The Inquisition: Prowling Milwaukee with PantherU

To get you ready for tomorrow's tilt between YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles and the Milwaukee Panthers, we're bringing back The Inquisition to educate you about everything Panther. Thanks to Jimmy Lemke from PantherU (or, for you Twits, @PantherU), the Internet destination of the discerning Panther fan, for answering our always hard-hitting questions. As is our custom, the first round of Jäger after the game is on us.

Let's hit the Qs and the As, yeah?

AE: So we don't get started on the wrong foot here: I've seen your team referred to as "Milwaukee," "UW Milwaukee," "Wisconsin Milwaukee" and "UWM" in the last week. I was under the impression that y'all wanted to be called "Milwaukee," so I've been doing that, but if I'm wrong tell me now.

PantherU: It's Milwaukee. After the Sweet 16 run in '05, Bud Haidet made the decision (with endorsement of big donors) to rename the program Milwaukee. As you know, the brand as Wisconsin-Milwaukee, or a variation, is that of the plucky hyphen school -- sometimes pulls an upset, rarely relevant. So Bud renamed the program Milwaukee, but that's always been the name in some respects -- for instance, students and alumni from different UW schools always refer to their alma mater by the city name rather than the cumbersome UW-City name. So Bud made the decision that it was Milwaukee, and here we are. Milwaukee's the name on the logo, the uniforms, the court, but it's been done half-assed because they kept (and continue to keep) UWM as a secondary reference for people in the city.

My belief is that they need a name for the Milwaukee brand in the city, because Milwaukee could mean the Brewers, Bucks, Wave, Admirals, etc. As far as an "in the city" brand is concerned, I'm talking like how your conference rivals are known as "Pitt" and that's the identity by which the city knows them. I don't know what that is, whether it's Milly, Waukee, UMil, MKE, MilU, or some far better name that I haven't come up with. I just know that once they get that name, the "UWM" should become a part of the distant past. It's far better for the program to go by Milwaukee -- it joins you (by nomenclature) with city-name schools like Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Miami, Houston, Detroit, the list goes on. While the difference may not seem completely tangible -- for instance, I don't think it would help at the gate much, if at all -- it's definitely identifying the program by one name and casting off the "hyphen" identity that we've lived by forever. So I call the program Milwaukee, I encourage others to do the same; national media have been far more accepting of this brand then local media. I suppose old habits die hard.

After the jump: we're talkin' Milwaukee's season to this point, the injury bug that's bitten the Panthers, and Bruce Pearl's lingering popularity amongst Panther fans. Let's go!

AE: Milwaukee is 9-3 on the young season, with a close loss to Wisconsin at the Cell and a closer-than-it-looked loss to Michigan State at the Breslin Center. Rate the season thus far: better than you expected, worse, or about right?

PantherU: If you would have told me we would be 9-3 at this point in the season, I'd have been able to tell you the exact losses -- MSU, UNI, and UW. But I definitely expected to be at least 8-4, more likely 7-5 at this point. The teams under Jeter have historically beaten the teams they are supposed to beat and lose to the teams they are supposed to lose to, with a couple "upset" losses in the mix. Last year showed us that with losses to FAU, Western Michigan, DePaul (pretty bad last year), Loyola and a couple other head scratchers. So I can say that I was expecting to lose to someone -- my eye was on UALR with their beautiful home court or IUPUI with future NBA player Alex Young -- but so far the Panthers have taken care of business. The Michigan State loss was a real missed opportunity; they went on a 9-0 run to open the second half, and outside of that we were the better team that night. It's the scoring droughts and slow opens to second halves that have killed us this year. I would say, overall, that we have been better than I expected.

AE: Tony Meier missed Milwaukee's first six games of the year with a calf injury, and after getting his feet wet against UIC and Loyola and DePaul, he's been on the VOLUME SHOOTER ALERT in the last two games: he was 6-16 in 28 minutes against Wisconsin, and 5-16 in 21 minutes against Nebraska Omaha. Should we expect a similar number of shots against Marquette? It seems like the kid's got the green light to bomb away.

PantherU: Tony Meier really only got his feet completely under him by the UNO game on Saturday. His calf injury limited him against Loyola and UIC, the DePaul game he found himself wildly open in transition, and he was terribly ineffective against UNI. He absolutely has the green light, as well he should; he's a 6'7" small forward who shot from three at a 44% clip last season. The other part of that is he was a much more consistent shooter last year than he is in the young 2011-12 campaign. I expect Tony will get consistent as the season goes on.

I wouldn't say he's a volume shooter as much as I'd say he takes the shot if he's open. A lot of teams think they can lag off the 6'7" mid-major small forward because they don't expect him to shoot well, then he drops several threes and buries the opponent. In the UW game we had a lot of cold shooters from the field and Tony kind of took it upon himself to get the scoring going. You'll see that in the big run that closed the 43-27 gap to 48-48, Tony played a big role in that sequence. I won't go so far as to say that you should expect Tony to take a ton of shots against MU, but if Jae Crowder is going to be sagging on defense a little bit to protect the paint from drives to the lane, then Tony's going to take his shots. They'll run a bunch of plays that involve opening Tony or someone else up for a shot. That said, I don't expect Tony's shooting ability to slip past Buzz. He's a lot more intelligent of a basketball coach than people give him credit for -- perhaps it's the southern drawl. [Rubie sez: hey, I resemble that remark.]

