Defense Wins Championships: Wesleyan @ Amherst Men’s Basketball Semifinal Preview

Wesleyan (20-5, 7-3, #5 Seed) @ Amherst (17-8, 7-3 #1 Seed), 5:30 PM, Amherst, MA

Overview:

As opposed to the offense heavy three point barrage we expect in the Tufts-Hamilton game (detailed beautifully by Colby here,) this should be a gritty, defensive battle. Both these teams pride themselves on their defense. Amherst’s most impressive win of the season was a 75-49 drubbing of Hamilton in which they held the Continentals to 29.4% shooting. That game was the jumping off point for their run to the number one seed. Since then, they are 7-2 and have won their last three games, including wins over Middlebury and Williams. But their most exciting win of this hot stretch was the last one, a thrilling 71-70 win over Bowdoin in the quarterfinals. In that game, Amherst overcame a rough game from Michael Riopel ‘18 thanks to a First Team level performance from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 (22 points) and contributions from several bench players, most notably Josh Chery ‘20, who scored 11 points and hit the game winning layup with 3.4 seconds left. What this Amherst team lacks in star power they make up for in depth and heart.

Amherst’s defense is the key to their recent success.

Of course, the same can be said for Wesleyan. One of Amherst’s losses since that shellacking of Hamilton is to the Cardinals, a 71-57 road loss in which McCarthy and Riopel went 3-20 from the field. Wesleyan’s season is littered with these types of games. The dominate defensively, shut down what the opponent does best, and the offense does just enough to get by. Their quarterfinal game against Middlebury was another great example. While Jack Daly ’18 did have a nice game (20 points and six assists,) the Cardinals stifled Middlebury’s inside game, holding the dangerous forward combo of Nick Tarantino ’18, Eric McCord ’19 and Adisa Majors ’18 to 6-19 shooting. Jordan Sears ’19 had 8 blocks, and with Kevin O’Brien ’19 and his army of tall, long-armed guards on the perimeter, it is nearly impossible to get into the paint and score against Wesleyan. Amherst will have to hit some threes to spread the Cardinals defense. And Wesleyan will have to do the same against Amherst. 

Key Player For Amherst: F Josh Chery ’20

Josh Chery ’20
(Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

As I said earlier, Chery was the hero against Bowdoin. With 5 seconds left on the clock, Chery got the ball on the right wing, drove to the rim, and finished a tough layup with 3.4 seconds left. Chery certainly wasn’t the first option,as Johnny McCarthy was lighting it up at that point, but he wasn’t the last one either. Chery has been one of the major keys to Amherst’s recent hot streak. He’s gone over double figures three times in the last four games, and has averaged 25 minutes per game over that stretch after going over 20 minutes just once all season up to that point. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, he is big and strong enough to guard multiple positions, a huge plus against Wesleyan due to the size of the Cardinal guards. He makes a huge difference on the defensive end, grabbing four steals against Williams and pulling down eight rebounds against Middlebury. And ask Bowdoin how he is finishing at the rim. One thing to watch for is his foul shooting: he’s 0-7 in the last two games. Chery is the ideal player to have on the court against Wesleyan, and, since Wesleyan has proven themselves capable of locking up Riopel and McCarthy, Chery and the rest of the bench mob are the keys to Amherst’s chances.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Nathan Krill ‘18

Nathan Krill
Nathan Krill ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

The starting power forward on the “Feels Like They’ve Been in College for 2o Years” All Stars, Krill has been in this position before. However, he has never been as important to the team’s offense. Of course, they won last weekend with him only having three points, but they won’t be able to rely on Antone ’21 Walker putting up 11 off the bench and Kevin O’ Brien ’19 scoring 17. Walker is a great talent, but he is streaky, and O’Brien isn’t really a go to scorer. Krill is Wesleyan’s most dangerous pick and roll finisher. He can step behind the three point line and hit, or he can use his quickness and ball handling skills to finish at the rim. Throughout Krill’s career, this combination of skills has made him one of the hardest players to guard in the league when he’s hot. Key word: “when.” Krill has always been incredibly streaky (see his 24 points against Bowdoin versus 3 the next game against Bowdoin.) Krill only had four points in Wesleyan’s win over Amherst during the regular season, but this a whole new Amherst team. Wesleyan needs their stars to shine bright on Saturday, starting with Krill.

Final Thoughts:

Bowdoin was certainly far more skilled than your average eight seed, but Amherst still should have been able to put them away earlier. The Mammoths were uncharacteristically bad defending the three, allowing Bowdoin to shoot 10-28 from outside (and many of those misses were open looks.)  Much of Wesleyan’s offense relies on three point shooting, particularly from Jordan Bonner ’19 and Hutcherson. Amherst will have to do a better job running those two off of the three point lie than they did with Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds ’19 and Liam Farley ’19. They will also have to contend with pick and rolls featuring either Bonner or Hutcherson and Krill. Since each of those players are dangerous shooters, the slightest defensive mistake can lead to an open three pointer. Amherst’s best defense here would be an aggressive hedge with their big men and then not switching. A switch would mean that one of Amherst’s big men would be stuck on , a mismatch in favor of Wesleyan. This is why Chery should see big minutes on Saturday, he is big enough to handle Krill and fast enough to handle Hutcherson or Bonner.

If Jordan Bonner ’19 gets hot, Amherst could be in for a long day.

In general, this game is not the best matchup for Amherst’s big men. Joseph Schneider ’19 is skilled inside, but he might get swallowed by the athleticism of Wesleyan’s front court. And with Eric Sellew ’20 out, Amherst’s big men rotation is very thin. This presents a big problem on the glass. Amherst simply must win the rebounding battle in this game. These are the two best rebounding teams in the league based on rebounding margin, and both are at their most dangerous when they get open shots off of offensive rebounds. Both these teams will be battling fiercely for rebounds, but it is more important for Amherst because they have fewer weapons on the offensive end. More of their offense is based on second chances.

All the signs point to Wesleyan in this game. They’ve had a more successful regular season, they have more weapons, and they played better in their first round game. But the game is in Amherst, and crazy things happen down there. The Mammoths are 10-2 at home this season, and have an almost supernatural knack for pulling out close games in their gym. I think most loyal readers will know how much it kills me to do this, but I have to go Amherst. Let no one call me biased again.

Writer’s Prediction: Amherst 63, Wesleyan 60 

The Final Four: Women’s Basketball Semifinal Preview

And then there were four. The final four for NESCAC women’s basketball is set. The usual suspects are present: Amherst, Bowdoin, Tufts, and Wesleyan. Last weekend’s match ups produced blowouts, so many of the games weren’t really entertaining. This week should be different. Let’s look at the preview:

Wesleyan (17-7, 5-5, 5th Seed) vs Amherst (25-0, 10-0 #1 Seed), Amherst, MA, 1PM

Maddie Bledsoe
Maddie Bledsoe ’18 (courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan pulled off an upset win over Middlebury last weekend. The Cards rolled up to Vermont, and stole the show. As always, Maddie Bledsoe stole the show. She recorded a monster double-double (22 pts, 11 rebs), and carried the team like she has all year long. A point of concern, however, is that Wesleyan’s bench only contributed two points the entire afternoon. That abysmal statistic will not fly if the Cards want to know off Amherst. Amherst, of course, comes into Saturday afternoon undefeated. They’re always one of the best teams in the country year in and year out. Hannah Fox led all scorers in the game against Trinity last weekend with 17 points along with five steals. Similar to Wesleyan, Amherst only posted three bench points, but dominated the paint. These two teams are a good match for each other, because they both focus a lot of attention on the paint.

