Prudently planning personnel

Saturday afternoon, the Milwaukee Panthers will trot out a lineup very similar to those of the recent past.  Kaylon Williams, Paris Gulley, Ryan Allen, James Haarsma and Tony Meier will likely be the starting five.

We can only hope those won’t be the final five.

The Milwaukee Panthers take a break from their busy Horizon League schedule to take a shot at the Fairfield Stags of the MAAC.  It is the MAAC, right (double check…yup)?  They’ll try to improve to 17-12 overall and head to Chicago on a nice note.

The Stags are on a roll, and you’ll find out more about them later tonight, but they aren’t the issue right now.

The issue is Milwaukee’s injury report.  Unlike the NFL, head coaches aren’t required to disclose injuries to the press.  Coach Jeter doesn’t have to say Kaylon Williams is probable or Evan Richard is questionable.

If he did have to disclose the list, you’d find about eight players on there.  Ryan Allen (ankle), Kaylon Williams (knee), Kyle Kelm (shoulder, foot), Evan Richard (back), Ryan Haggerty (elbow), Ja’Rob McCallum (wrist), Lonnie Boga (shoulder), James Haarsma (head).  I included that last one because it’s painfully obvious that Haarsma is in a funk and he probably needs a few days off mentally to refocus and get himself ready to roll.

This is what we know. Of the top five teams, Milwaukee has beaten all but one of them – that would be Youngstown State, who escaped at the Beeghly Center when Kaylon Williams’ three to win it rimmed out.  So you know the talent is there to make the run needed to win the Horizon League Tournament.

We know Williams and others need rest – badly – and that sitting through the weekend would cure a lot of ills.  We know that the Fairfield game means nothing – it would have no effect on seeding, and only serves as another game for Jeter to try and get to 20 wins, a dubious milestone now that teams routinely play 31 games per season.  We also know that UIC and Loyola are not going to be easy outs, and the Panthers have an outside shot at the three seed (technically we have a shot at the two seed, but I’m not holding my breath).

Certain players will need more rest than others, while some of them (Tony Meier) should play the same amount of minutes as they have been to keep them consistent.

As it is Senior Day, I think Kaylon and Ryan Allen should start the game.  But that doesn’t mean they need to play a lot. Ten minutes should be enough to keep them loose for the following Thursday at UIC – there’s no need to push that knee tendinitis further than it has to be pushed.

There’s also the truth in that you can allow guys like Shaq Boga, Demetrius Harris, Evan Richard and Christian Wolf minutes for them to get better on the court against a legitimate opponent.  I’ll go so far as to say that these four should play more minutes than most of the team, especially Boga, Harris and Richard.

So please, by all means come out with the usual starting five.  Just make sure that they aren’t too ragged to go on a six-game winning streak starting next Thursday.

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@MKEPanthers poor practice situation, from a rival’s perspective

Juggling with time

It definitely wasn’t the score, no matter what you may think.  It wasn’t the place, although there haven’t been a lot of happy memories in this particular gym.  Nor was it the standings, which muddied and looked darker than just a couple hours before.

The truth is, none of these things were the worst part of Sunday’s loss at Wright State.  The worst part was time.

Williams is battling knee tendonitis, and really needs to take time off.

As in, the Milwaukee Panthers are running out of it.

With another crushing loss in the books (this one due to point differential), the Black and Gold are looking at a major uphill battle to achieve their goal of returning to the NCAA tournament.

Make no mistake. That’s still the goal.  Only now the hill is a big steeper.  It started to mount that night seemingly so long ago in East Lansing, Michigan, when the Panthers played 38 minutes of basketball toe-to-toe with what is currently the #12 team in the nation in its home gym.

The hill got a little bigger after losing to Wisconsin, then Marquette. That one brought made the mound significantly larger, because there went any legitimate shot at an at-large bid.

Injuries along the way made it harder to climb the hill, steeper than ever before.  Evan Richard, who you could count on for 20 minutes of fundamentally sound basketball with fireworks, suffered a back injury and missed most of this rough stretch.

Kelm is battling a stress fracture in his foot.

Every thing that has happened, the hill has gotten steeper. Can’t host the conference tournament at the Cell, creating a potential “road” game in the semifinals? Dropped out of the top spot after missing a game-winning shot in the final possession at Youngstown? Head into Cleveland dejected, only to come out moreso?

