Chaos at the Top: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/5

The last week has been a fascinating one from a power rankings perspective. The preseason top two teams, Middlebury and Williams, both suffered losses in which multiple pervasive problems were revealed. Amherst has also been struggling, while surprise teams like Bowdoin and Hamilton have continued to play well. The league is very hard to read heading into NESCAC play, and that’s definitely a good thing. Let’s get to the rankings.

1: #14 Wesleyan (9-1)

The Cardinals have two of the best wins in the league, over #11 Williams in a non conference game and over #21 Nichols. Wesleyan’s defense has always been dominant, but in recent years they have lacked the outside shooting (and scoring overall) to compete with the elite NESCAC teams like Middlebury, Williams and Amherst. This season, they have been able to score when they need to. Jordan Bonner ‘19 (16.8 PPG) has had a lot to do with this, but Austin Hutcherson ‘21 has emerged lately as the kind of X-Factor that could carry Wesleyan to the top of a wide-open league. In a three game stretch that featured wins over Vassar, Brandeis and Fitchburg State, Hutcherson had 14, 27 and 14 with 12 three pointers. However, he was held to zero points during Wesleyan’s loss to an inferior Springfield team on Tuesday night. That loss featured many of the scoring woes that have plagued the Cardinals in recent years, so it seems that Hutcherson will be a crucial factor in determining whether their success will continue in NESCAC play. A back-to-back home matchup with Williams and Middlebury this weekend will be the best possible test of Wesleyan’s legitimacy.

Austin Hutcherson ’21 could throw his name right into the ROY race with some strong NESCAC performances.

2: Tufts (9-3)

Don’t look now, but Tufts is figuring it out. They’ve won five games in a row, and are the hottest team entering league play outside of undefeated Hamilton. Cam wrote a good deal about them in the Stock Report, but the return of KJ Garrett ‘18 makes the Jumbos dangerous again as contenders for the league crown. An electric athlete who can score in bunches and defend multiple positions, Garrett is the kind of player who can swing games all by himself on either end of the court. And he did just that in their tournament. Garrett had 30 points in the two games (18 in a Game One win over Pomona) and added 12 rebounds and five steals. With Vinny Pace back in form and Eric Savage making a big leap (15.6 PPG,) Tufts is as deep on the perimeter as anyone. And there aren’t too many big men in the league who can really exploit their lack of size, so Tufts is right back in the top tier.

3: #4 Middlebury (7-2)

The Panther’s ride to a three-peat has hit a classic New England speed bump. The Panthers have lost two of their last three games, the last one a blowout at home, something that has happened maybe once or twice in the last five years. It must be noted, however, that the losses were to #12 York and #13 Swarthmore. Middlebury has played the toughest non-league schedule of anyone, and they just paid for it. However, Middlebury should still be able to win those games, especially at home. The culprit has been scoring, particularly from the perimeter. Middlebury was relying a great deal on relatively unproven quantities like Jack Farrell ‘21, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ‘19 to aid Jack Daly ‘18 and Matt Folger ‘20 in scoring. And honestly, no one has been hitting and outside shots. In this rough three game stretch, Middlebury is just 16-69 (definitely NOT nice) from three. That’s about 23%. As a result of this, teams are throwing all their defenders at Daly, who is trying to do a little too much against that pressure due to his own struggles from three. Middlebury still has a lot of talent, and should benefit from this early exposure to high level competition. But they have to hit more shots this weekend, especially in their marquee Saturday matchup with Wesleyan.

4: #24 Hamilton (10-0)

First of all, congratulations are in order. Hamilton is nationally ranked for the first time since 2004. And yet, they can still claim that they’re underrated. 10-0 and fourth in the power rankings? Tough break for the Continentals, who have been by far the most impressive team in preseason (albeit with a bad schedule.) Hamilton’s offense is firing on every cylinder right now. They average nearly 100 points per game on 50% shooting and 39% from three. They have four players averaging over 13 points per game, and none of them are seniors. However, their defense will need to improve if they are to buck their recent trend of fading in NESCAC play. Hamilton’s big starting lineup (the smallest starter is athletic Kena Gilmour ‘20 at 6’3”) should lead to versatility, but their forwards are undersized and they often get killed in the paint. Hamilton is last in the NESCAC in opponents field goal percentage at 44%. They will not be able to simply outscore NESCAC teams.

Tim Doyle ’19 had 25 points against Moravian, and is one of Hamilton’s many weapons on offense.

5: #11 Williams (9-2)

The Ephs may be finally starting to notice that Kyle Scadlock is not on the court. Their 73-71 loss to 4-5 Hamline is the worst one of the recent rash of top tier NESCAC losses. Williams has a real problem with finding a secondary scoring option alongside the rising star of James Heskett ‘19. Heskett has done a terrific job taking on the go-to-guy mantle, averaging nearly 23 points per game on over 50% shooting in their last three games. But other players who had been scoring well, such as Bobby Casey ‘19, have recently fallen off. Obviously, one game is no reason to panic. But league games are looming, and Williams starts off on Friday with a road game at Wesleyan, the toughest opening game of any team. Teams will be on notice now about Heskett’s emergence, and Wesleyan (and Tufts and Middlebury for that matter) have plenty of athletes on the perimeter to throw at Casey. As always, I think Williams should up the minutes of Matt Karpowicz ‘20. He’s a scoring threat down low and could force defenses to move around more instead of sitting on the three pointer. We’ll see how they handle Wesleyan on Friday.

6: Amherst (7-3)

 Amherst is entering league play on a decidedly downward trajectory. They’ve lost two in a row with opposite problems contributing to each loss. In a 76-65 loss to Southeastern, Amherst shot only 37% from the field, including a 2-13 showing from Johnny McCarthy ‘18. And then in their next game, a 95-92 loss to Eastern Connecticut, Amherst shot 57% from the field and got 25 points from McCarthy and 22 from Michael Riopel ‘18. However, those two players combined for over half of their points, and they still gave up 95 to the other team. Amherst’s offense goes as McCarthy goes, and like McCarthy, they are struggling for consistency. They still lack a third scoring option that can be trusted every night, just as they did last season. Every year people are waiting for Amherst to turn it on. Their success rightfully makes them a perpetual sleeping giant. But it might be the case that they just don’t have enough talent this season.
7: Trinity (9-2)

I feel like no one, especially us, has said a single word about Trinity yet this season. But as quietly as possible, the Bantams are 9-2 and have won five games in a row. They’ve done it, as is their way, with defense. They are second only to Wesleyan in opponent’s field goal percentage and points per game. Additionally, they absolutely handled Springfield (the team that recently handed Wesleyan their first loss) earlier this season 71-54. Like the Cardinals, Trinity’s strength on defense is balanced out by struggles on offense. In the preseason, Trinity has gotten fairly consistent scoring from Jeremy Arthur ‘19 (13.7 PGG) and Eric Gendron ‘18 (10.3 PPG.) However, Gendron only shoots 22% from three, and Trinity as a team only shot 31% from downtown. Their offense will need to be more versatile in NESCAC play.

8: Bowdoin (8-2)

The Polar Bears have rebounded nicely from their two game losing streak,

Zavier Rucker ’21 has been a great find for Bowdoin this season, and become even more valuable as the season goes on.

winning their last two in impressive fashion. This mini-streak including a non-league win over Bates. Bowdoin has been shooting the ball very well lately, hitting over 50% of their shots in both of those wins. Despite having only started one game, David Reynolds ‘20 has taken over for Jack Simonds ‘19 (who is struggling mightily from the field at 39.5%) as the go to scorer. But the key to Bowdoin’s league success may well end up being a first year. PG Zavier Rucker is still shooting 66.7% from the field in 31.1 minutes per game. He has also shown tremendous maturity in running the offense, especially for a first year. His assist to turnover ratio is 2.5, fifth best among players with over 30 assists. And his size (6’2”, 187) and strength have made him an elite defender already. He averages 1.5 steals per game, and will be essential in guarding the variety of excellent guards in the NESCAC. Bowdoin has the talent to reach heights they haven’t seen in years, and Rucker is a huge part of that chance.

9: Colby (7-3)

The best big man you haven’t heard about plays for the Mules, and his name is Dean Weiner. Yes, I know he sounds like the bad guy in a raunchy college comedy, but he is quietly putting up one of the best stat lines in the league. He averages 10.3 PPG, and leads the league in rebounds (9.4) and blocks (2.8.) But what really sets him apart is his passing. He averages four assists per game, with an A/TO ratio of 2.5. That’s better than many guards. In a league somewhat devoid of star big men, Weiner could be a problem for many teams come league play. His versatility could give traditional big men like Williams’ Karpowicz and Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ‘18 problems, and he’s good enough around the rim (58.3% from the field) to punish smaller players in switches. Colby may not have enough shooting around him to be really dangerous, but they’ve got a star, the first key to NESCAC success.

