New Field, Same Approach, Different Results? 2017 Bowdoin Football Preview

Editor’s Note: Connor is a new writer joining us from Bowdoin College. He is a rising senior, and just wishes that everyone in the world could just get along and have fun.

2016 Record: 0-8

2017 Projected Record: 2-7

Projected Offensive Starters: *Seven Returning

QB: Noah Nelson (‘19)*

RB: Nate Richam (‘20)*

WR: Nick Vailas (‘18)*

WR: Ejaaz Jiu (’19)*

WR: Chandler Gee (‘20)*

TE: Bryan Porter (‘18)*

OL: Elliot Borden (‘18)

OL: TBA

C: AJ Mansolillo (‘19)*

OL: TBA

OL: TBA

Projected Defensive Starters:  *Eight returning

LB: Tyler MacNeil (‘18)*

LB: Latif Armiyaw (*18)*

LB: Joe Gowetski (‘20)*

DL: Robert Caputo (‘19)*

DL: TBA

DL: TBA

DL: Jay Mobley (‘20)*

DB: Ryan Sanborn (‘18)*

DB: Nye Deskus (‘20)*

DB: Cameron Rondeau (‘19)*

DB: Henry Little (‘18)*

Projected Specialists: *Two returning

K: Andrew Sisti (‘18)*

P: Michael Chen (‘20)*

Noah Nelson
Noah Nelson ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Offensive MVP: QB Noah Nelson ‘19

If the Polar Bears are going to compete for more than a few wins this season, it will largely depend on the play of Nelson. Entering preseason as the undisputed starting quarterback, Nelson will to prove that he is capable of leading this offense in high-scoring affairs. Bowdoin ranked towards the bottom of the NESCAC last year in passing effectiveness and statistical output, but Nelson showed signs of an ability to create offense and move the chains down the field. Equally as important, the Bowdoin offensive line will need to show significant improvement from last year, to allow Nelson to survey the field on offensive drives. A major staple of the receiving corps graduated last Spring (Ford ‘17), but senior Nick Vailas ‘18 figures to handle a hefty portion of the receiving workload. In addition, Chandler Gee ‘20 had some success in the slot last year. The buzz coming from preseason practice has also indicated that some first-year wideouts will figure to contribute significantly this season. The pieces are in place for Nelson to make a major step forward as the Polar Bears’ play caller.

Defensive MVP: Joe Gowetski ‘20

Joe Gowetski
Joe Gowetski ’20 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Gowetski came in and made an immediate impact for the Bowdoin defense last season. He was a beast from the linebacker position, racking up 52 tackles, as well as 1 sack. Those numbers led the league last year, and Gowetski has showed no signs of the proverbial ‘sophomore slump’ so far in practice. Gowetski figures to be a major stopper in the run defense, and his quickness and instincts make him effective in coverage as well. He has emerged as a team leader, and has put in the necessary work to be a major difference maker this season. Look for Gowetski’s name atop the NESCAC leaderboards again this season.

Biggest Game: @ Williams, September 16th

For the second year in a row, we’ve picked the first game on Bowdoin’s schedule as the most critical. After going winless last year, it is absolutely necessary that the Polar Bears show up for their first game this year. Although Bowdoin Coach JB Wells has an eye toward the future and has moved on from last year, fans of the program may not be so quick to do so. Wells has focused on improving his team day in and day out, and it must show on September 16th if Bowdoin is to rebound from a winless season. Whether or not you believe in sports momentum, the Polar Bears will certainly breathe a sigh of relief if they top Williams in week one.

Best Tweet:

So cute!

Summary:

This offseason and build-up to the first game has an air of ‘new beginnings’ for the Polar Bears. Bowdoin’s historic Whittier field is undergoing the final stages of a major renovation; it is set to open for their home opener (9/23 vs. Middlebury). Coach Wells and the rest of the football program is hopeful that this renovation will spur the team to hit the ground running this year (with the added security of the artificial turf, of course). More broadly, the team has let bygones be bygones, and has emphasized continual improvement and investment in the team’s goals. An 0-8 record last year definitely stings, but the Polar Bears are maintaining a positive outlook on their chances this year.

Bowdoin will benefit from its youth during this year’s elongated season: with a nine game schedule, durability and longevity will be key. Those are areas in which the Polar Bears are well equipped. A nice balance of experience and youth sets Bowdoin up to capitalize on the additional game, whereas some other teams might have trouble adjusting to the change.

Aside from the departure of Liam Ford ‘17 at wide receiver, the entire Bowdoin offense is returning and appear ready to capitalize on some bright spots from last year. Nate Richam ‘20 and CJ Markisz ‘20 figure to once again form a two-headed running attack, and the Bowdoin playcallers will rely on them to carry the workload. Chandler Gee ‘20 impressed with his speed and catching ability in the slot last year, and with the addition of some highly skilled freshman wideouts, the receiving corps looks ready to make a big impact. These new additions will complement consistent offensive presences WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18.  As previously mentioned, Noah Nelson ‘19 will need to step up in big fashion if Bowdoin is to outscore opponents on a weekly basis.

On the defensive side of the ball, Bowdoin will be anchored by linebackers Latif Armiyaw ‘18 and Joe Gowetski ‘20, who, between them, have some serious athleticism and high football IQ. Similar to previous seasons, one of Bowdoin’s keys to victory will be stopping the run (Bowdoin allowed a league-worst 200.1 rushing yards per game last year). To make matters worse, Bowdoin also allowed the most passing yards per game last year with 242.9. Clearly, the returning defenders (and the incoming players) will need to show improvements if Bowdoin is to even be competitive this season.

All in all, Bowdoin has a long way to go before they are NESCAC title contenders. There were flashes of potential last year, but none of them persisted long enough for the Polar Bears to grab a win. With a brand new facility and positive outlook on the season, it would seem as though Bowdoin is poised to make some noise in the league this year. The team will need to be far more effective on defense, and capitalize on their offensive capabilities, if they are to turn their fortune around. Despite the positivity and experienced roster, Bowdoin is still in rebuilding mode. While I don’t think they go winless for the second straight year, it may be another season of woes for the Polar Bears.

Trust the Process: 2017 Williams Football Preview

Editor’s Note: We’re very excited to welcome Matt Karpowicz to the writing team! You might recognize Matt as the rising star center on the Williams basketball team; he’s very tall and therefore hard to miss. He’s a rising sophomore and his favorite musical is Legally Blonde.

2017 Record: 0-8

Projected Record: 3-6

Projected Starters: Offense (Six Returning *)

QB: TBD

RB: Noah Sorrento ’19*/Connor Harris ’18*

WR: Adam Regensburg ’18*

WR: Kellen Hatheway ’19*

WR: TBD

TE: Tyler Patterson ’19*

LT: Kent Blaeser ’19*

LG: TBD

C: TBD

RG: TBD

RT: Patrick Loughran ’19*

Projected Starters: Defense (6 Returners*)

DL: Sam Gowen ’18*

DL: Chris Hattar ’18*

DL: Austin Thomas ’19*

DL: Jameson DeMarco ‘19

MLB: TBD

OLB: Michael Berry ’18*

OLB: TBD

CB: Ben Anthony ’20*

CB: TBD

SS: TBD

FS: TBD

Projected Starters: Special Teams (2 Returners)

K/P: Adam Regensburg ’18*

KR/PR: Jaelon Moaney ’19*

Tyler Patterson
Tyler Patterson ’19 (Courtesy of Williams College Athletics)

Offensive MVP: Skill Positions

Yeah, picking the QB, RB, and WRs to be the Ephs’ offensive MVP might seem like a cop out, but when you average 12.4 points a game for an entire season, it’s hard to target one specific area of importance. This group didn’t make enough plays last year for Williams to have much offensive success, but have returned several playmakers that have shown they have the ability to be serious threats to the rest of the defenses in the NESCAC. TE Tyler Patterson in particular will be a player to watch. While not technically a skill position, he is Williams’ biggest offensive threat. He missed some time last year, and is poised to be a breakout star this season if the Ephs’ offense can be more consistent.

