Milwaukee Edges Hillsdale, But Continued Lackluster Play Against Lesser Opponents Raises Serious Concerns

Some blowout scores from early in this season:
  • Wisconsin beats IPFW 75-46
  • Marquette beats Grambling: 87-41
  • Illinois beats Presbyterian: 94-48
  • Ohio State beats James Madison: 72-44
  • Detroit beats Alcorn State: 79-59
  • Tennessee beats Eastern Carolina: 105-66
  • Milwaukee beats Cardinal Stritch (D-II): 74-72
  • Milwaukee beats Hillsdale College (D-II): 62-54
And, outside of Milwaukee's two victory "eggs", the teams on the losing end of these are all D-I, certainly a lot more competitive than teams like Cardinal Stritch and Hillsdale- two teams we seriously struggled against. We won both of those aforementioned games, but the underwhelming and unconvincing manner in which these wins were obtained raises serious questions about the Panthers seeming complete inability to destroy a far lesser opponent, which is a malady that no other D-I teams seem to suffer from.

To be fair- Butler scraped by Evansville this weekend- 64-60. But Hillsdale is no Evansville and Butler has proven time and again- they can beat anyone they play. Yet Butler can have that free pass- we, on the other hand, seem to struggle against almost everybody, even when we win (at least in non-con). Outside of a few anomalies like that, big teams regularly dispatch lesser teams with ease early in the season when these games are played. That is just protocol for 99% of the NCAA teams that are (supposed to) have a chance at being successful in a given season.

If I may draw a completely arbitrary, hare-brained analogy that I think does hold a few droplets of sense- I liken this (expected) obliteration of lesser foes by bigger and better programs to the way extreme sport athletes (skateboarders, freestyle bikers and Arena Cross riders, etc.) test out their best tricks against a simple and forgiving foam landing area. In college hoops, the D-II and other buy-game/bunnies which bigger and better programs are expected to beat- are a lot like those foam landing zones.

The games are expected to be won by the bigger team- but not just won- the game isn't even supposed to be competitive or remotely close in score. It's good to test out rotations, and offensive and defensive schemes, but these games are supposed to be confidence boosters (in the same way you can get pretty confident practicing death-defying tricks if you know you have a landing pad). The players are supposed to get a feel for what it is like to click on ALL cylinders and score early and often and play tenacious D and grab boards down with ease.

Obvious, one can argue that playing someone like Hillsdale may give a team a "false" sense of confidence- bigger foes won't allow the kind of cakewalk that usually takes place in these games. But(!), for a lot of teams and players, if they have no idea what it is like to win- not just convincingly but by a large margin, they will not envision themselves as winners as much as teams who don't struggle against the Hillsdales of the world.

These are supposed to be practice games, yes. But when our guys don't treat them seriously, we run the risk of losing valuable floor time experience (if a player sinks a few shots against Hillsdale, the hoop may look bigger when we play Butler).

Hillsdale was the foam landing zone. They were supposed to be a confidence booster for the players (and for the fans- you should hear how many people now tell me that we will "absolutely lose by 30+ to MU this season after watching this car wreck of a game this past Saturday"). Lot's and lot's of points should have been scored and we should have gotten a lot of our players comfortable in what was supposed to be a non-challenging environment.

I guess we just expect more from a team who many had high hopes for coming into this season. 2-2 ain't bad. But the next two games against Texas State and Colgate in Texas State will be crucial for setting the tone of the rest of the non-con slate and to silence a lot of the growing and noisy criticism that is starting to swirl around Pantherland.

Many thought this team was for real and that we had a good shot against anybody on the schedule. I don't think you'd find more than 20 die-hard fans who would agree with that statement after watching the Hillsdale game.

We did win- 62-54, but we should have won by no less than 30. Hillsdale made Concordia St.-Paul look like Duke. Outside of Hillsdale's Brad Eaton who went 6-11 from 3pt land (and we still can't or won't guard the perimeter apparently....), they did not have a ton of talent on the floor against us. What they did have, was some well coached plays and a kind of passion and enthusiasm not seen in our guys until about the final 5 minutes of the game. Hillsdale, despite their valiant effort, is not remotely close to the talent level this team has amassed.

And if we don't throttle some of these lesser foes out of the coach "clemency/respect" factor, well then our starters should not have logged the minutes they did, and we should have beaten them with our bench. That didn't happen. Now we have a not-fully-rested Ricky Franklin and James Eayrs- our two Titans who must shoulder the load in the NIT Consolation games this coming Monday and Tuesday.

The sad fact of the matter is- Ricky and James had to play in this forgettable contest. Had Ricky (12pts, 10rbs, 7ast) and James (21pts, 8rbs, ) not been kept in the game as much as they were forced to, we very well would have lost the 4th game of the season to D-II world-beaters, Hillsdale College.

For a game summary, the J-S has you covered, but I am too disappointed right now to even attempt to remember this terrible performance by your Milwaukee Panther basketball team. Something has got to give. Players, coaches, fans, administrators, and everyone involved in making this thing successful need to step up- or risk losing this season that (still) seems to have so much potential.

It is early yet, yes. But we may start losing a lot of winnable games (and a lot of once-loyal fans) and really screw up our season unless the team's work ethic on both ends of the floor (for all 40 minutes) makes a quick 180. If the team is going to get serious about this thing called NCAA D-I Hoops, they must man-up, leave excuses in the practice gym, and forget about running any town (or even campus for that matter), until, with a renewed fervor: WE GO TO WORK.