Friday, December 6, 2013

"Runnin' With the Thorughbreds..:

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

'Passing The Turkey and Cranberry...'

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Hits Just Keep On Comin'.."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Almost Game Day...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Better than rumors"

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"More like...Rematch Purgatory"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

'Ridin' Down Rematch Heaven..'

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

'We're in a New York state of mind..'

      Okay, so we're not gonna take a cruise on the Hudson River line, to paraphrase Billy Joel's line, but ThePantherExpress is parked on its famous siding along the Otter Creek, with its "Sweet Sixteen" banner snapping in the wind, while the crowd of 'PantherFaithful' snake-dances its way through town to see TheBoys take on the Ithaca Bombers, another Empire State representative. After Midd's 'D' had cooled the fire-breathing RedDragons, who only puffed a couple of times, and never really caught fire, with their top two G.'s firing a combined 7for24, (never a recipe for success), the local announcers decided that Midd didn't need any asbestos suits for protection, and let us move on to the Sweet Sixteen. Not lost in earning the road 'W' was the grittiness and tenacity on display in Cortland. TheBoys shot the ball better (marginally from the arc) but came up big in controlling their hotshots, and survived a career effort by their big guy. Then when the dark clouds were gathering with Midd down-seven, and the clock said 8:53 till the golf season, Jake made another 3-ball in his history of big shots, then stole the ball and went coast-to-coast to bring Midd back to down-two. From there James swept the boards, Joey controlled the rock, and knocked in two big buckets, and Pedro came alive with a couple of inside stops, and made the FT's to send Cortland packing. Again with the clock under nine minutes, TheBoys were dominant, closing out Cortland 19 -8, with Pedro driving home the last nails.     

      Now it's time for the last hurrah at Pepin for these seniors, and to celebrate what an unbelievable run they've given us over their careers. Those who think this is the new normal really have little idea how hard these seasons are to achieve, but 103 wins and counting (including 17and 6 in nescac tourney and ncaa elimination games) has them breathless. From my skybox here the view is that it's not over yet, and the Elite Eight is again reachable, and this story will keep unfolding. Last year when we got to this juncture, TheBoys opened the Scranton game flat, finally fought back to a closing tie only to take the dagger of a long 3-ball at the buzzer. This week's preparations include JeffB. more than gently prodding them with the big reminder stick that says "Scranton!" on it. As good as Ithaca has been in coming up with two road wins, they are about to meet a different kind of defense in a very hostile environment. Led by Rossi, the alltime ncaa assist leader (he broke my career assist record in his 4th game as a frosh), and St.Mike's (d-2) transfer Warech,  NolanT., Joey and James will have to be on them from the gitgo. Disrupt their passing, deny the lanes. No open looks for Warech. The reason our trio is mentioned is that gives us three guys to attack their two, and Jeff is accorded the semi-luxury of keeping the freshest of legs on each. The pluses are that we've got size inside, Pedro can damage this team down low, and feel that NateB.'s continuing contributions give us another little edge. At this stage of the tourney, it's about making the most of those edges. And we've got the home cookin'. At Pepin, where every seat will be attended by a fanny, the place will be rocking before the anthem's last notes have died away. My take is that Ithaca won't be able to overcome the defense, the pressure of playing in a packed house on the road (last week at Rochester the kids were on spring break, so that is a consideration) and Midd's ability to control a game late, making them definitely do-able. And although it is one round deeper, where the pain of being on the endangered species list lies in wait, TheBoys are capable of getting this up into DD's, so that if you stand on your tip-toes late in the second half, you'll be able to see the Salem Civic Center on the horizon. It's been a great run. Thanks to the seniors for going out in style. Regardless of the outcome, celebrate them.

      And remember: "Down TheAlibi stairs, past the D.U. house, out of 'DickTheHealer's' whirlpool, and off the 35-second clock, nothin' but net! Be well. Clubbo.

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Where there's a will, there's a way.."

      The Panther Express is off to Cortland State to take on the fire-breathing RedDragons in round two of this newly formatted ncaa. 'TheBoys' survived some very shaky 3-ball shooting (what else would you call 3-for-18) vs. Curry, mainly because they demonstrated an iron will, and a refusal to even slightly fray with the game -and the season - on the line. And since we had gotten to the half in front 31-19, it was too late for any remedial lamaze sessions. So a few of the rookies had to either close their eyes, or breathe into paper bags starting as early as the 12:42 mark in the second frame, when Curry got to within one. The post season shows how much a team has accomplished and why. But it is not for the faint of heart. Time and again- and the running box score says it happened SEVEN times (before the 4:10 mark when we had stretched it to 53-50) TheBoys refused to let them get over the hump.

      That is not only imposing your will under fire, it demonstrates what's been said in this corner throughout the year. That Midd has the best G. trio in the land. No mistakes when there's no room for a single mistake. And how many big stops? Enough. And just when it finally looked like real separation was a possibility, Lambros nails a trey from their bench down 54-61, with 1:50 on the clock to give Curry a last hope. JeezLouise! But they were always fighting uphill, and never got it to a tie, although there were three chances in the last 1:22. That real demonstration of will, creates the way to win at crunch time, which is maybe the signature of this group. It is one where their record just can't be dissected by statistical categories. That having been said, no play this season was bigger than Joey realizing that a ten-second back court violation was about to be called, even though the 35 clock had not reset and it showed :33. He calls time out, still Midd's ball, clock reset to :26. Season saved. Poise. Defined as optimum performance under maximum pressure. TheBoys have it, and it's why they're moving on.

