Last night Milwaukee Basketball held the annual Sneak Peek Scrimmage for Panther season ticket holders over at the on-campus Pavilion. It was a blast as always (free beer and wine- and free pizza this year!), and everyone had their takeaways. Almost all I’ve read and heard were positive first impressions.
Elite Eight???!!!!! Yup. But don't book your plane tickets just yet...
I agree with those who think we have a solid team. I also agree with PantherU.com that we will win the Horizon League again this year (and win the League Tourney). Why so high on the Panthers? Nope, not smoking something.. I just feel that this is a mix of chemistry, talent, experience and depth that we haven't seen in a long time.
I was very bullish on Milwaukee's chances this season before I saw them in game action, but here are my quick takeaways from the scrimmage and my reasons for thinking that this is “the” season.
Tony Meier – Tony was in a boot (gasp!). He tore some tendons in his calf and will be out 6-8 weeks. But all is not lost. If all goes well in his recovery, the plan is reportedly to have him back by the game at UNI. That would allow him to play against three of our biggest non-con opponents (and hopefully help in the very possible Milwaukee upset of either Wisconsin or Marquette) and in every conference game. It is a huge loss. But other than Michigan State (which many had already penciled in as an “L” even with Meier healthy), I think all of the other games where we will be without Tony are absolutely still winnable.
Kaylon Williams – will be the quarterback that leads us into battle every night. Kaylon looked very much at ease last night running the offense (some of his thread-the-needle passes to our post guys were spot-on, but dropped/missed because the recipient wasn’t expecting it!). With his unreal passing abilities and superhuman court vision, I don’t think anyone would be shocked if he repeated as the H-League’s assists leader and managed to tally a few more double-doubles than last season. For times when he needs rest or can’t play, true freshman Shaq Boga is a very capable backup PG.
James Haarsma – the most experienced newcomer to the team. Haarsma played with Kaylon at Evansville in the MVC and they showed a sense of familiarity on the court. Much like the one and only Anthony Hill we became so used to watching crash the party of opposing teams in the paint, James plays like an angry beast (he is listed at 6’6” but don’t be surprised to see him use his physicality and quickness to outmatch guys 2-3 inches taller than him). The Williams-Haarsma connection predates their arrival in Milwaukee and should translate into a lot of points for Haarsma…. And a whole lot of assists for K-Dub. James led all scorer’s in the scrimmage with 25.
Ryan Allen – If Ryan Allen doesn’t get unanimous Horizon League 6th man honors this season, I don’t know who will. Allen may or may not start (he proved a more than worthy starter last season but that has to be weighed against our needs for the starting 5 and his innate ability to provide that (cliché but very real) “spark” that is so often needed off the bench- especially on the (hopefully very) few nights when the team begins to lay an egg in the early minutes of a contest.
Lonnie Boga – what with the injury Lonnie suffered last season that took him out of most of our games and limited his minutes, L. Boga has seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle when it comes to impact players on this season’s team. But people are quick to forget a freshman season in which he was deadly from 3pt range and played a lot of high-quality minutes- as a freshman. Unfortunately Lonnie was not able to play in the scrimmage (separated shoulder), but he should be ready to play by the first or second regular season game. ‘Can’t wait to see him manhandle other, less-physical guards this season.
Demetrius Harris – Demetrius (along with Paris Gulley (and J.J. Panoske to a lesser extent because many of us did get some sense of his style of play via his High School stats, etc.) was one of the big unknowns. Demetrius is an intimidating and very talented post man. He has leapfrog hops (jumped over a team manager sitting in a chair in the middle of the lane to throw down a thunderous two-handed jam at the Panther Madness dunk contest). But he also is no slouch when it comes to understanding the role of post play. I don’t think anyone on our schedule will be able to completely contain him. My only concern is that is isn’t the quickest cat in the Panther Den… but then again, he is 6’8” and 230lbs. That just comes with the territory.
Paris Gulley – Gulley played very smartly (he doesn’t seem mistake-prone), which may be why he didn’t take more shots than he did. I figure we’ll be seeing a lot of Paris this season. He is going to be one of our main three point shooting threats, and (at least until we get Meier back) that is something we are going to seriously need coming out of the gates.
