Friday, December 28, 2012

'fast away the Old Year passes..'

     While some of us are sticking the family fruitcake in the bird-feeders (whoever thought those little green things were tasty?) and hoping that our guests finish up the last batch of holiday eggnog, it is noted that 'TheBoys' are back in Pepin getting ready for RPI, and a run at the nescac title - which is the main order of the winter's business. RPI will in town on Sunday afternoon with Pedro Lynch And Company looking to raise their standard to nine-and-oh. By tip time a couple of more "Tall Trees" (defined as those teams remaining undefeated and untouched by the woodsman's axe) will have crashed in the d3 forest. That will leave The Panthers and only five others unscathed as the remaining "Tall Trees" on the d3 landscape. This doesn't appear to be one of RPI's better editions. Although we haven't seen them up close, common opponents indicate that this game shouldn't require any halftime lamaze sessions. It's been more than three weeks since TheBoys were at game speed, but we've seen many times over this incredible six-plus year run that JeffB. always has them primed and focused. Always is one of those terms that one hates to use because of its finality, but it recognizes the understated mastery that this coach has for his craft. He has worked it with all of Midd's recent editions. The beauty of it is in the preparation. And in getting each group to buy in. Sure, there may be some squirts of WD-40 to get everything up to game speed, but cannot envision an overmatched RPI group, also coming off a layoff hanging around too long at Pepin. Something in range of a 20 point-plus tuneup is what's expected from this corner, and then TheBoys will take up the chase for the nescac title. And next week, they might be the new number one, although based on a stronger early season quality, both St. Thomas and North Central, if they survive Ramapo, would qualify for that spot, if my take is correct.

      The biggest step-ups of the season have been the inside play of Lynch, now up to about fifth in the country in FG percentage, and the discovery of Hunter Merryman as 'instant offense' night in and night out. Pressed into duty when Dylan Sinnickson went down with a broken arm, he has not missed a beat, and one would have to think that he's crossed the bridge to being a full-time threat. That now gives us two potential standouts in the sophomore brigade, and it's my take there will be more.

      Two other points remain to be noted. First: although the Midd defense is not the dominant, lock-down type that has carried us in the past few years, it has been very good in the last ten minutes of every game. Nobody yet has been able to put up a run that has paralyzed us. So my take is that the defense is hidden in the statistics, and when the pretenders want to become contenders, TheBoys are able to make plays on both ends that control the outcome. Part of that is that the offense is better. Inside and out. Secondly: the foul shooting has improved markedly. That should pay off in a big way as the season tightens down and the possessions become bigger.

      Finally there has been a lot chatter about the scheduling- is it too weak, is it challenging enough, etc.?
If you look back at the final regular season poll from last year and the second and third polls this year- even without the nescac schedule being in the forefront, it appears by my count that Midd has played at least 16 of the ranked 75 teams in those three polls. Given the overlap of teams it's possible that there aren't more than 45 actual different teams, and given that we've played some multiple times, often in elimination games, the thought from this corner is 'TheBoys' are prepared every night, and know what challenges need to be met as the season unfolds.   

      Fast away the Old Year passes.. sending you all wishes for health and prosperity in the New Year!
And remember: "down from the star at the top of the tree, under the Christmas bells over Otter Creek, past the wreath on Ma Kelley's door, off of DickTheHealer's new whirlpool, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.


Friday, December 7, 2012

showing Skids we're the thoroughbreds..

     The Panther Express is steaming into the match-up with Skidmore at seven-and-oh. Now up to an all-time high of #3 in the D-3 polls, there are those - all serious followers of Midd's long run in this 'new normal' era - whose concerns about strength of schedule and challenges merit comment. Most of the commentary back and forth has gone on off this page. Those concerns are rooted in the fact that 'TheBoys' are too parochial in playing a variety of Vermont-baked cupcakes (i.e, Johnson St., Green Mountain, etc.)While there is clamor from the outside, and regardless of outcome it would give the Pepin faithful something further to cheer about, for Midd to schedule 'up' to a St. Mike's (d2 and they don't want to play us in the regular season) or get a game with an Ivy Leaguer (ditto's), my take is that from their side of the ball, there's nothing to be gained. When we were trying to get this program out of the New England cellar, my freshman squad met up with J. State. Ecstatic, after putting up a '39' (in the pre-trey days) by my name in the box score, 'The Vendor', my coach, told me, we're not playing them again, they stink- so they got replaced with Northeastern. Not so great an idea -since they shortly thereafter became a D1. So we struggled through three long seasons, at 3and57. Maybe I'm calloused by the 3-57, and just like to see the W's, knowing that in each season, even as they succeed, there are more than enough challenges to keep 'TheBoys' interested.

     It was a lot easier to schedule 'up' back then because there was only D1 and D2. It's also easier to schedule up when you haven't gotten five ncaa bids in a row. Coaches everywhere are concerned about getting enough 'W's to keep their j-o-b-s, and if an annual meeting with The Panthers was detrimental to that prospect, then they are no longer on our dance card. Among those who have decided otherwise are many longtime rivals. Union and St. Lawrence recently said enough. Norwich and Clarkson had also gone that route, and Colby-Sawyer (who beat us in '09-10) bowed out. The rise of the 'conferences' has contributed to this because there is the reality that if you don't win your conference and get an automatic ncaa bid, then there are only 19 other 'at large' bids handed out. And very few of them- maybe no more than six- are locked in come tournament time. Coaches recognize that unless you have 19 or 20 wins your chances of getting in are slim, even with an enhanced strength of schedule, so don't go 18 and 6 or 7. For that matter even with 20 'W's, there are teams every year that get left out in the cold. Recently Keene State and Wesleyan fell short. For those not familiar with D3, there are 403 teams versus less in D1 (236, and less conferences) so there's only about a dozen 'at large' bids nationally. So we play who we play. The nescac, its tournament and pressure, and the ncaa's are the only measuring sticks that the top programs really go by. And come tourney time you don't want to be left out in the cold.

     Skids at Pepin tomorrow. First trip to Midd for their young trio of Merill, Brooks, and Medunjanin (a soph and two frosh). One of the two frosh G's will have Nolan T. in his grill. Medunjanin, bigger at 6'4 seems the more likely to require Nolan's handcuffs. Don't know whether Merrill is strictly a down low guy or whether he roams. Down low, he'll get either Peter or Longjack. If he is a roamer, then he'll have to contend with Jensen. If Brooks is the PG, he gets the unenviable task of trying to beat Joey. Good luck on that front. Although they won the Liberty last year, and Merrill is very capable, think our experience and pressure, particularly at guard, is key here. Also don't see Merrill pounding Peter and/or Longjack. Know our depth is better going eight deep for sure, particularly with Merryman's instant offense such a factor every night (he has been the 'find' of the new season). All in all, my take is that Skids finds out what real thoroughbreds look like, and that TheBoys go to the break at 8-0. Notable that Williams fell out of the top 25 last week (didn't think they belonged). Today they have the flags in Amherst at half mast because the LordJeffNation went down to Babson at Lefrak, loss number two. This not only seriously jeopardizes their #10 ranking, maybe it exposed their overall lack of real depth (Hixson only went with seven guys), which certainly bodes positive for the Panthers.

     Remember: "down The Alibi stairs, past Ma Kelley's front door, and off DickTheHealer's whirlpool, nothin' but net!" Clubbo.      

Saturday, December 1, 2012

not bad for an opening act...