      To survive at Cortland, we're simply going to have to put the ball in the basket more than the last two outings. Against Williams and Curry somehow we kept ourselves in the game despite going 11-48 from 3-land. Anything resembling 35% means TheBoys are capable of putting another nine points on the board in either game, that certainly would create breathing space. Cortland wants to get the game up around 80, maybe 80-plus, spread the floor and crank up 3's. We can defend- thinking from my skybox is that Nolan can use his size and talents to control either Winter or Smith, and see how that disrupts their offensive flow. They have a lot of guys who can score, but TheBoys know how to defend and we may be able to control the game inside with LongJack, Pedro and Jensen on the boards. LongJack has been climbing the national leader board in 'blocks' and is up to #11 nationally. Pedro has been effective (he's in the national leaders in FG pct.) all season down low, and that should continue against a group that is not overly big. Like the way that NateB. is coming back and can give minutes of key defense as well as get to the rim on offense. And if you weren't sure of just how tough or committed James is- go back to the video and look at the block he makes with under 2:00 to go saddled with four fouls. Another demonstration of finding a way.

      Cortland is to be respected. They are untouched at home (13-0), but we're not the Washington Generals trying to match up against The Globetrotters. And they don't have the kind of Bigs (like Palleschi, Mayer, or Kaasila/Williamson) that have caused problems this season. We're capable in an open floor game. Maybe if we take it to the hole a little more, we make them play more defense than they want to, and maybe we can expose that as a shortcoming. Certainly in an open floor game, Midd will have plenty of 'looks', but maybe we use our inside guys more, and let our cutters create something. We've got the talent to make it happen. My take is that Cortland is 'do-able', and The Panther Express keeps rollin'. Then it is possible that Pepin comes back into focus for next weekend.

      And remember;" down 'TheAlibi' stairs, out the door of the bus, over the media table, and off Alex's clipboard, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.

Friday, March 1, 2013

'Rewarded! And Redemption..'

        'The-Club-at-ThePub' gathering, while a success for Panther fans and alums, did not translate into a lucky charm for 'TheBoys' chances against Epley, Mayer and Co., coming up short in a heart stopping OT loss. Whether Midd would've had converted the chance to tie with under 35 seconds on the clock will never be known. A Zebra's misconception of what constitutes out of bounds on a tipped ball gave the rock back to Williams, we had to foul and that was it. Tough medicine to swallow, and a long bus ride home. But from my skybox these thoughts can be offered. Learn something from the outcome. Then turn the page. Go write another chapter. The ball's in your hands. Salem and the big goal are still out there on the horizon.

      At 22-3, TheBoys were rewarded by the ncaa, with not only the sixth consecutive bid in Midd history (and by the way, now the second longest streak in the country) but a home game in the opener. The PantherFaithful will be rejuvenated after their draining trip to the fiefdom of Lord Jeffrey, and will be on the edge of their seats looking for TheBoys to take charge of Curry early. Curry comes in with an athletic, high-scoring trio, lead by Sedale Jones (22.1 ppg) , a big strongman in Stephens (16+ppg) and Paplambros (also at 16). Have not seen this group but analysis of the running box scores at Amherst, and others, is helpful. They clearly want a high tempo game, but think that their defense is somewhere below having too many holes in a block of swiss cheese. Trailing Amherst at 32-38 with 6:00 left in the first half, they gave up a 24 to 10 'run' to Toomey and his pals, and were toasted by the half at 62-42, never got closer and were buried 117-96. Twice after that they let teams get to the century mark, and neither Nichols nor Eastern Nazarene have the reputation or firepower of an Amherst. In two other games against WPI ( now 25-2) and MIT(20-5), they suffered major collapses down the stretch. WPI slapped them around with an 18-2 burst over a four minute stretch under six minutes, and so did MIT. Why cite facts and figures? Like any historian will tell you- what happened in the past forms the basis of what occurs in the present. Ah! The value of a Middlebury education. All these catastrophes for Curry occurred on the road, and more were out of conference. Attention 'Colonels' - welcome to Pepin. This is the second season. You play to earn every advantage, so that when you get there you can make it pay off. Saturday's hosting is an early reward.

