Friday, January 17, 2014

'Number 46 And Rising..'

      For those accustomed to the 'new normal' who haven't thrown themselves off the Bi-Hall observation deck, these pearls are offered. There's now been two games where JeffB. has had a full complement of players but even that comes with an asterisk because Matt Daley is operating under a minutes cap in his return from 'mono'. But with a half-Daley and a full Dylan (now with two games under his belt in his return), this is a better, in caps, basketball machine than the one that slugged its way through the first ten games. Because of the L's piling up, Midd is outside the top 45 for the first time since the 07-08 season, and only someone who might be better suited to being one of the inmates in the remake of "Cuckoo'sNest" would be saying - hey, not so fast! But like Bill Parcells said, you are what our record says you are. So right now I will settle for 46 and rising.

      Right now - road games and personnel issues aside, the record says we've been inconsistent, several times at less than our best, searching for answers, and growing. My take is all that is true, but this is not a lost season. It is a new, younger-than-average squad that has shown several flashes of brilliance and solid play. Those bright spots have been increasing. People have learned what they can do during this first half of the season. 'TheBoys' understand that there is no room for stumbles. There are games that should be 'W's, and Wesleyan and ConnCollege fit that bill. There are not stellar seasons underway in either Middletown or New London, and although The Panther Express will be carrying many nervous nellies south, it says here that the lamaze sessions to regulate their breathing should be de-minimus.

      The two big equalizers for any road game are 'the road' itself and the 3-ball. Wesleyan is a shadow of its team from the last few seasons. They're not quick, don't fire the 3-ball well, are limited up front as to 'O' and depth, and also have a bunch of new parts, that Joe Reilly's trying to fit together. In terms of road trips and what we've done so far this season, the road itself shouldn't be a great negative. In terms of athleticism, depth, and cohesiveness, TheBoys are well ahead on all counts, and should be focused because JeffB. understands what's at stake. The new line-up that opened against Tufts says Daley is approaching readiness. It also says that JakeB. is growing. He seemed more at ease and in the flow of the game the last two. Dylan's return gives us more options because he must be defended. That creates space not only for Hunter and The Saint, but also for Joey whether he's at the '2' or the point. With Daley and Dylan if James is in the game, he also gets additional space to drive the ball and from in close he's been very effective, particularly from the line. It doesn't matter when The saint plays. he will be there early, late or in the middle. Very little seems to bother him, and he's one the three you want to have the rock down the stretch becasue he is 'money' at the line. It says here that Wesleyan is 'do-able', and we can move on to Vadas and his Camels.

      Vadas is the key to ConnColl's effort. He's now got a couple of running mates in Lopez and McKinley, and facing a 1500 point scorer, we need to do whatever's necessary to not allow him to get off. He's going to like not having to face Nolan for the first time in four years and could be dangerous for that reason alone. But they've got 4 L's where they haven't played any real defense when it mattered. Torched by Eastern(24), Bowdoin(17), Salve- yes that Salve-(34!) and then allowing Colby(8) to come back and put them away, says that they are vulnerable to the max. They get us as a stand-alone game, but as long as TheBoys get a shoot-around on Saturday, and avoid any Chinese take-out, Midd should get to 10-and-5 (sounds like an old one-and-one drill or run suicides) by Sunday at about four. That won't get us above #46, but it's another positive step forward, fuels the idea that TheBoys can earn a home nescac quarter game, and will keep the Williams' showdown in focus. For now that's sufficient.

       Remember: "over the bar at The Tuscany Grill, down College Street, past the nuclear sub being refitted in dry dock, and off the bell in the chapel of the Coast Guard Academy, nothin' but net!"
Be well. Clubbo.          

Friday, January 10, 2014

'Time To Man Up..'

      On the 'storm clouds gathering' the current score is the naysayers and 'nervous nellies', one and Clubbo, a big fat zero. With Bates rolling into town tonite and the Jumbo's from Tufts on Sunday, those clouds certainly look ominous. And I'm certain that the Rumplestiltskin characters inhabiting the hollows near Lefrak or the bars along Spring Street are clapping their hands together with glee as they dance around their nightly fires hoping that TheBoys have less luck in putting together an answer to their current woes than the princess had in guessing his name in the mythical fairy tale. And although the aforementioned Clubhead, if he thought about it, might be currently trying to spin himself out of his prediction that 'this team is about to jell', when in fact they played like sour jelly, I'll stand by TheBoys.

