Amherst Basketball Teams Looking to Clinch No. 1 Seeds

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Amherst defeated Williams in overtime on Jan. 8.
(Photos by Matt Milless, D3photography.com)
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MEN’S BASKETBALL
Game Details: Amherst’s final NESCAC weekend is by far its toughest, as the third-ranked Lord Jeffs (21-0, 7-0 NESCAC) will travel to take on seventh-ranked Middlebury College (18-1, 6-1) Friday at 6 p.m. in Pepin Gym before facing second-ranked Williams College (21-1, 7-0) Saturday at 2 p.m. in Chandler Gym. Friday’s game will feature live statistics and a pay-per-view webcast, with a webcast (pay-per-view) and live statistics also available for Saturday’s showdown.

Playoff Scenarios: Amherst, Middlebury and Williams have already clinched home games in the NESCAC Championship quarterfinal round, but all three are still fighting for the tournament’s No. 1 seed and the right to host the semifinal and final rounds. Several scenarios are still in play, including one in which a random draw would be used to break a three-way tie and determine the top three seeds. While Middlebury needs to beat Amherst Friday night to stay in the running for No. 1, the Jeffs would still be in the race even with a loss to the Panthers. Williams, meanwhile, can secure the top spot with a win over Amherst, regardless of how the Ephs fare against Trinity on Friday. (Confused? Check out the NESCAC’s tie-breaking procedure and the current standings.)

Weekend Preview: The NESCAC is known traditionally for its exceptional guards, but this weekend’s matchups will feature a battle of the bigs. On Friday the Lord Jeffs will be up against Middlebury’s dominant tandem of 6’10 center Andrew Locke and 6’8 forward Ryan Sharry. The top two shot blockers in the NESCAC, Locke (3.9 bpg) and Sharry (1.9 bpg) are a big reason the Panthers lead Division III in field goal percentage defense (35.5) and blocks per game (7.5). Notably, Locke had 19 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks in a win over Connecticut College, just one day after Sharry totaled 22 points, 16 boards and three rejections against Wesleyan.

Countering Middlebury’s duo will be Amherst’s Pete Kaasila ’13 (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Jeff Holmes ’12 (7.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg), who have split time down low throughout the season. The Lord Jeffs began the week leading Division III in rebounding margin (+11.1) thanks in large part to Kaasila and Holmes, but they will need to be at their best against a Middlebury squad that ranks second in the category (+10.8). Amherst features one of the best scoring offenses in the country (87.9 ppg) and has scored at least 90 points on 10 occasions, but the Panthers are ready to counter with a defense that has allowed only two opponents to eclipse the 70-point mark (58.7 ppg).

Things won’t get any easier for the Lord Jeffs, who will go up against Williams center Troy Whittington ’11 on Saturday. When Amherst defeated its archrival earlier this season (92-89 OT), the Ephs were playing without Whittington, who currently leads Division III in field goal percentage (70.9) and averages 17.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Kaasila broke through with 18 points and 12 boards for Amherst in that game, with Holmes adding six points and seven rebounds. Whittington has recorded three double-doubles since sitting out against the Jeffs, including a 28-point, 10-rebound performance against Skidmore.

This weekend’s games may be decided in the paint, but some of the NESCAC’s best guard combinations will be on display as well. Amherst’s Conor Meehan ’11 (13.9 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Aaron Toomey ’14 (13.1 ppg, 3.4 apg) have demonstrated the ability to take over games for Amherst, notably combining for 37 points against Williams on Jan. 8. The Ephs countered that day with James Wang ’12 (17.8 ppg) and Nate Robertson ’13 (3.63 apg), who put up 27 and 19 points, respectively, against the Lord Jeffs. Complementing the Locke-Sharry combo for Middlebury are Jake Wolfin ’13—the NESCAC’s leader in assists per game (5.32)—and three-point threat Nolan Thompson ’13 (10.2 ppg).
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Amherst has won six straight against Williams.
(Photos by Matt Milless, D3photography.com)
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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
Game Details: The second-ranked Lord Jeffs (21-1, 7-0 NESCAC) will join the men’s team in traveling to face Middlebury College (13-7, 2-5) Friday at 8 p.m. in Pepin Gym before facing 19th-ranked Williams College (19-3, 5-2) Saturday at 4 p.m. in Chandler Gym. Friday’s game will feature live statistics and a pay-per-view webcast, with a webcast (pay-per-view) and live statistics also available for Saturday’s showdown.

Playoff Scenarios: The Amherst women’s team’s playoff situation is much more straightforward than that of the men’s, as the Lord Jeffs need only one more win to secure the conference’s No. 1 seed. Amherst is the only team to have guaranteed itself a home game in the NESCAC Championship quarterfinal round, as the Ephs are still fighting for a top-four seed despite getting off to a 12-0 start as the fourth-ranked team in Division III. Middlebury is currently eighth in the standings and will earn a playoff berth with a win against either Amherst or Trinity this weekend, or with one more loss by Connecticut College. (Confused? Check out the NESCAC’s tie-breaking procedure and the current standings.)

Weekend Preview: Saturday’s game between Amherst and Williams will feature a rematch of the Jan. 8 meeting that saw the Lord Jeffs jump out to a 9-0 lead en route to an 85-63 win. The Ephs strung together seven wins after their setback to Amherst, but they hit a speed bump last weekend with losses at Bowdoin (62-53) and Colby (85-71). Williams is 10-0 on its home court this season and will look to Claire Beecher ’13 to keep that streak going through the weekend. Beecher put up 19 points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks in Amherst last month, and she currently leads the conference in blocks per game (1.8) to go along with 10.8 points per contest. Chessie Jackson ’11 ranks fifth in the NESCAC in scoring (12.4 ppg), while Jill Greenberg ’12 is second in assists (5.5) and steals (2.9) per game.

Saturday’s game against the Ephs will be irrelevant in terms of Amherst’s seeding should the Jeffs get past Middlebury on Friday. Amherst put an end to the Panthers’ playoff hopes last year with a 79-46 result, as the Jeffs have won seven straight in the rivalry. Middlebury got off to a 12-3 start this year but has since gone 1-4, suffering conference losses to Williams (72-55), Colby (81-60) and Bowdoin (93-60) along the way. The Panthers lead the NESCAC in offensive rebounding (16.5 rpg) and feature two of the conference’s top eight scorers in Lauren Sanchez ’11 (13.2 ppg) and Maddie Moreau ’12 (12.0 ppg). Stephany Surrette ’12, who had a team-high 12 points against Amherst last year, leads the NESCAC in rebounds per game (8.3).

Amherst has won 21 consecutive NESCAC games dating back to the 2008-09 season, marking the longest such streak since Bowdoin won 31 straight from 2001-02 to 2004-05. All-America honorees Jaci Daigneault ’11 and Caroline Stedman ’12 have been unstoppable as of late, with Daigneault averaging 17.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in the past six games. Stedman has added 15.3 points per game during that stretch and is coming off an exceptional weekend that earned her a NESCAC Player of the Week selection. Daigneault, who had 20 points and nine boards against the Ephs on Jan. 8, is averaging 17.1 points on 73 percent shooting in road contests this season.

A Good Cause: Prior to Saturday’s men’s and women’s games, the Williams College Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will be collecting money for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Visit the Williams Athletics website for more information.