Tag Archives: Milwaukee Panthers

The Wild and Wacky World of Horizon League Hoops

When the Horizon League schedule began at the end of 2017, all signs pointed to essentially everything staying pretty much the same as they had last season. Oakland and Northern Kentucky would be duking it out for the top spot. Wright State would continue to lurk as a contender. And Milwaukee would expound on its surprise Motor City Madness run from last year and compete in the top half of the league.

Also, Green Bay would hover somewhere near the middle of the standings, while most of the bottom of the conference from last year, as well as new addition IUPUI, would remain looking up at the better schools.

This isn’t exactly how things have gone in the early going. In fact, it seems as if the Golden Grizzlies have switched places with one of the bottom-rung teams. And few would have guessed that team would be Youngstown State.

The Penguins, who languished throughout the entire non-conference slate without a win against a Division I school, were essentially written off before the Horizon League began play. That was probably a major oversight over everyone’s part, as YSU rattled off three straight wins to begin league play. The 3-0 start is the first time Youngstown State has ever been at that mark since joining the conference.

It’s been more than 16 years since YSU joined the Horizon League. That’s a pretty big deal.

While the Penguins have connected with some surprise punches, the Raiders were sort of the wild-card in the league mix. The goal in Year Two of the Scott Nagy Era at Wright State was to get the team closer to the top of the heap.

And so far, it looks as if the Raiders may be a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the conference, joining Youngstown State and NKU in the ranks of the undefeated among Horizon League foes.

For the Norse, the defending Motor City Madness champs, the road to stay on top has been a rather difficult one early. Northern Kentucky already had a tough go of it on the road trip to Michigan, barely squeezing by Oakland, 87-83, and winless Detroit Mercy, 56-54.

And the Grizzlies? They seem to be stuck in neutral, with only one win in the early conference going. The close loss to the Norse was sandwiched in between a surprise loss the Green Bay and the 86-81 overtime setback at the hands of Wright State.

The Wisconsin trip to Green Bay and Milwaukee does still look to be a grueling trek for any Horizon League school, but neither the Phoenix nor the Panthers are setting the world on fire. Green Bay, since besting Detroit and Oakland, have dropped three straight, including getting swept on its Ohio trip by both YSU and Cleveland State. Milwaukee, at the same time, sits at 2-2.

And finally, there’s UIC, which was favored as an early contender. A close 65-61 loss against Wright State was negated by an 86-51 drubbing by Northern Kentucky.

It’s pretty clear that through the early games, in spite of three undefeated teams at the top, no on school has truly dominated, and that could mean some wild shifts in the standings in the coming months. Given how poorly the Horizon League performed as a whole during the non-league slate, it’s likely going to be a long up-and-down slap fight leading up to Motor City Madness.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via NKUNorse.com

Recruits top priority for new Milwaukee Panther head coach Pat Baldwin

The Milwaukee Panthers named Northwestern assistant Pat Baldwin to be its head men’s basketball coach on Tuesday. Baldwin is considered an excellent recruiter and a key to Northwestern’s 2016 NCAA Tournament bid, the first in program history. He replaces LaVall Jordan, who left Milwaukee after one season to become the head coach at his alma mater Butler.

Baldwin steps into an unusual situation in Milwaukee. The late hiring of Chris Holtmann at Ohio State, and as a result the very late hiring of Jordan at Butler, was unusual enough as is. The fact that Jordan posted a 11-24 record in his only season at Milwaukee before heading to the Big East made it even more bizarre. Despite replacing a coach who left for greener pastures, expectations shouldn’t be particularly high for Baldwin early in his tenure.

As is frequently the case during coaching changes, Baldwin’s biggest task out of the gate will be to retain members of the incoming recruiting class. Dylan Alderson, who helped bring Clarkston High School a Michigan Class A State Championship as a senior, is considered the prize recruit of Milwaukee’s recruiting class. To this point, he hasn’t said anything definitive either way about his plans for the future.

