Badgers game brings rare heavyweight bout #BeatUW

For the first time in four years and only the fourth time since Milwaukee went D-I in 1990, the Wisconsin Badgers will be making the trip to Brew City to take on the Milwaukee Panthers.  The Badgers are 8-2, identical to the Panthers, but their resume is far more impressive.

While other Badgers get more pub, Ryan Evans is quietly a driving force behind Bucky's success.

Wisconsin boasts three guards – Jordan Taylor, Josh Gasser, and Ben Brust – that can beat you by themselves.  Taylor is a pre-season All-American who runs the point and can do it all for the Badgers.  While an ankle injury has slowed him down somewhat, he still can get the ball to Wisconsin’s scorers, giving UW a dangerous point man to run the show.

Josh Gasser was recruited heavily by the Milwaukee coaching staff that tried to import the entire Swing AAU club – Gasser, Kyle Kelm, Evan Richard, Chip Rank, and Marquis Mason – but failed to do so.  Gasser is the point guard of the future, but right now is content with filling up buckets and playing the glue man when Taylor is on point.

Kaylon Williams needs to control the game the way he can.

Receiving a player that had committed to Iowa didn’t make a lot of headlines, but Ben Brust has proven that he is capable of being a big time scorer that the Badgers have lacked for quite some time.  Brust is a streak shooter who occasionally catches lightning in a bottle and beats teams by himself.  He scored 21 against BYU and 27 against UNLV in two games that proved you can’t leave him open on the arc (he was a combined 14-for-17 from three in the two games) under any circumstances.  Outside of those two games, his effectiveness has been limited to low-majors (Kennesaw State, Colgate, UMKC) but he is still a dangerous shooter.

The big problem for Milwaukee could come on the front line, however.  Kyle Kelm and James Haarsma had difficulty with UNI’s large front line, and the Badgers’ version is only better.  Jared Berggren is the kind of center that doesn’t make mistakes and scores at a decent clip.  Berggren may not be the big time banger on the glass, but usually he doesn’t have to be as the Badgers are a solid shooting team.

Ryan Evans could be the game changer for the Badgers tomorrow night.  At 6’6”, Evans is tall enough to give guys like Paris Gulley fits trying to guard his size, but he’s also quick enough to get by Tony Meier or Kyle Kelm.  He’s a good shooter inside the arc and, like Ricky Franklin or Kaylon Williams, has a nose for rebounds and wins rebounding battles against taller forwards.

Defense is how Milwaukee will send Bucky home whimpering.

In the end, though, it all comes down to Bo Ryan.  The coach turned Wisconsin basketball from barely-high-major to full-on power program in a short space of time.  Bo’s tenure at Milwaukee was short but helped our program springboard into our first real national success, and all that is due to his coaching and recruiting ability.  While Ryan doesn’t tend to get many top-50 recruits, he does pick up a lot of players that do two things – shoot the ball well from anywhere on the floor at any size, and take care of the basketball.

The Badgers’ vaunted Swing offense has built them into a team that can beat just about anyone.  The Kohl Center has become part of that identity too, a death trap for opposing programs.

But we’ve got some things that ‘ol Bucky may not be counting on.  The Arena is no easy court to win in, especially when the place is full as it looks to be close to tomorrow.  A high number of tickets have been sold to Panther fans, who are starting to come out of the woodwork with Milwaukee’s excellent start to the season.  The Panthers also have built an identity on defense.  Now, that identity may have been shaken by the events of last week, but the Badgers will not run the ball like DePaul and Milwaukee will not break down right after it did so at UNI.

Milwaukee can guard any team in the country, they just need to dig, to never stop digging in.  The Panthers have legitimate three-point threats at every position on the floor, and if they close out on the arc they’ll be able to give Bucky fits all day.

This is the most important part.  One of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths is that they do not make mistakes, and they sit and bide their time and wait for you to make yours.  Once the mistakes happen, the Badgers grab hold of it and never let go.

It is very important that Kaylon Williams understands this last part.  At UNI, in front of dozens of family and friends from Cedar Rapids, Williams forced himself into trying to impress them and do everything for the Panthers.  This led to a lot of mistakes (seven turnovers in the box score, could have easily been nine) that UNI capitalized on and blew the game open.