     The Panther Express is rollin' again. After earning accolades for their performances against 'Your-sinuses' whose Bigs did give us a major headache, and Lebanon Valley who had a kid throw a 30 point night, which usually is a knockout punch on its own, 'TheBoys' survived, and controlled him (one trey in the last 14:18) and the game late. Off to Plattsburgh for another roader, they trailed 26-35 while those with the prepaid lamaze cards were breathing rhythmically (but quickly), then TheBoys closed them down from the time it was 49-all with eight minutes to go. Three things triggered this finish, only 3 turnovers in that span, Lynch coming through in a decisive way with ten big points down this stretch, and the fact that they knocked down 11 of 14 from the line to close Platts out. So at five and oh, there is more than a possibility that Midd ought to head into the holiday break at 8-0. Sure there's a trip to Providence on Sunday, but Johnson and Wales doesn't appear to have the firepower of the their past two squads, with the nation's leading scorer (Lamonte Thomas) having graduated. Add in that J&W has a roader at Rivier (in New Hampshire) on Saturday, and our legs may be the fresher than being on the end of a back-to back. Johnson St. at Pepin should give everybody the opportunity to show game talent, and finally we've got Skidmore before the exam-holiday break. Skids will require a top effort as they've got some of the firepower that earned them an ncaa bid last year, to go along with a solid 'Big' in Conor Merrill who registered with 26 against d1 Siena in an exhibition game. Recent Midd-Skids encounters have been rough and tumble affairs and they're not at all awed by a trip to Pepin, so it will be a test.

      What we've seen so far is that the guard rotation of Nolan T., Joey Kizel and Jake Wolfin is as good as we thought. Scary good. Nolan earned MVP for his effort at Lebanon Valley, and this trio has controlled the tough games so far with their cohesion, foul shooting, and defense, especially late, and that ability has anchored the 5-0 start. Up front, we have been searching a little bit, but it looks like the Bigs are starting to find themselves. Lynch is demonstrating that he can be a down low force on 'O', and carry that through to crunch time. My take is that he still has upside as his confidence grows. Important to see LongJack have a statement game the other night, even against an overmatched opponent. Think he might have needed that mentally. Still a work in progress, every game is a step forward for him, and a positive addition that is needed every night. Jensen's play has been strong early on both ends, and his intensity is infectious. Nate Bulluck has made good contributions in his limited minutes, and the feeling is that if he continues on this positive path his athleticism will add to those minutes. Still it's tough to crack the best G. rotation in the country. Dylan Sinnickson, he of the "smooooth" jumper, broke his arm and is on the mend, although he won't be back to mid-January at best, so that is a negative. But like the old proverb says, when one door closes another one opens, so enter Hunter Merryman, who has provided 'instant offense' off the bench, with a solid 3-ball, for double digits every game. Gotta like that. And maybe he's the "dial-up" jump shooter that has been absent from our arsenal the last couple of seasons. Still waiting for Churchill to emerge from the shadows of his bout with mono, and think that he might get some decent minutes in the next 3 games.

     So before this opening act which is the pre-conference schedule is over, what have we learned, about us and about the northeast region in particular. My take, having only seen TheBoys 'run' in preseason but bolstered by 3 decent-to-tough road W's, is that this year's edition is better than pretty good, and the national ranking stays intact till the nescac tips off. Have seen part of the nescac already and am fairly sure of two things. First, Wesleyan is not at the level they were at last year. Too much Shasha with the ball means they have regressed, and makes them easier to defend. Plus they don't yet have a bail out shooter because Mendell graduated. Unless those problems are solved, nescac hosting will remain at a more traditional site. Secondly, Williams will be better than last time around. Liked their team 'D', but they have no flash and must run their offense to death- which they did - to get good shots. Hoffman gives them adequate backup for Mayer, and they're getting good contributions from Epley, Klemm and Wohl, a running mate of Merryman's. They have the advantage of home cooking in key nescac matchups. Amherst has new pieces to go with Toomey and Workman, but gets their first test vs. Springfield tonight. Tufts has been in and out but don't judge them just by their record. They had the lead on Ill.Wesleyan (#7) last night with five minutes left and couldn't close the deal. Think they'll be a big road test in January. Don't know which Trinity we'll see, because of the turmoil that surrounds the program. Six kids, and counting, have left the team in the last two years. Elsewhere, MIT without Hollingsworth (major foot surgery) and Karraker, (knee), is a good team but not the powerhouse I'd envisioned. The newmac will be tough for them.  WPI, is solid, and Springfield is improving. The Little East has two good teams in RIC, terrific 'D', and very well coached, and Keene St. who we already know about. Possible that UMass-Boston adds to the mix, but it looks like EasternConn is weaker, and WesConn now in a down year. Enough details for now, The Boys should be able to take care of business at hand and be ready to pull into the break with a win over Skidmore. Getting to eight and oh is better than pretty good, although many fans along the Otter Creek expect this, the "new normal". Be well. And remember, "off 'The Pine Room' keg, down The Alibi stairs, past the burned out DKE house, over Albert's laundry basket, nothin' but net!" Clubbo. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

thoughts from The Road...

     The Panther Express is cranking up for its maiden voyage of this season to Lebanon Valley, PA. The Boys open as the preseason #4 in the polls, the highest spot ever accorded to Midd, so a program that once lost 'au regulaire' to Canadian schools on the hardcourt- and we didn't even know they played anything but hockey- now has a top of the polls spot, which the adoring public, along the banks of the Otter Creek, now treats as the 'new normal'. Since getting to anywhere like being the real #4 in the country promises to be an exhilarating ride, the car that serves post-game beer and champagne for victory toasts, will again double as the place where a lamaze counselor will help stabilize the deep-breathing for the fans, particularly the rookies, while the rest of the Panther Faithful, merely scream their brains out or chew their fingernails down to the quick. It promises to be great fun.

     The Boys open with Ursinus in 55 hours and then probably will see College of Staten Island on Saturday. 'Your-Sinuses' ought not to give us a headache. Yes, it's the first game of the season and weird finishes clog the early result lines, but they were 9 and 16 last time. And did not even stay with anyone that approaches the Midd talent and depth levels, and return most of that group. Of course they'll be looking to make their mark. C.S.I. won 25 games and made the sweet sixteen but lost their two leaders and I'm unsure of their depth at this point, so my take is that they are 'do-able'. My thought from viewing preseason scrimmaging is that there is no complacency on our side. For Jake, Nolan and Peter, the tri-captains, this is their swansong, and preparations looked like they were on target. Joey- with first team nescac honors last year- was not accorded the respect of that selection since he went unmentioned in the preseason A-A polling, while Amherst's Toomey was the only junior selected on the first team. He will want to smarten those people up by taking care of business. Except possibly for MIT's guards, no one in the country has a trio matching ours. Jake has continued to make big shot after big shot throughout his career, and my feeling is that down deep, even with all his success (79-10 going in), he still wants to be on the floor in Atlanta, not in foul trouble, with under three minutes on the clock. Nolan recently locked down St Mike's (d-2) leading scorer in a scrimmage and should be on the shortest of list as DPOY in the nescac. So they all have something additional driving them.