Defensive MVP: DL Sam Gowen ’18/Chris Hattar ’18/Jameson DiMarco ‘19

Sam Gowen
Sam Gowen ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Football)

Gowen and Hattar will return for their last year at the helm of the Williams defensive unit, their third straight as starters, and DiMarco showed in his sophomore season that there will not be much of a drop off after the duo graduate. Although the defense got toasted to the tune of almost 33 points a game (no thanks in part to a cruel homecoming visit from Wesleyan and 56 first half points), they return their top 4 defensive lineman and that sense of continuity should be key to improving this side of the ball. Gowen, Hattar, and DiMarco combined for 7 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Being able to create havoc in opposing teams’ backfields will be key for this team, especially early in the year as they look to find some consistency in what will be mainly a new secondary.

(For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 9 total MVPs, but that’s what happens when you go 0-8)

Biggest Game: Bowdoin @ Williams 9/16

For all the question marks in this season preview, this will not be one of them. The Polar Bears come to Farley-Lamb for a Week One opener that will immediately see one of the NESCACs two winless teams in 2016 move into a 5 way tie at the top of the league. This is an absolutely must win game for the Ephs, as they look to put last year’s 0-8 campaign in the rear view. Starting out the season by losing what would be their 14th game in a row to equally lowly Bowdoin could seriously derail this purple and gold train before it ever got to leave the station. Opening the season with a win, however, would be exactly the start this young team and second year HC Mark Raymond wants as they hope to begin to turn things around.

Best Tweet:

This is a retweet, but I still love seeing a team get inspired by a coach who’s got one ring total despite having T-Mac, KG, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Chris Paul and Blake all in their primes.

Summary:

Last year’s season preview stated that the biggest question in Williamstown would be who would be under center at quarterback, and I am excited to tell you that that question remains unanswered a year later. Whatever options Coach Raymond hoped to have last year were quickly slimmed when John Gannon ’18 tore his ACL in the preseason, and he was forced to pick from a variety of guys who had never taken a collegiate snap at QB. While Jaelon Moaney ’19 and Pete Cahill ’20 got a couple looks, it was Jansen Durham ’20 who spent the majority of the year as QB1. Durham showed flashes of promise, going 24-37 for 200 yards and 2 TDs against eventual champ Trinity, but struggled to take care of the football, and ultimately did not do enough to truly solidify himself as the starter this year. Gannon is now back and healthy for his senior year and 2016-17 Gatorade Massachusetts Football Player of the Year freshman Bobby Maimaron will bring his MA state record 122 career touchdown passes to the Purple Valley in hopes of earning the job as well.

Defensively, this unit will definitely improve. Yes, they did allow 33 points

A more consistent offense will be the key to Williams’ gradual climb to respectability.

a game last year, but that number really doesn’t tell the whole story, as the offense’s 22 turnovers often times forced the defense back onto the field after a short rest and a short field to defend. They should be good enough to give the offense chances to win football games, which is really where the vast majority of the question marks lie. I already touched on the quarterback battle, but there are few other certainties on offense, other than Adam Regensburg ’18 and his 37 catches playing an important role in the air attack. Noah Sorrento ’19 and Connor Harris ’18 have spent the greater part of the last two seasons splitting carries, with Sorrento logging 194 rushes over the last two seasons to Harris’ 181. Steve Bohling ’20 was in the rotation at the end of the season as well, rushing for 85 carries on 18 rushes against Wesleyan and 56 yards on 11 carries against Amherst.

There is a lot of talent on this Williams offense, but it is up to Coach Raymond to find the best way to maximize it. In his final year at St. Lawrence, his offense scored nearly 30 points a game, and the Ephs should trend closer to that 30 than the 12 they hovered around last year. The ninth game will be huge as gives  this young team one more game to mesh, and there are some pieces that could really shine in 2017. There will continue to be growing pains in Williamstown this year, but the sun should begin to come out in the Berkshires.

Can’t Keep a Good Mammoth Down: 2017 Amherst Football Preview

2017 Record: 4-4

Projected Record: 8-1

Projected Offensive Starters: (*Seven Returning)

QB: Reece Foy ’18*

RB: Jack Hickey ’19*

WR: Bo Berluti ’20*

WR: James O’Regan ‘20

WR: TBD

TE: Mike Odenwaelder ’16***

RG: Elijah Zabludoff ’18*

RT: Mitch Arthur ’18*

LT: Jack Tyrell ’19*

LG: Kevin Sheehan ’18*

C: Dan Papa ’20

Projected Defensive Starters: (*Five Returning)

DL: Bolaji Ekhator ’18*

DL: Markel Thomas ’18

DL: Drew DeNoble ’19

DL: Robert Needham ’18

OLB: Andrew Yamin ’19*

ILB: John Callahan ’19*

ILB: Andrew Sommer ’19*

OLB: Justin Berry ‘20

CB: Nate Tyrell ’19*

FS: Zach Allen ‘19

CB: Avery Saffold ‘20

Projected Specialists: (*Two Returning)

K/P: John Rak ‘19*, Andrew Ferrero ’19

KR/PR: Hasani Figueroa ‘18

Summary:

In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst fell out of the top of the NESCAC, where they are usually dominant, due to a preseason ACL injury to QB Reece Foy. With Foy, RB Jack Hickey, and Bo Berluti returning for Amherst in 2017, these three dynamic playmakers could lead this team to a perfect season. The key word there is “could.” I do not expect this to come true. Jack Hickey enters his junior season after rushing for a pedestrian 368 yards but still found the end zone seven times. Hasani Figueroa should offer depth at the position and also will be the return man. Their offensive line should be deep and experienced with mainstays from 2016, and even though I picked Dan Papa as a projected starter, Billy Rotella, Brendan Coleman, and John Griffiths are also in discussion and competition for the final spot.

Jack Hickey ’19 scored 7 touchdowns for the Mammoths last year, but might need to be a more consistent force for them to return to former glory.

On defense, John Callahan and Andrew Sommer both return at inside linebacker after starting in their sophomore seasons. OLB Andrew Yamin will be threatening opposing QBs again after leading the Mammoths in sacks with five, and joining him will be Justin Berry who should also see significant time. In the secondary, Nate Tyrell and Avery Saffold should see most of the time at corner while Zach Allen will be the primary safety. As far as the specialists go, Amherst is deep and will have an edge on the rest of the conference. Both punter Andrew Ferrero and kicker John Rak have huge legs and could easily win close games for the Purple and White. Rak made a 52 yard field goal with the wind look easy against Middlebury last season that would have easily been good from over 65 yards away. He has a Matt Prater-esque leg and has accuracy to boot.

I obviously am not a fan of Amherst as a member of the Middlebury faithful. However, I can’t help but be excited to see what Mike Odenwaelder can do on the football field. Odenwaelder, as reported long ago by NbN, was planning to play college basketball before taking a prep year in high school, eventually choosing baseball. Therefore, football was his third ranked sport. So now he is focusing on it as his last chance at playing competitive athletics. The 6’5’’ beast should give Foy a great option assuming that he can learn the ropes quickly in the shortened preseason. This is going to be a prime example of how this ninth game can shorten the playbook early on, as Odenwaelder, unfamiliar with a college football offense, will likely start off with more simple responsibilities and routes before transitioning into a bigger role. Amherst is loaded with potential, and now that their signal-caller Foy is back, they have a real shot at a title. 

 Offensive MVP: Reece Foy ‘18

Reece Foy
Reece Foy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Amherst’s sudden drop off can be attributed to the loss of Player of the Year Foy, who tore his ACL in a workout before preseason last year. While Bates and Amherst nearly finished with the same record, the Mammoths didn’t quite drop down into the second tier of the NESCAC. Foy returns with a strong O-Line and receiving core, led by Bo Berluti. He threw for over 1,500 yards in his sophomore season, ran for 286, and accounted for 13 touchdowns. He should bounce back for the Purple and White and return them to on field dominance. 

