Friday, January 17, 2014

'Number 46 And Rising..'

      For those accustomed to the 'new normal' who haven't thrown themselves off the Bi-Hall observation deck, these pearls are offered. There's now been two games where JeffB. has had a full complement of players but even that comes with an asterisk because Matt Daley is operating under a minutes cap in his return from 'mono'. But with a half-Daley and a full Dylan (now with two games under his belt in his return), this is a better, in caps, basketball machine than the one that slugged its way through the first ten games. Because of the L's piling up, Midd is outside the top 45 for the first time since the 07-08 season, and only someone who might be better suited to being one of the inmates in the remake of "Cuckoo'sNest" would be saying - hey, not so fast! But like Bill Parcells said, you are what our record says you are. So right now I will settle for 46 and rising.

      Right now - road games and personnel issues aside, the record says we've been inconsistent, several times at less than our best, searching for answers, and growing. My take is all that is true, but this is not a lost season. It is a new, younger-than-average squad that has shown several flashes of brilliance and solid play. Those bright spots have been increasing. People have learned what they can do during this first half of the season. 'TheBoys' understand that there is no room for stumbles. There are games that should be 'W's, and Wesleyan and ConnCollege fit that bill. There are not stellar seasons underway in either Middletown or New London, and although The Panther Express will be carrying many nervous nellies south, it says here that the lamaze sessions to regulate their breathing should be de-minimus.

      The two big equalizers for any road game are 'the road' itself and the 3-ball. Wesleyan is a shadow of its team from the last few seasons. They're not quick, don't fire the 3-ball well, are limited up front as to 'O' and depth, and also have a bunch of new parts, that Joe Reilly's trying to fit together. In terms of road trips and what we've done so far this season, the road itself shouldn't be a great negative. In terms of athleticism, depth, and cohesiveness, TheBoys are well ahead on all counts, and should be focused because JeffB. understands what's at stake. The new line-up that opened against Tufts says Daley is approaching readiness. It also says that JakeB. is growing. He seemed more at ease and in the flow of the game the last two. Dylan's return gives us more options because he must be defended. That creates space not only for Hunter and The Saint, but also for Joey whether he's at the '2' or the point. With Daley and Dylan if James is in the game, he also gets additional space to drive the ball and from in close he's been very effective, particularly from the line. It doesn't matter when The saint plays. he will be there early, late or in the middle. Very little seems to bother him, and he's one the three you want to have the rock down the stretch becasue he is 'money' at the line. It says here that Wesleyan is 'do-able', and we can move on to Vadas and his Camels.

      Vadas is the key to ConnColl's effort. He's now got a couple of running mates in Lopez and McKinley, and facing a 1500 point scorer, we need to do whatever's necessary to not allow him to get off. He's going to like not having to face Nolan for the first time in four years and could be dangerous for that reason alone. But they've got 4 L's where they haven't played any real defense when it mattered. Torched by Eastern(24), Bowdoin(17), Salve- yes that Salve-(34!) and then allowing Colby(8) to come back and put them away, says that they are vulnerable to the max. They get us as a stand-alone game, but as long as TheBoys get a shoot-around on Saturday, and avoid any Chinese take-out, Midd should get to 10-and-5 (sounds like an old one-and-one drill or run suicides) by Sunday at about four. That won't get us above #46, but it's another positive step forward, fuels the idea that TheBoys can earn a home nescac quarter game, and will keep the Williams' showdown in focus. For now that's sufficient.

       Remember: "over the bar at The Tuscany Grill, down College Street, past the nuclear sub being refitted in dry dock, and off the bell in the chapel of the Coast Guard Academy, nothin' but net!"
Be well. Clubbo.          

Friday, January 10, 2014

'Time To Man Up..'

      On the 'storm clouds gathering' the current score is the naysayers and 'nervous nellies', one and Clubbo, a big fat zero. With Bates rolling into town tonite and the Jumbo's from Tufts on Sunday, those clouds certainly look ominous. And I'm certain that the Rumplestiltskin characters inhabiting the hollows near Lefrak or the bars along Spring Street are clapping their hands together with glee as they dance around their nightly fires hoping that TheBoys have less luck in putting together an answer to their current woes than the princess had in guessing his name in the mythical fairy tale. And although the aforementioned Clubhead, if he thought about it, might be currently trying to spin himself out of his prediction that 'this team is about to jell', when in fact they played like sour jelly, I'll stand by TheBoys.

      This is a seasoned group at the top. Joey and James are as tough as they come. But most of us older Panthers know you need at least five to dance. We're from an era or two, where having only two or three on the floor was enough to tease the crowd (if such a meager count could pass for a crowd) for thirty minutes, before people ran out of gas, or fouled out, and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. As bad as these seasons seemed to people on the outside, my squads pretty much hung together trying to right the ship, and we know to this day we were better for it. Although my crystal ball may have been a little fuzzy on Plattsburgh, there were positives. Matt Daley's return wasn't long enough to carry an 'O' that is struggling, but he scored easily. More minutes, as he gets to full strength, will mean more touches for him and he can have the kind of impact that will pick up the whole 'O'. With Daley down low, it gave Joey a couple of options if he drove the ball. Without him, not so much. For Joey to be most effective he needs that option. That also affects the perimeter, where if people have to sag to help with Daley, then maybe those guys don't recover in time to catch up with Hunter or TheSaint on the kick-out pass. With better looks, their percentages should get out of the deep freeze. It's an easy game but the connectable parts need to be there.