      This is a seasoned group at the top. Joey and James are as tough as they come. But most of us older Panthers know you need at least five to dance. We're from an era or two, where having only two or three on the floor was enough to tease the crowd (if such a meager count could pass for a crowd) for thirty minutes, before people ran out of gas, or fouled out, and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. As bad as these seasons seemed to people on the outside, my squads pretty much hung together trying to right the ship, and we know to this day we were better for it. Although my crystal ball may have been a little fuzzy on Plattsburgh, there were positives. Matt Daley's return wasn't long enough to carry an 'O' that is struggling, but he scored easily. More minutes, as he gets to full strength, will mean more touches for him and he can have the kind of impact that will pick up the whole 'O'. With Daley down low, it gave Joey a couple of options if he drove the ball. Without him, not so much. For Joey to be most effective he needs that option. That also affects the perimeter, where if people have to sag to help with Daley, then maybe those guys don't recover in time to catch up with Hunter or TheSaint on the kick-out pass. With better looks, their percentages should get out of the deep freeze. It's an easy game but the connectable parts need to be there.

      If- and it's a big one- Dylan returns tonight, everything said about options is multiplied, and the 'O' becomes an engine that is guaranteed to work way better. But taking the downside of that argument with Daley in the 24-minute range, and no Dylan, what needs to be done. We are capable of scoring the ball and playing enough defense to give us a strong chance particularly at home. Look to the not so long-ago efforts against St. Mary's and Skidmore, either of which would suit most of us just fine. TheBoys need to find some answers. It is their - individually and as a collective - call. You simply can't leave a guy (like Correa of Platts) alone repeatedly on his main spot on the floor. Start by standing on that spot. Force him to move over, or get up on him and body up one time hard. You need to make shooters prove themselves. We can start with Safford and Boornazian at eight tonight. We haven't been doing that recently.

      Where the answers are going to come from, I won't guess, but there are several suitable candidates. My take is it may have already begun. Although the Salve game was dismissable because of the trip and the health issues, the inability to score against Plattsburgh highlighted the fact that this is a crisis of confidence, which may have been born from being unable to dig ourselves out of the hole in the last five minutes in Newport. No time like the present. Man up, and both Bates and Tufts are do-able and the storm clouds pass without a storm.

      Remember: Off the BloodyMary glass at ThePineRoom, across the Otter Creek bridge, out of Dick TheHealer's whirlpool, and over Matt Jennings' mike, nothin' but net". Go Panthers. Be well. Clubbo.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

'Storm Clouds Gathering..'

      The New Year finds the Panther Faithful in a state of disarray and disbelief. Just when the 'nervous nellies of the new normal' thought they could sip their egg nog by the fire and contemplate the spring equinox in Salem, TheBoys had to go off on a bus trip from hell, courtesy of the New England weather gods, stagger in the door at Newport in their bare feet, pull on their sneakers and with a warm-up shorter than most 'rec' leagues allow, square off against Salve Regina, who was well-warmed and ready. If that wasn't enough, there are more than rumors that in addition to snow and the length of the ride there were more than a few trips made to the altar of the porcelain god during the trip southward by some of the team. Jeez Louise! Enough already on the handicaps that evening. TheBoys, who never looked like they were in sync, shot miserably (30% for the game and 20% from 3's), and were on the verge of a really bad loss, down 14 with five minutes to go, when they said enough, remembered that that they hated to get beat, and clawed their way back. Salve tried to accommodate them by missing free throws by the bunch and failing to acknowledge that the 35-second clock was their friend, but the cold hand was too much to overcome in so little time. So TheBoys find themselves outside the Top25 for the first time in four seasons, and the nervous nellies are wandering around Middlebury in a near catatonic state. They see storm clouds gathering. My take is they don't fully understand that every season is a process, and this one is on the verge of jelling.

      At 6and 3, with all this team has undergone, TheBoys may finally be ready to put their signature on this season. Of course I'm somewhere between overly optimistic (I used to even think my teams could win 'em all, and of course the record belies that) and showing just enough speed afoot to stay about two jumps ahead of the guys with the nets that are trying to round up escaped mental patients for the remake of 'OneFlewOverTheCuckoo'sNest', but where this team is, isn't terribly terrible. They are young, but have shown flashes of brilliance. They have performed pretty well on the road, although the Baltimore trip might have been a case of a little much on the heels of the long ride down and back to Lancaster. The Salve trip was just bad luck and I'm willing to put an 'x' through that game, although they all count. What they need now is some stability in the line-up. It is hard to mesh all the parts and make engine go when people are in and out, and the starting seven or eight isn't the same from game to game. My spy-cam in the Pepin rafters notes that for the first time JeffB. may have a line up that doesn't need to be juggled. Daley will return and is nearing readiness although it may be a couple of games till he's fully back. Anything close to his Alvernia performance puts this group back in the top twenty, and should shut the nescac naysayers up. Ditto that for Dylan. Hoping that 'The Smooth' performance against Baruch was just the first of many. With everything else in status quo, the talent and athleticism of these two adds nightmares to the title hopes of the rest of the nescac.       

