Monday, March 21, 2011

' brings another day, another destiny'

      After 46 seasons, getting the trip to Salem was enough to make many of us simply savor the moment. Think of it this way, 399 teams (in D3) were already home gearing up for their 'spring tod' leagues. The level of 'chatter' leading up to Friday was bursting with excitement and pride. And many alums showed up to support The Boys, as well as their parents, and diehard MiddKids who made the trip. Plenty of thoughts on what might've been in the Final Four. The 'Tommies' gave 'The Boys' fits all night, and our 'O' looked like it, but The Boys hung in, rallied back twice in the second half got a lead of 52-45 with 5:40 left but couldn't close them out.

        That was due to a confluence of factors. Jake was in deep foul trouble which strained our G. rotation; as a team, our FT shooting was awful (at 12-23); St. Thomas didn't miss a shot (4-4 floor, 8-8 FT's) the last five minutes; and overall it was not a good performance by the officials, disappointing in a big spot. They were either inconsistent, anticipatory or simply wrong. My take is the players deserved better. Still with all this, after they could've folded, Nolan T. drained a late '3', and then with 16 ticks left, down a bucket, our 'D' and Jamal came up with a giant steal to give us a last chance. Out of the timeout, the Tommies denied  Ryan Sharry getting the ball, and Nolan's last shot heroics came up a hair short. Lost in the post-game analysis was the fact that St. Thomas made a key change when Hannon, (their main 'Big') fouled out. They put Ervin, much shorter, but an A-A linebacker on Sharry, and his strength and lower center of gravity kept Ryan from backing down, and definitely influenced the final sequence.

      Although the disappointment in the building matched the moment, there isn't a reason in the cosmos not to celebrate the season that 'These Boys' had. They played hard and well from the tip against Baruch. They cut down the nets in Williams' building and took the NESCAC (which had three in the Elite Eight), and reprised that in Rochester by advancing the Final Four. At 28 and 2, it was, and is, time to celebrate the best team in Midd BBall history. It was the best of 'rides', and the seniors should look back at their four years as creating a new reality for the school and our program.

      Plaudits go out everywhere. From the top down JeffB. has fostered an atmosphere of success through team contribution. The 'we' before the 'me'. It is demonstrated regularly in his one game at a time attitude and preparation, and it filters down through Arlen, Russ and Ashton (his assistants) to The Boys. And it seems to be not only in the guys who take the bulk of the minutes, but all the way down the bench to those who work hard in practice everyday, with little recognition, beyond that of their coaches and teammates. I am certain that when they look back they'll realize how high their accomplishment has raised the bar. Midd is now in the 'national' discussion. It is my thought that being in that position might well reap some benfits. And I would like to think that we can maintain this high level of performance, teamwork and excellence. Although our seniors represent a substantial loss there won't be a drop off in talent or commitment with the likes of Ryan S. (named to two A-A teams), Jake, Nolan, and Joey in the forefront. They're supported by Peter Lynch, Luis, Winslow, and Jensen, Carl Gayle and C.J. to name just a few. The question becomes how much they will develop and how they will mesh. And I haven't gone all the way down the list. Nor have I considered who's in the pipeline. But knowing 'The Boys' a little, it seems that they will treat the future as unfinished business, and that 'another day will bring another destiny.'

      The Panther Express has been pulled onto a spur to await next season's journey. Thanks to everybody who supported our run and made it a possibility. I'd like to remind everyone out there that if you have any comments or thoughts you can post them here. Entering the off season the blog won't be up on a weekly/regular basis, but will post any news or developments regarding the team or the program as it arises. If I get really bored maybe I'll stir up some gossip, and see if that flies. This is the time of year when I feel like Al Pacino's character, Col. Frank Slade, in 'Scent of A Woman', who at the end of his adventure, quietly trudges up his driveway and goes into his house. Anti-climactic at its best.

      From Downtown Salem, where I suspended my discussion with the local constabulary over the  open container rule, and told them that when I'm in town next year we'll take it up again. Be well. Clubbo.



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'down the Blue Ridge, to get the nets..'

