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.

 

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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.

Horizon League Power Rankings (12.5.2011)

What an exciting week in Horizon League action. Seven of the first nine conference games were within 6 points in the end. Such a great way to start the conference season.  It wasn’t all conference fun however. The league went 2-0 against the Big East as well. This league continues to improve year in and year out.

In descending order…

10. Loyola – The Ramblers are lost. There is very little to be positive about as they traveled to Wisconsin and were thoroughly outplayed in every facet of each game.  Without Courtney Stanley, this team doesn’t have a competent floor general, and I expect to see them stay in this spot for the foreseeable future.

9. UIC – The Flames could make a case here to be a bit higher. They played both Green Bay and Milwaukee down to the wire and even took the more talented Panthers to overtime.  UIC has a ton of potential with their undersized guards Gary Talton, Daniel Barnes and Marc Brown. Brown, a freshman, will be a really nice player as he continues to mature.

8. Wright State –  The Raiders nearly pulled off the upset against Cleveland State, but a loss is a loss. However, they rebounded in a big way against Youngstown State at home. The Raiders are going to struggle this year. That much is obvious. But they have to feel good about how junior transfer Julius Mays has played so far.

7. Green Bay – Hey, I don’t care who they played, anytime you can start the conference season 2-0 you have to be happy about it.  The Phoenix are a very young team and they’ll continue to learn on the fly. Seventh seems about right for them, and I expect them to hover around this spot all season.

6. Detroit – They beat St. John’s on Dickie V night on ESPN2, but this team looks rudderless. It’s no secret that Ray McCallum has been questioned as a head coach.  It’s beginning to look like he may be nothing more than a recruiter. Still, with that much talent, I expect them to figure things out sooner or later. Eli Holman was recently reinstated but has yet to play in a game. That will certainly change things for them.  He has NBA talent.

Kendrick Perry has played like a man possessed making YSU a threat.

5. Youngstown State – The Penguins were looking great to move into the top 4 of the power rankings until they blew the game at Wright State late.  Kendrick Perry has been outstanding as just a sophomore. He leads the conference in points per game.  Incredible that Jerry Slocum is experiencing a revival in year 7 at Youngstown.

4. Butler – I have a hard time putting Butler any lower than this despite their mediocre record. The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker against Valpo in overtime and it puts them at 0-1 in conference play. It’ll be interesting to see if Coach Brad Stevens continues to go with two freshmen (Kameron Woods and Roosevelt Jones) in the starting lineup. The Bulldogs need someone to step up and score consistently.

3. Valparaiso – The Crusaders could certainly argue that they belong in the top two after the win in overtime over Butler.  Richie Edwards has been tremendous as of late and Coach Bryce Drew has a great trio of forwards in Ryan Broekhoff, Kevin Van Wijk, and Edwards.  These guys can definitely challenge for the Horizon League title this year.

Tony Meier adds a different dimension to an already potent Milwaukee squad.

2. Milwaukee– Following up a blowout against Loyola, the Panthers struggled against UIC late. It was a good show of resiliency and it proved valuable as they won their next game at DePaul despite a frantic comeback from the Blue Demons.  This team has a ton of talent and they’ll continue to gel as the season wears on.

1. Cleveland State – The Vikings continue to play well winning their first two conference games on the road.  It was this degree of difficulty that keeps them in first for now. As a basketball fan, I just can’t wait to see them clash with Valpo and Milwaukee.  Defensively, they’re a treat to watch.

#HorizonLeague Power Rankings (11-28-11)

PantherU’s resident Power Rankings player Josh Griesbach is out of town for Thanksgiving weekend, so I will do my best to take care of things in his stead.  It was a fairly predictable week for the Horizon League, with teams beating the dregs of the NCAA and losing to teams favored to beat them.  The real developments of the week were on the personnel front, as Detroit, already suffering heavy roster losses due to Eli Holman’s suspension and others, lost Nick Minnerath for what looks to be the entire season with an unspecified leg injury.

So, how do the power rankings shake out heading into Opening Weekend of the Horizon League season? Before I get into it, I want to be clear that I don’t believe we can put too much stock into rankings, as there are very, very few common opponents among the conference members and those that do share opponents haven’t brought much help (Butler lost to Evansville, who lost to UIC).  I will do my best, though.  Without further ado, my shot at the power rankings for this week:

10. Loyola. The Ramblers picked up their first win in their brand-newish Gentile Arena on Saturday, dropping Fordham 64-50.  The problem with that victory is that it is their only one and Fordham is off to just as poor a start as Loyola.  The Ramblers have two tough road games this week, first at Milwaukee on Thursday and then Saturday at Green Bay.

