Before I get off into a tangent as to why the basketball team is as inconsistent as any team in the history of basketball has ever been, I’d like to let everyone know why I missed the past week and have been relatively absent for awhile now.
During the past six months, since the passing of my grandma in July, my grandpa’s health had declined to the point where he needed assistance for even the most menial tasks. The family put forth a tremendous effort to keep him all right while also keeping him out of the nursing home or assisted living.
Grandpa’s needs became nil when he passed just five hours before the new year, and the past few weeks have been a blur, sorting through fifty years’ worth of possessions, cleaning up the house and getting it ready for whatever my dad decides to do with it.
That said, I apologize for missing so much time on PantherU. I’ve followed the team, so at least I’m not coming back not knowing what’s gone on lately.
Speaking of lately, how about the Panthers on Sunday? Going into Butler and losing by six is an accomplishment (and congratulations to the Phoenix on that), let alone winning by that number.
It is with that game that I’ll start. Look, it was a great game. We beat the Bulldogs in Tony Hinkle’s house, completed a regular-season sweep of the national runner-up, and looked damn good doing it.
But I’m here to tell you, as good as the team has appeared at times this year, they just simply will not get there until they stop losing to marginal teams and play to their potential…every game.
We’ve seen how good the team can be, and we’ve seen how bad they can be. They won at Hinkle with Tony Meier puking his guts out and Lonnie Boga hurt on the bench. They survived a physical game in which Ja’Rob McCallum took a shot from Zach Hahn that put him out for the contest.
But it was following a game in which the Panthers were blown out…yet again. For some reason, the Panthers have found it hard to get up for games against Valparaiso and Cleveland State, the two teams that they find ahead of everyone else in the Horizon League standings. These teams are very good, but they are also beatable, and they fared much worse at Butler than the Panthers (Valpo lost by 17, Cleveland State 23) . Milwaukee has five conference losses, including one at home to Loyola of all teams. But miraculously, that 5-5 mark is only 2 1/2 games out of first place, a fact that should not be lost on the players as they head into this weekend against Detroit and Wright State, two teams they are looking up at in the standings.
With eight conference games left, it’d be nearly impossible to go 8-0 or even 7-1 with this team. I don’t think any of us would say that we’re going to get a bye in the conference tournament, but games like the one that happened on Sunday have shown that we have the talent to beat anybody.
But for some reason, the team cannot get up to beat the Loyola’s of the world.
Is it that we’re shooting badly? Is it that we don’t respond well to small crowds? Is it that the team turns over the ball too much?
It’s willpower. Sweeping Butler is nice, but it wouldn’t have happened last year? Why? Just look at how they ran through the NCAA Tournament. They didn’t do it by being supremely talented, although they did have very talented players. They did it by imposing their will on Michigan State, Syracuse, UTEP and Kansas State. Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack just could not and would not lose those games. Duke was the runaway best team in the country, but the ball was four inches away from making a Horizon League team the national champions.
So what are we gonna do? Are we going to band together and impose our will on the teams we play from now on? Or are we going to continue to not get up for teams we should beat?
Look, Detroit is a good team that we would find difficult to beat anywhere. But we’ve beaten them two straight years at their place, and we should absolutely defeat them on Friday night. But we’re not going to do it unless we pull together and do what the 2009-10 Butler Bulldogs did: impose our will.