     Peter, may be on the verge of a MikeWalsh-like break-out senior season. Certain that he's ready.  LongJack looks thicker, and more capable of standing up to and giving the pounding. Jensen's skill level around the basket, has improved to where it matches his intensity level. Think James brings a ton of presence in his 'D' and board work. Likewise, it appears that Dylan was stronger and smoother on the rise and in traffic. Tab for future possible nescac honors. Like seeing that Nate's confidence in his game is releasing his athleticism and quickness. Could be quietly scary. Luis Alvarez, back from the broken hand, reminded that his play on 'D' doesn't take off any sequences. Chris Churchill was fighting his way back from a bout with 'mono', but how far we go and whether we can control the very good 'bigs' that we will see along the way- Kaasila (Amherst); Hollingsworth (MIT), Hannon (St. Thomas) or even Callaghan or Mayer- lies in part with how much he progresses because we're going to need an in the paint presence. Not mentioned yet Bert Nasciemento- he of the great release and range, Hunter Merryman, moving forward with his shot work, and Eamon Cuddy whose good spirits have hidden the frustration of last year's niggling injuries, and still promises to be a hidden force. Didn't get to see Dean B.'s progress in my limited time. And the frosh- looked good- big, quick and athletic. Matt Daley (6'8) runs the floor very well especially for a kid his size. Don't know if he has the jumpshot range of recently departed Big Ryan but it's not an unlikely comparison. Jake Nidenburg, a wide 6'7, rebounds well, is very strong inside and should contribute, maybe early. Got to like that. Henry Prendergast can definitely play although with the G. depth in front of him, it might be a while. Same is true for Conor Huff, but know that JeffB., with his eye on the game clock, is always willing to give out minutes here and there, with his mind on the future. It's a neat trick if you're able to do it, but he squeezes them in, so if need be they will have tasted the battle and maybe not have that deer-in-the-headlights look when called upon.
     The freshmen seem to be cut from the same mold that Midd has been lucky to get- guys that understand the 'we' before the 'me'- so the chemistry for this year's edition ought to continue. And with the seniors leading the way 'TheBoys' ought to go far. This source is totally unworried that it's the opener. JeffB. has been a master at not looking past anyone- and 'TheBoys' get it. Expect two-and oh in the land of the Amish, with no need for the lamaze counselors. Next week at Plattsburgh, a traditionally tough place to grind out a 'W', might be a test, although the fact that it's a Sunday game could neutralize their fan base.

     Would like to encourage any and all to comment on the blog, sometimes it seems like it's just hanging out there. Anyways, Happy Thanksgiving to all, and looking for 5-0 start before TheBoys go to Providence in December. Clubbo.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

'after the dance...'

      Enough space now between the Scranton dagger that burst the 'back-to-Salem balloon' to reflect how exhilarating this 'run' that has made Midd a national BBall powerhouse actually has been. That thought alone would have been something straight out of a 'Twilight Zone' script six or seven seasons ago. Five straight bids to The Dance (only R.I.C. with 6 has more), four to the nescac finals (which may be an omen since we have won them the last two odd-numbered years, hey it's more than a possibility), once to the FF, and once as a host in the 'Semi-Sweet 16' (only 'Sweet' if you can cut down your own nets). Two All-Americans Ben and Ryan, and the MVP (Ryan) in one D3all-star game. Plus lots of other honors for JeffB. and the team along the way. Midd, a national powerhouse, no longer fodder for an oxymoron.

      The highlight video of the season, now on YouTube is great (and thanks to AlexP. for that), not only demonstrates the 'we-before-the-me' philosophy that 'The Boys' live by (and have for several editions), but also shows that every game, at Pepin or on the road, is in front of a big crowd. No, we're not Kentucky or Duke or Carolina, but the fan intensity has been racheted up to the success expectations created by big winning programs. Although in the aforementioned, some graduation rates might match up, I'd take us by more than a couple of buckets on the depth of the academic load carried by The Boys.   

      'W's, we've had a few, but not too few to mention. Ryan and his senior pals racked up 103. Jake, Nolan and Peter expect to reach that number and beyond, because now, sitting at 79 and 10, they know what it takes and they know what they've got to do every night to get there. And for the sophs and the frosh, they've gotten playoff and ncaa experiences to learn from and draw on, and having been there, should only want to get back to that level of excellence. There is a culture to losing- Midd was in that rut for a long time, then team by team, we started to dig our way out of it, and there were years of bright spots, and some great players. But we never had quite enough in the talent or depth categories to sustain those good teams, so it'd be a couple of steps forward then a step or two back. What changed the engine from sputtering to purring, was more talent, depth, cohesion, and leadership on and off the floor. And enough followers who believed to put it together game by game. The last six seasons, unmatched in Midd lore, have raised now a culture of winning. And the bar is set high. So be it.

      It has already been said directly that 'The Boys' expect to be a factor in the national power discussion again next year. That was from Ryan S. when interviewed at the all-star game in Salem. The new kids that are 'in the pipeline' supposedly can really play -very nice- so here's hoping they are in the same mold as this group- tough, ready to learn and resilient, and the beat goes on. BTW- have already gotten a notice from one alum to 'save the date'. February 13, 2013, @ 2p.m.- that's when Toomey and the LordJeffNation will be in town. Never too early to think about beating Amherst, although recognize there's a lot of work to be done first.

      This is that time of year the volume of my daily BBall dialogue starts to peter out. I always feel a bit like Al Pacino's character, Colonel Frank Slade, in 'Scent of a Woman' (one of my faves), when he gets home after his big adventure, trudges up his little driveway and goes into his little house, as the stretch limo and the camera pull away. Anyways, till we get anything even semi-useful as far as Bball news goes, which I'll post, remember, "down 'The Alibi' stairs, off DicktheHealer's whirlpool, over the turnstiles at the Salem Civic Center, nothin' but net". If we don't talk, have a great summer. Be well. Clubbo.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

'a crescendo of deafening silence...'

      With fingernails down to the nubs and heart palpitations setting in, the Panther Faithful were in complete pandemonium when Joey closed out his personal nine point run with a finishing drive that finally brought  The Boys to a 55-all tie with the clock showing only four ticks and running. Then, faster than a cruise missile undetected by the best IBM anti-missile software, Scranton, went unchecked up the sideline and drained the desperation- 3 as the clock ran out to register the biggest 'W' in their history. Give them credit for their game plan and their execution because both were probably their best efforts in years. Give The Boys credit for their pretty solid 'D' on a night when we couldn't make a bucket in the entire first half. Without that effort it would've been over at the break. And then when it seemingly was slipping away, they made a defensive stand in the last 2:10, kept Scranton off the board in three critical trips, where a score or foul meant the end, and rallied to tie it only to take the dagger at the bitter end.

     Pepin emptied silently leaving only the parents and friends, the Bball alums, and a few hardcore fans to try and parse through the final seconds, heads shaking, voices muted, disbelief rampant. It was better to be able to get away from there where you could realize, with the rest of the Panther Nation, that getting nicked, and on the final possession, is how it ends for everyone but the champion at Salem. But as long as the dream glows brightly, the human in all of us never considers 'us' to be on that endangered species list (unfortunately prophetic at this juncture). And the fact that for two seasons The Boys had been perfect at Pepin made the mortality check that much harder to swallow.

      The Panther Express has given everyone another great ride this year. 26 and 4, and hosting in the Sweet Sixteen are not to be sneezed at. It is now a hallmark for a 'national' program. In continuing a fairy tale run of six years of getting 'firsts' for the program, being tagged as a host for this round extended our string. Many thought that a return to the Final Four was to be that first but it wasn't to be. We salute Ryan Sharry, and his senior classmates for their excellence including being ready at every tip time to win 103 games over their careers, and to 'TheBigDog' himself for being the Northeast's POY, as decided on D3Hoops. It's going to take some giant efforts to fill that position next year, and probably more than one guy to do it. But there's plenty of talent, athleticism, muscle and cohesion that will return in Jake, Joey and NolanT., Peter, Jensen, NateB., Dylan, 'LongJack' and DeanB. Expecting new precincts to be heard from as well with 'Winston' to prove his worthiness, Bert Nasciemento to maybe become a dial-up jump shooter, or Hunter to do the same, and Eamon Cuddy to become a bigger contributor. The rest of the nescac wishes they were in our position.

