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

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Simplicity breeds offense

Kaylon Williams hit Paris Gulley in the corner for what turned out to be his eight assist, the sixth trey by Gulley and the straw that seemingly broke the camel’s back.

As they got back on defense, Kaylon Williams was smiling.

Paris Gulley was 6-7 from three yesterday.

A simple offense, allowed to move freely and knock down open shots, led to an 81-75 decision for the Milwaukee Panthers against their bitter intrastate rival Green Bay.

The victory makes the series 21-21 in Milwaukee’s D-I history.

Green Bay got furious offense from Kiefer Sykes, who has emerged into an all-conference level talent at the guard position.  They also got 18 points and 10 rebounds from Alec Brown, who did well in the block but had trouble on several possessions against Kyle Kelm and Christian Wolf.  It was good game for Brown on his bobblehead day, but the Panthers sullied the result for the 7’1” center.

Milwaukee was led on the offensive end by Paris Gulley, who canned six of seven three-point attempts and did very well in the transition offense.  Kaylon Williams racked up 16 points and eight assists, but his biggest play may have been the three-pointer with 2:27 left that put Milwaukee up nine and gave it the cushion it needed to finish off the Phoenix.

That cushion was tested by Green Bay, who expunged that nine-point deficit down to only two at 77-75 with only :13 remaining.  Free-throw shooting saved the day for Milwaukee, as they hit 15 of 18 from the charity stripe, just enough to keep the Phoenix off at the end of the game.

Kiefer Sykes has at least four more games to wail on the Panthers' defense.

Perhaps the biggest boon for the Phoenix in their wild attempt to win the game was the play of Kam Cerroni, the shooting guard from Sussex Hamilton who shot like a man possessed (3-4 FG/3PT, 8-9 FT).  Cerroni did a wonderful job of drawing contact while going up for the shot, and got himself nine free throw attempts, almost 50% of the Phoenix’ entire total.

Milwaukee’s coaching staff cooled on Kam Cerroni after his ACL tear in high school, and like Marquette with Kyle Kelm, they may end up regretting it.  Cerroni’s polished shooting ability – 47.7% from three-point land and 78.9% from the line – is something the Panthers have been struggling to find all season long.

The Phoenix are a young, tough, athletic, passionate team that very much resembles their coach, Brian Wardle.  Phoenix fans should be pleased with the direction that their program is headed under Wardle’s leadership, and they have a nucleus that will legitimately challenge for a Horizon League Championship at least the next couple years with Kiefer Sykes, Kam Cerroni and Alec Brown as the nucleus.

Kam Cerroni's shooting ability was a big reason the Phoenix were in it until the end.

Sweeping the Phoenix was no easy feat and no small accomplishment, especially in this rivalry.  And this season made it extremely difficult – the Phoenix led until the final buzzer in Milwaukee and made a furious comeback at the Resch – so if there’s anything the Panthers can take from this, it is that they withstood a barrage from a very good team on the rise and came out with two victories.

And that, my friends, is something worth smiling about.

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.

It’s official: ESPN and the Horizon bone us again

In case you were unaware before, the Horizon League and ESPN decided that they were going to put two games to a vote as to which game would make it on ESPNU.

Last time, the vote was between Green Bay versus Cleveland State and Milwaukee versus Youngstown State.  As you know, the GB-CSU game won, forcing Milwaukee fans to watch their road game at Youngstown State on ESPN3.

Well, be prepared to watch the Horizon League match-up on February 10th against Detroit on ESPN3.com as well.

That’s because in a second vote, the Horizon League and ESPNU have decided to put the Green Bay at Wright State game on ESPNU over the Milwaukee at Detroit game.

In a short voting session on Facebook, the Panthers saw their second shot at a nationally-televised game evaporate before their eyes.  The final vote came back at 1,801 to 1,759, a mere 42 votes to decide a nationally-televised game.

Here is the full vote.

The Panthers will play at Detroit on ESPN3.com, their fourth such game this season.  The Youngstown State game, Northern Iowa, and Michigan State were all played on the internet.  Michigan State was on BTN.com, the pay website for the Big Ten Network.

So what should your reaction be to this news?  OUTRAGE.

The Horizon League and ESPN decided to put games up for a vote in the first place, which was ridiculous.  It’s one thing to try and get people interested in your brand through social networking, it’s another thing entirely to screw over universities in the process.

