Can the Baby Cardinals Fly?: Wesleyan Basketball Season Preview

Harry Rafferty '17 is looking to lead Wesleyan after the Cardinals graduated some big names last year (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Harry Rafferty ’17 is looking to lead Wesleyan after the Cardinals graduated some big names last year (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Editor’s Note: While 99% of the work on these previews is done by the writers, the projected records for all NESCAC Men’s Basketball teams were decided upon by the editors collectively,  not decisions of the writers themselves. So, if you want to be mad at someone about the record projections, be mad at us.

Projected Record: 6-4

Wesleyan had a tremendously uneven 2015-2016 season. They entered league play at 11-1 and many experts (like Joe McDonald and I) were calling them the best team in the league. But their performance in league play told a very different story. They finished at 5-5 and lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Middlebury.  Over the course of NESCAC play last season, Wesleyan both beat Amherst by 27 points and lost to Colby by 9. The Cardinals enter this season looking to recover from the discouraging end to last season. However, they have an uphill battle ahead of them. Among the losses they suffered in the offseason were BJ Davis, an All League point guard who was the heart, soul, crunch-time scorer and sick tip-slam aficionado of Wesleyan’s team. They also lost starting forward and rim protector Rashid Epps, and gritty, defensively minded guards Jack Mackey and Joe Edmonds. The importance of these players, particularly Epps and Davis, cannot be overstated.  But do not by any means count out the Cardinals. They have several players waiting in the wings (so to speak), eager to prove that the new generation can improve on the old one.

2015-2016 Record: 18-7, 5-5; lost to #4 seed Middlebury in quarterfinals of NESCAC tournament

Coach: Joe Reilly, 9th season, 108-91

Starters Returning:

Forward Joseph Kuo ‘17 (11.1 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.0 BLK/G)

Guard Harry Rafferty ‘17 (7.6 PPG, 1.5 AST/G, 0.8 STL/G)

Key Losses:

Guard BJ Davis ‘16, started 25/25 games (16.4 PPG, 2.7 AST/G, 1.4 STL/G)

Forward Rashid Epps ‘16, Started 25/25 games (9.5 PPG, 6.3 REB/G, 0.8 BLK/G)

Guard Jack Mackey, Started 16/25 games (8.1 PPG, 4.1 AST/G, 0.6 STL/G

Projected Starting Five

Guard Harry Rafferty ‘17

Harry Rafferty '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Harry Rafferty ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Along with Kuo and forward PJ Reed ‘17, Rafferty is the senior statesman of the Wesleyan team.  A gritty defensive specialist, Rafferty paired up with Davis and Mackey to give Wesleyan one of the deepest, most experienced backcourts in the league. Now Rafferty is the only one left, and he may need to step his offensive game up this season to make up for the loss of his colleagues. Rafferty shot 39.2% last year on only six shots per game, four of which were threes. Rafferty can expect an uptick in shot attempts, and will need to make the most of those opportunities if Wesleyan wants to continue their success.

Guard Salim Greene ‘19

Salim Green '19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Salim Green ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Many coaches throughout NESCAC were disappointed when Salim Greene chose Wesleyan before his freshman season.  Greene was one of the highest touted recruits in recent NESCAC memory, and drew wide interest from the league’s elite, such as Middlebury and Amherst. However, Greene’s freshman season was derailed by a concussion suffered in training camp.  He was never able to get in the rhythm of Wesleyan’s offense, and was buried behind Wesleyan’s many talented, more experienced guards.  But Greene is healthy, and much of his competition has moved into the ever-blackening, vociferous hellscape of the real world (having some senior year stresses, don’t mind me.)  Green is tremendously quick and an excellent shooter, and has the potential to be a defensive force on the perimeter.  He is the best candidate to don BJ Davis’s mantle as lead guard.

Guard Kevin O’Brien ‘19

Kevin O'Brien '19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Kevin O’Brien ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

O’Brien was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015-2016 season, overtaking Salim Greene as Wesleyan’s most impressive freshman.  He came on at the end of the season to start 9 games, averaging 3.8 points per game on 44% shooting in just 15 minutes per game.  At 6’5”, he has tremendous size for a guard, and showed the ability to use it to punish smaller defenders in the post and on the boards. O’Brien even showed a nice shooting stroke which should benefit from more reps this preseason.  With his size and versatility, O’Brien has the potential to be a classic NESCAC forward/guard combination in the mold of Lucas Hausman and (if I may hop in the time machine for a moment) Willy Workman from Amherst and Tim Edwards from Middlebury.

Forward Joseph Kuo ‘17

Joseph Kuo '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Joseph Kuo ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Kuo enters this season with the most responsibility of any Cardinal other than the Pope. He must both take BJ Davis’s place as the leading scorer AND Rashid Epps’ place in the middle of the defense and on the boards. Kuo averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds per game last season, despite battling a torn meniscus which sapped much of his mobility on both sides of the ball.  Kuo was able to use a delicate touch and good footwork in the paint to shoot nearly 50% from the floor, and a full recovery from his knee injury should allow him to emerge as a force on both sides of the ball.  Look for Kuo as a dark horse POY candidate this season, if Wesleyan runs much of its offense through him in the post.

Forward Nathan Krill ‘18

Nathan Krill '18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Nathan Krill ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Krill’s contributions on the court last season mirrored his hairstyle: highly energetic and very versatile. Krill provides the Cardinals with energetic rebounding and defense, but don’t let that sell short his offensive talents.  Krill shot just under 50% from the field, many of those coming on midrange jump-shots.  With greater playing time and freedom within the offense, Krill has the talent to extend his range to the three point line, giving Wesleyan a rare forward that can stretch the floor without sacrificing interior defense.

Breakout Player: Kevin O’Brien ‘19

O’Brien looks the part of a star, particularly in NESCAC.  He is tall and lanky, with long arms that allow him to guard multiple positions and rebound as well as many forwards.  It will be a major key (bless up) for O’Brien to develop a threatening outside shot, as Wesleyan does not have a ton of three point threats on the roster.  If he can do this, O’Brien has the size and skillset to be part of the next generation of NESCAC stars.

Everything Else:

Wesleyan certainly lost a lot of talent this offseason, but this may be a blessing in disguise.  Hidden behind the talented senior class that the Cardinals lost was a deep freshman class waiting to emerge.  Salim Greene and Kevin O’Brien made minor contributions last season when they got playing time, but they are far more talented than the roughly 15 minutes per game they played last season.  The departure of BJ Davis and Jack Mackey should allow that talented young backcourt to step forward and show what they can do.

The 2016-2017 season gives Wesleyan the opportunity to remake the style they play in.  When they struggled last season, it was often because their offense slowed down and they relied too much on BJ Davis going one on five. Epps also slowed them down with his lack of offensive moves in the paint. Nathan Krill’s insertion into the starting lineup gives them a mobile big man who can run the floor along with Salim Greene and Harry Rafferty.  Kuo should be considerably more mobile now that his knee has healed, and Kevin O’Brien is both big enough to help rebound and fast enough to get out on the break. We could see a far more explosive Wesleyan team than we did last season, which will help them match up with the other offense oriented teams in NESCAC such as Middlebury and Amherst.

An area in which Wesleyan will have to exceed expectations is their bench play.  Many of the players that made Wesleyan so deep last season now must slide into starting roles to make up for graduated seniors, leaving the bench very young. PJ Reed ‘17 provides a versatile set of skills on the second unit, but he will need to be more of a threat offensively than he was last season (he shot only 34.2% from the field.) Sophomore Jordan Bonner could be a wild card. He is known throughout the conference as a tremendous athlete, but is very raw in most other areas. If he can make significant strides in the finer points of the game, he could be crucial in giving Wesleyan some explosive offense from the second unit.  

Other than those two returners, Wesleyan’s bench, much like the library on a Friday afternoon, is primarily populated by freshman. Wesleyan has a large first year class this season, all of whom have the opportunity to compete for playing time.  Elijah Wilson ‘20 is the only true guard in the freshman class, and could be valuable as a three point threat.  The Cardinals also brought in two big men in David Dixon ‘20 and Justin Bergeron ‘20, both of whom are in the running for the backup big man spot vacated by Nathan Krill. In a league as deep as the NESCAC, it is imperative to have a solid second unit, and right now Wesleyan has considerable question marks in that area.

Wesleyan, and the rest of the league as well, benefits from a potentially far more stratified NESCAC this season.  The loss of Lucas Hausman from Bowdoin and Mike Boornazian from Bates creates a defined bottom tier, comprising most likely of the Maine schools and Hamilton.  Therefore, we may see far less upsets, allowing Wesleyan to play a considerably easier schedule. But, quite simply, they are also still a very good team. Wesleyan has the tools to not just survive the departure of those senior stars, but begin a new, even more successful era of Cardinal hoops.

