Finally getting a chance to look at the basketball team’s schedule this past weekend, I came across a few things that I would like to point out to my fellow alumni, fans and others in the UWM community. The schedule has both difficult games as well as simple ones, while maintaining a balance that I find satisfactory.
Just looking at the schedule, one can tell that the coaching staff heard the bellyaching from a lot of fans over the scheduling of two D-II teams in the regular season. I don’t think it’s entirely unfair for the fans to feel that way, but like most Panther fans who long for the days of Bruce Pearl, they have selective memories. People forget that Pearl’s Panthers played Parkside, Concordia-St. Paul, and Concordia-Wisconsin in the regular season. No matter now, because you won’t find a single non-D-I game on our schedule. Here is every game, with a sentence or two about each one.
Nov. 1st vs. MSOE and Nov. 6th vs. Carroll – It’s a good PR move to play local D-II and D-III teams in the exhibition games, and both are local if you consider Carroll as such. I wouldn’t be against playing an exhibition game at MSOE’s Kern Center in the future; you do their athletic department well by giving them the gate at a home game, and you show our fans that a D-III school has a better facility than we do. Open your checkbooks.
Nov. 12-14 Portland Tournament vs. Portland, Florida Atlantic and UC Davis – You’ll remember UC Davis as the team we went down to by 24 and then defeated at Iowa State a couple years ago. The horror stories of Coach Jeter in the locker room at halftime are scary, but postgame it was all smiles. UC Davis and FAU should be wins, but FAU may put up a fight. Portland is an excellent game off the bat; should Milwaukee win in their house on opening night, that should tip us off to something special. I am expecting us to go 2-1 with the loss coming against Portland.
Nov. 17 at Niagara – Our former fearless leader, as I like to call him, signed off on this game. The return BracketBuster could have been played next year, and I daresay our coaches hoped to gain this space for a possible high-major opponent, but here we are. Without Tyrone Lewis, who they lost to graduation, Niagara loses a step on that infamous quickness. Win.
Nov. 20 vs. UNI – The home schedule gets kicked off with an excellent Saturday home game against the Sweet 16 Panthers. Jordan Egleseder and Adam Koch, who killed us in Milwaukee in 2006-07, are graduated, as is Ali Faroukmanesh. Don’t sleep on UNI, as they’re coached well by Ben Jacobson and have a decent road record. However, they’re losing a lot and I don’t think we’ll lose at home.
Nov. 23 vs. Western Michigan – This is the game where we play at the Klotsche Center. The athletic department’s long term goal is to build a new arena on-campus, so expect a hell of a marketing campaign and a packed house. Expect the students to show up in droves, and expect a big win. WMU loses their three best players, and Flenard Whitfield is probably their best guy coming back, but they were a good team last year and we’ll see how far they drop off.
Nov. 27 vs. Marquette – When we first signed the deal to play Marquette in a 4-for-1 series, the Milwaukee fan base circled this game as the best chance to win. The fact of the matter is that Marquette has beaten us nine times when both teams are in D-I, and 38 or so dating back to some arbitrary date when MU just decided their team existed. But none of those victories has ever come at our place, and there’s something to really see there. Whether it’s Marquette-Milwaukee, Marquette College-Wisconsin State College, or Marquette Dentists-Milwaukee Normal, the game has never been played on the Panthers/Cardinals/Green Gulls home court. As for the game itself, you’d think that it would feature high-major bigs against smaller, quicker mid-major guards, but that’s the exact opposite: Marquette is not going to win this game by outrebounding Milwaukee. It is going to win the game by pressure defense with fast guards, specifically Darius Johnson-Odom and Vander Blue.
Dec. 2 and 4 vs. Youngstown State and Cleveland State – YSU had a lot of individual talent last year, with DeAndre Mays, Kelvin Bright, and others. They were still awful, going 2-16 in the Horizon League. I highly doubt the Penguins will have a better mark this year with Vytas Sulskis and a bunch of nobodies. Were it not for a shooting drought and poor ball handling at the end of last year’s game at the Wolstein Center, Milwaukee would have beaten Cleveland State three times. CSU doesn’t lose anybody, but I’m not as sold as everyone else to anoint them. With Kaylon Williams and his nearly 2-to-1 assists to turnover ratio manning the point, I expect to win this one.
MKE: 7-2, 2-0 Horizon
Dec. 8 at Wisconsin - This is gonna be a battle of aircraft carriers. Anthony Hill, Jon Leuer, Kyle Kelm, Evan Anderson, J.P Gavinski, Mitch Carter, Ryan Haggerty…I’m done listing off big men. Jordan Taylor may be the best guard on the court, but his matchup against Williams will be exciting. I believe experience, even though the Panthers have it, will give the Badgers the nod.