      If- and it's a big one- Dylan returns tonight, everything said about options is multiplied, and the 'O' becomes an engine that is guaranteed to work way better. But taking the downside of that argument with Daley in the 24-minute range, and no Dylan, what needs to be done. We are capable of scoring the ball and playing enough defense to give us a strong chance particularly at home. Look to the not so long-ago efforts against St. Mary's and Skidmore, either of which would suit most of us just fine. TheBoys need to find some answers. It is their - individually and as a collective - call. You simply can't leave a guy (like Correa of Platts) alone repeatedly on his main spot on the floor. Start by standing on that spot. Force him to move over, or get up on him and body up one time hard. You need to make shooters prove themselves. We can start with Safford and Boornazian at eight tonight. We haven't been doing that recently.

      Where the answers are going to come from, I won't guess, but there are several suitable candidates. My take is it may have already begun. Although the Salve game was dismissable because of the trip and the health issues, the inability to score against Plattsburgh highlighted the fact that this is a crisis of confidence, which may have been born from being unable to dig ourselves out of the hole in the last five minutes in Newport. No time like the present. Man up, and both Bates and Tufts are do-able and the storm clouds pass without a storm.

      Remember: Off the BloodyMary glass at ThePineRoom, across the Otter Creek bridge, out of Dick TheHealer's whirlpool, and over Matt Jennings' mike, nothin' but net". Go Panthers. Be well. Clubbo.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

'Storm Clouds Gathering..'

      The New Year finds the Panther Faithful in a state of disarray and disbelief. Just when the 'nervous nellies of the new normal' thought they could sip their egg nog by the fire and contemplate the spring equinox in Salem, TheBoys had to go off on a bus trip from hell, courtesy of the New England weather gods, stagger in the door at Newport in their bare feet, pull on their sneakers and with a warm-up shorter than most 'rec' leagues allow, square off against Salve Regina, who was well-warmed and ready. If that wasn't enough, there are more than rumors that in addition to snow and the length of the ride there were more than a few trips made to the altar of the porcelain god during the trip southward by some of the team. Jeez Louise! Enough already on the handicaps that evening. TheBoys, who never looked like they were in sync, shot miserably (30% for the game and 20% from 3's), and were on the verge of a really bad loss, down 14 with five minutes to go, when they said enough, remembered that that they hated to get beat, and clawed their way back. Salve tried to accommodate them by missing free throws by the bunch and failing to acknowledge that the 35-second clock was their friend, but the cold hand was too much to overcome in so little time. So TheBoys find themselves outside the Top25 for the first time in four seasons, and the nervous nellies are wandering around Middlebury in a near catatonic state. They see storm clouds gathering. My take is they don't fully understand that every season is a process, and this one is on the verge of jelling.

      At 6and 3, with all this team has undergone, TheBoys may finally be ready to put their signature on this season. Of course I'm somewhere between overly optimistic (I used to even think my teams could win 'em all, and of course the record belies that) and showing just enough speed afoot to stay about two jumps ahead of the guys with the nets that are trying to round up escaped mental patients for the remake of 'OneFlewOverTheCuckoo'sNest', but where this team is, isn't terribly terrible. They are young, but have shown flashes of brilliance. They have performed pretty well on the road, although the Baltimore trip might have been a case of a little much on the heels of the long ride down and back to Lancaster. The Salve trip was just bad luck and I'm willing to put an 'x' through that game, although they all count. What they need now is some stability in the line-up. It is hard to mesh all the parts and make engine go when people are in and out, and the starting seven or eight isn't the same from game to game. My spy-cam in the Pepin rafters notes that for the first time JeffB. may have a line up that doesn't need to be juggled. Daley will return and is nearing readiness although it may be a couple of games till he's fully back. Anything close to his Alvernia performance puts this group back in the top twenty, and should shut the nescac naysayers up. Ditto that for Dylan. Hoping that 'The Smooth' performance against Baruch was just the first of many. With everything else in status quo, the talent and athleticism of these two adds nightmares to the title hopes of the rest of the nescac.       

      But before that comes to pass, the threshold question for this team is that they have to prove they belong in the top programs in the land. Whatever effort issues may have been present at Salve have been dealt with in practice by now, and just in time because Plattsburgh is coming to Pepin tonight. An ncaa team a year ago, they are better this time around, and have only lost to DickStockton (now 10-1) and Oswego State (8-1). It will be a good test but my take is based on being at home, at nearly full strength and with sharp practices post-Salve, Platts ought to be 'do-able'. That means our rebounding and 'D' have to go up a notch. Playing at full bore every trip covers a lot of deficiencies. TheBoys are certainly capable of that, and further understand that each game now should be a step forward. With the nescac just around the corner, there's no room for error. Such is life near the top of the BBall mountain. The nervous nellies have already started breathing into bags as this is going to press, but my take is that putting up a few W's will restore the faith.

Remember: "Down the steps of The Alibi, past Old Albert's equipment cage, over Butch's wheelchair and off the 35-second clock, nothin' but net!" Be well. Clubbo.