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Middlebury Player Profiles

JOEY KIZEL  •  6’1” (Senior, Guard) 33.7 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 rpg, 49/42/79

Midd vs Hamilton-263Kizel, a preseason First Team All-American and one of the most complete players in the country, has been the NESCAC’s most efficient scoring guard, and the conference’s best finisher the past two seasons. After a blisteringly prodcutive sophomore season—Kizel’s shooting splits were 54/51/91 (that’s field goal, three-point and free throw percentage, respectively)—the New Jersey native had a slow start to the 2012-13, battling nagging injuries that affected him all year. After a quiet non-conference run, however, Kizel returned, if not quite to 2012 form, close to it, averaging 16.3 points per game during the 10-game stretch, while shooting 49 percent from the field and 47 percent from beyond the arc. Most notably, Kizel further cemented his legacy as one of the best big-game players in Middlebury history, with dazzling performances against Amherst, Cortland and Ithaca, the latter of which was strikingly similar to his late-game heroics (ignoring for a moment the final outcome) against Scranton. Kizel has been the Panthers emotional leader the past two seasons and will raise his game when the team needs him most.

As the lone captain this year, and with the departure of Thompson, Wolfin and Lynch, Kizel will be called on often. He will likely play off the ball more this season, particularly early, to provide a greater scoring presence. The challenge will be balancing his urge to do it all himself and deferring too much to his teammates. If history is any indicator, however, Kizel will develop that understanding with his teammates quickly and pick his spots wisely. Kizel has always been a great finisher around the basket—and anywhere on the court, really—but if there’s an area of his game that appears to be improved it’s his confidence finishing with either hand around the basket. Again, if possible, his game looks even smoother than seasons past. Some players (Ryan Sharry comes to mind) look relaxed on the court and make things look simple; others, like Nolan Thompson, can convey just how arduous basketball can be. Kizel is one of the few players we’ve ever watched, who routinely does both. Very rarely do you watch a player clearly expending maximum energy simply bringing the ball down the court against backcourt pressure, then beat his man and glide to the basket.

JAMES JENSEN  •  6’6” (Senior, Forward) 21.1 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 0.8 spg, 44/–/74

Jensen’s calling card the past three seasons has been his defensive versatility and length on offense. He will play a bigger role this season on both ends of the floor, stepping into Nolan Thompson’s shoes—and Tim Edwards before that—as Middlebury’s primary defensive stopper. While Jensen does not have the lateral quickness that Nolan possessed, he can guard players up and down the lineup, from Sha Brown to Michael Mayer, both of whom he guarded effectively last year. In particular, the way he hounded Mayer a season ago, taking the ultra-talented Williams center out of his comfort zone in the second half, was one of the single best performances of the season. Jensen, too, had clutch moments, most memorably blocking Aaron Toomey’s buzzer-beater attempt at the end of the first overtime in the Amherst game, but also at the free throw line, a spot where Jensen improved drastically from 2011-12, particularly to close out games.

An injury he sustained early last year will keep Jensen out of the lineup for at least the first weekend of competition, which is a considerable blow, particularly given the difficulty of the early season schedule. When Jensen returns in late November or December, however, he will be a key cog in Middlebury’s season. His reputation lies on the defensive end of the floor—and for good reason—but the 6’6” swing man is more talented offensively than most people realize. He has contributed primarily as a slash-and-finisher, rivaled only by Kizel’s in terms of an ability to finish through and around contact, but his offensive game has developed considerably. If defenses sag off Jensen, playing him to drive, his midrange game will prove plenty effective to keep them honest. While not a shot creator, Jensen moves exceptionally well without the ball and his activity will create better looks than many players who can create their own shot ultimately receive.

JACK ROBERTS  •  6’8” (Senior, Center) 19.7 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.24 bgp, 60/0/47

Three years on, Roberts remains something of a mystery. His talent is undeniable, particularly on the defensive end, where he checked Amherst forward Alan Williamson—likely the most athletic player in the conference—during the triple overtime game and, later, the vertically challenged, but bruising Landon Gamble in the Elite Eight game versus North Central. In fact, the final game of 2012-13 was Roberts’s best performance of the season, and maybe of his career. On Division III’s biggest stage, Roberts rose to the occasion, playing stellar defense on one end and pouring in 10 points on 5-6 shooting on the other.

