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Nolan Thompson should win NESCAC Player of the Year

Midd vs Hamilton-487

The NESCAC Player of the Year talk is heating up, and with coaches voting on awards this week and announcements coming out at the end of the tournament, we wanted to make our nomination today, before postseason play starts. While most NESCAC observes are prognosticating a three-way race between Aaron Toomey, Willy Workman, and Michael Mayer, we think one player has been more valuable than any of the three: Nolan Thompson.

There is a good case to be made for the superstars mentioned above. Their conference statistics, followed by Thompson’s, went as follows:

Toomey: 18.6 ppg, 48/51/87 shooting, 4.7 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.8 spg, 34.6 mpg, 19 turnovers
Mayer: 17.9 ppg, 59/44/77 shooting, 8.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.4 spg, 1.2 bpg, 30.4 mpg, 25 turnovers
Workman:  12.7 ppg, 53/48/70 shooting, 7.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.5 bpg, 33.9 mph, 18 turnovers
Thompson: 14.0 ppg, 54/52/91 shooting, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 38.2 mpg, 9 turnovers

Among the four, Thompson ranks 3rd in ppg, 2nd in FG%, 1st in 3PT%, 1st in FT%, 3rd in rpg, 4th in apg, 3rd in spg, 4th in bpg, 1st in mpg, and 1st in TOs.

In other words, based on purely traditional metrics, Thompson belongs firmly in the discussion. But it is the non-traditional numbers that define Thompson as a player and separate him from the pack. The following is a list of each conference matchup this season, with the statistics of the player Thompson guarded, followed by their conference averages.

Bates: (Don’t remember/know)
Tufts: Ben Ferris 2-3 FG, 4 points, 2 turnovers (Conference: 13.8 ppg, 43-87 FG)
Connecticut College: Matt Vadas 2-6 FG, 7 points, 3 turnovers (Conference: 19.1 ppg, 54-143 FG)
Wesleyan:* Shasha Brown 3-10 FG, 9 points, 2 turnovers (Conference: 18.9 ppg, 62-136 FG)
Williams: Taylor Epley 1-6 FG, 4 points, 3 turnovers (Conference: 18.2 ppg, 64-134 FG)
Hamilton: (Don’t remember/know)
Bowdoin: Bryan Hurley 1-5 FG, 3 points, 4 turnovers (Conference: 8.9 ppg, 27-86 FG)
Colby: (Don’t remember/know)
Trinity:** Mick Distasio 1-6 FG, 2 points, 5 turnovers (Conference: 5.9 ppg, 19-51 FG)
Amherst:*** Aaron Toomey 3-11 FG, 7 points, 1 turnover (Conference: 18.6 ppg, 54-107 FG);
Willy Workman 2-3, 4 points, 1 turnover (Conference: 12.7 ppg, 40-76 FG)

(Conference statistics subtract Middlebury game in order to accurately reflect statistical difference. For the Amherst and Wesleyan games, I only changed the field goal numbers, because the scoring totals are in majority reflections of non-Nolan defenders. Can explain more if necessary.)
*Brown scored 20 points in the game, but the tape shows 11 that were essentially out of Nolan’s control (fastbreak layup off of turnover, baskets after switches on screens, free throw put-pack)
**Distasio scored 5 points in the game, but at this point we were keeping close track to points allowed by Nolan, and it was 2.
*** Explanation for the numbers decided upon here can be read in our Amherst post-game note.

Nolan-ThompsonThompson held the combination of Ferris, Brown, Vadas, and Epley, four of the top ten players in the league, to a combined 46 points under their season averages, an average of 11.5 fewer points per player per game.
He held Hurley and Distasio, two good but not great players, to a combined 9.8 points under their season averages.
He held Toomey and Workman to a combined 11 points in 55 minutes, whereas their season averages applied to the number of minutes he guarded each would have predicted 25.8 points, 14.8 points more than he allowed.
While a big part of Thompson’s game is limiting touches and shot attempts, his shot defense was stellar as well. These eight players shot a combined 15-50 from the field against Thompson, a 30% rate. They combined to shoot 45% in conference away from Thompson.

In sum, he held this group of players to abysmal shooting on their way to an average of 10.01 points under their season averages per game. The 10.01 points per game that he took away represents 64% of their average points per game.