Kyle Kelm – Kyle did miss a bunch of free throws, but as long as that’s just an aberrition and he knocks them down in games (Kelm, along with Harris and Haarsma is bound to get to the line a bunch)- he’ll be fine. A lot of us are expecting a big jump in production from Kelm in comparison to last year. He’ll see more floor time, and it will be up to him to show us what he is truly capable of. He and Panoske are the future of the Milwaukee front-court, but Kelm looks ready to shine already in this, his Sophomore season.
Evan Richard - Evan Richard apparently didn't get the memo that supposedly states, "White Men Can't Jump". Richard has huge hops, but we knew that after Panther Madness. His defense may need a little work, but his shot is as pure as they come and he handles the rock with the ease of a D-I vet. After red-shirting last season, he has 4 more years along with Shaq and JJ. While those could be and probably will be 4 amazing years to watch, I do believe Evan is going to see some significant game action this year. If his shot rings as true as it normally does- he'll be a big part of our potentially historic '11-'12 season.
Shaq Boga – The most anticipated recruit in Milwaukee history did not disappoint. Boga displayed excellent ball handling skills en route to 20pts and though he seems to still be figuring out exactly how the offense is run (though admittedly there was a lot less X’s and O’s last night than we will see in a game), Shaq seems very much ready to backup Kaylon at the point. Shaq had a nice fast break lay-in and also knocked down a trey with ease, showing that his shooting skills are also a force to be reckoned with.
JJ Panoske – JJ had 6 blocks last night. Looked a little rough around the edges on defense and in securing space in the paint, but I don’t see how the coaches could let him redshirt, especially in light of Tony’s absence. JJ will have to learn fast, but he seems up to the challenege. At 6’10” and with the ability to shoot (and deflect shots) from anywhere on the floor, Panoske has a very bright future as a Milwaukee Panther.
This is Jeter's team. Deep as the blue sea. He may just have lightening in a bottle.
Other contributors (we have some guys who may wind up playing less minutes than those above who are a whole lot more than “role players” or “program guys”- see: Ryan Haggerty stepping up huge-time vs. Butler at the Cell in ’09-‘10) are going to factor in huge in terms of getting the regular rotation better through practice scrimmaging and stepping in when we are short-handed (please-oh-please let Tony Meier’s injury be the only big hit we have to suffer during this promising season!).
I hate predicting individual games (superstition I guess), but based on what I saw in the Sneak-Peek scrimmage (immense talent, experience and depth), despite the loss of Tony Meier for 6-8 weeks, I see this team winning well over 20 games and winning both the Horizon League Regular Season Title and winning the Horizon League Tournament hosted in Milwaukee for the second year in a row.
How bold and predictable, I know. But though in years past I've predicted we’d be a lot better than we turned out to be, I almost didn’t believe myself in those years. Even last year, I wasn't 100% sold on the idea we’d be #1 in the Horizon- and it turned out we were. Winning the Horizon League Tourney and getting back to the Big Dance would have been the quintessential icing on the cake, but that’s just how the basketball bounces some nights.
This season is different. Despite the big losses of the graduating seniors who accounted for nearly 40% of our scoring, we have what seem to be battle-ready replacements, now-experienced returning players and new reinforcements to boot.
UWM's campus community cannot wait for a new arena. This is our time.
Speaking of bold and predictable- I will say I am almost certain this will be the program’s best season since 2005*. That is saying a lot (considering ’04-’05). But that’s just what I see in our team. We have essentially 8 or 9 guys who could start on any team in the Horizon League.
So go ahead, (you know you want to) scoff at my blind optimism, but let’s see what happens…. There is some potent magic brewing over on the East Side that is just waiting to be uncorked across the country and on the floor of the Cell in downtown Milwaukee this winter.
Prepare for the stun gun, Panther fans. This is going to be an electric season from the first tip to the final buzzer. Don't sleep on the Milwaukee Panthers. Not this season- this is our time to shine.
- Final Regular Season Record: 25-6
- Final Horizon League Record: 16-2
- Horizon League Regular Season Champions
- Horizon League Tourney Champions
- NCAA Tournament Elite Eight (Cinderella Fella)
*in the event that Tony Meier is out longer than 8 weeks and/or chooses to take a medical redshirt, then well, all of these predictions are out the window. Tony is our best player- without him, we can win and could still be the sleeper team we were last season… but we won’t be dominant and won’t win nearly as many games without him in the lineup.