If we learned anything from the opening weeks of play, it’s that the Jumbos and the Camels are going to be top contenders in the NESCAC. Just to give you a taste of what they are bringing to the table, Tufts has yet to even concede a goal and Conn. has scored 14 goals in three games; I’m no math major, but I think it’s safe to say these teams are statistical studs.
Now, from these stats we can see that this matchup will be a clash of a great offense and a stubborn defense, both unwilling to concede their supremacy over the conference. As defending national champions, Tufts has its first real test and an opportunity to unnerve every other team in the NESCAC.
The key to this Jumbos team is their stellar and experienced backfield. Seniors Matt Zinner ’18, Connor Coleman ’18, and Bruce Johnson ’18 all have felt that electric and nerve-racking atmosphere present in the national championship spotlight, so it is no surprise that they have been able to keep their nerves in control in the beginning of their 2017 campaign. Not only has this defense been impenetrable, but also their opponents can’t seem to get balls on net, collecting only 6 shots on goal against this Tufts squad.
Scoring against the Jumbos is equivalent to eating a single potato chip; it’s grueling and will most likely lead to failure and/or shame. The real question for Tufts is if they will be able to manufacture goals against the Camels. Luckily, the Jumbos have sophomore Gavin Tasker ‘20 leading the charge. Tasker has scored twice this season, and will certainly be looking to add on to that this weekend. The Jumbos sport a respectable 2 goals per game, and will need to put together a clever attacking strategy in order to validate their #1 ranking.
On the opposite side of the ticket, the Conn. College Camels will be looking to overthrow the top dogs in the country. They are averaging an absurd 4.67 goals per game this season and are also padding the stats with 44 points in three games (Hamilton is 2nd with 31 points in 4 games). One can always make the argument that Conn may have not been playing the strongest competition, showing Mitchell College who the real king of New London is with an 8-1 trouncing, but nobody can knock the Camel’s confidence coming into this game. They had a decisive away win at Middlebury to start the season, and then pummeled Salem St. 4-1.
Guiding this dynamic offense are seniors Ben Highton ’18 and Ben Manoogian ’18, who have opened up to both score and assist for the Camels. Not to mention that this Conn. squad also has wonderkid and freshman Liam Noonan ’21 who is absolutely terrifying defenses with his 3 goals and 3 assists, making his team-leading point tally something to get the Jumbos worried about.
For defense, the Camels employ another young gun in freshman A.J. Marcucci ’21, who has a somewhat ridiculous save percentage at 91%. Save percentage definitely is not the most reliable statistic out there for goalies, but one as impressive as this is still worth mentioning. With defenders like Anthony Aquadro ’20 and Liam Donelan ’21 to help Marcucci out, this Conn. team gets a whole lot more intimidating.
This matchup has the potential to be the most exciting conference game of the season. Tufts will be looking to stay atop their perch, while Conn. will settle for nothing less than to shut down the Jumbo hype. Tufts better remain focused, however, as this young Camel platoon will be displaying the underdog motivation that has turned so many games.
Here we are, NESCAC football fans. Not only is this opening weekend (always exciting) but it is also the first opening weekend of the Ninth Game era, something that fans and players have wanted for a while. I would caution you to take your excitement with a grain of salt, however. This season starts a week earlier than usual. That means a week less practice time for teams to get ready for game play. I would expect these games to be somewhat sloppy, and potentially fairly low scoring. Some grizzled, older fans like my father would like that “smash-mouth football style,” but I like offense. We will see how well teams have adjusted to this new schedule. However, if it means we get to watch football earlier, I’ll gladly accept some sloppiness.
Bowdoin @ Williams, 12:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
The first kickoff of the season features two teams that are looking to put 2016 in their rearview mirror. This can only happen with a good start in 2017, so both sides should be very motivated. All eyes will be on who starts at quarterback for Williams, although sources are telling us that it will most likely be John Gannon ‘18, who is returning from missing last year with a torn ACL. A fair amount of rust is to be expected (from everyone, not just Gannon,) but if he can get into a rhythm then he has the weapons to really explode. TE Tyler Patterson ‘19 is a beast when healthy, and experienced receivers Adam Regensberg ‘’18 and Kellen Hatheway ‘19 give him a lot of options to throw to. Bowdoin’s defense wasn’t exactly world-beating last year, allowing the most rushing yards AND passing yards per game last year, but they return two stellar linebackers Latif Armiyaw ‘18 and Joe Gowetski ‘18 and will be looking to make a statement. However, I think Williams is ready to start trending upwards, and this game is the start of that.
Final Score Prediction: Williams 27, Bowdoin 10
GAME OF THE WEEK: Wesleyan @ Middlebury, 1:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
It’s not every year that a Week One game could have championship implications, but this game might. Wesleyan and Middlebury both have the returning talent to make a run at the championship, but one of them is also starting off the season 0-1. With Trinity’s level of talent and easier opening matchup, one loss might be too many to win the league outright. Therefore, we can expect both teams to be extra-fired up entering this one. Middlebury has been excellent at home over the last few years, but Wesleyan is well equipped to attack the dynamic Panther offense. The only way to beat Middlebury is to get pressure on QB Jared Lebowitz ‘18. If he has enough time, he will pick your defense apart. But when under pressure, he is prone to rushed throws and turnovers. Wesleyan’s defense is certainly athletic enough to get through the young Middlebury offensive line.
However, the Cardinals offense can be inconsistent. They lost two of the major weapons from their running attack last year in WR/RB Devin Carillo and RB Lou Stevens. Therefore, they either have to use Dario Highsmith ‘19, the new starting RB, in a much larger role or reinvent themselves as a more pass-heavy offense. If their offense struggles, Middlebury’s no-huddle offense will wear down the defense, and eventually Lebowitz will get the time he needs. And at that point, it’s game over.
Score Prediction: Middlebury 31, Wesleyan 28
Hamilton @ Tufts, 1:00 PM, Medford, MA
This game has by far the highest upset potential of any this weekend, and I’m jumping on it. Hamilton returns a great deal of their much-improved offense from last year, including quarterback Kenny Gray ‘20, who impressed many with his poise as a first year last season. The defense is far newer, but they benefit this week from facing a Tufts team that graduated most of their offense from last year. Of course, that offense came in the form of one man, RB Chance Brady, who dominated the league like Tecmo Bo Jackson last year. It will take a great deal of work for Tufts to adjust to life without Brady. I think they’re up to the task, but the shortened preseason will cost them here in Week One.
Final Score Prediction: Hamilton 17, Tufts 14
Bates @ Amherst, 1:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This game features the return of Amherst QB and POY candidate Reece Foy ‘18, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. And not only do the Mammoths get Foy back, they return red zone weapon Jack Hickey ‘19 at running back. Hickey scored seven touchdowns last year, and seems poised to break out as a star this year in a wide open race for First Team RB. Amherst also returns star WR Bo Berluti ‘20. The Mammoth’s offense is ready to break out after struggling at times last season, and a strong defense puts Amherst back towards the top of the preseason rankings. Bates returns a great deal of talent as well. QB Sandy Plaschkes ‘18 has been solid for years, but has to raise his game in this game, and this season, if Bates wants to compete with teams like Amherst. Bates has the talent to make it a game, but Amherst is back and there’s nothing the Bobcats can do about it.
Final Score Prediction: Amherst 28, Bates 17
Colby @ Trinity, 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT
There are teams that have a chance to take Trinity down this season, and games in which they could struggle. Colby is not that team, and this is not that game. Trinity brings back QB Sonny Puzzo 18, RB Max Chipouras ‘19 and WR Bryan Viera ‘18. In other words, they bring back arguably the best in the league at three skill positions. This bodes well for Trinity’s offense. Colby, on the other hand, lost their biggest weapon in Sebastian Ferrall ‘19. They do return a great deal of talent on defense, especially in the secondary and at linebacker. If everything goes perfectly for the Mules, they put up a great performance on defense and only lose by one touchdown. Unfortunately, the team that beats Trinity this season will have to beat them in a shootout, not a defensive battle.
Every pickup basketball player knows the importance of the rubber match. If a team wins one game, and the opposing team wins the next one, it is a cardinal sin to not play that third game to determine the outright winner. No matter if you have work, class, or a hamstring that is closer to snapping than my mom when I forget to bring my dishes upstairs, you have to play the rubber match. This is the case in higher levels of basketball as well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times, with Magic taking the rubber match in 1987. Many NBA fans are praying that Lebron and the Cavs meet Steph and the Warriors for a rubber match this season. And on a smaller scale, Williams and Middlebury have a chance this weekend for a rubber match of their own. If they both win on Friday, they would match up in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with bragging rights and a trip to Salem on the line.
