Q: Last year most of the national attention given to the Horizon League focused on either Butler or Norris Cole and Cleveland State. But come March, it was Milwaukee that was hosting the Horizon League tournament championship because the team tied for the regular season championship and won the tourney site via a tie-breaker. Why did the Panthers fly under the radar in 2010-11? And what made them such a good squad?
A: That's just it: As Summit League followers know, it's not hard for solid squads to go unnoticed in deep mid-major conferences. And the Horizon League was especially top-heavy last season. Butler and Cleveland State got press while Rob Jeter, now in his sixth season at Milwaukee, was quietly assembling a Butler-killer built around Evansville transfer Kaylon Williams.
The team started slow behind a tough schedule dotted by losses against Marquette, Portland, and Wisconsin but went on a nine-game conference tear to sweep Butler and grab home advantage in the HL tourney. The Panthers found a way to dismantle Butler's low-post with Williams feeding then-senior Anthony Hill who had a talent for patiently finding looks in the underneath.
The Panthers have played just one game against a Division I opponent, a narrow victory over Northern Illinois. It seems like Kaylon Williams and Ja'Rob McCallum were scorers of the high-volume variety on that night; in other words, they took and missed a lot of shots. Is that the norm for Coach Jeter's starting backcourt? What makes them dangerous?
Last season Williams was one of the Horizon's best point guards in one of the league's deepest positions. His assist rate (34.0) fell neatly between NBA draft picks Shelvin Mack (24.9) and Cleveland State's Norris Cole (37.0). But that was when Milwaukee had a much deeper offensive arsenal.
Now the Panthers are without Hill and two guard Tone Boyle. Milwaukee is also dealing with injuries to would-be starter Tony Meier, their 6-foot-8 small forward who posted a murderous 63.6 percent eFG% last season, and 6-foot-3 junior guard Lonnie Boga. As we saw on Monday, Williams and McCallum, with most of their frontcourt options removed, were left holding the ball on less than promising looks.
The Milwaukee frontcourt as it sits now is small and not penetrating well, but has found a ray of hope in Evansville transfer James Haarsma, who posted a double-double for Milwaukee in the win over Northern Illinois.
IUPUI's best player -- and arguably the Summit League's best -- is a 6-foot-6 swingman named Alex Young. Which Milwaukee player(s) do you think will be tasked with trying to keep Young from having a big night?
That's a rough role for any of the Panthers to fill, but 6-foot-3, 200 pound inside-outside guard Ryan Allen is a likely and nimble candidate. Milwaukee hasn't shown a tenacity for much in the way of defense yet, but did force bottom-dwelling Northern Illinois to make 23 turnovers on 71 possessions Monday. Allen had two steals, and Milwaukee posted no blocks in the loss.
Milwaukee will be in trouble if...
...the Jaguars can cut off Milwaukee's perimeter shooting, because that's one of their only options right now. Fully 18 of Milwaukee's 59 points in the 59-57 win over NIU came from range as the Panthers found no way of scoring and little in the way of rebounding in size. Milwaukee just doesn't yet have the pieces or the size yet to get it done in the lane.
Thanks again to Chris!