9. Green Bay. The Phoenix haven’t done much to quiet the critics about their growth as a program from last year.  Casting away a shows-us-nothing blowout of the University of Mary, the Phoenix’ lone win has come over a pretty good Wyoming team at the Resch Center, but they haven’t taken a victory on the road in four tries.  They are 2-0 at home, and getting UIC and Loyola at home this weekend could help them towards establishing momentum to swing themselves upward in the standings.

8. UIC. The Flames haven’t put together two good games in a stretch yet, but the victory over Evansville on Wednesday was a very good sign for the program moving forward.  Last year, the team had wins over Rhode Island and Illinois to lean on, and this year a victory against Evansville is a sign that at least something is going right.  The Flames take the dastardly trip through Wisconsin this weekend, first at Green Bay and then at Milwaukee.

7. Wright State. Of all the teams in the conference, no one has faced a tougher schedule thus far than the Raiders.  Billy Donlon’s club has gone 2-4 in the opening part of the season, and a victory over Jackson State is the only thing they have to lean on.  But the Raiders hung tough with Florida for 35 minutes on Monday and they lost a close one Saturday against a good Charlotte squad.  Thursday the Raiders could be getting yet another roundhouse kick to the chest in the form of Cleveland State, but Youngstown State is very beatable.

6. Detroit.  Despite going 1-3 on the week, the biggest loss for Detroit was not in the L column but on the roster.  Already stretched thin on the front line without Eli Holman, the Titans lost Nick Minnerath, likely for the season, to a leg injury at Bowling Green.  LaMarcus Lowe, who has never been a 30+ minute a game guy, has been thrust into that role and will have to do even more with Minnerath out.  Doug Anderson will probably be leaned on more heavily as well.  The Titans play at Youngstown State and Cleveland State this weekend, which could mean they could head into their national TV game against St. John’s both short-handed and 3-6, with only one victory against a D-I team.  That game, against Austin Peay, was by one in overtime.

5. Butler.  The Bulldogs don’t have a top-200 victory, but they haven’t had much opportunity to do so.  The Bulldogs have lost both of their games against teams better than RPI 200, and neither of them were close.  The 3-3 record is sadly one of the better ones in the conference, but they have struggled even in the games they’ve won.

4. Youngstown State. Jerry Slocum’s crew is taking care of business in the early season, although this is nothing new.  The only team they’ve beaten handily is a non-D-I Notre Dame (Ohio) team (18 points), but at least they’ve beaten the teams they should have beaten.  A winnable Penn State game got away from them, but they head into the Detroit and Wright State weekend on the road with a real chance to win both of them.  After the changes of the first couple weeks, the Penguins will show up in Detroit with the best post player on the court in Damian Eargle, and a couple days later will have the best guard on the court against WSU in Kendrick Perry.  If the Penguins go 2-0 this week, they’ll be 6-1 and a legitimate contender early on in the conference.

3. Milwaukee. There was a point, at halftime of the Michigan State game, where it looked like Milwaukee was going to win a difficult road game against a Big Ten squad.  They did throw the scare, but they didn’t get the victory, and that signature victory is what’s keeping them from the top 2 at this moment.  They still won’t have the signature victory this weekend with Loyola and UIC coming to town, but there is an opportunity to slip if they drop one or both games.  Loyola won at Milwaukee on Opening Weekend last year, and while that didn’t stop the Panthers from winning the conference title, it did make things much, much harder and they had to share the regular season crown with Butler and Cleveland State.

2. Valparaiso. Bryce Drew’s crew probably would be 5-1 if Brandon Wood hadn’t transferred, but it’s no use dwelling on the past and the Crusaders sure as hell aren’t.  Valpo’s got two tells-us-nothing blowout victories over IU-Kokomo and Holy Cross (Indiana), and otherwise is 3-2.  However, they do have two victories that put them firmly on the map – their victory at home over Akron would be the feather in their cap if it weren’t for a beat down of Duquesne, who de-pantsed Green Bay earlier this season.  The Crusaders dropped a blowout at Ohio State, but then again the Buckeyes are national title contenders.  The Crusaders can snatch a third signature victory by beating Butler at Hinkle this weekend, something they failed to do last year.