Middlebury (26-3, 11-2, Beat Williams in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Endicott (24-6, 15-3, lost in their Conference Final)
Middlebury has the rare chance this weekend to avenge two of their three losses. Williams of course blew out Middlebury in league play, but Endicott also bested the Panthers before league play. And the Gulls have the added honor of their win being in Pepin Gymnasium, a feat only they have accomplished in the last two years. Endicott was able to beat the Panthers at their own game; namely, guard play. Like Middlebury, the Gulls boast one of the best backcourts in the country. Max Matroni ‘17 and Kamahl Walker ‘17 combine for 32 points a game on the season, and have combined for 99 points in their two NCAA games. Against Middlebury Walker put up 28 and forced both Jack Daly ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17 into foul trouble. Endicott is one of the only teams in the country who has a backcourt that can give Middlebury guards a run for the money. Expect them to go at Daly and Brown (who will likely start the game on Walker and Matroni) early and attempt to again get them on the bench with fouls.
Endicott also attacked Middlebury on the glass. Daquan Sampson ‘17 was able to roast the Middlebury big men to the tune on 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Gulls outrebounded the Panthers overall 40-31 and had 12 offensive rebounds. Endicott matches up well with Middlebury because their team is constructed in a similar way. They have an excellent backcourt who drive the team on both ends of the floor, and the big men are effective role players who benefit a great deal from terrific guard play.
X-Factor: Eric McCord ‘19 (and the new big men)
Middlebury’s biggest improvement since that loss to Endicott is in the front court.When the two teams last met, Zach Baines and Adisa Majors ‘18 dominated the minutes at the two forward spots. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 combined to play 19 minutes and went 1-6 from the floor. Baines’ transfer has allowed McCord and Tarantino (as well as Matt Folger ‘20 and Majors off the bench) to flourish into one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. McCord in particular has blossomed, and should play a pivotal role in Middlebury’s game plan. Sampson and the rest of Endicott’s bigs are long, but they are not extremely strong, and Sampson in particular spends a considerable amount of time on the perimeter. McCord has become an effective scorer and passer in the paint, both playing off of a two man game with one of the guards or one-on-one. There is mismatch on the block that the Panthers didn’t have the personnel to exploit earlier this season. But the team is constructed differently now, and is far better suited to beat the Gulls down low if the guards play each other to a draw.
How They Lose:
We already have a blueprint for how Middlebury loses this game. Daly and Brown get into foul trouble, forcing St. Amour to expend more energy on defense chasing around either Matroni or Walker. Matroni or Walker take
advantage of this and go off. And the Endicott bigs use their length and athleticism to terrorize the Middlebury bigs on the boards. Sampson also uses his quickness to draw McCord or Tarantino out of the paint and create driving lanes and putback opportunities. Both teams have seen that this can happen. We will see on Friday if Middlebury’s new look will prevent it from happening again.
Williams (21-8, 7-6, lost to Middlebury in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Susquehanna (23-5, 11-3, lost in Conference Semifinals)
The rare team to make the Sweet Sixteen after not even making their conference championship, the River Hawks have been on something of a Cinderella run here in the NCAA tournament. They beat Eastern Connecticut State 72-67 in the round of t32, a team that beat Trinity and Amherst earlier in the season. Susquehanna is top heavy scoring wise, as the duo of Steven Weidlich ‘17 and Ryan Traub ‘18 combine to average 38 points per game (21 and 17 respectively.) No one else on their team averages more than seven. Weidlich is a Matt St. Amour type perimeter threat. A dangerous outside shooter, he connects on 39.5% of his threes and 45% of his field goals overall. However, he is also very versatile, averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 is Williams best perimeter defender (as well as best everything else) and will likely start the game on Weidlich. If he gets in foul trouble, the Ephs can be left with very few guys who create their own shots.
Traub is a very effective frontcourt partner for Weidlich. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he is a load underneath and creates match up problems for
Williams’ series of skinny big men. He is also tremendous around the rim, shooting 57.4% from the field. He can step outside the arc (40% in a limited sample size,) and anchors a defense that only allows 41% shooting to opponents on the season. Williams three point heavy attack is not conducive to defensive struggles, therefore Susquehanna matches up well with the Ephs. Weidlich and Traub will try to occupy Aronowitz and Kyle Scadlock ‘19, while the rest of the River Hawks run the Ephs off of the three point line.
X Factor: Mike Greenman ‘17
As I mentioned above, Aronowitz and Scadlock, Williams’ two most important players, will both likely have difficult defensive assignments. Therefor Williams will at times need someone else to create shots for themselves and others. That is where Greenman comes in. The senior point guard can be an electric scorer (see his 7-9 three point shooting performance against Becker in the first round,) and can be an effective passer (11 assists last round against Scranton.) If Susquehanna tries to slow the game down and pound the ball into Traub, Greenman will be largely responsible for keeping Williams’ pace and energy up without turning the ball over. He has played two of the best games of his career in this tournament, largely explaining Williams impressive blowout wins in the first two rounds. He will be just as important in this game, and maybe even more so.
How They Lose:
NESCAC fans have seen throughout the season how Williams loses. If they are not hitting threes, they generally don’t win. The three point shot is the key to everything the Ephs try to do on offense. It opens up driving lanes for Aronowitz and Scadlock, post ups for big men off the bench like Michael Kempton ‘19, and it forces defenders to overplay on the perimeter, opening up the backdoor cuts that killed Middlebury during their regular season loss to Williams. The Ephs simply don’t have enough shot creators to overcome a shooting slump. Aronowitz is a terrific player but his burden is at times too great, and Scadlock is prone to disappearing in big spots. Their game becomes something of a “Chuck and Run” style, with contested threes being taken too quickly. Williams lives by the three and dies by the three, and living has been very good lately. Let’s hope it continues into Saturday, because, as all basketball fans know, there’s nothing better than a rubber match.
Every NESCAC game is important. That is the nature of the league; since every team (give or take a couple outliers) can get hot and pull off an upset at any time, there are few opportunities to take a game off. And as we wind down the 2016-2017 regular season, the games become even more crucial. This weekend and next, one loss can be the difference between hosting a playoff or going on the road. For some teams, it can even be the difference between making the playoffs or getting a chance to catch up on their homework. The Friday night games kick off a critical weekend, and there are some very important match-ups to keep an eye on, particularly Tufts’ game against Trinity and Bates game in Amherst.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Trinity, 7:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Although they’re still the top team in NESCAC record-wise, Tufts has some real work to do if they want to stay there. The loss of starting center and team leader Tom Palleschi ‘17 has the Jumbos reeling on both sides of the ball. Against Bates, they weren’t able to stop Marcus Delpeche ‘17, who destroyed them to the tune of 28 points on 10/16 shooting. They also settled for jumpshots, leading to a low shooting percentage (36.1%.) They then came out flat against Umass-Dartmouth, losing 91-82. Again, interior defense was a problem, as the Jumbos allowed 14 offensive rebounds and couldn’t get stops down the stretch to support their Vincent Pace-led comeback. Although it was not a league game, the Umass-Dartmouth loss in conjunction with the Bates loss point to deep problems for Tufts. They need to find a way to defend at a high level without Palleschi.
Unfortunately, Trinity is not the best team to play if interior defense is your issue. Ed Ogundeko ‘17 has shown himself to be fully capable of ending a game himself if a team doesn’t have a post presence to match him (see his 20/20 game against Bowdoin earlier this year.) Marcus Delpeche proved that Tufts is vulnerable to big performances from dominant inside players. However, Trinity doesn’t exactly come into this one firing on all cylinders either. They only put up 53 points on 32% shooting against Amherst, and that’s including 19 on 8/11 shooting from Ogundeko. The rest of the team shot 11/48 from the field, which is about the same percentage that I shoot when I throw paper at my recycling bin from my bed. Both teams enter this game needing to prove themselves if they hope to contend for top spots come playoffs.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Rebounding
With Palleschi out, Tufts has a `very large hole in the middle of their defense. To fill that hole, the Jumbos will need help from up and down the roster. Of course new starter Drew Madsen ‘17 has the biggest job (particularly this weekend when he matches up with Ogundeko) but he can’t do it alone. Tufts’ guards have to take some of the rebounding load off of the suddenly-thin Tufts frontcourt. Vincent Pace ‘18 has always been adept at this, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, but he holds too much offensive responsibility to spend all his time battling Ogundeko in the paint. KJ Garrett ‘18 and Ben Engvall ‘18 will have to use their size and strength to crash the boards, freeing up Pace to carry the offense and taking pressure off Tufts’ untested big men.
