Jan. 18: HAMILTON (15-10, 4-6)
Details: Friday, 6:00 pm (at Middlebury)
Last year: Middlebury 76-64
Hamilton lost top scorer Pat Sullivan and will have a hard time making up for his absence, but will look to rely on their tall senior big men, 6’6” Eric Benvenuti (7.2 ppg) and 6’8” Ken Click (7.1 ppg). Jack Roberts will be called upon to shut down Click, and from what we have seen in his man defense against bigs, he will come through. Guard Greg Newton is their top returning scorer, but his .488/.361/.833 splits from last year are unimpressive [Update: this is not unimpressive, but in fact a very good stat line. -1/18]. This game also comes at about the time of the year when Middlebury students start to really fill out Pepin gymnasium in J-term, so Hamilton could be in for a thrashing.
Prediction: W (4-1)
Jan. 18 Addendum: Hamilton is 8-8 on the season and looks like a .500 team across the board. The Continentals score just 66.8 points per game but limit opponents to just 67.1 points; they have grabbed one more rebound on the season than their opponents and have a turnover margin of just +0.5. Yet while their track record is decidedly average, they have played one of the tougher schedules of any NESCAC team, and have shown flashes of an ability to play up to top-level competition. In December, against undefeated national powerhouse Rochester, the Continentals were thrashed in the first half but outscored the Engineers over the last 20 minutes. A few weeks later, Hamilton beat Ursinus, a team that Middlebury had trouble with in their season-opener, and just last weekend, Hamilton almost beat Amherst (16th in the country), as the Lord Jeffs were lucky to escape Clinton with a two-point win. Hamilton does their damage with a combination of size and outside scorers, with Newton (11.3 ppg) and his backcourt-mate Matt Hart (15.3 ppg) leading the team in scoring and each shooting over 43% from the floor, and a frontcourt quartet of Click (6’8″), Benvenuti (6’6″), Bradley Gifford (6’5″), and Peter Kazickas (6’4″) complementing them to the tune of a combined 28.2 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. Thus, this might be a game where Middlebury will miss Dylan Sinnickon’s defense, and we could see more Chris Churchill (who had the best game of his career last weekend vs. Wesleyan) along with heavy doses of Roberts and James Jensen, as a result. It seems just as likely, however, that Middlebury throws Thompson on Newton or Hart, and takes their chances with the rest of the team, as Hamilton lacks the individual dynamic scorers to warrant a gameplan adjustment. This strategy would result in more minutes for the offensively-minded duo of Peter Lynch and Hunter Merryman. Rotation questions such as these are becoming increasingly relevant as Jeff Brown seeks to replace the minutes of injured top reserve guards Nate Bulluck and Dean Brierley, so it will be an interesting sub-plot to monitor this weekend. Back to the big picture, as long as Middlebury avoids one of their signature slow starts, their offensive weapons will be too much for Hamilton to deal with and they should win somewhat comfortably.
Stat watch: Senior captain Nolan Thompson, reigning NESCAC player-of-the-week, is three points away from the 1,000-point mark for his Middlebury career. Hopefully Panther fans show up to give Nolan the ovation he deserves for the milestone accomplishment, as he has been one of the centerpieces of the greatest run Middlebury basketball has ever had.
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