1. Cleveland State. Gary Waters’ team finally lost a decision this season, a 10-point game to Hofstra.  Otherwise, the Vikings have taken care of business, blowing out Rhode Island, winning decisively against #6 Vanderbilt, and winning close games at the end against St. Bonaventure, Kent State and Boston University.  The three victories over VU, KSU, and SBU rank one, two, and three respectively on the list of best Horizon non-conference victories this season.  If there’s one thing to take from them on a vulnerability standpoint, it’s that since the Vanderbilt game, they’ve really only won decisively against one D-I opponent, and that’s #253 Rhode Island.  We’ll get a pretty good idea of where they stand after a road trip through Wright State and Detroit to open the conference season.  Here’s one pundit who thinks they come out 8-1.

Crossroads: HLT Semifinals vs. Valparaiso

Horizon League Tournament Semifinals

vs.

Valparaiso (23-10, 14-6) vs. Milwaukee (18-12, 13-5 HL)

U.S. Cellular Arena – Milwaukee, Wisconsin – 7:30 p.m.

TV: ESPNU

Milwaukee. Valparaiso.  These two teams are more entwined this season than the fans realize.  The 17-point drubbing that Milwaukee took at the ARC on January 21st was an eye-opener, the one that led to the now-famous team skulls session that night at a hotel in Indianapolis, the one that began a nine-game conference winning streak that brings us to tonight.

It was two weeks ago when that streak barreled through Valpo at the Cell.  All the Crusaders needed was to win, and they’d be hard pressed to lose a conference championship.  They lost, dropped the game and their confidence, and fell out of first, then second, then third in the final week of the season.

What we’re coming at is a crossroads; Valpo, in their convincing ten-point victory on Friday, has proven that they’re ready to move past their late-season woes and get down to business.  Milwaukee, in staving off a monumental let-down last Saturday, sits in the driver’s seat.  This is Milwaukee’s tournament to lose.

As far as the crowd is concerned, I’d be distraught if we show anything less than 6,500 in the seats on Saturday night. We’re going to need a big crowd, because if Butler wins, a large contingent of their fans will be sticking around to root for Valpo and make for an All-Indiana championship game.

Which would totally suck.  So let’s get loud, get proud, and show these punks what the fan base is really made of.

The key to the game is to stop Brandon Wood and key in on Ryan Broekhoff’s outside shot.  Should Wood be stopped, they’ll look to Cory Johnson and Broekhoff to shoulder the load.  Detroit stopped none of them, and Wood made them look awful.

We absolutely have to cover Broekhoff on the outside.  He’s a 47% three-point shooter this year.  Yup.  So without covering our asses by covering him, the Panthers could be in for a long night defensively.

With Ryan Allen available for an entire game, I expect Brandon Wood to be kept in check.  I won’t lie, it was nice seeing Chris Beaver and Lamar Simpson officiating this game; Beaver in particular was one who made it close the last time these two teams met at the Arena.

Hit your shots, be deliberate with the ball and do your thing.  We just need to let things happen for us and the Panthers should win.  Don’t underestimate the opponent, but be confident in your abilities.

The crowd, at least the Black and Gold clad section of it, would be doing the team a favor by getting loud.  The last thing I want to see is a basketball arena filled with fans who can’t be bothered to cheer for the home team.

I’m so wired I can barely sleep.  Good night, we’ll see you tonight.

WAR MILWAUKEE!!!!!!!

Milwaukee Panthers Travel Guide

Since directions are pretty simple (go to Chicago and head north on I-94, or follow the U.S. Cellular Arena directions here), I’m going to give several sports bars, along with hotels for people who will be spending the weekend in Milwaukee.  Also included will be some points of interest for those of you who want something else to do while in beautiful Brew City.

Sports Bars

There’s no rankings here, completely unordered.

Major Goolsby’s (4th and Kilbourn).  The Major is the official post-game hangout for Milwaukee fans.  After games, the post-game show takes place in the sound booth while fans fill the tables in the establishment just across the street from the Cell.  Jimmy recommends: Major Wings, medium, ranch.