NESCAC Quarterfinal Preview: #5 Wesleyan at #4 Middlebury

The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)
The Panthers are back in the NESCAC playoffs, and looking to beat Wesleyan for the 14th straight time. (Courtesy of Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus)

The last Cardinals victory over Middlebury came on Jan. 15, 2005. That’s 13 meetings, and one other NESCAC quarterfinal. Last season’s loss to the Panthers seemed to galvanize Wesleyan on their eventual championship run. This season’s game was a huge upset to start the season, as Wesleyan was expected to be near the top of the heap and Middlebury looked like a rebuilding project. Almost two months later, it’s hard not to see the Panthers as the favorite in this game. Playing at home is nice, a new frontcourt threat has emerged (more on that later), and Wesleyan is coming off of a shocking weekend where they dropped a pair of contests to Colby and Bowdoin. Will the Cards turn the tide today? It won’t be easy.

Last time they played: Middlebury 86 – Wesleyan 76, Jan. 8 at Wesleyan

It was a disastrous start for Middlebury. The Cardinals went up 14-2 in less than five minutes. Moments later, Middlebury coach Jeff Brown swapped out a few starters for his trio of freshmen, and the game completely changed. Eric McCord ’16, Zach Baines ’16 and Hilal Dahleh ’16 stopped the bleeding and helped the Panthers clamp down defensively. When McCord subbed out six minutes later it was a 20-14 Wesleyan lead, and later back-to-back Dahleh treys tied the game at 30-apiece. The second half was a battle, but a Middlebury onslaught to the tune of a 16-5 run in the final 3:25 proved to be the difference. In the end, Matt St. Amour ’16 was the Panthers’ top scorer, which is par for the course, but the 30 points received from McCord and Dahleh absolutely changed the game. On the flip side, 17 bench points from Joe Edmonds ’16 kept Wesleyan in the game, which leads to …

Wesleyan X-factor: G Joe Edmonds

Joe Edmonds '16
Joe Edmonds ’16

Edmonds and guard Harry Rafferty ’17 have had to adjust to slightly reduced roles this season. In 2014-15, six Cardinals played over 22.0 mpg, Edmonds and Rafferty included, and that duo started more games than not. The Cardinals have a lot more depth this season, and Rafferty and Edmonds have had to work off of the bench for the most part. Edmonds hasn’t had a great, high-volume shooting night since that evening against Middlebury. He has tallied 10, 11, 10 and 11 again in a handful of games, but otherwise has only taken a few shots and been held to single digits. The Cardinals are going to get plenty of points from guards BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16, but can Edmonds step up and chip in double digits off the bench while stretching the floor? A year ago, that was a no-brainer. Now, the answer is up in the air. Edmonds posted a 41.1 percent mark from behind the arc a year ago; he’s at 30.1 percent this season. Which Edmonds shows up today?

Middlebury X-factor: C Matt Daley ’16

Matt Daley '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Matt Daley ’16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Daley might be the most gifted big man in the NESCAC. He just can’t stay healthy, through no fault of his own. He’s had so many issues this season – a soft tissue strain in his groin, a foot injury, concussion symptoms, and plain old illness that kept him out last weekend. So he never turned into the 20-10 guy that pundits believed he could be. He’s still a force when he’s in there. Daley is currently sixth in the NESCAC in field goal percentage, and the defensive end/rebounding is where he really shines. The big man rips down 7.8 boards per game in under 22.0 mpg. Imagine if he was actually healthy for all of those minutes, too, not nursing injury after injury. For what it’s worth, Daley ranks 13th in the NESCAC in points per 40 minutes, which is a testament to his importance when in the game. Wesleyan has two big guys who are athletic scoring threats in Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 and Daley will be needed in order to stifle that pair.

Three Questions

1. How will Wesleyan shoot the ball from behind the arc?

If you’ve been reading along all year, you know that I’ve been fixated on the Cardinals (in)ability to shoot the three. They’re stacked with guys with great pedigrees who have underperformed in that regard this season. Wesleyan has taken the fifth-most three point attempts in the NESCAC, but is only making 32.3 percent of them (10th in the NESCAC). There was one hilariously bad four-game stretch against Amherst twice, Trinity and Tufts when Wesleyan shot 12-80 (15 percent) from deep. They went 8-22 (36.4 percent) in the last game against Middlebury. But of course, sports is a “What have you done for me lately?” business. Still, the recent returns aren’t much better. The Cards have upped the frequency with which they’re shooting treys recently, but not making any more of them. They are 22-81 (27.2 percent) over the last three contests. Will they be able to get open threes and make them today? Maybe, but Middlebury has a lot of length on the defensive perimeter. Jack Daly ’18 will give some trouble to Davis and Mackey, as well the super-long Zach Baines ’19.

2. Who wins the frontcourt battle?

Kuo and Epps vs. Daley and Adisa Majors ’18. The Wesleyan frontcourt is skilled brings a combination of size and speed. For Middlebury, Daley has the speed and length, while Majors has the brute strength. It’s an interesting match up, because I don’t know who has the advantage. Is it the pair of well-rounded forwards? Or can Daley and Majors work together to play as one shot-rejecting, block-defending, rim-protecting super-basketball-hero? Also in the mix are Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill ’18 – high motor, good length, and a work horse – and Connor Huff ’16 – high basketball IQ, and a good shotmaker. Lastly, Middlebury’s Zach Baines is sometimes employed as a stretch-4 type. That could be extremely problematic for Wesleyan, because Epps isn’t going to be quick enough to stop him on the perimeter.

3. Can someone other than Matt St. Amour put the ball in the hoop for Middlebury?

St. Amour has been a marked man since he started the conference season so strongly, and there hasn’t been a consistent second scorer for the Panthers. Sometimes it has been Daley, recently it’s been Majors, and a few times it’s been Baines or point guard Jake Brown ’17. My worry is that everyone will look to defer too much and no one will get the job done. Baines (7.1 ppg) has never played in a NESCAC playoff game, neither has Jack Daly (7.1 ppg) or Majors (6.9 ppg). If Daley can stay on the court for 25 minutes, I think he’s going to get a lot of usage and some big buckets, and subsequently Majors might see a few less minutes, but in those minutes he should be effective as well. On the perimeter, you’re not going to get one guy scoring a lot of buckets alongside MSA. Coach Brown likes to throw everyone in in the first half and feel out the flow of the game, so Hilal Dahleh or Bryan Jones ’17 are among those who could make a surprise impact with a couple of big shots early.

What to Expect

A lot of points. It might be a bit under the radar, but Wesleyan actually has the best field goal percentage defense in the league (38.1 percent) and the third-best points per game average defensively (68.1 percent), and still the Panthers ran up 86 points in their last meeting. Especially with Middlebury playing at home, Coach Brown is going to instruct his nephew, the younger Brown, to push the pace and get Wesleyan running. Tiring out the Cardinals’ high-usage starters, i.e. Davis and Mackey, is the key to testing out that depth. The Cardinals have won plenty of high-scoring games this year, though, so it won’t be easy to run them out of the gym. I think that Wesleyan will try to beat up on Matt Daley whenever he gets the ball down low and neutralize that second scoring threat that I just talked about above, forcing the Panthers to find someone else to score the ball. And, of course, both teams will lock onto the opposing superstar: Middlebury on BJ Davis and Wesleyan on Matt St. Amour. The Panthers are usually a switching team around the perimeter, but expect Jack Daly to man up with Davis to start. On the opposite end, my guess is that youngster Kevin O’Brien ’19 is tasked with covering St. Amour. I think the height advantage that St. Amour would have over Davis or Mackey would lead to a lot of easy buckets. That means that Edmonds will also be called on to cover St. Amour off of the bench.

It’s the No. 4-No. 5 game, so it should be a close one. I, of course, have somewhat of a vested interest here, so I apologize if my prediction waxes a little fanatical.

Prediction: Middlebury 75 – Wesleyan 70

The Best NESCAC Games This Season

If this photo gives nightmates to Ephs' fans, we apologize. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
If this photo gives nightmates to Ephs’ fans, we apologize. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Unlike some other NESCAC sports (*cough* football *cough*), in men’s basketball we see teams regularly battle all the way down to the wire. This season seemed like there were even more close games than usual. In total, six conferences games went to OT this year, twice the number from last season. Many more came down to one or two plays down the stretch. There were so many good ones that I decided to go back and count down the very best. Honestly, some of the games that got left out were great in their own right.

10. January 30: Bowdoin 85 over Colby 82, Brunswick, ME.

This was the best game I saw in person this season, and I feel wrong putting it this low. After all, it did feature the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year Lucas Hausman ’16 going bucket-for-bucket down the stretch with Chris Hudnut ’16, who was unstoppable on this day. Hausman would finish with 35 and Hudnut with 32. The difference was the 20 points the Polar Bears got from point guard Jack Bors ’19. Bowdoin led by as much as nine with 6:13 left in the game, but there wasn’t ever a doubt that Colby was going to make a run late. In overtime Jack Simonds ’19 had the first six points, and Hausman scored the next seven. Colby had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but John Gallego’s ’16 shot was no good. That this game is so low tells you a lot about how many quality finishes there were.

