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.

My ideas for Year Three

By now, you’ve heard that the Banner Boys Charity Game was a resounding success. The fact that hundreds of fans showed up to watch former college stars essentially play a pick-up game was enough to convince me that this event has staying power.

It has everything.  Recent stars such as Ricky Franklin and James Eayrs on the same court as Clay Tucker and Boo Davis?  I’m in!  Fans of Bruce Pearl’s squads have all their favorite cast members in black and gold once again, bringing back memories of old.  Even casual fans of basketball got to enjoy all the talent on the court.  It was really an excellent experience all-around.

And I think it could be even better.  So here’s my offer, Joah, some ideas for you to kick around next spring when you’re planning the 3rd Annual Banner Boys Charity Basketball Game.

My number one choice for a venue.

Move it to the KC. There’s really no reason that this game should be played anywhere but the Klotsche Center.  Nicolet High School is the alma mater of Tucker, Steven Pearl and a bunch of other potential Banner Boys game participants, and they get it for free, but this is an event celebrating the Milwaukee Panthers’ greatest years.  Let’s bring the game to campus.

This can’t just be on Joah.  The university, for all its good parts, has an awful view of its prime athletic facility.  Outside of women’s basketball and volleyball games, the Klotsche Center Arena plays host to the season opening intra-squad scrimmage and not much else.  This year, it took a lot of hand wringing for them to take a holiday showcase game featuring incoming freshman Kyle Kelm and the Randolph Rockets.  That was a nice event, which got decent attendance from the Milwaukee Athletics community that was very interested in seeing one future player.  You’re gonna tell me that they wouldn’t get more for this event?!

It would be a great public relations move if the university offered up the Klotsche Center for free.  Let Joah Tucker’s sponsors pay for the insurance and referees, but waive the fee to rent out the facility.  We don’t need to make money on an event like this, the PR love we’d get would be free marketing for the school.  If UWM is dead set on making money, offer the arena for free and keep all the money made on concessions; Mount Mary sold a hell of a lot last night.

Is the possibility there that the university would lose money by putting this game on?  Absolutely.  But it’s for charity, and like I said, free marketing.  A no-brainer for the UWM brass.

Milwaukee goes nuts for Tosa East grad Devin Harris

Get NBA players in the game. Wes Matthews is a great guy with deep UWM connections, dating a former women’s soccer player (and attending a majority of her games at Engelmann) since high school.  He’s participating in the Milwaukee Pro-Am, so you know he’s up for off-season b-ball.  And he can use it as a contribution to NBA Cares.  Carl Landry and Alando Tucker are friends with many former UWM players that were in the game last night.  Devin Harris was recruited to Milwaukee but ended up following Rob Jeter to Wisconsin, and his first Dallas Mavericks jersey hangs in Coach’s office.  Pitch raising money for charity to these guys; tell them all the great things the Jared C. Bruce Academy does for young students on the north side.

You want these people because then the draw is so much bigger.  The Klotsche Center on UWM’s campus would be packed if all of those players were assembled against the Panther alumni for a basketball game.  And if we don’t need to move Avery Smith, Ricky Franklin and Deion James to the away team to fill out the rosters, I’d be willing to bet that game would be DAMN good.  Would we lose?  Who cares?  It’s for charity!

No need to make these events go head to head.

Avoid the Pro-Am. I had a laugh the other day when I checked out Joah’s picture on Facebook, the banner for the game. The comments section was full of friendly trash talk between opposing players, but also contained a comment from Jim Ganzer, organizer of the Milwaukee Pro-Am, in its first year. The picture has been taken down since, but the comment went somewhere along the lines of “So I’m gonna be missing 15 players from the Pro-Am that day?”

Whoops.  The fact is that Joah had the August 6th date committed months ago, but communication with Ganzer would have prevented the problem.  Also, you don’t want to make players like Wes Matthews and Scott Merritt choose between a UWM charity event and a Marquette driven event like the Pro-Am.  Merritt was lined up to play in the Banner Boys game tonight, but wasn’t there.  I’m sure he was at the Pro-Am, which is totally fine, he had a double-commitment and had to pick one.

But we don’t want to make them pick.  So, when the date at the Klotsche Center is picked (hopefully by May or so), it would be prudent to drop Jim Ganzer a line so he doesn’t have a night when he’ll be missing many players.  These are both great events, and I don’t want fans like mupanther to have to choose between them.  Separate the dates.

The Brewers schedule should also be taken into account.  While the Crew don’t play basketball, they do bring in 35,000 fans a game, and on a weekend night like the Banner Boys game, they’ll bring in closer to 45,000.  That’s a lot of people that may be basketball fans that instead choose to tailgate at Miller Park.

Coach is good behind a microphone. Let's get him using it!