Unlike former Butler-commit Kyle Young — a composite Top 100 recruit who left for Ohio State when Chris Holtmann departed — it’s unlikely that Milwaukee has a recruit that will follow LaVall Jordan to the Big East. Despite even the high praise for Alderson, the jump from Milwaukee to Butler is a lot bigger now than it was in the not-so-distant past when the two schools were together in the Horizon League. 

If Milwaukee is going to lose a recruit, it would most likely be to another school the Panthers were recruiting against previously. While losing a coach in June causes a number of logistical problems for a program, it can make holding onto recruits simpler. In that regard, time could be on Milwaukee’s side when it comes to holding together this year’s recruiting class. At this point, most schools’ rosters are set and there simply isn’t enough time or roster availability for most kids to reopen recruitment.

If Baldwin is able to keep all of Jordan’s recruits in Milwaukee, he could be in for a pleasantly surprising debut as a head coach. The Panthers lose just one starter and one reserve from 2016-17 while bringing in what looks to be a very promising four-man recruiting class and 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Zac Saddler.

Early projections still have Milwaukee near the bottom of conference for the upcoming season, which is understandable given the team’s eight regular season wins and its 10th place finish in the Horizon League last year. Still, there could be reason for optimism in Milwaukee. 

The Panthers had one of the youngest teams in the nation and possessed very little front court depth. While an injury to Valparaiso star Alec Peters undoubtedly helped, Milwaukee came together at the end of the season on its way to an unexpected Horizon League Tournament Championship Game. If the Panthers can build off of the late-season success, they could make one of the bigger jumps in the league standings in 2017-18. 

The development of returning players and addition of five newcomers could put Pat Baldwin’s Milwaukee team in a position to finish near the middle of the table in the Horizon League. While that might not seem like a big deal, especially for a school that was in the running to be bumped up to the Missouri Valley Conference this offseason. But the Panthers will once again have an incredibly young roster. Forward Brett Prahl is the only scholarship senior, leaving the door open for another potential jump in 2018-19.

Email John and [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jjparker084.

Photo by: Milwaukee Panthers Athletics

The Surprise Twist Ending to Cleveland State’s Twin Bill Versus Horizon League Leaders

Things haven’t gone Cleveland State’s way at all this year, which has prompted the fans that haven’t lost interest to wonder if this season is a repeat of the dreadful performance last season.

And on Saturday against Valparaiso, the Vikings once again let offensive woes erase a first-half lead. Like a broken record, CSU also found itself digging a double-digit hole that it had to dig out of, which, in the end proved to be insurmountable. As a result, the Crusaders, who were fighting for a top spot in the Horizon League standings, came away the victor.

The box score from the Viking loss reads like many of the others this season: A player on the opposing team (in this case, Valpo’s Alec Peters) goes off (30 points), CSU gets woefully rebounded (43-25); Three-point shooting is abysmal (33.3 percent; worse if you take away Bobby Word’s 4-for-9 performance), and so on.

Needless to say, the prospects for Monday’s match-up against Oakland at the O’Rena looked pretty grim. The Golden Grizzlies were looking to bounce back from an inexplicable loss to cross-town rival Detroit, and the Vikings, who haven’t won on the road all season, looked to be the perfect team to take their frustrations out on. Plus, given CSU’s lack of size in the frountcourt, Oakland, led by Jalen Hayes, were poised to have a field day and add to its already robust block total.

So, given all the advantages the Grizzlies had going for them and how the Vikings have found it hard getting out of jams they’ve gotten into this season, all signs pointed to an easy Oakland win. Add to that the fact that Cleveland State broke out the black jerseys again, which, over the last few years have been about as much luck as a black cat or the Buffalo Bills in the 90s.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout: The Vikings played their best game of the season. Not only that, CSU never trailed the entire game and came out of the O’Rena, which is notorious for being the toughest place in the conference to play, and won handily, 76-65.

Not surprisingly, the key to the Viking win was Rob Edwards, who was celebrating a homecoming of sorts, having graduated from Cass Tech in Detroit. The sophomore guard played the game of his career, scorching Oakland for 32 points that included nailing four three-pointers. He also led the team with seven rebounds and was, by all accounts, unstoppable.