Defensive MVP: Bolaji Ekhator ‘18

Bolaji Ekhator
Bolaji Ekhator ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

While this may come as a surprise pick to many as Andrew Yamin is an easy choice to lead the defense, captain Ekhator has a big role to play. Ekhator leads a group of relatively inexperienced linemen who need their captain to make plays and control the first tier of the defense. Ekhator played in six games and recorded two sacks a season ago and none of the other projected starters on the line started in 2016. In fact, one of them, Robert Needham, hasn’t played since 2015 due to a torn ACL. OLB Yamin will be the statistical MVP, but for Amherst to return to the mountaintop, Ekhator will need to have an equally important off the field role to push the Mammoths towards a championship.

Most NCAA Ineligible: Mike Odenwaelder

Mike Odenwaelder
Mike Odenwaelder ‘??? (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Although he can no longer play college baseball, Mike Odenwaelder, once the bane of Middlebury baseball’s existence and former Baltimore Oriole, will be a contender to start at Tight End with one year of college sport eligibility remaining. In his junior baseball season he went 11-17 with seven extra base hits in a series against Middlebury in aggressive snowfall, and while I wasn’t yet on the Panther team, I know the story well as it is the stuff of legend. Although he hasn’t played football since his senior year of high school, this uber-athletic soon to be 25 year old could be the breakout player of the year. The real question is, will he be more of a Tim Tebow/Michael Jordan or more of a Bo Jackson/Steph Curry two sport athlete.

*** Note: Odenwaelder is not a returning starter, although he did start once-upon-a-time for Amherst’s baseball team. Also, although he was due to graduate in 2016 were it not for his two year stint in the minors, his new graduation year is up in the air. 

Biggest Game: September 16 vs. Bates

While there are plenty of more notable games in the 2017 season for Amherst, they will need to show early on that they are far better than the second tier of NESCAC football, led by the Bates Bobcats. If they can prove that they are back to compete for the championship with Foy at the helm, then they should be able to easily put away a Bates team that made great strides in 2016 but should not be in the discussion for a NESCAC title at this point. 

Best Tweet:

This one is just too classic from a NESCAC team. This is actually a retweet, but I’m going to allow it, simply because of its academic nature on an athletic team’s twitter account. They retweeted the ACT testing dates, just so all of the new recruits know that while nobody on the team really goes there to play school, it has to look that way to the admissions department. 

 

The King Stay The King: 2017 Trinity Football Preview

2016 Record: 8-0

Projected 2017 Record: 8-1

Projected Offensive Starters (*Nine Returning)

QB: Sonny Puzzo ‘18*

RB: Max Chipouras ‘19*

WR: Will Connery ‘20

WR: Bryan Vieira ‘18*

WR: John Spears ‘19

TE: Matt Hirshman ‘18*

LT: Chris Simmons ‘18*

LG: Sam Bowtell ‘19*

C: Steve O’Reilly ‘19* 

RG: Joe Farrah ‘18*

RT: Austin Baiardi ‘*20

Projected Defensive Starters (*Seven Returning)

DE: Nick Rose ‘19*

DT: Matt D’Andrea ‘18*

DT: Brandon Blaise ’18*

DE: Corey Jean-Jacques ‘19

OLB: Dago Picon-Roura ’19*

MLB: Liam Kenneally ‘18*

OLB: Shane Libby ‘19*

CB: John Medina ’19*

SS: Edosa Onaiwu ‘19

FS: Sameir Madden ‘19

CB: Dominique Seagears ‘18

Projected Specialists (*Two Returning)

PK: Eric Sachse ’19*

P: Ian McDonald ’20*

KR/PR: John Spears ‘19

Summary:

Image result for trinity football
Trinity’s swarming defense keyed their championship run last year, as shown by their attempts to shut down Tufts star RB Chance Brady last year. This picture specifically, of course, is Hamilton trying to tackle Brady, but I’m sure Trinity tried as well.

Coach Devanney and the Bantams will look to defend their title with more authority this season with the longer schedule, offering a more universal ring than 2016. Although they lose several key members of the championship squad, they have the overwhelming majority of important players back for a return run at glory, including potentially the NESCAC’s best running back in Max Chipouras. The entire offensive line returns, giving quarterback (and fake name given by a celebrity at a hotel Sonny Puzzo ’18) exceptional protection to work with the less experienced receivers. And most of the D-Line returns as well, which means plenty of pressure on the opposing QBs.

On offense, the returners are guard Joe Farrah, center Steve O’Reilly, tackle Chris Simmons, tackle Austin Baiardi, and guard Sam Bowtell. The returning defensive linemen are guard Nick Rose, and nose tackle Matt D’Andrea. Corey Jean-Jacques and Brandon Blaise should look to step up into bigger starting roles this season as tackles on the line after splitting time in 2016. The linebackers, led by Liam Kenneally, also return Shane Libby on the outside and Henderson Watkins on the inside. Dago Picon-Roura should see time in both the first and second tier of the defense. The only real holes to fill are the skill positions.

Receivers and DBs were big pieces in the team a year ago. However, Coach Devanney is confident that John Spears and Brian Vieira can shoulder the load at receiver with Puzzo’s reliable arm supplying the ammunition. Spears will be an improved weapon simply because of the consistency of the O-Line, giving him time to develop his routes after less preseason action than usual with the lack of a scrimmage. Vieira will need to lead the way for Puzzo, and Spears has limited experience over the course of his first two years in the league.

First year players will play a big role in the depth of the team. Only eight of 14 corners and safeties who saw action in 2016 will be back and those eight all saw the playing field in a limited capacity. Spencer Donahue left a huge hole for John Medina to fill and Coach Deveanney stressed how he will be the main piece who will need to make an impact. Joining Medina as a starter in the secondary should be junior Sameir Madden who saw action in six games as a sophomore last season. I mentioned in my preview of Trinity last year how they had the NESCAC’s version of the ‘Legion of Boom,’ the nickname for the Seahawks secondary following their 2011 emergence. They will not have quite the same dominance that they wrought on opposing offenses anymore, however, they will likely compete near the top of the conference in this section. They could have the most lethal QB/RB combo in the ‘CAC though, similar to the Drew Brees/LaDainian Tomlinson combo of the Chargers in 2004. The Bantams also return both their punter Ian McDonald and place kicker Eric Sachse who were perfect one year ago, both looking to make an all-conference impact, leading what could also be one of the best special team pairs, second only to Amherst.

Offensive MVP: RB Max Chipouras ‘19

Max Chipouras full bio
Max Chipouras ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

After being named USA College Football Division III Rookie All American and the NESCAC Rookie of the Year in 2015, Max Chipouras ran for nearly 300 more yards in his second season. Chipouras looks to continue his dominance of the NESCAC gridiron in his third campaign after earning All-NESCAC First Team honors last fall. His 910 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns will likely be eclipsed once more. 

 

Defensive MVP: LB Liam Kenneally ‘18

Liam Kenneally
Liam Kenneally ’18 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

After losing many key members of the defense, nearly all coming from the secondary, Kenneally will be the center of the Bantam defense in the linebacking core. He should lead the second tier for Trinity as he was second on the team with 44 tackles and led the team with six sacks. However, he will also assume a good deal of coverage responsibilities due to the multiple defensive backs who graduated.

 

Big Shoes to Fill: CB John Medina ‘19

John Medina
John Medina ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Despite the lack of returners in the secondary for Trinity, John Medina should be a good candidate to replace stud graduate Spencer Donahue who dominated the NESCAC for four years. Medina will be the main piece looking to make an impact in the defensive skill positions as he had a pair of picks and played in all eight games in 2016.

Biggest Game: at. Amherst, November 4th, 1:00 PM

While the eighth game, for the first time in decades, is no longer the last game of the schedule, Amherst should be a championship contender in 2017 and this match up could well crown the winner of the NESCAC. The runner-up game for Trinity would be week nine against Wesleyan, but if Reece Foy ’18 comes back for the Mammoths as experts (me) predict, then this should be a barn burner.

