Who’s Got What It Takes?: Top 5 NESCAC POY Candidates

With football season coming to a close, and the weather getting unsettlingly cold for this early in the season – 4 inches of snow already in Lewiston – it’s time to get serious about basketball. We lost an immensely talented group of seniors across the league, and we’ll start to see some new names headlining the best conference in Division III (and I will fight anyone who says otherwise). This makes choosing player of the year candidates a bit challenging because although the conference loves giving the award to seniors, we don’t see the same dominance that we’ve seen from the past few groups. This makes the future look that much more exciting with the NESCAC shrouded in mystery.

2016-2017 NESCAC Player of the year: G Matt St. Amour ’17 (#4 Middlebury)

22.0PPG, 4.7REB/G, 3.0AST/G, 42% 3PT

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

Last season we saw the Player of the Year Award given to one of the best pure scorers in recent NESCAC memory in St. Amour, who led Middlebury to the conference championship and an Elite Eight appearance in his senior campaign. Half of the top 10 leading scorers in conference play last year return to this year, so we’ll certainly keep an eye on them moving forwards.

I have tried to lay this out as simply as possible: stats and info on each player, along with some notable facts, and a significant game to highlight from last season. Yes, that does make it significantly easier for me to write, but I’m hoping it also makes it easier for the readers to compare each of these players. That’s the hope at least.

Note: all stats are from conference play only.

Johnny McCarthy
Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

G/F Johnny McCarthy ’18 (Amherst) – 6’5”, 205lbs

2016-2017: 14.7PPG, 9.4REB/G, 46.3% FG, 32.2% 3PT

McCarthy was an absolute workhorse for the Purple & White last year, leading the league with 33.1 minutes per game. And with Jayde Dawson being out of eligability, McCarthy will get all the touches he wants and more. As a true wing with his 6’5” frame, he is a double-double machine, recording 6 last season, 5 of which were against NESCAC opponents. It is tough to pick out one game in particular in a season where McCarthy had monstrous numbers, but in a win against then-no. 9 Tufts he put up 18 points and 14 rebounds, along with 3 blocks. With the amount of time he spends in the game, he will continue to be one of Amherst’s most reliable players and if he can keep putting up video 2K-like numbers, he is one of the top candidates for the NESCAC’s most coveted award.

Jack Simonds
Jack Simonds ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

F Jack Simonds ’19 (Bowdoin) – 6’6”, 225lbs

2016-2017: 16.0PPG, 4.9REB/G

One could argue that no single player is more valuable to their respective team than Simonds is for the Polar Bears. It was a little disappointing to see that his average dropped from 19PPG to 16PPG in conference play, but he still has a lot of time to develop, just entering his junior season. Simonds is a natural scorer who has the type of shot-creating ability and confident demeanor that beg for the ball to be in his hands at the end of a close game. Having a player like this is rare and although he is only halfway through his career, he has shown that he is capable of putting up huge numbers, especially under an offense that puts the ball in his hands every possession. Only Matt St. Amour, Daniel Aronowitz, and Jayde Dawson attempted more field goals last year than Simonds, and that is a trend that is certainly going to continue into this season. Like McCarthy, Simonds spends a lot of time on the floor, finishing with the 6th highest minutes per game in the NESCAC with 32.3 in 2016-2017. If he can get enough rest and his supporting cast can keep them in the game without him, he is a vital part of Bowdoin’s lineup, and a player to build around for the next two years. In what was surely the Polar Bear’s biggest win last season against Williams, Simonds went off for 32 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, while going 7-8 from the line. This type of production is absolutely ridiculous, and undoubtedly places Simonds among the NESCAC’s elite.

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F Vincent Pace ’18 (preseason #6 Tufts) – 6’6”, 205lbs

2016-2017: 11.9PPG, 6.4REB/G

While he put up more than respectable numbers last season, this is the year for Pace to break out. Tufts lost a lot of production in the graduation of Tom Palleschi ’17 and Tarik Smith ’17, and Pace is ready to step into a much bigger role. He shot a modest 35% from the field, while going 28% from behind the arc, and 63.3% from the line.  With a jump shot as nice as Pace’s, his shooting numbers should be considerably higher. His 11.9 points per game average is also a bit deceiving, because he was only playing 26.7 minutes per game last year as he recovered from a knee injury, good for a pedestrian 28th in the NESCAC. He should see considerably more touches this year, likely resulting in higher production. His rebounding numbers also increased significantly when Palleschi was battling injury, and this is hopeful for his production on the glass this season as well. No game is more indicative of Pace’s upward trending value than in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament when he absolutely lit up St. John Fischer for 37 points and 6 rebounds, on 12-17 shooting, 5-6 from downtown, and 8-9 from the line en route to a 94-81 victory. Obviously these are absurd numbers and this was a bit of an anomaly, but it shows what Pace is capable of, and what he will try to do in leading this year’s Jumbo squad.

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

G Jack Daly ’18 (preseason #8 Middlebury) – 6’3”, 190lbs

2016-2017: 10.9PPG, 6.5REB/G, 5.5AST/G, 49.3% FG, 45.5% 3PT

Daly is among the many across the league who will step into a much larger role after Middlebury graduated a significant portion of their lineup from last year, most notably Jake Brown ’17 and Matt St. Amour ’17. I believe that Daly is more than capable of filling this role, and was often forced to take more of a backseat to the duo of Brown and St. Amour, specifically in the scoring department. Look for his scoring numbers to take a jump up this year, especially if he can continue to be lethal from long range. His usage also lends itself to an uptick in scoring because he finished last season at 2nd in the NESCAC with 32.9 minutes per game. What makes Daly so valuable, however, is how much balance he offers, dishing out a conference-best 5.5 assists per game and hauling in an impressive 6.5 rebounds per game despite only being 6’3”, to go along with his scoring ability. Something to keep an eye on is that Daly fouled out 4 times last year, 3 of those games were losses, and the last one was in the Elite Eight to Williams, so Daly must stay out of foul trouble to be the team’s true leader. While Daly has had his fair share of double-doubles, he missed a triple-double by just one assist in a win against Trinity last season, putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. He was able to get to the line quite a bit that game, something he will likely continue to do this year, as he gets stronger. Keep an eye on Daly engineering yet another outstanding Panthers team this season.

Kyle Scadlock
Kyle Scadlock ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

F Kyle Scadlock ’19 (preseason #3 Williams) – 6’7”, 205lbs

2016-2017: 8.5PPG, 5.0REB/G, 43.4% FG, 56.7% FT, 2.7TO/G

Scadlock rounds out this list as a bit of an enigma, but as Colby referenced in the Williams Season Preview, he has the tools to be a superstar. He started last year putting up solid numbers, then hit a bit of a cold spell in the middle of the season. The reason that he even warrants consideration for an honor this high is what he was able to do in postseason play. His regular-season stats were relatively average, especially compared to the rest of the players on this list, but take a look at his conference and NCAA Tournament stats, when the shoe almost fit just right on Williams’ Cinderella run to the Final Four last year:

NESCAC Tournament: 16.0PPG, 8.7REB/G, 67.7% FG, 88.9% FT

NCAA Tournament: 15.2PPG, 6.4REB/G, 3.0AST/G, 53.7% FG, 55.6% 3P, 90% FT

It is ridiculous what Scadlock was able to do, particularly because he was doing it against the best competition on the biggest stages. He put up one huge game after another, but the Sweet 16 was the most impressive of them all, when he torched Susquehanna to the tune of 22 points and 12 rebounds, while going 12-12 from the charity stripe. These are the numbers he is capable of with his rare combination of size and athleticism, giving him one of the highest ceilings of anyone in the NESCAC.