And while Hayes did make his presence known, dropping in 25 points and grabbing a game-high eight rebounds, Cleveland State kept the rest of the team at bay. It also helped that the Golden Grizzlies were absolutely horrendous beyond the arc, making only two three-pointers in 18 attempts.

The Vikings also succeeded in keeping Oakland from swatting them out of the gym, holding the Grizzlies to only four blocks in the contest. Rebounding also was in Cleveland State’s favor, finishing the game with a 36-32 advantage on the glass.

It was freshman Kash Thomas, though, who provided the biggest jolt for the Vikings. The point guard ended with 16 points in 35 minutes, and Oakland didn’t seem to have any answer for either him or Edwards. In an up-and-down campaign for the first-year player out of Montreal, this win could be seen a checkmark on the plus side for Thomas.

While the win against the Grizzlies can be, by all accounts, considered a marquee victory for Cleveland State, the trip to Wisconsin looms. And for the Vikings, the road games against Green Bay and Milwaukee have always been daunting, even as the Panthers have found themselves near the bottom of the Horizon League standings. With that, CSU needs to notch at least a split of the two-game set, or the outlook for the second half of the conference slate looks much bleaker.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Slide Into Obscurity Continues for Cleveland State

One of the themes throughout the non-conference slate (along with most of last season) for Cleveland State has been its utter inability to consistently make things happen on offense. In fact, the patented Viking scoring drought has become something of a running joke among fans.

The end result has been a string of lop-sided defeats, which included a 27-point thrashing at the hands of Belmont, that would make any Cleveland State fan nervous about the Horizon League schedule. And at one point, fans started hopelessly wishing that Willie Jackson, who recently departed from Missouri, would make his way home. But, of course, that wasn’t meant to be, as Jackson announced that he would transfer to Toledo.

And it’s not just the fans. Clearly the focus by Cleveland State as an institution has shifted to the coming debut of the men’s lacrosse program. With the home debut against Michigan a mere four weeks away and, more significantly, athletic director John Parry announced his retirement later this year, CSU is putting the full-court press on to ensure the program comes in with a bang.

With so much attention dedicated to lacrosse, it appears that basketball has effectively fallen by the wayside, which is a curious thing to happen in January. Not helping matters is the ongoing offensive woes the Vikings have experience the entire season.

Take the conference opener against Green Bay, for instance. Sure, Cleveland State did end up shooting 53 percent for the game. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that once again, the Vikings endured a long scoring drought, this time for a five-and-a-half minute stretch in the first half. And even though CSU was able to claw back and force overtime, the offensive miscues reared their ugly head once more, and the Vikings fell short, 76-75.

Even when Cleveland State snagged a win in the form of a 62-53 decision over Milwaukee, the Vikings looked close to frittering that victory away. Of course, with only 1,013 in attendance and the game on Time Warner Sportsnet in a deal that shuts out anybody that doesn’t subscribe to Time Warner Cable in Northeast Ohio, perhaps nobody noticed.

And perhaps nobody noticed another road loss for Cleveland State at the hands of Wright State on Thursday night. While Demonte Flannigan notched another double-double, with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Bobby Word struggled to get the 14 points he did. And Rob Edwards has quite possibly the worst game of his collegiate career, recording as many turnovers as points (five).

Nobody expected much from the Vikings this season, save for being potential conference spoilers. And close losses may be some mark of progress with Cleveland State at this stage. But honestly, if you’re a fan, what is the compelling reason to expend any effort paying attention to this team.

And what’s the pitch to draw fans into the remaining home games? “At Least We’re Not Detroit?” “Come for the Scoring Droughts, Stay for the Non-Stop Fouls?”

This is far from the worst CSU team ever. There have been far more putrid seasons and this year wouldn’t even rank in the Top 10. But even diehard fans have to struggle with what to make of all of this. It’s almost as if it’s not even worth watching anymore.

Maybe these are questions that people should ask the next athletic director, who, according to Cleveland State, will be named by March. That would be a conversation worth seeing.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Horizon League’s Uncertain Future

The Horizon League, as a whole, had a down year. That’s a rather interesting thing to say about a conference that featured five teams that won at least 20 games. But its conference RPI ranked 20th among all leagues, marking the lowest it has been in recent memory.

