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.