Will The Mules Kick?: Colby Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Colby College Mules

Losing Patrick Stewart is a huge blow to a team that didn’t find any NESCAC success in 2017. Also gone are Joe Connelly and Max Steiner who started and saw significant time last year. That leaves the rebuilding Mules with G Ethan Schlager ’19, F Sean Gilmore ’20, and a host of players looking to crack the starting lineup. Potential starters are newcomers G Wallace Tucker ’21 and G Matt Hanna ’21, the 2017 sixth man G Tyler Williams ’20, F Steven Daley ’19, G Alex Dorian ’20, and G Sam Jefferson ’20. The positive takeaways from last year include a much higher ceiling for 2018, a host of experience for the Mules’ young players, and plenty of competition in the preseason for spots up for grabs. Coach Strahorn emphasized that while the Mules lack a big rebounding presence in their front court (Jefferson and Daley both out-rebounded the 6’7” Gilmore), but will attempt to make up for it with their pace of play. The Mules play with a smaller, guard-heavy lineup and don’t have a true center, but this allows for a fast game speed. There should be a collective rebounding effort from the guards with a nose for the ball and the few with more size, although they will need to improve in the paint to make a noticeable transition out of NESCAC obscurity. Coach Strahorn is also excited about first year players Hanna and Tucker who are dynamic players that can force penetration on offense, pushing opponent defenses to collapse and rotate. At this point in the year with a developing program, Coach Stahorn said that up to 14 players have the ability to carve out a role this season. The season’s just around the corner, and the Mules need somebody to step up with Stewart no longer in the picture.

2016-2017 record: 10-14 (.417); 1-9 (.100) (NESCAC)

Playoffs: Did not play playoffs

Key Losses:

  • G Joe Connelly ‘17 (21.3 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.1 APG)
  • F Patrick Stewart ‘17 (29.2 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.5 APG)

Projected Starting Lineup:

  • G Ethan Schlager ‘20 (22.7 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 2.3 APG, 3.3 RPG)
Ethan Schlager
Ethan Schlager ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

The sophomore guard will play a critical role in the Mules’ 2017-2018 campaign. As a freshman last year, Schlager logged an impressive 22.7 Min/G. Schlager’s role this year will grow even larger with the loss of G Joe Connelly. The sophomore guard dished out 2.3 assists per game last year, and that statistic will have to go up even further if the Mules want to improve their offense from a season ago. Easier said than do, however, with the loss of F Patrick Stewart. Stewart’s finishing ability and offensive prowess led him to be the best Mule scorer by far. He will likely be one of the leading assist men for the Mules this year. The Choate alum showed he could put the ball in the basket, but he needs to improve his field goal percentage if the Mules seriously want to content. His 38.1 FG % from the field last year needs to improve to around 45%-50% if he wants to be depended upon as an efficient scorer. He did show decent range with a 39.8% three point percentage. With Connelly out of the picture, Schlager’s effectiveness as a guard who facilitates and scores at an efficient clip is essential to Colby’s success.

  • Sam Jefferson ‘20 (24.1 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.6 APG)
Sam Jefferson
Sam Jefferson ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Jefferson, a Newton, Massachusetts native, played in all twenty-four games for the Mules last season. He averaged about twenty-four minutes per game, which shows his dependency. The 6’ 4” two guard snagged four rebounds per game and posted nine points per game in NESCAC play. With the loss of Stewart, the main offensive weapon in Colby’s arsenal, Jefferson needs to step up his offensive game. Similar to Schlager, his field goal percentage dipped below 40% last year. Without Stewart, more defensive attention will be given to both Schlager and Jefferson. Therefore, it’s imperative to the two guards to swing the ball wing to wing and toss passes down to the post to keep the defensive on its heels. More open looks will be generated by ball movement, and probably greater shooting efficiency will occur. If Colby wants to win, Jefferson will need to score the ball more efficiently, and generate more open looks, which will in turn bring up his assist numbers.