Dean Weiner ’19 has done it all this season for the surprising Colby Mules.

10: Bates (7-5)

Bates still simply cannot shoot. They are shooting 39% from the field as a team, and 29% from three, both far and away the worst marks in the league. And this is in non-conference play: they still have to face the elite defense of the NESCAC. Jeff Spellman ‘20 carries the most offensive burden of any player in the league, and as a result, defenses are throwing everything they have at him. He’s only shooting 30% from three, and that is simply because he is forced to take many tough shots. Given this trend, it is surprising that Max Hummel ‘19 doesn’t play more. He is far and away Bates’ best shooter (indeed, one of the best in the league) at 45.5% from three, and yet he only plays 17 minutes per game. In league play, Hummel might and should be forced into a sixth man or even starting role, in order to find some shooting and free up Spellman.

11: Connecticut College (5-6)

The Camels have lost four of their last five games, and it’s kind of unclear as to why. Their teams shooting numbers are excellent (second in the league in three point shooting at 37%,) they have a star in David Laboissiere ‘18 (17 PPG on 45% shooting from three) and a strong secondary scorer in Dan Draffan ‘21. For more on Draffan, check out Colby’s (the writer, not the college) Awards Preview. Generally speaking, the culprit behind the Camel’s struggles is defense, but it seems more that they have a lack of toughness. All of their losses have been by at least 9 points, suggesting that when they get down, they are not good at managing runs by opponents. However, their shooting ability means that they could be a problem if they get hot. They have a good chance to turn it around on Friday night when the shaky Middlebury Panthers come to town.

The Top is Up for Grabs: Stock Report 1/3

The holiday break brought us quite a bit of surprise this year, which is actually pretty new for NESCAC basketball. As we have mentioned time and time again, NESCAC teams traditionally beat up on non-conference teams in early season games. This season has looked a little bit different thus far. Again, the early season games are about trying different schemes and finding out what works best for each team, so it is not all that surprising to see some strange results. Despite this fact, there were some notable things that took place as many teams traveled all over the nation to take on the best teams Division III has to offer:

Stock Up:

Tufts

KJ Garrett
One of the best athletes in the league, KJ Garrett ’18 gives Tufts the depth to rise to the top of the league once again.

After a sluggish start to the season (in part due to tough scheduling), Tufts has begun to find their identity. Although they did not play their absolute best basketball out in California, they were still able to head back to the east coast with two victories. Vincent Pace ’18 has looked every bit of the star player they were counting on, with two convincing performances. Pace put on two solid performances, beginning with a 19-point, 6-rebound effort against Pomona-Pitzer. Against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps he struggled a bit from the field, going 5-17 and 1-7 from behind the arc. He was still able to overcome this tough shooting night by going 5-5 from the free-throw line to finish with 16 points. What makes him such a great player is that he continues to find ways to impact the game outside of scoring, which he displayed by hauling in 13 rebounds against CMS. The Jumbos also benefit from the return of KJ Garrett ’18, and this is huge for their depth as Garrett provides consistent guard play and the rebounding spark that they need. Tufts is proving yet again why they belong at the top of the league.

Williams F James Heskett ‘19

James Heskett
James Heskett ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

The loss of Kyle Scadlock ’19 left a lot of production up for grabs in the Eph lineup. James Heskett ’19 has stepped up to fill the scoring void in a very big way. While he stands at 6’8”, Heskett is as pure a shooter as they come. Over the break he put up two monster scoring efforts, and was incredibly efficient in doing so. Despite a disappointing loss to Hamline, Heskett poured in 24 points on 9-12 shooting, including 5-8 from deep. He followed this up with an even more impressive performance against Cal Lutheran, lighting them up for 29 points on 9-15 from the field, 5-10 from three-point land, and 6-6 from the free throw line en route to a bounce-back win. These types of games are exactly what Williams is looking for in the wake of the Scadlock injury, and fortunately it extends beyond just Heskett. The Ephs employ a four-guard lineup that is absolutely lethal from beyond the three-point line, and they love to shoot, leading the conference in both made threes and attempted threes. This strategy is even more effective given that they are centered around the outstanding big-man duo of Michael Kempton ’20 and Matt Karpowicz ’20. Even without Scadlock, this is a very dangerous Williams squad that certainly has the rest of the league on notice.

Kena Gilmour and Hamilton

Hamilton now stands alone as the only undefeated team remaining in the NESCAC. Despite a relatively unimpressive non-conference schedule, the Continentals continue to impress. Kena Gilmour ’20 has now become a household name, earning MVP honors at the Greyhound Classic in which Hamilton took home the trophy. Gilmour dropped 22 points and posted a career-high 11 rebounds against Lebanon Valley, then followed that up with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in the title game against a strong Moravian team. Hamilton is continually aided by hot three-point shooting, most notably Tim Doyle ’19 and Joe Pucci ’18 who are first and second respectively in 3-point percentage. At this point we just have to wait and see if the Continentals can bring this type of play into conference games, because they have done all they can do at this point to show that they are ready to jump into the top echelon of the ‘CAC.

Reigning NESCAC Player of the Week Kena Gilmour and Hamilton have the league on notice…for now.

Stock Down:

Ranked NESCAC Teams

It seems that being ranked in the top 25 this year has been a curse for NESCAC teams. Early in the year, Bowdoin made a jump into the D3 hoops rankings, then proceeded to lose back-to-back games to Colby and St. Joe’s. Williams got as high as third in the rankings, then lost to Wesleyan at home (pre-Scadlock injury), but remained in the top 10. They then lost to a relatively weak Hamline team over the break. Middlebury* got all the way up to number 2, then lost two of their last three games, albeit against very good opponents, #13 York and #12 Swarthmore. Wesleyan was undefeated and on the brink of cracking the top 10, and then lost to a struggling Springfield team. This week Hamilton entered at #24 in the national rankings, so the Continentals better watch out, or they will suffer a similar fate as the top dogs.

*I’m going to give Middlebury a break here because Coach Brown absolutely stacked their non-conference schedule. Four of their first nine games were against schools that have seen time in the top 25 this year. Though they hoped for better than a 2-2 finish in those games, I’ll chalk it up to working out the kinks after losing a large portion of their production from last season.

Non-Conference Dominance

I don’t mean to say that the NESCAC has fallen dramatically because the teams are a combined 86-29, which is still very good. What we saw over vacation was a bit different than past years. Hamilton and Trinity were the only teams that won their respective holiday tournaments, and even the teams that didn’t compete in an official tournament struggled a bit. I already talked about the losses of Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Williams (who all won their holiday tournaments last season), but unfortunately for the NESCAC, it extends beyond that. Colby fell to the host Salem State squad in their tournament, Conn College continued their struggles, losing to Maine-Presque Isle, Amherst dropped a game to NAIA Southeastern University, and Bates lost three winnable games to average Concordia University, Brandeis, and St. Joe’s teams.

This is a bit uncharacteristic of the best conference in the NCAA, but it is a tough year to follow after many teams across the league lost big performers from the loaded 2017 class. The reasons for this are varied. Of course, some teams are simply struggling. Williams is still working out the kinks of playing without Scadlock, and Middlebury is simply finally realizing that they lost two of the best guards in the country. But non-conference scheduling has also gotten stronger. As traditional in-state doormats (like Castleton in Vermont) drop NESCAC teams from the schedule, coaches have opted to replace them with strong teams from across the country, meaning more losses outside of NESCAC play for the best teams. This will only benefit the league come league play. The power rankings are going to look a lot different week-to-week, and the league games will be higher quality as teams have experience with quality opponents already. Us NESCAC students will continue to count on our cherished basketball programs to keep us moving through the harsh winter, as we see record-low temperatures devastating the northeast.

It’s Way Too Early For Power Rankings: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 12/18

A short disclaimer before this article: This month of non-league games doesn’t really matter. Obviously it’s better to be undefeated (like Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Hamilton) than 4-5 (like Connecticut College) but for the most part the competition is lower-quality than league play. Come January, rotations, league leaders and indeed these rankings will all change pretty much immediately. But I haven’t written anything in forever and I’m already impossibly bored here at home, so let’s round out 2017 with these premature and probably inaccurate rankings. As always, feel free to kill me for them in the Twitter dm’s.

1) #2 Middlebury (6-0)

The Jack Daly ‘18 show has been incredible to witness this season. Daly is fourth in the leangue in scoring (17.5) first in rebounding (10.0) and first in assists (9.2.) Leading the league in rebounding and assists is simply ridiculous; I can’t remember it happening at any level of college basketball. But Middlebury’s undefeated record despite playing arguably the hardest non-conference schedule (Skidmore and Endicott were both tournament teams last year) is do in large part to the supporting cast as well. Matt Folger ‘20 is making a leap, averaging 17 points per game and contending for DPOY with 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. And the other guard spots, vacated by St. Amour and Brown, have been filled admirably by a committee. Hilal Dahleh ‘19  gets healthier every game after missing all of last season with a back injury, and has averaged 13 PPG on 8-13 three point shooting over his last three games. And first year Jack Farrell ‘21 just broke out with a 22 point showing against Skidmore. Add in fellow first year (and Hogwarts student) Griffin Kornacker ’21 and the experienced frontcourt rotation of Tarantino, McCord and Majors, and Middlebury is loaded. The Panthers play two more tournament teams in Swarthmore and York before league play begins, but they’re certainly riding high at the moment.

