To quote Game of Thrones, ‘winter is here.’ NESCAC women’s basketball is already in full swing with an onslaught of non league games. While these games don’t go into the record books for NESCAC standings, they are nevertheless very important, so that each teams starts the season on the right foot. There have been some surprises thus far, and there are teams that have played like I predicted. Let’s take a look at my three hot takes going into winter break:
Bowdoin is Now a Top Dog
Tufts and Amherst dominated the spotlight in everyone’s preseason power rankings. Their incredible success last year deservingly gave them the top two spots of the standings in predictions for this season. However, something is going on in Brunswick, ME. The Bowdoin Polar Bears are 8-0. One of those wins was an thirty-four point trouncing over the Colby Mules. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I predicted Bowdoin to be very good; I didn’t predict them to be this good. The Polar Bears as a team led the NESCAC in all relevant offensive categories. While questions can be raised as to whether or not Bowdoin can actually beat Tufts and Amherst, there’s no question that the Polar Bears are a force to be reckoned with. They average an incredible eighty-four points per game as a team, with four players who average double figures in points: Taylor Choate ‘19, Kate Kerrigan ‘18, Lauren Petit ‘18, and Abby Kelly ‘19.
These four upperclassmen have set the tone for the team. While the competition they’ve played isn’t as stout as it will be when conference games kick in, boasting a perfect record is obviously a great sign for the squad. These four women have been there and done it before, so when times get inevitably tough down the stretch, look for them to push the team over the hump. The team will kick off league play on January 5th against Bates, and will play the Jumbos the following night. Rest assured, the polar bears will take one game at a time, but they have to be looking forward to Tufts. That’s their opportunity to show the world that Bowdoin has arrived.
Wesleyan Will be Better than Last Year (#RollCards #DirtyBirds)
It’s really tough to say how well a team will do after non-conference games. It’s clear that the NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country. I watched Wes beat a team by sixty-six points last weekend. There’s not much secret to the success of NESCAC teams: the women just play at a quicker, higher, stronger (or Citius, Altius, Fortius just in case my high school Latin teachers are reading this) pace. Wesleyan was 1-9 last year in league play, but I think they’ll be better after watching them a bit this year. The team is always up on the bench–showing how well they support one another, and how badly they want to win. The team is led by Olivia Gorman ‘19, who averages around twelve points per game. The Cards look like they’ve been infused with new energy and talent. Emma Roush ‘21 leads all freshmen in scoring (7.0 PPG), and offers a tough, scrappy play style on both ends of the court. Good teams need players like these: Draymond Green of the Warriors and Marcus Smart for the Celtics contribute far more than the box score reveals. Defense translates to offense with these players, and it starts with their hustle. Roush is no different. Wesleyan got a wake up call, however, after they were smacked by Amherst. It didn’t count in the conference standings, but it shows that Wesleyan still isn’t at peak performance yet.
Nina Davenport is the Devin Booker of the NESCAC. MVP?
Nina Davenport ‘18 of the Bates Bobcats is putting up MVP like numbers. She averages around twenty-two points per game, and adds seven rebounds per contest too. Enter Devin Booker. Booker, a guard for the Phoenix Suns, puts up unbelievable numbers. He’s a lights out shooter, good slasher, and an all around incredible scorer. Davenport reminds me of Booker because she’s a good shooter, but she gets to the cup too; she scores in a variety of ways. Sounds all positive, right? Except for the fact that the Suns aren’t good. Neither is Bates. Bates is the only team in the NESCAC with a losing record thus far. That statistic would be fine if we were talking about games against Bowdoin, Amherst, and Tufts, but these are non-league opponents. Bates should be crushing them. As a result, it’s tough for me to justify saying that Davenport is the MVP. Yes, she puts up MVP numbers, but an MVP can’t be on a bad team in my opinion. Take a player like Maddie Bledsoe of Wesleyan. She’s a walking double-double averaging eleven rebounds and ten points per game. Granted Wesleyan won’t finish atop the league, but I think they’ll be the biggest turnaround team this year. Bates doesn’t look like they’ll turn it around. I’m not saying that Bledsoe will be the MVP, but that player should come from a team that’s playing well.
I need to open this piece by apologizing to everybody who is a fan of Middlebury athletics. In the fall I picked the Middlebury women’s soccer team to win the NESCAC tournament, they were bounced in the semifinal. Last week, I picked the women’s basketball team to beat Colby and advance to the semifinals. They too, were defeated. Clearly, Liamstradamus, as I lovingly called myself earlier, is cursed. Please forgive me. Regardless of my personal failings though, and there are many, the world kept spinning and NESCAC basketball kept churning along. We’re down to four remaining teams, a final four if you will, and they’re squaring off this weekend in the semifinals and finals, hosted in Amherst. Before we get to the predictions for this weekend, let’s take a look back at the weekend that got us here.
