Ja’Rob McCallum update

PantherU.com has found that junior guard Ja’Rob McCallum is still hurting from stretched tendons in his left wrist.  The shooter is one of the Milwaukee Panthers most accomplished scorers on the offensive end and a big spark to be missing from the offensive lineup.

It is unclear how long McCallum will be out of game action, but he is still down as of this writing.  McCallum is averaging 10 points and 1.7 steals per game this season while playing about 27 minutes per game.

McCallum likely will miss the game against Northern Iowa, but playing Saturday has not been ruled out as his wrist is getting better since aggravating the injury originally suffered in the offseason.

Milwaukee plays at Northern Iowa on Saturday at 1 p.m.  The Panthers have yet to put the entire team on the floor, as McCallum’s absence was preceded by Tony Meier in the first six games.

Advertisements

Defense quickly becoming Milwaukee’s identity

Bo Ryan runs the swing.  Bruce Pearl’s team presses the hell out of you.  John Calipari runs an NBA roster and somehow remains under the salary cap.

Yet until this season, Rob Jeter’s Milwaukee Panthers have struggled to really find an identity.

Ryan Allen and Kaylon Williams defended well last year on the perimeter. Having Paris Gulley to help in 2011-12 has brought great results.

This has always been a team that rebounds well, but that’s not an identity.  Perhaps the poor free throw shooting has been the Panthers’ identity, but I don’t think anyone wants to own up to that one.  So what kind of team are we?  We don’t run the swing, more of a swing/dribble drive hybrid that looks great in Kaylon Williams’ hands and no one else’s.

Looking over the box scores of the season and watching the team play has led me to a conclusion, that this year the Panthers actually have found an identity.

Defense.

Man-up, smack you around, in your face defense.  This is the kind of identity that I’ve longed for, and the 6-1 start is due to this newfound interest in defense.

With Kaylon Williams, Ryan Allen, and Paris Gulley on the court, there is no team in the country that Milwaukee cannot defend.  These three are the kind of lock down defenders that coaches drool over; Ryan Allen spent much of last season playing minutes despite so-so offense because he was a dynamite defender; it looks like Paris Gulley is going to be the same player this season, as he played 18 minutes tonight despite having a poor offensive night.

Over the offseason, Ryan Allen worked on his offensive game to the point where not only is he no longer a liability on the offensive end, but he’s a boon for the team’s scoring chances.  How does this help Milwaukee’s defense? Well, to put it simply, Allen is on the court a whole lot more.  Ja’Rob McCallum spent the summer doing the opposite, and bulked up and built enough lateral quickness to no longer be a tremendous liability on the defensive end.  While McCallum and freshman Evan Richard are not on the level of the other three guards, they are not bad defenders and get better with more game experience.

Ryan Allen has become one of the premier defenders in the Horizon League along with CSU's D'Aundray Brown and Butler's Ronald Nored.

The Panthers showed the speed and toughness to run with Michigan State for 38 minutes last week, getting back in transition D and limiting second-chance opportunities by racking up defensive rebounds.

In the post, Kyle Kelm and James Haarsma had trouble with help defense and defending layups against Southwest Minnesota State; they have not had that trouble since, and while Haarsma has been consistently great on defense, Kelm has only gotten better and better every game.

Off the bench, Ryan Haggerty is one of the best post defenders in the conference.  While he doesn’t have much of an offensive game in comparison to Kelm, Haarsma and Tony Meier, Haggerty more than measures up by having a strong nose for the ball, playing exceptional help defense, blocking shots like a machine, and playing with a high motor.

Ryan Haggerty may not play 25 minutes a game, but he is an exceptional post defender.

We can trace this newfound love of defense back to the Northern Illinois game.  With Williams in the lineup for the first time, the Panthers won the game by forcing the Huskies to shoot only 37% and give up 23 turnovers.  Since then, the only team to sniff 60 points on Milwaukee was Michigan State, whose nine point run to begin the second half left 61 points the rest of the game.

The Panthers’ opponent field goal percentage (37.1) ranks number one in the Horizon League.  Milwaukee also leads in opponent efficient field goal percentage (40.1%) and, most importantly, is only giving up 53.1 points per game, first in the Horizon League and eighth nationally.