2) #14 Wesleyan (8-0)

Wesleyan is attempting to win despite not following the “run and shoot threes” style that the Warriors have made the norm throughout basketball. The Cardinals are fifth in the conference in scoring at 81 PPG and have taken the fewest threes with 153. And yet, they sit at 8-0 and beat Williams in Williamstown. How? One word: defense. Well actually, two word: defense and Bonner. They are averaging a ridiculous 11.5 steals per game, far and away tops in the league and have five players averaging at least one per game. They also lead the league in blocks per game at 6.5 and are second to Amherst in opponents points per game. But Wesleyan’s defense is always good, and it hasn’t always translated to success. This year, at least so far, Wesleyan finally has the go-to scorer they’ve lacked in recent years in Jordan Bonner ‘19. Bonner is averaging 17.5 PPG and has four 20 point games already. As Amherst gets into league play and the games get closer, they will need Bonner to get buckets at the end of games. The defense can take care of the rest.

Jordan Bonner ’19 may be the go-to scorer that could push Wesleyan over the edge.

3) #5 Williams (8-1)

Obviously, the Ephs’ strong start has been overshadowed by the loss of star forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19 to a torn ACL. Scadlock was building a POY case when he went down, and his injury is sad both for Williams and for the league as whole. But don’t count them out just yet. Williams is very deep, especially at forward, and have shown the signs of being able to weather this storm. Since Scadlock got hurt, they have relied largely on James Heskitt ‘19 and Bobby Casey ‘19 to pick up the offensive load. Both players have averaged over 15 points per game since his injury. And Williams’ greatest strength has always been the size that they bring off the bench. Matthew Karpowicz ‘20 is a terrible sportswriter, but he’s one of the best players in the league to come off the bench. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start in league play, or at least see an increase in minutes when Williams faces other big teams like Middlebury and Amherst. Williams is still one of the teams to beat.

4) #23 Amherst (7-1)

Fru Che ’21 is one of a number of impressive Mammoth first years.

Here’s a ranking I might get killed for if the Amherst football parents are any indication. The Mammoths are well on their way to making all of us look dumb for thinking they might be down this year. They are 8-1, and have the best scoring defense in the league at 61 PPG, a huge reversal from last year’s team. But it should be pointed out that they are continuing the time-honored Amherst tradition of playing a terrible non-conference schedule. The Mammoths haven’t played any tournament teams yet this season, a fact that contributes somewhat to their terrific team stats. Indeed, it’s hard to get a read on Amherst’s key players because they’ve played some many blowouts in which everyone on the roster sees time. However, the struggles of Johnny McCarthy ‘18 cannot be explained by inconsistent minutes. McCarthy, who was expected to make a POY-type leap this year, is averaging 10 points per game on 38% shooting, 21% from three. Michael Riopel ‘18 and stellar first year Fru Che ‘21 have picke up the slack, but in league play, star power helps. Maybe McCarthy needed Jayde Dawson more than we thought, or maybe he’s just waiting until they need him more, but Amherst can’t compete with Middlebury if McCarthy isn’t an offensive threat.

5) Hamilton (8-0)

Hamilton always gets us with this trick. They play great before league play, and everyone (especially me) gets all excited thinking they might finally be ready to challenge the big boys. Then they get smoked in NESCAC games. At the risk of falling into that trap again, Hamilton has look REALLy good thus far. They are averaging 95 points per game (albeit against the same level of competition as Amherst) and lead the league in shooting, both overall and from three. Hamilton has one thing that they didn’t have last year, however, when they started strong and then faded spectacularly in league play: experience. All the young players that made Hamilton exciting last year are a year older and have improved noticably. Michael Grassey ‘19 has become a deadly three point shooter and overall scorer, and the backcourt of Tim Doyle ‘18 and retired mobster Joe Pucci ‘19 shoots over 50% from three and provides leadership. But Hamilton’s star is Kena Gilmour ‘20. Gilmour averages 17 points and seven rebounds per game, and is exactly the kind of versatile, athletic wing that tends to dominate NESCAC (see Bowdoin’s Lucas Hausman.) This has been said each of the last three seasons, but this might be Hamilton’s year.

6) Tufts (7-3)

Expected to compete for the league title at the beginning of the year, Tufts is just now getting healthy and rounding into form. They have three losses, but two of them came in their first three games and both were against tournament teams (MIT and WashU-St. Louis.) Since those games, they are 6-1. Tufts has been without two key contributors all season in KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18. Both players made a big difference last season, and has led to a crisis of depth for Tufts. The Jumbos rely heavily on Vincent Pace ‘18 and Eric Savage ‘18 to carry the offense. The senior duo has combined to average 33 points per game, 19 of those coming from Pace. As Amherst proved last year, relying too much on two players is not a sustainable way to win NESCAC games. Defenses are too good; Wesleyan, Amherst, Williams and Middlebury all have enough depth to throw multiple defenders at both guys. Tufts will need one or both of Savage and Garrett to return during league play if they hope to live up to preseason expectations.

7) Bowdoin (8-2)

There was brief pandamonium (or should I say…Polar Bear-monium? I shouldn’t? Okay) a few weeks ago when Bowdoin briefly climbed as high as number 22 in the national rankings. Back-to-back losses to Colby and St. Joseph’s ended that brief love affair. But as Landry Clarke must have thought after Tyra dumped him, just because it was brief doesn’t mean it was a fluke, and it doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. Bowdoin has a lot of talent. David Reynold’s ‘20 is a bona-fide super sub, averaging 15 points per game on over 50% shooting off the bench. First year guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 is shooting 66.7% from the field and has turned what was expected to be a weak spot (PG) into a strength. And Hugh O’Neil ‘19 provides size and toughness inside. Jack Simonds ‘19 still hasn’t gotten going, only shooting 39% from the field and 28% from three. He seems to be having a little trouble meshing with a suddenly-balanced team, after being very much the go-to guy last season. Once he figures it out, Bowdoin really could be scary.

David Reynolds ’19 is explosive off the bench for the Polar Bears.

8) Trinity (6-2)

As always, it’s hard to get a read on the Bantams. After losing Ed Ogundeko, Trinity has gotten off to a solid 6-2 start. However, they got pasted by Nichols, their best opponent by far, 89-75. In that game, as well as their other loss to Western Connecticut, they showed many of the offensive problems that have plagued previous Trinity teams. Those problems are primarily related to floor spacing. The Bantams are the second worst three-point shooting team in the league, trailing only Bates. Their leading three point shooter (and overall scorer) is Jeremy Arthur ‘19, and he shoots only 36%. When Trinity plays against good defenses who can handle their size inside, those teams can pack the paint and Trinity really struggles to score. Arthur has been a good player for a while and is flourishing without Ogundeko, but Trinity won’t win league games if they don’t find someone else to hit some threes.

9) Bates (5-2)

Jeff Spellman
Jeff Spellman ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates is shooting, as a team, 38% from the field and 24.5% from three. According to my “Basketball For Dummies” reference book, that is not very good. It speaks very highly of their defense that they are 5-2 despite shooting that poorly. They force nearly 17 turnovers per game, and allow teams to shoot almost as poorly as they do from three at 27%. Bates has relied largely on that defense and the clutch play of Jeff Spellman ‘20, who is averaging over 18 points per game. Most of those came in a 38 point outburst against UNE, but he has shown a knack for getting a big hoop when they need one most. Obviously, during league play, they will have to shoot better than this, or else teams will pack the paint even more than they will against Trinity.

10) Colby (6-2)

Colby may be the team that has the fairest gripe with these rankings. They have a 6-2 record and a signature win over Bowdoin. And yet here they are, two places behind the Polar Bears. In contrast with the Bobcats, much of Colby’s success is due to their three-point shooting. Colby shoots 34% from three, which isn’t amazing, but their numbers are slightly skewed by two games where they shot 22%. Colby is also young. Their leading scorer is impressive first year Michael Hanna ‘21, who averages over 13 PPG. Colby has a chance to contend for the CBB title, and maybe climb into the tournament.