Best Tweet:

There were a host of tweets that could’ve made the cut here. The Indianapolis Colts visited the Coop to check out some of the Bantams and Trinity retained their spot as the best football team in Connecticut. However, the one that drew my attention the most was one that questioned their own QB Sonny Puzzo’s loyalty. The Caldwell High (NJ) alumnus was featured in an article that showed him as he threw some passes in a practice session to the New York Giants’ Dwayne Harris. The tweet shows how despite his supposed Jets loyalties, he still tried to help the cross town NY Giants on their quest to beat the Pats in yet another Super Bowl.

https://twitter.com/TrinFootball/status/892170193472016385

 

Home is Where the Heart Is: Middlebury Basketball Season Preview

Image result for middlebury basketball
Middlebury will look to recreate this picture in the 2016-2017 season.

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.

Writer’s’ Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I love Middlebury Basketball more than I do several of my relatives. I try my best to write every article without bias, but I may slip up.  Feel free to let me know if I do!

Projected Record: 8-2

Middlebury enjoyed a return to glory in 2015-2016, winning the league championship just a year after failing to make the tournament. The Panthers overcame a slow start in non-conference games (they were just 6-6 entering NESCAC play) and an insanely uneven home/road split.  The Panthers only played eight home games all of last season.  Eight!  They were home less than Lucas’ parents in Stranger Things. Anyway, the Panthers’ success was largely due to the stellar play of senior guards Matt St. Amour ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17, as well as the emergence of junior forward Adisa Majors ‘18. Majors and St. Amour both mirrored the Panthers’ season: they struggled early in the year before turning it on in NESCAC play. St. Amour was honored with First Team All NESCAC and Second Team All Region hardware, while Majors was content to just get his job done with very little fanfare.

Luckily for the Panthers and unluckily for the rest of the league, the Panthers return nearly all of the team that came within two points of reaching the NCAA quarterfinals. Center Matt Daley was a force in the middle for the team when he was on the court, which was not extremely often, but his absence should open up minutes for talented young forwards Zach Baines ‘19 and Eric McCord ‘19, as well as freshman Matt Folger ‘20, who has impressed in training camp.  Middlebury’s strength is of course in their backcourt, where tri-captains St. Amour, Brown and Jack Daly ‘18 bring leadership, experience, defensive intensity, scoring and really any other buzzword you can think of that a basketball team needs. The Panthers are both experienced and youthful, stout defensively and explosive on offense, and should enter the season as strong candidates to repeat as league champions.

2015-2016 Record: 18-11, 6-4, won the NESCAC Championship, lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament

Coach: Jeff Brown, 20th year, 309-185

Returning Starters:

Guard Matt St. Amour ‘17 (19.5 PPG, 5.2 REB/G, 2.3 A/G, 40.1% 3PT)

Guard Jake Brown ‘17 (10.0 PPG, 5.1 A/G, 1.6 STL/G)

Guard Jack Daly ‘18 (7.1 PPG, 4.8 A/G, 1.6 STL/G)

Forward Adisa Majors ‘18 (7.2 PPG, 3.8 REB/G, 55.4% FG)

Key Losses:

Image result for middlebury basketball
“Bruh, THOSE shoes with THAT uniform? C’mon now.” Middlebury will miss both Connor Huff’s contributions on the court and his keen and sassy fashion sense off of it.

Forward Matt Daley ‘16 (11.7 PPG, 7.4 REB/G, 57.8% FG)

Forward Connor Huff ‘16 (4.7 PPG, 3.4 REB/G, 0.4 BLK/G)

 

Projected Starting Lineup:

Guard Jake Brown ‘17

Jake Brown
Jake Brown ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

For most of his career, Brown has been heavily underrated among NESCAC basketball analysts (us here at NbN included) due to his lack of scoring punch. An inconsistent jump shot kept Brown’s scoring numbers down, which often plays an unfortunately large role in determining postseason accolades in the NESCAC. But any observer of the Panthers over Brown’s career will know that his ferocious on ball defense and relentless pace have pushed the Panthers to become the explosive team they are today. There have been so many times where a team’s point guard has made a few nice plays, and Brown simply turns up the intensity and makes him look like Michael J Fox BEFORE he becomes the Wolf in Teen Wolf. Crucially, his fast pace and flashy style have not translated to an excessive amount of turnovers. His 2.6 A/TO ratio was among the best in the league, which is amazing considering the risks he takes with the ball. As you will learn from any five minute conversation with Brown, he needs to average 15 PPG and 6 assists to end the year with both 1000 points and the Middlebury assists record. If he can improve his jumpshot even further, driving lanes with open up for him as defense have to play him further out. Combine this with an increase in scoring chances due to the departure of Matt Daley, and those statistics are not out of the running. And neither is his long sought after NESCAC First Team Appearance.

Guard Matt St. Amour ‘17

Matt St. Amour
Matt St. Amour ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Quick story about Matt St. Amour: His and my respective small Vermont high schools played each other twice a year during our careers. We weren’t exactly rivals on the court (he scored over 2,000 points and I think my grand total added up to somewhere in the 30-35 range) but I always secretly enjoyed watching him, even though he had a tendency to light us up. During our senior years, my high school was enjoying a pretty solid season, while Matt’s team was riding entirely on his shoulders. We entered our game against them with total confidence that we would win. Matt tossed up a triple double with a stat line of 43-12-15 and 6 steals. And those numbers don’t even do justice to how well he shot in that game: he was throwing up shot from the top row of the bleachers and finding nothing but the net. We did not win, but we did all leave with tremendous respect for Matt St. Amour. NESCAC teams probably left last season with a similar feeling, as St. Amour averaged nearly 20 points per game, to go along with five rebounds, three assists and a league leading 2.1 steals per game. He gained a reputation as something of a streaky shooter from inside the arc, shooting only 40% from the field, but from three he was deadly at 41%. And to go beyond those numbers, he was very rarely open as the only true outside threat on the court for Middlebury. Many of his shots were heavily contested, and he showed a definite knack for making the play that turns out to win the game (or literally does, as his buzzer beater against Skidmore shows.) St. Amour belongs on a very short list for POY contenders, and I like to think that he warmed up for it by lighting up the Middlebury Tigers. You’re welcome, Matt.

Guard Jack Daly ‘18

Jack Daly
Jack Daly ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Rounding out the trio of guards is Jack Daly. This is going to sound like I’m plagiarizing Dick Vitale when he talks about any Duke players, but Daly is truly one of the toughest, smartest guards in the league, and one of the strongest with the ball as well. Armed with an ugly (but more effective than it looks) jumpshot and a variety of tricky change-of-pace moves with the ball, Daly proved himself towards the end of the season to be effective at getting into the paint and drawing fouls or dishing out assists. He also drastically improved his finishing at the rim over the course of last season, shooting 44.5% from the field, pretty good for a guard who struggled to hit outside shots. Daly’s greatest asset to Middlebury, however, is his rebounding. He averaged 5.8 rebounds per game during the regular season, and ten per game during Middlebury’s final four playoff games (the two NESCAC tournament games and then the two in the NCAA’s.) Daly’s prowess on the boards is what allows the Panthers to get away with starting three guards, two of whom are not tremendous outside threats. Daly can play much larger than his size on defense and run the offense to perfection, making him possibly the most valuable player on the team.

Forward Zach Baines ‘19

Zach Baines
Zach Baines ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

I’m going to talk more about Baines in the next session of this preview, but here’s the lowdown: Baines has the potential this season to be one of the most destructive defensive forces in the league. Middlebury plays frantic defense that is predicated on the three guards pressuring intensely on the perimeter. A side effect of this style is that it can lead to guards breaking the pressure and getting to the basket. That’s where Baines comes in. His wingspan, athleticism and timing make him a deadly rim protector for the Panthers, which is an area that they have struggled in ever since the graduation of Ryan Sharry in 2011. He is also quick enough to switch onto guards on the pick and roll, making him a deadly defensive weapon. He is no slouch offensively either, but I will discuss that more below.

