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.