Final Thoughts:

There are certainly more than just 5 players capable of winning Player of the Year, and there are a lot of question marks, as many teams will see some unproven youngsters fill spots in their lineups. Of course, this article is written with the knowledge that end-of-the-year awards tend to be biased towards seniors. There are many non-seniors who could have a shot at the trophy if the older group struggles. Peter Hoffmann ’19 and Kena Gilmour ’20 for Hamilton come to mind, as does Middlebury’s Matt Folger ‘2o, Amherst’s Michael Riopel ’19, and Williams’ Matt Karpowicz ’20. If we were to do a midseason updated POY watch list (and we probably will), it might look completely different, but that’s what makes this league great. Buckle up folks, ‘cause we’re in for another fantastic year of NESCAC basketball.

Throw Dem ‘Bos: 2017-2018 Tufts Men’s Basketball Preview

TUFTS UNIVERSITY JUMBOS

2016-2017 Record: 22-7, 8-2

2017-2018 Projected Record: 23-7

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:

Everett Dayton
Everett Dayton ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #4 Everett Dayton – Sr.

The senior from Pacific Palasides, California emerged as a quiet leader for the Jumbos last season, starting every game, running the offense and averaging 8 PPG. He plays solid defense and has shown off his scoring ability, aside from his ball-handling prowess. Tufts will look to Dayton this season to lead them on both ends of the floor, and in big moments in big games. Offensively, Tufts will have to play even more of a perimeter game with the loss of Center Tom Pelleschi. Dayton will need to be a facilitator, and also knock down three pointers when they are open. With a smaller lineup on the floor, ball movement will be paramount, and Dayton will be the Jumbos offensive catalyst, who will look to create shots for his teammates and run the floor. Tufts will get the most out of their offense when Dayton’s assists are high.

Thomas Lapham
Thomas Lapham ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #1 Thomas Lapham – Sr.

The second of the ‘Bos SoCal Guard tandem, Lapham is a grinder. He proved to be valuable for the Jumbos off the bench last season, shooting 42% from the field. He is a sharp shooter, who will look to breakout this season from behind the arc. Lapham has demonstrated his three-point shooting ability, last season burying 4 against Newbury College and 3 against Williams. This year’s offense will benefit a player like Lapham, who the Jumbos will need to step up and contribute right off the bat. If Lapham can knock down shots early, it will open opportunities for other seasoned shooters like Dayton and Pace. Lapham has proven he can contribute on both sides of the floor off the bench, and will bring his gamer mentality to his more consistent role this season. Look for Lapham’s numbers to rise this season, but it will be his leadership and competitiveness that will earn him extra minutes and add to the Jumbos win column.

Eric Savage
Eric Savage ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

G #5 Eric Savage – So.

My Breakout Player of the Year, Savage will be a huge the key to the Jumbos success in 2017-2018. Savage improved greatly over the course of last season, and was a regular contributor off the bench for Tufts later in the year. He put up 14 and 16 points in the Jumbos first two NCAA tilts last season, and had a season high 18 at Trinity in early February. Savage emerged as a consistent scoring threat for the Jumbos, and they will rely on him even more this season in a more consistent role. Savage is a natural scorer, who will help Tufts win basketball games by getting to the dish, facilitating, and knocking down open shots. If Savage can play good defense, he will spend a lot of time on the court for the Jumbos.

Vincent Pace
Vincent Pace ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #13 Vincent Pace – Sr.

A healthy Pace is Tufts best all-around player. A knee injury sustained in the NESCAC Tournament ended his Sophomore season, and battling other injuries last year, Pace was still able to be a major contributor for the Bos. Pace is a scorer, which he displayed against St. Johns Fisher in the NCAA Tournament dropping 37 points in a Jumbos victory. He averaged 14 PPG last season, shooting nearly 44% from the field, and giving the Jumbos 25 minutes per game, despite nagging injuries. Tufts has relied heavily on Pace in the past and they will continue to rely on him offensively this season. In losses against Amherst and Bates last year, Pace shot less than 32%, only putting up 6 points against Amherst. Tufts will need big time performances out of Pace this year. If he can stay healthy he will be an offensive weapon yet again for the Jumbos, working the perimeter with Dayton, Savage, and Lapham, but Pace can also guard forwards on defense.

Patrick Racy
Patrick Racy ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

F #24 Patrick Racy – So.

The biggest question mark for this 2017-2018 Jumbos squad is the replacement of four-year starting Center and Captain Tom Palleschi. The 6-7 Center from Connecticut, Racy contributed big minutes for the Jumbos as a Freshman when Palleschi went down with a knee injury in January. Racy was vital for Tufts on defense and on the boards last year, but without Palleschi, opponents will most likely attack the paint. If Racy can step up and guard some of the most potent NESCAC Bigs down low, Tufts will be a very tough defense to score on. Boards and good D will be the two keys to Racy’s Sophomore campaign, but he also poses an offensive threat as a mid-range shooter. Look for the big man to sneak in a few put-backs and draw some offensive attention with his smooth jumper. Racy will open the array of Jumbo shooters on the perimeter, even more.

Breakout Player:

G #33 Eric Savage – So.

(See above)

Everything Else

 YOUNG BOS:

Tufts will rely heavily on several returners to continue to be big contributors throughout their 2017-2018 campaign. That said, with the departure of senior impact players from last season like Tarik Smith and Tom Palleschi, there are some opportunities for the young talent on the Jumbos roster. Last year we saw Eric Savage work his way into the rotation by competing on both ends of the floor and stepping up down the stretch. Patrick Racy received valuable exposure in the during his fill-in time in Palleschi’s absence. This year, two first years stick out as early contenders to provide significant minutes for Tufts, Luke Rogers (F) and Brennan Morris (G). Rogers could be jumbo for Tufts. Now the biggest body on the roster, the kid has a ton of upside and will get chances early on to give Racy his rest. Look for Rogers to make an impact down low defensively and help Tufts on the offensive boards. Although the Jumbos are stacked at the guard position, Brennan can come off the bench and give Tufts some size. If Brennan can knock down some shots and contribute offensively early on, he could be big for the Jumbos spreading the floor and crashing the boards.

LIKE HE’S LOU WILL

KJ Garrett
KJ Garrett ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

KJ Garrett provided some serious offensive spark for the Jumbos at certain crucial moments last season. He came off the bench and dropped 19 at home against Hamilton, willing Tufts to an eventual 13-point victory amidst their 10-game win streak. The University of Washington transfer from Southern California is an athletic weapon on the court, whose ability to rise above the rim is only matched by Colby’s Pat Dickert. Although Garrett is currently sidelined with a minor finger injury, he will be back and ready to go for Tufts. The Jumbos will continue to look to Garrett for that offensive spark. On a team loaded with shooters, Garrett will drive to the basket and get buckets in the paint, opening shooting opportunities for his buddies behind the arc. If Garrett can get healthy and stay healthy, I expect him to contribute early off the bench, moving into a more consistent role down the stretch, igniting the Jumbos guard-friendly offense.

 LIKE IT’S MARCH MADNESS

Tufts was upset in the NESCAC Playoffs by a Williams team they had taken apart 93-68 just two weeks earlier. Despite two well-earned victories in the NCAA Tournament, the Jumbos fell to Babson for the second time of the season, who eventually went on to win the National Championship. Last year’s squad was good, but this team is better. Tufts is led by a good group of senior impact players who will have a positive effect on the team on both ends of the floor and off the court. If the Jumbos are going to win the Conference and make a NCAA push this season, they will need to have that playoff mentality all season long. If they stay healthy, knock down open shots, and can replace Tom Palleschi’s impact, Tufts will have a very successful 2017-2018 season.

ROAD WARRIORS:

The Jumbos have a few big matchups on the road this year, including trips to Washington University in St. Louis for a season opening tournament, and a couple of showdowns in Southern California just before New Year’s. Tufts will also have to battle on the road in Conference. Probably their most vital stretch of the season will be their road trip facing off against Williams and Middlebury on back-to-back days. Williams should be a big tilt for the ‘Bos having eliminated them from the NESCAC Playoffs last season, and bouncing back to compete against a good Panthers squad will be tough. The Jumbos also have three straight road matchups in late January at Lesley, Connecticut College, and Wesleyan.