11) Connecticut College (4-5)

David Laboissiere ‘19 (don’t ask me to pronounce that) has put up one of the most efficient first months we’ve seen in a while. He leads the league in scoring at 18.3 points per game, and is shooting 52% from the field and 51% from three. Unfortunately, he’s not getting a ton of help. And his team’s record reflects that. They are a league-worst 4-5, and have lost three in a row heading into break. The main culprit is certainly turnovers. They average 19 per game, by far the most in the league. They do try to play fast, which leads to some sloppiness, but that is simply not a sustainable way to play. In NESCAC play, Labossiere won’t be able to bail them out every night.

David Labossiere is putting up big numbers this year, but so far they have been for naught.

Can Hamilton Topple Tufts?: Hamilton at Tufts Quarterfinals Preview

#8 Hamilton (16-8, 4-6) at #1 Tufts (19-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 18, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

(Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

When Tufts clinched the top seed in the NESCAC tournament last Friday they had plenty of reason for celebration – this is the first time in school history that Tufts has earned the number one seed in the NESCAC tournament. Despite the terrific achievement, however, the Jumbos still waited until Sunday afternoon before they learned who they would be hosting in the NESCAC quarterfinals. I’m sure Coach Sheldon was watching Williams intently in their game against Bates to see if they had made any adjustments since Tufts bullied them on Friday, and indeed they did. The Ephs pulled out a three point victory in Lewiston, boosting their place in the standings and leaving Hamilton to walk into the hornet’s nest that is Cousens Gymnasium. As a Tufts student myself, I can admit that attendance at sporting events in Medford is pretty inconsistent. After last year’s playoff runs by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams though, I would expect that a doubleheader split between the two teams would provoke quite a turnout today. We will see I guess. It took a few straight years of success for Warriors fans to jump on the bandwagon, but maybe Jumbo Nation will support their squad more faithfully than the frontrunning fans of Golden State. If so, lookout Hamilton.

While Tufts is stepping into the playoffs coming off of one of their best games of the season, the Continentals enter this game in the opposite fashion of Tufts. Hamilton got swept by Amherst and Trinity in the last weekend of NESCAC play to cap off a pretty poor stretch in which the team lost four of their five conference games during the second half of the NESCAC season. Coach Stockwell can’t be thrilled by the way his team limped into the playoffs, but guess what, this is NESCAC basketball and ANYTHING can happen. Just two years ago, Wesleyan ran through the tournament as the #6 seed to earn the NESCAC title and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it. Regardless of how they got in, Hamilton is in the tourney, and they have the tools to make a sneaky run if they execute properly.

 

Last time they met

Throughout the first half, the game was pretty back and forth, but with a couple minutes to go until the break, Hamilton lost their focus. Down just five with 2:22 left before the halftime whistle, the Continentals turned the ball over three times, allowing Tufts to go on an 8-2 run to extend the lead to 11 heading into the second half. Though Tarik Smith ‘17, Eric Savage ‘20 and Ben Engvall ‘18 had very respectable games, it was KJ Garrett ‘18 who stole the show for the ‘Bos – the transfer junior put up 19 points on 8-11 shooting to lead the Jumbos to victory. Peter Hoffmann ‘19 put forth a valiant effort on the Hamilton side of the ball with 22 points of his own, but many of his teammates struggled to find the bottom of the net, nullifying the sophomore’s success scoring the rock. While he didn’t have a great game, Tom Palleschi ‘17 was in the lineup for the Jumbos back in January when these two first met, so Andrew Groll ‘19 definitely had a different matchup to deal with than he will have today. Groll was part of a small supporting cast for Hoffmann in meeting numero uno, so it will be up to Drew Madsen ‘17 to shut him down this afternoon.

 

Tufts X-Factor: Guard KJ Garrett ‘18

KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

In Palleschi’s absence, Garrett has stepped up in a big way for Tufts. Some might even say he’s stepped up in a Jumbo way. Just kidding, that would be the corniest pun ever, nobody would ever say that. But the point remains, Garrett’s play has elevated as Palleschi’s absence has necessitated, and Coach Sheldon is going to need a strong effort out of the junior again against Hamilton. Just last week, Garrett averaged 18 points over two games, knocking down 13-15 field goals and 7-7 three-point attempts! That’s incredible efficiency. What makes Garrett so tough is that he is leaps and bounds beyond virtually every opponent in terms of athleticism, so he is able to get out in transition and also crash the boards. Meanwhile, he has snuck up as a pretty deadly three-point shooter. His strategy of playing the snake in the grass on a team full of shooters seems to be working out for him. Garrett is getting good shots and nailing them. If he plays well, the Jumbos win, end of story.

 

Hamilton X-Factor: Guard/Forward Michael Grassey ‘19

Michael Grassey ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Last time he faced the ‘Bos, Grassey struggled. He shot just 2-7 for six points before fouling out, a performance that is far from the norm for the combo guard. As mentioned above, Hoffmann lacked the necessary reinforcements to outduel the Jumbos in January, but if Grassey can get back to standard partner-in-crime form, these two sophomores just might be able to topple top-seeded Tufts. Grassey is by far the best outside shooter on Hamilton’s roster and frankly put, he is going to need to drill some of the open shots opportunities he gets from Hoffman and Kena Gilmour ‘20 off of drive-and-kicks. Additionally, Grassey could do the Continentals a huge favor by demonstrating the ability to get to the rack early in the game. Without Palleschi, and potentially Pat Racy ‘20, who didn’t play last weekend for Tufts, Madsen is the lone big man left on the top seed’s roster. This predicament makes foul trouble a grave concern, and one that Madsen needs to be ultra weary of. If Grassey can get to the paint once or twice early, the Jumbos will sag and he will get open shots from the perimeter. The sophomore’s performance is crucial for Hamilton in this one.

 

Everything Else

While the two X-factors I’ve listed above are going to have crucial impacts (either positive or negative) on this game, both teams are going to need a full team effort to pull off the W. Hamilton is not as a deep a team as Tufts, so their stars – Hoffman, Grassey, Groll and Gilmour – need to perform, while their role players – Doyle, Dwyer, Pucci – need to excel as well. Although Tufts is used to not having Palleschi at this point, the way they have powered through his injury is by playing as a team, not by playing as a handful of individuals. Tufts’ best games have come when they have had four or five players score in double-digits. Today is no different, the Jumbos need a team effort. X-factor Garrett has the luxury of being able to lean on a deeper cast than X-factor Grassey does. Vinny Pace ‘18, Tarik Smith ‘17, Ben Engvall ‘18, Everett Dayton ‘18, Eric Savage ‘20… all these guys know how to score, and all of them have pulled the sled at different points this year. It’s just a matter of who is going to rise to the occasion at tipoff today.

With all the scorers this game has to offer, I don’t quite anticipate this being a low-scoring affair. If the Jumbos get hot from three like they did against Williams last week, they could run away with it. If the Continentals can force Tufts into contested shots however, they’ll be able to get out on the break just like they want to. The winner of this game is going to be the team that can hinder the other team’s offensive strategy. Because both teams want to get out in transition, offense will start on defense in this game, and an extra-high emphasis should be placed on rebounding the basketball. Both teams feature guards that are strong on the glass, so it will be a matter of grit to see who wins the battle on the boards. While this should definitely be a good game, on that is much closer than the seeding implies, I don’t see Tufts losing this one, especially not on their home court. Tufts is too deep and Hamilton just isn’t. The Continentals are trending upward, but I don’t think this is their year.

 

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Five Talking Points From the Opening Weekend of NESCAC Play

Andrew Groll ’19 and the Continentals posted a pair of strong performances in the opening weekend of NESCAC play (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics).

I swear every January the number of people in the gym triples, perfectly suffocating me as I workout in preparation for the upcoming baseball season. While I’m sure Hamilton and Bates hit the weight room before January 1st, 2016, their resolutions might have been to work a little harder. The two fish at the bottom of the food chain in 2016 now find themselves atop the NESCAC standings? How could that be? Well we have only played two games so I’ll try not to get over-excited, although I do love a good underdog story. Each squad shows clear improvement with Bates’ Delpeche twins holding it down at the rim, leading the Bobcats in nearly all relevant statistical categories (27.5 PPG; 18.7 REB/G; 4.3 BLK/G combined) and Hamilton’s maturity after a rebuilding year with a young team in 2016. I’ll go into why I think the Continentals’ success is more sustainable, and what else is going on as we enter another pivotal weekend of conference play.

 

Top Dogs still on top

I’m not really going to give Amherst and Tufts a whole lot of attention here, just because they are performing exactly how everyone thought they would. The top two teams in the league (based on national ranking at 5 and 6, respectively) haven’t slipped up much and should have telling weekends ahead as Amherst should beat Wesleyan based on the Cardinals’ past couple of games and Tufts should be slightly favored against Middlebury at home but in a near push. Tufts doesn’t really have one superstar emerging, but really puts up a team effort with all starters between 6.9 and 12.9 PPG and nobody over 7 REB/G or 4 AST/G. Tufts’ only real flawed performance came during a two point loss to UMass Boston while the other was against #1 ranked Babson. Amherst, like Tufts, has had a couple tough games coming in a loss to Eastern Connecticut state and a one point loss to Springfield, however they bested Babson in 2OT to show that they are the real deal. While Middlebury (ranked #15) has less losses than the Jumbos and Purple & White, it seems like the polls are pretty accurate at this point with little disparity between the top NESCAC teams.