      But before that comes to pass, the threshold question for this team is that they have to prove they belong in the top programs in the land. Whatever effort issues may have been present at Salve have been dealt with in practice by now, and just in time because Plattsburgh is coming to Pepin tonight. An ncaa team a year ago, they are better this time around, and have only lost to DickStockton (now 10-1) and Oswego State (8-1). It will be a good test but my take is based on being at home, at nearly full strength and with sharp practices post-Salve, Platts ought to be 'do-able'. That means our rebounding and 'D' have to go up a notch. Playing at full bore every trip covers a lot of deficiencies. TheBoys are certainly capable of that, and further understand that each game now should be a step forward. With the nescac just around the corner, there's no room for error. Such is life near the top of the BBall mountain. The nervous nellies have already started breathing into bags as this is going to press, but my take is that putting up a few W's will restore the faith.

Remember: "Down the steps of The Alibi, past Old Albert's equipment cage, over Butch's wheelchair and off the 35-second clock, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.

Friday, December 6, 2013

"Runnin' With the Thorughbreds..:

      Having dispatched a young RPI team and then a pesky hot-shooting Castleton squad, in a game highlighted by James Jensen's hanging the goose-egg sign around the neck of their leading scorer, TheBoys are boarding The Panther Express for, this-time, a relatively short trip south to Saratoga tomorrow. In American thoroughbred lore, Saratoga has no equals and tales of major favorites being beaten by the locals' standard-bearers abound, and pictures of smiling townspeople in the winner's circle adorn the walls of every local pub. The name 'Upset' has worked it's way into the American lexicon for the stunner that he put on the invincible Man O' War many years ago. TheBoys are not looking for history to repeat itself when they tip against Skidmore.

      Make no mistakes in your thinking, this will be a tough game in front of a hostile crowd. Like Stevenson, almost-St.Mary's tough. Certainly another serious test on  the road. Not long ago road "W's" were accorded a multiplier benefit when it was time to be considered as an ncaa at-large team. That is no longer a straight formula, although factored in on strength of schedule (SOS). TheBoys have a chance to earn considerable respect in the polls by getting out of this phase of the young season with a win over Skidmore. As mentioned above, James' return lifted our 'D' a few notches. We've also gotten very big contributions from JakeB. and 'TheSaint' which bode well for the future, particularly since these are young frosh still learning to mesh. Two that were missing in action at Castleton, MattD. and Conor Hough would be good additions to our side. Daley, in particular, has the athleticism not present in many bigs, to give Merrill and Sanders something to think about. Also important is that Longjack wake up aggravated on Saturday. 'That' guy brings his intensity to the paint, his alter-ego doesn't. Hunter has reached a good level of consistency, but we're thinking that he may still have another gear. If he finds that, this Panther edition becomes really dangerous. Other positives include the fact that we shot free-throws better in the last two, that Nidenberg has continued to grow as a presence inside, and that NateB. is finding a rhythm on both ends. While his athleticism has always been there, he seems to be allowing his mental game to finally blend with that. That makes him another potent commodity for JeffB. to reach out to.

      Not mentioned is Joey, the maestro, who runs the game, particularly when crunch time approaches, and the lamaze counselors are exhorting their followers to make sure they breathe in unison. This is the atmosphere that is anticipated tomorrow about 5:25. To get us to that point it is expected that James will draw Sanders, the new d2 (Bloomfield State) transfer. How well he does keeping him off his 17 ppg. number will go a long way in determining Midd's fate. But he is not alone, an aggravated LongJack or a combo of him, Churchill, Nidenberg and Daley must control Merrill, and help on Sanders, when James needs a break. You have to like the depth up front. That extends to the guards as well, and is one of the positives, since Skidmore goes with a shorter rotation (5 guys are averaging 31-plus minutes per). The final factor is that they have been off since before Thanksgiving, so might be a little below optimum game speed early on. Lately the Skidmore games have been pretty brutal, physically. There's no reason to expect otherwise tomorrow, but my take is that we're battle-tested at a lot of positions, have one of the best guys in the country as our triggerman, and won't wilt under pressure. Taking the crowd out of it early would be a solid plus, but know that they'll come with a couple of big runs by the second half. We can weather that. Then everybody, emotionally drained, will get back on the The Panther Express and be able to toast TheBoys on the ride home.        