Trinity X-Factor: Anyone Besides Ogundeko
I apologize for sounding like a broken record here, but Trinity needs a second scoring option. Amherst was able to basically dare anyone else on the Bantams roster to beat them, and no one else could. Chris Turnbull ‘17 has shot well from three on the year at 43%, but has a tendency to disappear in big games and struggles to score inside. The same goes for Jeremy Arthur ‘19, who has struggled in league play. Eric Gendron ‘18 represents another candidate to be the Christopher to Ogundeko’s Tony Soprano. Gendron has averaged 11.2 points per game on 43% shooting in league play. To knock off Tufts, Trinity will need solid games from at least one (and more likely two or three) of those possible second bananas.
From a playoff seeding standpoint, Trinity probably needs this game more. At 4-2, they are currently mired in the swamp of teams behind Tufts. Furthermore, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of those teams. After Tufts they still have Hamilton, Middlebury and Bates, all of whom will be battling hard for the best possible playoff spot. I could see Trinity playing very well in these last four games and setting themselves up for a long playoff run. However, I could also see them falling back in the face of this tough schedule. This game is a terrific chance for them to kick this tough stretch off right.
Tufts hasn’t clinched anything either. Although they’re 6-1 now, Middlebury has been playing better than them lately, and Amherst always seems one strong game away from returning to the top. Both those teams have a chance of winning out, and therefore could take the top spot away from Tufts. The Jumbos need to figure out a way to survive without Palleschi, or their season could end disappointingly early. And unfortunately for Tufts, I don’t think this is the game in which they figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Trinity
Hamilton @ Bowdoin, 7:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
Although Hamilton is certainly loaded with talent, they are very young. Middlebury showed the rest of the league just how much that matters last weekend. The Panthers threw up a cool 115 points against the Continentals, and pressured them into 19 turnovers. Hamilton is 0-3 on the road in league play, a stat which makes sense considering that the vast majority of their rotation is composed of sophomores (and freshman Kena Gilmour ‘20.) Hamilton has to grow up fast this year if they want to keep any hope of hosting a playoff game.
Bowdoin comes off giving Colby their first win last weekend in a surprisingly thrilling game. Bowdoin fell 87-82, despite 24 points off the bench from Jack Bors ‘19.Jack Simonds ‘19 has fallen from the league lead in scoring. This may be good for Bowdoin’s offense, as it now looks considerably more balanced than it did early on, but they need to be able to rely on Simond to get them a bucket when needed. I don’t see the Polar Bears being able to catch up to Hamilton like Middlebury did.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Middlebury @ Colby, 7:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Middlebury was unrecognizable against Hamilton and Keene if you watched their performance against Williams. Middlebury’s offense has been balanced and deadly, leading the league in points, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage during league play. The Panthers have particularly benefited from the play of Jake Brown ‘17. Longtime readers will know that my lifelong conquest has been to get Jake Brown on the First Team, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll have to take my battle straight to the Supreme Court. Brown leads the league in assists and averages 11.7 points per game, developing a deadly pull up jump shot which has added a whole new dimension to his game and the Middlebury offense. With Matt St. Amour leading the league in scoring, Brown hitting his jump shots and Jack Daly doing pretty much everything else, the Panthers might well be the best team in the league in the wake of Tufts’ struggles.
Colby also enters this game with momentum. They picked up an emotional first win of the season against Bowdoin. They owe the win primarily to Patrick Stewart ‘17, who went Green Room on the Polar Bearswith 28 points on 8/14 shooting. Colby will most likely try to follow Williams’ formula for beating the Panthers. They will shoot a lot of threes and stack the paint, daring the Panthers to match them from outside. Unfortunately, they’re not good enough from three or on defense to make that strategy work for them. Middlebury should take this one easily.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Bates @ Amherst, 7:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This is another game which has major playoff implications. Amherst has been inconsistent this season, but the existentially depressing fact remains that they’re 4-2 and are within striking distance of the top spot thanks to Palleschi’s injury. Amherst still has offensive struggles, but they have quietly developed an excellent defense to make up for it. They gave up under 70 points to both Trinity and Williams last weekend, and can still rely on Jayde Dawson ‘18 to bail them out in close games. Amherst is not pretty this year, but if they can keep winning it could work out for them. Also important to note; they are 12-0 at home this season.
Bates is not pretty either, but they are well equipped to give Amherst’s offense fits. The Delpeche brothers are adept at clogging up driving lanes, which should limit the amount of space that Dawson and Johnny McCarthy ‘18 have to score. And on offense, Bates has lately been hitting just enough threes to give the Delpeche brothers some help. Amherst doesn’t exactly have a stable of big men to throw at Malcolm and Marcus, so I see the Bobcats upsetting Amherst at home.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Wesleyan @ Williams, 7:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
Wesleyan appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. They put up maybe their best offensive performance of the season against Connecticut College, scoring 85 points on 48.3% shooting. The Cardinals have been experimenting with different starting lineups, and brought Joseph Kuo ‘17 off the bench against the Camels. They had tried this with Nathan Krill ‘18 earlier. This gives Kuo the freedom to beat up on second unit big men and gives them the freedom to play a more mobile starting lineup with Jordan Sears ‘18 acting as a small ball, defensive-minded center. With Williams perimeter-oriented big men, watch for this lineup change to continue.
Williams hasn’t played a league game since their shellacking of Middlebury, but dropped a non-league matchup to Amherst last week. In that game, they got 26 from Daniel Aronowitz ‘17, but little else, losing 72-64. The Ephs have yet to replicate the shooting display they presented Middlebury, and the top field goal percentage defense in the country isn’t a great team to get hot against . This should be a low scoring matchup, with Wesleyan slowing down the pace and pounding the ball into Kuo and Nathan Krill ‘18. Wesleyan is simply better at winning low-scoring, ugly games.
Saturday’s match-up in Vermont features the Hamilton Continentals visiting the Middlebury Panthers, two of the three teams tied for third place in the NESCAC. Each team will be looking to secure a spot at the head of the conference table with Tufts and Trinity. The Continental’s team motto, “Punish With Pace,” is an apt description of the way they have played this year. Their blistering offensive attack has driven them to the NESCAC lead in points per game and scoring margin. However, that motto would work just as well for the Panthers. Middlebury is just as speedy as Hamilton, so we can expect a fast-paced affair this Saturday at 3PM.
Though Middlebury is nationally ranked (at #22) and Hamilton isn’t, they have had near identical results in NESCAC play. Each team has a NESCAC record of 3-2, and entering the contest, both teams’ last NESCAC game came against Williams, with divergent results. Hamilton handled the Ephs easily at home just two days before Middlebury got slaughtered in Williamstown. However, they also split against Bates, with opposite results, so neither team has a clear edge in the success of their in-conference play.
Regardless of the results, the games this weekend should provide us with some national and conference clarity. Of the two teams, the Panthers are the only ranked team, but at #22, a loss against an unranked opponent would likely drop them out of the top 25. However, a win for Hamilton could slide them into the national conversation. They lack the success in recent years that the other ranked NESCAC teams have, but with a win, their conference record would be an excellent 4-2, and their overall record would be 14-4, right in line with that of other ranked teams. National rankings are fun for bragging rights (and a potential at large bid) but what really counts is the NESCAC standings come playoff time.
Hamilton and Middlebury enter the game tied for third (along with Amherst) and a win for either team could help solidify home-court advantage in the playoffs. To further complicate things, Amherst is playing second place Trinity on Saturday as well. With an Amherst win, both Amherst and Trinity will share second place with the winner of Middlebury v. Hamilton. With a Trinity win, either the Continentals or Panthers will have sole control of third place. The loser of this game could suffer steep consequences, potentially falling as far as seventh place. Whatever this weekend holds will undoubtedly shake up the NESCAC standings.
