Pod: vs. St. Joseph’s, Babson vs. Bridgewater State
Prognosis: The undefeated and defending national champion Lord Jeffs enter the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year as the favorites. Their path will likely be one of the easiest of any top seed, as they probably will not have to leave Amherst for the first four rounds of play, and the other high seeds in their region of the bracket are a group with gaudy records but lean resumes. Their potential second-round opponent, No. 13 Babson, is 25-2, but outside of an early season win against a Tufts side still getting its feet on the ground, they have looked poor against top teams, including a 61-39 drubbing at the hands of Williams. No. 15 Juniata similarly played a weak schedule, and is reeling after losing their conference championship game to Catholic, while No. 8 William Patterson could only split a season series with Kean, a team the Lord Jeffs dispatched by 23.
It is hard to find a weakness with this Amherst squad. They can get points outside with NESCAC Player of the Year Caroline Stedman or inside with senior classmate Lem Atanga McCormick. NESCAC Rookie of the Year Megan Robertson and junior guard Marcia Voigt provide depth off the bench. The team is as strong defensively as it is offensively, allowing them to compensate for any type of off-shooting night they may have. It may not have seemed it when the season began, but this could be one of coach G.P. Gromacki’s strongest teams yet.
If Everything Goes Right: Amherst cruises through the first two weekends without breaking a sweat, leaving them well rested for the Final Four. After putting away a couple of good teams in Michigan, the Lord Jeffs walk away with their second consecutive National Championship.
If Everything Goes Wrong: McCormick retweaks her injury on the opening weekend and can’t give significant minutes the rest of the way. Rhode Island College comes to town for the Elite Eight and senior forward Rachel Riley goes after Robertson, taking advantage of her inexperience and getting her into foul trouble. Amherst is forced to reach deep into their post depths and gets dominated inside the rest of the way, while RIC’s defense is able to keep Amherst from exploding. It all combine for a monumental upset
Pod: vs. Southern Maine, Elms at Ithaca
Prognosis: Bowdoin has been one of the most interesting teams in the NESCAC all season. They began the season ranked 14th nationally, and proved their worth early by beating up on a strong University of New England side. But then they dropped two straight, and had lost three games before even starting their conference slate. They then proceeded to lose to Bates, and everything looked to be in shambles.
But the Polar Bears recovered, and with a strong run to a 7-3 NESCAC record earned an at-large bid. Their first round matchup is intriguing; a rematch with a Huskies side that has already beaten them once this season, 63-49 on Nov. 29. In that game, Bowdoin was outrebounded 42-34 and shot just 3-of-24 from beyond the arc.
The Polar Bears are a guard heavy team, but rely largely on NESCAC first-teamer Jill Henrikson for offense. In the team’s first meeting, Southern Maine let her have hers while the teams’ other two primary scoring contributors – senior Amy Hackett and junior Caitlin Donahoe – to just 12 combined points. Henrikson is a star, but can’t do it all by herself.
For Bowdoin to make waves, they will also need to tighten up in the post, which is tough for a team that plays four guards. The Huskies’ Courtney Cochran took advantage of that to the tune of eight point and 18 rebounds in the team’s first meeting. Colby’s Jil Vaughn has had similar luck against them in the two games the Maine rivals split, averaging 16.5 points and 13.0 boards.
The talent is definitely there for Bowdoin, but how fourth year coach Adrienne Shibles harnesses it will determine how far this team can go in March.
If Everything Goes Right: Bowdoin learns from its first matchup with the Huskies and breaks down their staunch defense while crashing the defensive boards hard and follow a similar formula to pull the upset on Ithaca. But even then, a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 3 George Fox, led by 6-foot-5 junior Hannah Munger, would likely be too much.
If Everything Goes Wrong: Their second matchup with Southern Maine is identical to their first, and they go out in the first round.
Pod: vs. Misericordia, University of New England vs. Johns Hopkins
Prognosis: For the first time in school history, Tufts will host an NCAA tournament game on campus. In 1995, two years after the NESCAC lifted a ban on NCAA tournament play by its member institutions, the Jumbos’ men’s basketball team reached the Big Dance, but the Cousens Gym court specifications fell short of the national standards. With a renovated gym and armed with one of the nation’s top scoring defenses, NESCAC Coach of the Year Carla Berube and her balanced squad will most Misericordia in the first round.
The 17-10 Cougars enter as the Freedom Conference champions, defeating King’s 64-54 last Saturday. They’re led by senior Christine Marks, a finalist for the Jostens Trophy who’s averaging a double-double with 19.0 points and a conference-leading 10.4 boards per game. Marks also tops the conference in free-throw percentage, shooting 84.2 percent from the line. The highly decorated 6-1 forward may pose problems for the undersized Jumbos, who lack a true post presence.
But for what Tufts lacks in the paint, it makes up in spades in a deep roster sporting nine players with at least 5.4 points per game. Leading the way is Kate Barnosky, a second-team all-NESCAC selection, with 9.1 points per game, and Tiffany Kornegay, the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year and only one of two players in the conference to rank in the top 10 in steals and rebounds per game (2.6 and 8.7, respectively).
This is Misericordia’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, which could hurt the Cougars on the road. Tufts, meanwhile, made it in three straight seasons from 2008-10, but missed out last year. Still, with Kornegay and Barnosky providing a solid veteran presence, the Jumbos, fresh off a second-half spanking at the hands of Amherst in the NESCAC final, are poised to make a run.
What could hinder them, however, is their 3-point shooting. If Marks clogs the lane and prevents Barnosky and Kornegay from executing their slashing game, then Tufts could be in trouble. The Jumbos are shooting just 29.1 percent as a team after the graduation of All-American gunner Colleen Hart, and has struggled from beyond the arc in all six of their losses. In fact, in those games, they’re shooting 24.8 percent from downtown. For the better part of the season, that’s been masked by the nation’s fourth-best scoring defense.
If Everything Goes Right: Everything clicks, and Tufts rolls through its pod buoyed by a staunch defense, and reaches the Elite Eight after upsetting either No. 12 St. Thomas or No. 21 UW-River Falls.
If Everything Goes Wrong: The Jumbos’ 3-point shooting falters them and Marks torches an undersized Tufts lineup, bouncing the Jumbos on their home floor.