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.

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!

Tweetus and Offensive Rating

Tweetus – Need to get pysched up for today’s match-up against Texas Southern?

In case you didn’t know, Ja’Rob McCallum operates with the nickname Simo Häyhä.  What in the name of umlauts does that mean?  I don’t know, but let’s hope he can get some consistency scoring behind the name change.  Apparently Meta World Peace was taken.

Significant numbers – Today I’m going to introduce you all to the statistic we know as “Offensive Rating,” or a smarter version of the plus-minus and Gonzaga ratings.  It’s an attempt to determine how important a player is to their team on the court.

Now, if you are unaware, the Plus-Minus rating is where you document the score as players come in and out of the game.  This way, you can determine which combinations of five players do the best.  Also, in a smaller way, you see which players are on the court when the team does well; since an individual player is not always on the court with the same four teammates every time, you see separation in the plus-minus and therefore may be able to determine which players are better.

The Offensive Rating takes this further.  The actual equation is “Offensive Rating = Individual points produced / individual possessions.”  However, knowing that both of those terms are foreign to most of our readers, we’ll dive in to each and then explain.

Individual points produced are the amount of points that an individual player is accountable for.  This includes the obvious made field goals and made free throws, but also includes points scored where the player plays an integral role in the points being scored.  This includes assists, which are tallied when points are scored and likely would not have been without the pass from the assist man, as well as offensive rebounds that lead to a score.  These are all important because the fact is that the player who scored the basket on the possession would likely not have done so without the help of the player who tallied those statistics.

Efficient.

The second part of this is individual possessions.  It’s very easy.  The amount of individual possessions is tallied by the amount of times the player is on the court when his team’s possession is ended by a made basket, turnover, or opponent defensive rebound.

So, when you take the individual points produced and divide it by the individual’s possessions, that’s where you get the Offensive Rating.  It is not entirely accurate.  It doesn’t take into account the possessions ended by players other than the subject.  So, when Kaylon Williams threw the ball way over Ryan Allen’s head on Friday, that possession counts for Kyle Kelm even though he did not have a direct or indirect play on the ball.

Even so, I believe it’s a better gauge of a player’s offensive ability and should be taken into account when choosing a line-up.

On the Panthers, no player has a better Offensive Rating than Mitch Roelke.  This has a lot to do with his two three-pointers against SMSU, but even more so to do with the lack of possessions he accumulated so far this season.

The score is a percentage.  So, if a player is on the court for one possession and scores one free throw before coming out of the game, his Offensive Rating is 100.  It’s the break-even mark and the number that is standard; in other words, if you play a bunch of minutes and you are higher than 100, you are doing a really, really good job.  Taking Mitch Roelke out, here are the players in the rotation and their Offensive Ratings:

Player Offensive Rating
Ryan Allen 120.1
James Haarsma 115.8
Evan Richard 107.7
Ja’Rob McCallum 97.9
Ryan Haggerty 96.4
Paris Gulley 92.5
Kyle Kelm 91.1
Kaylon Williams 75.4
Demetrius Harris 39.1

Don’t be alarmed by seeing Kaylon Williams so far down the list.  Williams plays in so many possessions and has a hand in so many scoring opportunities that it’s almost impossible for him to get a high rating.  Basically, you have to be extremely efficient when you are on the floor.  That’s why Ryan Haggerty, who does not play many minutes, is so high on the list – when he’s on the court, he makes the best of it.
I leave you with this, our current leader in Offensive Rating in the post:

Improve everyday – Texas Southern, 4 p.m. Sunday

As the Milwaukee Panthers wound down their time in the game against the IUPUI Jaguars, attention turned to Texas Southern, the next opponent to come through the Arena.  Milwaukee defeated IUPUI on Friday night to move to 3-0 on the season.

Texas Southern is 1-2 on the season, dropping their last game at Michigan State by 35 points on Friday.  The Tigers won their first game in the in-season tournament by dispatching Eastern Michigan 66-49 on Tuesday in their only home game thus far.

Ryan Allen will be key to slowing down Lawrence Johnson-Danner.

The Tigers are led in scoring by Lawrence Johnson-Danner, who is scoring 15 points per game and is shooting 47.8% from the floor.  Johnson-Danner also leads the Tigers in assists at 3.5 apg.  Omar Strong, who is scoring 13.6 points per game, is their second scoring option.  Strong has scored in double figures in each of the Tigers’ three games this season.