      On paper the match-ups look to be in our favor. On the court, the view from the skyboxes is that they will be more so. Presume that NolanT., DPOY in the nescac, will see if he can fit the cuffs on Jones. This kid can squeeze off a lot of shots (he fired up 14 of 26 vs. Amherst), so keeping him from getting to the basket, or finding his best spots on the floor is paramount. Nolan as the disruptor of their 'O' opens the door to putting more pressure on other parts of their game. Joey, Jake and James get first call on Papalambros and A.Jones. Pedro matches up with Stephens down low in a bone on bone battle. It'd be great if the zebras let them decide it without much interference. And we also have NateB. to call on off the pine, when we need some spark on either end. If they want to run, bring it on! In the open floor with our passing game, and the weak-side cutters, Curry should have the problem keeping pace. And in the halfcourt game, it looks like they have problems defending. Curry is definitely 'do-able' and it should be without any need for the halftime lamaze sessions that this season has often produced. Midd moves on - to the ostensible meeting with Cortland State. 
      Whether Pepin is a second round site depends on how the ncaa weighs the strength of Cortland's region. But we'll deal with that after Saturday. It has been another remarkable season, but it's time to take it further, and this where our G. trio, and our ncaa experience are keys to this next round of thrills. Since for all but one, it will end on a somber note, enjoy the journey. Relish the moment. Scream for it. Slap high fives. Savor the memories it creates, because you never know when we're going to get back here. And to these great seniors- Nolan, Jake and Peter- should this be a last hurrah at Pepin- you've been exemplary, on the court and off. Thanks - is hardly enough.

      And remember: "down 'The Alibi' stairs, past MooseProvoncha's gas pumps, down the hill from the Panther's rock, and off the thirty-five second clock, nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

"The Club at The Pub.."

      'ThePantherExpress' packed with fans old and new is rolling into the Pioneer Valley looking for some old-fashioned payback for the two dings that have smudged 'TheBoys' otherwise perfect record. For the rookies, and those expecting the 'new normal' - and given recent seasons why would they expect anything different - the staff has added an extra lamaze therapist, to regulate the breathing starting tomorrow at 3p.m. We've heard (although not confirmed) that one newcomer swooned at first sight of a 'Willy Workman for Mayor' banner hanging from the ramparts of the North Hampton city hall, but was revived by one of the Panther Faithful, who said remember you're in foreign territory, until you get to "The Club at The Pub". So the fan sipped on the reviving brandy as the train rolled past the UMass station, quietly repeating The-Club-at-the-Pub, that new slogan for the Williams/Amherst disaffected.

      Barring asteroidal interference, the blue-n'-white clad crowd will be streaming into The Pub (in Amherst) at noon tomorrow, with a meeting with 'the Makers' on their mind. Some will say that we have to stop meeting this way, but although it's not at Pepin, the better thing to focus on is that it's not at Chandler. The high spirits and excitement will be fueled by the lunching, or pre-game beers and Bloody Mary's, and the tales of this incredible run by The Panthers.

      Then it's down to business at Lefrak where NolanT., Pedro and the rest of our 'Boys' will be required to do the heavy lifting to get us past Williams. From my perch here in the skyboxes it looks like this definitely do-able. Everything went just about perfect for Robertson and Mayer the first time around, so with some tinkering Midd ought to hold the upper hand. Things didn't go so well for Epley their leading scorer, and there doesn't promise to be any respite because Nolan's efforts at locking down big scorers or playmakers are finally drawing rave reviews beyond The Addison County Independent. TheBoys need to be able to crack the Williams zone early. That was problematical last time for two reasons. Lynch only got 16 minutes to damage them inside, and wasn't available for those big possessions late, and three big shooters clunked up at 4-for-25. Ouch. Very different late game scenario if we're near the 40 percent mark. on the 'D' end, If LongJack can get out and be more active in fronting Mayer when he's down low that will keep him from the big start that they need, allowing us to defend on the perimeter against Klemm and Epley. If Mayer wants to shoot treys, then James can defend better out there, and he will be there early to make it happen. The key in cracking the zone is that a more up-tempo favors our G.s driving by them, hitting the cutters, and finding the open man. Last time we had them almost to the cusp of getting away and they got the tempo back down, so it appears that TheBoys won't play into their strategy a second time. A lot riding on this outcome- trip to the finals, hosting in the ncaa's, and the feeling is that 'ThePantherExpress' should continue to roll in this difficult spot and earn the rematch with TheLordJeffNation for bragging rights to the northeast.

      A finals repeat with Toomey and Pals promises to be great theater. Whether it will match the instant classic status of the first game is difficult to believe but if you plug in the fact that the last 3 meetings, have been decided through four OT's and a total of six points, all on the final possession, the ingredients are all there. This is not for the faint of heart, or those with long fingernails (too much chewing involved), but 'TheBoys' can do it. We know that it will be pointed out by prognosticators that the last time The LJN lost at home was during the Eisenhower administration. So what! You gotta believe! The best G. trio in the nation, Jake, Nolan and "Mr. Ice" (Joey) offer more than Toomey has. One of the best inside guys around, it says here that Pedro outlasts Kaasila in the foul-prone area. Maybe LongJack wakes up aggravated and stays that way. He's been acting that way, inching up the leader charts in blocks. Now that HunterM. realizes (with all of two games postseason experience) that the basket looks as big as a swimming pool, his treys will make a splash. And then we've got James with all the intensity focusing the way that late juniors make it happen, and you know that Amherst is do-able. A couple of hidden keys to the weekend are how far Churchill has come. He still has big upside, and needs to be a factor against Williamson, and Willy on the boards. We're also hoping that NateB. and DeanB. can give us some meaningful minutes, particularly the former because his athleticism is a good matchup against what Amherst tries to do, and his block of a Williamson dunk at the rim last year is not forgotten. At stake is not only the nescac title, but the one-seed in the ncaa's that ought to be enough. It says here that Midd's won the nescacs the last two odd-numbered years, so why not go for the three-peat!  