 

BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON MATCHUP:

February 3 vs Amherst

This will mark the third-to-last regular season game for the Jumbos, probably against their most formidable in-conference opponent. Amherst went 7-3 in Conference play last season, and were young. In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst returns a slew of senior contributors and will be looking to put together a more successful 2018 campaign. Tufts will have an opportunity to knock off a worthy opponent at home in front of a Friday night crowd at Cousens, and get hot as they look ahead to the NESCAC Tournament.

 

 

NESCAC-steros: 5 Takeaways from an Upset-Filled Weekend

If I may take an unprovoked jab at NESCAC football, last weekend proved why basketball is the best of the sports we cover. For all its charms and glories, NESCAC football has the tendency to devolve into Middlebury, Amherst, Trinity and Tufts sitting at the grown-ups table, while the rest of the teams hang out waiting for the leftovers. In basketball, save for a couple exceptions, any NESCAC team can beat any other on a given night. This weekend was a terrific reminder of that fact. Amherst, the number three team in the country and consensus top in NESCAC, lost both their games and now sits at #16 nationally. Like Westeros (the fictional world of Game of Thrones) NESCAC basketball is a mysterious landscape, where the characters can die- or come back to life- at a moment’s notice.

Tufts Reads NbN

You’re welcome, Jumbos fans. Clearly the Tufts players have been reading my vitriolic rants against their team, school and personalities in general, because they came to play last weekend. Their win over Middlebury was one of the best games of the young season, a 91-85 classic that was closer

Eric Savage ’20 puts up a shot in Tufts’ win over Hamilton.

than even that 6 point margin. It was their trademark balance that carried the Jumbos in that game, as every starter scored in double figures as well as KJ Garrett ‘18 off the bench. However, it should be noted that star guard Vincent Pace (who has been slowly working his way back from injury) had one of his best games of the season with 15, including 13 in the first half.

The next night against Hamilton, Tufts put up another impressive performance, stopping a red hot Hamilton team in their tracks 94-81 despite playing without Pace. Garrett again stood out, stepping in admirably for Pace with a career high 19 points on 8-11 shooting. In addition to the emergence of Garrett and the balanced scoring, the Jumbos displayed tenacious team defense, holding the two highest scoring offenses in the league to under 37% shooting. There is a new top dawg in NESCAC.

Amherst Has Some Work to Do

For there to be a new top dawg, the old top has to drink from the toilet and be put in the dawghouse. That’s pretty much akin to what Amherst did last weekend.  They dropped both of their games to teams that entered without a league win. It was Amherst’s offense that let them down. It had become a worry at some points earlier in the year that Amherst relied too much on the dynamic backcourt duo of Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Jayde Dawson ‘18. However, Amherst had played an easy enough schedule (and both were playing well enough) that the worries were put aside.

But those fears came home to roost in a big way. Wesleyan was able to let loose their whole swarm of killer perimeter defenders on Dawson and McCarthy, holding them to  8-30 shooting (2-11 from three.) And then on Sunday, Amherst’s lack of frontcourt depth got exposed, and Daniel Janel ‘17 and Zuri Pavlin ‘17 of Connecticut College roasted Amherst’s big men like chestnuts on an open fire. The two forwards combined for 40 points (20 each) and Pavlin added 13 rebounds. This was not a simple bump in the road for Amherst; they have major depth problems. Someone else needs to put the ball in the bucket for the Purple and White. This is not a NESCAC year in which a team can play two on five and expect to win.

Jack Simonds ‘19 Can Score

Jack Simonds ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Atheltics)

I know, I know, “wow Pete, the leading scorer in the league can score? Hot take, man!” But coming into the Polar Bears match-up with Williams, Simonds was only shooting 36% in league play, including a dismal 1-9 from three. It’s (relatively) easy to light up non-conference foes, but you have to prove yourself in conference play to really shine. Against Williams, Simonds did just that, putting up 33 points on 11-24 shooting. He added 7 rebounds and 5 assists, and most importantly, led Bowdoin to a critical win. In such a strong league, the difference between 0-3 and 1-2 is impossible to overstate. This was a POY-type weekend for Simonds, we’ll see if he can keep it up.

Reports of Wesleyan’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated

Salim Greene ’19 guards Jayde Dawson ’18, with Harry rafferty ’17 ready to help.

Count me among the people who, after Wesleyan’s lethargic 0-2 opening weekend, began to mentally dig their grave in terms of postseason play. The Cardinals simply couldn’t score enough to support their terrific defense. In essence they were a one trick pony: terrific defense that eventually could be broken down due to a lack of offensive support. But Wesleyan’s two performances this weekend saw them prove that maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Against Amherst, their defense was simply phenomenal, holding the Purple and White to 59 points on 30% shooting. And then they held Trinity to 61 points on 33% shooting the next night. As shockingly good as the Cardinal’s defense was during those two games, they were also aided by strong offensive performances from Joseph Kuo ‘17 (28 points over the weekend,) Kevin O’Brien ‘19 (19 against Amherst) and Harry Rafferty ‘17 (17 against Trinity.) If Wesleyan can get just a couple offensive sparks, their defense may be good enough for them to make some noise in the post-season.

Eric McCord Emerges

Eric McCord ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

One of the fascinating subplots (to me, at least) of the season so far has been how Coach Jeff Brown manages in frontcourt in the wake of Zach Baines’ departure. He has three talented forwards in Nick Tarantino ‘18, Matt Folger ‘20, and Eric McCord ‘19. However, they all have flaws that prevent from being ready go-to big men. Tarantino starts (alongside Adisa Majors ‘18,) with Folger coming in off the bench as an offensive and rim-protection weapon. And McCord had been following Folger off the bench to add some size and rebounding strength to the lineup. But last weekend McCord showed that he might deserve a larger slice of the minutes pie. Against Tufts, McCord had 22 points and 8 rebounds and paired with Matt St. Amour ’17 to lead the Panthers back from a double digit deficit. And then he had 11 and 8 in a crucial win at Bates. McCord is very strong and has great touch inside, making him an ideal recipient of passes from Middlebury’s terrific guards. He also has shown a nice feel for interior passing with the other bigs, allowing Middlebury to run some Memphis Grizzlies-esque high-low sets. With McCord playing this well, Middlebury’s frontcourt is now a strength after being an Achilles Heel for much of the year.

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

Ups and Downs in Maine: Power Ranks 2/17

Jack Simonds '19 has been hot recently, and Bowdoin is surging. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Jack Simonds ’19 has been hot recently, and Bowdoin is surging. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Some say that the playoffs are all about momentum. Who’s hot, who’s not? We can all think of teams that have ridden late season hot streaks to championships, but just as often (maybe more often) the Cinderella story meets a brick wall come playoff time. Well, if you are a believer in playoff momentum, then this is the article for you. Who’s playing their best basketball right now, and which lower seed could make some noise?

1. No. 16 Amherst (20-4, 8-2, Last week: 1)

Amherst rebounded nicely from last week’s loss to the Tufts Jumbos. The top spot was a clear two-horse race between Amherst and Trinity, and Amherst was just more consistent this weekend. They pretty easily handled Middlebury, keeping the Panthers at an arm’s length all day long, and basically did the same to Hamilton the following day. Meanwhile, the Bantams let the Conts hang around into overtime. Amherst just looks to be playing all-around good basketball right now. Their problem all year long has been inconsistency from one starter or another, but everyone played well this weekend. If the Amherst roster is playing at its best, they won’t be beat.

2. No. 25 Trinity (18-6, 9-1, Last week: 2)

Even though going to OT against Hamilton is one reason why I have the Bantams at No. 2 this week, that challenge did provide them with some much-needed high-pressure experience. On the season, Trinity has won its games by an average of 17.3 points, and only two of those have come by less than 10 points (which doesn’t include their 10-point OT win against Hamilton). I know that this was an Elite Eight team a year ago, but it’s been awhile since they’ve played in a really meaningful, tightly-contested game and pulled out the win. As is often the case in professional sports, a hard-fought win or even a loss can end up paying dividends in the playoffs.

