I say this knowing my reputation as a writer prone to hyperbole, but this may well have been the most difficult Power Rankings I’ve ever written. Aside from Tufts at the top and Colby at the bottom, there are literally no spots on this list about which I’m totally confident, and I’ve changed my mind on each of the middle nine teams approximately 750 times. Williams’ demolition of Middlebury threw the rankings (and my mood over the weekend) into disarray, as did Wesleyan’s continued come-up and Amherst’s shaky performance against Bowdoin. All this serves to say that I’m CERTAINLY wrong about at least 5 of these spots, and I know you readers will let me know which ones.
1.) #4 Tufts (15-2, 6-0)
It’s become very clear at this point that Tufts has some kind of “Angels in the Outfield” type mojo going on. After dealing with junior guard Vincent Pace’s inconsistency following a return from injury, star center Tom Palleschi ‘17 went down with a knee injury. Now obviously this blow knocked Tufts
off pace (pun 100% intended) right? Wrong. The Jumbos didn’t miss a beat over the weekend, taking care of Wesleyan and Connecticut College in two very impressive performances. They were able to match Wesleyan’s defensive intensity even following Palleschi’s injury, winning 77-73 in a hard fought game. And then they ran the Camels out of the gym, putting up 100 points on 58.5% shooting in a game where Tarik Smith ’17 only played 6 minutes (the reason why is unknown to us at this point). Tufts has everything working right now, and may well be able to survive their series of injuries, but three straight road matchups in league play will be a very tough test for the Jumbos. We’ll see how these rankings look in two weeks.
2.) #25 Wesleyan (15-4, 3-3)
Now here’s where it gets complicated. Wesleyan was dead in the water after the first weekend, but has gone 3-1 since. What sets them apart from the many other teams in the running for this spot is the quality of those wins. They beat Amherst and Trinity back to back last weekend, and then Bates in Lewiston on Saturday. They also played very well in a 77-73 loss to Tufts. The Cardinals still struggle to string together solid offensive possessions, but it seems that every game they get just enough of an offensive spark to let their defense carry them. They have received more consistent play from Nathan Krill ‘18, a terrific offensive player who often has trouble staying on the floor due to his struggles to control himself (he received a tech and eventually fouled out against Tufts). Krill wasn’t a weapon in their early loss to Middlebury, but if he is able to remain on the court during league play, the Cardinals could send a message in the coming weeks.
3.) Hamilton (13-4, 3-2)
The Continentals also benefit a great deal in these rankings from Williams’ performance against Middlebury. Hamilton pasted Williams at home last Saturday 94-76, getting 22 and 21 from Kena Gilmour ‘20 and Peter Hoffmann ‘19. Hoffmann was also a terror defensively, adding 3 blocks and 3 steals. Hamilton is a dynamic offensive team with a variety of weapons, but they can lag on the defensive end, as they did in their losses to Tufts and Bates. They still don’t have a quality road win on their resume, but they have the chance to pick one up this Saturday in Middlebury.
4.) #22 Middlebury (14-3, 3-2)
Speaking of the Panthers, their drive to a second straight championship hit a classic New England frost heave in Williamstown this weekend. The Ephs took it to the Panthers 89-65, in one of the more surprising results of the season. Middlebury simply had nothing working. Interestingly, they got a nice performance out of Matt St. Amour (24 on 9/18 shooting.) But the depth problems that we all feared when Zach Baines transferred reared their heads for the first time, as the rest of the team shot under 35% from the field. Defense was also a major problem for the Panthers, as they were repeatedly a step slow closing out on Williams’ legion of shooters. The Ephs exposed many of Middlebury’s flaws, and they have a lot of work to do in order to maintain a spot in the top tier of the league.
