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.