To quote Game of Thrones, ‘winter is here.’ NESCAC women’s basketball is already in full swing with an onslaught of non league games. While these games don’t go into the record books for NESCAC standings, they are nevertheless very important, so that each teams starts the season on the right foot. There have been some surprises thus far, and there are teams that have played like I predicted. Let’s take a look at my three hot takes going into winter break:
Bowdoin is Now a Top Dog
Tufts and Amherst dominated the spotlight in everyone’s preseason power rankings. Their incredible success last year deservingly gave them the top two spots of the standings in predictions for this season. However, something is going on in Brunswick, ME. The Bowdoin Polar Bears are 8-0. One of those wins was an thirty-four point trouncing over the Colby Mules. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I predicted Bowdoin to be very good; I didn’t predict them to be this good. The Polar Bears as a team led the NESCAC in all relevant offensive categories. While questions can be raised as to whether or not Bowdoin can actually beat Tufts and Amherst, there’s no question that the Polar Bears are a force to be reckoned with. They average an incredible eighty-four points per game as a team, with four players who average double figures in points: Taylor Choate ‘19, Kate Kerrigan ‘18, Lauren Petit ‘18, and Abby Kelly ‘19.
These four upperclassmen have set the tone for the team. While the competition they’ve played isn’t as stout as it will be when conference games kick in, boasting a perfect record is obviously a great sign for the squad. These four women have been there and done it before, so when times get inevitably tough down the stretch, look for them to push the team over the hump. The team will kick off league play on January 5th against Bates, and will play the Jumbos the following night. Rest assured, the polar bears will take one game at a time, but they have to be looking forward to Tufts. That’s their opportunity to show the world that Bowdoin has arrived.
Wesleyan Will be Better than Last Year (#RollCards #DirtyBirds)
It’s really tough to say how well a team will do after non-conference games. It’s clear that the NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country. I watched Wes beat a team by sixty-six points last weekend. There’s not much secret to the success of NESCAC teams: the women just play at a quicker, higher, stronger (or Citius, Altius, Fortius just in case my high school Latin teachers are reading this) pace. Wesleyan was 1-9 last year in league play, but I think they’ll be better after watching them a bit this year. The team is always up on the bench–showing how well they support one another, and how badly they want to win. The team is led by Olivia Gorman ‘19, who averages around twelve points per game. The Cards look like they’ve been infused with new energy and talent. Emma Roush ‘21 leads all freshmen in scoring (7.0 PPG), and offers a tough, scrappy play style on both ends of the court. Good teams need players like these: Draymond Green of the Warriors and Marcus Smart for the Celtics contribute far more than the box score reveals. Defense translates to offense with these players, and it starts with their hustle. Roush is no different. Wesleyan got a wake up call, however, after they were smacked by Amherst. It didn’t count in the conference standings, but it shows that Wesleyan still isn’t at peak performance yet.
Nina Davenport is the Devin Booker of the NESCAC. MVP?
Nina Davenport ‘18 of the Bates Bobcats is putting up MVP like numbers. She averages around twenty-two points per game, and adds seven rebounds per contest too. Enter Devin Booker. Booker, a guard for the Phoenix Suns, puts up unbelievable numbers. He’s a lights out shooter, good slasher, and an all around incredible scorer. Davenport reminds me of Booker because she’s a good shooter, but she gets to the cup too; she scores in a variety of ways. Sounds all positive, right? Except for the fact that the Suns aren’t good. Neither is Bates. Bates is the only team in the NESCAC with a losing record thus far. That statistic would be fine if we were talking about games against Bowdoin, Amherst, and Tufts, but these are non-league opponents. Bates should be crushing them. As a result, it’s tough for me to justify saying that Davenport is the MVP. Yes, she puts up MVP numbers, but an MVP can’t be on a bad team in my opinion. Take a player like Maddie Bledsoe of Wesleyan. She’s a walking double-double averaging eleven rebounds and ten points per game. Granted Wesleyan won’t finish atop the league, but I think they’ll be the biggest turnaround team this year. Bates doesn’t look like they’ll turn it around. I’m not saying that Bledsoe will be the MVP, but that player should come from a team that’s playing well.
