It won't be easy, but the men's basketball team can still salvage a NESCAC playoff berth. At 0-5 and in last place in conference play, the Jumbos have lost six of their last seven, including all five conference games, to see a once promising 9-4 record slip to 10-10.
For any hope of an extended season, this weekend's matchups with Middlebury and Williams are essentially must-wins. On paper, the Panthers and the Ephs appear to be two very similar teams. Both stand at 15-5 on the season, and both were .500 clubs in the conference until a Feb. 2 showdown that Middlebury won, 63-60.
Thus far, the Jumbos have shared only two common opponents with Middlebury and Williams. All three lost to Amherst, while Williams was the only of the three to beat Trinity, pulling off a convincing 65-48 victory.
The Panthers are led by senior co-captain Andrew Harris, a guard who leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game. However, Harris just recently returned to the lineup after sitting out almost three weeks with an injury and most likely will not be at full strength Friday.
Harris is aided by a pair of juniors, forward Aaron Smith and guard Ben Rudin. Smith is second on the team in scoring and leads the team in rebounding at 7.9 per game, while Rudin chips in 10 points and 4.3 assists a contest.
When playing their best, the Jumbos are a running team, racking up high totals in the points column with a combination of three-point shooting and fast breaks.
Middlebury, on the other hand, appears to play more of a grind-it-out style, as the Panthers have allowed just 65.6 points per game. Tufts heads into the weekend averaging 79.2 points per game.
Williams' style is similar to that of Middlebury. The Ephs allow only 62.7 points per game and are led in scoring by senior co-captain guard Chris Shalvoy, who averages only 13.5 points per game. By contrast, junior forward Jon Pierce leads the Jumbos at 22.7, and senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen adds 13.8.
If the Jumbos can win this weekend, it will be at the defensive end of the court. They can score - only four times this season have they been held to under 70 points - but allowing 78 points per game in the NESCAC is a recipe for disaster. Defensive rebounding and limiting the other team to one shot on offense is absolutely key in the four-game mini-season that begins today.