      There's info out there also that who JeffB. has 'in the pipeline' should keep the 'Nervous Nellies' from the anti-depressants. Was looking forward to going back to Salem and perching on my lawn chair at the arena, till The Boys got to town, discussing their chances with members of the local constabulary while we also had a tete-a-tete over the legality of their 'open--container' ordinance. Oh well, suppose that can wait till next year. And remember, "off The Vendor's chair, down The Alibi stair, past Duke Nelson's snoring, nothin' but net."Be well. Clubbo.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

'..on the endangered species list..'

      The Panthers have made it back to the Sweet Sixteen, by doing away with Morrisville State and then frying the dangerous, 16th ranked AlMags, with a terrific defensive performance and cruising to the finish line. The Boys opened their bid to get back to the Final Four by handling Morrisville pretty much wire-to-wire and winning by 20. Although Mo'ville made a brief bid when they cut the margin to minus six at the half, they didn't get any closer and there weren't any fretful moments after the break. Pepin was more than packed for Ray Askew, Darius Watson and their running mates, and The Boys took control early on with a 15-4 run, and AlMag never recovered. Watson had a goosegg for his efforts in the first half, courtesy of a major lockdown job by NolanT. Frustration had already set in on the AlMag side, and after being up a dozen at the break, The Boys widened it to as much as 23 with 6:00 left, erasing all doubt that the night belonged to The Panthers. Without Watson, Askew couldn't overcome the offensive punch that The Boys threw at them. And the Panther Faithful screamed themselves into delirium when 'TheBigDog' punctuated the proceedings with a pair of slams.

      Not lost in the madhouse that was Pepin were the great efforts of Jensen, NateB. 'LongJack' and Dylan, 'The Smoothie'. It is pretty clear that both Jensen, with his defense and boardwork on such a formidable guy as Askew, and NateB., with several eye-popping plays, have really come on in the last month. To my mind they've crossed the bridge and can see the game unfolding at their game speed. That is a big transition. 'LongJack' also has stepped up what he can bring on 'D', and certainly will contribute key minutes if the Panther Express is going to keep rolling towards Salem. And Dylan, only a frosh, started to act like he's been playing this game for longer than his years. Given that all four have the chance to get two more tourney games under their belts can only help their poise at big moments, particularly when you realize that four tourney games are a lifetime of experience.

      Tomorrow night, The Boys and everybody else are on the endangered species list. An 'O' that's out of sync, a few ill-timed heaves, being late to cover out on the arc, coupled with a turnover or three at crunch time and you're, in Bill Murray's vernacular, "toast"! That's this time of year. Tomorrow is the next possession or the last possession. If you can't fill the bill, you're ready for the "Spring Todd League" ('todds' were the beers that the losers of those games had to buy). From my perch up here on the porch, it appears that 'The Boys' can control their fate, avoid going the way of the dodo, and take care of business against Scranton. Scranton lives and dies with its G.-oriented 'O'. Our G. rotation should be up to the task on defense, and it doesn't look like Scranton's got enough of an inside presence to bottle up Ryan or Peter Lynch. Add 'LongJack' to the inside, and they're not taking it to the hole. Our depth, discussed earlier, adds a dimension they don't appear to have. And because they are G. reliant, it's my take that 'TheBigDog' and Lynch will have it their way down low.  Despite the bigness of the moment, Scranton is do-able and gets us to Saturday and the Elite Eight.

      And let's thank the ncaa gurus for a little payback. Pepin will be rockin', but TheLordJeffNation is on the road at Franklin and Marshall, with MIT in the same building. I can see the tears dripping down Lord Jeffrey's long, snooty nose. Such a beautiful sight! But don't count them out, they're tough and probably nearly as resilient as The Boys. On our side we've got the home cookin' and it's an advantage for us because I see EasternConn advancing to meet us, over Cabrini. Both teams favor defense, and Eastern has in Nedwick, their big scorer, the LEC's D-POY. Welcome to Pepin. Meet Nolan T. If we get a standoff in that matchup,it's in our favor, because they rely a lot more on his scoring than The Boys need Nolan's contribution. They've got an inside guy, we've got two, in Ryan and Peter, maybe three. A part of their run to date has been fueled by Salzillo, a soph who's now 9-11 in the tourney from 3's. Welcome to Pepin, I'd like you to meet Joey, or Jensen or Nate. No more squeezing free treys off. They've gotten big 'W's, some on the road, but split with WesConn, now done, and lost by a point at Wesleyan. Enough markers point to The Boys. My take is we'll take advantage of our building, override their defense and move on to the ride down Blue Ridge for a St. Patrick's Day (always a holiday at my house) celebration. Keep the faith.

      Whatever turns out, The Boys have made this another historic year, and it will be the Ryan and the seniors last homestand. Know they'll make it memorable, and hope there's some minutes for Winslow and Carl in it, before we bring down the curtain. PepinTickets were totally gone by 12:05 today. Hope you know a friendly scalper. I've heard there'll be lamaze sessions tomorrow starting at 4:30 for the nervous nellies. And if we advance, rather than joining the fans for warm-ups at Two Borthers on Saturday at 5 p.m., there'll be another session for their breathing. What will they do if we get to Salem?

      See you at Pepin tomorrow, and if you got shut out, The Boys will be on the small screen. Thought if d3hoops was doing the game yours truly might get a cameo as a color guy, but it's a Midd video-cast so that's not happening. And remember..."down Bobo's ski jump, past the Breadloaf fireplaces, off  'The Alibi' keg, and over Wendell's skates, nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo. 


Thursday, March 1, 2012

'..dancin' again'

      The Boys nearly pulled off the comeback right under LordJeff's snooty nose last Sunday, but after coming from 15 down with 9:21 to tie it at 68, Barrise hit the biggest 3 of his Amherst-life with 3.2 left and derailed The Panther Express. Our last second strategy actually needed about another tick to unfold, and maybe put NolanT. on the line with a chance to tie it. Two brutal beats left the Panther Faithful with a sour after-taste, but the ncaa gurus recognized the degree of difficulty faced by The Boys in Lefrak, and didn't penalize us too much for not achieving a split with Toomey and his pals. So for the fifth straight year we're 'dancin', a remarkable achievement in itself (only R.I.C. has more, their sixth), and The Boys were rewarded with hosting this weekend.

      A sold-out Pepin will be rockin' for the Morrisville State game. My sense, looking at their record, conference and roster is that this is something like a 2 vs. 15 game (or 1 vs. 16) in the Big Dance. But they should be rightfully proud to be dancin'. They started out 3 and 6, then righted the ship, and won the neac. Whatever the neac is- strong, it isn't. Seven of the ten teams have records south of the .500 line. Don't think that they'll be able to match up with our 'bigs' too well. And am not going out on a limb by saying that our G. rotation is stronger. Add the depth of the bench and the fact that although it's been unusual this season, Jensen, 'Longjack', NateB. and Dylan, 'the Smoothie', get to work in front of the home crowd, where they'll not only be more appreciated, but get invaluable ncaa experience under their belt.  As an aside, thought that NateB.'s effort against Wesleyan was a breakout game. He's just starting to uncover his potential. Jensen continues to give us solid  minutes on both ends and has steppped up his board work. And when you consider that LongJack's job last year was to hand out water during timeouts and that Dylan is a frosh with a huge upside, you realize the depth of this group. Morrisville is 'do-able' and we should be able to not empty the tank to get it done.

