Sunday’s contest as they took a quick lead on the favored Panthers. In fact, a four point Williams lead and just three points out of Matt St. Amour at the half would’ve shocked anybody. Kyle Scadlock lit up the scoreboard for 15 in the opening frame, shooting 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from the charity stripe, with James Heskett ‘19 going 3-3 FG and 2-2 from deep en route to a perfect eight points. Scadlock added ten first half rebounds, enough to carry the Ephs to a 40-36 early lead that gave them hope that they could put a ring on after the season. Unfortunately for the Ephs, they weren’t able to hold off St. Amour the whole game, as this game was a tale of two halves. In fact, St. Amour went off in the second half and you wouldn’t even be able to tell he started off slowly unless you took a closer look at the box score. St. Amour dropped 17 after the break, going 6-9 in FGs and 4-7 in 3’s. Scadlock still put up a solid nine points in the second, but only had one rebound as Williams got dominated in the paint. Seven Panthers had three or more rebounds in the second half compared to just two for Williams, leading to a 26-13 boards advantage for Midd. Midd took 11 more shots in the second half and Williams shot to the tune of a terrible 20.0%. While the underdogs came out firing, their cinderella story came to an end. Middlebury simply couldn’t be held back for a whole 40 minutes. The 48-22 line in the second half shows what kind of team Middlebury is—which bodes well for the Panthers heading into the NCAA tournament. Those games always seem to come down to the final seconds. Clutch is the name of the game and Williams couldn’t keep it going throughout the contest.
With that being said, Williams played well enough to earn them an at large bid, along with three other NESCAC teams: Amherst, Tufts, and Wesleyan. Winning the NESCAC earned Middlebury the conference’s automatic bid. Five teams from one conference are in the NCAA tournament. That is an absurd number of NCAA tournament teams from the NESCAC. Five teams is nearly half of the conference. There are only 64 teams in the tournament so therefore the NESCAC makes up just under 8% of the bracket. Talk about conference depth. It’s time to go dancing.