Here is a short table showing defensive numbers and how Milwaukee stacks up nationally:

Opponent Statistics Numbers Conference rank National rank
Points per game 53.1 1 8
Field Goal% 37.1 1 28
Effective Field Goal% 40.1 1 14
3PT Field Goal% 22.8 2 6
Steals per game 5.7 2 77

So, as you can see, the Panthers have found their identity – lock down defense.  It has become something the Panthers have done very well all season, and the team’s record shows that this is the difference-maker that coach Rob Jeter has looked for over his head coaching career.

With new emphasis on defense, Milwaukee is finally moving up into the echelon where their fans can expect tough defense and a shot to win every game.

Three reasons we’ll be thankful tomorrow #BasketballNeverStops

The hours are ticking down now, and the Milwaukee Panthers will be taking the court against the Michigan State Spartans. It’s going to be a huge barometer for the Panthers to see where they are at this point in the season.  Lose big and all the work to get to 4-0 will be for naught.  Lose close and people may be only slightly disappointed.

Win?

The talent is there to win, this is the truth.  But do I believe it’s going to happen?  Absolutely.  I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN.  And here are three reasons why:

1. No Izzone. In college basketball more than any other sport, the home court advantage matters.  All time, 72% of the victors in college basketball are the home teams, and while that comes from a number of things – familiarity, no travel lag, routine – no reason is more prominent than the student section.

The Izzone is daunting. And tonight, it will be empty.

And very few student sections in the country can call themselves as dedicated and raucous as those that occupy Michigan State’s Izzone.  Think of 2,000 Jimmy Lemke’s just bearing down on you.  As a collective, they’d drown me out without even trying.  Occupying almost a quarter of the lower bowl in the Breslin Center, the Izzone is loud, proud and not the least bit tactful about bringing up your drunk driving arrest.

Why should this be a reason that the Panthers will win?  They won’t be there.  MSU students, like every other student body in the country, practically vacate campus the day before Thanksgiving (this practice is immortalized in this film that should have run away with the Academy Award for Best Picture).  Tomorrow is no different.  On several MSU message boards, some fans are pleased they get to move down into the lower bowl.  Here’s to hoping they wish they went home for Thanksgiving early.

2. Get a little bit better every game.  I was worried, listening to the coaches and players talk early in the season, that this was all a dress rehearsal, that we were playing to peak going into March.  It worried me because I want to challenge for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament in case the Panthers have a tough game and lose in the conference tournament.  But I was listening wrong.  Yeah, our coaches want the team to peak at the end of the season.  And yes, the players haven’t been playing at that level all season.

Kelm is making astronomical strides every game. What does he have planned tonight?

But you know what?  They’re getting better.  Every game is a little bit better, a little bit stronger, a little bit quicker.  The team plays a little bit smarter, makes passes a little bit crisper, takes shots that are a little more open.  And the effect is astounding – the Panthers went from barely escaping against SMSU and NIU to shutting down future NBA player Alex Young and absolutely destroying NIT participant Texas Southern this past weekend.

I can’t wait to see what little bit gets better tonight.

3. Big players come up in big games. Whether it’s Ja’Rob McCallum against YSU to clinch the regular-season title or Kaylon Williams’ triple-double against Butler, the Panthers always seem to have someone come up big when they need it the most.  My personal favorite: Tony Meier’s performance against Cleveland State last year at the Wolstein Center was one for the ages, as he got so hot he drew Norris Cole as a defender and still scored at will.

While Meier won’t be the big time scorer, someone else is going to have to step up.  My money is on Paris Gulley, and this is why.  In the weeks leading up to the season, knowing that Kaylon Williams would be spending the first game on the bench, the coaching staff had to give Gulley a crash course in point guard play to make sure we had someone to lead the team on the court.  While we won the game despite his marginal play in the point guard position, the good news is that Williams is back – and so is Gulley.

Tonight would be a nice coming out party, Paris.

Williams at the 1 bumps Gulley to the 2, and he has now been back in his normal position for a week now.  The indication on Sunday against Texas Southern was that Gulley has found his shot; now let’s see what kind of step forward he takes on Wednesday.

The truth remains that the real three keys to victory are getting back on transition D, shutting down second-chance opportunities, and shooting effectively from both the field and the charity stripe.  But that doesn’t mean these aren’t important.

