The Ancient Battle: Williams at Amherst Quarterfinals Preview

#6 Williams (17-7, 5-5) at #3 Amherst (17-6, 7-3), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Amherst, Massachusetts


It is so, so, so fitting that the Amherst-Williams rivalry gets to play out in the first round of the NESCAC tournament this weekend. As a little kid, I grew up attending Amherst basketball games. I idolized the likes of Andrew Olson ‘08 and Dan Wheeler ‘07 while I demonized the dreaded Williams squad and their silly cow mascot. I think I still have a shirt at home (far too small at this point) that reads “Eph, it’s what’s for dinner” with a picture of an Eph on the end of a fork. Yes, I grew up hating Williams, but since I arrived at Tufts I’ve lacked that ‘rival’ feeling for the Ephs and have flipped the script on my feelings for Amherst. That being said, real recognize real – Amherst is very, very good, especially when it comes time for the NESCAC basketball tournament. Given recent history and this season as a whole, this is a TOUGH match-up for Williams. Then again, Williams has had quite a bit of success in the NESCAC tournament as well, and the NESCAC trophy is no stranger to Williamstown.

Dating back to 2001, Amherst has won the most NESCAC championships: seven. Second place? Williams, who has four. However, Williams’ success comes earlier in the 21st century – the Ephs actually haven’t won the conference championship since 2010, and the last two times they were in the finals (2013, 2014), they lost to none other than Amherst. Over the past 16 years, in fact, Amherst has only failed to move past the semifinals three times. This means that if Amherst makes the finals, they are more likely to win the title game than to lose it. If Williams wants to reverse the direction of the rivalry, today is a good place to start.

Amherst X-Factor: Guard Michael Riopel ‘18

Michael Riopel ’18
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

If there was a 6th Man of the Year award, I would vote for Riopel 11 times out of 10. At 6’5”, his ability to come off the bench and either shoot the trey ball or get to the rack puts a lot of pressure on smaller and bigger guards alike that draw the short straw and have to match up with him. The junior has been fine against Williams this year, but I’m still waiting for him to light it up. He will likely be faced with a combination of Aronowitz, Teal, and Chris Galvin ‘18, all of whom he can take advantage of in different ways. After his two great performances against Williams, I would suspect that the Ephs will be in a crazy help defense to neutralize Dawson’s drives to the hoop. If this is the case, look for Rio to drain a few from downtown.

Williams X-Factor: Guard Cole Teal ‘18

Cole Teal ’18
(Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams needs a strong performance from Teal today, end of story. I don’t know if it was due to injury or something, but the nine minutes that Teal played in game two of the season series left the Williams offense in quite the rut. The way that the Ephs jack up threes, they can’t afford to be without their purest shooter, and Teal needs to show up. If he can get one or two to drop early, Amherst will have a much harder time staying in front of Casey and Aronowitz. It will also give sophomore Kyle Scadlock more room to work down in the post on Amherst’s Jacob Nabatoff ‘17. Defensively, however, Teal needs to be just as much of a workhorse. The Ephs cannot withstand strong performances from all three of Amherst’s top scorers – Dawson, McCarthy and Riopel – so Teal is going to need to play lockdown D on one of the latter two. Even if McCarthy or Riopel gets their points, as long as Teal makes it tough for them, he’s doing his job. Amherst isn’t the most selective team offensively, so if Teal can even make it a tad more difficult for them, Williams has a shot to pull of the upset. That being said, he can’t just play one side of the court – Teal needs to show up on both offense and defense if the Ephs are to have a chance.

Recent History:

Both of the Amherst-Williams matchups this year have ended in eight-point victories for Amherst. The first, a non-conference tilt played in Williamstown, was a tale of two very different teams. Amherst spread the floor and spread their scoring, taking the pressure off of Jayde Dawson ‘18 and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 for a change (though the two still scored 19 and 15 respectively). Coach Hixon only sent eight different players out on the floor for Amherst, but it was enough, and after a run to begin the second half, Amherst was able to maintain their lead and hold off the admirable efforts out of Cole Teal ‘18 and Dan Aronowitz ‘17. The two studs from Williams went off, netting 26 and 21 respectively, but unfortunately the rest of their team left their offense in the locker room. The Williams bigs struggled, resulting in a 80-72 loss for the Ephs.

In round two of this historic rivalry, the Purple and White hosted the Ephs in Amherst, this time ending in a 72-64 Amherst W. While Aronowitz again stepped up to the challenge, Teal barely saw the floor, and the Ephs just didn’t have enough firepower to match the Amherst attack. Bobby Casey ‘19 had an inefficient 11 points, and freshman Matt Karpowicz (who I am saying will undoubtedly be an All-NESCAC performer is junior year, if not next year), had a solid game with 12 points of his own. Unfortunately for Williams, that was it offensively, and Amherst walked away with a 2-0 lead in the season series after another strong performance from Dawson.

Final Thoughts:

This is a big mismatch at first glance, but these two teams are actually fairly similar. They both place a great deal of their offense in the hands of two terrific perimeter players (McCarthy and Dawson for Amherst and Aronowitz and Teal for WIlliams.) And they both lack consistent scoring inside, as their frontcourt rotations are filled with young players who haven’t stepped up to this point.

Williams offense will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to pull off the upset.