It all adds up over time, and now the Milwaukee Panthers are looking at the possibility of playing on the road in the conference tournament just to get to the quarterfinals, something they haven’t done since the 2006-07 season.

So, with your only shot at the NCAA tournament to win the Horizon League Tournament, what can you do?

The obvious thing that needs to be done is win.  Milwaukee needs to win, at least until they are ensured that nothing Wright State can do will knock them from that top spot.  The Raiders still have hard games left, so talking about potential tie-breakers would be a moot point here.

Beyond that, any stretch run to win the Horizon League Tournament will require four victories, beginning on Tuesday February 28th.  I say you mark that date on the calendar and consider something drastic: the second Milwaukee clinches a home game in the conference tourney, shut down Kaylon Williams, Ryan Allen, James Haarsma and Kyle Kelm.

Haarsma hasn't been truly productive for a couple weeks, and could use the time off to get himself straightened out.

That’s right. Take four of your starters and give them ample time off to rest up for what will be a killer conference tournament.

Milwaukee is looking at beating Wright State, Green Bay, or UIC at home. Then they would have a neutral court game against Butler, Youngstown State, or Detroit. A victory in that game would set up a road game or neutral game against Valparaiso or Cleveland State.

I know it sounds crazy, but if you get the Panthers as close as possible to 100%, does this seem like such a tall task?

None are easy games. Aside from Loyola, I don’t expect an easy game for anyone in the conference tourney.  But a home game, in the Klotsche Center (Costello has yet to return my e-mail asking about the venue), packed with students?  I know that it’s not the semifinals of the conference tournament and you’re not talking about the champions, but Milwaukee Athletics can really accomplish great things when it has got a big game to promote.

Say the season ends today, and Milwaukee has to beat Wright State at home on Tuesday the 28th. Do you think Kaylon Williams and Co. will be fuming about Sunday’s game? Maybe just a little bit.

That would set up a second round game at the ARC against Youngstown State.  It’s difficult to beat a team three times in a season.  Is it impossible to beat YSU on a neutral court? Of course not.

Beating Cleveland State, at Valpo, would be a tall task.  But again, it’s doable – if this conference is guilty of anything, it’s cannibalizing each other.  And Milwaukee, a healthy Milwaukee, would have a shot at this game.

What it all comes down to is getting healthy.  A healthy Milwaukee Panthers program was the top dog in the Horizon less than a month ago, and that’s what the Panthers need to worry about right now.

If they drag this out, and the players find themselves tired and ragged going into the Horizon League Tournament, it could be a very short stay in March Madness.

Eli Holman is no cautionary tale

Don’t close your eyes when the Detroit Titans are introduced tonight in front of the crowd at Calihan Hall.  Take it in.

For allegedly assaulting three frat boys, Holman missed much of Detroit's non-conference schedule. An appropriate response.

Ray McCallum Jr., Chase Simon, Jason Calliste, Doug Anderson and LeMarcus Lowe will trot out as the starting lineup for the Titans, but they won’t be the five with the most minutes.

Barring foul trouble, the player with the most minutes at the center spot in tonight’s game will be Eli Holman.

Eli Holman, I say.  Since coming back from “indefinite leave,” Eli Holman and the Detroit Titans are 9-6, sitting at 7-6 in the conference and in sixth place, setting themselves up for a home game in the conference tournament.

In case you need a refresher, Eli Holman went on indefinite leave after allegedly assaulting three members of a frat house on Detroit’s campus back in September, breaking one kid’s nose.

The story went down like this. One of the basketball players at a frat party was hanging on pipes in the basement. After asking the player repeatedly to not hang from the pipes, Holman assaulted one of the students.  Fearing for their safety, the fraternity brothers fled, with Holman attacking two more, eventually knocking one to the ground and breaking his nose.

It was at this point that Holman’s teammates restrained him, and the members of the Titans’ basketball team left the scene.  Holman did not commit any other crimes that night.

Holman slams home the ball. Would you like to see that fist cave in your nose?

In case you’re wondering, that is Aggravated Assault in the state of Michigan.  What are the penalties for this, you ask?  I just so happened to stumble across them using my super Google powers:

Aggravated assault is a misdemeanor in Michigan. It is defined by Michigan statute as an assault, without a weapon, that results in a serious or aggravated injury.