  • G Alex Dorion ‘20 (16.1 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.2 APG)
Alex Dorion
Alex Dorian ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Dorion shot a lot of threes last year. To have the audacity to shoot that many threes as a freshman is something to tip your cap to. However, shooting in the low 30%’s for three isn’t necessarily great. Adding to that, shooting overall in the 30%’s doesn’t make me want to pick him as the man Colby depends on like they did for Stewart. Nevertheless, freshman year is over. NESCAC basketball moves at a much faster rate than most high school leagues, so a year under the belt for Dorion is crucial. After an offseason of lifting and working on his shooting form, I think he can turn into a three point assassin. He has decent size for a guard, and he’s sneakily athletic. He gets into good position to get steals and draw charges. Again, do I think he’ll be the difference maker for the Mules? No. I do think that he’ll make a positive impact if he cracks the starting lineup, which I think he will. He doesn’t have the three point prowess of a J.J. Reddick or Kyle Korver, but I think he can be like a decent catch and shoot guy like Steve Novak.

  • F Sean Gilmore ‘20 (16.3 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Sean Gilmore
Sean Gilmore ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Colby’s frontcourt is headlined by 6’ 7” Sean Gilmore, who looks to build off a successful freshman campaign. Gilmore provides rim protection for the Mules; he led the team in blocks last year with twenty-four. Even though he only averaged around sixteen minutes per game, I see him playing a larger role this year with Stewart having graduated. Obviously in this day in age of three point basketball, rebounds remain paramount with either generating second chance opportunities or preventing them. As the rim protector of the team, Gilmore’s 2.8 rebounds per game will have to drastically improve from last year. I know he played a lesser role last season, but as someone who’s one of the bigger guys on the court, he has to use his footwork to get position on those rebounds. In the 2016 NBA Finals, Tristan Thompson was one of the major reasons why Cleveland won due to his size, rim protection, and rebounding ability. Gilmore has two of those attributes, and I’m sure a year in the league has only enhanced his anticipation skills, footwork, and box out ability.

  • F Steven Daley ‘19 (15.6 MPG, 4.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.8 APG)
Steven Daley
Steven Daley ’19 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

With limited depth in the front court, Daley’s transition from underclassmen to upperclassmen will be put to the test the season. The 6’ 4” Daley reminds me of a player similar to Draymond Green. An undersized four who’s athletic, can shoot, and tough inside seems like the common trend in basketball nowadays. Daly is no different. A football and basketball player at Roxbury Latin, Daley can bang with the big boys in the paint, but can also defend a smaller guard on a switch out on the perimeter. The numbers from last year don’t jump out at you, but I think that’s Colby’s mantra anyways. There’s no one player, with Stewart gone, who’s going to burn a defense. Each player has to make steady contributions to the offense, and Daley is no exception. What really stood out to me from last year is his field goal percentage. With the guards shooting relatively inefficiently, a 50.5% from the field lit up my eyes. I think the biggest takeaway from Daley and Gilmore is that they have to set the tone for the team. Both these guys have to be a physical force down in the paint because I don’t have much faith in the guards’ ability to compensate for Connelly and Stewart’s departure.

Key Player: G Ethan Schlager ‘20

The common theme in the article is how to make up for the offense that Patrick Stewart gave to the Mules. The man averaged sixteen points per game, while the next guy didn’t even come close to that. Further, the loss of another offensive threat in the form of Joe Connelly hurts the Mules’ offense even more. This is where Ethan Schlager comes in. I think that he has to take the roles of both Connelly and Stewart combined if the Mules want to be successful. If that’s the case, all his numbers have to go up. And I mean every important offensive statistic. For one thing, he has to be a better facilitator. Without as many scorers as last year, it’s imperative for him to use his basketball IQ to get his teammates clean, open looks. Next, his field goal percentage needs to climb. This improvement not only comes in the form of better shots, but having confidence. With Stewart and Connelly gone, Schlager needs to think of himself as the man. He has to be the one who carries the team. If that field goal percentage rises above 45%, I believe his points will climb as well. I’m not saying he has to be a walking double double every night, but he needs to be awful close for Colby to make a serious improvement from last year.