AE: After a hot-and-cold start to the year, Ja'Rob McCallum hasn't played in six games because of a wrist injury. Is he going to be back tomorrow? Has the offense changed without him?

PantherU: McCallum's injury will keep him out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, likely at least a week into the new year. Ja'Rob is the definition of a streak shooter; there will be a stretch of games where he won't score more than five points, then he'll go off for 15 or more in a few games. He is a great player to have, especially when the shooting is cold, but in a lot of ways, his loss hasn't hurt the team on the floor. Frankly, McCallum is a defensive liability and his ball-handling skills are not what you want to see from a guard. He'd get eaten up on the offensive end tomorrow.

The offense itself hasn't changed a whole lot; the idea of the Panther offense is that any player of the five can score from anywhere on the floor. This isn't entirely true, because Ja'Rob's replacement, Paris Gulley, is not an inside presence by any means. But Kaylon Williams and Ryan Allen can post up, and Kyle Kelm and James Haarsma are more than capable three-point shooters. Allen isn't an outside jump shooter, but that's not what the coaches ask him to do; he's there to slash the lane, draw fouls, and play garbage duty. Paris has been asked to do pretty much what Ja'Rob did for the offense. The difference is that where Ja'Rob was better in a half-court offense, Paris really shines in a transition game. Because the way we play is almost entirely in the half-court, Gulley's offensive game hasn't had the ability to catch up quite yet; he spent most of October learning how to play point guard so we could have a backup for Kaylon (and starting PG for the season opener), and he's much better in transition than in the half-court. Look at how he decimated DePaul -- that's where Gulley is in his wheel house. You could just see how comfortable he was running the floor.

AE: Milwaukee's defense, in general, is very good, and its three-point defense in particular is phenomenal, with the Panthers holding opponents to 25.4% shooting beyond the arc. Is that a function of some of the teams Milwaukee has played thus far, or are the Panthers that good on the perimeter?

PantherU: I think the Panthers are better on the perimeter than people give them credit for. With Gulley, Williams, and Allen on the court, the Panthers feel they can defend anyone in the country on the perimeter. It's one of the reasons I feel the program is better right now with McCallum healing -- you find more minutes for Gulley and redshirt freshman Evan Richard, who are both significantly better on defense, Gulley especially. The Panthers have stopped good scorers from really taking control in games this year. Ben Brust was practically shut down last Tuesday. Alex Young was frustrated to the point he drew a technical and missed over half the IUPUI game. Jordan Taylor had real trouble with Kaylon Williams on him, until that shot in the last minute that showed his All-American potential. If you take Jared Berggren's fluke shooting performance out of the game, the Panthers held the Badgers to pretty pedestrian shooting numbers for everybody outside Ryan Evans, who used his length to frustrate Ryan Allen.

Certainly part of that percentage is due to the opposing teams. Several of them -- UNO, Texas Southern, Northern Illinois, Loyola, UIC -- would not or will not be in the upper half of the Horizon League. I expect Butler, Detroit, Cleveland State and Valpo will make the Panthers' opposing shooting percentages a little more honest, as will Marquette obviously.

AE: How'd you enjoy DePaul Day? Pretty nice to pick up a win in a bye week, wasn't it?

PantherU: You know, we went down to DePaul and expected to win. We knew that we had the better team, better coaching, better fans. We took about 50 people down their and took over the place. I'm sure when Marquette goes down there, it's a huge pro-Warrior crowd. The same was said for us; when we got up 35-13, they spent almost the rest of the game sitting on their hands. Only when they got it to eight, briefly, did I think DePaul might have a shot.

You know, as someone who dislikes DePaul you'll probably enjoy this, but we were laughing about how the crowd for the game was noticeably smaller than our worst home crowd of the year. There were a lot of serious jokes that Milwaukee could replace DePaul in the Big East and no one but Marquette would notice. I know we average about 4,000 per game, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if our season ticket base boosted and we averaged closer to 7-9,000 with home games against the big name programs the Big East provides. This is obviously a moot point discussion, but it really shows you how far DePaul has fallen. They need to floor that McGrath-Phillips Arena and rebuild an 8,000-seat hell hole on campus. Then and only then will the Blue Demons become relevant again.

AE: What are the feelings from the Panther faithful about former Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl after his unceremonious firing from Tennessee last year? Are they similar to my feelings about Tom Crean -- that is: he's a righteous asshole, and while he was here, he was our asshole, but now that he's gone, he's just a righteous asshole -- or do the fond memories of the NCAA Tourney runs cancel those feelings out?

