D3 transfer rules are different. Baines is eligible to play immediately. I expect that he will be an impact player in that conference, which is not one of the stronger leagues in D3.
Certainly an unexpected blow to Midd's program -- Midd fans now feel the pain that Hamilton, Tufts, and Williams fans have recently experienced. Hart and Robinson's transfers pretty much killed Hamilton and Williams, respectively, for the next two years. But Sabety's transfer may have actually helped Tufts by incentivizing installation of the four-out-one-in system, which has enabled Tufts to thrive in a way it did not with two uber-talented big guys playing together. So, you never know ...
The only connection I could find between Baines and Occidental hoops is that a current senior at his former high school has committed to play for Occidental next season.
Yep, absolutely unexpected, and on the surface it seems like a big blow to the Panthers—whether that turns out to be the case, as you note, remains to be seen. Early returns (4-0 without Zach) seem to indicate that the team has risen to the challenge and has even gotten stronger, playing with a bit of a chip of their collective shoulders, as if to say, "Oh, you think we're not as good now, huh?"
Zach is a terrific talent and a very nice young man, so I have no doubt that his absence is felt. How that absence is dealt with could be something else entirely, and knowing what I know of this group of kids, I wouldn't be surprised if the challenge does make them stronger. Beyond this year, though, is when I think not having Zach in a Panther uniform may be more acutely felt.
It is what it is, and I wish him nothing but the best as he pursues his academic and athletic career elsewhere.