Everything Else:

There’s isn’t much to say about last season for the Mules. With only one conference win, there isn’t anywhere to go but up. The Mules have to keep that in mind all season. With teams like Williams, Middlebury, Amherst, and Wesleyan in the league, Colby needs to take each game one at a time. Looking at all those big names can be daunting, but understanding that any improvement is beneficial is a necessity. Also, understanding the team’s state right now is imperative. Colby only graduated two seniors last year. The projected starting lineup is made up of all underclassmen with the exception of Daley. Colby will remain relatively young for the foreseeable future. As much as I’ve grown to disdain this phrase because of its repetition, I’ll invoke it now because I think it’s entirely applicable: “Trust the Process.” Like the Sixers, it’s hard for me to say that Colby’s going good this year. Every team should have confidence in themselves, but as an impartial writer, I’m not going to sit here and say that Colby will miraculously be one of the best teams in such a competitive conference. Connelly and Stewart’s departures definitely don’t help the Mules either. There are some glimmers of hope, however, especially in Colby’s backcourt. For a team that ranked the worst in the league in points last year, the team astonishingly ranked second in assists. Keep the ball moving; shots will eventually fall. The young guards shouldn’t be shaken with their poor shooting from last year. If they stick with it, the shots will fall if they trust all the work they’ve put in in the offseason. In conclusion, don’t look for the Mules to wow you with improvement, but I think they can pick up a few more wins this year in order to escape the bottom of the league. 

The Year of The Jumbo?: Power Rankings 1/19

KJ Garrett ’18 made a splash off the bench this weekend for the Jumbos with 30 points on 13-18 shooting (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

This weekend brought tight games, upsets, and standings shake-ups. Some players rose to the occasion in times of need, while others shrunk from the spotlight. One thing that is certain about the NESCAC this year is that it is competitive through and through. Here are this week’s power rankings:

1.) #4 Tufts (13-2, 4-0)

Tufts’ victories against Middlebury and Hamilton cemented them at the top spot this week as the only undefeated team in NESCAC competition. Tufts barely beat Middlebury, up by just one point with 21 seconds remaining, but were able to make their free throws and keep the lead in what could be a playoff preview. Other than their two back to back losses to #1 Babson (then #2) and UMass-Boston on December 3rd and 6th, the Jumbos have been perfect all season and are now the highest ranked team (#4) in the conference after Amherst’s two losses this past weekend. The Middlebury game was a great display of Tufts’ balance as all five starters scored double-digit points, with Everett Dayton leading the way with 16. Tom Palleschi continued his hot play and had a well rounded game with three blocks, three assists, six boards, and 10 points. Eric Savage went off against Hamilton on Saturday with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and a season high in boards that shows how versatile this Tufts team is and why they shouldn’t have many issues this weekend against a resurgent Wesleyan team and a decent Conn College team. Tufts should continue to climb in the national rankings.

2.) #15 Middlebury (13-2, 3-1)

The Panthers would be #1 if Eric McCord made a final minute layup and they held on afterwards in Medford last Friday, yet the Jumbos held off McCord and Middlebury to give Midd their first loss in conference play. With that being said, Middlebury has found something in McCord that can help fill the hole that Zach Baines left when he departed from Vermont. McCord broke out against the Jumbos as he matched his season high in rebounds with eight and found a new season high of points with 22, 10 more than his previous high. He then added 11 points and six rebounds against Bates on Saturday, really cementing himself as the sixth man and as a force in the paint as the 6’7’’/255 pound beast is now a force to be reckoned with. Coach Brown also has to be happy that Nick Tarantino ’18 is holding his own in the starting lineup after struggling his first few starts beginning on December 29th. He has averaged nearly 10 rebounds and 10 points a game these last three contests and is shooting at over 50% in those games too, much better than the 1-6 he went against the Camels. Williams should be another team that the Panthers beat so long as these guys continue to produce – Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown can do the rest.

3.) #16 Amherst (10-4, 1-2)

Yes, Amherst got swept this past weekend and are still ranked 3rd this week. Unfair? Maybe but they are still one of just four nationally ranked NESCAC teams and did knock off #1 Babson earlier in the season. Now, they lost to Wesleyan last Friday who was ranked earlier in the year and desperately needed the win in their home gym to remain relevant in the NESCAC. However, a 14 point loss to an unranked team isn’t really indicative of a championship caliber season. On top of that, Jayde Dawson had the best game and he did not play well. He did score 17, but 6-19 from the field and 1-7 from 3-point range is 2016 Kobe-esque in his send off game. Amherst followed up Friday with an OT loss to Conn College, who hasn’t been overly impressive thus far, giving the Camels their first ‘CAC win of the year. This is not a good sign for the Purple and White. Johnny McCarthy played well and got back to his consistent form with 19 points after just five against the Cardinals. So while Amherst might no longer host the NESCAC tournament, they are in no danger of falling out of the playoff race. They need to get it together this weekend against Bowdoin and Colby as a loss to either will certainly boot them out of the top-25 and push them farther down the power rankings.