This game is going to be closer than people think. This Amherst team is unbeaten, yes, but they are not unbeatable. Their bench can be shaky, as I mentioned above, and this matchup could be tough for them because Wesleyan has the size and athleticism to handle the Mammoths in the paint. The playoffs implications create an opportunity for the underdog to rise up. So, with all that said, I’m gonna pick the huge upset. 

Score prediction: Wesleyan 60-58

(Editor’s Note: Absolutely no chance, but we love Andrew’s enthusiasm.)

Tufts (22-3, 8-2 #3 Seed) vs Bowdoin (24-1, 9-1 #2 Seed) Amherst, MA, 3PM

This game is going to be one of the best games all season. Bowdoin already smack Tufts, but that was in January. Playoff basketball is different than regular season games. The intensity is up. Bowdoin absolutely throttled Williams last weekend. Kate Kerrigan led the scoring with 16 points, and Abby Kelly dished out five assists. Bowdoin dominated the inside game—much of their 77 points came from inside the paint. Bowdoin’s depth was on display too with 36 bench points. Tufts, on the other hand, smacked Conn College. The Jumbo defense was on full display—only allow the Camels to shoot 34% from the field. The Bo’s also forced seventeen Camel turnovers, and converted them into points. As always, Melissa Baptista was a force inside. She notched 21 points in the decisive victory. Both of these teams are high scoring; however, Bowdoin has proved that they’re special this year.

Kate Kerrigan ’18 will be looking to lead Bowdoin to another win over Tufts.

Score prediction: Bowdoin: 75-70

A New Frontier: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 2/19

Stock Up

Amherst F Johnny McCarthy ‘18

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

It’s been a bit of an up and down year for McCarthy. After three years of being underrated because of Jayde Dawson’s ball dominance. In fact, he was so underrated that he entered this season a little overrated. Like Amherst as a whole, he struggled during the regular season, and for a while it seemed like he just wasn’t suited to be a number one option. But as he improved, so did Amherst. McCarthy reinvented himself as a dominant rebounder, defender and paint scorer. And, as he has done so many times over the course of his career, he saved his best for the biggest moments. With Amherst facing a challenge from the 8 seeded Bowdoin Polar Bears in the first round, McCarthy had his best game of the year. He scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. He also hit the second biggest shot of the game, a 30 footer after a broken play that put Amherst up by four in the final minutes. McCarthy and Amherst are peaking at the right time, and really, did we expect anything different?

Jordan Sears ‘19 for DPOY

I like to think that Sears read our pick of Folger, printed it out, put it up in his locker, and then read it again right before Wesleyan’s game against Middlebury. He looked like a man possessed against Middlebury, blocking eight shots (!) and snuffing out countless pick and rolls with incredible perimeter defense. Sears had four blocks in the final five minutes or so of the game, effectively snuffing out any hope Middlebury had of coming back. Sears is the definition of a difference making defender, and his performance against Middlebury pretty much guarantees him the DPOY trophy.

Jordan Sears ’19 owned the Panthers on Saturday to the degree that he is actually now President of Middlebury College.

NCAA Representation

Last season, the NESCAC had five teams gain NCAA berths for the first time in conference history. The results this weekend are steps in the direction repeating that performance, and even make six teams a distinct possibility. Now bear with me, because this gets a little confusing. NCAA berths are decided based on the NCAA Regional Rankings, NOT the D3 Hoops Top 25. The regional rankings can be found here. As you can see, the top four teams in Northeast are all NESCAC teams. In order, they are Hamilton, Wesleyan, Williams and Middlebury. These four teams were pretty much assured of NCAA bids, regardless of their quarterfinal games. Middlebury and Wesleyan were basically playing for a home game, and Williams and Hamilton were entirely safe. Amherst was the question mark. They entered the quarterfinals eighth in the regional rankings. This is a shaky position. They certainly needed a win over Bowdoin to keep their hopes alive, but they are still on the bubble to certain degree. Their performance in the final regular season weekend, along with their win over Bowdoin, should get them a berth, giving the NESCAC, again, five NCAA teams.

Stock Down

Tufts

The Jumbos were 11th in the regional rankings. This is not a complicated position; they basically needed to win the NESCAC tournament, or AT LEAST make the final, to sneak into the NCAA’s. Their loss to Hamilton ends their season, and the excellent career of Vincent Pace ’18. Pace deserves a great deal of credit for persevering despite one of the more unlucky careers of any star in recent NESCAC memory. After a solid first season, he was dominant during his sophomore campaign, averaging 17 points per game on 50% shooting. It looked like he and Tufts were going to ride the combo of he, Hunter Sabety and Tom Palleschi to NESCAC dominance. Then Sabety transferred, and Pace suffered a nagging injury in practice that affected him for his whole junior year. His numbers fell in every catagory, and another injury to Tom Palleschi set back what was a very strong squad. And then this season, Tufts never really got going, and again struggled with injuries, to crucial bench scorers KJ Garrett ’19 and Ben Engvall ’18. Tufts, and Pace, are one of the great “what-ifs” in recent NESCAC history, but their saga is over for this season.

First Years

Many of the top first years in the conference found out that tournament ball is very different from even regular season NESCAC play. Middlebury’s Jack Farrell ’21, after a breakout 22 point game against Amherst during the final weekend, was locked up by the Cardinals to the tune of 0 points on 0-4 shooting. However, Austin Hutcherson ’21 of Wesleyan wasn’t much better, putting up 9 points on 2-10 shooting. And Amherst’s standout PG Grant Robinson ’21 was invisible, tallying three points on 1-3 shooting. All of these players looked a little taken aback at the physicality and intensity of tournament play, a very normal feeling for first years. A notable exception was Bowdoin’s underrated (but not by this blog, we love him) PG Zavier Rucker ’21, who scored 11 points and added 7 rebounds and six assists. Hutcherson is still, in my mind, the easy pick for Rookie of the Year, but it was interesting to see how all these players struggled in the their first playoff experience, and how Rucker very much did not.

Zavier Rucker ’21 was by far the most comfortable first year last weekend, and looks like a star in the making.

Grit N’ Grind: Middlebury @ Wesleyan Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

#13 Middlebury (19-5, 7-3, 5th Seed) @ Wesleyan (19-5, 7-3, 4th Seed,) February 17th, 3:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Overview:

This certainly isn’t the matchup the Panthers were expecting heading into last weekend. Before their demoralizing pair of road losses to Hamilton and Amherst, Middlebury was alone at the top of the league and needed just one win to secure at least the two seed. But after those losses, Middlebury sits in the fifth position and now has to go on the road to play a team to which they already lost. It was a perfect storm of bad news for the Panthers last weekend, and their road to a third straight NESCAC title is now the hardest one yet.

However, this is not an ideal matchup for Wesleyan either. The 13th ranked team in the country is a pretty steep task for the quarterfinals, no matter how badly they played the weekend before. Wesleyan lucked out schedule-wise in the last weekend, winning home games over Bowdoin and Colby to enter the gauntlet of 7-3 teams. This was by far the easiest weekend of any of the teams. And, although they beat the Panthers early in league play 80-70 (although it was closer than that score suggests,)  they have been inconsistent this season, especially on offense. Their worst loss of the season came to Trinity, a 73-60 debacle that made plain all of Wesleyan’s flaws. Offensively, they rely on different players every night, and lack a consistent go-to scorer. Even Jordan Bonner ‘19 has proven himself to be shaky at times. When they lose, it is simply because they cannot score.

Jordan Bonner ’19 has been a go to scorer at times for the Cardinals, but he is very streaky.