Forward Adisa Majors ‘18

Adisa Majors
Adisa Majors ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

At the beginning of last season, Majors was solidly glued to the to back end of the rotation. By the end of the season he was throwing up 15-10 in NESCAC playoff games and basically just bullying smaller chumps in the post a la Boogie Cousins. What happened in that space in between? Firstly, Majors quite literally worked his butt off. He didn’t lose any strength, which is the key to his game, but his physical condition improved to the point that he could chase every rebound with tremendous abandon. Secondly, he got a little lucky. Several of the forwards who began the season ahead of him on the depth chart, such as Nick Tarantino ‘18 and Eric McCord ‘20, played inconsistently enough that Majors simply ate up their playing time. Matt Daley also missed some time, giving Majors his original chance to start. Majors’s game can best described as “delicate chaos.” He careens around the paint like a bull sometimes, leaving bodies of his teammates and opponents alike in his wake. However, he also has a soft touch around the rim and from the line, shooting foul shots at a 75% clip. The center position may be something of a revolving door for the Panthers, as McCord, Tarantino and talented freshman Matt Folger will all push for minutes. But for now, Majors holds down the fort.

Breakout Player: Forward Zach Baines ‘18

As I mentioned above, Baines belongs high on the list of preseason contenders for Defensive Player of the Year. But all this hype about his defense shouldn’t have the effect of discounting his offensive potential. In addition to being a real threat to dunk on someone every time he gets in the paint, Baines has a very soft touch from about 15 feet and in. He shot 46.4 % from the floor last year, and his jumping ability allows him to get off shots in the paint that other players simply cannot. He also has good mechanics on his shooting stroke, suggesting that a more consistent jumpshot is in his future. If he can make steps in that direction this year, a stat line of 15/10/3 blocks and 50% shooting is a very real possibility for Baines, and that would put him squarely in the conversation for Player of the Year.

Everything Else:

Between St. Amour, Brown and Daly, Middlebury has the best backcourt we’ve seen in recent NESCAC memory. However, one thing they do not provide in spades is outside shooting. St. Amour is obviously deadly, but neither Brown nor Daly is much of a three point threat. This is what makes Middlebury’s second unit guards so important. Sophomore Hilal Dahleh ‘19 has a sweet left handed stroke and showed excellent composure off the bench last season. He will need to be a major offensive weapon off the bench, particularly from three, if the Panthers hope to repeat as champions and make a deep NCAA run. Senior Bryan Jones has shown himself to be capable of being a major offensive force, but he needs to be more conistant in order to really make a difference.  There are two intruiging freshmen who could also provide some spacing for the Panthers in Matt Folger and Perry Delorenzo ‘20. Folger is a prototypical NESCAC stretch four, except for his height. At 6’8”, he has the size to eventually be an interior force as well as a good shooter. Delorenzo is true local; his mother is legendary field hockey coach at Middlebury Katherine Delorenzo, and he has a sweet shooting stroke. Jones and Delorenzo will jockey for playing time all season, with outside shooting being the main factor that sets one above the other.

As I mentioned earlier, the “center” position is something of an unknown for Middlebury following the departure of Matt Daley. Adisa Majors played very well at the end of last season, but it is very possible that he reached his ceiling in terms of offensive production. If so, that ceiling is considerably lower than that of Nick Tarantino ‘18 or Matt Folger ‘20, both of whom are more athletic and can stretch the floor with jump shots. It is quite possible that Middlebury’s best lineup next season will be a hyper small, poor man’s version of the Golden State Warriors famed “Lineup of Death.” This would feature the starting backcourt of Brown, Daly and St. Amour, with Dahleh using his length to guard a four and Baines roaming the paint as a hyper quick five. This would obviously sacrifice a lot in terms of size, but Daly and St. Amour are both excellent rebounders as guards, as is Baines at a forward. Every position could switch adequately on pick and rolls, and the speed and ball movement on offense would be beautiful to watch. Look for the Panthers to break out this lineup in order to counteract a lack of size in comparison to Amherst and Tufts.

Middlebury’s highly uneven home/road split from last season evens out this season, as the Panthers play 13 home games and 11 road ones, rather than 9 and 15, like last season. This seems relevant, as Middlebury was 9-0 at home last season. The Panthers are a good team anywhere, but in front of the Pepin crowd they tend to reach another level. If they can play well enough during the regular season to host the NESCAC tournament, Middlebury fans could be in for a very long season, and I mean that in the best possible sense of that phrase.

The D3Hoops.com top 25 list was released last week, with Amherst opening the season at #1 and Tufts just behind them at number five. Middlebury is far down the list at #24, despite beating Amherst on the road in the NESCAC final last year. This is not an injustice per se. Amherst made the NCAA Final Four last season, and Tufts the Elite Eight. However, it does bring another example of Middlebury being slept on by the powers-that-be. Middlebury has the experience, drive and talent to end the season at number one on that poll, and no one should be surprised if they pull it off.

 

Was the Rebuild Successful?: Wesleyan Football 2016 Season Preview

Losing LaDarius Drew will be a tough hole to fill for the Cardinals (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).
Losing LaDarius Drew will be a tough hole to fill for the Cardinals (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

Projected 2016 Record: 6-2

Projected Offensive Starters (*Ten Returning)

QB: Gerald Hawkins ’18*/ Mark Piccirillo ’19*

RB: Jaylen Berry ’17*

WR: Eric Mayreles ’18*

WR: Mike Breuler ’18*

WR: Kris Luster ’17*

TE: Ben Kurtz ’16*

OL: Beau Butler ‘18*

OL: Shane Jenkins ‘17*

OL: Matt Kuhn ‘17*

OL: Joe Wilson ‘19*

OL: Mitch Ryan ‘17*

Projected Defensive Starters (*Nine Returning)

DE: Jordan Stone ’17*

DT: Isaiah Thomas ’19*

DT: Grant Williams ’19*

DE: Jude Lindberg ’19*

OLB: Cole Harris ‘18

MLB: Shayne Kaminski ’18*

OLB: Brandon Morris ’19

CB: Nate Taylor ‘18*

SS: Zach Cuzner ’17*

FS: Justin Sanchez ’17*

CB: Elias Camacho ’18*

Projected Specialists (*Two Returning)

PK/P: Ike Fuchs ’17*

KR/PR: Eric Mayreles ’18*

Offensive MVP: RB Jaylen Berry (’18)

Berry had a breakout season in 2015, rushing for 435 yards on 97 carries in his sophomore season.  In a year of inconsistent quarterback play for the Cardinals, Berry often provided a needed jolt of energy for the offense, forming a dangerous 1-2 rushing tandem with quarterback Gerald Hawkins.  If Wesleyan moves to a more traditional system, with one quarterback taking the majority of the snaps, Berry could be in for a huge season.  But even if Hawkins and Piccirillo continue to split time, Berry will be there with needed stability for the Cardinals’ offense.

Defensive MVP: Jordan Stone (’17)

Much of Wesleyan’s success last season, and for much of the last decade, has been due to a hard hitting defense.  And the 2015 iteration of the Cardinals’ defense was led by All-NESCAC first team defensive end Jordan Stone.  Stone was devastating in the backfield, totaling 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.  Stone will be an even more crucial cog in Wesleyan’s machine this season, as Coach DiCenzo is missing graduated starting linebackers John Spivey ‘16 and Alex Daversa-Russo ‘16.

Biggest Surprise in Camp: Two QB’s (?!?!?)

In 2015, Wesleyan had the champagne problem of having two talented, young quarterbacks fighting for playing time in Gerald Hawkins and Mike Piccirillo.  And rather than choosing between the two, Coach DiCenzo ran a dual quarterback scheme, with Hawkins gaining the majority of the snaps due to his ability to keep plays alive with his feet.  However, Hawkins struggled with his accuracy during the 2015 season, an area in which Piccirillo showed great promise.  The Cardinals are now nearing opening night with this position battle still unresolved.  And as viewers of the TV show Friday Night Lights will remember from Season Three’s battle between deadly accurate JD McCoy and scrambling Matt Saracen, uncertainty at quarterback can lead to unrest on the team, and ultimately a narratively questionable plot decision to move to East Dillon High.