Many fans within the league believe this is a direct result of the weakness at the bottom of the conference. This includes Detroit (198th in the RPI), Youngstown State (276th), Cleveland State (278th), newcomer Northern Kentucky (298th) and UIC, which finished 346th out of 351 Division I schools.

As a consequence of having the league’s entire bottom half hovering or below 200 in the RPI, Valparaiso, who lost only two games in the conference, were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament after losing in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament to eventual champ Green Bay.

Since that point, the Crusaders have made it their personal mission to take their frustrations out on their competitors in the NIT. Valpo has certainly done that, winning each of its three games by double digits en route to a trip to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

But the Crusaders’ run provides little comfort, as it is only one of three schools in the conference to find their way into the post-season. This is the lowest number of participating teams since the inception of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament (CIT). And this is now including the Vegas 16, which, in its inaugural tournament, has Oakland participating.

Even as conference teams regroup, as the Flames, Vikings and Norse appear poised to do next season, the off-season has already provided question marks as to whether or not the Horizon League as a whole will improve from its overall dismal showing.

It began when Wright State and Milwaukee, in spite of their records, decided not to pursue the post-season. It became evident why that happened in the subsequent days, with the Raiders dismissing coach Billy Donlon and the Panthers parting ways with Rob Jeter.

HoriZone Roundtable with Bob McDonald and Jimmy Lemke #13: The Mean Season

Making matters worse was what transpired after the firings. For Wright State, Donlon’s ouster, which was announced by the school days after media outlets had reported it, sparked the ire of fans and, bizarrely, prompted athletic director Bob Grant to start blocking people on Twitter. While this move remains to be rather odd, it was reported that those recruited to join the Raiders next season still plan on coming to WSU.

The same cannot said for Milwaukee, which appears to be in the midst of a full collapse as a result of Jeter’s dismissal. Leading the charge has been guard Akeem Springs, who took to Twitter not only to express his displeasure with the way the firing was handle, but also to recap the team’s meeting with athletic director Amanda Braun. Now Springs, along with Austin Arians and Jordan Johnson, who was second in the conference in assists, have been granted releases from the program.

Lost in all of this is the revolving door that has become YSU. After losing multiple players to transfer last season, the Penguins now have to contend with the loss of its All-Freshman guard Jared Andrews. A native of LaPlace, Louisiana, Andrews, who started 19 games, cited home sickness for the move.

In spite of the latest transfer, and Youngstown State’s overall underperformance since arriving in the Horizon League in 2001, head coach Jerry Slocum will likely have his option picked up to return for next season. Of course, many around the league believe that it’s YSU’s overall lack of focus on men’s basketball, rather than the coaching, which has bolsters its reputation for being the conference’s anchor.

Then there are the rumors of coaching changes around college basketball that mention Horizon League coaches. For example, among the names being thrown around for the Pittsburgh job are Valpo’s Bryce Drew, who is annually considered for such jobs, and Linc Darner, who just finished his first year at Green Bay with an NCAA tourney bid.

With so much uncertainty within the Horizon League, it makes fans wonder if the conference will be stuck in the same place as it was this season. After all, even if some of the bottom teams improve, there’s no guarantee that Milwaukee, Wright State or a school whose coach takes another job won’t fall into the bottom.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Photo: Horizon League/Flickr.

Welcome to Detroit – Previewing the Horizon League Tournament

All eyes are on the Motor City as the Horizon League comes to town for the first edition of #MotorCityMadness.

The favorites are the Valparaiso Crusaders.

Valpo is coming off a 16-2 conference season that made it only the fifth team to finish with two losses or less in the Horizon League regular season. Four of those five teams have gone on to the NCAA tournament. Unlike in the past when Valpo would have earned the right to host the tournament, this year the tournament moves to a “neutral floor” at Joe Louis Arena. Not hosting won’t hinder Valpo, they are far and away the best team in this tournament.