The great oxymoron is no more. MiddBball and 'Final Four' belong in the same sentence. 'The Boys' came through with two enormous efforts on the road, and now The Panther Express has so many clamoring for the ride that we may have to add extra cars! The 'D' was awesome, a mini-block party led by Locke, Ryan S. and Jamal. And two opposing offenses that were clicking at 80 ppg and up, just clunked along barely getting to the 50's. Early on both games looked troublesome, but the simple fact was, that although the 'O' was underperforming, in neither game by halftime did we look like we were in trouble. Rochester had come back to earth, and St. Mary's 23-13 lead, 14 minutes in, had evaporated. And once in front, like the best of thoroughbreds, we simply knew we had them measured and acted like it. Nolan T. showed plenty once he had enough minutes to see his target face to face, and Joey Kizel, who rarely has played like a frosh, continued to impress. The biggest news is that, I think Jake turned an important corner in the final. Since the ball is in his hands so frequently, his floor decisions, passing and shot selection are critical. He made the most of them and his wrap-around dribble off the steal, and left handed pass to a flying Ryan Wholey, who just floated it home for the Locke slam (dunk you very much!) would be in the year's highlight video (if we had one).

      Sharry was double tough even though saddled with foul issues in the final. Ryan W.'s defense on the perimeter continued to take away firepower from attacks that need the 3's. Jamal exploded when necessary and gave us some stability when we came back on St.M.'s. But the big story was 'TheBigFella'. Andrew credited with 6 blocks in the final, had several more, and the 'alters' were equally impressive. For even these top teams, seeing him for the first time up close and personal, requires serious adjustments, particularly when he's got his 'Locke-ness Monster' face on.

      Obviously only powerhouses are left, with the strength of the NESCAC on display in the E-8 with three teams still alive. To get to the Williams-Wooster winner, The Boys have got to climb Mt. 'Tommie'. Minneapolis, a little too far for my four wheeler, so no eyeball on them, but they're a senior laden bunch, who've had no injuries all season (same 5 has started all 31), and shoot the 3 better than anybody in the country (at .389). Additionally they've got 6-9 and 6-8 up front, and Nicolai, their top gun, was a D1 transfer. So we've got to defend, and that is what The Boys do best. Also like that Nolan T. has a size advantage on Nicolai (who's 5-11). And while the Tommies shoot a lot of 3's, they give it up at over 45%, which ought to help our 'O' considerably. One hidden aspect in their record is that there was a point not long ago, where they had problems closing people out. That might be to our benefit. I have no reason to think they're not do-able so we can move on to Saturday.

           If that brings Wooster, right now my comment is the same as Sgt. Schultz's would be ("I know, nothing!"), but we'll get to see them against Williams. And if it's Williams you all know where we stand on that one. Not a better team to beat for the title.

       I don't think there's been this much excitement in Middlebury over BBall since the local-Barney Fife tipped his cruiser over on the Otter Creek bridge, back in '69, chasing a few of us home from the Pine Room, after we had been overserved following our win at RPI to end the 29 game losing streak. Down the Blue Ridge, we're a long way time-wise and program-wise from then, so bring your tapecutters, and maybe JeffB. and The Boys will let us each get a shred of the nets on Saturday at about 5:30. Like someone said, life isn't measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the times that you've had your breath taken away. This is one of those times. Start your engines. And I'll see you all on Friday afternoon. From Downtown, at the Salem Civic Center, parked in my lawn chair awaiting the tip, where I'm just about to light up the finest Cuban, and am discussing the open container rule with a member of the local constabulary, be well. #44


Thursday, March 10, 2011

'semi-Sweet Sixteen...'

      Time to give the conductor your ticket and get on The Panther Express to Yellow-Jacket Land, the site where this long and incredible first saw daylight four seasons ago. Back then we were ecstatic for The Boys just getting Midd's name on TheBigDanceCard. They were likewise, proud. You know the history since then. Hardwood excellence, national recognition, rewarded every time. Except by the NCAA. And now to the semi-Sweet Sixteen. Gotten beyond my anti-bureaucracy rant (it took a couple of days), fully focused on Rochester, manana, and moving on to the Elite Eight. With JeffB's preparation, know The Boys are as well, and with a chip on their collective shoulder to boot. Clear that Pepin and the roar of the Panther faithful, will be missed, but this is a group that has been rock solid on the road most of the last two years so see no reason for hand-wringing. And the 'D' , Midd's signature, has shown up every night, usually from the tip.

