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.