It’s difficult to know if the North Central performance is a precursor of better things to come from Roberts, who gives the Panthers a dominant defensive presence inside when he plays well, but can also frustrate with mistakes on the defensive end and poor shot selection at times offensively. Despite the graduation of Lynch, there will likely be greater competition at the ‘5’ and Roberts will need to perform on the floor to hold off Chris Churchill and, more likely, Matt Daley for the starting spot.

HUNTER MERRYMAN    6’6” (Junior, Forward) 15.9 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 50/43/79

We’ll say it up front: Merryman is much more than a three-point specialist. While he continues to improve on the defensive end, where Merryman will (but shouldn’t) surprise people is as a back-to-the-basket scorer. His range is cavernous—though with the arrival of Matt St. Amour, no longer the deepest on the team—but Merryman was also effective as a post scorer, where he was able to back down smaller defenders or work around bigger, slower players. Though he struggled last year when asked to make plays in space, both offensively and defensively, Merryman impressed me on both ends of the floor when he needed to use his size, either to create space offensively or to body bigger players defensively. His shooting numbers dipped after the halfway mark in 2012-13, but his struggles coincided closely with a broken nose that forced him to wear a facemask the rest of the year. Like Jensen and Kizel, Merryman also battled a number of debilitating injuries that required offseason attention.

Entering his junior season healthy and with a clear path to minutes and perhaps a spot in the starting lineup, Merryman could be primed for a breakout season. Few players of his size are as polished offensively both around the basket and beyond the three-point line. Consistency and shot creation will be the key areas of improvement for the California native, who needs to demonstrate greater ability to put the ball on the floor and make shots when the defense closes out on him. Expect him to find a home at the ‘4’ with Middlebury playing more three forward sets this season than in years past.

DYLAN SINNICKSON    6’5” (Junior, Forward) 2011-12: 11.4 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 53/0/75

Screen shot 2012-12-26 at 2.13.00 AMWhy will Jeff Brown play three-forward sets more frequently? Because there is a logjam at the forward position, where Sinnickson, Merryman, Jensen and others, including the next player on the list, will compete for minutes. Sinnickson returns to action for the first time since his freshman year during the 2011-12 season after a broken arm sidelined him last year and a short-lived football hiatus delayed his return to basketball activities this fall. While Sinnickson was gone, he shouldn’t be forgotten. As a freshman, he shot 57 percent from the floor, with most of his points coming around the basket or the result of his high-point release midrange jump shot that he utilized to great effect. Indeed, he progressed so far as a freshman that he was a member of the closing lineup against Scranton in the Sweet 16.

The Sinnickson who returns should be an improved version of the player we last saw play over a year ago, bringing with him his relentless energy and above-the-rim athleticism, but also a more refined offensive game that could include an effective three-point shot. How Coach Brown intends to utilize Sinnickson and the degree of freedom he will grant the 6’5” junior remains to be seen, but if Sinnickson returns to form and demonstrates that he can play within the offense, he has a shot not just to close games, but to start them as well.

MATT DALEY  •  6’8” (Sophomore, Forward) 5.7 mpg, 2.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 53/0/75

If one player epitomizes the potential of the 2013-14 Middlebury basketball team it’s Daley, who will have an enormous say in whether the team finishes as a fringe Tournament team or a national championship contender. Simply, no player on the roster has a higher ceiling than Daley, who is as gifted an athlete as Jeff Brown (with a huge assist from Alex Popp) has recruited. After a year developing in the program, the question is to what extent Daley will realize that potential. If you stop to watch practice, there are times you can’t help but notice Daley, who dunks at game speed on a routine basis in big-man drills and can run the floor and pull up for transition threes in two-on-nothing drills. He has a deft touch around the basket, a solid midrange game and tremendous range and fluidity for his size. His skills have been less apparent, however, in five-on-five situations where he will sometimes take a back seat and become passive offensively.

In terms of talent, Daley can go toe-to-toe with any big man in the NESCAC; in terms of ability, he has not demonstrated that he can translate the talent to game situations and be a dominant player. Then again, few big men in the NESCAC have put the league on notice their freshman year. What Daley accomplishes as a sophomore will likely be a barometer for Middlebury’s success as a team and is undoubtedly one of the things to watch as the season progresses.