9. January 23: Colby 64 over Amherst 62, Waterville, ME

Colby entered this game 0-4 in conference while Amherst was 4-0. With that being said, this wasn’t nearly as big an upset as two years ago when a young Colby team shocked an eventual Final Four Amherst team in Waterville. The Team from Central Mass was ice cold, shooting 33.3/26.5/52.9 for the game. Luke Westman ’16 had just two points and fouled out halfway through the second half, but John Gallego ’16 stepped up to score 13 points. The Mules also benefited from Chris Hudnut ’16 playing well while still getting back to full strength and scoring 17 points. A controversial Connor Green ’16 offensive foul call helped to seal the deal for Colby in the final minutes as Gallego hit his free throws. A last second three by Green for the win failed to land, and Colby got their first conference win.

8. February 7: Colby 99 over Hamilton 95, Clinton, NY.

The highest scoring game of the NESCAC season, this was one of many games that went to overtime under weird circumstances. Down four with under 20 seconds left, Chris Hudnut ’16 hit a three to make it a one-point game. Hamilton missed one of two free throws, and Ryan Jann ’16 got fouled on a three point attempt essentially as time expired. He hit the first two but missed the third and the game went to overtime. The Mules controlled the extra period to give themselves new life in the NESCAC playoff race.  Patrick Stewart ’16 was dripping from three point land going 6-6 from beyond the arc to lead the way with 22 points. All five Colby starters finished in double figures.

7. January 15: Middlebury 85 over Tufts 82, Middlebury, VT.

At halftime the score was 40-40, and at the end of regulation it was 72-72. The theme of this game was Middlebury’s bench scoring 35 total points. An astonishing nine Panthers scored at least five points, a feat made even more incredible by the fact that the game was close the entire way through. The game went to overtime because of a cold-blooded three by Vincent Pace ’18 coming off a high ball screen. With ten seconds left in overtime and Middlebury up three points, the Jumbos got a great look to tie the game up. The three from Stephen Haladyna ’16 went in and out, and the Panthers got the big home victory.

6. January 10: Trinity 76 over Williams 75, Hartford, CT.

The final game of the first weekend was a dandy with the young Ephs pushing the veteran Bantams all the way to the end. The victory was a coming out party for Ed Ogundeko ’17, who scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The final 10 seconds were frantic with Shay Ajayi ’16 first putting Trinity up 74-73 on a fast break layup. Then he committed a stupid blunder fouling Cole Teal ’18 70 feet away from the basket. However, Jaquann Starks ’16 raced the other way for a layup to pull out the win for the Bantams. The loss was the first of a few late heartbreaking conference losses for Williams.

5. February 6: Middlebury 67 over Colby 65, Middlebury, VT.

The first half of this one was a smothering defensive performance from the Panthers, and the score was 35-22 Middlebury at halftime. The game really got going at the beginning of the second half when Colby went on a 32-10 run to turn a 15-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Credit has to go to Middlebury for not folding at this point and coming right back with an 11-3 run that made the score 58-57 Middlebury. The rest of the game was neck and neck. After Adisa Majors ’18 tied things up 65-65 with 0:30 left, Colby could have held for the final shot. However, Luke Westman ’16 drove and missed a layup. Jack Daly ’18 leaked out on the rebound for an easy bucket, and that proved to be the final difference.

4. January 30: Amherst 89 over Trinity 82, Hartford, CT.

The game between the top teams in the NESCAC fell on travel weekend with Trinity undefeated at 5-0 and Amherst at 4-1. This game was uptempo and close throughout, but it lacked any real drama. Amherst led the entire second half, and the Bantams never got the lead below five points. The Team from Central Mass was not slowed down at all by Connor Green ’16 having just seven points. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Jayde Dawson ’18 both scored more than 20 points to pace Amherst. Ultimately, this game was the only conference loss for Trinity, but it didn’t hurt them since Amherst lost on the road to Colby and Tufts, thereby ceding homecourt advantage to the Bantams.

3. January 22: Wesleyan 78 over Tufts 77, Middletown, CT.

Another fantastic finish in this one. The decision by Vincent Pace ’18 to go for the steal with Tufts up two points, five seconds left, and Wesleyan in-bounding the ball with 90 feet to go was a bad one. That sent BJ Davis ’16 to the line where he calmly hit both free throws. In overtime, Joseph Kuo ’17 made a layup with under 30 seconds left to give the Cardinals the win. Kuo, Rashid Epps ’16, and backup big man Nathan Krill ’18 combined for 50 points and 23 rebounds as the size of Wesleyan was too much for the perimeter-heavy Jumbos. Both teams shot terribly from the foul line and committed a ton of turnovers in an ugly contest.

2. January 16: Amherst 88 over Conn College 86, Amherst, MA.

In the moment, the Camels pushing Amherst to the brink seemed like an indication that Conn College was going to make a major run this year. That didn’t happen, but this game was still a lot of fun to watch. Defense was optional in the first half after which Conn College led 49-45. Lee Messier ’18 was 5-5 from the field in that first half to lead the Camels with 13 points. But it was Jayde Dawson ’18 who took over down the stretch with 19 second half points. At the very end of this one, Conn College tried to run an inbounds play designed for David Labossiere ’19 to tap in an alley-oop, but his attempt missed and Amherst escaped on their home floor. This game more than any, between the presumed top team in the NESCAC and a team that went winless in NESCAC play last season, is an indication of how close teams played each other this year.

1. February 5: Wesleyan 66 over Williams 63, Middletown, CT

The number one game didn’t go to overtime, but it was a barn burner nevertheless. Williams and Wesleyan have played some great games over the past two years, and this one was probably the best. In front of a raucus home crowd, it was all BJ Davis down the stretch. In their first meeting this season, Davis had already beaten the Ephs on a runner with less than two seconds remaining. In this game, Davis scored the final 15 (!) points for Wesleyan to turn a 56-51 deficit into the eventual 66-63 Wesleyan win. The combination of the home atmosphere, the recent history of these two rivals (this win gave Wesleyan the Little 3 title), and the quality of the shot made this a clear choice for the top spot. I mean, just watch the video of Davis’ shot and try to tell me there was a better moment than that this year.

Last Ditch Effort: Power Ranks 2/10

The celebration was short-lived for the Bobcats on their senior night, and they'll need to find some inspiration if they are going to make the NESCAC playoffs. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)
The celebration was short-lived for the Bobcats on their senior night, and they’ll need to find some inspiration if they are going to make the NESCAC playoffs. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

Being on break this past weekend, I followed the NESCAC action from afar even as my Middlebury classmates played their final regular season home games in Pepin Gymnasium. What stood out to me over the weekend was the continued separation between the top five and bottom six, and the Cardinals darkened that line with a buzzer-beating win over the sixth-place Ephs. As usual, though, there were close games even between the “elite” and the “also-rans”, but in this case all of big favorites won their games. So, while there is a little bit of variation in the top and bottom tier, there will be no teams crossing that chasm until one of the bottom feeders can emerge as a consistent adversary.

1. No. 19 Amherst (18-4, 6-2, Last week: 1)

Yes, they lost to Tufts, and yes, it wasn’t particularly close, but let’s not overreact. Look, Amherst isn’t a perfect team, and they might slip up here and there, but I still hold them as the favorite as of this posting today. Not to excuse Amherst from that game, but Tufts was at home, and the Jumbos shot 8-20 from three, and in case you forgot, Amherst is leading the world in three-point field goal percentage defense (27.4 percent allowed), so that’s anomalous. What’s more, Jeff Racy ’17 is in an epic slump right now (he was 0-6 from deep against Tufts), and I think that actually bodes well for Amherst going forward for two reasons. Racy’s slump has highlighted the ability of Connor Green ’16, Jayde Dawson ’18 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 to put up big points on any given night. They don’t need one guy to score 20 per game for them to win. Secondly, Racy is going to come back. He might not shoot near 60 percent from beyond the arc as he did early in the season, but he won’t go 0-6 very often, either. This team is still very good. As Adam pointed out though, the rotation continues to shorten, so the lack of bench production from the Purple and White remains a concern.

2. Trinity (16-6, 7-1, Last week: 2)

Two games, two easy wins, and one over the Amherst-slaying Tufts Jumbos in Medford. Even with Ed Ogundeko ’17 hampered, Trinity cleaned up the boards in both games. In stark opposition to Amherst, Trinity can get scoring from everyone up and down the lineup, which, in the end, might be the reason that Trinity prevails in a back-to-back NESCAC Semis and Finals scenario. For now, though, the head-to-head loss to Amherst still speaks loudly, and even though Tufts went on to beat Amherst the night after losing to Trinity, there’s the fact that the Jumbos may have been in panic mode and needing a win over Amherst. Don’t underestimate a team in a must-win situation.