NESCAC women’s basketball kicked off its 2017-2018 campaign with a great set of games last weekend. In preparation for conference games that will start up in the next couple of weeks, each team played non-conference opponents. Here are my hot takes:
Hot Take 1: Amherst and Tufts will be really good
If you were reading my women’s soccer articles in the fall, you witnessed how many times I picked the underdog to defeat Williams, who is now in the Final Four. Each time I picked the opponent, Williams proved me wrong. I feel like Amherst and Tufts are the basketball versions of Williams. They’ve both ended up at the top of the league many of the previous seasons. They’re similar to the Spurs and Patriots: they’re consistently very good without much flash. Amherst has lost Ali Doswell ‘17, who was nominated for the DIII player of the year for the 2016-2017 season, and was an All-American. Doswell’s 13.2 PPG and stellar three-point percentage will be missed. Amherst, per usual, will utilize the ‘next person up’ mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Doswell’s loss will be felt, but with two convincing non league wins, I think Amherst will enter league play with the assumption that the squad can go all the way again this year. Tufts, on the other hand, is returning Melissa Baptista ‘18. Similar to Doswell, Baptista started every game for the ‘Bos. She comes off a season where she averaged around thirteen points per game, an All-American selection, and was a threat everywhere on the court. Tufts is already 2-0 on the young season, and I would expect Amherst and Tufts to be at the top when it’s all said and done.
Hot Take 2: It’s going to be a long winter in Lewiston
The Bates Bobcats dropped its opening two non league games last weekend. Everyone has a different mentality when it comes to these games. Obviously, the NESCAC playoffs are determined by a team’s NESCAC record. Every competitor, however, wants to win each game he or she plays in. Therefore, Bates’ two opening losses should raise major red flags. The NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country for DIII in all sports. Losing to non-NESCAC teams isn’t a good statistic. It won’t get any easier for Bates down the road with games against Maine NESCAC rivals on the horizon. Defense for Bates was the major inhibiting factor last year keeping the team from a successful seasons. Giving up eighty-five points to Smith on Sunday isn’t a good sign that they’ve made significant improvements on the defensive side of the game. If Smith puts up that many points, imagine what will happen when Amherst, Tufts, or Bowdoin comes to town. It’s early in the season, but Bates needs to turn it around soon. Nina Davenport ‘18 is one of the best shooters in the conference. She will be one of the difference makers for Bates this season. If she sets the example of focusing on defense just as much as (or more than) offense, the hot take could be wrong.
Hot Take 3: Contrary to popular belief, defense still wins championships
The Golden State Warriors have made people believe that the way to win championships and create the ultimate basketball franchise is through quick transitions threes. Daryl Morey, the GM for the Houston Rockets, was the first man in the NBA to use the ‘Moneyball’ approach in basketball. If you watch a Rockets game, you will observe that there are no midrange jump shots, but only dunks/layups and threes (i.e. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan wouldn’t be a system fit). In the era of offense in the NBA, the score of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship was 52-29 Amherst over Tufts. The top two scoring and three point percentage leaders from last season weren’t from Tufts or Amherst. If you want to beat Tufts or Amherst, you have to match their defensive mentality and efficiency. Bates, Colby, and all the other teams who were below .500 last year can put the ball in the basket. However, they couldn’t play the defense that those two outstanding teams could. I think all the teams that will post a record above .500 this year will be great defensive teams that value defense more than flashy offense.
I need to open this piece by apologizing to everybody who is a fan of Middlebury athletics. In the fall I picked the Middlebury women’s soccer team to win the NESCAC tournament, they were bounced in the semifinal. Last week, I picked the women’s basketball team to beat Colby and advance to the semifinals. They too, were defeated. Clearly, Liamstradamus, as I lovingly called myself earlier, is cursed. Please forgive me. Regardless of my personal failings though, and there are many, the world kept spinning and NESCAC basketball kept churning along. We’re down to four remaining teams, a final four if you will, and they’re squaring off this weekend in the semifinals and finals, hosted in Amherst. Before we get to the predictions for this weekend, let’s take a look back at the weekend that got us here.