I’d certainly consider a broken nose to be serious or aggravated injury.  The fact that Holman’s attack was put through with little provocation and he needed to be restrained from continuing to pummel a defenseless frat boy is all I need to know that this wasn’t your run of the mill “kid talks smack, guy punches kid, end of story.”  Holman had little provocation, then proceeded to chase and assault three fraternity brothers during the incident.

This was reported in the Varsity News, UDM’s student newspaper.  The same paper reported that the student with the broken nose was holding off legal action pending the response by the university.

So, what was the response by the university?

Eli Holman took an “indefinite leave of absence” from the program.  He ended up missing ten games (the Titans have played 25 so far), coming back to the program before the St. John’s game, but first appearing on the bench in the Titans’ match-up with Western Michigan, a game in which Holman scored 21 points and pulled down seven rebounds.

It was the day of the St. John’s game, when word had spread of Holman’s return, that I sent an e-mail to Detroit’s AD Keri Gaither to ask her about Holman’s status.

Her response:

Hi Jimmy,

Thanks for your support & interest in Titan Athletics.

I wish I could give you a definite answer but the truth is, I don’t know. We are all hoping to have Eli return as soon as possible.

Again, thanks for your support.

Keri

The first and third sentences are the stock answer that writers love to get.  The middle one, where she addresses the question.

She doesn’t know.

The athletic director? Doesn’t know?  What kind of world is this?

When Torre Johnson got drunk and hit his girlfriend, he was immediately apologetic and cowered in a closet to avoid further spats.  He was off the team by noon the next day.

The one time I met him in person, Eli Holman seemed like a genuinely happy-go-lucky guy. But demeanor in front of fans is no excuse for actions away from the cameras.

Eli Holman attacked three frat boys, in a scene with many eyewitnesses, and had to be pulled off one that had been pinned to the ground and was absorbing blows.  He got a two-month vacation from the program and although he isn’t starting, he’s played starter’s minutes in almost all of the 15 games he has appeared in.

For misdemeanor Aggravated Assault in Michigan, the punishment is up to one year in prison and $1,000 in fines.  With three counts, Holman should have been looking at up to three years of prison time.  He’s lucky he doesn’t have prior convictions, because those would come with a possible “enhanced sentence.”

Of course, just because he doesn’t have prior convictions doesn’t mean it’s the first time Holman has exhibited violent behavior.  He left Indiana after a verbal spat with Tom Crean (totally understandable, Tan Tommy is a douche) which culminated in him knocking over a potted plant.  Last year, he missed a game for suspension after punching a UIC player in the groin.

If you ask me, Holman is too much like a kid.  Frustrated with your role on the team? Temper tantrum. Angry that the game isn’t going the way it should? Punch the guy in the balls. Don’t like the frat boy pushing you around? Push him til he doesn’t push back.

This is not the behavior of someone who deserves a full-ride scholarship to a reputable NCAA D-I university.

Essentially, Holman missed the part of the schedule that matters least – non-conference.  He came back when the Titans needed him most, and he’s been back ever since.  The Titans are 9-6, 7-4 in conference since his return.

The worst part about it, other than the alleged assault itself, is the enabling of Holman by Detroit Titans Athletics.

What do Ray McCallum Sr., Keri Gaither and the rest of the Titans tell us with their actions in this situation?

Victories mean more than justice.

Here’s to hoping the Black and Gold serve some up tonight.

Keeping chase

Have you ever been to a horse race?

Even though it only takes one lap to finish – this ain’t NASCAR – the winner is not the sprinter, but the one who goes the distance.

We’re in turn three, only five games away from the finish line (four for Valpo).  And for the second time in as many years, Milwaukee does not control its fate.

Last night, Valparaiso emerged from the battle in Cleveland as the front runner.  Despite tying the Vikings in the loss column (3), Valpo swept the season series with Cleveland State and thus owns the tie-breaker.

It was a decisive victory for the Crusaders, a road laugher against the team many of us thought of as the top dogs.  Cleveland State’s aura of impenetrability was dashed quickly by Valpo, who dropped their high-scoring hammer on the Vikings.

If Panther fans were hoping for some clarity Thursday night, they were left disappointed.  Now three teams are within two losses of the championship, and five teams are within three.  Butler knocked out Youngstown State at the Beeghly Center, giving the victory for the night to the state of Indiana (no Hoosiers) and pushing a gridlock at both first and third place.

And then we have Milwaukee.  Banished to ESPN3 by the Horizon League, ESPN and their own failure in social media marketing, the Panthers will play surging Detroit with third place up for grabs, yet again.