3. Middlebury (14-8, 6-2, Last week: 5)

Spots 3-5 have become so muddled, but I took a glance over the Panthers last eight games and realized that if Andrew Groll ’19 hadn’t canned that short jumper as time expired to beat the Panthers, they’d be a lock for this spot and be 7-1 in conference play. Now, of course, we can’t just ignore that said nail in the coffin happened, that Middlebury has also fallen to Conn. College, that they only beat Colby by two points last Friday at home, and they haven’t yet played Amherst or Trinity. Still, as it stands today, they’re looking pretty good. They seem to have a bit of a fighter’s mentality this season, whereas in years past there was more of a sense that if the star wasn’t playing well or they were down at half, that you could write it off. Not anymore. I don’t have much wealth to wager these days (especially after some sour Super Bowl bets), but I’d put down a few bucks on Middlebury going 1-1 this weekend against the top two teams, which would mean a home playoff game in Pepin Gym.

4. No. 20 Wesleyan (18-4, 5-3, Last week: 3)

As I said in last week’s ranks, things are trending up for the Cardinals, so why did they move down a notch? Simply put, things are so close between Middlebury, Wesleyan and Tufts, and head-to-head scores move the needle ever so slightly. Tack on a nailbiter against Williams, a team that the Cards should beat handily on paper, and Wesleyan drops to No. 4. Still, the contributions of Jack Mackey ’16 and the solid eight-man rotation continue to give me confidence in this team. Their ability to pull out the victory against Williams suggests that they are a mature team, and that’s the difference between them and a green Ephs squadron.

5. No. 25 Tufts (17-5, 6-3, Last week: 4)

The win over Amherst and loss to Trinity sum up to a pretty par for the course weekend. Good for the Jumbos, as a 2-0 performance would mean bye-bye home game, but they were able to stay in the conversation with one win. In the loss to the Bantams, they breakout of Shay Ajayi ’16 is troublesome for Tufts. How was Tom Palleschi ’17, by far the league’s best shot blocker and a tough interior defender, not able to slow down Ajayi? Perhaps the key to beating Palleschi is to give the ball to someone quick who can step away from the basket and shoot jumpers, but how many teams have that guy? Not Amherst, maybe Middlebury if Matt Daley ’16 is making shots from 15-foot jumpers, sort of Wesleyan if Rashid Epps ’16 is going well, but if Joseph Kuo ’17 is in the game them Palleschi is apt to cover the latter, while Kyle Scadlock ’19 or Jack Simonds ’19 might be that guy, but as a whole their teams probably aren’t good enough to beat Tufts. So often in basketball it comes down to matchups, and it just might be that Trinity has the perfect one to exploit what Tufts can do on defense.

6. Williams (14-8, 4-4, Last week: 6)

They continue to solidify that No. 6 spot, even in defeat, as a buzzer beating loss to the Cardinals is nothing to tuck your tail over. They also just squeaked out a win over Conn. College, but the Camels are darn good, in case you hadn’t noticed. The biggest thing holding this team back is youth. Losing Mike Greenman ’17 has been, I think, an unquantifiable loss. He probably wouldn’t have put up massive numbers on the stat sheet, but his presence would have been invaluable, and we might be talking about the “top six” teams instead of the “top five” if he were still playing. As it stands now, two freshmen, Kyle Scadlock and Bobby Casey ’19, are playing starter minutes, while two others fit into the tail end of the rotation, and the rest of the rotation is pretty inexperienced, as well, with the exception of Dan Aronowitz ’17.

7. Conn College (12-10, 3-5, Last week: 9)

Sort of how I did with Middlebury, I look at Conn’s last X number of games and say, I could easily have seen this or that turning out differently and we might really have something here. Of course, you can often say that with any team, but Conn’s play has really stuck out to me. They’re young, they’re inexperienced, and they could easily fade off like most young teams, and yet they just keep competing. And I’m moving them up in the rankings, despite losing five straight games. Those five games – a neck-and-neck two-point loss vs. Tufts; a disappointing 105-89 loss vs. Mitchell College; an eight-point loss to Wesleyan, in Middletown, in which the Cardinals had to go 20-30 from the floor in the second half to win; a comeback attempt fallen short at Western Connecticut; and a lead let slip to Williams, 70-67. As the Camels get a little more mature, they’ll learn how to win those games, and by next season they could be hosting a playoff game.

8. Colby (14-8, 2-6, Last week: 7)

My Mules keep holding on. I shouldn’t call them “my Mules,” because I don’t want to play favorites (other than Middlebury), but I have stubbornly believed that they can turn it on all season long. They almost beat the Panthers, and they just got by the Continentals in the season’s highest-scoring NESCAC game. That’s just who Colby is – a run ‘n’ gun squad that will struggle against the better defenses. The bright side for them is that Chris Hudnut ’16 has been playing consistent minutes which gives them a chance in any game, and Pat Stewart ’16 has, at least for now, surpassed Racy as the best three-point shooter in the NESCAC. What’s more, Stewart isn’t a one-trick pony. As if this offense wasn’t dangerous enough already.

9. Hamilton (11-11, 2-6, Last week: 11)

Things are pretty ugly down here in the bottom trio right now, but none of these teams are quite dead yet. The Conts have a brutal weekend ahead with Trinity and Amherst coming up, but it’s not ridiculous that a 3-7 team could squeak into the playoffs, so they still have plenty to play for, and they showed it last weekend. The 15-point win over Bowdoin was consummate. Hamilton outshot the Polar Bears in every facet, matched them on the boards and only let Bowdoin ahead for the first 3:15 of the contest. The enigma that is Ajani Santos ’16 looked like an old version of himself, only better, with 25 points and seven boards. Unfortunately, the magic wore off in the game against Colby. Santos only played 17 minutes and had four points, but it was the frosh Michael Grassey ’19 bursting onto the scene with 23 bench points. Groll collected a double-double, as well, with 18 points and 10 boards, but Colby just outshot Hamilton in the OT period to pull away. This is another young team gaining valuable experience this season, and getting a playoff game would be huge for their development.

10. Bowdoin (10-10, 2-6, Last week: 8)

The loss to Hamilton really stung this weekend, and the Polar Bears didn’t put up too much of a fight against Middlebury. At this point we have a pretty good grip on what Bowdoin can do. They only go as far as Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19. Against Middlebury, that pair combined for 52 of the team’s 69 points. On the season they have scored 51.3 percent of Bowdoin’s points, by far the highest percentage for any duo (Vinny Pace ’18 and Tom Palleschi have tallied 37.6 percent of the Jumbos’ points). That can lead to some exciting games to watch, but it’s not a recipe for success, especially not at this level.

11. Bates (10-13, 2-7)

Bowdoin just creamed the Bobcats last night, but even if that hadn’t happened, Bates would probably still be in this spot. They’ve lost three in a row, seven of eight, and eight of 10. Things have really deteriorated. Bates opened the season with six straight games of 79 or more points, and had a five-game stretch where they scored 73+ four times. In the nine games sense, Bates has scored less than 70 in seven of those games, and the 73-51 loss to Bowdoin last night was probably the team’s low point. All of that is a long way of saying that Bates’ season has been in free fall for awhile. Other teams have figured out how to force Mike Boornazian ’16 into a lot of tough shots, and he’s had some bad shooting nights because of it with no one to pick up the slack. As I said before, none of these teams are dead yet, but it will take a monumental effort and a lot of luck for Bates to sneak into the postseason.


Conference Rankings Start to Materialize: Weekend Preview 2/5 (Part 1)

Dan Aronowitz looks to lead Williams past Wesleyan this weekend. (Courtesy of Williams College Athletics)
Dan Aronowitz ’17 looks to lead Williams past Wesleyan this weekend. (Courtesy of Williams College Athletics)

A couple of the games tonight are between teams on opposite ends of the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any tightly contested games. The game to watch is without a doubt Trinity at Tufts, as both teams are still vying for the top spot in the NESCAC, but Colby-Middlebury and Williams-Wesleyan could also be pretty great games. Some familiar names will lead their teams to easy victories, while other teams will only have a chance if their stars can put up the big numbers I’m anticipating. Here’s what’s in store for the weekend:

Friday Games

Bowdoin vs. Hamilton, Clinton, NY, 7:00 pm

As we all know, Lucas Hausman ‘15 is the top scorer in the NESCAC. Bowdoin relies heavily on Hausman’s average of 26.7 PPG in conference play. In fact, in their two biggest blowout conference losses against Tufts and Trinity, Hausman has only scored just 11 and 14 points respectively. Conversely, in their two conference wins against Bates and Colby, he scored 42 and then 35 points. On the other side, Hamilton is coming off their first conference win in which they took down Middlebury on a last second layup by Andrew Groll ’19. Groll has turned into Hamilton’s star in conference play, putting up 11.7 PPG and pulling down 8.7 RPG. Despite Groll’s aggressive play down low, I don’t see anyone stopping Hausman, and I don’t think the Continentals can keep up with Bowdoin’s scoring.