This is a group of matchups that includes point guards, power forwards, and every position in between.
It includes players of the following heights: 5’10”, 5’11”, 6’2″, 6’3″, 6’4″, and 6’6″.
Of the eight players listed, six (Toomey, Workman, Brown, Vadas, Ferris, Epley) are likely to make an All-Conference team.
Every player except Epley, and arguably Hurley or Distasio, is the best player on his respective team.
While guarding these players, and despite playing 38.9 minutes per game, Nolan committed 10 fouls in all of conference play. At least 2 were intentional fouls in end-of-game situations. He ranked 2nd in the conference in minutes, and 89th in fouls (and 20% of the fouls were intentional!).
Speaking of minutes, Nolan would have played them all if Jeff Brown had let him. He went 40 against Williams and 55 against Amherst.

What Thompson accomplished night-in and night-out was both unbelievable and most likely unprecedented. He was assigned to guard every great player he could have possibly guarded in the conference and he won every matchup decisively. We believe that this resume is enough to make up for the (not-as-significant-as-you-would-think) difference between he and the other three in a comparison of traditional statistics. (Did you see those offensive efficiency numbers?)

Midd vs Hamilton-198This is not to say that we do not realize that all three of the players mentioned bring value that is not measured on the stat sheet. Toomey and Mayer both completely change the ways defenses play and create space and opportunities for their teammates like nobody else in the conference. Workman’s versatility is extremely valuable and dangerous, and he plays excellent defense as well (though most of the value of Workman’s roaming, risk-taking style of defense is reflected on the stat sheet). Much like Thompson, these three bring unique challenges to opposing coaches that go beyond the numbers.

Yet, having watched all of these guys play several times each, and looking closely at all of the measurables and considering all of the other factors and analytical inputs that we could come up with, we felt that Thompson was the most valuable of the bunch. The defensive numbers speak to his astonishing value.

While we did not count this toward our decision, it is worth mentioning that Thompson is a one-of-a-kind teammate and leader. His interview with Pat Coleman reflected his class and selflessness ( It goes beyond that though, as he is the silent example-setter who everybody else on the team follows in work ethic and attitude. Assistant Coach Alex Popp told us he has literally never heard Nolan make an excuse. Thompson is always in the gym shooting, and in the few moments when he goes to the bench during games, he is the most enthusiastic and vocal supporter of his teammates. He never talks about himself and he is filled with sincere compliments and appreciation directed toward his teammates and coaches. He exemplifies the leadership and character of the Division III student-athlete.

He is also, in our view, the best player in the conference.

While we will be coming out with our All-NESCAC teams soon, here are our picks for the other individual post-season awards:
COY: David Hixon, Amherst (Two straight years without losing in conference, while replacing three significant contributors, with the competitiveness at this level, is remarkable)
ROY: Tom Palleschi (His in-conference numbers almost earned him a spot on our Second-Team All-Conference)
DPOY: Thompson (Is there a defensive player of ever award?)



  1. wrote:

    calm down

    Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  2. wrote:

    Guys- BTW if you want to see my comments on your excellent work in your pre-Wes. writeup and on Nolan for POTY, I did post but put it under the comments following the Amherst game. Further BTW- add Shasha to the list of “m.i.a.”‘s that Nolan has chalked up this season alone. A very strong statement for those precincts supporting his POTY run. Yesterday’s “W’, should have locked in the bid- Midd’s 6th in a row (only R.I.C., leading the LEC, and would have 7, has more). Later. Clubbo.

    Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  3. wrote:

    Thanks Clubbo, we read the comment yesterday. Thanks for the info and analysis as always, great stuff. Can’t wait for this weekend.

    Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  4. wrote:

    all at Midd like this team and have the greatest respect for Nolan’s game and, even more so, for Nolan himself but as far as POY talk goes, although nice in its blind loyalty, it is a little myopic don’t you think. reminds of the Amh and Will voices that can see no others but their own. he might be the best player on the NESCAC’s 3rd place team and then again he might not be. for those not drinking the Kool-Aid of their chosen team, much as I can’t stand Amh, POY will be wearing purple this year

    Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  5. wrote:


    I think you misconstrue our sense of loyalty. We certainly don’t think this is an obvious decision; all four players at the top of the list for Conference Player of the Year are deserving. Should any of the other three win the award, we would neither be upset, nor surprised. (If you want a demonstration of our relative objectivity, see our pre-season predictions regarding the team’s schedule, when we predicted a 21-2 season with losses to Williams and Tufts).

