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

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.


A Letter to Panther Nation

Hello Panther Nation! I started PantherU.com in 2009 to build a site where Milwaukee Panther fans could come together to follow our team. We have been through our share of highs and lows, but we have been here together. In the time that we have been up and running, our entire staff has worked hard to bring you coverage of Panther athletics that you can find nowhere else. We have always strived to do our best for you, and provide you with a website that you can be proud to be a part of. It is something I’ve always strived for, to make sure that Milwaukee Panthers fans are among the best educated fans in all things college basketball. With that in mind, I am excited to tell you that we are making some major changes here at PantherU.

In the coming days we will be converting to a new format, a format we believe will not only help raise us to another level, but a format we believe will bring more attention to our basketball program, the attention it deserves. With such little attention paid to our program from other news media in and around the city of Milwaukee, the Panthers have a great need to get their message out. It’s a message of hard work, determination, success, and school pride that I know will catch on just as it has among those of us who are already hooked on the Black and Gold. To achieve this the right way – to make sure that PantherU is operating at its full capability, to bring you the absolute limit of Panther news and information on the beat, we needed to make this change.

This change will be for the better, and provide us with more tools to keep you informed on the latest happenings of Panther Athletics. You will still be getting everything you have come to expect from PantherU, and much more.

For those who have gotten to know me and PantherU over the years, you know that I will do everything I can to make sure we give you the most in Panther coverage. I look forward to the future of PantherU and the Milwaukee Panthers, as we continue to build one of the best basketball programs in the nation.

Thanks for your support, and GO PANTHERS!!

Trounce ’em Pounce,
Jimmy Lemke

Groupon deal for Loyola game #IamUWM

Loyola Athletics is putting up tickets to the Milwaukee Panthers game on February 25th on Groupon.

For $15, the fan gets two tickets and two hot dogs.  They claim that it’s a $38.50 value.

As usual, I’m planning on making the trip, but PantherU will be down there earlier than usual to check out the new digs and pay homage to Loyola alumni and fellow fan Greybee62 of the RamblerMania board, who died last month.

You can find the deal here, but only until midnight tomorrow.  The Groupon closes once February 9th begins.

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.

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.