      And remember:" down the bar at old D'Andrea's; off the peanut barrel at Lillian's; past MaryLou Whitney's afternoon soiree, and one bounce off the keg at The Rafter's, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

'Passing The Turkey and Cranberry...'

      Always easier than giving up the ball in the offensive end, I was able to complete one my annual assists on Thanksgiving to the delight of  family. If it had been a basketball it might not have come down the table. I hope that everyone was able to enjoy that kind of a special day with family and friends filled with stories and laughter.

      Back to the business of trying to keep Midd in the 'national' discussion. TheBoys had a downer at Stevenson falling to a team that is on the rise, was in their own building, and caught us on a night where we were less than our best. Give them a big plus for their tenacious, scrappy 'D' which took our 'O' out of sync. Before you run off to join the queue that's forming to jump off The Otter Creek bridge, let's consider a few rays of sunlight that have brightened the room. These back to back opening tournaments  promised to be a serious proposition. TheBoys played well, maybe above their heads in the openers. Eight hours down and back, and two hard games in Lancaster made for a long haul, and exacted a hidden toll. Getting back to campus at one on Sunday morning and following it up with departing on another eight-plus hour ride to Baltimore on Thursday, to get in past one a.m. on Friday, is reminiscent of an NBA road trip. Unfortunately we're from the nescac not the NBA. There wasn't much room for error at Stevenson. Simply put, my take in retrospect is that Midd was 'bus-lagged' and susceptible. Add in the fact that Dylan- maybe our most athletic player wasn't present. That hadn't been factored into my equation, but the job of putting up the 'W' on the road became that much harder. Stevenson sensed it, and had themselves in a position to close us out a couple of times in the second half. That was when The Boys reached down and came back from the brink. Now with two minutes showing, Joey had the rock, down three. The Panthers were in a position to salvage what had been a bad night. He missed, the rebound went long and Stevenson converted it, and then one to seal the deal. The chatter boards had a day and a half to dissect the Panther failure. None of the resident geniuses on the 'net even considered the travel angle, or the personnel angle.

      My thought was validated by TheBoys' performance against St. Mary's game. It was apparently an instant classic, Joey sending it to O.T. at the buzzer. Even though there was a brief lead in the O.T., our free-throw shooting which wasn't good in Baltimore, let us down late. and St. M's sneaked away with a hard fought victory. For those questioning what's wrong, perhaps they should consider these factors: the travel angle. Four games against coming or top programs, not a flavorful cupcake in sight. No Dylan. No James. Either's play would have been enough to turn the tide, don't you think.

      And finally for 'the new normal', these 24 or 25 win seasons are a special creation. They aren't glazed donuts that get turned out by the dozen down at the Middlebury Dunkin' Donut every morning. Because of all the new moving pieces, The Boys are blending, finding themselves and how their games fit together. Even with Stevenson, we've already learned a lot. Matt Daley can be brilliant, but he needs to have that game-to-game intensity. If the brilliance is there, the consistency will come. Nidenberg has made big strides. My take is that he's ahead of Pedro Lynch in his development at this point. Pretty darn good if he stays on that path, because Pedro was better than okay, if you recall. Although Jake Brown and Matt St. Amour haven't yet made it to the top of the prospective nescac rookies 'chatter' yet, don't be fooled, both will make sizeable contributions this season. Jensen returns against RPI. Our intensity will go up a couple of notches with his presence and game. Hunter has been a big factor early and has shown definite improvement. This edition has enough talent, presence and depth to be really good. Given what the rest of the schedule holds that is going to be necessary.

      TheBoys are back on the road tomorrow against RPI, who plays a Grinnell-like system of the run and shoot game. They are scoring at 90 per game. That's a lot of points. The problem they have is they're giving up 112 (yes) ppg. We need to have solid board work to throttle down their throw-it-catch-and-shoot opportunities, and use the 35-clock well enough to frustrate them, and Midd should be fine. Castleton, on Tuesday, usually is one of our 'gimmes', but they have brought in a couple of new kids who did well enough to take one from then-#9 WPI the other night. Not having seen them, I'd trust our depth, the home floor at Pepin, and the fact that JeffB. has the motivator in their WPI win so that The Boys take them seriously. There should not be any stumbles.
Remember: "off the keg at ThePineRoom, over The Otter Creek bridge, out of DickTheHealer's,  whirlpool, and one bounce off Albert's cage, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Hits Just Keep On Comin'.."

