That assumption, however, is wrong. Despite losing only two games and finishing the season ranked fourth in the nation-according to the D3hoops.com poll-the team felt that their performance could have been even better.
This season, after graduating only two players and sporting a fifth-place preseason ranking from D3hoops.com, the Jeffs aspire to go even farther. Their hopes will rest largely on the shoulders of talented senior co-captains guard John Bedford and forward John Casnocha. Bedford, who was first-team all-NESCAC last season, is the team’s most prolific returning scorer. Playing mostly small forward, Bedford used his speed and finishing ability to cut to the basket, torching teams for 15.2 points per game last season.
Casnocha, playing mostly at the power forward position, hurt teams from behind the arc, leading the conference with an outrageous 45.1 three-point field goal percentage. He was also the Jeff’s best player on the defensive end of the court, finishing in the top 10 in the NESCAC in steals (1.29) and blocks per game (.079). This season Casnocha is an early favorite for NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year.
However, Bedford and Casnocha are far from having to carry the team alone. Also returning is sophomore point guard Andrew Olson, winner of the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award in 2004-05. After an injury to senior point guard Ray Corrigan early in the regular season, Olson managed to navigate the Jeffs nearly flawlessly and finished fourth in the league in assist-turnover ratio (2.51). Corrigan took off the last two semesters in order to return to the team this spring. He will provide veteran presence from the bench, while Keith Zalaski ’06 and Mike Salerno ’06 will compete for playing time at the point.
The Jeffs’ first three options off of the bench last season, guard Tim McLaughlin ’07, center Dan O’Shea ’07 and forward Dan Wheeler ’07, return looking to fill even larger roles on the squad. At center, O’Shea will compete for time with 6’9″ sophomore Kevin Hopkins, who showed exceptional promise in his brief playing time last season. At shooting guard McLaughlin will share time with two of the team’s most promising newcomers, sophomore transfer Adolphe Coulibaly and highly recruited first-year Brian Baskauskas.
Coulibaly transferred to Amherst from Brown University, a Div. I Ivy League contender. Although he did not log a large number of minutes for the Bears, Coulibaly did score 11 points and grab five rebounds in the last year’s season opener against the University of Missouri, a program that has advanced deep into the NCAA Tournament in recent years. If Coulibaly could give Div. I defenders that much trouble, Jeff fans should be very excited to see what he can do in the NESCAC. Baskauskas figures to be one of the top first-year recruits in the entire NESCAC, and while head coach Dave Hixon ’75 is notoriously wary of playing freshman, many Jeff supporters are anxiously hoping for another NESCAC Rookie of the Year contender. Joining Baskauskas from the class of ’09 are guards Glenn Wong and Marcus Bradley, as well as forward Mike Holsey.
While reigning NESCAC Coach of the Year Hixon will have plenty of talent to work with, there will also be large shoes to fill. Andrew Schiel ’05 and Russell Lee ’05 will be sorely missed, despite being the only two losses from last year’s squad. Together they were the winningest class in Amherst history, claiming 99 victories over four years. Schiel earned first-team All-American honors and graduated seventh on the College’s all-time scoring list. Schiel was renowned for his ability to score both in the post and from the outside, sporting one of the best three-point strokes in the conference. Lee was the team’s constant ticking time bomb on the court; no one ever knew when he was going to explode for an enormous game. Lee hit five three-pointers, several of which were from well-beyond NBA range, en route to scoring 20 points in a 72-45 walloping of Williams College and 27 points in the NESCAC Championship game against Trinity College.
Once again the Jeffs anticipate their biggest strengths this year to be their outside shooting and lock-down defense. Their biggest weakness will be their ability to rebound, an Achilles’ heel that was painfully evident in the NCAA quarterfinal when Amherst was out-rebounded 42-26 by victorious University of Rochester. It will be up to big men like O’Shea and Hopkins to crash the boards with greater intensity than was evident during last season’s campaign.
The Jeffs start their season this Friday at 6 p.m. in LeFrak Gymnasium against Fitchburg State as part of the Amherst-hosted Ken Wright ’52 Invitational. On Jan. 7th, the Jeffs will take on the hated Ephs at home and on Feb. 3rd will travel to Williamstown. The NCAA Tournament begins on March 4th.
The Bantams will be the Jeffs biggest challenge in the NESCAC. Trinity returns center Tyler Rhoten, arguably the dominant force in the NESCAC last season, and a second -team pre-season all-America selection. Bowdoin College also figures to be a potential challenger to the throne, largely due to the talents of Kyle Petrie who nearly led Bowdoin to an upset of Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC Tournament last year.