3. No. 19 Tufts (19-5, 7-3, Last week: 5)

The 77-73 win over Williams wasn’t extremely impressive, but a win is a win and the Jumbos took care of business last weekend and during the week against Pine Manor. We know they can play with the best, because they’ve beaten Amherst, but we also know that it’s a flawed team without much depth. They’ve gotten a few big games from Stephen Haladyna ’16 recently, and Ryan Spadaford ’16 had some big games of his own earlier this year. That’s what the Jumbos need more of if they’re going to go deep in the NESCAC tournament, and possibly further. The interesting thing about the win against Williams is that these two will be running it back on Saturday, this time in Medford. The question is whether Williams can make the necessary adjustments.

4. Middlebury (14-10, 6-4, Last week: 3)

It was a tough weekend for Middlebury, but it was equally tough for Wesleyan and Williams. The difference is in the quality of opponents for each team. There’s no shame in losing to two ranked teams in Trinity and Amherst, and even though the Panthers didn’t threaten either team, they were competitive in both games. In fact, I would argue that the play of Adisa Majors ’18 recently (33 points, 14 rebounds this weekend) makes Middlebury more intimidating than ever. Don’t get it wrong, a healthy Matt Daley ’16 in addition to Majors would be best for the Panthers, but his status right now is unknown.

5. Colby (16-8, 4-6, Last week: 8)

Yes, that’s right, the Colby College Mules are No. 5 in this week’s ranks. They’re flying high after winning two games to secure a playoff bid, and they’ve been answering some of my questions about their ability to compete for a NESCAC title. It had flown under the radar, but John Gallego’s ’16 strong play had coincided with some spotty performances from Luke Westman ’16, but Westman has had his best offensive stretch of the season over the last three games, all wins. Secondly, Colby didn’t have to rely on Ryan Jann ’16 alone to score points this weekend to get the wins. Jann filled it up for 19 points against Conn College, but struggled with just five points against Wesleyan. In his stead, Westman, Chris Hudnut ’16 and sniper Pat Stewart ’16 picked up the slack. That all-around attack gives me confidence in the way they are playing. AND, maybe most impressively of all, they actually played pretty good defense last weekend, holding both of their opponents to 73 points or less and winning, something they’d only done one other time this season.

6. Bowdoin (12-10, 4-6, Last week: 10)

Hold up! Blow up the ranks! Colby and Bowdoin? Over Williams and Wesleyan? Yep, that’s right. The Polar Bears are HOT, pulling off the same feat as the Mules. The only difference for me is that Bowdoin used the same formula they have all year, relying on their two-headed monster to will them to victory. Well, the defense is going to have to ramp it up to 11 in the playoffs, and I don’t know if two weapons is enough to get by Amherst (I’m actually pretty certain it’s not). Still, I’m impressed by what they accomplished last weekend, and if they were going to play tomorrow I would take the Polar Bears over the Cardinals – who they just beat – or the Ephs.

7. Williams (15-9, 5-5, Last week: 7)

The best thing I can say about Williams this season is that they’ve been consistently just above average, winning when they should and losing when they should. The Ephs are 5-0 against Colby, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Conn College and Bates, but 0-7 against Wesleyan, Amherst, Trinity, Tufts and Middlebury. Their reliance on youth is holding them back in tight games against good opponents. They’ve had double digit turnovers in every one of their losses to NESCAC teams. How fast can their youngsters grow up? If they’re going to upset Tufts, it better happen by Saturday.

8. Wesleyan (18-6, 5-5, Last week: 4)

Really ugly weekend for the Cards who fell to Colby and Bowdoin. Maybe it was just a matter of the latter two teams having the motivation necessary to pull off the upsets and get into the tournament, but the best teams don’t play down to their competition. The three point shooting, which went through an epic cold spell midway through the year, hasn’t improved too much, which is not good because Wesleyan has taken the fifth-most three pointers this season. The key for me is the contribution that they get off the bench. Harry Rafferty ’17, Nathan Krill ’18 and Joe Edmonds ’16 are all going to get close to 20 minutes on Saturday – if they’re playing well. Wesleyan needs scoring from the two upper classmen and strong defense from Krill to stop down Daley and/or Majors.

9. Hamilton (11-13, 2-8, Last week: 9)

It’s just sad for me to write about the bottom three teams, because I hate to pile the insult onto the injury, but I have to say a few words. More than the two teams below them, Hamilton put up a fight down to the bitter end. A couple of breaks here and there, and those two OT losses and the 12-point loss to Amherst over the past three games could have gone the other way. Kudos to Hamilton for taking it to Trinity, especially, who should never have let themselves get into that situation. As we’ve said before, the Continentals are young and talented. They’ll be much higher on this list come this time next year.

10. Conn College (12-12, 3-7, Last week: 10)

While they might have been putting up more of a fight than the 11th-ranked Bobcats, Conn was still unable to pull out any victories down the stretch. They ended the year on a painful seven-game slide. The three-point loss to Williams probably stings the most because Conn was up by 12 at halftime. The Camels showed real signs of life this year, and early on I thought they could be a surprise contender for a home playoff game. Their first years were really special, Dan Janel ’17 stepped up his game in a big way, and Zuri Pavlin ’17 did what he’s always done, and he was able to defer a bit more with a couple of playmakers finally around him. Conn was not a bad team this year. They just need to learn how to win.

11. Bates (10-14, 2-8, Last week: 11)

I don’t know what happened, and I won’t even speculate. A 2015 Sweet Sixteen team, the Bobcats looked like a completely different team this year, and they crumbled down the stretch. Bates is 2-7 since Jan. 9, with one of those wins coming over the 3-21 Maine-Farmington Beavers (the other came over Hamilton). It’s sad to see the career of Mike Boornazian ’16 and his classmates end this way. We thought Boornazian was a lock for All-NESCAC laurels at the beginning of the year, but with the way the Bobcats season ended, I’m not sure that that’s still the case.

The Best NESCAC Games This Season

If this photo gives nightmates to Ephs' fans, we apologize. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
If this photo gives nightmates to Ephs’ fans, we apologize. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Unlike some other NESCAC sports (*cough* football *cough*), in men’s basketball we see teams regularly battle all the way down to the wire. This season seemed like there were even more close games than usual. In total, six conferences games went to OT this year, twice the number from last season. Many more came down to one or two plays down the stretch. There were so many good ones that I decided to go back and count down the very best. Honestly, some of the games that got left out were great in their own right.

10. January 30: Bowdoin 85 over Colby 82, Brunswick, ME.

This was the best game I saw in person this season, and I feel wrong putting it this low. After all, it did feature the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year Lucas Hausman ’16 going bucket-for-bucket down the stretch with Chris Hudnut ’16, who was unstoppable on this day. Hausman would finish with 35 and Hudnut with 32. The difference was the 20 points the Polar Bears got from point guard Jack Bors ’19. Bowdoin led by as much as nine with 6:13 left in the game, but there wasn’t ever a doubt that Colby was going to make a run late. In overtime Jack Simonds ’19 had the first six points, and Hausman scored the next seven. Colby had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but John Gallego’s ’16 shot was no good. That this game is so low tells you a lot about how many quality finishes there were.

9. January 23: Colby 64 over Amherst 62, Waterville, ME

Colby entered this game 0-4 in conference while Amherst was 4-0. With that being said, this wasn’t nearly as big an upset as two years ago when a young Colby team shocked an eventual Final Four Amherst team in Waterville. The Team from Central Mass was ice cold, shooting 33.3/26.5/52.9 for the game. Luke Westman ’16 had just two points and fouled out halfway through the second half, but John Gallego ’16 stepped up to score 13 points. The Mules also benefited from Chris Hudnut ’16 playing well while still getting back to full strength and scoring 17 points. A controversial Connor Green ’16 offensive foul call helped to seal the deal for Colby in the final minutes as Gallego hit his free throws. A last second three by Green for the win failed to land, and Colby got their first conference win.

