New-look offense has Jumbos ready to push for NESCAC title

Tufts sophomore forward Vincent Pace goes for a layup in Tufts' game against WPI on Dec. 3, 2014. Evan Sayles / Tufts Daily Archive

Last year, an average possession for Tufts (13-12, 6-4 NESCAC) was a slow walk up the floor, five or six passes, an attempt to give the ball to a post player and a shot. This year, the offense has been completely restructured; the team’s roster shows no position other than “guard” or “center.” The team, which finished fourth in the NESCAC last year, is now looking to surround junior tri-captain Tom Palleschi with four athletes that can drive and shoot. The Jumbos hope to score a lot of points in a hurry and play a pressing man defense.

The team is also aided by a large crop of returning players — a squad composed of only three new team members, two first-years and one transfer student, means that the team can expound on its chemistry from last year. There were big contributions last year from now-sophomore guards Stefan Devuvier, Everett Dayton and Vincent Pace, all of whom gained valuable experience for this season, especially with a new guard-based offense. The success of the team will largely depend on the growth of these players — the team has already found reliable contributions from post play, and will be able to take it to the next level by upping their perimeter game.

The team’s main goal is to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament, whether that be by winning the NESCAC title for the first time in team history or receiving an at-large bid. To do that, Tufts will have to go through perennial rivals Amherst, Trinity and Williams as well as reigning NESCAC champion Wesleyan. It is worth noting that, until Tufts went to Amherst and beat them handily at home last year, Amherst had not lost a home NESCAC game since 2011.

“We had some big wins last year, especially [going] to these other schools and beating them at home,” senior tri-captain guard Ryan Spadaford said. “We beat Amherst and Middlebury…when they were nationally ranked. If we can continue that trend this year, and step up in big games, we will definitely have a successful season.”

Another major story from the off-season is that of junior center Hunter Sabety, last year’s leading scorer, who transfered to Hofstra University this past summer. While both Sabety and Palleschi are talented post scorers, the combination of the two of them often clogged the inside, frequently leading to slow pace and contested shots.

“To be honest, I’m more comfortable coaching a fast-paced team than a slow-paced one,” coach Bob Sheldon said. “Only having one post player is going to free up space for our bigger guards to drive. It got congested and slowed down too much at times last year.”

Palleschi was named to the All-NESCAC second team last year, and averaged 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks per game, while also possessing a deft passing touch and a solid outshot shot.

A concern with a faster offense is an increase in turnovers, a category that Tufts excelled in last year, averaging just 9.5 per game, the best in the conference.

“Last year, we had such good players inside that we wanted to work the ball in to them,” Sheldon said. “So five or six passes in and out of the post will probably lead to more turnovers … If we get the ball up the court fast and have one or two passes leading to a drive and kick, [then] that’s [fewer] passes, which will mean fewer turnovers. The main difference is we’re going to make our threes this year.”

Three-point shooting was an area that the team struggled with last year, averaging just seven three-pointers per game. With more shooters on the floor, the Jumbos are expected to climb up the rankings in that statistical category.

The team also boasts strong leadership, represented best by the team’s first-ever three-year captain Palleschi, who was elected by his teammates while he was still in the hospital after heart surgery in 2013, as well as by Spadaford and by senior guard Stephen Haladyna. 

“We’ve had the best preseason that I’ve seen in my three years,” Spadaford said. “Guys really got after it more than they had before. We’ve all worked hard on and off the court and have really come together as a team because of it. We’ve all been playing together for at least one season now — our chemistry is only going to get stronger from here.”

The preseason will culminate in a game at Emerson on Friday at 7 p.m. The team’s first regular season game, which is against the Wentworth Institute of Technology, will be held in Cousens Gymnasium on the following day, Nov. 21 at 2 pm. The projected starters are Dayton at point guard, Haladyna at shooting guard, Spadaford at small forward, Pace as the nominal power forward and Palleschi at center.