       Like the best of A.M. radio's DJ's of the sixties and seventies, JeffB. rolled out a new album of the Panther BBall vinyl last weekend in Lancaster. Those that opted for the maiden ride on The Panther Express were treated to dazzling debut performances (guaranteed to set the nescac world on its ear) by Matt Daley, and Matt St. Amour. Playing back-up to those dazzlers were the solid duo of Conor Hough and 'Jerry' Nidenberg, who impressed with solid play and contributions. Three of the four hardly played a minute under Jeff's tutelage last year, but all appeared to have flourished for the experience. As a small aside it was noted here, that in the last minute of the North Central loss these three sophs were on the floor and looked like they understood what it was all about. Their performances against Alvernia and Baruch, individually and collectively, have at least partially validated what we thought we saw that night. Matt St. Amour, Vermont-grown, and a true frosh, hardly looked a kid who won't handle the bright lights and big-time pressure of Midd's schedule. To a certain extent he's learning on the job because of the speed of the college game. He's the best pure shooter seen around these parts in years- which covers some considerable ground- so there's plenty of expectations that the faithful will be treated to some special performances over the next four seasons (no pun intended).

      Not lost on anyone was the comeback performance of Dylan Sinnickson. Slightly out of sync in the Alvernia game, probably due to an accumulation of game-speed rust, 'The Smoothie' got his hands on some WD-40 overnight and came back with a well-oiled performance against Baruch. Hopefully his absence against Green Mountain will not be a concern because his high level of play will be needed this weekend at The Hoopsville Classic. The Lancaster W's were orchestrated by Joey, who had the game in control and in his hands down the stretch of both battles, and when everyone's tired legs were yelling for no O.T. against Baruch, he calmly knocked in the final nails from the free throw line to get TheBoys on the bus at two and zero.

       LongJack played his best game at Midd against Alvernia. It was a very physical game and he responded well, as seniors are supposed to do. Other contributors over the weekend were Hunter, who continues to progress, and NateB. who defended well. In the home opener, the 810 fans (by far the biggest crowd at a d3 game in the country so far this year) were treated to the Jake Brown debut. Apparently he did not disappoint any of those who had seen him in the preseason. Like his running mate St. Amour, it is certain, barring bad luck, that there is only upside to his game. Brian Jones and Chris Churchill also got into the swing of things showcasing the depth of Jeff's troops.

      All of the above are going to be necessary to make this weekend successful. Although James Jensen was finally cleared to play, that clearance came too late (yesterday) for him to play against Stevenson. Whether there is a practice Saturday that will allow him to be ready for St. Mary's on Sunday is in the to-be-decided category. First things first. Stevenson, at home, will be primed, and have their crowd.  Primed or not, it says here that TheBoys will not be looking past Stevenson. There's not a chance that TheBoys will be intimidated by any 'city-game' tactics. For those with any doubts, play the Alvernia video back. Not only was it a physical test, the local zebras kept a long length of hose unrolled in the second half so Midd was tested to the limit. From 66-64, The Boys pulled away to win by ten. My take is we've had two tougher games already, than we face tonight. We've got more size and depth inside, solid outside shooters (Hunter, Dylan, 'The Saint', and Nate), overall depth behind Joey, in JakeB., and Henry, and in the end, 'The Maestro' to run this game in the closing moments, so that everybody delivers their best on cue. That is a great place to be. It is immeasurable. For those who have a life, and actually may not keep track of such facts- consider this: with the exception of the North Central game last year, all the Middlebury L's of the past three (there were just nine) seasons were all in games that either came down to the last possession, or were in overtime. If you're going to succeed in games where the possessions count like they always seem to do for us, then you need a Jake, a Nolan and/or a Joey. That is hopefully what Henry and JakeB. are learning.                 

      St. Mary's on Sunday is a different animal. It is probably the headline game of this tournament and will go a long way to help us determine where TheBoys are in the national rankings. Talented and tough, they are now one of the premier programs in the country. They're at #10 in the polls and are loaded with kids from the Baltimore area so it's almost a home game for them. James would be a nice addition defensively for us against their three-ballers. Both sides get to scout each other tonight. Call me old-fashioned but there is nothing like seeing what is going on with a team when you see it live. To me that measurement has always been invaluable. Although TheBoys are at #18 on the charts, my take is that our inside size and depth is going to be a big factor, particularly if LongJack wakes up aggravated on Sunday. Add in our overall team speed, and veteran ncaa-poise, and the fact that Joey is at his best in high intensity games, and my take is that if we are close to evenly matched, TheBoys will find a way to pull out a giant road 'W' and send us north in the polls. It may take a couple of extra lamaze sessions to regulate everyone's breathing so they survive St. Mary's, but our counselors are used to it, so hope you are along for the ride on ThePantherExpress.