NESCAC Quarterfinals Recap
1. Amherst defeated 8. Bates 76-35
Amherst continued their undefeated season with a thorough dismantling of the team from Lewiston. A surprise tournament appearance was the culmination of an up and down season for the Bobcats who finished the year 8-17 overall. The game was basically over as soon as it began, with Amherst jumping to a commanding 22-5 lead after just one quarter of play. Although Bates played a good second quarter, the lead continued to grow until Amherst had run them out of the gym. The big story coming from the game though was the disturbing play of Nina Davenport ’18, who fouled out after only playing 3 total minutes. Without their leading scorer, the Bobcats were forced to lean heavily on their four other starters who recorded 37, 35, 38, and 31 minutes as a unit. Amherst relied on Emma McCarthy ’19 who turned in a 19-point and 9-rebound performance.
2. Tufts defeated 7. Williams 58-40
Tufts remained hot on Amherst’s heels with a convincing victory over a talented Williams team. Tufts, the number three team in the most recent D3hoops poll, had a 14-point lead at halftime and never looked back as they closed out this quarterfinal battle. Michela North ’17 led all scorers with 14 points, while two other Jumbos contributed 11 points as the team advanced. Williams shot themselves in the foot with 23 turnovers, and they also struggled to rebound the ball, getting outrebounded by five. The Ephs were much closer in other statistical categories. The Jumbos barely outshot Williams in terms of percentage, and the Ephs also generated 16 points in the paint, a solid number for the team. Again, I have to come back to them getting absolutely killed by turnovers. Tufts attempted 22 more shots than the Ephs as a result of the extra possessions. That disparity is nearly impossible to overcome for a poor shooting team like Williams.
3. Bowdoin defeated 6. Conn College 72-47
Bowdoin continued their string of impressive performances with an evisceration of the visiting Camels. The Polar Bears have now climbed to number 17 in the latest D3hoops poll and look poised to make some noise in the national tournament. Despite trailing after one quarter of play, the Bowdoin refused to give up and stormed back to take the lead by halftime. A dominant third quarter put the game out of reach and ended the hopeful Camels’ season. Bowdoin managed to get 15 players into the game and saw production spread across the starters and bench units that entered the game. Marle Curle ’17 and Taylor Choate ’19 scored in double digits, but also contributed four and five rebounds respectively, as well as three assists each. Bowdoin is playing dominant basketball right now and looks just as impressive as their record would indicate.
5. Colby defeated 4. Middlebury 48-39
I hate to say I told you so, but I did and I don’t hate it so… I told you so. Sarah Kaufman ’18 has been Middlebury’s engine all year. In wins she has averaged over 15 points a game, in losses she has struggled to crack 5. Colby clearly keyed in on Kaufman, forcing her into contested looks and limiting her to only 10 points on 3-7 shooting. Middlebury’s depth, which I lauded last weekend as one of their strengths, collapsed in the quarterfinals. The bench unit is largely comprised of first years and the intensity in a do or die NESCAC playoff game is definitely a step up from a normal regular season contest. Colby was carried by the duo of MK Caverly ’17 and Haley Driscoll ’18 who scored 18 and 12 points respectively. Middlebury is surely disappointed in this loss. They’ve been a dominant unit all season and outrebounded and assisted the Mules, but it was in vain. Their season ends, and the Mules trot off to their second straight NESCAC semifinal appearance.
NESCAC Semifinals Preview
So, with the quarterfinals out of the way all we have left is one action packed weekend of semifinals and final to tide us over until the NCAA tournament begins. Amherst, Tufts, and Bowdoin are all, in my mind, locks to make the NCAAs regardless of the outcome this weekend, but if Colby wants to keep playing they’re going to have to find a way to win two games against some really tough competition. So, let’s take a look at the Mules’ chances this coming weekend.