MATT ST. AMOUR    6’3” (Freshman, Guard)

MattSt.AmourSpeaking of high ceilings and immensely gifted recruits, St. Amour boasts a skill set unlike any Middlebury player in recent memory. There have been other great scorers with NBA three-point range, to be certain, but what ultimately will separate St. Amour from other players—in the same way it has for Kizel—is his efficiency. St. Amour is a dead-eye shooter, with a quick release and tremendous understanding of offensive spacing, which will lead to plenty of open looks when playing alongside a player of Kizel’s caliber. That in itself should be enough to secure the Swanton, Vermont star a spot in the rotation, but only scratches the surface of what St. Amour’s impact could be. A gifted passer with great vision—likely aided by a stellar career as a striker on the soccer field—it is difficult to imagine St. Amour not making an immediate impact on the offensive end. What may limit his effectiveness and ability to make a substantial difference is his progression, or lack thereof, on the defensive end.

Playing Vermont high school basketball, St. Amour was asked to do virtually everything on the floor—no, really—with the exception of consistently guarding NESCAC-caliber players. Removed from the pressure of having his team sink or swim based on his performance every night, the Missisquoi Valley product will have an opportunity to focus more closely on a number of different aspects of his game. Defense and, to a lesser degree, his ability to finish at the rim, are the two areas of his game that are least polished. Having said that, St. Amour displays incredible poise for a first-year player and appears ready for the challenges and pressures that come with playing right away. Twice the Vermont Gatorade Player of the Year, St. Amour is one of six Vermont players ever to score 2,000 career points. The 6’3” guard averaged 30.7 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game and 5.7 assists his senior year.

JAKE BROWN  •  5’10” (Freshman, Guard)

With all the talent this team boasts, it is Jake Brown, nephew of coach Jeff Brown, who has people buzzing as the preseason comes to a close. Brown is a natural point guard, with strong ball-handling skills and the tempo and quickness to lead the fast break. What has really stood out, however, is his defense, which has been suffocating in practice. Brown is quick both with his feet and hands and will pester opposing point guards with his defensive intensity. Two skill sets could not exist in better unison, as Brown’s ability to force turnovers and turn them into transition breaks is a weapon this team, with its length and athleticism, could use to great effect.

In order to earn a spot as one of the first guards off the bench and eventually compete for a starting spot, the diminutive guard will have to demonstrate an ability to knock down open shots. Particularly on attempts from beyond the arc, Brown has a number of moving parts that complicate and slow his shot release. If he fails to knock down shots, defenses will drop underneath him, taking away his driving opportunities and negate much of his slash-and-kick ability. Brown will find minutes because his defensive approach and ball-handling skills cannot be squandered, but unless he demonstrates great consistency and shot-making ability, his role will be reserved to a second-team contributor capable of coming off the bench and providing a spark, but little more.

NATE BULLUCK  •  6’4” (Senior, Guard) 7.6 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 35/36/83

In the past that role has been reserved for Bulluck, an explosive athlete with a volatile game. There’s rarely a dull moment when Bulluck is on the floor, usually as a wild card off the bench who can provide a boost with his instant energy and athleticism, or run right into trouble—most often in the form of a stationary defender preparing to take a charge. Despite his sometimes perplexing performances, Bulluck is an incredible luxury for Jeff Brown on both sides of the ball when utilized correctly. Because it is usually evident from the first time he touches the ball the degree to which Bulluck will be effective, Jeff Brown can adjust his expectations and patience accordingly. Particularly when Middlebury trails or starts flat, Brown has turned to Bulluck, who has helped engineer a number of Middlebury runs—most notably against Amherst in the NESCAC title game in 2011-12, when the Panthers trailed by 14 late in the second quarter, only for Bulluck and company to lead a late charge to cut the Lord Jeffs’ lead to two at the half.

In the lead up to his senior season, Bulluck has adopted a vocal leadership role and has improved his range and ball-handling significantly—an important consideration given Nolan Thompson’s vacated role as the third ball handler the past two seasons. Further, Bulluck’s style of play, fits the makeup of this team, should the coaching staff elect to push the ball more this year than in the past. In order to secure a more significant role, however, Bulluck needs to do more than demonstrate his dribbling ability and deeper range; more importantly he has to prove he will be reliable when on the floor. Until then, he will remain the ace up Jeff Brown’s sleeve, capable of turning a game on its head—one way or another—in a short period of time.