5.) Trinity (13-6, 4-1)
The Bantams sit at second in the league, having started off at 4-1 despite having only scored over 70 points twice over the course of league play. This of course has a lot to do with their terrific defense, anchored by possible Player of the Year AND Defensive Player of the Year winner Ed Ogundeko ‘17. But it also has something to do with the quality of their competition. Their four wins have come over the four bottom teams in the league, record-wise (although Williams’ performance against Middlebury makes that win much more impressive.) Trinity still struggles to find consistent secondary scoring options to lessen the burden on Ogundeko. They have the toughest weekend coming up by far, traveling to Amherst on Friday before playing Tufts on Saturday. Both games offer them the chance to pick up the signature win that they still lack.
6.) #14 Amherst (13-4, 3-2)
Amherst was offered the chance to recover from their 0-2 performance two weekends ago with a relatively easy slate. They had home games against Bowdoin and Colby, two teams that have struggled this year. And yet, they failed to truly recover their pre-league play form. They were trailing Bowdoin by double digits pretty much the whole way, needing another takeover from Jayde Dawson ‘18 and a buzzer-beating 30-footer from Johnny McCarthy ‘18 to survive 66-64. They took care of business the next night against Colby, but the fact remains that Amherst has lacked depth and consistent effort so far in NESCAC play.
7.) Williams (13-6, 2-4)
Yes, Williams made Middlebury look like my U-12 AAU team on Saturday (Wildcats for life, baby.) But the question remains as to whether that game says more about Williams or about Middlebury. The Ephs 3-and-D style finally paid off for them, as they went 13-27 from three and held the vaunted Panther offense to just 65 points, their lowest scoring output of the season. They also finally received production from the frontcourt, as Marcos Soto ‘19 and James Heskett ‘19 combined for 38 points on 7-10 shooting from three. This is an unsustainable amount of production, but the confidence boost could lead to good numbers for the rest of the year for those two. Another performance like this one tonight against Amherst would put the Ephs fully back on track.
8.) Connecticut College (11-7, 2-4)
At 2-4 in the league, the Camels aren’t in a great spot. But they have played a little better than that record would indicate. They have a win over Amherst under their belt, and have played four of their six games on the road, including a very tough Hamilton/Middlebury combo on the opening weekend. They now have three of their last four games at home. All four are winnable games, as they play three of the four lowest teams in the league record-wise and Wesleyan at home. The Camels still have a chance to get over the hump.
9.) Bates (13-6, 3-3)
The vaunted home court advantage that Bates has enjoyed over the last few years seems to have vanished. The Bobcats have lost three in a row in league play, all at home. They have gotten very little offensive production in those games, averaging under 65 points per game. They simply have not surrounded the Delpeche brothers with enough perimeter production to discourage teams from doubling whichever one of them has the ball. Bates still boasts an elite defense and has the chance to make a huge statement this coming Saturday when they host Tufts, but they seem to be in serious trouble, as they still have to play Tufts, Amherst and Trinity.
10.) Bowdoin (1-4, 9-8)
The Polar Bears’ early win over Williams is now a signature performance, and they had another against Amherst well within their reach last weekend. But Jayde Dawson happened, and now Bowdoin sits at 1-4 in a league in which a comeback is very difficult. Their offense is pretty much entirely predicated on how well Jack Simonds ‘19 (the leading scorer in the league) plays, but their biggest flaw is on the boards. Bowdoin is the only team in the league that averages less rebounds per game than their opponent, a weakness that Ed Ogundeko exploited to the tune of 22 points and 20 rebounds last weekend in Bowdoin’s loss to Trinity. The Polar Bears don’t seem to have quite enough scoring or rebounding to compete in the league this year.
11.) Colby (0-5, 8-9)
0-5 in league play is not quite where the Mules wanted to be at this point in the season. They simply do not have enough offense to compete with the rest of the teams. Patrick Stewart ‘17 is an excellent stretch four (and also was terrific with Ian McKellan in “Waiting for Godot”), but he carries too large an offensive burden, leading to poor shooting percentages and efficiency numbers. I’m sure they’ll be able to grab a win or two somewhere, it’s just that kind of year in NESCAC. But at this point it’s hard to imagine them in the the tournament.