NESCAC Quarterfinals Recap
1. Amherst defeated 8. Bates 76-35
Amherst continued their undefeated season with a thorough dismantling of the team from Lewiston. A surprise tournament appearance was the culmination of an up and down season for the Bobcats who finished the year 8-17 overall. The game was basically over as soon as it began, with Amherst jumping to a commanding 22-5 lead after just one quarter of play. Although Bates played a good second quarter, the lead continued to grow until Amherst had run them out of the gym. The big story coming from the game though was the disturbing play of Nina Davenport ’18, who fouled out after only playing 3 total minutes. Without their leading scorer, the Bobcats were forced to lean heavily on their four other starters who recorded 37, 35, 38, and 31 minutes as a unit. Amherst relied on Emma McCarthy ’19 who turned in a 19-point and 9-rebound performance.
2. Tufts defeated 7. Williams 58-40
Tufts remained hot on Amherst’s heels with a convincing victory over a talented Williams team. Tufts, the number three team in the most recent D3hoops poll, had a 14-point lead at halftime and never looked back as they closed out this quarterfinal battle. Michela North ’17 led all scorers with 14 points, while two other Jumbos contributed 11 points as the team advanced. Williams shot themselves in the foot with 23 turnovers, and they also struggled to rebound the ball, getting outrebounded by five. The Ephs were much closer in other statistical categories. The Jumbos barely outshot Williams in terms of percentage, and the Ephs also generated 16 points in the paint, a solid number for the team. Again, I have to come back to them getting absolutely killed by turnovers. Tufts attempted 22 more shots than the Ephs as a result of the extra possessions. That disparity is nearly impossible to overcome for a poor shooting team like Williams.
3. Bowdoin defeated 6. Conn College 72-47
Bowdoin continued their string of impressive performances with an evisceration of the visiting Camels. The Polar Bears have now climbed to number 17 in the latest D3hoops poll and look poised to make some noise in the national tournament. Despite trailing after one quarter of play, the Bowdoin refused to give up and stormed back to take the lead by halftime. A dominant third quarter put the game out of reach and ended the hopeful Camels’ season. Bowdoin managed to get 15 players into the game and saw production spread across the starters and bench units that entered the game. Marle Curle ’17 and Taylor Choate ’19 scored in double digits, but also contributed four and five rebounds respectively, as well as three assists each. Bowdoin is playing dominant basketball right now and looks just as impressive as their record would indicate.
5. Colby defeated 4. Middlebury 48-39
I hate to say I told you so, but I did and I don’t hate it so… I told you so. Sarah Kaufman ’18 has been Middlebury’s engine all year. In wins she has averaged over 15 points a game, in losses she has struggled to crack 5. Colby clearly keyed in on Kaufman, forcing her into contested looks and limiting her to only 10 points on 3-7 shooting. Middlebury’s depth, which I lauded last weekend as one of their strengths, collapsed in the quarterfinals. The bench unit is largely comprised of first years and the intensity in a do or die NESCAC playoff game is definitely a step up from a normal regular season contest. Colby was carried by the duo of MK Caverly ’17 and Haley Driscoll ’18 who scored 18 and 12 points respectively. Middlebury is surely disappointed in this loss. They’ve been a dominant unit all season and outrebounded and assisted the Mules, but it was in vain. Their season ends, and the Mules trot off to their second straight NESCAC semifinal appearance.
NESCAC Semifinals Preview
So, with the quarterfinals out of the way all we have left is one action packed weekend of semifinals and final to tide us over until the NCAA tournament begins. Amherst, Tufts, and Bowdoin are all, in my mind, locks to make the NCAAs regardless of the outcome this weekend, but if Colby wants to keep playing they’re going to have to find a way to win two games against some really tough competition. So, let’s take a look at the Mules’ chances this coming weekend.