 

Wesleyan’s fallout

Can you believe that in the last national poll Wesleyan was ranked #9 in the country and now they are out of the top 25? Two bad losses to Middlebury and Hamilton, both by over 15 points, have taken them out of early championship discussions. Their overall record is still 11-3 but a three game losing streak is not the note that they wanted to start the NESCAC season on (note: the first game of that streak was against Rhode Island College, not a NESCAC opponent). This is happening because of a number of factors, one being that Jordan Bonner ’19 hasn’t played since Nov. 27. But since they continued to win without Bonner, clearly that isn’t the root cause. In their loss to Rhode Island College, Salim Green ‘18, Harry Rafferty ‘17, and Kevin O’Brien ‘18, usually reliable starters, went just 3-19 for six points. In the next game against Middlebury, they turned the ball over 21 times and shot just 34.4% from the field. Against Hamilton, the last place finisher in the ‘CAC in 2016, the Cardinals shot just 35.3% from the field while Green, Rafferty, and Joseph Kuo shot 4-27. There are quite a few things going on in Connecticut, and Wesleyan needs to figure them out quickly because Amherst will eat the Cardinals alive on Friday if they don’t.

 

Ogundeko’s surprising dominance

It might come across as peculiar why I used described Ed’s dominance as surprising. Yeah, he is the best rebounder in the ‘Cac and up there with D3’s best. But 23 rebounds in one game? I don’t care who it is, that is a surprising number. He was like a skeeball machine swallowing up boards against the Williams Ephs, who recently dropped out of D3hoops’ top 25. Nobody else had more than five rebounds for the Bantams and without him it’s safe to say it would’ve been a blowout favoring the Williamstown squad. Trinity also showed in the first game that they don’t need to rebuild (as I expected) as they narrowly edged Williams 65-63, another strong team that is 11-3. The Bantams should continue to perform so long as Ogundeko carries the team, but they will be tested against Conn College on Friday and Wesleyan on Saturday.

 

Zach Baines and the NESCAC have a breakup

The Panthers have hit another bump in their road to a second consecutive league title. Zach Baines is no longer ‘out indefinitely’ as Pete put it. He is definitely out. Baines transferred to Occidental College in the SCIAC conference in sunny Southern California after eight games this season, all of which he started. The high flying sophomore forward averaged 13.8 PPG and 6.8 REB/G in the early season and he will be sorely missed down the stretch run, giving Nick Tarantino ’18 a lot of weight to carry after taking over in the starting lineup. Vermont is cold and dark, and it won’t be shorts weather until April. I have no idea why he would leave such a place. Good luck to Baines and the Tigers, they got a good one.

 

Hamilton is ready to make their move

Hamilton continued their hot start against Wesleyan last weekend, winning by a score of 92-76 to improve to 10-2 overall and 2-0 in conference. Jack Dwyer continues to shine as a distributing point guard that doesn’t like to shoot. He is third in the NESCAC with 5.8 AST/G but only averages 7.5 PPG. The Continentals recently got guard Tim Doyle ’19 back from injury and the double-digit performances that he and Kena Gilmour’s ’20 contributed off the bench against Wesleyan highlights their depth and how ready they are to take on the league after a tough campaign a season ago. Their matchup against Bates should show that they are closer to championship caliber than the Maine squad, and playing Tufts should be at the least a growing experience in what has the appearance of a trap game for the Jumbos in their home gym.

An Opening Salvo: Weekend Preview Part One

Bobby Casey is willing to go to the end of the earth and back to get Williams a win over hated-rival Amherst. That, and this picture was too good not to include (sorry Bobby). (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Remember early in the season when we thought the league might be less chaotic this season? We were wrong. For the first time ever, there are five NESCAC teams in the D3Hoops.com Top 25, with Middlebury (22) and Williams (25) joining Amherst (3), Tufts (8) and Wesleyan (9) after impressive tournament wins coming back from break. And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Amherst and Wesleyan both lost on Tuesday night, throwing both the NESCAC and national rankings into a state of chaos mirrored only by the American political climate. And to add still ANOTHER layer of intrigue, four of the five ranked teams face each other on Friday night, kicking off what promises to be a spectacular season of league games. Amherst and Williams renew the biggest little rivalry in sports, and Middlebury takes on Wesleyan at home in a game that I think I might just try to attend if I’m not too busy. Oh yeah, and the other teams play too. Let’s break down those two marquee match-ups, and the rest of the games around the league.

GAME OF THE WEEK: #3 Amherst @ #25 Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Overview:

Image result for globo gym purple cobras
I’m not saying that Amherst reminds me of the Purple Cobras…but I am saying it and have said it several times in the past on this very blog.

NESCAC’s version of the Average Joes-Globo Gym rivalry returns on Friday night, as Williams and Amherst square off in as important a game as one can hope for in the opening weekend of league play. After opening the season at #1 in the country and looking fairly unstoppable over the first couple weeks, Amherst has dropped two out of their last three. The chief reasons for their sudden mortality are on offense. They turned the ball over 17 times in their loss to Eastern Connecticut on Tuesday, and shot only 36% in a loss to Springfield last week. The depth the people raved about for Amherst early in the season is in disarray. Eric Conklin is the only bench player who has made a difference for Amherst lately, as his minutes have jumped up due to the inconsistent (to be diplomatic) play of starting center David George ‘17. Amherst has too often relied on the volume scoring of Jayde Dawson and the efficiency of Johnny McCarthy to keep them in games.

Williams comes in on almost the exact opposite track. Impressive wins over Hope and Mount Union in the Mount Union Classic vaulted the Ephs into the top 25, and they maintained their position with a (somewhat lackluster) 74-62 win over Oneonta St. on Tuesday. In a departure from the last few years, the Ephs have recently won despite poor showings from three point land. Williams is hovering around 28% in their last three games, and yet they are 3-0. This is due to an excellent team defense, and honestly, the play of sophomore forward Kyle Scadlock. After a slow start to the year, Scadlock has averaged 19 PPG in the last three, bringing to life the star leap that some projected after an impressive freshman year. Shooting struggles aside, Williams has to love the spot they’re in entering league play, and Amherst certainly shouldn’t be thrilled with theirs.

X-Factors

Related image
Coach David Hixon diagramming a play during an Amherst timeout.

For Amherst it has to be pure, elemental anger. Yeah they’ve lost a couple games, but every team will at some point. But to be the pre-season #1 and have to hear idiot pundits like myself and even their own fans cry gloom and doom must royally tick them off. Williams is an excellent team, but this is Amherst basketball we’re talking about here. They were #1 for a reason: they have loads of good players, and they are coached by the legendary David Hixon, who is certainly capable of whipping these guys into shape. A rivalry win in the opening weekend of league play would be a delicious way to remind the league why they were at the top in the first place.

Cole Teal
Cole Teal ’17 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams has been winning without three point shooting, but that will get far more difficult to do against elite opponents like Amherst. The Ephs will have trouble getting good looks in the paint against Amherst’s length, meaning that perimeter shots will have to make up the difference. Additionally, Williams does not match up well defensively with Dawson and McCarthy, the backcourt that makes Amherst’s engines run. Therefore, Williams will have to hit some threes to keep pace. This makes Cole Teal ‘17 a major key (shout out: DJ Khaled) to this game, and to the remainder of the season. Teal is capable of insane hot streaks and insane cold streaks, but lately he has been doing far more of the latter. He was quiet in Mt. Union, shooting just 1-5 over the two games, but he bounced back with a nice night against Oneonta, tallying 15 points on 3-5 shooting from deep. Teal will need to be hot against Amherst both to score from the perimeter and open up the middle for Scadlock and Aronowitz.

Final Thoughts

Both teams have struggled to find production at the five this season. Williams has spun their “Random Center” wheel several times this season, but so far none of them have been winners. Meanwhile, David George of Amherst has been like the parents from Stranger Things: there in person, but pretty lackluster and ignores a lot of responsibilities. This should lead to a tight, high scoring game, one that I would tend to favor Williams in, as they’re at home. But Williams has no answer for McCarthy and Dawson, both of whom can swing a game themselves. It’s a toss up at this point, the best possible projection for a rivalry game of this magnitude.

Writer’s Pick: Williams.

#9 Wesleyan @ #22 Middlebury: 7:00 PM, Middlebury, Vermont

Overview:

Image result for breakaway by kelly clarkson
Wesleyan will be trying to finally BREAK AWAY from Middlebury on Friday night.