HENRY PENDERGAST  •  6’3” (Sophomore, Guard) 6.6 mpg, 1.6 ppg, 1.0 apg, 0.9 rpg, 44/38/30

Physically, Pendergast has all the tools to play a significant role and he will have an extended opportunity to make his case for a starting spot next to Kizel in the backcourt. While Pendergast’s athleticism is not in question, other still-developing areas of his game have limited his ability to take full advantage of it in games. Last season, Pendergast caught our eye with a monster dunk over Green Mountain College early in the season, but that kind of electric athleticism, which we hoped to see more of, has been the exception rather than the rule thus far. In part, Pendergast has struggled to beat defenders off the dribble, allowing opposing players to stay in front of him and limiting the opportunities for his athleticism to take over. At 6’3”, Pendergast has elite size, but not elite quickness for a point guard. Pendergast can mitigate his lack of point-guard quickness by improving his ball-handling, in particular his tendency to dribble the ball high, which minimizes his window of opportunity to beat his man and get to the rim, where he is most effective. Finally, Pendergast’s inconsistent jump shot, has allowed teams to drop off the ball and play underneath him. Improving his shot was the Connecticut native’s top priority this summer, which could create more driving lanes for Pendergast if defenses have to honor his outside game.

Given that Kizel will likely play off the ball more, Pendergast should see extended minutes early in the season so the coaching staff can better assess his game-readiness. Should Pendergast impress, he could assume a large part of the role vacated by Wolfin, as a distributor-first, scorer-second point guard who is the primary ball handler and provides a physical, active defensive presence. Like almost everyone up and down the roster, the talent is evident and the question is whether it will be realized. And in Pendergast’s case it can only help that he appears to be a great teammate with strong leadership qualities.

CONNOR HUFF    6’4” (Sophomore, Guard) 5.5 mpg, 3.1 ppg, 0.4 apg, 1.5 rpg, 59/50/69

ConnorHuffEvery time Huff takes the floor, he seems to make plays. It’s not always easy to explain how he puts himself in position or why he knocks down shots, but the sophomore forward—who is making the transition to the ‘4’—comes from the Peter Lynch mold as a deceptively productive player who doesn’t jump off the floor at you as an athlete, but is always around the ball and making the most of his opportunities. Huff doesn’t have the same potential as a Daley or Pendergast, but so far he appears to be the most consistent player of the 2012 recruiting class. As a freshman last year he knocked down 59 percent of his shots—spread across the floor—albeit in a very limited sample size. While impossible to extrapolate his freshman numbers to project his sophomore season, what Huff does possess is a poise that suggests he belongs on the floor. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise from a player who was voted the New York city high school player New York Post pollers would most want to take a game-winning shot his senior season in high school. Along with Pendergast, Huff stood out to us in Middlebury’s win over Green Mountain for his defensive intensity and unmatched effort in Middlebury’s blowout victory.

Competing with Jensen, Sinnickson, Merryman and, to an extent Daley and Jake Nidenberg, for minutes in the front court, Huff might be the odd man out in the rotation. However, if Jeff Brown chooses to extend his rotation this season and go deeper down his bench, expect Huff to make plays as soon as he steps onto the court.

JAKE NIDENBERG    6’6” (Sophomore, Forward) 4.6 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 33/0/43

Alongside Jake Brown, Nidenberg has turned heads during the preseason. Whether he has the combination of size, talent and consistency to earn a spot at the back end of the rotation remains in question, but Nidenberg is, at the very least, a player to keep an eye on down the road. At 6’6” and 230 pounds, Nidenberg is going to move people on the floor, but he he has also developed an effective outside shot that could allow him to space the formation and draw bigger defenders away from the basket. In some ways, Nidenberg’s game is the complement to Merryman’s: the focus is around the basket for the sophomore, who will play more often with his back to he basket, but he can also take defenders out of the paint, step back and knock down the three as well.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 9.34.48 PMCHRIS CHURCHILL  •  6’9” (Junior, Center) 5.9 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 60/–/83