Obviously, these problems are similar to those that Middlebury has faced all season. These teams are similar in style. Both teams rely on a very strong perimeter defense and dominating the boards, leading to turnovers by their opponent and second chance points that make up for inconsistent outside shooting. Last weekend, Middlebury’s offense wasn’t exactly the problem against Hamilton. They put up 83 points and were able to score in the paint pretty easily. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s outside shooting was too much for Middlebury. It’s difficult to match three pointers with two pointers. And then against Amherst, Middlebury couldn’t get anything going offensively, much like Wesleyan against Trinity. This should be a low scoring, defensive battle. Whichever team can grind out enough baskets will win.

Key Player for Middlebury: G Jack Farrell ‘21

Jack Farrell
jack Farrell ’21 (Courtesy of Middlebury College Athletics)

Farrell was a lone bright spot for Middlebury over the weekend. He drove the ball to the basket with incredible confidence, scoring 11 against Hamilton and a career high 22 the next night against Amherst. Farrell has started every game this season, and has proved himself to be a valuable secondary ball handler and defender. Coach Brown has used him, along with fellow first year Griffin Kornaker ‘21, to give Jack Daly ‘18 the occaisional rest. However, for much of the season neither has been a consistent enough scoring option to allow Daly to be off the floor for long. But Farrell changed that last weekend. When Farrell is scoring consistently, it means he is getting to the basket, as he is still not a great outside shooter. This draws defenses into the paint, and opens up outside shots and offensive rebounding chances for the Panthers. A strong performance from Farrell would also allow Daly to ease off the throttle a bit. Daly looked exhausted against Amherst, and was trying to do too much in order to make up for the struggles of his teammates. Middlebury needs better performances across the board on Friday, especially from Daly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean scoring. He needs to score efficiently, but Middlebury’s best possible offense features Daly setting everything up and others finishing. Farrell is one of those finishers.

Key Player for Wesleyan: F Jordan Sears ‘19

We gave Sears a little love in the Awards article, but he’s a dominant defender both on the perimeter and in the paint. He is the only player in the league in the top five in the league in steals and blocks, and Wesleyan’s defense (one of the best in the league) centers around his ability to guard all five positions. In fact, an apology may be in order for us not picking him for DPOY. Sears’ versatility will be even more important against Middlebury than it usually is for the Cardinals, because of how differently the Panthers are constituted now than they were when these teams first met. In that first game, the Panthers were trying to be a high octane, run and gun offense. It was one of Eric McCord’s first games back from injury, and the Panthers weren’t nearly as focused on owning the paint, preferring perimeter attacks. In essence, they played right into Wesleyan’s hands. Middlebury over the course of the season has shifted their focus to rebounding and scoring in the paint. Sears will be crucial in defending that area. Instead of using him on the perimeter, Wesleyan may put him on McCord or Adisa Majors ’18 to limit Middlebury’s post up game. Either way, Sears will be all over the court this game, and could be MVP without scoring a single basket.

Jordan Sears had 2 steals and 4 blocks last time these two teams met, including this one on Jack Daly.

X Factor: Offensive Rebounding

There are going to be a lot of missed shots in this game. Middlebury has struggled shooting the ball from three for so long that one can’t even really call it a “slump” anymore: that’s just how they shoot. And Wesleyan is very streaky from three as well, and has a tendency to settle for them when the rest of their offense isn’t flowing. A lot of missed shots lead to a lot of offensive rebounds. Middlebury has dominated the boards for much of the season, and had 21 offensive rebounds the first time these two teams met. Wesleyan had only 11, but of course, they also shot a much higher percentage from the field. These are two excellent defensive teams, so the ability to get easy layups on open jump shots off of offensive rebounds could turn the tide.

Final Thoughts:

In the first meeting between these two teams, Wesleyan shot 35 foul shots and Middlebury only shot 7. Needless to say, that isn’t a very sustainable way for Middlebury to play. And even more amazingly, Jack Daly was the only Panther to attempt a foul shot. That will change on Saturday. Eric McCord ’19 is a far larger part of Middlebury’s offense now, and the team as a whole is far more focused on attacking the rim. Middlebury has to even out those free throw numbers, as that was the difference in the last game.

As we’ve noted several times throughout this season, Middlebury struggles most against teams who attack the glass as ferociously as they do, and feature multiple three point threats. Middlebury likes to play an aggressive zone defense, allowing their pesky guards like Daly, Farrell and Griffin Kornaker ’21 to really pressure the ball and create turnovers. But as Hamilton proved, teams that can put three or four outside threats on the court at once can destroy that zone with quick passes to open threes. Wesleyan is certainly able to battle Middlebury on the glass; they are second in the league in rebounding differential (Middlebury is third.) But the Cardinals can’t space the floor like Hamilton can. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is a truly dangerous sharp shooter, hitting 41% of his threes on the year (although he was 2-14 over the weekend.) Jordan Bonner ’19 is at 36% but has struggled in league play, and Nathan Krill ’18 is at 39%. Those are Wesleyan’s only real three point threats, and Krill and Bonner are both notoriously streaky. Middlebury will be able to leave non shooters, such as Sears, Kevin O’ Brien ’19 and JR Bascom, to attack those shooters off of the catch, and that zone defense should be workable, since Wesleyan doesn’t bring shooters off the bench. Middlebury would obviously prefer to be a higher seed and play at home, but this is actually a pretty good matchup for them.

Kevin O’ Brien ’19 is the point of Wesleyan’s defense on Daly.

Speaking of O ‘Brien, he is still recovering from an illness that caused him to miss much of the NESCAC season. When he’s at 100%, he is crucial to Wesleyan’s success as a floor general (5.7 AST/G) and perimeter defender. However, he is not a great shooter to begin with, and his rust has made him even less of a scoring threat. He was a huge factor in guarding Jack Daly when these two teams first played, and if he is not 100%, the Panthers should be able to attack him on both offense and defense. They can stash a defender on him, and since he isn’t an outside threat, whoever that is, be it Farrell, Matt Folger ’20 or Hilal Dahleh ’19, will be free to double Bonner and Hutcherson and play free safety for blocks and steals. Wesleyan needs O’Brien, and they need him healthy.

This is a hard game to predict, because these two teams share a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. Inconsistent scoring and three point shooting, strong rebounding and defense. Wesleyan is certainly coming into the game on a better note, but they had such an easy weekend that they might be feeling a little complacent, whereas Middlebury is most likely pretty ticked off. It shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of Middlebury’s 0-2 finish to the year that for much of the season they were the clear best team in the league, and entered last weekend fifth in the entire country. Despite their struggles and Wesleyan’s defense, I think Middlebury makes use of this week off to hammer out some issues, and regains their championship level form, taking a low scoring battle in Middletown.

Writer’s Prediction: Middlebury 70-Wesleyan 65

A Whole New Season: Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals Preview

The playoffs are here! As everyone anticipated prior to the season, Amherst is the top seed. However, a game always starts at 0-0, and the playoffs are no different. Anybody can win. Let’s look briefly at this weekend’s quarterfinal matchups.

1). #8 Trinity vs #1 Amherst

Courtney Erickson
Courtney Erickson ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

It is hard for me to pick Trinity in this matchup. Everything favors Amherst. Amherst is undefeated; Amherst is at home; Amherst is the number one team in the country. Don’t sleep on Bantams junior forward Courtney Erickson. She leads the Bantams in points, and has logged a ton of minutes for the team. Furthermore, she’s an incredibly efficient scoring–shooting above fifty percent from the field. Amherst, however, has an arsenal of weapons. Sophomore guard Madeline Eck has shown that she is held and shoulders that she’s the best player on the court. She’s one of the leaders in points, and facilitates the offense well.