Middlebury has not lost to Wesleyan since 2004. Let that sink in. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Matt St. Amour was 10 years old. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, the greatest song of all time (and my go-to karaoke song) “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson had just been released. The last time Middlebury lost to Wesleyan, Mel Gibson was still a marketable movie star. That said, Wesleyan looked poised to break that streak until Tuesday night. After starting off 11-0 and beating #4 Marietta, Wesleyan was knocked off pace by Rhode Island College 62-55. The loss to RIC featured many of the problems that have plagued Wesleyan in league play over the last few years, namely a lack of offensive firepower and shot-making down the stretch. Standout guards Harry Rafferty ‘17 and Salim Green ‘19 combined for 2 points on 1-15 shooting, numbers that many experts have referred to as “bad.” Wesleyan will not win if they don’t get production from the perimeter, and Middlebury is arguably the best perimeter defensive team in the league. Additionally, the loss of defensive stopper PJ Reed will hurt Wesleyan’s efforts to slow down the run-and-gun Panther offense.

Middlebury enters league play with momentum, but some depth problems. Sophomore guard Hilal Dahleh remains out with a back injury, and forward Zach Baines ‘17 will likely miss the weekend as well. These are two valuable weapons that the Middlebury offense will dearly miss, particularly from a floor-spacing perspective. However, in the Staten Island Tournament of Heroes (DOPE name for a tournament by the way,) Middlebury weathered those losses and a prolonged shooting slump from Matt St. Amour ‘17 to win the championship and vault into the top 20. They owe their success to a two-game stretch of excellent defense, and the heroics of Jack Daly ‘18, who continued his low-key All-League candidacy with a buzzer beater over #17 Illinois-Wesleyan (as well as 14/7/7.5 averages.) In Staten Island, Middlebury showed the toughness to rise to the top of the loaded NESCAC, but they will need to hit outside shots more conistently to beat the elite Wesleyan defense.

X-Factors:

While Daly and St. Amour were certainly the MVPs of Middlebury’s tournament, it was contributions from the bench that allowed the Panthers to weather tough shooting from the starters. And the stand-out player from the Middlebury bench was freshman forward Matt Folger.

Matt Folger
Matt Folger ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Folger is an excellent shooter who had threes in both games of the tournament, but defensively was where he really set himself apart. The lanky forward had four blocks over the two games, including three in the championship. Folger’s combination of size, athleticism and timing make him the interior defensive force that Middlebury has been lacking. He and Nick Tarantino will be crucial in stopping Wesleyan’s post duo of Joseph Kuo ‘17 and Nathan Krill ‘18.

 

Wesleyan’s defense is far from in doubt. They are the number one field goal defense in the country, and boast a perimeter defense that is uniquely able to shut down Middlebury’s three-headed dog of excellent guards. However, Wesleyan simply has to score, and the person most responsible for that is Salim Green ‘19. Green is an exceptional defender, but Middlebury is too deep and fast for Wesleyan to pound the ball and win 55-50. Green will need to score and push the pace if Wesleyan has any hope of ending their 11 year losing streak against the Panthers.

Final Thoughts:

Of all the teams in the league, Middlebury may be the best equipped to handle the indefinite losses of Dahleh and Baines. They have great chemistry and experienced leaders at the helm, as well as a deep bench that is rounding into shape at exactly the right time. But “handling” losses isn’t the same as fixing the holes they create. Middlebury is vulnerable right now, particularly in outside shooting and interior defense. These are the areas that Wesleyan will look to exploit on Friday night. However, Wesleyan has no chance if they shoot anything like the way they did on Tuesday. Someone besides Joseph Kuo needs to put the ball in the basket for the Cardinals, or else their league season will look very different from their first 12 games.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

#8 Tufts @ Bowdoin: 7:00 PM, Brunswick, Maine

Of course I hate Tufts, a six fingered man from Tufts killed my father.

I was going to let Rory handle this one, since according to an intrepid commenter I “hate Tufts,” but I think I’ll be able to handle it. I certainly do not hate Tufts, I just left them off the Awards Preview because none of their individual players have stood out yet from a postseason honors standpoint. That could certainly change in league play, particularly as Vincent Pace ‘18 gets healthier and healthier. Pace returned early in the season from a knee injury, and is still rounding himself back into form. When 100% he is certainly one of the best all around players in the league, capable of leading Tufts to a NESCAC title. This opening weekend will be a good test of just how ready he is to take on a heavy minutes load.

Bowdoin, on the other hand, has their star very much ready to go. Jack Simonds ‘19 is leading the league in scoring at 23.3 PPG, and the Polar Bears for the most part rise as far as he can take them. However, on Tuesday night they had a nice win over Bridgewater State despite Simonds having “only” 17. Sophomore guard Jack Bors had 23 off the bench, and forward Neil Fuller ‘17 added 15. We haven’t seen this balance from Bowdoin yet this year, and if it continues in league play, Bowdoin could definitely make some noise. Tufts has a huge edge in this game, but don’t count the Polar bears out just yet.

Writer’s Pick: Tufts

Bates @Colby: 7:00 PM, Waterville, Maine

Jeff Spellman
Jeff Spellman ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

With the Brothers Delepche manning the middle, Bates was always scary defensively. But transfer Jeff Spellman ‘20 has given the Bobcats some needed offensive punch off the bench. Spellman was a fairly sought after D1 recruit coming out of high school, and committed to Stonehill College. However, he transferred to Bates before playing at all, and immediately hurt his ankle. The 6’2” guard made his NESCAC debut against Farmingdale State on the 29th, and had 13 points off the bench on Tuesday in a big road win against Brandeis. With a terrific defense and a revitalized offense, Bates is looking a little scary.

Entering their non-conference matchup with Bates on December 10th, Colby had lost four out of five and appeared to be carving out a spot at the bottom of the league. But they pulled out a gritty win in that game, and then another in their first game back against UMaine-Farmington. Like the Starship Enterprise, Colby is led by Patrick Stewart ‘19, who averages over 16 points per game. This game might not be critical at the top of the standings come the end of the season, but it is certainly a matter of pride for the Maine rivalries, and also will help determine which of these teams  (if any) make the final cut for the NESCAC playoffs.

Writer’s pick: Bates

Connecticut College @ Hamilton:

This game will fly under the radar due to the Middlebury-Wesleyan and Williams-Amherst games, but it is quietly a fascinating match-up that could have major ramifications at the end of the year. Connecticut College has played with tremendous balance all season. They have four players averaging over 10 points per game, including the front-runner for the made-up NESCAC Sixth Man of the Year award in Isaiah Robinson ‘18. Robinson averages 10 per game off the bench on 45.2% shooting from three. Robinson’s offense off the bench has been critical in Connecticut College’s success, as an efficient offense has masked a mediocre defense at times for the Camels.

Speaking of efficient offenses, Hamilton leads the league in points per game at 87, and is third in shooting percentage at 48.3. The Continentals are led by a trio of stellar sophomores. Peter Hoffmann, Michael Grassey and and Tim Doyle all average over 13 points a game and shoot over 50% from the field. This youth is obviously a benefit, as this core could make Hamilton a player for the next couple years at least. However, it may also hurt them during league play. These players are not used to playing meaningful minutes in league play; Hamilton was not a contender during their freshman campaign. Connecticut College is older and more experienced (though still pretty young), and that could help them if this game comes down to the wire. Additionally, Hoffmann, Hamilton’s leading scorer and best defender, is only shooting 47.2% from the foul line. If the game is close in the final minutes, Connecticut College may try to exploit this, forcing Hamilton to choose whether or not to have him on the floor.

Writer’s Pick: Hamilton

Trinity @ Pine Manor: 3:00 PM, Brookline, Massachusetts

Writing about a non-league game after all this excitement makes me a little bit tired, but I’m going to write through it because #BlogIsLife. Pine Manor has had an uneven start to the season, standing at 7-4. Their only other NESCAC matchup was an early season 97-96 loss to Colby. However, from my extensive research on their season (a cursory glance at their website,) Pine Manor looks to be a pretty tough matchup for Trinity. They play at a blinding pace, taking 81 shots per game, which is a full 22 (!) more than the infamously slow Bantams. This game looks like it will be less of a basketball game and more of an ideological debate regarding the nature of the sport.

Speaking of Trinity, they have been one of the toughest teams to figure out in the early months of the season. They started off the year losing three of four, and then a nice win over Springfield (three straight NCAA berths, has beaten Amherst and Conn College) made it appear that they had righted the ship. But they followed that up with a terrible loss to Susquehanna and another loss against a very good Eastern Connecticut team, and they were back down again. And finally, they just put up by far their best performance of the year against Plattsburgh, scoring 107 points and shooting 66% from the field. The Bantams have struggled to find any consistent perimeter scoring around center Ed Ogundeko, but against Plattsburgh they proved that they can beat anyone when they have it. This game will be a crucial final tuneup for Trinity as they look to make a run in league play.