And remember: 'down The Alibi stairs; out of the bus's luggage compartment; over the scorer's table, and off the cannons at Ft. McHenry, nothin' but net!' Be well. Clubbo.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Almost Game Day...

      If D3 Bball was on espn, there'd be a big digital clock in the McCullogh Social Space that right now would be at 55 hours and blinking down the minutes till tip time on Friday. But this is Middlebury, and except for a few of the frenzied faithful, with the tip-off being hundreds of miles away, the countdown clock would be viewed with marginal interest from the passers-by.  And because TheBoys have made annual trips deep into the ncaa's the new normal on campus, what's the big fuss anyways, it's not even the nescac playoffs. Although Midd leads the country with 147 W's over the last six seasons, this year's tests begin from Night One, and the powers that be apparently have decided that overcoming the loss of Jake, Nolan and Pedro will be too much for JeffB. and TheBoys. Accordingly, Midd has been disrespected in the rankings and opens as #18. So be it.

      Instead of beginning with the usual flavorful cupcakes that dot the early schedules of most power programs, so that everybody can get up to game speed and blend in the new pieces of the equation, JeffB. has signed TheBoys up for everything he thinks they can handle by taking on Alvernia and then Franklin & Marshall for openers. You can note that TheLordJeffs will be giving away recipes for different varieties of cupcakes as they chomp their way through a less-than-taxing pre-nescac schedule. Probably aghast at what Midd will be trying to accomplish, they're certain to be snickering if things don't go well for The Panthers. Alvernia was an ncaa team last year and returns almost intact. They're at #21 in the country and must think they can go up the rankings ladder, so it's obvious that the blending this time around is going to have to occur early and at game speed, and the new pieces will have to be well-oiled when they step on the floor. To do this TheBoys will be lead by the master-blender in the country, Joey Kizel. He was accorded preseason first team All-American status, but you can be certain he'll still never take a possession off, and that the rest of this year's edition operates on the same page, if what was seen in preseason scrimmaging is any guide. Although James Jensen will be missing from opening weekend, he is well and may be ready to go for Stevenson and St.Mary's.

      Having looked over Alvernia's roster, it appears that we are bigger across the front line. LongJack's presence inside has been growing and he'll be one of the national leaders in blocks. Expect help from Chris Churchill who looks about ready to live up to the freshman potential he showed as long ago as at Ramapo. If that's the case it gives us another set of options to play with a bigger lineup. Add in Matt Daley who has excellent ability to run the floor at 6'7, and the improved play and confidence seen in Nidenburg and there's more depth up front. Dylan Sinnickson is about to return after losing last year to a broken arm. He will be a match-up nightmare for everyone on the schedule. His athleticism and smoothness of stroke are something special. Nate Bulluck could be on the verge of a senior break-out season and has the athleticism to make a big contribution on both ends of the floor. Hunter Merryman continues to improve and will provide instant offense when he is called on. Dean Brierly looks bigger and stronger coming off his surgery.

      Behind Joey, Henry Pendergast has had a year of backcourt tutelage, filled out and should be able to provide effective ball control when necessary. Luis Alvarez is back for one more go and brings solid 'D' to the table. Conor Huff is improving as he transitions from being a prep school '4' to a college '2' or '3'. The big news for the Panther Faithful is that this a very good freshman group. Jake Brown looks like he will get minutes right away. An excellent on-ball defender, he sees the floor very well, and can finish in the break situation. Brian Jones is also very quick and can make his presence felt, particularly defensively. Matt St. Amour is the dial-up jump shooter that we've been looking for, since Andrew Harris graduated. He's got big-time range, a quicksilver release, and doesn't miss. With him and Hunter in the game, it is doubtful we will be seeing many 'zones'.

      As mentioned earlier TheBoys must blend on the fly. They are capable of that. Regardless of Alvernia's plan, my take is that our size should control inside, and that Joey can control the game. Knowing that there is depth aplenty one can visualize contributions from many. The how and what will be decided on by JeffB. who has taken this bold step which will tell us very quickly if it is successful, how good this group may be. Having seen TheBoys in preseason mode, my take is we won't be tight even though it's game one. Alvernia on the other hand, who isn't as used to being in these high-intensity games, may press a little early, solely due to that fact. Both are pluses for Midd. Alvernia should be do-able and that will set up Saturday's match with more probably F&M. That presents another difficult scenario, since F&M rarely loses in their building (4 times last 3 seasons) but the coaching staff will get to scout them post-Alvernia.