    Having said that, we are absolutely certain of two things. 1) Nolan Thompson is the most undervalued player in the conference, and continues to be so. 2) He is absolutely the best player on this Middlebury team. And don’t take our word for it: after the game yesterday, Jeff Brown called Nolan the MVP of this team and that he wouldn’t trade him for anyone else in the conference. I then asked him if Thompson should deserve serious consideration for Conference Player of the Year and he was unequivocal in his answer.

    Now you may think that Jeff Brown is blind in his loyalty, but then I would question your knowledge about this team. They never talk about themselves, never overhype what they’ve done or who they are, so to hear coach Brown speak that way about Nolan, someone he has gone out of his way to praise all season long (listen to his interview with Dave McHugh on Hoopsville) is significant.

    If you really think we are just picking Nolan out of loyalty, then show us why the other players are more valuable. It should be easy, if it’s so obvious.

    Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  6. wrote:

    One more comment for ‘MiddFaithful’ to consider in the Nolan/POTY debate. I’m squarely in Nolan’s corner and it’s not just because I’m myopic or have had blue and white blood running through the veins for let’s say a ‘lotta’ years. Like any judge would say those disqualifiers might only go to how much weight my testimony is given. When making my pre-game comments as to Wes. one thing noted was that Damon and Jeff are limited by Midd’s geography- and also by their course load, etc. One advantage I’ve got is being here in Connecticut where within a 90 minute drive there are 40+ gyms where the D-3 game goes on every nite. Wesleyan, WesConn, AlMagnus, Trinity, USCG (they’re dreadful)and Springfield all qualify. With these kinds of options for live BBall, (and virtually all the northeast comes thru) it’s easier to get a read on who can play (individually and team-wise) and who can’t. This is something I try to square up early in each season before winter travel may limit game runs, and it really opens one’s perspective.
    Having seen many of the northeast’s pretenders and contenders I’ll stick with what I’ve seen. And the fact is that Nolan is terrific. Often you don’t realize it till you see the halftime stats and their leading scorer is far below his norm. He is the big key to why The Panthers have had consistency. He leads the defense and his attitude and performance means he leads thru what he does. But it comes from the top. JeffB. has given ‘TheBoys’ a defensive philosophy to work with during this incredible run, and it has been lead by Timmy Edwards, Andrew Locke and now Nolan. But the other pieces are there this year, just like they’ve been in the past. And all recent edition Midd teams have been on that same page, Jeff’s page. The ‘we’ before the ‘me’ (Phil Jackson). And it should continue because we’ve got some pieces already in place as we go forward, but that’s for a later discussion.
    Epley for one isn’t looking forward to Saturday. Nolan should be able to put the handcuffs on him again. That simplifies the equation- and if we can do a better/earlier job of fronting Mayer. Stats aside, watching him Mayer doesn’t give you the impression he’s the kind of impact player that Troy W. ever was. And Workman- who is a very good defender, can score from 3 when necessary and boards well- just isn’t the kind of kid who can change a game/impact it on a regular basis. Toomey might be there, but if so it’s strictly from the offensive side. Think he’s definitely beatable off the dribble by top G.’s (Joey comes to Mind) and a bigger G. can shoot over him. But Amherst and Williams spend a lot more time puffing up their players than Midd does. It’s on d3 hoops, their websites etc. I like the way JeffB. does it and I like the kind of guys we get to continue this run. Nolan is POTY although, ‘D’-based players usually don’t win it. Talk soon. Clubbo.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink
  7. wrote:

    BTW- there is a Midd BBall pre-game lunch gathering (for fans, alums, and parents) at The Pub in Amherst (5 minutes from Lefrak). We’ll be there starting at 11:45. Any travelers from ThePantherNation are welcome. You should find us right away- we’ll be the loud ones wearing Middlebury gear or at least not purple-n’-gold!

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

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