This weekend Middlebury (11-0, 2-0) will host Connecticut College (5-8, 0-2) and Wesleyan (7-6, 1-1) to open the home conference schedule. Like last week, I’ve re-posted our pre-season notes on both of these games below, and added some new thoughts based on observations from the season thus far.
Jan. 11: CONNECTICUT COLLEGE (1-9, 8-16)
Date: Friday, 6:00 pm (at Middlebury)
Last year: Middlebury 72-56
Connecticut College is likely to spend the year in the basement of the NESCAC. Aside from junior star Matt Vadas, their rotation is inexperienced and untalented. Vadas would need to have a career night for his team to have a shot at winning this one, and his 5-24 career FG shooting against Middlebury (See: “The Thompson Effect”) does not bode well for him or the Camels.
Prediction: W (3-0)
Jan. 11 Addendum: Vadas now leads the conference in scoring at 22.2 points per game, showing improved shooting stats (43% FG, 40% 3PT, 82% FG) despite being the focal point of every opposing defense. He also leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game and 1.8 steals per game, proving himself to be one of the best players in the conference in his junior season. Unfortunately for Vadas, his supporting cast remains weak: only freshman forward Aaron McBurnie averages double digit points, but he has not played yet in the new year, so his status for this contest remains a question. The poor depth contributes to Conn College’s weak defensive statistics, as the Camels allow 68 points per game, allowing a conference-high 37.4% opponents’ three-point percentage. Hunter Merryman, Nolan Thompson, Joey Kizel, and Jake Wolfin (who had the best shooting game of his career last season vs. Conn. College) should take advantage from the start. One thing to watch for will be whether Middlebury coach Jeff Brown puts Thompson or James Jensen on Vadas, as both are extremely well-suited for the one-on-one matchup against the combo wing scorer. Expect Middlebury’s conference home winning streak to continue in this one.
Where to listen: WRMC, coverage starts at 5:45 PM.
Stat watch: Senior Jake Wolfin is four assists away from becoming Middlebury’s all-time assists leader, a special accomplishment for a phenomenal passer.
Jan. 12: WESLEYAN (20-6, 7-3)
Details: Saturday, 2:00 pm (at Wesleyan)
Last year: Middlebury 65-62, Middlebury 74-52 (NESCAC Tournament)
Wesleyan is primed to make a run this year as seniors Shasha Brown (17.1 ppg), Mike Callaghan (12.6 ppg) and Derick Beresford (11.7 ppg) look to cap off their impressive careers on a high note. Brown and Beresford, both undersized guards, make for the best slashing-scoring duo in the conference, and Callaghan is a consistent force in the paint with good touch in the mid-range game, as well. But while Brown is considered by many to be one of the best players in the conference (and better than Middlebury’s Joey Kizel), he shot a lackluster 10-25 from the field in their two matchups last season, and in both games he looked outmatched. Wesleyan’s middle-of-the-conference point differential from last season is another reason to think they may be overrated headed into 2012-13. As long as Middlebury can limit Callaghan with Lynch, Jensen, Roberts, and co., the Panthers should get the win on their homecourt.
Prediction: W (4-0)
January 12 Addendum: After a near NCAA Tournament berth last year and returning three senior starters including 1st-Team All-NESCAC guard Shasha Brown, Wesleyan generated more buzz than any other NESCAC team during the offseason. Somewhere between then and now, the wheels came off. Last night Wesleyan lost for the seventh time, falling back to .500 and eclipsing their loss total from last season after just 14 games. Though the Cardinals have the firepower to turn their season around, at this point, they appear to be what Bill Simmons coined a “Good Bad Team” — a team that finishes at or above .500 because they beat all the bad teams on the schedule, but lose consistently to superior teams. Thus far, that has been the case for Wesleyan, who have just one win against a team with a winning record, a 70-59 win over Westfield State on December 5th, over a month ago. Wesleyan’s six other wins have come against teams with a combined record of 25-46, while the team’s seven losses have come to opponents with a 74-20 record. If it’s any consolation for the Cardinals, they’ve yet to lose to a team with a losing record and have only lost twice at home with losses to Williams and Amherst, two top-20 opponents. There is, of course, time for Wesleyan to regroup and make a strong second half run, and winning on the road at Pepin Gymnasium — somewhere the Cardinals haven’t won since 2004 — is a great place to start. Unfortunately for Mike Reilly’s squad, toppling the Panthers, who currently hold a 30-game regular season unbeaten streak at home, seems unlikely. Wesleyan does not appear to be a team primed for a turnaround. While the Cardinals are shooting a respectable 45% from the floor, good for fifth in the conference, the team has struggled shooting the three (32%, T-9th) and making free throws (69%, 9th) — both areas of heightened significance for teams that rely heavily on guard play, as Wesleyan does. Perhaps the most surprising stat of the early season for the Cardinals, however, is their terrible assist-to-turnover ratio. Wesleyan ranks 8th in the NESCAC in both assists (12.4) and turnovers (14.4) per game. Brown and Beresford — the latter in particular — have struggled this season, regressing when many expected the dynamic pairing to form one of the most formidable back courts in the country. While both average double-digit scoring, Brown is shooting just 44% from the floor (down from 51% last season) and Beresford is shooting a putrid 35%. And though neither guard has a reputation for being a real threat from three, they are managing to shoot just 28% from beyond the arc. This is a particular problem for Beresford, who has jacked up an alarming 91 threes this season. For comparison’s sake, Middlebury, which shoots 43% as a team has attempted 204 treys, led by Nolan Thompson who has attempted 57 on the season and made the same number (25) as Beresford in 34 fewer attempts. One of the few bright spots for Wesleyan this season has been the play of forward Mike Callaghan who picked up this season where he finished last year; Callaghan is averaging 17 and eight while shooting better than 53% from the floor. If the Cardinals upset the Panthers today, Callaghan and front court teammate Glen Thomas will have to wreak havoc in the post — an area Middlebury has struggled to defend this season. Thomas will present a significant challenge for the Panthers — he would currently lead the conference in rebounds per game if he qualified statistically and is a force on the offensive glass, grabbing 11, yes 11, offensive rebounds yesterday against Williams. Thomas and Callaghan, therefore, will be the difference makers in this game, not Brown and Beresford, though both will need to score efficiently and set up their teammates while limiting turnovers.