Valpo is anchored by junior forward Alec Peters, who averaged 17.9 points per game during the conference season along with 8.3 rebounds a game. Peters is an inside and outside threat. Standing 6’9″, he has no issues scoring inside and moving the ball in transition. That being said, he has been the most effective from behind the three-point arc, shooting 45 percent.

Peters has had help in senior point guard Keith Carter, who dished out 132 assists on the year while scoring 10.1 points per game during the conference season. No other Crusaders averaged more than ten points per game this season. Valpo is built on defense and is sixth in the nation as a team, allowing their opponents only 61 points per game. Valpo has two-time Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez holding down the paint. Fernandez had 94 blocks and 15 steals this season along with 139 defensive rebounds, in order to stop Valpo teams will need to get Fernandez into foul trouble.

The Contenders

The number two seed is the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are one of the two de facto home teams in this tournament, having their campus just 30 miles up the road from Joe Louis Arena.

OU is led by Horizon League Player of the Year Kay Felder. This season, Felder has averaged 24.4 points per game and has led the nation in assists with 9.4 per contest. Felder can do it all and has been impossible for anyone to slow down all season. Felder, despite being only 5’9″, has climbed NBA draft boards and could end up foregoing his senior year for the NBA.

Oakland is not just the Kay Felder show. OU has four other players who average more than 10 points per game. One of those players in redshirt sophomore Jalen Hayes, who is an electric finisher with tons of athletic ability. He does most of his scoring inside and is capable of throwing down monstrous dunks.

The Golden Grizzlies also have Martez Walker, a redshirt sophomore who transferred in from Texas after he was released due to some off-the-court issues. Walker has done alright for himself, averaging 11 points per game and freeing up space for Felder and Hayes by forcing defenders to cover him. Walker is not a player that you can let get free outside the arc as he shoots 45 percent from downtown. Most of his three-point attempts have come when he is left open in the corner of the court, and he’s able to drift to the outside.

OU also features senior center Percy Gibson and senior guard Max Hooper, who each score more than 10 points per game. Hooper is a three-point specialist who has yet to shoot a two-point field goal all year. Beyond those five players, the only guys that get substantial time are Sherron Dorcy-Walker and Nick Daniels.  Outside of Hooper, all of the Oakland players named above are Michigan natives. Felder, SDW, Gibson and Walker all attended Pershing High School together and were on varsity at the same time. With OU having so many Detroit kids, you have to think they have a bit of home court advantage. It is also worth noting that OU is the country’s  highest scoring team with 87 points per game.

Wright State

Although Wright State finished third in the conference, it doesn’t seem like much of a contender. It’s a well-coached squad that plays good fundamental basketball and likes to slow down the tempo. Their leading scorers are Mark Alstork and JT Yoho, each with 12 points per game. Head coach Billy Donlon is hands down the best X’s and O’s coach in the Horizon, that being said his squad lacks talent.

Don’t expect much from WSU, I don’t expect them to be playing Monday night.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee might be the biggest underachiever in the Horizon League this season. The Panthers have a starting five that can go head-to-head with anyone in the country. The Panthers finished fifth in the Horizon League but they earned wins over Big Ten schools Wisconsin and Minnesota during the regular season. The Panthers are led by senior forward Matt Tiby, a Horizon League first-team selection who averaged 15.6 points and eight rebounds per game during the regular season.

The Panthers are a big team. Four of the seven rotation players for Milwaukee are 6’5″ or taller, and all of them can step out and shoot the threes. JJ Panoske, a 6’10” senior forward, shoots 41 percent from downtown and 6’5″ junior guard Cody Wichmann shoots 51 percent from three-point land. This being said, the Panthers live and die with the three-point shot. If the Panthers get hot from downtown, they could find themselves cutting down the nets in Detroit. If they make a run, watch for point guard Jordan Johnson to have a good tournament. The junior was selected to the Horizon League Second Team with 12 points and 8.2 assists per game, good for second in the country.