Williams shot the ball well and found open players on the court, but he needs to settle down against Wisconsin and not let what they do fluster him on the court. Slow down, control the game, and good things will happen.  Always, always, always take care of the ball, and Milwaukee will come out on top.

This is your opportunity, Milwaukee, to show the country that this is a program to be reckoned with.

TROUNCE ‘EM POUNCE

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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.

Black and Gold gets it right in second stanza

After going in at halftime with only a four-point lead against a team picked to be one of the dregs of the Horizon League, the Milwaukee Panthers came out of the break firing to blow out the Loyola Ramblers, 59-41 in front of 3,517 fans at the U.S. Cellular Arena.

Ryan Allen had a major alley-oop, but more importantly played mistake free for 28 minutes

Milwaukee’s first-half problems had a lot to do with how they shot the ball; there were quite a bit of missed shots that allowed the Ramblers to keep it close, and the Panthers led 22-18 at halftime.

Perhaps a big reason the Panthers shot poorly was that they missed Ja’Rob McCallum in the lineup.  McCallum, who had an injured wrist in the offseason, had the injury flare up on him and the team held him out as a precaution so as not to aggravate it further.  The Panthers really missed McCallum’s high offensive rating (103.5) when they were forced to start Paris Gulley in his place.

Gulley, who started the SMSU game at point guard to start the season, started in the shooting guard slot and did not win anybody over with his play on offense tonight.  Gulley had a rough night shooting the ball, going 0-for-5 from the field and registering only a turnover and two personal fouls in 17 minutes of play.  Gulley did play his usual airtight defense, locking down Joe Crisman, who finished with six points despite coming in averaging over ten.

Still, the shooting guard rotation seems to have cleared up a bit.  Evan Richard, who had a rough time last week, came out and did enough to warrant continued playing time.  With McCallum out, Richard played 23 minutes and scored seven points on 2-of-5 shooting with a three pointer and two free throws.  Richard also registered elsewhere, picking up three rebounds as well as an assist and a block without turning the ball over once.

Kaylon Williams was in control the whole time he was in the game.

Once the game got into the second half, the team’s shooting woes subsided and the Panthers grew a commanding lead gradually over the course of the half.  Milwaukee got solid performances from Kyle Kelm (13 pts, 6 rbs, 2 blks, 6-for-7 FG) and Kaylon Williams (12 pts, 7 rbs, 7 asts, 3 stls, only 2 TO) to really blow the game wide open.

It seemed that Williams and Kelm have really started to grow a rapport with each other and it showed tonight.  Kelm’s 6-of-7 from the floor came largely from Williams finding him down low for easy baskets.  Because Kelm has been shooting the ball better from the outside as the season has gone on, and James Haarsma has all season, the Panthers were able to stretch out the Rambler defense and get a lot of nice inside looks.  This really was where the Panthers broke the game open, scoring 34 points in the paint compared to Loyola’s 8.

The other good part about the game was the fact that the Panthers cut down on mistakes in a huge way.  Their seven turnovers were the lowest they’ve had all season and the leader, point guard Kaylon Williams, only turned the ball over twice on a couple of passes where he drove and tried to do too much with it.  Williams especially looked much better today, controlling the game in a way reminiscent of Jason Kidd.  His assist to turnover ratio for the season has been boosted to 1.6.

Remember when I wrote "There's no better feeling than faith rewarded?" Rob Jeter's team is 6-1, the best start in his career. Photo by UWM Post.

All of this said and I haven’t even gotten to Ryan Allen, the senior wing guard who led the team with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes of mistake-free basketball.  Allen didn’t take the outside shots that Loyola gave him early in the game, but in a stretch in the second half he hit two long distance bombs that barely touched net, then hit both free throws he took with dead-eye accuracy.

Tony Meier returned tonight, playing 18 tough minutes as he scored three points and pulled down four rebounds while going 1-of-6 from the field.  It was Meier’s first game action since the NIT game at Northwestern in March.  Look for him to get better and help the team more as he gets over his leg injury.

