We’re down to the final four, and while this weekend will be about the excitement and drama going down in LeFrak, it’s always fun to take a moment to reflect on how we got here. Seven teams (unless Bowdoin gets an at-large bid) have played their last game this season, and here’s a recap of each team’s journey.
#11 BATES (11-13, 1-9)
Boy, did things look good out of the gate for the Bobcats. Bates won six of its first seven, including a non-league game on the road at Colby, and eight of its first 12, the last being a buzzer-beating victory over Middlebury, who’s still alive. As it turned out, that win would be Bates’ only in the conference and the Bobcats ended the year with four consecutive losses.
MVP: Graham Safford, Senior
The captain started every game, played 33.0 minutes per contest, and led the team in scoring and assists. Sophomore guard Mike Boornazian also had a very impressive season, but Safford was the team’s heartbeat, and hit the big shot in the team’s biggest win of the season. Speaking of which…
High Point: Win at Middlebury 64-61
Looking back on the conference season’s opening weekend, this game seemed to confirm the worries of many a Panther fan who thought that the departures of Jake Wolfin, Nolan Thompson and Peter Lynch would spell the end of the era of Panther dominance, and lifted Bates to the top of the list of candidates for surprise team of the year. The next weekend Bates lost both games by a combined 26 points, and Middlebury is preparing for a semifinals tilt. Be wary of jumping to conclusions.
Most Impressive Newcomer(s): The Delpeche Brothers
Malcolm played more minutes than Marcus and poured it in at a 63.7 percent clip, but both had solid first seasons. Bates fans hope that these two will continue to develop together, pushing one another and using the chemistry that they have no doubt been fostering their entire lives. They should be a force for the next three years.
#10 CONNECTICUT COLLEGE (9-14, 2-8)
Despite an abysmal season, the Camels were actually still alive heading into the final weekend of NESCAC play. Then they got blown out by Williams (the Ephs were up 17 with 2:14 to play) and Hamilton (who won by 17). It was the Matt Vadas show all season, as it has been for years now. The senior guard became the Camels’ all-time leading scorer in the penultimate game against Williams and also holds the record for most three pointers in school history.
MVP: Zuri Pavlin, First-year
Tradition says that you give the MVP to your senior captain and all-time points leader, but I think Pavlin was actually more productive. Vadas was a 40 percent shooter. Good, but not great. Meanwhile, the 6’5” Pavlin shot 46 percent on the year and, get this, set the school’s single season rebounding record. As a first-year. The guy averaged a double-double (10.5, 10.8). Now if only he could fly, he’d be amazing.
High Point: Breaking Records
I hate to belabor the point, but this team wasn’t good, and the only thing that really stood out were some great individual seasons, namely that of Vadas and Pavlin. But, three of the team’s top five point-scorers will be back next year, one being first-year Alex Hall who played only 15.6 minutes per game, so things may be looking up for the Camels.
Most Improved: Mason Lopez, Senior
Lopez didn’t start at all last year and only played in 14 games, averaging 7.2 points per game. This season Lopez started 18 games and played 29.5 minutes per game, becoming a three-point threat and chipping in with a few boards and assists per game.
#9 WESLEYAN (11-13, 4-6)
The Cardinals were a playoff team last year at 4-6 in the NESCAC. This season they weren’t so lucky, and they needed to beat Williams on the season’s final day to get in, but weren’t up to the challenge. Wesleyan was competitive against everyone in the league except Amherst and Williams, and got the majority of its minutes from underclassmen, seeing as there were only two seniors on the roster. Following the departure of Shasha Brown, Derrick Beresford and Mike Callaghan — all of them 1,000-point scorers — head coach Joe Reilly should be pleased with the competitiveness of this young, developing group.
MVP: Rashid Epps, Sophomore
This is a tough one, because a lot of guys were really close statistically, but Epps provided the only real inside presence for Wesleyan. The sophomore was a very efficient scorer and snagged 9.2 rebounds per game. The 6’5” Harlem native should only get better with a talented young group around him.