Green Bay

The Phoenix, like WSU, finished high in the standings but don’t have a great shot to win in Detroit. Green Bay scores a lot, in fact, they are fourth in the country in scoring with 85 points per game. The flaw with Green Bay is defense. They don’t play it. The goal for green pay is to push the tempo and hope to outscore the opposition. Green Bay has two key players from the back-to-back NIT runs left on the roster. Senior Jordan Fouse was selected to the Horizon League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team. This season, Fouse has 12 points per game to go along with 44 blocks and 69 steals.

If Green Bay makes a run, Fouse needs to do more on the offensive side of the ball. The second piece remaining from the back-to-back NIT teams for Green Bay is Carrington Love. Love spent the last few years as the backup to star Kiefer Sykes. Love has proved thus far that he is just as talented. Love averaged 18 points per game and was named to the Horizon League First Team and the All-Defensive Team, haveing 78 steals and nine blocks on the year.

The Sleeper: Detroit

The home team located just nine miles from Joe Louis Arena might have the most talent of any team in the Horizon League. The Titans score a lot, 83.8 points per game, good for 8th in the nation. What they don’t do is play any defense. Detroit ranks 339th in the country in scoring defense. Down the stretch, Detroit has improved slightly on the defensive side of the ball. If they want to make a run they need to put together four straight strong defensive games in a row.

Detroit’s star player is Paris Bass. Bass, a 6’8″ forward with NBA aspirations, has 18.7 points per game to go with 7.7 rebounds. Bass is an adamant scorer that can slash his way to the rim or step outside and shoot the three. Bass, however, has the tendency to play one-on-five with the opposing team. When Bass gets this selfish streak, the Titans tend to lose.

The Titans also have 6’7″  forward Chris Jenkins, who like Bass can slash inside and shoot the three well. Jenkins had 12.6 points per game during the regular season including a big game vs. Oakland last Friday where he put up 12 points in under four minutes. In between Bass and Jenkins is 6’6″ forward Jaleel Hogan. The sophmore is stronger than an ox and has a big body that allows him to push anyone around in the paint. Look for Hogan, who had 10 points per game during the regular season, to score over players much bigger than him.

At shooting guard, Detroit will start 6’6″ senior Anton Wilson, who is currently averaging 14.3 points per game and is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. If Anton can score one three-pointer in the tournament he will become the third best three-point shooter in Detroit Titan history. Wilson is deadly from the corners and the bend in the arc. If he is left open and can get going he can fill up a stat sheet. The Titans will most likely start senior point guard Carlton Brundage. Brundage, a former national top 100 recruit, has gotten hot as of late. He has been a spark plug and a rebounding machine for the Titans in the second half of the season.

Outside of the starting five, Detroit will use a short bench consisting of Josh McFolly, a freshman point guard, who was selected to the All-Freshman Team. McFolly is undersized but can shoot long threes and score inside. McFolly will be brought into games to try and speed up the tempo. Detroit will also sub in 6’7 “redshirt freshman forward Aaron Foster-Smith, who can step outside and shoot the three but is prone to bad fouls. The final sub is 6’8” forward Gerald Blackshear, a strong rebounder who is young and still developing but has shown he can rebound and defend in the paint. Detroit may also use junior guard Jarod Williams, but as of late, he has not been a major factor.

Others to Watch

Rob Edwards, freshman, Cleveland State

Edwards, a Detroit native who played his high school basketball at Cass Tech, had 12 points a game during the regular season. Edwards is back home, look for him to go out fighting.

Cameron Morse, sophomore, Youngstown State

Morse, a sophomore from Flint, Michigan, put together a great season. Morse averaged 20 points per game and shot 41 percent from three-point range. Morse, who was selected to the Horizon League Second Team, will face off with high school teammate Anton Willson Saturday.

Dikembe Dixson, freshman, UIC

Dixson, the Horizon League Freshman of the Year, is his team’s only hope of upsetting WSU. Dixion currently averages 19.9 points per game and 7 rebounds per game.

My Picks

Round 1

Green Bay over CSU

MKE over NKU

UIC over WSU

DET over YSU

Round 2

MKE over GB

DET over UIC

Semis

OU over DET

Valpo over MKE

Final

OU over Valpo

Email Karic at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Karic_Jones

Images courtesy of DetroitTitans.com