Upset Alert: Men’s Basketball Stock Report 12/5

For those of us that made it out of the library, we saw a pretty exciting week as far as preseason NESCAC basketball goes. The week featured two non-conference, conference games: Colby topped Bowdoin, 89-84 in a high scoring affair, while Wesleyan needed more than just 40 minutes to edge Williams, 72-67, on the road in Williamstown. This week there were fewer extraordinary individual performances, so much of the focus is on the teams as a whole, with much focus on the two aforementioned games. As we eagerly await the start of true conference play, let’s take a long about who is trending up and who is trending down after this exciting week:

Stock up

Wesleyan’s legitimacy

Kevin O’Brien ’19 is emerging as one of the best all around players in the league, and has Wesleyan rising in the rankings.

Going into the year, we weren’t sure what to expect of this Cardinal team who lost three underclassmen, to go along with two graduating seniors. Even when they started 5-0, none of those five wins stood out as particularly impressive. This all changed on Saturday after they took down the no. 3 nationally-ranked Ephs in overtime. Although it won’t count towards the NESCAC standings, this is a very impressive win for Wesleyan. Winning a game against a team of this caliber on the road is not only a resume-booster, but it should give this unproven lineup a huge dose of confidence. The Cardinals are aided by reigning NESCAC player of the week, Jordan Bonner ’19 who dominated against Williams, and has emerged as the top scoring threat in Middletown. They also boast one of the league’s most efficient players in Kevin O’Brien ’19, who averages 10.8PPG, 7REB/G, and 5.8 AST/G, while shooting 62.5% from the field. This type of efficiency will be key for Wesleyan if they would like to stand atop the conference, or even the Little Three, by the end of the season.

Colby

Last week we mentioned Bates and Bowdoin as Maine schools that were on a bit of a tear, and now we can add Colby to the list. They welcomed the Polar Bears to Waterville and put on quite a performance. I’m not a betting man (in compliance with NCAA rules of course), but if I were, I would say that Bowdoin was probably the favorite in this one, entering the game undefeated and ranked #22 nationally. It was a very tight game the entire way, but the Mules simply shot too well to lose this one. They  shot 48.4% from the field, they were 13-32 (40.6%) from beyond the arc en route to a 5-point victory. Their style of play is very offense-oriented and they like to shoot A LOT. However, their pass-first mentality places them first in the league with 20.3 assists per game. They also love to crash the boards, specifically on offense. They are in the middle of the pack (5th) in the conference in total rebounds, but second in offensive rebounds. Colby very much subscribes to living and dying via the three-point shot, but it has worked thus far, as they are second in threes per game. The Mules are very fun to watch, so stay tuned to see how they fare over the next few weeks.

NESCAC parity

This is a much more scrutinized topic in NESCAC football, especially with the conference’s basketball being much deeper, but it does seem that year-in and year-out we see more or less the same teams at the top. It was exciting to see both Wesleyan and Colby (underdogs per se) take down higher ranked teams and show that anything can happen on any given night in the ‘CAC. I am about as big a NESCAC fan as they come, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have any evidence to back up my claim that the NESCAC is the best conference in the NCAA. 11 of the last 14 Division III Final Fours® have featured at least one team from the NESCAC, and there are no other conferences at any other division that can say the same. Hopefully the new NESCAC-ESPN deal gets off the ground, so we can start airing games that are played at this high of a level. Until then.

Zavier Rucker ’21 is one of the talented young players that are helping less established teams make runs this season.

Stock down

Williams’ little three chances

The mighty Ephs have shown us that they are vulnerable, and Wesleyan showed what it takes to defeat them. The Cardinals stymied the Ephs on defense, holding them to 23-62 (37.1%) from the field and 9-33 (27.3%) from 3-point land. It didn’t get any better from the charity stripe, where Williams went 12-23, good for 52.2%. They were not turning the ball over at a particularly high rate, but their poor showing from the field resulted in a season-low 11 assists. Wesleyan’s defensive effort was superb, and I’m confident the Ephs will bounce back, but this result was pretty shocking considering they came in at #3 in the nation. That said, this was officially a non-conference game, and teams aren’t expected to be in top shape on December 1st. Williams simply has much more to prove with after the first blemish of their season, especially with another non-conference matchup with Amherst looming. With Wesleyan showing that they aren’t messing around and Amherst playing well out of the gates, the Little Three crown will be a lot tougher to grab than we may have thought at the beginning of the year.

Johnny McCarthy as a POY candidate

Amherst’s strong start this year has been a team effort; it’s about the name on the front, not the one on the back.

As a writer, I take pride in my work, and I’m also willing to admit when I was wrong. In the case of McCarthy, it does appear that I was wrong when I discussed him as a possible POY candidate. Nothing against McCarthy or Amherst, because they are off to a great start, appearing at no. 21 in the nation this week. Simply put, Amherst is too balanced for McCarthy to stand out as a candidate for this prestigious award. He is putting up 8.5PPG, 6.0Reb/G, and 2.3AST/G, which are all solid numbers, but not enough to place him under POY consideration. The Mammoths have such a large rotation of players that play at a high level, so no individual is truly standing out. Again, this is not meant to take any jabs at the Mammoths who have being playing really good basketball, but it is interesting to see who will take a step forward once they get to the more difficult portion of their schedule.

The Future is Now: Bowdoin Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Bowdoin Polar Bears

2016-2017 Record: 12-11; 3-7 in NESCAC (failed to reach NESCAC playoffs)

2017-2018 Projected Record: 5-5 in NESCAC

Key Losses:

Neil Fuller ‘17 (4.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)

Fuller started every game for the Polar Bears last year, and was a consistent and experienced player. His leadership and poise will definitely be missed by a Polar Bears team that struggled with consistency last year. Luckily, Bowdoin returns most of their major contributors outside of Fuller.