8. February 7: Colby 99 over Hamilton 95, Clinton, NY.

The highest scoring game of the NESCAC season, this was one of many games that went to overtime under weird circumstances. Down four with under 20 seconds left, Chris Hudnut ’16 hit a three to make it a one-point game. Hamilton missed one of two free throws, and Ryan Jann ’16 got fouled on a three point attempt essentially as time expired. He hit the first two but missed the third and the game went to overtime. The Mules controlled the extra period to give themselves new life in the NESCAC playoff race.  Patrick Stewart ’16 was dripping from three point land going 6-6 from beyond the arc to lead the way with 22 points. All five Colby starters finished in double figures.

7. January 15: Middlebury 85 over Tufts 82, Middlebury, VT.

At halftime the score was 40-40, and at the end of regulation it was 72-72. The theme of this game was Middlebury’s bench scoring 35 total points. An astonishing nine Panthers scored at least five points, a feat made even more incredible by the fact that the game was close the entire way through. The game went to overtime because of a cold-blooded three by Vincent Pace ’18 coming off a high ball screen. With ten seconds left in overtime and Middlebury up three points, the Jumbos got a great look to tie the game up. The three from Stephen Haladyna ’16 went in and out, and the Panthers got the big home victory.

6. January 10: Trinity 76 over Williams 75, Hartford, CT.

The final game of the first weekend was a dandy with the young Ephs pushing the veteran Bantams all the way to the end. The victory was a coming out party for Ed Ogundeko ’17, who scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The final 10 seconds were frantic with Shay Ajayi ’16 first putting Trinity up 74-73 on a fast break layup. Then he committed a stupid blunder fouling Cole Teal ’18 70 feet away from the basket. However, Jaquann Starks ’16 raced the other way for a layup to pull out the win for the Bantams. The loss was the first of a few late heartbreaking conference losses for Williams.

5. February 6: Middlebury 67 over Colby 65, Middlebury, VT.

The first half of this one was a smothering defensive performance from the Panthers, and the score was 35-22 Middlebury at halftime. The game really got going at the beginning of the second half when Colby went on a 32-10 run to turn a 15-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Credit has to go to Middlebury for not folding at this point and coming right back with an 11-3 run that made the score 58-57 Middlebury. The rest of the game was neck and neck. After Adisa Majors ’18 tied things up 65-65 with 0:30 left, Colby could have held for the final shot. However, Luke Westman ’16 drove and missed a layup. Jack Daly ’18 leaked out on the rebound for an easy bucket, and that proved to be the final difference.

4. January 30: Amherst 89 over Trinity 82, Hartford, CT.

The game between the top teams in the NESCAC fell on travel weekend with Trinity undefeated at 5-0 and Amherst at 4-1. This game was uptempo and close throughout, but it lacked any real drama. Amherst led the entire second half, and the Bantams never got the lead below five points. The Team from Central Mass was not slowed down at all by Connor Green ’16 having just seven points. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Jayde Dawson ’18 both scored more than 20 points to pace Amherst. Ultimately, this game was the only conference loss for Trinity, but it didn’t hurt them since Amherst lost on the road to Colby and Tufts, thereby ceding homecourt advantage to the Bantams.

3. January 22: Wesleyan 78 over Tufts 77, Middletown, CT.

Another fantastic finish in this one. The decision by Vincent Pace ’18 to go for the steal with Tufts up two points, five seconds left, and Wesleyan in-bounding the ball with 90 feet to go was a bad one. That sent BJ Davis ’16 to the line where he calmly hit both free throws. In overtime, Joseph Kuo ’17 made a layup with under 30 seconds left to give the Cardinals the win. Kuo, Rashid Epps ’16, and backup big man Nathan Krill ’18 combined for 50 points and 23 rebounds as the size of Wesleyan was too much for the perimeter-heavy Jumbos. Both teams shot terribly from the foul line and committed a ton of turnovers in an ugly contest.

2. January 16: Amherst 88 over Conn College 86, Amherst, MA.

In the moment, the Camels pushing Amherst to the brink seemed like an indication that Conn College was going to make a major run this year. That didn’t happen, but this game was still a lot of fun to watch. Defense was optional in the first half after which Conn College led 49-45. Lee Messier ’18 was 5-5 from the field in that first half to lead the Camels with 13 points. But it was Jayde Dawson ’18 who took over down the stretch with 19 second half points. At the very end of this one, Conn College tried to run an inbounds play designed for David Labossiere ’19 to tap in an alley-oop, but his attempt missed and Amherst escaped on their home floor. This game more than any, between the presumed top team in the NESCAC and a team that went winless in NESCAC play last season, is an indication of how close teams played each other this year.

1. February 5: Wesleyan 66 over Williams 63, Middletown, CT

The number one game didn’t go to overtime, but it was a barn burner nevertheless. Williams and Wesleyan have played some great games over the past two years, and this one was probably the best. In front of a raucus home crowd, it was all BJ Davis down the stretch. In their first meeting this season, Davis had already beaten the Ephs on a runner with less than two seconds remaining. In this game, Davis scored the final 15 (!) points for Wesleyan to turn a 56-51 deficit into the eventual 66-63 Wesleyan win. The combination of the home atmosphere, the recent history of these two rivals (this win gave Wesleyan the Little 3 title), and the quality of the shot made this a clear choice for the top spot. I mean, just watch the video of Davis’ shot and try to tell me there was a better moment than that this year.

No Easy Games in the NESCAC: Weekend Preview 1/15/16

Another weekend of NESCAC basketball is ready to fascinate minds around the world. (Courtesy of Bates College)
Another weekend of NESCAC basketball is ready to fascinate minds around the world. (Courtesy of Bates College)

I’m a young pup of  22 years old, and I didn’t have the slightest idea about NESCAC basketball until just a few years ago. However, I think that the league is as good from top to bottom as it has ever been. When you have the defending champions Wesleyan (who as we know brought everyone on the roster back) nearly go 0-2 in the first weekend against two teams that missed the NESCAC tournament last year, the depth of the league is clear. That depth means that teams can’t dig themselves too big of a hole if they want to make the NESCAC tournament. The three 0-2 teams (Williams, Colby, and Hamilton) all have to face big challenges this weekend.

Three to Watch

  1. Center Chris Hudnut ’16 (Colby): It’s hard to believe, but both Williams and Colby are winless coming into tonight making this almost a must win for both teams. Colby had the more disappointing weekend seeing their 10 game winning streak go up in smoke on the road. To get back on track, the Mules need to have their man in the middle carry the load. Hudnut was a total non-factor last weekend scoring just 4.5 PPG in the two losses. He didn’t even score in the first half of the game against Bates. Hudnut has had some big games this year, but against the Mules’ top opponents he has had subpar performances. He has to play better against Williams, a team that, even with Ed Flynn ’16 playing better, is weak defensively inside. Hudnut was missing shots he normally makes last weekend. I’m guessing he makes more of those tonight.
  2. Center Ed Ogundeko ’17 (Trinity): Few players looked as impressive as Ogundeko did last weekend. The junior carried the Bantams with 21 points on 9-13 shooting and 11 rebounds. Most impressive was the control that Ogundeko played with (something his teammate Shay Ajayi ’16 could take notes on). The broad-shouldered big man used his positioning to get good looks down low that he finished with good touch. What proved that he was really locked in was the two jumpshots from the top of the key that he knocked down no problem. Tonight, the Bantams face Conn College in a game that will be a great measuring stick for the Camels. Saturday, Trinity faces Wesleyan who bounced the Bantams from the NESCAC tournament last year. Ogundeko, averaging 14.3 PPG and 11.7 RPG, needs to keep getting double-doubles this weekend.
  3. Guard Jack Mackey ’16 (Wesleyan): BJ Davis ’16 has risen to leading man status for the Cardinals, but he can’t do it alone obviously. Mackey has had a really slow start to the year because of injury problems. Last weekend Mackey had two of his better games scoring the ball averaging 14.0 PPG, but it did take him 14 shots in both games to do that. Almost everything for Mackey is coming on the perimeter which is why he is shooting 0.6 free throws per game, an awfully low number for a point guard. His rebounding numbers are also down from a year ago. The guard is one of the toughest players in the NESCAC, and that tenacity is a huge source of the edge that Wesleyan plays with. Now he needs to get back to playing as well as he is capable of.