High Point: Four-Game Winning Streak between January and February
Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 4., the Cardinals got three of their four conferences victories and squeaked out a win against in-state rival Eastern Connecticut. The team lit it up from deep over that stretch (45 percent) and gave themselves a shot at the NESCAC tournament.
Most Impressive Newcomer: Harry Rafferty
I said that the Cardinals will bring back a young core, but the team’s two through five scorers were all sophomores this season. Wesleyan’s top scorer was freshman point guard Harry Rafferty, off a post-grad year at Philips Exeter. Rafferty put up a 12.6, 3.9, 2.4 line, one of the best first-year performances in the conference.
(Another newcomer to take note of is Joseph Kuo, a 6’8” New Yorker who got limited playing time, but swatted a shot per game. There’s not a ton of 6’8” bodies in this league, maybe one per team. It will be interesting to see what he becomes.)
#8 COLBY (14-11, 4-6)
Much like the Cardinals, Colby will go into next season with high hopes while bringing back almost everyone. The Mules will graduate three seniors, none of whom played more than 4.3 minutes per game. The top five scorers for Colby were all sophomores, and five players (four sophomores, one junior) accounted for 95 percent of the starts, a sign of the team’s consistency and usually a good sign for a young core growing up together.
MVP: Chris Hudnut, Sophomore
An offense-first player, the 6’8” Hudnut is a true center with a good mid-range jump shot and nice touch around the basket. He runs the floor pretty well for a big guy, but he’s a killer in the halfcourt. Not afraid to shoot, he took 14.2 shots per game on his way to averaging 17.5 points per game. The sophomore big shot just 46.5 percent from the field, but given his range and developing three-point shot (29 percent on 2.5 attempts per game) his comparatively low efficiency numbers are buoyed somewhat. He’s also a good free throw shooter (78.3 percent), which is always a question mark when you’re talking about big guys. He can also rebound his position, averaging 8.4 rebounds per game, the fourth most in the conference. Finally, he’s an effective passer out of the paint, tallying 2.5 assists per game (and an eye-popping 3.4 in conference play, the 10th most in the NESCAC).
High Point: 80-75 Win vs. Amherst, January 31, 2014
The Lord Jeffs, the top seed in the NESCAC and number one in the most recent Northeast Regional Rankings, lost just three games this season. One was to a D-II school, Nova Southeastern, one was a shocker at Emerson (13-13) and the third as a conference defeat in Waterville on the last day of January, snapping a 25-game conference winning streak for Amherst. How did the Mules do it? It was a strange game in that only one player from each bench reached double digit minutes. Aaron Toomey scored 26 for the Lord Jeffs, but he was nearly matched by Colby’s Patrick Stewart who had 25. Amherst handily won the rebounding battle, turnovers were even at seven a-piece and three-point shooting was comparable. The factors in favor of Colby were assists (Colby had 23 to Amherst’s 10, evidence of great ball movement) and overall field goal percentage. Amherst shot 38.9 percent, but Colby converted at a 50.8 percent clip. Though the Lord Jeffs got their revenge in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs, this game was proof that Colby’s impressive young roster can compete with the league’s best.
The Robin Award (i.e. Batman and Robin): Luke Westman, Sophomore
While Hudnut is a score-first player, Westman is the type that makes everyone around him better, and is already extremely polished. Westman shot 65.2 percent from the field, far and away the best number among guards in the NESCAC, and second overall in conference behind seven footer John Swords. Westman started every game for the Mules and played high-volume minutes (30.5 mpg). He’s steady from the line (77.6 percent), a good rebounder for a guard (4.7 rebounds per game) and a solid playmaker (4.3 assists per game, 1.8 assist:turnover). When watching Colby play, it’s easy to miss the sophomore’s brilliance. He might never get First Team All-NESCAC consideration because he will likely always defer to Hudnut, Stewart and Ryan Jann, but he’s an integral cog in what this team can accomplish in the next two seasons.