Prediction: Amherst 60-45

2). #7 Williams vs #2 Bowdoin

Abby Kelly ’19
(Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Bowdoin really bounced back after a tough loss to Amherst midway through the season. The Polar Bears were one of the only teams this season to give the Mammoths a real challenge, as their high powered offense almost broke down Amherst’s defense. Bowdoin obviously turned the page without losing another game. Bowdoin averages an almost 82 points per game. That number is incredible in college basketball. Their high octane attack is led by Junior guard Abby Kelly, who comes off the bench but is as good a scorer as there is in the league. Williams, on the other hand, will pose a serious threat. The team is led by senior forward Kristin Fechtelkotter. She is the main component of the offense, and hopes this won’t be her lsat game. Don’t sleep on Williams, but I’m picking Bowdoin in the hopes that they’ll meet Amherst in a classic final.

Prediction: Bowdoin 75-68

3). #6 Connecticut College vs #3 Tufts

The ‘Bos have had a rocky conference season by their standards. Losses to top teams Bowdoin and Amherst didn’t feel great, but nonetheless, they’re here again in the playoffs. Anything can happen. They’re second in the conference behind Bowdoin in points, so I’m sure they’ll put up the numbers this weekend. Conn College, on the other hand, is the wildcard in this scenario. They’re not as seasoned as the top three teams, but that could be a good thing because they’re not intimidated. They score a lot of points, third in the ‘Cac’, and will provide an offensive show. I believe it’s destiny that Tufts will end up in the top three, though.

Prediction: Tufts 60-52

Tufts’ Melissa Baptista ’18 has a solid POY case, and will lead the Jumbos into the tournament.

4). #4 Middlebury vs  #5 Wesleyan

“He’s such a homer! He’s such a homer!” Get over it. I’m going with the Cards here. You know why? Because I watch sports to have fun, and enjoy it. Do I think Midd is the better team? Yes? But what’s the fun in picking the enemy over your own team. I’m rolling with Wes on this one because I believe senior forward Maddie Bledsoe will dominate the paint, and control the time of possession. I don’t care that Wes has to travel to the sticks in granola country. Go Wes. (Editor’s Note: Go Panthers.)

Prediction: Wesleyan 55-51

Handin’ Out the Hardware: Men’s Basketball Regular Season Awards

What a weekend. In addition to throwing the rankings into chaos and making all of our predictions look really dumb, last weekend’s results ruined whatever certainties there were in the awards races. But, as I’m learning in this new, post college chapter, life is about making difficult choices when there isn’t a clear answer. So here are our picks for the major end of season awards. As always, we welcome argument and debate on Twitter, Facebook or email.

Player of the Year: Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18

This is the race which was impacted most by last weekend’s games. Entering the weekend, Daly’s all around brilliance (top five in the league in points, rebounds, assists and steals) fully made up for his inconsistent shooting. He was by far the most important player on the top team in the league. But Daly’s flaws were exposed this weekend, as were Middlebury’s. After a solid game against Hamilton (15-9-6 on 5-11 shooting,) Amherst locked Daly up to the tune of 2-15 shooting with four turnovers. Everyone has bad games, but this was the biggest game of Middlebury’s season, and it came during the same weekend as star level performances from the other contenders. Kena Gilmour ‘20 had 29 against the Panthers and 22 against Williams. James Heskett ‘19 had 24 points against Hamilton in a huge win, and Bobby Casey ‘19 had 31 points against Hamilton, and nearly brought Williams back single-handedly against the Panthers during the regular season.

Jack Daly ’18 has been everything for Middlebury this season, and also we just connected on LinkedIn, so that’s pretty cool too.

However, I’m sure you can see that Daly is still our pick. Here’s the case. For all but one weekend, Daly was the best player on the best team in the league. He ran the offense, scored clutch buckets, guarded the opponent’s best player and sold hot dogs at the concession stand at halftime. He still leads the nation in assists per game at 8.5, and that is despite lacking even a consistent secondary scoring option. He deserves as much credit as any coaches for the improvement of Adisa Majors ‘18, Eric McCord ‘19 and Joey Leighton ‘20. And, honestly, this is a lifetime achievement award as well as a seasonal one. Daly was underrated for his whole career by nature of playing with Matt St. Amour and Jake Brown, to the point that he wasn’t selected to any all league teams last year (a travesty that many Middlebury fans still haven’t gotten over.) For the first time in his career, Daly struggled in a big moment, but that doesn’t erase a whole season. Either Gilmour and Heskett will get theirs, and maybe even both, but this has been Daly’s year all season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Middlebury F Matt Folger ‘20

Matt Folger
Honestly the best thing about picking Folger is that it gives me an excuse to use this picture in another article.

I can already read the emails. “Pete picked two Midd players for the major awards, SHOCKER.” And like POY, this race is filled with strong contenders. Daly leads the league in steals, and Wesleyan has two very strong contenders. G Kevin O’ Brien ‘20 is a dangerous perimeter defender who uses his size and length to rack up blocks (.9 per game) and steals (1.7 per game.) And F Jordan Sears is a defensive anchor for the Cardinals in the paint. He is the only player in the top five in the league in both blocks and steals (1.5 and 1.7 respectively.) But O’Brien and Sears suffer from a similar problem to Casey and Heskett in the POY race: how do you put one over the other if their on the same team? They also suffer from the fact that Folger has been a monster. He is second in the league in blocks with 2.3 per game, and that is despite spending a lot of time guarding perimeter players. Folger is the key cog in what was an excellent Middlebury defense this season (Hamilton aside.) His ability to stay in front of smaller, quicker guards was central to the Panthers’ pick and roll defense, and he covered ground to block shots better than anyone in the league. O’ Brien and Colby’s Dean Weiner ’20 both missed time due to injury, and Folger’s dominance makes this an easy call. Bias be damned.

Coach of the Year: Williams’ Kevin App

Williams weathered a lot this season, and have Coach App to thank for their success.

Losing your best player, and maybe the best player in the league, six games into the season? There’s an App for that. Losing your fifth year senior point guard and floor general in the middle of league play? There’s an App for that. Inspiring such love within your players that one of them tells this writer that they’d “take a bullet for [Coach App?] There’s an App for that. Williams had to deal with incredible adversity this season. After losing Daniel Aronowitz in the offseason, it seemed that the team would simply refocus around Kyle Scadlock ’19, the frontrunner for POY. Then Scadlock tore his ACL early in the season. No one counted Williams out totally, but it was clear that they would need to make an adjustment. Coach App did so, inserting Bobby Casey ’19 into the starting lineup and giving much of Scadlock’s responsibilities to James Heskett ’19. We all know how those two choices worked out. Casey and Heskett are one and two in league scoring, and their success allowed Williams to weather even another huge loss: that of Mike Greenman ’18, their starting point guard. The fact that the Williams offense didn’t miss a beat after losing these two huge pieces is a testament to the skill of Casey and Heskett, but even more to App’s coaching ability.

Rookie of the Year: Wesleyan G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (11.7 PTS/G, 40% 3FG, 27.4 MIN/G)

Austin Hutcherson ’21 has been Wesleyan’s best scorer at times this season, and is a huge key for them heading into the playoffs.

For years, Wesleyan had been a team that was good enough defensively to beat anyone, but struggled to score. They were just some consistent perimeter scoring away from really contending. Enter Hutcherson. He exploded for 27 points in a non-league win over Brandeis on December 9th, and since then he has had two more 20 point games and averaged nearly 15 points per game. Despite struggling from three point land lately (2-14 in his last two games,) Hutcherson has proven himself over the course of this season to be the future of the league. There are other excellent first years who start for contending teams. Middlebury’s Jack Farrall has improved every game and had 22 against Amherst. And speaking of the Mammoth’s, Grant Robinson has done an incredible job stepping in as the point guard for a demanding program. But Hutcherson has made the biggest difference for his team.

