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A Big Weekend for Bowdoin

With two of the surprise teams in the NESCAC tipping off against one another, contributing writer, Adam Lamont takes a look at how Bowdoin and Trinity — two teams with similar makeups — matchup against one another.

Darkhorses Bowdoin and Trinity face off tonight in a game that will have considerable implications for the NESCAC.

Darkhorses Bowdoin and Trinity face off tonight in a game that will have considerable implications for the NESCAC.

Every single Bowdoin basketball fan is ecstatic about how the season has gone so far with Bowdoin (16-1, 4-1) off to its best start ever. Even though the team sports a 4-1 NESCAC record, naysayers still point out that all of those wins came against teams that have just one conference win each. They say Bowdoin needed a miracle shot to beat Bates in December and were pushed by teams like UMaine Farmington and Bridgewater State. Let me state that I am not one of those people who thinks the Polar Bears haven’t proven themselves. With that being said the stakes are unquestionably way higher this weekend than at any other time this season. Bowdoin plays Trinity (11-7, 3-2) tonight and Amherst (16-2, 5-0) Saturday afternoon. The dream scenario for the Polar Bears is what last played out January 29 and 30 of 2010 when Bowdoin beat Amherst on a last second shot and followed that up with a four-point win over Trinity. Circumstances were very different then as only one of the players in tomorrow’s game was on those rosters and Amherst finished 3-6 in the NESCAC that year. And oh, by the way, since the 2011-2012 season Amherst is 25-0 in conference play.

Trinity enters the game 3-2 in conference, but those two losses came to Williams and Amherst; the Bantams could be primed for a late season run as this year’s NESCAC darkhorse. In fact, Trinity and Bowdoin are very similar in makeup. They rank first and second, respectively, in team defense this year and spread the ball around on offense; neither team has a player average more than 15 points per game. The play of sophomore Shay Ajayi and freshman Ed Ogundeko in the frontcourt has been the catalyst for the improved rebounding as well as a much needed scoring punch. Bowdoin has won the rebounding battle in almost every game it has played, simply because John Swords has used his size in the paint to bring down boards. Notably, he has improved his balance this year so that he is almost impossible to push out of the paint on defensive rebounds. The big bodies of Keegan Pieri and Grant White amplify the rebounding advantage Swords gives the Polar Bears, who have outrebounded teams by 11.3 rebounds per game. Trinity is the best rebounding team and most physical front court that Bowdoin will have faced thus far so it will be crucial for Bowdoin to continue its dominance on the glass.

In the backcourt the point man for the Bantams is Jaquan Starks who leads the team in points and assists with 11.6 points per game and 3.9 assists per game. The 5’9’’ sophomore guard is not an efficient scorer, shooting 36 percent from the floor while averaging 9.9 field goal attempts per game. He shoots a higher percentage from three (38.5) than from the field so limiting his looks from deep should be Bowdoin’s top priority. The Polar Bears switches between man and zone depending partly on lineups and whether John Swords gets into foul trouble. With Trinity shooting 36 percent from deep as a team Bowdoin will likely start in man, but Coach Tim Gilbride will vary that depending on circumstance.

On offense Bowdoin’s balanced attack has moved away somewhat from its three-point-heavy approach earlier in the year to focus more on getting the ball into the paint. For comparison, in their first game against Colby, the Polar Bears shot 18 threes versus just six in their second meeting last Saturday. Swords is becoming a little more assertive on offense and starting to finish with more confidence around the basket. Pieri has become more of a focal point as well in the offense. The junior forward is looking for shots earlier in the game, mostly in the elbow area, but has even flashed an occasional three-pointer at times (though he is shooting just 27 percent from beyond the arc). Given the size and style of these two teams, expect a low-scoring, slow-paced game throughout that will come down to who can execute and find easy shots down the stretch. This one feels like a race to 60.

Looking big picture, one last note of significance is the return of Brian Hurley, who last year was Bowdoin’s starting point guard and best player. He returned from a knee injury on Tuesday against Thomas College, but expecting him to be an impact player immediately might be a mistake. In13 minutes of play, Hurley collected three points, two assists and three turnovers. I don’t know what his playing time will be like this weekend, but it would be surprising if he saw extensive time. However, with each week that goes by he should get more and more comfortable and provide flexibility and depth at guard. Some are worried that Hurley’s return will upset the rotation and hurt the play of the other guards. This seems sort of ridiculous given the minutes for the three perimeter spots are divided up mostly amongst four players: Matt Mathias, Grant White, Andrew Madlinger and Lucas Hausman. At the beginning of the year Jake Donnelly averaged 10 minute per game at point guard, giving Mathias valuable time to rest, but Donnelly is out with an injury and hasn’t played in a few months. In five NESCAC games Mathias has average 34.2 mpg where he is the primary ball handler. Doing that back-to-back days is brutal and giving him five more minutes of rest a game should be extremely helpful. With Hurley back I would love to see some type of crazy small ball lineup with Swords surrounded by four shooters with White playing power forward. But that is the type of lineup that a coach wants to see practice and develop chemistry before putting in a game, so it’s doubtful any small ball lineup will log many minutes. Nevertheless, the addition of Hurley is something to keep a close eye on the rest of the way. Though he might not be a big part of this weekend, he should have a say in what happens in the NESCAC by the end of the season.

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