1. Amherst vs. 5. Colby
Although Colby looked good this weekend in dispatching the Panthers, taking on this team from Western Mass is an entirely differently animal. When the two teams met in late January, Amherst dominated the game and strolled out with a convincing 69-43 victory. The biggest problem for Colby will be their ability to score. Holding Amherst down is difficult, they’ve only scored less than 50 points twice this year, and one of those games was the rock fight they had with Tufts a couple weekends ago. Colby is the ninth best offense in the NESCAC in terms of scoring offense and didn’t even crack 50 in their win this past weekend against Middlebury. As the Mules’ leading scorer and rebounder Driscoll will have to put on an absolute show for Colby to have any chance in this game. Additionally, Colby will need to find a way to shut down Amherst’s three point attack. Amherst is one of the best shooting teams in the conference, but Colby is one of the best at defending the three point line. A big game from Driscoll, combined with limiting Amherst’s three point opportunities will be the key to success for the Mules. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening. Amherst is too deep, too talented, and too consistent to lose this game. They beat Colby and advance to the finals with a dominating win.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
2. Tufts vs. 3. Bowdoin
This game should be much more exciting than the Amherst vs. Colby game. Bowdoin has been playing some of their best basketball as of late. They’ve won 9 straight games since their loss to Amherst, and the average margin of victory in those games has been an impressive 26 points. Yes, this also includes the 40-point demolitions of fellow semifinalist, Colby, and Hamilton, who nearly missed the tournament. Tufts, meanwhile, has been winning all year. That’s it, Tufts just wins. They’re 24-1 and their only loss has come to undefeated Amherst. Any year when you can put together 24 wins is surely a successful one, but I’m sure Tufts is itching to avenge their 1-point losses to Amherst earlier this year and in the NESCAC finals last year. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll get the chance. Bowdoin is my pick for this game and I’ll tell you why. The last time these two teams played Tufts narrowly defeated Bowdoin 46-43. But there were a couple of factors in that game that indicate to me that it was an anomaly. Firstly, Bowdoin averages only 15 turnovers per game this year, in their first matchup with Tufts they coughed up the rock 30 times. Secondly, Bowdoin is at their best when they can spread the ball around and get everyone involved. No Polar Bear averages more than 10 points per game, and 8 average more than 5. In their games against Tufts, Bowdoin relied heavily on one player, Abigail Kelly ’19, who scored 21 points. The next highest scoring Polar Bear was Ally Silfen ’17 with 8. And thirdly, Bowdoin shot only 30 percent from the field in that game, while their season average is second best in the conference at 43.3. Of course, I would be remiss to exclude the possibility that Tufts might have just forced this upon Bowdoin in their first game. Tufts is very good at forcing turnovers, generating 22.4 a game. Their exceptional defense also allows just 31.5% shooting and only 42.1 points per game. The Jumbos are a very talented team and certainly, as the two seed, enjoy some sense of favoritism in this game. I just think that given Bowdoin’s recent show of excellence, the strange nature of their first game against Tufts, and the fact that this game is being played in Amherst rather than Medford, the situation is ripe for Bowdoin to sneak a win from the mighty Jumbos and leap into the conference finals.
Writer’s Pick: Bowdoin
NESCAC Finals Prediction
Wow that was a long one. Sorry about that I got a little caught up. Let’s move on and take a look at my presumptive finals matchup, Amherst vs. Bowdoin, since I won’t have time to churn out another article between Saturday and Sunday.
1. Amherst vs. 3. Bowdoin
The last time these two teams squared off Amherst ran away with the game, winning 66-45 on Bowdoin’s home court. I wrote afterward that Bowdoin had to be perturbed that they looked so helpless against the upper echelons of the conference. Since that game however, Bowdoin has been on a tear, winning their last nine. While Bowdoin has stepped up their game as of late, Amherst is continuing their routine of absolute dominance. 25-0 does not happen by accident. A near unanimous position atop the national top 25 is no fluke either. Right now, Amherst is the favorite in every game they play, and the same is true in this game. This game could certainly come down to a 3 point competition. These teams are numbers one and two in the league in total three-pointers made (Amherst being one and Bowdoin being two). In terms of percentage, Bowdoin is best in the league with Amherst claiming the second spot. The real difference between the two comes when defending the 3 point line. Bowdoin is a middling 3 point defensive team, in terms of both total makes conceded and percentage allowed. Amherst, on the other hand, is the best team in the league in terms of three-point defense, conceding the least amount of made threes and forcing their opponents to shoot the worst percentage in the league. Amherst’s league topping defense in points allowed per game will also have to shut down Bowdoin’s league-best offense in terms of points scored per game. Bowdoin’s hope has to be that this game turns into a shootout. The Polar are an extremely balanced scoring team, perhaps the most in the league. They have to hope their shooters, Lauren Petit ’18, Kate Kerrigan ’18, Curle and Kelly can outshoot Amherst for a full 40 minutes. On the other side though is the NESCAC’s fifth-leading scorer Ali Doswell ’17 and her cohort of talented teammates. Emma McCarthy ’19 and Hannah Hackley ’18 could have huge games to power the purple, and don’t sleep on Ali’s twin sister Meredith Doswell ’17, the team’s 4th leading scorer and 2nd leading rebounder to quietly propel her team to victory. I think Amherst has enough firepower to defend their NESCAC crown.
Writer’s Pick: Amherst
As this weekend draws closer and we begin to wrap-up an exciting season of basketball, I’d just like to thank everybody who has read even one of these articles. They’ve been fun to write and have certainly allowed me to become more accustomed with the women’s side of the NESCAC, something I rarely get to do as a player for the men’s team (Coach won’t let me watch the women’s games on my phone on the bench, which is just ridiculous. C’mon, Coach, it’s 2017). I’m looking forward to seeing how this weekend turns out. I am sad my friends on the Middlebury women’s team couldn’t make it this far, but we’re still left with four great teams and two more hair raising games of NESCAC basketball. So, let’s all enjoy the weekend and watch some of the best teams in the country duke it out one last time!