Liftoff: Milwaukee at Portland

vs.

Milwaukee (2009-10: 20-14, 10-8 Horizon) vs. Portland (2009-10: 21-11, 10-4 West Coast)

Chiles Center, Portland, Oregon: 3:30 p.m. CST

It is the eve of the 2010-11 season, I work in less than 7 hours, and I’m writing about a mid-major basketball game 2,000 miles away.

Everybody, welcome back.

The 2010-11 season begins in earnest Friday, what figures to be the most promising season since 2005-06, when head coach Rob Jeter took an experienced group of Milwaukee Panthers, worked out the knots that come with a brand new coach taking over a senior-laden squad, and knocked their way to the second-best finish in school history.

But Adrian Tigert, Joah Tucker and Chris Hill are far in the rear-view mirror, at least the versions that wear uniforms.  Gone is reserve Mark Pancratz, waving his towel, willing the Panthers into the Sweet 16.

All we’re left with is coach Jeter.  And this team.  These are the days of Tone Boyle, who fought a potentially career-ending injury to get back to 100% for his senior season.  These are the days of Anthony Hill, Milwaukee’s own and the leader down on the block.  Bruce Pearl and his rah-rah attitude are long gone.

Today, we move forward in earnest.

The Panthers, our Panthers, will begin by taking on the Portland Pilots in the Athletes in Action Basketball Classic.  By the wayd, this section of the AIA is taking place on the Pilots’ home turf, the Chiles Center.  The purple paint in the lane is Pilot Purple.

Luke Sikma can suffocate players in the post.

That Pilot Purple Paint will be manned by Luke Sikma, and it is with him where we’ll start.  The 6’8”, 235 lb. senior and son of former Milwaukee Buck Jack Sikma, Luke is a banger down on the block.  Despite starting no games in 2009-10, the younger Sikma led the Pilots in rebounds with 7.5 rpg.  Sikma did so while shooting a smooth 56% from the field, averaging over one steal a game and taking care of the rock.  He’s a player that doesn’t make many mistakes, has a nose for the ball and will not hesitate to put a body on someone.

That someone tomorrow will be Anthony Hill, the 6’8”, 235 lb. senior from Milwaukee.  Hill stepped into the main post player role last season, dominating Horizon League forwards and playing a big part in the Panthers 9-2 finish to the year.

Neither player will be going it alone.  While Hill has juggernaut Mitchell Carter, do-everything Ryan Haggerty, and no-mistakes Christian Wolf backing him up, Sikma will go to battle with Kramer Knutson, the returning starting center who led the Pilots with a 56.7% shooting clip.  Knutson isn’t much of a banger, averaging only 2.8 rebounds last season and only 18.8 minutes per game.  However, he’s a legitimate 6’9” and has major length, which aids him in defending the post.

Stohl looks to lead the Pilots in the season-opener (ESPN.com image)

On the perimeter, the Pilots will be looking to Jared Stohl, a senior who filled the basket by shooting 47.8% from three last season.  It will be interesting to see if he can keep up that high shooting percentage – Stohl loses Ethan Niedermayer and T.J. Campbell, who drew a lot of attention on the perimeter.  One player that could step up and fill that void is Nemanja Mitrovic, a junior from Toronto who made 19 of 54 threes (35.2%) in only 12.5 minutes per game as a sophomore.

Tanner Riley, a freshman guard from Washington, may be an option for coach Eric Reveno and his staff.  At 6’3”, 200 lb, Riley may be one of the only guards with the size to match Milwaukee’s front line (along with Mitrovic).  The Panthers’ projected starting guards of Kaylon Williams, Jerard Ajami and Tone Boyle are significantly larger than players like Jared Stohl, so Riley could be used to negate that.  However, Riley doesn’t handle the ball particularly well.

A freshman that does handle the ball well is Tim Douglas, the highest-rated player of the Pilots’ incoming recruiting class.  He pushes the ball in transition and can dribble his way into opening shots up for players like Stohl and Mitrovic.  However, Douglas doesn’t have Riley’s size; at 5’10” 160, he better be lightning quick or he will find himself overmatched by Milwaukee’s big midwest guard corp.

With a ton of good news coming out of the program, look for Milwaukee to kick off the 2010-11 season with a win.  The Pilots’ fans may be distracted; like the Panthers, their women’s soccer team has a big fan following.  Unlike the Panthers, it’s enormous.  The Pilots women’s soccer program kicks off the NCAA Tournament at home against UT-San Antonio just two hours after tip for the men’s basketball game.

As for the women’s soccer Panthers, they begin the NCAA Tournament today against Wisconsin at 5 p.m. central time down at Valley Fields.  Women’s soccer could use your support, so once the basketball game is over, get down to Valley Fields and show your support.

Go Panthers!

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