The game wasn’t without its problems.  The slow first-half start was troublesome, as was the continued mediocre shooting from the free throw line (7-for-14).  Milwaukee could have really blown the game open if they had taken care of business in the first half.  In the final five minutes, coach Rob Jeter took a few players out when instead of running the clock down, they pushed the tempo to try and get some points.  After that, the Panthers’ “C” team played out the game.  Milwaukee registered two trillionaires on the night in Christian Wolf and Quinton Gustavson (that’s 1 or more minutes played with no statistical implication on the box score).

Milwaukee turns its attention to struggling UIC on Saturday to hopefully go 2-0 to start the Horizon League season and get off to an impressive 7-1 start heading into the big hitters of the non-conference schedule.

Highlights:

Press Conference:

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.

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 (February 22 – 28)

The Horizon League holds steady in the conference RPI ranks remaining ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference for 11th this week.

In descending order…

10. UIC (Overall Record: 6-23, Conference Record: 2-16, RPI: 288)

Recent Results: Lost to Valparaiso 79-65

The season is drawing to a close for the Flames.  A couple bright lights on a dim season:  Senior F Paul Carter – Finished on the all-newcomer team averaging 14.6 points and 8 rebounds per game.  Senior G Robo Kreps – Would have received consideration for the all-conference third team (if one rightfully existed) averaging 16 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 2.9 assists per game.  Next year will be a fresh start for coach Howard Moore.  It’s time for Moore to put his stamp on this program.  Projected conference tournament finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Cleveland State (22-7)

9. Youngstown State (7-20, 2-16, 291)

Recent Results: Lost to Green Bay 71-60, Lost to Milwaukee 94-87 (OT)

The Penguins came within inches of ruining Milwaukee’s season, but like so many games before, they came up just short.  Youngstown State finished with just one player receiving any conference accolades.  Sophomore F Damian Eargle – Averaging 11 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 3 blocks per game, Eargle had the best season of any Penguin and finished as a member of the all-newcomer team.  Eargle could have also made a strong case for the All-Defensive team.  Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Valparaiso (19-10)

8. Loyola (16-14, 7-11, 195)

Recent Results: Beat Valparaiso 68-48, Lost to Butler 63-56

The Ramblers were able to squeak out one more conference win in a dismal conference season.   The Ramblers finished with one player in the conversation for any conference accolades.  Senior G Geoff McCammon – On his way to earning the Horizon League’s Sixth Man of the Year award, McCammon averaged 14.5 PPG and 3 RPG while averaging 43.2% from beyond the arc (and ironically leading the team with 30.9 minutes per game).   One could make the case that sophomore F Ben Averkamp was a third team performer.    Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Detroit (15-15)

7. Green Bay (13-17, 8-10, 164)

Recent Results: Beat Youngstown State 71-60, Lost to Cleveland State 64-57

A big round of applause is deserved for senior G Rahmon Fletcher who ends his career as one of the greatest Phoenix of all time.  The diminutive point guard finished the year as a member of the all-conference second team averaging 16 PPG and 3 APG.  Fletcher should have a nice long career overseas.  Also finishing with postseason accolades is freshman C Alec Brown.  Named to the all-newcomer team, Brown finished the season with 10 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.1 BPG.  Projected Finish: Lose in the first round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday at Wright State (16-13)

6. Detroit (15-15, 10-8, 146)

Recent Results: Beat Wright State 77-67

A nice win to end an unsuccessful regular season for the Titans, but they’ll have a lot of work to do if they wish to reach the NCAA tournament.  Still, in all of their mediocrity, they pulled in a bunch of postseason awards.  Freshman G Ray McCallum Jr. was named the Newcomer of the Year in the Horizon League as well as to the all-newcomer team and all-conference second team.  It’s a pretty impressive haul, but it left some people wondering if it was well deserved, or if it was just a product of being a McDonald’s All-American.  Junior F/C Eli Holman also pulled in honors as a member of the all-conference second team and the all-defensive team.  Again, some question whether Holman was truly worthy of the second team.    Projected Finish: Lose in the second round; no postseason

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Loyola (16-14)