All League First Team:

Jack Daly

Middlebury G Jack Daly ‘18 (15.7 PTS/G, 8.3 REB/G, 8.5 AST/G, 1.8 STL/G)

 

Kena GilmourHamilton G Kena Gilmour ‘20 (17.4 PPG, 7.0 REB/G, 1.7 STL/G, 46.4 FG)

 

 

Bobby CaseyWilliams G Bobby Casey ‘19 (16.1 PPG, 48% FG, 44.1% 3FG)

 

 

Vincent Pace

Tufts G/F Vincent Pace ‘18 (18.4 PPG, 8.2 REB/G, 2.7 AST/G)

 

 

James HeskettWilliams F James Heskett ‘19 (19.4 PPG, 3.9 REB/G, 52.6% FG, 45.6% 3FG)

 

 

All League Second Team:

Johnny McCarthy

Amherst G Johnny McCarthy ’18 (11.0 PTS/G, 7.8 REB/G, 2.9 AST/G, 1.1 STL/G)

 

Jordan BonnerWesleyan G Jordan Bonner ’19 (15.6 PTS/G, 5.0 REB/G, 36.7 3FG)

 

 

David ReynoldsBowdoin F David Reynolds ’20 (15.8 PTS/G, 47.5% FG, 43.9% 3FG)

 

 

Michael Grassey

Hamilton F Michael Grassey ’19 (13.7 PPG, 6.7 REB/G, 50.7% FG, 42% 3FG)

 

Matt Folger

Middlebury F Matt Folger ’20 (14.0 PTS/G, 7.1 REB/G, 2.3 BLK/G)

Playoff Time: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 1/13

I may sound like I’m beating a dead horse when I say, yet again, that the NESCAC is crazy and anyone can beat anyone. Parity has been a recurring theme in NESCAC basketball over the years, and we love to talk about how exciting this makes the league. Well, the regular season has come to a close, and this parity reared its ugly head after this weekend when the dust settled and there were five teams tied for first place. Yes you read that right. The top FIVE teams finished at 7-3 in conference, and the only thing worse than having to deal with that is the fact that Amherst came out on top. Coach Hixon and the Mammoths grabbing the #1 seed feels a lot like Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide receiving the #1 seed – literally no one wants them to win besides them and their fans, yet here they are again. Not to say that they didn’t deserve it – the Mammoths had the best record against teams tied for the top spot – but this team hasn’t been the same type of dominant that past #1 Amherst teams have been. The lack of a true standout team is sure to make the postseason as exciting as ever, so let’s see who’s trending in the right direction as we move into playoff time:

Stock Up

Amherst

I’ll start with the obvious one: the Mammoths had two HUGE victories at home this weekend in convincing fashion that ultimately gave them the top spot in the league. Michael Riopel ’18 looked every bit the star they need to make a run in the postseason. He exploded for 19 points and 8 rebounds in the rivalry win over Williams, and followed that up with a 17-point, 7-rebound effort in which he went 9-9 from the line. Johnny McCarthy ’18 also continued his dominance as a rebounder, posting 8 and 14 boards respectively. This duo will have to continue to lead the way, providing experience to an otherwise unproven lineup. The key for Amherst, however, has been their defense. They stymied two of the league’s premier offenses, holding the Ephs to a jaw-dropping 57 points and keeping the Panthers at just 68. They lack the firepower to win a shootout, so their defense has to remain strong if they want to make a run, beginning this weekend when Bowdoin comes to town.

Wesleyan

Austin Hutcherson ’21 and Jordan Bonner ’18 have Wesleyan firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs.

Defeating Bowdoin and Colby isn’t a particularly impressive weekend, but the Cardinals did what a good team should do. The reason they fall in the “stock up” column this week is because it appears as though things are coming together at the right time in Middletown. After the loss to Trinity on February 2, Wesleyan was graced with the return of point guard Kevin O’Brien ’19, who had been out for almost a month with illness. They proceeded to dominate Amherst 71-57 in what was technically a non-conference affair, and then had convincing victories over the weaker teams in the league. Nathan Krill ’18 has been a force, delivering a 17-point, 10-rebound double double against Colby and dropping 24 points on Bowdoin. First year standout Austin Hutcherson has also stepped up his game in a big way, and he looks to continue to make an impact sharing the ball, as he posted 8 assists in each of their weekend matchup. Wesleyan hosts Middlebury in the 4-5 matchup of the NESCAC tournament. The Cardinals took down the Panthers in the regular season, but this is definitely a matchup to highlight for the weekend.

Williams G Bobby Casey ’19

I’ve talked about two of the Little Three schools, so why not mention the third? It seems that every week we find either James Heskett ’19 or Bobby Casey ’19, who have taken over as the dominant scorers in Williamstown. Well, this week it’s Casey’s turn. He seemed to be the lone bright spot in the loss at Amherst, putting up 22 points on 8-16 shooting. The next day in the big win over Hamilton, Casey went off for 31 points on 8-14, including 7-10 from behind the arc. When Casey gets hot, there is seemingly no way to stop him. The good news for Williams is that they also have Heskett ’19 who has a similar effect. If they’re both off, then the Ephs are in trouble. If they’re both on, then the rest of the league needs to watch out. They should have no trouble with Trinity in their first round matchup, but you never know because things can get crazy come tourney time.

When he’s hot, Bobby Casey ’19 is an absolute nightmare from downtown.

Stock Down

Middlebury

Heading into the weekend, Middlebury controlled their own destiny, needing a win to secure the top seed. They came up empty, with two somewhat demoralizing losses to Hamilton (102-83) and Amherst (80-68). The Panthers have been one of the top scoring teams in the conference all season, but their shots simply weren’t falling this weekend. They were ice cold from beyond the three-point line, and they now find themselves last in the NESCAC in three-point shooting percentage at 31%. The scoring drought needs to come to an end if the Panthers want to have any shot at winning their matchup with the tough Wesleyan defense this weekend. It starts with the leadership of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, who are the team’s leading scorers. They were both average against Hamilton, and neither cracked double digits in the scoring column against Amherst. Middlebury is picking a bad time to go cold, but we’ll see if they can turn things around this weekend in their quarterfinal matchup.

Trinity

Jeremy Arthur ’19 is one of Trinity’s only consistent offensive threats.

The Bantams are one of the streakiest teams out there. They’ve taken down Amherst and Wesleyan, but they’ve also lost to Bates and Colby. They struggled mightily this weekend, getting trounced by Bates, then dropping a tight contest to Tufts. They certainly lack a true star player, although Jeremy Arthur ’19 and Eric Gendron ’18 provide most of the scoring. There isn’t much to say about Trinity other than that they’re a scary first round matchup. If the shots are falling, they are very tough to beat because they play exceptional defense at times. They are essentially a giant question mark, but are definitely not to be taken lightly as they are capable of stealing a win in Williamstown.

Maine Schools

Well, it was a tough year for the three Maine schools who finished 7th, 9th, and 10th respectively. Bowdoin still has a chance to make a run, but all in all, the NESCAC’s northernmost schools were as cold as their weather. That said, these schools have shown promise. Bowdoin made the playoffs, and their best players are David Reynolds ’20, Jack Simonds ’19, Hugh O’Neil ’19, Jack Bors, and Zavier Rucker ’21. Bates narrowly missed a playoff birth, losing the three-way tie with Trinity and Bowdoin, and they are lead by Jeff Spellman ’20, Nick Gilpin ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, Nick Lynch ’19, Tom Coyne ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. Colby only has two seniors (neither of whom play a huge amount of minutes) and two juniors (only one of whom plays a decent amount of minutes), so there are also lead by breakout underclassmen Sam Jefferson ’20, Dean Weiner ’19, Matt Hanna ’21, and Ethan Schlager ’20. Things looked a bit bleak this year, but this could potentially just be the calm before the storm for the CBB Consortium.