Biggest Game: Wesleyan (12-2, 1-1) at Amherst (11-1, 1-0). Tonight at 7:00 PM

Guys, I’m a little bit worried about Wesleyan. I was expecting after their loss to Middlebury last Friday to come out firing against Hamilton, but they barely eeked out an overtime victory. Now they have to go on the road to Amherst and Trinity, the hardest possible weekend the NESCAC can offer. Let’s not forget that before they got really hot at the end of the year and won the NESCAC tournament, Wesleyan was a 3-5 team heading into the final weekend last season. And yes, they ran through non-conference play, but they didn’t have any great wins in that stretch.

What was concerning about last weekend was the lack of defense and the inability to dictate the pace, especially against Middlebury. The Cardinals are built to win games played in the high 50s with Davis making the big shots at the end of games. A team with so many seniors should not have to worry about a team as young as Middlebury imposing their style on a game, but that is exactly what happened last Friday. Nate Krill ’18 who was injured all of last year, has been a great addition as the backup big man, and the depth for the Cardinals is better than it was a year ago. The problem is that makes it harder for Coach Mike Reilly to find the right combination of players any given night.

On the other side, Amherst is sure to be out for revenge for last year’s championship loss. This team is playing better than it was last year, and with all the talent they have it is always going to feel like they have another gear to reach. I just don’t know if we will ever see that gear be reached for any significant length of time. The pieces don’t all fit together quite right for them. They might lead the league as a team in assists, but aside from backup point guard Reid Berman ’17, everybody on the roster is more comfortable looking for their own shot than finding a teammate.

For a team as talented as Amherst is, they are weirdly reliant on the three pointer. They have made more as a team than anybody else in the NESCAC, even though they have played less games than everyone else. Jeff Racy ’17 is a dead-eye assassin, but both Connor Green ’16 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 are streaky shooters.  Wesleyan is hoping that they can force a reprisal of the championship game when Racy, Green, and McCarthy combined to shoot 3-20 from deep. The likelihood of that is not good, and I think that Amherst rolls in this one.

Upset Alert: Tufts (11-2, 2-0) at Hamilton (7-6, 0-2). Saturday at 3:00 PM

After the perfect storm of a weekend that the Jumbos had to open the season, they almost feel primed for a letdown. You might have thought I would pick Middlebury to upset Tufts, given how the Panthers already pulled a fast one on Wesleyan. But the Jumbos are going to be ready for that one tonight. Yet, after the game tonight, Tufts will have to drive a few hours through sleepy upstate New York to get to Hamilton for their game tomorrow. The gym at Hamilton is notorious for having subpar crowds, so it’s going to be sleepy there too.

Throw in the possibility of Hamilton getting hot from deep, and suddenly the possibility of an upset starts to crystallize. What if Ajani Santos ’16 shows up like he did against Conn College and puts Tom Palleschi ’17 into foul trouble? What if the Jumbos simply aren’t as good on the road as they are in Medford? Odds are that Vincent Pace ’18, Tarik Smith ’17, and Stephen Haladyna ’16 are too much on the perimeter for the Continentals to handle. I’m just saying that this is the NESCAC where (almost) anything is possible.

You can get our predictions on every game tonight over on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/CACSportsBlog

Holiday Power Rankings

Connor Green '16 has had his ups and downs, but he's the leader of a 7-0 Amherst squad and coming off of a 39-point performance against Babson. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Connor Green ’16 has had his ups and downs, but he’s the leader of a 7-0 Amherst squad and coming off of a 39-point performance against Babson. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Our effort so far this basketball season has been a little bit lacking, I will admit. As happens with this stuff, school work is getting priority over NESCAC sports blogging (somehow my mom thinks one is more important than the other. Imagine that!). Luckily, I’ve got a little window to give a quick overview of where teams are right now before they take their holiday break. I haven’t seen every single team play yet but I’m getting there.

1. Amherst (7-0)

The only undefeated team left in the league, Amherst is playing more to the level of their talent this year than it did last. As hinted at in the beginning of the year, Coach Dave Hixon has decided to go to a lineup of four shooters surrounding one big man for long stretches, including the starting lineup. He has done this type of lineup in years past, and the Jeffs don’t actually give up a lot in size since Jeff Racy ’17, Michael Riopel ’18, and Johnny McCarthy ’18 all go 6’5″or 6’6″. They are outscoring teams by 24.7 ppg so far, but a lot of that is because when it is a blowout late, Amherst’s back of the bench is still better than the teams they have played so far. Don’t get too excited when the Jeffs blow out teams by 30 because of that depth factor.

2. Wesleyan (7-1)

As many expected, the two finalists from the NESCAC championship game a year ago are the class of the league, with the Cardinals showing that their late run last year was no fluke. Their only loss to Lyndon State is a puzzling one, but it was in the first game of the season and by just two points, 80-78, so we will let that one slide. The balanced attack of last year where anybody could be the leading scorer for a given game has yielded to an attack led by BJ Davis ’16 who is averaging 19.7 ppg on 52.4 percent shooting. Davis has also kept his assist and turnover rate at the exact same as last year, so the ball being in his hands a lot has been a good thing. He also was responsible on Saturday for the game winning shot against Williams.

3. Tufts (6-2)

Nobody plays a harder season opening schedule, and the Jumbos have walked the tightrope to get to 6-2. Three of their wins have come by three points or less, though one of their losses is also by only three points. At this point last year, against a similarly difficult schedule, Tufts was 2-6 (many of those losses were close, too). Turning those close losses into wins I think is a factor of the Jumbos’ perimeter players becoming the leaders scoring-wise. It is easier to get baskets at the end of games with guards than big men. Vincent Pace ’18 (18.3 ppg) is becoming that go-to guy on the perimeter, and other guys like Tarik Smith ’17, Ryan Spadaford ’16 and Stephen Haladyna ’16 give more scoring punch out there. That has made the lack of scoring from star center Tom Palleschi ’17 (11.0 ppg) not too much of an issue.

4. Colby (5-1)

The Mules might chafe at this spot since their only loss was in overtime in the first game of the year, but they also needed a Ryan Jann ’16 three to beat a 2-5 Regis team by a point. I got to see them play on Saturday against Bowdoin, and the skill on offense is there to play with anyone. All five starters are threats to score the ball, and they do a great job of moving the ball. They lead the league with 19.5 apg, and the return of forward Patrick Stewart ’16 as someone capable of filling it up from deep is a big help. I worry about their defense which is the third-worst in ppg with 76.3. Some of that is because Colby likes to play at a fast pace, but it is still frustrating that a team with five seniors can’t play better team defense.

5. Williams (5-2)

Only one member of the rotation is a senior, two of the three top scorers are freshmen, and two starting guards are injured. Yet the Ephs are 5-2 and had an early 16-point lead over Wesleyan before ultimately losing on that BJ Davis shot. Starting point guard Mike Greenman ’17 could be back for their next game, and shooting guard Chris Galvin ’18 is also supposed to be back after Christmas. I suppose it’s better for the Ephs to be injured early on, as it’s allowing more young players to get minutes. Their game tomorrow against Springfield, a team that beat Trinity, will be another good benchmark for the young team.