Put it this way.  Not only are fans in Washington D.C., Phoenix, Chicago and elsewhere (big pockets of Black and Gold) unable to see the Panthers play their game at Detroit, but so are recruits that the coaching staff are desperately trying to bring to Milwaukee.  With this move made by the Horizon League and ESPNU, the Panthers have effectively been shut out of national television.  Recruiting players in the area is nice – Time Warner Sports puts us in a decent percentage of southeast Wisconsin homes (although not nearly enough).

But we don’t recruit solely in southeast Wisconsin.  We recruit nationally.  And how are players from around the country supposed to see Milwaukee as a big-time mid-major program if they have to crowd around a computer screen to see our games?

It doesn’t even make sense.  Forty-two fans separate the winner and loser.  I don’t know if I’m mistaken, but I’m pretty sure many fans from every school in the conference don’t have Facebook.

In fact, I overheard a discussion in the minutes leading up to the Valpo game between two season-ticket holding fans. “Why are they putting it on Facebook? I don’t have Facebook!”

The truth is, Milwaukee just got screwed out of another game.  Despite averaging about 1,600 more fans per game than Green Bay, it is the Phoenix fan base that will be watching their team on the road at Wright State.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Former Green Bay Phoenix head coach Tod Kowalczyk (hereon referred to as ‘poor mans coach k’ with no capitalization or punctuation) made waves a few years ago – seriously, people threw up from motion sickness – by putting his Phoenix in black alternate uniforms for several games in the season, including a road game at Milwaukee.

This year, Green Bay’s Brian Wardle (hereon referred to as Brian Wardle, as he is a good guy) is bringing back the black jerseys in an effort to “Black Out Cancer.”  The initiative is co-sponsored by Bellin Health and Broadway Automotive.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful way to raise money for cancer awareness and financial need for cancer patients and their families.  I just have a couple questions.

Does the color “black” really make you feel good about cancer? – In America, the color black is significance to death. As a kid, my mother spent much of my childhood working on the HOT unit at Children’s Hospital as an RN working with children suffering from cancer.  Kids from across the country would come to our Children’s Hospital for cancer treatment.  My brother, sister and I would play a part, spending time hanging out with the siblings of cancer patients who were also far from home.  That said, death was common, and I have been to many funerals in my life.  Let me tell you, no one was wearing white at any of those funerals.  Black is the color that evokes thoughts of death, which is why I was confused by its use.

The other question is this: why black uniforms at home, and why against Milwaukee?

The retro jerseys are so plain, and the black alternates reek of imitation.

There are ten universities in the Horizon League.  Only one of them counts Black as one of its school colors, and I’m proud to say that’s OUR color.  So why would Green Bay want to play the game in black against us?  Because, they like the color black.  It looks good. We know this, because we wear it.  Our blood runs black and gold, so no Panthers need convincing that black is a good color.

It just makes me think that Green Bay is playing the same card that the poor mans coach k played so many years ago – they’re trying to be the “bad boys” of Horizon League basketball.

Sorry, Detroit is the bad boys.  And Black is our color.  You guys are the Christmas Color school.  Own it.  Get jolly against cancer next time.

The great thing is that they’re likely going to encourage Green Bay fans to wear black.  So let’s just enjoy the black Phoenix unis and the gold Panther unis.  The Resch Center will look pretty nice completely in Black and Gold!

If you’re at the Resch Center at least 20 minutes before game time, you stand a pretty good chance at snagging one of the 1,000 Alec Brown bobbleheads available at the door.   Let’s hope they come with velcro attached to the bottom, because a stiff breeze might knock them over.

Vote for Milwaukee-Detroit!

VOTE NOW

A few weeks ago, fans of Milwaukee, Green Bay, Youngstown State and Cleveland State had the opportunity to vote for their programs to get a nationally televised game on ESPNU.

Despite our best efforts to get people to vote, the Green Bay at Cleveland State game ended up on national TV, while the Milwaukee at Youngstown State game ended up on ESPN3.com.

Why is that?  Milwaukee has the highest attendance of the four schools, and YSU has a big football following that would be willing to at least vote on facebook.

The truth is, the Panthers and Penguins lost the vote last time because the folks at Green Bay and Cleveland State were more proactive.  The Sports Information Departments at both schools pushed readers of their website and followers on Twitter and Facebook to vote for their game, and thus the smaller fan bases won an ESPNU game that wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the Milwaukee/YSU game.