      With Nolan T. on DiBartolomeo (their triggerman and UAA, POTY) my take is that this kid is in for a tough night. Add in Jake and Joey K. to keep tabs on Labanski, one their main bombers from the arc and we should be able to dictate tempo from the 'D' side. Although I haven't seen them, did see MIT at the end of last season, and if MIT could give them fits, then The Boys fit the bill better. Bigger-by a bunch on the inside, deeper (we got great minutes out of Luis Alvarez on Brooks who only rang up 11 vs. his season avg. of 23+), and with 'O' that MIT didn't have, I'd say they are do-able.

      Although home, the Yellow-Jackets fan base is on spring break, as it was in '08, when the crowd wasn't much of a factor. Add that 'TheBigFella', Jamal, & Ryan W. were in this building as frosh. They got beat then, but never folded. Now they are better armed (add 'The Horse'), more balanced, with added incentive (probably pissed at no-Pepin) to prove this is our year. That should be enough to get us to St. Mary's or Buffalo St.. Without having seen either, think that St. M.'s the favorite here, with a bigger frontline and more tourney experience. St. M's obviously good, but mortal on the road (9and5), while this group of seniors was 16-2 on nescac road over 4 years. So if it's the 'SeaTurtles' so be it. Buffalo edged Plattsburgh in their tourney, but had lost twice in regular season, and only squeaked by Colby-Sawyer. That alone is enough for me to root for the Buffalo 'Wings'. One advantage is that Midd gets to eyeball them on Friday.  

      All that having been said, feel 'TheBigFella' is on the edge of a breakout game, maybe because it was here that he first showed the moxie that has made him the premier 'Big' on 'D' in the country. And otherwise we are fully primed. You have to think that road, or not The Panther Express should keep rollin'. Hope you can get there, but it'll be on a webcast. Regardless of the outcome, it's been Midd's greatest season, and although not predicted back then, was the reason that J. Gerald had 'N.I.T.'73' on his plates. Because he believed. All the sweat and efforts of many backing Midd Bball, often in unseen ways, will be on display in Rochester. All we can say to The Boys is ''go get 'em and leave it all on the floor". They're very good at that. From Downtown, where I wish there were 3's back-when, be well. #44.

Monday, March 7, 2011

of by-laws and hosings...

      In case you missed my fireworks last night with Dave McHugh of 'Hoopsvillle' on d3hoops The Boys aren't hosting, so off to Rochester to win the Final Four bid is where we'll be toasting. More on the matchup with home standing Rochester in a couple of days. The Committee who created our bracket like it was a giant trapezoid laid the foundation for this fiasco. There were several permutations that could've had schools outside the magic 500 mile statutory limit. But there was only St. Mary's (whose campus is 538 miles, according to google, from The Otter Creek brewery, and only slightly farther to Pepin) that brought into play 'By-law#31'. The essence of that By-law is that geography trumps ranking and if a team is caused to travel more than 500 miles, it must get flown to the site by the NCAA. I offered to pay for the extra diesel fuel so the St.Mary's bus wouldn't run out on the north side of Rutland, but the bean-counters at the NCAA would have none of it. So pointing out that Whitworth has to fly (Spokane is 2000+ miles from their site, and always gets hosed because they're too far away and can't host a sectional, and also that Mary-Hardon-Baylor has to fly (Texas is 1200 miles to northern Illinois), the NCAA says they have limited resources to pay for a flight from Reagan to Burlington, so The Panther Express has to go on the road. That is The Boys reward for cutting down the nets in Williamstown. And one can see why the NCAA had to rent an extra hose, or two, from the Middlebury F.D. to get The Boys out of Pepin.
         This doesn't take into account that the NCAA gets the lion's share of the gate. Which I'd peg at somewhere north of $5000., if it were at Pepin, and ought to cover St. Mary's jet fuel costs. But no, the bureaucracy (I hate bureaucracies) overrode The Committee, and Rochester, probably a 6 or 7 seed if you look at the brackets, gets to host in the round of 16. Fair, it isn't. You may have heard that in d3 there is no seeding, but look at who hosted and you'll see that with the exception of Cabrini or Ramapo, no hosts had more than 3L's on their ledgers. The hosts were all the d3-powerteams, and my thought is that 7 of the 8 top-seeds got to the Sweet Sixteen.