I just threw out Paris Gulley as a player who hasn’t gone gangbusters yet who should do so at some point.  His shot is there, it just needs to fall.  The possibility is that it’s James Haarsma, who could go underneath tall boys for a bunch of buckets. It could be Evan Richard, who can score with the best of them and should never put a lid on his shot.  It doesn’t matter who it is, how many of them do it, or what kind of numbers they put up.  What matters is one thing, and this is a tip of the cap to an old man who left us recently, but whose legacy will never be forgotten:

Just win, baby.

Quizzes passed; exam is next

Michigan State poses a much greater challenge than the Panthers have faced this season.

One team is 4-0. The other team is 2-2.  Cakewalk, right?

Of course not.  Because that 2-2 team is Michigan State, and their two losses are to fellow national elite programs North Carolina and Duke.  They’re the rulers of the Big Ten, the team whose last year outside the NCAA Tournament was 1997.

So how do the Michigan State Spartans stack up this season?  The team has obviously faced better competition than Milwaukee has, with decent results.

Familiar face, new jersey - take advantage of Wood's weak perimeter defense to get open shots.

Michigan State is ranked 25th in the nation in rebounding with 42.6 boards per contest.  The team has been held to just 40.4% shooting on the season, 250th in the nation.

But what is it that makes this Michigan State team a tough draw for Milwaukee?

Speed, speed and speed.  The Spartans have a familiar face to Panther fans, Brandon Wood, in the starting lineup, ready to run the court with anyone in the country.  Tomorrow, Wood gets to see a team that ended his conference tournament last year.

If the Panthers are to win, they need to do two things – they need to get back in transition and they need to stop MSU from getting second-chance points.  These two pieces, in addition to the obvious effective shooting, will put the Panthers in position to win the game.

Michigan State is not the best shooting team in the country.  They lost games against North Carolina and Duke because they missed many open looks and forced several bad shots.  They won the other two games by playing the offensive boards hard, creating those second-chance opportunities.  If the Panthers can play the defensive glass hard and force their will on the Spartans down low, they can limit those second-chance opportunities and maybe, just maybe, control the flow of the game.

Tomorrow would be a good day for McCallum to keep up his great shooting.

The other part of beating the Spartans is to get back in transition.  Because they’re a marginal shooting team, the Spartans try to create better shot opportunities by getting defensive rebounds and making quick outlet passes to score fast.  Being able to put the defense on their heels right away is what gets Michigan State better looks.  If the Panthers can’t play the offensive glass strong and/or shoot the ball well enough to win, the day could be a long one.

Defensively, Michigan State is as big and physical as they are on offense.  They give up shots, but take defensive rebounding very seriously as it’s a big part of their transition offense.  Milwaukee can get open looks by taking advantage of their perimeter defense (see: Brandon Wood guarding Kaylon Williams, 2011 Horizon Semifinals) and making open looks when they get them.

If Milwaukee can do those three things – get back on transition D, limit second-chance points and shoot effectively – they will have a great shot to win the game.

Go Panthers!

Texas Southern: A Closer Look

Hidden in the beastly effort over Texas Southern yesterday are statistics that are not found in the box score.  This year, we’ve shown you the Offensive Rating as well as the Free Throw Rate for the team.  Today, we’ll be including a few other stats and providing the numbers for every player in the rotation from last night’s game.

After struggling with his shot the first few games, Ja'Rob McCallum turned it on.

The Plus-minus rating is something that people are familiar with.  Basically, by documenting the score every time a player comes in and out of the game, you can find out how much better the Panthers do in scoring against their opponents when certain players are on the court.  It doesn’t favor guards or forwards, but typically favors the players who are on the court when the team makes a run, obviously.  If Kaylon starts the game and leaves when Milwaukee is up 25-2 and never comes back, Kaylon’s plus-minus is 23.  If Ryan Haggerty enters the game at 38-13 and leaves at 45-23, Ryan’s plus-minus rating is -3.  This continues all game and the totals are put together afterwards.

Once we have the Plus-Minus rating for individual players, you can find their Roland Rating.  The Roland Rating is a simple measurement that simply shows how the team did when the player was on the court and when the player was off the court.  For yesterday’s game, the players who were on the court during the big runs – read, starters – will have a much better rating than the players who came on the court after the big runs were over.  So while Shaq Boga has a Roland Rating of -26, the team still gained 9 points on the Tigers while he was on the court.