It’s intriguing, really – should the Panthers lose tonight, the Panthers would find themselves in a four-way tie with Butler, Detroit, and Youngstown State.  Tiebreakers are a non-starter, as there’s very little chance that a four-way tie persists at the end of the season.

Milwaukee can put the slimmest of margins between themselves and the pack with a victory in Calihan Hall, their third in a row at the storied gym and in the process put any thoughts of them finishing out of the top six to rest.

The thing is, a victory at Calihan Hall shouldn’t direct your eyes at the rest of the pack. Instead, set your sights dead on Cleveland State.

Should Milwaukee go 5-0 the rest of the way, all the Panthers would need is for Cleveland State to lose one more conference game and they’d be guaranteed the #2 seed in the Horizon League Tournament.  I’m a big proponent of the “go 1-0 every game” philosophy, but it’s intriguing to know that all you need is one stumble from the Vikings to get the double-bye.

The possibility that Cleveland State could lose one more time (besides at Milwaukee) is intriguing.  They play a home game against Butler, a road game at Green Bay, and home games against Detroit and Wright State.  There are no Chicago schools remaining on the schedule, no bunnies to feast.  Their “worst” opponent remaining is Wright State, who is only four losses behind them in the right column.

So the championship is not out of the question, especially a co-championship or a second-place finish. Milwaukee just has to drop all the B.S. and take care of business – a victory every game from here on out.

 

Records are made to be celebrated

This season, the Milwaukee Panthers have gone a long way.  They led the Horizon League standings until just before the halfway mark of the season, and they still have a fighter’s chance at scoring a top two seed and the bye to the conference tournament semifinals that goes with it.

Kaylon Williams is 11 assists from breaking the post-1990 record.

There’s no doubt that the team has had a rough go of it the past couple weeks, but a Milwaukee championship isn’t the only beautiful thing that is still within reach.

If you’re visiting the website for the first time today, you’ll notice that we have two new pictures flanking the sides.  On the left, you’ll notice that Ryan Allen has six blocks remaining before he breaks the Milwaukee Panthers all-time single season blocks record, represented by the number in front of a “POW” block from Super Mario.  On the right, Kaylon Williams’ chase for the all-time assists record is represented by the number in front of a dime, which as you know is a colloquial term for an assist.

On Saturday at Green Bay, Kaylon Williams’ eight assists moved him into third place all-time post-1990, past Cyrus Caldwell of the Ric Cobb era.  He now has 334 all-time, and is just seven behind all-time great Clay Tucker and eleven behind record holder Marc Mitchell.

Ryan Allen needs six blocks to tie the record.

Gerald Hardnett, who played for Milwaukee from 1975-1979, had 448 assists over his career.  However, it’s difficult to accept his accomplishments as true Division I because the schedule played by Milwaukee as a D-I independent in those years was very much the same kind of schedule they played as a D-III or NAIA team in the 1980’s.  We’ll always accept Hardnett as the all-time record holder, but there’s a reason Milwaukee Athletics keeps post-1990 records and not all D-I records, as that would include much of the 1970’s.  So, for all intents and purposes, we’ll recognize Marc Mitchell as the D-I assists record holder.

That means that Kaylon Williams will likely pass up Mitchell this weekend in two games against Detroit and Wright State. While they aren’t at home, the following game with Cleveland State on Valentine’s Day should bring Milwaukee Athletics to recognize this feat just before the game or at halftime.

We are a school with precious few traditions, and real records are something that we need to cling to.  Alumni from the early 1990’s would be delighted to see Kaylon Williams and his parents greeted at half-court by Marc Mitchell and his family (don’t think I’d leave Austin out of something so powerful).  Alumni from the late 1970’s would be blown away to see Gerald Hardnett and his family come out to celebrate this passing of the torch.

The Panthers honored the military. Now honor the program's greats.

It’s a very, very powerful moment that needs to be recognized – Kaylon Williams has put every bit of himself into our program the past two seasons and he deserves to have this accomplishment, the ultimate team-over-individual record, recognized in front of our crowd.  It also does a great thing by bringing back two Panther greats in Gerald Hardnett and Marc Mitchell to recognize everything they’ve done in front of a home crowd they never got a chance to play.

