Anything Can Happen: Tufts @ Hamilton Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

Tufts (17-7, 6-4) @ #15 Hamilton (21-3, 7-3), 3:00 PM, Clinton, NY

It’s finally time for the madness that is the NESCAC tournament. Last season we saw the title game between Middlebury (the #2 seed) and Williams (the #6 seed), which shows that really anything can happen. Only adding to the chaos is the fact that 5 teams tied for first place this season, giving Middlebury a road game in the first round despite being tied for first, and giving Tufts the #6 seed despite being just a single game out of first place. Many people (or just me) have likened the NESCAC tournament to FIFA’s Euro Cup – it is a smaller tournament that only covers one region, yet many people argue that it is more difficult to win the Euro Cup than the FIFA World Cup because the Euro Cup boasts a much deeper pool of teams. I would argue that the same could be said about the NESCAC – the conference consistently has more tournament teams than anyone else, and the conference tournament is certainly deeper top to bottom than the NCAA Division III tournament. As a result, the first round games are just as exciting as the later round games, especially in a season where the teams are so evenly matched. The opening round game between #3 Hamilton and #6 Tufts is one to highlight, as this season has been a bit of a role reversal for both teams:

Overview:

Hamilton comes into the matchup at #15 in the nation after finishing the season at an outstanding 21-3 mark, including 7-3 in conference play. The Continentals got off to a blistering start, coming out of the gates at 14-0 before suffering a bad loss to the eventual #1 seed Amherst. They dropped games to Bowdoin and Williams as well, placing them in the midst of the 5-way tie. In their first meeting, Hamilton traveled to Medford and handed it to the Jumbos in a 74-57 drubbing in an incredibly ugly shooting game. The star for Hamilton, sophomore Kena Gilmour ’20, had a modest game in the first meeting, netting 10 points on 2-9 shooting, while hauling in 9 boards. As a team, the Continentals lead the NESCAC in points per game (87.4), steals per game (8.8), and turnovers forced per game (18.4). This means that Hamilton will look to run and speed up the game, because the higher the score goes, the better their chances.

Kena Gilmour ’20 is becoming a star right before our eyes, but can he do it in his first playoff experience?

The story for Tufts this season has been a bit different. Although they were just a game out of first place, they finished with the #6 seed – their lowest finish since 2013-2014. What’s interesting is that had Tufts not dropped their meeting with Bates, they would have entered into a 6-way tie for first place, which is crazy to think about. Either way, here we are, with this intriguing matchup. In their regular season game with Hamilton, Vincent Pace ’18, the unquestioned star for Tufts, only put up 12 points and 6 rebounds on 3-14 from the field and 1-8 from deep. These numbers are nothing in comparison to his season line of 17.6PPG, 8.3REB/G, 40% FG. The real issue for the Jumbos was that they were outrebounded by Hamilton, 49-38. While Hamilton may have one of the biggest lineups in the league, Tufts has to be better keeping them off the boards if they want to have a chance in this one. Tufts also shot an abysmal 24% from the field, which will likely improve in this contest.

Hamilton X-Factor: F Michael Grassey ’19

Michael Grassey

The Continental lineup is stacked with scorers, and Grassey is one of them. He has had a very consistent presence all season, averaging 13.7PPG, 6.7REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42.2% 3PT. What sets Grassey apart is that he has the ability to really go off, in addition to being a consistent scoring threat. He has had three 20-plus point performances (27 vs. Conn College, 29 vs. Cazenovia, 24 vs. Utica) and can get REALLY hot from downtown. In those three games combined, he went 16-22 from behind the arc. At 6’4”, 205lbs, he is tall enough to shoot over guards, and his size makes him a prolific rebounder. Hamilton has many weapons, but if Michael Grassey ’19 can put up a big performance, they are nearly impossible to beat.

Tufts X-Factor: duo of C Luke Rogers ’21 and C Patrick Racy ’20

Patrick Racy
Patrick Racy ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics) 

As I mentioned before, Tufts struggled on the rebounding  side in their first meeting with Hamilton. Guards Vincent Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18, and Everett Dayton ‘18 provide the majority of the Jumbos’ rebounding, despite them having two large centers in their rotation. This game for Tufts will be decided by this duo because with Rogers standing at

Luke Rogers
Luke Rogers ’21 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

6’8”, 230lbs and Racy at 6’7”, 215lbs, they are huge presences in the paint. They have similar stat lines – about 5PPG, 4.5REB/G, 45% FG – and each play just under 20 minutes per game. This means that they have a similar effect, so Coach Sheldon has the option of playing them separately to always have one on the court at all times, or they could go big and put them both on the floor to match Hamilton’s size. Either way, I expect these centers to have a much larger impact in this one.

