Matt Daley scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Middlebury’s 81-71 win over Alvernia yesterday. A lot of credit should go to Jeff Brown for choosing the right starting lineup in this game, which seemed like an impossible task hours ago. Neither Jeff nor I had Matt St. Amour or Matt Daley in our first-game starting lineups, despite our excitement about their potential. If Daley doesn’t start against Alvernia, Middlebury very well could have lost the game. Daley scored 6 of Middlebury’s first 8 points and 10 of the team’s first 21 and the team stagnated offensively when he sat. And it wasn’t purely an offense thing either as Daley held his own on the defensive end, collecting 5 defensive rebounds and blocking a shot, while staying out of foul trouble. To further that sentiment, the sophomore forward boasted a +/- of +21 in a 10-point win and never left the game for the bench with the team in a worse place than when he entered the game. St. Amour, meanwhile, was not as effective, but finished with 10 points on 3-10 shooting in a solid debut as only the fifth freshman to start the opening game of the season during Jeff Brown’s tenure. And while St. Amour struggled at times, he was also a member of Middlebury’s most effective lineup, which included Kizel, St. Amour, Merryman, Daley and Roberts.
Part of the reason that lineup had as much success as it did was Alvernia’s inability to deal with Middlebury’s length inside. The same likely won’t be true of Barcuh, which boasts a bigger lineup that should better matchup with Middlebury’s size inside and do a better job keeping the Panthers off the glass. (Though for good measure, Franklin & Marshall held a +8 rebounding advantage over the Bearcats and collected 13 offensive rebounds in the game.) For Middlebury, there’s a relatively simple solution to this: make shots and finish inside. The Panthers grabbed 22 offensive rebounds against Alvernia, in large part because they shot just 43 percent as a team. If Middlebury can make more shots, particularly around the basket, where they missed a number of bunnies and putbacks, they shouldn’t have too much trouble with Baruch, which—if their scoring tendencies are any indicator—will likely try to slow down Middlebury’s tempo and limit turnovers and fastbreak opportunities to a minimum.
The Bearcats had pretty balanced in scoring in 2012, with no player averaging more than 10.4 points per game and return four of their top five scorers from a season ago. They also got an infusion of talent through the transfer window: Abraham Akanmu, a junior who played his first two seasons at Queens College, led the Bearcats with 13 points in the season opener; Joshua Gener, meanwhile, is a 6’7” forward/center who didn’t see game action for the Bearcats yesterday, but bolsters their front court rotation. In yesterday’s victory over Franklin & Marshall—only the Diplomats’ second home loss over the past three seasons—Baruch started a small backcourt of three guards (5’11”, 5’11”, 6’2”) and then a 6’6” forward in senior Joshua Vital (9.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 46% shooting in 2012-13) and 6’8” center Brian McMahon, a junior who averaged 5.8 points per game last season, who added 6 points and 4 blocks in a Jack Roberts type line. The two players to keep an eye on off the bench for the Bearcats are Matas Rascius, a 6’7” forward from Lithuania, who scored 9 points in just 13 minutes off the bench yesterday, and 5’9” senior Matt Feldman, who played starter minutes in a reserve role.
From the roster alone (and it’s always dangerous to assume too much from the roster alone) Baruch seems to have the size to contend with Middlebury’s bigs, and enough speed in the backcourt to make life difficult for Kizel and St. Amour in the backcourt. Jake Brown, who appears to be sitting out the tournament altogether, would be particularly helpful in this matchup. In his absence, Kizel and the trio of St. Amour, Pendergast and Bullcuk, in particular, will have to take care of the ball and not allow Baruch, a team that scored just 70.6 points per game last year on 43/33/73 splits to get easy looks off turnovers. Though unranked, Baruch should provide Middlebury with another good early season test, especially on the defensive end where they will likely harass the Panthers and apply more pressure than Alvernia did yesterday. If Middlebury executes and gets balanced play from their backcourt and bigs, the Panthers’ talent and depth should help them pull away from the Bearcats.