Writer’s Pick: Pine Manor

Hamilton Basketball Pre-NESCAC Schedule Update

Leading scorer Peter Hoffmann ’19 drives baseline (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics).

Perhaps Hamilton’s losses to Middlebury 64-62 and to Trinity 96-86 in OT were their best played games of last season. These were just two of many close conference contests that the Continentals dropped in the last few minutes, both to 2016 powerhouses. Their overall record of 11-13 was not quite telling of how they fared in conference (2-8), only one of three squads to miss out on the playoffs. Fortunately for Coach Adam Stockwell’s squad, they return all but one starter in Jack Donnelly ‘16, and lose just one other graduate in sixth man Ajani Santos ’16. The Continentals have used last year’s woes and close losses to develop and help them along the way to what has been a solid start to the year, good for a 8-2 record and a #6 spot in our first power rankings of the season, which definitely puts them in the playoff race. We know it, you know it, and we write it all the time: The NESCAC competition is no joke, and because of that Hamilton won’t be truly tested until they hit the expert only double black diamond slopes. They are looking to improve, touch up the details, and use last year’s NESCAC season as a learning experience.

From last year, the young, immature team learned that they needed to have more consistency and close better after playing six conference games that were decided in the final minute, going 1-5 in such contests, frustrating for any team. They needed to improve on rebounding, playing in transition, and overall defensive consistency, which has been aided by a much more stable starting lineup this year. In 2016 Hamilton had 11 players start a game, with eight of those players starting less than half of the games. In other words, there were a lot of moving parts for a team that never really hit its stride. While the Continentals certainly needed somebody to step up last year, after this sample of the preseason, it is clear that Michael Grassey ’19, Peter Hoffmann ‘19, and Andrew Groll ’19 are really coming into their own as leaders on the team to supplement Jack Dwyer ’18 who runs the team and currently ranks third in the NESCAC in assists. Grassey had a great winter in the NESCAC and finished the last five games by averaging 16 PPG and vaulted from a bench player (20 games played, 0 starts) to a starter, second-leading Hamilton scorer, and irreplaceable staple in the lineup this year.

 

2015-2016 Record: 11-13, 2-8, Did not make NESCAC playoffs

Head Coach: Adam Stockwell, 6th year, 66-56 (Through 2016)

Returning Starters:

Guard Jack Dwyer ‘18 (11.0 PPG; 5.5 A/G; 40% FG; 2.0 REB/G)

Forward Andrew Groll ‘19 (9.5 PPG; 7.8 REB/G; 1.8 BLK/G)

Guard Peter Hoffmann ‘19 (12.7 PPG; 4.3 REB/G; 40.0% FG)

Key Losses:

Guard Jack Donnelly ’16 (8.9 PPG; 39.3% 3-PT; 2.9 REB/G)

Forward Karl Koster ‘18 (2.9 PPG; 60.0% FG; 2.8 REB/G)

 

Starting Lineup:

Guard Jack Dwyer ‘18

After leading the league in assists with 5.5 per game and adding on 11.0 PPG in 2016, Dwyer is off to another hot start with 6.1 AST/G, 7.4 PPG, and 3.0 REB/G through the first ten games. The leader of this team is one of just two upperclassmen in the starting lineup and will use his experience as the point guard and shot caller to help get the younger players into position, dishing out passes like usual. He should help them improve in transition and will likely start scoring more too as his consistent shooting percentage (37.5%) should lead to a similar 11 PPG once he starts taking more shots. He is currently only on pace to shoot about 180 times this year compared to 235 last year, not just showing Hamilton’s added offensive depth, but also Dwyer’s ability to run the team and not just fire up shots. Because of his ability to spread out the court, four of his teammates are averaging over 10.0 PPG compared to just two last year (which included Dwyer), emphasizing this added offensive depth and the way in which Dwyer is coaxing it out of his teammates.

 

Guard/Forwards Tim Doyle ’19/Peter Hoffmann ‘19

Doyle got off to a blistering hot start, averaging 20 PPG through the first three contests, before going down to injury after Hamilton’s 11/22 game against Cazenovia. He really jumped out of nowhere after only playing in 12 contests last year, averaging a meager 3.0 PPG. His 3.0 REB/G and 2.3 A/G are solid to back up his shooting ability. Unfortunately for the Continentals he will likely be out until the end of January, handing the reins into Hoffmann’s hands for the time being. The sophomore guard was an everyday starter last year for coach Stockwell’s squad and played well, averaging 12.7 PPG, rebounding well for the shooting guard position, and played nearly 28 minutes per contest. Since he took over for Doyle, he has greatly improved from a season ago and has upped his totals to 17.6 PPG (a team-high), delivering a huge 24 point performance that made the difference against Clarkson on November 26th. If he can put together more games like that and continues to become a force in the paint, and Doyle returns in full force, the Continentals could have a powerful 1-2 punch at this spot as the 6’ 5’’ Hoffmann and 6’ 4’’ Doyle are sure to rain down points to get more minutes. If these two step on the court at the same time, NESCAC defenses better look out.

 

Forward/Guard Joe Pucci ‘18

Pucci has to be the biggest player listed as a guard in the ‘CAC. The 6’6’’ junior is the second of the Hamilton upperclassmen starters, and like both Grassey and Doyle, he has made a big jump from last season into the starting lineup where there was little turnover in terms of graduates, and has nearly doubled his REB/G from 2.5 to 4.7. His scoring has gone up to 7.5 PPG from 5.3 in 2016, but because his shooting percentage has sunk by nearly 4%, these offensive numbers likely aren’t sustainable once Hamilton starts facing tougher opponents like Amherst and Wesleyan. However, as was the case in 2016, consistency is a big factor here with Pucci. He has thrown up some good shooting games (over 30% FG) and some real duds (under 20% FG) like in the 9-point loss to Catholic University and a win over Oswego. Every team would be great if their best players played their A-game every day, but there is a reason why Hamilton was only 2-8 in the NESCAC last year, and they need more of that A-game out of Pucci.

 

Forward Michael Grassey ’19

Grassey is a good inside scorer and a great compliment to the rebounding-dominant Groll playing the big man, greatly improving on last year and cementing himself as a starter. This allows Hamilton to gain the rotational consistency that Coach Stockwell focused on when defining how the 2017 squad would make the leap to finish out close games and take the non-conference success to the ‘CAC. The relatively undersized 6’3’’ power forward is comparable to Draymond Green in that size plays little role in how he can play in the paint. He is dominating thus far after not starting a single game in his rookie campaign. He came into his own in the winter portion of last season, and he has earned a starting position this year as a result of his hard work on the court and in the weight room. Grassey is hitting his stride right at the optimal time, putting up over 20 points for three straight games in December and averaging 15.8 PPG overall thus far. His shooting percentage has been off the charts recently, and Hamilton is going to have a shot in a lot of conference games if Grassey keeps this up.

 

Forward Andrew Groll ‘19

The Hamilton big man is bringing down boards with Grassy at 7.8 per game in 2016 and 7.4 per game thus far through ten games. The 6’7’’/230lb. New York native is a great second half to a two headed rebounding monster, but Groll doesn’t quite score the same way in the paint that Grassey has been able to. Grassey’s shooting accuracy trumps Groll’s as the latter big man, albeit he takes consistently about half the amount of shots. In Hamilton’s narrow loss to Middlebury last January, Groll hauled in 14 boards, showing that he is a big defensive force and is certainly one of the biggest playmakers on this team. Keep in mind that he was having many double-digit rebounding performances against these ranked NESCAC teams as a freshman, and while he might not be a shooter, Dwyer has made sure that the issue of distributing to other scorers is taken care of. Groll should begin to blossom as a force in the paint and will come into his own as a defensive weapon in his sophomore conference-season.

 

X-Factor: Guard Kena Gilmour ‘20

Pretty much all of the starters except for Dwyer who is a staple of consistency are going to be X-Factors for the Continentals as they are still younger and less experienced in big games than some of the top NESCAC opponents. However, with Pucci, Groll, and even Dwyer not representing big scoring threats, freshman Kena Gilmour has stepped up as a big time scorer off of the bench. Gilmour dropped 26 against Clarkson, one of two games where he played more than 20 minutes, and has been consistent other than one poor game against Eastern where he went 0-4 in a four point loss. He is putting up 10 PPG off of the bench, with a 55.6% FG and should fit into coach Stockwell’s system well as the season ages. The smooth lefty guard was a two time All-New England player in high school, and he should be a big time player in his time at Hamilton.