      And remember: "down The Alibi stairs, into the caboose on ThePantherExpress, past the Willy Workman banner, and off the keg at The Pub, nothin' but net!' Be well. Clubbo.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

'Out of the frying pan... into the zone'

      'TheBoys' were involved in what the talking heads at espn would have dubbed an instant classic on Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the PepinFaithful, fingernails chewed down to the quick led the lamaze sessions offered, by about the same margin that the LordJeffNation held after triple OT on Toomey's long 3-ball. The Workman play makes espn highlights, thanks, but given that we sort of just saw it vs. Wesleyan last month- I don't need to see it again. How it happened is the more bothersome issue- maybe we're just slow learners in this area. This is no time for head-hanging, it was a helluva game, and everybody left it all on the floor. But there are no ties, so TheBoys move on, now to one of the most dangerous spots of the season.

      Wesleyan is in town for the nescac quarters today. And mostly everyone will be blatting up how we just survived in OT last time. And the nervous will be atwitter. To me that's like looking up from the bottom of the glass, trying to judge how full it is. True, it was a 'closie', but if you take it from Wesleyan's perspective, and knowing, that from the 5:57 mark they shot 8 -12 from the floor and 7-8 from the line, including Shasha's magical miss which fell just right, it still wasn't enough. That has to cause serious concern, and from our perspective, it is difficult to see how they can improve on that near storybook ending. TheBoys' job today is to dispel any Cardinal thoughts of repeat possibilities by taking it to them early and not allowing them to take the crowd out of the game as happened much of the first half last time.

      Two threads can start to sew up the 'W'. Both are critical and one can feed off the other. If we start in a zone it puts Shasha in a position where he really can't drive it to the hole, and makes Wesleyan rely on their perimeter game. (Actually it might be better from a confusion standpoint to let NolanT. start on him and play a box and one. Have not seen one of those in years but it would be a very cool option. Whether JeffB. would consider such a bizarre look in a big game might depend on having enough time to put it in. So let's presume a more normal zone look.) Having seen them a bunch this year, this is not a strong point for them. They either don't swing the ball quickly enough, or because of the size limitations, Shasha and Beresford can't see over the top to cross it. One of the keys in this scenario, is that it takes Callaghan away from the inside, and it should demonstrate that since over the course of the season they haven't had an answer from 3-land to break a zone, they won't have on e today. (e.g. Williams used it in a 22-0 run on them earlier.) Occasionally Galvin will make the trey but he's not a guy who's going to beat you. Jumpers, and Callaghan on the outside, lead more to long RB's which our G's can pick off. That triggers a higher tempo game that takes advantage of our passing in the open floor. What it also does most importantly is turn up the frustration level for Shasha, because he will keep pounding it, looking for his opening, and gets them farther down into the possession clock every trip. The result should be evident early in the second half.

      The danger is close to the surface. The gaudy record, the national rankings are in jeopardy, as is an ncaa bid. TheBoys - veterans in the post-seasons recently, know it as well and will perform at their optimum, which means they can play as well as Amherst- who I've thought all year is a Final Four team. And which makes us pretty damn close to one. Despite what happened last time, earning the 'W' is absolutely critical to locking in an ncaa bid, and the view from here is that on the lead, we have the G. trio to control the last eight minutes, and should be able to down the stretch, where we have pretty much excelled. It makes for great theater, and unless you suffer from the near-sightedness of the 'new normal' makes you realize just how precarious, and difficult it is to survive at these high altitudes of the d3 world.

      NolanT. should be the player of the year in the nescac. Although honors like that usually never go to guys who've earned most of their accolades on the defensive side of the ball, he's been a big and important factor on offense as well, and on balance the biggest impact player night-in-and-night-out in the league.

      And remember: "down 'The Alibi' stairs, off J.Gerald's ChuckTaylors, over Matt's announcer's chair, and past Hixon's barking in the silence, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

20,000 Leagues Under the Snow...

      Jules Verne's brilliant, but twisted Captain landed himself on the all-northeast list this week. Unfortunately it wasn't for scoring or rebounding, but in providing "Nemo" as the title-name of this giant blizzard that swallowed New England. In Stratford, we put 38 in the books and I don't mean points on a hot night. That was inches here at the storm's epicenter. As I was digging my way through part of this dumping yesterday, with my snowblower being 'hors-de-combat', the thought that this was some sort of celestial payback for not being generous enough with my passing talents during my BBall years, crossed my mind. But that was dismissed pretty quickly because if one considers all the games played and the potential assists missed, we would have gotten a hundred and thirty-eight inches, and it'd still be comin' down. All this having been said, we won't be making the trek to Pepin, to let this senior group who've done so much to distinguish themselves, their teammates and the program on this incredible run that keeps unwinding, know that what they've accomplished, has indeed been a big deal.