Biggest Game: vs Amherst, October 22, 1:00 PM

After back-to-back 5-3 seasons, the Cardinals seemed primed this season to make a jump into the upper tier of NESCAC football.  However, to do that they have to show they can play with the current upper tier, and their matinee with the Lord Jeffs is a golden opportunity. In their matchup last season, Wesleyan won time of possession 38:46-21:54  and total yards 392-290.  However, they were unable to stop Amherst’s offense in the second half and fell 27-18 in a very discouraging loss.  If you want to reach the top in NESCAC, you must go through Amherst, and the Cardinals have a real opportunity to do just that.

Best Tweet

LOVE the braggadocio in this tweet, like Wesleyan is the only school who can get a guy to bring his speakers to practice.

Summary:

Wesleyan established themselves as the cream of the crop in the NESCAC in 2013 and 2014, posting identical 7-1 records.  However, they took a step back last season, finishing 5-3 and struggling in close games.  This was probably due to inconsistent quarterback play from the duo of Hawkins and Piccirillo, both of whom had more interceptions than touchdowns.  Climbing back into the upper tier of the league will be challenging for the Cardinals, with Amherst, Middlebury and Trinity all looking to keep their places on the throne, and Tufts presenting a worthy challenger as well.

However, Wesleyan certainly has the talent.  They only lose one starter on offense in lineman Blake Harrington, keeping together most of an experienced offensive line.  This should give running back Jaylen Berry plenty of holes to exploit, and signal an improvement for whoever wins the quarterback job between Hawkins and Piccirillo. Coach DiCenzo and his staff will likely make the final call on this position battle after this Sunday’s scrimmage with Trinity.  Whichever quarterback is throwing the ball should have solid weapons, with an experienced core of receivers led by tight end Ben Kurtz ’17, who is returning from a hand injury. Dario Highsmith ’20 has also been a standout freshman at running back and wide receiver for the Cardinals so far during camp, and he figures to contribute significantly on the offensive side of the ball.

Defense should be Wesleyan’s calling card(inals) this season.  All-NESCAC First Team defensive end Jordan Stone leads an intimidating front line that returns all its starters.  The same goes for All-NESCAC safety Justin Sanchez (’17) and the secondary.  The Cardinals did lose senior linebackers Spivey and Daversa-Russo to graduation, an area which may be a problem defensively for the Cardinals. Other units will have to step up to mitigate some mistakes by the new starting linebackers.

In 2015 Wesleyan lost their three games by three points, four points and nine points, and those three losses came to league giants Middlebury, Trinity and Amherst respectively.  This is both a positive and a negative.  On the plus side, Wesleyan can absolutely hang with the top teams in NESCAC, as they did two years ago when they were 7-1.  However, it also points to a fundamental struggle in close games against good teams.  Winning close games is critical in NESCAC football, and it will be those kind of games that determine whether Wesleyan returns to their spot at the top, or remains one step behind.

Baby Camels Are Growing up: Conn College Season Preview

Bo McKinley '16 leads a still young Conn College team. (Courtesy of Conn Athletics)
Bo McKinley ’16 leads a still young Conn College team. (Courtesy of Conn Athletics)

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.

Conn was a very young team in 2014-2015, and it showed on the court as they went 0-10 in the NESCAC. However, they weren’t a pushover, losing four of those games by single digits, and they return the entire rotation from last year’s team. The roster is still very young with point guard Bo McKinley ’16 the only senior on the team. After hitting rock bottom last year, this season has to be one that shows progress. Just staying close is not going to be enough for the Camels. Conn College wants wins, and they have the personnel to do it.

2014-2015 Record:

7-16 overall; 0-10 NESCAC (11th); Did not qualify for NESCAC Tournament.

Head Coach: Tom Satran, 14th season, 124-185 (.401), Conn College Class of 1994

Returning Starters: Five

PG Bo McKinley ’16 (8.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 30.0% FG)
G Lee Messier ’18 (12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 35.4% 3PT)
F Colin Pascoe ’18 (4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 apg)
F Isaiah Robinson ’18 (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 43.5% FG)

C Zuri Pavlin ’17 (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 50.7% FG)

All five starters return from a year ago, and the hope is that those three sophomores make big jumps in their second season. So far the Camels have mixed up the starting five with Daniel Janel ’18, a reserve for most of last season who came on strong near the end of the season, in the starting lineup. The Camels are not lacking 6’5″ and 6’6″ bodies, but they don’t have anybody taller than that who can really act as a defensive rim protector.

Projected Starting Lineup

PG Bo McKinley ’16 (8.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 30.0% FG)

McKinley has been a stalwart for this team, staying on the team as others have dropped off. As the point guard and only senior on the roster, McKinley has a clear leadership role for the Camels. He is not exactly a superstar, but he also has to take on a lot of responsibility on both ends of the floor. He is not quite quick enough to drive by his defender, but he still can do a better job of distributing the ball than last year when he had just 2.4 APG.

G Lee Messier ’18 (12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 35.4% 3PT)

Messier can shoot, and so far this year he has been doing a heck of a lot of it. He is shooting a somewhat ridiculous nine three pointers per game so far (that’s the most in the NESCAC), and he is making them at a 40.7 percent clip. That is the biggest reason why he is leading the Camels with 16.7 ppg through three games. His overall field goal percentage is lower than his three point percentage, and he has to be less reliant on jump shots. Messier is a solid two-guard besides just scoring, capable of chipping in a few assists and rebounds per game.

G Alex Tonhazy ’18 (8.4 ppg, 35.1% 3PT, 3.5 rpg)

This is the one position that is really up in the air, and the coaching staff is waiting for everybody to be healthy before really figuring out who exactly will fill this spot. I’m putting Tonhazy here because of the way he finished the season last year. Highlighted by a 28-point game vs. Trinity, he averaged 13.0 ppg in the final six games of the season, the only six games that he started. Tonhazy has had a very slow start to the season playing in just two of the three games so far and not starting either of those.

F Isaiah Robinson ’18 (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 43.5% FG)

Robinson has not played so far this year because of several nagging injuries, but he should be back in the next few weeks before Christmas. It will take him a little time to get his conditioning back so he might not really be at full strength until New Years. When he is healthy, Robinson is another bruiser inside with Pavlin. He did hit a little bit of a wall in NESCAC play with his scoring dropping to 7.7 PPG with a subpar 35.9 shooting percentage. He is a better player than that, and the early injuries might actually have the benefit of making him fresher for later in the season.

C Zuri Pavlin ’17 (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 50.7% FG)

The man in the middle, Pavlin is one of the best big men in the NESCAC, which is saying something given the caliber of players like Chris Hudnut ’16 and Tom Palleschi ’17. Pavlin is a grinder who outworks his opposition, and that is how he led the NESCAC in rebounding last year with 11.5 rpg. He also led the Camels in points last year, but he might see those numbers drop a little this season. Because he isn’t great at creating his own shot, he will give up some possessions to players like Messier, but ultimately I think Pavlin will become more efficient and retain pretty much the same scoring numbers. That is of course good for both Pavlin and the team. If the Camels play smaller and shoot more threes, that will also help Pavlin.

Breakout Player: F David Labossiere ’19

Am I choosing Labossiere just to show you that sick video  … maybe a little given that the freshman has not played much so far. The coaching staff is excited about how he will grow over the four years, but this year will be a little more of a process as Labossiere gets more up to speed on the defensive schemes for Conn. He will be somewhat of a situational player with heavy minutes in some games and less in others. The early returns are promising beyond just that one video with Labossiere averaging 4.7 ppg and 3.7 rpg. His minutes might get squeezed as others get healthy, so he has to continue to prove that he is good enough now to get minutes.

Everything Else

The Camels are 1-2 early on, and they got their first win Sunday over Roger Williams. The key for them is on the defensive end, where they were the worst in the NESCAC last season. Nobody on the roster has identified themselves as a defensive stopper, and the lack of any perimeter stopper really hurts them against certain teams. As mentioned above, the Camels are not healthy right now, and that is not helping the team gain a rhythm early, though it is allowing some players to get good minutes. Guys like G Sean McNally ’18 and F Daniel Janel are getting a good amount of minutes, and they are going to be needed as important bench players all season.

