I wrote a game summary of the 117-81 win over GMC on d3boards, talking about Kizel’s absence, the slow start, the up-tempo turnaround, and the play of Jake Wolfin and Henry Pendergast. Check it out; D3Boards is a great NESCAC hoops resource for those who don’t know about it. Although there were some struggles in this game —slow start, interior defense —there was a lot to like as well, and figured I might as well make my contribution to this week’s nationwide what-are-we-thankful-for discussion in the form of unbridled praise for Middlebury basketball.
First, I cannot say enough about Nolan Thompson. Damon has already lauded his defensive abilities, and we mentioned that he led the team in scoring and won the Tournament MVP at Lebanon Valley. We have also mentioned that Assistant Coach Alex Popp told us he had “never seen a leader quite like Nolan Thompson.” That leadership showed itself tonight. After working harder than anybody on the court for the first 28 minutes, Nolan finally got a break once the Panthers had built up a 27 point-lead. As soon as he got to the bench, Nolan was standing up from his seat on almost every play, yelling in support of his teammates, helping with communication, and talking to players as soon as they came off the court. Every time I looked over he was actively engaged, physically and mentally. No matter what the box score says, Nolan plays 40 minutes a game.
Second, though it comes from an admittedly limited exposure, I am loving the four first-years on this team. Mat Daley, Henry Pendergast, Connor Huff, and Jake Nidenberg make up a freshmen class that has done everything right thus far this season. We have seen them working extra hours in the gym since the pre-season — they understand what it takes to play in this program and have taken it to heart —and the hard work is paying off. In tonight’s game, Daley played meaningful minutes with the starters and was effective on offense and defense, Pendergast posterized a defender on a fast break dunk amidst a general breakout-type 19-minute performance, Huff made two steals in the first twenty seconds of his energy-filled seven minutes of playing time, and Nidenberg had two blocks in six minutes. All four guys were outworking their opponents the entire time they were on the court. From all accounts, they are also team-first good guys, and they seem to love the game. They have a long way to go but could be special.
Third, a few players have improved their games in specific significant areas since the end of last season and the developments are worth noting. The biggest jump comes in James Jensen’s offensive game. Last year, Jensen was a limited offensive player who could slash but was uncomfortable shooting and handling the ball. This year, he has developed a plus mid-range game that complements his slashing, and has already done more passing and ball-handling than we saw last season. Add that to the fact that he was guarding point guards in tonight’s game (we have already seen him guarding twos, threes, fours, and fives), and Jensen is the early leader for our most improved player award this season. Another improvement comes from junior Nate Bulluck, who has developed a deeper jump shot (already more threes attempted than all of last season), and although he might be over-extending himself outside right now, the development will go a long way toward making him a more complete scoring threat. Finally, Jack Roberts has improved his help defense and looks more assertive on offense.
Bonus positive takeaways: Peter Lynch scored 27 points on 11-12 shooting in a terrific scoring display and somehow I didn’t mention him… Chris Churchill got some minutes in the second half and looked like the best rebounder on the roster… Albert Nascimento’s mid-range jump shot is effective… Today marked the confirmation that Dean Brierly is going loose long-sleeves under his jersey this season. Damon likes it; I’m undecided