1. Amherst vs. 5. Colby
Although Colby looked good this weekend in dispatching the Panthers, taking on this team from Western Mass is an entirely differently animal. When the two teams met in late January, Amherst dominated the game and strolled out with a convincing 69-43 victory. The biggest problem for Colby will be their ability to score. Holding Amherst down is difficult, they’ve only scored less than 50 points twice this year, and one of those games was the rock fight they had with Tufts a couple weekends ago. Colby is the ninth best offense in the NESCAC in terms of scoring offense and didn’t even crack 50 in their win this past weekend against Middlebury. As the Mules’ leading scorer and rebounder Driscoll will have to put on an absolute show for Colby to have any chance in this game. Additionally, Colby will need to find a way to shut down Amherst’s three point attack. Amherst is one of the best shooting teams in the conference, but Colby is one of the best at defending the three point line. A big game from Driscoll, combined with limiting Amherst’s three point opportunities will be the key to success for the Mules. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening. Amherst is too deep, too talented, and too consistent to lose this game. They beat Colby and advance to the finals with a dominating win.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
2. Tufts vs. 3. Bowdoin
This game should be much more exciting than the Amherst vs. Colby game. Bowdoin has been playing some of their best basketball as of late. They’ve won 9 straight games since their loss to Amherst, and the average margin of victory in those games has been an impressive 26 points. Yes, this also includes the 40-point demolitions of fellow semifinalist, Colby, and Hamilton, who nearly missed the tournament. Tufts, meanwhile, has been winning all year. That’s it, Tufts just wins. They’re 24-1 and their only loss has come to undefeated Amherst. Any year when you can put together 24 wins is surely a successful one, but I’m sure Tufts is itching to avenge their 1-point losses to Amherst earlier this year and in the NESCAC finals last year. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll get the chance. Bowdoin is my pick for this game and I’ll tell you why. The last time these two teams played Tufts narrowly defeated Bowdoin 46-43. But there were a couple of factors in that game that indicate to me that it was an anomaly. Firstly, Bowdoin averages only 15 turnovers per game this year, in their first matchup with Tufts they coughed up the rock 30 times. Secondly, Bowdoin is at their best when they can spread the ball around and get everyone involved. No Polar Bear averages more than 10 points per game, and 8 average more than 5. In their games against Tufts, Bowdoin relied heavily on one player, Abigail Kelly ’19, who scored 21 points. The next highest scoring Polar Bear was Ally Silfen ’17 with 8. And thirdly, Bowdoin shot only 30 percent from the field in that game, while their season average is second best in the conference at 43.3. Of course, I would be remiss to exclude the possibility that Tufts might have just forced this upon Bowdoin in their first game. Tufts is very good at forcing turnovers, generating 22.4 a game. Their exceptional defense also allows just 31.5% shooting and only 42.1 points per game. The Jumbos are a very talented team and certainly, as the two seed, enjoy some sense of favoritism in this game. I just think that given Bowdoin’s recent show of excellence, the strange nature of their first game against Tufts, and the fact that this game is being played in Amherst rather than Medford, the situation is ripe for Bowdoin to sneak a win from the mighty Jumbos and leap into the conference finals.
Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin
NESCAC Finals Prediction
Wow that was a long one. Sorry about that I got a little caught up. Let’s move on and take a look at my presumptive finals matchup, Amherst vs. Bowdoin, since I won’t have time to churn out another article between Saturday and Sunday.