Texas Southern is 336th in the nation in rebounding this season, pulling in only 26.5 rpg.  However, the Tigers low rebounding totals can come from the efficiency on the offensive end; TSU is shooting 48.9% on the season, good for 73rd in the nation.

On the defensive end, the Tigers confuse opponents by throwing a number of looks on them.  They play the press often, using an 11-man rotation to keep the defense rested.  The Tigers also throw a lot of zone looks at opposing teams, switching frequently to achieve that confusion.

The efficient shooting of LJD and the other Tigers will be a stiff test for Milwaukee’s stout defense.  Since returning Kaylon Williams from the one-game suspension and moving Paris Gulley back to his normal position of shooting guard, the Panthers have given up 57 and 49 points in two games based on a wicked perimeter defense from Williams, Gulley and Ryan Allen.

Game time is 4 p.m., leaving Packer fans a lot of time to get to the arena once the Pack has the game in hand against Tampa Bay.

Lonnie Boga confirmed to PantherU on Friday night that he will be in uniform and ready to return to action against Texas Southern.

League vs. League – Summit’s IUPUI invades

Opponent #3: IUPUI Jaguars, November 18th, US Cellular Arena

Ron Hunter spent a very large portion of the past two decades as head coach of the Summit League’s IUPUI Jaguars.  So it was a bit of a surprise when the noted good samaritan took his feet down to Georgia State of the CAA last spring.  His replacement, Todd Howard, spent 16 years at IUPUI as an assistant and associate head coach, so the Jaguars have been prepared for this for awhile, but it’s still a surprising move outside of Indy.  The Jaguars are set at most positions and, unlike the Huskies who also went through a coaching transition, aren’t expected to fall off.

Alex Young will be one hard man to stop at the Cell on November 18th.

– Key player: Alex Young. The senior wingman does it all for IUPUI.  At 6’6” and 200 lbs., Alex Young is an iron man for the Jags.  Young rarely comes off the court, averaging 31.6 minutes last season as a junior.  The hometown wing was first on the team with 19.7 ppg in 2010-11, and no player in the country comes into this season having scored as many points as Alex Young, who has 1,633 to his name already.  Head coach Todd Howard had this to say to IUPUIJags.com. “He’s worked tremendously on his perimeter game and is one the premier slashers in the nation. Plus, he’s really focused on all the other ways to score, whether it be putbacks, getting to the (free throw) line and finishing in transition. In the jump from his freshman to sophomore year, we talked a lot about finding extra opportunities to score.”

– Wanted: dimes. Starting point guard John Ashworth, who led the team with 96 assists last season, has departed.  That leaves a hole to fill in the starting lineup.  Stephen Thomas could move from shooting guard over to the point, but that just moves the hole over to shooting guard.  That role could be filled by Sean Esposito, the junior who scored the most amount of points outside the starting lineup.  Sophomore Donovan Gibbs could also be that guy for the Jaguars if they wanted to go big, moving Young down to shooting guard.

– Sophomore Surge. IUPUI players in the past have blossomed as sophomores.  Alex Young did it, now San Antonio Spurs George Hill did it, and so did a slew of others.  Among the crop of sophomores-to-be, Donovan Gibbs looks to be the one to make the jump.  With an opening on the wing, Gibbs has the opportunity to move himself into major playing time this season.

– Long, athletic, fast. They definitely have big bodies – Cameron Loepker, a junior center who started at IUPUI, left, and came back, is 6’9” and 275 – but their real strength is long, quick athletes.  Christian Siakam led the team with 6.9 rpg but was extremely athletic in the paint doing so, grabbing 108 offensive rebounds on the season.  P.J. Hubert, Marcellus Barksdale, Nick Kitcoff, Gibbs, and Lyonnell Gaines provide Howard with a lot of long bodies to throw at Milwaukee’s taller players.  IUPUI has a lot more height than the average Horizon League team.

The Jaguars have been paced by Young, but fell victim to UALR 75-70 on Tuesday night.  The game was well-played, but the Jaguars couldn’t gain an edge on UALR inside the paint, being outrebounded 38-30 and giving up 12 second-chance points.

IUPUI guard Stephen Jackson was out of the first game but played against UALR.  Overall, the Jags are shooting well but are not getting to the line as much as they’d like.

In the early season, with the talent level they are bringing into the Cell, this is the stiffest test the Panthers have faced thus far.

Tip-off is 7 p.m, but join PantherU.com for a pre-game meal at Major Goolsby’s at 5 p.m.  Some IUPUI faithful are going to join us and it’s always a good time when fans from opposing teams can get together in good fun.