Prediction: Bowdoin 79 – Hamilton 65

Colby vs. Middlebury, Middlebury VT, 7:00 pm

After Colby got out to a hot 10-1 start, they have now dropped to 13-7 due to their 1-5 conference performance. However, this record is a bit deceiving because aside from getting blown out by Tufts, their other conference losses are by margins of just four, nine, two and three. Additionally, Colby beat Amherst by two up in Waterville this past weekend. Meanwhile, Middlebury is 4-2 in conference with no win by a difference of more than 10 points and a total differential of just three points in their conference losses to Conn College and Hamilton. I like Middlebury in this one because of their ability to win close contests, but I would not at all be surprised if Colby pulled out the W. Look for Matt St. Amour ’17 to carry the Panthers to victory.

Prediction: Colby 74 – Middlebury 77

Amherst vs. Bates, Lewiston, ME, 7:00 pm

At face value, this looks like the easiest matchup of the day to predict, but then again, I never would have picked Colby to beat Amherst a couple weeks ago. However, in that game, Amherst shot a measly 33.3% from the field, 26.5% from deep, and a dreadful 52.9% from the free throw line. I don’t see any way that Amherst shoots that poorly again, and they proved that last weekend by shooting 50.9% from the field against Trinity’s usually stifling defense. For Bates to win this one, they are going to need to shoot the lights out, something they have not done consistently in NESCAC play.

Prediction: Amherst 84 – Bates 64

Williams vs. Wesleyan, Middletown, CT, 7:00 pm

Williams and Wesleyan are sitting at just about the same spot in the NESCAC standings right now, but Wesleyan is definitely higher in the power rankings considering they’ve reeled off three straight conference wins against Tufts, Bates and Conn College. This is a huge chance for Williams to make a jump in the standings, and with tough games against Conn College and Tufts coming up, they will have a tough task if they want to grab home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. If Dan Aronowitz ’17 doesn’t have a huge game, the Ephs are in trouble. I’m expecting Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 to dominate the paint and lead the Cardinals to victory.

Prediction: Williams 68 – Wesleyan 79

Game of the Night

Trinity vs. Tufts, Medford, MA, 7:00 pm

This tilt is the game of the week, however, if Tufts wins, the game between Amherst and Tufts on Saturday could be the battle for first place in the NESCAC. Tufts and Trinity couldn’t be two more opposite teams. Trinity is a defensive powerhouse that leads the NESCAC in PPG allowed at just 68.0 PPG, while the Jumbos are an offensive juggernaut, leading the NESCAC with 87.4 PPG. On the flip side, Trinity scores just 76.5 PPG while Tufts gives up 73.3 PPG, which leads me to believe that this game is going to come down to Trinity’s ability to slow down the Tufts attack. There are two big matchups to focus on in this one:

1.) Tom Palleschi ’17 vs. Ed Ogundeko ’17 – these two big guys are two of the best in the conference. They average about the same number of PPG in conference games (14.7 and 14.5 respectively). Palleschi edges Ogundeko in blocks and Ogundeko tops Palleschi in rebounds. This should be a VERY enticing matchup.

2.) Vinny Pace ’18 vs. Shay Ajayi ‘16/Rick Naylor ’16

I’m honestly not sure who is going to guard Pace due to the matchup problems that the four-guard lineup of Tufts produces. The extra 25 pounds that Ajayi has on Pace could wear him down throughout the game, but I think that this will allow Stephen Haladyna ’16, a threat in the paint, to take advantage of his height advantage over Naylor. If Naylor takes the challenge, Pace’s height and length will allow him to shoot over Naylor with relative ease. I expect Trinity to throw multiple looks at Pace, but either way, he presents matchup problems.

At the end of the day, I don’t see Trinity being able to keep up with the scoring of Tufts unless Palleschi gets into foul trouble. If that happens, Trinity could definitely win this game. Otherwise, I think the Jumbos give themselves the opportunity to play Amherst for first place on Saturday.

Prediction: Trinity 75 – Tufts 86

No Mascot, No Problem: Stock Report 2/1

Marcus Delpeche '17 and Tom Palleschi '17 share a moment Saturday. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Marcus Delpeche ’17 and Tom Palleschi ’17 share a moment Saturday. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Amherst cemented its status as the top dog in the NESCAC with Saturday’s commanding victory over Trinity 89-82. The Purple and White led comfortably 84-70 with 1:31 left to play before the Bantams made a late push to make things a little dicey at the end. Trinity didn’t have quite enough offense to stay with the shot-making Amherst team. The game was a very physical one, with the teams combining for more than 50 fouls by the end of the game. When they make their threes, Amherst is hard to beat, and they made nine against the Bantams. The win pushes Amherst to 5-1 in conference and 16-3 overall.

Leading the way were Jayde Dawson ’18 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 with 45 points combined, 26 of those in the 2nd half. The two also combined for nine turnovers versus six assists, reinforcing that as talented players as they are, they are equally capable of sinking the team with their play. Connor Green ’16 was quiet finishing with just seven points on six shots. In times past, when Green was having a quiet game he would force the issue from three-point land, but on Saturday he let his younger teammates take the lead.

The win was a great one for Amherst, and the Purple and White now have the inside shot on hosting the NESCAC tournament. However, they are still a ways away from that happening, and the problems with this team are not going away. I think that Amherst drops another NESCAC in the coming weeks, and with Middlebury and Tufts still on the schedule, multiple losses would not be a huge surprise.

Stock Up

Point Guard Jack Bors ’19 (Bowdoin)

The Polar Bears survived in overtime against Colby in large part because of Bors coming out of nowhere to score 20 points. The 5’9″ lefty reminds Bowdoin fans of Bryan Hurley ’15 because of his toughness. Despite barely playing all season, Bors was not lacking in confidence the moment he entered into the game. Coming into Saturday, he had not scored more than four points in just one game. He wasn’t at all part of the rotation until Saturday, not playing in three of Bowdoin’s NESCAC games. Bors got time against the Mules in part because of a strong performance at the end of the blowout loss for Bowdoin against Trinity last Saturday. Coach Tim Gilbride wanted to shake things up, and with the early injury to Matt Palecki ’16, he rolled the dice with Bors. Bowdoin needed a spark to hold off the Mules in a battle that was big for both teams. Bors now will see if he can make Saturday’s performance carry over to the rest of the season.

Power Forward Rashid Epps ’16 (Wesleyan)

In a game where BJ Davis ’16 scored his 1,000 point, Epps led the way with 19 points as Wesleyan got past Conn College 87-79. Early in the season, Epps was fazed out of the offense, but he has come back in the past few weeks with very strong performances. In NESCAC games, Epps is averaging 12.3 ppg while making shots at an awesome 64.0 percent rate. A little undersized for a power forward at 6’4″, Epps is powerful enough to gain positioning against anybody. The Cardinals won again to make their NESCAC winning streak three games now. At 4-3 they are above .500 for the first time all season and suddenly are eyeing a home playoff game. Committing to getting Epps the ball is a big reason why.

Center Chris Hudnut ’16 (Colby)

One of the best players in the league, Hudnut’s past season and a half has been tough to watch because of various injuries knocking him out of games. Hudnut had not scored above 20 points in a game since December 28, missing three games since then and laboring through the rest. He looked like his usual self Saturday, dominating in the second half and scoring 33 points on just 17 shots. Twenty-four of his points came in the second half. The problem is that Colby still lost to drop to 1-5 in the NESCAC. Getting into the playoffs is not going to be easy. They lose the head-to-head tie breaker against Bates and Bowdoin, and their one win against Amherst does them no favors. The thing is, if Hudnut plays as well as he did Saturday, they have more than enough to win at least two of their final four games and give themselves a shot of making the NESCAC tournament. And if they do get in, they would scare the living heck out of whichever team would draw them in the first round.

Stock Down


The Bobcats have now lost four straight NESCAC games, all of them by double digits. Trying to figure out what is wrong with Bates is not easy, but I think it’s just a problem of the pieces not fitting well together. Mike Boornazian ’16 has struggled to find his footing as the lead man. He is averaging 15.1 ppg in NESCAC games, but he is shooting 35.2 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from three-point land. As a team the Bobcats have the worst three-point shooting percentage at 32.0 percent, and the number drops below 30 percent when you look just at NESCAC games. Obviously the loss of Graham Safford ’15 has hurt, but it is also the absence of key perimeter players Billy Selmon ’15 and Adam Philpott ’15 that is hurting this team. Those two averaged 13.1 ppg combined last year while also being two of the team’s better perimeter defenders. Without glue guys like that, Bates has not been able to do the little things to stay in games.

Conn College’s Second Half

At halftime, the Camels owned an eight-point lead over Wesleyan. However, the wheels fell off on defense as the Cardinals pounded the ball inside and shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half. Conn College is now 3-4 in the league, but they have led at halftime for three of their losses. Blowing a second half lead is a sign of the Camels youth most likely. Closing games out in the NESCAC is hard, and Wesleyan beat Conn College on Saturday because of their experience in important games. For example, in the second half playing at home, Conn College made just ONE free throw the entire second half, going 1-6 from the charity stripe. These games are learning experiences for Conn College, and that they have them this season with so many talented youngsters is a good thing.