1. Amherst vs. 3. Bowdoin
The last time these two teams squared off Amherst ran away with the game, winning 66-45 on Bowdoin’s home court. I wrote afterward that Bowdoin had to be perturbed that they looked so helpless against the upper echelons of the conference. Since that game however, Bowdoin has been on a tear, winning their last nine. While Bowdoin has stepped up their game as of late, Amherst is continuing their routine of absolute dominance. 25-0 does not happen by accident. A near unanimous position atop the national top 25 is no fluke either. Right now, Amherst is the favorite in every game they play, and the same is true in this game. This game could certainly come down to a 3 point competition. These teams are numbers one and two in the league in total three-pointers made (Amherst being one and Bowdoin being two). In terms of percentage, Bowdoin is best in the league with Amherst claiming the second spot. The real difference between the two comes when defending the 3 point line. Bowdoin is a middling 3 point defensive team, in terms of both total makes conceded and percentage allowed. Amherst, on the other hand, is the best team in the league in terms of three-point defense, conceding the least amount of made threes and forcing their opponents to shoot the worst percentage in the league. Amherst’s league topping defense in points allowed per game will also have to shut down Bowdoin’s league-best offense in terms of points scored per game. Bowdoin’s hope has to be that this game turns into a shootout. The Polar are an extremely balanced scoring team, perhaps the most in the league. They have to hope their shooters, Lauren Petit ’18, Kate Kerrigan ’18, Curle and Kelly can outshoot Amherst for a full 40 minutes. On the other side though is the NESCAC’s fifth-leading scorer Ali Doswell ’17 and her cohort of talented teammates. Emma McCarthy ’19 and Hannah Hackley ’18 could have huge games to power the purple, and don’t sleep on Ali’s twin sister Meredith Doswell ’17, the team’s 4th leading scorer and 2nd leading rebounder to quietly propel her team to victory. I think Amherst has enough firepower to defend their NESCAC crown.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
As this weekend draws closer and we begin to wrap-up an exciting season of basketball, I’d just like to thank everybody who has read even one of these articles. They’ve been fun to write and have certainly allowed me to become more accustomed with the women’s side of the NESCAC, something I rarely get to do as a player for the men’s team (Coach won’t let me watch the women’s games on my phone on the bench, which is just ridiculous. C’mon, Coach, it’s 2017). I’m looking forward to seeing how this weekend turns out. I am sad my friends on the Middlebury women’s team couldn’t make it this far, but we’re still left with four great teams and two more hair raising games of NESCAC basketball. So, let’s all enjoy the weekend and watch some of the best teams in the country duke it out one last time!
Wow, what a final weekend of basketball! Tons of movement in the lower half of the bracket really shook up the first round matchups and left us primed for an exciting first round of the NESCAC playoffs. My apologies to the the teams from Wesleyan, Hamilton, and Trinity. You all had really fun seasons and all look ready to make major moves in the conference next year. Unfortunately, the clock has run out on this season for these three teams, and with them missing the playoffs, we’re down to our final eight. Eight very good teams stand before me, but only one can be America’s next top model! No, that’s not right… only one can be the NESCAC champion! Yeah, that’s it. Below you’ll find my prediction for all four games this weekend as well as a brief description of what that could mean for the semi-finals and finals in two weeks. Here we go!
1. Amherst (24-0, 10-0) vs. 8. Bates (8-15, 3-7)
I had faith in the Bobcats to sneak out a win against the rapidly falling Ephs from Williams last weekend, but Bates was walloped and dropped all the way from a potential 6 seed, to the 8 seed. And for their failure they are punished! Bates is coming up against a team that has to be considered the best in the country at this point in Amherst. The Purple have been on a tear all year, easily dispatching every opponent they’ve come across to the tune of a 24-0 record. The two sides met just a couple weeks ago in Lewiston and Amherst cruised to victory, winning 75-37. Bates’ workhorse, Allie Coppola ’17, certainly did her part in that game scoring 10 points, but she can’t singlehandedly carry the Bobcats to victory against a team as good as Amherst. She’s going to need help, particularly from the bench and from her usual partner in crime, leading scorer Nina Davenport ’18. Those two will have to play out of their minds just to keep this game close. I just don’t see it happening though. Look for Amherst to dominate this one on both ends of the floor and win.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
2. Tufts (23-1, 9-1) vs. 7. Williams (15-9, 4-6)
Williams beat Bates last Sunday to secure their place in the NESCAC tournament, but their weekend was all good. On Friday the Ephs were blasted 61-27 on their home court by the same Jumbos that they’ll have to play Friday. The Ephs are a talented team, but they’ve struggled this year against superior competition, losing to every single team currently ranked higher than them in the NESCAC tournament. Tufts, meanwhile, has been either the best, or second best, team in the country for the whole year. If your only loss on the season is a 1 point nail biter to the number 1 team in the nation, then you have to consider that season a rousing success. The key to Tufts’ dominance has been their defense. They surrender a stingy 42.2 points per game to their opponents, and only allow them to shoot 31.4 percent from the field. A Williams team that is decidedly average on the offensive side of the ball and has struggled all year against teams as talented as Tufts, probably won’t see much success in this game. Tufts should cruise to victory and set their sights on returning to the NESCAC semi-finals and finals. Of course, I said Williams wouldn’t even make this tournament so what do I know?
