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!