MKE: 7-3, 2-0 Horizon
Dec. 11 at South Dakota State – This game will likely be a blowout, even though it’s on the SDSU home floor. This is the final game of a series last played a few years ago. Expect domination.
MKE: 8-3, 2-0 Horizon
Dec. 14 at DePaul – DePaul has a new coach in Oliver Purnell, but they were pretty bad last year. Early season wins against UNI and Detroit were good, but not a lot of smiles to go around, leading to Jerry Wainwright’s dismissal. Besides Detroit, both teams blew out UIC and Texas State last year, and while we lost to MU, DePaul beat the Golden Eagles, for the most entertaining loss Marquette has had in awhile. Loved it. I think we’re better this year, and will be better when we hit the Allstate Arena on this night.
MKE: 9-3, 2-0 Horizon
Dec 18 vs. Bowling Green – The Falcons were angry when we escaped Ohio with an overtime victory last year, and they should have been; a basket was tallied to Lonnie Boga that not everyone had. It was clear as a basket after the game, but it was a tense moment for the BGSU fans. I don’t expect overtime here. Note: let’s sign another home-and-home so we can see their new arena.
MKE: 10-3, 2-0 Horizon
Dec 30 at Wright State – Luckily for Milwaukee, the Raiders will be missing their student section on this night. Unfortunately, great shooting by the Raiders offsets their porous post game, and they tend to beat us in Dayton. Good news for the Panthers, a true point guard in Williams will help a much better inside game and give the other four on the floor space to get open and take better shots. I’m chalking this up as a victory, but let it be known that it was one of three or four that I waffled on. Ant Hill could go off for 25 and 15.
MKE: 11-3, 3-0 Horizon
Jan 1 at Detroit – This most likely will be a night game, though it’s TBA for now. Our victory at Calihan last season was one of the best of the year, but the additions of Ray McCallum Jr. and Jason Calliste make them a more formidable team. Also, with another year under his belt, Eli Holman might be more consistent in the post. We’ll call this a loss for now, pending the news on what their roster looks like in the new year.
MKE: 11-4, 3-1
Jan 3 vs. Butler – The reigning national runners-up never seem to really beat on us in Milwaukee. When they were 14th in the nation and we were headed to a 9-22 season, the Bulldogs escaped the Cell with a five-point victory. I’m expecting a hard fought battle, and like at Wright State, I waffled. I’m going to call this a win based on our superior inside game (sorry Dawgs, but Ant Hill owns Matt Howard) and likely large crowd. I hope this game is moved to not go against the football championship game, but I think we’ll have a good crowd regardless.
MKE: 12-4, 4-1
Jan 8 at Green Bay – I’m not going to mince words, I think Green Bay is headed to their worst season in awhile. It’s no secret that their post game is awful, and without Randy Berry it’ll be worse (although 5 fouls, 0 points didn’t help at the Cell last season). People blew the Fletcher-Jeter situation way out of proportion, all parties agreed after the game. Still, this is a heated rivalry and I expect Green Bay to play up to the competition. Jarvis Williams was a monster in the Pro-Am, but I’m concerned he will face much stiffer defense in the season and not be as effective. Also, their lack of decent post players might force Brian Wardle to play him at the 4, which would be a mistake as he’s a 3, and a 3-guard at that.
MKE: 13-4, 5-1
Jan something vs. UIC - We don’t even know who UIC’s coach is going to be, but hopefully we will by next week. The Flames gain Paul Carter, who was a big time player in Minnesota. I wonder how his sister’s poor health will affect his game, however. I hope that she recovers 100% by the time the season rolls around and this is a moot point, but I know as well as anyone how the poor health of a family member can have a negative effect on play. Panthers win, and Paul Carter’s sister has a full recovery.
MKE: 14-4, 6-1
Jan 15 vs. Loyola – Jim Whitesell’s crew will not be battle-tested by the time this game rolls around, having played a soft non-conference schedule. The Ramblers also have to worry about Andy Polka, who appears healthy but has had major health problems the last few seasons. In any case, I expect Loyola’s upset (yes it was an upset) last season to be an aberration (although it seemed abhorrent to me).
MKE: 15-4, 7-1
Jan 20 at Valparaiso – Last season, Milwaukee shot poorly but behind Ja’Rob McCallum had the game in the bag. Then, James Eayrs coughed up the inbounds pass and the ensuing Crusader layup gave away the game. This season, don’t expect the close finish, but expect the same result. The ARC is a very difficult place to win in this conference, and adding Jay Harris gives Valpo even more scoring punch than they had last year.