      That gets us to probably the most dangerous team in the east, if not the country, Albertus Magnus (AlMag). On my radar for years, this group, led by RayAskew, has quickness, a lot of ability and good size. They want to pressure you, turn you over with their chaos and get you into a game around 90, where their speed and firepower can knock you out. This is not their first visit to the ncaa's, having beaten a good William Paterson team in Jersey two dances ago. Two thoughts on them. First they've got St.Joe's (L.I.), who also likes the track meet style and shoots a ton (30/game) of 3's. When they're hot they are dangerous. And in a shootout on a neutral court anything might happen, but think AlMag's got the best player and a big advantage on the boards that give them a definite edge in a close game.

      My other thought is that AlMag has been mortal on the road, particularly if they're in a game in the 60's. Either they are not quite at optimum playing a lower tempo game, or they have problems defending for the entire shot clock. If you add those factors together, with the road, you can understand that The Boys can frustrate them with patience and shot selection. Despite their record they haven't faced 'Bigs' yet this year like 'TheBigDog' and Lynch, who can score the ball down low. Less long RB's means that they're not getting off to the races on their break. And for those concerned that we might not measure up in a 'city game', where there will be a lot of trash-talking, bear in mind that Jake and Joey grew up playing with these kinds of guys in Jersey, and Nolan's from Akron, Ohio, and won't be intimidated.

      On balance it's my take we'll survive and move on to the next four team tournament. Know that any mistakes are magnified and can be fatal at this time of year, but like the way our guards operate under pressure. That's a hidden advantage. If you hadn't heard, Ryan was named first team all-nescac and as nescac POTY. Joey joined him on the first team. And JeffB. was named Coach of the Year. A big shoutout to all 3 for the honors earned. Depending on how the bracket goes, hosting a second weekend is not out of the question, but we certainly need Ohio Wesleyan to go home early to make that a possibility. See you all at Pepin tomorrow. If you can't get there The Boys will be on the small screen.

    And remember.. "off the Pine Room keg, down The Alibi stairs, off DicktheHealer's hot tub, nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"let's go cut down their nets.."

      Pepin was sold out before Friday. Some sources said there were 'scalpers' in the pubs offering their wares by happy hour on Friday. While the Trustees might not look favorably on such practices, it certainly demonstrates that there are others besides those in the economics department that know how to apply the law of supply and demand. Further it illustrates how the success of JeffB.'s program has created this new fan base with both the campus and the 'townies' now buying in. By tip time the place was in a frenzy, and 'The Boys' did not disappoint.

      Lead by 'TheBigDog', Ryan personally took the game on his shoulders (All-Americans will do that) at both ends, and Midd went from down 10-7, out to a 17-10 lead. The 'D' which had been torched up in the first meeting, made all necessary adjustments, and pretty much didn't give Williams any good looks from beyond the arc. If you rely on 3's the way they do, a 4 for 29 night means curtains! And Mayer's effectiveness was limited by Lynch, and 'LongJack' Roberts, who had his best game of the season. The G. rotation delivered its come-to-be-expected virtuoso performance and closed the Eph-Men out from the line, down the stretch.

       The Panther Express will be pulling out for Amherst and the nescac finals. But before everybody gets too giddy with anticipation for the rematch with Toomey and the rest of the LordJeffNation, there's serious business to be attended to, namely Shasha Brown and his Wesleyan pals. This team has bought in to Joe Reilly's philosophy and continues to improve. That they are here doesn't surprise me in the slightest, because they've been pretty consistent in their efforts and have learned to win on the road, two characteristics of top teams. They've got 20 'W's already, and pretty much have locked up an at-large ncaa bid for their efforts. They are familiar with playing in this building since they're here every season, and Amherst only beat them by a bucket in their earlier visit. All that having been said, there are some adjustments that 'The Boys' can make that strengthen Midd's advantage. First time around, 'TheBigDog' only had 9 attempts (made 7). We need something on the northside of 16 in that area, since getting him the rock down low is a large positive. More minutes required from Lynch. If he's not in foul trouble, he gives us an inside punch with Ryan on 'O,' that Wesleyan can't match. Looking for the new #44's 'O'. Also in our favor is that this time we've got Nolan T. at full strength, which wasn't the case in the first meeting. Ditto for 'LongJack' who was just coming back from his knee rehab. Also a good place for the continued usage of  Dylan and NateB. in spots, while both are appearing more comfortable on the floor. My take is Wesleyan is do-able, and in moving on, The Boys will have won the right to host in the ncaa first round.

      That brings us to 'rematch Sunday'. No surprises here. This is a big game between the two best teams in the east. Riding on it for sure are the nescac title, and who gets the number-one slot in the eastern half of the ncaa's and maybe the country. It also will determine who gets to host in the first and second round of the ncaas which will have a lot to say about going back down the Blue Ridge, because it's my thought that no matter the outcome, we're going to have to deal with each other, one more time. Suffice it to say that we're rooting for the next one top be at Pepin. Same keys will be necessary on 'D', and figure that in a title game the officiating will match up to the moment. That should allow 'TheBigDog' a little more freedom to roam down low. If everything else is even, that ought to be enough, presuming good execution in other areas.

      Let's go cut down their nets. In their building, can't think of anything much sweeter. Till next time, remember.."down LordJeff's snooty nose, off the wall of the Old Cage, a bounce over the nescac ticket table, nothin' but net." Be well. Clubbo.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

'the road to the top just got a little steeper...'

      In front of the LordJeffNation, the Panther Faithful were served a double-dose of 'the reality of the road' last Saturday. Amherst opened hot, their joint was rockin', and the LJN was screaming itself hoarse when 'TheBoys' were 16 down, early. The Zebras thought their main job was to protect the purple and white at every turn. Amherst pounded on Big Ryan like he was a bass drum. Several times shots of his leaked out of his hand, like he had suddenly been overcome by palsy. But alas, no trips to the line. 'TheBoys'  methodically worked their way back into it, and following a terrific block at the basket by Nate B., only trailed by four at half. They finally caught Amherst at 62-all, and down the stretch our 'D' was pretty terrific. The Zebra crew duly noted that, and rewarded Toomey and his pals with more bailouts than the banks got at TARP time.

      In fact, after the Hixons went up 61-55 with 7:41 left, they only scored on Barrise's '3' at the 1:05 mark to tie it, and on the putback that sealed it in OT. Everything else was courtesy of those men in stripes. Don't be fooled by the team foul numbers. 'Brutal', but sometimes to be expected on the road. Usually not in games between top teams. 'Awful', probably more appropriate - it was a continuous hosing. The magnitude of the difference was in focus as soon as the scorer's ink was dry on the page, because Midd slips to #2 in the nescac and now gets to host Williams, absolutely the most dangerous conference 7-seed in the country. Toomey and his pals stay home, facing Hamilton, certainly the lesser task, and look forward to hosting the nescacs.

       Having recently seen the Eph-Men give one of their best performances at Pepin, it's clear this is one of those times where full impact of the post-season looms. The road to the top just got significantly steeper for The Boys. The depth of the nescac is on display with teams like Bowdoin and Williams as 6 and 7 seeds. Thankfully, The Boys have been taught to take it one game at a time, have a guard rotation that knows that the possessions get a little bigger at this stage of the year, and use that knowledge and experience every night. For our 'nervous nellies' who point to what happened last time, my take is that JeffB. and company have probably already addressed those issues. The thought is that seeing a different alignment/match-up on 'D' is more probable than not. Meaning that you won't have 'TheBigDog' roaming around out on the arc, which takes him away from his effectiveness on the glass. Another soldier will be dispatched to keep track of Epley out there, sit on his left hand and try to get him to put it on the floor. Doubt with that scenario in mind he can match his career best. Controlling Robinson and Wang equally well as was done in game one would be acceptable. Both are well known commodities that won't be overlooked. Freeing up Big Ryan from his perimeter duties, also means he's available for Mayer-stopping. Also like that Lynch, who has shown growing, consistent inside strength this season, can put his body on Mayer. My take is that Mayer can be muscled around - having seen the Wesleyan 'Bigs' do that effectively in their blowout 'W' earlier. That might be a page to be taken from that lesson.

