March 8, 2013
Dragons playing host to Middlebury in tourney match-up of mirror images
There are striking similarities between NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament second round foes SUNY Cortland and Middlebury College.
There are the respective win-loss records, of course.
Cortland has tied a school mark for wins in a season while going 24-4, with those four losses all up-for-grab games heading into the final minute including an overtime loss to NAIA Division II foe Embry-Riddle during a Christmas trip to Florida.
Middlebury arrives for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Cortland’s Corey Gymnasium with an impressive 23-3 record, a pair of overtime setbacks and a one-point road loss the only thing preventing the Panthers from being unbeaten.
Both team’s personnel is also eerily similar.
The host Red Dragons rely on senior guards to get things accomplished, as Jeremy Smith averages 15.9 points per game, Jesse Winter 15.4 and versatile Harrison Hefele 9.8. Winter and Smith both surpassed 1,000 career points this season, with Winter leading Cortland with 134 assists while Smith has made a team-high 79 shots from 3-point territory.
The visiting Panthers rely on three experienced senior guards, too, in junior Joey Kizel (13.9), senior Nolan Thompson (12.5) and senior Jake Wolfin (8.9). Kizel can do a bit of everything for Middlebury, Thompson has a reputation as a defensive stopper to go along with his double-digit scoring average and Wolfin leads the team with 127 assists as the Vermont school’s all-time assist leader.
Cortland 6-foot-6 junior forward Kevin McMahon has been crucial to balancing out the offense, averaging 12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. McMahon has a shooting percentage of .656 on the season.
Middlebury 6-foot-6 senior forward Peter Lynch leads Middlebury averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He’s has a shooting percentage of .637 on the season.
Cortland starts 6-foot-9 senior center Dan Sternkopf, who has blocked 33 shots — one behind team leader McMahon.
Middlebury starts 6-foot-8 senior center Jack Roberts, who tops the team with 61 blocked shots.
No wonder Middlebury coach Jeff Brown notes: “There are a lot of similarities between the two teams in terms of match-ups and how guys contribute.”
CORTLAND HOPES BEING at home is a bonus, though with the start of spring break the Red Dragons might not draw the crowds that arrived at Corey Gym for the SUNY Athletic Conference playoffs two weekends ago and last Saturday’s 85-59 first round win over Elms College from Massachusetts.
“Anytime you can stay at home, a place where you’ve played well, it brings an extra sense of confidence to the guys,” said Cortland head coach Tom Spanbauer, as the Red Dragons are a perfect 13-0 at Corey Gym. “They’re going to play at a place where they’re comfortable.”
“The past three, four games has been the most people I’ve seen at a Cortland game, so the energy they’re going to bring raises our energy, too,” is how senior Smith felt following the win over Elms College.
Spanbauer didn’t mind being reminded of the last team to finish unbeaten at Corey Gym, since it was the 1982-83 squad where he was a sharp-shooting senior guard.
Coach Bill Williams’ squad finished 15-7 overall that season, but was an unbeaten 11-0 on the home floor featuring the 16 points close Spanbauer buddy Andy Nolan scored to knock off Potsdam and legendary coach Jerry Welsh 72-66 as well as a 79-75 upset of an Albany squad under the direction of coaching icon Doc Sauers.
Having made six consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, and coming out of the New England Small College Athletic Conference where league chums Amherst (25-2) and Williams (23-4) are also in second round NCAA play this weekend, Middlebury will not be fazed by much.
Amherst will be hosting Plattsburgh in another second round game Saturday, a showdown between the NESCAC champion and SUNYAC runner-up.
Williams ended the Panthers bid for a NESCAC title with an 87-80 overtime victory in the playoff semifinals, and is hosting Catholic University in a second round NCAA contest.
THE NCAA’S NEW post-season format having the first three rounds spaced a week apart is something every team is adjusting to.
“It gives a team a long time to prepare and break down an opponent, so in that sense I guess it’s good,” said Middlebury’s Brown.
“During the week with the practices the guys are having a lot of energy, because they’re excited they’re still playing,” said Coach Spanbauer, who noted Cortland can stress fundamentals as well as tweak the offense during the week of workouts.
“One of the important things for this team is the competitive drive the players who are not playing have brought to our practice. The scrimmages are basically very, very close. There’s not a big gap,” said Spanbauer. “You don’t have a championship team unless you have good players who aren’t playing, and that’s been a part of the puzzle.”
Middlebury will be out to slow down a Cortland team averaging around 80 points and 10 3-pointers per game.
“Cortland’s an excellent team. Their guard play is fantastic, they share the ball and they shoot the three very, very well,” said Brown, who has a 231-153 record in his 16th season at Middlebury. “With their leadership, they really execute well. I’ve been impressed with their low turnover rate. For a team that likes to be in transition and to have so few turnovers, that’s a credit to their senior guards.”
That will be what NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year Thompson and is mates wil be looking to thwart defensively.
Spanbauer hopes his defense it ready, too.
“They’re a team that’s going to force us to defend the most variety of screens we’ve seen all year. They’re more technical that some of the teams we’ve seen in our league, and they’re a lot like ourselves,” said Spanbauer of the Panthers. “Any one who is playing this weekend is a team that’s very, very good and capable of wining. That’s why it’s going to be an onus on coming out and executing what you’ve done to get to this point.”
Oldies 101.5 Carries Game
For the second consecutive weekend, the radio station Oldies 101.5 will broadcast Saturday’s CAA Division III game against Middlebury Bobby Comstock will anchor the broadcast starting with a 2:40 p.m. with the pre-game show to immediately follow the Syracuse/Georgetown game.
The broadcast will also be available through the radio station’s website at: wxhc.com.
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