Get Coach Jeter involved. This is another easy move.  Rob Jeter was in attendance tonight, one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave.  He took a seat on the west end of the bleachers and took in the game.  When LeVar was announcing the players, it occurred to one of my fellow Panthers that coach Jeter should be doing the introductions.  After all, many of these guys played for him, and while guys like Torre Johnson, Derrick Wimmer, and Myles McKay didn’t have the smoothest of exits from the program, most of them are on good terms with Coach.  It’s also a priority of Jeter’s to keep the former players around the program, and it would be nice to see Coach “let his hair down” and enjoy himself.  The fans will eat that up.  For as cool as a guy Coach Jeter is, a lot of our fans prefer the outgoing (understatement of the century) nature of Bruce Pearl.  I’m not saying Jeter has to get all John Mason out there (B-b-b-b-b-b-Big Lumba!), but it would be nice to see him introducing the Marvelous Torre Johnson to the fans.

Break out the Bubbly, it's the Banner Boys.

Make it an event.  The UWM alumni players get together maybe once or twice a year.  It’s always a great time, and the fans enjoy it because they get to reminisce with their heroes; for instance, tonight a few fans had a fun time as different players deflected the blame for the champagne incident pictured here on others.  If you believe Rob Sanders, James Wright, Chris Hill, Joah Tucker, Boo Davis, and Ed McCants, then it was all of them (and Mark Pancratz), because each player was implicated by someone else. Kind of like Clue, but fun.

When I say make it an event, you want people to get more out of it then watch a basketball game.  If the game is at the Klotsche Center, have a cookout outside prior to the game so fans and players can intermingle and break bread together.  People may break out checkbooks and give more money to the cause if Joah gets more face time with his fans.

As far as in the game itself, bring a microphone and have the emcee (I’ll get to him later) talk to players about their favorite experiences, teammates and moments in time.  Fans will go bananas over that kind of intimate interaction.  Obviously most of the time would be used by Joah to talk about the Academy and his own experiences, but any of the players can participate.  It’s a great filler for when players are running layup lines and stretching; get the crowd involved early on, even before the game begins.

The Game on ESPN 540 was great for marketing this year, but it should have been done earlier.

Market the hell out of it.  PantherU has been the only place that really hammered the promotion of this event until the past couple days.  UWMPanthers.com, ESPN 540 and JSOnline all had coverage over the last day and a half, with the former two actually getting full coverage.  But by the day before an event, most people already have their plans for the following night.  Get a banner on UWMPanthers.com, PantherU.com (shameless self-promotion), talk to Bill Johnson several days before the event, and get Tom Enlund to cover it the Monday before.  That way, people know what’s going on so they can plan for it.

Sell t-shirts. I mean, I want one of those Banner Boys shirts!  By selling them, you’re getting even more money for the scholarship fund.  Many printers will even give a major discount or do it for free if you put their logo and phone number on the sleeve or something, especially if it’s for charity.  By putting the apparel out there, you brand the event and people will remember it for next year.

You can't deny it, I'd be a natural behind the mic.

Make me the PA announcer. Coach Jeter doesn’t have to go John Mason, but I most certainly will.  Public address announcers at these events are basically cheerleaders anyways, and who fires up a crowd of Panther fans better than me?

Welcome to the new PantherU!

It is my pleasure to announce the official re-launch of PantherU.com!  Founded in May 2009, PantherU is the unofficial fan website for the Milwaukee Panthers.  However, we plan to include much more in the future of the site to bring in fans from all Horizon League schools.  Take a look around, enjoy yourself.  Here are some of the features we will have:

– Recruiting.  Panther basketball recruits are featured in their own section, and we will follow their recruitment closely over the process to see where they’re at.

– Podcasts. This is a feature that will be coming later, but the fact of the matter is that Panther Athletics are very underrepresented in local sports talk radio.  Expect the first podcast to be up by the end of next week.

– Comprehensive coverage. Using student beat writers, PantherU will aim to bring you the news and commentary that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and UWMPanthers.com cannot or will not provide.  Our goal is to have new and fresh material multiple times a day, so every time you log on is a new experience!

– Information. Students, fans, alumni, and the UWM community at large are not as familiar with Panther Athletics, traditions, and other things around the program as we’d like them to be.  This website will allow students to get knowledgeable on all things Milwaukee Panthers.  Slowly, this section of the site will be expanded even more than its current state.

– Forums. Panther fans are welcome to join the UWMFreak forum that PantherU members frequent.  However, recently, we noticed the need for all team’s fans to have one forum to share their thoughts.  Often, I find myself posting the same things or talking about the same subjects on multiple forums.  Since PantherU will attempt to provide at least some coverage for other schools, we’ve decided to also launch a forum specifically for Horizon League sports fans to congregate and discuss college sports with each other.  While it is not 100% finished, fans are more than welcome to register and begin discussion at the HoriZone, brought to you by PantherU!

Thank you, and we hope you become a loyal follower!