Miller Time Pub (5th and Wisconsin). Miller Time Pub is located just two blocks south of the arena and used to be the official post-game hang out.  They have free popcorn going and are located inside the Hilton, for those of you who will be staying at the fine hotel for the weekend.  Jimmy recommends: Brew City Burger, really made awesome by the pretzel bun.

Center Court (4th, north of State). This sports bar, opposite the Bradley Center, is one block north of the Cell.  It’s the venue for the pre-game party of UWM Alumni on Saturday, but they’ve got plenty of room for fans of other schools. Jimmy recommends: Milwaukee Burger.  Don’t overthink it, it’s a burger topped with a brat, double the meat with kraut and brown mustard on top.  Awesome awesome burger that they replicate across the street and call the Bradley Burger.

Calderone Pub – Located just half a block east on State Street, the Calderone Pub looks like a hole in the wall, but they have really good food.  It’s a quieter place pre-game, so if you want food without all the hassle, the Calderone Pub is a great place for it. Jimmy recommends: Spinach and Artichoke Dip is some of the best in town.  Awesome.

Hotels

Hyatt Regency Hotel – The Hyatt is the closest hotel to the Cell, kitty corner from the arena.  Rates: $111.20 for doubles or one king if you pre-pay.

Hilton City Center – The Hilton City Center has Miller Time Pub in the first floor and is two blocks from the arena, separated by the Frontier Airlines convention center.  Rates: $124 king, $109 two doubles.

InterContinental Hotel – Just east of the river, the InterContinental is the second-closest hotel.  It also has a waaay better website and the views are great. Rates: $119 for either king or doubles.

Best Western Inn Towne Hotel – The mid-level hotel chain has a very nice hotel in downtown Milwaukee.  Not quite as nice as the above three, but the $99 for a queen room is nice.  Rates: $109 king, $99 queen, $109 doubles.

Hampton Milwaukee – Like the Best Western, it’s cheaper than the others.  It is also three blocks from the arena, and close to Grand Avenue Mall, if you like shopping in Milwaukee’s 5th-best mall.  Rates: $104 king, $99 queen, $109 doubles.

Aloft Hotel – Milwaukee’s newest downtown hotel offers a cheaper alternative to the others in the arena neighborhood.  It is three blocks north of the arena, right at the edge of downtown.  Rates: $87.20 king or two queens.

Places of Interest

Milwaukee Art Museum – Santiago Calatrava designed the addition, a very recognizable bird-looking thing called the Quadracci Pavilion, so named after donor and founder of Milwaukee-based Quadgraphics owner Harry Quadracci.  The Art Museum currently has an exhibit on Wisconsin native, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  (UWM’s architecture program is world-renowned)

Milwaukee Public Museum – Home to all sorts of history, the Public Museum has been the destination of about 15 field trips per student who grew up in Milwaukee.  The Museum has an IMAX Dome Theater, and begins showing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 on Friday.

The Bronze Fonz – Most Milwaukeeans think it’s ridiculous.  Some think it’s a great nod to our history.  But no matter what we think of it, when you come to town, you’ve got to stop by it.  Henry Winkler’s turn as Arthur Fonzarelli in Happy Days, based in Milwaukee (many of the characters were UWM students in the show’s story, led to the building of a statue in the character’s honor.  You may want to visit this last, because it’s like jumping the shark – there’s not a whole lot like it.

Check out the Bronze Fonz, and get your picture taken with him.

Even though March is a slow time in Milwaukee, the City of Festivals still has a lot going on.

Water Street, just two blocks east of the arena (across the Milwaukee River), is a great place for the young and old to get their party on.  There are over a dozen bars within three blocks of each other along Water Street, from chains like Brothers and Bar Louie to Milwaukee locals like Trinity and McGillicutty’s (Yes, I realize there are other bars with those names).  Old World Third Street is one block east of the arena and has a lot of great bars as well.  A lot of Irish and German bars to reflect the population in Milwaukee.

Come to think of it, good lord this city has a lot of bars.

If you have any other questions, I direct you to the pros at VISITMilwaukee.org

Who ya got?

PantherU is putting together a potential pre-game in Milwaukee at Major Goolsby’s, a sort of UN-meet and greet for the Horizon League’s 3G and Wifi fans.

The Travel Guide to Milwaukee will be coming out tomorrow!  But it seems Detroit has already put a bus together.  If you’re a Horizon League fan and there are other schools doing this, let me know in the comments section below.

Now, down to brass tacks.  Who ya got on Friday?