 

Everything Else

Hamilton undoubtedly has a strong core here between Dwyer, Doyle, Hoffmann, Grassey, Pucci, Groll, and Gilmour and won’t lose any of them until after next season. Their 8-2 start is clearly a big step in the right direction, coupled with several of their starters making huge improvements from a season ago. While all of that is great news for any Continental fan, keep in mind that the jump from 2-8 in conference to a NESCAC contender is even bigger. Coach Stockwell is experienced in this league, has been to the playoffs twice, and obviously won’t take anything for granted from this talented group. However, since just eight teams make the playoffs, Hamilton is going to need to pull off a couple upsets if they want to make there way into the NESCAC tournament. They have the talent, but it is their youth that provokes a question mark.

Hamilton’s experience in close losses from last year should give them an edge in similar situations this year, and if they can close in the final minutes, the Continentals should very well snatch one of those eight golden NESCAC tickets. Their 8-2 record may be slightly misleading, as even though Catholic and Eastern are solid teams, the best achievement of either is that Catholic played Notre Dame in an exhibition match (and then lost 103-48…). Other NESCAC teams are playing tough competition, gearing up for what should be a close and hard-fought regular season, and Hamilton could potentially struggle to keep up. If their players can play the same way against better teams, they will be just fine. In theory, Hamilton’s talent should be enough to propel them into the middle of the NESCAC standings, but any fan of NESCAC basketball knows that it is the intangibles that separate good teams from great teams in this conference. Who is going to step up as leaders in crunch time? Who is going to rally the troops when their backs are against the wall? Hamilton has what it takes to beat some of the top teams in this conference, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can put everything together and make it happen.

No Hart, No Linsanity; Who Will Guide the Continentals? Hamilton Season Preview

Jack Dwyer has taken over the point guard position for a young Continental team. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Jack Dwyer has taken over the point guard position for a young Continental team. (Courtesy of Hamilton 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.

Last season was a year of growth for the Hamilton Continentals, both for players new and old. With the decisions of Matt Hart to transfer to George Washington and incumbent senior Bradley Gifford to hang up the sneaks, Head Coach Adam Stockwell was unexpectedly left with a depleted roster for 2014-15. As a result, freshmen who weren’t expected to play very much earned valuable experience, and PG Joseph Lin ’15 played like one of the league’s elite until an injury towards the end of the season.

The Continentals must once again overcome the loss of their two most important players from a season before – this time to graduation – with Lin and sharpshooting forward Peter Kazickas ’15 on to greener pastures. Coach Stockwell is waiting for a veteran to emerge at the center of this unit, like Lin last season or his predecessors Hart, Greg Newton ’14 and Pat Sullivan ’12. The Hamilton basketball team is entering its fifth season competing in the NESCAC, with its best finish being a 5-5 conference mark in 2013-14. With a lack of experience on the roster, Hamilton will be hard-pressed to match that 5-5 record, but the program is moving in the right direction with a bevy of talented youngsters now on board.

2014-2015 Record:

14-10 overall; 2-8 NESCAC (10th); Did not qualify for NESCAC Tournament

Head Coach: Adam Stockwell, 5th season, 55-43 (.561)

Returning Starters: Four

PG Jack Dwyer ’18 (3.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 32.0% FG)
G Jack Donnelly ’16 (8.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 43.2% 3PT)
G/F Joe Pucci ’18 (5.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 41.8% FG)
F Ajani Santos ’16 (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg)

Coaches always say that the past is the past and players have to earn their stripes each new season, but they don’t always choose lineups with that philosophy in mind. This year, it’s very apparent that Coach Stockwell is giving nothing freely to his veterans. Santos and Donnelly, who started 23 and 22 games last year, respectively, are out of the starting lineup, while Dwyer and Pucci, who each started 12 contests a year ago, have apparently locked down starting spots. Donnelly is still racking up minutes and has seemingly embraced the sixth-man role, but Santos looks to be in the dog house right now with just 10.3 mpg through three games so far. Coach Stockwell hasn’t let on what’s behind the severe drop in Santos’ playing time, instead reiterating his confidence that the big man can get back on track, and citing some outstanding efforts from some younger big men. If I had to ponder a guess, I’d say that Santos’ constant foul trouble and temper have hindered him. That’s only a guess though – there is plenty of season left to see how things work out.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG Jack Dwyer ’18

The Hamilton lineup is extremely fluid right now, with 11 (eleven!) guys seeing double digit minutes per game, but Dwyer looks the the closest thing to a lock for me the rest of the season. He’s a true point with great quickness and good strength, given his size (5’11” 175 lbs). His scoring binge over the weekend was impressive, but not surprising to those around the Hamilton team. Don’t expect quite that level of production (16.0 ppg through three games), because he doesn’t shoot the three ball at all, but he can hang in the low teens range in points. There are some great, if unproven, shooters on this team, and Dwyer is the man to get them the basketball.

SG Peter Hoffman ’19

Hoffman is obviously green as a freshman, but he’s immediately become a scoring threat and is second on the team with 11.7 ppg. Unlike Dwyer, Hoffman can light it up from deep, and at 6’5″ he complements the smaller Dwyer well. Classmate Tim Doyle ’19 started the first two games in this spot, but Hoffman started the last, and it’s going to be a constant battle to see which youngster can solidify his position, but both will continue to see minutes.

G/F Joe Pucci ’18

Pucci is tall – 6’7″ – but has guard-like athleticism. Just a sophomore, he has the ability to become a leader for this young squad. He should be able to do a little bit of everything for the Conts – score some points, rebound and defend those tough wing players. With Pucci at the 3, Hamilton will be going against the NESCAC grain which seems to be trending towards three-guard sets. It’s a risky strategy, but one that could pay dividends if Pucci can defend his smaller match ups.

F Andrew Groll ’19

Another freshman expected to play big minutes, Groll is going to be counted on to be a physical presence at 6’6″ 240 lbs. Coach Stockwell has high hopes for the way Groll will develop, and he applauded the way Groll gets after rebounds on both ends of the floor. He might not be the most refined offensive player just yet, but with so many shooters around him and coming off the bench, Groll could stick in the starting rotation.

F Ajani Santos ’16

This is a gut call, because the early signs are that Santos is being passed over by the young forwards – Groll, Pucci, Kelan McConnell ’18 and Karl Koster ’18. Obviously, his league-worst 88 personal fouls and eight ejections for fouls last year were a big problem, but there has to be something else going on here. Unless a player gets in trouble or comes into camp completely out of shape – and I’m not saying either of these things are true, nor is there any evidence that either is the case –  you usually don’t see a team’s most used player ride pine early on the next season. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I think it has to be made right for Hamilton to be competitive. As talented as the Hamilton youngsters are, Santos will be needed to provide some senior leadership if this team is going to go far.

Breakout Player: G Peter Hoffman

It’s not often that a freshman comes into any college league with the talent and opportunity to be an immediate star. In this case, Hoffman has both. He’s got great size for a two-guard, can shoot from anywhere (including the free throw stripe), and is a great perimeter defender, according to his head coach. There is a lot of competition at the guard spot for Hoffman, and he probably won’t see much more than 20.0 mpg with Donnelly coming off the bench and playing an important role, but he can be an efficient scorer and make an impact on both ends of the floor.

Everything Else:

Backing up the shifty Dwyer at point guard is the more strategic Wes Wilbur ’17. They won’t both be on the court very often, but when they are Wilbur will shift to the two-guard spot. The disadvantage of having them both on the floor is that it takes away the three-pointer from the Continentals game, and even though they didn’t shoot the three much last year, they were the most efficient three-point shooting team in the NESCAC. Donnelly and Hoffman are excellent outside shooters, and I would expect most of the minutes to feature the threesome of Dwyer-Donnelly-Hoffman on the court. Kyle Pitman ’17 is the last guard in the mix, and he brings great range to the floor, too.

The frontcourt minutes are totally in flux with the expected return to relevance of Santos. Right now, Groll, Pucci, Koster and McConnell are taking up most of the time, but something will have to give if Santos is going to reemerge. Groll and Koster are Stockwell’s workhorses down low, banging bodies and getting rebounds. McConnell is undersized at 6’5″ but is another sharpshooter, while Pucci does a bit of everything, too, but as noted above, with him at the 3-guard, Hamilton might get run off the court by some quick and skilled back courts. The x-factor for the Hamilton frontcourt, once again, is 6’11” Zander Wear ’18. Wear came to Hamilton with a lower level of basketball experience than most freshman in the league, but has taken a big leap from a season ago. Still, with so much youth and talent amongst the Hamilton big men, it will be an uphill battle for Wear to break in.

Coach Stockwell is running with a deep rotation right now and allowing the cream to rise to the top. It’s a good strategy early on, and one that many NESCAC coaches employ, especially with a younger roster like Hamilton’s. The only worry is whether the Conts can build up enough chemistry with the guys who are going to be on the court come NESCAC time in January. Can they rely on freshmen and sophomores to lead them to the NESCAC playoffs? Or will Donnelly and Santos go out with a flourish in their final college season? Hamilton may be the toughest team to predict at this point this season. The good news for Hamiltonians is that youth and talent are aplenty in Clinton.