      Glad that everyone is along for the ride this season, which promises to be another great one, even if it starts with a doubleheader of nail-biting.    
Remember: "down the steps of the bus; off the visitor's locker-room wall; past the Zebra's looking at the video monitor, two bounces and off the 35-second clock, nothin' but net!"
Be well. Clubbo.           

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Better than rumors"

      With the barbecue season fully underway, BBall news- like water in the desert, is a scarce commodity! I had a thought that we might fire up any of The Panther Faithful wandering around the internet with some news of the upcoming season.

      D3 Hoops has posted the schedule for its Hoopsville (National Invitation Tournament) Classic on November 22-24 at Owings Mills, Maryland. JeffB. has 'TheBoys' in it, one of five teams participating that made the ncaa last year, including three from the Elite Eight at Salem. Midd plays host Stevenson on Friday, the 22nd, with tipoff at 6:00. Saturday is an off day for us, and then on Sunday, Midd plays perennial powerhouse St. Mary's (MD) at 1:00. I have also heard that Midd will open its season on the 15th in a tourney at Franklin&Marshall. Participants are unknown as of now, but it is presumed that TheBoys will get a significant test from F&M, a very solid program, in one of the Saturday slots.

      The other news that is out there is that Kyle Dudley, '09, will shortly join the Midd staff as an assistant coach. It is significant that JeffB. has reached back to one of his Midd players, because Kyle was a big contributor to a nescac championship, and two ncaa teams. He knows what has to be done both academically and on the court for a player to contribute in the Middlebury environment. My take is that it is a plus for us that he'll bring this Midd-specific knowledge to the continuing search for top level recruits. There is also the excitement of having him back on campus, and the enthusiasm that he can bring to the program from the coaching perspective

       Till we get to the preseason report, don't overcook the steaks, and keep the beer very cold.
And remember: "out of Sam Emilo's cooler, over the hill past the golf course, off the rocks at the Old Quarry swimmin' hole, nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo.       

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"More like...Rematch Purgatory"

      Unless you were hiking in the Andes without a smart phone, by now you've heard that 'TheBoys' came up on the short end of a hard fought loss to NorthCentral in Salem. No nail biting- no moaning about the zebra's lack of vision- and no amazing last minute comeback, The Panthers got beat, fair and square. NorthCentral had one kid (Kmiec) who got really hot, and TheBoys just couldn't quite find an answer. With the exception of him, we defended well. They defended a little better and with some stops created the separation that carried them until very late. Midd made a mini-run, and had a chance to maybe close it to down seven at about the four minute mark, when one of the officials got in the way of a pass on the break and knocked the ball out of bounds. NorthCentral got to re-set their 'D', the margin held and you could feel the air go out ThePanther's season.

      That ride down the Blue Ridge is long, but the trip is shorter fueled by the excitement of a possible championship. Just getting to Salem- one of the lofty goals of every top d3 programs- is terrific. Once you've been there once, you realize that to overcome in that environment, there is precious little room for any miscues- be they turnovers, missed block-out assignments, or coolness of shooting-hand. On a night when we didn't operate on all cylinders, a good defense like NorthCentral's senses it quicker than an army of ants finds an unattended watermelon at a summer picnic, and closes the door. So, there is no 'rematch heaven' with Toomey and His Pals, more like rematch purgatory - and a hanging piece of unfinished business.

      No head hanging for ThePantherFaithful on the longer ride home. More, a discussion savoring what was accomplished. This team, and Pedro, Jake and Nolan, their captains, gave us a great ride this year and through their careers. They've marked the way to Salem. Now it will be up to others to see if Midd can get back there and finally break through. I know that wherever that trio is next year, (and for every year thereafter) come tournament time, they will be in the front row rooting for 'TheBoys' to break through, and raise that trophy. Now that they are about to get onto my side of the fence, they'll be amazed how many riders are on The Panther Express.

      Many of the pieces to end the purgatory are in place, and JeffB. and his staff won't be lacking for prospects in putting together a new edition. Starting with Joey - Midd will have one of the two or three best guards in the land. Although Toomey's publicity machine has been puffing along for three seasons now, if you want to see where they stand head-to-head consider the piece on ''. It confirms what you've seen and actually might add to it. Nice that he was a honorable mention A-A, but clearly, given a few above him, it could've been higher. Jensen will continue the work on his doctorate in tenacity. His development as a big time contributor on the floor is expected to provide dividends at both ends. Others will need to step up. LongJack has shown that he's figured it out. My take is that NateB. will be ready, coming off what has to be a frustrating season. He's got the capability to provide scoring punch and good 'D'.

