At one point, near the end of today’s game with Valparaiso, coach Rob Jeter looked to his bench for someone to put in the game. He didn’t see a player that fit what he wanted to do on the floor, so he didn’t put in anyone.
These are your Panthers, January 2012.
We knew it was going to be hard for Milwaukee to win a championship this season. The roster is absolutely a championship roster, and barring injury the Panthers would likely be at least top two, probably leading the conference.
But that’s the problem. You can’t bar injury. It’s part of the game. When this season concludes, the Milwaukee Panthers very well may have gone to the NCAA Tournament. They very well may finish fourth, where the Horizon League coaches and SID’s thought they would end up. They could finish worse, although there seems to be a pretty strong divide between the upper five and lower five in the conference.
What we do know, however, is that this Panthers team would have been a much more difficult foe if they could ever put a full team on the court.
In no game this season will the Panthers put up the preseason projected starting five of Kaylon Williams, Ja’Rob McCallum, James Haarsma, Tony Meier, and Ryan Allen. For the first several games, Tony Meier was out with a calf injury that sidelined him for well over a month. Once he got back, McCallum hit the bench by re-injuring a wrist that had surgery over the previous summer. Lonnie Boga, who figured to be Ryan Allen’s top backup, a glue guy and scorer, is missing the entire season with a shoulder injury.
Losing Milli and Vanilli was bad, but it got worse. Ryan Allen and Kaylon Williams have been paramount to the walking wounded for the past month and more with nagging ankle and knee problems brought on by countless hard bumps and the rigors of playing 30 or more minutes per game.
The guard depth got much thinner when Evan Richard went down with a back injury. It forced Mitch Roelke – who began college not even as a walk-on but as a manager – into significant minutes the past couple weeks.
In addition to those, Kyle Kelm missed the Wisconsin game where we lost by six. The post was already thin with the decision to redshirt J.J. Panoske, but injuries and formations have forced the coaching staff to rely on Ryan Haggerty and Christian Wolf in crucial situations. Not that they have been disappointed – Haggs and Wolf have both been pleasant surprises in their time on the court, even though each is limited offensively.
Is it any wonder why the Panthers struggle getting points? Williams, Allen, and Meier are all hobbled from their own injuries, it’s hard for them to get the kind of set feet they need to have to make the long distance bombs. It is quite noticeable when Meier takes shots.
Meanwhile, other Horizon League contenders are enjoying relatively smooth seasons on the injury front. Of the other four contenders – Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Butler and Valparaiso – only CSU has suffered a truly significant injury, with Sebastian Douglas out for the season. Every one of the other teams is putting the same team on the floor that they did in November and projected to put out over the summer.
What becomes important the rest of the season, as Milwaukee attempts to win another conference championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament, is for the Panthers to really buckle down, grind it out, continue to play defense at an exceptional level, and get back to scoring points when needed.
It’s going to take an extraordinary amount of heart for the Panthers to overcome the physically demanding stretch run and make it back to the promised land.