Now, we have another opportunity.  Milwaukee plays Detroit on Friday, February 10th. That same night, Wright State hosts Green Bay.  ESPN is putting it up to a vote again.  Guess who is promoting it?  Wright State.  Despite the Raiders putting on the full court press in promoting the game, Milwaukee-Detroit is currently winning.  Then again, Milwaukee-YSU was winning until late in the voting process, so we need to make sure that the Panthers get on National TV this time around.

Send this to all your friends on Facebook and Twitter.  VOTE NOW!

Horizon League Power Rankings (12.12.11)

This is a big week for Horizon League teams in non-conference play.  Some games on the docket this week include #15 Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Cincinnati at Wright State and UIC at Oregon State. Cincinnati/Wright State is a very intriguing matchup due to Cincinnati’s major suspensions from their brawl at Xavier.  Wright State has a real chance to steal one at home.  Milwaukee also welcomes a major rival to their home floor as they take on Jordan Taylor and the Wisconsin Badgers.  They key to this game for the Panthers is to avoid going cold on offense, and that will be a huge task with tenacity the Badgers display on defense. Still, an upset against Wisconsin would be huge for Milwaukee’s confidence as they inch closer to conference play, and could move them up to the top of the Power Rankings.  See where they’re currently at, below…

In descending order…

Free Ben Averkamp.

10. Loyola (2-7) – Despite their most recent victory, the Ramblers are a one-man band that will struggle to win more than 2 league games this year.  Without Ben Averkamp’s monster game on Saturday, the Ramblers would have lost to a Toledo team that is one of the worst in the nation.  That tells you all you need to know about where they belong in this conference.

9. UIC (3-5) – A more balanced win, but over a similar opponent as Loyola. Northern Illinois is a really bad team as is evidenced by their 0-8 record.  Still, UIC managed to win, and they can earn a “moral victory” by keeping it close against Oregon State later this week.

8. Green Bay (4-6) – The Phoenix had a tough week, getting blown out by Wisconsin and Marquette. That was to be expected, but they’re not exactly upwardly mobile at this point.  Don’t expect them to move up this list much in the next couple weeks, as their only game in the next week and a half is against Michigan Tech.  At least they won’t have any bad losses, right?

7. Wright State (4-6) – A win over Miami (OH) isn’t what you would call a “good” win, but to beat an in-state rival is always a good win.  The interstate battle continues as the Raiders host Cincinnati and Ohio in the next week.  There’s a real opportunity here for the Raiders to move on up this list…

6. Butler (4-6) – Yet another 4-6 team, Butler has been a disappointment so far.  We knew they would struggle.  The question was, how much?  Losing to a decent Ball State team is not what the Bulldogs were hoping for to start off a 4-game road trip that includes games against Purdue, Gonzaga, and Stanford.  The Bulldogs could re-enter league play at 4-9 with their “signature” victory coming over Savannah State (seriously).  Not exactly the start Coach Stevens was hoping for.

Doug Anderson's athleticism has been on full display.

5. Detroit (5-7) – If the key to winning basketball games was getting exciting fast break dunks, the Titans would be in the Top 25. Led by high flying wing Doug Anderson, the Titans are starting to play a better brand of basketball, but the turnovers persist.  Ray McCallum and the crew take on #16 Mississippi State on Saturday.  Their chances of victory are greatly improved by Eli Holman’s controversial reinstatement.  If the offense goes through him, there are few teams on the schedule they can’t beat.

4. Youngstown State (6-3) – The Penguins lack an impressive victory, and a loss to Buffalo is nothing to be ashamed about. They’re on the right track, but they have a long way to go if they expect to stay in this spot. The teams directly behind them certainly won’t be complacent.

3. Valparaiso (7-3) – The Crusaders can get a nice win over visiting Oakland on Saturday, and they are just a small step behind in these Power Rankings.  They have a very good shot at winning their next 3 games which would give them a 10-3 record before their matchup against Milwaukee in conference play.  Go Valpo!

2. Milwaukee (8-2) – The Panthers suffered a tough loss at Northern Iowa, but the UNI Panthers are a really good, tournament caliber team.  The Panthers can bounce back with a HUGE game against the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday.  If they can shock Wisconsin, it would be one of the biggest regular season wins in Milwaukee’s history.

1. Cleveland State (10-1) – The Vikings continue to win in a variety of ways, but they’ve shown their vulnerability.  Ten wins is sweet, but the Vikings have a pretty weak non-conference slate in the next couple weeks, so improving their RPI is probably about as high as it’s going to be (#38) for the rest of the year. At this point, however, they have the best chance of any team in the conference at obtaining an at-large berth.