Final Thoughts:

I have to admit, all signs seem to point to Hamilton in this one. They crushed the Jumbos in their first matchup in Medford, and have seemed to play better, consistent basketball this season. This will likely be a high scoring game with the Continentals and Jumbos having the 1st and 3rd highest scoring offenses respectively. Hamilton shoots a much higher percentage from the floor, from three-point land, and from the charity stripe, which obviously gives them a huge edge. I praise the Continentals, but I have a weird feeling about this one. Their lineup is still a bit young and unproven in the postseason, and NESCAC basketball is just really weird. Vincent Pace ’18 is an absolute winner, and has proven himself capable of putting up huge performances, as he displayed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season when he put up 37 points. Hamilton may be 21-3 and #15 in the nation, but for some reason I’m not completely sold on them so I have to go with my gut feeling here. The #6 seed means nothing to the Jumbos and I believe that Pace and co. have a little bit of tourney magic in them to steal a win from the hands of the Continentals.

Vincent Pace ’18 has several clutch performances under his belt, and we think his biggest one is yet to come.

Writers Pick: Tufts 86-81

2017 NESCAC Championship Repeat? Power Rankings 2/1

While Pete was quick to point out my recent whiffs in predictions, he neglected to say how when I put Hamilton at the top of the power rankings two weeks ago, they were still undefeated and coming off of a win against a strong Wesleyan team. Did I account for the fact that Kevin O’Brien contracted an illness making him unable to play? No. They still had an undefeated record in mid-January, and despite their lack of credible opponents, I became a believer. I am not so certain anymore. Also, I talked about how Bates was a sneaky threat to compete against Wesleyan. After a big win against Tufts and some close games against other top teams, their arsenal of players had a shot to run the table. But I jinxed them. While my credibility is certainly in doubt at the moment, made clear thanks to some familial disloyalty on the website, here are this week’s rankings—Take ‘em or leave ‘em:

1. #6 Middlebury (16-3, 5-1)

Last Week: 87-81 W @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Bowdoin; vs. Colby

While Midd’s shooting has been a question as late as they are waiting for F Matt Folger ’20 to heat back up, Jack Daly ’18 has continued his dinking and dunking (not actual dunking) to grind out wins for the Panthers. While they lack a consistent outside shooting presence, Folger has shown signs of life of late in mid-week games, and Joey Leighton has been a diamond in the rough who came in as the player of the game against Williams a few weeks ago. This weekend provides a limited test in a Bowdoin team hot after knocking off the struggling continentals, followed by what should be a guaranteed win against Colby. They are hot and haven’t lost since the first conference weekend against Wesleyan and have earned this spot with quality wins and a reliable defense.

2. #13 Williams (16-4, 4-2)

Last Week: 75-58 W @ Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby; vs. Bowdoin

Following a valiant comeback effort against Middlebury two weeks ago, the Ephs took care of business against a struggling Trinity team—in more convincing fashion than the Panthers. James Heskett has emerged as a monster, valiantly replacing Kyle Scadlock, pitting him in the middle of the NESCAC POY race. He shot 12-15 against the Bantams, dropping 34 points to go along with four steals. He dominated the floor and made up for poor shooting from Bobby Casey  (4-15 FG). Henry Feinberg stepped in for Mike Greenman (out with injury) in the starting lineup this week and played well in the wake of a solid bench performance against Middlebury. Williams now has a big and athletic lineup that has impressive depth. Look for them to continue winning if Heskett keeps shooting like Steph Curry.

James Heskett ’19 may be the frontrunner for POY.

3. #17 Wesleyan (16-4, 5-2)

Last Week: 60-52 W vs. Tufts, 68-50 W vs. Bates

This Week: @ Trinity

Losing Kevin O’Brien to an illness has surely hurt the Cardinals’ starting lineup recently, but should feature its PG again soon. Two easy wins against Tufts and Bates—unranked mid-tier NESCAC teams, but not exactly chumps—leave them with a spot alone in second place in the standings with just three games to go. Jordan Bonner is starting to find his shot again, and the trio of Nathan Krill, JR Bascom, and Jordan Sears have been putting around 25 points and 25 rebounds per game, a balanced and deep defensive and supportive scoring effort that leaves Wesleyan in a great spot with a light weekend against Trinity. Look for them to climb back up the rankings when they get O’Brien back.