      While Midd, the nescac winner goes on the road, Williams stays smugly on Spring Street. But enough of the rant. The positives are that 'The Boys' rely on one of the stingiest 'D's' in the land, have great RB'ing, and they were in that building four seasons ago when we started this run. Add that Rochester's home edge may be dulled because they're on spring break (and when we were last there the place wasn't full or rabid), plus the fact that it's a palestra, which contributes to further nullifying the crowd's impact. Although The Road is the great equalizer, we've handled it, and it's not going to be like being at Williams. So we're not Custer going on the road to The Little Bighorn, or TheLightBrigade wondering about the Valley of Death. I'm pretty sure it's do-able and we'll know before tip whether we're getting the BuffaloState 'Wings' or the St. Mary's 'Sea Turtles' for the main course, so it ought to be fun. From Downtown, where I can just about see the sign for I-81 south that takes us to Salem. Be well. Clubbo.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'the second season...dancin' again..'

      When you're in the 'second season' (playoffs and beyond) there's no room for error. It is 'win or go home'. And it's not for non-believers or the faint of heart, although The Boys tested everyone's (and their own) resolve with an awful 1st half against Meehan & Co.. We didn't defend and didn't shoot well. Down 14 they came out and found their 'A' game. A methodical run cut it to six, but Meehan pushed TheLordJeffs back up 12. Then 'The Boys' threw the biggest haymaker seen in years. With under 9:00 on the clock, they closed the door on Amherst, caught them at the 1:40 mark, and pulled away. They finished on a 26-10 run triggered by the 'D', inside and out. No 'good looks' for Amherst (Barrise & Workman were 0-8 from 3's), blocks galore, and even though Amherst saw it coming they couldn't find answer.

       After the greatest comeback in our history, The Boys put on an encore performance on Sunday shutting down Wang and Whittington, leading nearly wire to wire and ending Williams' 34-game home win streak to cut down the nets and take the NESCAC title. Many heroes in this one. Jamal beat Whittington to the spot all day, Nolan T. shut Wang down, and Williams couldn't find anybody who could saddle 'The Horse' (Ryan Sharry, double-doubles both days). Throw in tremendous performances by Joey Kizel (both days) and clutch foul shooting down the stretch, and it was truly an encore performance.

      The Boys were rewarded by the NCAA with a one-seed (and a 1st-round bye) so now they've got to live up to it. Thought here is that this edition has the right mind set because they've been dancin' before (4th straight trip), know what is necessary to win at this level, and collectively feel that it can be done. A very different outlook from just making the TheBigDance when they first got a bid. Call it maturity. Watching this excellence play out over the last four seasons has been terrific. Plan to put an eyeball on WesConn tomorrow (vs. Salve Regina). Given the conference strengths and home cookin' they have a big edge. Saw them earlier this year and think The Boys can control the proceedings. They're led by Brooks (senior PG) who reminds me of Shasha Brown except that he takes more 3's. To my mind he pounds the ball too long, which leads to them standing around. That's to our benefit. At 21-5 they shoot lots of 3's (20+ p/g) and are capable, but they're not as big as us inside or as strong, nor did they have an inside focus on their 'O', when last  seen.

      Think that Nolan T. will be able to control Brooks which ought to put pressure on their other scorers, that they might not be accustomed to. Knowing that tendency, our perimeter 'D' should suffice. And I don't think that they're taking it to the hole against Andrew, Ryan or Jamal. As far as it being the NCAA's, see no reason why Joey (Kizel) won't continue to step up. This kid is the find of the year. He wants the rock at crunch time. And won't swallow it. You can't teach that. 'Nuff said. So when the music stops on Saturday night, thinking here is that The Boys will have earned Midd's maiden voyage to the 'Sweet Sixteen'. Imagine that term and Midd BBall in the same sentence, almost an oxymoron. Join the Pepin faithful. It oughta be great fun, even if we've got to bite a few nails along the way. From Downtown, where I'm gettin' a shine on my 'Spats'. Be well. #44.