Middlebury heads into the holidays with an 8-0 record and a likely soon-to-be #1 ranking in the country (the one team ahead of Middlebury in the polls lost Monday). This will mark the second consecutive season that the Panthers enter the New Year looking down on the rest of division III. The ranking is a reflection of a positive start, but doesn’t mean much more than that the first trimester was upset-free.
The Panthers’ closest games were on the road against middle-tier opponents: 78-73 over Ursinus (4-5), 72-63 over Lebanon Valley (3-6), 80-73 over Plattsburgh State (7-2), and 79-71 over Johnson and Wales (4-5). Overall, Middlebury has been winning by an average of 19.8 points per game. They are winning with the same hyper-efficient offense (53% FG, 41% 3PT, 87.4 ppg), depth (5 players in double figures, 10+ guys who can play meaningful minutes), and tight defense (6.5 steals per game, 5.1 blocks per game, 42% opp FG) that defined their success last year, a reassuring sign for those worried about offsetting the loss of Ryan Sharry. Here are first third statistical leaders, notable statistics, and superlatives/awards:
Statistical Leaders through Fall semester:
Points per game: Peter Lynch, 17.3
Rebounds per game: Peter Lynch, 5.8
Assists per game: Joey Kizel, 5.1
Steals per game: Joey Kizel, 2.4
Blocks per game: Jack Roberts, 1.9
Field goal percentage: Peter Lynch, 69%
Free throw percentage: Peter Lynch, 87%
Three point percentage: Hunter Merryman, 62%
See full statistics here
-Since 2009, Middlebury is 31-0 before the New Year.
-Middlebury leads all NESCAC teams in field goal percentage and points per game.
-Peter Lynch has the 4th-best field goal percentage in the nation.
-Peter Lynch has the most 20 point games (4) of any player in the NESCAC.
-Peter Lynch’s 27 point game vs. GMC was one of three 27 point games for a Middlebury player since 2009.
-Middlebury’s 117 points vs. GMC were the second most since 2006.
-Middlebury held Skidmore to 4 FGM in the second half of their 74-53 victory.
-In the win vs. Southern VT, Middlebury won the assist battle 24-6.
-If he were eligible, Hunter Merryman would lead the nation in 3-point percentage.
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First Half Awards:
MVP: PETER LYNCH, 17.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 69% FG
The 6’6″ senior captain has carried the team after a no-show on opening night, putting up big scoring numbers without taking a lot of shots. Lynch led the NESCAC in field goal percentage last season, and has improved on his already terrific post moves. His combination of strength and touch make him especially dominant against inferior opponents, as he has showcased in the early going. Pete’s inside scoring ability has also opened things up for Middlebury’s outside shooters.
DEFENSIVE MVP: NOLAN THOMPSON
Nolan’s defense can’t be quantified. He continues to match up with the opponent’s best outside scorer and shut him down. Just watch him play. One of the nice things about playing better opponents is the chance to see Nolan’s effectiveness really shine through. James Jensen would have gotten the nod if it weren’t for Thompson, as the 6’6″ junior has been winning matchups against points guards, centers, and everyone in between. James’ length, athleticism, and work ethic make him a defensive stud.
MOST IMPROVED/SIXTH MAN: HUNTER MERRYMAN, 12.6 PPG, 61% FG, 62% 3PT
Hunter Merryman went from being a healthy scratch in half of Middlebury’s games last season, to being one of the most dangerous scorers on the team. He is a fairly one-dimensional player, but that one dimension (shooting) is spectacular. The play of the season thus far was at the end of the first half against Skidmore, when Joey Kizel raced up the court with a few seconds to go, Merryman set a high screen, Kizel was doubled and kicked it back out to Merryman, and Merryman hit a three from several feet behind the three point line over an outstretched defender as time expired. The most remarkable thing about watching the play was that everyone knew the shot was going in. That’s what Hunter Merryman brings to the team.
TOP FRESHMAN: CONNOR HUFF, 4.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 6. 8 MPG
While Mat Daley and Henry Pendergast look to have the most potential, and have been the most exciting in spurts, both have been inconsistent thus far. Huff, however, has shown a variety of skills, making outside shots, forcing turnovers, and scoring inside, in his limited playing time. The 6’4″ forward shows the kind of hustle you love to see from a freshman, playing at full-tilt for every second of court time he gets, and it has paid off thus far.
We will be following this post up with some questions and concerns that have arisen or still linger after the first third of the season.