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.

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