Two Up, Two Down (albeit in ugly fashion)

Despite the somewhat tense moments late in both of our first two '11-'12 regular season contests that lead to closer-than-expected final winning margins, your Milwaukee Panthers can lay claim to an as-of-yet untarnished record at 2-0.

The first game this past Saturday started out pretty much as expected. The Panthers essentially handled Southwest Minnesota St. throughout the first half and went into the break up by double digits, 33-24.

But after the break, the Panther defensive ranks began to break down considerably. The Mustangs, namely Jordan Miller (16pts, 9ast, 11rbs), who nearly tallied a triple-double on  the afternoon, began to drive wide-body classic cars through our defense straight to the bucket- time and again.

Each time down the floor another barely-contested Mustang would zip past our defense and score via lay-up or from 4-6 feet out.

We looked like we were trying out there, but the implementation of our (zone and man) defensive strategies has not come together as a whole yet. The 7 defensive of Harrsma's 17 rebounds went a long way in stemming the tide away from the sieve that was our Panther D in Game 1.

It is early in the season and we have a lot of new faces and returning faces playing considerably more minutes than they have ever before in a Panther uni. But even though we held our visitors to 65 points, it was about 15 points too many- we will get destroyed playing D like that against established D-I teams.

Alas, we prevailed and were able to fend off the press in the final minutes to get the win in the end, 71-65. But play another game like that against a Wisconsin or Detroit or CSU or Marquette, and we will get torched for more points than we can match.

This first foray into the season was nowhere near as bad as the home beat-down at the hands of Cleveland State last season (gulp), and we actually dominated pretty well in the first half. There were also several individual bright spots…

Ja’Rob had 16pts, 3stl and 3rbs. Haarsma pulled down 17 boards- good for a tie with Marcus Skinner as #2 all time for a Milwaukee player in a single game.

Senior Ryan Allen tallied 16pts on 7-8 from the free throw line. Evan Richard scored 10pts on 6-6 from the line. Walk-on Mitch Roelke, who was team manager just a few seasons ago, drained two crucial threes to keep the Panthers on top for good. Never thought Mitch would help save a game for us one day, but it was awesome to see it happen.

No more excuses would be given when we rolled into DeKalb with Kaylon Williams back, right? This Husky squad was coming off an embarrassing 50+ point loss to Purdue.... And us, with our starting PG back, had swagger. No problem, right?


Kaylon Williams put up his usual filled out stat line (8pts, 5rbs, 6ast), but unfortunately had 5 TOs to go with it. But turnovers (we won the TO battle handily 14 to NIU's 24) were the least of our problems last night...

As a team, Milwaukee again struggled epically with shooting (36%- same percentage we had from 3pt). Free throws, which saved us against SWM St., would not drop last night as the Panthers managed just 13-25 from the freebie line.

The Panthers tallied a total of 4 bench points (only Paris Gulley (10 min) played more than 8 minutes) which was a big part of the struggle. We are down with Lonnie and Tony and Christian sidelined. But we are not down and out to the point where our team is still not deep with talent. The experience will come…. But will it come soon enough?

A lot of those missed free throws came in the closing minutes when we were hacked relentlessly by the Huskies who knew they had the odds what with our evident shooting woes.

We survived a half court buzzer beater scare, but managed to secure the victory- barely, 59-57. It was rough, but at the end of the day do we get that much more out of beating a team by 20pts? Nope. A win is a win is a win.

Here are Milwaukee’s numbers after these two games (very, very small sample):

  • 36% FG Percentage (wow)
  • 36% Three Point Percentage
  • 64% Free Throw Percentage

This is just a two game sample, so not a whole lot can really be read into. But considering who we played, they (outside of 3pt shooting which is a bright spot) are pretty dismal figures. There is nowhere to go but way, way up from here.

If we continue to win, and begin (starting Friday night) winning in convincing fashion, no one will remember the ever-so-slow and choppy first pair of games.

So let’s be thankful the guys eeked these two out (though NIU was much more of an “eek” than SWM St.), and move forward. Up next is IUPUI who sports an NBA prospect in 6'6" wing-man and Summit League Pre-Season POY Alex Young. IUPUI will be our biggest challenge yet (by far).

It is a home game, and the Cell crowd should be a lot more energetic than in the SWM St. game. You could almost hear a pin drop at that one- where are the reliably loud and boisterous UWM students? Many, must have slept in that Saturday.

I would be ashamed that we drew so few people, but I understand why that was (D-II opponent, UW football game (if only UWM had it's own football team..)), and news that season ticket sales are at an all-time high at 1,600 leads me to believe that if this Milwaukee team can continue to win, the crowds will get exponentially bigger as the season rolls on. That's how it has always worked.

So this Friday night at 7pm vs. IUPUI of the Summit League may be the first game of the season that we see a complete or near/more-complete Panther performance. Maybe our offense will click and we’ll get back to shooting in the 46-49% range. Maybe our defense will step up and take charges and fly to the ball or the man we need to double-team.

We have seen early struggles the past few seasons… yet the team always seems to figure things out and become a formidable force come conference time.

This season however, I think we get it all working a whole lot earlier- even before Meier returns (when he gets back we will be more than formidable). I say this team shows fans Friday night just how good they can be.

After all, a team, like a machine, is the sum of its parts. If we cop out of even having the chance to be great until Tony Meier returns, what does that say about our confidence in the rest of the team? Haarsma and McCallum and Allen and Williams and Kelm have all shown they are ready. But we knew they would be ready.

Some others have shown flashes of extremely valuable contributions, but need to play within themselves and compliment the team's offensive and defensive strategies in order to make it all work in unison. I sure hope we see it all (or mostly) come together for a big W on Friday night. It will not be easy against a big, deep and talented Jaguar team.

A so-called "statement" win would go a long way to assure everyone (esp. new fans who haven't seen what veterans of this team have already done) that our first two close wins against not-so-great teams were early-season hiccups and not reflective of the way this team will play all season. But I think from here on out, no matter the margin- we'll take every win we can rack up.

Remember Panther fans- 2-0 is not a bad place to be in right now considering what could have happened…. We got Luck-y. But we cannot rely on luck- we must play better basketball. We won't be so lucky the next time.