Middlebury X-Factor: Perimeter Play
Middlebury, offensively, has been carried by the offensive play of their two senior backcourt star(ter)s. Matt St. Amour ’17, possibly the most dynamic scoring threat in the conference, gives defenses fits from inside and outside with his sweet shooting stroke and incisive slashing. Big games seem to get him going—so much so, that his teammates have grown accustomed to calling him “Mr. Clutch,” due to his game winners in high school and college. He scores more in conference games than any other player, averaging 22.6 per NESCAC contest (5 more than anyone else). In a crucial conference matchup like this, St. Amour would be wise to do his best Santana Moss impression.
St. Amour’s backcourt partner, Jake Brown ‘17, is not one to be taken lightly, especially coming off of a career high 31 points in his last game. He has more assists per game (6.7) than any other player in the NESCAC, and still scores ten a game.
Despite these lofty averages, setting the Cont’s ablaze will prove
no small task, as they have the manpower to counter St. Amour and Brown’s onslaught. Peter Hoffman ‘19, Hamilton’s leading scorer (16.9 points per game), is also possibly the league’s best all around defender. A springy athlete who stuffs the stat sheet by averaging about two steals, two blocks, and six rebounds is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the floor. The Cont’s, anchored by Hoffman, will have their hands full Saturday afternoon when tasked with slowing Middlebury’s potent offense.
Hamilton X Factor: Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Number
Though Middlebury probably has the edge in terms of star power and veteran leadership, Hamilton’s young guns are not to be overlooked. Freshman Kena Gilmour hasn’t started a single game this year, but he has earned more and more minutes as the season has gone on. In his last three games he is averaging 16.7 points in 21 minutes a game. He’s playing like a budding superstar and he’s getting the minutes to back it up. Hamilton’s youth movement goes beyond Gilmour, however. Star forwards Hoffmann and Andrew Groll ’19 are both sophomores, and give the Continentals a dynamic interior presence on both sides of the ball.
Who has the edge?
Hamilton is unbeaten at home. On the road they are a merely human 6-3. Although Hamilton is riding high on a three game win streak, Middlebury’s home-court advantage shouldn’t be overlooked in this matchup. Furthermore , Middlebury’s experienced players with long histories of success gives them the edge over Hamilton’s younger squad. Hamilton as a program hasn’t played in a game this meaningful in years, and obviously their players have not either. Middlebury, on the other hand, has played in games like this for years. I’ll take the Panthers at home.
Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3) @ Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4), New London, CT 3:00 PM, Saturday, January 28th
The “Battle for Connecticut” is not, as I originally thought, a sci-fi movie about 30-foot tall white families duking it out in Hartford. It is instead this game, which features two teams sitting in precarious positions in the league rankings. Connecticut College has a couple impressive wins under their belt, an overtime thriller over Amherst, and a demolition of Bates in Alumni Gym. But they also have four losses and have shown an inability to score against elite defenses (see their 70-52 loss to Trinity.) And Wesleyan is certainly an elite defense. It has been that side of the ball that allowed them to recover from their 0-2 start. The Cardinals are now 3-3, and gave Tufts their toughest test of league play so far in a 77-73 loss. They only allow opponents to shoot 34.7% from the field, which is among the national leaders and leads the conference by a considerable margin. The Camels will need to prove that they can score against the best in order to have a chance in this game.
Wesleyan X-Factor: Jordan Sears ‘18
It’s not a coincidence that Wesleyan has won both the league games that Sears has started. At 6’5″ and 200 pounds, Sears is defensive and rebounding menace, averaging 1.2 blocks and 4.6 rebounds per game despite only playing 17 minutes. He has started against Trinity and Bates, who boast the two best big men in the league in Ed Ogundeko and Malcolm Delpeche respectively. Sears was the key to not letting those stars own the paint against Wesleyan. I would expect him to play a similar role against Zuri Pavlin ‘17 and Daniel Janel ‘17, Connecticut College’s two excellent forwards.
Sears’ starting spot has another benefit for the Cardinals in that it pushes Nathan Krill ‘18 to the bench. That may read like a jab at Krill, but let me explain. Krill may well be Wesleyan’s best offensive player, but his volatile temper makes it difficult for him to remain on the floor at times. Bringing him off the bench makes it easier for Coach Reilly to control his star forward. It also gives the often-dead Wesleyan second unit some needed scoring punch, and allows Krill to beat up on slower second unit players. Sears starting has been a key to Wesleyan’s turnaround.
Connecticut College X-Factor: Isaiah Robinson ‘18
Wesleyan is a team that will try to beat you up, particularly in the paint. Connecticut College is well equipped to hit back, but they will also need to hit from the perimeter, as Wesleyan has shown themselves to not be able to keep up in a faster paced offensive game. Robinson combines those two responsibilities. Robinson is 6’5” and built like a linebacker, giving him more than enough strength to push back when Krill and Joseph Kuo ‘17 try to body him in the paint. But he also has quick feet and can stretch the floor, shooting 38.6% from three. Robinson will need to be an offensive threat in this game to pull the Wesleyan big men away from the basket and open things up for Pavlin and Janel to do their work inside. And he may also draw the critical task of getting in Nathan Krill’s head and forcing him into foul trouble.
Who Needs it More:
Wesleyan has done a terrific job climbing back into the upper half of the league, and of course needs to continue playing well in order to stay there. This is a crucial game for them, as they travel to Williams and Amherst next weekend. They need the freedom to lose one of those games and still be in contention for a high seed. But Connecticut College still needs this one more. In the ever-shifting NESCAC landscape, the difference between 3-4 and 2-5 is difficult to overstate. The Camels have done great work getting over the…barrier (not going to make the “hump” pun again) and being relevant this season, but this game is the key to them remaining there.
Starting Jordan Sears has freed up Nathan Krill and strengthened Wesleyan’s defense in the paint against elite big men, but it also puts more pressure on the perimeter players in the starting lineup. Sears is aggressively non-threatening on offense, allowing opposing teams to sag off on him and double the primary ball handlers Salim Green ‘19 and Harry Rafferty ‘17. This has forced Kevin O’Brien ‘19 to step up as a scoring threat. He has done this admirably at times, scoring 20 and 19 back-to-back against Hamilton and Amherst. When teams leave Sears alone and key in on Green and Rafferty, O’Brien has to be ready to step up and be a scoring threat, or else Wesleyan simply doesn’t have enough offense.
Three point shooting will be the most important stat for Connecticut College in this game. They can’t beat Wesleyan in bar-room brawl in the paint, the Cardinals’ win over Trinity proved that no one can. They need to stretch the floor and speed the Wesleyan up. They have showed the tendency to make mistakes on offense and defense when they are forced the play faster than their preferred pace. Lee Messier ‘18 will need to shoot a little better than his 33% yearly rate, and Robinson and David Labossiere ‘19 will also need to knock a couple down.
Wesleyan comes into this game with all the momentum, and would probably be favored in Vegas if bookies out there cared about NESCAC sports at all. But Connecticut College matches up very well with the Cardinals. They have outside threats to spread out the Wesleyan defense, and forwards who can bang with the Special K’s (Kuo and Krill.) This should be hard fought, low scoring battle, featuring a lot of rebounds and fouls. In other words, a terrific viewing experience, and Wesleyan’s specialty. I think the Cardinals pull it out.
Both Amherst and Trinity come in to this matchup riding three game winning streaks. Amherst most recently took down conference rival Williams in a non-conference matchup while Trinity took down non-conference opponent Vassar on the road. Amherst holds a better record at 13-4 compared to the Bantam’s 13-6 mark. Conference play has been a different story however, with Trinity 4-1 and Amherst 3-2 during NESCAC weekends. The preseason #1, Amherst has been shaky in the new year. Two conference losses had the Purple and White reeling until they posted (shaky) back to back wins over Bowdoin and Colby. Trinity began conference play by squeaking out a two point W over Williams. They then handled Conn College by double figures before jumping out to a 21PT halftime lead against Colby and beating Bowdoin by 18. Given that both teams have played the same conference opponents, it is fair to say that Trinity has looked like the better team. In the words of Bill Parcells, “You are what your record says you are.” Given Amherst’s recent scoring woes and Trinity’s stifling defense (a ridiculous 57.8PTS/Game in the offense-happy NESCAC), this game should be a rather low-scoring affair. Amherst has a chance to reclaim their spot among the NESCACs elite while Trinity can put to bed the claims that they are just beating up on the NESCAC cellar-dwellers.