One of the reasons why Pavlin gets so many rebounds is because nobody else on the roster is competing for them. After having one of the worst overall rebounding margins last year, Conn is right back near the bottom of the league through three games. Last year it was understandable given the youth on the team, but given that the players are now a year stronger, they should be better at holding their ground underneath.

Last year the Camels started three players (Robinson, Pavlin and Pascoe) who were NOT at all threats to shoot the ball. Many teams have four players who can pop it from downtown, and the simple arithmetic of three being more than two makes it advantageous for Conn to shoot more threes than they did last year when they were tied with Tufts for the second-fewest threes made. If they get a little more production from deep and clamp down on the boards, the Camels will knock some teams off. At the very very least, they are going to put a scare into a lot of teams.

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.

Everything: 

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.

The Rich Get Richer: Amherst Season Preview

Connor Green '16 is the key to Amherst's season. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Connor Green ’16 is the key to Amherst’s season. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

I was considering just copying and pasting last year’s preview since Amherst’s roster is pretty much identical to last season’s, but I decided they deserved a write-up. Seriously though, Amherst lost nothing. They only graduated one senior and the main rotation is completely intact. This is one of the situations where Amherst’s biggest strength is also its weakness – depth. The coaches don’t anticipate many players (if any) playing 32-35 minutes, but rather most will play 18-24 minutes. It can be tough on a player’s psyche if he’s not allowed to get into a rhythm. It’s critical that the squad gets used to playing as a team and not as individuals if they want to be successful this year.

The returning Lord Jeffs had the opportunity to travel to Italy as a team this summer, giving them a chance to gel together and get a head start on learning how to play with such depth. Amherst won’t be the quickest team in the league, but they have an experienced, mature group, and their basketball IQ will carry them throughout the season.

2014-15 Record:

21-8 overall; 6-4 NESCAC (t-5th); lost NESCAC Final to Wesleyan 74-70; Lost Second Round of NCAA Tournament to St. John Fisher, 87-70

 

Coach: Dave Hixon, 38th year, 741-265 (.737)

Starters returning: Five

PG Reid Berman ’17 (4.5 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.9 A/TO, 47.9% FG)
G/F Connor Green ’16 (16.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 37.3% 3PT)
G/F Johnny McCarthy ’18 (11.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg)
F Jacob Nabatoff ’17 (6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 38.2% 3PT)
F David George ’17 (10.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg)

The entire rotation is back, and that includes alternate point man Jayde Dawson ’18. Dawson began the year as the Jeffs’ point man, but halfway through the season he and Berman switched roles, and both men played better basketball. Dawson came down from D-I Fairleigh-Dickinson, but it looked like he was pressing too much last season. He has the physical ability to be one of the league’s best guards. He just might have to do so off of the bench this season, unless he can wrestle the starting gig back from Berman…

Projected Starting Five:

PG Jayde Dawson

Point guard was the toughest position to predict, because Jayde Dawson is so evenly matched with fellow point guard Reid Berman. At the end of the day, however, I feel that Dawson’s physical attributes are more enticing out of a starting point guard (Dawson is 6’2” 190 lbs. while Berman is 6’0” 175 lbs). However, this year the coaches are stressing the fact that their starting lineup doesn’t really matter. Berman and Dawson will get their minutes determined by how each is playing. Where Dawson needs to improve this year is his focus on taking care of the ball; he averaged 1.8 turnovers per game last year and just 2.0 apg. I don’t doubt that these numbers will improve in Dawson’s second year at Amherst. As one of the very few exceptionally quick players on Amherst, Dawson’s athleticism will allow him to play at a high level against teams that are more athletic than Amherst overall.

SG Johnny McCarthy

Reigning NESCAC ROY Johnny McCarthy now has some experience under his belt, and he will lead this team from the shooting guard position this season. McCarthy asserted himself as the defensive MVP of this Lord Jeffs squad last year, guarding the best player on every team last year (as long as he was under about 6’6”), and his team leading 32.2 mpg forced him to get all the freshman year jitters out early. It’s hard to say anything bad about this kid – he was second in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and assist/turnover ratio last year, while leading the team in steals per game – AS A FRESHMAN. McCarthy will definitely be in the running for All-NESCAC honors this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the talks for Player of the Year when the end of the season nears.

SF Connor Green

If you’re not familiar with the name Connor Green at this point, you probably haven’t watched an Amherst College basketball game in the last three years. Green has been the center point of this squad’s offense for a couple years now, leading the Lord Jeffs in scoring last year, and taking a back seat only to D-III POY Aaron Toomey ’14 the year before. What makes Green so difficult to guard is a combination of two factors: his lightning fast release and his willingness to shoot from anywhere on the court. No matter what the situation, Green isn’t afraid to shoot, and his quick trigger often allows him to get shots off before the defense is ready to contest his shot. Defenses are aware of this, but they have trouble stopping it because of how well he gets to the hoop. He’s a matchup nightmare because he also has the ability to back down smaller defenders. There is a huge elephant in the room, though – his frighteningly cold play down the stretch last season. Between the NESCAC Semis and the Second Round of the NCAAs, Green shot 13-54 (24.1%) over four games, a shocking departure from the guy who lit up Middlebury and Tufts the two games before that for 29 points a piece. This team needs Green playing well to succeed. Hopefully the senior is back on track, and if he is, Green should lead Amherst in scoring again.

 

F Jacob Nabatoff

Jacob Nabatoff is an interesting player because he doesn’t light up any statistical category in particular; he’s just pretty solid across the board. At 6’8”, 215 lbs, Nabatoff is a big body that requires a lot of attention from opposing players on the boards. Though he was just fourth on the team with 4.7 rpg, his aggressiveness and toughness down low opened up rebounding opportunities for smaller players like Green and McCarthy, and those boards came in just 20.8 mpg. I don’t expect Nabatoff to have a very different year than last season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – he’s a smart player that seems to understand his role, and if he continues to stay within himself and buy into the team concept, his time on the floor will be very significant.

F David George

David George is one of those guys who doesn’t need plays drawn up for him. He’s active on the boards and on defense, and just makes plays happen. Though McCarthy is the best one-on-one defender on the Amherst roster, George is truly the anchor of this defense because of his shot blocking ability. George’s knack for protecting the rim allows his teammates to play more aggressively both on and off the ball since they know that he has their back if they get beat. I expect a similar year offensively for George, but defensively I expect him to take off.

Breakout Player:

 G Jeff Racy ’17 (10.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 42.3% 3PT)

Jeff Racy didn’t start a game last year for the Lord Jeffs, but he still averaged the fourth most minutes and points on the team. Racy is listed as a guard, but his 6’5” 210 lbs. frame makes him a swing man. His game is shooting the three, bottom line. The Amherst coaches are excited about how Racy has improved his jumper over the offseason, and his ability to shoot consistently from the arc pays huge dividends for this offense.

Everything else:

The other important pieces for Amherst this year are Eric Conklin ’17 and Michael Riopel ’18 (in no particular order). Conklin, who transferred to Amherst from Arizona last year, is maybe a bit undersized in height, but makes up for that with his physique. At 6’6”, 235 lbs., Conklin will be the primary backup for George down low, and will be expected to both bring energy to the boards and bang around in the post. Plagued by injury on and off last year, Conklin struggled to get into a rhythm, which is why his minutes weren’t quite as high as we expected them to be, but those numbers should increase this season. Conklin finally realized that D-I potential towards the end of the season, going off for 37 points on 18-20 (90%) shooting in the NESCAC Final and NCAA First Round game. Finally, Michael Riopel is a player to watch off the bench this year. It’s scary to think that this kid is somewhere between eight and 10 off the bench, but that’s just a testament to how deep this Amherst roster really is. Last year Riopel measures in at 6’5” 200 lbs., and the coaches say he has made big gains in the weight room during the offseason, and his improved strength and size will surely increase his effectiveness. Finally, don’t sleep on 6’10” first-year center Joe Schneider ’19 either. At that height, Schneider will immediately become the tallest center in the league.