      On offense, it's obvious we need 'TheBigDog' for more than the 23 minutes he got in game one. Don't think that Mayer or Emerson can remotely match up with him on the low blocks. If they don't, he can growl and bark with the best of them, giving us big positive results. And if they cover, he can trigger the inside-out response with good shooters getting good 'looks'. Also like that for our younger guys, this is a good spot to begin their post season course load. Having seen Williams up close, they'll have a better sense of focusing on what needs to be accomplished to get to the rematch with Toomey and his pals next weekend. Obviously a lot riding on the outcome - the nescac crown, ncaa bids and ncaa hosting. Although the 'nervous nellies' may overload the pre-game lamaze sessions, my take is that 'TheBoys' took Williams' best punch in game one and survived. Believe that our balance, 'D', depth and 'home-cookin' are all strong factors that Maker and his boys can't quite measure up to, so that Midd will move on, and the talk in the pubs on Saturday night will again be of the nescac finals.

       Expect Pepin to be packed again - the Midd fans lead the nescac in attendance by a large margin- but unfortunately won't be in town to see this one live. Will have to survive by video, but looking forward to Amherst next week. And remember... "off 'The Pine Room' keg, down 'The Alibi' stairs, over Maker's best supporting-actor nomination letter, nothin' but net." Till next time. Be well. Clubbo.           

Friday, February 10, 2012

..Can you say Big Game?

      The Panther Express continued to roll last weekend holding off a very hot and tougher-than-expected Bowdoin squad at Pepin. 'ThePolarBears' shot 66% in the second half (6 of 8 from 3-land) and made some from spots beyond the arc that have had little traffic since yours truly was firing them up from just over the horizon 40-plus years ago. They kept coming on late, and only a top performance from the free throw line kept them at bay. That illustrated two salient points about 'TheBoys' this season. Midd is now a much tougher out than even our recent editions, because they've shed the moribund (low-60's) FT percentage and are now in the mid-70's, and have learned to keep the ball in the hands of our best shooters with the game on the line. That means that down the stretch, 'TheBigDog', Ryan Sharry gets it down low where the result is usually a deuce or a visit to the line, Jake, or Joey, who has the stroke and requisite ice-water in his veins (he's at 90%) to be the closer.

      The second key point is that we have enough offensive balance to offset a team that gets very hot. This is a necessity if The Boys are going to make a deep post season run. Although our team 'D' is solid - and we've got a lot of contributors, we haven't shown the knockout punch that the defense specialized in last year. All that having been said, it's my take that this group is more versatile, that Ryan is pretty much unstoppable down low, (especially when Peter Lynch, the new #44, is in the game), and that the G. rotation, particularly Joey, continues to improve, mature and mesh on both ends. That versatitlity, and our depth was on display in the Colby game. Colby tried hard, but was badly overmatched, and the 'D' rose up especially by the mid-second half  as the lead stretched out to 64-36. Everybody got some minutes-nice especially for Winslow and Carl G. who have soldiered on, and played well. Also notable, was yet another good segment by 'The Smoothie', Dylan Sinnickson. In a group of frosh that makes the future bright, he is currently the leader, and from what I've seen, the best of the nescac. Dean B. is starting to find his way out there in 3-land, more comfortable,his release is improving as he transitions from being a high school '4' to a '3'. Also liked the way that Eamon Cuddy handled himself, think he'll be heard from. 'Winston' could've brought the house down with thunder dunk, didn't make up his mind before taking off, but left everyone with the realization that it's there. He did make a sweet back door pass to a cutter for a bucket.

      Tonight Trinity will be scrapping and clawing as they try to hold onto the last playoff spot in the nescacs. Their frosh are now carrying a lot of the load, so they have a different look than The Boys have seen, but it's my take that most nights they don't score the ball well, and are inconsistent at best from the outside. We're better up front, our G. rotation has more working parts, and the depth down the bench give us recognizable advantages. But this is 'the road' and it is in a building where we've yet to take early control of a game. As always, counting on JeffB's preparation to focus on the business of the now against a team that is 'do-able'. Hoping that it's not a nail-biter so that our main guys don't have to go past 28 minutes, but that may be wishful thinking on the road.

      Can you say Big Game? That's tomorrow in front of TheLordJeffNation. Number 6 hosting Number 2! More or less the season on the brink. The winner gets to host the nescacs -a huge advantage. The winner will be the undisputed #1 in the ncaa regional rankings, and that will have a serious bearing on who is #1 in the eastern half of ncaa brackets. 'TheBoys' have their work cut out for them. Amherst has firepower, solid G. play, 'Bigs' that can hurt you, and home cookin'. My take is that if we cover Barrise on the arc and don't let him get going from 3, that's a big plus. That means Toomey will have to try and do more on offense, which should be to our benefit. Workman, their '3', has not really shot the ball that well from outside this year and is more of a 'slasher that can be defended.  Which Waller shows up may be the deciding factor. He has strung together several good outings of late, but has serious tendencies to be lazy on  'D', and reach, and thus is foul prone and which limits his minutes and them. My take is that as good as Toomey's press releases have been, Joey has an edge. And Jake and Nolan always show up, particularly in big spots -got to think this will be one of them. And 'TheBigDog' will be the best 'big' in the building. We've got to get him north of 18 attempts preferably down low, and his bark will keep TheLordJeffs off the porch. Slight edge - Panthers!

      Of course for our newly minted fans, who think they might encounter breathing problems during the game, lamaze sessions are available on the Panther Express during the pre-game hours. If you think you can handle it, without the lamaze, the rest of us will be at The Pub in Amherst about 1:45 for burgers and beers. Hope you can make it- it oughtta be a helluva game. Remember, down LordJeffrey's snooty nose, off the wall of the 'cage', past Hixon's shoe, nothin' but net. bew ell. Clubbo.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

'..takin' it in stride..'

       'The Boys' survived Maker's histrionics (which should land him a nomination for best supporting actor) and dealt with the hated EphMen at Pepin to the delight of the SRO crowd. But 'the road' proved more than an equalizer, to a team that already had rung up eleven tallies in unfriendly confines this season, when The Boys came up a point short at Keene State. This was one of those spots long ago marked with a 'danger' sign, but it looked like Midd would escape the ax man's blade when they pushed the lead out to ten with 6:16 remaining. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, as we managed to have more turnovers than points down the stretch. Although we got the last two shots, neither was great, and more importantly didn't go in.