4. Amherst (13-6, 4-2)

Last Week: 75-60 W vs. Bowdoin; 82-77 W @ Colby

This Week: @ Tufts; @ Bates

Amherst is starting to roll late in the regular season as they put up a nice undefeated weekend against a Bowdoin team that looked great against Hamilton. This team also blew Hamilton out. Four of their starters scored double-digit points against the Polar Bears, ending the night at a 50.8 FG%, enough to win against any team. They have now shot at 47% FG or higher in their last three NESCAC games, which shows that are hot and ready to take on the Jumbos and Bobcats this weekend. The Mammoths are slowly returning to their former form, led by Johnny McCarthy ‘18, Grant Robinson ’21, and Michael Riopel ’18. The young and the old are slowly leading this team towards the top of the rankings and standings. Watch out up top.

5. #21 Hamilton (17-2, 4-2)

Last Week: 76-67 W @ Colby OT; 68-72 L @ Bowdoin

This Week: @ Bates; @ Tufts

I would like apologize to Hamilton fans for putting the pressure of the #1 spot in the power rankings in their court. They couldn’t handle it. Back to back losses to Bowdoin and Amherst (75-49!) are showing that perhaps these continentals aren’t as strong as their record appears. I’m not discounting their body of work in its entirety—they are still ranked 21st in the nation. They were simply outplayed against Bowdoin, shooting 36.5% from the field compared to Bowdoin’s impressive 45.2% clip. They also went to OT vs. Colby which is much more of a red flag than either of their losses. Their star, Kena Gilmour, went just 6-20 in the game shooting and is 9-31 in his last two conference games, not exactly carrying the team to victory. Tim Doyle, Michael Grassey, and Peter Hoffmann all have the ability to put up big games though, making their starting five deadly when they get hot. Time for a gut check.

Tim Doyle and the Continentals are struggling heading into the home stretch of NESCAC play.

6. Bowdoin (14-5, 3-3)

Last Week: 72-68 W vs. Hamilton, 60-75 L vs. Amherst

This Week: @ Middlebury; @ Williams

After a big win against the Continentals and a loss against the suddenly scary Amherst team, these Polar Bears have a brutal away weekend ahead of them. They are firmly pitted in the middle of the NESCAC, likely to make the playoffs, but also likely to play their first postseason games on the road. The trio of Jack Simonds, David Reynolds, and Hugh O’Neil are dangerous and capable of going off enough to challenge these top teams in Middlebury and Williams. This could be a preview of one of the early or semifinal playoff games, giving us a peek into how much of a contender this Bowdoin team is.

7. Tufts (15-6 ,4-3)

Last Week: 52-60 L @ Wesleyan; 86-54 W @ Conn

This Week: vs. Amherst; vs. Hamilton

The Jumbos are struggling and are looking less like a championship capable team after several weekends of mediocrity. Their losses to Bates and Wesleyan drastically diminished their overall ranking and raises some serious concerns for this weekend against Amherst and Hamilton. They might lose both but need to at least split to have a shot at a home game in the first round. Their overall lack of scoring depth give them a bleak outlook against most of the top teams. Vincent Pace and Patrick Racy were the lone Jumbos to score over five points against Wesleyan, still only shooting 12-29 between them (decent, but not enough from the two top scorers). For this team to win close games, KJ Garrett is going to need to step up (1-9 shooting against Wesleyan).

Vincent Pace has been trying to keep Tufts afloat, although he was unable to do so in a crushing recent loss to Bates.

8. Bates (11-10, 3-4)

Last Week: 69-56 W @ Conn, 50-68 L @ Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Hamilton; vs. Amherst

I don’t have a whole lot of positive things to say about the Bobcats after falling flat against a Wesleyan team missing its starting PG. 19-57 shooting was not nearly enough to compete, combined with a complete lack of defense. Bates hauled in just 26 rebounds compared to 53 from Wesleyan and basically gave themselves no chance to win. Their two star players Jeff Spellman and James Mortimer shot just a combined 5-14 on the night. For Bates to have any chance to make a run at the playoffs, those two are going to need to make more of an impact.

9. Trinity (13-7, 2-4)

Last Week: 81-87 L vs. Middlebury; 58-75 L vs. Williams

This Week: vs. Wesleyan; @ Conn

While they had a strong performance against Middlebury, a big loss against Williams earlier in the weekend kind of took away any of the positives from the weekend. They couldn’t guard James Heskett and Eric Gendron was the only player with any ability to score (7-13, 18 points). Against Middlebury, although they were losing, they had a ridiculous 32 fouls, leaving the result of the game up to Jack Daly’s free throw shooting ability (he went 18-20 and iced the Bantams). They have a tough test this weekend and need to win against Wesleyan to prove they can compete (I would be shocked if they pulled it off).