#7 TUFTS (13-12, 4-6)
Some, myself included, had tufts pegged as this season’s breakout team. The Jumbos went 7-3 in the NESCAC last season and hosted a playoff game. Despite the loss of 2013 Rookie of the Year, Tom Palleschi to injury and the graduation of All-NESCAC Scott Anderson, the arrival of one of the league’s most talented first-years in forward Hunter Sabety and the return of productive guards Ben Ferris, Stephen Haladyna, Kwame Firempong and Oliver Cohen boded well for a step forward in 2014. Unfortunately, injuries to Ferris and Haladyna stopped Tufts from getting in a rhythm early in the year. Though Sabety was everything coach Bob Sheldon could have hoped for and senior forward Tommy Folliard took a large step forward, the Jumbos could not replace Palleschi and endured a disappointing campaign. Tufts will graduate Cohen, but a healthy core of Ferris, Haladyna and Sabety could make some noise next season.
MVP: Stephen Haladyna, Sophomore
This was another tough call. Ferris, a former Rookie of the Year himself, played only 14 games. Oliver Cohen did his job well, which meant distributing the basketball, racking up 4.9 assists per game, but his struggles from the field (37.2 percent) were too great to ignore. Coach Sheldon had to be pleased with the performance of senior guard Kwame Firempong, who tallied 11.9 points per game, but he, too, was inefficient from the floor (39.2 percent) and was a negative when he tried to shoot threes (32.2 percent). Sabety was, at times, dominant. We continue to reference the first half against Middlebury when Sabety went 8-8 and made it look easy. But that reminds us of the second half, and how Matt Daley was able to get into the first-year’s head. Sabety was limited to 22.9 mpg, partially because of his repeated bouts with foul trouble. And so the honor falls, almost by default, to Haladyna. The guard played and started 21 games, was second on the team in scoring, shot 42.9 percent, 81.6 percent from the line, and added 3.6 rebounds per game and 1.0 assists per game. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but he was consistent, which is something that can’t be said for many of the Jumbos this season.
High Point: NESCAC Quarterfinals Loss at Williams, 87-77 (OT)
It may be hard to justify a loss as a high point in the season, but bear with me. This season was a frustrating one for the Jumbos, one in which they failed to rack up any signature victories. It was the type of season where one must take solace in the dreaded ‘moral victory’. But honestly, for a team that lost by 23 to Williams two weeks before, they have to be proud of the fact that they took a top-10 team to overtime on its home floor in a playoff game. One might argue that the previous weekend, in which the Jumbos won two games to get into the tournament, including besting Bowdoin 66-62, was the high point for Tufts. But I don’t think anyone at Tufts started the season with the goal being to squeak into the playoffs as the seventh seed. They thought they could win it all. That won’t happen this year, but Tufts will look to rebound next year and make another run.
Most Impressive Newcomer: Hunter Sabety
We’ve talked about the super-talented first-year quite a bit. He just looks extremely athletic. At 6’8” 240lbs, he’s also pretty big. He knows how to use his body already on offense, and he is a force on defense as well, leading the league in blocked shots with 2.8 per game. He could contribute more consistently on the boards (6.6 rebounds per game), but he’s another guy that’s very efficient, scoring at a 65 percent clip, good for third in the NESCAC. The 2017 class could be one of the Jumbos’ beset in recent years. Point guard Tarik Smith played in every game this year and should replace Cohen in 2014-15. The last member of the class, forward Drew Madsen, was slightly disappointing, but he, too, looks like an athlete, and showed flashes. That trio, alongside Ferris and Haladyna, should form the beginning of a competitive rotation for the Jumbos.
#6 HAMILTON (14-11, 5-5)
Hamilton’s best player (spoiler alert) was sophomore guard Matt Hart. The only problem? As Hart went, so went the Continentals. Hamilton ranked fourth in the conference in ppg, but dead last in points allowed, combining for a differential of +2.3. Hamilton had no second scoring threat after Hart, and all in all lacked size. Nevertheless, they finished in the middle of the NESCAC, a testament to just how effective the offense could be.