Amherst’s X-Factor: Backup Point Guard-Reid Berman ’17
Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jonny McCarthy ’18 have proven to be two consistent scorer’s for Amherst all year long. In a potentially season-saving win over Bowdoin, Dawson carried the team with a game-high 27 and McCarthy clinched it with a buzzer beating three. The problem has been finding consistent options outside of these two. Enter Berman (RB12). One of the surprises of the most recent Williams matchup was his season-high 12 points on an efficient 5-9 shooting. A pass-first PG who has struggled shooting the ball thus far, Berman sometimes plays as if there only his teammates can see the basket. A more aggressive Berman could give the second unit an additional scoring punch while also opening up other guys. He does not need to be the scoring threat that Dawson is, but showing Trinity that he is willing to shoot it would spread the defense allowing more open looks for guys like Jeff Racy ’17, Jacob Nabatoff, ’17, and Michael Riopel ’18.
Trinity’s X-Factor: C Ed Ogundeko
People may say, “Hey, isn’t it kind of obvious that Trinity’s best player would be an important player in this game? Do you think you are making some big statement? Who let’s you write for this site anyway?” All great questions. Yes, to beat good teams, your best players need to play well. Yes, someone else will need to step up. But when it comes to beating a perennial NESCAC powerhouse in their own building, where they haven’t lost in over 2 years, your star has to be even that much better. Ogundeko has the ability to impose his will on a game averaging 17 PTS and just under 11 boards a game. In fact, the last team to come out of LeFrak with a W included a second-year Ogundeko who had 9 PTS and 16 rebounds in the game. The outcome of this game will depend largely on Trinity’s star big man. As Ogundeko goes, so will the other Bantams.
Can Amherst get the deep ball going again?
Since the old calendars were thrown out and were replaced with the 2017 version, Amherst has shot just 30% from beyond the arc. While this has not deterred them from continuing to take
them (only Colby shoots more per game), it has lowered their offensive output. They have plenty of capable shooters, but have been able to consistently knock down shots. Sometimes the pause between first and second semester can break up a team’s rhythm and I think this is part of the Purple and White’s struggles. A return to the monotony of classes, practice, sleep may allow for Amherst to play a little looser and return to early season form. The team is due for a barrage from the outside. Look out for this, especially if the first few shots start falling. As the old saying goes, “sometimes shooters just need to see one go in the net.”
Who else scores for Trinity?
Coming off his lowest scoring output since Dec. 10th, expect Ed Ogundeko to get his. As previously mentioned however, somebody else will have to score for the offensively challenged Bantams. Senior F Chris Turnbull ’17 is the second leading scorer on the team at over 11PPG and offers one option. However, he has been inconsistent of late. In his last 5 games, Turnbull has scored 0, 13, 13, 3, and 17 points respectively. He shoots it at almost 46% from range so Amherst will look to chase him off the 3PT line. Senior Jeremy Arthur and Junior Eric Gendron both average around 9PTS a game and will need to keep this up on Saturday. Also, look out for Freshman Christian Porydzy, who has seen very limited action but is shooting an impressive 67% from 3PT land and in a game like this, one or two big threes can be the difference.
Who Rebounds the Basketball?
It may seem mundane, but rebounds are the beginning of a possession and in a game where scoring may be at a premium, every possession will be key. Trinity leads the NESCAC in rebounding margin at over 5 a game while Amherst has been slightly out rebounded by opponents with a margin of -0.6 a game. In Amherst’s last loss at home, 3 of Ogundeko’s 16 rebounds came on the offensive end. Offensive rebounds often lead to outback layups and are demoralizing for the defensive unit. Amherst will look to seasoned veteran David George ’17 to keep Ogundeko off the boards. Amherst relies heavily on momentum and needs to control the glass. Trinity will look to exploit this and create extra possessions to supplement their initial offense. The Battle of the Boards may very well determine the victor.
Trinity’s defense poses a bad matchup for the suddenly struggling Amherst offense. At 4-1, the Bantams have proven themselves in the league and are the last team to leave Amherst with a win. That being said, Amherst is primed for a breakout game. Although Amherst has looked sluggish for the past couple weeks, this team does know how to win big games (see: Babson). As a team that has been together and seen it all, it sometimes takes a little extra to get them buzzing. With the students back on campus, expect LeFrak to be rocking for this one. Amherst’s offense is a little too much for the Bantams to keep up and the Purple and White take this one 77-71.
Bowdoin (9-8, 1-4) at Colby (7-9, 0-5), Waterville, ME 3:00 PM, Saturday January 28th
The Mules and Polar Bears have a few similarities heading into this weekend’s battle for the north. Both finished in a tie at 4-6 in NESCAC last year, squeaking into the playoffs, and are both currently on the outside looking in at the playoff race. The two last place teams find themselves grasping for any sign of life at this halfway point in the conference season, and it’s pretty safe to say that the loser of this match-up will be left out of the postseason. Two 0-2 performances for the Maine squads last weekend further dashed their hopes, and both should throw everything they have at their lone game this time around. A six point loss to Williams is the closest Colby has come to a win in conference, while Bowdoin has put together a few more dynamic performances such as their two point loss to Amherst this weekend. The Polar Bears also possess the ‘CAC’s leading scorer, Jack Simonds ‘19. Can the Mules win some pride with the in-state victory? Can Bowdoin sneak into the playoffs?
Tipping the Scales:
Jack Simonds leads the NESCAC with 20.9 ppg but scored a meager nine against Trinity in a 71-53 loss. He went just 3-10 from the field, giving him unquestionably his worst game of the season. Should Bowdoin fans worry that their sophomore star won’t be the same in the second half? Not exactly. He might erupt against the Mules after a week of not playing, as he has some solid scoring pieces around him to divert Colby’s defensive efforts. The main reason for this anomaly (other than simply an off night) is that Trinity allows the fewest points per game in the conference at just 63.8. Given that Bowdoin scores the fewest points in the league in their five game NESCAC sample size, it stands to reason that Simonds wouldn’t go off against the Bantams. If Simonds shows up like usual and the Polar Bears respond the way they did against Amherst, Colby could be in big trouble.
Still on the topic of shooting, the Mules chuck up threes at a high rate (3rd most in the league), but only drain them at a 33% clip. Patrick Stewart ’17 is the leading scorer, shoots 6.7 3pt/g, but would score nearly ten points without shooting any. Teammate Ethan Schlager ’20 has really come on of late and could give his squad an advantage if he is the one throwing shots up from deep as in conference he scores nearly 10 ppg off of 3’s alone and is doing so at a 57.1% rate. Did somebody say Steph Curry in the making? The Splash brother did go to a small liberal arts college, after all.
Colby’s X-Factor – Keeping the score down:
In the Mules’ only win against a NESCAC opponent this year, the end score was 55-54. Granted, this was in a non-conference matchup against Bates, but the Bobcats shot just 30.6% from the field. In five league contests so far, Colby’s opponents have shot a scorching 45.2% from the field, which isn’t making comebacks any easier. With Simonds looming in front of them, Colby will need to neutralize a game-deciding performance. Simonds’ 32 point performance against Williams would be the deciding factor if he replicated it in this matchup, so Stewart will have a pivotal role as the team’s leading scorer (15.9 PPG) and rebounder (6.3 REB/G).
Bowdoin’s X-Factor – Get Simonds the ball:
While Hugh O’Neil ‘19, Tim Ahn ‘19, and Neil Fuller ‘17 all had solid games in the win against Williams two weeks ago, Simonds was the real hero. He did go a little Carmelo Anthony and hog the ball, but unlike the Knicks’ has-been, Simonds still dished out five assists while totaling 32 points on 24 shots and grabbing seven boards. He also went 7-8 from the line. Jack Bors ‘19 has been hot and cold recently with a solid game against Amherst, while O’Neil and company have potential but are not as reliable as the scoring champ. The game changing performance will need to come from Simonds, but will he bring it?
Who needs it more?
There’s no easy answer here—both teams are desperate. A loss will likely push one team to the bottom of the division for good as Williams and Conn College have both shown that they are capable the last few weeks. These teams both have a lot to prove, and this week won’t show the playoff teams anything important. This week is all about survival, and whichever team wins will survive for another week, with playoff hopes a little bit brighter.
Who has the edge?
Bowdoin’s lone conference win gives them a clear edge against Colby here. A two point loss to Amherst (ranked #14 currently) shows that they can compete, but can they win? My prediction is that—yes—they will win against the 0-5 Mules, but they will need a solid game to do so. Simonds and company show more depth than the other Maine team and have a better track record to show.