        In a way, getting nicked, especially late, may have a long term benefit to remind The Boys of their mortality and sharpen the focus for Bowdoin now, and for the Trinity-Amherst trip next week. The first goal is to secure the nescac season title. That creates a lot of good things. It means we get home cookin' through the nescac playoffs,  and would give us a leg up on hosting come the ncaa's. But first things first. Russ Hanley, arguably the second best 'big' in the nescac, and his fellow PolarBears will visit Pepin on Friday. He is dangerous and can keep them in most any game, but his supporting cast has been underwhelming more than a few times this year. Even given that Hanley's an even match with 'TheBigDog', our trio of guards, backed by the inside punch of Lynch, who keeps coming on, and the bench support of Jensen, Dylan, and Dean B. gives The Boys a scoring, defensive and explosiveness edge that the rest of the Polar Bears don't come close to matching. Add in 'Long Jack' Roberts, maybe 'Winston' Churchill, (who is ready to get some minutes), and Nate Bulluck, in spots and you've got a depth that even a Polar Bear chasing a seal couldn't dive to. In my parlance Bowdoin is 'do-able'.

      Saturday we have 'WhiteMules' on the menu, and while Colby is usually a tough foe, this is a down year for them. They lack firepower and 'bigs', not a recipe for success on the road against a major power. Certain, because of our ranking and the fact that they probably will have gotten torched at Williams on Friday, that they'll circle the wagons and try to put up a good effort. Just don't see that extra resolve will make up for the size, depth and explosiveness differential. It's 'senior day', and it should be noted that although Ryan gets the press because of his talent and career numbers, there are some other 'Boys' who have contributed their time and talent to this great run of the last four years. Winslow Hicks and Carl Gayle are two of the unsung who have worked just as hard and are solid teammates, although we only see them in limited spots. Every team needs those guys for their commitment and contributions to complete the chemistry that makes the program work. Also add to the fact that "Hank, the Tank", Henry Butler hasn't left the team and still is down there on the bench, even though he was taken down by a bad hip for two seasons.

      Midd's run as Number One most likely is over, because of the way that some of the pollsters have viewed us all year. There are those, and it's clear from listening to 'Hoopsville' on Sundays or Thursdays, that have gone for the MikeMaker spin doctoring that Williams is still a great national power somehow arriving late to the scene this year, hook, line and sinker. Please! Five L's and currently 6th in the nescac. You are what your record says you are, per Bill Parcells. And that is not 16th in country. Nor were they the national third place team last year. There was no third place game or even a coin flip, so why is that b.s. on their website? It's all about the spin. And just another reason to have them lose as often as possible. The Boys did not play like they were 'deer in the headlights' at Keene, and may have a chance to redeem themselves in the future. But right now they need to finish the deal against Bowdoin, then Colby and move on. Till next time... 'down the Alibi stairs, off DicktheHealer's table, past Wendy's skates, nothin' but net'. Be well. Clubbo.

Friday, January 27, 2012

...'Purple Cows' along the Otter Creek... and 'The Trap'

      The Continentals threw their best punch at 'The Boys' last weekend, but they took it in stride, broke a 55-all tie on a steal by Jake who fed 'TheBigDog' for the easy duece. Joey followed with an assist to rising Dylan Sinnickson; Jake drained a 3-ball; and long Jack Roberts fininshed the run with a lay-in to push it out to 64-57. Then the G. trio nailed all 6 FT's to seal it. Eleven W's so far on the road speaks well to the preparation, intensity, depth and 'game' that 'The Boys' bring every night. They followed that with another solid effort, and cruised by Plattsburgh to set up the confrontation with the hated Purple Cows from Williamstown.

      'TheMikeMakers' will be at Pepin tomorrow. The joint will be rockin' with an SRO crowd of Panther noisemakers fully expected. Having seen them up close recently, a couple of data points come to mind. Although they are dangerous on their best shooting nights, this group doesn't measure up to the recent teams that featured Snyder, Geohegan, Schultz and Whittington. Their 'Bigs' have been adequate at best. My take is that our 'Bigs' can get to the rim and control the paint on both ends. This should create two major positives for 'The Boys'. When Williams has the rock, there will be added pressure to score from beyond the arc. That plays into the Panther's 'D'. We can cover out there, so there shouldn't be good 'looks' (for Klemm, Wang or Epley), and against our strength inside they should have a real problem getting to the rim, since none have looked great off the dribble. Part of that lies in the fact that if they do penetrate there's no real force inside for them to drop it off to. More pressure for their main guys.

       This game was one of possible bumps in the road, when the schedules came out. Different than the last two in season games is that The Boys are now the 'hunted', and now we are at full strength
for the first time in these recent match-ups. I was on record several blogs back that we were not going down in this game. If you're one who thinks that we can be jinxed by taking a stand, take heart. This one is 'do-able'. My take is that they will have to shoot north of sixty percent from 3's, get 'The BigDog' in early foul trouble, have our G.'s forget to cover on the arc, and have us get nothing out of our bench to take down the second-to-last of the 'Tall Trees' in the  D3 forest, only us and Hope (whose only 'L' was to a D1) remain standing. That should be too tall an order. The game is pretty giant on several fronts- it keeps us in the nescac lead and pointing towards the growing chance of a showdown with TheLordJeffNation; and it will tag the EphMen with their third nescac loss. That is good. It also should eliminate them from the top 30 in the nation, since no amount of spin doctoring by the ever resourceful Williams' advocacy group will be able to justify their fifth loss. That is sweeter.

      Beyond this, the trap lies in the New Hampshire forests. 'Williams' at Pepin, has been the chatter on campus, and in the pubs all week. Everybody wants it. Feels it. And that is just fine with the Keene State Owls, who love to press end to end for forty minutes, and get us into an up tempo game where their 'chaos' and crowd just might take down a Number One. Have seen them, know they won't quit and can score the ball. On the 31st, 'The Boys' will be in a very dangerous spot. The big plus is that JeffB. has been so solid in his one-at-a-time approach, that the nervous can go grab a quick Lamaze session (to regulate their breathing), on the Panther Express (it is resting on a siding this weekend), and let The Boys will deal with Williams first. Once that is taken care of, the road to Keene State will be here soon enough.

       Pepin will have a celebration for BBall Alumni tomorrow, and a strong turnout of Midd alums from our recent ncaa teams, and others from the late 70's to the early 'double-ohs', and the late 60's and early 70's- my squad, 'the team that turned the corner', and finally two stars, Charlie Sykes and Zip Rausa, from the great Tony Lupien-coached, Midd teams of '56-'58, will be on hand. It should be fun to reconnect the eras. If you're an alum and still on the fence, the game is at 11:30, with an informal lunch at 1:00 at Up's to follow. Williams' tip is at 4p.m.with a reception immediately afterwards. Remember... "down the Alibi stairs, off DicktheHealer's table, nothin' but net". Clubbo.    


Friday, January 20, 2012

' the Continentals.. and the divide'

      'The Boys' had more trouble than expected with ConnCollege, and weren't able to coast before they took on much improved, and improving, Wesleyan. Wes was looking to cash their biggest trifecta in the JoeReilly-era, with Williams, the Panthers and the LordJeffNation in their building in a five day span. Having run Williams (then #12), halfway back to the Berkshires on Friday night, they were looking for another scalp with The Boys in their sights on Saturday. The game was hard fought all the way and with under three minutes, when it looked like Sharry, Kizel, Wolfin & Co. were about to get away, the refs decided that Wes needed some zebra intervention to find out if Midd was a legit numero uno. Although they had pretty much let it be rough 'n tumble (as expected on the road), a couple of moves that Callagahan put on Sharry hadn't been seen since the rodeo left Madison Square Garden. Of course the place was rockin', but Jake calmly drained one moving to his left with the clock going off, and TheBigDog kept Wes from getting to the rim, and Joey, per his usual icewater personna, calmly drained a pair of FT's to seal the deal. Nice to have guys that can deliver the big play every night.

