This is the first installment in our preview series leading up to the start of Middlebury’s 2012-2013 basketball season. The Panthers started official practices on November 1, and their regular season begins November 16 at the Lebanon Valley Tournament. We will be following up this post with individual starter profiles, a schedule breakdown, a NESCAC preview, and season predictions. The reserve/starter distinctions are based purely on speculation.
41- DYLAN SINNICKSON, SOPHOMORE, FORWARD, 6’5″
2011-12 stats: 30 GP, 0 GS, 11.4 MPG, 5.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.2 APG, 6 STL, 10 BLK, .754 FT%, .526 FG%
Before he broke his forearm in practice this past weekend, the ultra-athletic Sinnickson was our pick to play the sixth man role for the Panthers. Sinnickson is expected to be out at least two months, but should be able to return in time to contribute in NESCAC play. Last year, his mid-range shooting carried him to 5.7 points in 11.4 minutes per game. He has the potential to become a star with the development of a more diverse offensive repertoire. He has the physical abilities to be a great defender as well, but needs to develop his self-awareness and lower his foul rate. Based on what we know about his work ethic, he will not allow this injury to derail his season, and his January return should be a huge boost to the Panthers just in time for the most important stretch of the season.
55- JACK ROBERTS, JUNIOR, CENTER/FORWARD, 6’8″
2011-12 stats: 23 GP, 3 GS, 11.1 MPG, 1.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.3 APG, 5 STL, 22 BLK, .667 FT%, .250 3PT%, 417 FG%
After showing a lot of positive signs at the beginning of last season, Roberts injured his knee, and never returned fully to form. He often looked tentative on offense, and was slow to help down low on defense. Yet he is likely the team’s best defender against bigs, and was already shining in that role last year. His best game of the season was his 2 point, 6 rebound, 5 block performance in 17 minutes matching up against Michael Mayer of Williams. Stopping Mayer and other centers will be Jack’s primary responsibility this year. Look for his performances against Mayer, Peter Kaasila, John Swords, and Rashad Wright to define his season. He is a possibility to move into the starting lineup based for certain matchups.
14- DEAN BRIERLY, SOPHOMORE, GUARD, 6’5″
2011-12 stats: 27 GP, 5 GS, 11.2 MPG, 3.9 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.3 APG, 6 STL, 1 BLK, .750 FT%, .293 3PT%, .420 FG%
Brierly had an up-and-down freshman year, showing early promise with a 20 point performance at Southern Vermont in November, but struggled to find his shot later in the season. Brierly will likely be the top reserve in the backcourt this season, thanks to his versatility and wide array of offensive skills. He has great ball-handling skills for his size, as well as good range on his jump shot and some ability to penetrate and create on offense. If he has another hot start, look for him to take advantage of the opportunity and carve out a sixth man type role as the best offensive player on the bench.
24- HUNTER MERRYMAN, SOPHOMORE, FORWARD, 6’6″
2011-12 stats: 15 GP, 0 GS, 6.0 MPG, 3.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.2 APG, 4 STL, 5 BLK, 1.000 FT%, .545 3PT%, .613 FG%
With Sinnickson’s injury, Merryman is likely to see an increase in minutes early in the season, and we expect him to be effective. Probably the best pure shooter on the team, Merryman’s combination of size and range makes him one of the most intriguing role players on the bench. At the least, he can rebound and bang with big guys down low on defense, while drawing front court defenders out of the lane with his spot up shooting. At his best, he can be a game-changing scorer off the bench, a pick-and-roll type big man who can create space and make big guys pay if they don’t move outside with him. If he wants to make this kind of impact, Merryman needs to do a better job of adjusting to the game speed of NESCAC play.
22- NATE BULLUCK, JUNIOR, GUARD, 6’4
2011-12 stats: 27 GP, 0 GS, 8.1 MPG, 2.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, 10 STL, 4 BLK, .844 FT%, .393 FG%
Bulluck is a very athletic two-guard who makes his biggest impact on defense. He might have made the defensive play of the year against Amherst in Middlebury’s regular season meeting with the Lord Jeffs, rising above the rim to stuff a layup attempt as time expired in the first half. He will be counted on to continue to make plays on defense, and might be put in Nolan Thompson’s lock-down-defender role more often this year to allow Thompson to channel more energy toward offense. Bulluck also can score with a mid-range jumper and explosive drives to the hoop. His offensive style is sometimes too isolation-based for a team with so many weapons and in a system that values ball movement and making the extra pass.
