Stymied by a Quality Foe.... Yet Again

UWM just can't seem to beat the good teams (at least not when they are healthy).

It's obvious by the title, but for formality's sake, UWM lost in Cleveland last night, 70-61. Your Milwaukee Panthers were outplayed by the same Cleveland State team that was man-handled for 37 minutes at the Cell earlier this year.

I could go on about the nitty gritty details of this loss, but it essentially followed the same pattern of all the losses thus far: poor shooting in the first half digs an insurmountable hole, Panthers get flustered and out of sync and start forcing shots, and zero defense in the paint leads to uncontested runners and automatic put-backs. Apparently Burleigh Porte's ability to single-handily shut down post offense with his Hakeem Thabeet-like effect on Horizon post players is of no great concern to the Panthers' team strategy.

Anthony Hill has seen his minutes reduced to almost nothing. Big Lumber is now starting in Ant's place and Eayrs (19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists) is definitely earning his new starting spot. Franklin showed flashes of his tremendous ability and was the most effective player for UWM on the night, but he and James couldn't take control enough to down the Vikings without much-needed help from their teammates. If only Rick (who had the hot hand) would have taken some more shots (and Tony Meier (who had a bad shooting night) a few less...

A huge factor in the loss was the absence of Tone Boyle, who's game-time decision to sit was due to nagging back spasms. Without Tone, our surprising lack of guard depth was exposed. Deion, Charlie, and Kaylan saw more floor time than usual, but did not exactly take advantage of it. I hate to single out Kaylan for an example, but at one point in the game, he had a wide open shot/drive- no one within 10 feet of him, and he picked up the ball as if he did not know what to do with it.

Deonte Roberts (7pts, 6rbs, 3ast, 2stl) stepped up pretty big, but his reckless style of play all too often leads to fruitless possessions in which he passes to no one and merely drives into a group of defenders near the hoop. It occasionally draws foul shots, but ironically Deonte is not a great foul shooter. Alas, once Deonte learns to dribble with more control (keep your head up Deonte!), pass the ball more in half-court sets, and (most importantly!) once he masters at least a mid-range jumper to open up more driving lanes for himself- he'll be the subject of praise on this blog. Next year maybe?

It's little observations like that which make people wonder where all the talent has gone. We have seen these guys perform at high levels before (this, last, and three seasons ago), so how can they possibly look like freshman out their when they get their chance to step up and be the man? It doesn't make any sense.

Franklin put in the top performance of the night for UWM as he was more efficient than James (Eayrs had 6 turnovers and a lower FG%). Besides Big James and Rick, the team looked like zombies. Tony Meier started out on a promising note, and then ended up 3-13 from the floor. This team that was supposed to be built upon "pure shooters" is starting to make last year's team (and even '06-'07) look like regular marksmen. It's true that we are technically still in the race for 2nd or 3rd place in the league, but every time the Panthers seem to be making some noise, they regress further than they last advanced.

It is a troubling trend to see a team with so much potential squander these opportunities and become constantly locked in a battle to "dig out of a hole" each game (each game that is not against Youngstown State, Loyola, or Detroit at least). I shouldn't speak so fast- we play YSU tomorrow in Ohio. No TV- just Bill Johnson on WISN 1130. For those that can tune in, the biggest thing to look forward to is that if UWM captures win #15, the team will have won more games than last year already, with at least 5 more to play.

I wish I still had the naive optimism to think the Panthers could beat anyone if they put it all together for 40 minutes, but I'm not so sure anymore- either whether they could beat just about anyone or whether they can ever even put together another complete game before the season is over. It seems like the opener against a horrible Loyola Marymount team, the home Loyola game, and the first 37 minutes of CSU at home were the only occasions where we avoided a minor or major in-game meltdown.

Who knows... Youngstown just beat Green Bay (that's second place Green Bay... who swept the Panthers this season). Maybe with a little luck we can eek out a win versus everyone left except Butler and ride a wave of momentum into the Horizon Tourney. I would normally say an upset at home against the Bulldogs is always a possibility, but these Panthers just haven't shown the kind of consistency required to beat a top-25 caliber team. Here's to hoping I'm way off on that one.

POTG: Ricky Franklin: 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block