6. Trinity (4-2)

Maybe this is a little bit of a disappointing start for the Bantams, but they had some questionable non-conference losses last year also and then went 9-1 in the NESCAC. Neither of their losses are particularly bad, and Coach Jim Cosgrove is also playing a very deep rotation at this point of the season. At a glance, the statistics for their big three of Ed Ogundeko ’17, Jaquann Starks ’16, and Shay Ajayi ’16 aren’t great. Then you realize that none of them is averaging more than 25.0 mpg. So while Ogundeko’s 12.5 rpg is already fantastic, it becomes flat out ridiculous when converted to per 40 minutes: 21.0 with the next closest player at 15.7 rebounds per 40 minutes. The bottom line is the Bantams have the best scoring defense and second-best rebounding margin so far. They are going to be good come NESCAC games.

7. Bowdoin (4-3)

My dear Polar Bears could have really used that win over Colby Saturday, and even though seven feels low, this is a good team, albeit with some potentially killer faults. Two of their three losses are by a combined six points. Lucas Hausman ’16 is a menace, but he isn’t a superhero. Colby did a good job in their win over the Polar Bears of harassing him and not allowing him to get to his favorite spots. Hausman still had 22 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there. For me, I’m interested to see how the identity of the team evolves. Will they become run-and-gun, completely abandoning the ethos of last year, or will they try to still retain some of that defensive identity?

8. Bates (4-2)

Bobcats fans might be a little mad at me for putting Bowdoin over them, but the Bobcats don’t have as good a win as Bowdoin does over Babson, though that Babson loss looks worse and worse every time a NESCAC team wins in overtime against the Beavers. Anyways, the loss of Graham Safford ’15 has not hurt this team offensively at all. Bates is averaging 86.8 ppg, second best in the NESCAC. Mike Boornazian ’16 is the man leading the way with 15.5 ppg. Most encouraging is that the three-point production of not only Safford but also Billy Selmon ’15 and Adam Philpott ’15 has been replaced by guys like Shawn Strickland ’18  and Josh Britten ’16. Britten barely played at all last year, and his shooting is valuable to open up space inside for the Bobcats.

9. Conn College (5-2)

Guess what, the Camels are hot right now! They’ve won five games in a row, and they just had their best win of the season over a 6-3 Eastern Connecticut team that beat Trinity earlier this week. Point guard Tyler Rowe ’19, who had 22 vs. Eastern Connecticut, has very quickly become a starter and is providing a huge spark with 12.3 ppg and 3.1 apg. David Labossiere ’19 is playing so well that the coaching staff can’t keep him off the court, and he just started his first game of the season. Some players are taking smaller roles because of it, but the Camels are playing well together. And don’t look now, but they play vs. Hamilton and Middlebury, the two teams below them in our rankings, in the first weekend of NESCAC play. Could they really open 2-0 in the NESCAC?

10. Hamilton (5-3)

The Continentals are 5-3 even though they are essentially playing without their top three scorers from last year. I say essentially because Ajani Santos ’16 is actually still on the roster and playing, but he is averaging just 1.6 ppg. He has actually been playing more and even got the start last game against Hobart. However, he scored just two points and continues to be somewhat of a mystery. If he is able to get everything straightened out, he would join Peter Hoffmann ’19 and the others on this young nucleus to make a pretty intriguing team. As it is, without him Hamilton is reliant almost entirely on perimeter scoring.

11. Middlebury (4-5)

Do I think Middlebury is the worst team in the NESCAC … well maybe, actually. At this point I can’t put them above anybody. Two of their five wins are blowouts against an 0-8 Johnson State team, but there are a couple of close losses to RPI and Skidmore. The statistics say that Middlebury is 4-5, but again that is colored by those two games vs. Johnson State. Granted, I’ve only been able to watch them for stretches online, but what I’ve seen hasn’t looked great. They have nobody who can score inside besides Matt Daley ’16, and nobody besides Matt St. Amour ’17 looks to be an average or better three point shooter. And they’re young. Daley and Connor Huff ’16 are the only seniors making an impact. We’ll see. 

Can the Real Jumbos Please Stand Up: Tufts Season Wrap-up

Tom Palleschi's return to the court was huge for the Jumbos. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tom Palleschi’s return to the court was huge for the Jumbos. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Season Record: 13-12 (6-4), lost to Amherst in NESCAC Quarterfinals

When our dear forefathers, Damon Hatheway and Jeff Hetzel, put together their preseason predictions, they put Tufts as their #1 team citing the oodles of talent on the roster. The Jumbos certainly didn’t look like the best team in the conference when they started the season 2-7 against a tough schedule. Then suddenly, when the conference season began, Tufts turned into the team Damon and Jeff thought they would be. They blew out Middlebury and Amherst before going on the road and handing Trinity their only conference loss even though the Jumbos made only one three pointer all game. Tarik Smith ’17 became unstoppable for defenses during this stretch. Tom Palleschi ’17 and Hunter Sabety ’17 were coexisting in the middle. Then Smith started to come back to earth, and Sabety suffered a knee injury. The Jumbos managed to beat Colby in the final weekend to secure a home playoff game, but they ran into a buzzsaw in the quarterfinals.

So how good of a team was Tufts really? They were certainly better than their 13-12 record would indicate. It took a long time to figure out how all the pieces fell together for them, but once Coach Bob Sheldon shuffled the starting lineup, this was one of the better teams in the NESCAC. However, the injury to Sabety made any type of NESCAC tournament run out of the question. Damon and Jeff might have simply been a year early in their prediction. Ben Ferris ’15 is the only contributor who graduates, and the Jumbos have a lot of other talented perimeter players like Vincent Pace ’18 to replace him.

High Point: 58-55 win at Trinity Saturday, January 17

The Jumbos were the best team in the NESCAC for the first two weeks of conference season. This win over Trinity, the Bantams only loss in conference play, came the day after Tufts absolutely rolled Amherst 80-53 at LeFrak. The game against Trinity was a low-scoring, hard-fought affair that was won on an elbow jumper by Palleschi with 13 seconds left. The victory lifted Tufts to 3-0 in the NESCAC, and the Jumbos were the only team still undefeated in league play. Though they are not traditionally known for their defense, Tufts held Middlebury, Amherst and Trinity to an average of 57.0 PPG over those three games. Tufts finished 3-4 the rest of the way, but their potential was clear for that stretch.

MVP: Forward Tom Palleschi ’17

First of all, Hunter Sabety ’17 would have won this if he had remained healthy, but it is impossible to give it to him since he only played in 60 percent of Tufts’ games. Palleschi’s story is well known, and he truly overcame a lot just to get back on the court. That he returned and ended the year playing some of his best basketball is just another statement about his personal strength and will. Palleschi finished the NESCAC conference season with 13.9 PPG. Along with Chris Hudnut ’16, he has the most diverse offensive game in the league, capable of hitting shots from 15 feet or using his footwork in the lane to get easy buckets. He also was a terror in the paint averaging 2.4 BPG, the most of anybody in the NESCAC. Palleschi will likely spend much of the offseason extending his range out to the three point line in order to help Tufts have better spacing for next season. Another year removed from surgery, he should be even better in 2015-2016.

Player to Watch: Small Forward Stephen Haladyna ’16

Dominating the paint is great, but it is hard to win without good shooting from outside, especially because that shooting opens things up on the interior. A big reason for the Jumbos’ early season struggles was they couldn’t shoot as they made the least amount of threes of any NESCAC team out of conference. Haladyna was supposed to be a leading shooter for Tufts, but he finished the season shooting an abysmal 23.6 percent from deep . Yet he actually shot 37.5 percent from three in conference play. The odds of him shooting such a low percentage overall again next season are slimmer than the chances that he is at least a respectable shooter. After all, he did shoot 36.2 percent from three as a sophomore. A bounce back season for Haladyna will give Tufts the balance they need on the offensive end.