Williams matches up fairly well with Amherst defensively. Teal and Aronowitz are both long, rangy defenders who can give problems to Dawson and McCarthy. However, what I think will doom Williams in this game is a lack of depth. Aronowitz and Teal have proven themselves capable of playing great games on both sides of the ball against Amherst, but it they’re busy chasing around Dawson and McCarthy all day, who else is going to score for the Ephs? Amherst is also too reliant on their two best players, but Riopel and Eric Conklin ’17 are ready to take some pressure off. Williams will need to have another game like they did against Middlebury, in which every player is cooking from three. It’s happened before, but I don’t see it happening again.

Writer’s Pick: Amherst

Power Rankings Part 2- The East Playoff Teams

We ranked every team that team that is already done for the season, and now it is time to move our attention to those still playing. Since it is too early to wrap up their seasons, we will look towards the weekend. We cover why each team will win, each team will lose, and the player no one is talking about right now who we will be on Monday. And no, we don’t miss that irony. The NESCAC website championship weekend preview is also worth a look with a good overview of the four teams. Finally, we are breaking up the East and West. Note the rankings for each team are only relevant in our power rankings Just because we are putting Tufts first in the final power rankings doesn’t mean we think they will necessarily win. Our predictions will be out Friday morning.

4. Bates (19-19, 7-5)

Why They Will Win: Bates is playing with more and more confidence every week. That confidence isn’t shaken by losing four games in a row this week to Suffolk and St. Joseph’s (Maine). Their senior trio of Brad Reynolds ’14, Kevin Davis ’14, and Griff Tewksbury ’14 have to play extraordinary to give them a chance. If Reynolds pitches in the first game against Wesleyan, he will benefit from their lack of familiarity against him. Expect Reynolds to make relief appearances as well in his final college weekend. Davis and Tewksbury will have to carry an offense that lacked depth at the beginning of the year. Guys like Rockwell Jackson ’15, Brendan Fox ’17, and Sam Warren ’16 have done a great job stepping up and making sure it isn’t just a two man rodeo. Those guys need to continue to produce in order to score enough runs. The formula for success is a great start by Reynolds, a clean weekend fielding, and contributions up and down the lineup.

Why They Will Lose: If Bates loses the game Reynolds starts, then it’s chances of winning the whole tournament will all but disappear. There is no doubt that Bates is the least talented team in the whole tournament so it needs it’s strengths to be especially strong. The defensive problems we saw earlier in the year flared up this week in a four error game against St. Joseph’s. The real weakness for Bates is their pitching behind Reynolds. Chris Fusco is a senior who has pitched a lot of games, but his 5.35 ERA belies the fact that relying on him is a risky proposition. Will Levangie ’15 has a miniscule ERA (1.65), but has made only one relief appearance in the last four weeks so his status for this weekend is unclear. A host of relievers have pitched well in more limited roles, and it is possible Bates shuffles pitchers in and out to keep hitters from seeing anybody multiple times.

Sleeper- Dean Bonneau ’14 Relief Pitcher: One of the overlooked Bates seniors has quietly put together a nice season out of the bullpen. In 22 innings Bonneau has a 1.64 ERA and 9.00 K/9. He could be called on if one of the Bates starters falters early on. Bates will stretch whatever is working as much as possible, and Bonneau could be a magic balm for any pitching shortcomings that crop up.

1. Tufts (30-5, 9-3)

Why They Will Win: Over the course of the season, Tufts has proven themselves to be the most complete team in the NESCAC. They have scored more runs, gotten on base more often, allowed less runs, and committed less errors than every team in the NESCAC. Kyle Slinger ’15 is the best pitcher in the NESCAC, and Christian Sbily ’14 and Tim Superko ’17 are no slouches either. The three starters are also the top three in ERA for the NESCAC. On the other side of the ball we wrote about how Connor McDavitt has exploded at the top of the lineup, and Tufts deep lineup gets on base nearly four times out of ten (.398 team OBP). Their 30 wins in the regular season is an impressive accomplishment that shows the quality of player on the roster from the first to last player. Tufts will win if their starting pitching steps up once again like they have every time they have been called on this year.

Why They Will Lose: In a double elimination setting, games aren’t won on paper. Every team has weaknesses, and Tufts is no different with a bullpen that blew leads in three NESCAC games. Tom Ryan ’15 is the main reliever out of the pen, and he was involved in two of those games. Behind him the bullpen looks to be mainly Matt Moser ’16 and Spero Varinos ’17. The more games Tufts plays this weekend, the more and more their bullpen could be exposed. While we talked about how balanced Tufts’ hitting is, the flip side of that is they don’t have a go to thumper in the middle of the lineup. Put another way, Tufts relies on wearing down pitchers more than hitting the ball out of the park. The Jumbos have hit the least amount of homers of any team in the playoffs, though really only Amherst has a significant amount more. With the pitching improving in the playoffs, it’s possible Tufts will struggle to score runs.

Sleeper- Nick Cutsumpas ’14 Catcher: Ok, so it isn’t like Cutsumpas hasn’t performed all year with his .432 OBP and steady defense behind the plate, but others have hogged the headlines for the most part. The senior is somewhat of a streaky hitter. His last seven games with a hit have all been multi-hit games. If he gets hot this weekend, forget about it, Tufts will be too good to be beat.