      'TheBoys' calmed a lot of critics and nerves by showing two things on the Maine trip. The first is surviving the road, particularly in the nescac is no small feat. I'm not sure if there's a much parity in the land of d3hoops as in the d-1's, but in every league at both levels the home team has the biggies marked out on the calendar and every bucket is earned, before you take the 'W' home. Secondly, TheBoys showed that their ability to win, made in the pot of practice, and stirred by coaching that infuses that ability, is an immeasurable quality when it meets the reality of that tough game situation while the heat is turned up. Like it has been said before, the difference is the ability of someone to make a play or two to put us over the top. There are no bad road 'W's. Turn the page and go out and play tonight. Maybe it's just starting to sink into the critics' heads that this intangible has fueled the new normal. Bowdoin battled long and late but were overcome by a solid performance. And when we could've caught a couple of breaks - we didn't, as Williams made the last couple of plays necessary at Colby. The Boys were solid and handled a young, but over matched group of White Mules, while Robertson, Epley, et al. almost didn't escape at Bowdoin, who had the last shot- and couldn't put it down, then unraveled in the OT.

       Which brings us to "Nemo" time. Nemo spelled backwards is omen, and it is wondered here if the scheduling adjustments are an omen of what may go down in the final days of the nescac regular season. Much to be decided, but TheBoys should have a solid chance to earn a tie. It all starts today presumably with Amherst-Williams at 2 p.m. We need Toomey and Co. to control Williams early and often. They should be able to do it because they've got more firepower and flash, and are playing well. Sometimes this season they haven't been at their best on the road but having seen them easily dispatch Wesleyan there, and follow it up with convincing 'W's vs. Williams, who they torched in the last 25 minutes, and Tufts, in a track meet. We'll know that result before TheBoys tip, but it says here that we will need to take charge early and put any thoughts of upset out of the Bantams' mind, in order to set up the Tuesday showdown. JeffB.'s one game at a time mentality, as always, one of the keys to making this equation work.

        Amherst at Pepin for the nescac title and hosting. There's payback for last year, and much at stake on all levels. We've got the G.s to make Toomey work harder for everything he gets and maybe just upset the balance of their 'O'. Along those lines if we could get LongJack to front Kaasila some, that would be tres helpful. Although Hixon has gotten the break from the quick turnaround, it also helps Midd's legs, and the fact that it's Tuesday will help fill Pepin with 1,200 of the screaming, nail-biting PantherFaithful doing their best to boost TheBoys' chances. And when they come away with that big 'W', Jake, Nolan, Pedro and Company wins what? A 3-way tie for the regular season. The small whopee! is appropriate here. Then it's all up to "the hat", or as referred to in the nescac tie-breaking procedures, a random action. Who's name is gonna come up first? Hosting throughout the nescacs, and ncaa hosting at stake. That's some hat! I'd volunteer mine but on a quick second thought will leave it to the powers that be, so if Midd's name doesn't come up first, there's not a 'shoot-on-sight' order waiting once I cross the Cornwall line. It should be some terrific theater. Here's hoping "the hat" works out as well.  

Remember: "down 'The Alibi' stairs, over DicktheHealer's whirlpool, off Hixon's leg, and outta the nescac hat, nothin' but net!". Be well. Clubbo. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

'No Pedro..No big enchilada..'

      That 'Tall Tree' that we all saw falling in the d3 forest was The Panthers. As one of the last three in the land, Midd couldn't escape the whacks of Mayer and Robertson down on Spring Street, coming up short by a point in a key nescac encounter with Williams. Just when it looked like 'TheBoys' were in position (up 8, 5:21 left) to take the nescac by the throat, it didn't happen. Although Nolan's trey stemmed the tide temporarily, Williams fought on, inching up the ladder towards victory. With the lead late and the control-factor that our G. rotation has exhibited when the clock is inside ten minutes, maybe the neophytes thought 'TheBoys' had snatched the 'W'. The battle-hardened knew we still had to make a couple of more plays to close them out. On the road against a high-quality team, it didn't quite get done. The Chandler Crazies, having been traumatized into silence by Midd's run in the first half, finally found their lungs in the last five minutes to fire up Maker's troops. It might not have gotten to this point if Lynch hadn't been saddled with fouls early, middle and late. Pedro pretty much had his way (16 pts.) with Williams' Bigs and would've done a lot more damage if he been available for more than 16 minutes. And regardless of that foul trouble, if he'd been around for the last 1:10, his presence down low would have created inside options on 'O', which might have been the difference. Without him, Williams was able to defend more tenaciously on the perimeter, and Midd couldn't find the stroke from outside (and we really hadn't all game with 3 good shooters going 4 for 25) to put that last nail in, and give us that big enchilada, the win.

      But take heart, because in coming up short, there were big positives to build on. Nolan once again showed that there are few if any, in the land, with his defensive ability. Epley, coming in at 19.5 ppg, only took six shots (made one), and knows that he will have to face Nolan again. By the way, Nolan went for an encore performance Tuesday against Martin (some preseason polls had him 3rd team AA) of KeeneSt., by not allowing a bucket from him for the first 26 minutes. When he finally got on the board TheBoys were cruising at 49-27. Jensen continues to impress with his strength against bigger guys. He was a major reason that Pelleschi (at Tufts) stopped killing us, and he came in and started fronting Mayer, which greatly slowed his point production. Despite his early problems with Mayer, we noted, and liked the fact that LongJack is starting to realize that at 6'8, he's the big kid on the block and can be more assertive without offending anyone. To be successful in Maine this weekend, and to beat Amherst, Midd's chances will be improved with him continuing to grow in this area. Actually if he could be nastier that would be better.