The same goes for Ryan Allen.  Single-season records are of course not at the same level as career records – this much is true – but the blocks record deserves to have the same recognition.  Currently, the record is 37, held by Dylan Page and Eugene Sims.  I know that Dylan is overseas in France still playing professionally, but Eugene Sims may be available.  Perhaps there is a way to get Dylan Page to send a video message – just a short 30-second video or so – congratulating Ryan Allen on breaking the record.

It is likely that the record will stand heading into Milwaukee’s game with Cleveland State – Allen has two games to rack up six blocks just to tie – but by the time Fairfield rolls into town for the Bracketbuster, Ryan Allen should have swatted his way to the record.  Honestly, he should have 34 after the Green Bay stat-taker screwed him on Saturday, but it is what it is.

The point is, these are opportunities for the Milwaukee Athletics program to recognize a few of their greats while also putting together the celebration for wonderful things being done by these players in this season.

So join me, demand that Milwaukee Athletics recognize the accomplishments of Kaylon Williams and Ryan Allen in front of the crowd, and bring back the all-time greats in Gerald Hardnett, Marc Mitchell, Eugene Sims and Dylan Page.

Never say die

That’s the slogan for the Milwaukee Admirals, but you couldn’t find a better slogan for the Milwaukee Panthers on Tuesday night in their 73-65 loss to Youngstown State.

Once the Penguins’ lead had reached fourteen at 65-51, it looked as though we were headed for a blowout – but the Panthers turned up the defensive pressure, the effort and most importantly, the passion – and ended up losing by eight when they missed on three straight possessions in the waning minutes.

This was a game that, by all accounts, the Panthers had no business being in.  The Penguins had built a lead through great scoring by Kendrick Perry and through a rebounding advantage.

But they were in it. By the Bill James basketball statistic for safe leads, the Penguins did not have a safe lead until under one minute remaining.

It was an encouraging sight during a game that was anything but.  The Panthers had let the Penguins get the lead as high as 18, but bounced back and brought it within two possessions in the final two minutes.

So it didn’t work out.  It shouldn’t be surprising that the program is hard-pressed to find someone who can score when eight of the 15 players on the floor are dealing with nagging injuries or are out for the season.  Of the seven healthy bodies, four belong to walk-ons.

And yet, they never quit. Don’t expect them to.

Saturday afternoon features another game, another hill to climb. The opponent – the ever-present rival Green Bay Phoenix – is on somewhat of a roll, dropping the two Indiana schools on their visit to Wisconsin, both by double digits.

The chances of Milwaukee going 6-0 and legitimately challenging for the conference regular season championship are slim to none.  What matters now is rivalries – of which, thankfully, the Horizon League offers plenty – and none is more loaded with vitriol than the one with our UW brothers to the north.

In the first match-up at the Cell, Green Bay seemingly beat Milwaukee before Kaylon Williams added to the rivalry’s folklore with a bomb at the buzzer.

Saturday’s second stanza will add to that as well.  For what seems like the fifth or sixth time, Green Bay will adopt Milwaukee’s school color of black as the main color of uniform.  The differences this time are that Green Bay is doing it for honorable reasons (raise money to help cover costs to low-income families for cancer treatment), and Brian Wardle doesn’t have the boner that Tod Kowalczyk did for being the “bad boys of the Horizon League.”

As far as seasons go, the Phoenix and Panthers have been better.  The Panthers won the regular season title last season, and Green Bay has finished second once and third twice in the past decade.  But with Milwaukee suffering from the injury bug and Green Bay’s rebuilding project still in motion, the game lacks the championship ambition that it did way back on January 9th.

That won’t matter. Because rivalry is rivalry, and I’m sure that Kaylon Williams and Ryan Allen don’t want to go down as 2-2 against the Phoenix in their careers.  It would be the modus operandi, as Milwaukee and Green Bay are deadlocked at 7-7 in the last 14 match-ups (Milwaukee won four straight before this stretch).

Each of the NCAA Tournament teams at Milwaukee split the season series with Green Bay, and the only postseason team to sweep the Phoenix was the 2004 NIT squad.

Aspirations of winning a second consecutive regular season championship have all but evaporated. At five losses, the Panthers are one loss away from no-man’s land (no six-loss team has won the Horizon League in the 2000’s).  Green Bay is at 5-6, already out of the picture after taking a 30-point blowout loss at Youngstown State.

Does that really matter on Saturday?  Of course not. Because it’s Green Bay. And besides championships, these are the kind of games that matter in college athletics.

Rivalry. You’ll find a heap of it at the Resch Center on Saturday.