PantherU: Pearl still has a lot of Panther fans fawning over him. I'm not one of them, but I understand it. I think the team in 2005 could have gone further if they didn't have Tennessee weighing on their minds -- a couple players saw Pearl meeting with Tennessee officials the night before the Illinois S16 game and I'm sure that was a real buzzkill for them. The way he handled his departure really rubbed me the wrong way, and for that I'll never be a Bruce Pearl fan again. I think of him as the sleazy used car salesman -- this coming from someone who was raised by a not-so-sleazy used car salesman -- and how he's probably in the perfect job as a VP of Marketing for some company. Many people have moved on, but we still have a section of the fan base who will not be satisfied with Jeter until he equals or eclipses Bruce Pearl. We call them the Pearl-Deadenders, the people who still wear their "Bruce is my Homeboy" t-shirts and whine about how we don't run and gun or press like Bruce's teams did.

AE: While we're talking about coaches: Rob Jeter's name was linked to Penn State's job opening after the 2011 season, but he decided to withdraw from consideration. What's your sense of how seriously Jeter considered leaving? Do you think he's in for the long haul at Milwaukee?

PantherU: Jeter actually had four universities consider him, three of which pursued him. Bradley had an offer on the table and wanted him there. Once he passed that up, Dayton inquired, but my understanding is the talks were never serious. Miami was the one that really scared me. Sure, the Hurricanes are far away from Jeter's recruiting base and they've never been a basketball school, but Donna Shalala is their president (she used to run UW) and their new AD, Eichorst, is a Badger guy and one of Jeter's best friends. I was happy that he didn't take that one. The Penn State job was there, and I've heard that Jeter had multiple discussions with PSU, but by the time I had talked to people close to the situation, both sides moved on and PSU hired Pat Chambers the next day.

I know that Jeter seriously considered departing. We have a wonderful mid-major program, but there are some parts that we are seriously lacking in. Facilities are the main issue, but where most people are aware of our lack of a true home court, the program's real problem is they don't have a dedicated practice court for the team. It sounds ridiculous, but the men's basketball team shares the Klotsche Arena court with women's basketball, baseball (batting practice), track and field, volleyball, and other sports -- often all at the same time. It's an absolute joke, lower than most low-majors, and seriously inhibits Jeter's ability to win. College sports is an arms race, and our facilities are the worst in the conference. As far as practice facilities go, Green Bay, Butler, Wright State, Valpo and Cleveland State have their own dedicated home. UIC, Loyola, Detroit, and Youngstown State all practice on their game floor, which the men's basketball team has whenever it wants. Only at Milwaukee do we have to share practice time with the swim team. It's a joke that needs to be remedied yesterday. That makes it hard for Jeter and his staff to stick around. If we had a home arena on campus and a dedicated practice facility for the basketball program, we might already be a Xavier or Gonzaga. As it stands, the same bad teams like TSU, UNO, NIU and UALR that we've beaten this year have better practice and game facilities than we do. Try recruiting a 17-year old kid with our facilities situation.

AE: Tomorrow's game is the last one scheduled under the current MU - Milwaukee contract, which used a 4-1 home-away setup. I saw that you wrote that if Milwaukee can't get 2-for-1 deals with Marquette and Wisconsin, it should call off both series. Gimme a percentage: how likely do you think it is that Milwaukee gets 2-for-1 deals with both schools?

PantherU: The word on the street is that the Wisconsin series is likely to go 3-for-1 starting after next year. I don't like it, because college basketball is skewed more towards the home team than any other sport. Because we needed home dates going into last year, we had to say no to pretty good 2-for-1 deals with Cincinnati and Missouri, and a home-and-home with Siena. I'd say all three of those are better series than the 4-for-1 with Marquette. MU is the superior program (probably on par with Mizzou), but what good is the series if we can only have the home-court advantage 20% of the time? I think it should be the policy of the athletic department to sign no worse than a 2-for-1 with anyone. The program needs to realize that the home court is precious, that there's a reason Marquette and Wisconsin and Syracuse rarely step out of their comfort zone. There's enough teams out there where Milwaukee can find a better series for itself. Hell, the UNI series is already a major improvement over the UW and MU series, at 2-for-2 with a high-level mid-major program with one of the marquee upsets of the past three years (the Kansas NCAA game). We had better attendance for that game than most non-conference games, and I'd be all for signing more 2-for-2 deals with Creighton, Wichita State, Bradley, Southern Illinois, Saint Louis, etc. Or we could keep taking DePaul's lunch money and kicking them around the floor

AE: What's your prediction for tomorrow's game? Go as homer-riffic as you want, we won't judge you.

PantherU: Predictions? I don't usually do them. I will venture a guess that the Panthers will be forced to go more up-tempo than they usually like, but the transition opportunities for Tony Meier and Paris Gulley will open up their shots. Put me down for a 73-70 Panther victory with a wink. Somebody's gotta pick the Panthers, might as well be me.

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