      So The Panther Express is off to visit 'ThePolarBearNation' tonight. Bowdoin is a solid middle of the road team. In their building they could cause a problem. Like at Williams, a good start is one of the keys to reducing the effectiveness of the home crowd. They get solid production from Madlinger and Pieri. It says here Nolan takes Madlinger and if he can put the handcuffs on him, ThePolarBears are going to come up more than a few buckets short. Also look for Pedro to do battle with Pieri. It is fairly certain that Lynch is more advanced in his skills than the soph, but the concern is that he doesn't get into a physical battle down low where he picks up a couple of cheap-o fouls which will have repercussions on our 'O' production. As for Joey and Jake, we know that Joey can control the game when need be, and should handle Hurley, their PG, and that Jake, when he's not finding the open man, will get his 1,000th point somewhere on this trip. One further point to note is that TheBoys came out with 'intent' at Williams. Not starting slow gave us a chance to make a really good run in the first half, and if Pedro hadn't been slowed by fouls, his presence then might've lead to us cracking them when we almost had the chance to do so. That carried over to KeeneSt., where TheBoys opened strong, and after a timeout, went on an 11-0 run that blew the game open at 28-11. We've got enough athletes to play that way, up the tempo and open the floor, and maybe that's a new signature for this team that's just now realizing they can do this. Tonight's a good test of this theory and if TheBoys put their foot on the gas, Bowdoin might not want to be in that kind of higher-paced game. Even with the credit for their home-cooking, and our shortened bench due to injuries, it says here Midd doesn't get tracked down by a Polar Bear like we were the last fat man on an ice floe. 'TheBoys' should take their road show up to Waterville, without the need for any lamaze therapists and come away with #18.

      Although Colby is the back end of this trip, my take is that we should have no excuses. They are rebuilding, and still undermanned although they've got a big (6'8) frosh named Lugnut, who's been doing some damage to their foes. His supporting cast is still being assembled, and cannot imagine our backcourt not being able to take full advantage of that. Also have to like the fact that Williams should give them a pretty good going over tonight, so they just can't focus on Midd coming to town. TheBoys should be able to them close out with a strong first half, and give them a dose of the reality that any magical endings will have to be postponed to another time. If all that comes to pass we can start thinking about where next weekend might lead, but one game at a time.

      Remember: 'Off the Pine Room keg, down the Alibi stairs, past Bud Farrell's Men's Shop, over the scorer's table, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

'the nescac stew starts to thicken..'

       And you don't even have to add any flour to the recipe. 'ThePantherExpress', all shined up, will chug into the Spring Street station tomorrow so that the traveling Panther Faithful can confront the Chandler 'crazies', while 'TheBoys' (at #3) do battle with The Eph-men (at #9). What is on the line is considerable, but we're at the point in the season, where the possessions start getting a little bigger, and for the uninitated, the diameter of the hoop begins to shrink just a bit. On the line is the first leg up on the nescacs. After tomorrow there will be two unbeatens in league play- Amherst (they're not losing to Trinity at Lefrak. Period) and the Chandler winner. After watching Amherst close down Maker's attack the last four minutes of the first half and crush them from that point (Amherst was plus 25 the last 24minutes), several things came to mind.

      Williams' style has been to try to push it early, open the 3-ball game, with Epley, Mayer and Klemm, and once in front slow the pace, use the shot clock, and run their sets. Against Toomey and his pals, who have firepower, they did open up early, but couldn't get it past plus ten. Then the higher pace played more to the Amherst strength on 'O'. Amherst is adept at finding the open weak-side guy, and is deeper off the bench, and once the ball started to go in, Williams couldn't answer. The 'why' holds the key to TheBoys' strategy. Back at Chandler, with the place roaring, you know Maker will be looking for the kill early. The answer to 'why' Amherst controlled them is in the match-ups on 'D'. First: the one to close down is Epley- who as a senior has come on. Two keys on controlling him are keep the weak-side passes away from him, so he can't spot up for the 3-ball, and if he does get it, sit on his left hand, and make him to put it on the floor. He will oblige, but is not nearly as effective once he does that. Also if he's out of rhythm they have to look elsewhere for those missing buckets. It used to be that Klemm would get the ball for some of those 3's. Not so much anymore, but he's got to be played because he's still got firepower. Seems that NolanT.would get first call on putting the cuffs on Epley. Jensen could spell him, but there's a concern about possible foul trouble out there on the perimeter for James. Joey draws the assignment on Robertson who's their triggerman and did more driving against Toomey, than he's done in other outings. Mayer is the other potential problem. Thought Hixon got it right by having his bigs play about 6 feet off of him while being always watchful of him. Yes, Mayer did make some 3's when open, but his trick is to flash down the lane for the high pass and finish, when the big man turns his head. Would like to see Pedro Lynch in this position because he's quicker to close the passing lanes. If we do those kinds of things Williams doesn't get off and cruising on the front end.