Middlebury Scoring

The Panthers, playing without forward Zach Baines ’19, absolutely let one get away on Saturday. A Matt St. Amour ’17 layup with 6:04 left in the game made the score 62-58 in Middlebury’s favor. The Panthers didn’t score again! Hamilton scored with one second left to win 64-62. Middlebury blew a 15 point second half lead, and the lack of scoring was tough to watch. Going cold for that long down the stretch is a freaky thing, and it won’t happen again. Middlebury relies on a balanced and deep attack, and it is usual St. Amour who hits the bucket when the Panthers absolutely need one. However, it didn’t happen on Saturday. The issue is the damage is done for the young Panthers. They will have chances to make it up, but in this year’s NESCAC where no victory is an easy one, letting a win like this one slip away hurts.

No Rest for the Weary: Saturday Preview 1/23

Williams has to wait until tomorrow for their showdown against MIddlebury. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
Williams has to wait until tomorrow for their showdown against MIddlebury. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Just about every game last night carried with it an exciting storyline. Wesleyan toppled a Top-25 team for the second game in a row. Trinity barely snuck by Colby, dropping the Mules to 0-4 in NESCAC play. Conn won again, and with three wins are probably just one more victory away from guaranteeing a playoff bid. Amherst took care of business versus Bowdoin – no matter how great Lucas Hausman ’16 is, the Polar Bears don’t have enough weapons to compete. Williams over Hamilton was the one game that went pretty much as expected and told us very little about either team. Today’s games carry just as much weight and intrigue.

Tufts at Conn College, 1:00 PM, New London, CT

Tufts and Conn are teams with identical records going in opposite directions, though to be fair they started at opposite ends of the spectrum. Tufts has now lost two OT games to Middlebury and Wesleyan, while Conn continues to win close game after close game. The Jumbos looked hectic in the OT period against Wesleyan, marking the second overtime period where Tufts fell apart at the seams. Vinny Pace ’18 on three occasions in the overtime found himself in the air with no idea where to pass it. Tom Palleschi ’17 missed an ugly three. And there was no coordination on offense as the seconds ticked away.

That being said, the Jumbos have all the talent in the world and will be tough to defend. On the opposite end, Conn PG Tyler Rowe ’19 has emerged as a future star. The matchup between him and Tarik Smith ’17 will be a great one. Still, when I look at every position in the lineup, the Jumbos seem to have the edge. Conn’s best chance will be to do some work in the frontcourt between Zuri Pavlin ’17 and Dan Janel ’17, because Tufts lacks frontcourt depth.

Prediction: Tufts 81 – Conn 78

Bates at Wesleyan, 3:00 PM, Middletown, CT

The Cards look to be figuring it out, but let’s not forget that one week ago they were coming off of a 26-point loss to Amherst and looked like a ship without a rudder. They have not fixed their biggest issue – three-point shooting. The Cardinals have made just 12 of their last 80 (15.0 percent) attempts dating back to that loss to Amherst, and 31 of their last 146 attempts (21.2 percent). Against Tufts last night Wesleyan shot 3-21 (14.3 percent) from three point land, 13-27 (48.1 percent) from the free throw line, and turned the ball over 22 times.

Yet somehow, the Cards won, and surprisingly it was by dominating the frontcourt. Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16 are known commodities, but Nathan Krill ’18 has started to play some important minutes. This year’s Wesleyan team is deep, a far cry from last year’s squad that ran only six deep. They’ve gone through a lot of growing pains, but I think they’re going to be better than last year’s team once they get through the kinks, and this game should be a comfortable win because Bates is not playing well right now.

Prediction: Wesleyan 75 – Bates 64

Trinity at Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME

The Bantams certainly don’t win pretty, but they do win as they escaped against Colby 62-60. Trinity will look to get the ball inside a lot today, something they failed to do last night finishing the night with just 8 free throws as a team. Frontcourt depth behind Shay Ajayi ’16 and Ed Ogundeko ’17 remains a concern. Primary backup Connor Merinder ’19 could really use a breakout game to get more confidence going down the stretch. Otherwise the Bantams are in danger of Ogundeko getting into foul trouble.

To stop the Bantams inside, Bowdoin needs a team effort, especially rebounding the ball. The Polar Bears sorely miss John Swords ’15 in that category, but they still should be doing a better job boxing out as a team. The individual offensive brilliance of Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 had the Polar Bears up on Amherst. It’s possible that great performances from those two today are enough, but I think the Bantams defense is too stout.

Prediction: Trinity 73 – Bowdoin 67

Amherst at Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME

The good news for Colby is that Patrick Stewart ’16 played 31 minutes last night and Chris Hudnut ’16 returned in limited action to score 8 points. The bad news is they need a massive upset to avoid an 0-5 conference start. Ryan Jann ’16 had an off night against the Bantams going 0-7 from the field, and the Mules need him to make tough shots. Colby is getting healthy, but they might not be getting there fast enough to help today.

Connor Green ’16 looked like his old self scoring 27 points against Bowdoin. Amherst in the second half was sending three guys to crash the offensive boards, and the leaping ability of guys like Green and Michael Riopel ’18 made a difference. Whatever Amherst found in the second half last night needs to carry over to today. An engaged and aggressive Amherst team is a terror for the rest of the league because of the athleticism and size the roster has. Barring Colby hitting everything from three today, Amherst gets the job done.

Prediction: Amherst 82 – Colby 71

Williams at Middlebury, Sunday 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

This is the only game this weekend besides Tufts vs. Conn College that features two above .500 teams in conference. The Ephs are now riding a three game winning streak, but the three games all came at home against Hamilton, Bowdoin, and Colby. Those three have a combined conference record of 1-12. The scores of those game are also remarkable similar: 75-66 over Colby, 76-65 over Bowdoin, and 73-63 over Hamilton. The other constant in those games was Dan Aronowitz ’17, who averaged 21.0 PPG and 10.3 RPG over the three game stretch. Aronowitz is much more of a threat from three this season, and the Panthers need to keep an eye on him at all times.

Middlebury won’t have played in over a week when they take the court tomorrow, and that time off has given them plenty of time to get ready for the Ephs. The Panthers strength recently has been great depth. Guys like Adisa Majors ’18 and Bryan Jones ’17 have been coming off the bench and giving an instant lift to the team. Their depth helps to keep the Panthers fresh since they are constantly pushing the ball up the court. Williams has the discipline and personnel to counter that transition offense, however. Sometimes basketball is just about who hits shots and who misses them, and if that is the case in this one then I like Williams in a squeaker.

Prediction: Williams 79 – Middlebury – 75

Not Rebuild, Not Reload, But Reiterate: Wesleyan Season Preview

PG BJ Davis '16 has blow-by speed ... just ask Jayde Dawson. (Courtesy of Rob Matson, Amherst College Office of Communications)
PG BJ Davis ’16 has blow-by speed … just ask Jayde Dawson. (Courtesy of Rob Matson, Amherst College Office of Communications)

Editor’s Note: Things can be a little confusing now that the season is underway. Consider the rest of our previews as season predictions based off of a compilation of conversations with coaches and players and observations from the first couple of games.
All statistics that appear next to players’ names are from the 2014-15 season.

After a whirlwind offseason spent hosting SNL, flirting with starlets and just generally enjoying the incredible international recognition that stems from winning the NESCAC championship, Wesleyan has come back down to earth and is ready to compete for the top prize again. The Cardinals used a balanced attack to overcome a rough start to league play last year (Middlebury made them look like my JV middle school squad last season in Week 2 of the NESCAC schedule) to beat top teams Trinity and Amherst on their way to the championship. Four Cardinals averaged more than 10 points per game last season; guards BJ Davis ’16, Harry Rafferty ’15 and Jack Mackey ’16, as well as forward Joseph Kuo ’15.

And therein lies the strength of Wesleyan’s 2015-2016 unit; every single one of those players is back. This “core four” gives Wesleyan a surplus of experience, something that is rare in the youth-driven NESCAC. However, many of the teams that Wesleyan beat last season have retooled significantly in the offseason. Williams is 3-0 this season, with the best freshman class in the league already paying dividends. Wesleyan’s finals opponent, Amherst, is loaded, with players like Johnny McCarthy ’18 (the hype train keeps on rolling) who were a little raw last year stepping up in a big way. Wesleyan returns most of their talent from last year, but they are in danger of the league growing up around them while they stay rooted in one spot.

2014-2015 Record:

19-9 overall; 5-5 NESCAC (t-4th); won NESCAC Championship over Amherst 74-70 in OT; lost to Skidmore 81-66 in the first round of the NCCA Tournament

Head Coach: Joe Reilly, 8th season, 90-84 (.517) 


Returning Starters: Six

G BJ Davis (11.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, .385% 3PT)
G Harry Rafferty (10.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg .379% 3PT)
G Jack Mackey (11.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, .381% 3PT)
F Joseph Kuo (11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg)
F Rashid Epps (7.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .593% FG)
F Joe Edmonds (9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .441% 3PT)

All of the above players started at least 17 games last season. As you can see from these numbers, Wesleyan’s hallmark in 2014-2015 was a balanced scoring attack with a healthy dose of three-point shooting from dangerous three guard lineups. However, their most deadly three-point shooter from last season, Joe Edmonds ’16 at 41 percent, has been out for most of the preseason with a foot injury and has yet to get back on the court. Additionally, the consistently dangerous Jack Mackey has been struggling to overcome a variety of injuries. He’s played good minutes so far, but come off the bench in two of the Cards’ three games and is struggling shooting the ball at just 5-23 overall and 3-17 from three. This has led to a shakeup in the experience-laden Cardinals’ starting five.

