Defense quickly becoming Milwaukee’s identity

Bo Ryan runs the swing.  Bruce Pearl’s team presses the hell out of you.  John Calipari runs an NBA roster and somehow remains under the salary cap.

Yet until this season, Rob Jeter’s Milwaukee Panthers have struggled to really find an identity.

Ryan Allen and Kaylon Williams defended well last year on the perimeter. Having Paris Gulley to help in 2011-12 has brought great results.

This has always been a team that rebounds well, but that’s not an identity.  Perhaps the poor free throw shooting has been the Panthers’ identity, but I don’t think anyone wants to own up to that one.  So what kind of team are we?  We don’t run the swing, more of a swing/dribble drive hybrid that looks great in Kaylon Williams’ hands and no one else’s.

Looking over the box scores of the season and watching the team play has led me to a conclusion, that this year the Panthers actually have found an identity.

Defense.

Man-up, smack you around, in your face defense.  This is the kind of identity that I’ve longed for, and the 6-1 start is due to this newfound interest in defense.

With Kaylon Williams, Ryan Allen, and Paris Gulley on the court, there is no team in the country that Milwaukee cannot defend.  These three are the kind of lock down defenders that coaches drool over; Ryan Allen spent much of last season playing minutes despite so-so offense because he was a dynamite defender; it looks like Paris Gulley is going to be the same player this season, as he played 18 minutes tonight despite having a poor offensive night.

Over the offseason, Ryan Allen worked on his offensive game to the point where not only is he no longer a liability on the offensive end, but he’s a boon for the team’s scoring chances.  How does this help Milwaukee’s defense? Well, to put it simply, Allen is on the court a whole lot more.  Ja’Rob McCallum spent the summer doing the opposite, and bulked up and built enough lateral quickness to no longer be a tremendous liability on the defensive end.  While McCallum and freshman Evan Richard are not on the level of the other three guards, they are not bad defenders and get better with more game experience.

Ryan Allen has become one of the premier defenders in the Horizon League along with CSU's D'Aundray Brown and Butler's Ronald Nored.

The Panthers showed the speed and toughness to run with Michigan State for 38 minutes last week, getting back in transition D and limiting second-chance opportunities by racking up defensive rebounds.

In the post, Kyle Kelm and James Haarsma had trouble with help defense and defending layups against Southwest Minnesota State; they have not had that trouble since, and while Haarsma has been consistently great on defense, Kelm has only gotten better and better every game.

Off the bench, Ryan Haggerty is one of the best post defenders in the conference.  While he doesn’t have much of an offensive game in comparison to Kelm, Haarsma and Tony Meier, Haggerty more than measures up by having a strong nose for the ball, playing exceptional help defense, blocking shots like a machine, and playing with a high motor.

Ryan Haggerty may not play 25 minutes a game, but he is an exceptional post defender.

We can trace this newfound love of defense back to the Northern Illinois game.  With Williams in the lineup for the first time, the Panthers won the game by forcing the Huskies to shoot only 37% and give up 23 turnovers.  Since then, the only team to sniff 60 points on Milwaukee was Michigan State, whose nine point run to begin the second half left 61 points the rest of the game.

The Panthers’ opponent field goal percentage (37.1) ranks number one in the Horizon League.  Milwaukee also leads in opponent efficient field goal percentage (40.1%) and, most importantly, is only giving up 53.1 points per game, first in the Horizon League and eighth nationally.

Here is a short table showing defensive numbers and how Milwaukee stacks up nationally:

Opponent Statistics Numbers Conference rank National rank
Points per game 53.1 1 8
Field Goal% 37.1 1 28
Effective Field Goal% 40.1 1 14
3PT Field Goal% 22.8 2 6
Steals per game 5.7 2 77

So, as you can see, the Panthers have found their identity – lock down defense.  It has become something the Panthers have done very well all season, and the team’s record shows that this is the difference-maker that coach Rob Jeter has looked for over his head coaching career.

With new emphasis on defense, Milwaukee is finally moving up into the echelon where their fans can expect tough defense and a shot to win every game.

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