     From this year's 'all-medical' team, there are several who can provide the spark. "TheSmoothie", Dylan Sinnickson, has the athleticism, and jumper to reach the nescac's top line. Luis Alvarez, as a fifth year senior, certainly demonstrated talents as a 'D' stopper. DeanB. should be able to step forward and pick up his scoring. And maybe Eamon Cuddy, and his new knees, will affirm my prediction that he is the best-under-the-radar-player in the nescac. Also to be noted from the skybox is that this group of freshman looks like they are ready. There was something intangible about them when they came onto the floor in Salem for a short 47-second test drive. They had a collective stage presence. Of course it will be tested - and of course, it's possible the eyes of an old dog were looking at a hopeful future. But I'll stand by 'stage presence', it's the precursor to poise. All don't have it, but think it was on display briefly.

      Next season starts with a bang as Midd has signed on to the "HoopsvilleClassic" at Stevenson (Owings Mills, MD) to open up. It is an eight team affair, with two random games. It promises a significant early test as St.Mary's, Cabrini (both in the EE) are on board. Also in the field are Trinity, TX(ncaa bid), Salisbury, Stevenson (16-9 this year), along with a west coast power and another to be added. With the golf season looming, and the e-mail trail drying up, this is the time of year when I feel a little like Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino's character) in "Scent Of A Woman", when at the end of his big adventure, he gets out of the limo, trudges up his driveway and goes into his little house, as the camera pulls away. To all who've been on ThePantherExpress this year thanks for sharing in the exhilaration and fun it brought, and let's hope, Lord willing, that we're able to do this again next season.
      And remember: "out 'ThePineRoom' door, down 'The Alibi' stairs, past DicktheHealer's whirlpool, and off the Panther's rock, nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

'Ridin' Down Rematch Heaven..'

      The Pepin crowd which had snake-danced its way in total delirium to the mahogany rail at Mr. Ups kept high-fivin' and toasting 'The Boys' and the miracle comeback finish with but 1.8 showing on the clock. They had played great but so did The Bombers and there wasn't much room for error. And when Ithaca stripped the ball and then drained that last jumper to go up one, with just six ticks left, the crowd was stunned and silent. With the season pretty much on its last legs it was a damn good thing those legs belonged to Joey. Just like he did against Scranton last year in this same round,when he took it coast to coast to tie it with 3.9 on the clock, he was large and in charge. Having seen him perform this magic  once, the view from the skybox was guarded but optimistic. Ithaca couldn't get a man in front of him and when he really got banged at the left side of the key, the moment was set. Poise, optimum performance under maximum pressure, had just been given a curtain call. Now it was time for the encore. Both ends of a one-and-one to avoid OT. Or at least the first to avoid the beginning of the golf season, and put some life back in the season. Pepin was quieter than the library on a Saturday night, only a few rustles from new fans breathing into paper bags. On the rim and in. A quick cheer. More silence. Then the 'OhMyGod' pandemonium. The stands were shaking. The crowd was chanting "...Jo -ey...Jo- -ey!" It was the greatest, absolutely most memorable moment at Pepin that this writer has ever seen.

      They were all heroes. Ithaca decided to open by making Jake beat them. He was happy to oblige from the gitgo. And now has earned his way back to Salem. Nolan did a good job trying to control Russo and Warech, their go to guy late in the clock. Jensen has grown with each passing week and makes big plays on the floor and snares critical rebounds. Their triangle and two handcuffed Pedro because they sagged a guard onto him, but he fought his way through it and was cool as a cucumber from the line. Going back to Salem, The Boys are as ready for the challenge of beating NorthCentral. According to the pundits, they are athletic, deep and physical. That translates to very good, and what else would you expect in the Elite Eight. I'm already on record with d3hoops- not on the message boards- but right to the top- that TheBoys aren't backing down in any physical confrontations. That you got to believe, we can survive Friday night's battle, which gets us to presumably TheLordJeffNation and "rematch heaven".  With Atlanta on the line and a shot at the national title, there would be nothing sweeter than sending Toomey and His Pals home.

       If NorthCentral gets the better of Midd- there will be disappointment. Understandable, but it is tempered by the unbelievable ride that this team and these seniors have provided -104 wins and 18-and-6 in elimination games- for all of us. Either way they have been great, and JeffB. and his staff has had them ready to play - no excuses -every single night. You couldn't ask for more. Safe travels, I'll see you all at the Civic Center, manana.

      And remember: " down The Alibi stairs, without spilling a drop; off the conductor's cap on ThePantherExpress;  past the lamaze sessions, and over the d3hoops broadcast table; nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.