By Matt Noonan
Believe it or not, March Madness is set to begin somewhat early, as Worcester Polytechnic Institute will be the host for four Division III NCAA basketball teams on Friday and Saturday, as the road to Final Four in Salem, Virginia is set to begin.
Here are just two of the many games that will be occurring this weekend across the country, but between the four schools, WPI, Amherst College, Skidmore College and Bridgewater State University, only one will advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Here is our game-by-game break down, as well as score predictions.
Amherst College [22-3] vs. Skidmore College [18-9]: Both schools enter the game with something to prove, yet the Lord Jeffs of Amherst College have to show that they are a legit team, especially after ending their season with a quarterfinals loss to Middlebury College in the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) conference tournament.
The Lord Jeffs began their season with 21-wins in a row before seesawing to the finish line. However a major reason for their teams success this season belongs to senior guard and co-captain, Connor Meehan, who through 25-games has recorded 330-points and 26-steals, as well as leads the team with 89-assists. Other players to watch on the Amherst side includes Willy Workman, Aaron Toomey and Taylor Barrise, who are all primed for a successful opening round game.
As for Skidmore College, they finished their season with five back-to-back wins. They also won the Liberty League for the first time in school history, as well as defeated Hamilton College, 68-52. During the conference championship, the Thoroughbreds shot extremely well from beyond the arc and connected on 16-three pointers. Expect Skidmore to attempt multiple three-pointers against Amherst College, but also, force a variety of turnovers too, which is something the Thoroughbreds have done quite well this season (420 forced turnovers).
What the game should come down to is shooting in and outside the paint, building momentum, rebounds, along with shooting the long ball. Skidmore may fall apart against a powerful Lord Jeffs team who has appeared in the tournament quite frequently, so don’t expect an early upset to occur.
Prediction: Amherst College 73 – Skidmore College 60
Bridgewater State University [19-9] vs. WPI [22-5]: Similar to Amherst College, WPI did not win their conference tournament, as they were upset by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 63-52. However, WPI dominated their opponents, as well as the NEWMAC (New England Women’s and Men’s Athletics Conference) and finished atop the league standings with a [11-1] record. The Engineers, who were led by senior guard, Jeffery Robinson and junior center, Matt Carr, combined for 757-points, 56-steals, 49-blocks and 268-rebounds.
WPI led the conference in scoring defense, as they kept all of their opponents to a total of 1,574-points through 25-games, which may play a factor against a Bridgewater State University team that is used to scoring lots of points. However, WPI struggled immensely from the free-throw line this season, converting on 361-518 attempts, which could play a factor in Friday’s game.
Similar to Skidmore College, Bridgewater State University may indeed be the underdog, but a rather competitive one. The Bears finished the month of February with a record of [8-1] and will certainly want to capitalize on their Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference championship victory against Salem State.
The Bears are a team that can certainly stretch the lead, but also, gain momentum quickly. Against the Salem State Vikings, the Bears went on a 15-0 run to remain in contention in the second half, as well as connected on a majority of their free throws. Hitting clutch shots at the line will be pivotal against the Engineers, especially during the closing minutes of the second half.
All in all, this particular game is set up to be a very equal contest, which should come down to shots in the paints and free throws. If WPI can bounce back to their winning ways, which occurred early this season, as well as limit the Bears senior forward Nicholas Motta, then the Engineers will advance to the next round. However, if the Bears can force the Engineers to take quick shots, limit their chances on the board, as well as force turnovers, well then, expect Bridgewater State to move on.
Prediction: WPI 74 – Bridgewater State University 72
Saturday’s Second Round Match Up Prediction, (Amherst College vs. WPI): What a game this will be. Two powerful offenses and defenses, which will surely score points, but once the game is over, expect the Lord Jeffs to earn an important victory, as well as advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Amherst College is too powerful of a team to let their NCAA championship dreams fail this weekend, so expect them to get by Skidmore easily, but be challenged against a well rounded WPI squad.
Prediction: Amherst College 68 – WPI 63
Overall Weekend Winner Prediction: Ameherst College advances to the Sweet Sixteen