10. Colby (10-10, 1-5)

Last Week: 67-76 L vs. Hamilton OT; 77-82 L vs. Amherst

This Week: @ Williams; @ Middlebury

Taking Hamilton to OT was a solid game for a team that has little hope to have a posteason. Sean Gilmore, Sam Jefferson, and Matt Hanna all scored over 15 points in the game and gave the Mules a chance to win. While these three didn’t put their squad over the edge, their youth in the starting lineup—two sophomores and two first years—bodes well for their future success. Maybe not this year, but next year, the Colby team’s stock should rise.

11. Conn College (6-14, 0-7)

Last Week: 69-56 L vs. Bates, 54-86 L vs. Tufts

This Week: @ Wesleyan; vs. Trinity

The good news is that if I don’t say anything good about the Camels, there is nothing for me to jinx. While they finally lost a NESCAC game by less than 15 points (they lost by 13 to Bates), they also had two starters score zero points in the matchup, putting all the pressure on Dan Draffan, Ben Bagnoli, and David Labossiere. A three on five matchup for a team without league leading stars is not a recipe for success.

Throw Dem ‘Bos: 2017-2018 Tufts Men’s Basketball Preview

TUFTS UNIVERSITY JUMBOS

2016-2017 Record: 22-7, 8-2

2017-2018 Projected Record: 23-7

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:

Everett Dayton
Everett Dayton ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #4 Everett Dayton – Sr.

The senior from Pacific Palasides, California emerged as a quiet leader for the Jumbos last season, starting every game, running the offense and averaging 8 PPG. He plays solid defense and has shown off his scoring ability, aside from his ball-handling prowess. Tufts will look to Dayton this season to lead them on both ends of the floor, and in big moments in big games. Offensively, Tufts will have to play even more of a perimeter game with the loss of Center Tom Pelleschi. Dayton will need to be a facilitator, and also knock down three pointers when they are open. With a smaller lineup on the floor, ball movement will be paramount, and Dayton will be the Jumbos offensive catalyst, who will look to create shots for his teammates and run the floor. Tufts will get the most out of their offense when Dayton’s assists are high.

Thomas Lapham
Thomas Lapham ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #1 Thomas Lapham – Sr.

The second of the ‘Bos SoCal Guard tandem, Lapham is a grinder. He proved to be valuable for the Jumbos off the bench last season, shooting 42% from the field. He is a sharp shooter, who will look to breakout this season from behind the arc. Lapham has demonstrated his three-point shooting ability, last season burying 4 against Newbury College and 3 against Williams. This year’s offense will benefit a player like Lapham, who the Jumbos will need to step up and contribute right off the bat. If Lapham can knock down shots early, it will open opportunities for other seasoned shooters like Dayton and Pace. Lapham has proven he can contribute on both sides of the floor off the bench, and will bring his gamer mentality to his more consistent role this season. Look for Lapham’s numbers to rise this season, but it will be his leadership and competitiveness that will earn him extra minutes and add to the Jumbos win column.

Eric Savage
Eric Savage ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #5 Eric Savage – So.

My Breakout Player of the Year, Savage will be a huge the key to the Jumbos success in 2017-2018. Savage improved greatly over the course of last season, and was a regular contributor off the bench for Tufts later in the year. He put up 14 and 16 points in the Jumbos first two NCAA tilts last season, and had a season high 18 at Trinity in early February. Savage emerged as a consistent scoring threat for the Jumbos, and they will rely on him even more this season in a more consistent role. Savage is a natural scorer, who will help Tufts win basketball games by getting to the dish, facilitating, and knocking down open shots. If Savage can play good defense, he will spend a lot of time on the court for the Jumbos.

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #13 Vincent Pace – Sr.

A healthy Pace is Tufts best all-around player. A knee injury sustained in the NESCAC Tournament ended his Sophomore season, and battling other injuries last year, Pace was still able to be a major contributor for the Bos. Pace is a scorer, which he displayed against St. Johns Fisher in the NCAA Tournament dropping 37 points in a Jumbos victory. He averaged 14 PPG last season, shooting nearly 44% from the field, and giving the Jumbos 25 minutes per game, despite nagging injuries. Tufts has relied heavily on Pace in the past and they will continue to rely on him offensively this season. In losses against Amherst and Bates last year, Pace shot less than 32%, only putting up 6 points against Amherst. Tufts will need big time performances out of Pace this year. If he can stay healthy he will be an offensive weapon yet again for the Jumbos, working the perimeter with Dayton, Savage, and Lapham, but Pace can also guard forwards on defense.