Tim Ahn ‘19 (6.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 5.4 APG, 25 steals)

Ahn departs due to an academic semester abroad. Ahn led the Polar Bears in steals and assists last season, and was a quick and reliable ball handler. The Bears have some depth at guard, including three new first-year recruits.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Guard Zavier Rucker ‘21 (N/A)

Zavier Rucker
Zavier Rucker ’21 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Not much information is available about Zavier Rucker, but all signs point to him being in the starting lineup on day 1. He’s a gritty, hard-working player capable of playing multiple positions, and he hails from the Taft School. Coaches and veterans have said that Rucker may not light up the stat sheet, but will take care of the ball and serve as an elite on-ball defender. This is an area in which the Polar Bears struggled, so the addition of Rucker will perhaps boost Bowdoin in much needed areas.

Guard Liam Farley ‘18

Liam Farley
Liam Farley ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

A 6’5” senior from the Windy City, Farley has been a staple of the Bowdoin Basketball team since his first year. He’s a proven shooter from the outside, and has also shown the ability to get to the hoop. Depending on their approach, the Polar Bears may want Farley to drive to the hoop, and draw defenders away from their other shooters. Whether or not he can do this remains to be seen.

Forward David Reynolds ‘20

David Reynolds
David Reynolds ’20 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Reynolds made a pretty big splash in his first season with the Polar Bears, despite injury. He averaged 10.3 points per game and 21.5 minutes per game. He had good chemistry with Simonds, and was a solid interior defender as well. He’ll see a big uptick in minutes this year, and since he’s returning from injury, that may be a storyline to take note of. More on Reynolds below.

Forward Jack Simonds ‘19

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

Mr. Maine, and Mr. Reliable. An early (and accurate) candidate for NESCAC Player of the Year, Simonds has been a flat-out stud for the Polar Bears the past two years. He really does it all: shoots, drives to the hoop, defends well – he’s really a ‘jack’ of all trades (haha!). Though his average scoring dropped from 19 PPG in 2015-2016 to 16 PPG in 2016-2017, Simonds has shown no signs of slowing down. He will handle the ball consistently, and will be called upon to make things happen late in games. Simonds averaged the 6th most minutes per game in the NESCAC last season, so longevity may be a lingering issue for Simonds and the Polar Bears. If he can remain healthy and consistent (and I think he will), he will continue his trend of putting up big numbers for the Polar Bears. He is the real deal, and the team’s centerpiece.

Forward Hugh O’Neil ‘19

Hugh O'Neil
Hugh O’Neil ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

O’Neil saw a big increase in minutes last year, and he delivered solid interior defense and scoring. His 9.8 rebounds per game was good for second in the NESCAC. His transition into a starting role last year satisfied everyone’s hopes of O’Neil emerging into a beast on the boards. All signs indicate that trend continuing this season. At 6’7”, O’Neil may often be a bit smaller than his matchup, but that shouldn’t hurt his ability to use his quickness to score and grab rebounds down low.

Breakout Player: David Reynolds ‘20

Reynolds battled with injury last year, yet was able to produce in big ways when he was on the court. Sources tell me he’s healthier and stronger than ever now. He’ll most likely find himself in a starting role with a chance to showcase his scoring abilities early and often. If all goes right for Reynolds and the Polar Bears, he will complement Simonds’s scoring load and serve as another player opposing defenses need to worry about. His game resembles Simonds’ to some degree in its versatility. He shot nearly 40% from three last year on four attempts per game, but also uses his size to finish inside and from mid-range. Like I said before, his health was the question last year, and that was the only thing standing in the way of a really stellar freshman season. This year, Reynolds seems ready to shoulder a heavy workload, and with his athleticism and scoring ability, he should be a major contributor for the Polar Bears.

Season Outlook:

Bowdoin reeled a bit last year after losing Lucas Hausman, finishing tied for 9th in the NESCAC. In that season, though, Bowdoin coaches were forced to thrust players into unfamiliar roles and hope to get production. This year, on the other hand, Bowdoin will be returning most of its starters / key contributors, so there should be fewer instances of ‘growing pains.’ With a solid core consisting of Farley, Simonds, and O’Neil, this team should be in sync consistently and compete hard in every game they play.

Simonds has proven that he thrives in the spotlight and enjoys being ‘the guy’ for Bowdoin. His leadership and nasty scoring abilities must be on full display if Bowdoin is to make some noise in the league this year. Bowdoin will also need strong years from fellow captains Farley and O’Neil.

The Bowdoin bench will be captained by Blake Gordon ‘18, who can be deadly from three-point range. Beyond that, though, the Bowdoin bench has some question marks. Jack Bors ‘19 figures to be a regular presence off the bench, like in previous years, but could also figure into the starting lineup at the question-mark point guard spot. The Polar Bears have 5 new first year players, so odds are some of them will see decent time and be forced to contribute off the bench. Just who that will be remains to be seen. I mentioned Rucker as a likely first-year contributor, but he’ll need a solid supporting cast.

Bowdoin will need to take down perennial foes Amherst and Bates this year if they are to shake up the NESCAC leaderboards. They will need to get into a groove offensively and muster better on-ball defense if they want to compete with the teams at the top of the league.  If the Polar Bears can spread scoring evenly and have certain guys step up when called upon, this season could be a success. This team has a very solid core of junior and sophomore players, and a promising collection of first-years. After adding several more wins to their total this year, I think Bowdoin has a solid foundation to compete in the NESCAC for years to come.