MVP: Matt Hart, sophomore
Hart was the conference’s leading scorer at 20.6 ppg. In conference, that average went up to 21.0 ppg. In wins and losses he scored nearly the same number of points, but in Hamilton’s wins he hit shots at a 53.3 percent clip while he was a 41.1 percent shooter in defeat. The latter number isn’t terrible, but goes to show that there was no one to pick up the slack when Hart struggled. Hart had some big games in the NESCAC: 27 vs. Bowdoin, 30 vs. Middlebury, 29 at Conn. College. But Hart struggled in the Continentals playoff rematch with Middlebury. He notched just 11 points, most coming at the very end while the contest was slipping out of reach.
High Point: Wins vs. Middlebury, Bates and Tufts, Feb. 2-8
The Continentals rattled off three straight conference wins at home in early February, the first by a combined four points before torching Bates by 24. That stretch propelled Hamilton firmly into the playoffs. Unfortunately, all of those wins came at home, where the Continentals earned four of their five conference wins, and when playoff time rolled around, Hamilton looked outmatched on the road in Pepin.
Who’s Next?: Jack Donnelly, Sophomore
Slightly different approach here with Hamilton. Given that no one else really stood out consistently, I decided to predict who will step up next year and give Hart some support. Donnelly is just 6’0”, and not particularly athletic, but he’s a very efficient shooter at 45.2 percent from the floor and 46.3 percent from deep, and takes good care of the basketball with a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. His starting spot next year is not guaranteed. Senior Greg Newton will graduate, but junior guard Joseph Lin and freshman guard Kyle Pitman each played in 25 games this year, so there will be competition.
#5 BOWDOIN (19-5, 6-4)
The final NCAA Northeast Regional Rankings have Bowdoin at number seven, on the bubble for an at-large bid. At one point the Polar Bears looked like a lock for the postseason. They lost one game before February, but then went just 3-3 in the lead up to Selection Monday. They continually played to the level of their competition, losing by a total of 8 to Williams and Amherst but beating Bates by just three in early December in a non-conference game. At their best, Bowdoin could beat anyone in the NESCAC, but they became increasingly inconsistent over the course of the year, and failed to lock down a signature win, losing close games to the NESCAC’s top three seeds. Not having a healthy Bryan Hurley (9.4 points per game 4.0 rebounds per game, 8.3 assists per game in 2012-13) hurt, too.
MVP: John Swords, Junior
You can’t teach height. The tallest player in the NESCAC was dominant this year. Swords led the league in field goal percentage at 68.7 percent and was second to Pavlin in rebounds per game with 9.5, while tying with Middlebury’s Jack Roberts for second with 2.5 blocks per game while anchoring the NESCAC’s toughest defense. The drawbacks? Swords drew 2.9 fouls per game, limiting the conference’s best two-way big man to just 28 minutes per game. Additionally, teams could employ the hack-a-Swords technique if need be down the stretch and put the 53.3 percent foul shooter on the line. Offensively, one would expect someone so big and efficient to score more points, but Swords often looked to pass out of the post. I expect him to take over the game more next season with another year of experience under his belt.
High Point: 12-0 Start
Bowdoin had never before gone 5-0, so the hot start was something special for the Polar Bears. Even if their season is done, 19 wins would tie for the second-most victories in school history (22-7 in 2007-08), and represent a huge step forward from last year’s 14-10 finish.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Andrew Madlinger, Senior; Matt Mathias, Senior; Grant White, Senior
Bowdoin went with the same starting five every game this season, including Swords, fellow junior Keegan Pieri and the above trio of seniors. Madlinger was second on the Polar Bears with 12.1 points per game. Both he and White snagged more than four rebounds per game, though neither is taller than 6’4”. Mathias was a great distributor, handing out 3.8 assists per game, while making 43.0 percent of his threes. This season, these three helped Gilbride get his 400th victory (one of two active NESCAC coaches to reach that milestone) and entered the Bowdoin College record books with their flawless start to the season. Over the course of their careers, the seniors went 64-33 (.660).