4.) Bates (12-4, 3-1)

A Delpeche sandwich means a job well-done (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen).

I’ll admit that I either underestimated the Bobcats or overestimated the Continentals. I fully expected Bates to fall to Hamilton last weekend, but here they are at #4 in the rankings already with three wins in conference, more than all of last year. Their performance so far has all but cemented them as a NESCAC playoff team. Bates defended four of six of Hamilton’s big scoring threats well (Gilmour, Doyle, Pucci, and Groll) which forced PG Jack Dwyer to shoot more than he generally likes to. While this allowed Dwyer to score a season high of 19, the other key players found themselves neutralized, allowing the Delpeche twins to have a day. Marcus scored 17 and hauled in 14 boards and Malcolm scored 12 and had 17 rebounds of his own. Jeff Spellman was a key player off of the bench too as he added 16 points in 25 minutes. Bates also played Middlebury in a tight game, falling behind early but clawing their way to within a 10 point margin by the end. Marcus Delpeche found less shooting success in this contest and Middlebury controlled the rebounds (45-31), giving the Panthers an upper hand, especially in the first half. Bates should beat Conn College on Friday if they keep playing with this intensity and their matchup against Wesleyan will tell who should be higher in the rankings.

5.) Wesleyan (13-3, 2-2)

Two shocking losses to open up conference play and drop the Cardinals out of the top-25 were not part of the plan. These 18 and 16 point losses to Middlebury and Hamilton respectively had to hurt, but Wesleyan really bounced back against previously #5 Amherst and a solid Trinity team at home, preventing a bottom half ranking this week. The victory over Amherst is especially surprising. Amherst had been dominant all year up until that point and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. But Wesleyan’s defense shined on Friday, holding the Purple and White to just 30% shooting from the field and 24.1% from beyond the arc. Kevin O’Brien led the way with 19 points, nine boards, four assists, four steals, and two blocks. Jordan Sears also had a big 10 rebounds off of the bench and Amherst just couldn’t put anything together. The most remarkable stat from the weekend is that both O’Brien and Joseph Kuo had more rebounds at 11 and 10 respectively than Ed Ogundeko did, who had just eight on Saturday. Kuo also added 14 points and the Cardinals narrowly pulled out the win, reestablishing themselves as a contender. They have a tough weekend against Tufts and Bates and if they can go 1-1 that should be considered a success.

6.) Hamilton (11-4, 2-2)

I’m a big fan of the Continentals’ resurgence similar to Bates from last place to a position of relevance in the conference. Their youth will still shine through from time to time as consistency and closing out games is a big focus for the team, but at 2-2 they still have a lot of potential upward mobility ahead of them if they seize the opportunity. Dwyer showed last weekend against Bates that when other teammates get shut down he can still shoot, although it wasn’t quite enough on the road on Friday. They did keep the game close and nearly managed to come back, but Kena Gilmour, Joe Pucci, and Andrew Groll weren’t themselves as they shot a combined 6-24. Their loss against Tufts was expected, but Groll and Gilmour had bounce back games while Pucci and Jack Dwyer couldn’t get it going. Tufts’ 46.3% from the field is what killed the Continentals. They will need a strong game, especially defensively, if they want to beat a desperate Williams team.

7.) Trinity (10-6, 2-1)

Jeremy Arthur ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

While the gap between Trinity and Hamilton and Wesleyan isn’t huge, their two conference wins against Williams and Conn College are hardly justification for a higher spot. Their loss to Wesleyan cemented them at #7 this week, and barring upset wins elsewhere in the conference, wins against Colby and Bowdoin this weekend shouldn’t move them too much higher. Ogundeko is averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.6 boards, top-5 in the league in both. However, Ogundeko showed against Wesleyan that he is human as he was out rebounded by two Cardinals. The Bantams are reliant on him to dominate in the paint as potential dud performances like Chris Turnbull’s against Conn College (0-7, zero points) could put easy wins in jeopardy. Despite the winning conference record, Trinity has issues as Langdon Neal hasn’t been too impressive shooting the ball, averaging just over four points in NESCAC games. Also, Trinity’s bench hasn’t produced much at all and compared to Middlebury and Hamilton’s bench players as an example, the Bantams don’t compare. Look for them to win this weekend but the Bowdoin game could be closer than people expect for the third place NESCAC team.