MKE: 15-5, 7-2
Jan 22 at Butler – Like Butler in Milwaukee, we just have a tough time down there. Butler was a better team last year, and won by 13 in January before beating us by 9 in the semifinals. However, with an actual home crowd unlike last season’s regular season victory at Hinkle, Butler will have a perfect storm that I don’t think we’ll be able to top.
MKE: 15-6, 7-3
Jan 28 vs. Detroit – This may be one of the most difficult home games of the year. Eli Holman vs. Anthony Hill is a battle I will pay to see over and over, and if they bring in the full roster they could very well win. However, the end of January is where Milwaukee typically gets hot, and that’s what I’m expecting here: victory.
MKE: 16-6, 8-3
Jan 30 vs. Wright State – Good opponent, but Wright State has some kind of weight on their mind grapes whenever they come to Milwaukee. Expect the 13th straight victory at home over Wright State, but it won’t be easy.
MKE: 17-6, 9-3
Feb 5 vs. Green Bay – Rivalry games, especially MKE-GB, tend to be heated. Teams play up to the competition. But Green Bay, save for a couple years, just doesn’t win in Milwaukee against us. And as with the case last year, I think we’re going to crush ‘em.
MKE: 18-6, 10-3
Feb 10 at Loyola – Every season, there seems to be a team that comes up and snatches victory from the claws of defeat. Last year, it was CSU and Valpo against us. This year, I’m calling it Loyola at the Gentile Center, because of one thing: randomness. And they do well against us.
MKE: 18-7, 10-4
Feb 12 at UIC – The Flames have a lot of decent talent at the top, from Robo Kreps and Zavion Neely to Paul Carter. After those three, it gets sketchy. I feel bad for K.C. Robbins, having to play Ant Hill.
MKE: 19-7, 11-4
Feb 16 vs. Valpo – Spurred by revenge for the loss at Valpo, the Panthers go on a run and stomp Homer Drew right out the door. Just kidding. Cory Johnson will be a match-up problem for the Panthers, and Valpo will score, but they have no defense, and our offense got a whole lot quicker this offseason.
MKE: 20-7, 12-4
Feb 24 and 26, at CSU and YSU – We’re looking at a difficult game in Cleveland. They don’t have much of a home court advantage, but they don’t need it. Waters’ team is very good and I expect them to play well by the end of the year. It’s a deeper team too, so they won’t be as tired. We’ll call this one a loss. The YSU game is an easy win; they are, as my cousins in Boston would say, “bad.”
MKE: 21-8, 13-5
You’ll notice that I left out the Bracket Buster game. No reason to predict anything that isn’t there. But 22-8 or 21-9 is easily seen. I wavered on a few games, most notably these:
at Wright State
We very well could lose those first two, and we might beat Marquette. My 2-1 record for those game, if 0-3, would make Milwaukee 20-10 or 19-11, and if we went 3-0 we’d be 23-7 or 22-8. Do any of those numbers seem so far out of reach?
I get that we lost Ricky Franklin and James Eayrs. However, both players had their drawbacks. With Franklin running the point, he often was reluctant to give up the ball because he might not get it back. It’s a drawback to having a scoring point guard; they’re willing to facilitate the offense, but they’ll take theirs when they need to. This season, Kaylon Williams won’t care if he goes scoreless, as long as the team wins and he racks up 8 assists. Believe it or not, I fully expect Kaylon Williams to lead the Horizon League in assists as a junior much like he led the Missouri Valley in assists as a freshman. He just doesn’t care about scoring as much as he cares about pushing the floor and creating scoring opportunities.
Eayrs, on the other hand, wasn’t very mobile. He’s a great shot and a decent inside player, but the team couldn’t run with a lot of people because he’d get left behind. His durability was an issue, and in both seasons his knees kept him out of practice and on the bench during stretches of games near the end of the year. This season, every player on the team can run the floor, and that’s a good thing.
At the end of the season, I really think it’s NCAA or bust. The only way I can be convinced of otherwise is if we win a couple games or more in the NIT, but really we need to get back into the NCAA tournament. McCallum as the backup point guard may be a question mark; he really needs to defend better because I worry getting him against Norris Cole or Rahmon Fletcher would expose a weak point in our defense. Otherwise, I’m fine with it. I believe that Ja’Rob McCallum will, however, assert himself as an excellent shooting guard. Having him come in for Tone Boyle creates a great Williams-McCallum 1-2 punch at guard that I think I’ll enjoy.
And from watching practices as well as hearing about this first game in Italy, I think another fan wish is coming true: a much, much faster program. Expect the fast break this season, people. With a deep bench, we might even get to see…gasp…the UWM Press.
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