Projected Starting Lineup: 

PG BJ Davis (11.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, .385% 3PT)

With Edmonds and his scoring touch gone for greener pastures and Mackey struggling mightily, BJ Davis becomes even more crucial to the Cardinals’ success. Davis is playing a ridiculous 35.3 mpg early on. One of the most talented and athletic guards in the league (if you get the chance, try to find his tip slam against Middlebury on YouTube. Oofta), he was excellent last season at playing within the system. However, this season he will have a longer leash, and it could be very exciting watch him explore his new freedom.

SG Harry Rafferty (10.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg .379% 3PT)

Rafferty was a breakout star last year for the Cardinals, emerging in his sophomore season as a consistent scoring threat and excellent perimeter defender. He stays within himself beautifully, as the entire Wesleyan team does, and will be a crucial cog in Wesleyan’s machine this year. In their first three games he has upped his scoring to 12.7 points per game, and has six steals already on the season.

SF PJ Reed ’16 (2.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, .311% FG)

A junior who played very sparingly last season, Reed has stepped into the starting lineup due to the struggles and health of Jack Mackey. However, Mackey has continued to play heavy minutes off the bench while Reed is simply a placeholder. This is a spot in Wesleyan’s starting lineup that will need to be resolved for them to compete in the top tier of NESCAC this season. I would expect Mackey to figure it out once he is fully healthy and return to the starting lineup, with Edmonds rotating with him once he recovers from his own injury, but if he doesn’t, Reed has good size at 6’5” and could see heavier playing time as the year goes on. Additionally, Wesleyan has one of the top freshman guard recruits in the league in Salim Greene ’19, who will press both of those players for playing time once he recovers from a concussion suffered in the preseason (it seems like Wesleyan should be a little more subdued in their preseason intensity.)

PF Joseph Kuo (11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Kuo and Epps combine to give Wesleyan one of the staunchest defenses in the league, particularly around the rim. However, Kuo is no specialist. He led the team in scoring last season, and has good touch around the rim as well as on mid-range jump shots. He and Epps both benefit greatly from drives and dishes from Wesleyan’s killer rotation of smart guards, something that shouldn’t change this season with the emergence of Davis and Rafferty. He has struggled somewhat finishing this year, shooting only 40 percent so far, but that should level out as Wesleyan’s rotations get more consistent.

 C Rashid Epps (7.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .593% FG)

Epps is the centerpiece of Wesleyan’s defense. A cagey defender with strong instincts and athleticism, any scoring Wesleyan got from Epps last season was a bonus. However, his impressive shooting percentage from last season shows his good touch around the rim, and this season so far he has upped his scoring to 10.3 points per game, while still rebounding well and shooting at a 61 percent clip. Epps is the kind of solid, consistent center that teams like Middlebury and Williams, who often get killed inside despite solid perimeter talent, would love to have.

Breakout Player: BJ Davis 

It’s an overstatement to say that Davis was held back by Wesleyan’s balance last year. He still averaged nearly 12 points per game, and was able to put the team on his back (a la Greg Jennings) several times. Also, he got a NESCAC championship ring out of the deal, so I doubt he’s complaining. However, he always seemed to have First Team talent that would never be backed up by his numbers. This season thus far has seen a change in that. Davis has stepped out from the crowd to the tune of 23.3 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting from the field and 56.3 percent from three. Obviously those shooting percentages are not sustainable, but his quickness and athleticism have combined with leadership and experience to create a very dangerous weapon. And with Mackey starting slow, the floor is Davis’ to carry the team more than he ever needed to last season. He looks to be very ready.


For all to TL;DR people out there, here’s the summary of Wesleyan’s chances in 2015-2016. They return most of their scoring from last year, and added a potential game changer in Salim Greene. However, Greene is a freshman and is struggling with a concussion. For them to succeed this season and possibly repeat as NESCAC champions, they will need the players from last year to both stay consistent and improve to keep up with a young and talented league. In the first three games of the season, this has been a mixed bag. A bad opening loss to Lyndon State showed the worst-case scenario for the Cardinals; they didn’t have any players explosive enough to get them a hoop when they needed it. However, the next two games featured BJ Davis shoving that idea somewhere dark and out of the way to the tune of 23 and 31 points in two wins. If Davis is truly making a First Team leap in his senior season, Wesleyan will get their experienced leaders Mackey and Edmonds back from injury and reserve a spot in the top tier with Amherst and Trinity. If he’s going to come back to earth, then the Cardinals’ brand of stolid balance and consistency might not be enough in the ever-shifting NESCAC basketball universe.

Cliché alert: sports is a copycat business, and the NESCAC has taken note of the Cards’ championship recipe. Wesleyan won by relying on a three-guard set and a short, six-man rotation. Expect other teams to start copying that strategy. Middlebury will roll out Jack Daly ’18, Jake Brown ’17 and Matt St. Amour ’17 all at once. Williams is basically playing with four guards and C Edward Flynn ’16 for stretches with a couple of freshmen forwards coming off of the bench. Wesleyan also won because their best players played the whole game. No other team relied so heavily on so few players. Mackey, Davis, Rafferty, Kuo, Edmonds and Epps all played at least 22.1 mpg last year – Chris Tugman ’15 was next with 11.2 mpg. Coach Reilly is staying with that strategy this season. Davis, Mackey, Rafferty, Kuo and Epps are all over 26.0 mpg. F Nathan Krill ’18 is at 13.7 mpg. Once Edmonds comes back, he will jump back into the six-man rotation, and Greene could stretch that to a seven-man, but that’s still a shorter bench than most teams. It’s a risky strategy, and the Cardinals will need to get healthy and stay healthy in order to be successful.

To Kill A King: Wesleyan Season Wrap-up

The Wesleyan Cardinals are NESCAC champions. (Courtesy of
The Wesleyan Cardinals are NESCAC champions. (Courtesy of

Season: 19-9 (5-5), Won NESCAC Championship, Lost in First Round of NCAA Tournament to Skidmore

Wesleyan brought back a young and talented squad in 2014-15, but expectations, at least outside of Middletown, were low for a program that has been under .500 for the past two seasons. The Cardinals, though, were not surprised by their level of success.

“At the beginning of the season we talked about building a championship culture – something rarely associated with Wesleyan. The success of the 2012 20-win team served as confidence to get the program to the next level.” – Joe Edmonds ’16

Coach Joe Reilly relied heavily on a six-man rotation of underclassmen that featured three players capable of handling the point in Jack Mackey ’16, BJ Davis ’16 and Harry Rafferty ’16, a sharpshooting forward in Edmonds, a hyper-efficent power forward in Rashid Epps ’16 and a big rebounding machine in Joseph Kuo ’17. The impact and leadership of Chris “Air Canada” Tugman ’15, Tim “Dog Show” Gallivan ’15 and Bryan Galvin ’15 cannot be understated. Tugman and Gallivan each had crucial rebounds in the Cardinals’ first round NESCAC upset. PJ Reed ’17 and Jordan Sears ’18 provided high energy minutes and brought defensive length to the court in limited time.

Overall, Wesleyan did nothing more than make good on the tacit promises that its players made to themselves at the beginning of the season. Edmonds and his teammates talked about creating a championship culture. That was solidified when the Cards hosted the trophy.

High Point: Five-game win streak on the way to winning a NESCAC title

The Cards were 3-5 in the NESCAC on the morning of Friday, Feb. 13 and a long shot to reach the NESCAC Tournament. Wesleyan manhandled Hamilton that night and swept the floor with Williams the next day to finish at 5-5 and solidify its spot as the sixth seed. Then the Cards went on the road to the toughest gym in the NESCAC and squeaked out a W against Bates. The next weekend Wesleyan was in a hostile environment once again, but topped the Bantams in Hartford in the NESCAC Semifinals. The Cardinals torrid run culminated with an overtime win – just the second overtime game in NESCAC title game history – over three-time defending champion Amherst. The NESCAC title was the program’s first, and the first for any sixth-seed in the tournament, and the NCAA berth was also a first for Wesleyan.