8.) Conn College (10-5, 1-3)

Erasing a 17 point halftime deficit against Amherst bodes well for the Camels heading into the rest of the season. They just saved their NESCAC first half with that win as an 0-4 start could’ve sent them towards the offseason as playoffs would be a much tougher achievement at that point. 1-3 still isn’t good, but knocking off any ranked team is a feat worth mentioning. They played Middlebury closely on January 7th, lost big to both Trinity and Hamilton, and won by seven in OT to the Purple and White. Last weekend was a tale of two different Conn College teams. While the Camels usually rule the rebounds due to two big men, Daniel Janel and Zuri Pavlin (Pavlin recently broke the Conn College all time rebounding record), the pair notched only nine combined boards against Trinity compared to Ogundeko’s 12. On top of that David Labossiere shot just 2-8, Colin Pascoe didn’t take a shot, Isaiah Robinson only scored two points compared to his normal 9.5…you get my point. When that many players have down games, this team likely isn’t going to win. However, like they showed against Amherst, when both of their big men have incredible games, they win. It’s a tale of consistency and for a team that lost so many close games in the final minutes a year ago, they should be sick of these ups and downs. Not so bold prediction: anytime Janel and Pavlin score 20 each and have 18 rebounds combined, they’ll win. This weekend will be a good test to see is they can keep pace with the big dogs as Bates and Tufts are both challenges steep challenges, especially in those rowdy environments.

9.) Bowdoin (9-6, 1-2)

The Polar Bears have the NESCAC scoring leader in Jack Simonds (21.9 ppg) and they can shoot as Hugh O’Neil ranks fourth in FG% (57.9%) and David Reynolds ranks fourth in 3PT% (43.3%). O’Neil is also in the top five in rebounds with 9.6 per game, but other than that, Bowdoin doesn’t have a whole lot going there way. The game against Tufts summarized this well as those three accounted for 25/42 rebounds, 40/54 points, and the rest of the team shot 6-30 from the field. Against Bates, again, these three were the only ones to score in double digits, had the majority of the rebounds, and only lost by five. While it was a close game, Bowdoin needs another element to complement these guys as the load can’t all fall on their shoulders. Neil Fuller could be that guy – he put up 10 against Williams along with five rebounds, helping out Bowdoin’s big three despite Reynolds’ down game. Of course, they will have a good chance if Simonds drops 32 every contest. This team needs more balance, and if they continue playing more like they did against the Ephs, they should have a better shot at making the playoffs.

10.) Williams (12-4, 1-3)

Williams’ only conference win came against Colby who is right below them in the rankings, so it doesn’t say too much. It’s hard to believe but the Ephs were ranked this season in what seems like ages ago. Their recent drop off is a product of better competition in the conference and the lack of a big rebounding presence. Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz are their best chance at matching the league’s best, but a team high of 6.0 reb/g isn’t exactly noteworthy in a positive light. To emphasize this further, Ogundeko hauled in 23 rebounds against Williams, and while Aronowitz had a great game and had a double-double, they simply couldn’t stop the Bantam’s big man. In a two point loss like that, every possession is key, and if they could’ve gotten some offensive boards they would’ve been able to get over the hump. It was the same story against Bowdoin as the Polar Bears hauled in 40 rebounds compared to just 27 for the Ephs, while no individual had more than five and they had just six offensive rebounds. Williams can score well – Aronowitz, Scadlock, and Cole Teal all score over 10 per game – but unless they can stop other teams from controlling the ball, they won’t make the playoffs.

11.) Colby (7-7,0-3)

0-3 is obviously a tough start for any team, but especially for the underdog. Colby has a lot of ground to make up over these next few weeks as at least three or four wins will be needed to sneak into the NESCAC playoff picture. They have kept all three losses within 15 points, but Patrick Stewart is just about the only bright spot here. The senior is averaging 16.2 ppg while the next closest player is at just 7.9 ppg. His 6.2 rebounds also lead the team, and nobody has more than Joseph Connelly’s 2.4 a/g, which isn’t exactly impressive. First year Ethan Schlager has played well in conference games, with 11.3 ppg over these three contest in just 21.0 min/g, and the Mules will need more help from him and other rookies Ronan Schwarz and Sam Jefferson if they are going to have a chance at climbing out of the cellar. Away games at Trinity and Amherst are going to be tough contests, and I’d be shocked if they pulled off an upset.