Colby is no doubt the underdog here, and they are going to need Stewart to shoot efficiently and make an impact on the boards. Meanwhile Schlager has to chip in offensively in order to steal this one. Joe Connelly ’17 needs to step up too, as he has made just four shots from the field in his last four NESCAC games – this has to change to get this team in the win column. If Colby is going to win, it’ll be this week, but they need the perfect storm.
Bowdoin beat the Ephs by 10, who then beat Middlebury by 24. By the transitive property, Bowdoin beat Middlebury if you pay attention to things like that. More impressively (and realistically), three of five conference games have been close for the Polar Bears (including a five point loss to Bates), giving them consistently competitive games. Though their 64-66 loss to Amherst came as a result of a blown double-digits lead, this close game against a strong team shows that Bowdoin can play ball. Colby has only kept one of their five NESCAC games within six points and have been blown out in several non-conference game this year. Bowdoin should take care of business against their Maine rival.
Through about one month of the season (factoring in the time off for the holidays) NESCAC teams are a combined 87-33. Ten of 11 teams have records over .500. No teams remain undefeated, but Amherst, Wesleyan and, surprisingly, Colby all only have one loss. Babson, a Final Four team a year ago that took out Trinity in the Elite Eight and brought back Player of the Year candidate Joey Flannery, is 7-4, with all four of those losses coming against NESCAC teams. Amherst is ranked ninth and Tufts 22nd, with Trinity, Colby and Wesleyan knocking on the Top 25 door.
Suffice to say it’s been a successful start to the year for the NESCAC, all things considered. Because of the location of some of the member schools (read: Middlebury, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby and Hamilton, especially), NESCAC teams often face weak schedules to open the season because there just aren’t many quality teams around. That’s why it’s critical for teams to find good competition in tournaments early on. Trinity lost by five to No. 11 Susquehanna on Dec. 11 in Pennsylvania. No. 12 WPI has already bested Tufts and Bates this year. Wisconsin-Stevens Point walked all over Hamilton in Arizona on Dec. 30, and No. 20 Oswego St. handled Middlebury back in November. Colby actually beat No. 18 Mount Union down in Orlando last week. And lest we forget, the NESCAC’s success against Babson has knocked the Bobcats out of the Top 25. Win or lose, the teams that have seen this high level of competition will benefit this weekend when the intensity turns up and there are no more easy games.
Below we will give you a brief preview of each matchup (mind you, that’s 10 games, so forgive our brevity), the player or matchup to watch and a prediction. I’m supremely confident that most of our predictions will prove to look foolish this time Monday morning.
Middlebury at Wesleyan, Friday 7 PM
This is a really tough opening game for the Panthers, but if they match up well against any of the top teams in the NESCAC, it’s definitely Wesleyan, and they catch the Birds early on when they’re still nursing a few battle scars. Middlebury crushed Wesleyan 97-60 last year, and Wesleyan’s roster is basically the same, though the Panthers have lost their two best scorers. The matchup to watch is between point guards BJ Davis ’16 and Jake Brown ’17. Talk about quickness and flair, this duo has it in spades. Both teams are guard-heavy, so that’s likely to be a wash. If either front court can take over offensively, that unit’s team will win the ball game. Despite Middlebury’s struggles, their defense is underrated, so expect this to stay tight throughout.
Prediction: Wesleyan 68 – Middlebury 61
Hamilton at Conn College, Friday 7 PM
A matchup of two teams struggling to make the playoffs consistently, this is basically a must-win if either squad hopes to achieve that goal. Hamilton has been impressive early on with some talented young players, but the same could be said for Colby. We talked about three of those guys (and gave an honorable mention to another) on Wednesday. Conn’s Zuri Pavlin ’17 has been one of my favorite players to follow the past two seasons because he’s a double-double machine, but his numbers are down a little bit this year, and Hamilton has a rebounding fiend of its own in Andrew Groll ’19 than can neutralize Pavlin’s impact on the boards. Outside of Pavlin, Conn does not rebound well. Neither team is particularly strong defensively, but Conn has a little more juice on the offensive end right now, so I think they’ll eventually pull away. Plus, being at home, especially this early in the year when teams aren’t used to weekend travel, could be a bonus.
Prediction: Conn 82 – Hamilton 72
Bowdoin at Tufts, Friday 7 PM
Prior to the season, I would have guessed this would be a blow out. Now, however, with the emergence of Jack Simonds ’19, Bowdoin has a legitimate 1-2 punch, and I’m not sure anyone can stop it. On the flip side, I am pretty certain no one at Bowdoin can stop Tom Palleschi ’17. Palleschi is the man to watch. The Polar Bears will need to throw some double teams at the lefty, but in their favor is the fact that they can roll out a few forwards to slow him down, while there is very little front court relief for Palleschi. and if he stays out of foul trouble (a big if), this is going to be a comfortable, though not easy, win for the Jumbos. I have no numbers to prove this (perhaps we will compile some at some point – any stat nerds out there with some free time?) but I believe that if we had strength of schedule numbers Tufts would be near the top of the list. For the last two years they’ve been 13-12 and just some chemistry or flow or voodoo away from being really, really good. Maybe this is the year.
Prediction: Tufts 78 – Bowdoin 72
Colby at Bates, Friday 7 PM
The Mules’ MO this season is score the basketball, and they’ve done that quite well. They can shoot the three (39.9 percent), get to the line (282 FT attempts, second in NESCAC) or just throw it into big man Chris Hudnut ’16 (16.6 ppg). Even though we expected Bates to present a unique problem on defense for its opponents with the Delpeche twins in the middle, teams have been scoring at a pretty rapid clip against the Bobcats (72.1 ppg, 42.4 FG%). That could result in a recipe for disaster for Bates tonight. Colby SG Ryan Jann ’16 is the man in this one. I don’t see anyone that can stop him from Bates, and he had a cool 19 points on 6-9 shooting in their last meeting, when Colby won just 78-74 in Waterville, but the Mules also shot well below their season averages. If they can play to their potential, Colby wins this one.
Prediction: Colby 80 – Bates 70
Williams at Amherst, Friday 7 PM
When these two teams meet there is always an added level of intrigue. All-time, Williams holds the 119-97 (55.1%) advantage over Amherst, though recent history has favored the Lord Jeffs. Between 2012 and the 2014 NESCAC Championship, Amherst won eight straight contests. Miraculously, Williams broke the streak in that year’s NCAA Semis, then won again in the teams’ first meeting of 2015. Amherst won the last contest 86-76 in OT. Amherst is definitely the favorite coming into this one, as they will be in ever game unless someone knocks them off. They have far more experience, and as we’ve noted before, the 2015-16 Williams squad is similar in make up to the 2014-15 Amherst team. Dan Aronowitz ’17 plays the role of Connor Green ’16, leading a talented squad deficient of seniors. Simply put, Amherst has the advantage at every position, so a big game from young point guards Chris Galvin ’18 and Bobby Casey ’19 who have had to take over for the oversized production of the injured Mike Greenman ’17. Unless those guys have huge games, it’s going to be over early.
Prediction: Amherst 85 – Williams 73
Colby at Tufts, Saturday 2 PM
Saturday begins with an exciting matchup of two teams trying to prove that they belong. Both could be 1-0 coming in, but don’t surprised if they are both 0-1. That’s the beauty of NESCAC basketball. This should be a fun one to watch as both teams know how to put the ball in the hoop, ranking second (Colby) and third (Tufts) behind Amherst in points per game. In the second game of a back-to-back, the bench becomes more important, so which role player can step up and make the difference will be a difference-maker. Tufts goes a little bit deeper in its rotation, and a guy like Drew Madsen ’17 might need to chip in 10 points or so for the Jumbos. Palleschi is going to be working his butt off as the focal point of the Tufts attack against Bowdoin, and either fatigue or foul trouble could force him to the bench for stretches in this one.
Prediction: Tufts 89 – Colby 87
Hamilton at Wesleyan, Saturday 3 PM
This seems like a slam dunk for the Cards … and I think it probably is. Crazier things have happened, but I don’t see anyone stopping BJ Davis, and I doubt that the Continentals will be really sharp in their second game of the weekend because of their youth and inexperience. The X-factor for Hamilton still has to be Ajani Santos ’16. Santos has been a staple on this team for the past few years, last season averaging 10.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg while starting 23 games. This year he has 1.6 – just 1.6 – ppg and is only on the floor for 13.5 minutes per game. Coach Adam Stockwell wouldn’t reveal what the issue was, but there’s clearly something going on here. Santos has been in the starting lineup the last few games, though, so maybe things are finally coming around. Joseph Kuo ’17 is a strong interior presence for the Cardinals, but as we know their team strength is guard play and the bench doesn’t run very deep, so a coming out party from Santos could swing the tide of what is otherwise bound to be a lopsided affair.