Patrick Racy
Patrick Racy ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #24 Patrick Racy – So.

The biggest question mark for this 2017-2018 Jumbos squad is the replacement of four-year starting Center and Captain Tom Palleschi. The 6-7 Center from Connecticut, Racy contributed big minutes for the Jumbos as a Freshman when Palleschi went down with a knee injury in January. Racy was vital for Tufts on defense and on the boards last year, but without Palleschi, opponents will most likely attack the paint. If Racy can step up and guard some of the most potent NESCAC Bigs down low, Tufts will be a very tough defense to score on. Boards and good D will be the two keys to Racy’s Sophomore campaign, but he also poses an offensive threat as a mid-range shooter. Look for the big man to sneak in a few put-backs and draw some offensive attention with his smooth jumper. Racy will open the array of Jumbo shooters on the perimeter, even more.

Breakout Player:

G #33 Eric Savage – So.

(See above)

Everything Else

 YOUNG BOS:

Tufts will rely heavily on several returners to continue to be big contributors throughout their 2017-2018 campaign. That said, with the departure of senior impact players from last season like Tarik Smith and Tom Palleschi, there are some opportunities for the young talent on the Jumbos roster. Last year we saw Eric Savage work his way into the rotation by competing on both ends of the floor and stepping up down the stretch. Patrick Racy received valuable exposure in the during his fill-in time in Palleschi’s absence. This year, two first years stick out as early contenders to provide significant minutes for Tufts, Luke Rogers (F) and Brennan Morris (G). Rogers could be jumbo for Tufts. Now the biggest body on the roster, the kid has a ton of upside and will get chances early on to give Racy his rest. Look for Rogers to make an impact down low defensively and help Tufts on the offensive boards. Although the Jumbos are stacked at the guard position, Brennan can come off the bench and give Tufts some size. If Brennan can knock down some shots and contribute offensively early on, he could be big for the Jumbos spreading the floor and crashing the boards.

LIKE HE’S LOU WILL

KJ Garrett
KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

KJ Garrett provided some serious offensive spark for the Jumbos at certain crucial moments last season. He came off the bench and dropped 19 at home against Hamilton, willing Tufts to an eventual 13-point victory amidst their 10-game win streak. The University of Washington transfer from Southern California is an athletic weapon on the court, whose ability to rise above the rim is only matched by Colby’s Pat Dickert. Although Garrett is currently sidelined with a minor finger injury, he will be back and ready to go for Tufts. The Jumbos will continue to look to Garrett for that offensive spark. On a team loaded with shooters, Garrett will drive to the basket and get buckets in the paint, opening shooting opportunities for his buddies behind the arc. If Garrett can get healthy and stay healthy, I expect him to contribute early off the bench, moving into a more consistent role down the stretch, igniting the Jumbos guard-friendly offense.

 LIKE IT’S MARCH MADNESS

Tufts was upset in the NESCAC Playoffs by a Williams team they had taken apart 93-68 just two weeks earlier. Despite two well-earned victories in the NCAA Tournament, the Jumbos fell to Babson for the second time of the season, who eventually went on to win the National Championship. Last year’s squad was good, but this team is better. Tufts is led by a good group of senior impact players who will have a positive effect on the team on both ends of the floor and off the court. If the Jumbos are going to win the Conference and make a NCAA push this season, they will need to have that playoff mentality all season long. If they stay healthy, knock down open shots, and can replace Tom Palleschi’s impact, Tufts will have a very successful 2017-2018 season.

ROAD WARRIORS:

The Jumbos have a few big matchups on the road this year, including trips to Washington University in St. Louis for a season opening tournament, and a couple of showdowns in Southern California just before New Year’s. Tufts will also have to battle on the road in Conference. Probably their most vital stretch of the season will be their road trip facing off against Williams and Middlebury on back-to-back days. Williams should be a big tilt for the ‘Bos having eliminated them from the NESCAC Playoffs last season, and bouncing back to compete against a good Panthers squad will be tough. The Jumbos also have three straight road matchups in late January at Lesley, Connecticut College, and Wesleyan.

 

BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON MATCHUP:

February 3 vs Amherst

This will mark the third-to-last regular season game for the Jumbos, probably against their most formidable in-conference opponent. Amherst went 7-3 in Conference play last season, and were young. In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst returns a slew of senior contributors and will be looking to put together a more successful 2018 campaign. Tufts will have an opportunity to knock off a worthy opponent at home in front of a Friday night crowd at Cousens, and get hot as they look ahead to the NESCAC Tournament.