Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: A quick glance at postseason scenarios for area college basketball teams

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Where did the winter go, I ask you?

I'm not talking about the snow cover, and that's gone too. The winter sports season is almost at playoff time, and that means spring is a lot closer than it seems.

Think about this. Two weeks from today, Western Massachusetts champions in swimming will be crowned in Springfield. The day before, Western Mass. champions in Division III wrestling will be crowned in the final meet at the current Taconic High School.

It also won't be that long before our area's colleges, both Division I and III, prepare for their postseason tournaments.

Here's a look around at the college scene, and what teams have to do.

The Williams men are 15th in the country, 15-4 and 4-2 in NESCAC. Kevin App's Ephs seem to be a lock for the NESCAC tournament and should be in pretty good stead for at worst a Pool C berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

If there is a team in the conference that I would worry about, it would be Amherst. The Mammoths went to Maine on Saturday and rolled over Bowdoin. Dave Hixon's team can be very dangerous. In two weeks, Williams will travel to Amherst.

The Williams women, meanwhile, are 3-3 in conference play. Barring a collapse, Pat Manning's women should make the tournament field. However, with top-ranked and undefeated Amherst, No. 4 Bowdoin and No. 8 Tufts all in NESCAC, the Ephs will likely have to pull some major upsets to qualify for the NCAAs.

That is the case on the other side of Route 2 for MCLA.

Even after Saturday's loss to Westfield State, coach Derek Shell's MCLA men are in a three-way tie for third in MASCAC at 3-4. Six of the seven conference teams qualify for the MASCAC postseason tournament, and if the Trailblazers can hold serve, a tourney bid is not out of the realm of possibility.

Loren Stock's MCLA women are 2-5 after Saturday's loss at Westfield, but remain in the sixth spot. MCLA is two games ahead of Fitchburg State. Fitchburg is winless in conference play.

While postseason play is a highlight of anyone's schedule, I still don't know where the season went to.

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Since the world tends to revolve around NESCAC athletics (joking), did you know that Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia used to coach on old Weston Field?

It's true.

Patricia's first full time coaching job after graduating from RPI and spending a couple of seasons in the business world was as E.J. Mills' defensive line coach at Amherst College.

Patricia and the then Lord Jeffs went 1-1 against Williams. Amherst lost 10-7 back in 1999 when quarterback Sean Keenan engineered a 9-play, 88-yard drive against Patricia's defensive line. The win gave Williams the first official NESCAC title.

The next year, Mills finally beat Williams for the first time in four tries, as the Lord Jeffs won 20-12 in Amherst. It was Amherst's first Little Three title in 14 years.

"He is one of the smarter people you'll ever want to meet," Mills told me on Saturday. "He's just a grinder. The kids love him. He's still close to a lot of kids he coached at Amherst."

When the Patriots are done playing the Philadelphia Eagles in next Sunday's Super Bowl, it is expected that Patricia, who works for Wesleyan graduate Bill Belichick and Williams graduate Jonathan Kraft, will be off to coach the Detroit Lions.

Assuming that Patricia makes the move to Detroit, Mills said he has no doubt he will be successful.

"If that's what he wants, and I haven't talked to him recently, but if that's what he wants," Mills said, "I hope he gets it. But he's in a pretty good spot."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, and 413-496-6253.


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