Bowdoin is the only Maine school in the tournament.

The Rise of the Bobcats: Men’s Basketball Game of the Week Preview

Bates (9-9, 2-3) @ #14 Wesleyan (14-4, 3-2), 7:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Bates vs. Tufts was a worthy contender for game of the week, but due to Bates’ victory over the Jumbos last weekend, they are the team to beat for Wesleyan. Bates sits in ninth place in the standings, seemingly stuck in the abyss of basketball irrelevance. However, Tufts, who Bates beat 77-75, is sitting in third place at 3-2—only one game ahead of the Bobcats. Indeed, Bates is actually a huge wild card right now in terms of playoff seeding. They could spoil some better teams rankings, and if they can win this one and take down Trinity, they are assured of a playoff spot. This cramming of the standings shows the remarkable parity of the conference and how so much is left to chance with half of the regular season remaining. Not only are there solid teams sitting on the outside looking in, but there are perennial powers just one game out of the similar irrelevance that Bates is facing. This matchup puts power against bottom feeder, while the end result could completely flip the switch on their places in the standings, playoff potential, and power rankings.

Overview:

While Bates is only 2-3 in conference, they have already played Tufts, Midd, and Williams, with their only bad loss coming against Colby. Jeff Spellman ’20, Tom Coyne ’20, and Nick Lynch ’19 are all above average for the conference at their position and are threats on both sides of the ball against what has been an inconsistent Wesleyan team. Regardless of how their shooting accuracy has fluctuated recently, the Cardinals still have only lost to Williams in OT and #16 Hamilton. Therefore, they will compete independent of shooting struggles and can compete with any team in the nation, giving them a clear edge against a Bates team fighting to get into the conversation of relevance.

Wesleyan X-Factor: Passing Game

With O’ Brien out, role players like Elijah Wilson will be responsible for keeping the ball moving and keeping turnovers down against Bates.

Wesleyan is last in the NESCAC with just 14.6 assists per game, leading to a lower shooting percentage (45.9%) than their overall record would indicate. They have had some real duds in terms of ball distribution, like against Hamilton, where they recorded just seven assists on the night, no more than one for any player. The assist numbers were similar in their narrow win over Amherst, with just 10 total assists for the team. While not a clear indication of success, more assists should correlate to better possessions and better shots which should improve the shooting percentage and limit the unusual poor performances from the star players who get caught trying to do too much. Distribution has seen a steep decline since team leader Kevin O’Brien ’19 went down with an injury, taking away 6.5 assists per contest which are heavily missed of late. Jordan Sears ’18 has been taking his place in the starting lineup, putting up five assists in a blowout win over Conn College, but otherwise not having a similar impact to O’Brien. Sears and the first year stand out Austin Hutcherson (second on the team in assists with 2.2 per contest) are going to be the keys to keeping the ball away from Bates.

Bates X-Factor: G Tom Coyne ‘20

Tom Coyne
Tom Coyne ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

In their mid-season defining win against Tufts, Coyne came off the bench to shoot 4-5 from deep, tallying up those 12 points in just 21 minutes played. He electrified the Bobcats and will be a key piece to their performance against Wesleyan. While Jeff Spellman leads the team with 17.0 PPG, Coyne is second with 13.4 PPG. A recent move out of the starting lineup has taken a chunk out of his shot totals for game which rose as high as 20 in a non-conference game against Brandeis, but his sharp-shooting is still one of the biggest parts of the Bobcats’ success. His accuracy will be the biggest unknown of the game as he will be needed for Bates, ranked ninth in the conference in PPG at 73.3 to keep up with Wesleyan’s diverse scoring arsenal. This underdog team is also ranked 10th in 3PT shooting percentage at 32.1%, in line with Coyne’s season average, and if he didn’t shoot well above that against the Jumbos, his team would be sitting at 1-4 overall in NESCAC play. Although he moved to the bench, he still has a large stake in influencing the outcome of the game and he will need to be ready to go for the 9th place team to have a shot to win.

Final Thoughts:

Last time I previewed one of Wesleyan’s games, I highlighted Jordan Bonner’s downturn in scoring efficiency. Since then (right before their 76-70 loss to Hamilton), he has decreased his shooting attempts per game, handing more to Nathan Krill and Austin Hutcherson. While Krill and Hutcherson have both been excelling recently, combining for 33 points and 13 boards against Amherst two weekends ago, they shot poorly against Hamilton, going 5-22 combined. That weekend was the last time the Cardinals played a solid team as they easily rolled over Conn College last weekend and dominated in their non-conference games. In a game where Bates’ leading scorer Spellman could take over the scoreboard, the trio of Bonner, Krill, and Hutcherson will need to be on their A-game from the field.

Bates should be greedy to attack another top-dawg in the NESCAC after falling in the week’s Power Rankings from eighth on 1/17 to ninth after their upset of Tufts. While most of the stuff Pete writes is controversial in some way, it is hard for me to see how a team goes down after beating a team ranked above them (Editor’s Note: Rude.) Nevertheless, this is another chance for the Bobcats to prove their haters wrong with Spellman and Nick Lynch leading the way in scoring and on defense. Lynch, like Coyne, has a huge responsibility, albeit Lynch’s on defense. Lynch leads the Bates team with 8.5 boards per game with Coyne coming in behind him with just 4.2 rebounds per game. Lynch will need to matchup against Wesleyan’s Nathan Krill who hauls in over nine boards of his own. The two 6’7” bigs will be another marquee matchup in this already loaded contest. Bates is not expected to win and needs to do everything right as they did against Tufts and then some to pull it out, but if they do they immediately become a real threat to other top NESCAC teams.

Writer’s Pick: Wesleyan 77-71

Halfway There: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/25

What a week, what a week. Tom Brady and the polarizing Patriots calmly came back from down 10 in fourth quarter of the AFC championship and my very own Bobcats edged Tufts on a game winner with just seconds remaining. Life is good. Anyways, in what was a one-game week for every team in the NESCAC (besides Trinity who was idle), we actually got to see a decent amount of action. Williams and Middlebury clashed in another battle of the titans, Bates took down the suddenly struggling Jumbos, and Amherst either proved that Hamilton isn’t as good as we thought or that the Mammoths are better than we thought. Who knows. The upcoming week should tell a lot as we get past the halfway point in the season, but at the moment there is much to sort through.

  1.     #10 Middlebury (14-3, 4-1)

Last week: 70-66 W vs. Williams

This week: @ Trinity

As seen in this week’s stock report, Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ’19 were highlights in the huge win over Williams this past week. Jack Daly ’18 had another good game, but his 8 turnovers were a bit frightening. Anyone can beat anyone in this league, so he’ll definitely need to be a bit sharper as we move forward. Middlebury appears to be finding their identity, so the rest of the conference should be very, very afraid. The Panthers will likely take care of business this week against Trinity to remain on the throne, but stay tuned to see if the Bantams are able to give them a scare.