       In retrospect the 'W' earned looked even better by Tuesday night when Wes upended the LordJeffs, #4, to show that they will have to be reckoned with again. In recapping the game, it should be noted that the ball ought to get down to Sharry, because once he gets it, he's going to score and probably get to the line. The only critique is that 9 shots aren't enough. Unsung as usual down the stretch, was Nolan T. putting the cuffs on ShaSha Brown and keeping him under control.

       The Boys are back on the road at Hamilton tonight. The Continentals have been a 'jekyll and hyde' group but hung in at Amherst recently for 30 minutes. At home they'll be tougher. My grapevine tells me that their frontcourt guys are on the slow side. That's a definite plus for our Bigs. And our G. rotation is getting stronger. Joey has emerged as big possession player and a go-to guy at crunch time. Add in the depth factor with Peter, Dylan, Dean B., long Jack Roberts, and others, and the Continentals ought to be 'do-able'. There will be a webcast covering the proceedings.

     Presuming that The Boys survive another test with that big equalizer, the road, they will be at the divide of the nescac season at five and oh. Recognizing there is plenty of work remaining and goals to be accomplished, but in the one game at a time world of the post-season, they will have qualified for the nescacs. Whoop-de-do! Of course they qualified! Six or seven seasons back - like a time long ago, in a galaxy far away - everyone connected with the program would have been ecstatic. Shows how dramatic the leap forward has been, and how bright the spotlights have gotten. But I still like to keep tab on the reality of the day. The Panther Express should keep rollin', setting up a packed house for Wang and Pals, when the old Bball alums will be back to be honored and join in the festivities. Till next week, remember, "nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo.

Friday, January 13, 2012

'Lamaze for the rookies...Nutmeg State beckons..'

     The Panther Express is so packed with giddy new fans that a car or two has been added for its run to the Nutmeg State. To acommodate some, who need time to acclimate to the thinner air up here near the top, a lamaze instructor will hold seminars at 3:00 p.m. daily to help them regulate their game time breathing. Thankfully for them 'The Boys' provided only a few anxious moments last weekend in cruising past Bates as expected, then handling a good Tufts team that we may see again at nescacs time. For his work in keeping everyone off the Midd porch, 'TheBigDog', Ryan Sharry was rewarded with a spot (one of five) on the D3Hoops weekly 'national team'. That's not 'terribly terrible', as one of my old golfing cronies used to say when you sunk a 45 footer for bird.

      He had plenty of help. Dylan Sinnickson is playing with more confidence and gives us back some of the explosiveness that graduated with Jamal. Also positive were the cameo minutes by Jack Roberts, returning from injury, the steadiness of Peter Lynch, and the continuing progress of both Jensen (whose contributions are not always measured in the box scores) and Dean B. Likewise it is interesting to note that if it weren't for the injuries early to Ryan and Jack, 'Winston' Churchill wouldn't have yet been distinguishable from his famous namesake. We now know he can handle himself in a tough spot and contribute important minutes, and certainly will be a force in seasons to come. Also note that Eamon Cuddy finally got in the box, if only briefly, returning from a foot problem.

       The Panther Express deposits The Boys in New London tonight. Although this is 'the road' and one has to be wary, it would be an upset of epic proportions (something like the Christians over the Lions in old Rome) if we were the 'tall tree' to fall. Size, talent, and depth are all on our side. Add that Nolan T. should be back, and on patrol, gives us back a major dimension that we have been lacking in the last four outings. Also that's bad news for Vadas, ConnCollege's big gun because Nolan essentially locked him down twice last year.

      At Wesleyan tomorrow The Boys will be in one of the five spots remaining on our dance card where danger lurks. Wesleyan is playing as a more cohesive unit, not flinging 3's up from anywhere, and obviously hoping to have the biggest weekend of the Joe Reilly era. The bonus for us is they've got Williams tonight and are looking to avenge their loss earlier. My thought is that it won't be as big an upset as the national press might think it. Wesleyan was in the game with them here last year, so they feel now they're ready. I'll be at Silliman to keep track of the proceedings. From our side, if we control things early in New London, we should not only have fresher legs but limit the possibility of injuries. Despite their play, Wesleyan is do-able because we've got 'TheBigDog', and an able-bodied assistant inside in #44 (yes, another one), which gives us more size, and a stronger G. rotation. Add a deeper bench that can make major contributions and they'll be breaking out the champagne for the exhausted faithful on the Panther Express back to Vermont. It is interesting to note that we've had two 'stars' out for a total of six games, and kept growing, with new people stepping up, including three frosh. Exhilarating to say the least, but from here on out we'll need all hands on deck, to stay up here in the thin air, especially with the target on our backs.

      Looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow at Silliman. Hope you can get there. Be well. #44.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

...ready or not, time for the Maine Event...

      Happy New Year! The Boys hung tough at Salem, and Joey and Jake exorcised any demons lurking from the absence of Nolan T., by drilling home the last 20 points in a game that called for big baskets. And they turned in a huge performance on 'O' surviving a shoot-out at RPI. None barked louder than 'TheBigDog' himself, who rang up 41 on the night on 19-23 from the floor (maybe a Midd record), and he had plenty of help from Lynch, Sinnickson, Bert Nasciemento, and others with DD efforts. Although our 'D' pride took a beating, the flip side is that The Boys debuted a high scoring ability that should be a cause for concern since we're about to raise the curtain on the 'Maine Event', the nescac season. 

      So far The Boys have figured out that if need be they not only can survive 'the road', but will adjust to not having major starters on the floor- Ryan Sharry early, and now Nolan T., out for an undetermined time. The Frosh have really stepped up. Particularly Dean B., Dylan, and 'Winston' Churchill. All have made significant contributions and big plays, on both ends. The upside looks so high, that it's a little scary. Time, and the crucible of hard fought nescac games, will tell us more. Think that this was touched on a few blogs back, but the nescac is the toughest league in the country (last 3 seasons), based on the members overall winning percentage vs.everybody else. And it won't be any different this time around. The Panther Express has so many new riders, that it's time to explain that every night will be a challenge- some bigger than others. It starts with Bates- who always plays tough at Pepin. They may be undermanned, but their recent efforts have been improved, so the need is to stay focused, get the ball inside to 'TheBigDog', and stay out of foul trouble at G., since Jake and Joey are going to get more minutes. The kids are still on break, so we'll have to rely on support from the townies who have been rooting in ever-growing decibels over the past few years. Tufts is up on Saturday, and I like that we're on the second half of their dance card -after they've had to deal with Williams, the night before. They are improved- gave (#4 -M.I.T.) a run for their money earlier, and remember that they lead us into the second half last year. From here it looks as if we're bigger and deeper inside, outside and everywhere. And B-to-B's on the road are always harder than they look. Both should be do-able this weekend, which will keep us among the last tall trees- only nine left as of this posting-standing.

      That doesn't mean that Wesleyan, Bowdoin, the LordJeffNation, Trinity, or the EphMen wouldn't love to play the PaulBunyan character on Midd's season. Don't worry- they'll all get their swings in, starting with a much improved group for Joe Reilly next weekend on the road. Left out of the axe wielders are: Colby-who may be the weakest; Hamilton- who has been a jekll-and-hyde team so far; and ConnCollege, who doesn't have enough size inside to compromise our 'bigs', but they do have the advantage of home-cookin'. Nolan T.'s absence is sizable, since realistically he is the best 'lockdown' G. in the east. How 'The Boys' adjust to that fact will define the nescac season. It gives G.controlled, up-tempo teams (Wes., Wms., Amherst) something to cheer about. But first things first, take care of business against Bates and Tufts, and Midd will hold their premier ranking into next week. Be well. Clubbo.