Can't Buy a Win

Josh Mayo and UIC made the Panthers look silly once again in a 91-73 rout that evoked images of the not-so-distant 35 point loss to Marquette. Mayo had a field day, scoring 29 points including an almost automatic 4 of 5 from three point range. UIC as a team was 13 for 20 (.650) from behind the arc, and UWM's defense was shall we say, non-existent.

There isn't much to say other than the fact that this loss was another effortless "going through the motions" type of game for the Panthers. The only thing that made the game bearable for Panther fans was another highlight reel performance by Torre Johnson who is proving that he is the "real deal"- it is a shame that this is his first and last year at UWM (Johnson is playing in his final year of NCAA eligibility).

Johnson excelled, scored 30 points on 13 of 21 shooting.

As said previously though- not a player or even a pair of players can carry the team to victory. The team had better figure out how to play defense- and quick. Luckily (but not lucky enough for a "W") for us, the defense came to life Saturday night at Loyola. Unfortunately, while the team showed very obvious signs of improvement (or maybe that was just because Loyola is almost as bad a team this year as UWM has been thus far), UWM fell once again.... to drop to 3-6 overall, 0-2 in the Horizon League, and 0 for 5 in their last 5 contests.

The Milwaukee Panthers found themselves in unfamiliar territory late in the game at the Gentile Center- they were winning (by four points!) with just over 17 seconds left in the game. The events that transpired before the end of regulation were about as fitting as the 70 foot 3-pointer launched (and sunk) by UIC two nights before.

The Panthers fouled Milwaukee native, J.R. Blount, who sunk both free throws, and then Ricky Franklin was called for a questionable offensive foul on the UWM inbound play. This resulted in another Loyola possession, and after missing a jump shot, Tracy Robinson (18 points) sealed the tie with a tip in just before the buzzer. The Panthers kept it close for most of the overtime, but their fight was less than in regulation and not enough. Needless to report, this was yet another frustrating loss for this sputtering Milwaukee Panthers basketball team.

Before I end this post I will offer a more objective view of this inexperienced UWM team that, while chock-full of talent, has not seemed to gel yet. First off, free throws shooting has been well above average (yes, that is a pathetic thing note as one of the "highlights" in this young season, but it is about the only thing the Panthers have done well as of late). The Panthers were 26 of 29 (almost 90%) from the charity stripe on the Chicago road trip. And, going into overtime, the Panthers had only allowed 56 points from a Loyola team that led the Horizon League in scoring last year. The defense seems to be there- the guys just need to bring it out every night.

Loss after miserable loss is trying for the average Panther fanatic (and even casual fan) who had high hopes for UWM going into this season. The reality is, this is a team coming off a 9-22 season and well you don't turn things around overnight. Two freshman (Tim Flowers and Deonte Roberts) have started in a majority of the games this season- and they are no Kevin Love or O.J. Mayo. Freshman take time to develop, and, if these kids (Tim Flowers, KJ, Anthony Hill, and Deonte Roberts) reach anywhere near the potential they have shown, things will get very interesting in the coming 3 seasons. Going from loser to champion is a process (unless you are the Chicago Bears).

Unfortunately, in order for the young talent to develop, the team will have to endure some setbacks. What we are seeing, although abysmal at times, is the future of Panther basketball. There have been flashes of greatness which I think actually confirm the youthful optimism us fans had when word of an excellent '07-'08 recruiting class began to circulate.

I'll admit that I got more than a bit ahead of myself in thinking that this team would easily win 18 or more games and challenge Butler for the Horizon League title. It has become clear that this year's campaign success or failure will largely depend on whether we can improve upon last year's 9-22 overall record! That being said, I do see things improving each game (UIC was a huge setback- but those kids shot out the lights that night... UWM's defense was horrible, and that obviously did not help, but the Flames probably shot better that night, than they ever will again this season).

I do not see UWM losing 22 games this season. Looking at the schedule, we have an almost impossible challenge against a tall and talented Wisconsin team who was narrowly defeated by the Golden Boys Saturday afternoon, and Butler, but other than that, there are a whole lot of winnable games left on the platter.

I'm going out on a limb, and without mentioning any specific games, I here and now predict that this team will finish third in the Horizon League with a 17-12 overall record and 12-6 in Horizon League play. I am the eternal optimist, but I do see a winning record within reach (less than a third of the season has unfolded so far remember!).

To go one further, if this team brings out some tenacious "D" night in and night out, and gets their chemistry issues figured out (and begin playing like a team!), I see no reason that the Panthers couldn't sneak an auto-bid out of the Horizon League tourney. Whether or not UWM can challenge Butler will likely be decided in the two regular season match-ups between these two programs. Butler can be beat (they were knocked off by Wright State the same night the Panthers lost the heart breaker to Loyola). This is college basketball after all, and anything can happen.

Get out to the Cell to support the team as they play a very good Wisconsin Badger club, 7 p.m this coming Wednesday night. That is, if you can find a ticket (the game is close to selling out if it hasn't sold out already)! As for our Panthers.... it could be ugly yes, but an impressive showing could indicate that this team is ready to give up just yet. How about an upset?