  1.     #16 Hamilton (16-1, 3-1)

Last week: 75-49 L @ Amherst

This week: @ Bowdoin, @ Colby

We all knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when. The loss to Amherst was embarrassing (to say the least), but it was just one game. Everyone is bound to lose at some point, but it’ll be important to see how Hamilton responds this week against the bottom half of the league. Kena Gilmour ’20 has been a stud, but he needs to do more than the 7-point, 3-rebound effort he put up against Amherst if the Continentals are going to win in a league driven by star power. His supporting cast is there, but Gilmour has to lead the way. Their three-point shooting numbers have also taken a dip recently, which seemed inevitable, but we’ll see if Hamilton can regain their footing.

  1.     #15 Williams (14-4, 3-2)

Last week: 70-66 L @ Middlebury

This week: @ Trinity

James Heskett ’19 is making a strong case for best scorer in the league, as he still put up 19 against Middlebury despite a slow start shooting the ball. The Panthers were able to slow down the sharpshooting duo of Heskett and Bobby Casey ’19 just enough to pull off the huge win. Williams was held to just 35.9% from the field, which was really the best indication of how that game against Middlebury went. They simply weren’t hitting shots, and that’s not how you beat the best teams. I don’t believe there is much cause for worry despite the Ephs losing two of their last three NESCAC games. Look for Coach App to get them back on track with their only matchup this week on the road against Trinity.

James Heskett may well be the Player of the Year.
  1.     #14 Wesleyan (13-4, 3-2)

Last week: 89-51 W vs. Conn College

This week: vs. Bates, vs. Tufts

Wesleyan did what they needed to do in a trouncing of Conn College. This weekend will be very telling of a Cardinals squad that has been tough to get a read on. Bates is coming off a big win and have shown that they’re capable of competing, whereas Tufts is reeling after losing two of their last three. Kevin O’Brien ’19 hasn’t played in almost three weeks, and we don’t have word as to why, but this is a big blow. Wesleyan is very dependent on O’Brien both as an elite defender and as a point guard. Austin Hutcherson ’21 is doing a nice job filling in, but the Cardinals are hurting from the loss of O’Brien. They have a lot to prove this weekend, so keep an eye on the results from Middletown.

  1.     Tufts (13-5, 3-2)

Last week: 77-75 L vs. Bates

This week: @ Conn College, @ Wesleyan

Despite Vincent Pace ‘18 looking like frontrunner for POY, Tufts has struggled recently. They lost to Middlebury last week in an ugly game, and then were nudged by Bates, 77-75 this past weekend. Bates played well and has shown glimpses of outstanding basketball, but has been inconsistent, and that was a game that the Jumbos definitely should have won. Conn College should be a relatively easy win for Tufts, but Saturday they’ll be tested yet again versus a hard-to-read, but talented Wesleyan team. That matchup will help show who’s ready to take a leap, and who’s going to stay in the middle. There really is no rest for the weary in the NESCAC.

  1.     Amherst (10-6, 2-2)

Last week: 75-49 W vs. Hamilton

This week: @ Colby, @ Bowdoin

Amherst looked like the Goliath they always have been in a trampling of Hamilton. Johnny McCarthy ’18 put up a monster 12-point, 15-rebound double-double, providing the lead role, as he needs to for this Mammoth squad. There hasn’t been a ton of help from the supporting cast, however Eric Sellew ’20 has been provided a solid third option alongside McCarthy and Michael Riopel ’18. They are an absolute nightmare on defense as they showed against the Continentals, and this will be important to help keep their offense in games. If the Mammoths cruise to two victories this weekend, maybe it’s time for us to start giving them another look.

Michael Riopel ’18 has been one of the more efficient scorers in the league, and looks to bring Amherst back to the top tier.
  1.     Trinity (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: non-conference

This week: vs. Williams, vs. Middlebury

Trinity, much like Wesleyan, has been puzzling to figure out. A few weeks ago, they took down Amherst. More recently they dropped a game to Colby, only scoring 51 points. I guess what they have shown is that if they come to play, they’re capable of competing, but if they don’t show up, they roll over. This is an unfortunate outlook given that they’re taking on Williams and Middlebury this week. Regardless, they are a team with a lot of athleticism who has the ability to show up and give anyone a game. Things could get even more blurry in the NESCAC if the Bantams steal one this weekend, so fear the chicken.

  1.     Bowdoin (13-4, 2-2)

Last week: 83-77 W vs. Colby

This week: vs. Hamilton, vs. Amherst

Bowdoin has a promising overall record at 13-4, but they haven’t proven anything yet in conference play. They beat Bates and now Colby, but fell to Tufts and Trinity, which really doesn’t tell us too much. Reigning player of the week David Reynolds ’20 provides another go-to guy along with Jack Simonds ’19, and has now found his way into the starting lineup. He torched Colby to the tune of 29 points and 8 rebounds, while going 11-21 from the field, including 6-9 from deep. Reynolds adds to this potent Polar Bear offense that averages over 80 points per game. This will be a telling weekend, as Hamilton and Amherst each give Bowdoin a chance to prove something to the rest of the league.

With Jack Simonds ’19 struggling from the field, Reynolds has become the real star of the Polar Bears.
  1.     Bates (9-9, 2-3)

Last week: 77-75 W @ Tufts

This week: @ Wesleyan, @ Conn College

Bates picked up a signature win on the road at Tufts on a wild Nick Gilpin ’20 layup with 8 seconds left. This is the type of game that shows how dangerous Bates can be, and that they are a force to be reckoned with. The only reason they fall this week is because of a poor out of conference effort, and two losses to Bowdoin this season. Or maybe because I want my Bobcats to prove something with a few big wins. Either one. James Mortimer ’21 has found a spot in the starting lineup and has added a huge spark to this young Bobcat lineup. His size and shooting ability allow him to be tough on both ends of the court, and make him very versatile. If the Tufts game was any indication, we should see the Bobcats rise in the rankings as they have two big games in Connecticut this week.

  1.  Colby (10-7, 1-3)

Last week: 83-77 L @ Bowdoin

This week: vs. Amherst, vs. Hamilton

The Mules had a chance to move up when they traveled to Brunswick, but came up short and ultimately remain just above the basement of the league. Colby isn’t a bad team by any means, but they just lack the star power to compete with the top teams. They have good players (see Dean Weiner ’19), but they lack a pure scorer who can take over games. The win over Trinity is certainly a good one and a building point, but at the moment, the Mules have a long way to climb. They could make things more interesting this weekend by sneaking away with a win when they host the Mammoths and Continentals.

  1.  Connecticut College (6-11, 0-5)

Last week: 89-51 L @ Wesleyan

This week: vs. Tufts, vs. Bates

Nothing has gotten better for the poor Camels, who were housed by Wesleyan this past weekend. At this point, they’re planning for the future in New London, and we could potentially start to see different schemes and different guys getting involved for Conn College. Then again, the ‘CAC is weird and you never know what could happen on a given day. The best I can say is that Conn is a trap game, however they are yet to do any of this alleged trapping, so it is hard to even give them that. Bates and Tufts come to town this weekend, so hopefully things start to look up for the Camels.

NESCAC’S Most Wanted: Men’s Basketball Power Rankings 1/17

Finally the order of teams is starting to have some clarity. Hamilton finally saw their first ranked opponent in Wesleyan and took care of business, cementing themselves as the team to beat at this point without a blemish on their record. Middlebury knocked off Tufts who knocked off Williams, putting into question the 2-5 spots in these rankings. However, this weekend should bring more clarity as Williams’ true talent level without Kyle Scadlock will be tested against Middlebury. The teams in the bottom half have largely only played each other, with Trinity looking like the “best of the rest.”