Prediction: Wesleyan 69 – Hamilton 59
Middlebury at Conn College, Saturday 3 PM
A couple of years ago, this game would have been a cake walk for the Panthers. Now, it’s hard to even pick them as a favorite. Conn is still untested, but they have some interesting pieces. Zuri Pavlin is a known commodity, even though his numbers are down so far this year, and Lee Messier ’18 is taking the expected step forward and turning into a go-to scorer, but newcomers Tyler Rowe ’19 and David Labossiere ’19 look like the real deal, too. Forward Isaiah Robinson ’18 missed the first few games of the year, played the next six and then missed the last contest with the Coast Guard, but he’s a solid body that can bang down low and bring toughness, and don’t forget about Bo McKinley ’16, the incumbent at point guard, surpassed by Rowe, who brings three-point shooting off the bench. Conn has all the pieces to pull a fast one on the Panthers. The key for Middlebury is point guard Jake Brown. Perhaps it’s unfair because I watched Joey Kizel ’14 run the show for two years, but my sense is that Brown needs to drive this team if they are going to make it back to the playoffs.
Prediction: Conn College 78 – Middlebury 73
Bowdoin at Bates, Saturday 3 PM
I’m predicting that Tom Palleschi and the Jumbos will be able to stifle the Polar Bears, but I think that Bowdoin will break out in a big way against Bates. Simply put, who is going to guard Lucas Hausman and Jack Simonds? Mike Boornazian is a great offensive player, but I’m not convinced he can stop Hausman, and Simonds is going to be an issue for either Mike Newton ’16 or Marcus Delpeche ’17, whomever Bates chooses to throw at him. The Bobcats don’t even get the benefit of the Alumni Gym crowd, as classes don’t begin again until Monday. It’s an unfortunate time to waste a home weekend for Bates, and I think Bowdoin can take advantage.
Prediction: Bowdoin 81 – Bates 71
Williams at Trinity, Sunday 2 PM
Finally, we get the NESCAC debut of Trinity, last year’s top regular season team. Even though the Bantams lost a few important players, there seemed to be enough holdovers in place for Trinity to stay near the top of the heap. The losses of defensive stalwart Hart Gliedman ’15, multi-talented forward Alex Conaway ’15 and center George Papadeas ’15 have hurt more than expected. As a team, Trinity is still playing strong defense, holding opponents to a mere 35.5 field goal percentage. They just can’t put the ball in the hoop. Starks and Rick Naylor ’16, in particular, need to shoot the ball better, but it could be a big game for Ed Ogundeko ’17. Long an enigma for his impressive rebounding rate in limited minutes, Ogundeko has made some strides offensively out of necessity. He’s a true center, something that is lacking from many NESCAC rosters, and if he can manhandle Williams’ Edward Flynn ’16 then Trinity can shake off the early season struggles and start the NESCAC sched 1-0.
Well, the best that can be said about this weekend’s match ups is that three of the following four games feature teams within one game of each other in the standings. I know, I’m supposed to be a salesman and get you excited for the rest of the article, but I’ve already got your click, so I really don’t care….
I do care, of course, and even though none of the game’s below will factor into the Championship race (barring the upset of the millenium – and I mean that), there’s still a lot of intrigue around these games, and it definitely means something to all of the senior playing their last game of football on Saturday.
No more clichés need be wrought about the sentimental value of this weekend’s games, so let’s get into the meat of the matter.
Four to Watch: Senior Edition
Bates Defensive Lineman Tucker Oniskey ’16
Oniskey has been possibly the Bobcats’ best lineman three years running. The big man has gone from 23 tackles and nine pass break ups in seven games in 2013 to 26 tackles and five break ups in seven games a year ago to 37 tackles and four break ups in his first seven games this year.
Oniskey’s ability to get in the face of the opposing quarterback will be important against Hamilton, which likes to air the ball out downfield. We saw last week how a good secondary can take advantage of Hamilton QB Cole Freeman ’19, who was picked off four times by Middlebury last Saturday. The Bates secondary has been exploited at times this year, although CB Trevor Lyons ’17 has had a pick-six in two straight games. If Oniskey can get pressure on Freeman, Lyons might just get his third INT TD of the season.
Williams WR Mark Pomella ’16
Pomella had been exclusively a quarterback in his first three years in Williamstown. He had hoped to be the team’s starter last season until BC-transfer Austin Lommen ’16 beat him out for the gig. Head Coach Aaron Kelton hinted in the preseason that Pomella could switch roles because of his athleticism, but it took three games for Pomella to finally make the switch. Between Weeks 3-7, Pomella has 33 catches (6.6/game) for 421 yards (84.2/game) and one TD. Pomella has been the team’s clear top option since Week 3. He’s also served as the team’s punt returner, especially with RB Connor Harris ’18 out. He will need a monster game in Week 8 to help the Ephs upset Amherst.
Colby D-Linemen Ryan Ruiz ’16 and Harry Nicholas ’16
Bowdoin’s top three running backs are out for the year, and the Polar Bears rushed for negative six yards last week. They’ve broken 63 yards rushing just once this year. By default, Bowdoin has to throw the ball. Ruiz and Nicholas have a combined eight sacks this year. Bowdoin QB Tim Drakeley ’17 is back in starting lineup, but he hasn’t really played since Week 3, which will provide Ruiz and Nicholas a chance to capitalize and have one of their best games.
Tufts RT Justin Roberts ’16 and LT Akene Farmer-Michos ’16
I’m not sure about this, but I think Roberts and Farmer-Michos are the only offensive linemen we’ve ever featured as players to watch or X-factors, and now we’ve done it twice. Apologies to all the other great O-linemen out there around the league.
Roberts and Farmer-Michos are big reasons why RB Chance Brady ’17 is running his way towards history, and the Jumbos need to run well on Saturday to beat Middlebury. The Panthers have been very hit or miss against the run defensively, surrendering 301 yards on 59 carries (5.1 ypc) against Wesleyan, 190 yards on 49 (3.8 ypc) against Amherst and 204 yards on 61 carries (3.3 ypc) at Bates, while also allowing just 33 yards on 31 carries (1.1 ypc) against the vaunted Trinity attack. Inside LB Tim Patricia ’16 will have to make a lot of stops this weekend, and per usual he is leading Middlebury in tackles. If he can’t, Roberts and Farmer-Michos will be opening up some wide lanes for Brady to bounce through.
Maybe you’ve never heard of Elo Ratings. I hadn’t until very recently. But recently a little NbN fairy whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and now we have Elo Ratings. If you want the history of what Elo Ratings are, read here. If you want to know about the mainstream sports applications that inspired this fairy to do some great statistical work on NESCAC football, check out FiveThirtyEight.com. If you are averse to clinking on links that may take you to strange places, I’ll give you the rundown here.
Elo Ratings are a system that quantify the gains and losses to each team after each contest. Wins produce gains in ratings, and losses produce reductions in ratings. In our system (again, I can’t take any personal credit for this work), margins of victory compared to expected winning margin also effect the changes in Elo Ratings. At the end of each season, team ratings are regressed towards the mean, which makes sense because in college athletics there is often a lot of turnover between seasons, so teams have to prove it both on the field and in the Elo Ratings.
Our timeline currently stretches back to 2005. In our ratings, all teams begin with an “average” rating of 1500, meaning that at the beginning of our timeline, teams were very closely clustered together. I’ll spare you the math – because I don’t want my brain to start hurting – but trust me when I say that there is a way to convert each team’s Elo Rating into their probability of winning their next game, and by comparing two teams’ win probabilities and putting them into some kind of magical/mathematical cauldron, you can conjure up a spread for every game. It’s also important to note that home teams are allotted a four-point advantage throughout the spreads.
Below is a graph that depicts each team’s Elo Rating from the beginning of the 2005 season through Week 7 of the 2015 season. This should give you some idea of how each team’s stock has risen and fallen over the past decade.
What’s the point of showing you this? Well, if you’re a stat nerd, the value is obvious. This is pretty cool. Secondly, though, this week we are sharing the spreads for each game in our predictions and discuss the spread a little bit. In the information you will see which team is giving points this week.