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
3. Bowdoin (20-3, 8-2) vs. 6. Conn College (16-8, 4-6)
A disappointing final weekend that saw them finish 0-2 dropped Conn from the five seed down to six. If they had managed to beat Colby on Friday they would be heading to Middlebury to visit me and the rest of the Panthers this Saturday instead of slogging to Maine to play the Polar Bears. I mention this because the Polar Bears have been nigh on unbeatable at home. Bowdoin is 7-1 at home with their only loss coming to Amherst. Their only other loss in NESCAC play was a tough 3 point defeat at the hands of Tufts. Everyone else has folded before Bowdoin, who defeated Conn just last week, in Brunswick 68-49. Conn was surely missing the presence of Payton Ouimette ’19, who has been out since late January. If the Camels are to have any hope of beating the Polar Bears then Mairead Hynes ’18 and Liz Malman ’17 will need to step up. Look for Bowdoin to continue their offensive dominance though. They’ve scored the most points per game in the NESCAC for the year with 74.9, and shoot the best from deep, bombing away at a 37. 6 percent clip. This will be a tough matchup for Conn who surrenders the third most points per game in the league. Sorry for not being exciting, but I can’t see the underdogs from New London pulling this one out. Bowdoin wins and begins preparations for the semi-finals by halftime of this game.
Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin
4. Middlebury (17-7, 6-4) vs. 5. Colby (12-11, 4-6)
Call me biased, or a homer, or Liam, or whatever you want, but this has got to be the game of the week. Not only is this super exciting for me, since both the men’s and women’s teams are hosting quarterfinal games for the first time in my years here at Midd, but it also should be exciting for anybody who is a fan of basketball. These two teams provided us with a great game earlier this year, that eventually went into overtime before Middlebury caught fire and won 64-49. Its strange to see a game become so lopsided in overtime but don’t let that fool you, this was a hard fought game all the way through. Middlebury led by 10 at the half, but Colby dominated the second frame of the game and won the fourth quarter 17-9 to even force the overtime. Middlebury caught fire from three in this game as well, shooting 6-15 on the night. The real place where Middlebury has an advantage, and this was displayed in the overtime, is their depth. Middlebury is comfortable bringing five, and sometime even six, different players off their bench. A total of seven different Panthers have managed to crack the starting lineup this year. Colby, on the other hand, relies heavily on their top seven players to get the job done and goes deeper into their bench only sparingly. If this game is another close contest, look for Middlebury’s depth to shine and help them put away the game. Conversely, if Colby can get a good performance from Haley Driscoll ’18 then they have a real puncher’s chance in the game. Additionally, the Mules should focus on shutting down the electric Sarah Kaufman ’18 in this game. In losses Kaufman is only scoring 5.2 points per game, while in wins she is amassing 15.4 ppg. When Kaufman is on, the Panthers go, when she’s off, they falter. I see Middlebury winning another tight contest and advancing to the semi-finals, but the Mules will be no pushover thats for sure.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Sorry, I’ve been boring. I’ve picked the top four seeds all to advance and nary an upset in sight. Of course, while upsets are fun, I’m not going to go against logic here. None of the top 3 teams in the conference have lost to anybody but each other, and all three have gotten into the habit of blowing out their conference competition. Meanwhile Middlebury, only has one loss to a non-top three team, a fluky loss to Hamilton that Sarah Kaufman did not play in. The conference this year has been harshly divided into tiers. The upper tier has absolutely dominated the lower tier, and looks poised to continue that domination into the tournament. If my predictions are all correct, then the semi-finals will take place in Amherst next weekend. Amherst will play Middlebury and Tufts will play Bowdoin, and from there I’d say we’re poised for a rematch of last year’s final between Amherst and Tufts. Of course, several things in this first round could change that. A determined Conn College team might shock the Polar Bears and open the door for Middlebury or someone else to take on Tufts in the semi-finals. The Mules of Colby might kick the Panthers early and revisit the semifinals much like last year. Bates might put the fear of god into Amherst and rattle their confidence. Who knows!? We’ll just have to tune in this weekend to find out!