A year ago, we were hoping that Churchill would make the sophomore leap and challenge Roberts for the starting center spot. Unfortunately for the 6’9” big man, he spent much of the summer recovering from mononucleosis and never really found a rhythm or role, other than as a reserve center capable of spelling Roberts. He has great size, soft touch around the basket and runs the floor well for a player of that magnitude. While there wasn’t one performance to point to his sophomore year, Churchill is a skilled 6’9”, 220-pound center—a combination that often necessitates greater patience and sometimes leads to a late-blooming emergence. Having coached Andrew Locke—who accomplished more his freshman and sophomore years, but evolved into a truly dominant player on both sides of the floor his senior year—Jeff Brown will likely want to see how Churchill has developed over the last two seasons. He likely won’t supplant Roberts or Daley at the ‘5’, but Churchill could be a key cog in a possible three-man rotation at center.

DEAN BRIERLEY  •  6’5” (Junior, Guard) 6.6 mpg, 1.5 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 33/32/67

Brierley struggled through a disappointing sophomore season, slowed by injuries, that saw him play just 6.6 minutes per game after a promising start to his freshman year that included a 20-point outburst against Southern Vermont. During his time at Middlebury, Brierley has been a relentless worker, seemingly always in the gym working on his shot. Unfortunately the hardwork has not translated to game action, where Brierley has struggled to make shots or contribute in other ways. At 6’5”, Brierley has strong ball-handling skills and, like Merryman, can shoot over smaller defenders. If he can regain his form—a big if, to be certain—he would give Middlebury the option to run another diverse lineup on the floor with a bigger backcourt presence.

LUIS ALVAREZ    6’1” (Senior, Guard) 2010-11: 8.1 mpg, 2.6 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 44/20/82

Luis returns for his fifth season after receiving an injury exemption while sitting out almost all of last year. A slashing guard who pesters opposing ball handlers, Alvarez provides depth and experience to a largely unproven guard rotation. Injuries, however, have sidetracked a once promising career. In 2009, as a freshman, Alvarez was a rotation contributor for much of the season, playing over 9 minutes per game off the bench—the eighth highest mark on the team. After a sophomore season that saw his minutes reduced, Alvarez has played in just three games total. Healthy once again, Alvarez’s biggest impact will likely again be his presence on the bench, where he is a respected voice and holds his teammates to a high standard.

BRYAN JONES    6’1” (Freshman, Guard)

Jones, the first and, for a while, only committed recruit from the 2013 class has had a solid, if unspectacular, preseason. Because he isn’t game ready to the same degree as St. Amour and Brown, he hasn’t received as much attention in the lead up to the season. The foundation for a multiple-year starter is there, however. Jones commands himself well on the floor, has a good understanding of how to run the fast break and finds open teammates. Built like a football player, Brown finishes well around the basket through contact and should be able to hold his own when he does see the floor. The area of his game that needs the most improvement is his outside shooting, though Jones is a solid player in almost all aspects of the game.

LIAM NAUGHTON  •  6’1” (Freshman, Guard)

Middlebury’s first walk on since Nolan Thompson, Naughton has been a pleasant surprise during the preseason. He already boasts a great midrange game—he can create his own shot and get shots off from a variety of different angles—and looks like he belongs on the floor. The proficiency of his midrange game will give him an opportunity to contribute down the line—perhaps not this season, but certainly in future years. Naughton may not be Nolan Thompson—his game is more similar in many ways to Matt Hart —but he could be another Middlebury walk on that has an outsized impact.

ALBERT NASCIMENTO  •  6’1” (Senior, Guard) 5.5 mpg, 1.9 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 32/29/78

Nascimento possesses a pretty stroke from beyond the arc and is a decent outside shooter, with better range than accuracy. The Brazilian played in significant situations last year, including closing against Amherst and providing a spark of the bench against Wesleyan by knocking down a pair of threes. An up-and-down tempo may also give him an opportunity to play more as the pace fits his style of play.

EAMON CUDDY    6’7” (Junior, Forward) 2011-12: 2.8 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg 100/–/–

If Cuddy can ever return to health, another big if, he could inspire a lot of “Where did he come from?” questions with his play. While athletically limited, Cuddy has a diverse array of post moves that, when healthy, he has used very effectively against bigger defenders in practice. It’s unlikely Cuddy will have any impact on this season, but if he can heal completely down the line, he could make an impact as a senior.

One Comment

  1. wrote:

    Great writing;loved it all!

    Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

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