Bates (2-5) (-10) at Hamilton (1-6), Clinton, NY, 12:00 PM
Despite the ugly records, both of these teams are on the upswing. Bates is coming off of two straight wins and a CBB title, the program’s third in the past four years, making the 2016 class the first since 1900 to claim three outright CBB titles in its tenure. A win will also make the 2016 class 16-16, which would tie last year’s class as the winningest since 1983. Finally, Hamilton is the only program which Bates holds the series advantage over, with the Bobcats currently in the lead 19-18.
Hamilton, meanwhile, has returned to relevance this year. Not only did the Conts get their first win in over three years at Williams, but they’ve been very competitive, losing to Tufts by three in double OT, Wesleyan by five, Bowdoin by 10, Colby by five and Middlebury by five. With a lot of young players making impacts, specifically on defense and at QB Cole Freeman, there is a lot of hope for this program next year.
As for this year, though, the focus for both teams is finishing on a high note and giving its seniors a great last memory. When analyzing a Bates game, the first thing to ask for its opponent is whether they can stop the run. In Hamilton’s case, they’ve done a pretty good job of that this season. Tufts, Wesleyan and Trinity put up big rushing totals, but they also ran the ball around 50 times against Hamilton, and on the season the Continentals are allowing 3.28 yards per rush. Not exactly 1980’s Steelers, but passable, and I actually think that practicing against Hamilton’s new Wildcat read option will actually have prepared the Continentals to stop the Bates attack. If Hamilton can force QB Pat Dugan ’16 to the air, it will be a long day for Bates. No one besides Bats WR Mark Riley ’16 scares you in the passing game.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, need to step up their pass defense. Hamilton, as a team, has the highest yards per completion average. They don’t necessarily complete that many passes, though. Freeman and Chase Rosenberg ’17 have combined for a 43.9 percent completion rate. DB Brandon Williams ’17 will be on alert and trying to add to his league-best five interceptions.
The Continentals won a big game two weeks ago, and are still feeling good about themselves after taking Middlebury to the wire. They’ll be good enough to cover the spread, but the final decision goes to Bates.
Prediction: Bates 24 – Hamilton 21
Amherst (7-0) (-22.5) at Williams (2-5), Williamstown, MA, 12:00 PM
If you take a peek at the Elo Rating chart above, you might notice that Amherst is currently at the highest it’s ever been, and Williams is at the lowest. The spread of (-22.5) is actually lower than last year’s (-24), but it definitely feels like more of a lopsided matchup this year. That’s what I meant when I said it would take the upset of the millennium for the championship hunt to be impacted this weekend. Williams would have to cover a 22.5 point spread and beat Amherst in order to give Trinity a shot at sharing the title.
On paper, this game is clearly a blowout. The Jeffs have played some competitive games, but none have really ended up that close besides the 16-7 win over Trinity a week ago. The next closest margin was a nine-point win over Wesleyan in Week 5 in which Amherst needed a five-plus minute drive late in the fourth to clinch the win. The only question for Amherst is which QB Reece Foy ’18 will show up? The efficient, dual-threat Foy, or the clumsy turnover-prone Foy? He’s had five picks the last three games after having one pick in the first four. All he has to do is get the ball near his awesome receivers, including WR Jackson McGonagle ’16, who is a big play threat when Foy is able to hit him downfield, and rely on the bruising rushing attack lead by Kenny Adinkra ’16. As an entire team, Amherst is averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Enough said.
If Williams has one thing going for them, it’s experience. Five starters on offense and five on defense are all seniors, so they won’t shy away from the daunting task ahead of them. DE James Howe ’16 has had massive expectations heaped on him the past couple of seasons, but teams have been able to neutralize him much of the time by scheming for him, but he’s been productive this season with two sacks, and has opened the door for fellow D-lineman Jack Ryan ’16 to get 3.5 sacks of his own.
Despite Williams’ significant series lead (71-53-5), Amherst is expected to win its fifth straight contest against their rivals and clinch not only the NESCAC title, but also its 32nd Little Three title, which we’ve barely even talked about because it’s seemed like a formality for awhile now. And yes, I think they cover that massive spread.
Prediction: Amherst 35 – Williams 7
Colby (1-6) (-0.5) at Bowdoin (1-6), Brunswick, ME, 12:30 PM
This game is basically a pick ’em, and that’s all I can do, because I don’t know what to think about either team. For the most part, it’s been a lot of meaningless second halfs for these teams this season. Bowdoin has no running game right now, and Colby is afraid to throw the ball and might have a QB battle in camp next season.
The Mules’ rushing attack has been solid after a slow start though, thanks to RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and the heavy lifting of FB Robert Murray ’16. They just can’t do anything through the air. QB Gabe Harrington ’17 has one touchdown and 11 interceptions, and Christian Sparacio ’18 has gotten time in spurts, but he’s completed less than half of his attempts and is more like a Wildcat QB with the ability to throw right now. Defensively, LB Stephen O’Grady ’16 has been a workhorse, leading the team in tackles.
It’s going to be a challenge for Tim Drakeley to be effective in the passing game for Bowdoin with no rushing threat. He’ll be looking to find WR Dan Barone ’16 early and often, and there will be a lot of pressure on All-NESCAC C Matt Netto ’16 and his squad to keep Drakeley upright. On the defense, it will have to be a big day for LB Branden Morin ’16 and companion LB Phillipe Archambault ’19, who’s stepped right in and tallied 49 tackles in six games.
It’s going to be low-scoring, with neither team able to move the ball quickly. With that being the case, I have to tip the scales in favor of Colby, who will be able to move the ball on the ground and get after the passer on third and longs. It’s going to be a sad Senior Day in Brunswick.
Prediction: Colby 23 – Bowdoin 17
Middlebury (5-2) (-6) at Tufts (5-2), Medford, MA, 12:30 PM
When was the last time this game was relevant? Probably 2008, when the Panthers beat Tufts 38-24 to finish 5-3, ahead of the 4-4 Jumbos. Tufts hasn’t beaten Middlebury since Nov. 10, 2001. That’s 5,116 days. However, for the first time in a long time, Tufts and Middlebury come into the game with the same record, and in all honesty, I’m not sure Middlebury deserves to be favored in this game.
We’ve talked a lot about the injuries to the Panthers, and that is a big reason why they’ve played some close games recently and I’m feeling like Tufts can pull this off. Early in the week, though, Head Coach Bob Ritter was hopeful that some of his offensive linemen would be healthy by Saturday, which was probably directed at C James Wang ’16, though Ritter didn’t say for sure. Wang’s been dealing with a lingering leg injury all season, which is pretty much par for the Panthers’ course.
I still think the Middlebury passing attack will be productive. In the finale of two brilliant careers for QB Matt Milano ’16 and WR Matt Minno ’16, don’t be surprised to see those two connect early and often. Very often. Minno is chasing history, needing two touchdowns to become the all-time TD reception leader in Middlebury history and 40 yards to reach second in receiving yards for a career. Those two milestones are pretty much a lock. Elsewhere, TE-turned-slot receiver Trevor Miletich ’16 should have a big game, too. When he’s been healthy this season he’s been a favorite target for Milano.
I’ve already discussed the need for Tufts to run the football, but will they be able to move the pigskin through the air? If so, they’ll need to attack the corner opposite boundary CB Nate Leedy ’17. PSA to NESCAC teams: Don’t throw at this kid. Leedy picked off two balls a week ago, and if every team challenged him like Hamilton did he’d have two picks per game. He is also probably the hardest hitter on the Panther defense. Sometimes his shoulder-first launches result in missed tackles because he doesn’t wrap up, but it actually happens less than you’d think. When he connects, the ball carrier goes down. Hard. So, if Tufts QB Alex Snyder ’17 is smart, he’ll try the other side of the field, putting pressure on CB Andrew McGrath ’18 if he’s healthy, but more likely CB Matt Daniel ’19. Safety Dan Pierce ’16 will be a huge factor in plugging up the run, as well.
Maybe it’s just too hard to pick against my team in the last game of my classmates’ careers, or maybe I’m jaded because I’ve watched the Panthers trash Tufts for the last three seasons, but in either case, I’m taking Middlebury even though they’re (-6). There are a lot of Midd haters out there right now because they’ve played some close games against teams that they “should” have blown out. But they’ve still won those games. And that kind of resiliency and winning attitude will play the difference in this one-touchdown game.