      That plays into Midd's hidden strength. For a group at 16-0, there have been a lot of questions about whether TheBoys belong in the top tier. Suffice it to say my take has been that we may not be the dominant defensive team of a couple of years past, but this edition know what it takes to close teams out and win. On that basis, I broke down twelve of  the wins on a statistical basis. Not included were Green Mt.; So.VT.; JohnsonSt.; and St.Joe's because in those games Midd was comfortably ahead by halftime, and the last ten minutes were extended 'garbage time' to steal a phrase from Marv Albert. Each game was put under a microscope I borrowed from bio lab, and season-wise the stats presented pertain only to our play once the clock goes under ten minutes.

      This is the best G.trio in the country. If we say it enough times somebody beyond the Otter Creek might hear us. In the games dissected Midd is plus 80! That includes the Wesleyan game, where Shasha and Co. went 11-20 from the floor (minus 10); and the Bates game where they went 10-19 (minus 2). Although the FG percentage 'D' isn't great with those two games figured in (67-155 or 43.2%), in our other ten games, it's 38.1%. so the 'D' is there. One other major contributor to the close-out scenario is FT shooting. In years past, we've been shaky at best. This group has been very effective at 85-109 (78%). Remember this is the last ten minutes only, but it is maintained here that crunch time consistency not only wins the 'closies', but creates the atmosphere where TheBoys expect to win and don't feel as much pressure.

      Knowing it's at Chandler, knowing we often start slowly, it's certain that the pre-paid lamaze cards will be getting swiped with regularity. However the take from here is that TheBoys will be fully focused early, play the kind of 'D' that won't let Williams get away and should damper the 'crazies'. Although our depth is getting into uncharted waters because of the injury bug, from what Maker has done, it doesn't appear that he has the depth of other Williams' teams, and some of our guys are capable of big minutes that should turn things our way. Williams is do-able, even on the road and Midd should joins Amherst atop the nescac. After some extra breathing sessions, or even after a couple of the Faithful are whacked with a defibrillator to get their heart palpitations back in line, 'ThePantherExpress' can head back north with the champagne corks a-popping. 

      Remember: "down 'The Alibi' stairs, over the Otter Creek bridge, past the VFW's bar stools, off DickTheHealer's whirlpool, nothin' but net!" I've heard that many more people read this blog than comment, but would appreciate comments- yay or nay- that anyone might have. Be well. Clubbo. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

"the 'new normal'...not for the faint-hearted"

      No post last week as we were off to Pepin and Midd environs for the annual BBall Alumni Weekend. Terrific turnout by the alums who were treated to two great efforts by 'TheBoys' in pulling away from The Camels in the second stanza on Friday. Then holding off Shasha, Callaghan and the rest of the JoeReilly's, late to post a photo-finish, O.T. win over Wesleyan. The intensity of the 'D' in the last 14 seconds was riveting, and we've heard indirectly that during Wes's late charge the pre-paid lamaze cards were in liberal use, particularly for the rookies in the crowd. As Shasha's feet slipped out trying to escape the choking tenacity that encompassed him, serious watchers knew his falling away, two-handed set from his waist wasn't going to draw iron, and the rest let out a collective whoosh before heading to the pubs to re-live the excitement.

      In case anyone thought that the nescac wasn't going to be its usual bumpy ride this season, three wins by a total of five points gives cause to pause. TheBoys put up two W's at Bates and Tufts, and overcame the great equalizer of "the road". Then they had to deal with Wesleyan's late game hot handedness (12 of 18 from the floor in the last 8:55 plus O.T.) to survive atop the nescac with Williams and Amherst. Although four-and-oh, Midd suffered more casualties in the ConnColl game. Brierly and Bullock both went down with serious injuries diving for loose balls. Reminds one of that cynical corollary to Murphy's Law- 'no good deed goes unpunished'. Dylan Sinnickson an earlier casualty of 'hustle' is still on the mend from his preseason broken arm (diving for a loose ball). Hopefully he might be ready for Amherst weekend, but that's undecided at present. As for the 'B. brothers', Nate and Dean, only time may tell, but our depth is now on thinner ice, although when pressed into service Bert Nasciemento and 'Winston' Churchill stepped right up with solid contributions in their minutes. Shows how deep the talent on this team really is, when Bert can come off the bench after sitting for two-plus seasons and drain a couple of beautiful 3-balls. That's one hot dog with plenty of mustard. 'Winston', a potential great work in progress, had said he was ready (after a long bout with mono), and played right to his words. Of course, those who think 93-10 over the last four seasons is the new normal, expect JeffB. to keep bringing guys up from down the bench and keep the play at championship levels.  So far they haven't been disappointed.