The final new statistic I’ll be adding in today is the Effective Field Goal Percentage.  While the eFG% is much the same as the normal field goal percentage, it comes with a tweak.  Three-pointers made are counted as 1.5 times the normal two-point field goal, because after all that’s how they’re counted in the game.  The three-point field goal is more difficult to achieve than the two-point field goal, so this equation rewards shooting guards who otherwise almost always end up with lower field goal percentages than their post counterparts.  While none of these numbers – as well as the Offensive Rating that we brought to you yesterday – are perfect, together they give the analyst a strong base on which to judge a player’s performance.

The leaders in each category are bold (minimum 3 shots to lead FG).

Player Offensive Rating Plus/Minus Roland Rating Effective Field Goal %
Kaylon Williams 140.2 30 25 77.7
Kyle Kelm 71.4 32 29 40
Ja’Rob McCallum 191.5 22 9 85.7
James Haarsma 124.4 28 21 40
Ryan Allen 180 23 11 66.6
Paris Gulley 144.2 6 -23 42.8
Shaquille Boga 85.1 9 -26 20
Demetrius Harris 137 7 -21 50
Evan Richard 115.3 4 -27 25
Ryan Haggerty 103.6 -4 -43 100

What the Panthers lack without #21

This much we knows is true: despite beginning the season 2-0, no one in the Milwaukee Panthers fan base has been pleased with how the two games have gone.

Southwest Minnesota State was playing the game at the end like they had a chance to win, because they did.  Northern Illinois almost clanked in a game-winner at the buzzer.  This is a team that lost first-team All-Conference player Anthony Hill and volume shooter Tone Boyle.  But what else is the team missing?

Tony Meier's absence has been notable. But what is it that makes him so important?

Tony Meier.  And everyone knows it.  But why is it that Tony Meier’s absence has the rest of the team in such a funk?

The fact of the matter is that without Tony Meier, the Panthers don’t have a lot of room with which to work.

Milwaukee’s offense is predicated very much on spacing.  Tony Meier’s role, whether the inside presence is Anthony Hill or James Haarsma and the point guard is Ricky Franklin or Kaylon Williams, is to provide spacing.  Yes, he’s there to score points. Yes, he’s there to draw fouls and take advantage of his great free-throw shooting.  But what makes Meier so effective, and the Panthers as a team, is the spacing they can achieve.

Spacing is all about spreading out a defense.  In the first couple games without Tony Meier, the Panthers have lost much of their ability to get spacing.  Take the starting lineup from tonight’s Northern Illinois game for example.  Ryan Allen and Ja’Rob McCallum start as the 2 and 3 on the wing, Kaylon Williams runs the point, and James Haarsma is the 5.  Without Tony Meier in the game, it is up to Kyle Kelm to run the 4 spot, with help from Ryan Haggerty and Demetrius Harris, depending on the personnel on the court.

Ja'Rob McCallum's newfound strength will help him drive the lane. But what if there's no lane to drive?

Kelm is a good player, and he’s going to be great down the road.  But Kelm has yet to show in college that he is a force to be reckoned with from the outside.  Because of their height, both Kelm and Meier have jump shots that are practically unblockable.  What a player like Evan Richard achieves with amazing jumping ability, they achieve just by being really tall.  Meier’s shooting, of course, has been far more consistent and effective – this is mainly because he has two years of experience on Kelm, but the fact remains that when he gets the outside shots, whether they be from two or three, he knocks them down.

This causes several things to happen.  First, and most important, Meier’s shooting ability from the outside forces the opposing defense to guard him when he’s out there.  Because they have to do that, they are not able to sag their four defender into the post and double-team the five.  In case you haven’t noticed, James Haarsma has been living with people on his back the first two games of the season.  These double teams are why.

Not only does the 5 find himself in a precarious position offensively, but that sagging 4 defender is also in place to cut off driving lanes for Milwaukee guards.  Ja’Rob McCallum’s newfound leg and arm strength led him to drive the lane at will against Parkside in exhibition, but against regular season opponents he isn’t finding the space to make that happen.  The same goes for Ryan Allen and Evan Richard.  While McCallum and Richard have the jump shots to step back and pop, Allen is still improving in that area and could be scoring more if Meier were in the lineup.

