I’ve been pretty bad about predicting the correct winners for games in my last few pieces, and I’m not sure how much better I’m going to get. The nature of the league this year is too unpredictable and the parity between teams is too small to know who is going to show up. Wesleyan had a huge drop off earlier in the year and have since come roaring back, Middlebury has been consistent in every game except in a blowout loss to Williams, Tufts lost to Bates, albeit without their best player, and Amherst has had their share of duds too. Trinity and Bates seem to be just sticking around, winning against weaker opponents, save the upset win over Tufts. Those are the top six teams in the league, all riding this rollercoaster of a NESCAC season. What does it all mean with just 3-4 conference games left for each squad? The top seed is the ultimate prize to host the playoffs, but once the postseason begins, it’s anybody’s to take.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts @ Amherst, 3:00 PM, Amherst, MA
Tom Palleschi ‘17 has been a big focus in the last few mentions of Tufts basketball. The All-NESCAC big man’s absence leaves a big vulnerability down low. Amherst doesn’t have a player like Bates’ Marcus Delpeche, but Johnny McCarthy will still pose a rebounding threat. The Jumbo’s two straight losses are unexpected and clearly a result of their starting center going down, but if they can manage to right the ship against Trinity, they could easily bring the fire back to Amherst. At 6-1 in NESCAC, the Jumbos are comfortable in first place, but hosting the NESCAC tournament isn’t to be taken lightly. The home field advantage could easily slip from Tufts’ grasp if Ogundeko dominates on Friday, bringing in a must-win situation against the Purple and White.
If the NESCAC basketball season is an amusement park, with each team as its own dipping, twisting, and turning rollercoaster, then Amherst is the Tower of Terror. At fourth in this week’s power rankings and #11 nationally, there are conflicting opinions as to how legit this team is. Losses to Conn College and Wesleyan nearly derailed their NESCAC season, but a four game hot streak has put them within striking distance of the top spot if the ball rolls their way this weekend. Johnny McCarthy ’18 is going to be huge this weekend, and as the #1 rebounder with 8.8 REB/G and a 46.4 FG% in conference, Tufts is going to have a lot to handle without their star player. Center Drew Madsen ’17 will have a lot to handle.
Tufts X-Factor: Drew Madsen ‘17
Perhaps Madsen will be a bigger make-or-break player against Trinity’s Ogundeko, but he might just have the length to handle McCarthy against Amherst. In his four starts at center these past two weeks, he is averaging just over five PPG and five REB/G. His shooting isn’t the issue here—the guards will need to pick up the slack as Pete mentioned in Part One. He needs to bring down the boards to replace Palleschi’s 7.2 REB/G and 2.6 blk/g in conference. Madsen will come in key on defense as McCarthy could have a huge game if left free in the paint. Delpeche’s 28 points can’t be repeated here as Tufts has been ice cold from 3-point range of late. Madsen certainly doesn’t need to play as well as Palleschi, but if he can stop Amherst’s top threat, then Vincent Pace can do his thing and carry the Jumbos again offensively.
Amherst X-Factor: Jayde Dawson
While McCarthy is Amherst’s most dynamic player, Dawson’s team leading 17.0 PPG in NESCAC games drives the offense.In Amherst’s worst loss of the season against Conn College, Dawson scored just nine points. In all of their other ‘CAC games, he hasn’t scored less than 13, with 17 and 21 in their last two games. He had four steals in a two point win against Bowdoin and four more against Trinity and could have a big rebounding day against the hobbled Jumbos. McCarthy should be big down low on Saturday, but Dawson will have to keep up with Pace as I’m not fully convinced Amherst deserves their #11 ranking at this point in the season.
Both teams will walk into Saturday’s matchup after a good test the day before. Bates and Trinity could easily knock off both teams, leaving this as a battle for seeding with so few games to play. Trinity should be a great test for Tufts, offering a similar big threat to Delpeche, which could better prepare them for an Amherst team that hasn’t beaten anybody in the top seven except for Trinity. In that lone win against Trinity, the Bantams shot just 7.1% from three (1-14), more a sign of bad shooting than good defense, a clear anomaly. Their loss to Conn College and their two point win against last place Bowdoin really stick out as reasons why the Purple and White won’t win despite Palleschi’s absence.
