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

Icing the Penguins

There’s no room for error.

That’s the mantra of the Milwaukee Panthers from today until the end of the season.  It’s time for the Milwaukee Panthers to nut up or shut up.

Damian Eargle's ability to alter shots, not just block them, is what makes him deadly.

Last go-round with Youngstown State, Kaylon Williams missed a go-ahead three-pointer and Tony Meier’s second chance opportunity was blocked by Damian Eargle, giving the Penguins a 68-66 victory over Milwaukee in Youngstown on ESPN3.

That game was a tale of two halves – mainly, the first half that featured Blake Allen not guarded by Ryan Allen, and the second half that did.  Allen put the Penguins up big at halftime, and despite being shut down in the second half, other Penguins rallied and got the victory.

Tonight, it’s going to be all about making shots and taking care of the ball so the team can hoist up more of them.  Milwaukee’s offense this season, apart from a few games, is best described as “anemic.”  It has been compounded by the mass attrition due to injury that I mentioned Sunday, but it’s basically all based around the fact that the players we put on the court have been unable to make the runs needed to put winnable games away, or get back into games that got away from them.

Blake Allen had a much harder time shooting over Ryan Allen than Tony Meier.

At Cleveland State, the Panthers were only down eight at halftime by some miracle, and if they had the offense going, might have gotten back into it.  An offensive show has failed to put away teams, and because of the Hack-a-Panther defense’s unfortunate effectiveness, the Panthers need to score a lot more away from the charity stripe to mitigate their problems at the line.

The key to this game will be to take it right at their inside players.  Damian Eargle is an all-conference level performer, but he won’t be able to guard both James Haarsma and Kyle Kelm.  Kelm is too long and skilled for him to be able to effectively guard, and Haarsma is too headstrong and assertive for him to pile up the blocks.  They can pound it inside and force Eargle to do acrobatics to block and alter shots without drawing fouls.  Milwaukee needs to get back to taking high percentage shots, and if they can get Eargle in foul trouble, they’ll have a field day inside.

When I say high percentage shots, that means taking solely three-pointers if your name is Paris Gulley or Tony Meier.  Both players have proven that they are much better shooters from 21 feet away then they are inside – Gulley’s floaters particularly draw the same kind of swooping feeling you get when you miss a step going downstairs.

All in all, it’s going to be a difficult game if the Panthers allow Youngstown State to force a lot of turnovers and get up early.  Both teams have lived and died by the three, and unfortunately for Milwaukee they are 267th in the nation at shooting beyond the arc.

Should the Panthers come out angry – and I would, considering the Penguins are the team that knocked them off the top 3PT defense pedestal – on the defensive end, look for a stiff defense on the perimeter.  If they don’t come out angry, and allow the ‘Guins to make the extra pass that nets them the open three-pointers they’re looking for, then it could wind up being a long night at the Cell.

Tipping point

There comes a time in every team’s season where the players on the roster make an unconscious decision. Either they continue to work the way they’ve been working, accept the status quo and take their allocated dosage of lumps, or they begin to work harder, make a stronger concerted effort to right the wrongs of the season and make their way into the light.

Milwaukee and Butler will be wearing special Military uniforms for tonight's game.

Last year, after absorbing yet another significant double-digit loss, the Milwaukee Panthers sat in a hotel room in Indianapolis and made a conscious decision to make the rest of the season their own.  You know what happened next.

Tonight, the Milwaukee Panthers stand on their home court, across from their familiar foe. It was these Butler Bulldogs that represented Milwaukee’s first victory in a line of ten conference triumphs that led all the way to the conference championship game. Then, it was these Bulldogs again.

On our court. Taking our bid to the NCAA Tournament.

I will never claim that the Milwaukee Panthers would have made it all the way to the Final Four this past March, but they certainly looked better than the national runner-up in two of three games.

It’s a much different team.  Gone are Shelvin Mack and Zach Hahn, Matt Howard and Shawn Vanzant, the nucleus of two Final Four teams.  Their replacements aren’t achieving at the level that Butler fans have come to expect, but they are far from a rebuilding program.

Andrew Smith can become a dominant force in the low block.

Andrew Smith has come into his own, scoring 10.6 ppg and pulling down 5.8 rebounds per contest.  He is shooting 52.4% from the floor, a number that proves defending him is much more difficult than it used to be.  He is much more consistent down low in the post, and he’s a stronger player than he was while playing Matt Howard’s wing man.

Roosevelt Jones, the 6’4” freshman wing, is an extremely athletic and talented player who handles the ball beyond his age and can make you pay with his ability.  Jones scored six points against Milwaukee in Indianapolis, but he was very much the difference-maker in a first half that was quickly turning into a blowout in favor of the Panthers.

Kameron Woods is a player that doesn’t get a lot of publicity around the league, but he should.  He is undoubtedly the best stopper of Butler’s younger talents, able to play strong man-to-man defense in the block or towering zone defense with longer arms.

The 6’6” forward Khyle Marshall may be the best player on the court for the Bulldogs.  Marshall, who burst out onto the scene in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, is a banger in the block who shoots at a high percentage because he just doesn’t take dumb jump shots.  Marshall is shooting 55.9% from the field, scoring 9.2 ppg and pulling down over four rebounds per game.  His weakness at the free throw line is what’s keeping him from becoming a real dominant player – his 48.5% free throw percentage would fit into Milwaukee’s roster unfortunately well.