With the amount of outside shooting Amherst has this year between Green, McCarthy, and Racy driving lanes should open up for Berman, Dawson and Riopel. The main thing to watch out for in Amherst this year will be their ability to play together. With so many weapons, it is certainly conceivable that they could struggle with finding the right mix, but the coaches are insistent that the players are buying into the team attitude, and if that’s true, this squad has as good a shot as any to win the league title.

Underestimate the Champions at Your Own Risk: Amherst Season Preview

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Nick Kelly ’17 is back along with a lot of other friends in the backfield. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Projected Record: 7-1

Projected Offensive Starters (*Five Returning)

QB: Alex Berluti ’17
RB: Nick Kelly ’17*
WR: Jackson McGonagle ’16*
WR: Brian Ragone ’17*
WR: Nick Widen ’17
TE: Rob Thoma ’17
LT: Sam Hart ’16*
LG: Elijah Zabludoff ’18
C: Jim Daniels ’16*
RG: Cole Boehmer ’16
RT: Mitch Arthur ’18

Projected Defensive Starters: (*Eight Returning)

DE: Niyi Odewade ’17*
DT: Paul Johnson ’17*
DE: Sam Caldwell ’16*
OLB: Jack Drew ’16
ILB: Thomas Kleyn ’16*
ILB: Taylor Dean ’16
OLB: Parker Chapman ’17*
CB: Jaymie Spears ’16*
SS: Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16*
FS: Chris Gow ’16*
CB: Stefan Soucy ’17

Offensive MVP: Running Back Nick Kelly ’17

Kelly had a great sophomore season, and we covered much of that already in our Player of the Year Preview, and so I wanted to talk about another skill player for Amherst who will also be a huge part of the offense. The wide receiving group is deep and is led by senior captain Jackson McGonagle ’16. The senior, who also is a great punter, was the primary deep threat for Amherst a year ago and will receive even more targets this year. Yet, a lot of his total yards came on one long touchdown against Bowdoin. He had twelve of his eighteen catches in the first three games of the season and saw his production take a major hit after that. Much of that can be traced to the change at quarterback to Max Lippe ’15, who sometimes threw to Gene Garay ’15 even if the entire defense was covering him. McGonagle has a good connection with whomever ends up as the QB this season, and that should help him have a banner senior year.

Defensive MVP: Cornerback Jaymie Spears ’16

We already talked about Spears, and not to give anything away but we will have more about him and the rest of the Amherst secondary later this week. Instead, focus on the man in the middle, inside linebacker Thomas Kleyn ’16. Last year Kleyn was the third leading tackler for Amherst, and he benefited from playing aside the departed Ned Deane ’15 in the middle of the defense. Kleyn got stronger and stronger as the year went along, with 37 of his 60 tackles coming in the final four games of the year. At 5’11” and 208 pounds (though that weight is from last year, and he has most likely gained a few pounds of muscle in the offseason), he can be described as that most desirable of linebacker traits: rugged. With the big defensive line taking up blockers in front of him, Kleyn has to be aggressive and fill gaps on run defense all season as his linebacking fellows get up to speed.

Biggest Surprise of Camp So Far: Guard Elijah Zabludoff ’18

Right off the bat, Zabludoff’s high school, John Bosco Prep in California (not to be confused with Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey) should catch your eye. In his senior season, John Bosco Prep went 16-0 and won the California state title. Zabludoff was a multi-year starter there, and even wrote about his senior year for the LA Times. Now in his sophomore year  at Amherst he has seized control of the right guard position with a great camp so far. At 300 pounds, he has a size advantage over almost every NESCAC defensive lineman. He isn’t some stiff either, and he will be an important part of making sure that the Jeffs can run the ball inside.

Biggest Game: Home vs. Trinity, November 7, 1:00 PM

Amherst has beaten Trinity in back-to-back years by one point, and the difference both years has been a missed extra point. Not that you can boil down the two games to simply that, but the kicking game has been a big advantage for Amherst. The Bantams will put in a little extra for this game given the recent history. The Jeffs have other huge games, but this will be their final big test of the season, and if they come in undefeated, a win would mean that they would most likely go perfect in back-to-back seasons. The game last season was dominated by the defenses. The Jeffs managed only 156 yards and nine first downs. The one touchdown for Amherst came courtesy of a short field after a Chris Tamasi ’15 forced fumble and recovery. Kelly was stonewalled all day and averaged 2.4 yards per carry. The Bantams were playing with their backup QB and could do nothing through the air. The game this year will in all likelihood follow a similarly lo- scoring script.

Best Tweet: Amherst never misses a chance to remind you that they have won a lot recently (rightfully so).

Summary:

I’m going to start with the negative stuff and get all of that out of the way early. First, the Jeffs had an amazing run last year, but didn’t they get just a little bit lucky? In the very first game of the year at home against Bates, the Lord Jeffs allowed a touchdown with 1:16 left to make the score 7-6. The Bobcats, sensing this was their best opportunity to win and also maybe not trusting their freshman kicker in a big situation, went for two and the win. Amherst knocked down the pass attempt, and Kelly sealed the win with a long run after the Jeffs recovered the onside kick. And that’s the game you don’t even remember that was close!

Then there was the rainstorm against Middlebury, Phillip Nwosu ’15 making a 41-yard field goal to tie the game against Wesleyan, and the Trinity missed field goal from 24 yards away that would have won the game in the final seconds. The Jeffs had to go 5-0 in single digit games to win the title. No team can flirt with a loss so many times and not eventually lose one. There is definitely skill involved in winning close games, but if you play a lot of close games and win them all, luck has to be a factor.

If the Jeffs play that many close games again, they will not go 8-0. I would bet my firstborn on it.

Then you have to look at the personnel losses. The starting quarterback, leading wide receiver (who had twice as many catches as anyone else), three longtime offensive line starters, an All-League kicker, and the two leading tacklers are all gone. That is a lot. Amherst has traditionally been able to withstand those types of losses, and they do have possible replacements or ways to replace them somehow. Yet, those players are still very much question marks.

The best place to start is at the quarterback spot, a position that has been unsettled for the past four seasons. Lippe was the starter essentially for three years, but he never completely won over the coaching staff and they were constantly tinkering with who played. The Jeffs once again have a quarterback battle going on. Coach EJ Mills was unwilling to commit to either Reece Foy ’18 or Alex Berluti ’17 when I talked to him last week. That might have changed after the scrimmage this weekend, but we won’t know until the opening kickoff who is going to be playing most of the time. What makes the decision so hard for Mills is that Foy and Berluti are very similar players. Both are short, can run, and have strong yet inaccurate arms. Foy is a slightly better runner, and Berluti is a little taller and better at standing in the pocket, but Mills is not choosing between a clash of styles. That similarity means he will likely play both guys and wait for one of them to grab the job in the first week or two of the season.

So I’ve spent a lot of time bashing the Jeffs, but there is a lot to love about this team. The defense is going to be special, and it is probably more talented than it was last year. The strength is the secondary where Spears, Chris Gow ’16, and Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 are all potential All-NESCAC talents this year. Up front Paul Johnson ’17 is a legitimate 300-pounder, something rarely seen on the defensive line in the NESCAC. The Jeffs also still have a lot of depth in the front seven meaning they can keep all of their defensive starters fresh.

At several spots where talented players graduated there won’t be much of a drop off. Charlie Wall ’18 replaces Nwosu, and even if he can’t quite fill Nwosu’s shoes, he should be a more than competent kicker. Linebackers Jack Drew ’16 and Parker Chapman ’17 both have to take on slightly bigger roles this year, but they produced a lot already last year and make that position as strong as ever. Sam Hart ’16 and Jim Daniels ’16 will ensure that the offensive line continues to create holes and give time for the quarterback. That running attack will be a good one. Besides Kelly, Amherst can rely on Kenny Adinkra ’16 and Raheem Jackson ’17 to carry the ball. All three of those backs have slightly different skill sets that the offense will be able to use.

The talent is still there for Amherst, but the margin for error is thin. The Jeffs first big test is that third game against Middlebury, and they will have to have figured out their quarterback situation by then. If one of Foy and Berluti emerges as an above-average starter, then a repeat 8-0 season is more than feasible. However, I don’t see that happening in time and think the Jeffs fall just short against the Panthers.