Tufts also has had it pretty rocky of late with their tough loss to Bates, but if they can figure out how to play without Palleschi—it makes sense that it would take a few games—then they should be able to handle Amherst. The #9 team in the country is much more deserving of their ranking than Amherst—and if not for their center’s injury, they would be a clear favorite. The level of play of both teams will be much clearer after Friday’s match ups, but for now I still think the Jumbos can figure it out.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts
Middlebury @ Bowdoin, 3:00 PM, Brunswick, ME
While I haven’t been accurate on my predictions, I really think the Panthers are going to win this one. Last place Bowdoin against #16 Middlebury doesn’t leave a lot to fear as a Midd fan, but Jack Simonds always poses a big threat. Simonds’ ridiculous point totals have come down to earth a bit recently with just eight and 13 against Trinity and Colby, but others have stepped up. Jack Bors had a huge 24 point outburst against Colby and added 19 more in a win against Husson, although neither opponent is as strong as the Panthers.
With Bryan Jones’ blowup performance against Hamilton last weekend, Middlebury added another big offensive weapon. Matt St. Amour, Jake Brown, Jack Daly, Adisa Majors and now Eric McCord and Jones? The Panthers have a plethora of offensive and defensive weapons that led to 115 points against a good team, and they could easily put up triple digits against the Polar Bears. If Bors and Simonds have the games of their lives and Middlebury forgets how to shoot, then it could be close…maybe.
Writer’s Pick: Middlebury
Hamilton @ Colby, 3:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Hamilton was really starting to emerge as a potential contender, and then they had to go and lose by 33 to Middlebury. Ouch. That game definitely put a lot of question as to how the Continentals can hold up against the stronger league opponents, but at 3-3, they are still sticking around. Bowdoin should pose a similar threat to the Continentals as the Mules will, so my pick in this one will be the same as Pete’s for Hamilton’s Friday game.
Colby did put up a solid and surprising performance against Bowdoin with Patrick Stewart putting up 28 points out of nowhere. Stewart should be rested heading into the weekend, playing just 13 minutes in a blowout win against Southern Maine, and if he can get it going, maybe Colby can too. Hamilton has lost all of their games on the road this year and their starters played terribly against the Panthers last weekend. Kena Gilmour could crack the starting lineup soon enough as his 19 points on 19 shots last weekend were both team highs, with only one starter, Andrew Groll, putting up double digit points. I’m still a big fan of Hamilton’s even depth and Jack Dwyer’s court vision, but he needs to play better than he did last weekend. Hamilton is the favorite here, but they aren’t a lock.
Writer’s Pick: Hamilton
Bates @ Trinity, 3:00 PM, Hartford, CT
This should be a great matchup between three of the best big men in the NESCAC. Marcus Delpeche showed his star talent last weekend and Ed Ogundeko shows it nearly every game. Neither team has really been able to separate themselves from the middle of the pack and neither has a ton of offensive depth. Malcolm Delpeche offers another star rebounding presence and is a good scorer too—just short ofMarcus’ scoring and rebounding, and averages 3.5 BLK/G to lead the league. Bates should have an upper hand in the boards department with two of the top five rebounders in the league, but Trinity has potential big game players who don’t always show up.
Eric Gendron and Chris Turnbull have traded off with good performances the past two games while Jeremy Arthur has really hit a wall lately. Gendron and Turnbull are going to need to bring it and are the keys to the Bantams’ game as Marcus should match Ogundeko and Malcolm should be a big advantage to the Bobcats. Coming off an upset win against Tufts (and maybe another upset win against Amherst?) the Bobcats will be ready to go. If it wasn’t for their loss to Conn College earlier this year I would say Bates should definitely be ahead of Trinity in the power rankings. It should be a close one, but Bates should pull it out.
Writer’s Pick: Bates
Conn College at Williams, 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
I don’t think I’ve been giving the Camels quite as much credit as they deserve. I keep knocking on teams that have lost to them as they were upset losses, but Conn has pretty much lost to everybody they were expected to lose to. What I mean is they have really only played good teams. Wins against Bates and Amherst are huge for this team heading into the playoff run as this game against the Ephs has huge playoff implications. Currently at 2-4, Williams holds the final spot in the NESCAC playoffs, but at 2-5 the Camels are clawing at that eighth spot. With their final three games against Williams, Colby, and Bowdoin, the Camels could easily end up 5-5.
Williams offers a typically confusing case for the NESCAC. A blowout win against Middlebury really confuses me. The Ephs shot a blistering hot 58.5 FG% and 48.1% from deep, shown to be unsustainable against Amherst where they really fell back to earth. Zuri Pavlin and Daniel Janel down lost coupled with Tyler Rowe and Lee Messier offer a much more consistent arsenal of weapons that should be able to knock off the Ephs. No doubt the Williams team could pull this game off, but this is Conn’s easiest conference game thus far and they have played nearly every team closely.
Writer’s Pick: Conn College