Speaking of McCallum and Richard stepping back and taking outside shots, the lack of an effective outside shooter at the four means that there are more outside shots.  I realize that sounds confusing, but having a post player who can also shoot well from the outside forces the defense to commit help out to him, which in turn opens up the driving lanes and closer shots.

There is one simple truth about basketball.  The closer you get to the rim, the higher shooting percentage you make.  So while it’s good to have Meier outside shooting threes, it’s better to have Anthony Hill inside pounding the glass.  Eight times out of ten you’re going to end up with the inside player scoring more.

Anthony Hill was very effective in the post, but how would he have done if he had the constant double-team that James Haarsma is facing this season?

This is the foundation of Milwaukee’s championship team.  For the first time in Jeter’s tenure, the Panthers not only found themselves above the cellar in shooting, but in the top half of the conference.  This came largely from Anthony Hill’s high shooting percentage, which existed because Anthony Hill spent his senior year camped out underneath the basket.

Without Meier on the court, Haarsma is getting double-teamed, finding the offensive glass much more crowded, and the team as a whole is finding their driving lanes cut off far more often than they would if Meier were on the court.

Meier is a decent post player, but his outside shooting makes him a many-headed monster and a scary player to guard.  That makes it impossible for opponents to leave him open on the perimeter, because if they do he makes them pay.  And by bringing the defenders out to meet him, the Panthers find much more open lanes in which to drive.

To me, the answer is simple.  The team can either wait for Meier to heal, weather the stormy November and hope he comes back in December ready to go immediately, or they can find that #4 who can score on both the inside and outside.

Kyle Kelm is that guy.  He has a good outside shooting stroke, but he needs it to be more consistent if he’s going to help the team fix its major spacing issue.  This is why the SMSU game was so troubling; Kelm seemed more comfortable on the outside, yet he was almost forcing himself to play that four spot underneath as a prototypical power forward.

Kelm bulked up this offseason, this much is obvious.  His arms and legs are noticeably stronger, but that doesn’t mean he needs to camp out on the block like Ant Hill did.  On the contrary, it should only mean that when he is down low, he can use that extra strength to power through defenders.  It doesn’t mean he needs to spend any more time on the block.  If you are a perimeter-shooting power forward, by all means continue to be that player.  I don’t think anyone is arguing Steve Novak should have played more down low at Marquette.

Find the player who can draw opponents to the outside at the four position, and the Panthers will find the key they need to open up the offensive locked door.

Horizon League Power Rankings (Dec. 6 – Dec. 13)

The Horizon League drops to 11th in conference RPI following a rough week for some league members.

The league returned to non-conference play following a week of conference matchups, and some teams fared much better than others.  See who’s up, who’s down in this weeks power rankings!

In descending order…

10. Youngstown State (Overall Record: 4-4, Conference Record: 0-2, RPI: 229)

Recent Results: Lost to Robert Morris 90-60, Beat Malone College (non-DI) 78-62

If there’s one thing we can tell about these Penguins, it’s that they’re not ready to contend in the Horizon League.  Youngstown State was absolutely throttled by an average Robert Morris team, and that has earned them the unenviable distinction of the worst team in the Horizon League.  Coach Jerry Slocum probably doesn’t deserve to coach this team next year, but in all likelihood, he will.

Up Next: Thursday at North Carolina State (5-3)

9. UIC (3-6, 0-2, 252)

Recent Results: Lost to Illinois State 53-43

Yes, I know they lost the only game they played this week, but to be honest, the only reason they moved up in the rankings was because of how poorly Youngstown State has played.  Against the Illinois State Redbirds, senior Paul Carter was the only guy out there with any game.  He accounted for 16 of the team’s 42 points and 11 of the team’s 29 rebounds.  The Flames need Zavion Neely to step up or else they could be back in the cellar in no time.