43- CHRIS CHURCHILL, SOPHOMORE, CENTER/FORWARD, 6’10″
2011-12 stats: 14 GP, 0 GS, 4.1 MPG, 1.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.1 APG, 1 STL, 2 BLK, .857 FT%, .313 FG%
Chris Churchill is the player we hoped would steal a starting spot this season. His combination of considerable size — he plays even bigger than he looks — and soft shooting touch — he made six of seven free throw attempts in limited action — make him an intriguing player with a high ceiling. It does not appear from what we have seen and heard that Churchill has taken a starting spot, but he is nonetheless a player to watch this season as someone who may make significant strides as the season progresses.
45- ALBERT NASCIMENTO, JUNIOR, GUARD, 6’0″
2011-12 stats: 16 GP, 0 GS, 6.6 MPG, 2.5 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 3 STL, 3 BLK, .900 FT%, .222 3PT%, .273 FG%
Bert, as he is referred to by his teammates, fulfills an incredibly important role on the team, even if that doesn’t have much of a direct impact on the floor. Much like Carl Gayle before him, if you ask any player on the team who the funniest player is, they say without hesitation, “Bert.” Nascimento has a smooth, high-release jumpshot that is beautiful all the way through the release, but has not produced the desired results. The guard from Governador Valadares, Brazil plays a distinct style of basketball — one that seems to clash with the offensive system run by Jeff Brown. If Nascimento can harness his talents and shoot the three-ball at a reasonably high percentage, he could bring a new dimension to the offense. In all likelihood, however, such an idea is farfetched.
21- LUIS ALVAREZ, SENIOR, GUARD, 6’1″
2011-12 stats: 2 GP, 0 GS, 1.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1 STL, 0 BLK, .250 FG%
Luis might be this season’s version of Winslow Hicks, a talented player whose career was too often interrupted by nagging injuries. Alvarez has had his fair share of injuries over the years and while it would be an exaggeration to say that he could have been a significant contributor to this team given the depth and talent in the backcourt, he did play in 28 games as a freshman before seeing his role diminish as physical setbacks and greater competition at his position forced him to the bench. At his best, Luis is a slashing two-guard who doesn’t shoot the ball all that well, but has plus finishing ability at the rim.
31- EAMON CUDDY, SOPHOMORE, FORWARD, 6’8″
2011-12 stats: 5 GP, 0 GS, 2.8 MPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 1.000 FG%
Eamon appears to be, for now, the big man on the outside looking in. He does not have the height of Roberts or the girth of Churchill. Having only really seen Cuddy play in practice, what did impress me, however, was his ability to score in the post, often against his stronger, taller teammates. If he does become a contributor this season it will not happen because he jumps out of the gym. Instead, the style of his game is much more similar to that of Pete Lynch, relying on a polished low post game and the strength to create space down low.
Note on freshmen: We have not seen any of these four freshman in live game action, so these profiles are based on a few limited observations, highlight films and discussions.
13- HENRY PENDERGAST, FRESHMAN, GUARD, 6’3″
Pendergast is likely the most game-ready of the freshmen. He has ball-handling abilities, although is unlikely to be the top ball-handler on the court at any point this year, and is an impressive finisher near the basket. He would likely get significant playing time in other NESCAC backcourts.
23- MATT DALEY, FRESHMAN, FORWARD, 6’8″
Daley has the potential to be a great player down the road, but he is very raw at this point. His size and athleticism might be enough to get him playing time this season, but it doesn’t appear he will be able to contribute on the offensive end until he improves his touch and develops some low-post moves.
10- CONNOR HUFF, FRESHMAN, FORWARD, 6’4″
Huff is a scoring forward who looks strong, and might get some playing time early in the season because of the Sinnickson injury. He brings a nice resume over from high school — he won four New York state championships on his high school team (Collegiate), and was the top pick in a New York Post poll asking, “Which NYC player would you choose to take a game-winning shot?” Until Joey Kizel graduates, Huff shouldn’t have to worry about last shots, but clutch play can come in many forms.
35- JAKE NIDENBERG, FRESHMAN, FORWARD, 6’6″
From what we’ve seen, Nidenberg shows an ability to score inside by creating space and has good hands, both receiving and shooting the ball. He looks to have heavy feet on defense, however, and needs to improve his rebounding fundamentals. Given the areas of improvement, it’s hard to see Nidenberg playing any significant role this season as he assimilates to playing against guys his size (and bigger) on a daily basis.