Composite Power Rankings 1/9

Hunter Merryman '15 and Middlebury are the cream of the crop, for now. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Hunter Merryman ’15 and Middlebury are the cream of the crop, for now. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

As NESCAC season swiftly approaches tonight, we decided to get some of our staff members involved in this week’s power rankings. Everyone should feel pretty comfortable about the top team, but after that there was a huge amount of disagreement through the middle of the ranks which, I believe, is a testament to the depth in the league this season. On the other hand, it is probably also a result of a lot of impressive records against mediocre competition. That being said, the NESCAC continues to be one of the best Division-III hoops leagues in the nation, and we don’t see that changing any time soon.

Team Average AD SM AL JM PL
Midd 1.4 2 2 1 1 1
Amherst 2.6 1 1 4 5 2
Bates 3.4 6 3 3 2 3
Williams 4.2 3 6 2 4 6
Trinity 5.2 5 4 7 6 4
Wesleyan 5.6 4 5 5 7 7
Bowdoin 6.8 9 8 6 3 8
Hamilton 7.4 7 7 9 9 5
Colby 8.6 8 10 8 8 9
Conn 10 10 9 11 10 10
Tufts 10.8 11 11 10 11 11

(Contributors to the rankings: AD = Adam Dulsky; SM = Sean Meekins; AL = Adam Lamont; PL = Pete Lindholm)

1. Middlebury (9-0)

Adam, Pete, and I agree that the Panthers appear to be the class of the ‘CAC this season. Has this team returned to the level that the program was at from 2008-2013 when it lost 18 games over the course of five seasons? Probably not. I think that if Ryan Sharry, Andrew Locke, Nolan Thompson and the rest of the 2010-11 squad walked into Pepin in their prime they would dispatch the current edition of the Panthers with relative ease. But this team is no pushover, and in what appears to be a slightly down year for the usual suspects in Amherst and Williams, Middlebury could just grab its third NESCAC title.

For me personally, this ranking was less about the 9-0 record than the fact that I’ve felt since the preseason that this was a championship-worthy roster, and with the promising early season play of a few youngsters and the recent return of Matt Daley ’16, this team is only getting stronger.

2. Amherst (8-2)

Amherst and Williams will always gain respect just based on the name, but this team looks pretty good on the floor in its own right. In watching Amherst back in early December, we had some concerns about their perimeter defense.

Amherst is still allowing too many points per game (eighth in the NESCAC with 67.2), but NESCAC Rookie of the Year candidate Johnny McCarthy ’18 is a defensive force, leading the NESCAC in steals per game to date, and David George ’17 is still fantastic at discouraging points at the rim, so it’s curious that the Lord Jeffs have allowed so many points. What they are great at, though, is scoring. When they match up with our number one team, Middlebury, it will be a must-watch just for the ability of everyone involved to put the ball in the hoop.

3. Bates (9-2)

I like Bates more than most at this point in the season. Am I just jumping on the hype train? Maybe. But it seems like senior leader Graham Safford ’15 has elevated his game both on the stat sheet and in terms of his intangibles, and has really become a Kizel/Toomey type of transcendent player. In terms of numbers, he has improved on his field goal and three point percentages while also racking up almost two more assists per game. I think Safford leads the Bobcats deep into the NESCAC tournament.

4. Williams (9-3)

I know Ephs’ fans are sick of hearing it, but imagine if they still had Duncan Robinson. That would be scary. Even without Robinson, Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 and Dan Wohl ’15 are just filling it up. Both are above 19.0 points per game. Rooke-Ley is like Ray Allen from the line right now, which you should read more about here. Wohl is not only one of the league’s best sharp shooters, but the 6’6″ guard/forward leads the league in defensive rebounds. The one thing this team lacks is depth, as six players chew up most of the minutes for first-year coach Kevin App. Perhaps to say that the team lacks depth is the wrong way to word it, because a lot of those bench guys could get big minutes elsewhere around the league, but it could cause a problem if one of the Ephs’ stars were to go down with an injury because his replacement would lack experience. Take Rooke-Ley for example, who was only able to play 10 minutes in Williams’ last game against Endicott because of a minor injury. Unfortunately, Rooke-Ley has a long injury history at Williams, so we have to hope that nothing more serious materializes for the senior.

5. Trinity (10-2)

With the Bantams it comes down to whether or not you believe that this uptick in scoring is for real, or if they will return to their anemic offensive ways once the competition stiffens up. I think they will regress some, but Jaquann Starks ’16 is a much better offensive player than he was last year, as is Shay Ajayi ’16, someone I thought could break out for the Bantams before the season began. I think this middle of the pack prediction is pretty accurate, and I could see them stealing a game in the NESCAC tournament on the road.

6. Wesleyan (10-2)

As we mentioned a few days ago, Wesleyan is off to an historic start to the season.

Guard Harry Rafferty ’17 has become less of a distributor and more of a scorer, leading the Cardinals in points per game. He and Jack Mackey ’16 make for a scary three-point duo. Rashid Epps ’16 has continued his maturation, averaging nearly a double-double so far this season, and Joseph Kuo ’17 is a force inside, turning away more than one shot per game. There’s a lot of experience on this roster, so even though this level of success is new to this Cardinals’ roster, they should be able to stay competitive throughout conference play.

7. Bowdoin (8-3)

I ranked Bowdoin much higher than the rest of the crowd. Even Lamont, a Polar Bear himself, had Bowdoin down a few notches more than I did. But this is a team with NCAA tournament experience, and I think the presence of John Swords ’15 gives them a chance to win any game, on top of the continued strong play of point guard Bryan Hurley ’15, who I think will continue to get better and more comfortable as he gets further away from the knee surgery that kept him out for most of last season.

8. Hamilton (10-2)

Hamilton fans aren’t going to like this one. The Continentals are 10-2 and we have them ranked eighth? Well the fact of the matter is that as much as we’ve talked about soft early season schedules for NESCAC teams this year, Hamilton might take the cake. Their best win came at home by just four points to 8-5 Lycoming. Joseph Lin ’15, Peter Kazickas ’15 and Ajani Santos ’16 have all taken huge steps forward this season, but there’s not much production coming after the starting five.

9. Colby (7-5)

It will hurt me if this team fails to make the playoffs, both because they are fun to watch and I have a few personal connections to the team. But they just don’t play any defense, which is key in conference play. Opponents are shooting 41.5 percent from the floor against the Mules, and Colby has the second-worst rebounding margin in the NESCAC. They really miss power forward Patrick Stewart ’16 and the defensive presence he helped bring besides Chris Hudnut ’16. If they can’t remedy these issues then they can say good bye to their chances of playing into late February.

10. Conn College (7-4)

Conn has actually bounced back well statistically from the graduation of Matt Vadas ’14, as the Camels are averaging 71.9 points per game, actually up from last year’s 69.3 points per game. But those points aren’t coming efficiently at all, as Conn has the league’s worst shooting percentage. But be patient Camels fans. There are five first years getting double digit minutes, the team’s best player, Zuri Pavlin ’17, is but a sophomore, and Bryan Gross ’15, currently getting under 10 minutes per game, is the only senior on the roster. So there will be better times ahead.

11. Tufts (4-7)

What can we say about the Jumbos this season? Despite so much potential before the year began, exactly what we feared might happen has come to fruition. Like in years past, Tufts just can’t put the pieces together. Last year it was injuries to Tom Palleschi ’17 and Ben Ferris ’15. This year it’s simply ineffectiveness. Guys that formerly were money from beyond the arc have completely lost the ability to hit threes, Ferris looks like a shell of his Rookie of the Year Award-winning self, Palleschi is still shaking off the rust and it appears that coach Bob Sheldon can’t find a lineup he likes because almost the entire roster is getting into most games. The lone bright spot is the continued production of Hunter Sabety ’17. With him, Palleschi and guards Tarik Smith ’17, Stephen Haladyna ’16 and Vinny Pace ’18 back for 2015-16, the story will be the same next season. Loads of potential, but when will it come together for Tufts?