Rivalry renewed at Hinkle #BeatButler #HLMBB

There is a real opportunity sitting in front of the Milwaukee Panthers.  Hinkle Fieldhouse, the site where Milwaukee kicked off its 12-game conference regular season winning streak, will be rocking on Saturday as the Butler Bulldogs try to get a leg up in the early Horizon League race.  They see what we see; at 3-1 and 2-1, the Panthers and Bulldogs are not separated by much and Butler will do no worse than tie the first tiebreaker (head to head) with the Panthers.  At 4-0 and 1-2, Milwaukee puts the Bulldogs in a big hole to climb out of and keeps the pressure on Cleveland State to keep pace.  The Vikings play Youngstown State at 1 p.m. today.

'AAAAAAAAAAAAh'm frustrating to watch!'

The chance to go 4-0 with two of the hardest games of the Horizon League schedule behind them is a big deal for the Panthers.  But the Bulldogs, as always, will try and thwart Milwaukee’s plans.

Sometimes it just takes a simple event for a team to really get it.  Maybe it’s a discussion among team members about what they want their season to be.  Perhaps a coach makes an impassioned speech and the players respond.  It could be playing time; when someone isn’t clicking with the rest of the team, they might need to take a step back to really help themselves grow as well as the team.

For Butler, the game has really changed since Chrishawn Hopkins has seen his playing time dwindling.  It isn’t a knock on Hopkins; it’s just a fact that the Bulldogs are better on both sides of the floor when he is out of the game.  Following the Valparaiso loss, Hopkins’ playing time has dwindled considerably, and the Bulldogs have gotten better.  In his first eight games, Hopkins played over ten minutes in all but one game.  Since, he has played less than ten in four of six games.  In games where Hopkins plays less than five minutes, the Bulldogs are 3-0 against Stanford, Purdue and Green Bay.  If he plays more than five, the Dawgs are 4-7.

The Bulldogs are significantly better with this guy on the bench.

Beyond Hopkins, the Bulldogs are still up and down when shooting the ball.  Their shooting percentage hit a recent high of 46.4% against Stanford (they eclipsed that plateau in the opener against Evansville and against Oakland City), but they haven’t been shooting like the normal Butler team shoots.  Missing players like Zach Hahn, Shelvin Mack, and Matt Howard has done two things. First, taking away those good shooters automatically lowers your percentages.  Second, the void of those players, specifically Mack and Howard, means that defenses haven’t had to commit more than the normal attention to any one player, so while Chase Stigall had much more free reign to take open shots last season, he’s not getting those open shots because defenses aren’t sagging off him in an attempt to stop pros that have now cycled out of the program.

The Bulldogs rely heavily on Andrew Smith to be a playmaker, and they’ve gotten a mixed bag. Some games he’s flourished, like he’s done against Evansville, Chattanooga, and Oakland City.  Other times, he is a complete non-factor, as you can see in games like Valpo, Ball State and Gonzaga.  But usually, you’re going to get the same kind of stats he put up last year, because in a lot of ways he’s just a guy.  Thrust into the spotlight, he’s getting the same production he got when he was the fourth option offensively.

Someday he'll be a star, but Marshall hasn't the skill or defensive ability to lead quite yet.

A big disappointment, at least from my end because I loved watching him in the tournament last year, has been Khyle Marshall.  His production has been steady (9.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and he’s more efficient (55.2% FG, 33% 3PT, 55.7% eFG), but he hasn’t really taken the reigns like I expected out of him.  Marshall is a wonderful athlete with a great upside, but like any player with upside that means he still has a ways to go.  The sophomore still lacks the skills that will put him over the top in the future and make him an All-League candidate.  The other thing about Marshall is that he’s struggled to defend this season, which has put the Bulldogs in a tight spot.

Look for Milwaukee to take advantage of Butler’s weaker interior by taking it right at Smith.  If they can take the seven-footer out of the game, then they can really attack the inside and win the game that way.  Playing an inside-out game threatens their stiff defense and stretches them out; this is why it pays to have even your big forwards shooting the three-ball, but I suspect James Haarsma will get most of his points in the paint.

I don’t know who is going to be the X-Factor to help the Black and Gold win.  It could be anybody – Meier, Williams, Allen, Haarsma, Kelm, Richard, or Gulley – all have done it for the Panthers when others struggle.  That’s what makes this team so good. By having a bunch of players who can play very well on any given night, the Panthers are a very difficult team for which to prepare; it’s like seven different kinds of smoke.

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

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.

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: