Panther Fever: Catch It
So UWM took down a Big Ten team (Purdue) tonight. Not a good Big Ten team, but a Big Ten team, nonetheless. And they looked good doing it. They continue to solidify their spot as one of my favorite teams to watch. Like every other team tonight, though, UWM was playing nowhere near me, so I took in all the action on my living room TV. What was important or interesting about the game? Here you go:
1) Earlier in the day, I saw that UWM was a 1.5 point favorite in this game, for those who enjoy wagering. Now, I'll grant you that UWM is a very good Horizon League team, and Purdue has thus far proven to be fairly overmatched in the Big Ten, but I still didn't think I'd see the Panthers as the favorite on the road at Purdue. And I'm a UWM fan. I guess the oddsmakers know more about the sport than I do, though.
2) Purdue, as per usual, based its entire offense around how many ways it could find for Carl Landry to score. And for the most part, it worked in the first half. However, I think coach Bruce Pearl unwittingly found a way to slow down Landry, literally. As the second half wore on, Landry clearly wore down. I actually didn't notice it until normally worthless color commentator Rock Rote (for you non-Milwaukee residents, yes, that is his actual name) pointed out that Landry was laboring to get up and down the court, and event to leap for rebounds. The Panthers frantic pace took its toll on Landry, and with the exception of a couple of points in the last 2 minutes or so when Purdue was trying to play catch-up, Landry was a non-factor. There was actually one stretch when I thought he was out of the game, and then realized he was still roaming around. So, if you want to beat the Boilermakers, you can do it by running their star player ragged. Or you can just pick one of the 50 other ways.
3) Along the same lines as my last point, UWM got their press working early, and kept it intense, causing several turnovers and easy buckets. I know UWM usually presses for most of the game, but there's a certain point where they just hit another level with their trapping, and they started out at that level tonight. And Pearl didn't let his guys let up. The guards played an inspired game.
4) James Wright is always a favorite of mine to watch, and tonight was no exception. Wright drew great praise for his defensive effort on his former high school teammate, Carl Landry, and probably deserved at least some of it, though fatigue was likely the better defender. However, Wright had the comical play of the game when he steaked down the court ahead of the defense on a fastbreak and prepared to dunk the ball. As he took his last step and took off, in mid-air you could see the thought "Oh crap, I forgot I can't dunk!" run through his head. Actually, Wright can dunk, but he was nowhere near the rim on this one and tried an awkward uncontested layup that missed. Fortunately for him, Joah Tucker came in behind to clean up the play in grand fashion, as the play-by-play man for the Panthers exclaimed "Look at the athletic ability of Tucker!" Were I the color commentator, I would have followed up with "And the lack thereof of James Wright!"
5) UWM did some nice things and all, but at the end of the day, Purdue can probably look in the mirror if it wants to know why it lost. The Boilermakers should have, if nothing else, dominated the boards. UWM did perhaps the worst job I've seen this year by a credible team of getting position for rebounds, particularly in the last 6 minutes or so. Nonetheless, the Panthers were able to slap the ball away from Purdue's big men and still go on a game winning run. You've got to take care of the ball to win.
6) I love the commercial that always runs during UWM games where Bruce Pearl is in various places in the MECCA Arena telling us things like "There's been a lot of great basketball played in this building, and we're carrying on the tradition." It always just sort of seems funny to me that Pearl is saying that, and really a good portion of that "great basketball" is attributable to Marquette, who I would have to guess Pearl doesn't particularly like given past difficulties in attempting to schedule a city of Milwaukee showdown. At least he's not lying about sort of carrying on the tradition. As soon as Pearl's out of town, though, I have a sense that there might be a move back to the Klotsche Center, if history is any guide. The ride is really fun while it's lasting now, and might even lead me to take in a game or two at the Klotsche when the bottom drops out.
Again, big win for the Panthers over a weak, but not absolutely terrible Purdue team. I'm actually heading on the road this weekend for their intra-state showdown with UW-Green Bay this weekend, so I'm hoping that the momentum continues.
As for the rest of the night, I think I might need to sleep on the Marquette game for a bit. Or at least block the pain of that game out of my mind for a bit. There's lots to be said about it, though. And I just watched Duke lose. Indeed, it's been an action packed, and bizarre night.