1. #14 Hamilton (14-0, 3-0)

Last Week: 76-70 W vs. Wesleyan, 102-77 W @ Conn College

This Week: @ Amherst

And now they are legit. After knocking off Wesleyan at home, the Continentals are proven to be the real deal. While this spot at the top of the Power Rankings may be temporary, their spot in the D3 Top 25 is well deserved despite an easy preseason schedule. Wesleyan was the first difficult NESCAC opponent that Hamilton beat (Trinity and Conn are the other two), and with Wesleyan’s opening weekend win against Middlebury, Hamilton is further cemented as a real NESCAC contender. Their game against Amherst should be a high scoring win with a large margin of victory if all else remains the same with Kena Gilmour the centerpiece of Hamilton’s offense. He poured in 20 points in a defensive heavy game against the Cardinals despite only shooting 1-7 from deep.

2. #11 Williams (12-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 69-63 L vs. Tufts, 79-68 W vs. Bates

This Week: vs. Amherst, @ Middlebury

There is no doubt that Williams is weaker without Kyle Scadlock, however, they have managed to show their depth and remain afloat thus far in NESCAC play. They went from NESCAC favorites to just another team in the running for the title, seeing their first loss at the hands of Tufts this past weekend. In Scadlock’s place, Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19 continuebear the brunt of the scoring load as Casey scored 11 and Heskett 21 in the loss against the Jumbos. Heskett added 23 against Bates in the following game, settling in as a reliable power forward that Williams will need down the stretch.

3. #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1)

Last Week: 82-76 W vs. Bates; 78-63 W vs. Wesleyan

This Week: vs. Williams

Jack Daly ’18 continues to dish and drive to the rim as Middlebury’s balanced offense before was too much to overcome for both Bates and Tufts. While the Bates game ended up only being a six point win—closer than expected—Daly dropped 26 points, nine boards, and eight assists, a stat line we are becoming all too familiar with. Matt Folger is a lengthy player who can shoot from deep, accompanied by Joey Leighton and Hilal Dahleh on the perimeter. Nick Tarantino, Eric McCord on fire in the paint of late, and Adisa Majors all play down low and bring in the boards evenly, while G Jack Farrell ’21 is playing a lot like Jake Brown ’17 from a season ago, distributing and opening things up on the wings and for Daly. Middlebury will need to find some three point shooting from somewhere, however, if they want to continue winning.

Jack Daly ’18 had another game winner last night against Albertus Magnus, and is carrying the panthers despite struggling with his outside shot.

4. Tufts (12-4, 3-1)

Last Week: 69-63 W @ Williams, 78-63 L @ Middlebury

This Week: vs. Bates

Their win against Williams put them in a position to surpass Wesleyan in the rankings, beating what was previously the best team in the conference. Tufts’ size and athleticism are their greatest strengths, led by Vincent Pace ’18, Eric Savage ’18, and KJ Garrett ’19 who was all over the floor against Middlebury. Pace slipped a bit last weekend, shooting 5-21 against Williams and 1-9 against Middlebury. Lucky for him, Garrett emerged as a potential force going forward, scoring 20 and bringing down nine boards against the Panthers in just his fourth game of the season. After increasing his workload to 24 minutes last Saturday, he should play an even bigger role against Bates this coming weekend.

5. #19 Wesleyan (11-3, 2-2)

Last Week: 76-70 L @ Hamilton, 70-66 W @ Amherst

This Week: vs. Conn College

Austin Hutcherson
Austin Hutcherson ’21 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan is in danger of falling in the rankings after an 1-1 weekend which dropped them farther down in the national rankings. While they lost to a team ranked above them now, they needed to beat Hamilton to cement themselves as a real championship contender. They should roll over Conn College this weekend, but after narrowly beating the falling Amherst Mammoths, they should be a bit worried going forward. Jordan Bonner ’19 still hasn’t quite found his shot, shooting 3-9 against Amherst, and despite first year Austin Hutcherson’s 19 points and solid shooting, Kevin O’Brien did not play and needs to make it back into the lineup quickly for the Cardinals to have a chance.

6. Amherst (9-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 72-57 W vs. Conn College, 70-66 L vs. Wesleyan

This Week: @ Williams, vs. Hamilton

A sub .500 conference record at this point with their only win against the lowly Camels is not a good start for a formerly great Amherst team. Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Michael Riopel ’18 are still leading the way in scoring, but they need more depth in order to compete against the likes of Middlebury, Williams, and Middlebury as Riopel is the only Mammoth with the ability to shoot the deep ball. While they rank second in the conference in rebounding per game, they are in the bottom half in scoring and need to improve going forward.

7. Trinity (11-4, 2-2)

Last Week: 73-68 W @ Bowdoin, 61-51 L @ Colby

This Week: Non-Conference

The bottom half of these rankings get pretty confusing as Trinity’s overall record helps them out here, however, a loss to Colby certainly dampens their overall legitimacy as any sort of contender. They had some terrible individual performances in the road game last weekend as Jeremy Arthur put up a complete dud, going 0-10 shooting, Eric Gendron 2-8 FG, and Kyle Padmore 0-3 FG. There isn’t a whole lot else to say, they need to make more baskets to win games and 31.3% overall in the contest isn’t going to cut it. They should press the reset button this weekend without a NESCAC game and look to bounce back the following weekend.

8. Bates (8-6, 1-1)

Last Week: 82-76 L @ Middlebury, 79-68 L @ Williams

This Week: @ Tufts

James Mortimer
James Mortimer ’21 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Bates put up two decent performances against the NESCAC’s best teams, narrowly losing to Midd and competing against the Ephs. James Mortimer ’18 and Jeff Spellman ’20 are a great 1-2 punch, combining for 41 points against the solid Panther defense. Max Hummel added 13 off the bench, and despite not doing well the next game against Williams with just three points in 15 minutes, has shown some promise. Spellman is the leader of this team and a work horse, putting up 24 the next day against the Ephs and playing over 30 minutes in four games straight. He has the ability to win this team enough games to make it to the playoffs, and in March, anything can happen.

9. Bowdoin (10-4, 1-2)

Last Week: 73-68 L vs. Trinity

This Week: vs. Colby

Losing to a reeling Trinity team certainly won’t aid the Polar Bears going forward. Jack Simonds ’19, as always, can put up huge scoring numbers, supported by David Reynolds’ shooting and Hugh O’Neil’s impressive defense in the paint (17 rebounds against the Bantams). The Polar Bears have good overall numbers as a team and were really hurt by poor three point shooting numbers against Tufts (sub 25%) and heavy turnovers against Trinity—15 compared to the Bantams’ six. Look for the weapon heavy Bowdoin team to start climbing the rankings soon.

10. Colby (10-5, 1-2)

Last Week: 61-51 W vs. Trinity

This Week @ Bowdoin

Colby got a huge win against Trinity to put themselves on the board and in the conversation of relevance for the NESCAC playoffs. While it was a low scoring affair, featuring some awful shooting from Trinity, some of that had to be attributed to the Mule defense, right? Double-doubles from both Dean Weiner ’19 and Sam Jefferson ’20 are a great sign going forward, giving the Mules reason to believe that they can compete with some of the stronger teams.

Sam Jefferson ’20 is putting up a very solid season for the gritty Mules.

11. Conn College (6-10, 0-4)

Last Week: 72-57 L @ Amherst, 102-77 L @ Hamilton

This Week: @ Wesleyan

Conn College is beginning to look like a guaranteed win for other NESCAC teams after several blowout games to begin their 2018 conference campaign. In their most recent game, allowing more than 100 points to Hamilton, they clearly had little defense and were nearly out of the game from the beginning. David Labossiere ’19 is doing all he can to prevent the Camels from remaining in the cellar, dropping 18 points and seven boards in that loss, although he is pretty helpless after four losses by over 20 points in NESCAC play.