Happy New Year, NESCAC fans! With another year comes more excitement as basketball season heats up and conference play begins. Between some recent upsets (York over Middlebury 90-87 in OT; Hamline over Williams 73-71; Southeastern over Amherst 76-65) and a shocking injury (Kyle Scadlock’s torn ACL), 2017 finished out with some bad luck for our beloved conference. However, 2018 is an open book, and among the things we can look forward to are the races for Player of the Year (POY), Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), and Rookie of the Year (ROY). Here are some of the early frontrunners for each major award:
Middlebury G Jack Daly ’18: Middlebury is lucky to have such a stud as a replacement for Matt St. Amour ’17, and have seen incredible production thus far from the PG. Daly’s stat line reads 17.6 PPG, 9.0 REB/G, 8.3 A/G, and 2.0 STL/G. While he has slipped just below double digit averages in rebound and assists, the overall numbers are still ridiculous. Despite significant losses from the 2017 Midd team, the current Panthers team is deep at nearly every position, leaving no lack of talent surrounding Daly. He did struggle against York in their recent overtime loss, shooting just 6-16 FG and 2-7 3PT, although it represents merely a minor blemish in an otherwise dominant preseason.
Tufts G Vincent Pace ’18: Tufts should be thrilled to see such a resurgence from Pace, the current NESCAC leading scorer with 18.4 PPG. Like Daly, Pace is a guard who can play in the paint as he also averages 8.0 REB/G, hauling in 13 boards in the Jumbo’s most recent victory against Claremont Mudd-Scripps (71-63). Because of an injury in the 2016-2017 season, limiting him to just 21 games, his stat totals last season were a bit deflated. This year, his is outperforming his healthy sophomore season several categories (PPG, REB/G), although he is shooting at a lower clip (44.2 FG% vs. 49.3 FG%; 30.5 3PT% vs. 37.4 3PT%). This leaves room for improvement in what has already been a blistering start. At this point in the season, the POY battle looks like a two horse race, although Wesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’18 and is looming in third place and Hamilton G Kena Gilmour ’20 (pictured above) is also a contender despite his youth.
Colby F Dean Weiner ’19: The NESCAC’s leading rebounder comes from Colby College, a team lacking historical success, but off to a solid 7-3 start to the season. Weiner’s 9.4 REB/G and 2.8 BLK/G are the highest in the conference, surprising after averaging under seven minutes per contest in the first half of his college career. His increase to 21.8 minutes per game in 2017 has led to this breakout. In addition to his defensive accolades, he is also averaging a solid 10.3 PPG, irrelevant in relation to this award, but important in regard to his rapid development as a force to be reckoned with heading into the NESCAC season. He should remain the frontrunner for DPOY if he maintains his position at the top of the leaderboard in rebounds and blocks.
Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20: Folger is also a first year starter for Middlebury, although his potential was evident in his rookie campaign. The 6’8” sophomore has doubled his rebounding total from last season and is now averaging 8.4 REB/G along with 2.5 BLK/G and 1.1 STL/G. He is athletic, extremely lanky, and can shoot from deep—a deadly combination, especially considering the prowess of Middlebury’s aforementioned PG. His defensive numbers will likely continue with more minutes per game in closer contests and increased experience.
Wesleyan G Kevin O’Brien ’19: This selection is a little unusual in that the DPOY is usually a big man at the top of the blocks and rebounding leaderboard (like Weiner.) However, O’Brien is an absolutely destructive perimeter defender. He leads the NESCAC in steals with 2.4 per game and uses his 6’5” frame to make an impact in the paint as well. In addition to his high steals total, he also hauls in 6.6 REB/G and blocks opponents 1.3 times per game, putting him in this conversation regardless of his turnover ability. Bowdoin F Hugh O’Neil could easily make a case for DPOY too, depending on how conference play pans out, but from the preseason results, these are the three frontrunners.
Colby G Matt Hanna ‘21: The first year trio of Ty Williams, Wallace Tucker, and Matt Hanna is making a huge impact for the Mules, contributing to their turnaround 7-3 record to start the year. Between the three, Hanna is leading the way, starting all 10 games and scoring 14.3 PPG. He is distributing the ball well too, averaging 2.9 A/G and also bringing down 3.3 REB/G. He has struggled the past two games, shooting under 30% from deep and under 40% from the field in each contest, but put up solid performances against both Bates and Bowdoin, opponents that he will not only see again, but ones who are comparable at least to some of the talent that should offer a more competitive defense against his shooting. While it is early, it is obvious that Colby has a bright future and some NESCAC potential in their young stars headed by Hanna.
Connecticut College F Dan Draffan ’21: Draffan is averaging a meaty 14.5 PPG for the Camels, shooting 42.9 3PT% and 52.0 FG%, also grabbing 5.9 REB/G and 1.1 BLK/G. He ranks second on the team behind David Labossiere in PPG, particularly impressive given that he has only started 5/11 games for Conn so far. His 20.0 minutes per game should increase drastically given his recent success. While he hasn’t started the past two games, he dropped 27 points and nine rebounds in just 16 minutes against CCNY on 12/28, making a strong case for future starts. The 6’7” 250 pound first year player should be a force to be reckoned with for his career and is keeping pace in the ROY award race.