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.