      Hamilton is on the docket tonight. They're primarily a G. oriented team, that's been in and out but is capable when everything goes well. They scared the bejeezus out of Amherst, but couldn't close the deal after leading by four with a minute to play. Their best scorer is a frosh. Welcome to Pepin, where he gets introduced to Nolan T., maybe the most underrated big-time G. in the country. That should be enough to make his forty minutes miserable. And it isn't like the other G. is getting a walk in the park, if Joey or James matches up. Inside, 'Pedro' Lynch, at number three nationally in FG percentage, is a force. Also like the way that 'Longjack' has come on. More fire in his game. More assertion on the 'D'. With the addition of Winston inside, TheBoys ought to be able to win the battle in the paint, and because this is our only nescac dance this weekend, should be fully focused. Hamilton is definitely do-able particularly if my take on the match-ups is right. At Pepin, with the Panther Faithful in full voice, something in solid double digits is the expected margin, and then TheBoys can get ready for the trip to Williams next weekend, to see who gets the first leg up on hosting the nescacs.

       Remember: "down 'The Alibi' stairs, past Moose Provancha's gas pumps, by Duke Nelson snoring with his feet uop on the desk, off Old Albert's cage, nothin' but net." Be well. Clubbo.    

Friday, January 4, 2013

'Act Two..the nescac season'

      The Panther Express, all shined up and still sporting a number-two-in-the-land pennant swirling in the Maine winds, rolls into Lewiston today for the nescac tipoff with Bates. As ventured here last week, our 9-0 was good enough to hold down the second spot in the national polls, but Midd was leapfrogged for #1, by No.Central (Ill.), probably based on their early strength of schedule edge. Not to worry, 'TheBoys' recognize that there are only five 'Tall Trees' left in the d3 forest, and being on the road with the gaudy ranking makes them a big target. Bates is scrappy, but doesn't really shoot 3's well, and looks out-manned, but have us in their building. Does 'the road' plus the fact that they always play hard, give them enough to overcome our guards, new found 'O' punch, and depth? From here the answer is a respectful, 'No'! Joey, Jake and NolanT. have a good hand on the game throttle, score as necessary and have demonstrated close out abilities regularly. Now with added options from Lynch's inside consistency and Merryman's ability to score from downtown, the offense keeps the pressure on the opponent to be able to match buckets at each possession. Although the 'D' is not at the nation-leading (percentage wise) levels of recent seasons, most coaches would be drooling to get the likes of Jensen, NateB. or LongJack to play hard-nosed stoppers or get he ball off the boards. And that doesn't even count their scoreboard contributions. Bates is definitely do-able despite their positives, and TheBoys will move on to Tufts.
      Tufts will be the harder game of the two. One advantage for Midd is that Tufts is going to be all juiced up to try and beat Williams tonight. If things go well in Lewiston early, it gives us the advantage of saving some legs for the trip down to Medford. That is always a plus in the 'back-to-backs'. They've got size in Lanchantin and (frosh) Pallencini (both 6'8) to be effective up front and decent G. play. They've played hard and hung till late with MIT (then #1), and Ill.Wes. and those were 'roaders'. The advantages TheBoys have are in the close-out ability led by our G. rotation, whereas they haven't yet quite finished the deal. Add the fact that one of their scorers may be in for a deflating afternoon because I'm advised NolanT. is bringing his handcuffs, and that is another hidden plus that you can't find by looking at a box score. Maybe close, but no Red Auerbach cigar for The Jumbo's.

      A quick rundown of the nescac looks like there are three tiers: up top, Midd, The Ephs and TheLordJeffNation; at the next level are the aforementioned Jumbo's, Wesleyan- who has been tres disappointing to date, but still have the coaching and talent to be heard from, then maybe Bowdoin. The bottom group is up in the air- because Bates has a problem scoring with regularity, always a negative in games where the most points determines the winner; Trinity is in the same boat shooting-wise, and also has the underlying question of what is going on over there, with at least six kids having left the program in the last two years. From my seat that doesn't bode well for seasonal success. I don't know where Hamilton is strength wise but they've been in and out at best in the nescac run-up. The absolute bottom looks like a tossup between ConnColl. and Colby and I'd take The Camels to break that tie simply because Vadas will be the only impact player in the game when those two go head to head.

      From the scheduler's standpoint The Ephs get the best of it because both Midd and TheLJN have to travel to Spring Street this season. And The Panthers get last licks with Toomey and his pals at Pepin to end the regular season. It ought to be challenging, and certainly there will be the need for lamaze sessions as the season tightens down. Maybe tomorrow, but not tonight.

       Before signing off- I would like everyone to know that Midd lost one of the stars in its constellation the other day when Paul ('Head') Witteman, '66, passed after being saddled with multiple myeloma for the past nine seasons. 'Head' was one of our great BBall supporters, loved the game, and loved Middlebury. An enthusiatic, caring and brilliant man, he made sure after Roger Ralph graduated, that Butch got picked up for every game. He was the important second in that line of young men, (and that all of us who've been lucky enough to put on the blue-and-white are a part of), that have given some of their time to helping Butch, and for which tradition, Middlebury has been recognized and rewarded. I am certain that when Midd's Bball Alumni gather next weekend that more than a glass or two will be raised with a story about 'Head'. From somewhere you know he will be watching.

      And remember: "down The Alibi's stairs, out of SamEmilio's beer cooler, over the scorer's table and off the thirty-five second clock, nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo.