By JOHN CORYER
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh State men’s basketball team is playing an ambitious non-conference schedule in 2012-13.
And it doesn’t get much better when the Cardinals host Middlebury College at 4 p.m. today at Memorial Hall.
The Panthers, ranked No. 4 in the pre-season NCAA Division III poll, are off to a 3-0 start to the season, including Tuesday’s 117-81 rout at Green Mountain College.
“The past five years, Middlebury has developed a system the players believe in,” said Plattsburgh coach Tom Curle. “They’ve had players who have worked hard in the weight room for conditioning — and it shows.
“They’ve developed a culture of working hard and they’re fundamentally sound with a high basketball I.Q. They don’t make many mistakes and when you do, they make you pay for it.”
Jake Wolfin, Hunter Merryman and Nolan Thompson are all averaging 13.7 points a game for Middlebury, while Peter Lynch is at 13.0.
“Defensively, they play a lot of zone,” said Curle. “They’re physical but they don’t foul a lot.
“They will push the ball when they have the opportunity. And they have a lot of depth — as much as we do.”
Last year, the Panthers, coached by former University of Vermont standout Jeff Brown, finished with a 26-4 record, including a 73-54 home win over Plattsburgh State, and won two NCAA Division III Tournament games before losing to the University of Scranton.
The year before, Middlebury went 28-2 and advanced all the way to the Final Four in Division III.
Plattsburgh is 2-0 on the season after winning its Cardinal Classic last weekend and Curle got an early look at his entire roster.
The Cardinals, however, have a long way to go.
“We found out a lot about our team, including having to shore up on our weaknesses,” said Curle. “We’re not even close to a finished product yet. This game is going to be a tough, physical one for us and it will tell us a lot.
“I was disappointed with our rebounding in the championship game (a 77-70 win over York College) last weekend. That was more a reflection of our shot selection. When we made a 3-pointer, it was assisted off penetration. That wasn’t happening on our misses. We’re still very young when it comes to experience and the players need to realize it’s a long game and to play team basketball.
“We still have a long way to go. The coaches need to show some patience and the players need to continue to work hard.”
In the opening round of the Classic, the Cardinals recorded an 80-62 win over Sage College.
Curle said he might not shorten his bench against the Panthers.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “We played well, especially sophomores like Jordan (Moody) and Shamoy (McIntosh). But they are not to the point where they should try to dictate the game.
“We have kids who have earned the right to play. We’re going to try and win the game, but this is all preparation for league play.”
Curle says he expects to have his entire roster ready for the game.