This weekend Middlebury (9-0) travels to Bates and Tufts in the opening weekend of conference play. I’ve re-posted our pre-season notes on both of these games below, and added some new thoughts based on observations from the first trimester of the season.
Jan. 4: BATES (13-13, 5-5)
Details: Friday, 6:00pm (at Bates)
Last year: Middlebury 79-57
Though now without star forward John Squires, Bates is returning three of its top four players, led by 6’6” senior center Ed Bogdanovich (10.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg). The Bobcats boast two of the top young guards in the conference in junior Luke Matarazzo (8.1 ppg) and sophomore Graham Safford (6.8 ppg). This will be a tough atmosphere for Middlebury, as Bates is known for their home-court advantage, and the Panthers will have played only one game in the previous four weeks heading into this contest. That said, Middlebury matches up very well against this team. Nolan Thompson can shut down their top outside scorer, whether that be Matarazzo, Safford, or senior guard Mark Brust, and Pete Lynch has the strength to defend Bogdonavich down low.
Prediction: W (1-0)
Jan 3. Addendum: Bates is 5-7 against a mediocre schedule, and appears likely to remain in the lower-middle tier of the conference. Bogdanovich, Safford, Brust, and Matarazzo combine for 44 points per game, but Bates has little depth behind their big four (and their big four isn’t that great anyway: 40% combined FG), so Middlebury should handle them, and I don’t expect it to be close. The two players I will be watching are Mike Boornazian, a 6’5″ first-year who can score inside and out to the tune of 6.6 points per game and is leading the team in minutes off the bench, and Safford, the athletic sophomore guard who scored 19 points last season against Middlebury, and has improved his numbers across the board this year. From a Middlebury perspective, the top thing to watch for is Dylan Sinnickson’s possible return. The sophomore forward was seen warming up and this past weekend at home and looked sharp, but did not dress for the game. Based on that sneak peek, it seems he could make his season debut very soon.
Jan. 5: TUFTS (16-9, 6-4)
Details: Saturday, 2:00 pm (at Tufts)
Last year: Middlebury 82-69
Tufts’ stable of young talented guards will make Middlebury wish they were back in Lewiston, Maine. The Jumbos’ trio of sophomore C.J. Moss (7.2 ppg), junior Kwame Firempong (9.7 ppg), and sophomore Ben Ferris (9.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg) are all highly skilled and likely to grow together significantly this season. Ben Ferris put up Kizelian numbers in conference, shooting 55% from the field and 54% from three on his way to the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award. It’s easy to get distracted by the up-and-coming guards, but the leading scorer on this team last year was forward Scott Anderson (12.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg). Anderson is complemented by 6’7” junior Tom Folliard (6.9 ppg) in the frontcourt. This team is going to upset at least one of the big four (Williams, Amherst, Middlebury, Wesleyan) this season, and we think it will come early against a potentially-rusty Panthers team that will have only played two games in four weeks.
Prediction: L (1-1)
Jan 3. Addendum: Tufts got off to a very shaky start this year, losing 5 of their first 8, and now stands at a pedestrian 6-5 despite being hyped as the NESCAC up-and-comer in the preseason (at least by us). Top returning scorers Anderson and Firempong have regressed statistically, dropping from 22.3 to 17.1 combined points per game. Ferris has improved (12.5 ppg), although he hasn’t maintained the excellent efficiency numbers he put up in-conference last season. First-year Stephen Haladyna is the team’s bench spark, scoring 9.4 points in 17.6 minutes off the pine (50% FG, 44% 3PT), and has shown an impressive driving ability in the games we have watched. Despite the rough start, there are two strong reasons remaining that suggest Tufts can pull off the upset: First, the talent still exists. The emergence of Haladyna gives the Jumbos a very impressive top five (Ferris, Anderson, Firempong, Moss, Haladyna), a group that has not yet come together to reach its potential but in all probability will for stretches this season. This is the time of the year when those things often start to happen, and we imagine those guys spend a good portion of break working together to improve. Second, going down to Tufts for an early afternoon game after a late night in Lewiston Friday will be tough for a Middlebury squad that has only played one game in the past four weeks.
I will be at Bates this weekend, and likely watching the Tufts game online, so check out @MiddPantherBlog for updates and analysis.