Up Next: Tuesday at Northern Illinois (2-4)

8. Green Bay (3-7, 1-1, 151)

Recent Results: Lost to Duquesne 81-71, Lost to Buffalo 78-64, Lost to Wisconsin 70-56

If not for a hard-fought loss against the Badgers, Green Bay might be even lower than the eighth spot.  Facing a shortage on guards after Seth Evans was ruled out against Wisconsin (flu), Coach Brian Wardle took the redshirt off freshman Kam Cerroni.  Cerroni, coming back after tearing his ACL in high school, had a game he soon hopes to forget.  There’s not going to be anybody else for Coach Wardle to pull off the bench at this point in the season.  He has to hope that guys will come together and learn on the fly.  An easier schedule in the next couple weeks should help with that.

Up Next: Monday vs. North Dakota (3-6)

7. Valparaiso (4-4, 2-0, 107)

Recent Results: Lost to (#18) Purdue 76-58, Lost to Toledo 75-72

A horrendous loss to Toledo drops Valpo to seventh this week.  The loss gives former Green Bay coach Tod Kowalczyk his first victory with the Rockets.  Coach Homer Drew would probably like nothing more than to get healthy over the next few games so the Crusaders can continue their solid play in the conference portion of the schedule.

Up Next: Saturday vs. IPFW (7-2)

Ja'Rob McCallum hopes to lead the Panthers with a strong December

6. Milwaukee (5-6, 1-1, 117)

Recent Results: Lost to Wisconsin 61-40, Beat South Dakota State 82-70

As bad as the Panthers looked against the Badgers, they were that good against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State.  Ja’Rob McCallum and Tony Meier have been outstanding over the past few games, and they’re the two biggest reasons Panther fans have hope for the rest of this season.  Senior leaders Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle need to find their stroke again.

Up Next: Tuesday at DePaul (3-6)

5. Wright State (3-5, 0-1, 163)

Recent Results: Beat Air Force 76-61, Beat Tusculum College 60-47

Wright State is a weak number five here, but beating Air Force pushes them ahead of Valpo and Milwaukee.  If they can follow that up with a couple of wins against MAC foes in the next week, then I’ll feel a little bit better about them being in this spot.  If not, look for them to drop a couple notches.  I’m just not too impressed by what they’ve done so far.  Let’s see if they prove me wrong.

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Central Michigan (2-6)

4. Detroit (5-5, 1-1, 196)

Recent Results: Lost to Western Michigan 71-69, Beat Eastern Michigan 68-65

The Titans needed all of Ray McCallum‘s 31 points to overcome Eastern Michigan on Saturday.  They’re in the top 100 in points and rebounding yet they toil in mediocrity.  The big question is why?  Why can’t the Titans put it together?  Why are they losing to teams like Western Michigan when they were predicted to be the second best team in the Horizon League?  Perhaps they were overrated coming into the season.  We’ll find out soon enough as the Titans re-enter conference play just before the New Year.

Up Next: Saturday at Central Michigan (2-6)

3. Loyola (8-3, 0-2, 194)

Recent Results: Beat SIU-Edwardsville 78-50, Lost to (#5) Kansas State 68-60

The Ramblers really turned it on in the second half against SIU-Edwardsville and continued that into their game against Kansas State.  Unfortunately, they weren’t able to upset the Wildcats, but they showed that they can play with almost anybody.  I like the Ramblers, a lot…  They have great team chemistry, and I think we’ll see that as they enter mid-season form.

Up Next: Saturday at DePaul (3-5)

2. Butler (4-4, 1-0, 53)

Recent Results: Lost to Xavier 51-49, Beat Mississippi Valley State 91-71

Losing to Xavier was tough since it was such an entertaining, albeit low-scoring game.  The Bulldogs just haven’t looked to be in sync yet as the season has progressed.  They have a few more tough games against good schools that should test their mettle and give some of the younger players like Chrishawn Hopkins and Khyle Marshall a taste of what it’s like to play in big games.

Up Next: Saturday vs. Stanford (5-2)

How did DJ Khaled make these power rankings?

1. Cleveland State (10-0, 2-0, 21)

Recent Results: Beat West Virginia Tech 94-62, Beat Sam Houston State 74-62

“All I do is win, win, win no matter what…”  These eloquent lyrics from DJ Khaled describe exactly what Cleveland State has done so far this year.  They continue to be ignored by the pollsters, but perhaps a win at West Virginia this week will be exactly what it takes for the Vikings to get some love.  Apparently having the most wins in all of college basketball isn’t enough…

Up Next: Saturday at West Virginia