MVP: Center Joseph Kuo ’17

Joseph Kuo '17 not only led the team in scoring and rebounding, but provided some highlight reel slam dunks and was a force inside defensively. (Courtesy of the Wesleyan Argus/Jonas Powell)
Joseph Kuo ’17 not only led the team in scoring and rebounding, but provided some highlight reel slam dunks and was a force inside defensively. (Courtesy of the Wesleyan Argus/Jonas Powell)

It’s damn near impossible to pick one player from the Wesleyan rotation to make Most Valuable Player, because the production was spread out so equally and the defense was a complete team effort. And, if you were to ask any of the Wesleyan players (oh yeah, we did), they would only reiterate that sentiment instead of singling out a single contributor. Nevertheless, if you’re going to pull my leg, I’ve got to hand the award to Kuo, who led the team in rebounding and scoring (though just barely). The Cardinals’ best depth came in the backcourt, with Mackey, Davis, Rafferty and Reed and Sears in reserve. Take one of them away and Wesleyan might not win the NESCAC, but the Cards would still be contenders. Take away Kuo, though, and Wesleyan probably doesn’t make the NESCAC.

Players to Watch in 2015-16: Guards PJ Reed ’17 and Jordan Sears ’18

PJ Reed '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
PJ Reed ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jordan Sears '18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jordan Sears ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan will return its offensive punch next season, but this duo of athletic guards could be ready to make a major impact on the defensive end next season. Both players check in at 6’5″ and have the chance to be forces defensively.

“PJ Reed and Jordan Sears have the potential to be really big pieces for us next year,” Edmonds said. “Coach Reilly emphasizes defense and rebounding and both provide plenty of length and athleticism.”

That Wesleyan could add two more weapons to its arsenal is a scary thought for the rest of the NESCAC.

NCAA First Round Preview: Wesleyan University vs. Skidmore College

Game Information: Wesleyan (19-8) vs. Skidmore (19-7)

Friday, March 6, 5:30 PM

Goldfrab Gym at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Live Stats  Video

In case you hadn’t heard, Wesleyan University is playing in its first ever NCAA Division-III Tournament, and they’re pretty excited about it.

The Cardinals come into this game playing their best basketball of the season, having won five straight and sweeping through NCAA Tournament teams Bates, Trinity and Amherst on the way to Wesleyan’s first-ever NESCAC title. Jack Mackey ’16 was awarded NESCAC Player of the Week honors for his clutch performance last weekend, and as a unit the entire Cardinals’ roster played great defensively, especially when it counted, in all three NESCAC tournament games.

The same can be said of the Skidmore Thoroughbreds who have gone 16-2 in 2015 and return to the NCAA Tournament under fifth-year coach Joe Burke after a two-year hiatus. Skidmore leaned on a tough early-season schedule to boost its SOS, but that didn’t matter as the Thoroughbreds had no trouble winning their third Liberty League title under Coach Burke and earning an automatic bid to the big dance. Of the Thoroughbreds’ seven losses, four came early in the season to some strong competition, including two NESCAC squads. Skidmore suffered a one-point loss to #4 Babson back in November, a three-point loss to Plattsburgh St. (19-8) and then a couple of close defeats to Williams and Middlebury. The only Liberty League opponent that bested the Thoroughbreds was Hobart, which defeated Skidmore twice. Hobart was a team that didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but played very strong defense, essentially the opposite of what Wesleyan did for most of the season.

Of the four seniors on the Skidmore roster, only two played in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and will be active on Friday night. Eric Lowry ’15 is a transfer and Perun Kovacevic ’15 hasn’t played since January 24 for personal reasons. Both Nanribet Yiljep ’15 and Connor Merrill ’15 played important roles on Skidmore’s 2011-12 tournament team but for all intents and purposes both teams are getting their first taste of the NCAA stage. That doesn’t bother Yiljep.

“Like I tell my teammates, we’re breaking records this year,” Yiljep said. “It’s the first time we hosted the Liberty League tournament at home, it’s the first time we won it at home…and we’ve never gone past the first round. That’s another record to break. Let’s just break records.”

Since Kovacevic, who had started all 13 games up to January 24, exited the lineup, Martin Bedulskij ’18 and Royce Paris ’17 have seen their roles expand, with Bedulskij taking over in the starting lineup. Paris, though, has been the bigger surprise. Since January 31 he has scored double figures in eight of 10 games. Paris’ quickness and toughness to guard one-on-one may rival that of BJ Davis ’16, believed by some to be the toughest one-on-one guard in the NESCAC.

Wesleyan X-FactorsHarry Rafferty ’17

Rafferty will likely come off the bench against Skidmore because of the Thoroughbreds’ size, but his ability to create a scoring punch in relief will be critical for Wesleyan. These teams are similar in that they play very short rotations. I think that Skidmore has the weapons to guard most of the Cardinals, but Rafferty could get lost in the sauce. Erik Sanders ’16 and Connor Merrill ’15 matchup well with Joseph Kuo ’17 and Rashid Epps ’16, Aldin Medunjanin’16 will be all over Mackey, Paris can match Davis’ quickness and Bedulskij has the height to challenge shots from Joe Edmonds ’16. That doesn’t leave much in the way of someone who can stop the lefty sniper, who went cold during the NESCAC tournament but will look to breakout during the NCAAs.

Skidmore X-Factor: Aldin Medunjanin ’16

Medunjanin earned Co-Liberty League Player of the Year and in big games big players have to step up. The point guard is going to be a problem for the Cardinals, because he’s too strong and too tall for most point guards to cover, and the Wesleyan point guard triumvirate doesn’t boast exceptional height. Medunjanin plays a bit like an oversized Lucas Hausman ’16, constantly looking to drive and finish in traffic. But he also shoots the ball pretty well from deep (36.4 percent), and has better options in Sanders and Merrill to whom he can distribute the basketball.

Joe Reilly and the Cardinals celebrated their NESCAC title in classic fashion - but they're not done yet. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Connection)
Joe Reilly and the Cardinals celebrated their NESCAC title in classic fashion – but they’re not done yet. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Connection)

Storylines to Watch

1. Effect of the weather

Weather isn’t usually a factor in basketball games, but when it forces the Skidmore team bus to sit idle in the middle of the Jersey Turnpike, weather becomes a big story. Skidmore’s bus ride to Johns Hopkins was delayed for hours on Thursday afternoon, making the chances of the team getting an opportunity to practice on the Goldfarb Gym floor on Thursday night highly unlikely. Wesleyan, meanwhile, arrived at Johns Hopkins around dinner time, leaving plenty of time to get a feel for the court.

2. Can Skidmore stop the three ball?

Skidmore’s calling card all year has been defense. The Thoroughbreds boast the fifth-best field goal percentage defense in Division-III, but that stat is bolstered by the fact that they shut down a lot of mediocre Liberty League teams. But make no mistake, Skidmore also held Middlebury to 57 points and Plattsburgh St. to 60, so that defense is no fluke. Coach Burke confirmed, however, that if Wesleyan gets hot from beyond the arch they are very difficult to beat, and with four of the NESCAC’s better three-ball shooters in Mackey, Davis, Rafferty and Edmonds, stopping that facet of Wesleyan’s game is a tall order.

3. Who can guard the athletic big man, Erik Sanders ’16?

Sanders is listed at 6’5″, 190 lbs., similar to Wesleyan’s Epps who is 6’4″, 210 lbs. However, Epps might have a tough time guarding Sanders, who handles the ball as well as a lot of guards. We understand it’s a highlight, and of course it’s going to make him look good, but go to the 1:30 mark of the below video interview with Skidmore Coach Joe Burke to get an idea of how versatile Sanders’ game is.

What to Expect

As always, Wesleyan’s success will be dictated by how well they shoot the basketball. Even on a poor shooting day Wesleyan can win, but it will be much tougher to do. Medunjanin really creates a matchup issue for Wesleyan, but on the flip side I doubt that Skidmore has played a team with as many shooting weapons as Wesleyan and they’ll have to adjust to that style. Expect some first time jitters from both sides, which is fair on a stage this big.

Also, let’s give a little love to the Cardinal big men, Kuo and Epps. Aside from producing a myriad of highlight reel dunks, Kuo has been very efficient offensively recently and Epps is a workhorse that grabs a lot of boards without great height. In the end, I have to tip the big man advantage Skidmore’s way. I mean, the Thoroughbreds have two All-Liberty League players in their front court. But the margin isn’t huge, which is why this game will be won by guard play.

The Cards aren't the only team that enjoyed a nice court storming last weekend. Skidmore is also coming off of a conference championship. (Courtesy of Skidmore Athletics)
The Cards aren’t the only team that enjoyed a nice court storming last weekend. Skidmore is also coming off of a conference championship. (Courtesy of Skidmore Athletics)


I’ve watched a good amount of Wesleyan basketball this year, which means I know how good they can be. But I also recognize their flaws. So does that mean I end up overrating or underrating the Cardinals? I suppose only the outcome of tonight’s game will tell. I’m predicting that the magic continues for Wesleyan. I think they’ve shown that they can beat high quality teams time and time again, unlike Skidmore, who played a lot of very good teams tightly but couldn’t quite squeeze out the victory. In terms of X’s and O’s, for me the back court advantage for Wesleyan outweighs the front court advantage for Skidmore. Go Wes go!

Wesleyan 61 – Skidmore 53