5. Wright State (16-13, 10-8, 128)

Recent Results: Lost to Cleveland State 74-72, Beat Hofstra 82-56

The Raiders slipped in their last game of the year and will now take on the Green Bay Phoenix in the first round.  One man that should will them to victory is first team all-conference senior G Vaughn Duggins.  Duggins truly had an outstanding season averaging 18 PPG and 3.8 RPG.  His backcourt mate N’Gai Evans earned second team all-conference with 14.2 PPG, 4 RPG, and 3.3 APG.    Projected Finish: Lose in the second round; no postseason

Up Next: Friday vs. Detroit (14-15)

4. Valparaiso (19-10, 12-6, 71)

Recent Results: Lost to Loyola 68-48, Beat UIC 79-65

Valpo faltered down the stretch, losing 3 of their last 4 and squandering an opportunity for a first round bye.  Still, the Crusaders had a successful season with Junior G Brandon Wood leading the way as a first-team all-conference player.   A case could have been made for Ryan Broekhoff to be included on the second-team, but he’d have to settle for consideration for the third-team.  The Crusaders would have had a much better season had Cory Johnson not regressed so much in his senior year.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Semifinals; CBI/CIT

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Youngstown State (7-20)

3. Cleveland State (22-7, 13-5, 37)

Recent Results: Lost to Milwaukee 87-83, Beat Green Bay 64-57

The Vikings blew a huge opportunity that now puts them behind the eight ball.  Losing to Milwaukee at home dropped them to third in the pecking order, and quite possibly ruined what was a fantastic season.  Senior G Norris Cole, who is a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard, is 2011’s Horizon League Player of the Year.  He also placed on the all-defensive team as the Defensive Player of the Year.  Clearly, Cole is a special player that should find a place on an NBA bench.  Also receiving postseason honors is junior G Trevon Harmon who is a member of the all-defensive team.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Semifinals; NIT

Up Next: Tuesday vs. UIC (6-23)

Matt Howard gave his blood, sweat, and tears to the Butler program. Bulldog fans should be proud.

2. Butler (20-9, 13-5, 45)

Recent Results: Beat Loyola 63-56

The Bulldogs didn’t quite finish where they hoped, but they still have a chance at accomplishing their goal of making it back to the NCAA tournament.  Outgoing senior F Matt Howard has had an outstanding career and caps it off as a member of the all-conference first team as well as the all-defensive team.  Congratulations to him on an outstanding career.  Also, Junior G Shelvin Mack finished on the second-team and Ronald Nored finished on the all-defensive team.  Projected Finish: Win the Horizon League Tournament; NCAA Tournament Auto Bid

Up Next: Saturday vs. UIC/Cleveland State/Green Bay/Wright State (at Milwaukee)

Ryan Allen has been a tremendous spark of the bench for Horizon League COY Rob Jeter.

1. Milwaukee (18-12, 13-5, 98)

Recent Results: Beat Cleveland State 87-83, Beat Youngstown State 94-87 (OT)

What an incredible story these Panthers have to tell.  Finding themselves sitting at seventh place in conference play at a 4-5 record, and just coming off a 60-43 thrashing at the hands of Valpo, the Panthers knew something had to change.  They held a team meeting where everything was laid out on the table.  Nothing was held back.   And the rest?  Well, that’s what we like to call history folks.  Senior F Anthony Hill went on to average 20 PPG, 6.5 RPG and shoot 76.6% at the stripe over this 9-game stretch and earned first team all-conference along the way.  Junior PG Kaylon Williams would go on to average 7.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG (!) and 7.8 APG (!) while earning a spot on the all-newcomer team (and certainly made a case for the second-team).   Junior G/F Ryan Allen was asked to defend the opponent’s best guard in crunch time, and while he didn’t play the minutes necessary to earn a spot on the all-defensive team, he was as important to his team as any other player.  Finally, head coach Rob Jeter improved as a coach so much that he earned the Horizon League Coach of the Year award; a well deserved honor for a guy who put all his faith in his vocal point guard, and had a lot of help from his qualified assistants.  Projected Finish: Lose in the Championship Game; NIT

Up Next: Saturday vs. Youngstown State/Valparaiso/Loyola/Detroit