Chase Stigall can still shoot from distance even though he's struggling this season.

He doesn’t shoot from beyond the arc, and that’s probably the biggest difference between this Butler team and those of the past – they just aren’t a great shooting team.

In the past, when guys like Howard would get eaten up on occasion, other players stepped up – Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant each had 20-point games against the Panthers.  Hahn did it from beyond the arc, but no one on Butler’s squad really does that.

Ronald Nored and Andrew Smith are an identical 13 of 32 from the three-point arc, which means they’re shooting 40.6% but also means that they’re not shooting much from out there.  Chase Stigall was a bomber early in his career, but since becoming the Dawgs’ main threat from the outside is only shooting 30.2% from three.

This Bulldogs team relies instead on higher percentage shots – drives to the lane and inside scoring – and takes care of the ball like we’re accustomed to seeing from Butler.

To win this game, Milwaukee has to take care of the ball. They can’t be loose with it, even though they might try to push the tempo a little more to get better open shots for Tony Meier and Paris Gulley.  They need to get the ball into Haarsma and Kelm – putting Smith in foul trouble is a must, because the Bulldogs just aren’t the same with him out of the game.

Most importantly, though, they need to rise to the occasion.  Milwaukee’s perfect back nine in 2011 was due to the team believing in themselves night in and night out, making every game a mission and a winning result the primary objective.

Tonight, that needs to be the case once again. Milwaukee needs to put the Bulldogs in their crosshairs and take a shot at redemption.  The season is far from over, there is still much work to do – and the work begins tonight.

We live for days like these

Today is the day.  Today, the Milwaukee Panthers get to the halfway point of the conference season. Today, my friends, is why I love Horizon League basketball.

Sunday's match-up features the two best defenders in the Horizon League.

Cleveland State vs. Milwaukee. Waters vs. Jeter. Brown vs. Allen. Harmon vs. Williams. Pogue vs. Haarsma. Montgomery vs. Gulley.

This is what the Horizon League is all about.  Conference heavyweights, battling in a huge match-up only halfway through the regular season.  The Panthers and Vikings, both standing at 6-2, are fighting for their first-place lives.  Valparaiso sits alone in first place after beating UIC yesterday, but that’s merely a formality as the winner of Milwaukee-CSU joins Valpo at the top.

Friday night, the Panthers got upset at Youngstown State in a game where Blake Allen played the first half of his life and Milwaukee succumbed to yet another debacle at the free throw line.

Cleveland State beat Green Bay by ten in a game where the Phoenix just wouldn’t go away.  Nevertheless, the Vikings are coming off a victory and have the momentum against Milwaukee, a team disappointed by losing a game it should have won.

Ryan Allen's inside scoring ability will be key to beating the Vikings.

The match-ups all over the floor are some of the best you’ll see in the Horizon League, but one is real cause for celebration. D’Aundray Brown and Ryan Allen, at least in this writer’s eyes, are the two best defenders in the Horizon League.

Now, for the game itself.

Cleveland State is the type of team that can make Milwaukee pay dearly.  Unlike Youngstown State, who doesn’t foul much, Cleveland State will almost surely use the Hack-a-Panther defense that has finished off Milwaukee against Wisconsin, Butler and Youngstown State.

Putting Milwaukee at the line is not a bad idea at all, and the Panthers have not made a team truly pay for it in a victory since Texas Southern, which is practically a year ago.

However, even CSU will only foul as a last resort on any defensive possession.  The Vikings lead the league with 8.8 steals per game,  18th in the nation and tops in the Horizon League.

That’s how they beat you. Strong, relentless defense.  Sound familiar?  The Vikings also match that with strong free throw shooting and decent shooting from the field.

In past years, Cleveland State has broken down Milwaukee’s offense with a tough full-court press.  They don’t utilize the press all the time, but when they do it reeks havoc on opposing offenses.

Despite struggling against it earlier this season, Milwaukee has become adept at breaking the press and we shouldn’t see too much of it from Cleveland State unless they get desperate.

Look for a low-scoring game – between 50 and 60 – that will come down to the final possessions.

After all, it wouldn’t be a Horizon League game if it didn’t involve a heart-pounding finish.

Showdown at the Arc

NOTE: Sorry for not putting this up last night – while I was writing it, the Official Girlfriend of PantherU™ had some complications and we spent several hours in the hospital. No worries, however, everything is OK! On to the article.

_________________________________

No, not that ARC. Valparaiso is on the road – the three-point line, sillies!

This is the breakdown.  Milwaukee – the Black and Gold owners of the #1 three-point defense in the nation, face off tonight against Youngstown State, the conference leader in three-pointers made and percentage.

The buzz phrase creeping up around this match-up, tonight at 6 p.m. on ESPN3, is obvious.

Something’s gotta give.

Youngstown State’s offense trots out four double-figure scorers and a fifth, wing forward Dushawn Brooks, is just .22 points per game from joining the club.

The Penguins lead the Horizon League in three pointers made and three-point percentage.  They are second to Milwaukee in attempts, but they absolutely are the most dangerous team from three-point range and will kill Milwaukee if the Panthers don’t defend the arc as well as they have all season.

That’s where the match-up is, and we’ll be following it all night.

Because I’ve been unable to sit down and write out the article as long as I’d like, I took about ten minutes to discuss the game tonight.  Please be a little patient, I’m under the weather and cough a few times during the video.